Friday, May 26, 2006

Another Right Wing Meltdown

The gazillion-selling Da Vinci Code has been converted into a blockbuster movie and the right-wing culture warriors are not happy:

"Da Vinci Thoughts [Stanley Kurtz]
"I just saw The Da Vinci Code. Point one: Michael Novak's review is dead on. [At NRO, Novak found the movie such a maelstrom of hate and decadence that he could barely finish his Junior Mints.]

"Point two: This movie is a salutary kick in the teeth for conservatives. There's no gainsaying the fact that the Narnia movie was a big deal. Having conceded that, the fact remains that when it comes to exercising influence on the fundamental levers of American culture, conservatives remain in a pathetically weakened position.

"I may not be a professor of 'symbology,' but I have taught at Harvard and studied religious symbolism. So I feel in a particularly strong position to reveal the entirely unsecret conspiracy against patriotism, tradition, and religion hiding in plain sight on our movie and television screens, in our universities, and on the pages of the mainstream press. Conservatives have forgotten just how precarious our position is. One cable news channel, talk radio, and the blogosphere do not an invincible army make. It only seems that way because we also have nominal control of the reigns of power. But lose our foothold in government, and conservatives are up a creek. The other side controls the levers of cultural power in this country, and we are the enemy in their eyes (and on their screens).

"Conservatives need to face the fact that our position in this culture is genuinely precarious. If we lose our hold on power, we'll scream bloody murder on our outlets at everything the other side does. Yet those screams may only confirm our helplessness. The deep cultural dimension of our political battles makes an ordinary transfer of political power far more consequential than it was in the days when America had a bipartisan foreign policy and a broad cultural consensus. We can dream about forcing Republicans to the right and then riding back into power two years later, but one big loss could easily turn conservatives back into a marginal cultural force for some time.

"Why have Democrats been so angry? It's because their taken-for-granted cultural superiority has been called into question by 9/11, the return of patriotism, a tough foreign policy, and the open defense of the sort of traditional values they thought were on the way out. Republican victories have punctured the cultural left's sense of the historical inevitability of their triumph, and that is at the root of their rage. By controlling the political agenda, conservatives control the cultural agenda as well (or at least a large part of it). But the truth is, other than the government, the left is still in control of our critical cultural institutions. Should the left recapture the government as well, it may well succeed in pushing traditionalists aside in the culture at large.

"The battle is radicalizing. Big Love and The Da Vinci Code are far more direct and brazen attacks on tradition than we might have anticipated just a few years ago. Conservatives are the targets, and Hollywood is aiming and shooting repeatedly. Give credit to Tom Hanks, by the way. As producer of Big Love and star of The Da Vinci Code, he is clearly one of the captains of the not-so-secret conspiracy.

This is some piece of whining. Of course I don't read NRO a lot so maybe this is typical. But this is Conservative-as-Victim mania such as I've rarely seen, at least since the election of Shrub.

And what's the conservative complaint about Big Love? Polygamy (like slavery) has plenty of Biblical precedence and justification. Most of the Old Testament patriarchs and kings had more than one wife at the same time. For that matter, the taboo against polygamy seems to be of a rather modernist, liberal, secular humanist origin.

I would think conservatives might be more offended by that other HBO series, The Sopranos. I've never watched it, but as I understand it, the show is noted for its, um, character "clipping". That is to say, it's violent. And it's a violence practiced outside the bounds of law, which should be especially offensive to today's conservatives so bent on restoring the rule of law where it applies to immigrants. But if there's a monumental conservative Christian opposition to or boycott of The Sopranos I am unaware of it.

Anyway, the boys and girls at NRO, and presumably elsewhere around the conservative media empire are (gasp!) offended and outraged that people are allowed to write (and read) books and make (and go to) movies that offend and outrage Christian conservatives. This despite the fact that conservatives have been making a big show over the last few decades about the outrages of "political correctness" that prevent them from saying mean things about black people and other minorities and those groups conservatives consider socially inferior or threatening.

