I saw a man who danced with his wife ...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

I let Tim do "Think Again" this week, because I was preoccupied with book stuff. It's called "Rupert the Great" and you can read it here.

OK, I'll admit, I goofed in not going to Chicago, and not only because I did not get to witness the site where it will henceforth be recorded that Rick Hertzberg lost his blogging virginity.

I stayed at the beach instead, because it's too much fun to play with the kid in the pool, and, um, like Chicago in August? What's up with that? Anyway, the beach turned out to be a pretty good place to learn something about politics today, too. Friday night I went to a relatively inexpensive fundraiser for Hillary -- I mention the $ only to give you some atmosphere; I never contribute any money to any candidate and am not supporting any one of the top three over any other -- at the home of Jaci and Morris L. Reid in East Hampton. The cost was $250, and I think if you paid $1,000 you got to go inside and get your picture taken and have a brief chat while you do. The food was sloppy joes, chicken, and cheeseburgers. Hillary didn't come, though, because on her way back from Kos, Harry Reid asked her to vote against the Bush FISA plan, and she did. Bill gave his short Hillary speech and then took questions, as expansively as ever, on the porch. I did not hear anyone complaining about Hillary's absence, but since it was her rap I wanted to see and hear, I did not stay for the entire program.

Over at the Reids, Star Jones invited me to her house for Howard Dean's talk the next afternoon. I turned out to be pretty much the only person of whiteness there. This was really interesting. I've not seen Dean do a rap as Democratic chairman, and he was really impressive. He really knew his stuff with regard to the interests of these successful, prosperous African-Americans, and he was able to connect with them without being the slightest bit patronizing. I learned a great deal about party strategy and planning that impressed me, both in terms of reaching out to young people and ensuring that all votes get counted. From the floor, I asked Dean about the Democrats' problem of looking wimpy and losing elections because of it since they have the more dovish position in this coming election. He said he thought there was a "tough but smart" opening that hadn't been there since Vietnam. Afterward we talked a little bit about the fact that the Kos convention had hardly any young people of color there, and that since young white folk are pretty much evenly split between the parties but young black and Hispanics are heavily Democratic, wasn't it important that someone reach out to black and Hispanic bloggers and try to enlist them in the community of progressive blogger activists that has remade the political playing field in the past three years. He said he had someone on it and seemed to agree with my premises, but who knows?

That night, I got to go to the Main Event of the weekend, which was the Hillary fundraiser at billionaire Ronald Perelman's house, which cost $1,000 for cocktails, and $4,600 per person -- that's $2,300 for the primary and the general. With the exception of one really crazy house I visited three years ago in Beverly Hills, when I was researching Hollywood fundraising, this was the craziest house I ever saw. Actually, the house was reasonably modest by billionaire status, but the grounds were so expansive that you could have built a decent sized city on them and still had a pretty nice sized park left over. And the view was of the entire mouth of Georgica Pond, which is the view other gazillionaires compete for out in the Hamptons and is perhaps among the most expensive real estate anywhere. And the artwork, oy; monstrously large canvases by modern masters everywhere you turn. Seriously, I have never witnessed a better argument for communism -- well, maybe that one time in that house in Beverly Hills ...

Bill gave pretty much the same Hillary rap he gave the night before. Hillary was extremely poised, eloquent, and brief. She is really in command of herself these days and communicates the kind of self-confidence and good humor that has served her so well in the debates so far. She was also quite brief and quite critical of Bush, but not of any of the other Democrats.

Who was at the fundraiser?

I noticed Jon Bon Jovi, Harvey Weinstein, Bob Kerrey, Chuck Schumer, Harold Ford, Chevy Chase, Hillary and Bill. It was so filled with fancy people who were doing deals with one another that you could actually have a conversation with Bill Clinton, which usually proves impossible with any kind of crowd around. (I tried to give him my idea about involving evangelical churches, and also synagogues, in the fight against AIDS in Africa by adopting individual villages on the "Save the Children" model.) I asked Harvey Weinstein if he had signed off on the Entourage version of himself. He said he hadn't but he loved it, because it was a thrill to be in so funny a show. I asked Hillary how that morning had gone in Chicago. She called it "intense," and I told her I thought she was handling this whole netroots thing pretty well, given the hand she had dealt herself. (Later on, I got into a discussion with one of her advisers about her fights with Obama. I said I thought it would behoove her to fight about real stuff rather than fights that felt made up.)

The big event of my evening, however, was my chat with Senator Schumer. When I introduced myself he made it clear that he was unhappy to meet me because of this. He introduced me to a few people as the guy that wrote that nasty review of his book in the Times, and he wanted to complain about it for a while, telling me, without understanding the irony involved, that even Mark Green told him that it stunk. (I am literally the among the last people on earth to criticize someone who remains angry about what he or she perceives to be a bad review. I've never managed to forgive a single one in my life, though I try and I really admire people who do. Thing is, I don't think that people who don't actually write the books they put their names on -- but rather slough the job off onto a ghostwriter -- ought to be allowed to indulge in this kind of thing. The point is about the sweat you've put into the manuscript, not the fact that you signed your name to that someone else's.)

