Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Special Election Rant

In the wake of the Massachusetts special election debacle, Democrats will predictably veer to the right...and hit a wall.

The conventional wisdom, called that for its endless repetition and complete lack of novelty, is that Democrats overreached after the 2008 elections with too progressive an agenda.

The corrective, and ever has it been thus, should be to act more like Republicans.

The question is whether that's possible.

The loss in the Bay State was not due only to an energized Republican base hopped up on FOX-generated nonsense about "socialism" and a "government takeover" of health care (and every other thing highwayscribery wanted from President Obama and didn’t get).

It could also be attributed to a disillusioned liberal base that wanted a single-payer health care system (and didn't get it), and compromised for a public insurance option to compete with the public sector crooks raking us over the coals all these years.

Instead we got Tim Geithner, a bailout of criminal bankers, the public option’s junking, and a fire sale on what was left of health care reform to the highest bidders representing the lowest common denominator.

Early on special election day, "Salon" and "New York Times" were reporting low turnout in the Latino and African-American communities. It is highly likely they were too busy looking for jobs to engage in another play for redemption at the ballot box.

That was so last year, what with all the hope and change stuff.

Now independents are going for the Republicans. At least with the GOP you know what you get...nothing, which may seem like an improvement after so many shattered, short-lived illusions.

And while we're on the subject of independents, highwayscribery would like to mention how much he loathes them.

Although he has spent his life cutting an independent path, and paying the high price reserved for such behavior, highwayscribery has always managed to VOTE WITH THE PARTY.

He does not sit around with his finger in the air, sensing which way the wind is blowing, and then go out for a good 'ol voters' revolt against all these damn politicians with their fingers in the air trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing.

He knows what he stands for and is aware that, in fits and starts, the Democratic Party is kinder to middle-class, wage-earning, craftspeople of liberal profession such as himself. highwayscribery views voting as a civic responsibility, rather than a shopping quest for people to drink beer with.

highwayscribery did not witness the Massachusetts campaign, but he's pretty sure it would not have mattered a wit that Martha Coakley didn’t know what team Kurt Schilling pitched for, or whether the guy entering the text on a paid announcement spelled Massachusetts wrong.

It's hard to spell.

He would have voted for Martha Coakley, lackluster as she was reported to have been, for her service to the Democratic Party and its principals throughout most of her life. We call these “touchstones” here in the shrinking universe of people guided by a moral compass.

Coakley would have gained highwayscribery’s vote because of her proven allegiance to something other than herself.

Which is really what we're talking about when we go on about the growing class of independents so much in the news this political season. They are the apotheosis of this godawful baby boomer generation that has put self-accommodation ahead of any other consideration while blessing themselves with an appealing adjective in the process.


Joe Lieberman is an independent: a man who stands for nothing. A man who supports an idea and a party one year and throws that party under the bus along with the idea he once so piously espoused.

He is, like most of our voters, an inveterate invertebrate, worthy of our deepest disdain. So here goes:

“highwayscribery disdains you Joe Lieberman, and all the jellyfish who voted for that Brown guy in Massachussecks, or whatever they call it.”

The American people have a right to be miffed, gelatinous though their collective political will may be. They gave the Democrats an almost-filibuster proof (Lieberman!) majority, a hefty margin in Pelosi’s realm, and a cool black guy to lead from the White House.

The Democrats and Obama then took a couple of weeks to bail out the banks and the rest of the year to NOT FINISH HEALTH CARE.

The Republicans, openly, shamelessly nasty, pledged themselves to obstruction and obstruct they have. But not without the help of hacks like Sen. Ben Nelson, Democrat from Nebraska, Sen. Byron Dorgan, Democrat from North Dakota, and...LIEBERMAN!

Rather than move with celerity on the health care issue, senators like Sen. Max Baucus, Dorgan, Nelson, and you-know-who, dilly-dallied while wing-nuts jumped like monkeys for television cameras posted on the Washington Mall.

Progressives have been think-tanking health care to death (no pun intended) lo these many years while waiting for the great majority moment.

We'd have liked an approximately one-page bill saying something like: “Every American will make a contribution adjusted to their income, which the government will then pool according to generally accepted actuarial principles and insure every citizen’s health care.”

Instead we got 2,100 pages too terrifying to welcome with open arms.

There’s been a lot of talk about the decline of newspapers and good reporting, but when it came to covering an 18th century invention -- the U.S. Senate -- our Old Media machinery was up to the snail’s-paced job.

The upshot was great articles, for anyone with 50 cents to read, about how lobbyists from the insurance, drug, and medical establishments were eating away at reform like the greedy guppies they are.

The guys across the aisle were firm in their pledge to filibuster everything that came up and the Democrats let it happen.

In “Make ‘Em Pee, Harry,” highwayscribery suggested the Republicans be forced to actually man the Senate floor for their record-breaking suite of filibusters and then call in the troops if and when they abandoned the fort.

