Good to See Anthony Weiner Again

Anthony WeinerHere’s the thing and I think it is probably clear if you’ve read this site with any regularity over the past couple of years. I like Anthony Weiner. He’s a good and unapologetic advocate for liberal policies. I’m very sorry about all his personal problems but they don’t mean much to me. I think, as has been clear with my reaction to Rob Ford who I hate politically, I’m always going to be forgiving about people’s personal foibles, whether they be public crack smoking, sexting, or something else.

Last week, Weiner was on Real Time and he was great. Of course he was! Where better to be? That’s where he’s in his element. He’s always been more of a performer than a politician and I hope he goes in that direction. Up against him is Sean Hannity clone David Avella who does nothing but spout conservative talking points and spread as much misinformation as he can. (I especially like when he claims that Republicans do have ideas for fixing our broken system. They do not.) Weiner destroys him.

Weiner also destroys Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, who appears to be one of those self-styled moderates—someone who never fought for single payer before Obamacare but now wants it after it isn’t an option. (This is a standard conservative ploy: why does Obamacare have to be so complex?!) She doesn’t seem unreasonable, however. But she did go off on the usual bullshit about how Obama should have apologized earlier, as though that has any relevance. Weiner and even Maher dispatch her quickly.

Regardless, I’m glad to see Weiner back doing what he does best.


Here is a bit more where Weiner and Maher discuss the “elephant in the room.” (Not Chris Christie; He’s just fat.) Needless to say, I agree: about the scandal and about healthcare.

Conservative Ideological Clumping

John HolboOver at Crooked Timber, John Holbo has written a really interesting article, Overton Straitjacket. In it, he makes the observation that while liberalism in America is spread out fairly evenly over its ideological range, conservatism is bunched at its right extreme. If liberalism were like that, Obama really would be the socialist of Republicans’ frenzied imaginings. So why is liberal ideology something like a normal distribution but conservative ideology is like the distribution of wages, with lots all pressed up again the minimum wage below which it cannot go by law?

Holbo notes that if a large number of people in the Republican Party became so extreme, that ought to open up acceptable conservative ideology (the “Overton Window”) so that there would be some people even further to the right. For example, if all the Republicans are now for war with Iran, why aren’t there some pushing for a region wide war? He has no compelling answers. I’m not sure that anyone does. I do, however, have a few thoughts.

Primarily, I think this perception is wrong. Just like the conservatives who claim that Obama is a socialist, we tend to conflate different conservative positions. For example, there is a very big difference between people who believe abortions should be illegal in all cases and those that believe in exceptions. So I think it is wrong to assume that conservatives are all rushing to the edge of ideological spectrum. They really are distributed.

But what we clearly do see is that modern conservative ideology is very narrow. And on that question, I am writing a whole book. But very briefly: it’s the New Democrats’ fault. Conservatives are, after all and despite what I say from time to time, not fascists. The existing boundary on the right is the same boundary that has long been there. But on economic issues especially, the New Democrats have taken over vast amounts of Republican ideological territory. This leaves Republicans with two possible actions. They can stay in the Republican Party and complain about how radical it is even though they now fit better in the Democratic Party. That is what’s going on with people like Josh Barro and David Frum. Or they can move to the right, which is more or less the only option if you are a politician.

I think that explains what we see. Of course, from the inside it looks different. This is why Republicans seem to go to intra-party war over what appear to us as minor issues. They aren’t minor issues to them. They are issues that span the entirety of the conservative ideological terrain. It might not be much, but it is all that they have.

Democratic Freak Out Will Not Help

Jonathan CohnYesterday, I was pushing back against all this nonsense about the poor people not able to keep their existing insurance plans. As I pointed out, these are just Placebo Policies. They make people feel that they have insurance, as long as they don’t use it. And that’s worse than useless. It’s very much like the Loony Tunes short “Fool Coverage.” In that video (which is sadly not available online), Daffy Duck convinces Porky Pig to buy accident insurance that will pay one million dollars for a black eye “as a result of a stampede of wild elephants running through his house between 3:55 and 4 PM on the Fourth of July, during a hailstorm.” When this actually happens, Daffy amends the clause, “A stampede of wild elephants and one baby zebra!” And, of course, a baby Zebra shows up because it’s Loony Tunes and not the actual life of one of the people with one of these placebo policies.

