Meanwhile, our story continues as Burt Cooper's right-hand gal Cassandra catches up with Don Draper having another liquid lunch.
She joins him for a quick drink, but tells him that there's another big shake-up at Sterling Cooper and he needs to get back there if he wants to save his job. Don rushes back to the office where he finds new boss Dave S has taken the reins firmly in hand.
Dave tells Don he's keeping him on---for now. But he's bringing in some fresh talent and Don's going to have his work cut out for him if he's going to keep up with the new guy, the dashing and dapper Mike Morgan!
Little do any of them know, however, that behind the scenes Amanda Marcotte is quietly planning her take over of the firm by rallying the major clients, including Utz and London Fog, to her department.
The existing system doesn’t just break up families, it also costs lives. A 2004 study by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, found that lack of health insurance causes 18,000 unnecessary deaths a year. That’s one person slipping through the cracks and dying every half an hour.
In short, it’s a good bet that our existing dysfunctional health system knocks off far more people than an army of “death panels” could — even if they existed, worked 24/7 and got around in a fleet of black helicopters.
So, for those of you inclined to believe the worst about President Obama, think it through. Suppose he is indeed a secret, foreign-born Muslim agent who is scheming to undermine American family values while killing off as many grandmothers as possible.
If all that were true, why on earth would he be trying so hard to reform our health care system? We already know how to prod families into divorce and take a life unnecessarily every 30 minutes — all we need to do is reject reform and stick with exactly what we have.
Running through a lot of contemporary conservative thought is the right’s staggering lack of faith in the power of western civilization’s achievements. Liberal democracy has brought us a great deal of peace and prosperity, and time and again liberal societies have proved stronger than our autocratic rivals. But the right seems obsessed with the idea that impoverished and backward social values, or else dictatorial political institutions, offer the key to world-historical success. Thus Europe, supposedly, would be stronger if it re-embraced fratricidal violence and the United States would be more secure if we embraced the methods of the KGB.
Lance Mannion has instructed his lawyers and executors that he wishes to be buried out of his old parish church, the church where he made his First Communion and his Confirmation, the church where he was an altar boy for so many years. But he has one request. No priests.
Mom Mannion's mom was a Republican. Richard Nixon wasn't just her favorite politician. She loved him. I'm not sure how she felt about the Kennedys---for obvious reasons I avoided talking politics with her---but she and Ted would have gotten along great, because like him she loved to sing and whatever their political differences she knew that our common enemies are sorrow and pain, which is probably why, like Ted Kennedy, she saw it as her job to take care of everybody she met. Probably why this was one of her favorites too. I'm sure she'd have liked it if we'd sung it for when it was her turn to go, but she was lucky enough to die at Christimastime, her favorite season, and so we sung her out with Christmas carols. I can hear her singing along here in her thin, high, reedy, sweet voice:
There is such a thing as an edible, nay, delicious meat pie floater, its mushy peas of just the right consistency, its tomato sauce piquant in its cheekiness, its pie filling tending even towards named parts of the animal. There are platonic burgers made of beef instead of cow lips and hooves. There are fish 'n' chips where the batter is more than just a white goo lurking at the bottom of a batter casing and you can't use the chips to shave with. There are hot dog fillings that have more in common with meat than mere pinkness, whose lucky consumers don't apply mustard because that would spoil the taste. It's just that people can be trained to prefer the other sort, and seek it out. It's as if Machiavelli had written a cookery book.
Even so, there is no excuse for putting pineapple on pizza.
Two beautifully realized and revealing moments in Sunshine Cleaning that bring important characters fully to life and neither one involved the stars of the film.
One doesn't even involve an actor.
Sunshine Cleaning stars Amy Adams and Emily Blunt as Rose and Norah Lorkowski, two sisters who start a business cleaning up the bloody messes left at crime scenes and in the aftermaths of accidents, and one of those moments is a flashback to when the sisters were little girls and they discovered their mother's body after she'd committed suicide. The girls come into the house from playing outside in the sprinkler. Rose, the eldest, is in the lead and she realizes something is terribly wrong before she sees what's the matter. She continues on ahead (with the camera behind them) but as she goes her right arm swings around to reach back towards her sister and her hand opens up to hold Norah back. This reflexive protective gesture of the big sister's towards the little one instantly becomes the defining gesture of their lives and we understand from it why in the movie's present, with Rose in her thirties and Norah getting there, neither young woman has much of a life of her own.
Rose has devoted herself to taking care of Norah at her own expense, but she's done it by pushing Norah back---by "protecting" her from the worst life throws at people, she's protected Norah from life itself. Norah can't navigate in the world because Rose has never let her learn how to.
Meanwhile, Rose, who at one point complains that she's not good at anything, is shown to have been really good at the kind of self-sacrifice that is really self-punishment. She's been sabotaging her own life for years because she feels she failed at the most important job she was given. That gesture of protection came both too late and with not enough strength. She believes that she should have protected Norah by having saved their mother or by having made everything all right afterwards.
By the way, the connection between the work they're doing and Rose's guilt and Norah's inability to face up to life is clear to the point of being trite, but what's good about the way Sunshine Cleaning deals with it is that it doesn't deal with it. It leaves it entirely unremarked upon. Rose delivers a little speech to a gathering of old high school friends about what she does and what she likes about the work that brings her close to stating the obvious---"We come into people's lives when they have experienced something profound and sad and...we help."---but the sweetness of Adams' delivery coupled with the way she plays it makes this the moment when Rose realizes that she reallydoeslikethe work and she's proud of herself as a businesswoman; the psychological ramifications don't even seem to cross her mind, and the obvious remains unstated.
