He thought he was the king of America ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I did a few paragraphs of punditry for "Comment is Free" here. (Today looks like McCain vs. Hillary again...)

The smart boyz at The Note explain, "In the day's only must-read, the New York Times' John Broder reports that by calling for an increase in American forces in Iraq, Sen. McCain is "either taking a principled stand or a huge political gamble. Or both." Here.

Um, I don't think so. You see, these smart boyz are so much smarter than the rest of us, they know that whatever McCain really says, he's on their side. It doesn't matter that his political positions, um, suck. Rather, what matters is how cool he is around reporters. Just ask Slate editor and fellow smart boy Jacob Weisberg. He writes, here: "[T]he literal-minded left has McCain all wrong. He's trying to win over enough of his party's conservative base to win, for sure. But this is a stratagem -- the only one, in fact, that gives him a shot at surviving a Republican presidential primary. Discount his repositioning a bit, and McCain looks like the same unconventional character who emerged during the Clinton years: a social progressive, a fiscal conservative, and a military hawk. Should he triumph in the primaries, we can expect this more appealing John McCain to come roaring back."

So don't worry about anything he actually says. That stuff about making the war far worse and stuff ... that's just for the yahoos.

Quote of the Day: "Did you hear John McCain ate his dessert with a salad fork? What a maverick." Mark Hal -- Jake Weisbe -- oh, sorry, I mean, Stephen Colbert.

Shall we start an Alter-McCain Suck-Up Watch? Send 'em in. (Nothing makes me happier than Altercation features that I can get other people to do ...)

OK, our generous sponsors will get us started here, here, here, and here.

(Speaking of yesterday, it'd be hard to imagine the MSM going further than purposely protecting the president from his own lies, but it's a sure thing they'll do it.)

Meanwhile, Paul McLeary gives Rich Lowry a lesson in media criticism, here.

Oooops. There's another government in Judy Miller's bed (and it goes without saying, as comrade Boehlert points out, that she misled readers about it at the time):

In a February 17, 1993, story on the front page of the Times, Ms. Miller discussed the evidence against Mr. Salah but did not disclose that she visited the prison or saw the suspect via a video link. She did offer readers uncanny detail about the interrogation, describing it as taking place at "a T-shaped Formica table." However, she attributed her account to Israeli officials and documents they provided.

Well, this is good news. (It's not personal, Mr. Tierney. It's business.) Well, actually, it is personal now that I think about it. Remember this? "On the news pages, then-political reporter now op-ed columnist John Tierney told of stationing himself outside the storied Upper West Side food store Zabar's during the GOP convention to ask shoppers -- presumably liberal by location -- if they had 're-examined their conscience' (for what, he did not explain)." And this: "Tierney described the Upper West Side as 'the neighborhood that has called itself "the conscience of the nation." ' This is not only false but theoretically impossible. Neighborhoods do not call themselves anything. They lack the power of speech, for starters." (Those are both from my Nation column, quoting Tierney in the Times, here.)

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, an armistice was signed that ended World War I, the first great bloodletting of the 20th century, "the war to end all wars" that proved but the prelude to World War II. Now, here we are at the 11th day of the 11th month of the sixth year of 21st century, and another great bloodletting is under way that, despite the recent electoral "thumpin' " of the Bush administration and the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, has no end in sight.

If only this Veterans Day were another Armistice Day. Instead, Saturday was just one more bloody news day from the front lines of insurgency and civil war in Iraq. Doug Troutman, a veteran of the Vietnam War (whose son is now a veteran of the Iraq war), worked in the postwar years for the Bureau of Land Management, and has visited many of the bloody fields of battle of our own history. For this Veterans Day, he offers an eloquent, personal remembrance of the dead and the battlefields they once fought on. He concludes:

Back in 2001, Congress began handing a rather insane little man proof that we had learned nothing from Yorktown, the Alamo, Montebello Bluffs, Fredericksburg, Andersonville, Mang Yang, or the "Hanoi Hilton." Once again, we rode blindly to our fate, like Santa Ana or Custer, overconfident that we held power, that we were 'right.' And our most recent ride hasn't ended yet.

Like me, my son is now a veteran. The men and women, who hate war most, are those who were good at it. Veterans -- combat veterans -- recognize something that no one without personal experience can ever begin to put a 'handle' on.

We should neither repeat, nor reenact and glorify, error.

Always right. It's my curse ...

