Monday, February 19, 2007

McCain in Position

John McCain this week affirmed his hawkish position on Iraq (he promises to continue prosecuting the war if elected), and made a big show of his view that Roe v. Wade should be overturned and abortioned outlawed. With the electorate trending to the left and the Democrats smelling blood this looks at first glance like movement in the wrong direction, but McCain knows exactly what he's doing. Now is the time to run for one's party nomination. The general election continues (sigh) to be some ways off. McCain sees that the vogue for "moderate Republicans" is a reflection of the national mood, not the Republican mood. As I mentioned in a previous blog, a pro-choice candidate isn't going to make it through the Republican primaries. I don't think a pro-choice running mate would cut it either. As for the war, the surest way to lock up the conservative base is to champion the policy that they, and only they, continue to support. This brings me to the last point: the smart politician knows that first you have to survive, then you can actually be there for the final battle. It may be that the electorate is going to give the Democrats a turn at bat; unlike the politicians themselves, the American electorate approaches national elections as savvy consumers, mixing and matching and letting the pendulum swing. But there is always a chance that the front-runner will fall. There is a large element of caprice in the process, as McCain knows well. The Republican candidate has, at least, a chance. So McCain's project is to be the Republican candidate, in the literal sense of the term. Thus you constitute a real choice available for a voter to make. I think the odds are against him in the general election, but I think he knows that too. Better to be standing there with your odds, such as they are, than to not be there at the finish at all.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Fake Fake News

Regarding Fox News's "The 1/2 Hour News Hour," their attempt to counter "The Daily Show" and other popular (read: "liberal") political humor programs, one is struck by the inevitability of their failure (to be funny, that is). The reasons are various and more or less obvious: Fox is a bully, throwing slaps at a straw-man "liberalism" that really doesn't exist; Fox is an embarrasment, the representative of the most well-off Americans that sees itself as put upon and marginalized; Fox is squaresville, too literal-minded, no nuances allowed: nobody like that is funny. But the most interesting reason for the inevitable failure of the show to be funny is that Fox News is fake news in the first place. Colbert understands that Bill O'Reilly, just taken straight, is self-parodic enough. Obviously, the culture warriors at Fox decided to respond to the popularity of Stewart and Colbert (inevitable). Equally obviously, this is another exercise in right-wing propaganda. Fox's slogan "Fair and balanced" is taken with a nudge and a wink by the angry, squaresville right-wing viewers: let's settle down for some grim trashing of The Enemy. Nobody thinks that the reporting is anything but as slanted as can be. When you are already a self-parody, no one is going to accept you as a satirist.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Greatest Rock 'n Roll band on TV

When The Rolling Stones released their album A Bigger Bang to coincide with their 2006 tour, there was a small outburst of clucking on the cable news channels about "Neocon" (I think the name is), a song blasting the Bush Administration. Someone gave me the CD for Christmas, and I listened to it in my car and had a chuckle over the lyrics. "Go get 'em, Mick!" The cable-news culture warriors had not much clue about the Stones, which surprised me as about half of the commentators (the older half) are squarely chronological Boomers who ought to be embarrased if they weren't rolling joints on their Satanic Majesties covers thirty-five years ago. It was taken of course as a sign of the administration's burgeoning unpopularity, but overlooked that a) the Stones have often had a political tune on their albums over the years and b) the lyrics were really nothing more than an expression of what is almost universal European opinion ("How come you're so wrong, neocon?" was the refrain). But what strikes me is that while the latest Stones album, with its one "social commentary," was clucked over so much while we got nary a peep about Living With War, the recent statement from Neil Young. I'm going to try to find some sales figures on the two albums and see how they measure up. Young's album is devoted entirely to his opposition to the Iraq war, with connections to his concerns about consumerism and the environment well filled in. "Ten thousand children scarred for life," "Let's impeach the president for lying." Well won't the cable news pundits feast on this one! Well, no. They are rather conspicuously not talking about it. It appears that some material is just tame enough to be fodder for the mill, but some is too far. Dixie Chicks in between I guess. Neil Young doesn't seem to have to worry too much about a hostile public, though. Why is that?

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Hitchens's Iraq Problem

Christopher Hitchens, ambitious pretender to Orwell's crown, is a great asset to American journalism. Contrarian that he is, he is a European who has established himself on the stage of American letters at a time when most Europeans have simply lost track of us in their own projection of the Other. He also does politics, history, literature, and even a bit of philosophy here and there, and thus shows our public writers how things should be done, an erudite polymath sitting on the panel with the cable-news weenies like a hatched cuckoo bird in a nest of starlings. Unfortunately he has a problem with the Bush invasion of Iraq: he supports it. Present tense. This requires a degree of gymnastics too outlandish to preserve his credibility. Currently he has a column in Slate that illustrates the problem ("Fighting Words: A Wartime Lexicon." Doesn't get any more Orwellian than that). Everyone else, he says, must accept responsibility for their own parts in the debacle. More finely: coverage of said debacle ought not refer to the US as the sole intentional agent of "determined action." Sunnis are not just "caught up" in sectarian strife, there are intelligent strategists and ruthless tacticians operating to shape policies, including suicide-bombing policy, for example. And he adds the standard line that the alternative was leaving the "Saddam Hussein dynasty" in power. All true, all missing the point. The lesson here is that global security cannot be insured by a lone power (there are no "super" men or "super" powers), operating outside what meagre facility for international due process we have (said meagreness also being largely a consequence of American resistance to community standards). Europe must at a minimum develop the capacity to maintain security on the European continent; Arabs must match economic development with social and political development; Israelis must do what is necessary to acheive real peace with their neighbors; Latin Americans must accept the economic and social consequences of cultural conservatism; Africans must confront corruption, and so on and on. As things now stand, none of this will occur until the American behemoth topples over, but it doesn't have to be that way. The behemoth could get out of the way. Right, there's the energy problem. And this administration has done worse than nothing to deal with that problem. Integrity has two components. The first is that one must stick by what one sincerely believes to be true, no small order, and I bother to refer directly to Mr. Hitchens because he sets such a fine example there. But the second essential component of integrity is the capacity to change one's mind, not to identify with one's own past positions too much. How many scientists have fallen off the virtuous path on that one? It's that getting out of the way thing again.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Can Bush Hand Off the War?

Oh, I know he can in the literal sense. He can postpone disaster until he leaves office, toss the grenade to his successor and get out of the foxhole before it blows. The question is, will the public buy this maneuver, set up as it is to avoid a popular or historical verdict that the disaster was his fault, the war his war? Maybe he can; there isn't necessarily any justice, you know. But the question goes to criticism of those who voted for the original war resolutions and now criticize him. Isn't this hypocritical, the criticism goes, to have supported him but now to turn on him? Nonsense. The Congress gave the President a chance. He was respected and given his freedom to pursue foreign policy as he saw fit, backed up by the government. If his war policy fails, it is not because politicians in Washington meddled in the project. Anyway, that was years ago now. I was against the war, even went to a demonstration or two before the invasion, and I was disappointed in people like Senator Clinton and Senator Kerry who gave their votes for the war effort in the first place. But that doesn't mean they can't legitimately oppose it now, and it will be an injury to history if President Bush is not held accountable in the end, whenever that end may come.