Back in the fall, when the Florida and Michigan primary debacle was playing itself out, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were playing politics.
Both supported the DNC's sanctions and both pledged not to campaign in those states. It's important to note that there was no rule against their campaigning. And there was no rule that suddenly and irrevocably disqualified and disenfranchised Florida and Michigan. The DNC didn't have the power to make such a rule. What there was was a ruling and Clinton and Obama said they'd abide by that ruling for the scheduled primaries, but neither one ever agreed that Florida and Michigan's voters should never get their say in some way.
In Clinton's case, she was motivated by over-confidence. She and her staff figured they could get by without Florida and Michigan in January. They planned to win big on Super Tuesday, have the nomination pretty well sewed-up, and then deal with getting Michigan's and Florida's delegates seated at the convention later.
But Obama and his camp saw a great opportunity. Taking Michigan and Florida out of the campaign saved him from two big early losses.
There was no principle at stake for either side. It was politics, pure and simple.
At no point, though, did anybody "rule" that Florida and Michigan would not matter at all. They were not going to be "disappeared."
The DNC said that's what it wanted, but it didn't have the power to enforce it. That would be up to the Rules and By-laws Committee and to the Convention's credentials committee.
At any rate, the sanctions punished the wrong people. It punished the Democratic voters of both states. The party leaders in both states, the ones who'd caused the trouble, would be getting off scott free. This was unfair and politically stupid. It would not do the party any good to have the rank and file in two key states feeling disenchanted, disrespected, and disenfranchised come November.
This wasn't about to happen. The trick has always been figuring out how to go about not letting it happen.
The fairest option would have been to hold re-votes in both states. That didn't come about for several reasons, but not the least of them was that Barack Obama made sure it didn't.
Why should he have agreed to his own defeat?
But why should Clinton have agreed to hers? (Because of the math, I know. It was infallible and totally objective and your interpretation of it had nothing to do with your own wishful thinking.) Without a revote, she had only two options, surrender or join in the appeals to the Rules and By-law Committee and the Credentials Comittee to have the "rules" "changed."
Her arguments about how to apportion delegates and whether to give them full votes at the convention or half-votes are self-interested and self-serving but they could only be called unreasonable if there was a reasonable alternative, and they don't consititute cheating.
The only reasonable way to determine how the voters in either state would have voted if the primaries had been "real" primaries was to have held real primaries and, as I said, Obama helped make sure that wouldn't happen.
Which was self-interested and self-serving of him but not unreasonable and does not constitute cheating.
It's not high-minded and principled, though, and it is not very much different than what Clinton's doing.
Both have been trying to work the system to their advantage.
But Obama's had one thing over Clinton.
A National Press Corps that hates the Clintons and is pre-disposed to portray everything they do in the worst possible light.
It didn't take much effort on the part of Obama's team---in fact, it probably took hardly any effort at all---to get the Press Corps and the pundits to start reporting on Clinton's perfectly legitimate and perfectly reasonable decision to continue to campaign as a despicable and borderline treasonous act that only a monster of ego and ambition would have undertaken. Clinton was tearing the party apart by doing the dirty deed of not surrendering and actually going on to win important primaries by large margins. Why, in defeating Obama in the primaries, she was attempting to make him lose...the nomination!
It just showed how all she cared about was her own ambition and ego. She had no concern for his ambtion and ego.
Oh, sorry. I forgot. Obama is a different kind of politician. A humble man of modest ambition who would have been content to remain in the obscurity in which he was so happy and comfortable before DESTINY plucked him out of it and declared him our future President.
No, I haven't forgotten the math.
That was something else Obama had on his side. Not what the math showed. The word itself. The MATH. It sounds so objective and decisive. You can't argue with The MATH. And The MATH showed that Clinton couldn't get enough delegates to win the nomination before the convention.
That the math showed that Obama couldn't get enough either was conveniently ignored.
And now it was Obama who got the "rules" changed.
At least he managed to change key people's perception of what the rules were.
The first rule he got "changed" was the one about the role of super-delegates. Somehow, the votes of the superdelegates became illegitimate if they were going to be used to decide the nomination, particlarly if they would have decided it in Clinton's favor.
That was back when it looked as though Clinton had the edge among super-delegates.
Part of the reason she lost that edge was that a lot of super-delegates became convinced their own votes weren't theirs to give at their own discretion. They had to vote in a way that supported the will of the rank and file in the primaries.
That rule's been changed again since the will of the rank and file is nowheres near as cut and dried in Obama's favor as it appeared to be before Clinton did the unthinkable and actually went out and won all those votes.
The other reason for her losing support among the supers is that Obama managed to get that other big rule change.
The rule used to be that the nominee is the candidate who gets a very specific number of votes cast at the convention.
Obama managed to get it changed to the nominee is the candidate who has the most number of delegates in hand at an arbitrarily declared point in the primary season...say, the end of February, before states like Ohio and Pennsylvania have a chance to vote.
What I'm saying is that Obama managed to create the perception in the Media that he had already won the nomination long before he was even close to winning the nomination and that Clinton in continuing to campaign as if she still had a chance was being a vindictive and egomaniacal spoilsport.
With the help of a Clinton-hating Press Corps, he was able to scare Party leaders into thinking that letting the campaign go on was destroying the party and somehow thwarting the will of the people. He was able to scare enough of the right people into thinking that if they let the nomination be decided by a floor fight they'd be dooming the Party's chances in the fall.
Then, and again I don't think he had to work hard at this, he was able to convince his supporters that if the supers did decide the nomination in Clinton's favor or if she won it in a floor fight at the convention, they would have been robbed! He was able to make party leaders worry that in fact they would be robbing his supporters.
And, amazingly, what was once egregriously unfair, that the super-delegates would decide the nomination, has now become the right and only thing to do.
All of this was self-serving and self-interested and ambitious on Obama's part, all of it was tinged with hypocrisy and double-dealing, and none of it was unfair or constituted cheating or is in any way reprehensible because all of it is just in the nature of politics.
In this campaign, Obama and his team turned out to be the better politicians than Clinton and hers.
That's why he's going to be the nominee and that's why I'm so hopeful that he will win in November.
I think he'll prove to be the better politician than John McCain.
Those of you who wish to think that he won through the pure force of his goodness and the righteousness of his cause and that his beating Hillary was a case of goodness and light triumphing over evil are perfectly free to do so. The rest of us know better. Obama's just another politician with a sharp eye on the main chance, same as Clinton, and that's what we're counting on come November.
Updated in the interest of fairness---ha!: The RBC awarded Obama his Michigan delegates as if his name was synonymous with uncommitted. Of course many of those uncommitteds would have voted for him if his name was on the ballot, but back in January a whole bunch of other people's names would have been on the ballot too, and one of them would have been John Edwards, who presumably would have gotten a few votes. There is no way to know how many of those uncommitteds were really votes for Obama and therefore it was wrong to award them all to Obama. The right thing to do would have been to award them to the candidate they voted for, "Uncommitted," and then let Hillary and Obama fight for them. By the way, all the delegates no matter which candidate they're pledged to are free to vote for whomever they want on the first ballot. So this bad and illegitimate ruling by the RBC is unfair and ought to be over-ruled by the Credentials Committee. Do I expect Obama to do the right thing and give up those delegates in the interests of fairness. I don't. But his supporters who are convinced of his superior virtue ought to expect it of him, although why they should expect that he would agree to undermining his own victory is beyond me.
Let me repeat this, because at least one commenter has missed my point. I don't think there's anything wrong with Obama being ambitious or in his playing hardball politics. In fact, I admire him for it.
Maybe Clinton's reversal on the delegate count broke no official rule
but it violated the spirit and intent of an unwritten agreement between
most of the candidates, which is more than standard opportunism.
Sigh. The agreement was that they wouldn't campaign in those states. The agreement was not to leave Michigan and Florida voters out in the cold forever. But let's assume that's in fact what they were all agreeing to. Then, yes, Clinton violated the spirit of the agreement, and I'd go farther, she always intended to, because she always knew that she would need Florida and Michigan in the general election and she wasn't about to stick her finger in those voters' eyes just to make the DNC look good. She just figured she'd be the nominee by then and no one would complain. But all of them had their fingers crossed at the time. All of them. If they didn't, they were stupidly promising to sacrifice their chances to support the DNC's failure. Obama does not deserve a lot of credit for agreeing to something that saved his candidacy nor does he deserve much credit for observing the spirit of the agreement because it was in his best interest to observe that spirit. Self-interest is not a virtue just because by being self-interested you appear to be on the side of the angels.
Kevin thinks that Obama could have won Michigan and I'd guess that's meant to suggest that Obama was in fact being self-sacrificing by agreeing not to campaign. I doubt he'd have won, unless Clinton and Edwards split the non-Obama vote, although it was more likely that Edwards and Obama would have split the non-Clinton vote, but I do think he could have done pretty well there. But there was no way he could have agreed to sanctioning Florida where he'd have gotten clobbered while letting Michigan off the hook. Competing self-interests.
But I'll go Kevin one better. I think Obama could have won the revote in Michigan and done pretty well in a Florida revote. But he didn't need those states anymore, and they would have cost him a lot of time and money, plus it would still have been a big risk. So instead of doing the fair thing or the bold thing, he did the politically smart thing...and I don't see that there's anything wrong with that!
Thus a more inclusive definition of Nixonland: it is the America where two separate and irreconcilable sets of apocalyptic fears coexist in the minds of two separate and irreconcilable groups of Americans. The first group, enemies of Richard Nixon, are the spiritual heirs of Stevenson and Galbraith. They take it as an axiom that if Richard Nixon and the values associated with him triumph, America itself might end. The second group are the people who wrote those telegrams begging Dwight D. Eisenhower to keep their hero on the 1952 Republican ticket. They believe, as did Nixon, that if the enemies of Richard Nixon triumph---the Alger Hisses and Helen Gahagen Douglases, the Herblocks and hippies, the George McGoverns and the rest---America might end.. The DNC was right that an amazingly large segment of the population disliked and mistrusted Richard Nixon instinctively. What they did not acknowledge was that an amazingly large segment of the population also trusted him as their savior. "Nixonland" is what happnes when these two groups try to occupy a country together. By the end of the 1960s, Nixonland came to encompass the entire political culture of the United States. It would define it, in fact, for the next fifty years.
