Some Men Just Want To Watch The World Bern

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Hey Bernie Bros!

What’s up, fellas? First, I feel you. To a certain extent, I am you. I love me some Bernie, and, to establish some obligatory street-cred, actually knew who he was (and admired him) many years before he decided to run for president.

Secondly, I get it. Check this out.

I have to say, you younger dudes are reminding many of us of the obdurate blowhards who claimed, in 2000, that their only choice was Nader since (as Nader himself said, to his eternal shame) Bush and Gore were essentially two sides of the same soiled coin.

Here’s the thing: quite a few folks knew not only that this was bullshit, but that the feckless and untested Bush wasn’t remotely up to the job. Yes, it was infuriating to witness some of the most irresponsible media negligence of our lifetimes (little did we know it was a test run for the run-up to Iraq), but at least, without the literal benefit of hindsight, it was impossible to prove Bush would be incompetent in ways that made even our most cynical suspicions seem…naïve. Here’s the other thing: we already know, without even the slightest iota of uncertainty, that Trump is not merely a reckless, obscene and ignorant buffoon, but that his election will put the very concept of American democracy in jeopardy. Speaking of Iraq, imagine Trump…no, let’s not even go there.

So, with condolences and admonition, let me toss fifty well-intended turds into your oh-so-pure punch bowl before your precious, but increasingly nihilistic “Bernie or Bust” antics do our nation irreparable harm.

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1. Donald Trump.

2. Trump’s VP? Google “Pence. Abortion bill”.

3. Take a quick gander at the GOP platform. And read this.

4. Imagine, for one moment, that you’re not white, or had a vagina. Or were gay. Or, if that’s too frightening and uncomfortable, what our country will be like for any and all of these folks.

5. Pretend (and this is probably the biggest stretch of all) that you ever, under any circumstances had to work a blue collar job.

6. Contemplate Newt Gingrich as Secretary of State.

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  1. Contemplate Chris Christie. (Not even necessarily in any position of power; just contemplate him.)
  2. Imagine, for one second, this idiot feeling vindicated.
  3. The fact that the cowardly and cretinous Rudy Giuliani has recently inserted himself into the public eye with the typical grace of a rabid ferret in a crowded train, and could easily be named Attorney General, should be enough to make you not only vote for Hillary, but get excited about canvassing for her.
  4. If you seriously believe, for one second, that living under a Trump regime will be in any way cathartic or cleansing, do us all a favor: go live in North Korea for a few months and let us know what you’ve learned.
  5. Have you actually ever read anything by Orwell or Kafka or even the pre-9/11 Christopher Hitchens? Didn’t think so.
  6. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”, right? Trump’s another word for it, too — for people who’ve never lost anything, or have excellent jobs or benevolent parents to shelter them from shit when it gets real. Speaking of freedom: everything this concept conveys is something Trump had handed to him or has fought to obstruct his entire life.
  7. Hillary a tad egocentric for your tastes? Fair enough. Think she puts herself first too much for comfort? Okay. Compared to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton is Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa and June Cleaver rolled into one.
  8. Think of Hillary Clinton as the pâté of politics: overvalued by the wrong type of people, appalling in its pretensions, bought by well-connected sorts, but undeniably created through expertise and time-tested processes. It, in short, might not be especially appetizing for all kinds of reasons, but fast food it ain’t. Think of Trump, on the other hand, as a worn out chicken breast raised on a chemical and steroid mash inside a rank, concrete factory that is months past its inflated expiration date, then had bleach poured on it for coloration before hitting the meat aisle at Food Lion.
  9. Everyone who really wants Trump to win really hates everything about you.
  10. And they would not hesitate to harm you, physically, if they could get away with it.
  11. And they would be encouraged (and, perhaps, exonerated) by Trump, if he had the power.
  12. Read the short story “Mario and the Magician” by Thomas Mann.
  13. Read something by any writer who lived through a dictatorship.
  14. Read this excellent piece from founding Weeklings editor Greg Olear.
  15. Imagine all the right wing radio listening, bigoted and elderly dunces who detest Obama (because he’s black) and fantasize about them spending their miserable last years ranting in their futons because a woman just became president for two terms.
  16. I would say, imagine Secretary of Defense John McCain, but The Donald prefers Secretaries of State who didn’t get captured. You know who definitely never gets captured? Short-fingered cheese-dicks whose daddy helped them avoid military service in the first place.
  17. At a certain point you just have to grow up. There are few things more appalling than the way sausage is made (literally and figuratively). There are also few things more enjoyable, or American.
  18. You know how you love Bill Clinton despite the ways he drives you crazy because he’s such a gifted natural politician with such cripplingly poor judgment? Hillary Clinton, in virtually every regard, is his opposite.
  19. Read this.
  20. Read this, too.
  21. More knowledge dropped by Mr. Olear.
  22. Put this in your pipe and smoke it.
  23. Donald Trump is the tragi-comic apotheosis of the GOP successfully, for decades, side-stepping all reality-based criticism by insisting the media is liberal. (The only way that story ends happily, and appropriately, is if Trump loses in spectacular, historically humiliating fashion.)
  24. Also, the Fox News-enabled transition from low information voters to no information voters has been deliberate, if cynical, and will have one of two results: epic comeuppance that will rend the GOP into several desperate, greedy and angry (always angry) factions, or the utter collapse of democracy, assuming Trump wins.
  25. Seriously, the distance between Hillary and Bernie, though profound in some regards, is like the gap between Starbucks franchises in any major city. The distance between Hillary and Trump, on the other hand, is not even calculable by man-made means; we’re talking quantum physics black hole time space continuum type shit.
  26. See how long you can make it through this:

33. Am I the only person who, whenever Donald Trump is speaking (invariably about himself), thinks he is a much dumber and more dangerous realization of this classic character?

34. You notice how the Republican Establishment has, of late, tripled-down on calling itself “the party of Lincoln”? That’s not accidental. This election needs to ensure that for the indefinite future they are, correctly, known as “the party of Trump”.

35. Getting back to that Republican platform. Did you know they’re against medical marijuana?

36. And that they are still shamelessly anti-gay marriage, anti-gay adoption and for the farcical “conversion therapy” snake oil? (Follow the money, opportunism and denial, always the GOP Unholy Trinity.) It’s one thing to be unrepentantly bigoted and call yourself “traditional”; it’s another to essentially fly your flag of intolerance and dare people with their hearts and minds on the moral side of history to do something. Now’s the time to ensure you do something.

37. Hey, smart guy: can’t be bothered to be appalled by anti-abortion (even in the cases of rape and incest!) laws? How about when your online porn habits start being monitored and persecuted?

38. Still unmoved? Get a load of this exhaustive (and yes, epic) takedown of all-things Trump by our own Brother Sean Beaudoin.

39. You’ve got your panties in a pretzel over Hillary’s emails, but you don’t realize Trump University alone should be enough to ensure Trump is doing the hardest possible time at Rikers Island?

40. Ever seen Dr. Strangelove? Donald Trump is Buck Turgidson, General Jack D. Ripper, Colonel Bat Guano and Ambassador Alexei de Sadeski, all in one. Only dumber and more dangerous. And much less amusing.

41. Remember this?

42. Just vote for Hillary and then complain and whine as much as you want. That’s what blogs are made for.

43. For the sake of the country, be the one saying “I told you so” each time the media, on rinse, wash, repeat, blasts out the latest manufactured Hillary-related outrage. We can take it; we’re prepared for it. Don’t be the person being told “I told you so” by the rest of us, as our collective future flatlines.

44. Ensure another essential Democratic win just to see if it finally causes this evil motherfucker to implode.

45. Just because Batman had some megalomaniacal tendencies doesn’t mean you rooted for The Joker. (If you did root for The Joker, it’s time, at long last, to move out of your parent’s house. Also, too: see #9.)

46. Every great leader, including FDR, had personal foibles that, if scrutinized the way Hillary’s have been for decades, would prevent them from being elected to their home owners association, much less president of the United States.

47. Imagine the good Bernie can continue to do in support of a (grateful, and accommodating) Clinton administration.

48. Visualize every hero who has fought for social justice in the history of the world. Who do you think they’d want you to vote for? (Hint: not Trump, never.)

49. Have the courage of your convictions: go light your house on fire and send every penny you have to Donald Trump. That will allow you to get it out of your system and repent before you help usher in the apocalypse. Win/Win.

50. Seriously. President Trump? You’re better than that. We’re better than this.

Final words from the man himself.

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Point/Counterpoint: Sean Beaudoin vs. Sean Murphy – the 90’s Edition (Revisited)

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Point/Counterpoint is a beloved feature that first appeared in the fall ’72 Telex edition of the Weeklings. PC/P is the product of an intellectual tradition hearkening back to storied Oxford debate squads and the golden age of radio, in which two authors match wits over random subjects while being forced to choose a side and defend it on the fly. Readers are advised to stand back, as the heat can get intense. This week’s All 90?s arm wrestle involves essayist, raconteur, and former Governor of Virginia, Mr. Sean Murphy.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are now on the clock.

 

Michael Jordan –

Point (Murphy): Here is the uncomplicated part: Jordan is the dominant and peerless athlete of the ‘90s. Here is the complicated part: He is a prick. Big deal, right? Well, not so fast. Certainly, when it comes to athletes, actors, authors and the rich and famous in general, we don’t—and often shouldn’t—expect much in terms of humanity. They are too busy perfecting their craft, and in the instance of rich and famous, being an asshole is their life’s work. And for the creative sorts who have left us with profoundly moving, redemptive art, we acknowledge that messy interpersonal relations or despicable traits all pale in comparison to what they were put on earth to do. But just as Jordan is a once-in-a-generation talent, so too was his opportunity to make a real once-in-a-generation type difference. Indeed, one could argue that today, with our five-second attention spans and every idiot (famous or not) working ceaselessly on building their unique “brand”, it’s difficult to rise above the din. It is, therefore, easier to imagine the impact Jordan might have had, in an analog era, to make a meaningful and lasting difference, had he cared to do so. Famously, he didn’t. “Republicans buy sneakers too,” he quipped sardonically, with a lack of shame and soul that would make Ayn Rand wet. Could Jordan single-handedly have improved sweatshop conditions overseas and reigned in the worst aspects of the previous decade’s consumerism apocalypse? Actually, yes. He might have done more than merely be immortal on the hard wood; he could have changed our world, for the better. How many people in any generation actually have this ability?

