But Roz, who doesn't admire JFK much but does admire Obama, worries because Obama's reminding her of a different politician, a contemporary one, and a British one---Tony Blair, and you know that's not meant as a compliment.
She's also surprised at how much enthusiasm Ted and Caroline's endorsements were met with by people who have listed as one of their reasons for being against Hillary that they are against political dynasties on principle:
I don't know what to think about the American elections - a black
President would be a good thing, and so would a woman President.
I do know is that a husband and wife team is not a dynasty, and that
people whose supporters go on and on inaccurately about dynastic
politics should not be seeking out the endorsement of actual dynasts.
Ted Kennedy is an admirable man whose opinion I respect - but not when
he is acting as part of a dynasty rather than as a distinguished
senator. Caroline Kennedy is wholly and solely a member of a dynasty,
and her endorsement of Obama is a dynastic one.
like my father' - by which I take it we are not supposed to understand
a man who will nearly cause nuclear holocaust, who will get the US into
another disastrous war, who will stand aside from important social
I think better of Obama than that he is the over-rated JFK's natural heir.
There are times when I almost feel sorry for George W. Bush. And if his bumbling was limited to tripping over the furniture and spilling drinks on visiting heads of state, instead of starting immoral wars, letting cities drown, stealing elections, looting the national treasury, and corrupting every single Federal regulatory agency, this would be one of those times.
The fact that Bush thinks "A Charge to Keep" is a painting of a heroic character striving to overcome challenges and troubles when it's actually a horse thief with a posse close on his trail is ironic, but not indicative. Sure, we think it's funny and just like him to mistake a crook for a saintly cowpoke. ("I looked into his eyes...") But it would have been just like anybody in his situation when he found the painting and took it to heart. A man coming off years of failure, trying to quit drinking, and looking for help from God can be forgiven for finding inspiration in a painting like this one. There isn't anything in it to tell us that the rider's a horse thief. It's meaning is dependent on its context; the story it illustrates tells us what's going on. Without that, it is a picture of a rugged Marlboro man urging his horse up a steep hill, and that's what Bush, and plenty of other struggling ex-drunks, would have felt like.
That the character in the painting looks a little like Bush naturally would have intensified his identification with it and confirmed his seeing in it a symbolic reflection of his own struggles.
It is like Incurious George to have fallen in love with a painting and not thought to look into its history or want to know more about its painter.
But if he had learned the truth, it might not have changed his feelings about it or for it. And I can't see anything particularly Bush-like in that, nor can I see that anyone else inspired by any work of art should be required to give up their identification with a mistaken interpretation of it.
I'm not saying that a student who has misread a poem by Robert Frost ought to be given an A on his exam anyway or that a critic who's missed the point of a movie or a book or a painting ought to be handed a book contract to expand upon her bloomer.
I just don't think anyone should have to give up the comfort or consolation of a personal myth because the inspiration of that myth turns out not to have been what they thought it was. I don't think they should be laughed at for their mistake either. If Bush ever learns the truth about the painting, I'll understand if he wants to continue to see in it what he saw in it originally.
We all need our personal myths, the stories and symbols and songs and pictures we've woven together in attempt to explain ourselves to ourselves or at least make us feel as though we have some sort of explanation, that we have a meaning even if we can't quite put it into words. Listen to this song, we urge our friends. Watch this movie! Read this poem! Then you'll know! You'll know me!
Which is why we're so disappointed, even angry, when they don't love that song, aren't taken with that poem, hate that movie. They don't know it but in rejecting our myths we can't help feeling that they're rejecting us.
I gave up a long time ago trying to explain that the movie version of The Natural is not a baseball movie or even an adaptation of Bernard Malamud's cynical novel. It's the story of a very talented young man who thought too highly of himself and because he thought too highly of himself threw away his opportunity to do what he loved to do and what he did well and who then, at an age when he no longer had a right or a reason to expect it, is given a second chance. And I can't begin to tell you, because I can't explain it, or I'm afraid to explain it, to myself, why Lost in Translation was my favorite movie of the last ten years, until I saw Juno, which I also can't explain my deep affection for.
These movies just make sense to me---in the sense that they help me feel that there's some sense to life. My life.
There are days when I have to listen to Bruce Springsteen sing Everybody Has A Hungry Heart forty-six times. There are times when I read poems by Elizabeth Bishop, Tom Lux, and Robert Frost as if they were prayers, times when I stare long and longingly at paintings by Edward Hopper and Vincent Van Gogh the way I used to stare at the stained glass windows in our church during mass.
I love the novels of Charles Dickens for themselves but, while I wouldn't ever call them my saints, some of his characters---Mr Pickwick, Sam Weller, Captain Cuttle, Betsy Trotwood, Scrooge and his nephew Fred, Mr Micawber, Ralph Nickleby, Bradley Headstone---have become to me expressions of my personal daemons and demons.
Hawkeye Pierce is one of my saints, as is Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, Natty Bumpo, King Arthur, Superman, George Bailey, Sam Vimes, Betty Suarez, and Adrian Monk.
The list of real people, living and dead, I've privately canonized is too long to get into here and, besides, it includes some people who would be terrifically embarrassed to learn they're included on my list.
And who's to say that the meaning and inspiration I find in all these people and characters and poems and songs and stories and movies and plays is or isn't really there?
