How political establishments decay

This Corey Robin post has made the rounds. His smugness aside (“Though I’m a political theorist, one of the things I benefited from growing up when I did was that I had incredible history teachers…”), he’s right in the abstract, and the tendency to value the social sciences over history serves the interest of corporate media; but it’s got me thinking for the hundredth time about when to distinguish a world-historic thread from a terrible but familiar one. Whether Donald Trump presents a “unique” (a word I hate in any context) threat to American democracy when Richard Nixon served five and a half years as president or is part of a lineage of bellicose ignorami is a question I can’t answer until a putative Trump administration begins next January. but I wonder if Trump is Pat Buchanan in ’92 with a presidential nomination.

I keep thinking about Reagan in ’80, and the prism through which the Beltway class viewed him as a two-term governor, near winner of the ’76 primary, and media personality. The guy’s ignorance and indifference to details – which he boasted and joked about – were legend. The difference is, Ronnie can smile and quip while Trump can only do the former. So hallowed is the ground on which he tread that evidence of his detachment and unacquaintance with many of the policy points of his own administration get adduced as evidence of his kingly acumen; I don’t even need hyperlinks. Social media aggravates nominally informed citizens. If VOX isn’t uploading a lovely chart showing how Trump exists on a continuum and our friends aren’t posting the link on Facebook, I wonder who would explain it.

An hour ago Donald Trump, according to the lead in the New York Times’ story, “essentially encourag[ed] an adversarial foreign power’s cyberspying on a secretary of state’s correspondence.” My liberal friends have asked rhetorically if it’s treason. Never mind John Marshall’s opinion when the Supreme Court heard the Aaron Burr case. Never mind English common law and the Constitution. This morning liberals were hinting that Donald J. Turmp had committed treason in the hopes of shaming their conservative relatives and friends: You’ve been calling Democrats traitors my whole life? Here’s some of your own medicine. A stupid and dangerous ploy. When liberals try to beat the right at their own game they look like fools and wannabes (e.g. recall Walter Mondale attacking Ronald Reagan for suggesting he’d meet with the Soviets) or admit to their own affinities with the right (Clinton and Ricky Ray Rector, Clinton and NAFTA, Clinton and “welfare reform,” I’ll stop). Cheap, meretricious, and shriller than the competition.

And now, according to Marcy Wheeler, Clinton has trotted out Leon Pancetta. What’s next — Sandy Berger, the expert in purloining national security documents in his pants? I expect the neocon establishment that has lined up behind her in recent weeks to fulfill its end of the bargain and defend her. There are reasons why I don’t drink at 1:45 p.m.

Best films: 1995 and 1996


Satantango (Bela Tarr)
Secrets and Lies (Mike Leigh)
Walking and Talking (Nicole Holofcener)
Goodbye South, Goodbye (Hou Hsiao-Hsien)
A Summer’s Tale (Eric Rohmer)
Portrait of a Lady (Jane Campion)
Flirting With Disaster (David O. Russell)
La Ceremonie (Claude Chabrol)
Looking for Richard (Al Pacino)
Trees Lounge (Steve Buscemi)


Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater)
Wild Reeds (André Téchiné)
Safe (Todd Haynes)
Exotica (Atom Egoyan)
A Short Film About Killing (Krzysztof Kieslowski)
Crumb (Terry Zwigoff)
Babe (Chris Noonan)
Clueless (Amy Heckerling)
Devil in a Blue Dress (Carl Franklin)

DNC, Day 2: I got Jeff Nichols out of the way

President Barack Obama and his family and Vice President Joe Biden and his family celebrate their nominations as the confetti falls at the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

10:59. “You people have made history,” Meryl Streep said, like Joan Baez at Live Aid, making praise sound like admonishment.

10:54. Rachel Maddow: “For those who expected a feminist convention,” listen to the first half of the speech.

10:48. “One is real; the other is made up.” Well, he got one of those right.

10:37. …and he’s made Tom De Lay human, for god’s sake. He called him “House minority leader” though.

10:32. I suspect, as usual with this guy, that we’ll sneer and the crowd will love it. That’s how it was in the ’90s.

10:24. Checking states off a list, dropping references to her work with disabled citizens and children and starting a legal aid clinic in Arkansas, wagging that finger like a conductor’s baton, grandpa chuckles — he’s weaving cornball shit and political fictions into a narrative that many Democrats and pundits will sponge up.