Counter-Point (Beaudoin): I don’t think any public figure, celebrity or athlete or otherwise, has an obligation to make a difference. Whatever a “difference” might actually mean. Jordan was basically conservative, in the sense that he was relentless, ruthless, and did whatever it took to make as much money as possible. I see that as a very political act. He rejected the notion that his opinion on Bosnia or race relations was of greater value than not upsetting Hanes executives. He succinctly expressed his worldview by giving everyone the finger while insulating himself behind a wall of Nike checks. And also by being the Greatest Player Ever. Sorry, but if Mike had flown to Malaysia to lock arms with workers in front of a sweatshop gate, he wouldn’t have been the guy who stuck a dagger in Craig Ehlo’s heart, or marginalized Patrick Ewing, or pushed Bryon Russell out of the way like he didn’t exist before sinking the jumper that doomed Karl Malone. I fundamentally disagree with the notion that artists should be judged by their personal lives as opposed to their output. It’s a dangerous temptation when the artist is still alive, because it’s almost impossible for their behavior not to color perceptions of their work. I’m not going to pretend I can watch Curse of the Jade Scorpion without wondering about Woody’s predilections, fairly or otherwise. But I would argue, at least theoretically, that we all should be able to. It’s a good movie or it isn’t. (It’s not). But if you went back through history, almost every great artist (and many not great ones) were complete assholes. Check out the life of Caravaggio. But you don’t see too many people complaining about “David With the Head of Goliath” hanging at the Met because they’re offended by him as a person. To see the world in a truly original fashion and then be able to interpret that view with unusual skill and nuance often requires a level of narcissism that results in aberrant, transgressive, and/or manic behavior. Michael Jordan is exactly the complicated amalgam of thoughts and behaviors and beliefs that allowed him to play like him. If he were 9% better of a person, he’d no doubt have been more accessible in the locker room and maybe even spokesman for a worthy cause, but he wouldn’t have played the way he did. People are the totality of themselves. If Mike were the person you wanted him to be, then he’d also have been B.J. Armstrong, and therefore not the person you wanted at all.

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Newt Gingrich –

Point (Beaudoin): If somewhere in Washington D.C. right this second there’s a bigger sac of crappy ideas, unearned self-regard, and a true disdain for “the people” masquerading as public service, I dare you to name them. It’s astonishing that Newton Leroy Gingrich is still taken seriously enough to have just made even a doomed run for president, let alone win a few primaries, although perhaps we can thank him for having burned through twenty million of Sheldon Adelson’s money for no good reason whatsoever. Gingrich’s “Contract With America” was a failure on nearly every front, a zero-sum political expedience bereft of ethical standards that ushered in the hyper-partisan behavior currently crippling government. Add to that the mendacity of having crowed about “family values” on television nearly every night, including the period in which he led the charge to impeach Bill Clinton, while simultaneously conducting numerous affairs of his own on the side. In the meantime, Gingrich was run out of office by his own party, wrote nine remaindered novels that other books are embarrassed to be shelved next to, and then married a woman who looks like a steak knife wearing a toupee. Easily one of the worst people in America.

Counter-Point (Murphy): But we want Newt Gingrich on that wall. We need Newt Gingrich on that wall. And do you think it’s easy being Newt? Respect, and a sort of awe, is required for a man who never asked to be a Mr. Potato Head of all Shakespeare’s best villains: one part Polonius’s sanctimony; one part Falstaff’s red-jowled bluster; one part Iago’s soulless scheming. He is the tragicomic Sisyphus of our time, pushing the boulder of ambition up that hill, only to be toppled each time he is so close he can taste it (realizing, as he careens ass over ego, that the smell of victory is actually the collective babble from inside-the-Beltway blowhards, who turn on you so quickly it’s almost like an homage). His eyes forever on the prize, a would-be Bogeyman for an ill America; instead he ends up inside his own closet, sniffing other people’s panties. Don’t all the haters realize he would enjoy nothing more than crawling under that rock to decay, silently, into the soil? Instead, he is compelled to stand in front of We The People who can’t understand he just wasn’t made for these times? That, had he only been given the chance, he could have taught Jefferson a thing or two about writing (and philandering), he could have out-proselytized any of our wig-wearing Weekend Warriors, he could have saved us a Civil War by proving separation of the races was God’s will (or else The South was the New Jerusalem, or some other shit), he could have, well, he could have been a contender. Gingrich is the real life Willy Loman of our political stage, still out hustling his wares, not aware that his time has passed, his time was never in fact here: it was an illusion, a great white hype, a bloated gasp for relevance that will echo forever as a footnote, a guffaw and a grimace. Newt Gingrich exists because no one else could possibly play the part. For this unpalatable but irrefutable fact, attention must be paid.

Newt describing the size and shape of his second wife's taint.

Alice in Chains –

Point (Murphy): While I find Nirvana terminally exalted to the point of parody (the idea that Cobain is the spokesperson of his generation is almost as depressing as people killing each other over a used pair of Air Jordans), and I never had much love for Pearl Jam, I think Alice in Chains is the great overlooked band of the ‘90s. Awful enough, today, to be remembered as a “grunge” band; infinitely worse to be damned with the flannel-smelling praise of achieving “lesser” grunge status. I find this unfortunate, in part because Alice in Chains did more to outshine that lame, facile label than any of their brethren. Layne Staley is best in small-ish doses, I’ll concede, but even at his most affected, his intensity is always undercut by Jerry Cantrell’s calm, cool and disaffected harmonies. Let’s not mince words, I not only consider Dirt a masterpiece, I’d put it in my Top 10 of that decade: it’s a suicide note in music, and the fact that less than a decade later, Staley would indeed be dead only adds to its desolate aura. There is anger, hurt, self-pity, self-hatred and, ultimately, a defiance that, for me, makes the posturing of other grunge acts seem like an after-school special. “Down in a Hole”, a showcase for the ways the band balanced bleakness and brawn, endures as a too-intimate tour into the darkest heart of addiction, full of recrimination and remorse, yet it somehow manages to be…tender? We rightly indict so many pop acts for faking it; these dudes were laying it all out there, and they perfected an ugly type of beauty that, unlike so much else that came out of the ‘90s, isn’t tied to time or place.

Counter-Point (Beaudoin): I will agree that it was a horrible decade for music in general, but if Dirt is even in the top hundred albums, the 90?s might go down as the worst arbitrary stretch of years in human history, including all that Vaudeville piano “Oh, my baby loves whisker soap and Sarsaparilla” shit. I think Alice in Chains is basically an unlistenable pile of derivative hooks and suspect melodies, and in particular that Layne Staley’s voice is maddening in the extreme. He’s always straining for a note, always resolving a line in exactly the same way, not to mention burbling insipid lyrics about roosters and (yawn) heroin dissolution. But what’s vastly more interesting than the relative accuracy of those statements is how you and I, who otherwise share so much in common as far as musical taste, could view this band so polemically. When I was younger (back in the 90s) I was often annoyed by this sort of thing, but now I find it fascinating. We are two very different people who are inconsistent and unpredictable! We are governed by a false logic called “taste” that is actually a product of our environment, imagination, and maybe even our genetic sequence! Opinions about music are basically arbitrary and worthless! Hooray life! Although I will say that the one band I truly loathed more than any other in the 90?s was Third Eye Blind. You better not tell me you have a poster of them on your ceiling or we’re done.

The soundtrack to the best years of our lives.

Y2K –

Point (Beaudoin): Can you imagine how truly wonderful it would have been if computers across the globe really did lock up on that fateful midnight? And not just until repairs could be enacted, but permanently and across the globe, remaining useless hunks of mis-dated silicone all these years later and having saved us the indignities of Reddit, texting, Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, and people talking loudly on cell phones in cafes? Oh why, Y2K, why did you fail to be the catastrophe we so richly deserved?

Counter-Point (Murphy):

If Y2K had delivered the goods, pulling a Terminator Skynet and leaving us in a Bladerunner-style post-apocalypse, I would not have been able to burn the next decade converting my creative energy, youthful idealism and pre-midlife angst into emails instead of novels. If Y2K pulled the plug (figuratively) ensuring we had to pull our puds forever in analog (literally), I would have had nothing better to do than tackle the ever-expanding list of unread books that, fourteen years later makes Borges’ Library of Babel look like the pile of magazines at a doctor’s office. If Y2K had truly partied like it was 1999, I would still remember what grass smelled like, what sweat felt like, what animals sounded like, what real people looked like, or what composing a sentence uninterrupted by a dozen extraneous thoughts and distractions Google/Facebook/iPhone-d like. Why would I possibly want any part of that?

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Quentin Tarantino –

Point (Murphy): Even typing out his name makes me cringe. It’s not just that everything he’s done since the ‘90s has sucked, or that he is at once uninhibited and oleaginous in ways that could put infomercial stars and politicians to shame. It’s not even that he’s been sprinting in circles, overrated and infuriating as only the rarest of artists can manage to be. His real crime is the breathless puerility suffusing almost every scene of every movie, post Jackie Brown. (Technically proficient, sure, and his action sequences—however insipid or ultra-violent—get high marks on the pyrotechnics scale.) Each successive effort implodes on its own adrenaline, ending up like a puppy trying to fuck its own poop. And yet…it seems churlish to hate on the former video clerk who gave us Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, no? In fairness, could we reasonably expect anything after that one-two punch? He made a couple of movies that did not capture the proverbial Zeitgeist so much as bury it alive in a wood coffin (see what I did there?), only to have it erupt out of the ground in the form of a million inferior imitations. So it’s not that his movies, post-Y2K, are an endless fruit loop of diminishing returns, it’s ultimately that Tarantino epitomizes so much of what went wrong in the ‘90s, continuing through our present day. It’s not even his fault, really. Other than pesky matters of integrity, who can blame QT for giving the people what they want? Of course we can point to any era and explore how naked opportunism and commercial-minded replication is the de-facto setting, especially in Hollywood. Isn’t the worst sin of this justly-maligned decade the way we consecrated an ongoing syndrome of inauthenticity, super-sizing and one-upmanship, whether it involves music, movie sequels, book series or (un)reality TV?