Meanwhile, the conservative bubble that was the post-911 period is collapsing into a smoking pile of financial and political fund-raising scandals, an unpopular and unfullfilling war in Iraq (and the re-emergence of conflict in Afghanistan), and a rising tide of political ineptitude generally. In the face of these challenges to their dream of permanent political and cultural hegemony, some conservatives are reallocating their resources and vitriol to other potential and pseudo wars against immigrants, Iran, and other, non-conforming Americans. The war against the latter is waged officially against noted liberal demons like college professors and Hollywood celebrities (of which The Da Vinci Code is a representative), but in actuality is aimed at regular Americans who by purchasing the goods and services of a free, market-driven culture are offending the conservative movement's sensibilities. Still other conservatives are turning on their political leadership, threatening to embroil the forces of reactionism in a civil war.

Most frustrating to the spokespersons of cultural conservatism is the realization that political control over elected institutions does not necessitate cultural control over the individual and over the masses, at least not in a democrat, pluralistic and capitalist system. This latter element seems particularly important in that while conservatives loudly trumpet the virtues of capitalism, market mechanisms are essentially amoral processes that produce large financial rewards for Mel Gibson and Tom Hanks alike.

Moreover, conservative angst is amplified by the recognition that the last 6, 12 and 25 years of conservative political leadership has not fundamentally altered the direction of society or yielded the revolutionized world their fantasies have imagined and inflamed. As James Wolcott writes, society tends to move along by fits and starts, regressing a little here, advancing a little there. This is problematic for conservative and liberal utopianists alike, but especially for conservatives whose perspective of the 20th century is probably not a record they are proud of or can revel in when one considers the importance of Civil Rights, for example, and the development of federal government programs like Social Security, Medicare, and college aid. The end of the Cold War and the relative collapse of world Communism, while on the surface clear conservative triumphs, in practice have probably done more to erode conservative ambitions than enhance them. The end of Communism as a global threat has meant less fear generally and more freedom, politically and economically in particular. Neither of these outcomes are conducive to a vibrant conservative value system and hierarchical form of social control.

On the other hand, as Kevin Phillips and Michelle Goldberg have documented, trends in the religious world would seem to be more advantageous for conservative thinkers hopeful for erecting a more authoritarian and conformist state in this country. But despite the size, intensity, and peculiarity of American religious conservatism, it remains unclear, at least to me, what the origin or origins of this new wave of Christian fundamentalism is, and what ultimate impact it will have in a large, fragmented, individualistic and consumerist society like America. While the organizations, programs and rhetoric of Christian Reconstructionalist leaders are indeed frightening in many respects, I suspect that much like the soldiers of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders, the rank and file of Christian followership is much less committed to a project of political and cultural purification that might cost them their SUV's, comfortable homes, and peaceful retirements than their eliminationist rhetoric would suggest.

John Murtha: Right Again

TBogg steals my thunder, but he neglected this quote from today's NYT piece:

Representative John Kline, a Minnesota Republican who is a retired Marine colonel, said that the allegations indicated that "this was not an accident. This was direct fire by marines at civilians." He added, "This was not an immediate response to an attack. This would be an atrocity."

Hmmmm. Maybe the 101st Fighting Keyboarders should consider Rep. Kline for some kind of award:

James Taranto makes a great point about the comments of Rep. John KLINE regarding the investigation into whether U.S. troops committed war crimes in a November incident where 15 Iraqi civilians were killed in Haditha, Iraq. KLINE claims that an internal investigation will show "there was no firefight, there was no IED (improvised explosive device) that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood."

As Tananto notes, however, KLINE's description is self-contradictory because if the Marines "overreacted," then the killings were not premeditated. And if the killings were not premeditated, they were not in cold blood.

Moreover, if the killings were not in cold blood, then KLINE is slandering our troops by saying that they were. If the killings were in cold blood, then KLINE, in characterizing them as an overreaction to the pressure of the mission, is making an excuse for horrific crimes.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Bill's Getting Cranky

Millions of Americans get their news from Jon Stewart and their opinions from far-left entertainers...bomb-throwers...