10:16. Fact checkers: Mona Charen @monacharenEPPC Hillary did not have blond hair in her youth. She was a brunette.

10:16. It’s corny but his rhythms are unerring.

10:10. No Fleetwood Mac = blessing.

10:10. I don’t ahve the space or energy to refute the claims these video actors are making about Bill Clinton.

10:04. I’m feeling my usual ughhhs coming on when Bill Clinton’s on the teevee.

9:56. Ladies and gentleman…Madeline Albright (Meryl Streep)!

9:48. There’s probably no bar at the Wells Fargo Center.

9:45. Meryl Streep? After Bill Clinton? Has she been promised a fourth Oscar?

9:01. No need to mention foreign policy yet — not when the RNC defined “foreign policy” as “aim Death Star at Syria.” When 9-11 victims praise Clinton for securing aid, the symbolism is more potent: here are consequences of foreign policy.

8:32. Black lives matter, the arena chants. The differences between Clinton and Sanders disappear. These are the people whose lives will matter less during a Trump administration.

8:21. In the foul remnants of William F. Buckley, Jr.’s legacy called National Review Online, several posters early last week sniffed at liberal and Beltway pundits recoiling from Patricia Smith’s indictment of Hillary Clinton. Wait till those Black Lives Matter moms start talking, a couple said (I won’t link; you can Google). Watching the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Sandra Bland praise Clinton’s fealty to Black Lives Matter, I hear no rancor, no excoriation of Donald Trump — it’s a reminder of how the Democratic Party and an essential component of its base aligning. That’s the difference, NRO. We want our minority citizens to feel “safe and respected,” says a police chief.

8:07. Tony Goldwyn is speaking. Why do I care about the guy who killed Patrick Swayze in Ghost?

8:02. I heard that the senior senator from Vermont made a motion to nominate Hillary Rodham Clinton by acclamation.

8:01. Sturdy when examining the numinous in rural life in films like Take Shelter and Mud, Jeff Nichols falters when filming the numinous; his approach is too poky, like he’s in a Sundance lab. That’s Midnight Special. Back to the convention.

6:14. New Jersey delegation nominated Hillary Clinton. Gonna watch Midnight Special instead.

Trump ‘insulting and offensive to the human race’


Folks who didn’t grow up in South Florida have no idea of the cultural currency of Walter Mercado, the Liberace of Libra. For more than thirty years the flamboyant astrologer has charmed biddies with hair as pouffed and purple as his with charts and predictions. Well, should Donald J. Trump get elected in November, Mercado predicts Gog and Magog:

“I did a chart about what I see in the future and the present of this monster, this backwards person that can lead not only the United States, but the world, to total destruction,” Mercado said in Spanish. “He has no knowledge of politics and no knowledge of any type of diplomacy. He is a person that thinks money can buy anything and thinks that you can buy the conscience of all of humanity. The conscience cannot be bought with these policies that are so insulting and offensive to the human race.”


“I am totally, completely and absolutely in favor of Hillary, and astrologically, she is the better prospect,” he said. “God willing, the stars will align so that we will have the right president.”

So listen, you Cuban Republicans: voting for Trump will upset the delicate balance of the solar system. Put your vote where your star charts are.

DNC: Day 1, no bourbon edition

I grew up in the age of Reagan, a period when Democrats sent monikers in search of governing philosophies. Many of my readers will not recognize “Atari Democrats.” If they know Gary Hart, it’s of an ugly older man finagling a younger woman on a boat. The Democratic Leadership Council is more familiar. So spooked were Democrats by Ronald Reagan that in the early eighties they decided to pursue Wall Street dough — a decision that looks more sinister in retrospect. Not a signal but a culmination, for even Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter had endorsed deregulation of airlines and banks; their younger acolytes believed Social Security needed “reform.” Exacerbating the problem was the Democrats’ vise on the House. A pair of two-year intervals aside, the Democrats controlled the House from 1930 to 1994, which mean that it considered every rotten accommodation with Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Bill Clinton, therefore, was another culmination. Buoyant and garrulous, he had the Reagan-esque optimism that pollsters dreamed of and policies to match. I’ve written enough about him. But when I matured politically Al Gore had chosen the Senate’s most concerted scold as his vice presidential running mate: the man who, in a tremulous voice as certain of its rectitude as a prison guard, condemned Clinton’s sexual appetites in the Senate. The Patriot Act and the authorization for use of military force against Iraq emitted the stale air of inevitability. If that’s what a Dem’s gotta do to get elected! Disgusted, I dropped my party affiliation in 2003.

