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10 January 2007 @ 08:31 pm
One of the best political rants of this century  
If you aren't reading Hunter over at Daily Kos, you should be. I haven't read one thing of his that I didn't find myself nodding my head over, saying "Yep. That's what I mean."

Well, I'm not sure -- it's a success that hasn't occurred yet. I don't know that I view that as a failure.

-- Homeland Security Adviser Frances Townsend, on whether the failure to kill or capture Bin Laden could actually be considered a "failure."

Like others, I will throw a flower on Billmon's grave, and note that he will be missed. I don't have any more information than anyone else on why he decided to call it quits: everyone burns out from time to time, though, and the honest truth is that it's probably more healthy than not. Like everyone else I'll hope for a Tom Sawyer moment at some point in the future when he returns, triumphant and smirking, making us all look slightly the fools but glad just the same.

But I'll readily admit to being exasperated myself, these last few months, with the entire premise of politics and political theater. Not ready to quit, mind you, but exasperated. And cynical. And roundly misanthropic in general, for that matter.

Which is pretty much my most stable state, as it turns out. I've tried to be optimistic, at various points in my life, but dousing me in optimism, well, it's like giving a bow tie to a goat. Doesn't look good, doesn't feel good, doesn't have much of a point other then for raw humor value, and I'll frankly get a hell of a lot more pleasure chewing the damn thing into an unrecognizable, half-digestible paste than being forced to actually wear it. I think politics needs an equal balance of optimists and pessimists: the curmudgeons and pessimists temper expectations so low that even Congress can manage to occasionally rise above them, and the optimists, well... they keep the rest of us from shooting ourselves.

You know that the mission accomplished banner was put up by members of the USS Abraham Lincoln, and the president, on that very speech, said just the opposite, didn’t he?

-- White House Press Secretary and ex-Fox News anchor Tony Snow

One of the more remarkable things about politics is that if you follow it even a little, you can basically predict how ninety percent of any argument will turn out. The players are always the same, and the arguments are always the same. This is especially true right now, this decade, when the mighty conservative movement has coalesced and devolved into one gigantic, rubbery chunk of do-what-the-hell-we-say, and the "mainstream" media has slid into the lifeless groove that their dwindling hard news budgets had pre-carved for them years ago.

So 90% of politics, as it turns out, ain't that interesting. The same droning, the same opinions, the same accusations and the same damn arguments, polished so smooth and slick by this time that if you skipped them across the surface of a lake, they'd hop across the whole damn thing and probably end up in Washington with their own cable shows. This is politics as sport. Foam hands with giant fingers, the hooting and hollering, the (decidedly high-class) keggers -- the whole thing.

Politics as sport is the art of believing something so strongly that you believe every situation you ever run across can be perfectly summarized in the same soundbite that you used last time, for the last situation. Politics as sport is the art of being so predictable that a producer can call your cell phone and get you to come on the TV to opine about any subject, and they can be assured that you both (a) have a terribly earnest and supposedly informed opinion, and that (b) your opinion is absolutely, 100% interchangeable with any of the two or three dozen other partisans that also have the identical opinion.

Politics as sport, though, is above all else the game of the enfranchised. Not just any member of any podunk community can have an honest opinion on how their local economy is going, or whether or not a certain number of deaths in Iraq over a certain period of time might be bad -- that's for the big boys and girls. That's for the people drafted into leagues and paid to have such opinions, not for the likes of you. They even have player trades, as one year's "liberals" become another year's "conservatives", or vice versa, and suddenly, uncannily, the rhetoric matches precisely the rhetoric of everyone else on their newly discovered team. At the top levels of the media game, the star players get switched from network to network, in accordance with whatever network is currently feeling weak in the teeth-gnashing you all hate America category, the I'm as liberal as I can be without pissing anyone off category, or the as long as I mostly confine the overt racism to the radio show, I'm still TV-worthy category.

It gets old. Scratch that -- it got old, a long time ago. Now it's just repeats. Did you hear that there was a War on Christmas again this year? That the holiness of the holiday was under assault by the Socialists and the Jews?

If there was ever a demonstration of just how far the art of the predetermined analysis, the self-reinforced frames, and the flat-out punditized boojum hunts have progressed, though, it was the last few months, in the aftermath of the elections.

It didn't take months for the usual suspects, among hosts, pundits and reporters, to return to their older Republicans-as-underdogs frames and hypotheses. To go from "Republicans have an unquestionable mandate to do whatever they want" to "Democrats should be careful not to actually exercise power, because they're mean", to casually explain away the entire American shift of power as a minor hiccup in a town and country pre-ordained to be governed by conservative ideals, regardless of how any actual piffling elections turned out. It didn't even take weeks. It took mere days.

Pelosi was still many weeks from ever taking up the gavel when the wisdom came down from Mount Open Liquor Cabinet that the first woman Speaker of the House would be exhibiting a brutal, harpyesque demeanor, a hard-assed partisan leadership style unbecoming of the gentle institution that Tom Delay, Newt Gingrich, and Dennis Hastert carved their names into with penknives.

