Thursday, July 15, 2004
In spite of reading dozens of reviews and political articles, not to mention the entire transcript, I was rarely able to bring Fahrenheit 9/11 up in a conversation without being accused of not knowing my stuff because I hadn’t seen it. Well, today I finally saw it and I’m very glad I did. Incidentally, of the reviews I’ve read my two favorites are a lengthy fisking by Christopher Hitchens and an off-color piece by The Filthy Critic. Both are by liberals, both are quite funny, and both are absolutely on-target.
The first half of the film deals with the alleged Bush-Saudi connection, an allegation not only untrue but consisting of such a haphazardly-connected set of hypotheticals that I actually found myself bored with the predicable triteness. The later parts of the movie were far more compelling, as Moore exposes disturbing applications of the Patriot Act and depicts the horrors of war and death. As usual, he also uses his intimate connection with the working man to locate the absolute dumbest Americans to help embellish his central themes. There were a couple of funny parts, and a couple of points that would make an intelligent person think, but compared to Bowling for Columbine the entertainment value falls FAR short. It’s not all sardonic criticism though. To Moore’s credit, I thought the beginning and end of the film — especially the tie-together — were masterful. I also think the man is absolutely brilliant at the art of propaganda (not a criticism when it’s his self-stated goal) and used visual and audial tricks (read: subliminal messages) as effectively as anything I’ve seen to reach this objective. If those criteria count as artistic filmmaking then I see some legitimacy in winning at Cannes… though the politics couldn’t have hurt.
So, political implications? The film’s largest audience is undeniably the predisposed liberals, who largely went for the same reason I went to see Spider-Man 2: to watch a flawed hero kick some villain ass to rock music. The opposite extreme shows up from time to time as well. But none of these people were changing their vote anyway, so who cares? I’m not worried about the reasoned moderates on the grounds that they’re capable of making informed decisions about what want they see — though I do worry like hell about “educated” moderates because they have a high propensity to misidentify themselves as the reasoned ones. And finally, I have absolutely NO respect for what Moore is doing to the lower-class independent voter. Isn’t this the very type of person he’s supposed to have spent his entire life trying to protect from the other guy’s propaganda? Perhaps not that many of them chose to see the film in the first place, but I think Moore is hoping that just enough will to matter. And to the “but what about Limbaugh?” crowd, no that doesn’t make it okay in my opinion (I appeal to the “two wrongs” argument), but if you wanna talk about it Howard Kurtz does a whole thing on the phenomenon of retaliatory propaganda. Might be worth reading, since when Michael Moore Hates America comes out you can bet the issue’s coming up again.
I can honestly say after all this criticism that I do recommend seeing the film. The propaganda from both sides will get worse before it gets better, so we might as well learn about it from the master. Unless you’re one of those “educated” moderates, for whom I worry like hell.
Wednesday, July 14, 2004
On a practical level, I certainly acknowledge how serious an issue the Federal Marriage Amendment is for numerous constituencies. However, when you take a step back and look at the political strategy of it all, this has really shaped into quite an amusing story.
The scheme has been in the works for at least five months now (since Bush’s endorsement), and it seemed simple enough. Just introduce the FMA at a politically opportune moment and force a vote, knowing full well it has no hope of getting the necessary two-thirds of members present. Introduce it in the Senate so the House never has to go on record. When it fails, watch the religious right skewer everyone who voted against it and align themselves solidly behind Bush for standing with them. The Republicans are portrayed as the party of marriage, Kerry either abandons Catholicism to vote against it or abandons Massachusetts to vote for it, and Bush galvanizes his religious base without actually changing the Constitution. A foolproof “win-by-losing strategy”, right?
Well, the plan was going just fine for Karl Rove until just a few days ago when debate began on the Senate floor. The moderate conservatives, not inclined to alienate gays for all time and even less inclined to amend the Constitution, began criticizing the bill. The Democrats, whose ability to reframe the debate in a way that would stall the vote had been a complete failure thus far, immediately dropped all amendments and stalling tactics once they realized the vote wouldn’t even be close. The end result? The FMA is defeated 48-50, the Republican moderate-conservative rift is as wide as ever, the House has for some completely idiotic reason scheduled its futile vote anyway, and people like Harold Meyerson are skewering the Republicans on such a stupid strategy.