Best Live Rock Recordings (1969-79), here. Pretty good choices, I'd say, though the inclusion of Before the Flood is a way too high, and even crazier is the No. 2 position of Waiting for Columbus. Any number of Dead sets would be preferable. As for Derek and the Dominos live, well, I dunno. There's much better Clapton around, much of it collected on Crossroads II. But I definitely agree on Nos. 1, 3, 4, and 6-9.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: JR
Hometown: Northampton, MA

I agree completely with Jeff from Baltimore that Howard Dean deserves more credit than he is likely to get for his 50-state strategy. Because of it, when the Republicans started to break after the Foley scandal, we were in a position to push hard everywhere and as a result we rolled up big numbers. Not to mention our improved position for the future.

This excerpt from a Newsweek interview with Ken Mehlman states the case very precisely, from the other side:

Q: What early results told you it was worse than expected?

A: Anne Northup [in Kentucky's 3rd district] was a sign of the problem. And the [Mark] Foley seat and the [Tom] DeLay seat. Both are conservative districts we should have held. They were all indicative of things. But as I always said, you have to look at it race by race. While we won most of the close races, we didn't win enough of them, given how many were in Republican territory.

Q. The battlefield was too big?

A. Because of the number of races on our territory. The overwhelming number of close races were Republican, not Democratic seats. We won the majority of those close races. But if you win 60 percent of the close races and they are all on your territory, you still haven't won enough.

So there, Beltway insiders. The grassroots were right.

Name: M. George Stevenson
Hometown: Bronx, NY

Dear Dr. A:

As one who thinks that The Wire surpasses The Sopranos on the basis of narrative concentration, broader canvas and aggregate character development, I'll admit that I probably felt as you feel at the end of my first viewing of the first two seasons. But when I watched them a second time in conjunction with the third season, I came to feel that this show, as a whole, is the jewel in the crown of the HBO original series empire.

No long-form show has been more consistent from episode to episode; no other show on television has seemed to undertake so thorough a dialogue between its fictional/actual location and its characters -- Law & Order, eat your torn-from-the-headlines heart out -- and no other show has tried so successfully to enrich in addition to expanding its narrative focus. It has moved from HBO's version of Homicide: Life on the Streets (Season 1) to Studs Lonigan (Season 2) to a quite frankly Dickensian level in Season 3 (Bleak House) and, so far, in Season 4 (Hard Times). Stay with it and see if you don't at least see my point.

P.S. Brotherhood definitely has its moments as well, but so far it hasn't quite convinced me that both the Jason Clarke (the politician) and Jason Isaacs character (the criminal) wouldn't have flamed out before things got to where they're going. But great work with the distaff members of the clan of all the generations, and if there is a more compelling male Sopranos character than Stivi Paskoski's Pete McGonagle, I'd like to debate the issue (Christopher has flashes, but episode consistency has hurt him, I fear).

Name: Tribeca Group
Hometown: NYC, where else?

Eric,

The payoff for the first season of The Wire is the third season. And the current season is just as good if not better. I'd love to debate you for hours as to why Brotherhood is nothing more than Showtime's attempt to combine The Sopranos with The Wire (I mean, c'mon, organized crime meets decaying urban city?), but I doubt that's the best use of your blog.

No mention of Medeski Martin & Wood in your or Jon Pareles' "Music of Dylan" review (or Cat Power, for that matter)? I thought it was one of the bright spots of the night. Conversely, the "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" finale was a complete dud. Generally speaking, I would have preferred about half as many performers, and a little more banter/introduction from the artists. The show felt way too rushed to me, and the artists didn't even have time to introduce each song, and explain its significance to them.

Oh, and the sight (and smell) of pot smoking at Avery Fisher Hall had to be one of the funniest contradictions I've ever seen.

Name: Kurt Weldon
Hometown: Los Angeles, Ca.

I followed your link to Greg Mitchell's piece, but didn't follow his to Will Bunch's. The problem with this sort of theorizing -- fun though it may be -- is that Rove is not a tactical genius at all. All along he has had two basic job skills: 1) talking to The Base; 2) obscuring from the rest of us what was really being said to The Base. Between Iraq and Katrina, that second thing was no longer available to him -- too many voters sat up and paid attention. That left him with only The Base.

The Republicans lost because they are who they are, and because they could no longer hide that. It was bound to happen sooner or later. The American people will put up with any number of individuals getting screwed; but they will not tolerate everybody getting screwed. That is where the Republicans have led us, and that is why they lost.

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