Contemplate that for a moment. That right there's the frame, and they'll prime and polish it for the next two years, without fail, because both horses and pundits have favorite spots to graze, and they'll sit on that patch and pull every last root out of the ground, if you let them. DeLay and company runs the place like a mob casino, threatening the political careers of people who might have the audacity to decide against them on any one single mere vote; that's just hardball politics, you insufferable America-hating liberal whiners. A Democrat even hints at partisanship, even suggests that the President's agenda is not their own, on the other hand, and half the pundits in Washington don their David Broder masks and shiver at the cold, crisp winds of political cruelty blowing out of the Capitol.

C'mon -- give me a friggin break, here. Really? That's what you're going with, and we're supposed to watch you do it, and we're supposed to all honestly do anything but just break out laughing, en masse? No. I can't speak for anyone else, but I don't have that kind of self control. I'm not going to debate you, I'm just going to make fun of you.

As it turns out, even that "Democrats are mean" frame was one-upped by some pundits even before it had settled into a nice, Foxian war of repetition. No, the real message of the elections was that the people wanted healing. And if you're conservative (or "centrist") then healing, as the logic goes, somehow manages to mean bipartisan begrudging support of President Bush, of the Iraq War, of the remarkable newly claimed powers of the Imperial Presidency, and of the conservative agenda that has no support, in polls, but great support, among... umm.... somebody.

You see, the American people voted against the Republicans in an historically significant sweep. Not sweep, even -- rout. That proves, goes the what-we-will-call-for-one-brief-moment "conventional" wisdom, that Americans like both Republicans and Democrats equally well, and want them to work together to help George Bush's presidency. By the same token an utter rout predicated, as the polls clearly and unquestionably demonstrated, on a nationwide hostility towards the Iraq war is actually instead a muddled but perceptible signal to continue the Iraq War -- but dress it up a bit.

Yes, the conservative moral in all this is that the elections of 2006 were a message to do whatever the newly-minted-as-bipartisan, no-longer-quite-calling-you-a-traitor George W. Bush says. What's with all the fighting, you mean, cruel Democrats? What did we ever do to deserve th.... oh, right.

That stuff. I guess that's why "healing" is suddenly on the top of everyone's minds.

As many other bloggers have pointed out, it's just like the days of Gerald Ford. Gerald Ford is a hero, because he did that one noble thing that all of Washington could agree was best for America -- he saved a Republican from the consequences of illegal acts.

There was no constitutional crisis, back then. There was no "threat" to anyone in America not directly charged with a crime. There was only a President in scandal, a political operation that had crossed from the merely mean to the uncategorically illegal, an embarrassed plutocracy, and that's it.

That's what Ford saved America from. From accountability. That's what gained him his loudest praises from politicians and pundits of all stripes on the day of his funeral, even from the current President and Vice President. He saved the country from the shuddering prospect of having to look a political corruption in the face, and do something about it, and the spectacle of having the big people be subject to the same laws that apply to the littler folks. And from Oliver North to Cheney, Rumsfeld and others, there is a significant part of the GOP infrastructure that owe their entire careers to that one, small premise: that the day of accountability will never come, because healing, sweet healing, will swoop in riding a dappled, snowy-white pundit to save their sorry asses.

We're in a moment of perfect, fortuitous repetition, when every transparently self-serving political frame for the last thirty years can be recalled and reused, a veritable pundit Groundhog Day. If a pundit pops out of his cubbyhole and sees a premise for a column, good news -- we're in for six more weeks of horsecrap.

Personally, I fully agree that America needs healing. And in the context of and as evidenced by the recent elections, I'd submit to you that the country considers healing, at this point, to be a good old fashioned asskicking of the folks who got us into this mess, followed by an iron-clad mandate to fix the problems. A mandate that is going to claim even more conservative stalwarts in the next election, unless they buck up and get moving themselves.

Ok, the premise we're momentarily working with is that George Bush has exhibited bipartisanship, or is about to, or is even mentally capable of it. The premise we're working with, based on the say-so of Republican strategists and conservative and (Lord help us) "centrist" pundits, is that the rout of the Republican party in the midterms was a demonstration of how very much America wants or needs to heal, and that healing means bipartisanship, and bipartisanship means not doing unto the Republicans what the Republicans did unto the entire country, unto their political enemies, unto their perceived political enemies, and unto their insufficiently-friendly political friends, all of which was fine and dandy and smelled like a summertime breeze during the entire time they were doing it, but suddenly began to be gauche the exact moment some Democrat, somewhere, had the power do do something in response to it. No, America didn't need "healing" when the GOP was running roughshod over civil rights, getting thrown out of their own offices in corruption scandals, were introducing more and more creative ways of sucking cash out of government coffers and into corporate contracts, and were regularly calling half of America traitors. We only need healing when the opportunity presents itself to prevent, investigate, or roll back those corruptions. That's when we all need to watch our step!