Jonathan Cohn has laid out just what is going on with the Republican plan to help these tragic victims who are being forced to get real insurance. The plan by Republican Representative Fred Upton is all of 235 words. And in that small bill there is the undoing of Obamacare. The problem is that the bill not only says that these useless plans can be sold to the people who already have them, it says they can be sold to anyone. This will cause of the young and healthy people to bail out of the exchanges and get these cheap faux policies. All the older and sicker people will stay in the exchanges because (1) they need actual insurance and (2) the companies would deny them for these plans anyway. Thus the price for everyone else would go up. Goodbye Obamacare.

The obvious question is whether the Democrats are really stupid enough to go along with this. Jonathan Chait wrote a very good overview of the Democratic Party freak out that is going on right now. He noted, “Undermining Obamacare in order to placate angry individual-insurance holders makes no sense even on narrow political terms.” But the Democrats can’t seem to hide their terror. Next year’s elections are a long time off, and none of this is going to mean anything if the exchange website starts working and the television narrative changes from “the website isn’t working” to “everyone is getting great prices on insurance!”

The whole thing makes me want to freak out! After all, I am only grudgingly a Democrat. But I do so identify because it is the liberal(ish) party in a two party system. One can’t expect to get everything; this is politics. But when the actual politicians of the party don’t understand the basics of politics, it is disconcerting. It doesn’t mean anything to “win the week.” It isn’t like the way long term interest rates predict later short term rates. This crisis will likely blow over and mean nothing in the long term. The Republicans seem to understand this. Why can’t the Democrats?

What we most definitely don’t want to do is make the signature legislative accomplishment of the sitting president collapse because of panic over looking bad on the Sunday political talk shows. What’s more, as both Cohn and Chait discuss, these measures aren’t likely to work even at what they intend to do. So they are not helping the 2% they want to help, and they will be hurting ten times as many people the law will be helping as it is. It just makes no sense. I think it is time for Samuel L Jackson to make a video for our Democratic representatives. Calm the fuck down!

Not Palin Again!

Sarah PalinI’m sorry about this, but I have to comment. Sarah Palin was back in her natural habitat (Facebook) to walk back her comments to Jake Tapper that Pope Francis surprised her with comments that “sound kind of liberal.” Now she says that she was deceived by the media. After talking to “Catholic friends” (Third on the list after “Black friends” and “Jewish friends.”) she has learned that, “Pope Francis is as sincere and faithful a shepherd of his church as his two [very conservative -FM] predecessors whom I admired.” Oh my.

Let’s just leave aside all the religious stuff. Palin apparently knows as much about religion as the average American Christian: nothing. What bothers me is her apparent definition of the word “liberal.” Based upon her comments, “liberal” is a synonym of “evil” or at very least “stupid.” It doesn’t define a way of thinking that she disagrees with. It is, as best I can tell, simply a pejorative or an expletive. “Get away from that liberal PlayStation and come do your homework!”

I shouldn’t be surprised. Conservatives worked very hard for decades to vilify the word “liberal.” And at this point, I’m well aware that the word has lost almost all of its power to scare anyone other than the hardcore conservatives themselves. But I had thought that at least it meant the standard things: a bleeding heart who wants to do the right thing but is totally screwed up. You know: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But I have seen this the last couple of decades. That is what conservatives meant BC (Before Clinton). But since then, they seem to have moved on to thinking that liberals are actively evil people.