Now I reach the point of my disquisiton. My friends endured with good cheer my public convulsions about whether to vote for John Kerry in 2004. Besotted with Paul Berman and Kenneth Pollack, I flirted with the liberal case for the Iraq War. I applauded my non-conformity. Vacillation is the sleazo’s trick — he thinks men and women will jump to convert him. But I didn’t vacillate. I voted for Kerry without a moment’s thought. John Kerry — the man who instead of pledging to exit Iraq wanted to fight a smarter war, as if war were preparing for a grammar test. Unmoved, I remained uncommitted through the GOP disasters of 2005 and 2006: Hurricane Katrina, Harriet Miers, Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson (yawn), the attorney firings (another yawn; I figured every president does it). The reports that House Majority Leader Tom Delay ran Congress as a front organization for lobbyists. The Supreme Court’s Hamdan ruling. I was relieved when the Dems retook Congress that November — relief, mind, not any sense of an affirmation of an agenda. Maybe Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid knew 2008 would be a Democratic year therefore held their fire, unlike their colleagues and descendants in the other party a decade later who think the winner, Barack Hussein Obama, is a bag of oats with a dry veto pen.

Obama’s inaugural legislative victories and subsequent executive orders reminding me that I was a liberal who had done little with my principles except act smug about them, I started to participate, tentatively, in the troublesome business of meeting people like me. In July 2016, I’m a liberal who endorsed Bernie Sanders despite being unable to vote for him in Florida’s closed primaries; I want the flawed and functional and scarred Hillary Rodham Clinton as president of the United States. It’s not even close.

A few notes:

— Now the Beltway press, embracing its conception of fairness that it confuses for objectivity, is ready to treat the Democratic National Convention as if it bore any resemblance to last week’s Nuremberg.

— The emails are no scandal. DNC chairs – all chairs – are political appointees (FDR toyed w/the notion of getting Jim Farley to run in 1940 before pulling a bait and switch). I wasn’t surprised. She still beat Sanders. As a former Sanders supporter I’m not that moved by it. I’m more chilled that the evidence points to Russian intelligence hacking the servers and leaking to Wikileaks.

— Al Franken was never funny.

— Politics has nought to do with moral choices.

— My cold’s gone. I’m out of bourbon.

— I hate “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” especially so when sung by a breathless and tuneless Paul Simon. As if we needed more reminders that, to quote hippie Neil Young, the hippie dream capsized in excess/If you know what I mean.

— Cory Booker, the sort of person who uses “pay it forward,” with sincerity, delivered the kind of speech meant for the admiring ears and eyes of columnists.

— “Every day I wake up in a house that was built by slaves.” Couple that line with her delivery and Michelle Obama scored the evening’s most palpable rhetorical hit.

The best films of 1997 and 1998



The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan)
Irma Vep (Olivier Assayas)
The Apostle (Robert Duvall)
Happy Together (Wong Kar-wai)
Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino)
Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami)
Grosse Pointe Blank (George Armitage)
The Wings of the Dove (Iain Softley)
The River (Tsai Ming-Liang)
Nil by Mouth (Gary Oldman)

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson), Hard Eight (Paul Thomas Anderson), L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson), The Daytrippers (Greg Mottola).


High Art (Lisa Cholodenko)
Flowers of Shanghai (Hou Hsiao-Hsien)
Out of Sight (Steven Soderbergh)
Happiness (Todd Solondz)
Rushmore (Wes Anderson)
Love and Death on Long Island (Richard Kwietniowski)
The General (John Boorman)
Velvet Goldmine (Todd Haynes)
Affliction (Paul Schrader)
The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick)

HONORABLE MENTION: Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg), He Got Game (Spike Lee).

Summer’s here and the time is right: Best of 1964

The first time my memory strained so much that I had to extensively consult the records, especially for country. I didn’t want to repeat so many Dave Clark Five or Beatles records. Actually, I’d love a Spotify playlist of country songs from this era when Roger Miller and Buck Owens dominated.

