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Well, Mars is the Red Planet…

“Informant stated that the general aim of these science fiction writers is to frighten the people into a state of paralysis or psychological incompetence bordering on hysteria which would make it very possible to conduct a Third World War in which the American people would seriously believe [sic] could not be won since their morale had been seriously destroyed.”

They’re coming to get you, Bradbury…Apparently, the author of The Martian Chronicles was on the FBI’s Communist watchlist in the 50’s and 60’s for penning potentially subversive “science fiction” stories. “Using a Freedom of Information Act Request, the Huffington Post received a copy of Bradbury’s file, and it turns out the FBI checked Bradbury’s passport records and staked out his house.

The Empty Wagon is the Noisiest.

Another Greenville, another Magic Mart, Jeffer, grab your fiddle… So, pop quiz: What do old-school R.E.M. and Sarah Palin have in common? They’ve both sung paeans to “Little America,” or as Governor Palin rather awkwardly put it recently, the “pro-America areas of this great nation.” In case you somehow missed what she was trying to get at, NC GOP candidate Robin Hayes said it even more plainly: “Liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God.” Or consider Minnesota freakshow Michele Bachmann, soon after deeming Senator and Michelle Obama enemies of the people: “I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out if they are pro-America or anti-America.

Now, I realize the once-powerful conservative movement is now entering the late, terminal stages of its malignancy, that these floundering insults and echoes of McCarthy are all just part of the right-wing death rattle, and that it’s probably best just to look away from their interminable gesticulating and shrieking while the right melts away into electoral oblivion. But, really, eff these people. I’m so utterly sick of these conservative assholes wrapping themselves in our flag every time their narrowness and stupidity is exposed before all the world. America is so much more than the pathetic litany of grievances and bigotries these jokers trot out every time their flank is exposed. And if they truly loved America as much as they claim to, they’d know this, and stop embarrassing us all by conflating their ignorant and unprincipled antipathies with what’s good and true in our national life.

The consul a horse. Jefferson, I think they’re lost.

Easter Weekend: McCarthy, Bosnia, Judas.

Hey all. Well, I’m sure many of you are as sick of reading about this lingering primary season as I’m getting to be about writing on it. At this point, my feelings about the Clinton campaign and the dwindling band of dead-enders lingering around her failed candidacy have gone from disbelief to disgust to a sort of exhausted aversion: It’s unsightly and hard to watch, and not only because so many Clinton supporters online have been leaving the reality-based community in droves. Like a fatally wounded snake, the campaign is still writhing, hissing, and lashing out by reflex, seemingly unaware that its time came and went weeks ago.

But, the news is the news, and I did promise to keep following it. So, if you, like me, took a break over the Easter weekend, here is the most recent litany of outrages. (Of course, at this late date, you’ll probably only find these outrageous if you haven’t been following along for the past few months…)

  • I think it would be a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country.” Have you no sense of decency, Mr. President, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency? Back in action after his “mugging”, Bill Clinton suggested that only a race between his wife and John McCain would include two patriots, and only by picking Clinton as the Democratic nominee can the country avoid “all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics.” [See it here.] (I presume he’s talking about race, since I seem to remember President Clinton being personally responsible for “other stuff” intruding on politics back in the day, so much so that it ended up consuming a year of my life.)

    Obama supporter Gen. Tony McPeak has been taking some flak for likening this questioning of Obama’s patriotism to the antics of Senator Joe McCarthy, but, let’s be honest, what else would you call it? It’s definitely in the same ballpark. Since time immemorial, arguing against one’s opponent’s patriotism has been the last refuge of a scoundrel, and as sure a sign as any that a political campaign is wheezing its last. And Clinton, of course, knows this firsthand, since he was on the receiving end of a similar smear in 1992. In short, the president has shamed himself and his legacy yet again.

  • There was a saying around the White House that if a place was too small, too poor, or too dangerous, the president couldn’t go, so send the First Lady…I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.” As she’s been doing with SCHIP, NAFTA, FMLA, and Northern Ireland, we already know Sen. Clinton has been grotesquely exaggerating about her trip to Bosnia in 1996. Well, now she’s been caught in an outright lie. (A four-Pinocchio whopper, no less.) Video has surfaced, and not only was there no sniper fire at the airport, there was a greeting ceremony for Sen. Clinton…and Chelsea, because if a place is really small, poor, or dangerous, apparently the First Daughter gets to come along. At this ceremony, then-First Lady Clinton not only waded through the usual throng of soldiers standing at attention and bored bureaucratic functionaries, but gamely faced down the threat of a little girl offering flowers. Grisly stuff, to be sure. Update: Howard “Ken Starr” Wolfson says Clinton “misspoke,” while more Bosnia exaggerations emerge.