Counter-Point (Beaudoin): Say what you want about Tarantino, and it’s interesting because he’s one of those rare cinematic personalities about whom you could easily deliver a convincing rant on almost any side of any issue, including each of his movies, girlfriends, and Oscar speeches–but he’s done three things in his career which to me absolve him of almost any other fault: 1. In Reservoir Dogs he single-handedly resurrected the soundtrack as personality or extra character, using Joe Tex and Blue Swede and Stealers Wheel just as effectively as Harvey Keitel or Michael Madsen. Punchy street level counter-rhythms were the true engine behind Reservoir Dogs, far more than the ear-cutting scene or Chris Penn’s tracksuit. 2. Casting John Travolta in Pulp Fiction was an incredibly brave and far-sighted choice. It’s hard to remember now, but Travolta was essentially Kryptonite in 1992, more a bloated former Sweat Hog than the action hero he would soon become. Turning him into a henchman with a ponytail and a bag full of dope who could do a mean Twist at Jack Rabbit Slim’s was a stroke of pure genius. 3. Dialog. By the late 80?s Hollywood had completely forgotten what real, honest dialog even sounded like, not to mention brought to a script. It’s not Tarantino’s fault that Pulp Fiction spawned a thousand cheap imitations of Samuel L. Jackson’s Valley of Death speech, or years of Mumblecore versions of Royale With Cheese. “I just don’t dig on animals that don’t know enough to get out of their own filth” reminded us that people tend to talk to each other in crude and mundane ways that can often be revelatory. Tarantino was the one who made us realize it again.

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Every Movie that has Ever Won an Academy Award Should Not Have –

Point (Beaudoin): Let’s just talk about Forrest Gump here, and let it stand in for every other stiffed and slighted film in Oscar history, even though complaining about the illogic of Oscar voting is essentially the same as arguing about the outcome of an episode of Deal or No Deal. In any case, Forrest Gump is a disingenuous stinking turd of a film, a palliative for Clinton-era ennui and the residual shame of fifty years of tragically stupid foreign policy decisions. Three Back to the Future films gave Bob Zemeckis the technical chops to place Forrest relatively convincingly next to Nixon, but was in fact a trick better exploited (first) by Woody Allen in Zelig. Gump’s dimwitted celebration of the wholly American desire to retroactively cast itself as an innocent bystander to its own crimes pissed me off in the theater when it came out, and my antipathy has only increased since. Forrest Gump (you could easily make the same case for the career of Tom Hanks) is the epitome of the need to reduce complex events and emotions into a montage of bromides and high-panted shrugs that more or less say, “I know, I know, but we meant well, didn’t we?” No, we mostly didn’t. The only truly honest element of the film is the one in which Gump repeatedly acts like a creepy stalker who in any other context Jenny would have aggressively restraining-ordered halfway through his first Savoy Truffle. My understanding is that in the sequel, Gump in the Rye, Colin Hanks plays a Jodi Foster fetishist who sniffs his fingertips a lot and keeps getting arrested crouching behind the shrubs of David Letterman’s estate.

Counter-Point (Murphy): Movies like Unforgiven and The Silence of the Lambs are not simply overrated twaddle: they are to Art what charlatans like Dr. Drew are to medicine or abominations like Politico are to journalism: the “real” thing for the undiscerning, intellectually unevolved, instinctually incurious, easily impressed, overly assured. The ‘90s Academy Awards were like a Bizarro aesthetic universe, a perverse pinball machine where smug smacked off cynical and clanged into self-satisfaction and descended into the gutter of banality (Life is Beautiful should have earned everyone involved a cinematic red card, sent off the artistic pitch for eternity; instead, of course, it won that buffoon Roberto Benigni a best actor statue proving that Life is Unbearable). But hey, if it wasn’t for the ‘90s Academy Awards, I may have entered the new millennium not sufficiently disabused of the illusion that substance beats style, or that feel-good and soulless saccharine is sniffed out by uncorrupted tastemakers, or that Money always, always means more than Authenticity. Seeing travesty (Goodfellas losing to Dances with Wolves) after mockery (American Beauty over The Insider) after perversion (Braveheart beating anything) did me one lasting service: it ensured that I’d never watch, or even pay attention to, the exorbitant, appalling and onanistic festival of ostentation and egotism that is the Academy Awards, ever again. Stupid is, after all, as Stupid Does.

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Life Used to be Less Complicated –

Point (Murphy): I’m always on guard against two things above all: cliché and nostalgia, as both are traps that short-circuit critical thought and unfettered perspective. But damn if I don’t miss reading books. Don’t get me wrong: I still read books, all the time. But it’s been over a decade since I spent several hours, uninterrupted, mug nuzzled in a paperback. Much as I like to resist them, the shrieks from my devices, arrayed around me like so many electronic magpies, are all but impossible to ignore. I blame myself for this lack of discipline, but I reminisce about a time when it was novel to walk into the other room once or twice an hour to check email, and then return to my novel. Now, I can hardly watch a movie or read an essay (much less a book) without constantly making sure I’m not missing anything. In my paltry defense I’d say it’s less the FOMO phenomenon and more an actual rewiring of the way my mind works. That scares the shit out of me, especially as someone with artistic inclinations. Even at work, it’s not uncommon for me to have multiple windows open at any given time, along with Outlook, a spreadsheet or two and one or two documents, perhaps with music playing, and I’ll open a new window and while I’m waiting for it to load (three seconds being an eternity; an actual connection issue an affront), I’ll check my mail, and then go back to the fresh window and forget what I opened it for. This too mortifies me. I’m as much a tech junkie as anyone, and while I’d like to blame these portable, connected toys for corrupting our supposedly more serene lives, I suspect it’s even worse: technology has tricked us into being busier every single day, and it’s not even work, it’s play. Is this a trend we can slow down? Should we? Or are we advancing our evolution, fast-tracking an ability to connect, communicate and yes, commiserate, in a fashion previously unimagined? Having virtually everything that has been or is being created, available for free, in real time, is something I would have considered an outright miracle as a bored young punk; now it increasingly seems like the gift that will keep taking.

Counter-Point (Beaudoin): Even in the context of what it was like in this country before 1920, we are, basically, whiny, entitled worms. Life did not used to be less complicated. Life was very much more complicated, surrounded as it was by the demands of basic survival on almost every front, even for the wealthy. Pregnancy, disease, life expectancy, travel, drinking water, food production, physical labor, information distribution, the legal system, heat, cold, even just basic hygiene–all were vastly more difficult and elusive. The degree to which we are now basically helpless, dismissive of our past, and criminally soft in almost every way makes me deeply depressed at 3 a.m at least once a week.

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What Monica (Lewinsky) Means, Then and Now –

Point (Beaudoin): During the height of the Oddly Placed Cigar Era, I made plenty of jokes at Ms. Lewinsky’s expense. I didn’t think of her as a person, never considered what it might have been like to be the object of that level of scrutiny. To me she was an event. A cartoon. She was the woman naive enough to believe a self-serving philanderer really loved her, or would protect her when the time came. She was a pair of salacious lips, a 50?s haircut, a soiled dress. Most damningly, she was the woman dumb enough to confide in Linda Tripp. But then I grew up some and began to feel a great deal of empathy for Monica. I began to realize that if you collected even the smallest fraction of the really stupid things I did in my twenties and allowed the full blast of media hypocrisy to judge them, I would even now be in permanent solitary, busy talking to the walls and throwing my excrement at guards. How unfortunate to have your sexuality formed by a massively famous public figure, let alone then exposed to the world. Can you imagine standing by, powerless, while the rest of your life was determined by the whims of a sanctimonious cunt like Ken Starr? And then to be smothered under another twenty years of Clinton family prominence, your name forever brought up as a smirking reference, even as Hillary mulls another presidential run certain to kick off more cheap jokes and snide commentary? Which is all to say that I read Monica’s Vanity Fair piece genuinely rooting for her to charge out strong, unbowed, and newly emergent. Instead it wallowed in self-pity and lame justifications. She had two decades to write that fucking thing! It should have been a call to arms. A raw plea. A bruising manifesto littered with scorched politicians and gashed pundits that made Ted Kaczynski look like Ogden Nash. Didn’t really happen. Shit, she should have let me write it for her. I seriously would have for two hundred bucks and a platter of tacos.

Counter-Point (Murphy): Time has only convinced me that it’s not how great Clinton is (or was), so much as how spectacularly so many of his left-ish leaning compatriots suck by comparison, that makes liberals love their Bubba the way Bubba used to love Krispy Kreme. (The fact that he outfoxed the aforementioned ass-clown Gingrich is enough to earn him eternal goodwill in some circles, including mine.) As such, he may be a rascal, an imp, an occasionally immoral scoundrel but, dagnabit, he’s our scoundrel. While history will look increasingly less kindly at the Glass –Steagall sell-out (where triangulation met gluttony to create an unfettered shitstorm America will never fully recover from), it’s l’affaire Lewinsky that makes so many things Clinton, Inc. so difficult to digest. One might even say that Hillary was not standing by her man so much as protecting The Brand, a premonition of the brazen megalomania that hurt her in 2008 and makes her…a perfect candidate for 2016? As for poor Monica, it’s difficult to feel anything but pity for her, however naïve and vacuous she remains. That she was seduced, used and then tossed aside by an administration that was equal parts Caligula and Don Corleone is a sober reminder that history has always been written by the powerful, and the powerful are often neither great nor good people. (That history is reported these days, as it unfolds, by boot-lickers who love nothing more than the smell of a semen-scented dress is too obvious, and depressing, to warrant further commentary.) In this case, her story is His Story and however we interpret it (then, now, later) is our collective story, since all but a handful of us will always be spectators. Are we not entertained?

LEWINSKY

This article originally appeared on 10/1 in The Weeklings. More on that amazing site, HERE.

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The Power of Political Narrative: Part One, The GOP (Revisited)

** FILE** Actor Ronald Reagan loads his gun in the 1953 western film "Law and Order", in which Reagan plays a retired U.S. marshall who can't hang up his holster. It is reported that Reagan died on Saturday, June 5, 2004 at 93. (AP Photo)

LIKE MOST EVERYONE ELSE I know, I grew up—really grew up, if I’ve ever actually grown up—in the Reagan 80’s. Take my childhood, please. Actually, it wasn’t all that bad, at least for the middle class kids. During the extreme periods of Boom and Busted, Pro and Convicts, the majority in the middle seldom feels the pain; they rarely see the cocked fists and hoisted heels. It’s the people on the poles playing out cause and effect: the haves doing things the have-nots don’t have the voice or power to protest. The have-lesses can afford to ignore the news or else lay back like so many frogs, believing the boiling pan is actually a Jacuzzi.

Question: How else can you get people to consistently vote for policies that devastate them, counter almost each admonition of the (white, muscle-bound) Jesus and stagnate growth for every sector except, of course, the obscenely wealthy who rewrite the rules as they go along?