The other moment, the one that doesn't involve an actor but still brings a character to life, occurs in the house the sisters have come to to clean up after another suicide. The bodies are always gone before they arrive, and usually there are no survivors there to deal with, only cops or landlords. This time they meet the elderly widow of the old man who killed himself. She takes Rose into the house to show her where her husband did it and all along the walls and on the doors and on the appliances we see Post-it Notes, many stuck one on top of another, and although we haven't been told anything about the dead man, not even that he shot himself, we know him and we know why.
The camera closes in on just one of the notes, mainly to show us that the man wrote the notes himself to himself. At first I thought this was his last note, but thinking it over I've decided it might very well have been his first. It's a note reminding him to tell his wife he loves her.
The note isn't about saying good-bye. It's not about death. It's about living and what's important. It's a note to Rose and to the audience.
Sunshine Cleaning is a note to the audience reminding us that people whose presence in our lives are determined and defined by their functionality---maids, store clerks, waitresses, lab technicians, among others---people who we take for granted and often just ignore are real human beings with feelings and thoughts and dreams and sorrows and, by the way, but not trivially, special talents and skills that make them good at what they do, that make them useful not just functional. It's the kind of low-key, understated character comedy-drama that has not much more reason than to make us like and understand its characters as a way of making us like and understand other real people and ourselves, and as that kind of a movie Sunshine Cleaning does a pretty good job. Screenwriter Megan Holly and director Christine Jeffs have steered away from the darker aspects of their own story and are perhaps a little too determined to make sure that we like Rose and Norah and their father Joe, played crustily but affably by Alan Arkin, and the result may be a little too much sweetness and lightness for some. I didn't mind it, except in the few moments when characters let loose angers that they haven't been hiding as much as they've had them excised, and then things start to feel forced and actors who've been underplaying their roles beautifully suddenly seem to be overacting desperately, which is an extra flaw in a movie that has as its main other reason for demanding our attention the pleasure of watching its stars act like actors and not like movie stars.
Sunshine Cleaning is the first movie since Junebug I've seen Amy Adams play a real human being in. I haven't seen Julie & Julia yet. In Doubt and Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day she played "characters," realistic fictions that closely resemble real human beings but which couldn't exist outside of the stories they were created to help tell. In Enchanted she played a cartoon, literally, a Disney princess come to life, and she was brilliant, but, you know, a cartoon, and in Night at the Museum 2: Battle for the Smithsonian she attempted to repeat the trick by bringing what was essentially a cartoon version of Amelia Earhart to life, but she had a weak script and a lesser director to work with, plus I didn't think anybody could have found for her a less worthy love interest than Patrick Dempsey until I saw Ben Stiller practically yawning through all their scenes together. And in Charlie Wilson's War she's completely wasted in a part that doesn't require her to do anything but stand there and listen attentively while Tom Hanks has a good time hamming it up.
Adams makes Rose not just someone you could meet in real life but someone you feel you have met.
Didn't surprise me to see Adams pull this off. It shouldn't be surprising when actors we've thought were really good in one thing show by being really good in something very different that the reason they were good in the first thing is that they are good actors. (That one was as hard to type as it probably was to read.) Adams is helped, though, by her looks. She is very pretty, but in an ordinary way. If it wasn't for her red hair, it would be possible to overlook her in a crowd. Not easy, but possible, and you might not look twice, if you were in a hurry.
Emily Blunt, however, is not overlookable or look pastable. Her features are more striking and she's four inches taller and built along more heroic lines. So what's most surprising about her appearance in Sunshine Cleaning is that she appears at all. It was inspired to cast her as someone who is convinced she's not worth a second glance, possibly not even a first, and who goes out of her way to make sure that's the way it goes. Rose's over-protectiveness has undermined Norah's self-confidence to the point that she's accepted that she's not fit for grown-up life. She's handicapped by her own and Rose's low expectations, and she's learned to co-operate with Rose in the job of keeping Norah safe by keeping her pushed back. She is always in retreat, and one sign of this is her choice of clothes and hair style and use of make up, all of which are applied to present a "character" to the world that people will see and react to in place of the real Norah. Instead of a beautiful and intelligent young woman, she sends out in her stead a sullen and incompetent overgrown adolescent.
And there's something else at work within her. Norah has some little, secret ways of keeping her mother alive in herself, but all she really knows about her is that she was beautiful and that somehow her beauty contributed to the sadness that destroyed her, possibly by giving her expectations of a grander, more glamorous, more exciting life. Norah's downplaying of her beauty, her denying it, is a way of preventing herself from developing great expectations. Norah would rather expect nothing, and is generally relieved when that's what she gets.
Blunt doesn't convey Norah's low self-esteem, hopelessness, and contrived immaturity just by dressing down and letting her unkempt hair fall across her face. She carries herself like the most awkward of teenagers, all arms and legs going ever which way. She gallumphs when she walks, slouches deeply into cushions when she sits, and is as droopy and loose-limbed as a scarecrow when she stands still. There's really no hiding the fact that Blunt is beautiful but she makes Norah someone there's no way you could convince is beautiful, not as beautiful as her sister, at any rate, so what's the point of even trying?
There's one other movie star in Sunshine Cleaning playing a real person in a departure from what has become his routine role as schlumpy stoner sidekick, but I'm not going to tell you who, in case you want to be surprised like the blonde who didn't recognize him, even though he's one of her favorites, and she was flabbergasted when she read his name in the end credits.