As you may have heard, it opens with some titles informing us that what
we're watching is the property of the U.S. government and was retrieved
from the area "formerly known as Central Park." That was enough right
there to get to hoping for an extended homage to the Firesign Theater,
but some hopes are just made to be dashed. Turns out that the tape in
question was first used to document the day after the very pretty Beth
and the even prettier Rob first experienced the miracle of physical
love with one another and then went to Coney Island, which is of course
what anyone would do the day after their first fuck, if they were
living in a chewing gum commercial. Unfortunately, most of what
followed their waking up has been taped over by Hud, who was given the
recorder and instructed to collect testimonials to Rob at his big
going-away party. Rob is moving to Japan for business reasons; if
anyone ever mentioned what he does for a living, I missed it, but all
his friends are 18-year-old supermodels who appear to be coping as best
they can with the effects of their mothers having continuously smoked
crack while they were in the womb. (Hud, who we don't get to see much
because he's behind the camera but who never, ever, shuts up, is
practically Rain Man.) The big plot point has to do with a
misunderstanding between the two Coney Island afficionados: Rob
apparently loves Beth but somehow neglected to tell her, which is a
problem because Beth lacks the mental acuity to take his having slept
with her and then dragged her onto the Tilt-a-Whirl as any kind of a
hint. So she shows up at the big send-off with a guy. She and Rob
quarrel and she ankles the building. I didn't look at my watch, but my
rough estimate is that this whole sequence goes on for about four
hours. Then the monster shows up. I'm sorry, everybody knows there's a
monster in it, right?
Phil wasn't that impressed with the monster either. Read the whole review here.
Dear fellow Progressives, Liberals, and Democrats,
It's politics, not religion. It's a political party, not a chruch. And there's a difference between someone who honestly disagrees with your opinion and someone who has promulgated a heresy. Please adjust your arguments and your tone accordingly.
As the wartime Pilgrim, Mr. Olson is perfectly passive, wide-eyed and
innocent. Mr. Konow, as the aged Pilgrim, plays him as a chipper,
earnest and heroic bumpkin, ignoring his haplessness. Aaron Paternoster
portrays Pilgrim’s nemesis, Lazzarro, with a heavy hand, but Deanna
McGovern brings shades to the female roles, managing to temper
Excuse me? Vonnegut's what?
Been a long while since I read the novel, but as far as I can recall, there are only two female characters of any importance, Billy Pilgrim's wife, Valencia, and the porn star Montana Wildhack, and while both are cartoons, neither one is a monster. Vonnegut seems to have liked both of them. I was on a Vonnegut kick a couple years ago and read Bluebeard, Breakfast of Champions,Timequake,Mother Night, and God Bless You, Mr Rosewater, pretty much one after the other, and the only women he seemed to have hard feelings towards were his mother's stepmother, who was a terrible human being, and his mother, whom he clearly loved but couldn't quite forgive for having killed herself. He was no Henry James when it came to complex, psychologically astute portraits of women, but he was no Henry James when it came to his male characters either. Vonnegut claimed never to write villains, he didn't believe in them, but he believed in the evil that men do, and the evil in his novels is mostly done by men, on their own, with no help from any women.
Do you think the reviewer meant Vonnegut's sexism? Are the two words synonymous now?
Here's another question. Do you think the reviewer has read the book or just the Playbill?
There is no character named Pilgrim in it. There is a character named Billy Pilgrim, as in "Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time." When he's not being called Billy Pilgrim he's being called Billy, as in "'It's time to sink or swim, Billy. Sink or swim!' Billy sank."
There might be one character who calls Billy by his last name alone. Paul Lazzaro. Not Lazzarro. Paul Lazarro. As in "Nobody fucks around with Paul Lazzaro!" Only one r in Lazzaro, by the way. Vonnegut tended to refer to all his characters in all his books by either their first names or their first and last names together. It was almost a trademark of his.
Before I say the very little I have to say about Juno, I need to ask something.
Did the 1970s really not go away?
Except for some slang, the names of a couple of bands, and a few pieces of technology---which did not, as far as I can remember, include either cell phones or laptops---there wasn't anything in that movie that couldn't have been there if the movie had been made when I was Juno and Bleeker's age, and that goes for Juno's hamburger phone and Bleeker's track uniform and tube socks and especially for the "new" music on the soundtrack that sounds exactly like the songs my folkie musician friends were playing and listening to.
All the way through I kept thinking, I knew these kids and these grown-ups.
Was that a design decision? Did the filmmakers want to make us feel as though the movie was taking place in some never-land where time and fads are all mixed up? Were we supposed to think that Juno and her family are stuck in their own pre-Reagan America? Or is just the case that the more things change the more they stay the same?
At any rate, all I have to say is this.
Juno is the kindest-hearted, most forgiving, most human movie I've seen since John Huston's The Dead, but funnier.
Note added Sunday morning: Nothing in this post should be taken to mean that I think Bill and Hillary Clinton are saints or that I think they've run the most high-minded campaign. I'm pretty disgusted by Clinton's maneuvers to get the Florida and Michigan delegates seated, for one thing. But...well... read on...
I don't do many What digby saids here because I figure most you already know what digby said before you get here. But...
McCain and Romney and Huckabee, in his aw shucks I'm jess a li'l ol' country boy way, are busy being every bit as mean and nasty to each other as Clinton and Obama are being, but because whatever happens in the world is always bad for the Democrats it's the Democrats whose party is being torn apart. The Republicans are just fine. Nevermind they're all broke, nobody wants to vote for them, their base is demoralized, constitutencies that could formerly be counted on like Hispanic- and Arab-Americans and even some Evangelical Christians are abandoning the party, and incumbent Republican Congress critters who have held what have been very safe seats for years are suddenly discovering this is the year to finally return home to the family farm.