1. Roy Orbison – Oh Pretty Woman
2. The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go
3. The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night
4. Martha and the Vandellas – Dancing in the Streets
5. Dionne Warwick – Walk On By
6. The Temptations – The Way You Do the Things You Do
7. Sam Cooke – Good Times
8. Chuck Berry – Nadine
9. Mary Wells – My Guy
10. Nat King Cole – I Don’t Want to Be Hurt Anymore
11. Ray Charles – That Lucky Old Sun
12. Stan Getz & Astrud Gilberto – The Girl from Ipanema
13. The Dave Clark Five – Because
14. The Beatles – Twist and Shout
15. The Miracles – I Like It Like That
16. Lefty Frizell – Saginaw, Michigan
17. Johnny Cash – Understand Your Man
18. The Animals – House of the Rising Sun
19. Bobby Bare – Four Strong Winds
20. The Kinks – You Really Got Me
21. J Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers – Last Kiss
22. Skeeter Davis – He Says the Same Things to Me
24. George Jones – Your Heart Turned Left (And I Was on the Right)
25. The Rolling Stones – It’s All Over Now
26. Beach Boys – Little Honda
27. Jan and Dean – Dead Man’s Curve
28. Dusty Springfield – Wishin’ and Hopin’
29. Lesley Gore – You Don’t Own Me
30. Marvin Gaye – How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)

Best albums 2016: second half report

I’m a little past the halfway point, but I wanted to post these for the record. In no order.

KING – We are KING
Anderson Paak – Malibu
Pusha T – King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude
The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
Kevin Gates – Islah
Bonnie Raitt – Dig In Deep
Corinne Bailey Rae – The Heart Speaks in Whispers
Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
David Bowie – Blackstar
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Beyonce – Lemonade
Anohni – Hopelessness
Katy B – Honey
K Michelle – More Issues Than Vogue
Brandy Clark – Big Day in a Small Town
Maxwell – blackSUMMERSNIGHT
Maren Morris – Hero
Schoolboy Q – Blank Face LP
Shura – Nothing’s Real
Alex Anwandter – Amiga
Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger
Vince Staples – Prima Donna (EP)
Rae Sremmurd – Sremmlife 2
Fantasia – The Definition Of…”All True Man” is good too
Britney Spears – Glory

‘There’s not much to talk about’

In which Luther Vandross discovers the possibilities of MIDI. At the time some may have mourned the interplay between piano, backup vocalists, and bass that were hallmarks of his early sound; here, the machine-sponsored precision forces Vandross into finding new vocal nuances: harmonizing with the quiet guitar line, experimenting with his low end, the controlled anguish of the chorus. The coda dissolves into space, uncertainty. “Give Me the Reason” needs none.

Tim Kaine’s debut

To repeat what I wrote about Senator Tim Kaine last night, I’m not overwhelmed but why should I have been? Before the expected death of FDR at the start of his fourth term (by the way, keeping Harry Truman in the cold remains one of the trickster’s worst mistakes in office) and the onset of Cold War exigencies, vice presidents got chosen by conventions for regional balance; the head of the State Department was the plum. With the exception of Martin Van Buren, one of the creators of the Democratic Party and a confidant of Andrew Jackson, only the obscure Garret Hobart could be said to be an “assistant president” with the charm and talent to press the Senate for legislation that the Chief Executive wanted passed. Hell, vice presidents didn’t get an office in the West Wing until Walter Mondale, one of the few Carter-era innovations that the Reagan people kept. It’s possible that younger men and women who lived through George W. Bush’s first term think the vice president is an omnipotent #2, but that’s not how American history has unfurled. Dan Quayle and Sarah Palin were the most irresponsible picks of my lifetime if you discount Cheney as a historical outlier, and Quayle had no influence on Poppy Bush.

As for Pence, I agree with Scott Lemieux

The pick is…fine. He wasn’t my first choice and still wouldn’t be, but the pick accomplishes the basic minimum of what is necessary in a vice presidential candidate, which is minimizing the downside risk. (As I will return to later, he’s far from unique in this respect, but he meets the standard.) He’s a moderate but not a Lieberman or anything. He’s not unqualified to be president, the media likes him, and Clinton seems comfortable with him.

– With all due respect, the concerns about abortion are specious. Trying to figure out what a politician REALLY THINKS is a useless mug’s game. Maybe his 100% NARAL rating is a product of shifts in the party. So what? It’s not shifting back, and Kaine would have no means to impose some kind of secret anti-abortion agenda even if he wanted to.

– I have two reservations about the pick. First, it unnecessarily puts a Senate seat at risk. It’s not a dispositive factor like it is with Sherrod Brown — there’s a Democratic governor in Virginia, and the Democrats can probably (although not certainly) retain the seat in an off-year election. But it’s a negative factor. The second problem is that it plays into the narrative that a “safe choice” means “white guy.” What risk, exactly, is involved with Tom Perez, and [sic] extremely intelligent and well-educated person who has numerous public offices without scandal or notable gaffes?