This goes along with the modern revolutionary Republican Party. The Democrats don’t just disagree with them on policy; they are actively trying to destroy America. And given that they think that, it is no wonder that every new policy results in calls of Armageddon. There is certainly some of that on the left, but it isn’t the entire Democratic base. As for me, the Republican Party is very simple: a party for the super rich that uses racial and sexual (that is, abortion rights) anxiety to be able to win elections. I don’t think the base of the Republican Party is evil, just terribly manipulated.

What’s more, I have nothing against the idea of conservatism. I too believe in culture and continuity and respect and responsibility. But I don’t see too much of that on display in American conservatism. As I said, it has become a radicalized movement. Most of its proponents don’t want to save the past; they want to invent the past. Only a month ago, I came upon the blog I Am a Black Mother—a website of a white southern woman who has adopted a black child. There, I found one of the most vile discussions (which very much included the “black mother”) about how slave owners treated their slaves well and most slaves were happy. Now, I don’t know of any conservatives who want to go back to that fantasy past, but there are lots and lots who want to go back to the fantasy past when blacks “knew their place” and women were just thrilled to be in a world where “a girl could still cook and still would.”

Palin, of course, if part of a whole new wave of conservative leaders: people who came from the base itself. And the dangerous thing about her is that unlike the traditional Republican elites, she actually believes the propaganda. So clearly: Democrats aren’t just the other major party that Republicans do battle with over policy disputes. The Democrats are evil by nature. In other words, they are liberal. And to call the Pope liberal is the same as calling him the Antichrist.

The Sad Short Life of Veronica Lake

Veronica LakeOn this day in the 18th century, two composer fathers were born. The first is Leopold Mozart who was born in 1719. If you’ve ever seen the movie Amadeus, then you probably think that he was a relatively bad father. The truth is different. He was a terrible father. The second is Johann van Beethoven. He was a terrible father in a different way: as an abusive drunk. I suppose that Malcolm Gladwell would tell us that is why their sons were so great. He’s wrong.

The painter Claude Monet was born in 1840. I don’t doubt his great talent and importance. In fact, I see it. But the combination of over exposure and the generations of hacks who have painted just like him really makes appreciating his work hard. So regardless of its quality, it always seems kind of like motel room art.

The great American composer Aaron Copland was born in 1900. I’m not a big fan of his, but I appreciate his work. He made the best use of twelve-tone of any composer I’m aware of, realizing early its limits. Later he pretty much completely abandoned it. Mostly though, his music always has character. Here is Appalachian Spring, a suite he wrote based upon a ballet he had written. It is very charming. I really recommend listening to these nice young Australians from Sydney Camerata Chamber Orchestra perform the hell of it at (appropriately) a church:

When people ask me to name the most important person of my childhood, the answer is clear: Sherwood Schwartz. Why? Because he created the two iconic television shows of my youth: Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch. Okay, that was hyperbola. But still, that’s quite a record. He was also a longtime comedy writer. And he lived to be 94 and spent almost 70 years married to the same woman. I admire that even if I can’t quite fathom it.

Other birthdays: steamboat inventor Robert Fulton (1765); the deeply troubled and dangerous politician and morphine addict Joseph McCarthy (1908); actor Brian Keith (1921); actor McLean Stevenson (1927); Software developer Peter Norton (70); humorist P J O’Rourke (66); and singer-songwriter Brendan Benson (43).

The day, however, belongs to the actress Veronica Lake who was born on this day in 1922. The truth is that I’ve never been a fan of hers. I liked her in Sullivan’s Travels and the Alan Ladd films. But then I found out about her life. She was apparently very difficult to work with and by the late-1940s, this led to the end of her career in Hollywood. During the later part of her career, she became an alcoholic. By 1962, she had been reduced to working as a barmaid in a New York Hotel. When this became public, jobs came back and her career had a bit of a renaissance, but not in Hollywood. Regardless, the best part of her story is that in 1969, she published an autobiography. With the proceeds of that, she starred in and produced a low-budget horror film, Flesh Feast. A seeker to the end, she died just 3 years later at the age of 50.

Happy birthday Veronica Lake!