But to add my own two cents to what digby said: The story isn't really that the Democrats are tearing their party apart. The story is that it's Hillary and Bill who are tearing the party apart.
Those nasty, no good, ambitious Clintons, they'll do anything to win an election, even campaign against their opponents!
The story is arising out of the same old prejudice against the Clintons. The bullshit about Hillary being so goddamn ambitious, as if no other politician in American history ever actually wanted to an election, is a legacy. It was Bill who was originally the ambitious one, the one who would do anything to win, like read polls and find out what voters wanted and then give it to them, the snake!
If they'd thought of it they'd have begun calling her Slick Hilly a long time ago.
They, of course, are the insiders' insiders of the Washington Insider establishment, the royalists and their journalist toadies, who have always been appalled by the Clintons' presumption.
It goes back to Whitewater, the scandal that was supposed to have sunk Clinton right out of the gate and saved them from that hillbilly upstart's second term. The trouble was always that Whitewater was an imagined scandal. The Insiders believed it because they believed that Bill Clinton was dirty from the get go and it has always infuriated them that they never did get the goods on him. This is why Jeff Gerth gets his book on Hillary published. It doesn't matter that the rest of us, who live where things like facts matter, have concluded that Gerth was writing fiction that was spoonfed to him by Clinton's Right Wing enemies and he ought to have been canned for being such an easy dupe, if he wasn't consciously in cahoots. Down in DC they believe that Gerth just couldn't get to the slimy bottom of the mess, probably because Bill Clinton did something real slick and devious and dirty to thwart a real investigation.
They believe Hillary was in on it. They believe that she's a cold, calculating liar. They believe she destroyed evidence and obstructed the investigation and perjured herself and coerced aides and friends to do all the above too. Why do they believe it when all the evidence says she didn't do any of those things?
Because she's a Clinton and Clintons are dirty.
Because she must have.
If Hillary's the nominee the story will be that she won by fighting dirty. She cheated. Her nomination will be illegitimate. Like her husband's, both times.
And when the Republicans start sliming her and smearing her and stirring up as much hate and fear about her as they can, the story will be that she brought it on herself.
She started it.
Of course she did.
She's a Clinton.
You just know that if she's President she'll go in there and wreck the place.
Miami of Ohio, right? Right? Right? Please add "of Ohio."
"... I want to be warm."
She would be the queen of cigarette boats. I suggested she look at the schools in Massachusetts and New York for starters.
places aren't so warm. How about Kansas?" She asked after spending a
little time exploring the University of Michigan and Ohio State.
wanted to respond, "How about it? How about Idaho, Missouri, South
Dakota, and Oklahoma, too? What I know about Kansas is that you have
just suggested studying biology
in a state where evolution hasn't been invented yet." I held my tongue
and for a second considered getting the wooden map of the United States
down off the bookshelf. I could blindfold her and we could play pin the
tail on her future alma mater. Would she feel out of place in Texas?
Would she get religion jammed down her throat in South Carolina? Who
will inspire her? Who will take her? Who can I afford?
This is going to be one hot mess.
This is Cate talking to her youngest about age:
My seven-year-old and I walked out of the restaurant into the pitch
black, bitter cold air. As we walked up the sidewalk, a stocky man
moving past us at a fast clip turned back in our direction. We could
see part of his head under a plaid hoodie. His whole face seemed to
smile. His teeth were huge. His eyes were large and spaced far apart,
looking just a reach beyond his control. He began talking about a
television show from the 1970's, and how, because he was 43 and I was
close to there, we both should be familiar with the program.
I did what I do in the face of questionable lucidity: I nodded in polite agreement.
My daughter looked up at me and laughed, "You're not 43. You're 68!"
Couple hundred pages into George Crile's excellent Charlie Wilson's War and I still haven't gotten a fix on Charlie Wilson.
I can see the man, all six-feet-four inches of him made even taller by the heels of his cowboy boots, reaching his big hand out for a drink, reaching the same hand out to greet a friend or a voter, forgetting he has a drink in it, his loud voice booming, as his head's swiveling around to follow the behind of a passing pretty woman. But that's easy to see because it's a caricature, a self-drawn one Wilson cheerfully lived out, but still a sketch not a portrait. I don't feel as though I'm getting to know the man, and I suspect that it's because Crile had a hard time getting to know Wilson too. Someone like Wilson would be hard to get to know for the simple reason that he wouldn't know himself. What he knows and knows well is the self he would like to be.
Charlie Wilson appears to be a romantic and an idealist. Like all romantics, he's a story-teller first and a personal historian second, which is to say the drama of any narrative is more important to him than the actual facts. Not that he'd lie, just that he'd have a tendency to glide over the details. And like all romantics, the main object of his romances is himself. He's the creator of a personal myth. And the myth has taken him over so completely that he can only talk about the idealism and the thinking that drove him to scheme and plot and maneuver and risk his life and his career and the security of the United States (World War III with the Soviets wasn't an impossible outcome of what he was up to) to help the Afghani mujahideen defeat the Russians and drive them from their country as arising out of the myth of Charlie Wilson.
