Obama-rama

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

First, a reminder:

I wax all pessimistic here and here. Now, on to the Man of the Hour.

OK, so today he looks likes he's running. Where do we stand?

Kazin hearts Obama. Mikey likes him. He really likes him. I've not read the book yet, but I concur. The man is definitely for real in a way few politicians are, in private as well as public.

Meanwhile, I'm having a little trouble understanding the argument in this Anna Quindlen column in support of Hillary. She writes of liberals: "Instead they compare them with the ideal, the perfect candidate, the standard-bearer without flaw." Well, all right, name some names. I mean, it was true of Nader supporters, but to which liberals do you refer today? Um, I thought so.

Wait, it gets worse, far worse. "The chatter about presidential possibilities for superstar newbie Barack Obama offers liberals a classic opportunity: this time around they could argue the black man versus the white woman and then watch, wounded, as another white guy takes all." So Obama shouldn't run against a woman because he's black? Or liberals shouldn't support him because he's black? Or liberals shouldn't support him because he showed the correct judgment and political bravery on the war and she didn't, and still won't admit to having made a mistake?

And why is supporting the popular Obama a "Pyrrhic victory" while supporting the polarizing (through no fault of her own) Hillary a smart move? And what the hell does Ralph Nader have to do with picking your favorite Democratic candidate and supporting him or her? What the hell kind of loopy logic is that?

Finally, she concludes: "And the Democratic Party has to decide only that it wants to get behind its front runner, to win and therefore actually get things done instead of having the satisfaction of whining 'we told you so' all the way to oblivion."

Oh, I see: cancel the primaries. We have a "front runner" and she's Anna's fave ...

Really, Ms. Quindlen, we like you, you know that. We even wrote a gushy profile of you once, we'll admit. But we are kind of embarrassed for you here and wonder why your friends and/or editors did not save your from publishing this nutty, Noonanesque column. With friends like this, Hillary really doesn't need ... well, you know the rest.

Oh, and I see Maureen is worried that Obama's ascension means politics is becoming dependent on celebrity, here ($). Next thing you know, she'll complain about too many sultry-looking redheads on the Times op-ed page.

Also, I don't think Bob Herbert could be more wrong when he writes, here ($): "With a few more years in the Senate, possibly with a powerful committee chairmanship if the Democrats take control, he could build a formidable record and develop the kind of toughness and savvy that are essential in the ugly and brutal combat of a presidential campaign. You mean like John Kerry? Nope, a Senate record in the hands of the Republicans is all they need to prove you are a "flip-flopper," no matter what you've done. The stars are aligned for Obama now. In the distant future, anything could happen. He could be hit by a truck. He could find out he's really Jewish. Maybe his inexperience is a net negative, maybe it's a plus. I say let the voters decide, not the pundits.

On the other hand, I wonder if all this liberal angst about Obama is actually going to help him. ... Mickey's probably penning his love letter right now.

Looks like The New Republic has fired Spencer Ackerman, here, though perhaps that is oversimplifying a complex situation. I've never met Ackerman, but I've learned a lot from his reporting. The long articles he did with John Judis were, together with those of Walter Pincus of the Post and the Knight Ridder Washington bureau, the most perspicacious to be found anywhere in the U.S. media -- and this was at a time when the likes of his former colleagues there, Andrew Sullivan and others, were still calling people traitors for reporting on the truth. Marty Peretz, whose second marriage and consequent purchase of The New Republic is the worst thing to happen to American liberalism since -- well, I almost said the Russian Revolution, but I'll go with the Vietnam War, has destroyed an awful lot of what was valuable in TNR, including, apparently its finances, which is why he is only roughly a quarter owner. It's a shame that he seems also to be destroying its primary selling point -- its ideological diversity and willingness to deviate from his hard neocon line when solid reporting justifies it. Ackerman will eventually be OK; he's a smart and talented reporter. But will Peretz's TNR? How many more Iraqi invasions can it survive?

Sigh, looks like we're in for yet another week of Mark Halperin using the resources of ABC News to enrich himself personally with endless self-flackery for his co-authored book. Please don't take it out on any other Halperins you may know and love ...

Anybody know who deserves credit for this?

New Element on Periodic Table

A major research institution has just announced the discovery of the densest element yet known to science. The new element has been named "Bushcronium." Bushcronium has one neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 224 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 311. These particles are held together by dark forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons. The symbol for Bushcronium is "W". Bushcronium's mass actually increases over time, as morons randomly interact with various elements in the atmosphere and become assistant deputy neutrons in a Bushcronium molecule, forming isodopes. This characteristic of moron-promotion leads some scientists to believe that Bushcronium is formed whenever morons reach a certain quantity in concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as "Critical Morass". When catalyzed with money, Bushcronium activates Foxnewsium, an element that radiates orders of magnitude more energy, albeit as incoherent noise, since it has 1/2 as many peons but twice as many morons.

