Friday, November 7, 2003

'The Reagans'
I have been completely silent about commenting on the CBS [now Showtime] mini-series "The Reagans" because I wanted to see the outcome of the whole controversy and I am a bit shocked that the network caved in to pressure about whether the mini-series was accurate or not. However, this piece by Jonathan Alter in Newsweek really sums up my reaction to the whole thing : ["Gutless at CBS"]. I am going to hone in on these statements by Alter:

"Clearly what happened here is that CBS caved to its advertisers, who feared a boycott orchestrated not just by Matt Drudge and talk radio but by Ed Gillespie of the Republican National Committee, who got into the act last week. This was not only craven of CBS but short-sighted. Docudramas depend on jucy [sic] personal material. No one wants to watch one about the brilliant successes of the Strategic Defense Initiative. CBS' whopper was exceeded only by Drudge, who told JoeScarborough on MSNBC that "if they went and did a Clinton story [that was critical] there would be just as much outrage." Yo, Matt. Spare us. If the Fox network wants to air a docudrama about how terrible Bill and Hillary were (and it's only a matter of time), do you really think it would be pulled because of pressure from advertisers? Do you think the next time some sleazy producer tries to make a quick buck with the 5,834th docudrama about the sins of the Kennedys that some liberal talk radio establishment will immediately materialize to smite it?"
And this:

"The other scenes that apparently stuck in the craw of the Reagan hero-worshippers and GOP political operatives who saw a way to rally their base were those that depicted tensions within the Reagan family and Nancy Reagan's controlling personality. Imagine! A docu-drama that actually reflects the headlines from the era! Anyone who was alive in the 1980s knows that the Reagan First Family was close to dysfunctional (as in, not speaking to each other for long periods) and that the First Lady plotted her husband's schedule with the help of an astrologer and fired his chief of staff. That's not spin; it's fact. As Casey Stengel said, you can look it up."

Now don't get me wrong. I think things should be as accurate as possible in documentaries. But this wasn't a documentary; it was a TV drama. This isn't Ken Burns talking about baseball or jazz, this is like a Danielle Steele novel. To get so worked up over this was absolute foolishness.
And then there is this from Slate, analyzing some of the things conservatives have written about Reagan and whether he was all there during his last years in the Oval Office: ["Saint Ronald"].
However, one thing is clear: There is an "elephant echo chamber" and we should all be very worried about news departments, production companies, and yeah, major corporations, being frightened by retribution from the Republican National Committee for news investigations or movie productions it may seek to make. I recall, a few years back, at Drudge's outrage when the producers of "Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back" were pressured by gay activists who believed the film was too anti-gay and wanted it toned down a bit or they would organize boycotts of the film. The producers didn't budget and Drudge cheered them. But now, Drudge praises similar actions as holy. Pathetic.
As an aside, I have always wondered about the obsession some politicos have with Reagan. It has always struck me as craven idol worship that borders on the insane - not unlike the way some have felt about Bill Clinton. There was this great Szep cartoon in The Boston Globe back in 1999 that summed it up best: Three middle-aged women talking about Clinton's sexual "indiscretions" and remarking that Juanita Brodderick probably wanted to be raped by Clinton. Appalling.
But back to the Reagan worshippers. They act as if he were Jesus resurrected from the cross! Republican-controlled political bodies ram through name changes at airports, parks, and schools to honor the president who was voted "Most likely to get U.S. into a nuclear war." It would be funny if it wasn't so scary. Almost like naming the high school in "Heathers" after Paul Westerberg from the Replacements.
The guy was a bad television actor who gutted social programs, gave giveaways to big business and the rich, and with the help of a Democratically-controlled Congress, created a $5 trillion debt which will never be repaid. Interest payments on the debt created during these years takes away over $200 billion annually from the treasury that could be spent on other things. That money could be used for mass transit, free college tuition for the uneducated without work, health care for the millions of people who don't have it, etc., etc., etc. But no, it is spent every year, over and over again, on interest payments because Reagan had to have more bombers and more missiles, and Democrats had to have albatrosses like the boondoggle Central Artery Tunnel in Boston and the Denver airport.
Reagan did end the Cold War - by spending so much on weapons of mass destruction that he bankrupted the U.S. and the Russians too, who couldn't keep up. Now, thanks mainly to Reagan, we don't worry about dominoes falling or Reds under our beds. We don't worry about the Russians and the bomb, we worry about many different faceless, ghostly insurgents in a number of different conflicts all over the world. We worry about planes flying into buildings, Anthrax attacks, and terrorists armed with weapons our country gave them to fight the commies during the Reagan years - weapons which are now pointed at us. Iraq would have never been a country with supposed weapons of mass destruction had Reagan and Donald Rumsfeld, the current Defense Secretary, not sold the weapons to Saddam Hussein. The bodies of the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, thousands of dead Americans, and thousands of other dead global citizens, lie squarely at the feet of Ronald Reagan. He wasn't a Christian, he was as close to the anti-Christ as we have had in a president.
This is the "legacy" that Reagan built and it isn't one to be proud of.

