No structure, please, we're reporters

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I am pessimistic about the Democrats' chances of taking back the House this or any other year, but not because most Americans don't prefer Democratic candidates to Republicans or Democratic policies to those of Republicans. They do, virtually across the board and over a consistent set of data points. But these elections are discrete events, and when it comes to the structural factors that determine the outcomes of close races, Republicans are almost always at an advantage. Two books have come out in recent times outlining some of these reasons: Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, here, and Building Red America: The New Conservative Coalition and the Drive For Permanent Power by Tom Edsall, here. There are others, but those are the two that made the biggest impression on me; and the topic is so complicated and multifaceted, it really does require book-length treatment, which is one of many, many, reasons the mainstream media covers politics as if these structural features do not really matter. A more conventional view -- one in which the primary moving force of American politics is the spectacular genius of Karl Rove, can be found in The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008 by Mark Halperin and John Harris, which also functions as a top-down view of the story Edsall tells from the bottom up, though one that (purposely) has nothing to say about the consequences of all this, either for our democracy or the nation at large.

Just about the only structural issue to which the media does pay significant attention is the one I caught on The Note this morning, which is money. Here are the newest FEC filing figures:

RNC:

Total raised for August 2006: $7.7 million
Total raised for 2006 cycle: $175.8 million
Total spent for 2006 cycle: $160.4 million

Cash on hand: $39.3 million

DNC:

Total raised for August 2006: $6.7 million
Total raised for 2006 cycle: $97 million
Cash on hand: $10.9 million

Of course, while money does get some coverage in the more elite media outlets, it is always all but forgotten on Election Night when the anchors and the analysts give you the results. If the Republicans retain both houses of Congress this year, I'll bet every single network analysis treats the vote as an ideological victory for the White House, when not only do most Americans hate the national Republican Party's central ideas, so, apparently, do many Republican governors. (But again, none of that will matter.)

Blowin' nasty and gratuitous

I was reading this review of Blowin' Hot and Cool: Jazz and Its Critics by John Gennari in The Nation on the subway last night. It's a topic in which I have much interest and have written about in The Nation. My overall view appears to be different than that of the author, as well as the reviewer -- I like Wynton Marsalis and his emphasis on traditionalism at J@LC -- but that's OK. I don't feel strongly about it, I've not read the book, and anyway, I could be wrong. What caught my eye about the review was this parenthetical throwaway: "(Hammond is also the subject of a new biography, Dunstan Prial's serviceable but hardly revelatory The Producer: John Hammond and the Soul of America.)"

Now, I am just about finished reading Prial's book. It is not the greatest biography of all time, but it is solid, well-researched, fair, and thoughtful. The prose is on the workmanlike side of the street, but it makes no great claims otherwise. Moreover it fills an important gap in the history of our culture, both artistic and political. (Hammond "discovered" -- depending on your definition -- Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Benny Goodman, Charlie Christian, Teddy Wilson, Count Basie, Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and was an important champion of civil rights before it was cool.) Prial obviously spent years working on it. So, OK, if you want to review the book and discuss its faults in that context, fine. I have no problem with negative reviews. But why in the world would you decide to offer it a gratuitous one-sentence kiss-off? My first thought was that David Yaffe, the reviewer, must never have written a book of his own. Only a person who has no idea how hard it is to do the job right would be so disrespectful of another author's hard work and good intentions. But Yaffe turns out to be an author, so I was wrong about that. I do see, however, that he's an academic. Prial, on the other hand, is a mere reporter, and a relatively anonymous one at that, (AP and Dow Jones). So this strikes me, purely speculatively, as critical/academic snobbery, of the kind that both the academy and jazz history and criticism both excel, but is incredibly off-putting and, if you ask me, downright childish. I could be wrong, again, but I still think there's no justification for the inclusion of that sentence. Anyway, check out Prial's book, here.

Alter-reviews:

Due to the incredible generosity of Altercation reader (and famed rock 'n' roll photographer) Chalkie Davies, Lt. Col. Bob, Boehlert, and I all got to see the Who last night. My only complaint was they could have cut a few new songs and given us maybe ONE DAMN SONG from Quadrophenia, my favorite. Anyway, here's the review that our man Sal wrote of Monday night's show:

SEE THEM! FEEL THEM!

There was a moment last night during The Who's performance at Madison Square Garden where Pete Townshend seemed lost. I don't mean "Hey, where am I?" lost. I mean, "Don't bother me, I'm in a zone," lost. It was during the guitar break in the classic "Won't Get Fooled Again." There he was, jabbing at his guitar, windmilling like it was Leeds, 1969. The band rocking louder, harder, and faster than I can remember. The crowd is out of control. And there's Pete, all 60 plus years of him, playing like it was his first gig. He was in such a zone, he missed the bridge.

Roger Daltrey was all ready to sing, "I'll move myself and my family aside..." but Townshend and the rest of the band kept playing. They were...well...jamming. Then, the ultimate dis! Daltrey looked back at drummer, Ringo's son Zak Starkey with a disgusted look while pointing at Townshend, as if to say, "It's him! Not me f**king up!" That middle 8 didn't quite get heard. But it didn't matter. The Who were on fire.

Ya know Rog, maybe they run a tighter ship on the set of "A Christmas Carol," but this is rock 'n' roll. Long live it! How dare you show up your longtime friend and bandmate? Pete was having fun. Pete was inspired. Pete writes all the songs that you sing. NO POINTING!

There are many out there who gave up on The Who when Keith Moon died. I was one of them. I did see them again in 1989. I don't remember the show, just that fantastic "Maximum R&B" t-shirt, that I bought and still have. Saw them again in the early 90's perform "Quadrophenia," with then newcomer Starkey on drums. I was not impressed. My friend and I walked out, citing Starkey as the reason. "He ain't Keith Moon." Well, who is?

It is now almost 15 years later, and Zak Starkey drives this band. It is hard to take your eyes off of him. For the love of rock 'n' roll, and because you never know, this really could be the last Who tour, GO SEE THEM! This is no nostalgia act. This is one of the greatest rock bands of all time, and this performance will never let you forget that.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Beth Harrison
Hometown: Arlington, VA

Poor Cyrus. I find it hard to believe that with all that throw away money for blaming Clinton for 9/11, he can't afford caller ID. It's less than $10 a month. And Cyrus, here's how Caller ID works: you get a phone call. The name and number appears on a display. You decide to answer the phone, or let it go to voicemail. Do I have to explain voicemail as well, or does your phone system consist of string and two tin cans? And the people calling Cyrus, CUT IT OUT!

Name: Larry M. Beasley
Hometown: Greenfield, Wisconsin

This doesn't have much to do with what you've been posting lately. BUT it is true and I will gladly swear on what ever stack of religious tomes you feel free to assemble.

Once upon a time, when Ann Richards was the state treasurer she and a huge group of state employees/elected officials had a gathering at a local hotel. This was before she went out 12-stepping and she had "had a few" as the saying goes.

"You know I spend a good piece of my day listening to people bitch. And I always ask 'em, did you vote? And they always tell me they don't have time or they don't believe it makes a difference or whatever...

And do you know what I want to tell 'em? If you don't vote, you don't have a right to bitch."

This was one of those real life moments I think it belongs to a wider audience.

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