Answer: The power of magical thinking. It’s the fulcrum upon which most religious and political momentum swings: all it requires is uncritical, unblinking fealty and it’s amazing how simple, and ceaselessly restorative this exercise can be for the unenquiring mind. All of a sudden the world shrinks, Santa Claus exists, America is God’s favorite country, regulation is anathema, raising the minimum wage kills job creation, et cetera.

Capitalism isn’t wrong, but neither is intelligence: you cannot spend money and make money; someone is always paying the tab (and it’s usually the poor suckers who can’t spend it who take it in the you-know-where so that anonymous, ancient board members can pulverize their portfolios). It’s all about numbers. Like an army, like America. Whether you’re a company or a cult (like an army, like America), you simply want to amass enough affluence that nothing else matters.

Which brings us to the looming midterm elections. If Obama has been sufficiently underwhelming to induce depression, at least he staved off a Depression. If we have nothing else going for us, no one wants to return to the bad old days when W. took us on a (dry) drunk drive into the ditch, right? The silver lining of falling so far is the full and final repudiation of a greed-first ethos so aggressively sold for thirty-plus years. Isn’t it? Oh…

Instead of putting his boot on the squirming corpse of Reagan’s revolution, Obama postulated that we should heal. Instead of accountability for the Masters of the Universe who insisted the ensuing debacle was not possible even as they gorged at the trough, Obama appointed some of them in charge of the clean-up. Instead of a reckoning—and the welcome spectacle of some well-warranted tar and feathering on Wall Street—we suffered the indignity of a gigantic reset button, paid for by the taxpayers whose 401(k)’s got fucked. The super-connected swindlers whose idea of trickle-down economics is pissing on the collective heads of the middle and lower classes bounced right back into the saddle. Check them out: their fattened wallets broke their falls.

The Democrats, who had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebrand (reestablish?) themselves as the party that not only cared, but governed for the 98%, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as only Dems can do. More egregiously by far, the GOP, who have dedicated six years to temper tantrums and intransigence, stand poised to retake the Senate and retain the House.

How did this happen? How is it possible? The power of political narrative.

 

ii. The Power of Political Narrative

Understanding, and exploiting, the power of Narrative is the impetus that unites such unlikely—and antithetical—endeavors as Art, Business and Politics. The ones that can tell a story about what you need to know are important; the ones who tell you a story about what you want to hear can become immortal.

Our country was founded on the Narrative of The Future (City upon a Hill, anyone?): always looking toward what we could be, collectively, if we appealed to the better angels of our Nature, our Natural State being invariably democratic, tolerant of disparate faiths—including those without faith—and apparently unperturbed by the genocides inflicted upon our Native and African American brethren. Some eggs, after all, had to be broken in the service of this great experimental omelette called America.

Eventually, it required a Civil War to determine if we would keep looking forward or be cleaved forever into (at least) two countries, one peering over its shoulder, pining to preserve a way of life that never existed in the first place, at least for the majority of the people. (Sound familiar?)

Flash forward one hundred years to the Civil Rights Movement: a generational and geographic divide that once again found us at a crossroads of progress and reactionary segregation. History, as the cliché goes, is ghost-written by the winners. Looking at American history, for good or ill we’ve tended to define our triumphs as events that unified us, moving us along a progressive path from there to here, consistent with the founding notion—however fanciful—that we were collectively edging toward improvement and inclusion.

Two of the big “wins” of the 20th Century involved presidents named Roosevelt. First, Teddy, who took on Big Business and monopolies, instituting some overdue governmental oversight. His Square Deal regulated out-of-control American industry in the name of safety. A few decades later, his cousin Franklin ushered in The New Deal, ensuring that, for the next several decades government would, on balance, be seen as an institution that did more good than ill. Until the ‘80s, both of these developments were generally considered positive for all citizens, regardless of their political affiliation. Books like Sinclair’s The Jungle or indelible memories from the Great Depression reminded people—and their heirs—that government was the last thing standing between them and unfettered market forces. The notable exception, as ever, being the wealthiest percentile, whose disdain FDR all but celebrated (“I welcome their hatred”), a provocation Obama might wish he’d emulated in 2009.

In an exploit that still resonates for its audacity, Ronald Reagan drew a conservative line in the sand, assailing the presumption of government as an constructive agent, not by nitpicking but taking aim at its raison d’être .With a country still reeling from the apathy and cynicism of the post-Nixon nadir, he pre-empted that anger and uttered the immortal words: “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” And for the first time in half a century the Republicans steadily assumed control of a new narrative. It was simple as it was shameless; it was the most facile strategy fathomable, and the GOP finally had a patron saint to make it sacrosanct. Needless to say, it worked brilliantly.

 

iii. The Ill Communicator

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled, Baudelaire once wrote, was convincing the world he doesn’t exist. Well, the greatest trick the GOP ever pulled was convincing its flock that the devil does exist. The way to keep the Evil One at bay is to close your eyes and never, ever question The Man—unless he happens to be a Democrat.

All some Americans need is a person to play the part and tell them how great they are, how amazing we are, and then, no matter how much the unemployment rate and the deficit spike, it’s all good because we feel good. It is too easy and that is too simple. But the more one looks at Reagan (the man, the myth, the legend—literally), the more difficult it becomes to reach any other conclusion.

Along came St. Ronnie, the actor who made a fortune making awful movies, parlaying this into a career that put his acting ability to the summit of its purpose, circa second-half century America. Rich, he became a lot richer turning his back gleefully on his past, transmuting from an admirer of FDR to a True Believer who hit the trail for the repugnant Barry Goldwater. From a man who saw the country ravaged by the Great Depression, and therefore endorsed the New Deal, he subsequently did more than any president to undo the legislation that helped stave off a genuine catastrophe and fortified the middle-class for decades.

Now it’s an open competition to see which Republican can invoke him most often and they can’t name buildings after him quickly enough. Reagan has become the conservative alternative to Che Guevara. As we’ve seen in the short time since his death (indeed, in an initiative that kicked off years before he even kicked the bucket, by those who stand to profit most from his hagiography), a very intense and deliberate effort was undertaken to beatify and whitewash a legacy that was far from undisputed in the late ‘80s.

The Reagan Revolution built its momentum on a shameful vilification of America’s poor and lionized (some would say fetishized) the wealthiest percentile and transformed them into folk heroes. Because Michael Douglas turned in such an effulgent performance (in a rather mush-mouthed, typically ham-fisted Oliver Stone screenplay), few people—then; now—understood that Gordon Gekko was not “merely” a bad guy; he was a sociopath. In less than two terms, Reaganomics and Wall Street vandalism laid waste to the working class and put us on a path where the richest of the rich were entitled, by Divine Right, to pay ever-smaller tax rates. Meanwhile, young pillagers in training, like Mitt Romney, perfected the business acumen of bankrupting companies for profit into a repugnant performance art.

Despite an inconvenient eight year blip on the radar, where taxes were raised and the economy soared, the GOP, led by Dick “Deficits Don’t Matter” Cheney, had eight years to use the country as a demented sort of lab experiment. The result: 2008 and the cratered economy Obama inherited.

 

iv. The Five Commandments

After the disgust and disbelief settles, one feels obliged to give props to the Republican ratfuckers. Over the last few decades while they have dabbled in the vicarious thrill of foreign occupations and the odious gutter-dwelling of racial and sexual identity politicking, the cretins behind the curtain have focused on a handful of tactical battles in which they have more or less achieved their ends. This strategy has many moving parts, but can be boiled down to a handful of inviolable commandments, the enforcement of which ensures that no one is ever off script. And make no mistake, this script is like religion—only belief is not optional. The first and foremost commandment, propagated to the extent that it’s literally received as gospel—no matter how repeatedly disproven it is in practice—is that any taxes at any time are always a deplorable idea.

The second is that the mainstream media has a liberal bias. They’ve succeeded so thoroughly in this monomaniacal mission that once first-rate newspapers like The Washington Post now police their content excessively enough to render them neutral, if not neutered. The Op-Ed page has for more than a decade been patrolled by whacked-out hardliners who would have been laughed out of conservative circles only twenty years ago; back in the days when the GOP was devising health care reform that is now successfully considered socialism.

The third, which has been accomplished with considerable assistance from an increasingly reckless, ambitious and soulless Democratic party, is the demonization of unions. Long, sad story in one sentence or less: during the last half-century—but with a vengeance beginning in the ‘70s—unions lost influence while Democrats simultaneously abandoned them to court wealthy financiers to fund their increasingly lavish campaign expenses. Why the Republicans want to eradicate the same movement that helped bring us regulation, forty hour work weeks, overtime and collective bargaining is beyond no-brainer. Why the Democrats have allowed this to happen, abetting it more often than not, is owed to an opportunistic cynicism that has gutted the sensible and effective backbone of the Progressive cause in ways both myopic and tragic.

The fourth is that public education fails us, that teachers are overpaid and underachieving, and that while no cuts to any military spending are conceivable, all manner of funds and aid to public schools are forever on the table.

The fifth, final and most cheeky involves the mantra that government does not work. It’s a neat trick in which, when Republicans take power, they spend their time ensuring this assertion is true, all while consistently expanding the size of government along with the size of the national debt. Then, like clockwork, once the people have finally seen enough, a Democrat comes in with the thankless task of cleaning up the mess, and the disloyal opposition becomes a cadre of small government deficit hawks. That this same farce was pulled off so spectacularly after our recent recession says as much, if not more, about the aforementioned media and the supine Democrats as it does about the unabashed GOP.

 

v. Faith in Something Bigger than God

To see the full flowering of this psychosis, one needs look no further than the recent passing of James Brady.

Brady, for those who weren’t alive in 1981, is the unfortunate aid who had the bad luck of being mortal, and getting in the way of some bullets that could never have killed Reagan anyway. Before Brady died I might have been embarrassed to write something so churlish; a cursory glance at the comments section of any of the Brady obits confirms that there are a lot of people out there spouting shit like this, if even sardonically. Don’t kid yourself, beneath the sarcasm is a sincere reverence, the type of veneration we typically reserve for saints (and members of the Kennedy clan).

It’s a matter of Faith: Reagan wasn’t meant to be assassinated. And by Faith, of course, I don’t mean God (Reagan didn’t need God), I mean the Free Market. If the Free Market had wanted him to die, he would have died.

Speaking of faith, freedom and folly: the only force of nature more powerful than any of the fixations previously mentioned is that of the gun fanatics. Maybe, maybe—coming as it did less than half a year after John Lennon was murdered—if Hinckley’s assassination attempt had been successful, we might have had a national consensus of sorts. This, after all, was the moment, where we could—and should—have rallied around sensible gun control. It was the moment when all forces came into focus; it was, after all, their hero in the crosshairs.