But as I hope I've made clear here before, I do not go to parties looking for fights. I went to see Schumer because he's my senator and an extremely influential and important Democrat and because I still can't believe that a guy who has positioned himself as champion of the middle class thinks that billionaire hedge-fund managers and private equity partners should not have to pay taxes at a rate that poor and middle-class income earners must.

When I reviewed Schumer's book, I did not want to take the space to discuss the thing I found most annoying about it, which is his invention of this middle-class family he calls "The Baileys," about whom he talks incessantly on the stump. I wasn't reviewing his stump speech, but let me tell you, as a literary device, the Baileys are one annoying group of people. All they ever do is agree with Schumer. Otherwise, they have no independent existence or reason for being. The word "cliché" does not do them justice; it has too much nuance, too much character, too much depth ...

Anyway, I went up to Schumer to ask him if the Baileys thought that they should have to pay a tax rate on their earnings more than double than Wall Street billionaires did. Mistakenly, however, I called them the Reillys, and he took this as an opportunity to lecture me on my ignorance. I see from this article, however, that until June of last year they were called "the O'Reillys," so really, Chuck, that was rather nitpicky. Anyway, Schumer was in no mood to chat with yours truly, and he instructed me, pointy finger and everything with no room for conversation, that he had already checked with the Baileys and they were, naturally, totally on board with this billionaire tax break that he is fighting so hard to protect. He made the same argument he made in this Times piece, about taxing everyone at the full rate or no one. Since the only politically available alternative is no one -- that is, as he allows in this piece, just fine with him. It was also, I imagine, pretty popular with this crowd. In his memoir, The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama notes that the folks who fund political campaigns "had no patience with protectionism, found unions troublesome, and were not particularly sympathetic to those whose lives were upended by the movements of global capital." Obama discovered that if he were honest with himself, the more time he spent hitting them up for cash, the more he, as a politician, became "like" them, "in the very particular sense that I spent more and more of my time above the fray, outside of the world of immediate hunger, disappointment, fear, irrationality, and frequent hardship of the population -- that is, the people I'd entered public life to serve." He suspects that this phenomenon is the case, "in one fashion or another... for every senator." [i]

If only Schumer had written a book a quarter as honest ... or thoughtful, he might not be on board for that billionaire's tax break. Meanwhile, the Times edit board is also, unlike the Bailey/O'Reillys, unconvinced.

Back on the topic of the fundraiser: How silly is Mickey Kaus for linking to this? Was Hillary supposed to cancel a longstanding commitment to hundreds of people? Are the candidates supposed to run their campaigns without money and without public financing? In any case, this piece is completely wrong. Hillary had plenty of time, on her private plane to be in Chicago and to be at this fundraiser. Hey guys, she actually did both. So it's wrong on facts, as well as silly and naïve in its analysis, but hey who cares? I hear Edwards got a haircut. ...

The larger point is that Republicans don't have to deal with this crap because they are expected to shill for the super-rich. But how are Democrats supposed to raise money except from people who have it to give away? Where is the coverage of our corrupt public finance system? Why aren't Mickey and the folks at HuffPo all over that? I see Edwards is trying to make something of the issue, here, of lobbyists' political donations but is happy to accept money from Schumer's buddies at the hedge funds. Really, this is so silly. Chris Dodd has called for public financing of our elections. Good for him.

I've been remiss on the music scene of late, in part because I had a book deadline I had to make, and since I've been out at the beach, I've not had the same opportunities. But I did get to see four shows in the past couple weeks or so at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett which is a great, grungy little place to see acts that usually play much bigger places but don't usually charge as much.

Actually, none of these acts have been outrageously priced. (It's not unusual to see a cover at the Talkhouse of $125 for say, Southside Johnny or Toots and the Maytals.)

The four shows I saw were Jimmie Dale Gilmore with Butch Hancock; the Old 97's; Raul Malo; and The Drive-By Truckers. Each was, I think, fifty bucks to stand by the bar; $65 to sit at the tables up front.

Jimmie D and Butch were last night, on their way to a free Flatlanders' show in Battery Park which is, I think, today (or yesterday). Jimmie is a national treasure who, as it says in his press kit, "never met a digression he didn't take." He hasn't toured with Butch in about 15 years, save with Joe Ely and the Flatlanders, but the rapport that the two guys have developed over the past three or four decades is extremely moving to behold. Butch is a better songwriter than Jimmie but almost nobody has a more beautiful voice or a more goofily charming mien. There was a woman named "Eleanor" celebrating her 91st birthday, and she could hardly have picked a nicer place for it. And hey, I'm saying all this, even though they did not play "Dallas," which is far and away my favorite song of Jimmie's; it's amazing that I'm not whining about it. (There was also more than enough Townes for my taste.) It was a real generous set, by the way, over two hours with a short break. Jimmie's last couple of albums were both excellent, by the way; one was a collection of his father's favorite country songs.