Really, Bill? Gee, I thought we all got our news and opinions from you and your comrades at Fox "News", which is, after all, the highest rated cable television "news" station.

...many Americans 18-24 have no idea what's going on...

Yeah, but they know no WMD turned up in Iraq, unlike, you know, your devout viewers.

It's Official: Jacob Weisberg is on Crack

What the $%&# is up with this column?

You could see the other Clinton making the same sort of calculations this week, when the New York Post put to Hillary the key culturally identifying question of our era: What's on your iPod? Musical taste is eternally revealing, and thanks to the growing ubiquity of MP3 players, many people now wear this signifying data on their belts. The senator from New York responded that she has the Beatles and the Rolling Stones on the white iPod that her husband gave her for a birthday present, along with Motown and classical music. She then rattled off a list of songs: the Beatles "Hey Jude," Aretha Franklin's, "Respect," the Eagles "Take It to the Limit," and U2's "Beautiful Day."

Hillary Clinton is the least spontaneous of politicians, and this playlist suggests premeditation, if not actual poll-testing. She first indicates that she basically likes everything before coming to roost on classic rock and soul, which any baby boomer must identify with, lest she or he be branded terminally uncool. Hillary avoids, however, anything too racy, druggie, or aggressive, while naming tunes that are empowering and inspirational. On the world-is-divided-into-two-kinds-of-people question "the Beatles or the Stones," she, like her husband, finds a middle path: both. She names no Stones songs and chooses a consensus, universally liked, neither-early-nor-late Beatles tune, "Hey Jude." Hillary also manages a shout-out to racial diversity and feminism via Aretha Franklin, and she strikes a younger, socially conscious chord with U2. "Take It to the Limit," on the other hand, is such a lame, black-hole-of-the-1970s choice that it can't be taken for anything other than an expression of actual taste.

So, Hillary's iPod list "suggests premeditation". Quick, somebody call the NSA or the FBI! Premeditation? What a partisan dope. No wonder Kevin Phillips felt obligated to give Lord Weisberg a smack-down for his pithy review of American Theocracy.

Voters wondering if they like the same music as Hillary but wanting a bit more to go on have at their disposal a wonderful tool called Pandora. This Web site uses music you like to predict other music you might also like, then plays the selections it generates on an individually tailored "radio" station. Unlike, which uses a collaborative filtering model for its recommendations (people who bought Abbey Road also bought Let It Be), Pandora filters on the basis of "genomic" musical analysis. If the songs you like are sung by women in a major key with acoustic guitars, it finds more songs like that.

Hillary, it seems, likes "basic rock song structures," "repetitive melodic phrasing," and "extensive vamping." Pandora predicts she would enjoy various '60s girl groups and '70s soul singers: Gladys Knight and the Pips, Carla Thomas, and the Velvelettes. The service can be a bit uncanny. One of its first recommendations on the Hillary station I created was "Girls Can't Do What the Guys Do," by Betty Wright, a feminist-minded '70s soul artist. This was followed by Barbra Streisand's rendition of David Bowie's "Life on Mars," a deeply unfortunate recording, but one somehow indicative of the present predicament of the Democratic Party.

Wait a minute...let's stop right there. Read that statement again. "One of its first recommendations on the Hillary station I created..." What the $%#@?!?!? Lord Weisberg created a "Hillary" station, so he could write this stench of a "column"?!?! Let's all offer a word of thanksgiving for the "liberal" media that has been bestowed on us. As the Rude One might say, the world is on $%#& fire, and Lord Weisberg is creating Hillary play lists?!?!?!!!!!

In point of fact, I doubt that the relentlessly driven Hillary Clinton spends much time listening to music of any kind. Condoleezza Rice, by contrast, who recently revealed her musical Top 10 to Bono when he guest-edited The Independent newspaper in Britain for a day, clearly loves many kinds of music. For Condi, who was trained as a classical pianist, the playlist is an opportunity to show that she is not as uptight as she sometimes seems. In addition to Brahms, Mozart, and Mussorgsky, she reveals that she likes to work out to Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" and loves "anything by U2." Aretha Franklin's "Respect" gets another vote, along with Kool and the Gang's "Celebration," and Elton John's "Rocket Man," which the secretary of state says reminds her of her first boyfriend. Hmmm. Pandora doesn't do classical, but based on her pop choices, Secretary Rice responds to "disco influences," "a busy horn section," and "groove-based composition." Radio Condi is a lot more fun than Radio Hillary.