The “pee” reference related to an old yarn about Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C) strapping on a catheter before going to filibuster in defense of Dixie and against the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

He lost, the nation won, and it is painful to say, but Obama is no Lyndon Baines Johnson.

So highwayscribery thought that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should call the Republicans out and oblige them to stand behind their verbal diarrhea. Make a spectacle of themselves before the American people, rather than allow their tactic to render Democrats passive and inept (which isn’t a difficult task in the first place).

The idea was being bounced around at the time and one of the MSNBC cable shows had the former Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott opine. He said it was implausible to require actual filibusters, because “NOTHING WOULD EVER GET DONE.”

Which is somewhat the point of obstruction. So if nothing’s going to get done, let’s have the blame rest squarely on the shoulders of those responsible, and not those hogtied by the undemocratic behavior.

If the scribe sounds a bit like a campy, angry, gay guy, that because he has been reading one by the name of Simon Doonan, who writes for the “New York Observer,” while watching the election results over the edge of the paper.

highwayscribery doesn’t live in New York, but he does inhabit a New York state of mind and truly enjoys how “The Observer” reduces the big city to a small town with solid street reportage and peppy writing.

Anyway, it turns out Doonan was at the heart of a December tempest-in-a-teapot over the way Christmas balls were decorated for placement on the White House tree.

That leggy Desiree Rogers woman enlisted his services in the name of style. Doonan came up with the idea of sending out 800 recycled silver Christmas balls in the White House’s possession for a dressing up by the schoolchildren and poor folk of America.

Somehow, (and god forbid) a Warhol image of Mao was pasted on one, and another of a transvestite named Hedda Lettuce to a second.

A right-wing commentator of the lower orders named Andrew Breitbart engineered a “blogsplosion” (Doonan’s expression) decrying creeping communism and an assault on family values in The People’s House.

But enough paraphrasing. Doonan can do this himself:

“The irony of Tinselgate is fairly breathtaking. A person donates his time and expertise -- for free! -- thereby saving taxpayer money. That same person then uses his ingenuity -- incorporating the creativity of kids and needy folks and reusing tchotchkes from previous administrations, thereby saving even more dosh -- and ends up on the receiving end of a torrent of threats and physical abuse from his fellow Americans.”

What’s happening at the top is often happening at every level of a society, which is why we mention Doonan’s nightmare here: It’s a good parable for the Obama presidency and a cautionary tale about the trash that is out there and the evil motivating those who would prevent someone come to do a little good for those who need it most.

You deserve your senator Mashochistetts. But we don’t.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Book Report: "To A God Unknown," by John Steinbeck

Purple and brown, dusty wine shot through with wheat-colored sun.

John Steinbeck's, To a God Unknown (Penguin Classics)is both love letter and a Dear John to his native Northern California countryside.

The author lingers often and long on the Salinas Valley landscape, now a land of milk 'n honey, moist, juicy, dashed with clover; now a dry and crusty graveyard frozen beneath a foreboding moon. These pastoral passages can transport. Steinbeck looks at the same places and renders them differently with each new encounter.

The protagonist is grafted by his creator to the land, and Steinbeck is an avid guide, reading the topography and its changes like a mood-ring, drafting his American rustics to rise and fall depending.

Steinbeck's dialogue, at this point in his life, was not as strong. The exchanges between country people, makin' butter and castrating cows, seems like they're chatting from the couch about their inner swoonings. But you move along with a sense of the things that are agitating them.

As Golden State portraiture, we can see how past is prologue. After Burton, Joseph's holy-rolling brother, leaves the farm in disgust with the devil's presence, the protagonist tells his wife: "We'll try to get along without another hand. If the work gets too much for us, I'll hire another Mexican."

Oh brother.

It is a dark and brooding book, mostly tragedy with redemption only in death. Steinbeck's characters shrink before the enormity of nature. Christians new to the heathen west are bent on exploiting and controlling the wilds. Others are more ready to make love with them.

Earthy stuff.

There are many ways to read "To A God Unknown," and with some work, you might find your own.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Dem Dead Dems

That crazy rollercoaster ride known as the "24-hour news cycle" has the Democratic Party headed for a disastrous election...11 months away.

The announcements that sparked this most recent go-round of political calculation were those of Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who are exiting political life -- stage left.

Cable guys and gals have so much air-time to fill, while watching the glacial U.S. Senate parse the nation's future, that soon enough Republicans will again be doomed for extinction, only to see their fortunes bolstered anew by some Democrat's prostate surgery, which will then plunge that party into oblivion, only to be revived by another utterance from GOP National Chairman Michael Steele, who will then be fired, spiking the stock of Tea Partiers...


Journalists view politics as played on a game board atop a table where the pieces are moved, knocked out, and returned to action with a roll of the dice.

But governing and vote-getting are tied as much to organization, controlling the levers of power, and the crafting of a saleable national message, as they are to the ebb and flow of "news" such as it is packaged these days.