Shocking ... but not really
The New York Times, via Common Dreams, reported yesterday that Iraq was trying to negotiate a surrender after all, according to sources: ["Iraq Said to Have Tried to Reach Last-Minute Deal to Avert War"]. Should this really surprise us? No. These clowns were gung ho to go in there cowboy style. And now they are too busy attending fund-raisers to attend funerals.

Dean and the Confederate flag flap
There have been some interesting comments surrounding Howard Dean's flap about the Democrats appealing to southern voters and I will be posting some links at the end of this blog entry. But let me first start by saying that while he may have used a poor example to make his point, his point is more important and he is right.
I have been saying for years that Democrats need to go after poor, working class, religious conservative whites as a voting bloc. The argument is similar to argument made by the DLC - the Democratic Leadership Council - the conservative wing of the Democrat Party only the opposite action.
Essentially, the DLC advocated moving the Democrats to the center to attract much needed support from big business and Wall Street to run their campaigns. This money was then used to spend on advertising in an effort to appeal to the millions of independent swing voters who go whichever way the wind blows. The liberal Democrats - government workers and their unions, minorities, gays, women and the abortion lobby, etc. - will have nowhere else to go, the DLC said, so ignore them.
However, their strategy has been spotty at best. It should be noted that DLC candidates only usually win when there are conservative independents - mainly Ross Perot - siphoning off votes from the Republicans. With the exception of Clinton's reelection campaign in 1996, Democrats being light-Republicans has been a guaranteed campaign loser since the Republican sweep of Congress in 1994. In election after election, Democrats who try to be Republicans get hammered. So why do they keep this strategy? I will never understand this.
The Republicans - ingeniously - attack Democrats, any Democrat, as being liberal and in reaction, the Democrats then counter the attacks by accentuating their most conservative positions. This reaction to the attack is often counter productive. It alienates the Democratic base and the ads often come across as shrill and negative, which turns off the independent swing voters - a lose-lose proposition.
On the opposite side of the argument are the progressives who believe they have the Utopian vision and if people would only listen to them, everything would work out and we would all be bouncing up and down saying, "Happy, happy, joy, joy ..." However, admittedly, since I consider myself progressive although more populist than progressive, some of the positions taken by progressives are so socialist that it scares voters even if the ideas make sense. The activist mentality and the autocratic nature of some progressives also turns off many who would be drawn to their cause. So, following the grand plan of the progressive movement is also not the route to victory for the Democrats.
However, what the Democrats haven't tried, is going after the po' white folks and taking a populist view on economic issues in an effort to draw the conservative, populist Reagan Democrats back into the fold.
How do you do that? Well, author and radio broadcaster Jim Hightower made a pretty convincing case for the idea during a speech at the annual CPPAX meeting in Cambridge, Mass. in 2001. He said - to the silent shock of progressives in the audience - that liberals should ignore the social issues and join with Christian Coalition voters on economic issues. Hightower advised finding alliances with conservative populists on issues like trade and corporate corruption and work together on bringing working family incomes up. His comments on this section of the speech were met with silence, indifference, bordering on anger from the 100 plus people in attendance which goes back to the point about the activist's mentality and whether Democrats and liberals are serious about winning. Economic populism is good public policy. It gets to the core of what regular folks - white, black, Latino, whatever - care about and that is accessible work at decent wages. For far too long, the Democrats have been in the pocket of big business, much to the detriment of the people who used to be the party's base. These people fled the party to the Republicans and to a lesser extent, the Greens. Why? Well, they didn't have too much choice. With the economic issues out of the way, the Republicans can use their advertising to appeal to the least common denominator with independent swing voters: Tax cuts. In simpler terms, if both major parties are going to ship the work overseas, the Republicans will at least keep my taxes low so I better vote for them. However, if the Democrats counter this - not with more handouts but with the protections allotted them in the U.S. Constitution - the independents will then have a choice between living wages or lower taxes. Guess which one will win out? Sure, we don't know, but isn't it worth trying, just once? For almost a decade the DLC have had their way. The progressive way won't work. Maybe it is time for the populists to get a crack at trying to win.
Dean is starting to get this and unfortunately used a poor example to make his case. Following up, his opponents in the debate on Tuesday used his comments about broadening the base to attack him instead of getting at the heart of the argument. The Rev. Al Sharpton jumped on Dean for his comments, taking offense but not getting much of the point. John Edwards, a southerner, chastised Dean too, but it reminded me of the Lynyrd Skynyrd line from "Sweet Home Alabama" which was written in reaction to Neil Young's anti-lynching song "Southern Man": "Well I hope Neil Young will remember, southern man don't need him around anyhow." Dean later said he didn't mean to offend people with his comments and still hasn't made the case that he is the one to bring the populist mantle to the voters. But he is on the right track and let's hope the Democrats start to get it.
Here are some other people who do get Dean's comments:
Civil Rights attorney Constance Rice tells Dean to keep at it: ["Confederate Flap: Stand Firm, Howard Dean"]