"The danger as a legislator is that you get involved with just passing the bill. You can lose the context of what passing the bill means, and then you're just shuffling papers, and you lose that emotional contact. Maybe some people could do it. I think I'd run dry pretty quick."---Senator Edward M. Kennedy in an interview with Charles Pierce of the Boston Globe, January 2003.
According to my old college pal Gary, it's my fault Ted Kennedy wasn't elected President in 1980. Gary insists it was an op-ed piece I wrote for a nationally distributed newspaper that sunk Kennedy in the Democratic primaries and got Jimmy Carter re-nominated.
In my defense I never expected the piece to get published. I was just venting. My point was that I saw no point at the time in Kennedy's challenging Carter. I understood people were disappointed with Jimmy, but it looked to me that part of what was fueling their disappointment was nostalgia and I thought their wish to have Teddy run was really an expression of their sublimated wish that Jack and Bobby were still alive. I'm pretty sure the only reason the paper printed it was that it was an anti-Kennedy piece written by a member of what the editors thought was Kennedy's base, a college student from Boston.
Actually, most of the college students I knew were for Jerry Brown or John Anderson, if they were for anybody. I did some campaigning for Brown. One day I was going around downtown Boston putting up notices for a rally for Brown and I noticed I was being followed by a short, squat South Boston Irish type with a thick wave of dark hair arcing from his forehead very much like Ted Kennedy's own at the time. He was busy tearing down the flyers as I put them up.
"Pardon me, sir. May I ask why you are committing this wanton act of vandalism?" I asked, although not in those exact words.
"I could ask you the same thing, young man," he replied, although again I'm paraphrasing. I've forgotten the details of our short conversation. Possibly the words asshole and fuck you were bandied about, but as I said it's a little hazy after all these years.
What came out of our exchange, though, was that he worked for "the Kennedys"---that's how he put it; he saw himself as a retainer for the entire clan and the clan was an institution like the Church, Harvard, or the Red Sox---and every light pole and blank wall space and community bulletin board, anywhere you could tack a sign or a poster belonged to the Kennedys and what I was doing was a form of trespassing, theft, and public insult.
That's when I learned that Edwin O'Connor hadn't been making it up .
It's also when I realized that for all the talk of the Kennedys being American royalty, what they were were throwbacks, products and champions of the old order of urban Democratic politics, Ted especially. Right now across the western side of the bandwidth, we're mourning the death of one of the nation's last great Progressives. But Back in Boston, in Southie and Dorchester, Charlestown, Eastie, Roxbury, Mission Hill, Brighton, Allston, and Jamaica Plain, Revere, Everett, Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell, and, oh yeah, Cambridge, they're grieving for the loss of their very own.
At any rate, my op-ed piece ran in January just before the Iowa caucuses and Carter clobbered Kennedy there, which was pretty much all she wrote for Ted that year and forever after.
Gary still blames me. Some days I feel guilty about this. Some days I'm actually proud of it. If Kennedy had beaten Carter and then defeated Reagan in the fall, no sure thing, and if he'd served two terms, he'd have just died in the 20th year of his former-Presidency, and while I'm sure he'd have been a credit to former Presidents, even the greatest of former Presidents can't accomplish what a great Senator can accomplish in 20 years. If he'd been President he wouldn't have done half the great things he did.
Of course, had he been President we probably wouldn't have needed him to do some of those great things since they involved thwarting and undoing the Reagan-Gingrich Revolution.
One of those things we'll never know and not worth arguing about---until the next time I see Gary.
What we know is that Ted Kennedy spent the last three decades making himself one of the best legislators in American history by saving the country from the worst of what Reagan and Gingrich and W. Bush wanted to do to it and by keeping liberalism alive in spirit and in law and, most important, in effect in the lives of millions of people who needed help.
I met the man only once, and it was thanks to Gary. Gary was in law school at Harvard at the time and one night Kennedy showed up to speak to a group of law students. Gary got me in and we wound up sitting on the floor right at Ted Kennedy's feet.
It was late in the evening. The Senator had just flown in from some fact-finding mission in the far west. He was clearly exhausted. Considering when this was, he might also have been drunk. His eyes were pink and bleary, his face was bright red. Maybe it was a sunburn. He'd spent all day on an Indian reservation, I think. Whatever. If he wasn't in the bag or half in it, he was just as desperately in need of a bed or twelve pots of coffee. It wore you out, just to look at him. And he was still on top of things.
He fielded question after question, patiently and attentively. He answered thoughtfully and thoroughly. Some of these questions were on what seemed to me very obscure issues and arcane points of policy and those were the questions that he jumped on and responded to most completely. The longer he was there, the more revved up he got, and by the time his aides made him call it a night, I wouldn't say he'd revived, but he'd definitely recharged enough that he could have gone on for another hour or two.
I got to shake his hand at the end of the night. It was a huge hand. A hand that large could pick up and carry quite a load all on its own, and in a way, it did. It carried all of us.
Be sure to read all of Charles Pierce's profile of Kennedy in the Globe---in which one of the things we learn about Kennedy is that he didn't like profiles---Pierce doesn't shy away from the bad stuff. Mary Jo Kopechne is in there. But the bad stuff's too much a part of the good stuff to be left out of the story. The piece was done at the height of the Bush Administration's success and arrogance. I don't know if Pierce was thinking it, but at the time he might have been writing Ted Kennedy's Last Hurrah. The thing is, Kennedy himself wasn't thinking it or wasn't letting himself think it. He was thinking he had work to do.