I was a fly on the wall during a conference call two of Hillary Clinton's top campaign advisers and a Clinton supporter on the DNC's Rules and By-laws Committee had with journalists and bloggers Wednesday. Howard Wolfson, Harold Ickes, and Tina Flournoy were outlining the arguments they were going to make before the RBC when it meets Saturday to decide just what to do about the Florida and Michigan delegation's at the convention. (Sam Stein took better notes than I did on the call.)
In the course of the discussion Wolfson repeated what has become the Clinton argument to the uncommitted super-delegates (and, as Wolfson added, "the entire universe of super-delegates") which is that the primary results and recent polls show that Hillary has the best chance against McCain come November.
Senator Obama can win, Senator Clinton will win, is what they're saying. The Party should nominate the sure thing.
This is what Senator Clinton herself said in another conference call I was in on a couple weeks ago.
Do I have access or what?
Next thing you know, somebody will be inviting me to blog the Convention.
I said, next thing you know SOMEBODY WILL BE INVITING ME TO BLOG THE CONVENTION!!!
(Insert sound f/x of crickets chirping here.)
At any rate, this is the argument they've got to make, and I just don't think it will convince enough of the supers.
It doesn't convince me.
I buy the first half. Clinton will win.
I don't buy the second half, which isn't to say I think that Obama can't win.
Obama will win.
Your protest votes of conscience notwithstanding.
Obama will win.
Quick rundown of why.
Polls at this point aren't very reliable, but it's interesting that they all keep showing the same thing. McCain is stuck in the mid-40s. Bob Barr and Ron Paul aren't going to take many votes from anybody, but they are going to take more from McCain, and they don't have to take much more to bring him down to the low 40s.
McCain is a poor campaigner. Obama is an excellent one.
McCain has nothing to run on but vanity and his campaign has basically two planks, I can beat anybody at Indian wrestling and Everything I say is the truth even when I'm contradicting myself and making shit up and out and lying.
McCain doesn't wear well. Obama does better the more people get to see him and hear him (which is why I think he made a mistake opposing do-overs in Michigan and Florida and why he should have campaigned in West Virginia and Kentucky. But then, as I said, Obama is an excellent campaigner and part of what makes him excellent is that he and his staff are very, very smart about where and how to campaign, so what do I know?) and by the time November arrives voters will have had months of watching a crabby, red-faced, squeaky voiced old man boasting about how once upon a time he could whip every candy-ass in the bar and a tall, handsome, youthful and smooth Barack Obama talking about what he's going to do to fix the economy, end the war, and get the country back on track to greatness.
Obama will win and it will be a good thing.
He will be a good President.
As good as Hillary would have been---Well, almost as good---because he's going to do pretty much the same things she would have done. They are just not that much different on the important issues. Where they do differ is mainly a matter of emphasis.
There's been a lot of concern expressed by Hillary supporters that Obama is the Republicans' Manchurian candidate and that once in office he will turn out to be the second coming of Ronald Reagan.
This is about as big a bunch of malarkey as all the carping that Hillary is a Republican-lite.
Folks, can we please remember what it means to be a Republican.
Being a Republican does not mean being more conservative than you on a handful of issues dear to your heart. It does not mean having friends and advisers who happen to be rich or who work in corporate offices. There are many Democrats and liberals who wear pinstriped suits to work (Are pinstripes still in? What about power ties? I'm so trapped in the 1980s.) because the business of America is business these days. That's where most of the jobs are for very smart people who are good with money, and Democrats are better with money than Republicans are.
In national politics these days, Republicans are people who believe that the country should be run by a handful of rich assholes for the benefit of making themselves richer and if that means turning the rest of us into serfs, well, that's what the riff-raff are for, so shut your yaps.
Look over the voting records of Obama and Clinton, then compare them to even the most reasonable of the Republicans.
Then tell me they're Republicans in Democratic clothing.
And let's keep in mind where most of us here in Western Blogtopia (TM Skippy) get our ideas about what's happening in politics. Mainly from each other and let's face facts. We're all nuts.
We're a pack of zealots, fanatics, kooks, and weirdos. Mostly nice weirdos, but weirdos still. We are not representative of the rest of America. Making judgments about what Hillary's supporters or Obama's supporters are like based on what's being said on the blogs is like making judgments about what New York City is like based on the conversations in the psych ward at Bellevue...or in coffee shops in Greenwich Village.
And all we know beyond what we know from reading too much of each other's work is what we read in the newspapers...and watch on TV. We are dependent on the National Press Corps and too many of those people are crazier than we are and a whole lot dumber.
Because, as Dave reminds us, if it's the latter then you're playing the game according to the rules the Republicans set down thirty-five years ago:
I'm not going to get into the argument about this here, except to
remind everyone that in 1972 the Nixon campaign pioneered the strategy
of disrupting Democratic primary races. I think it should be clear that
much of the conflict in this year's primary is being pushed by the
right through the Drudge report, Washington Times, Fox News, etc. but
for some reason in this election many Democrats seem willing to pick it
up and run with it. This is a mistake.
Turning Americans against each other, that was Nixon's greatest talent and he bequeathed it to the Republican Party who bullied and brainwashed the Media into thinking that Americans hating Americans and especially Democrats hating other Democrats is just the way things are, can't be helped, but if there's any blame to be placed it should be placed on...the Democrats.
The idea that having had two strong and smart and talented and deserving candidates making their cases to the voters of all fifty states has been divisive and destructive, despite all the polls showing that the voters have been loving it, is an idea that the Republicans relish and the National Press Corps gleefully pushes.
And it's an idea that cannot be supported by evidence gathered from the field or from inside the Party, where the leadership and the money are already lining up strongly behind Obama. The only evidence for it is right here in the blogosphere.
They're using us as tools!
Dave goes on:
Here's the thing. The Republicans and Bush cronies have a lot of money
and the incentive that many will be going to jail (and/or The Hague) if
there is an honest accounting of the Bush years. The corrupt crony
machine stands to lose billions and billions of dollars. They have the
conservative infrastructure's message machine of think tanks,
information outlets, etc. They have the corporate media and the power
of the entire American corporate structure that is siphoning so much of
our money away to a top few. And they have a public conditioned to
reflexively support conservatives after decades of unanswered
right-wing, and pro-corporate propaganda. This combination is going to
be hard to overcome. So it is going to take Obama supporters and Hillary supporters both voting for the Democratic nominee--whoever that is--to beat the Republicans in November.
I'm not saying that we all should forget our differences or give up any and all criticisms. I'm not saying that your concerns and hurt feelings don't matter.
I'm just saying that this particular Hillary supporter, although disappointed, is just fine with the prospect of an Obama Presidency.
But more than that I am horrified at the thought of President John McCain.
He plans to kill a lot of people, folks, and get a lot of people killed.
And that's about all he plans to do, except for appointing lots of Right Wing judges to the Federal Bench, making sure we don't get universal health care, cutting more taxes for the rich, and otherwise advancing the failed policies and stupid ideas of George W. Bush.
And did I mention he plans to get a lot of people killed?
A hundred years of war!
Ok, I'm done. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go check my email now.
Many weekends, Sen. John McCain takes advantage of the prolonged battle
for the Democratic nomination between Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack
Obama by heading to his home in Arizona to relax and get away from the
glare of the media.
Besides the reflexive sycophancy we've come to expect from members of the National Press Corps when reporting on McCain and the unintended irony of McCain's escaping from the glare of the Media by bringing the Media along with him for a staged Media event, there's that idea again that everything is bad for the Democrats especially other Democrats.
Updated just to brag and whine: Just got off another conference call with Wolfson, Ickes, and Flournoy. Argument remains the same. I did not get my invite to the convention.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is far better
than I expected it to be, which isn't to say it's great, just that it
was surprisingly enough not bad that I was able to enjoy it. I really
had little hope for it going in, but all in all, I'd rate Crystal Skull far above Temple of Doom and fourth best of the five movies in the series.
Hold on a minute there, Lance, you say. There are only four movies
in the series. Raiders, Temple of Doom, Last Crusade, and Kingdom of
the Crystal Skull.
Nope, I reply. There are five. You are forgetting the second best
of all the movies, the featured short at the beginning of Last Crusade,
the one starring River Phoenix as a teenage Indiana Jones.
It doesn't have a title but if it did it could be Indiana Jones and the Origin of All His Iconic Props and Character Traits.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has the tightest script of all the movies, including Raiders.
Everything that happens in it, from the opening scene to the fading of
the last special effect, happens to move the plot forward. That's not
necessarily a virtue and it doesn't make it better than Raiders or Last
Crusade. I'm not going to get into the ending of Raiders again because
to many fans my opinion comes close to insisting there's no Santa
Claus. In the Last Crusade the Holy Grail is the McGuffin not the
objective----it's an excuse for the action not a thing interesting for
its own sake, like the ark is in Raiders---and there are long stretches
when everybody involved, director Steven Spielberg, the screenwriters, the actors
and the characters they're playing, and the audience, don't seem to
care if they ever make their way to the ending of the movie. Both movies are as much fun for the side trips they take from their main narrative as for the stories themselves. Kingdom
of the Crystal Skull, though, needs to focus more intently on its story to keep us
focused intently on it, because if we ever sit back to just look at the scenery,
we'd realize we've been here, done that, and bought the leather jacket
and had a lot more fun along the way and the company on the previous rides was a
lot less grumpy.