Naturally, nothing of the sort happened. Brady became an advocate for a more sane approach to gun ownership, earning him the enmity of idiots who should have never ceased appreciating him. These, after all, are the same sorts who will swear up and down that Reagan did as much as anyone not named Rocky Balboa to defeat the Evil Empire.

How then, was any of this possible and how can such farce still hold sway over a sizable portion of our populace? The same technique that ensures certain stories get told and taught centuries after they are composed: the power of good narrative. That the Iran-contra affair is glossed over the way we never talk about our drunken uncle in the retirement home, or that taxes are actually lower during Obama’s tenure than Reagan’s, or that the First Couple regularly consulted an astrologist never tends to come up in not-so-casual conversation is part and parcel of the almost entirely successful enterprise to consecrate The Gipper.

The moral, as it applies to our contemporary political scene, is straightforward as it is distressing: risible dialogue delivered by a screen-tested salesman will always win more votes than substance offered up, however earnestly, by a substitute teacher. This helps explain the (mostly) refreshing phenomenon of Bill Clinton and underscores the inestimable potential squandered by Barack Obama: when the Democrats have a personality commensurate with their common-sense policies, they have half a chance.

There have, of course, been elections won and lost by both parties, PR initiatives shifting momentum (and money, always money) from the haves to the have-mores and there is little new under the sun. But if we look back at the last three decades, the Biggest Victory—transcending all the skirmishes fought during the last several presidential terms—and the enduring legacy of the Reagan Revolution, is the impervious story it continues to tell, and sell. It informs our craven political discourse; it intimidates an increasingly incurious media and bulldozes an ever credulous Republican base.

Data, facts and near-depressions be damned, we have seen one side nominate a succession of buffoons who should only have inspired bad fiction instead of engineering ever-more-implausible reality. Against all probability, that’s their story and they’re sticking to it.

Against all tolerability, the rest of us might remain stuck to it.

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Point/Counterpoint: Sean Beaudoin vs. Sean Murphy – the 90?s Edition (The Weeklings*)

arseniobill

Point/Counterpoint is a beloved feature that first appeared in the fall ’72 Telex edition of the Weeklings. PC/P is the product of an intellectual tradition hearkening back to storied Oxford debate squads and the golden age of radio, in which two authors match wits over random subjects while being forced to choose a side and defend it on the fly. Readers are advised to stand back, as the heat can get intense. This week’s All 90?s arm wrestle involves essayist, raconteur, and former Governor of Virginia, Mr. Sean Murphy.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are now on the clock.

 

Michael Jordan –

Point (Murphy): Here is the uncomplicated part: Jordan is the dominant and peerless athlete of the ‘90s. Here is the complicated part: He is a prick. Big deal, right? Well, not so fast. Certainly, when it comes to athletes, actors, authors and the rich and famous in general, we don’t—and often shouldn’t—expect much in terms of humanity. They are too busy perfecting their craft, and in the instance of rich and famous, being an asshole is their life’s work. And for the creative sorts who have left us with profoundly moving, redemptive art, we acknowledge that messy interpersonal relations or despicable traits all pale in comparison to what they were put on earth to do. But just as Jordan is a once-in-a-generation talent, so too was his opportunity to make a real once-in-a-generation type difference. Indeed, one could argue that today, with our five-second attention spans and every idiot (famous or not) working ceaselessly on building their unique “brand”, it’s difficult to rise above the din. It is, therefore, easier to imagine the impact Jordan might have had, in an analog era, to make a meaningful and lasting difference, had he cared to do so. Famously, he didn’t. “Republicans buy sneakers too,” he quipped sardonically, with a lack of shame and soul that would make Ayn Rand wet. Could Jordan single-handedly have improved sweatshop conditions overseas and reigned in the worst aspects of the previous decade’s consumerism apocalypse? Actually, yes. He might have done more than merely be immortal on the hard wood; he could have changed our world, for the better. How many people in any generation actually have this ability?

Counter-Point (Beaudoin): I don’t think any public figure, celebrity or athlete or otherwise, has an obligation to make a difference. Whatever a “difference” might actually mean. Jordan was basically conservative, in the sense that he was relentless, ruthless, and did whatever it took to make as much money as possible. I see that as a very political act. He rejected the notion that his opinion on Bosnia or race relations was of greater value than not upsetting Hanes executives. He succinctly expressed his worldview by giving everyone the finger while insulating himself behind a wall of Nike checks. And also by being the Greatest Player Ever. Sorry, but if Mike had flown to Malaysia to lock arms with workers in front of a sweatshop gate, he wouldn’t have been the guy who stuck a dagger in Craig Ehlo’s heart, or marginalized Patrick Ewing, or pushed Bryon Russell out of the way like he didn’t exist before sinking the jumper that doomed Karl Malone. I fundamentally disagree with the notion that artists should be judged by their personal lives as opposed to their output. It’s a dangerous temptation when the artist is still alive, because it’s almost impossible for their behavior not to color perceptions of their work. I’m not going to pretend I can watch Curse of the Jade Scorpion without wondering about Woody’s predilections, fairly or otherwise. But I would argue, at least theoretically, that we all should be able to. It’s a good movie or it isn’t. (It’s not). But if you went back through history, almost every great artist (and many not great ones) were complete assholes. Check out the life of Caravaggio. But you don’t see too many people complaining about “David With the Head of Goliath” hanging at the Met because they’re offended by him as a person. To see the world in a truly original fashion and then be able to interpret that view with unusual skill and nuance often requires a level of narcissism that results in aberrant, transgressive, and/or manic behavior. Michael Jordan is exactly the complicated amalgam of thoughts and behaviors and beliefs that allowed him to play like him. If he were 9% better of a person, he’d no doubt have been more accessible in the locker room and maybe even spokesman for a worthy cause, but he wouldn’t have played the way he did. People are the totality of themselves. If Mike were the person you wanted him to be, then he’d also have been B.J. Armstrong, and therefore not the person you wanted at all.

The-Curse-of-the-Jade-Scorpion-charlize-theron-1691502-1024-768

Newt Gingrich –

Point (Beaudoin): If somewhere in Washington D.C. right this second there’s a bigger sac of crappy ideas, unearned self-regard, and a true disdain for “the people” masquerading as public service, I dare you to name them. It’s astonishing that Newton Leroy Gingrich is still taken seriously enough to have just made even a doomed run for president, let alone win a few primaries, although perhaps we can thank him for having burned through twenty million of Sheldon Adelson’s money for no good reason whatsoever. Gingrich’s “Contract With America” was a failure on nearly every front, a zero-sum political expedience bereft of ethical standards that ushered in the hyper-partisan behavior currently crippling government. Add to that the mendacity of having crowed about “family values” on television nearly every night, including the period in which he led the charge to impeach Bill Clinton, while simultaneously conducting numerous affairs of his own on the side. In the meantime, Gingrich was run out of office by his own party, wrote nine remaindered novels that other books are embarrassed to be shelved next to, and then married a woman who looks like a steak knife wearing a toupee. Easily one of the worst people in America.

Counter-Point (Murphy): But we want Newt Gingrich on that wall. We need Newt Gingrich on that wall. And do you think it’s easy being Newt? Respect, and a sort of awe, is required for a man who never asked to be a Mr. Potato Head of all Shakespeare’s best villains: one part Polonius’s sanctimony; one part Falstaff’s red-jowled bluster; one part Iago’s soulless scheming. He is the tragicomic Sisyphus of our time, pushing the boulder of ambition up that hill, only to be toppled each time he is so close he can taste it (realizing, as he careens ass over ego, that the smell of victory is actually the collective babble from inside-the-Beltway blowhards, who turn on you so quickly it’s almost like an homage). His eyes forever on the prize, a would-be Bogeyman for an ill America; instead he ends up inside his own closet, sniffing other people’s panties. Don’t all the haters realize he would enjoy nothing more than crawling under that rock to decay, silently, into the soil? Instead, he is compelled to stand in front of We The People who can’t understand he just wasn’t made for these times? That, had he only been given the chance, he could have taught Jefferson a thing or two about writing (and philandering), he could have out-proselytized any of our wig-wearing Weekend Warriors, he could have saved us a Civil War by proving separation of the races was God’s will (or else The South was the New Jerusalem, or some other shit), he could have, well, he could have been a contender. Gingrich is the real life Willy Loman of our political stage, still out hustling his wares, not aware that his time has passed, his time was never in fact here: it was an illusion, a great white hype, a bloated gasp for relevance that will echo forever as a footnote, a guffaw and a grimace. Newt Gingrich exists because no one else could possibly play the part. For this unpalatable but irrefutable fact, attention must be paid.

Newt describing the size and shape of his second wife's taint.

Alice in Chains –

Point (Murphy): While I find Nirvana terminally exalted to the point of parody (the idea that Cobain is the spokesperson of his generation is almost as depressing as people killing each other over a used pair of Air Jordans), and I never had much love for Pearl Jam, I think Alice in Chains is the great overlooked band of the ‘90s. Awful enough, today, to be remembered as a “grunge” band; infinitely worse to be damned with the flannel-smelling praise of achieving “lesser” grunge status. I find this unfortunate, in part because Alice in Chains did more to outshine that lame, facile label than any of their brethren. Layne Staley is best in small-ish doses, I’ll concede, but even at his most affected, his intensity is always undercut by Jerry Cantrell’s calm, cool and disaffected harmonies. Let’s not mince words, I not only consider Dirt a masterpiece, I’d put it in my Top 10 of that decade: it’s a suicide note in music, and the fact that less than a decade later, Staley would indeed be dead only adds to its desolate aura. There is anger, hurt, self-pity, self-hatred and, ultimately, a defiance that, for me, makes the posturing of other grunge acts seem like an after-school special. “Down in a Hole”, a showcase for the ways the band balanced bleakness and brawn, endures as a too-intimate tour into the darkest heart of addiction, full of recrimination and remorse, yet it somehow manages to be…tender? We rightly indict so many pop acts for faking it; these dudes were laying it all out there, and they perfected an ugly type of beauty that, unlike so much else that came out of the ‘90s, isn’t tied to time or place.