If his name were Edward Moore, Robert Bork might be on the Supreme Court today. Robert Dole might have been elected president of the United States. There might still be a draft. There would not have been the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which overturned seven Supreme Court decisions that Kennedy saw as rolling back the gains of the civil rights movement; the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, the most wide-ranging civil rights bill since the original ones in the 1960s; the Kennedy-Kassebaum Bill of 1996, which allows "portability" in health care coverage; or any one of the 35 other initiatives - large and small, on everything from Medicare to the minimum wage to immigration reform - that Kennedy, in opposition and in the minority, managed to cajole and finesse through the Senate between 1996 and 1998, masterfully defusing the Gingrich Revolution and maneuvering Dole into such complete political incoherence that Bill Clinton won reelection in a walk. None of this would have happened, if his name were Edward Moore.
At Buck Naked Politics, they've posted an extensive round-up of obits, tributes, eulogies, and reminiscences.
Pretty much it's gotten to the point that if the producers of the bobblehead shows stopped inviting known liars on their shows and the editors of op-ed pages stopped giving column inches to known liars and reporters of all stripes stopped using known liars as sources, then Republicans and "conservatives" would disappear from the news.
And you and I might think that's as it should be.
But without Republicans to flatter and fawn over and lie down and roll over for, how would the members of the Village Media prove they aren't liberal?
Which I'm convinced they think is their most important job. Proving they aren't liberal.
I'm not sure why it's so important to them to prove they aren't liberals, especially since the people they seem most determined to prove it to are the liars they flatter and fawn over and lie down and roll over for. Why would people who work in a profession supposedly devoted to identifying and reporting the truth, or at least, the facts, want to have approval of liars who see it as they're job to, well, lie?
Access? The liars are out of power. Access now only gets you access to their lies not to the corridors of power. I'd say this is a habit they got into during the Bush Administration and now they can't shake it plus they're just too lazy to update the contact lists on their smart phones, if I didn't know that proving they aren't liberal is a line to their job description they added during the Reagan Administration but perfected during the Clinton Administration. So they've kept it up for a generation now through periods when the corridors of power they want access to were patrolled by Democrats.
Some of the Villagers are just plain corrupt. They don't want to offend Republicans because that's where the money is. They're afraid of losing their lucrative speaking gigs and their invitations to the best parties. They're afraid of costing a significant other or a child or a friend a high-paying job. They're afraid of doors closing when it comes time for them to quit journalism and seek a job that pays real money.
But I can't help thinking that for a lot of them the reason they're desperate to prove they aren't liberal is that they hate liberals and they hate liberals because they hate themselves and against all evidence they're convinced they are liberals.
What they are are establishmentarian types comfortable with the status quo who don't hate gay people and want their wives and daughters and selves to have access to abortion and accept it more or less as a given that poor people's children probably shouldn't be left to starve in the streets, provided it doesn't cost too much money to feed them and move them inside at least during the winter. And they usually vote for Democrats. All of that is enough to make them practically Communists in the eyes of the Republican elites they're trying to prove they aren't liberal to. But nevermind.
They think they're liberals and they don't like liberals because they've adopted their own version of the cockeyed syllogism Woody Allen posited in Love and Death. Which starting with the premise that all the ancient Greeks were homosexuals went:
A. Socrates was a man.
B. All men are mortal.
C. All men are Socrates.
From which he concluded that "all men are homosexual."
The Villagers' syllogism goes:
A. We're a pack of elitist sissies.
B. We're liberals.
C. All liberals are elitist sissies. Eww.
If you start with this then it's not that they're trying to prove to the world they're not liberals, it's that they're trying to prove to themselves they're not sissies, but of course they do that in the way sissies tend to do it, by becoming bullies and beating up on other supposed sissies or if they can't work up the guts for that by hero-worshipping other bullies who'll do the beating up on other sissies for them.
So, while the rest of watch in horror and dismay as the liars come on and go cheerfully spreading their lies and think how are they allowed to get away with lying like that, the Village Insiders aren't thinking about truth vs. lies or facts vs. malicious fictions. They're thinking "Haw haw!" as their bully-heroes stuff liberals into lockers, take their milk money, and give them wedgies.
They're thinking "haw haw" as they cheerlead for political bullies who start wars that kill lots of brown people and push policies that run poor people out of their homes and jobs and deny them decent medical care and otherwise push the voiceless and the powerless around.
Ok, maybe I'm just being mean. Maybe they aren't a pack of self-loathing elitist sissies. Maybe they're just a pack of lazy goofs who've taken on jobs they enjoy only for the celebrity conferred and not for the actual work required.
If they were to decide as a group not to give known liars any more print space or airtime, then David Frum would collapse from exhaustion trying to keep up as the only conservative source for journalists in DC.
There'd be nobody else to invite on the bobblehead shows but Democrats and Liberals, who might be liars or who might be so wrong about things that they're as good as lying, but to prove that would require actual homework and engagement with policy and the issues.
It would require treating politics as a serious matter and the governing of the nation as a life and death business with consequences that change the lives of real human beings. It would mean giving up their complacent, comforting, corrupting habit of treating everything that happens in Washington as a game.
But that might cause them to seem to take sides. It might open them up to the accusation that they are liberals!
So much easier to just divide every issue into a contest between two teams and then let the teams sputter and shout at each other while you sit back and keep score.
Oh and think "haw haw" every time a known liar trash talks a liberal and makes him cry foul.
Satirically related: Michael Berube interviewed the American Mainstream Media about what they see as their job in these crazy times.
CA: Pardon me? People are threatening violence because a Democratic administration might be considering public health insurance? That’s not exciting, that’s lunacy. Why doesn’t anybody explain the “public option” to these nutcases?