Spielberg, Harrison Ford, and producer George Lucas apparently decided that
rather than ignore Indy's (Ford's) age or turn it into an ongoing joke
they would treat it as an essential and realistic part of his
character. It's still not the years, it's the mileage, but Indy's worn
down and close to worn out when the movie starts. He's not past it,
but time has passed him by. He's not at all at home in the 1950s---in
the age of the Organization Man Indy is the epitome of the
dis-organizational man. He's alone. Marion's out of the picture. His
father's dead. His old pal Marcus is dead. Sallah is forgotten
entirely. His students all admire and respect him but there are no
more pretty girls in his classroom batting their lashes at him with "I
Love You" written in eyeliner on their eyelids. He's lonely and a bit
depressed. He's still got a lot of the old moves (Indy isn't as old as
Harrison Ford, by the way) but what he seems to lack is the old sense
of adventure. He's doing what he's always been doing because that's
what he does and that's all he has. This isn't Indiana Jones and the Curse of the Midlife Crisis. But clearly he needs some rejuvenation
and a renewed sense of purpose. I don't think this was a bad tack for
the film to take. It was a good move, in fact, considering
that Ford is now older than John Wayne was when the Duke first played
Rooster Cogburn and there's just no getting around his age, even if he is in great shape. But having a gloomy, grumpy old man as the leading
character in an action-adventure movie is a problem. Keeping us
focused on the plot allows for us to take in what's happened to Indy
since the Last Crusade while not becoming so involved and sympathetic
that we start feeling grumpy and gloomy ourselves.
The trouble with this approach is that several things have to happen along the way to make it pay off in the end.
One is Indy has to be rejuvenated and given a renewed sense of purpose.
Two is there needs to be someone besides Indy to identify with,
someone who is having the kind of fun we're used to seeing Indiana
Three is that the plot has to actually matter in the end.
One is taken care of as you know it will be because Karen Allen's
name and picture are right there on the poster. Marion's back! You
also know it will happen if you've guessed what Shia LaBeouf is doing
in the picture.
Three...well...as I said everything happens in this movie to help
move the plot along, which means if you're paying attention during the
opening scenes in the desert warehouse you'll know exactly what sort of
big special effects-heavy ending we're heading for and you'll have the
whole movie to steel yourself against the inevitable disappointment.
Two is where the movie is at its weakest.
Shia LaBeouf is fine as Indy's sidekick, Mutt Williams. Transformers showed that LaBeouf can handle action-adventure with
Ford's own old mixture of grace and humor and desperate befuddlement.
LaBeouf looks as though he's making it up as he goes along too,
doubting himself and surprising himself at every turn, but, unfortunately,
in Crystal Skull, he's not allowed to rise above the rank of
sidekick. There's no battlefield promotion when he does what his
character is apparently designed to do and takes over the heroics and
the role of leading man.
Ford has always been at his best when he's had to play off of
equals. In Raiders he had Karen Allen, in Last Crusade he had Sean
Connery. LaBeouf is nowheres near being in Connery's league yet, but
he can match the young Karen Allen. The script never lets him. Mutt's
interchanges with Indy are mostly a matter of Mutt making an old man
joke and then watching in amazement and admiration as the old man
manages not to get himself killed pulling off some impossible stunt.
That doesn't give Ford much to play off of or LaBeouf much to challenge
Ford with. And I can't recall any scenes in which Ford watches in
amazement and admiration as the kid manages not to get himself killed.
Their relationship in the movie is all about Mutt learning the ropes
from Indiana, even though there's enough information dropped in the
little expositional dialog between them that Mutt has already learned a
lot of those ropes just the way we know Indiana learned
them, on his own.
Basically, then, nothing happens between them to change Indy.
The screen lights up, and Ford lightens up, when Karen Allen enters.
I don't know how Allen and Ford feel about each other in real life,
but boy do they look thrilled to be back together in the movie. At any
rate, Indy and Marion are clearly thrilled. The way their eyes light
up as they realize how excited and happy they are at falling easily
back into their old bickering ways is a joy to see. All the years
they've been apart don't melt away at once---their separate lives
combine in an instant. It's as if they've been together all along,
just doing what they had to do temporarily out of each other's sight.
Time doesn't stop or reverse. It just doesn't matter as much as it
had. We aren't really told what life's been like for Marion since Indy
disappeared from her life, but we can guess she has been almost as
lonely, and almost all at once all that loneliness is taken away
from both of them. It's the rejuvenating moment we've been waiting for
and then...nothing comes of it.
One of the better things about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is that
it takes longer to turn into an advertisement for its own video game
than most action-adventure movies these days take. One of the worst
things about it is that it doesn't bring Marion back into Indy's life
until about 10 minutes before it turns into a video game.
Once that happens Marion, Indiana, Mutt, and all the other characters, except for Cate Blanchett's evil Russian soldier-scientist, Irina Spalko, cease to matter as anything but targets. Spalko, a day late and a dollar short, suddenly develops a back story that makes her a more interesting villainess than we knew, but unfortunately we don't have time to take that in before she suffers the usual fate of villains in the Indiana Jones movies and is swallowed up by a less than breathtaking special effect, although at least she doesn't melt.
Intriguingly, Crystal Skull establishes a time line for Indy's "lost" years between Last Crusade and this movie that has Indiana and Marion staying together after Raiders until 1940. Last Crusade takes place in 1939. That means that that Indy was cheating on her with that Nazi bitch Elsa Schneider!
Oh well. We know they must have had a tempestuous time together, maybe that was during one of their periodic separations.
The point is, though, that Indiana and Marion had four years together before breaking up for the last time. Since Marian wouldn't have expected Indiana to give up his life of adventure and she's not the type to have waited patiently at home while he was running around the world robbing tombs and melting Nazis, that means there are four years worth of Indiana and Marian adventure tales to be told.
I wish just one of them could have been told when Ford and Allen were still young.
By the way, Indiana Jones was born in 1899.
That makes him 37 in Raiders, 58 in Crystal Skull.
Like the man said. It's not the years, it's the mileage.
While back, I promised regular commenter Falstaff that I would write a post explaining how I could support Hillary Clinton despite her votes on Iraq in 2002 and 2003. It's a fair question and it deserves a good answer.
Trouble is a good answer takes time and effort and I've been too daunted to make enough of either for the post. It's not that I don't have an answer. It's that I don't have an easy answer.
Now the question seems besides the point. But Falstaff asked again and I think I should try to reply.
The best I'll be able to do here is sketch out my reasons.
I'll start with this. I voted for John Kerry and he voted for the AUMF. I would have voted for John Edwards if he'd been the nominee this year and he voted for it too. And a lot of people who cite the war as their main reason for opposing Hillary Clinton voted for John Kerry and a lot of them did in fact vote for John Edwards in the few primaries in which he was still a viable candidate.
So my question for those who hold her vote against her, why Hillary and not Kerry and Edwards?
The reply to that is, "Because she hasn't repudiated her vote or apologized or otherwise overtly stated to our satisfaction that she knows she goofed and Edwards and Kerry did." And that is a sticking point.
But all her votes since have shown that she has realized it and her statements on the campaign trail have pretty much been promises to rectify her mistake and not to repeat it. That's been enough for me.
Plus, she saw what happened to John Kerry when he tried to explain his change of mind and heart on the war. There was no way she was going to set herself up to become a running gag on Leno or write and star in a Republican campaign ad against herself.
Then there's the whole gender problem. The question women have to face in the working world, "How much better at a job does a woman have to be in order to be seen as doing it half as well as that man?" becomes in the case of a candidate for national office "How much tougher than a man does a woman have to be in order for people to see her as being at least half as tough as that man?"
That's a judgment call that the individual woman herself has to make. I would guess that Clinton judged that she didn't have as much room to back down from her vote as a man would. A man could be seen as having been smart enough to know when he was wrong and brave enough to admit it. A woman, particularly a woman the Media is already inclined to see the worst in everything she does, could be dismissed as a ditherer who didn't have the strength of her own convictions.
(A Clinton woman would also be accused of having changed her mind only for cynical reasons and to further her grandiose ambitions, because as we all know only Clintons are ambitious.)
Another, more persuasive argument on this score has been that this was the most important foreign policy decision of the last 10 years and she got it wrong, and that calls her judgment into serious question.
Obama, on the other hand, got it right, and that suggests his judgment is better.
Well, I got it right too, and I wouldn't vote for me for President.
Having been right once is no guarantee you're going to be right all the time or most of the time or even one more time.
Having been wrong once is no guarantee you're going to be wrong all the time or most of the time or even one more time.
What evidence is there that Obama is going to be right again, let alone right enough more times than Clinton would be to make him the wiser choice for President?
What evidence is there that Clinton is going to be wrong again, let alone wrong enough more times than Obama to make her the more foolish choice for President?
Not much either way. They've pretty much had the same voting record since Obama became a Senator.
At any rate, I don't vote for Presidents expecting that they will be like Thomas Jefferson, capable of acting as their own Secretaries of State. President Clinton, or President Obama, will be able to call upon some very able advisers, better, smarter, and more experienced than the advisers Senator Clinton and Senator Obama have been able to call on. The question is will she or he call upon the right ones?
The only clue to the answer to that one is the answer to this one, have they called upon the right ones so far in their campaigns?
Some very smart folks in the blogosphere, bloggers who follow these things in more depth than I do, have argued that Obama's are definitely better, but as far as I've been able to judge "better" turns out to mean that they think outside the usual boxes and will therefore help Obama change the foreign policy CW in Washington, which would be great, but which also strikes me as more of the hopeful thinking that has been the basis of a lot of the pro-Obama argument in the blogosphere.
There's been too much of what he might do and not enough of what specifically will he get to do for my comfort.
So it has always been the case that I've been for Hillary because of what I'm pretty sure she'll accomplish on the domestic front, and it's always been the case that as far as foreign policy is concerned it's a matter of hope and prayer with either Clinton or Obama in charge, although I'm pretty sure that both will do their best to get us out of Iraq and both will be able to restore our relations with our longtime friends and allies in the world and both will make national security a real priority.
I think Hillary would make the better President of the United States. I have no idea which will be the better Leader of the Free World. Obama talks a better game, but he talks better generally.
But, but, but, but, BUT! comes the objection, even if you are making your choice purely on how they'll handle domestic issues, her vote on AUMF calls her judgment into question on those too, because it was such a no-brainer that there is no excuse for her having gotten it wrong except that she was either too dumb to see what was right in front of her or too lazy to bother to look.
Since she has never been lazy, the other possibility, that she was dumb, starts looking pretty good.
As much as she and other Senators who now regret their votes have explained why they were so "dumb," they've only been able to say that they were fooled by the Bush Administration.