Politically it was widely considered a brilliant strategic move, as evidenced by the Democrats’ total helplessness until the conservatives imploded all by themselves. And it should be noted that this issue is far from dead — a defeat at the federal level increases the likelihood that empassioned religous groups will will force a constitutional ban onto referendums in key states, which helps Bush in the turnout department. Also, notice that only two senators were absent from the vote… can you guess which two? The political ramifications of their non-votes remain to be seen, though I suspect the damage couldn’t possibly be as bad as if they had actually performed their civic duty on this one. More significant in my mind is the GOP implosion on this issue — but just how significant? Is it possible that we’re seeing the crack widen to an outright schism between the neoconservatives/social conservatives and the federalists/libertarians?
For political game theorists, one thing seems obvious from this failed wedge effort. At some point, the GOP will be forced to decide whether it’s the party of Giuliani and Schwarzenegger or the party of somebody’s grandparents in Idaho. At the risk of sounding ominous, I suspect the long-run payoff of galvanizing the grandparents will be less than desired.
Tuesday, July 13, 2004
Well, I guess I’d better chime in about John Edwards before he’s lost in convention frenzy. After a week of media coverage there’s no need to rehash his biography, and it’s pretty much common knowledge that adding a Kerry salesman to the ticket was essential since Kerry can’t sell himself. I mean, good grief — in their first joint interview it’s like Edwards is propping Kerry’s positions up with a stick! Edwards has the remarkable ability to be similar to Kerry in personal wealth and policy position yet convince all the centrists he’s one of them, and the moderates — in their inadvertent collective wisdom — would have mass mutinied (albeit not in an actual voting-against-him sense) had Kerry chosen anyone else.
No, my question of the day concerns opposition strategy. If you’re the Republicans, Edwards has got to be your biggest fear. What could you possibly do to him? He isn’t exactly a traditional VP attack dog, in stark contrast to Cheney (who has perfected the art). Oh sure, the RNC’s opposition research is out there, but how much of that is really worth anything? This whole business with McCain being Kerry’s first choice was a weak half-day story at best. The daily rhetoric has been an attempt to paint Edwards as unaccomplished but it means nothing if the DNC ads can remind everyone he’s at least as experienced as Bush was in 2000 (and ten times as articulate as Bush is now). The people who would normally be affected by the accusations of �ber-liberalism have already made up their minds. Tort reform may shape into something interesting because of the deep Cheney-Edwards contrast, but this isn’t exactly an issue that resonates among the masses.
There’s only one Republican strategy I can think of that might actually have enough substance to stick: that everything right about Edwards merely serves to highlight everything wrong about Kerry. Consider Karl Rove’s sound byte:
This choice says more about Kerry than it does about Edwards. In his first presidential decision, Kerry used a poll to help him decide who would be politically advantageous to pick, not who would help him govern.
The Guardian spotted opportunism too [hat tip: Tim Boyd], Bill Safire’s already accused Kerry of attempting a “charisma transplant”, and the Kerry campaign seems to be trying to head the whole thing off at the pass by dumbing down Edwards comparatively. Does a contrast-by-compliment strategy actually work though? In the meantime, the two big questions about the Edwards counteroffensive are obvious: is this what they’ve got, and is this all they’ve got? Or are the latest polls speaking the truth: that the electorate is already so polarized the Veep doesn’t matter much anyway?
Monday, July 12, 2004
Herein marks my first official day of blogging, which I shall aptly celebrate by using the word “herein” questionably. While I’ve tried very hard to make this site as user-friendly as possible, I’m sure there will still be glitches and annoyances I didn’t catch. I hope you’ll email your suggestions for improvement, and feel free to post a comment on any of the posts as well. In return, I’ll try to make things interesting and frequent enough to keep those that may return from being too bored. Welcome!