He can only say in a lot of different ways that he did what he did and thought what he thought and believed what he believed because that's the kind of man Charlie Wilson is. In short, the romantic's answer to the question, Who are you? is always I am who I am.
Why did Charlie Wilson do what he did? Because he's Charlie Wilson.
Probably doesn't help that he was an alcoholic too and that made a lot of what he did reflexive rather than reflected upon, before or after, and it's left him somewhat fuzzy on the details of some events.
All this makes him a colorful character for Tom Hanks to play in a movie (Wilson probably saw himself as if he was playing himself in a movie) but I would guess made him a frustrating source and an elusive subject for a journalist. It makes him an object of guesswork on the part of a reader. It makes a reader have to treat him as if he's a fictional character, which---and that's my point---he is. Charlie Wilson made himself up.
Of course, to an extent, the people in any book, fiction or non-fiction, are invented characters. Novelists are consciously making their characters up. But historians, biographers, and journalists make their characters up too, they make them up out of facts, but the way those facts are chosen and assembled is an act of imagination. Writers of non-fiction can't claim that their stories are true, only that their stories are as close to what they think is the truth as they believe they could get.
So, for all intents and purposes, trying to understand a real-life person through what you read about him in a book like Charlie Wilson's War is as much an act of literary interpretation as trying to understand Hamlet or Mr Pickwick. Which is why I don't feel too bad about doing what I am about to do: Write about a real live human being as if he's a fictional character.
While Charlie Wilson is still something of an enigma to me, Gust Avrakotos, the rogue CIA agent played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie, who was Wilson's legman and muscle and, to a degree, puppetmaster, in this real-life adventure tale, seems very familiar to me, because he's an all-too-familiar type of American prince, the self-made thug who can do no wrong in his own eyes.
Avrakatos grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in a Pennsylvania steel town, the doted-upon, but not spoiled, son of Greek immigrants. His father, another self-made thug, was a marginally successful then failed businessman who had a very personal sense of Right and Wrong. Right was whatever he needed to do to get ahead and take care of his family, Wrong was anyone or anything that got in the way of his doing either. He passed on this simplistic and ego-driven morality to his son.
As a kid, Avrakatos was smart, talented, hard-working, a good student---he was valedictorian of his high school class and graduated from college summa cum laude. But he had a rebellious streak that arose out a sense of entitlement and an anger at life's unfairness. He didn't really care that life was unfair, generally, only that it was unfair to him. He'd been taught by his parents that he was different, special, and he couldn't forgive life for not recognizing what he was.
The Hercules-King Arthur-Superman-Luke Skywalker myth has at its core the fact that every now and then, for no apparent reason, Hero-Kings are born not in castles but in huts and cottages. The happy idea behind the myth is that those Hero-Kings, born with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, will grow up humble, with a respect for and a sympathy with the common folk among whom they were raised and they will go on to use their powers and abilities to help and protect others.
But in real life the working out of the myth depends on the Hero-King being raised by a Merlin, Jonathan and Martha Kent, or Uncle Ben Parker who will teach him that with great power comes great responsibility.
I've seen it happen, though, young heroes and heroines being raised by people intent on rubbing the specialness right out of them, either out of a misguided sense of doing the right thing by them, like Luke's Uncle Owen who was so determined that Luke not turn out to be like his father that he was keeping him from turning out anything, or for selfish and egotistical reasons, like Arthur's foster father Sir Ector, who saw Arthur as a threat to the future glory of his own son, Kay.
Whatever their reasons, these adults---who can be teachers as well as parents or other guardians---work hard to make sure the talented children in their charge don't "get above themselves." Some of those children never do. They hide their lights under bushels their whole lives. Others rebel, and not all rebels are heroes and heroines.
But I suspect that more often the young hero or heroine is a temptation to the adults raising them to aggrandize themselves. Stage mothers and fathers are of this type. The stands at every sporting event are full of them.
And I suspect that even more often the young heroes and heroes strike the adults who have them in their charge as gifts. They are enchanted by their child's specialness and they dote upon it, feeling a responsibility to make sure the special child has a special future. They wind up not teaching the child that he or she has a special destiny or a special responsibility but that he or she has a special reward ahead of them. They teach them they are privileged and entitled.
Avrakotos' parents apparently lived out the good and the bad sides of the myth. They taught Gust discipline and the value of hard work. They taught him not to take anything for granted, least of all success, but they also impressed upon him that he was special and privileged and, as long as he worked for it, he was owed. They taught him Right from Wrong, but it was his father's mixed up sense of Right and Wrong. He internalized the sense that Right was what was good for Gust Avrakotos and the people he loved and wrong was whatever hurt them or got in their way. They taught him a sense of duty and loyalty, but they also taught him that his first duty was to take care of himself and see to it that he became what he was destined to become.
Avrakotos didn't turn out to be a cold-blooded narcissist. He was passionate, large-hearted, idealistic to a degree, and like Charlie Wilson a romantic who although he saw himself as the hero of his own romances still wanted to be a hero. But he projected himself into everything and onto everyone, and where he could see himself he could see goodness and righteousness and where he could not make out his own reflection he saw threats and enemies---he was paranoid by temperament and his training and experience as a spy made him even more so.
Self-made men and women are self-made only to the degree that they have worked hard to put their talents and abilities to work. A lot of people who get described as self-made are just lucky. Gust Avarkotos was definitely a self-made man.
What turns a self-made person into a self-made thug is a belief that the rules that apply to ordinary persons don't apply to them.