That holds no water for her anti-war opponents, since Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Rice and company were such an obvious pack of liars that a child could see through their arguments. In fact, they were so obviously mendacious that even if they'd told the Senate that the sky was blue, every Senator should have walked outside and looked up to check.
That's a very persuasive argument to me because it's the one I was making to friends and family and in letters to the editor (I didn't have my own blog back then) and to my Congressman and Senators Schumer and Clinton at the time.
Nobody listens to me.
Well, Schumer did.
So why didn't Clinton?
I don't know. She hasn't explained herself and as far as I know there've been no definitive books or articles written on the Senate's deliberations. If you know of any, please tell me.
But I have a guess.
Before I get to it, though, there are two other possibilities for her vote besides that she was dumb or lazy to deal with.
The first is that she was being cynically and nakedly political. She knew the vote was wrong on the merits but she wanted to establish a reputation for toughness that she could run on in her re-election campaign and when she ran for President.
If that's the truth then that's reason enough to vote against her. She put her own political ambitions ahead of the lives of countless Iraqi civilains and American troops. And even if I was cynical enough myself to think that's just the sort of ruthlessness successful politicians have to have---and clearly, I don't, do I, Senator McCain?---it wasn't really necessary for her to be that cynical and ruthless. She wasn't up for re-election for four more years; she couldn't reasonably hope to run for President for six more. And as for the first, the odds that she would face a serious challenge for her Senate seat were not great, and as for the second, by 2008 either the war would have turned out to be the cakewalk the Bush Leaguers promised, in which case it wouldn't have been much of an issue in the election---and anyway look how much good having won a cakewalk war only a year before running for re-election did for the first George Bush---or it would have proved to be the disaster it was obviously destined to be from the start, in which case having opposed it from the start would have made her a heroine to anti-war and progressive wings of the Party. Cough Obama cough.
In short, even as a cynic she was a failure.
But I don't believe she was being cynical.
The next possibility is that she loathed and despised Saddam Hussein and hated what he was doing to his own people and she was genuinely for taking him out.
Let's not forget that Bill Clinton tried to do that himself a couple of times.
Again, though, if this is what happened, her judgment is in question because she was trusting that the outcome of an invasion would be good for Iraq and the Iraqi people and how could she trust that that would happen without trusting those obvious incompetents, thugs, and thieves in the White House to manage the war and its aftermath in an honest and competent and benevolent and that would have been just plain stupid of her!
But I don't think she was putting her trust in the Bush Leaguers. Not the whole pack of them, anyway.
I think she was putting her trust in one man.
I don't know if she was trusting that he would head off the war or if she was trusting that as Secretary of State he would be given the job of overseeing the aftermath. It's obvious now that it was wrong to put any trust in the man. It was not quite as obvious then, although there were clues, but that's a whole post of its own, but that's not a promise that I will write it.
At any rate, I don't know. I don't know if she was trusting Powell. I don't know if she was bamboozled by the Bush Leaguers. I don't know if she was being cynical. I don't know if she was being a true believer. I wish she had voted the other way, but I don't know if her vote means that she will always be wrong on matters of national security and foreign policy and I don't know if her vote means that her judgment can't be trusted on anything else.
I do know that I would rather have had a candidate to vote for who was right on Iraq but who had a record that proved he or she would be an effective President of the United States and a true Leader of the Free World, but Al Gore did not choose to run again.
So, not knowing, I had to make my choice based on what I do know or at least what I think is the case, and that is that Hillary is more committed to solving the domestic problems I want solved than Obama has appeared to be and, as far as I can tell, she will be more effective at solving them than he will be.
Yes, I know she has flubbed a few things. But what politician hasn't? Even FDR goofed up on some big issues and Lincoln's record on running the country apart from the war has some holes in it. Hillary has worked hard as a Senator. Since he's been in the Senate Obama has worked very hard at running for President. He doesn't have much of a record, with or without flubs. And please don't bring up his record in the Illinois Assembly. I know it. I just don't see how what he managed to do as an assemblyman with a very, very powerful majority leader as his mentor and sponsor and muscle proves that he'll be able to accomplish anything as President of the United States.
I'm going to vote for Obama and I'm going to do it happily and enthusiastically, but my vote is going to be based on the very thing that kept me from voting for him in the New York State primary---I don't like to vote on hope.
By the way, there is yet one more explanation for Hillary's vote on AUMF. She was being purely political and cynical, but not on her own behalf.
She was voting out of party loyalty.
She was going along with the plans of the Senate's Majority Leader, Tom Daschle.
When George Bush and Dick Cheney look at our troops fighting and bleeding and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, they look on them with the eyes of aristocrats and see the lesser orders doing their duty to protect the privileges and comforts of their betters.
In other words, they see the hired help.
When John McCain looks at them he looks at them through the eyes of the generals on the hillside in Woody Allen's Love and Death and sees...sheep.
Rebellious, ungrateful sheep who don't know it's their role in life to be sent to the slaughter and like it and like the people sending them to it.
Reminded of all the flag-draped coffins, Dick Cheney shrugs and says, "They volunteered."
Faced with the fact that a great many of our troops don't want to come home in flag-draped coffins and actually plan to come home not dead and go on to resume normal lives and finish their educations and find good jobs afterwards, John McCain hollers, "Not so fast, you chickenshit weasels. Did you really think volunteering meant you get a say in what happens to you? Don't you know we still need your candy-asses over there? Fall in line, maggots, and be grateful if when we do let you come home we bother to pay for your textbooks let alone your entire fucking college tuition!"
We have an all-volunteer military.
The question is what do they volunteer for?
Let's leave aside the probability than even the most gung-ho Marine did not sign on to fight and die an unnecessary war for the sole glory of George Bush's vanity and ego and Dick Cheney's pals' profit margins.
And let's also leave aside the truth that with stop-loss and the Bush League's commandeering of the National Guard a great many of our troops in the Middle East are effectively draftees not volunteers.
Whatever the reasons they volunteered, it's certainly not the case that any of them volunteered to be mere cannon fodder.
I've always thought that our soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen and women volunteer to be our first line of defense. I have never thought that their volunteering lets any of the rest of us off the hook when it comes to fighting for and defending the country.
I've always thought that they volunteered to do the fighting for us up until the point when they couldn't do it alone anymore and needed our help, at which point all the rest of us, at least those of us able-bodied enough, would volunteer to join them or line up to be drafted.
I've also thought that in their volunteering and our accepting their service, there was no offer of pure self-sacrifice on their part and no expectation of unadulturated altruism on ours.
I always thought we made a deal.
They promised to stand up to protect us.
We promised to take care of them and give them what they need to do the job. We promised not to send them off to fight under-equipped and under-trained. We promised not to send them into battle commanded by morons. We promised to take care of their families if they were killed. We promised to take care of them if they were wounded. And we promised to pay them for their service, pay them well, and pay them in more than just money and medals and an annual parade.
We promised that for handing over their lives to us for a set number of years we would hand back to them at the end of that set number of years better lives for them to return to.
But what do I know? I had the good luck and the luxury of not having had to serve in the military, thanks to the volunteers, so I can't help feeling a bit grateful to them.
Perhaps if I'd been born the son and grandson of admirals and served as a Navy pilot and then been as far as you can tell from the things I say about it the only US serviceman in Vietnam to have been captured and tortured, I'd know better.
I'd know that the ground troops have only one purpose.
Cannon fodder in my planned hundred year war.
I cede the floor to my honorable colleague, Mr TBogg:
One way to expand the military would be to, you know, stop invading
countries for no good reason which results in soldiers being killed.
Now that would get the retention rate up in a variety of
ways. Beyond that, McCain acknowledges the difficulty of fighting a war
with soldiers who want to get out while the getting is good. After all,
nobody ever won a hundred year war using temps.
Getting people to agree to a rule change, no matter how "drastic," is not cheating.
At this point it looks like Barack Obama is going to win the nomination on the votes of the superdelegates who mostly have and will come to their decisions in their own metaphorical equivalents of smoke-filled rooms, in many cases "overturning the outcome of the primary process" in their own states---Ted Kennedy, for example---and in other cases trying to short-circuit the primary process entirely by announcing their decisions early in the hopes of convincing Hillary to quit the race well before it was clear she would lose.
Perhaps you were non-aligned for the first few months of the campaign, but you have pretty clearly jumped on the Obama bandwagon of late.
And it's not simply the case that 15 to 16 million people don't like Barack Obama or like Hillary "for whatever reasons"---as opposed to all those Obama supporters for whom liking has nothing to do with their decisions; their votes are based entirely on their having read all the position papers and come to the only rational conclusions, neverminding their personal feelings about either candidate.
It's the case that millions of people think she would be the better President.
Almost exactly the same number as think that Barack Obama would be better.
Those people don't understand why their votes should be dismissed out of hand as if they mattered as little as the votes Mike Gravel's going to get in the fall.
The rule change probably isn't going to happen and the super-delegates are not going do anything but the politically easiest and most expedient thing which is to go with the flow, but all those millions of Hillary supporters can't be expected to know this the way whip-smart bloggers who have backed a winner know it.
Here's what has me "rather puzzled." Why can't Obama supporters wait another couple of weeks? Why don't they see it might be a good thing for their guy if those millions of Democrats who voted for Hillary Clinton get to see that she lost fair and square instead of having been bullied out of the race by wankers in the Media, Democratic insiders working out of their smoke-filled rooms, and smug, self-congratulatory Obama-supporting bloggers (I refer, of course, not to yourself, but to those who have been most definitely not non-aligned all along and have been pushing for her to get out since February)?
PS. For the record, I have not jumped aboard the Obama bandwagon myself. But I have bought my ticket and when it passes by here I will wait in line with a lot of other former Hillary boosters and cheerfully take a seat when my turn comes.
A lot of the people who support Hillary,
if I read them right, are saying that they believe Hillary will win but
Obama will lose. To be honest, if these polls mean anything at all,
Hillary's chances do look significantly better. If you honestly
believed that Hillary would win and Obama would lose, would you really want the superdelegates not
to rescue our chances in November? Personally, I still think Obama can
win, but if I didn't, I'd probably join them in fighting tooth and nail
against an Obama nomination.
AC includes a couple of links to things that show why HRC's supporters might think ths.
