Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The dangers of complacency and complacent ridicule

I don't think Democrats should be complacent about the Congressional elections of 2010 and the Presidential race of 2012. Lots of things can happen; we're barely six months into the Obama administration. (Update: I should make clear that I'm not encouraging anyone to buy into phony spin that reports electoral dangers for the Dems that aren't actually showing up in the polls.)

Joe Conason notes already, "The ugly campaign to ruin Mr. Obama is taking on much the same tone as the crusade against the Clintons, with falsification and hysteria as its hallmarks." (A Time, Again, for Bill Clinton PolitickerNY 07/28/09)

I don't think the health care fight is a one-shot chance. If the Republicans and Blue Dogs succeed in thwarting it this year, I don't see what would stop Obama from trying again. Health care may bore our Big Pundits to death. But it's important to people. And I don't see how it can hurt the Democrats nationally to be the Party that's fighting for health care reform. I know it would be painful for our pundits who get sooo-oooo bored having to list to all this "wonky and cerebral" stuff about health care policy. But politics is politics. As much as they like to think so, our celebrity "newspeople" infotainers actually don't represent "the American people". They represent their own, often exceptionally weird, group and its strange attitudes and obsessions.

Still, if health care goes down, or if it winds up enacted as something like the Medicare prescription bill during the Cheney-Bush administration that has problems from the start that are obvious to the average user, it could wind up producing Democratic losses in 2010 even as the Republican Party is working hard to self-destruct. We're likely to see high unemployment through 2010. Another financial meltdown of some kind could happen. The Democrats can't count on being in as strong a position in Congress in 2011 as they are today.

I hate to be a defender of any kind of Sarah Palin's. But casual dismissal of Palin seems symptomatic to me of a tendency by many Dems to underestimate the destructive potential of the Republican Party more generally. I think at some basic level Palin is ridiculous. But ridicule that focuses on the superficial - which is normally all our star columnists can assimilate - isn't particularly helpful. Because those superficial characteristics that the press herd mentality currently mocks can very quickly morph into "charming directness" or "folksiness" or "the common touch". Also, the more Palin is held up as ridiculous, the more Jeb Bush looks like a sensible "compassionate conservative".

This is not good for the Democrats. What Dems really need is for the public to know about Palin's political extremism, her pandering to Birchers and neo-conservatives, her affiliation with a theocratic, authoritarian religious movement (Third Wave Pentecostalism) that is far from sensible, compassionate or even conservative in any reasonable sense of the word. Superficial ridicule won't get us there.

Enter MoDo, who lives for superficial ridicule, sex scandals in general, and a chance to recall the glory days of Monica Lewinsky. In Sarah Grabs the Grievance Grab Bag From Hillary New York Times Online 07/28/09, the trouble soul goes there again with Palin and Hillary Clinton, her fantasy running wild, as usual. She tries to be say nice things about Clinton, even going so far as to that "the Republicans always caricatured Hillary as — preachy, screechy and angry." (my emphasis) Nobody was more obsessed than MoDo herself in promoting such notions about Hillary Clinton, and she herself did so frequently. But today she's pretending it was just "the Republicans" doing that. Highly visible and influential media stars were no part of it.

But even in a column where she's using Clinton as a foil against Sarah Palin, her trashing of Hillary comes through still, along with fond memories of you-know-what:

And Hillary, who is at long last in a job that she earned on her own merits, has lost that irritating question mark she used to carry around above her head like a thunder cloud: What is Hillary owed because of what she gave up, and went through, for Bill?

During the campaign, Hillary got in trouble for pretending to be more than she was ...

Now Sarah has taken up Hillary’s old habit of keeping grudges and playing the victim and blaming the press for her own mistakes in judgment and gaffes. ...

If Sarah’s problem on the trail was that she knew too little, Hillary’s was that she knew too much. Before her misty turn in New Hampshire, Hillary’s wonkiness got in the way of her ability to make people [read: celebrity pseudo-journalists like MoDo] comfortable. [my emphasis]
Remember, it has been the Republicans who have always been trashing Hillary Clinton, according to Lady MoDo in this very column.

The following brand of praise (?!?) of the Secretary of State is the stuff MoDo loves most:

Obama advisers say privately that the president truly respects the woman he ran against, and that they have a good relationship, so good it has even surprised Hillary. Certainly, she doesn’t have to worry that this president’s gaze is going to drift over her shoulder to some pretty thing behind her. In this White House, Barack Obama is the pretty thing who is taken with Hillary’s serious, smartest-girl-at-Wellesley aura. In a funny way, he’s the man of her dreams.

His support of her has allowed her to keep her paranoia in check — even with Richard Holbrooke and Joe Biden biting off parts of her portfolio.
It's probably better not to try to untangle MoDo gender obsessions: Hillary's too mannish, Obama is a girl, Hillary's has a mannish crush on girlish Obama. The voices in MoDo's head explain these things to her, and she shares them with us. Trying to figure it out beyond that is just depressing and scary.

One of my Facebook friends was recently on a visit to Europe where he spent some time watching CNN International and was struck by how radically different the presentation of news is in Europe. Because companies that call themselves news organizations are still in the news business there and don't try to compete head-to-head with entertainment outlets the way it happens here. After a few days of culture shock in seeing American TV news again, he wrote, "We are doomed!"

I truly do think the worst long-term democratic deficit in the United States is the collapse in quality of our national press. MoDo is a loon, obsessed with trivia and sex, unable to get quotations right and fantasizing goofily in print, sometimes to the point that she's practically incoherent. And yet she really is a leading, very influential figure in American journalism today, both in print and in her social networking. For a visit example of the latter, see Steve Clemons cloying report, Maureen Dowd Party the Best. . . Washington Note 01/19/09.

A democracy can't survive long-term with a press like this. And while it survives, it will have the greatest difficulty getting even the most basic things like disaster relief and health care right.

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