I have some end of year/beginning of new year thoughts to come on politics and the Presidency and all the Big Ideas... but I got sidetracked, just now, clearing up some e-mail from 2 years ago(!!!) and tripped over some old pro-Hillary posts of mine that led me round to old pro-Obama posts of Ezra's before he fled to WaPo and conventional wisdom stardom. Suffice to say... for now... What a long, strange trip it's been, for these two years. More on that later. But, for those who appreciate irony, let's reprint one of Ezra's better moments from the primary season, in its entirety:
I really, really hope the Democratic primary doesn't come down to superdelegates -- the privileged class of delegate that gets to vote however they want, and were created to ensure that party elites didn't lose too much control over the process. The Democrats have agreed to 796 superdelegates this yea, a group which includes every Democratic member of Congress, governor, and various other dignitaries besides. Some of these superdelegates, like California's Barbara Boxer, have pledged to go with the majority decision in their state. Others have already made their endorsements. Others are waiting to see what they'll be promised. But it would be a real shame if the end result of overwhelming voter participation and a contested primary was to throw the election to unaccountable party elites.
Apparently, any port in a storm.
As I look to the new year, checking back a bit on how we got here, I tend to think about what's been squandered. All those hopes and dreams of young Obama supporters who got mugged by reality and failed by a President they helped to elect who, as it turned out, was closer to his critics' assessments than his supporters'. Democrats may find a way to get back to voter popularity, and Barack Obama, still, looks like the likely bet for reelection in 2012, at least for now. But think back to all that singing and hand holding and crying back in 2008... I mean, even if you were on the other side and not all that into it... doesn't the fact that we're just so not there now seem a little, well, sad?
And to me sadder still, because, well, I thought they were getting their hopes up too high. And still, it sucks to have been on the clearer eyed side of things. I wouldn't mind having been proven wrong, either. But that was then, and this is... what we're stuck with. And, I'm just sayin'... it just all seems so... unnecessary.
I don't know that anyone anticipated that the biggest damage of the Christmas blizzard would be Michael Bloomberg's career.
I am writing this about 90 minutes after the latest deadline came and went for cleaning city streets in the five boroughs, a reminder of the old lesson "don't set deadlines you can't meet." It's not as though meeting this deadline would have solved the Mayor's problems anyway; the damage was done by Monday night, long past when it was clear that the city's response had been poor, inadequate, and slow.
The fact that the city seemed to get caught flat footed was at once surprising and sort of predictable; there's been a growing sense that city services are struggling, none more so than the MTA, which has been delivering increasingly worse service on subways, buses and trains while raising fares to meet budget issues largely driven by the financial crisis. Indeed, while the Mayor's been taking the brunt of criticism, much of what's failed across the New York region can be traced back to the MTA, which, as most New Yorkers know, appears to be under the control of no elected official.
For me, the sense of how disastrous this all was came home as Mom and I watched early coverage on Monday, listening to a woman who called in from the Brooklyn bus where she had been stranded, overnight, for seven hours with other passengers. The lack of food and sanitation was discussed... but what struck me was that at that moment, there was no end in sight for her predicament or that of other passengers.
Blizzards, of course, do tend to shut things down; but the remarkable thing about this storm was both that it's trajectory was clear pretty far in advance, and the sense of what it would do was pretty well known. And, generally, around the region, the storm response seemed remarkably orderly: businesses closed early, people hunkered down at home (it helped that it was Sunday and the day after Christmas), and after the storm passed, most people took Monday morning off and dug out. Across New Jersey, Westchester and Connecticut, things seemed to resume pretty smoothly, and mostly without incident.
It's that sense that everyone else seemed to recover smoother and faster that's really damaged Bloomberg, whose built his entire political career on the sense that he's a seasoned manager with the kind of smarts and street savvy to improve the efficiency of a large organization. As the Mayor of post-9/11 New York, Bloomberg did an admirable job of getting the city back to some sense of normalcy, and made managerial moves that resonated well with the city's white collar professional classes (less so, I think, for others).
For a while - certainly through his first reelection - Bloomberg's presentation as a clam, not too showy presence combined with the sense that things were running smoothly papered over a growing sense of his shortcomings. He was tetchy with the press. He didn't like being questioned or challenged. Increasingly, he gave the impression of a kind of managerial inflexibility, refusing any suggestion that his own plans and proposals might not be the best ones for a given situation. And when he proposed running for a third term, directly contravening repeated attempts by voters to impose term limits, there was the beginnings of a blowback that has, I think, probably reached its critical mass in the past 3 days.
It's worth pointing out, again, that Bloomberg actually limped to reelection, garnering far less of the vote than expected, and that Bill Thompson, his woefully underfunded Democratic opponent came within striking distance of beating him. Bloomberg's middling success, having spent scores of his vast wealth, was a reminder that the very wealthy carry liabilities their money can't solve, not the least of which is failing to build the kind of political ties and coalitions that are actually helped by the need to raise outside funds.