This is a temptation for most self-made people, I think, because, generally, the rules that regular people live by are rules for hiding your light under a bushel, for not putting your special talents and abilities to work, for not getting ahead, especially if you're poor or working class. The rules---be polite, don't talk back, don't question authorities, do what you're told, follow instructions, wait your turn, and keep your head down---are rules for getting along in the middle class. They are rules for staying right where you are, which is fine if you are born into the middle class, but for the poor and the working class they are in effect rules for failure.
The self-made, then, of any class, those who through their own efforts and diligently applied talents, learn pretty quickly that there are times when the rules have to be broken.
Self-made types become thugs when they decide that the time for breaking the rules is any old time they feel like it.
Through the example of his father, who was known to beat up on customers who owed him money, by temperament, and by through his training and work as a CIA operative, Avrakotos learned that the times when he had to follow the rules were fewer and far between than for the rest of us. He became a self-made thug. He was more of a part-time thug, compared to other self-made thugs, but he was still a thug.
When self-made thugs appear in their usual habitats, the business world, the world of sports, the arts---areas of human endeavor where rampaging egos are the norm and bad behavior is routinely excused by success---they are destructive types, wrecking anyone and anything that they think has gotten in their way. But Avrakotos found his way into a career where thugs could be heroes. The work of the CIA during most of the Cold War was creative destruction, and Avrakotos was very, very, very good at it.
Then the Agency committed the to an Avrakotos unforgivable sin. It turned on and betrayed some of Gust Avrakotos' friends, which, as far as he was concerned, was the same as turning on and betraying him.
The CIA was, proabably still is, the Ivy League types who run it and their chosen favorites who staff its key positions. It was a club of gentlemen and lady spies who tolerated Avrakotos's presence more than they welcomed him into the club. But then Avrakotos never really wanted to be part of the club. He couldn't make out his reflection in many of the Ivy League dilletantes who were nominally his superiors. His loyalty to the Agency was really loyalty to the few men around him he admired and to his own assets and operatives and a to the United States, to which he was loyal mostly because it was the nation that had had the good sense to allow Gust Avrakotos to be born there.
This is how it happened that when Charlie Wilson needed a man like Gust Avrakotos, a competent and dangerous thug who wasn't bound by the normal rules, who was connected but not beholden, who could identify with the Afghans and their cause more strongly than he identified with other Americans, particularly American politicians and bureaucrats, who was brave, cunning, well-disciplined, and a little bit nuts, there was a man like Gust Avrakotos on hand.
Detroit’s mayor becomes approximately the millionth public official to
learn that it’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up. The Free Press FOIAs
his text-message records and discovers a rather mundane game of hide the salami
going on between the country’s first hip-hop mayor and his chief of
staff. Which is tawdry, but only tawdry, until you consider that the
denial of said affair under oath was the centerpiece of a lawsuit
brought last summer against the city, one that led to a number of
whistle-blowing cops swallowing a $9 million canary. I won’t bog you
down with details, which you fans of public-official ugly-bumping can
look up yourselves; it’s a complicated story and the Freep provides a
million links. Just absorb the takeaway lesson: Sometimes you have to
stop lying, even if it’s really, really embarrassing.
Specifically, the Democrats appear to have buckled in the face of the
Bush administration’s ideological rigidity, dropping demands for
provisions that would have helped those most in need. And those happen
to be the same provisions that might actually have made the stimulus
Yes, they extracted some concessions, increasing rebates for people
with low income while reducing giveaways to the affluent. But basically
they allowed themselves to be bullied into doing things the Bush
The ghost of John Kerry haunts many of the various discussions about "electability" I've read on the web.
There seems to be a consensus that Kerry was the nominee in 2004 because Democrats thought he was the most "electable." There's also general agreement that the Democrats were out of their minds on that one because Kerry turned out to be highly unelectable.
I don't remember Kerry's electability being a before-the-fact issue. I recall it popping up later, after he had the nomination pretty well sewn up, as a consolation for people who hadn't wanted Kerry, which may have been most Democrats. In 2004 Iowa and New Hampshire decided the nomination for the rest of us by handing Howard Dean his hat. Maybe Iowans based their decision on Kerry's supposed greater "electability." The rest of us were just along for the ride, hoping that Kerry was in fact electable.
But the proof offered that he wasn't actually electable is simply that...he wasn't elected.
There's a sense out there that Kerry should have won. This idea seems to have two meanings in one. Kerry should have won because all the advantages were his and he should have won because in a fair and just universe George W. Bush would have been thrown out of the White House on his ear and by losing to that jamoke Kerry committed a sin and a crime against nature and the nation.
Behind both senses is the belief that, no matter how electable Kerry was, George W. Bush was indisputably not re-electable.
Which brings us back to this: The fact that Kerry could not get elected over an obvious loser like Bush is proof that Kerry was unelectable.
This assumes that an incumbent President, in wartime, with the economy stable if not growing, can come near to losing an election all on his own, without any help from his opponent. Kerry didn't have to win nearly 50 per cent of the vote; he was spotted it. All he had to do was pick up another one or two percent.
Folks, Bush attempted to use his mandate to kill Social Security in 2005. Katrina hit in 2005.
Bush was never a truly well-liked or popular President, even after 9/11. But he didn't get himself so well hated and despised until he tried to take away grandma's retirement and let New Orleans drown.
