Rightwing Film Geek

Kerry, Kerry, quite contrary

Well, unless pictures show up within the next day of John Kerry in a state of undress in close proximity to a dead girl or a live boy, he’s gonna win New Hampshire. The various tracking polls have him anywhere from 13 to 23 points up, and in every one widening his lead over Howard Dean, not losing it. Two days before the primary, that’s close to bulletproof.

A Kerry win in the Granite State would change the historical calculus I relied on last week in saying “don’t count Dean out” — no candidate has ever won both Iowa and New Hampshire and not received his party’s nomination. Pre-vote front-runners like Dean have stumbled in one and recovered, but never both. A New Hampshire win makes Kerry the front-runner and the nominee presumptive — unless and until he does something Deanesque to blow that Dauphin stature.

Dean took my advice: he appeared on Letterman doing (which was pretty daggum funny) a Top 10 list, and also began his debate presentation with a self-deprecating reference to The Yell Round The World. This is why I am not a political consultant in my opinion. The moves didn’t go badly, exactly, they just haven’t drowned out The Yell. Dean looks like he’ll have to settle for a poor second place in New Hampshire, and as long as he’s known to the apolitical public as The Nut Who Lost It In Iowa, he’s toast. For the Vermont governor to rally, Kerry needs to do something equally nutty (hey … those photos) at a time by which everybody but Dean has had to depart.

Perhaps unfortunately for Dean — he’d profit the most from a multi-party open race — Wesley Clark and Joe Lieberman, who both decided to skip Iowa and concentrate on New Hampshire, aren’t picking up much, and the former is actually sinking, according to the polls linked to above. Maybe that appeal to the Michael Moore/”Bush is a deserter” bloc didn’t work for Clark. John Edwards is gaining some, but he’s still 10 points or so behind Dean. He’s not exactly skipping New Hampshire (to judge from his ad buys), but is trying to lie in wait to win in South Carolina and make it a Kerry-Edwards contest. It’s a gamble; it’s not a certainty that he wins South Carolina.

WARNING: All of this will be completely nonoperative within one week.

ADDENDUM: Or maybe it lasts less than a week. First of all, there was one factual error. Someone at work told me (and I confirmed it for a story) that in 1972 Democrat Edmund Muskie won both Iowa and New Hampshire, but the Mainer only won the latter by 9 points instead of the jillion points he was supposed to win by. Plus, the lasting image of Muskie in New Hampshire (the only thing *this* political junkie remembers about him certainly, 30 years later) became his breaking out in tears when discussing something or other. Not manly. Not presidential. And as close a precedent to the Dean yell as recent American politics offers. So I was wrong about “never,” but the overall point is unaffected (people who win both Iowa and New Hampshire have a stranglehold on the race.)

Second, there is one tracking poll (Zogby/MSNBC/Reuters) that has Kerry and Dean a statistically insignificant 3 points apart. Given Zogby’s very good track record, that would give one more pause than any other “outlying” poll. Still, robustness and consensus do matter in the very imprecise enterprise of polling. And the other tracking polls I know of (with one exception) have Dean gaining some Monday, but still leaving Kerry firmly ahead. UNH/Fox had Kerry’s lead at 11 points, down from 15 on Sunday; Suffolk/WHDH at 21, *up* from 16; Boston Globe/WBZ at 17, down from 20; American Research Group at 10, down from 18; and CNN-USA Today-Gallup at 11, down from 13. In addition, the new Marist survey (not a tracking poll) has Kerry up on Dean 37-24. So some pollsters will have egg on their face.

January 26, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Don’t count out Dean

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Despite his disappointing third-place show in Iowa, I’m not ready to write off Howard Dean. I still predict he wins the Democratic nomination, though I’m less sure than I was 10 days ago.