Counter-Point (Beaudoin): I will agree that it was a horrible decade for music in general, but if Dirt is even in the top hundred albums, the 90?s might go down as the worst arbitrary stretch of years in human history, including all that Vaudeville piano “Oh, my baby loves whisker soap and Sarsaparilla” shit. I think Alice in Chains is basically an unlistenable pile of derivative hooks and suspect melodies, and in particular that Layne Staley’s voice is maddening in the extreme. He’s always straining for a note, always resolving a line in exactly the same way, not to mention burbling insipid lyrics about roosters and (yawn) heroin dissolution. But what’s vastly more interesting than the relative accuracy of those statements is how you and I, who otherwise share so much in common as far as musical taste, could view this band so polemically. When I was younger (back in the 90s) I was often annoyed by this sort of thing, but now I find it fascinating. We are two very different people who are inconsistent and unpredictable! We are governed by a false logic called “taste” that is actually a product of our environment, imagination, and maybe even our genetic sequence! Opinions about music are basically arbitrary and worthless! Hooray life! Although I will say that the one band I truly loathed more than any other in the 90?s was Third Eye Blind. You better not tell me you have a poster of them on your ceiling or we’re done.

The soundtrack to the best years of our lives.

Y2K –

Point (Beaudoin): Can you imagine how truly wonderful it would have been if computers across the globe really did lock up on that fateful midnight? And not just until repairs could be enacted, but permanently and across the globe, remaining useless hunks of mis-dated silicone all these years later and having saved us the indignities of Reddit, texting, Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, and people talking loudly on cell phones in cafes? Oh why, Y2K, why did you fail to be the catastrophe we so richly deserved?

Counter-Point (Murphy):

If Y2K had delivered the goods, pulling a Terminator Skynet and leaving us in a Bladerunner-style post-apocalypse, I would not have been able to burn the next decade converting my creative energy, youthful idealism and pre-midlife angst into emails instead of novels. If Y2K pulled the plug (figuratively) ensuring we had to pull our puds forever in analog (literally), I would have had nothing better to do than tackle the ever-expanding list of unread books that, fourteen years later makes Borges’ Library of Babel look like the pile of magazines at a doctor’s office. If Y2K had truly partied like it was 1999, I would still remember what grass smelled like, what sweat felt like, what animals sounded like, what real people looked like, or what composing a sentence uninterrupted by a dozen extraneous thoughts and distractions Google/Facebook/iPhone-d like. Why would I possibly want any part of that?

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Quentin Tarantino –

Point (Murphy): Even typing out his name makes me cringe. It’s not just that everything he’s done since the ‘90s has sucked, or that he is at once uninhibited and oleaginous in ways that could put infomercial stars and politicians to shame. It’s not even that he’s been sprinting in circles, overrated and infuriating as only the rarest of artists can manage to be. His real crime is the breathless puerility suffusing almost every scene of every movie, post Jackie Brown. (Technically proficient, sure, and his action sequences—however insipid or ultra-violent—get high marks on the pyrotechnics scale.)  Each successive effort implodes on its own adrenaline, ending up like a puppy trying to fuck its own poop. And yet…it seems churlish to hate on the former video clerk who gave us Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, no? In fairness, could we reasonably expect anything after that one-two punch? He made a couple of movies that did not capture the proverbial Zeitgeist so much as bury it alive in a wood coffin (see what I did there?), only to have it erupt out of the ground in the form of a million inferior imitations. So it’s not that his movies, post-Y2K, are an endless fruit loop of diminishing returns, it’s ultimately that Tarantino epitomizes so much of what went wrong in the ‘90s, continuing through our present day. It’s not even his fault, really. Other than pesky matters of integrity, who can blame QT for giving the people what they want? Of course we can point to any era and explore how naked opportunism and commercial-minded replication is the de-facto setting, especially in Hollywood. Isn’t the worst sin of this justly-maligned decade the way we consecrated an ongoing syndrome of inauthenticity, super-sizing and one-upmanship, whether it involves music, movie sequels, book series or (un)reality TV?

Counter-Point (Beaudoin): Say what you want about Tarantino, and it’s interesting because he’s one of those rare cinematic personalities about whom you could easily deliver a convincing rant on almost any side of any issue, including each of his movies, girlfriends, and Oscar speeches–but he’s done three things in his career which to me absolve him of almost any other fault: 1. In Reservoir Dogs he single-handedly resurrected the soundtrack as personality or extra character, using Joe Tex and Blue Swede and Stealers Wheel just as effectively as Harvey Keitel or Michael Madsen. Punchy street level counter-rhythms were the true engine behind Reservoir Dogs, far more than the ear-cutting scene or Chris Penn’s tracksuit. 2. Casting John Travolta in Pulp Fiction was an incredibly brave and far-sighted choice. It’s hard to remember now, but Travolta was essentially Kryptonite in 1992, more a bloated former Sweat Hog than the action hero he would soon become. Turning him into a henchman with a ponytail and a bag full of dope who could do a mean Twist at Jack Rabbit Slim’s was a stroke of pure genius. 3. Dialog. By the late 80?s Hollywood had completely forgotten what real, honest dialog even sounded like, not to mention brought to a script. It’s not Tarantino’s fault that Pulp Fiction spawned a thousand cheap imitations of Samuel L. Jackson’s Valley of Death speech, or years of Mumblecore versions of Royale With Cheese. “I just don’t dig on animals that don’t know enough to get out of their own filth” reminded us that people tend to talk to each other in crude and mundane ways that can often be revelatory. Tarantino was the one who made us realize it again.

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Every Movie that has Ever Won an Academy Award Should Not Have –

Point (Beaudoin): Let’s just talk about Forrest Gump here, and let it stand in for every other stiffed and slighted film in Oscar history, even though complaining about the illogic of Oscar voting is essentially the same as arguing about the outcome of an episode of Deal or No Deal. In any case, Forrest Gump is a disingenuous stinking turd of a film, a palliative for Clinton-era ennui and the residual shame of fifty years of tragically stupid foreign policy decisions. Three Back to the Future films gave Bob Zemeckis the technical chops to place Forrest relatively convincingly next to Nixon, but was in fact a trick better exploited (first) by Woody Allen in Zelig. Gump’s dimwitted celebration of the wholly American desire to retroactively cast itself as an innocent bystander to its own crimes pissed me off in the theater when it came out, and my antipathy has only increased since. Forrest Gump (you could easily make the same case for the career of Tom Hanks) is the epitome of the need to reduce complex events and emotions into a montage of bromides and high-panted shrugs that more or less say, “I know, I know, but we meant well, didn’t we?” No, we mostly didn’t. The only truly honest element of the film is the one in which Gump repeatedly acts like a creepy stalker who in any other context Jenny would have aggressively restraining-ordered halfway through his first Savoy Truffle. My understanding is that in the sequel, Gump in the Rye, Colin Hanks plays a Jodi Foster fetishist who sniffs his fingertips a lot and keeps getting arrested crouching behind the shrubs of David Letterman’s estate.

Counter-Point (Murphy): Movies like Unforgiven and The Silence of the Lambs are not simply overrated twaddle: they are to Art what charlatans like Dr. Drew are to medicine or abominations like Politico are to journalism: the “real” thing for the undiscerning, intellectually unevolved, instinctually incurious, easily impressed, overly assured. The ‘90s Academy Awards were like a Bizarro aesthetic universe, a perverse pinball machine where smug smacked off cynical and clanged into self-satisfaction and descended into the gutter of banality (Life is Beautiful should have earned everyone involved a cinematic red card, sent off the artistic pitch for eternity; instead, of course, it won that buffoon Roberto Benigni a best actor statue proving that Life is Unbearable). But hey, if it wasn’t for the ‘90s Academy Awards, I may have entered the new millennium not sufficiently disabused of the illusion that substance beats style, or that feel-good and soulless saccharine is sniffed out by uncorrupted tastemakers, or that Money always, always means more than Authenticity. Seeing travesty (Goodfellas losing to Dances with Wolves) after mockery (American Beauty over The Insider) after perversion (Braveheart beating anything) did me one lasting service: it ensured that I’d never watch, or even pay attention to, the exorbitant, appalling and onanistic festival of ostentation and egotism that is the Academy Awards, ever again. Stupid is, after all, as Stupid Does.

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Life Used to be Less Complicated –

Point (Murphy): I’m always on guard against two things above all: cliché and nostalgia, as both are traps that short-circuit critical thought and unfettered perspective. But damn if I don’t miss reading books. Don’t get me wrong: I still read books, all the time. But it’s been over a decade since I spent several hours, uninterrupted, mug nuzzled in a paperback. Much as I like to resist them, the shrieks from my devices, arrayed around me like so many electronic magpies, are all but impossible to ignore. I blame myself for this lack of discipline, but I reminisce about a time when it was novel to walk into the other room once or twice an hour to check email, and then return to my novel. Now, I can hardly watch a movie or read an essay (much less a book) without constantly making sure I’m not missing anything. In my paltry defense I’d say it’s less the FOMO phenomenon and more an actual rewiring of the way my mind works. That scares the shit out of me, especially as someone with artistic inclinations. Even at work, it’s not uncommon for me to have multiple windows open at any given time, along with Outlook, a spreadsheet or two and one or two documents, perhaps with music playing, and I’ll open a new window and while I’m waiting for it to load (three seconds being an eternity; an actual connection issue an affront), I’ll check my mail, and then go back to the fresh window and forget what I opened it for. This too mortifies me. I’m as much a tech junkie as anyone, and while I’d like to blame these portable, connected toys for corrupting our supposedly more serene lives, I suspect it’s even worse: technology has tricked us into being busier every single day, and it’s not even work, it’s play.  Is this a trend we can slow down? Should we? Or are we advancing our evolution, fast-tracking an ability to connect, communicate and yes, commiserate, in a fashion previously unimagined? Having virtually everything that has been or is being created, available for free, in real time, is something I would have considered an outright miracle as a bored young punk; now it increasingly seems like the gift that will keep taking.

Counter-Point (Beaudoin): Even in the context of what it was like in this country before 1920, we are, basically, whiny, entitled worms. Life did not used to be less complicated. Life was very much more complicated, surrounded as it was by the demands of basic survival on almost every front, even for the wealthy. Pregnancy, disease, life expectancy, travel, drinking water, food production, physical labor, information distribution, the legal system, heat, cold, even just basic hygiene–all were vastly more difficult and elusive. The degree to which we are now basically helpless, dismissive of our past, and criminally soft in almost every way makes me deeply depressed at 3 a.m at least once a week.