Since starting his third term, Bloomberg's weaknesses have been overtaking his strengths. The city's growing budget woes would be challenging for any Mayor, but Bloomberg has the combination of a corporate executive's willingness to make ruthless cuts combined with the lack of deep ties to city workers or services that makes his cuts seem especially cruel. Even more of his corporate mentality was on display as he badly managed the transition from Joel Klein, his School Superintendant who came from Citicorp, to Cathie Black, a tralblazing woman in magazine publishing with essentially no real qualifications to manage the nation's largest school system.
And now, Blooomberg has failed at the city's fairly basic expectation to provide essential services at a time of an emergency.
Say what you will about Rudy Giuliani - and we all said plenty - but Bloomberg's predecessor did get the most basic rule of local Mayoral politics: people may not remember the school budget debate, but they will remember if the street didn't get plowed. Giuliani had his flaws (ah, the memories), but his attachment to emergency services was close to monomaniacal. That's one reason why, even now, he gets more credit for his response on 9/11 than almost anyone else. Giuliani also knew to make sure the streets were plowed best and first in areas of his deepest support; during his term, you could guarantee clean streets in Staten Island and Queens well before poorer sections of Manhattan and Brooklyn. And Bloomberg does seem to follow this idea - but nothing outrages the rest of the city like the sense that Manhattan's elite get the best service first.
In the city, Bloomberg is deeply damaged though possibly not wrecked - he'll spend a couple of months doing mea culpas, and if he's learned anything, the next storm response will be vastly different (and with any luck, the next storm will also not be as bad, providing a false comparison in his favor). Bloomberg's real base, after all, is white collar, professional and well off, and for many of them, the storm was, like their suburban cousins, something of a blip - an extra day off from work in a slow holiday week, reason to drive to Florida, whatever. But the corrosive nature of this damage is both that Bloomberg's power within the city's structure will be diminished - one clear result of this is a resurgent City Council, boosting Mayoral hopes for a number of potential successors - and his credibility on the national stage is pretty much done.
Bloomberg, after all, was shaping up to be the next Presidential election season's anti-Palin: a voice for the mythical "center" of independents and others who disapprove of both parties and fantasize about some third way or third party with "no labels", as that immensely silly effort suggested last month. Bloombergs' corporatist, private sector expertise applied to public sector problems approach to politics was a central feature of the developing storyline in this supposed center, the hot trend of the next political wave. That idea - that corporate managers bring some magical problem solving skills the public sector lacks - has pretty much frozen over with the cold winds of this storm. Bloomberg's hot prospects are pretty much done, and as these things do, the failure seems pretty much of his own making - that intersection of personal hubris and arrogant refusal to adapt in the face of changing circumstance. Cold as ice, someday he'll pay the price... and that apparently starts today.
I haven't written much about WikiLeaks or Julian Assange - love the name! - mostly because I don't think all that much needs to be said. WikiLeaks - much like Wikipedia - seems interesting, in theory, but in practice is kind of messy and scattershot. And Assange, while provocative and bright, seems a little too convinced of his own importance in the larger scheme of things.
That's a lot of the reasons why, while I try to follow the issues, I tend to think of Assange's legal struggles as background noise to other, more crucial news of the day. The charges of sexual assault that Assange faces in Sweden are hard to assess, and would benefit from law enforcement and judicial types doing, well, what is supposed to be their jobs: gathering evidence, making a case, seeing it through to a result.
Conspiracy theories abound regarding why Assange faces charges, why he was finally arrested in England with an eye towards extradition to Sweden, with some potential for American mischief in seizing Assange or trumping up a case which would bring him to the states. It's all very movie espionage and derring-do, but the roiling about a potential American arrest for Assange, and passionate arguing defending him as some sort of brave renegade for justice just seems overblown... and more crucially, loses sight of the actual charges Assange actually faces for sexual assault.
I still wouldn't take this up, but December saw the Assange matter bubble into a blog and Twitter controversy when, after his arrest in England, a number of prominent Assange defenders, including Michael Moore, began assembling funds for Assange to make bail and be released until his extradition trial in London. Those defenders, including Moore, worked assiduously to call Assange's legal issues harassment and a sort of political persecution to try and silence Assange (with a dollop of "he'll be dragged to America on false pretenses" for good measure). Much was done to minimize or ridicule the sexual assault charges Assange faced in Sweden, raising questions about the women making the accusations and the strengths of their charges.