What really hurts Dean about the Iowa results is they killed his chance at at a first-round knockout — de facto wrapping up the race by next week (an opportunity he alone had) with victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, the “inevitability” factor and choking the other candidates’ abilities to fund themselves and compete in the bigger states. It’s now a real fight, though one I still think he can win because he’s got the one thing no other candidate has — certain legs. Dean has the money, the 50-state organization, and the followers willing to take a bullet for him, that make it a given that he can stay in the race *as long as he wants.*

kerry2004.jpgJohn Kerry and John Edwards have to rely entirely on the bandwagon, the bounce, the big Mo, positive free media, and all that. Like John McCain in 2000, they are basically riding a wave that can crash and could not stand a bad showing in New Hampshire or South Carolina. Dean can — he is not a prisoner of fortuna. I compare fortuna to one of those raging rivers, which when in flood overflows the plains, sweeping away trees and buildings, bearing away the soil from place to place; everything flies before it, all yield to its violence, without being able in any way to withstand it; and yet, though its nature be such, it does not follow therefore that men, when the weather becomes fair, shall not make provision, both with defenses and barriers, in such a manner that, rising again, the waters may pass away by canal, and their force be neither so unrestrained nor so dangerous. The candidate who relies entirely upon fortuna is lost when she changes.

A candidate can do well in the saturated “retail” politicking environments of Iowa and New Hampshire but, because of lack of funds, organization, and/or media charisma come a cropper when the states become bigger and the primaries come in faster clumps (a factor that will affect 2004 more than ever). These assets, these dams and dikes that Dean has built up against fortuna, his popularity among the party base, means he can he stay in as long as he wants, wait for the other candidates to exhaust themselves or drown in fortuna’s raging river.

The only way Dean loses is if the party base throws him overboard. I just don’t see that, though I admit there’s now a serious possibility; something I would have denied 10 days ago. I admit that I fantasize at nights about an Al Sharpton win and the resulting 50-state Bush landslide, but apparently Dean and his shouting act to his supporters last night, when he made Michael Moore on Oscar night look sane and reasonable, play well to the choir. No other candidate appeals like Dean to the Democrats’ id.

tsongas.jpgThe outstanding examples of pre-voting favored candidates who survived early stumbles are Mondale 84, Dukakis 88, Bush 88, Clinton 92, Dole 96, and Bush 00. In practically every election since I’ve been in this country, a candidate in one of the two parties was the clear favorite before any votes were cast and had all the logistical advantages but lost in Iowa and/or New Hampshire to mostly-superior candidates who had virtue but no assets. They all eventally won because their “secular” advantages prove crucial in the bigger states. Victors in Iowa and New Hampshire in the “Where Are They Now” category from 1988 and 1992 include Paul Tsongas, Bob Dole, Tom Harkin, and Richard Gephardt, plus John McCain in 2000; and that “defy expectations” darlings have included Pat Buchanan in 92 (have I mentioned that I stumped for him in the runup to the 1992 Texas primary), Steve Forbes in 96, Gary Hart in 84 and Pat Robertson in 88.

January 20, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Howard Dean, psychiatrist

deanstone.jpgBring back the theologian, if this cheap imitation of Freud is the alternative. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Howard Dean said he admires President Bush’s father, the former president, but said the son has, as they say, daddy issues. Here are the money quotes:

“He’s interested in some complicated psychological situation that he has with his father.”
“I admire George Bush’s father. … He tried to be a good president. This president is not interested in being a good president.”

The amazing thing is that this kind of demagogic shit (CQ), reducing political disagreement to mental illness or neurosis (and bad faith to boot), really isn’t that unusual in the world that formed and shaped Howard Dean. It’s what passes for sophistication among people who consider Woody Allen’s onscreen character profound and George W. Bush stupid. At least Woody the director was, I think, satirizing this “understanding” of conservatism among the Vacation-in-the-Hamptons-set in EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU.

I have no patience for this sort of demagogic public discourse — cheap armchair psychiatric diagnoses, distinguishable only by degree from the Soviet application of psychiatry: “they must be insane because they don’t understand the benefits of socialism.” Dean may be a doctor, but he practiced in the field of internal medicine, not psychiatry. And at least Sigmund Freud, to his eternal credit over the high-rent-district witch-doctors that have succeeded him, actually spent hours per day for months with his patients before diagnosing them. I suppose it’s proof of how great a genius Dr. Dean must be — he performs a diagnosis after zero couch time. I wonder if followers of the Religion Of Therapy can even see their own self-righteousness and how it oozes out of them.