Alter-reviews: Concerts by Paul Simon and Rosanne Cash.

I saw two shows this weekend. Saturday night was Paul Simon at Radio City, which is a little bit too big for Paul Simon, but still, Paul Simon is always pretty great. There was a young woman dancing in front of my seat for the first part of the concert, which was mostly annoying but also kinda fun, and then during that Clifton Chenier song from Graceland, she appeared on stage and was dancing next to Paul. It was kind of magical -- the way I imagine Ellington at Newport in 1956, though she wasn't blond. Paul enjoyed it too, but unfortunately, the security guards let her stay for a few minutes and then kicked her out of the concert. Her dumbass boyfriend kept his phone on and held it up for the entire rest of the show -- perhaps he was literally phoning it in. Anyway, people at rock concerts are just about the rudest people I ever encounter, except people at baseball games, which is further fuel, I suppose, for my already deeply developed elitist inclinations.

What about the show? Well, Simon always pays attention to putting together a crack band of studio musicians who both integrate and shine individually. And his songs lend themselves to musical re-interpretation. Since they're mostly great songs, and extremely eclectic, it's a mostly great show, musically anyway. (A national treasure of sorts, Paul is not much in the hall-filling charisma department.) Kelefa Sanneh was there too. He found that:

Saturday's concert showed why it isn't. Mr. Simon's obsession with rhythm is related to his obsession with language. By packing his verses full of words, he emphasizes the complicated rhythms of spoken English. He needs a rhythm section that can keep up with his mouth.

You could hear this clearly during a sparse and propulsive version of the title track from "Graceland." One stanza begins:

There is a girl in New York City who calls herself the human trampoline

And sometimes when I'm falling, flying or tumbling in turmoil I say, "Oh, so this is what she means."

That's a mouthful. But if you add a nimble bass line, Mr. Simon sounds less like a chatterbox and more like a great percussionist.

And:

Mr. Simon found ways to bring out the tricky rhythms in older songs, too. When it came time for "Bridge Over Troubled Water," he rephrased the lyrics so that the words emerged in multi-syllable clumps. "Mrs. Robinson" received a raucous rockabilly makeover. And he ended the concert with a sprightly, bluegrass-inflected version of "The Boxer," featuring his opening act, the Dobro player Jerry Douglas.

And if you haven't heard "Father and Daughter" and you're the father of a daughter, you really should.

As fun as he was, if I were only allowed out of the house once this weekend -- or if Carlos had doubled three runs instead of looking at that last strike and I could have watched the best team in the National League play in the series instead of the Cards -- I would have had to pick the show by our girl Rosanne at Carnegie Hall's basement Zankel Hall on Friday night. The woman's voice grows more luminous with every show I see, and her stage personality is really who she is, which is dangerous for her, but helps you to appreciate the seriousness of the musical project and its moments of occasional transcendence; and the small, intimate, acoustically wonderful Zankel is the perfect place to appreciate such moments. Anyway, lucky us, Rosanne ran into Elvis Costello at the cheese counter at Balducci's. (Don't you wish you lived here? Meryl Streep sat in front of me at Heartbreak House last week, too.) She invited him to come to the show and the two of them did a raucous "Big River" and Elvis's song about a lonely woman at a dance, whose name I can't remember. Jon Leventhal did that tasteful guitar god thing, and really, what more can anyone ask from life?

Well, maybe a few more songs, but still, go see the girl if you can.

One thing that deserves mention: Rosanne's top ticket prices were $48. Paul Simon's were three times that.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Brian Geving
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

In response to John in L.A. ...

Senator McCain was asked this specific question by a member of the audience. You can find the transcript of the entire interview here. Here's the question and his response:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator McCain, you've always been a very vocal critic of torture. So why did you sign the Military Commissions Act -- or vote for the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which many people say increases the president's power to detain and torture suspected terrorists.

McCAIN: Thank you. We had quite a period of strong, spirited discussion with the administration about that. We passed, as you know, some months ago a thing called the Detainee Treatment Act, which prohibits any cruel, inhumane treatment, and in this legislation we made it very clear that that still pertained. I won't go through all the details of it, but it does not allow torture, and it will not allow torture.

And at the same time, I think you do understand that there are some people who are very, very bad people, and I think that to continue a program for some of them, without torture, is something that we can't deprive the president of the United States of. But I think we struck the right balance, and I can assure you I would never agree to anything that I believe could allow torture. I promise you that.

There was another question about the president's use of signing statements, which McCain said he was very upset about, acknowledging that the president chooses to ignore laws like the Detainee Treatment Act. Incredibly, McCain still seems to believe that the president will choose to follow that law even though his signing statement makes it clear that he doesn't intend to.

