Monthly Archives: February 2008

This is the best recent interview of George W. Bush I’ve read, especially surprising considering its source. Written after the President’s tour of Afrida a couple of weeks ago, Bob Geldof is an interlocutor of surpassing modesty; he is scrupulous about observing the laws of hospitality, stays mum on Iraq, and remembers that he once sported hair as offensive aesthetically as Bush’s Iraq policy was geopolitically. This Bush is chatty, cheerful, immodest, insulated, and a little stupid:

I don’t know how, but eventually we arrive at the great unspoken. “See, I believe we’re in an ideological struggle with extremism,” says the President. “These people prey on the hopeless. Hopelessness breeds terrorism. That’s why this trip is a mission undertaken with the deepest sense of humanity, because those other folks will just use vulnerable people for evil. Like in Iraq.”

I don’t want to go there. I have my views and they’re at odds with his, and I don’t want to spoil the interview or be rude in the face of his hospitality. “Ah, look Mr. President. I don’t want to do this really. We’ll get distracted and I’m here to do Africa with you.” “OK, but we got rid of tyranny.” It sounded like the television Bush. It sounded too justificatory, and he doesn’t ever have to justify his Africa policy. This is the person who has quadrupled aid to the poorest people on the planet. I was more comfortable with that. But his expression asked for agreement and sympathy, and I couldn’t provide either.

“Mr. President, please. There are things you’ve done I could never possibly agree with and there are things I’ve done in my life that you would disapprove of, too. And that would make your hospitality awkward. The cost has been too much. History will play itself out.” “I think history will prove me right,” he shoots back. “Who knows,” I say.

It’s almost touching the degree to which Bush can only defend his policy in the longview, as if he’s lost faith in the present. Geldof is right to promote the only international policy for which history will remember Bush (and Bono) without horror: quadrupling the amount of U.S. aid to AIDS-ravaged sub-Saharan Africa.

William F. Buckley, Jr. – RIP

How fitting that this sunny, loquacious man with a wit and grace notably absent in his successors should die when all signs point to the demise of the revolution he helped lead. A storied resumé: devout Catholic, a late convert to the stupidity of a “war on drugs,” spy novelist, a Howard Hunt employee, Gore Vidal’s most famous antagonist, and an apologist for the most pernicious forms of American imperialist adventures, especially if the conquerors palliated the eradication of Communists with bleats about free enterprise and civilization. I doubt that wit could palliate his infamous advocacy of tattooing homosexual AIDS victims (which he later retracted). We can argue about the worth of the ideas Buckley espoused – he introduced important criticism of the New Deal’s influence’s on Americans’ relationship with federal power but had no trouble accepting aggressive foreign policy – but I prefer him as a spokesman of conservatism to any of his putative followers. Case in point: John Boehner’s uproarious eulogy.

This 1969 “Firing Line” episode with Noah Chomsky shows Buckley at his most charming and wrongheaded: while Chomsky correctly insists that no differences exist between self-interest and altruism when it comes to invading sovereign nations, he’ s also a grind and a bit of a clod; meanwhile Buckley crosses his legs, winks coquettishly, and waves aside Chomksy’s points (“This is a matter of nomenclature”).

The wit and wisdom of Nixon

Remarks from our 37th president, by far our funniest, given to acolyte Monica Crowley and published in Nixon Off the Record (1996):

He changed his tone again and said, “Murphy Brown sounds like a man. Is that that Candice Bergen Show?” I answered him, and he continued, “I met her once when she was about sixteen and I went to a party at the Bergens’. Anyway, I cannot believe that a fictional character made it into the Oval Office. The press was wrong to ask Bush about as he was standing there with [Canadian prime minister Brian] Mulroney. `Oh, gee,’ I would have said, `I don’t follow the show. Next question.'”

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“‘The 1960 election was probably the greatest election of this century because the candidates were both outstanding,’ he said on September 4, 1992.”

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“Well! Look at that Cabinet. Aren’t they an awful-looking group? My God! [Health and Human Services Secretary Donna] Shalala and [Attorney General Janet] Reno? They are so far to the left that I don’t know what they are. And Hillary! She’s so steely! She even claps in a controlled way. She’s a true-believing liberal.”

————–

Nixon was very interested in [the Gennifer Flowers case] and its political ramifications. “They’ve got tapes? Well, then, he covered it up. Just like Watergate?” he asked with a smile. “At least ours was for a good cause. And no one ever profited from it.”

OSCAR FEVER!

Why not.

Best Picture

WILL WIN: No Country For Old Men.
SHOULD WIN: I’m not a fan of There Will Be Blood either, but it and No Country are “dark” enough to satisfy Oscar fans who complain about the terrible films that usually win.

Best Director

WILL WIN: Les freres Coen
SHOULD WIN: Maybe giving Paul Thomas Anderson an Oscar will give his future films the middlebrow clarity that his enthusiasts look down on.

Best Actor

WILL WIN: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
SHOULD WIN: DDL. (“No ticky, no laundry” — Jack Nicholson, The Departed)

Best Actress

WILL WIN: Julie Christie
SHOULD WIN: She’s the most overrated thing in a very fine film (and I can’t fathom why Gordon Pinsent enlisted no critic-group support; were I him, I’d fire my agent), but Christie’s class and grace made this perennial Oscar bait role the most thoughtful in recent memory. She’s cool and precise without hinting at concealed depths, a bit like a certain Democratic Party presidential front-runner. Meanwhile her only competition should have it so good. I hate her film so much that there’s a certain relief in eliminating her. But support’s building for her.