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What Monica (Lewinsky) Means, Then and Now –

Point (Beaudoin): During the height of the Oddly Placed Cigar Era, I made plenty of jokes at Ms. Lewinsky’s expense. I didn’t think of her as a person, never considered what it might have been like to be the object of that level of scrutiny. To me she was an event. A cartoon. She was the woman naive enough to believe a self-serving philanderer really loved her, or would protect her when the time came. She was a pair of salacious lips, a 50?s haircut, a soiled dress. Most damningly, she was the woman dumb enough to confide in Linda Tripp. But then I grew up some and began to feel a great deal of empathy for Monica. I began to realize that if you collected even the smallest fraction of the really stupid things I did in my twenties and allowed the full blast of media hypocrisy to judge them, I would even now be in permanent solitary, busy talking to the walls and throwing my excrement at guards. How unfortunate to have your sexuality formed by a massively famous public figure, let alone then exposed to the world. Can you imagine standing by, powerless, while the rest of your life was determined by the whims of a sanctimonious cunt like Ken Starr? And then to be smothered under another twenty years of Clinton family prominence, your name forever brought up as a smirking reference, even as Hillary mulls another presidential run certain to kick off more cheap jokes and snide commentary? Which is all to say that I read Monica’s Vanity Fair piece genuinely rooting for her to charge out strong, unbowed, and newly emergent. Instead it wallowed in self-pity and lame justifications. She had two decades to write that fucking thing! It should have been a call to arms. A raw plea. A bruising manifesto littered with scorched politicians and gashed pundits that made Ted Kaczynski look like Ogden Nash. Didn’t really happen. Shit, she should have let me write it for her. I seriously would have for two hundred bucks and a platter of tacos.

Counter-Point (Murphy): Time has only convinced me that it’s not how great Clinton is (or was), so much as how spectacularly so many of his left-ish leaning compatriots suck by comparison, that makes liberals love their Bubba the way Bubba used to love Krispy Kreme. (The fact that he outfoxed the aforementioned ass-clown Gingrich is enough to earn him eternal goodwill in some circles, including mine.) As such, he may be a rascal, an imp, an occasionally immoral scoundrel but, dagnabit, he’s our scoundrel. While history will look increasingly less kindly at the Glass –Steagall sell-out (where triangulation met gluttony to create an unfettered shitstorm America will never fully recover from), it’s l’affaire Lewinsky that makes so many things Clinton, Inc. so difficult to digest. One might even say that Hillary was not standing by her man so much as protecting The Brand, a premonition of the brazen megalomania that hurt her in 2008 and makes her…a perfect candidate for 2016? As for poor Monica, it’s difficult to feel anything but pity for her, however naïve and vacuous she remains. That she was seduced, used and then tossed aside by an administration that was equal parts Caligula and Don Corleone is a sober reminder that history has always been written by the powerful, and the powerful are often neither great nor good people. (That history is reported these days, as it unfolds, by boot-lickers who love nothing more than the smell of a semen-scented dress is too obvious, and depressing, to warrant further commentary.) In this case, her story is His Story and however we interpret it (then, now, later) is our collective story, since all but a handful of us will always be spectators. Are we not entertained?

LEWINSKY

This article originally appeared on 10/1 in The Weeklings. More on that amazing site, HERE.

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The Power of Political Narrative: Part One, The GOP

RONALD REAGAN

i. Magical Thinking and the Memory Hole

LIKE MOST EVERYONE ELSE I know, I grew up—really grew up, if I’ve ever actually grown up—in the Reagan 80’s. Take my childhood, please. Actually, it wasn’t all that bad, at least for the middle class kids. During the extreme periods of Boom and Busted, Pro and Convicts, the majority in the middle seldom feels the pain; they rarely see the cocked fists and hoisted heels. It’s the people on the poles playing out cause and effect: the haves doing things the have-nots don’t have the voice or power to protest. The have-lesses can afford to ignore the news or else lay back like so many frogs, believing the boiling pan is actually a Jacuzzi.

Question: How else can you get people to consistently vote for policies that devastate them, counter almost each admonition of the (white, muscle-bound) Jesus and stagnate growth for every sector except, of course, the obscenely wealthy who rewrite the rules as they go along?

Answer: The power of magical thinking. It’s the fulcrum upon which most religious and political momentum swings: all it requires is uncritical, unblinking fealty and it’s amazing how simple, and ceaselessly restorative this exercise can be for the unenquiring mind. All of a sudden the world shrinks, Santa Claus exists, America is God’s favorite country, regulation is anathema, raising the minimum wage kills job creation, et cetera.

Capitalism isn’t wrong, but neither is intelligence: you cannot spend money and make money; someone is always paying the tab (and it’s usually the poor suckers who can’t spend it who take it in the you-know-where so that anonymous, ancient board members can pulverize their portfolios). It’s all about numbers. Like an army, like America. Whether you’re a company or a cult (like an army, like America), you simply want to amass enough affluence that nothing else matters.

Which brings us to the looming midterm elections. If Obama has been sufficiently underwhelming to induce depression, at least he staved off a Depression. If we have nothing else going for us, no one wants to return to the bad old days when W. took us on a (dry) drunk drive into the ditch, right? The silver lining of falling so far is the full and final repudiation of a greed-first ethos so aggressively sold for thirty-plus years. Isn’t it? Oh…

Instead of putting his boot on the squirming corpse of Reagan’s revolution, Obama postulated that we should heal. Instead of accountability for the Masters of the Universe who insisted the ensuing debacle was not possible even as they gorged at the trough, Obama appointed some of them in charge of the clean-up. Instead of a reckoning—and the welcome spectacle of some well-warranted tar and feathering on Wall Street—we suffered the indignity of a gigantic reset button, paid for by the taxpayers whose 401(k)’s got fucked.  The super-connected swindlers whose idea of trickle-down economics is pissing on the collective heads of the middle and lower classes bounced right back into the saddle. Check them out: their fattened wallets broke their falls.

The Democrats, who had a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebrand (reestablish?) themselves as the party that not only cared, but governed for the 98%, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as only Dems can do. More egregiously by far, the GOP, who have dedicated six years to temper tantrums and intransigence, stand poised to retake the Senate and retain the House.

How did this happen? How is it possible? The power of political narrative.

 

ii. The Power of Political Narrative

Understanding, and exploiting, the power of Narrative is the impetus that unites such unlikely—and antithetical—endeavors as Art, Business and Politics. The ones that can tell a story about what you need to know are important; the ones who tell you a story about what you want to hear can become immortal.

Our country was founded on the Narrative of The Future (City upon a Hill, anyone?): always looking toward what we could be, collectively, if we appealed to the better angels of our Nature, our Natural State being invariably democratic, tolerant of disparate faiths—including those without faith—and apparently unperturbed by the genocides inflicted upon our Native and African American brethren. Some eggs, after all, had to be broken in the service of this great experimental omelette called America.

Eventually, it required a Civil War to determine if we would keep looking forward or be cleaved forever into (at least) two countries, one peering over its shoulder, pining to preserve a way of life that never existed in the first place, at least for the majority of the people. (Sound familiar?)

Flash forward one hundred years to the Civil Rights Movement: a generational and geographic divide that once again found us at a crossroads of progress and reactionary segregation. History, as the cliché goes, is ghost-written by the winners. Looking at American history, for good or ill we’ve tended to define our triumphs as events that unified us, moving us along a progressive path from there to here, consistent with the founding notion—however fanciful—that we were collectively edging toward improvement and inclusion.

Two of the big “wins” of the 20th Century involved presidents named Roosevelt. First, Teddy, who took on Big Business and monopolies, instituting some overdue governmental oversight. His Square Deal regulated out-of-control American industry in the name of safety. A few decades later, his cousin Franklin ushered in The New Deal, ensuring that, for the next several decades government would, on balance, be seen as an institution that did more good than ill. Until the ‘80s, both of these developments were generally considered positive for all citizens, regardless of their political affiliation. Books like Sinclair’s The Jungle or indelible memories from the Great Depression reminded people—and their heirs—that government was the last thing standing between them and unfettered market forces. The notable exception, as ever, being the wealthiest percentile, whose disdain FDR all but celebrated (“I welcome their hatred”), a provocation Obama might wish he’d emulated in 2009.

In an exploit that still resonates for its audacity, Ronald Reagan drew a conservative line in the sand, assailing the presumption of government as an constructive agent, not by nitpicking but taking aim at its raison d’être .With a country still reeling from the apathy and cynicism of the post-Nixon nadir, he pre-empted that anger and uttered the immortal words: “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” And for the first time in half a century the Republicans steadily assumed control of a new narrative. It was simple as it was shameless; it was the most facile strategy fathomable, and the GOP finally had a patron saint to make it sacrosanct. Needless to say, it worked brilliantly.

 

iii. The Ill Communicator

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled, Baudelaire once wrote, was convincing the world he doesn’t exist. Well, the greatest trick the GOP ever pulled was convincing its flock that the devil does exist. The way to keep the Evil One at bay is to close your eyes and never, ever question The Man—unless he happens to be a Democrat.

All some Americans need is a person to play the part and tell them how great they are, how amazing we are, and then, no matter how much the unemployment rate and the deficit spike, it’s all good because we feel good. It is too easy and that is too simple. But the more one looks at Reagan (the man, the myth, the legend—literally), the more difficult it becomes to reach any other conclusion.

Along came St. Ronnie, the actor who made a fortune making awful movies, parlaying this into a career that put his acting ability to the summit of its purpose, circa second-half century America. Rich, he became a lot richer turning his back gleefully on his past, transmuting from an admirer of FDR to a True Believer who hit the trail for the repugnant Barry Goldwater. From a man who saw the country ravaged by the Great Depression, and therefore endorsed the New Deal, he subsequently did more than any president to undo the legislation that helped stave off a genuine catastrophe and fortified the middle-class for decades.

Now it’s an open competition to see which Republican can invoke him most often and they can’t name buildings after him quickly enough. Reagan has become the conservative alternative to Che Guevara.  As we’ve seen in the short time since his death (indeed, in an initiative that kicked off years before he even kicked the bucket, by those who stand to profit most from his hagiography), a very intense and deliberate effort was undertaken to beatify and whitewash a legacy that was far from undisputed in the late ‘80s.

The Reagan Revolution built its momentum on a shameful vilification of America’s poor and lionized (some would say fetishized) the wealthiest percentile and transformed them into folk heroes. Because Michael Douglas turned in such an effulgent performance (in a rather mush-mouthed, typically ham-fisted Oliver Stone screenplay), few people—then; now—understood that Gordon Gekko was not “merely” a bad guy; he was a sociopath. In less than two terms, Reaganomics and Wall Street vandalism laid waste to the working class and put us on a path where the richest of the rich were entitled, by Divine Right, to pay ever-smaller tax rates. Meanwhile, young pillagers in training, like Mitt Romney, perfected the business acumen of bankrupting companies for profit into a repugnant performance art.