Kerry nearly beat him when most people were still giving him the benefit of the doubt and the National Press Corps was still portraying him as our warrior-hero king.
It was an extremely close election (close enough that it may very well have been stolen, which says what about Kerry's electability?) and there's no single reason that Kerry wasn't able to get that last one percent. The gay bashing ballot initiatives hurt. The Swift Boat Liars hurt. But I think a more important factor in Kerry's defeat than his inherent electability was his failure to test it nationally.
I've said before that I think Kerry's biggest mistake was his strategy of trying to win by picking up all the states that Gore won in 2000 plus either Florida or Ohio. He focused on the two states that the Bush Leaguers had the best shot at cheating in, as it happens, neglecting the Southwest and writing Arizona off entirely, to the dismay and frustration of Democratic governor Janet Napolitano.
This could be read as my way of saying that I think Kerry was more electable than Kerry himself did.
What I am saying is that part of a candidate's electability is the way he goes about getting elected. His strategy for gathering votes is more important than his potential for attracting them, as Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson have discovered.
And I'll add that part of a candidate's electability is his her or timing, and to a great degree that's a matter of luck.
Historical, political, economic, cultural, and and natural forces that set the ground for an election in any given year are beyond a candidate's control yet they often decide just how electable that candidate is, particularly if that candidate is the challenger not the incumbent.
If Katrina had hit at the end of the summer of 2004, we'd be talking about John Kerry's re-election campaign right now.
In 1984, the only electable candidate the Democrats could have nominated was Ronald Reagan.
At any rate, the point, explicit or implicit, of the John Kerry turned out to be unelectable arguments is that Democrats are not very good judges of who's electable; the lesson to be learned from the point varies, depending. Some people make the case that since we can't tell who's electable we shouldn't even have the discussion and choose our candidates based entirely on their principles and records. Others argue that we should adopt the George Costanza approach to deciding who's electable: decide who we think is electable and chose the opposite. And others, who seem to be mostly Progressives who don't self-identify as Democrats, say that the rest of us should just shut up and listen to them because they know better.
My point is that judging who's electable is a complicated matter but the Democrats have still managed to do a pretty good job of it over the last few election cycles. John Kerry came awful close to getting himself elected. He may have gotten himself elected. It'll be a long time before we know just how many votes the Republicans stole or suppressed in Florida and Ohio, oh, and incidentally, in New Hampshire and Nevada too. Al Gore did get himself elected. Bill Clinton got himself elected twice.
I have "favorable" opinions of Obama and Clinton and
Edwards and, while I'm leaning towards Hillary, I don't care which one
wins. Each would be a good candidate and a good President, although in
different ways. If I could be granted one wish it would be that we had
a candidate who combined the best of all three. We don't. He's too
busy saving the planet. So it seems to me that choosing one over the
other is a matter of deciding which of a number of good things you want the next
President to try to make happen that you think the President really
stands a chance of making happen.
But whichever one wins the nomination will have proven himself or herself electable.
The next step is going out and collecting the votes.
Snow again. We get flurries at 3200 feet in the Sierras; it snows for five minutes, stops, snows again. It's 28 degrees outside. A light breeze pushes the icy, dry snowflakes haphazard and willy-nilly, floating them in slo-mo first this way, then that, and then both at once. I love how the intense white rimes each and every twig, branch, pine needle and chain-link fence diamond, like a dusting of confectioners sugar to make the ordinary world sweet and extraordinary. And just outside my kitchen window, close enough to be sheltered from the falling snow, a yuletide camellia bud swells, making ready for a months-late but much-anticipated red-and-gold debut.
On the question of electability, I think Ezra's right and Jonathan Chait's wrong and not just because Chait's football analogy is lame, cliched, and like almost every sports metaphor applied to politics trivial, trivializing, and inapt while Ezra's puppy dog metaphor is actually clever and dead on.
I think Ezra's right because Obama's and Clinton's favorable vs. unfavorable numbers, left to stand on their own as some kind of statement about the candidates' chances in November, don't make any kind of statement at all. They don't predict anything.
Who cares if you like her or like him?
Will you vote for him? Will you vote for her?
It seems logical to assume that if you have a "favorable" opinion of a candidate you would consider voting for him or her, but I have a "favorable" opinion of John McCain, at least compared to any of the other Republicans running, and there's not a chance on God's green earth that I will vote for him over Obama or Clinton or Edwards.
I don't want to know just how favorably or unfavorably any candidates are viewed. I want to know who's doing the viewing and the judging and what decisions their judgments are leading them towards.
For Republicans and Democrats, the follow up to "Do you have a favorable opinion of...?" should be along the lines of "Are you still going to vote for your party's nominee anyway?"
For Independents the follow-up should be, no matter how much you like the guy now, if the Democrats nominate Obama are you still going to vote for John McCain?
Who are these people with the unfavorable view of Hillary Clinton? Where do they live? If they are mostly white Southern men, who cares? Obama isn't going to get many of their votes either, no matter how "favorably" they claim to view him. That isn't an accusation of racism. It's simply the pretty safe assumption that they will vote this time out the same way they voted the last time and the time before that and the time before that, for the Republican.
How about all these people with a "favorable" view of Obama? Where do they live? If most of them are in the Northeast and on the West Coast, again, big deal. Obama might carry Massachusetts by a heftier margin than Clinton would, but if he can't carry a single Southwestern state he'll be as sunk as John Kerry was by the same problem.