I’ll answer Lemieux’s rhetorical question. After Richard Cheney, no sentient aspirant for chief magistrate should consider risk anything more than of tertiary interest. Also, Trump. Look at Mike Pence, a vice presidential pick whose mien is as risky as a Kraft Singles Slices sandwich; he looks like a Kiwanis Club president who hated that sip of beer he took in 1985. That’s why he’s dangerous.

Singles 7/22


– As much as I admire Rabbit Fur Coat, several Rilo Kiley tunes, and 2014’s “She’s Not Me,” Jenny Lewis leaves me cold. With this echo-laden production, she’s trying hard to alienate. It’s like she decided to go for the Interpol dough but being half-assed about it. Jenny Lewis recording “Evil” would be awesome!

– After a few years’ absence, what a relief to learn that Fergie maintains her standard of appearing, solo or otherwise, on execrable singles.

I wrote about Dierks Bentley’s album a couple months ago — more solid than I thought at the time. “Different For Girls,” though, is the kind of bad song that deserves a listen.

– I endorse “I Like That.”

Click on links for full reviews.

Sistar – I Like That (7)
Flume ft. Tove Lo – Say It (7)
Chris Young ft. Vince Gill – Sober Saturday Night (7)
Nice as Fuck – Door (6)
Tory Lanez – Luv (6)
Didrick ft. Amanda Fondell – Smoke (6)
Rae Sremmurd – Look Alive (5)
Frenship ft. Emily Warren – Capsize (5)
Dierks Bentley ft. Elle King – Different For Girls (4)
Demi Lovato – Body Say (3)
Fifth Harmony ft. Fetty Wap – All in My Head (Flex) (2)
Fergie – M.I.L.F. $ (1)
Calum Scott – Dancing On My Own (1)

Enter: Tim Kaine


Look, on first glance Virginia senator Tim Kaine looks like the dude who wavers and falls after taking an Irish Car Bomb at a campaign stop in Pittsburgh. He was DNC chair during a dark time. His eyebrows frighten me. But I’m willing to be educated. His abortion convictions, of which I’ve been dimly aware for a couple years, have never, to my knowledge (correct me), conflicted with what he views as his obligations as the chief magistrate of the Commonwealth of Virginia — the most estimable kind of conservatism, in my judgment. Besides, I laugh at anyone who thinks any vice president other than Richard Cheney would cast spells on the president — and a president like Hillary Goddamn Clinton, married to a former president. Late this afternoon I watched an hour of Advise and Consent, one of the most prescient and far-seeing of political films. The affable vice president, a favorite of housewives, hasn’t spoken to the president in six weeks; as played by Lew Ayres, it’s a minor masterpiece of embarrassment. He has to ask the majority leader (Walter Pidgeon, made for the part) for the skinny. Dan Quayle looked like the last person who fit this description; Tim Kaine may be another.

A week ago, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published a story that looks at his tergiversations as governor and comes away mildly impressed, especially after an election year campaign not to raise taxes that he promptly rescinded seven days after taking office. The conclusion?

He also has a 100 percent rating from the pro-gun-control Brady Campaign, and recently joined the House sit-in for gun control organized by Democrats. He gets high marks from Environment America, and is liked by the teachers’ unions. (Kaine has supported expanded pre-K since his gubernatorial days.) He has sponsored legislation to raise the minimum wage, favors higher spending on social-welfare programs, opposes privatizing Social Security, and so on. In fact, it’s hard to think of a single position by which Kaine deviates from liberal Democratic orthodoxy.


But the public should not be seduced by efforts to put Kaine in the center of the political spectrum when he is so far from it. Think of it this way: Suppose Kaine had a mirror image in the GOP — a Republican former head of the RNC who repeatedly tried to cut taxes, who sought to restrict abortion, who got high marks from the NRA and low marks from environmentalists, who wanted to cut social programs, who supported privatizing Social Security, and who was, in all visible respects, a down-the-line soldier for the political right.

Would the press term such a politician — no matter how genial and friendly — a “cautious centrist” and a “pragmatist”? Or would he be labeled an “arch-conservative” and an “ideologue”?

A hack, I’d say, but a good hack.

And, no, fellow liberals/progressives, Elizabeth Warren should stay in the Senate.