What world does this guy live in??

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT

Eric,

Just when I thought no omission of the MSM could surprise me...

I invite your readers to Senator Levin's website and to his report upon his return from Iraq (trip dates 10/1-10/3/06 - during which he actually went to al-Anbar).

I quote, "Our Marine leadership in al Anbar advises that 30 percent of all contracts, including U.S. Government let contracts paid for with U.S. taxpayer dollars, goes to al Qaeda."

Surely that's a "course" worth "staying." Bin Laden has more than once mentioned how valuable Bush is to Al Qaeda, I just didn't understand it went this far.

Don't hold your breath waiting for the MSM to cover this -- it still hasn't made note of "cut & run" Frist saying the Taliban cannot be defeated militarily and should be brought into the Afghan government.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric --

Steve from Philadelphia notes that Ackerman and Gitlin's liberal manifesto doesn't strike him as all that liberal because, "Hell, I would sign it and I'm a conservative." This reveals his assumption that as a conservative he would be predisposed to reject anything labelled "liberal." But what Steve has discovered leads to several clarifying conclusions:

1. Steve's not as conservative as he thinks he is.

2. Liberalism is not the demonic ideology that many who claim to be conservative think it is.

3. Real liberals and real conservatives are not that different after all (isn't that a refreshing thought after we've been repeatedly told how alienated we are from each other). Eric has pointed to studies that show Americans widely favor policy positions that are typically liberal even though they have come to associate the word "liberal" with the opposite of what they believe.

4. So all that carping about the dangers of liberals is not really a conservative position, which means (and Steve's a step ahead of me on this one) that Conservative is a label that has been hijacked by people with no fundamental adherence to conservatism just a desire to grab as much power by vilifying the opposition.

Ergo, it's high time that conservatives recognize that they've been betrayed; of course, even those of us who worked against the election of the president and those in Congress who have enabled him have been betrayed as well. Predicting assaults on the Constitution like the Military Commissions Act doesn't mean that any of us are better off. Being able to say "I told you so" does not bring redemption. It does give us some authority to say the following:

Because they were wrong about so much of what they promised, we should be further wary of other things they tell us; and conversely, those who were right about what the administration and the Republican congress were up to deserve our attention and serious consideration.

But instead of thinking about this as an us vs. them problem, which is how we got in this mess in the first place (thank you, Ronald Reagan, for cleverly deriding liberalism as the "L" word), let's move beyond Steve's discovery that the liberal manifesto is a consensus American philosophy and focus on the differences in means. For example, the president, et al, have derided facts and analysis as the wrong way to approach problem solving. When the Johns Hopkins study reported that more than 600,000 excess deaths have resulted from the Iraq war, the president rejected it without looking at the study, without knowing anything about its methodology, and even said that the methodology has been discredited when in fact the methodology is widely found to be valid and reliable. For the president, the findings don't fit his preconceived idea, so he rejects them. This is more akin to the a priori thinking of the Dark Ages than to the reasoning of the Enlightenment. Similarly, the president is now claiming that the rise of violence in Iraq is an attempt to sway the midterm elections. Not only is there no factual or analytical basis for this assertion, when one looks back at October 2004, an election that could have more directly changed the US policy in Iraq, violence was considerably lower than in November after Bush had won, and it spiked again in January 2005, no doubt because Iraqis were celebrating Bush's second inaugural. I recall a point in the Kerry campaign when the candidate quipped that just because President Bush says something doesn't make it right. He sold that one far too short. Given what we know now, if President Bush says something, it's probably not based on anything except his desire for it to be so.

Because America deserves better, I urge Steve and other clear-thinking conservatives to sign the Liberal Manifesto. I did, and it felt great, though admittedly I'm not a conservative.

Name: Ed Nakawatase
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

While I neither share your esteem for Paul Berman nor your disdain for Alexander Cockburn, I'm a big fan of your column in The Nation. Thanks for your response to Berman's review of Myra McPherson's biography of I.F. Stone. I thought it fair to Stone, McPherson, and, alas, to Berman.

Since I disagree fundamentally with you and Berman (and most of the writers of American Prospect) about the Cold War, I don't agree with your assessment of Stone's embrace of the pro-Communist left. Within the US context, Stone believed in the Popular Front. As indicated in the pieces of his anthologized in The Truman Era he was openly critical of the Communists (as in their role in the Henry Wallace campaign) but, unlike many liberals and social democrats, Stone, by my sights, sought to deal with their political ideas and behavior not acquiesce in efforts to criminalize them. That subsequent process did much to marginalize the US left (and while I will give due credit to the crimes and stupidity of the US Communist Party for that state of affairs) the anti-Communist left did more than its share in the self-evisceration of the US left.

But I digress. I appreciate the clarity and the honesty of your views even as I disagree with them.

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