Also, what percentage of the people who have a favorable opinion of Obama won't come out to vote at all if Clinton's the nominee? The answer to this one's important to the Democrats' chances of increasing their majorities in Congress.
A lot of noise is made about the effectiveness of Karl Rove's smear machine in 2004. What was more important, though, was the effectiveness of his get out the vote while suppressing the Democratic vote machine.
So, the next question: How many of the people who have an "unfavorable" opinion of Hillary Clinton are going to come out to the polls just to vote against her?
If 46% of the voters can't stand her and wouldn't vote for her if her opponent was Attila the Hun, but 5 % of them are going to stay home, then what's to worry?
Neither Chait nor Ezra links to a source that breaks down the numbers this way, but I'm assuming those other numbers are out there (possibly as the results of a polls that are asking a different question) and I'm going to go look for them.
But right now all I've got to go on is a poll result that shows that Hillary's favorable vs. unfavorable numbers match pretty much exactly what I expect the election results to be no matter which one the Democrats nominate. If Obama's the nominee, I don't care how much people like him, he's not going to win with 59 per cent of the vote.
Either one, it's going to be around 50% to 46%.
Unless we're really lucky and the Republicans nominate Mike Huckabee.
Unelectable him update: The Bush Leaguers did a good job of riling up the Right Wing religious base in 2000 and 2004 and the Republicans will try it again this year. If she's the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton will be turned into Christianist Enemy Number One with her mug shot on every mega-church bulletin board. But! Keep in mind that getting the base out to vote wasn't just a matter of making them mad and keeping them mad at Gore and Kerry. It was making them mad and keeping them mad enough to go vote for George W. Bush, one of their own. Romney and McCain share the same big problem. The Religious Right does not see either guy as one of their own.
The Republicans can stir up as much anger and hatred as they've always managed to do and still if the Right Wing Christians don't see enough of a difference between a secular Republican President and a secular Democratic one, they just aren't likely to turn out in the same numbers as they did the last two elections.
So I want more numbers. What percentage of the Religious Right plans to vote for the Republican no matter who he is? What percentage will only come out to vote if Hillary's the Democratic nominee?
I thought 3:10 to Yuma was every bit as good a re-take on the conventional western as Michael Clayton was on conventional thrillers and that Russell Crowe did every bit as fine a job at just holding the camera by being an edgier version of himself as George Clooney and that Christian Bale was better than both of them. What Michael Clayton had over 3:10 to Yuma was Tom Wilkinson and that's reason enough for the thriller to have gotten the Best Picture nod over the western, I guess.
Michael Clayton's Tilda Swinton is cancelled out by Yuma's Ben Foster in the creepiest but most compelling villain category.
This is just my way of saying that, although I thought it was a good movie, I already doubt that Michael Clayton was the best picture of 2007 and doesn't deserve its Oscar nominations for Best Picture and best Actor but definitely does for Best Supporting Actor and Actress. But what do I know?
Both movies present their playwright heroes as young romantics and show them picking up stray bits of dialog and observing characters and stumbling into situations that the audience knows will later turn up in their plays. In Shakespeare in Love, we see the origins of Twelfth Night, As You Like It, and even Hamlet, and watch Shakespeare write and rewrite Romeo and Juliet based on what is happening in his love life. In Moliere, Moliere lives out scenes from Tartuffe,The Misanthrope, and The Bourgeois Gentleman verbatim.
And both movies take off from the same premise, that a single great love took hold of each playwright and transformed and ennobled their art, causing each to create a new form of comedy.
In Shakespeare in Love, that great love wanders into Shakespeare’s theater and literally collaborates with him in the writing of Romeo and Juliet. In Moliere, it’s the playwright himself who wanders into someone else’s life. The movie removes Moliere from his troupe of players and from Paris, and the result is, that while in SIL, Shakespeare is shown to be always at work even when he’s in bed with his mistresses, Moliere is separated from the theatre and his art throughout most of the movie. He’s stuck inside the plots of several of his plays but it doesn’t much matter that he is the playwright or a playwright or even an actor. He could be any opportunistic rogue who sees his way clear for making a few quick francs and sleeping with another man’s beautiful wife. He could in fact be Tartuffe. Might as well be Tartuffe. In fact, the whole time I was watching the movie I kept wishing he was Tartuffe. I would have liked to have seen the same cast in adaptations of The Bourgeois Gentleman and Tartuffe. At least those would have been funny from beginning to end.
Moliere is mostly just amusing.
I’m not sure that Shakespeare invented a new form of comedy, but Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, and As You Like It would appear to be the result of a great leap of either heart or imagination over the farces A Comedy of Errors and The Taming of the Shrew such as might have been caused by Shakespeare’s own heartbreak. They are compassionate comedies, asking us to laugh at what their characters do and say but not at the characters themselves. We are asked to care about their feelings and to worry about their happiness, even when they are acting foolishly or badly. Pain and sadness are not just what will be their rewards if they fail. Their pains and their sadnesses are already part of who they are. Shakespeare’s romantic comedies are comedies in that they end happily but if we were to see a contemporary play or movie or TV show that was of the same spirit as his comedies we’d probably call it a drama.
Moliere’s comedies are psychologically realistic and his characters do experience emotions we can sympathize with. But the big difference between what he wrote and what Shakespeare wrote is that love was never Moliere’s main subject.