And Tom Watson ties together HBO's John Adams and Recount and the possibility that John McCain might pick up some support from Hillary supporters who feel dismissed and disenfranchised by the Obama campaign, in Whistling Past the Political Graveyard.
There's been a Clinton running for the White House or living in it for approximately forever. Bill, it could be said, was born to run. Running became Hillary's destiny, too...
Soon, though, there will be no Clinton running for president or about to. Imagine that.
Yeah. Imagine that. It's so difficult to do, isn't it? Like, what would it have been like in 2000 with no Clinton running for...oh wait.
Well, then...in 2004 when a Clinton just missed defeating George W...
At any rate, come January 2009, when our current President Clinton leaves the White House...
Son of a gun.
Kind of a revealing article, isn't it?
For the last seven and a half years, while George Bush and the Congressional Republicans ran the country into the ground, while the rest of us were distracted by 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Katrina, the attempt to kill Social Security, the relentless assault on our civil rights, the declarations that Presidents Not Named Clinton have the powers of kings and are not bound by law only by their whims, Dick Cheney's assumption of the role of Regent, the bankrupting of the Treasury, the poisoning of our national discourse by a relentless Right Wing propaganda machine, the drive towards yet another war in Iran, and more, Calvin Woodward and his colleagues in the National Press Corps were living in the era of the Big Clintons.
These twisted little soulless people have hated Bill Clinton forever. They hate him more for having escaped impeachment than they feel
anything for George W. Bush for having ruined, well, everything. They hated Al Gore for having been his Vice-President. They hate Hillary for being married to him.
There are a lot of reasons Barack Obama is going to be the nominee, but not least of them is that he didn't have to run against the National Press Corps the way Hillary has had to.
There are several problems Obama will have to solve in order to win in November, and not the least of them will be that he will no longer have the National Press Corps to do the dirty work of tearing down his opponent for him.
Our National Press Corps' long nightmare is coming to an end. Pretty soon there will be no more Big Clintons "in our face." The Insiders will no longer be trapped in 1998. They will be free to start covering the news again.
After the play Friday night, we wandered up Bleeker Street to a pleasant and welcoming looking little restaurant for a late supper. The hostess was a small, young blonde, so wholesome and All-American pretty that she could only have been Scandinavian or Russian, and she did have a touch of an accent but she said little and spoke too softly for us to place it. What was more noticeable about her, anyway, was her smile.
Her smile was a work of art.
I don't mean her smile was simply beautiful, although it was. I mean that watching her smile appear was like watching a painting appear on the canvas as the artist works at it.
Some people smile with just their mouths. Some people smile with their eyes. And some people smile with their whole face. She smiled with her whole head, and neck, and shoulders, and torso.
When she smiled the smile went through her like an electric current. It caused her to turn her head slightly, tilt her chin down, lift her left shoulder, and twist a bit at the waist. Then it held her like that for a countable couple of seconds, long enough for us to note, "Well, that's one gorgeous smile."
She led us to a table, handed us our menus, and before returning to her station, favored us with the smile again.
Turn, tilt, lift, twist, hold.
I watched her seat other customers. Male and female, young and old, they were all treated to the smile.
Turn, tilt, lift, twist, hold.
They were all dazzled.
We were dazzled again when we left and she smiled us out the door and smiled another group of customers in.
That's when it dawned on me.
This is New York City. She's working at a restaurant. She's an actress! Her smile was professional. She was handing everyone who came in her head shot.
This is New York City. There's a theater a block down the street. One of the plays running there, the one we saw, was written by Ethan Coen. The rep company producing it includes William H. Macy and Fellicity Huffman. Coen probably hasn't been in to see his show again since opening night back in January and Macy and Huffman aren't in this production. But still...
You never know who might be walking through that door.
The blonde and I went to a play Friday night. Off-Broadway. When I was reading the actors' bios in the Playbill before the lights went down, something jumped out at me, a common factor in all their resumes.
CHARACTER ACTOR YOU RECOGNIZE FROM A HUNDRED BIT PARTS IN MOVIES AND WHO TURNS OUT TO HAVE SOME IMPRESSIVE THEATRE CREDS (Leading Role in Tonight's Show): Many, many starring roles in plays here in New York and other places where live theater consists of more than dinner theater and high school musicals; film credits include minor roles in movies directed by big-name directors, a summer blockbuster of a few years back in which he was crushed by a falling wall during the final battle between the hero and the alien invaders, sixteen lines in a romantic comedy starring whoever they get when they can't get Cameron Diaz these days; this TV show you don't watch, that show that was canceled after half a season, an HBO movie you keep meaning to rent now that it's out on DVD, LAW AND ORDER, other shows...
TALENTED ACTRESS IN THAT FRUSTRATING STAGE OF HER CAREER WHEN SHE'S TOO OLD TO PLAY INGENUES ANYMORE BUT STILL TOO YOUNG AND PRETTY FOR CHARACTER PARTS (Small part with a couple of good laugh lines/larger role that suggests she could be doing better things even now): Many appearances at highly-regarded regional theaters across the country playing Maria in West Side Story, the Jane Fonda part in revivals of Barefoot in the Park; one or two movies in her twenties in which she wore a bathing suit well, hardly any films since she's turned 30, but one that was shown at Sundance; lots of caustic secretaries and bored sales clerks in made for TV movies filmed in New York, LAW AND ORDER, two week stint on a soap your best friend in college watched religiously...
ACTUALLY FAMOUS ACTOR WHO WAS A TV STAR ONCE AND STILL IS A WELL-KNOWN AND HIGHLY REGARDED BIG NAME IN THE THEATER WORLD (Small but showy role in the last third of the play that brings the house down): Comic leading roles and important character parts mostly off-Broadway and in major rep companies, averaging at least one big hit every couple of years; not a whole lot of movies because Hollywood has never been able to figure out what to do with him; leading role in a hit comedy series than ran for years back in the 'Eighties, guest appearances on dozens of dramas, which is funny because you'd think he'd be appearing on more sitcoms, LAW AND ORDER...
There were nine actors in the cast and five of the other six also listed at least one appearance on Law and Order or one of the other shows in the Law and Order franchise in their TV creds. The one who didn't turned out, when I looked him up on IMDB, to have appeared on the show and its various spin-offs nine times.
Law and Order's creator Dick Wolf is personally keeping hundreds of New York actors in rent money.
I first noticed this phenomenon back in Syracuse where there were two excellent professional regional theater companies that cast out of New York. When you looked at the cast bios, you always saw that the best actors in the play that night had done at least one episode of Law and Order.
And it's not surprising that these Law and Order alums were the best because whoever used to cast the bit parts and secondary roles on the show was a genius who apparently had two rules: Anybody I cast must come across as a real New Yorker not an actor and they must be damn good.
Whoever that casting director was was more willing to let the second part of the rule slide than the first, but it was rare when he or she or they didn't find and cast both in one package.
Back in its heyday, one of the things that made Law and Order great was the way every episode managed to include a sketch of everyday life in some geographic, cultural, or economic corner of New York City. this virtue was more on display in the first half of each show, when the two detectives hit the street to do their leg work and in the course of a half an hour managed to talk to at least half a dozen regular people of all sorts and conditions, from bums and limo drivers to longshoremen and store clerks to prostitutes and stockbrokers to jewelers and kosher butchers to Park Avenue matrons and hot dog vendors. The writers and directors knew that it's the character of its characters that gives the City its character and those characters were vividly brought to life, often in scenes as short as three or four lines, through good writing and excellent acting.
The best of those actors were often brought back again and again, in wildly different roles, which created something of a Law and Order repertory company. It's a fun game. Spot that recurring guest star and identify the roles he or she has played in the past.
Criminal Intent used to follow this model of its parent show a lot more than it has the last couple of seasons. Special Victims Unit never really bothered with it, which is one of the reasons I've never much cared for SVU, besides the fact that the two main cops are psychos who should have had their badges and guns taken away from them a long time ago and in fact ought both to be in jail or a psychiatric ward by now.
And a big sign of the decline of the original Law and Order has been the way the writers and directors have been neglecting the bit players and secondary characters and guest stars. Whoever's been doing the casting for the show lately seems to have been hiring actors only for their ability to say a line believably and not for any talent for becoming a believable New Yorker. The result has been that all the bit players look like the bit players from any other TV series set in any other city, at best. Too often they look and act like they're in a commercial, bland everymen and everywomen who might as well be trying to sell us soup or Cialis as passing along important clues to this week's crime.
In fact, this is where the writers are falling down on the job too---they write for them as if these characters' only purpose in the script is to pass along important clues. They don't come across as real New Yorkers who happen to have been on the spot when information the cops need came their way. They come across as ciphers who winked into existence only to be on the spot to receive that information and who will wink out again as soon as the cops walk away.
Reading Rick Perlstein’s magnificent Nixonland and in my head watching Richard Nixon nursing his grievances and resentments as he outwits and outmaneuvers one rival after and another, defeats and destroys various political opponents, survives setbacks personal and professional that would have convinced other men that it was not meant to be, I can’t help admiring the man even as I cringe and wince as he crawls and connives and plots and finagles and cheats and lies his way towards the White House, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Watergate.
But it’s really not Nixon himself I’m admiring. It’s his story. The bare bones outline of it. I admire that story because it is a great American story. It’s in fact the American myth.
Nixon’s story has been acted out again and again throughout our history, but usually with this one slight difference.
The hero of the story is a hero.
At least as we like to tell it.
Nixon’s story is the story of the talented and ambitious kid born in obscurity, raised without privilege, lonely and out of place in his family and among his friends and neighbors, working hard, surmounting obstacles, and with each obstacle overcome finding a new one springing up in his path, earning his way, succeeding at long last despite everything.
We know this story because we’ve been told it over and over with the intention of the people telling it to us being that we admire the heroes and heroines of the various versions of the story and model our own story after theirs.
Nixon’s story is exactly the same as Abraham Lincoln’s story.
It’s the same as Barack Obama’s story. And Bill Clinton’s story.
It’s Thomas Edison’s story, and Andrew Carnegie’s, and Mark Twain’s, and Helen Keller’s.
