THIS. Part of the upside of being newly off-the-Hill is I can escape a bit further from the dreariness of much of current politics, so no absurdly-belated, long midterm post this year. Besides, The Guardian‘s Jeb Lund has already well-articulated where I am on all this: Give people a choice between a Republican and a Republican and the Republican will win every time:
“[W]hether the Democratic Party stands for anything is a perfectly valid question at this point. On a macro level, a party that is already thoroughly militarized and corporatized — and largely indifferent to Main Street whenever it poses a conflict with Wall Street — offers little alternative to the other party that already celebrates that.”
Sure, the ground in 2014 always heavily favored the GOP: This was a six-year midterm, Class 2 year, and the seats up for reelection swung heavily Democratic six years ago, in that faraway, hopey-changey time of 2008. Still, when you have a party that hardly, if ever, has the courage of its convictions anymore, coupled with a President who seemed at times to be actively trying to discourage the base, little wonder that the lowest turnout since 1942 brought forth another shellacking. As Richard said, a withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy.
So, yeah, bad times for the Democratic brand, and no mistake. The good news is the long-term story hasn’t changed: Republicans are still drawing dead, demographically speaking, even though they’ll probably hold the House until at least 2020 due to gerrymandering (and now, thanks to these 2014 results, will likely be able to hold the Senate for the first two years of the next presidency.) And, even better, Americans strongly supported progressive positions two weeks ago, be it on the minimum wage, marijuana, or misdemeanors.
But Dems can’t just assume the government will eventually devolve to them by fiat. We’re going to have to quit thinking the endless “but the other team is crazy-pants” blather will carry us over the top, and actually put up candidates that will stand for something other than GOP-lite camouflage. Of course, our 2016 standard-bearer is, at least at the moment, undoubtedly Hillary Clinton, sooo…I’m sure everything’s going to work out great.
In The Guardian, Gary Younge laments anew the missed opportunities of Barack Obama’s presidency. “If there was a plot, he’s lost it. If there was a point, few can remember it. If he had a big idea, he shrank it. If there’s a moral compass powerful enough to guide such contradictions to more consistent waters, it is in urgent need of being reset.”
Sigh. If anything, this was all true of the first term too. As John Maynard Keynes said of another ostensibly progressive president a century ago, “[t]he disillusion was so complete that some of those who had trusted most hardly dared speak of it.”
The indispensable Charles Pierce checks in on immigration reform in the Senate, and underlines anew one of the fundamental truths of our current politics. To wit:
“In 2010, the American people elected what is possibly the worst national legislature in the history of the Republic. They also elected some of the worst state legislatures in the history of the Republic, too, which thereupon enacted redistricting and gerrymandering schemes guaranteeing that subsequent national legislatures elected wouldn’t be much better. In 2010, the country committed itself to decades of gridlock, mediocrity, and a perpetual state of hysterical paralysis in the national government. It would be nice if this were pointed out with somewhat more regularity.”
Update: Some telling stats by way of Dangerous Meta: “The much-criticized 112th Congress — from 2011 to 2012 — was the least productive and least popular Congress on record, according to the available statistics…only 15 legislative items have become law under the current Congress. That’s fewer than the 23 items that became law at this same point in the 112th Congress, which passed a historically low number of bills that were signed into law.”
As the AJC’s Jay Bookman puts it, “it might almost be funny if it wasn’t so sad.” In Georgia, indulging in xenophobia has backfired mightily for Nathan Deal, the state’s Republican governor, who is now desperately trying to get probationers to fill the agricultural labor gap his draconian anti-immigrant bill has created.
“The pain this is causing is real. People are going to lose their crops, and in some cases their farms. The small-town businesses that supply those farms with goods and services are going to suffer as well. For economically embattled rural Georgia, this could be a major blow.” And sadly, when it comes to deep, self-inflicted, and totally unnecessary economic wounds wrought by Republican idiocy, the Peach State here is just the canary in the coalmine.