  • Mr. Richardson’s endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic.” This one hits a little closer to home, but anyway: Clinton supporter “till the last dog dies” and my former employer James Carville calls Bill Richardson’s endorsement an “act of betrayal, and actually likens him to Judas Iscariot (making the Clintons…uh, Jesus? Perhaps Brutus, Benedict Arnold, or Lando Calrissian would’ve worked better.) In Carville’s defense, I’ll bet dollars to donuts he meant this mainly as a joke (and, as he recently editorialized in the FT, he’s not one for the overparsing of political speech anyway.) That being said, since Carville’s a big boy, I’m sure he can weather Richardson’s pointed riposte just as well: “I’m not going to get in the gutter like that. And you know, that’s typical of many of the people around Senator Clinton. They think they have a sense of entitlement to the presidency.” That they do, Governor, that they do.

    I’m not at all surprised Carville is “Stickin’” with the Clinton campaign well past its expiration date — It’s his nature, and you can’t teach an old Clinton yellow-dog new tricks. But he’s dead wrong on this one, and given that he more than anyone else should be able to see the writing on the wall, politically speaking, he really should be working to bring the party back together, not continuing to poison the well with badly thought-out religious metaphors. (And if saying thus make me a “Judas” in his eyes, well, so be it…although I’d prefer to think of myself as a Jack Burden.)

    Update: “I think the statement had the desired effect. It was what I said.Carville talks Judas on CNN, and, as I suspected, he seemed to think it just all part of the game: “‘I doubt if Governor Richardson and I will be terribly close in the future,’ he said, but ‘I’ve had my say…I got one in the wheelhouse and I tagged him.’” What Carville seems to be ignoring here is that, tag or not, the game is already over, and Obama is the one going to the Series. So it’s a little late to be throwing the chin music.

  • Hard Times.

    “‘Having been blacklisted from working in television during the McCarthy era, I know the harm of government using private corporations to intrude into the lives of innocent Americans. When government uses the telephone companies to create massive databases of all our phone calls it has gone too far.‘” Author, oral historian, and American institution Studs Terkel is one of six plaintiffs to file a lawsuit against AT&T for their complicity in the NSA master phone database.

    Coming In from the Cold (War).

    “[F]or all their practical failures, conservatives have at least told a coherent political story, with deep historical roots, about what keeps America safe and what makes it great. Liberals, by contrast, have offered adjectives drawn from focus groups and policy proposals linked by no larger theme.” In keeping with the intellectual territory he staked out after the 2004 election, former TNR editor Peter Beinart makes the case for a return to Cold War liberalism in a NYT excerpt of his new book, The Good Fight (also discussed in the recent Atlantic Monthly.)

    I couldn’t agree more with Beinart’s paragraph above, but I don’t think the lack of a sufficiently robust national security emphasis is really the defining element missing among today’s Dems. Are there really Democrats out there who don’t agree with Beinart’s three main assessments here, that (a) America faces a real enemy in Al Qaeda and other fundamentalist terror networks, (b) our foreign policy should be less hubristic and more attuned to both local contingency and international institutions, and (c) our national sense of self should emphasize our own fallibility at times? Beinart would probably target the MoveOn crowd, but as Eric Alterman noted in the last round of this back-and-forth, that’s just a DLC straw man, roughly akin to Joe Klein’s cadre of phantom lefty consultants in the last update.

    Plus, I think there are two significant historical problems with the Cold War liberalism Beinart unreservedly espouses, which he fails to discuss here. For one, Cold War liberals could very easily be seen as best inattentive to and — at worst complicit in — the excesses of McCarthyism. If the enemy abroad becomes the central defining focus of your national narrative, then the enemy within is undoubtedly going to start eating at you as well. For another, (and as John Gaddis, among others, has pointed out) — for all its early sense of diplomatic complexity and limited, realistic goals — the Cold War liberalism Beinart promotes all too readily (d)evolved into the guiding rationale for wildly wrongheaded foreign policy interventions, most notably in Vietnam. (You’d think Beinart would pay more lip service to this issue, particularly as he himself made much the same mistake in shilling for the Iraq war in The New Republic.)

    In short, I agree with Beinart’s assessment that the Dems lack a sense of usable past, but the problems with his argument can be encapsulated by his ideal of a what a good, hawkish, Cold War liberal Democrat should look like these days: That, if Beinart’s tenure at TNR is any indication, would be Joe Lieberman, a politician who’s not only been flagrantly cheerleading for the administration during the current war, but has exhibited little interest in today’s wartime civil liberties issues. Simply put, Joe Lieberman would hardly be my choice of template for the Democratic party. (Who would? That’s easy: Russ Feingold, who’s displayed a strong commitment to preserving both national security and civil liberties at home, while arguing for a more level-headed, less-in-your-face American foreign policy.)

    No More Toshi Station / Maeby We’ll Meet Again.

    R.I.P. Phil Brown 1916-2006, who withstood the blacklist and is best remembered as Uncle Owen. (He joins Aunt Beru, who passed in 2000 (9/14).) And, also in unhappy news, farewell to the Bluths, who’ve gone the way of all good and tragically misunderstood television families…for now.

    Exhuming McCarthy.