AMM: With all due respect, Michael, that’s not really our job.
AMM: No, really. We’re not in the business of pushing some President’s agenda, unless it’s a war. We’re in the business of reporting what people say. And if some people say that Obama’s plan will feed your grandma to the wood chipper, and some people happen to disagree with that, then it’s our responsibility to report both sides fairly. That’s all part of democratic debate, and we’re proud to play our part!
CA: So, so you’re actually saying it’s your job to report complete falsehoods without challenging them?
AMM: That’s basic journalistic ethics, yes. Besides, even if it was our job to choose sides, which it isn’t, we’re just not well equipped to handle this kind of thing. Health care involves very serious policy issues and complicated stuff about money, and everyone knows math is hard and policy is boring. So we try to concentrate on what we do best.
Mills...added that his sculpture was meant to be funny and political. “It's art, ya know?”
Mills won for his "Gone Postal" car:
a mini postal-delivery truck with strobe lights, a bazooka that shot a “BANG!” flag, and assault rifles that blasted confetti.
Mills said he was inspired by memories of visits to the post office where his father used to work.
"It just seemed like it was an angry place to work..."
Not all the "kinetic sculptures" that rolled in yesterday's event were...um...political:
Kids flexed their creativity, too. Rachel Reimer, 12, and Casey Hall, 10, both of Saugerties, decided to build a poker-themed car with a bathroom twist. They attached two toilet bowls to a wheel barrow, sat on them and played poker while their fathers drove them down the hill. Rachel was dressed up as a queen, and Casey as a jester. “The Royal Flush,” they called it.
Oh, and the toilets were floating on fake clouds. “We're so royal, we just had to be on clouds,” Reimer said.
When last we left the Draper home in Ossining, the Linkmeister had just stopped by to catch a ride with Don to the train station, surprising Betty with the news that Don isn't on a business trip to Pittsburgh as she thought:
After Link leaves, Betty's "friend" Simone arrives. Simone, according to neighborhood gossip passed along to me by the reader who invented her is "an independently wealthy protofeminist who meets Betty at the grocery store. She vacillates between feeling motherly concern for Betty and wanting to smack her. She copes with her ambivalence by giving Betty a copy of 'The Feminine Mystique' and taking her to a Loretta Lynn concert."
Meanwhile, at Sterling Cooper, Don's continued absences along with Roger's distraction by his new young bride, Burt Cooper's slide into a giddy second childhood, Duck's drinking, and the new British partners' inability to transcend stereotype, is causing more headaches for Creative Director Tom Watson, who is trying to hold the place together all on his own. In his exhaustion, Tom hallucinates Don's coming back to work to save the day.
More to come. Add your own pscyhodramatics to the plot by Madmenizing yourself. Send me the results for next week's installment. And don't forget to tune in to tonight's episode of Mad Men, at 10 PM Eastern, 9 Central.
Joe Lieberman wants to kill health care reform by cutting it up into little pieces and letting it bleed to death in committees over the course of the next couple of years while the public and the Media are distracted by other things. Dick Lugar wants to kill it by putting it on a back shelf in a closet deep in the basement where it will pine away, neglected and forgotten.
Lugar probably knows Democrats aren't going to take his approach. He's just looking to be able to boast about how he was all for "moderation," "study," "thought," "prudence," and "thrift," and not for denying his constituents access to decent and affordable health insurance while also being able to boast to his Republican colleagues and corporate donors that he was with them all along. When push comes to shove, though, he'll cheerfully vote against anything and everything the Democrats try to pass, including all the little pieces Joe Lieberman claims to think stand a chance of bipartisan support.
Lieberman, though, is looking for a way not to have repeat his usual weasel's trick of having of it both ways. He's against reconciliation because if the Democrats take that route Lieberman will have to vote for or against. If the Senate leadership decides to try to pass any bills the usual way and Republicans filibuster, Lieberman could vote FOR the bill but AGAINST cloture. He's done this many times before. It's his way of getting credit for being for something he's really against and for being Mr Bipartisanship while he's at it.
I'm sure he'll pull this trick again, if he has no other choice. But he's probably been warned by Chuck Schumer that he might not be forgiven for it this time. His new plan of passing lots of little pieces of toothless legislation will let him vote with the leadership down the line while making sure that no meaningful reform happens.
Update: There was more than self-serving political expediency in Lieberman's wish that health care reform take place in baby steps that won't get taken. As Dave Noon points out, Lieberman also managed to put himself on the wrong side of history by apparently accepting that it was ok that that it took over a hundred years for the Civil Rights movement to accomplish its major goals. Read Dave's post at The Edge of the West, Justice too long delayed is justice denied.
But I’d like to return to one point: even after retracting his statement about people who correctly surmised that terror warnings were political being motivated by “gut hatred” of Bush, he left in the bit about being “reflexively anti-Bush”. I continue to find it really sad that people still say things like this.
Krugman, Glenn Greenwald, and Marcy Wheeler are dealing with this. The only thing I have to add is that the Liberal Blogosphere, the supposed amplifier for all the irrational hatred of George W. Bush, didn't really get its act together until 2002, when the Bush Administration was in the middle of the process of obviously lying us into a war with Iraq. It wasn't because people hated Bush that they didn't trust him on the War. It was because of the War and his lies that they began to hate him. As Krugman says, by the time the terror alert controversy boiled over there was ample reason to think of this crew as a pack of liars who did everything for their own personal political gain, including taking the country into war. It wasn't irrational to distrust them. It was plain nuts not to.