Come Senators, Congressmen, please heed the call: In a decent companion piece to James Fallows’ foray on the subject earlier this year, The New Yorker‘s George Packer tries to figure out what the hell is wrong with the Senate. And one of the best answers is buried in the middle of the piece: “Nothing dominates the life of a senator more than raising money. Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat, said, ‘Of any free time you have, I would say fifty per cent, maybe even more,” is spent on fund-raising.’“
The other big and much-needed solution: Filibuster reform. But with a handful of Democratic Senators already balking at the idea, that’ll be a tough climb this coming January, and no mistake. Nonetheless, it is very much a fight worth having. “[O]ver the past few decades the reflex has grown in the Senate that, all things considered, it’s better to avoid than to take on big issues. This is the kind of thing that drives Michael Bennet nutty: here you’ve arrived in the United States Senate and you can’t do fuck-all about the destruction of the planet.“
In Foreign Policy, photojournalist Dulce Pinzon shares her photo collection of Mexican migrant workers dressed as superheroes. (Officially here.) “The principal objective of this series is to pay homage to these brave and determined men and women that somehow manage, without the help of any supernatural power, to withstand extreme conditions of labor in order to help their families and communities survive and prosper.”
In honor of Cinco de Mayo and in protest of Arizona’s straight-up ignorant new ethnic profiling law, the Phoenix Suns will don their “Los Suns” jerseys tonight. “Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is on board, and the team even tried to get their ‘Los Spurs’ jerseys, though it was too late to do so. When asked for approval to wear the jerseys, the NBA “was all for it,” said Suns general manager Steve Kerr.“
“This is Machete, with a special Cinco de Mayo message…TO ARIZONA.” If the Arizona GOP won’t heed the carrot of the Suns’ inclusive orange unis, perhaps they’ll fear the sharpened stick of a ticked-off Danny Trejo, in the new holiday trailer for Robert Rodriguez’s full-length version of Machete, also with Jeff Fahey, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert DeNiro, Lindsey Lohan, Jessica Alba, Don Johnson, Cheech Marin, and Steven Seagall. I know I was just badmouthing this project in my review of The Losers, but I have to concede, it still makes for a pretty fun trailer. (Extra points for DeNiro channeling his inner JD Hayworth therein.)
“‘I’m here tonight to say a few words about an American hero I have come to know very well and admire very much — Sen. John McCain. And then, according to the rules agreed to by both parties, John will have approximately 30 seconds to make a rebuttal.'” Now here’s a prez worth hugging…On the eve of his inauguration, Sen. Obama publicly makes nice with his former adversary, John McCain.
And, apparently it’s not just for show: According to the NYT, the president-elect has been trying to forge a bond with McCain (and his No. 2, Lindsey Graham) since soon after the election. “Mr. Obama arrived for their Chicago meeting on Nov. 16 with several well-researched proposals to collaborate on involving some of Mr. McCain’s favorite causes, including a commission to cut ‘corporate welfare,’ curbing waste in military procurement and an overhaul of immigration rules.“
Hey, rapprochement is good, bipartisanship is good. And working Senators McCain and Graham (and, I’d presume Maine’s moderates, Snowe and Collins) is simply smart politics. Still, when push inevitably comes to shove on Iraq, health care, and a host of other issues, hopefully the president-elect will remember to dance with who brung him.
Neither as resonant as Letters from Iwo Jima or Mystic River nor as atrocious as Million Dollar Baby or Flags of our Fathers, Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino is a solid, decently engaging, and even well-meaning two hours of cinema, despite the seemingly endless tirade of dated ethnic slurs issuing from Eastwood’s mouth therein. (Like Alvy Singer, Eastwood’s Walt Kowalski is a bigot, but for the left.) Its goofy and often didactic racists-have-a-heart-too messaging aside, Torino — or, as my dad accurately labeled it, Dirty Old Man Harry — pretty clearly attempts to be the coda and meta-commentary on Eastwood’s famous vigiliante films that Unforgiven (more successfully) was to his westerns.
Yet, even if it’s clunky and heavy-handed at times, and even if its over-the-top ending seems lifted straight out of your average Mel Gibson movie (you’ll know what I mean if/when you see it), I still ended up feeling reasonably charitable towards Torino in the end, perhaps because it’s good to see Eastwood, aged and wizened but with a undeniable twinkle in his eye, still willing to draw outside the lines of his cinematic legacy. (And perhaps because, speaking as someone of the Caucasian persuasion — or at worst a “mick” — we get off easy. I could imagine feeling much less sanguine about listening to a mostly-white audience chuckle and guffaw their way through the litany of racial slurs here, if they felt directed at me or my kids.)