It’s the story of many inventors and writers and reformers and agents of social justice and progress and change. It’s the story of most of our movie stars and half our sports legends and God knows how many successful businessmen and women.
But it is also the story of many robber barons and the story of Frank Lucas and countless other gangsters.
It’s Nixon’s story most of all.
We tell the story to inspire ourselves, but no matter how much emphasis we place on the virtues of the heroes and heroines of the tale—Lincoln walking all that way to return the books he borrowed, Bill Clinton standing up to his drunken step-father, Nixon, that’s right, Nixon, Nixon the kid, sitting out in the family’s small citrus orchard till all hours on schoolnights, minding the smudge pots—no matter how much we try to insist the story is about being decent, hardworking, thoughtful, and good, in the end the story is about success.
It’s probably a necessary story, but it’s also a dangerous one, because it plants the seeds of disappointment, self-doubt, self-hatred, and an anger that often looks as far outward as within.
The truth that almost all of us have to face is that no matter how decent we are, no matter how hardworking, how thoughtful, or how good, no matter how much we try to be like Lincoln or Edison or Helen Keller, even if ultimately our ambitions are far more modest than theirs, we are doomed to failure.
In some way we are not going to measure up. We are going to be disappointed. It’s not just that we won’t get what we want, we won’t get what we earned or deserved.
And who’s fault will that be?
But how could it be? Didn’t we do everything we were supposed to? Weren’t we decent? Didn’t we work hard? Weren’t we thoughtful and good?
It can’t be!
I won’t let it be!
But whose fault is it then if it’s not mine?
And this is why I say our story is Nixon’s story.
Because it’s a success story that is also the story of a failure.
He was a failure from the start even as he succeeded and advanced with every step.
Nixon knew the story. He knew it best as Lincoln’s story, probably, which would explain why he picked Lincoln’s portrait to talk to when he was wandering drunk through the White House late at night during Watergate. Lincoln was Nixon, Nixon was Lincoln, at least as far as you could tell from the bare bones outlines of their stories. Nixon deserved to be as beloved as Lincoln. Wouldn’t you think?
He thought it too soon, that’s all.
He thought it from when he was young. He thought because he was starting out like Lincoln he would finish like Lincoln and since he was destined to finish like Lincoln he ought to be already beloved and admired like Lincoln.
He wanted what he hadn’t yet earned because he knew he would earn it eventually.
And when it wasn’t handed to him right away, when he wasn’t rewarded right then for his decency and his hard work and his thoughtfulness and his goodness, he was infuriated. He couldn’t stand the insult of it, he couldn’t bear the injury. He felt aggrieved. He felt cheated. He felt entitled. He felt he had the right to take what he hadn’t yet earned but of course every time he did that he undermined himself. Every time he rewarded himself with what he knew he would eventually deserve to be rewarded with, he proved that he didn’t deserve it. He showed himself up as the very opposite of what he believed himself to be, of what he could have been, might very well have been, if he’d been patient, if he’d been less angry, if he’d ignored more slights, forgiven more enemies, accepted more defeats, taught himself not to see so many things as defeats.
If he’d been more Lincoln.
All his life, no matter how much achieved, no matter how high he rose, no matter how apparently successful he became, Nixon saw himself as a thwarted man.
What he could never see was that he was his own worst enemy. Except on those days when he did, and on those days he was even more miserable, more resentful, more angry, more himself
That’s the double-edged temptation built into the American success story, to see our failures as other people’s fault and to see them as too much our own.
And that's why I'll say it again. Nixon’s story is our story.
I admit it. I don't know how to put together an ensemble.
So, generally, I resort to uniforms. Suits for dressy occasions. Jeans and a button down (tucked) or a polo shirt (untucked) for casual wear. Mostly I pull it off. It's the in-between affairs I can't manage. At the DMI Benefit Tuesday night I tried to combine my uniforms, for what I hoped would be a neat but laid-back about being neat effect and probably wound up looking like I'd just shopped at the Salvation Army, with my eyes closed. Tonight I'm going back to the City for a book party. What does one wear to a book party in the City these days?
Actually, it's not in the City as in Manhattan. It's in Brooklyn. Does that matter?
I feel like wearing a car coat over a white T and cuffed jeans with penny loafers, but I've had The Wanderers on my mind lately.
Advice? The object, remember, is to avoid self-consciousness, allow for fade-into-the-background-ability, and yet, when trapped into a conversation, particularly with an attractive woman, not look like either A. if she's youngish, her father or B. a guy her father's age who thinks he can pass for someone close to her age or C. if she's closer to my age, a guy who thinks she's too old for him and believes he could be and ought to be talking to a much younger babe or D. someone who should be taking her drink order or E. the guy outside on the sidewalk she gave a buck to for a cup of coffee on her way in.
By the way, bad as I looked at the benefit Tuesday night, I was still more sharply dressed than David Simon. I'm also in better shape and have more hair.
Guess which one of us was surrounded by attractive women (and men) all night though.
That's right. Both of us. But there were a lot more around him. And Naomi Wolf totally gave me the air.
Usually, Roy Edroso reads the Right Wing blogs to give us all a good laugh while scaring us to death at the idea that there are supposed adults out there who think and argue so idiotically. Today he's reading the New Yorker, particularly George Packer's article, The Fall of Conservativism, but not for laughs or to scare anybody, just to point out a weakness in Packard's article and put us on our guard going into the fall.
The success of the Right Wingers over the last generation has had nothing to do with their ideas or their abilities to think and argue.
problem is that Packer treats the conservative movement as a serious
intellectual force, and thinks its diminution as such will lead
inevitably to defeat. Pitchfork Pat [Buchanan] may have been trying to throw
Packer a clue when he quoted Eric Hoffer to him: "Every great cause
begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates
into a racket." The conservative heavy thinkers to whom Packer gives
much credence may feel as if the world has passed them by, but the
racketeers really run the show.
Director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin took what ought to have been a picaresque epic and turned Charlie Wilson's War into a sentimental drawing room comedy. Clearly, Nichols and Sorkin expected their audience to know the history of our involvement in Afghanistan in the 80s and how it fit in with America's strategy of containment during the Cold War and American conservatives' and super-patriots like Charlie Wilson's frustration with that strategy and to be familiar enough with the political scene on the homefront that quick references to Presidents Carter and Reagan and House Speaker Tip O'Neill would suffice as background. They've reduced all the history and politics to shorthand and period piece brand names, counting on a well-read and savvy audience to fill in the details in their heads. But anyone that familiar with what was going on back then is going to be able to make the connections between then and now and know that what Charlie Wilson and his chief lieutenant, renegade CIA agent Gust Avrakatos, were doing, besides helping to break the bank of the Soviet Union, also included arming what became the Taliban and opening the way for the rise of Osama bin-Laden.
That tragic irony is entirely missing from the movie.
And I don't mean it's missing, as in kept offstage like Reagan and Tip O'Neill. I mean that it is not anywhere. It's as completely scrubbed from the story as George Armstrong Custer's megalomania is from They Died With Their Boots On and the evils of slavery are from Gone With the Wind.
George Crile's book is about how a seriously flawed and self-destructive but wily politician was able to take advantage of flaws in our political system and the blindness of our ideologically blinkered leaders and the greed and nationalistic ambitions of a number of foreign agents, rogues, politicians, and diplomats who thought they were taking advantage of him to wage his own private dream war against the Soviet Union.
Nichols and Sorkin's movie is about how a charmingly eccentric but idealistic rebel outmaneuvered a bunch of bureaucrats to lead the Afghani people to freedom in their war against tyranny and how Charlie Wilson ought to take his place among the pantheon of American heroes alongside John Paul Jones, Stephan Decatur, and Davy Crockett---Walt Disney's Davy Crockett---which would make for a fine although totally fictional story except that heroes need big, open stages to play on and the movie's Charlie Wilson almost never leaves his office or bedroom except to go to someone else's office or bedroom.
For a movie based on a book chock-full of exciting and improbable but true adventures, Charlie Wilson's War is bafflingly free of exciting and improbable adventure, true or not. We see Charlie Wilson in the war zone three times. Twice it's on a visit to a refugee camp, scenes that are there only to let us admire how heartsick Charlie Wilson is over the plight of widows and orphans, and once, very briefly, when he's being celebrated as a hero by cheering warriors for the mujahideen. We don't see the mock battle the muj staged for his benefit so that he could fire some of the weapons his wheeling and dealing bought and feel like he was really a soldier in the war he was helping to pay for. We don't see him in Egypt observing a test of the weapons he wants to buy, quasi-legally, a test that went comically awry. And even though the real Charlie Wilson gave the filmmakers his blessing to show him as he was at the time, that is as an out of control drunk apparently bent on drinking himself to death while sabotaging his career and his war in the process, we don't see him running from the scene of the car accident he had while driving drunk the night before a Congressional fact-finding trip to the war zone that was key to Wilson's securing support and funding from a powerful committee chairman. And we don't see him collapsing and being rushed to the hospital, his health entirely ruined and his career brought to the brink at a very crucial moment by his boozing. In fact, although he's often shown with a drink in hand or looking around in search of one, we never really see Charlie Wilson out and out drunk. His alcoholism is implied, but in the one shot of Tom Hanks in which he might be playing Wilson as completely in the bag he's crying for reasons we're not told but which might just be that his heart is heavy with loneliness and sorrow---it's not easy being a hero, you know.
And for a movie based on book brimming with wild and complex and conflictedly-motivated characters, all of them improbable but real, Charlie Wilson's War is a disappointingly underpopulated film, practically a three-person drama, with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, given far too much screen time for the degree her character really matters to the story---Joanne Herring was an instigator but not much of participant in the real life drama, but because she's played by Roberts the filmmakers must have felt obligated to keep her front and center long after she should have left the stage---in the leads and Philip Seymour Hoffman, given far too little screen time for the degree his character really matters, in support. Amy Adams' character doesn't actually count as a character, and I'll get to that in a separate post. Om Puri has a nice cameo as Pakistani dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who's portrayed as a mild and charming fatherly type motivated to help Wilson entirely by his affection for the man and his own good nature.