Now, let's be honest. How much of a dumb, painfully dumb, masterfully dumb, spectacularly gullible, hyperenfranchised, alcohol-addled, camera-chasing microphone-humping column-strangling jackass from the seventh circle of Grey Poupon Hell do you have to be to buy that premise even for the slightest moment as being anything other than dumbfuckery promoted by carnival barkers trying to weasel away from their own rigged game? Since when did "willing to promote any asinine hypothesis, no matter how stupid and self-serving on its face" become the defining characteristic of supposed political wisdom?

The message of the last election, a sweep of Republicans from power, polls showing a nationwide anger at the handling of Iraq and at the unending stream of cringe-inducing Republican corruption scandals -- it's not over either of those things, now, despite the polls proving the exact contrary? It's instead an earnest message from a dimwitted population that they really, earnestly want a Congress who will let bygones be bygones, and who will work together to continue the Iraq war and comply with Bush's versions of government?

Sweet merciful crap. I mean... sweet, merciful goat-molesting crap. Just how dumb do you people take us for? At long last, is this the final demonstration of what the American people is truly worth, to a "conservative" or "centrist" or "thoughtful" or "serious" Washington pundit? This is what Middle America has to argue with, for control of our own country -- this infusion of our highest levels of politics with an Orwellian passion play, the plastering over the airwaves, at long last, of utter and complete rhetorical jabberwocky?

You know, it's not like everyone outside of Washington D.C. brushes their hair with sticks and pees in a cup at night. Golly gee beanpaste, do you think the people voting knew why they were voting? Do you think the people answering the polls about what they cared about might actually have been expressing what they cared about, or do you think that it was all an elaborate, nationwide plot by Americans to solidify Bush's power and agree with your mandated worldview in the most half-assed, roundabout, sword-swallowing way they could manage?

There's just no "serious" or "civilized" response to that. There's not even "uncivilized" responses to that. Half of the entire national punditry landscape has been reduced to non sequiturs, and I do believe they're honestly a little bit peeved that we're not buying this jaw-dropping faux-centrist horseshit of a premise.

If I was a conservative, I'd have it lucky. I'd just blame the whole thing -- the whole current dynamic, everything I cared about, everything I hated -- on 9/11, and if I couldn't blame it on 9/11, I'd blame it on a "pre-9/11 mindset", which is exactly like blaming it on 9/11, of course, but manages to be more sweepingly encompassing. All of recorded history, save the last five years? Pre-9/11. You can divide all of human history in equal halves, after all: pre-9/11, when we had things like Jesus, the Magna Carta and passenger pigeons, and post-9/11, which is comprised entirely of Bush, and what people think about Bush, and why the hell don't they love Bush?

And so here's the problem with blogging, in '07. It's going to take a superhuman effort to even take any of this nonsense seriously. It's not a question of "rebutting", or "disagreeing", or God forbid "contradicting". It's not a matter of "pointing out inconsistencies of" or "offering contrary evidence to". It's not mere disagreement, anymore.

It's more of a question of even being able to take any of these political voices seriously at all -- even seriously enough to mock.

There's a great deal of talk of civility, now, and how terrible it is that bloggers are mean. Last year, it was worth batting around the ridiculousness of that entire concept -- that fully half of America could be called traitors by people from the White House on down, and that was just grand and we couldn't get more than a handful of you bipartisan, civilized talking heads to utter a peep against such a thing, but God forbid some American somewhere in this country tells an orbiting pundit to sod off. This year, it's going to be hard to even pen a response not based entirely on belittling the entire frame of "civility" as a central tentpole in a circus of unabashed scoundrels.

No. You called us traitors. You called us traitors, by not defending us while it happened.

We owe you nothing.

It's going to be a tough year, I'll tell you that. The major news outlets are trying to embrace blogging, without grasping in the slightest the dynamic that made blogging interesting. The pundits are busy punditing their little hearts out, and the blue smoke from all the popping clutches is nearly visible (and certainly smellable) in places like Washington and New York. And the conservative movement... well, we didn't really expect anything to change there, now, did we? No, to conservatives, every day they wake up and the sky is still blue proves that there are no consequences, in life. Just a smattering of convictions, a side of poll numbers, and some earnest divinations on how tax cuts cure cancer, big government is really small government, and God hates anyone who isn't them.

Other years were tests of conviction, of strategy, or of will. This next one is going to be a sheer test of endurance. We've all been stepping a little too solidly onto the home turf of enfranchised politics, and apparently in retaliation they're going to try to kill us all via the release of heretofore unheard of amounts of weaponized stupidity. Lord help me, I dunno if I can make it through this one. But I can tell you one thing I won't be doing.

Taking any of these people seriously. After the last half-decade of venom, of buffoonery, and of nonsense, they don't deserve it.