A few weeks ago Moore made an appearance on Keith Olbermann's MSNBC show and reiterated that the charges against Assange were probably nothing, and Olbermann agreed. And that, for many feminists, was the last straw. One blogger, Sady Doyle, took to Twitter with the "hashtag" (a way to group related Tweets from different users) of #MooreandMe, a play on Moore's first major film "Roger and Me" in which he tried to chase down the CEO of GM to ask about lost jobs in Michigan as GM closed plants. Doyle, similarly, was trying to get Moore to respond to feminist concerns that rape allegations were being dismissed or ignored as sexual assault charges often are, out of "concern" for the "rights" of the man being charged.
Like many feminists, I was impressed and supportive of #MooreandMe, and was slightly embarrassed to admit that, without being conclusive, I had found some sympathy with suggestions that Assange was facing something of a trumped up case. One of the most heartening effects of #mooreandme was to get some responsible journalism going about actually investigating the charges against Assange, and a disturbing pattern of behavior on his part with a number of women.
The other effect of #mooreandme - also heartening - was that, shortly after initiating the tag, a flustered Keith Olbermann shut down his Twitter account, and promptly stopped discussing the matter of Assange. Olbermann was, in part, dismayed by assertions that he didn't take rape seriously. Olbermann then went on an extended Christmas break. We will see where this goes when he returns.
Moore, for his part, was silent in the face of much of the #mooreand me barrage... until a few days later, when he appeared in Rachel Maddow's program and, under fairly direct questioning, acknowledged that yes, the rape charges needed to be taken seriously, and Assange should have to face investigators and courts, if necessary, to evaluate the claims. And the Moore returned to his argument that Assange was doing terribly important work, and his main concern was efforts to silence Assange and WikiLeaks.
Many feminists, including Doyle, were very satisfied with Moore's remarks and moved by the fact that their own actions had caused someone like Moore to address, forthrightly, concerns about rape allegations being taken seriously.
Me... I'm left with some doubts about the whole controversy, and the impression that Moore's appearance on Maddow resolved anything.
And one thing that keeps nagging at me... who cares what Michael Moore thinks, anyway?
As more than a few people pointed out, the reason there's a controversy at all is because of, well, Moore himself: Moore's assertions about the lack of a case in Sweden against Assange were his own slapdash conclusions and his own assumptions about the "importance" of Assange and the nature of WikiLeaks. All of which, really, is itself a lesson in how the - bear with me - white male patriarchy perpetuates itself. Powerful white men, defending other powerful white men and seeing what, well, powerful white men do as having value and being important.
Moore's whole career, really, is built on his own construction of monuments to his self-importance: he has transformed the documentary film form, in no small measure, by making himself the story, and his "documents" the real stories of his own journey, more than revelations about anyone or anything else. Earnest, often angry, frequently sarcastic and dismissive of those with whom he disagrees, I've long that the curious thing about Moore's success is not his own interest in it, but everyone else's. Why, really, did the liberal left agree, ever, that Moore was somehow expert enough, or capable enough, to represent the views of their (or our) side?
The problem with #mooreandme, really, is that doing these actions only solidify Moore's hold on a kind of fame and self importance that helps perpetuate others like Julian Assange. The world waits breathlessly to hear what Michael Moore says about Assange because, well, that's what's important, right? Right?
I am reminded of the most ardent feminist separatists I read (and met) in college, women who used "womyn" and "wommin" to separate themselves more surely from the patriarchy, who asked, seriously, why women needed men for anything, especially confirmation of their value or their equality. And as a man... I agreed. Even now, in those conversations among women coworkers and friends, usually about some bum doing one of my women friends wrong, when they say something to the effect of "men, who needs them?" and then turn to me and go "oh, you know... not you," I tend to respond "nope, me too. Who needs men?"
Ultimately, I don't care what Michael Moore thinks about Julian Assange, as a person, a potential rapist, or an internet phenomenon; I don't look to celebrities to confirm my ideas or opinions; I don't admire celebrities who agree with me more than those who don't. I prefer to think that my respect for a celebrated artist or performer has to do with the work they do, and its quality. We are, in this culture of America, to enamored of giving celebrities too much power, too much influence, over our lives, and the issues of the day. Jon Stewart says Washington needs to be nicer... and he must be right, because he's famous. Right?
All of which is a reminder to me that as much as I've always had those vague dreams we all have about wanting to be famous... I don't actually want to be the person who feels that the only way to share my views is to do a chat show interview so the masses will hear my deep thoughts, whether it's my poilitical views, my diet secrets, or my endorsement of dime store toilet water or the latest wonder drug. I don't want to be Michael Moore... and just about as strongly, I wish Michael Moore weren't quite so Michael Moore, either.
In the end, the snow was not so bad; a Sunday, the day after Christmas is pretty much a day no one wanted to be traveling anyway, and digging out on Monday just means extending the days off another day.
I usually write a bit on Christmas Eve before we start our festivities; this year I was (literally) too busy playing dress up dolls with my friend Jennifer (I can reveal, now, that I bought her yet another Barbie for her collection). It helps us to practice for our preferred fantasy careers as fashion stylists. Seriously... I was doing that when I was 12.