We don't meet the Pakistani chief of security whose job was to keep Wilson out of trouble when he visited Pakistan and alive and out of danger when he visited the war zone, a job that often required his conning Wilson into thinking that he was in danger so he could be hustled out of there. We don't meet any of the various arms dealers Wilson and his aides dealt with, including an ambitious Egyptian general who was running a little side business for himself selling off his country's weapons stockpiles. We don't meet either of Wilson's top aides, the second of whom spent so much time over in the Khush with the mujahideen that he went native, adopting Afghan dress, converting, part-time, to Islam, and breaking the law and threatening the whole enterprise by going on raids with the muj.
And, except for Roberts as Herring, we don't meet any of Wilson's many and various girlfriends and fiancees. In fact, getting back to the film's lack of incident and adventure, Charlie's amazing and mixed-up love life is not played for romance, for laughs, for pathos, for drama, or even for sex.
But the people whose absence from the film is most disturbing are the mujahideen themselves. We're given only quick glimpses of any of the men doing the actual fighting and dying in the war, and in those glimpses they appear as quasi-comic characters amazed at their sudden new ability to fight back against Soviet helicopters and as background figures in news reel footage that focuses mainly on blowing stuff up.
And in not showing us any of the real people into whose hands Charlie Wilson was putting billions and billions of dollarsworth of sophisticated killing machines Nichols and Sorkin avoid dealing with the inter-tribal conflicts, the wide degrees of separation between the various factions in matters of education, culture, sophistication, and commitment to their own cause---a great many of the "freedom fighters" weren't much devoted to the cause of freedom or to the cause of a free, self-determined , and democratic government for Afghanistan. They were committed mainly to the cause of killing Russians for revenge and to serve Allah.
In not showing us any actual members of the muj, Nichols and Sorkin avoid showing us the one thing that united them, their religion. They don't show us how for them religion was their politics. And we don't see how they saw themselves as engaged in a holy war that would unite all the nations of Islam against all infidels everywhere. Which is how Nichols and Sorkin managed to leave out what matters most to us now about Charlie Wilson's war, the fact that once the Soviets were driven out, the war was not over in the hearts and minds of thousands and thousands of now heavily armed Islamic Fundamentalists.
One more thing the movie leaves out, that while we were arming the Afghanis to shoot down Soviet helicopters and blow up Soviet tanks, we were also equipping them and training them (through Pakistani surrogates) to be very effective and determined killers of civilians---we were teaching them to how to be terrorists.
Even if the movie had taken more from the book, it would still have had to solve a major structural problem. Although 60 Minutes dubbed this Charlie Wilson's War, he did not fight it alone nor did he lead the fighting all by himself and all the way through to the end. At a certain point he had done about all he could do. He'd set the machinery in motion but it was up to others to see the work got done, all that was left for Wilson himself to do was to, essentially, write the checks that paid for it all. This point came with years left to go in the war, and at that point Charlie Wilson's war was being planned and commanded by Gust Avrakatos and his band of rogue agents at the CIA. A movie that was faithful to the book would still have to solve the problem of taking the story away from its nominal hero and handing it over to the second male lead. Plenty of movies have solved a similar problem so it can be done. This movie though, when it reaches that point, doesn't even try to solve the problem. It just ends. Instead of taking advantage of having Philip Seymour Hoffman playing Gust Avrakatos and using his energy and talent to carry us through to the end of the war, Nichols drops him and Hanks, pretty much, and finishes off his movie with montages of long, repetitive, sub-titled newsreel footage.
Like I said. A lazy and empty piece of movie making.
Mike Nichols has never been a great film maker. His reputation as a director is based not on what he does with a camera or in the editing room but on his ability to tease great performances out of his actors. He fails at that here. Hanks sort of lazes through the part of Charlie Wilson, playing Wilson as sleepy-eyed but charming Good Ol' Boy, although that's pretty much all Sorkin's script gives him to do. Roberts doesn't seem to have been clued in on the fact that Herring was a charming and vivacious and sexy woman. She plays Joanne as a combination of Mother Superior, West Point drill instructor, and the Statue of Liberty come to life. Philip Seymour Hoffman is great but that seems to be more of a matter of him being Philip Seymour Hoffman and not due to Nichols or Sorkin giving him anything special to do, and there's a desperate, angry edge to his performance that doesn't seem to be coming out of his conception of the character of Gust Avrakatos as much as out of Hoffman himself as he tries to catch Nichols' attention and impress upon him how important Avrakatos is to this story.
Then there's the matter of Sorkin's script. Regular readers won't be surprised that I wasn't bowled over. Charlie Wilson's War is another example of Sorkin's unshakable belief that audiences come to his plays, watch his movies, and tune in to his TV shows for the same reason they read the op-ed pages of the New York Times. The dialog is brisk and witty and extremely well-written in a technical sense, but totally unindividuated. It never really matters who has what line, as all the characters are only looking for opportunities when they speak to lecture other characters about what Sorkin has learned from the books and magazines he used to research the issues they're debating.
If this wasn't a true story, Charlie Wilson's War would be every bit a glib and clever and shallow as a mediocre episode of The West Wing.
Come to think of it, though, given what I've been saying about how much history was left out, it's not a true story, so I take that back. It is a mediocre episode of The West Wing.
Journalism, real journalism, is both hard work and high art.
Journalists, real journalists, spend their working days doing the jobs of three people---the reporter, the scholar, and the writer.
As reporters, journalists, real journalists, hit the pavement, work the phones, get out in the world, actually and virtually, and talk to people, all kinds of people, and by talking to them I mean getting them to talk and then listening hard. It's not just a matter of gathering a few good quotes from them either. You have to get them to explain themselves. Many of the people you talk to don't want to do that. Many can't. You've got to prod them, encourage them, and help them. Often to be able to do any of those things you have to know as much or more about them and what they do as they know themselves. (That's part of being a scholar, but I'll get to that.) And while you're talking to them, listening hard to them, you've got to do two conflicting things---keep an open mind and at the same time make judgments about what they're telling you. Objective, almost scientific, judgments. You have to let them have their say and you have compare what they're saying to what other people you've talked to have said, to what they've said in the past, to what you know to be the facts (because you've done the scholarly work of looking things up beforehand), to what's going on around them, to what they've done.
And journalists, real journalists, don't go out into the world just to talk to people. They go out to see how the world is working. They have to collect data. Writers and poets and painters and most other people call this data the details that God is in. Journalists have to see the landscape, they have to see and be able to identify the flowers and weeds dotting the landscape. They have to observe processes and understand how those processes function to the point where they can explain them as well as any expert but in language non-experts can follow (and there's some of the writer's work that has to be done even before sitting down at the keyboard; gathering the details precisely requires finding the right words on the fly), they have to know so they can describe it later, as Hemingway said they had to be able to, how the weather was, the weather being both a metaphorical and a literal fact.
As scholars, journalists, real journalists, have to spend a lot of time gathering the facts they couldn't gather from their work as reporters, either because the people they talked to didn't know them or because they lied or misremembered or plain got things wrong. This means spending a lot of time reading and looking things up. This is the part of the job at which most people who call themselves journalists are weakest.
Now comes the hard part.
This part is too near and dear to my heart for me to get into now. Once I started I wouldn't be able to stop. But it's enough for the moment to say the writing requires more the ability to turn a clever phrase.
I said now comes the hard part, but in fact the writing is being done all along, and the reporting continues throughout, as does the looking things up and reading stuff. It's kind of a holy trinity. Three jobs in one profession.
When it is done well---as it is in all the writings of John McPhee, the "Letters From Europe" Jane Kramer wrote for the New Yorker in the 1980s, the travel books of Jonathan Raban, Rick Perlstein's Nixonland, and, the best of the best, J. Anthony Lukas' Common Ground---readers can get the sense that things happen in this world just so journalists can write about them.
Obviously, real journalism---and also obviously I'm using the phrase real journalism as if it is interchangeable with great journalism, which is unfair, because journalism doesn't have to be great to be done well, to be real---the best journalism requires lots of time and lots of space and the patience and indulgence of the journalists' editors. Most people who do the work commonly called journalism don't have any of those.
Most people who work as journalists are on deadline. They are given relatively few column inches to fill, allowed very few minutes---seconds!---of airtime. Their editors and producers aren't at all patient or indulgent. Real journalists don't have to please anybody but themselves and their smartest and most savvy readers. Most people who work as journalists have to please their bosses, please advertisers or at least not offend them, and please a wide and not terribly sophisticated audience. A great deal of real journalism is a one-shot deal. The lucky journalists are done with their subjects forever when they've finished their book or article or documentary. But the rest often work beats. They have to keep coming back to the same subjects over and over, and that means coming back to the same sources over and over and that means they have to keep their sources happy or at least mollified enough to not begrudge talking to them again.
To get their jobs done every day they can't worry about all the things real journalists have the luxury of worrying about. They have to let things slide, mainly the writing and the scholarship. They are forced to rely over much on their memories and their sources. They only have time to do some of the necessary reporting and they have to hope they can do that well on the fly. Often the best they can do as reporters is spell the names right, get the limited amount of facts they can gather straight, quote their sources accurately and in context, and write it all up in a coherent and engaging way.
They aren't "real journalists," they are reporters and the smart and honest ones know this and don't mind it. They call themselves reporters with pride, and plenty of them have good reason to be proud. They are excellent reporters.
Journalism, good journalism, is an active, demanding profession. Journalism, good journalism, if it is not art, is craft.
Reporting, good reporting, is an active, demanding job. Reporting, good reporting, if it is not craft, is work. Hard work.
What the two pursuits have in common is that the end of the day both journalists and reporters have accomplished something.
There are very few real journalists covering politics in the Unites States these days, mainly because there's just not the time real journalists need. There are, however, plenty of good reporters. (Sometimes real journalists and good reporters are the same people, going back and forth between the two pursuits, as time allows and need requires.) The trouble is that our National Press Corps is not dominated by the many good reporters. It is dominated by the relatively few celebrity pundits and TV talking heads whose jobs are not to do either journalism or reporting. Their job is analysis, which is a self-flattering term for gassing on about other people's work and accomplishments.
The tone, the agenda, and the rules for covering politics, then, are set and enforced by people who do not actually do anything except talk, and most of what they say, is stuff they've overheard or been fed.