Then we get this little bon mot, when Rolling Stone asked the good doctor to diagnose what motivates Dubya: “George Bush’s philosophy is, ‘If you’re rich, you deserve it; and if you’re poor, you deserve it.’ That’s not my philosophy.” Talk about a bedside manner. What the colorful is Dean babbling about? Where has Bush ever said that, in any morally-deterministic sense? He’s an evangelical Methodist, not a Calvinist (surely a deep-thinking theologian like Dean grasps the difference). And Bush is too stupid to have read Max Weber anyway. On the other hand, if one can extrapolate and infer, then any statement to the effect that one’s material situation bears any relationship at all to one’s actions or efforts can be distorted into this sort of Reverend Ike Prosperity Gospel. Leaving Dean with only, logically speaking, the stance the people are utterly helpless to improve their material lives, lest they actually improve them and thus be able to take credit or think in terms of “deserve.”

If I thought like Dr. Sigmund Dean, I would ask myself how to consider this squeamishness about the morality of wealth (which of course could never, ever, ever be explained merely by reference to an understanding that the welfare state and government provision might serves the common good … we’re too intellectually sophisticated for that). I’d diagnose it, based on my vast number of billable hours listening to Dean on the couch, as unresolved guilt feelings over his New York/Yale/preppie upbringing and its manifest material and connections advantages. But I don’t.

UPDATE: The Deaniacs have just added the support and endorsement of that titanic force Carol Moseley-Braun, who will join the Dean team and bring along her legions of backers and the endorsement of the National Association of Gals, who speak for 51 percent of humanity. This makes Dean an irresistible force in my opinion.

January 14, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Howard Dean, theologian

dean.jpgProbably reacting to this article in the New Republic, Howard Dean last week played the God card. And God is not mocked.

  • First of all, he says he leaves the Episcopal Church and becomes a Congregationalist over … I am not kidding … a zoning fight concerning a bike path.
  • Then, the Boston Globe describes him as “a committed believer in Jesus Christ” — a man who married a non-Christian and who let his children choose their religion.
  • Then, he describes Job as his favorite book of the New Testament (really) and also mangles a (perfectly legitimate in itself) issue of Job scholarship in trying to prove how smart he is.
  • Then, when asked again about the New Testament, he says “anything from the Gospels” (like, he couldn’t cite a single verse).
  • Then, he says God couldn’t possibly condemn homosexuality because homosexual persons exist. St. Blog’s parishioner David Morrison deserves time off in Purgatory for taking this on with a straight face.
  • Then, in that selfsame planned interview, he cites God as one of the reasons he signed the Vermont gay-marriage-in-all-but-name bill. And not two days later, hold onto your hat, he attacks George Bush in a spontaneous forum for deciding as he did on stem-cell research for religious reasons.

Dean should just can this God-talk in my opinion. It’s not convincing anybody who’d give two hoots about his religious beliefs, because it’s so obviously a recent addition to his portfolio and the mask slips so easily.

I don’t think someone as obviously secular as Dean should be U.S. president (though my reasons for saying that ), but whatever my objections might be on that as such, last week was just aesthetically pathetic. I’d rather have Dean be Dean and then force a clear choice in November (we’ve had triangulation in the Oval Office for 12 of the last 16 years; clear choices are more aesthetically pleasing and have more civic virtue).

It’s clear that Dean understands religion only as a hobby, like restoring old cars on the weekend. As an interesting character quirk, he gets it. As the center of one’s being, as the defining feature of the universe, as something that might “inform my public policy” (in Dean’s own incredible phrase) or as something really true … you might as well be speaking Latin. But he’s trying so hard and the more he tries, the more pitiful and painful it becomes. It’s like watching the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit try to drag race with the Teddy Boys. Or the professor on the cabaret stage at the end of THE BLUE ANGEL. Or Al Gore trying do Al Sharpton in his 2000 campaign appearances in black churches.