So Hillary is too "relentlessly driven" to listen to much music, but Condi, on the other hand, although a busy gal, is a real authentic-type person, Lord Weisberg discerns from his analysis of her musical tastes. Jeebus Christmas!!?!

Last year, the president also revealed part of the playlist of his iPod, which he listens to while mountain biking. It includes "My Sharona" by the Knack, "Centerfield" by John Fogerty, "Brown-Eyed Girl" by Van Morrison, and music by the honky-tonk singer George Jones. Unlike Hillary and Condi, this all sounds pretty uncalculated. Bush doesn't worry about being politically correct or care what other people think of him. He likes to listen to white guys singing country and rock and doesn't care if Jerry Falwell objects to some of the lyrics. According to Pandora, Bush likes "mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation," "meandering melodic phrasing," "major key tonality" and "a smooth male lead vocalist." It is recommended that he try Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix as well as Billy Ray Cyrus and Conway Twitty. You could wait a long time for Morrissey or Neil Young to surface on his radio station, and Pandora was wise enough not to suggest the Dixie Chicks.

Hillary is calculating, the President is not calculating. The President isn't "politically correct". And we know this because...??? What a moron.

Thanks to Atrios and Eric Boehlert for the links.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Contenders

Al Gore is getting a lot of attention these days, much of it positive, concerning his post-2000 after-life and his 2008 presidential prospects. I suspect there are three main reasons for this. First is the release of his new global warming movie, An Incovenient Truth, which has played to warm (no pun intended) reviews. Second is the state of the 2008 Democratic field, with HRC enjoying a wide financial and name-recognition lead over most of her rivals, leading some members of the party unmotivated by her calculating centrism and polarization potential to hope someone else of similar or greater stature gets in the race. Third is the low poll numbers of George W. Bush, the situation in Iraq, and a general wistfullness for the peace and prosperity years of the 1990's and the administration of Clinton/Gore.

Where there is
reservation about Gore, it seems to be related more to his potential as a candidate than as a president. Although he has been more passionate and likeable of late, disgruntlement over his poorly run 2000 campaign, lingering apprehensions as to his political smarts and charisma, and questions as to how he would help bridge the specific regional or demographical gaps the party believes it faces have all contributed to a certain degree of angst about a potential Gore run in '08. But even among these concerns is an implicit or explicit assumption that Gore would make a fine president, should he actually win.

My own view runs in the opposite direction. I think Gore would be a strong candidate, at least relative to the Democratic field. I'm not particularly bothered by the memories of '00 as I assume he's learned a few things over the past several years and would be a much different, more aggressive and principled candidate. I'm also not worried about what state, region, or specific demographic the punditry thinks Gore--and by extension the Democratic Party--needs to capture the next time around (more about this in an upcoming post). Moreover, Gore's recent speaches, while delivered before small, friendly audiences, have shown a progressive purpose, ideological clarity and political timeliness and relevancy none of his rivals have demonstrated so far.

But Gore as president is something different. How would a combative Candidate Gore shift to being
President Gore? How would President Gore deal with a vocal, organized and unified conservative opposition and daily diatribes from the Republican Noise Machine over a prolonged stretch of time? Does he have what it takes to "go public", reaching over the heads of an antagonistic Congress and hostile media to persuade the public to support his programs? Or could he skillfully coopt his opposition's policy goals and rallying cries through a Clintoneque "strategery" of triangulation? In short, does he have the presidential character and political smarts needed to be up to the job over the long haul, in an unpredicatable, combative political environment?

For some reason, I am dubious about Gore's potential in these areas. And while the rest of the field has its own problems, I think there are several potential candidates who have a lot more upside as actual presidents. Who?

You'll have to come back later for that.