But the real "gut-haters," the people who took an irrational dislike to a politician and reacted to everything he said and did as if he was a worse liar than Richard Nixon were the members of the Washington Press Corps who decided back in 1999 that Al Gore was not to be allowed to become President.
And one tactic in their war on Gore was to treat George W. Bush as something the man clearly wasn't---deserving of the Presidency. He was their man, and they stuck with him and championed him long after he'd proven to be an utter disaster, and they continued to dismiss all his critics as deranged by hatred, irrationally partisan, and deeply "unserious."
And pretty much they're still at it, which is why people like Dick Cheney and Karl Rove and John Bolton keep popping up on the TV and in op-ed pages. The Village Insiders are deeply invested in their own vanity and they will defend their egos and self-regard to the death.
Marc Ambinder has been clumsy about it, but he's also been pretty much all alone in admitting that maybe the Press Corps could have done a better job.
I have grown just a touch nauseated over the past couple of years by the tendency of former Bush administration officials to take their vestigial consciences out for a walk now that's far too late to matter a tinker's curse to anyone. The most recent example, of course, is good ol' Tom Ridge, who has a book to peddle and who may still seek to stake out the dwindling element of his party fairly characterized as Not Insane. This week, to the surprise of absolutely no sentient entity on the planet, Ridge admitted that the adminstration he served had jacked around with the comical "Terror Alert" system for political purposes. (All together now, "Unpossible!") Of course, in 2004, when the revelation might have helped swing the election and save us from four more years of incompetence and vandalism, Ridge wasn't half so brave. Before him, we had Lawrence Wilkerson...who came out and talked about what a cosmic, existential bummer it was to have to sit there and listen to Colin Powell sling bullshit at the UN for the purposes of justifying an illegal war of aggression. (And let us not even get started on General Powell his own self, who could have thrown sand in the gears with a single press conference, but chose instead his lifelong default role as a reliable apparatchik.) Wilkerson said this, of course, as the 2006 midterms were gathering speed and it looked as though the country was going to be rendering a fairly harsh judgment on people like, well, him.
The first episode of the new season of Mad Men struck comedic gold, every situation a laugh riot straight out of the best bedroom farce and classic satire. The fire alarm interrupting Don's and Sal's trysts in the hotel, Pete and Ken in the elevator, each thinking the other is congratulating him on the promotion, Sally Draper finding the stewardess's wings in Don's pocket and asking if he'd brought them back for her---these were scenes worthy of Feydeau, Wilde, and Shaw.
Too bad none of them were played for laughs.
But this has always been one of the most maddening things about Mad Men. It's a comedy with all the jokes removed.
Last Sunday's episode, Out of Town, is a perfect illustration. Except for the opening, Don Draper's bizarre vision of "Dick Whitman's" birth, the whole episode could have and should have been funny. It wasn't just that drained of humor the situations I listed were flat and lifeless. They were also without point or purpose. More than that, though, they were without sense. Played as they were, as naturalistic drama, they came across as mere constructions for construction's sake, there simply to give the actors things to do and say. But a character like Shelly the Stewie only makes sense as trouble for the philandering male lead in a farce. The point of her being there is to give us reason to laugh at the man who's foolish enough to pursue her. She doesn't exist as a character except in the act of causing laughter for us and embarrassment for the man. Any line of dialog she's given that isn't a variation of "Coffee, tea, or me?" reveals her not as a person but as a fantasy, and a not particularly imaginative fantasy at that. Take away her jokes and what you have left is a pretty actress acting her heart out to bring a stick to life.
Written and played as comedy, the point of Don's outrageous lies about his top secret work for the government and Shelly's falling for it would be that Don was talking himself into trouble, again. The joke would be on him. In Out of Town, the "joke" is on Shelly. She's not a stock company dumb blonde bringing out the worst in Don. She's a fool made more foolish by her own lust. When, as she's doing her little striptease at Don's command, she tells him that people often ask her if she's done any modeling, she comes across as pathetically vain and insecure. This is actually something that Shelly has in common with Don's wife Betty. Betty spends a lot of time trying to convince herself that she is beautiful and attractive. It's likely that her idea of foreplay with Don includes some form of a demand that Don reassure her that she is both. Given that the actress playing Shelly resembles January Jones, who stars as Betty, this could have been a moment when Don realizes that he's in the process of seducing his own wife by proxy and that it's Betty he really wants at the moment. But the situation won't allow that. This is farce not drama, and the fire alarm is going to go off.
The farcical basis of the scene prevents any realistic drama from playing itself out. But without the laughs, there isn't actually any farce. So what's the point? Don's a jerk? I think we know that by now.
Of course the real point is for Don to find out about Sal. But that could have been taken care of without the scene between Don and Shelley being shown.
And of course Sal's scene with the bellhop was farcical too and should also have been played for laughs.
There was more in the episode that should have been funny because the situations and the characters derived from farce and satire. The two new Brits at Sterling Cooper, the totally humorless and unflappable Lane Pryce and the fussy male secretary John Hooker, are comic types, caricatures, but only if played as such. Played as if they're well-rounded characters, they're just stereotypes, cartoons. Burt Peterson's temper tantrum after being fired could have been a deleted scene from Office Space. And even the minor, throwaway scene at London Fog, where the father and son team who run the company don't serve any purpose except as representatives of themselves, could have gotten laughs by doing something Dickens did all the time---find the humor in people just being themselves.
Played straight, as drama, Burt's tantrum looked like bad acting and the scene at London Fog looked like, well, pretty much likefour actors sitting at a table staring at each other while they all try to remember what line comes next.