Anybody who’s spent any time in academia, the media, or among blue-state professionals can type Dean in an instant — the secular, progressive, bourgeois man of science (M. Homais in MADAME BOVARY is an early example of the type). But because he has political ambitions in the United States, Dean cannot say what he actually thinks.

In fact, just for aesthetic reasons and basic honesty, he should just say something like:

“y’know, I’m just not a religious man. Belief in the Xtian god makes no more sense to me than belief in the Greek gods. I never think, speak or act with God on my mind. If you think it works for you, fine. And if you think your God is telling you to do something I think is good, I won’t reject your support (unless you have a Confederate flag on your pickup). But I think society is healthier the more secular it becomes, because faith is contrary to reason, and claims of absolute truth are divisive. I think ‘God’ is basically like ‘Santa Claus,’ both as regards individuals and societies. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child.”

I’m not saying this is a theologically-coherent or -correct position mind you. Or that it would matter at the end of DOGVILLE. Or that he would necessarily gain politically (I think it’d be a wash because it would merely confirm what anyone who cares to think about it already knows). Or that he wouldn’t be blazing the trail for, 20 years down the road, a more aggressively atheistic Ayn Rand or Madalyn Murray O’Hair type, as opposed to the basically easygoing secular agnostic I’ve sketched above. But I could retain a minimal amount of respect for the guy. As it is, I’m salivating at pondering whether the landslide will be 40 states or 45.

January 13, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Howard Dean wusses out

howiegrits.jpgAs I predicted, only even faster, Howard Dean was forced back inside the PC box. The Vermont governor’s remarks about the Democrats’ need to appeal to the kind of Southern white who has a Confederate flag on his pickup truck came up in the *very next* debate. During the event itself, Dean gave an admirably peppery defense, and the early versions of the Associated Press account said he refused to apologize.I’ve already said my $.02 about why there is nothing objectionable about Dean’s remarks in the first place and I compared the other candidates’ reactions to Pavlov’s dogs slobbering on cue to a bell, just from habit even though there’s no food there. Dean got “good for him” kudos from such commentators as Andrew Sullivan and Rod Dreher (these are words to similar effect Rod wrote later, as the original links I used then are dead; VJM 5 Oct. 07).

But in between Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon, something happened. Maybe those cajones that Sullivan and Dreher so admired had to be surrendered and put into a blind trust for the duration of the campaign. In Wednesday’s later versions of that AP story, Dean *does* apologize, and a close look at the wording of the story makes it clear just how abject he had become. Here are the money grafs (I can’t find this online now, Lexis could confirm if needed; VJM 5 Oct. 07):

Later, he called the AP to clarify the comments in his speech.
“That was an apology. You heard it from me,” Dean said. “It was a remark that inflicted a lot of pain on people for whom the flag of the Confederacy is a painful symbol of racism and slavery.”
Still defensive, Dean said he stood by his broader point that Democrats must court Southern whites who have voted for Republicans and received nothing in return.
“My remarks were misunderstood, of course, with the help of my colleagues” in the race, he told the AP. Dean called and apologized to rival Al Sharpton, who had challenged Dean on the debate stage.

Note the wording: *he* called the AP. It’s possible there was some maneuvering by handlers beforehand, but front-running candidates just don’t, as a matter of routine, solicit interviews with news outlets, particularly one as ubiquitous and anonymous as the Associated Press. He emphasized that it *was* an apology: “You heard it from me.” This was a major act of damage control.

It’s not from the candidate, but we also get this lovely bit from a South Carolina DNC member: “My God. Couldn’t he have simply said we need to appeal to the ‘Bubba vote’ or ‘good ol’ boy vote’?” But just calling them “Bubbas” or “good ol’ boys” doesn’t change anything about them — they’re presumably the same people who (tend to) put Rebel flags on their pickups.