    While perhaps a bit too black-and-white in terms of the history, George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck is nevertheless a somber and captivating paean to Edward R. Murrow, his televised expose of Joe McCarthy, and, by extension, the Pioneer Days of Television Journalism. (In this last regard, it’s somewhat reminiscent of the excellent Clooney-produced live TV version of Fail Safe a few years ago.) It’s also assuredly a smoother, subtler, and more accomplished bit of muckraking than, say, Tim Robbins’ recent and lamentably over-the-top Embedded. Once again displaying the surprisingly strong directorial sense he exhibited in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Clooney also benefits here from a smartly written script which refuses to talk down to its audience, the crisp black-and-white cinematography, and quality performances across the board. As a result, what could have been an above-average History Channel documentary is instead a powerful and intelligent work of cinema that’s easily one of the better films out this year.

    Admittedly, as Jack Shafer pointed out in Slate, Good Night, and Good Luck is rather narrowly focused, and works better as an impassioned and articulate morality play than it does as sound history. The Murrow of this film is saintly to a fault (although David Straitharn ameliorates this with a sardonic and multifaceted performance that may well get some nods come award time.) And there’s very little historical context offered herein, either for the origins of the McCarthy hysteria or for the Wisconsin Senator’s ultimate downfall, which had more to do with picking a fight with the army than with the Murrow broadcast.

    That being said, I really like the way Clooney uses archival footage in this film. For one, Clooney was clever to follow Murrow’s example and let Joe McCarthy hoist himself on his own petard. Having the real McCarthy excoriate Murrow as the “leader of the jackal pack” gives the film a sense of history (and menace) that an actorly turn couldn’t have provided. For another, Clooney, who definitely appears to have done his homework, is unafraid to cut to real historical footage — the Annie Lee Moss hearings, for example — for extended periods, and just let the inherent drama of the real proceedings speak for itself. As a result, the history feels alive and contemporary, no mean feat when so many other historical films seem to use the past as merely exotic window dressing. Could the film have been more nuanced in its appraisal of both Murrow and McCarthyism? Undoubtedly. (Then again, nuanced appraisals weren’t exactly McCarthy’s strong point, either., nor is it a long suit of his current defenders.) But on the whole, Good Night, and Good Luck is, I think, a worthy exercise in historical filmmaking, and one with some obvious relevance in light of today’s entertainment-addled, sideshow-obsessed news media.

    Movie-wise, there are a few small problems. I think the GN, & GL should have done either more or less with Robert Downey, Jr. and Patricia Clarkson as Wershbas Joe and Shirley — their particular plight doesn’t tie in to the rest of the story very well. And, while Ray Wise is good as the broadcaster-at-wits-end Don Hollenbeck, he’s also typecast in my mind — I kept expecting him to break into the Leland Palmer dance. All in all, though, Good Night, and Good Luck manages to enliven both the staid television studios of Fifties CBS and this historical moment with smoky jazz, languishing cigarettes, and ominous shadows. As the show says, see it now.

    Murrow, Mines, Mobsters, Menage, and Monkey.

    Soon after posting the last entry, I found a new cache of trailers for films around the corner over at Coming Soon: First off, Edward Murrow takes a journalistic stand against McCarthyism (with much explicit contemporary relevance) in the trailer for George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck, starring David Strathairn, Clooney, Patricia Clarkson, Robert Downey, Jr., Jeff Daniels, and Frank Langella. Then, Charlize Theron braves borderline winds, the mining life, and sexual harassment in the preview for North Country, also with Frances McDormand, Sissy Spacek, Woody Harrelson, Sean Bean, and Richard Jenkins. Meanwhile, law partners John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton look for the big score in Harold Ramis’ The Ice Harvest, with Randy Quaid, Connie Nielsen, and Oliver Platt. And, finally, journalist Alison Lohman looks into the racy reasons behind the demise of comedy team Bacon & Firth in Atom Egoyan’s Where the Truth Lies (recently saddled with a NC-17), and video gamer Allen Covert pays respect to his elders in the trailer for the Adam-Sandler produced Grandma’s Boy. (To be honest, I’m only blogging this last one for the “don’t judge me” monkey bit and the too-brief glimpse of the lovely Linda “Lindsey Weir” Cardellini.) Update: Ok, one more: Tilda Swinton, Vincent D’Onofrio, Vince Vaughn, Benjamin Bratt and Keanu Reeves try to help newcomer Lou Pucci stop a nasty habit in the trailer for Thumbsucker, due out in just over two weeks.


    “As a chapter in the continuing history of opposition to dissent, Oppenheimer‘s fate is especially worth re-exploring now. Whether in the closed halls of the intelligence services or in the open sessions of Congress, we need the hard impact of contestation; we need recalcitrant voices ready to challenge the established terms of discussion…Oppenheimer always thought that argued dissent was an inseparable part of patriotism. He was right.” In his review of the recent biography American Prometheus, Harvard’s Peter Galison lauds J. Robert Oppenheimer’s patriotic vision of reflective dissent.

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