Best Supporting Actor

WILL WIN: Javier Bardem
SHOULD WIN: I can’t comment on Hal Holbrook or Philip Seymour Hoffman, while Casey Affleck demonstrated in Gone Baby Gone that he could accept the blue-eyed neurotic parts Joaquin Phoenix is too old for. Bardem should have won for his work in 2000’s Before Night Falls, but the mass audience’s been jonesing for a great villain since Anthony Hopkins won in 1991.

Best Supporting Actress

WILL WIN: Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
SHOULD WIN: The most difficult category — everyone except the lass from Atonement‘s got a shot. If there’s any surprises tonight, it’ll be in this category, which for once includes no young ingenues who win and then promptly disappear into made-for-cable movies. I’d be happy if Ryan or Tilda Swinton won. Rewatching Michael Clayton last week, I wished for the hundredth time that screenwriters made their ostensibly secondary characters their leads, since, for all the bullshit I’ve flung at Tony Gilroy since October for the closeups of sweaty armpits, he creates a character whose own compromises and moral failure are more devastating than George Clooney’s.

How political parties die, and rise again

Ned describes the process by which men birth ideas and then, after several convulsions and wheezes, die:

But there’s a larger if extremely obvious point to be made, that the definitions of what is assumed as conservatism, as much as liberalism, changes with time — carrying [William F.] Buckley’s point back in time, for example, he’s essentially saying that in the 1910s he would have been standing athwart history yelling ‘Stop!’ at said securing of the right to vote, an attitude which I rather doubt any right-leaning female voter or politico would stand for these days (though I gather Ann Coulter made one of her usual heavy-handed ‘jokes’ about that once, but who cares?).

Parties coalesce around ideas, and the continual division, dissolution, and reorganization of Democratic and Republican nomenclature is precisely why I no longer have a party affiliation. As an irrepressible contrarian, I’ve great sympathy for Buckley’s definition of conservatism (which owes much to Burke and 19th century Toryism); in the days of the 24-hour news cycle, we need to take a deep breath and not let our enthusiasms occlude our judgments. That his party didn’t observe his adage is only natural, as power creates its own rules, and Republicans have been in power for a long time, often with a lot of help from their friends “across the aisle.”

For most of the years between 1865 and 1965 little separated a Republican from a Democrat; the surrender of the GOP to the Democratic South’s stranglehold on the Supreme Court and Senate regarding civil rights remains one of the shameful episodes in our history. This same Democrat-controlled Congress backed away from the promise of the New Deal (the period in which “liberal” began its storied association with the party). Until FDR only once would the Democrats produce a candidate willing to discard old paradigms, and with all we know today, would you prefer the status quo of watchchains and laissez-faire as incarnated by Henry Cabot Lodge and Warren Harding or that vile messianic prig known as Woodrow Wilson? We also know how the events of the late sixties cleaved the parties into the shapes we know today. Ronald Reagan was the figure around whom disaffected Southerners and conservatives would rally, a solid bloc that would last until 2004, when these kinds of Republicans discovered that, while you can ignore evolution, you can’t do the same to entropy.

A McCain profile in this week’s New Yorker is indicative: we learn how shrewdly the GOP’s likely nominee courts the good press he’s accustomed to getting (not anymore, heh heh), and his kinship with the long-extinct Robert Taft wing of the Republican Party, which dissolved in the wake of Eisenhower’s electoral landslide in 1952 and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson’s muscling his legislative body into supporting the president’s foreign policy, resulting in the bipartisan conduct of Cold War geopolitics which would hold, despite several bumps, until 1989.

The history of McCain suggests that his reign as Emperor of the West would resemble Richard Nixon’s in some way: enough disinterest in domestic affairs to let inevitable developments like national acceptance of gay marriage, abortion rights, and brown-skinned people cutting Mitt Romney’s lawn run their course after a few disconsolate bleats for The Cornerklatch’s sake; and a “muscular” foreign policy dominated by the realpolitik technocrats who, despite the loathing of the party’s intelligentsia, still sneak into the Heritage Foundation’s buffet line. In The New Yorker, the same David Frum whom Ned quotes understands what’s happened to his party:

“The people who turned twenty between 1985 and 1990 were eight points more Republican than Democratic,” [Frum] told me. “People who turned twenty between 1970 and 1975 were eight points more Democratic than Republican. People who turned twenty between 2000 and 2005 are twelve points more Democratic.” He sees a country moving slightly to the left as Republicans are “left stranded on the right.” He told me, “If what you are is a pragmatic, business-oriented, moderate-minded person who wants things to work in a fairly competent and ethical way, and you’re under thirty—the kind of person who would have been an Eisenhower Republican and a Republican in the Nixon years and in the George H. W. Bush years—you are a Democrat today.” Frum added, “As the country becomes more single, more childless, more secular, more non-white, more immigrant, it becomes more Democratic. And all of those groups are growing.”[emphasis mine]

What we’re seeing then is another realignment. If Obama wins the nomination and presidency we will have elected the first unabashed liberal Chief Executive in history; he may be “post-Vietnam” and all that, but Obama’s honeyed words bespeak a role for the federal government with which George McGovern might have agreed in 1972. As for McCain, whether he wins is immaterial. The GOP of Terry Schiavo, executive secrecy, and, right, the war in Iraq is dissolving. At my university I meet lots of young conservatives, but most don’t give a damn about homosexuality or illegal immigration — what they want are jobs, and the GOP exists as a vehicle through which they funnel their anxieties. Buckley’s vision of the Republican Party acknowledged no anxieties; liberals fretted about the State of Things. When parties resemble talk show audiences they don’t shuffle towards Bethlehem to be born anew. In the GOP’s case let’s hope they no longer look at Bethlehem as someplace important.