In short, the whole show is being run by parasites.
The ones who do work as real reporters sometimes owe their fame and their large paychecks not to their own hard work as reporters but at their skill at mimicking the other parasites.
A nicer way of putting this, and it's not all that nice, is that the job of being a celebrity pundit is not a particularly active one.
On top of this, most of the celebrity pundits, whether they admit it or not, are in one way or another in the pay of the Right Wing corporate interests that have been running the country for the last thirty years and their job is to further their paymasters' agenda, the top item on the list being to make sure that no Democrat ever gets elected President of the United States.
What a life's work, to be a parasite, a shill, a tool, a flunky, and a suck-up all day, every day.
It's no wonder so many of them loathe and despise themselves.
That self-hatred reveals itself in their crazed obsession with the "manliness" and "femininity" of the politicians they cover.
Back in my undergraduate days, it was axiomatic that Hemingway's macho posturing---all the brawling and the drinking and the whoring around, the gynophobic and misogynistic themes in his writing, the castration anxieties, the restless pursuit of "manly" adventures---was his way of compensating for a fear that being a writer was a weak and feminine vocation. That's easy Freudian claptrap. We know that Hemingway was proud of being an artist, that he worked hard at his writing, at least for the first twenty years of his career, and that he saw what he did as, if not "manly", active and demanding with results that an adult could take pride in. If he had "issues," they were with his very strange mother who dressed him and treated him like a little girl until he was ready for school and who, he believed, drove his beloved father to suicide and was perhaps out to drive her son to it too---she sent him the gun his father used to kill himself as a present.
But the idea that someone like Hemingway, with very traditional and stereotyped notions of masculinity and manhood and yet engaged in work that by his own lights is soft, unmanly, effeminate, might be constantly questioning his own masculinity and then, when finding that he did not, ahem, measure up, compensate by acting out in overly aggressive and stereotyped macho posturing is a sound one and what appear to be textbook cases keep appearing in the op-ed pages and on the Sunday bobblehead gabfests.
Licensed to say or write whatever pops into their heads as long as it furthers their mission of destroying all Democratic Presidential contenders, the celebrity pundits routinely reach into the darkest corners of their own subconscious minds and pull out, in classic cases of projection, their own insecurities, self-doubts, self-hatreds, and instances of sexual panic and confusion, to hurl at the Democrats.
While Hemingway acted out by chasing marlins, shooting wildebeasts, getting into fistfights with literary rivals, taking pretty women to bed, and drinking first Key West and then Cuba dry, these celebrity pundits compensate vicariously, by being "manly" or "womanly" second-hand, overly identifying with John McCain's wartime heroism, imagining themselves as better bowlers than Barack Obama and keeping their uppity, saphically-inclined wives in line or their philandering husbands faithful with their own sexual prowess and irresistibility.
And don't think I didn't intend the gender confusions in that paragraph.
Having to make themselves feel manly or womanly by proxy must only increase their suspicions about themselves and cause greater confusion and panic within.
The sad fact is that what these people are feeling is not so much gender confusion but a lack of a sense of adult accomplishment. The cure for them is real work, the work they were trained to do.
They can't all turn themselves into great journalists, but they can do the jobs of good reporters.
That would mean telling their corporate paymasters to go to hell, and I wouldn't hold my breath expecting to see that happen any time soon.
Third season of Weeds comes out on DVD next month, fourth season begins on Showtime June 16, second season of Mad Men premieres on AMC in July, with the first season on DVD showing up in the stores and on Netflix just ahead of it, but right now, with nothing new to watch to watch to satisfy my late night TV jonezing, I've reached back in time and started catching up on Rescue Me.
Tell me they dial it down a knotch or three after a few more episodes.
I'm three and a half shows into the first season. My high school drama teacher used to caution us, If you start your performance at a shout, you've got nowhere to go but a scream. Seems like Denis Leary and company have been playing it at a shout for almost the whole way since the beginning and there doesn't appear to be any let up in sight. Where can they go with everybody already on the brink like this?
I understand. It's just after 9/11, the house has been decimated, everybody but the probies are suffering from survivor's guilt and PTSD, and these are not guys who are used to admitting to having any softer emotions, let alone confronting such intense ones that leave them feeling weak and out of control. With so much turmoil going on inside them, it's no wonder a guy's guy like Leary's Tommy Gavin would grab hold of his anger as the most familiar and most "manly" and cling to it like he does the necks of his bottles of whiskey.
But you'd think people this tightly wound would have keeled over from strokes and heart attacks already or reached for the knife drawer or the gun at the back of the closet or the pill bottle in the medicine chest and by now either they or their nearest and dearest or a roomful of innocent strangers would be lying dead in puddles of blood and booze, and I'm half-expecting that this is where we're headed except underneath it all, Rescue Me appears to be...
Can that be right?
Don't get me wrong. I'm enjoying the show. It's just that I've only been able to enjoy it in small doses, fifteen, twenty minutes at a time, tops, before I feel the need to punch a wall or make a grab for the bottle myself.
How long do I have to put up with all this self-destruction and anger? Does it ever settle down? What are my rewards going to be along the way?
My other concern is that when it does settle down it's going to settle down into soap opera. Tommy's going to have an affair with Sheila, his cousin's widow, with his cousin's ghost looking over his shoulder the whole time, I can see that coming, and who can blame him, considering the widow's played by Callie Thorne. But I took a quick look at the website and it tells me that in the fourth season Tommy's ex-wife's carrying his dead brother's baby---and when, how, and why did they kill off Johnny?---Sean's married to Tommy's crazy, abusive, alcoholic sister Maggie who's twenty years older than him and played by Tatum O'Neal and how much fun can that be; Keefe can't keep up with and can't keep it up for his enthusiastically randy ex-nun of a new wife; Reilly's had a stroke; Franco's in a custody fight for the daughter he just found out he has at the point where I am in season one; Mike the bisexual probie still can't decide which side of the fence he wants to be on; and Callie Thorne's burned down her beach house and framed Tommy for arson?
Please tell me this is all being played as black comedy and farce.
Oh well. Like I said. I'm enjoying it enough so far that I'll be sticking with it for a while. There's some good writing, some clever bits---I liked the phone call between Tommy and his father (played by Charles Durning, because what other character actor could have sired a heroic Irish firefighter and a cop?) in which they grunt meaningless pleasantries at each other while subtitles tell us what they'd really like to be saying to each other---the acting's good, and I don't even mind all the ghosts haunting Tommy and don't care if they're real or figments of his imagination, although I hear he starts talking face to face with Jesus don't the road and that might be hard to take. And there're parts of me that can't help identifying with these guys and not just the part that's still a little kid thinking he wants to be a fireman when he grows up.
Denis Leary makes the series though. As co-creator, producer, and writer he's given himself the role of his career. Sure, he showboats quite a bit, but I can't think of another actor who can do barely repressed rage in as many different keys. Tommy's one angry guy. He fights fires angry. He jokes angry. He drinks angry. He has angry sex. The anger is there and at its peak when he's with his ex-wife with whom he's doing a heroic job of pretending not to be angry. Tommy's a heartbroken guy too, and he grieves and bleeds angry on top of everything else, and Leary gives each moment of anger its own shades and its own rhythms and beats. It's far from a one-note performance but it's a medley so far not a whole album and I can't see what more he can do with it.
There's something else worrying me.
Are women the enemy here?
I can see that situationally they are without trying to be or wanting to be. Wives and girlfriends are threats to guys who can't handle their emotions because they don't want to admit to having any. Love is scary anyway. And they ask the guys to divide their loyalties and time, between home and the firehouse. You can see why the men would wish the women in their lives would appear and disappear on cue and according to the men's whims and needs, and why the women would resent this and rebel in one way or another. It's a world that isn't very enlightened on issues of gender anyway and it's no wonder that the men and women who live in it would see each other as adversaries if not out and out enemies.
But then along comes a scene between Tommy and Sheila in which Tommy, responding to Sheila's despondency and despair, admits to his own feelings of loss and hopelessness and she instantly turns on him, nastily and crudely, heaping her disgust and scorn on him for not acting like a man before storming off, and I couldn't decide if she was nuts because her grief was making her nuts or because she was just nuts, if she was reflexively and despite herself playing her role of Spartan wife and mother or just shocked at him for not playing his role of Spartan warrior, if she was that selfish and self-centered or if she was angry at his selfishness and self-centeredness in making the conversation be all about him when she needed it to be about her just now.
But she's going to burn down that house and get Tommy blamed for it and there doesn't seem to be any good excuse for that.
Then there's Tommy's ex-wife Janet who's blithely indifferent to what he's gone through and what he's going through and who seems to have convinced herself that he does something entirely different for a living, something ordinary and safe and not particularly interesting or exciting or worth her respect or her pride, selling insurance maybe or fixing copy machines, something that doesn't demand a lot of him so that he's free to come running whenever she calls him to fix something, take the kids, or give her more money for shopping. In fact, she's treating him the way he probably treated her when they were married, the way the other firefighters treat their wives and girlfriends, but why? Is she getting even, is she selfish, is she stupid, or is that just the way their life has to be right now? But there's that affair with his brother coming up and the fact that afterwards she's expecting Tommy to take on responsibility for the baby that results.
Throw into the mix their spoiled, resentful, and rebellious teenage daughter, Franco's homicidal, drug-addled, sex-crazed ex-girlfriend Nez, and Lou Keefe's castrating shrew of a wife who is disgusted at the possibility he's viewing internet porn and even more disgusted when she finds out he's been writing poetry, bad poetry, the worst poetry she's ever read, she isn't at all hesitant or tactful about telling him, and Tommy's crazy sister whose eventual appearance I'm not at all looking forward to, even though I am curious to see how far Tatum O'Neal's come from Addie Pray.
All the women appear to be crazy in their way, and that figures, since they're victims and survivors of 9/11 too, but are these characters just grief-stricken or are they the show's villains?
One last thing you can tell me.
I don't care if her character's nuts, do we get to see Callie Thorne naked?
I'm not sure I can take that on top of all the other stressors.
These pale, wan, willowy brunettes. I fall for them every time.