I'd never seen the Old 97's before. I never heard them before I got their greatest-hits record, which I liked in an Eagles sort of way. That's not quite right regarding their live shows, however, which have a great deal more energy and good humor than you'd ever find at an Eagles show. Also different is the fact that they are really a band centered around one guy: Rhett Miller. I don't know exactly who to compare them to; maybe Wilco. I dunno. But they're country-tinged, smart, and sassy, and they play really hard. They could relax a little sometime, but I can't imagine anybody going to one of their shows and having a bad time.

I remember raving in this space a few times about Raul Malo and saying that the Mavericks are perhaps the best unfamous band in America, or were. I absolutely lurved Malo's last Peter Asher-produced solo record, You're Only Lonely, which was the closest thing to a Roy Orbison record since the man passed, and every bit as good. This new record of Malo's, After Hours, is only really good, not quite as great as the last one -- ditto the show. Again, the man has an absolutely ethereal voice and almost everything he sings sounds wonderful, but some of it is more wonderful than others. Start with the Mavericks.

The Drive-By Truckers have long been one of my favorite bands. They are so crazily original and intelligent, but also sorta purposely dumb. Southern Rock Opera is among the most ambitious Southern rock albums of all time, which also, by the way rocks. And their live shows are kind of drunken, fun, crazy, silly but also serious marathons, with lots of highs and lows. All of their albums are pretty good, though the live one is a good place to start.

The night I saw them they played acoustically, without explaining why. They have just lost one of their founding members, which aficionados of the band are really worried about, and it has something to do with his break-up with the band's (female) bass player. The night I saw them, we had Spooner Oldham playing keyboards, which was kind of a thrill for me, since the man just drips history and integrity. It was a quiet show for the DBTs, and it didn't include "18 Wheels of Love," which everybody should hear at least once, but again, what's not to like?

Correspondence Corner

Name: J. R. Taylor
Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Beyond "the Mormon thing" and "the flip-flop thing," Romney has a further problem: for whatever reason, people just don't like him. Last month, a firm called ePoll Market Research asked which candidates were "appealing," and Mitt finished well behind all other "major" candidates (Repub and Dem), not to mention a couple of minors and Bloomberg -- though he did do slightly better than Newt.

As for Ol' Fred: you may be overlooking that he's mostly a regional favorite. In a recent NBC/WSJ poll, Giuliani led Thompson by 9 points nationally, and by only 2 points in the south -- but by 33 (!!!) points in the northeast, where Ol' Fred racked up a Romneyesque 8%. This lopsidedness was underscored by Thompson's June fundraising, 79% (!!!) of which came from the 13 states of the Confederacy. And then there are the polls showing him far less popular among GOP women than any of his rivals ...

Name: Samuel Knight
Hometown: Arlington VA

Eric, I don't get why you thought that Edwards was full of it on calling out Hillary on taking Murdoch money. Murdoch has a fund-raiser for her campaign - that should raise red-flags in every Democrat.

Why? Well, eleven years ago, Rupert Murdoch dumped supporting the John Major of the Tories (conservatives) in England - and threw support behind Tony Blair. And Blair delivered big time for Rupert Murdoch. Let him expand his holdings (sky Channel, newspapers etc) unfettered and embraced a more belligerent foreign policy.

Now in the US, Rupert's papers and TV channels are strongly supporting Rudy Giuliani and he's raising money for Hillary. And those are the two top contenders right now for the Presidency.

Rupert Murdoch co-opted the progressive party 11 years ago in Britain, and appears to be trying to do the same thing in the US. Why isn't that a worry?

Eric replies: Well, actually, I was defending Edwards from the accusation that having a book contract with Murdoch is the same as "taking his money," so I think you misread. And I was critical of my friend Tom Edsall for equating going on Fox with taking Rupert's money. But the truth is we don't have public financing in this country and candidates do not have the luxury of taking money only from people of whom they approve. It's what she does for the money that concerns me. So far, I've seen no evidence that it's corrupted her any more than any other money she's received, or any more than any money Edwards, Obama or the rest of them have received. Obviously, I can't say the same for Chuck Schumer; hence the above post.

Name: C.L. Moffatt
Hometown:
Orlando, FL

"Another reason for giving this power [the power to declare war] to the congress was that the Congress, particularly the House of Representatives, was assumed to be directly responsible to the people and would most nearly represent their views. The term of office for a Representative was fixed at only two years. One-third of the Senate would be elected each two years. It was believed that this close relation to the people would insure a fair representation of the popular will in the action which the Congress might take. Moreover, if the congress for any reason was unfaithful to its trust and declared a war which the people did not desire to support or to continue, they could in two years at most retire from office their unfaithful Representatives and return others who would terminate the war. It is true that within two years much harm could be done by an unwise declaration of war, especially a war of aggression, where men were sent abroad. The framers of the Constitution made no provision for such a condition, for they apparently never contemplated that such a condition would arise."

--Robert LaFollette
October 6, 1917

Notes

[i] Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope (New York: Crown Books, 2006) 114.

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