If you saw any of the trailers for Gran Torino, you’re pretty much up to speed. The 1972 muscle car in question is the MacGuffin of this particular tale, and, with the passing of his wife, one of the three things left in this world still loved unconditionally by retired autoworker and Korean war vet Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) — the other two being his aging golden retriever and watery American beer. Basically written off by his biological family as a cantankerous, curmudgeonly funeral-waiting-to-happen (his granddaughter is particularly one-dimensional in this regard — she reminded me of Hillary Swank’s redneck family in MDB), Walt is for all intent and purposes an island unto himself in his Michigan neighborhood, which is now mostly populated by Hmong emigrants. His only friends are the other (white) retirees down at the local, with whom he occasionally shares a drink or three, and his “dago” barber (John Carroll Lynch), with whom he occasionally engages in what passes for witty ethnic repartee.
But when the boy-next-door Tao (Bee Vang) is enticed by the local gang to steal Walt’s Gran Torino as part of his initiation, and the girl-next-door Sue (Ahney Her) gets pawed walking home from school by some local African-American youths (Walt would use another term), Kowalski becomes increasingly drawn into the life of the Hmong community all around him despite himself. And soon, in full defiance of his oft-professed contempt for “gooks” and “zipperheads,” Walt takes it upon himself to educate Tao in the ways of true American manhood (which apparently is comprised of being good with tools and ethnic banter — who knew?) Still, that aforementioned gang ain’t going anywhere, and — worse for Walt, Tao, and particularly these hapless gang members — they don’t seem to have ever watched Dirty Harry. Clearly, somebody in the neighborhood is going to have to stand up to this crew…but, at his advanced age, laying down the law with the barrel of a big gun just doesn’t make Walt’s day quite like it used to.
In the end, Torino actually reminded me less of the glory days of Harry Callahan than of another film I happened to catch last week (on Blu-Ray), Tom McCarthy’s The Visitor. Gran Torino and The Visitor play like the (aging) McCain and Obama voters’ guides to 21st Century Immigrants respectively. In both films, an older white guy in a rut has his heart opened and life transformed by America’s spunky newest arrivals, until he gets a first-hand taste of the downside of new-immigrant life. (In one case, ethnic gangs; in the other, the INS.) Both are commendable films anchored by impressive and even nomination-worthy lead performances (in The Visitor‘s case, by Richard Jenkins)…but both exude more than a whiff of Bagger Vance-ish sentiment in their storytelling. (See also Gbenga Akinnagbe’s character in the otherwise solid The Savages.) In other words, the immigrants in question often feel like static plot points to move the white fellow’s story arc forward rather than full-fledged characters themselves.
Now, there’s no one in Torino as galling in this regard as Haaz Sleiman’s ridiculously friendly Syrian drummer in The Visitor, but the feeling persists nonetheless, particularly in the way Walt’s Hmong neighbors continually just shrug off the voluminous stream of bile emanating from his mouth. Eastwood or no, it’s hard to shake the sense that Walt’s blustery bravado would’ve at the very least cut back on the respectful offerings he’s given and Asian barbeques to which he’s invited during the film, and more than likely quite justifiably would’ve gotten his teeth kicked in a few times before the events shown here. Of course, in the world according to Gran Torino, physical violence is ultimately never the answer. So what the hell are we supposed to use, man? Harsh language?
Among the bountiful harvest that is the Quantum of Solace trailer crop…
I’m all over the place on this one. There are some real red flags here — all the Snydery slo-mo shots of Malin Ackerman’s hair, for example — and some of the dialogue feels as stiff and expository as the ponderous take-a-meeting scenes in 300. Then again, as with the first trailer, I’m still having trouble just wrapping my mind around the fact that they finally made a Watchmen movie. So I’m inclined to be charitable, and the little flourishes throughout (Rorschach’s mask moves!) appeal to my inner fanboy regardless. (Also, while Jackie Earle Hale’s Bale-Batman-growl may be a tad distracting, it’s hard to imagine Rorschach with any other kind of voice.) For now, I’ll call it a push.