"[O]ne of Martin Luther King's most profound insights came in his warning that to avoid elimination as the irrelevant unskilled, poor whites and poor blacks had to band together in a "grand alliance" and demand from politicians jobs, justice and opportunity for everyone. King realized that the grand old bargain this country had always offered to poor whites - namely, accept your poverty and we will ensure your racial caste superiority over blacks - must be destroyed before universal opportunity could be realized. King clearly knew that the very whites he was appealing to clung to both the Confederate flag and empty white supremacy. Yet he still proposed this alliance for the greater prosperity of all: 'Together [poor whites and poor blacks] could form a grand alliance. Together, they could merge all people for the good of all.'"

Black columnist Sheryl McCarthy at Newsday agrees: ["Dean's Right on Appeal to Southern Whites"]

"I admire Howard Dean's candor, his guts in opposing the Bush administration's march to war in Iraq and his lack of wimpiness compared with his opponents. Democrats are always complaining that they have to come up with a message that will distinguish them from Republicans. But they're terrified that, if they stray too far from the Republican message of smaller government, lower taxes and fierce patriotism no matter what the cause, they'll lose even more ground. Dean tells it like it is: that working-class white Southerners, like African-Americans, ought to be the party's natural constituents, and that it's not impossible to attract both groups."

Or this from Debra McCorkle at Alternet: ["Southern Comforting"]

"Howard, I suggest that you hush up about rebel flags this week and tell us some stories. When I have a waitress friend who begs her doctor for amoxicillin instead of the stronger zithromax because it costs one tenth the price even though she needs to get well fast, my trucking buddies are going to understand that as quickly as my great aunt. When I see a decades-old factory close, leaving hundreds of workers unemployed, because they can move the thing to China and employ slave labor so that Wal-Mart's profits are assured, the common man and woman can understand that something is wrong. When the richest of the rich prosper through tax cuts in a period of recession while the poorest parents skip meals, people will question the direction our country is heading. Tell anecdotes; don't preach about constituencies, Howard. The truth is, politics in itself is pretty boring, a bean counter's concern. Breathe a little life into it with some storytelling. Go Faulkner on us, and don't forget a little Flannery, because weirdness is what America is all about."