But this is SOP on Mad Men. Go back through your memories of the first two seasons and think of all the bizarre, lifeless, seemingly pointless moments and then try to imagine them with jokes. Suddenly they make sense, don't they?
...these and other mysteries will go unsolved for several episodes, when more minor mysteries will be introduced, which will also go unsolved.
But Mad Men is one of the most relentlessly and deliberately humorless shows in the history of television drama. It goes beyond erasing the jokes from situations that have no reason for being except as platforms for telling jokes. None of the characters on the show has the ability to be funny or witty, which is very strange considering that most of them are supposed to be very smart and creative types working in a field in which humor is a highly prized commodity. (It's also weird that none of them are the least bit musically inclined either, considering that jingles were the favorite advertising tool of the period.) I get that Sterling Cooper is meant to be a bit old-fashioned and stodgy. But I don't get that they've been able to hire only old-fashioned and stodgy employees. It makes sense that Harry doesn't ever get off a good joke. He's scared that he's out of his league and he may be right partly because he doesn't have a sense of humor. But Ken and Paul ought to know how to deliver a good line. All they ever do, though, is trade "barbs."
Sal often seems to be witty, and he can be droll, acerbic, sarcastic, and ironic, but it's all tone. Very few of his "jokes" and witty retorts are actually funny. What they really are are announcements that he's gay. Everything "funny" he says can be rewritten as this:
"I'm a deeply closeted homosexual with a very different sensibility than everybody else in this room that I am compelled to express from time to time, but if you'll pretend you didn't hear me say that I'll pretend that I didn't say it and we'll all laugh and go on if it's just another case of Sal being Sal."
To the extent that Mad Men is about the period in which it's set---and I think that that can be over-emphasized; Mad Men is more about its characters' reactions to that period than about the period itself---its themes are obvious and unoriginal to the point of banality. Well, what do you know, before gay and women's liberation, before the sexual revolution, back in those days when men were men and women wore girdles, people were unhappy and life was hard for women and gays and black people! I don't mind this as a given. But it's annoying when it's pushed as if the writers seem to think these things never occurred to me before. And, I think, one of the ways they push this is by taking things that ought to be funny and removing every trace of humor.
Mad Men has always been at odds with itself. Theme and style work against each other, with style having the advantage, because this is TV and the show is a feast for the eyes, and the writers having to insist that we shouldn't be fooled by the pretty clothes and classy decor. "Nobody enjoyed any of it," is the subtextual refrain. "Nobody had any fun. They didn't drink highballs and martinis for a pleasurable buzz and to loosen up and have fun. They drank to anaesthetize themselves. They didn't dress that way to look good. They dressed up to disguise their real selves. The nice houses, the modern offices, the cool, shadowy bars were stage sets on which they acted out scripts they didn't write for themselves instead of real places where they lived out authentic and meaningful lives. So don't get the idea that anything you're looking at was a good thing. And above all, don't treat it as a joke. Whatever you do, don't laugh."
As I've said before, Mad Men has a very literary sensibility. Individual episodes are more like short stories than they are like episodes on other, more ordinary TV shows. But part of this literary sensibility is a habit of writing as a method of literary critique. I suspect that much of the comedy that isn't treated comically is a response to the comedy in the films and TV shows of the period.
It's as if the writers can't resist telling us over and over again that we were wrong to laugh at Rock and Doris because of what was really going on at the time.
As if those movies weren't actually telling us what was really going on at the time under the cover of "just" being funny.
As if the writers of Mad Men missed the whole joke behind Tony Randall's characters or think we have.
Nevermind that we can't watch those movies now without being aware of the irony in the fact that Randall was straight and it was Rock Hudson who was gay.
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Quick post script added Sunday night: From some things said in the comments here and elsewhere, I have a feeling that I didn't make my point clear. I'm not criticizing the actors for not making their scenes funny. I'm criticizing the writers and directors for putting them in comic situations and then giving them nothing funny to say or do and having them play every scene tristezza. A little scherzando now and then is all I'm asking. It's not up to actors to make things funny by clowning around. Comedy needs to be played straight. Characters in comedies don't know they're in comedies. Comedy is a matter of timing, tone, touch, and pacing, and Mad Men is generally directed at the pace of a high mass during Lent back before Vatican Two.
I'm not saying Mad Men isn't good because it's not funny. I'm saying I think it could be better if Matthew Weiner and company trusted that their audience would know that these are sad stories even when we're laughing.
Mannion crawled from the rubble and hauled himself to his feet. As plaster dust sifted down through the air, he couldn't suppress a rueful chuckle. If he'd told himself once, he'd told himself a thousand times. Bulldozers and tequila don't mix.
To the Meet the Press audience on December 12, 1949, there was nothing special about the confrontation between I.F. Stone and Dr. Morris Fishbein. As editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Fishbein was a well-known foe of what the AMA called "socialized medicine" in any form; Stone, a sometime member of the Meet the Press panel since 1946, could always be relied on for provocative, irreverent, and persistent questioning. The country's most influential physician had already denounced national health insurance as "the kind of regimentation that led to totalitarianism in Germany." When Fishbein also condemned compulsory coverage as "socialistic," Stone demonstrated why the show's producers considered him "a good needler": "Dr Fishbein, let's get nice and rough. In view of his advocacy of compulsory health insurance, do you regard Mr Harry Truman as a card-bearing Communist, or just a deluded fellow traveler?"