Also out of late:
“‘There are powerful arguments that Senator McCain or anyone else in this position is constitutionally qualified, but there is certainly no precedent,’ said Sarah H. Duggin, an associate professor of law at Catholic University who has studied the issue extensively. ‘It is not a slam-dunk situation.’” Well, that explains the love for TR’s Big Stick diplomacy. As it turns out, Sen. John McCain was born in the Panama Canal zone, potentially complicating his constitutional eligibility for president. “The conflict that could conceivably ensnare McCain goes more to the interpretation of the archaic phrase ‘natural born’ when weighed against intent and decades of immigration law…Quickly recognizing confusion over the evolving nature of citizenship, the First Congress in 1790 passed a naturalization law that did define children of citizens ‘born beyond the sea, or out of the limits of the United States to be natural born.’ But that law is still seen as potentially unconstitutional and was overtaken by subsequent legislation, which omitted the natural-born phrase.“
Hmmm. Maybe next time the GOP try to ratchet up the virulent xenophobia, we should perhaps remind them that at least our putative standard-bearer is definitively a “natural-born citizen” of the republic. And I wonder, will “activist judges” on the Supreme Court really forego a strict reading of our constitution and let this foreign-born fellow, John Sidney McCain, run for president? Strict constructionists should blanch at the thought. Update: Sen. Obama co-sponsors a bill to help McCain out.
Heya. Sorry this is going up so late…I spent the evening at the Generation Obama event in Midtown, so my usual prObama take on the debates got even more reinforcement than usual…
First off, it was heartening to watch a surprisingly substantive debate. The Nevada roundtable was too sweet, and the Myrtle Beach slugfest was too sour, but tonight’s much-heralded showdown in Los Angeles actually seemed just right. [Transcript.] Both candidates were able to tease out and discuss notable differences in their policies, particularly on health care, immigration reform, and Iraq, while keeping a civil, friendly tone that didn’t seem as unnaturally forced as back in Vegas.
With all that being said, and to no one’s surprise, I thought Barack Obama came out ahead this evening. (In fact, I agree with Andrew Sullivan — this might’ve been his best debate thus far.) He showed a clear and nuanced command of policy. He made a solid case for his strengths, most notably on the question of judgment (“Right on Day 1.”) He explained well how he’s more electable, particularly against John McCain. He was wry and personable. And — when it came to the Republicans — he was often devastating. (That Romney takedown was too rich.)
Hillary Clinton was also good tonight, but she gave more than a few answers that were real groaners. On immigration reform, her attempt to be Obamaesque by invoking the Statue of Liberty was strange and flat. More problematically, her answer on drivers’ licenses for illegal immigrants made no sense (She’s against licenses for illegals, to protect illegals?) And, worst of all, when given the chance to defuse a zero-sum understanding of the immigrant issue, she instead told a story about an African-American man who blamed Latinos for his job loss, and it was hard not to read an off-putting Bendixen subtext into it.
Most notably, when it came to Iraq in the final third, Clinton was terrible. Rather than just admit she made a mistake in either [a] supporting the war or [b] believing Dubya, she seemed unwilling to concede any possibility of error, and got stuck in an increasingly tortured answer about her position on the AUMF vote. It was unseemly, to say the least, even Dubyaesque. And the more she spun her wheels, the better Obama looked. Update: Apparently, she also butchered the truth about the Levin Amendment.
Still, my general impression is that CNN’s Jeff Toobin basically got the larger chess game right: As a TPM commenter well put it: Hillary Clinton is currently in the lead and is trying to run the four corners until the clock runs out. Barack Obama is surging massively right now and didn’t want to upset that o-mentum unduly. So neither candidate felt they needed to shake up the current paradigm all that much, which helped keep everything friendly.
Instead, Obama wanted to show undecideds that he has presidential gravitas and can policy-wonk as needed. Clinton wanted to staunch her negatives and get the focus back on her rather than Wild Bill. (Which reminds me, no question about Kazakhstan?) In that sense, both candidates accomplished what they came to do.
Now, it’s up to us.