All right, lemme see if I’ve got this straight: It’s OK to solicit the votes of Southern whites who have Rebel iconography. But it’s not OK to note that they sport such symbols, even for the purposes of saying “back us over other matters and put down your offensive symbol.” It is not OK to use that brandished Confederate flag as a short-hand way of referring to those working-class and poor Southern whites, because that’s hayseed stereotyping, according to Southern Democrats as conservative as Zell Miller or as (relatively) liberal as John Edwards: “Some of the greatest civil-rights leaders, white and black, have come from the South. To assume that southerners who drive trucks would embrace this symbol is offensive,” he said at the weekend. But “Bubba” and “good ol’ boy” are acceptable ways to refer to the *exact* *same* *people* who are sporting those symbols. *Now* their support has been ritually purified, like a Temple priest, I guess. And of course, in today’s apology-sodden climate, you beg forgiveness for your comments, which you maintain are not racist and were “misunderstood, of course, with the help of my colleagues.” But you still must personally solicit pardon from one of those colleagues who distorted your remarks. Is it because that candidate is black (three guesses, “yes” or no”), even though the icon is supposedly offensive to *all*, white and black alike. And actually you only solicit one of the two black candidates — doesn’t Carol Moseley-Braun count as black (like Clarence Thomas)? Doesn’t NOW’s endorsement make her a major player?

I’m confused.

southerncross.jpgActually, I’m not confused about one thing. The way this contretemps played out over the past three days — the innocence of Dean’s original remark, the speed with which the others piled on, and the even greater speed with which Dean then backed off — is one more nail in the Democratic coffin in the South as the party of South-hating liberals. Both an Orlando Sentinel columnist and Sen. Edwards know how this will play out. In Tuesday’s debate, the senator told Dean: “The last thing we need in the South is somebody like you coming down and telling us what we need to do.” Confederate symbology is generally not an issue in Southern politics, but when it gets made into one, Southern whites tend to close ranks. It’s not 6th century Sparta, but the South is as close as America gets to an honor-based culture. Most Southerners (including myself during the 5 years I lived in Georgia) don’t fly the Confederate flag for a variety of reasons, but they have an acute nose for realizing when they are being dissed and held at contemptuous arm’s length over it. That’s all an honor-based culture needs to hear, and no Deanesque talk about health insurance for your kids is gonna matter at that point.

November 6, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

“Look away, look away …”

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These are the grafs that started a weekend of posturing … buried in the middle of a Des Moines Register story (no longer even online as itself, best I can tell, in October 2007; here is AP story from later) about the gun issue.

“Dean has said 2000 Democratic nominee Al Gore lost the election because he failed to win Southern states, where disaffected Democrats who favor gun owners’ rights were reluctant to support him.
” ‘I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks,’ Dean said Friday in a telephone interview from New Hampshire. ‘We can’t beat George Bush unless we appeal to a broad cross-section of Democrats’.”

From the reaction to this quote, you’d think Howard Dean had called for the return of slavery or at least the repeal of the University of Michigan’s affirmative-action program. These are the reaction comments from the other candidates Saturday:

Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri: This is a blatant move to win the votes of people “who disagree with us on bedrock Democratic values like civil rights” and “I don’t want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks. I will win the Democratic nomination because I will be the candidate for guys with American flags in their pickup trucks.”

kerrysnob.jpgSen. John Kerry of Massachusetts: Dean’s “pandering” to the National Rifle Association gave him an inroad to “pander to lovers of the Confederate flag” and “I would rather be the candidate of the NAACP than the NRA.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton of New York: he was “surprised and disturbed” by the remark. “If I said I wanted to be the candidate for people that ride around with helmets and swastikas, I would be asked to leave.”

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards: “Some of the greatest civil rights leaders, white and black, have come from the South. To assume that southerners who drive trucks would embrace this symbol is offensive.”

Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark of Arkansas: “Every Democratic candidate for president needs to condemn the divisiveness the Confederate flag represents.”

Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman’s campaign director: “Governor Dean ought to be more careful about what he says. It is irresponsible and reckless to loosely talk about one of the most divisive, hurtful symbols in American history.” Lieberman himself said Sunday while campaigning in South Carolina: “The way he said it was just plain wrong, divisive, hurtful. I’m troubled that he didn’t just admit he made a mistake in his follow-up statement.”