So Christmas Eve was lovely, a traditional Swedish festival, candles and cold supper followed by presents and pleasant conversation. Christmas Day I did an early morning at work and then Mom and I saw The Tempest (review to follow... but don't bother) and had a fabulous Chinese lunch in Hartsdale (which I think continues my development as an honorary Jewish man, at least by marriage).
The day after Christmas? More work - and not the best day - but I did get home before the storm was in full swing, and the Most Adorable Nephew in the Universe's Birthday had to be postponed, at least for family celebrations. And here we are.
It's all so good... it's hard to explain why the especially wistful tune - best known as Karen Carpenter's, yet another example of her pristine voice doing it's best on the saddest lyrics - followed me across the holiday. I've only recently come to fully appreciate it - for a long time, it was the whitest of white bread, up there with Perry Como and Bing Crosby. Under the precise guidance of my friend J in B, I've come to see the jazz and the melancholy in Karen Carpenter, and now it seems like a modern day "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas."
I can dream, and in my dream... well, Christmas never ends. Holidays are joyful. I hope yours were. And now, back to the writing.
(Photo of my Barbie in a pink satin bolero in front of our tree, by Jennifer. Price on Request.)
Just when they seemed to be pulling themselves together - a bit - Republicans may have run into the next big pothole on their road to redemption... and it's pretty big.
I'm talking, of course, about The Civil War.
This year marks the beginning of a series of 150th anniversaries of various Civil War era events; that may not seem like much, but for the various states which contain Civil War battlefields and other key hostorical markers, it's big. Planning has been underway in a number of states for years. And as you might guess... this is going to be an especially big deal for The South.
This week saw the 150th anniversary of secession, for instance, when South Carolina voted to secede from the Union. They put up a plaque. And of course, it immediately became controversial... and dredged up familiar arguments about whether secession had anything to so with, you know, slavery. Let the party begin!
I'm not sure it's an accident that, in this very week of beginning the very compliclated act of assessing slavery, the South and some of the shameful aspects of our national legacy, Haley Barbour got pulled into the gaffe that has probably scotched his Presidential bid; but taken together, the prospect of several years of rehashing the Civil War's more contentious aspects, and the ever problematic roles of Southern Republicans when these topics come up, I think the GOP may have concocted its own surprising Waterloo. Or Gettysburg. Or something.
Whatever it is, I suspect that, once again, this won't end well, for them.
There are various ways to assess the health of retail sales leading into Christmas - my own tends to be the kind of unscientific observation of just trying to be out and about, watching shopper habits. How hard is it to find parking? How many people laden down with bags? What's on sale in the stores?
My sense is that this is an okay, but not great, Christmas, nowhere near the retail madness of the bubble years. People seem to feel a little less economically insecure, but retailers were banking on a real explosion of pent up demand, and so in the final weeks therehas been a lot of desperation selling. There are insane markdowns. People crowd around sale items, but a lot of regular priced items sit undisturbed. Things are crowded... but not wildly uncomfortable.
I've been working a cash register in the final days of holiday madness a few times (okay, a heck of a lot), and this year... is not so madness. I've seen worse, much worse ("The Christmas Wars", this week, on History), and though some of my newer baristas are a little freaked out, most of the expereinced hands aren't getting more than they can handle.
And so, this past weekend, the last weekend before Christmas, came and went without much fuss. I closed Friday and Saturday night - usually two of the most hectic, least organized nights of the year... and not much happened. We were a little busier than last year... but not off the charts. Sunday night, I spent the evening with my friend Red, darting through Soho (like a lay-ser), picking up a few last minute things. As bad as Soho has become - it's all tourists and bargain hunters - we weren't especially crushed, and the whole thing was over pretty quick.
So why am I telling you all of this?
Just to tell you that Saturday, as I was getting ready to start work, Bill Clinton walked past my coffee shop on his way to his car. He looked in, smiled, and waved at me. Bill Clinton.
Yeah, it was pretty awesome. Merry Christmas!
Apparently, John Boehner gets a little emotional at times.
This got noted, more than a little, on election night, when Boehner welled up during his victory speech, apparently overwhelmed by the realization that he, a man of fairly humble background and aspirations, was going to become Speaker of the House.
This all got brought up again this past Sunday when Lesley Stahl, interviewing Boehner for a newsmaker profile, asked him about it, and the sense that he, again, gets a little emotional at times, and he discussed it and... well, got a little emotional about it.
This has apparently reignited a debate about Who Cries In Politics, and When It's Appropriate... and mostly, I don't want anything to do with this nonsense. But I do think it's getting to be past time when people with a passing concern for gender politics can stay silent about creeping sexism and gender expectations in our political debates. And I don't just mean this latest round of The Crying Game. How about we bring in "man up" as well?