Guttenplan doesn't get into the health care debate of the time. He uses that anecdote to begin describing Stone's fast fade from the limelight and virtual disappearance from the world of mainstream journalism at the beginning of the 1950s. That's another story. I'm quoting it here, with a heavy sigh, because it shows that the opposition to universal health care used the same vocabulary sixty years ago as now, although I doubt Dr Fishbein showed up at any debates packing heat or waving pictures of the President with a little mustache drawn in.
It's socialism! And it's fascism! All at once. Obama's turning us into Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union or, worse, France, at the same time. His stormtroopers and his KGB goon squads will fight it out in your living room for the privilege of dragging grandma in front of the death panels.
Can't somebody tell these raving loons to just shut up!
Well, that was refreshing. And I'd like to think it was the beginning of something, which maybe it is. But before we start expect every Democratic Congressman and Senator to start sounding like Barney Frank, let's remind ourselves that not every Democrat represents Barney Frank's district.
You'll notice in the video that the crowd starts grumbling as soon as that woman used the word Nazi and they cheer when Frank asked her on what planet she spends most of her time. (They don't cheer quite as much when he compares her to a dining room table because I think they felt Frank had gone a little too far. He'd already embarrassed the woman, and shut her up. He didn't need to humiliate her.) Frank has something going for him that many of the Congressmen we've seen getting shouted down at their town halls don't have. He's from Massachusetts.
His constituents, however, are at a disadvantage when it comes to getting their voices heard by the mainstream media. They're from Massachusetts, which our media seems to regard as a foreign country instead of the birthplace of American democracy. America, on television and in the editorial pages, is somewhere west and south of Boston, west and south of Washington, actually. America is a small country filled with angry white people who live in states where the economy is based on growing corn or collecting federal money while the local politicians decry socialism and champion thrift and self-reliance---as with the stimulus money, watch: if and when health care reform gets through, their states will benefit the most.
As far as a visitor from outer space could tell judging by our media, Americans, real Americans, are white, Southern, Midwestern, Right Wing Christian, mostly male, and too smart to have bothered getting a college degree or a union card, too busy to read, and too "authentic" to think for themselves---they don't need to, because they feel when things are right and wrong in their guts. This is how their ignorance and their repeating of lies fed to them by cynics and loons and their rage that is clearly motivated by Obama-phobic hatred, racism, panic, and fear gets portrayed as the "legitimate concerns" of ordinary folks acting in the great traditions of our democracy and exercising their rights to speak freely and bear arms to shout down and frighten anyone who disagrees with them.
Meanwhile, the rest of the country, which is to say most of the country, gets ignored.
But maybe it's not Frank's response to that woman that's the beginning of something. Maybe it's the crowd's cheers. Maybe it will get noticed---or maybe we can make it get noticed---that those are the cheers of Americans who aren't afraid of Nazis and commies under their beds, who don't need to carry weapons in public to make their points, who listen and pay attention and think, and who want good health care for everyone.
Pass this one on. Roger Ebert's essay, not my post. Remind people that Ebert was a very sick man, he almost died, twice. In fact, he doesn't seem to consider himself better, just not dying quite as fast. He's extremely grateful for the private medical insurance that paid for the very expensive medical care that saved his life and just as grateful for the Medicare that kicked in just in time as the cost and extensiveness of his great medical care exhausted his private medical insurance. In short, Ebert was lucky he got sick when he was older. Had he been a younger person he'd be alive but without any more insurance. Now he wants everyone to have what he had and has:
Of course I am happy that heroic measures were made to save my life. It was still worth living. I had a sound mind in an (otherwise) sound body. I received excellent medical treatment, which we all have a right to. I had good insurance coverage. I am not willing to say that the millions of Americans who cannot afford insurance would have been left to die, but throughout the course of their lives they would have lacked much medical care they needed. And we've all heard stories of hospital refusing admission to people without coverage. I think it would be difficult to check into many hospitals for cancer surgery if you had no insurance.
The notion of "universal health care" does not mean "socialized medicine." It means just what it seems to mean. America is the only developed nation on earth that does not provide it. Why does it inspire such virulent opposition? Who is behind it? It is opposed mostly from the far right, whose enthusiasm seems to be encouraged by financial support from some (not all) insurance companies. Those companies have priced American insurance out of the reach of millions.
One result has been that our national life expectancy ranks 42nd among all developed nations. We spend more on medical care that any other nation, and get less than 41 of them. These figures are pretty clear...
Do you know what the "public option" is? It would be the establishment of a federal fund to provide health insurance for those who cannot afford it. I have the feeling that if Jay Leno went Jaywalking among the protesters at a town hall meeting, even those holding signs opposing the public option, he would find few able to define the term.
If you lack insurance coverage, are you opposed to the public option? If your premiums have increased so much that you can't afford them, do you oppose it? If you have a "preexisting condition" that disqualifies you from insurance, do you oppose it? If it would provide you with equivalent insurance at a lower cost, do you oppose it? Most Americans, even those angry people at town hall meetings, now approve of MediCare. The public option would essentially make a system like MediCare available to the general population.
Would it replace private health insurance? Not at all. It would provide an option. Who opposes it? Do the math. The insurance companies do. It would provide price competition for their extremely profitable businesses. Price competition. It's the capitalist way. Besides insurance companies, who else opposes it? The unwavering opponents of all things Obama.
Having arrived at a qualifying age thanks to the love and care of my wife and doctors, I am writing this as the beneficiary of the excellent heath care my insurance plan covered (until my illness exhausted its provisions). I am now covered under MediCare. I continue to get the same treatment as before--and as, for that matter, all members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives do, no matter what their age or political party. You should try it sometime.