Leaving aside the even-more-incoherent-than-usual Sharpton, the two comments that were absolutely the weakest were those by Clark and Gephardt. Contra the general, Dean said nothing about the Confederate flag’s divisiveness (rather it was, at a bare minimum “I want those people’s votes,” the thing one would think politicians seek). And Gephardt is just being a snob (more anon). The rest is just silly. It’s like these Democrats are hearing the words “Confederate flag” and slobbering on cue like Pavlov’s dogs.

Dean didn’t back off in a statement Saturday, when everybody was piling on, but added context, and the point he was making is exactly what I took him to have been saying all along:

roosevelt.jpg“I want people with Confederate flags on their trucks to put down those flags and vote Democratic – because the need for quality health care, jobs and a good education knows no racial boundaries. We have working white families in the south voting for tax cuts for the richest 1 percent while their children remain with no health care. The dividing of working people by race has been a cornerstone of Republican politics for the last three decades – starting with Richard Nixon. … The only way we’re going to beat George Bush is if southern white working families and African-American working families come together under the Democratic tent, as they did under FDR.”

How is what Dean is saying anything different from the standard Democratic narrative and critique of the Republican “Southern strategy” — meaning the GOP use of race and cultural issues such as prayer, busing and gun rights to wean Southern whites away from their historic allegiance to the Democrats? The liberal, and even radical, pedigree of the idea is impeccable. It’s what Lyndon Johnson meant by saying that by signing the civil rights acts he had handed the South to the GOP for decades. It’s what Marxists mean when they say that racial division is a ruling class tool designed to divert people’s attention away from their class interests. The only apparent difference is that Dean thinks that he can *do something* about that loss of voters — again, one would think most politicians would desire the votes of as many people as possible, rather than write off a priori a large segment of the populace out of moral condescension. And that is what makes the other candidates’ reactions so interesting to me.

sticker.jpgIt’s one thing to say displaying the Confederate flag is racist or offensive and we (Democrats) oppose that. It’s another thing altogether to say, “we don’t want the votes of people who display it, *even when* based on appeals to and common ground on other issues.” And that’s unmistakably what the other candidates’ knee-jerkings are. Reasonable people can disagree about whether Dean is right that Democrats can win the votes of the Southern white working class on the basis of economic populism (I think he’s wrong). But to say that no such effort should be made, or that such an effort to woo those voters is offensive or racist in itself is crazy. Nuts. Self-destructive. Politics as exclusionary snobbery. Politics as running against a certain segment of the populace constructed as demon Other (which in a certain sense is inevitable, but it’s hard in a stable democracy to win when running against one-third of the country). Dean was making the sensible point that Democrats seeking the White House can’t afford to write off the Southern states … heck, if Al Gore could have won his Southern home state (or his boss Bill Clinton’s for that matter), we’d all have been spared the Long Election of 2000 because Florida’s electoral votes wouldn’t have affected the outcome.

I carry no brief for Confederate nostalgia, which for some people (though not all) is clearly just sublimated racism or an excuse for prettifying or intellectualizing a prejudice. Still, though it probably ranks about 165th in my political priorities, I don’t care for PC attempts to erase honors, memorials and namings of All Things Confederate from the public sphere. And as a Republican, I have to admit that I probably want Dean to win the Democratic nomination because I think Bush-Dean would be a rerun of Nixon-McGovern and Reagan-Mondale (actually in that sense, the Democrat I’d *most* like to win would be Al Sharpton, but I realize that’s not in the cards). All that said though, I’d really hate for the front-runner for one of the two major parties to suffer badly and have his chances for the nomination hurt over this. It’s discouraging that the other candidates (one of whom I guarantee is gonna say during one of the debates before a black audience “Dean praised the Confederate flag”) are so eager to pander, and have constituencies so used to being pandered to, that they can say things so manifestly stupid merely on the basis of a knee-jerk, “stop all rational thought” association with three words “the Confederate flag.”

November 3, 2003 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

   

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