As someone who spent 20 years of his life battling the Reagan and two Bush administrations, highwayscribery can attest to the fact you must be something other than "against" the gang in power to assume it yourself.

And to date, with its well-cemented obstruction to everything Obama, the Republican Party has little to recommend itself.

But don't ask highwayscribery. Query, let's say, the
"Wall Street Journal," which recently opined that, while the Dems have their problems, "most polls don't show a significant turn in support toward the GOP."

Feet firmly on the ground, in spite of its ideological preferences, "The Journal" also noted that, "the [Republican] Party hasn't done well in special congressional elections to fill seats that have opened up in the past year."

Which means in the REAL WORLD where campaigns are run and votes are tabulated, the GOP hasn't left the woods it was lost in circa November 2008. Which makes perfect sense. National, governing coalitions take time and grooming to develop.

Steele recently got himself into
trouble by admitting that, not only did the GOP have little chance of retaking the House of Representatives, but that it wasn't ready for the responsibility.

He got hammered very quickly because, in the Republican universe, the message is the medium, rather than the other way around.

The "Wall Street Journal" (which said a lot of things in a short article) also noted that, "In addition, though the intensity is up among grassroots conservative activists, much of the energy has poured into the 'tea party' movement, rather than the Republican Party."

The point is that all those loonies on the lawns with racist placards are somewhat different than the Republican Party itself. Probably a good thing, in the long run.

And we stress the "long-run" aspect of that last sentence.

highwayscribery has never been sure just what the significance of the Tea Party movement is. These were not Democrats to begin with, and the notion that because they're even angrier than usual (which is pretty angry), doesn't necessarily transform the political landscape.

A vote's value doesn't double with the emotional lunacy of the person that casts it.

It reminds the scribe of Solidarity Day in 1981, when a still-potent American labor movement paraded through the streets of Washington D.C. It was a massive affair peopled largely with Democratic Party loyalists. The Reagan Administration spokesman of that time (Larry Speaks?) responded to the phenomenon by noting, "If they're trying to tell us there are people out there who don't like Ronald Reagan, we already knew that."

Ditto President Obama.

Joe Conosan agrees. He doesn't let the Dems off the hook. They've got to fight for their votes and always have. But he turns to numbers in a Rasmussen poll, which tends to view the world through red (state)-colored glasses, and highlights these facts:

The Illinois Senate race is drifting toward the Democrats. Ohio Republican Sen. George Voinovich's seat is also competitive and could be a pick-up. That would erase the Dorgan loss. The Missouri Republican Senate seat being vacated by Republican Kit Bond's departure is also looking pretty good for Democrat Robin Carnahan.

Conason credits Republicans with effective control of the narrative, which is the only job they have given the fact Democrats are busy trying to solve the country's problems.

"What those Rasmussen numbers suggest," Conason wrote, "is a more nuanced reality. Republican advantages could quickly evaporate amid a volatile electorate -- and as with yesterday's retirements, the recent trends are not as dire as right-wing propaganda and mainstream prognostication claim."

His counterpart at "Salon,"
Mike Madden, noted that Dodd was a sitting duck in any case and that his successor enters the race with a 30-point lead in a solidly blue state.

Seat held.

As one of the public option's hangmen, highwayscribery thought Dorgan a pain in the ass in any case. In other words, 60 votes is nice when the 60 votes gets you something in line with your party's principles, rather than just any old thing you can call a "victory."

Since the unwritten 60-vote rule dominates national politics now, Madden's math here is worth considering, too.

"...[E]ven after the retirement announcements, there are more Republicans who won't run for their seats this year than Democrats. Already, 14 House Republicans have declared they won't see another term, compared to only ten Democrats. Six Senate Republicans, compared to only four Democrats are stepping down," and so on into the state races.

That said, there is something to be said, or admitted, about the essentially conservative nature of the American electorate.

highwayscribery always thought that was something of a media-elite chestnut, a conspiratorial canard with which we progressives were intended to be burdened.

Faced with a corrupt and spent Republican Party - its perennial mainstay - and presented with an elegant and eloquent option, the nation chose the Democrats and Barack Obama to keep them out of a second Great Depression.

Spending like drunken sailors, the Dems got the job done, and now everybody seems horrified at how much it cost to keep their over-leveraged asses afloat.

the scribe has been only moderately pleased with Obama's performance, wishing the secrecy policies of the Cheney administration, and that crappy war in Afghanistan were off the nation's to-do list.

But the rest of the country, outside of New York and the California coastal cities, has seen enough and are running back to their fiscally cautious bivouacs.

To wit: The
"Los Angeles Times," just covered a poll which had the vast majority of the electorate proclaiming themselves "conservative."

So it's true. What we lefties view as moderate progress, most Americans view as beyond the pale and all of the above may be a lot of wishful thinking.

Obama should have let the floor drop on everybody. Deficit spending would have seemed a lot more palatable.

But he thinks more about the country than power itself.