Despite an inconvenient eight year blip on the radar, where taxes were raised and the economy soared, the GOP, led by Dick “Deficits Don’t Matter” Cheney, had eight years to use the country as a demented sort of lab experiment. The result: 2008 and the cratered economy Obama inherited.

 

 iv. The Five Commandments

After the disgust and disbelief settles, one feels obliged to give props to the Republican ratfuckers. Over the last few decades while they have dabbled in the vicarious thrill of foreign occupations and the odious gutter-dwelling of racial and sexual identity politicking, the cretins behind the curtain have focused on a handful of tactical battles in which they have more or less achieved their ends. This strategy has many moving parts, but can be boiled down to a handful of inviolable commandments, the enforcement of which ensures that no one is ever off script. And make no mistake, this script is like religion—only belief is not optional. The first and foremost commandment, propagated to the extent that it’s literally received as gospel—no matter how repeatedly disproven it is in practice—is that any taxes at any time are always a deplorable idea.

The second is that the mainstream media has a liberal bias. They’ve succeeded so thoroughly in this monomaniacal mission that once first-rate newspapers like The Washington Post now police their content excessively enough to render them neutral, if not neutered. The Op-Ed page has for more than a decade been patrolled by whacked-out hardliners who would have been laughed out of conservative circles only twenty years ago; back in the days when the GOP was devising health care reform that is now successfully considered socialism.

The third, which has been accomplished with considerable assistance from an increasingly reckless, ambitious and soulless Democratic party, is the demonization of unions. Long, sad story in one sentence or less: during the last half-century—but with a vengeance beginning in the ‘70s—unions lost influence while Democrats simultaneously abandoned them to court wealthy financiers to fund their increasingly lavish campaign expenses. Why the Republicans want to eradicate the same movement that helped bring us regulation, forty hour work weeks, overtime and collective bargaining is beyond no-brainer. Why the Democrats have allowed this to happen, abetting it more often than not, is owed to an opportunistic cynicism that has gutted the sensible and effective backbone of the Progressive cause in ways both myopic and tragic.

The fourth is that public education fails us, that teachers are overpaid and underachieving, and that while no cuts to any military spending are conceivable, all manner of funds and aid to public schools are forever on the table.

The fifth, final and most cheeky involves the mantra that government does not work. It’s a neat trick in which, when Republicans take power, they spend their time ensuring this assertion is true, all while consistently expanding the size of government along with the size of the national debt. Then, like clockwork, once the people have finally seen enough, a Democrat comes in with the thankless task of cleaning up the mess, and the disloyal opposition becomes a cadre of small government deficit hawks. That this same farce was pulled off so spectacularly after our recent recession says as much, if not more, about the aforementioned media and the supine Democrats as it does about the unabashed GOP.

 

v. Faith in Something Bigger than God

To see the full flowering of this psychosis, one needs look no further than the recent passing of James Brady.

Brady, for those who weren’t alive in 1981, is the unfortunate aid who had the bad luck of being mortal, and getting in the way of some bullets that could never have killed Reagan anyway. Before Brady died I might have been embarrassed to write something so churlish; a cursory glance at the comments section of any of the Brady obits confirms that there are a lot of people out there spouting shit like this, if even sardonically. Don’t kid yourself, beneath the sarcasm is a sincere reverence, the type of veneration we typically reserve for saints (and members of the Kennedy clan).

It’s a matter of Faith: Reagan wasn’t meant to be assassinated. And by Faith, of course, I don’t mean God (Reagan didn’t need God), I mean the Free Market. If the Free Market had wanted him to die, he would have died.

Speaking of faith, freedom and folly: the only force of nature more powerful than any of the fixations previously mentioned is that of the gun fanatics. Maybe, maybe—coming as it did less than half a year after John Lennon was murdered—if Hinckley’s assassination attempt had been successful, we might have had a national consensus of sorts. This, after all, was the moment, where we could—and should—have rallied around sensible gun control. It was the moment when all forces came into focus; it was, after all, their hero in the crosshairs.

Naturally, nothing of the sort happened. Brady became an advocate for a more sane approach to gun ownership, earning him the enmity of idiots who should have never ceased appreciating him. These, after all, are the same sorts who will swear up and down that Reagan did as much as anyone not named Rocky Balboa to defeat the Evil Empire.

How then, was any of this possible and how can such farce still hold sway over a sizable portion of our populace? The same technique that ensures certain stories get told and taught centuries after they are composed: the power of good narrative. That the Iran-contra affair is glossed over the way we never talk about our drunken uncle in the retirement home, or that taxes are actually lower during Obama’s tenure than Reagan’s, or that the First Couple regularly consulted an astrologist never tends to come up in not-so-casual conversation is part and parcel of the almost entirely successful enterprise to consecrate The Gipper.

The moral, as it applies to our contemporary political scene, is straightforward as it is distressing: risible dialogue delivered by a screen-tested salesman will always win more votes than substance offered up, however earnestly, by a substitute teacher. This helps explain the (mostly) refreshing phenomenon of Bill Clinton and underscores the inestimable potential squandered by Barack Obama: when the Democrats have a personality commensurate with their common-sense policies, they have half a chance.

There have, of course, been elections won and lost by both parties, PR initiatives shifting momentum (and money, always money) from the haves to the have-mores and there is little new under the sun. But if we look back at the last three decades, the Biggest Victory—transcending all the skirmishes fought during the last several presidential terms—and the enduring legacy of the Reagan Revolution, is the impervious story it continues to tell, and sell. It informs our craven political discourse; it intimidates an increasingly incurious media and bulldozes an ever credulous Republican base.

Data, facts and near-depressions be damned, we have seen one side nominate a succession of buffoons who should only have inspired bad fiction instead of engineering ever-more-implausible reality. Against all probability, that’s their story and they’re sticking to it.

Against all tolerability, the rest of us might remain stuck to it.

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That Dog Will Hunt: Bill Clinton’s Big Gift

The Big Dawg was unleashed, and boy was Bubba barking last night.

Employing his best Arkansas drawl, he connected in ways that no president –of either party– has been able to do in several decades (if ever).

How many times did he say “Listen” or “Wait a minute”, “This is important” or simply “Now…”?

Can you imagine any other politician, on either side of the aisle, being able to pull that off? One who would even try?

I can’t.

What was the moment when he won the evening? (Well, the correct answer is: the second he opened his mouth.)

When he pointed out that Obama appointed Hillary, that was a classic Clintonian moment; it was the way he said it: Heck, he even appointed Hillary!

That is “triangulation” on an entirely different level: that of the elder statesmen, the wizened veteran, the wily rascal, still lavishing every second on the biggest of stages.

One of my (female) friends texted me halfway through the speech and wrote “He could get some from any woman in that room right now. Well, except Hillary.”

In truth, the entire speech was, to invoke a very tired but totally necessary cliché, a tour de force. There is only one person on the planet who could have pulled that off, and his initials are WJC.

For me, the seminal moment occurred when he paused –after succinctly laying out what the Republicans want (and have promised to do): even lower taxes for the wealthiest 1%, increased defense spending (in excess of what the Pentagon has asked for!), and significant cuts in the programs that help the middle class and poor kids– and smirked: “As another president said: There they go again.”

That is how you insert the shiv with a smile on your face.

On purely aesthetic levels, this was truly like an extend jazz improvisation: only someone with the requisite skills, knowledge and discipline can operate without a net, in real time, and make the magic happen as they go along.

You like apples? How about THESE apples.

An already beefy speech almost doubled in word count via off-the-cuff observations and friendly-sounding fire dropping out of the September sky like a rain of apocalyptic frogs. Too long? The only people wishing it would end were the people on the receiving end of those barbs and jibes (or aw shucks and jives). There were myriad reasons Clinton drove the Republicans bat-shit insane all through the ’90s and some of them were on ample display last night: the type of instant connection with a crowd that a spoon-fed charlatan like Mitt Romney could not buy with his considerable millions, the love of debate backed by stats and history (two things the contemporary GOP is increasingly allergic to, and for good reason) and an almost inimitable ability to praise his past foes all in the service of making a point about the contemporary villains. At the risk of redundancy, I’m compelled to pull another cliché out of the campfire: people who study speeches, politics and the social art of making friends and influencing people will be devouring and digesting this masterstroke for the foreseeable future.

If the Republican Convention was a tribute to the goose that laid the golden egg, by the time Clinton completed his night’s work –an instant classic by virtually any criteria– the Big Dawg had turned into the Cheshire Cat, standing above the carcass he carved up, picking his sparkling teeth with those dirty bones.

And speaking of that other convention, let’s pause for a moment and consider that the man who last led that party –the same man whose bellicose imcompetence turned Clinton’s surplus into the disaster of debt Obama inherited– was neither invited nor mentioned. What a devastating indictment; a testament to the reality that dare not speak it’s name, literally.

The only critique I’ve heard today is at once predictable and easily dismissed: Clinton stole the show, and possibly Obama’s thunder. Now, in fairness, Bubba raised the bar so high it does beg the almost inconceivable question: Can Obama –who has given a barnstormer or two in his time– possibly rise to the occasion this evening?

The good news for the Democrats, in terms of last night overshadowing tonight, is that in the worst case it’s still a win/win. Clinton was there to do precisely what he did (only more so, as it turned out, to Obama’s delight). There won’t be anyone who decides not to vote for Obama because Clinton outshined him. On the other hand, there very well may be more than a few folks willing to get on board (or, crucially, back on board) because Clinton achieved, in less than sixty minutes, what Obama and his team have largely been unable to accomplish, for the last 3-4 years. When the truth sets you free, it behooves a leader to have the courage of his convictions. Obama spent too much time worrying about, or else underestimating the case he could –and should– have been making, forcefully and without fear, going back to the Wall Street aftermath (THIS is what government is for; THIS is why we need regulations) and the rollout of health care reform (Folks, this idea originated from Republican think tanks; this plan is a very conservative alternative to debt and dependency). Hopefully his team was taking notes, and some invaluable if overdue lessons have been learned courtesy of the master.

After tonight, no matter how it plays out –and the smart money is on Obama bringing the noise; his legacy, after all, is at stake– the campaign will capitalize on this momentum, crafting Clinton’s treasure trove into some succinct, effective talking points. And they will flatter by imitation the example of the Big Dawg, using smiles and facts to rebuff the trash heap of half-truths, naked deceit and racist innuendo that the other side long since conceded is their only strategy.

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