Moliere doesn’t make the case that Moliere invented a new form of comedy. It simply states that he did, as if it’s a well-established fact that the audience doesn’t need to have explained to them; we just need a few reminders. So at the end we’re shown snippets of Moliere and his troupe acting out scenes from several of his plays that include scenes and lines of dialog we recognize as having been reworked from earlier scenes in the movie.
“Oh, I see, he gave her lines to the boy here,” we can say with the self-congratulatory air of someone who has just polished off a crossword puzzle with a three letter word for a flightless bird.
But in the ending of Shakespeare in Love we watch that new form of comedy created before our eyes in a scene that is a visually and lyrically gorgeous retelling of Twelfth Night filled with all the separated lovers’ remembered joy and all their heartbreak and all their painful longing for a reunion that can only take place in their imaginations.
Twelfth Night used to be one of my favorites of Shakespeare’s comedies, mainly because when I was a kid I saw a hilarious production starring Fred Gwynne—yes, Herman Munster—as Sir Toby Belch. But I always thought of it as Sir Toby’s play, not Viola’s, and over the years I had come to take it for granted. But the last scene of Shakespeare in Love made me fall in love with Twelfth Night all over again, and made me fall in love with Viola and see the play through her eyes, and if you’re looking for a great night with Shakespeare at the movies, try a double feature of Shakespeare in Love followed by this adaptation of Twelfth Night, starring Helena Bonham Carter, Ben Kingsley, and Imelda Staunton.
It may be that I’m not familiar enough with either Moliere or his plays. I’ve only seen two productions, a fine but rather safe staging of Tartuffe at Boston University and an interesting version of The Misanthrope set in contemporary Hollywood, which allowed for the re-casting of at least one male character as a woman, a change that did not alter the character’s character or her role in the plot a single bit, which is some sort of comment on how we are often more defined by our jobs than by our gender. I don’t count Jim Dale’s Scapino, the first Broadway show I ever saw, because all Dale took from Moliere’s Scapin was the bare outline of the plot. I’ve read and re-read all of Moliere’s most famous plays, or at least all the ones that are famous here. I don’t know which ones the French regard as his greatest. And I read them only to try to imagine what they’d be like on stage, not to let them play out on their own in my imagination. I don’t enjoy reading them for their own sake, because I don’t like rhymed verse, even in Shakespeare, although with Moliere the problem may the translations. (Richard Wilbur's are said to be excellent.) So it may be that I was just not as predisposed to be caught up in Moliere the way I was with SIL.
But finally I don’t think the premise works with Moliere. It’s more convincing to posit that Shakespeare’s comedy was transformed by love because all his comedies are love stories. The couple in love are the main characters and we are meant to care, and do care, about whether or not they’ll get together in the end. Try to look at Moliere’s comedies as love stories and you’ll quick come to the conclusion that Moliere was a rather heartless bastard.
But love is only a device in his plays, the object of the rogue or the scoundrel or the hypocrite’s machinations. In almost all of them, the lovers who get together in the end are secondary characters, a juvenile and an ingenue without much personality of their own unless they are likable buffoons, as in School for Wives.
But Moliere didn’t write romantic comedies. He wrote social and psychological satires. The actual plot of Moliere begins (the movie takes a while to get warmed up and underway) with Moliere being thrown into jail for debt. It would have made sense to leave him there for the whole movie because the kind of comedies he wrote are more informed by a view of life one is more likely to develop in a 17th Century prison than in even the most beautiful and intelligent and large-hearted woman’s bed.
As the middle-aged and married object of Moliere’s desire and his supposed inspiration as a playwright, Laura Morante is incredibly beautiful, intelligent, and large-hearted and you can see how any one who winds up in her bed would feel inspired.
Unfortunately, the only inspiring advice the script gives her to give Moliere is of the “Write about what people are really like” variety---writers’ workshop boilerplate stuff.
Which reminds me. Another advantage Shakespeare in Love has over Moliere is its screenwriter. Somehow I'm not convinced that either director Laurent Tirard or his co-screenwriter Gregoire Vigneron are France's answer to Tom Stoppard.
Morante is gorgeous to look at, a painting come to life, as is the film: if Van Dyck came back to earth and started making movies, they would look like Moliere.
And as Moliere Romain Duris is a compelling, charismatic monster of ego and lust on the verge of gobbling up whatever woman falls into his clutches. His lip-tightened grin seems to be concealing a wolf’s set of choppers. His Moliere is only happy, and only funny, when he’s acting (it would have been fun if the movie had let Duris, and Moliere, do more of their acting on a stage); otherwise, he’s a dour, angry, and borderline depressive character, which, if it isn’t true of the historical Moliere, is true of most comedians and satirists.
Franco- and cine-philiacally related: The Siren reviews the 1944 Simone Simon classic Mademoiselle Fifi.
Note confessing I really am a philistine when it comes to art: Van Dyck and Vermeer probably aren't the painters Moliere's designers had in mind. More likely they were thinking of some French painters of the period. But what do I know? Anybody out there up on their 17th Century French art? Also, does anyone recognize the nude behind Laura Morante in the photo?
Moliere. Directed by Laurent Tirard; screenplay (in French, with English subtitles) by Laurent Tirard and Grégoire Vigneron. Starring Romain Duris (Molière), Fabrice Luchini (Jourdain), Laura Morante (Elmire), Edouard Baer (Dorante), Ludivine Sagnier (Celimene) and Fanny Valette (Henriette). 120 minutes. SONY Pictures 2008.