Saturday, August 23, 2008

American Politics: Honesty is Catharsis

We've poked fun at John Dickerson and ridiculed Mickey Kaus, but we keep coming back to Slate. What's the draw? The Slate style is easy to read, the stories are kept to 1 or 2 pages, and there seems to be a an effort to offer a narrative, even where no coherent narrative exists, to keep the reader trudging on. These narratives take the form of a mentioned poll or two(replace poll with study for the science writing), an anecdote, and then a novel hypothesis as to why things are the way they are. Of course, these hypotheses aren't always so novel, and Kaus still spends 95% of his blog space covering the John Edwards scandal (Is he smarting from missing out on the fun during the Clinton years? - Ed.), but we get the paid-amateur insight we came for.

That said, there are some good articles in Slate now and then. Jacob Weisberg's column today, "If Obama Loses: Racism is the only reason McCain might beat him" is one of them. These days most political commentary from the big media outlets comes in the form of childish nitpicking and the tortured analysis of each candidate's verbiage and syntax. These remind me of high school political discussions which usually boiled down to something like this-


Shuffle the order of the first six as you will, there's no better rhetorical flourish than calling someone gay at the end of a high school discussion. If that's the level of CNN/Fox commentary, Slate is the round table debate in the college dorm common area after they clean out the human feces that guy who got kicked out smeared all over everything a couple months ago. People are silly and pretentious, but they occasionally site something they read or tell an interesting story, and now and then someone shares a story with a bit more emotional honesty than you're used to. And this is Weisburg's article.

The thrust of it: "If you break the numbers down, the reason Obama isn't ahead right now is that he trails badly among one group, older white voters. He does so for a simple reason: the color of his skin." Skip a few sentances: "You can do the math: 12 percent of the Pennsylvania primary electorate acknowledged that it didn't vote for Barack Obama in part because he is African-American. And that's what Democrats in a Northeastern(ish) state admit openly. The responses in Ohio and even New Jersey were dispiritingly similar."

My own thoughts on the election are similar. I remember telling people during the primary campaign that race shouldn't be a factor in their decision because racially biased votors wouldn't vote for a Democratic candidate anyway. Maybe it will be a bigger issue than I thought. At this point, however, it's become a moral imperative for me, and for the country. If Obama loses because of his race, in an election to determine if the policies threatening an end to American prosperity will be continued, then there was no saving us to begin with. Crisis would then be the only way to bring about balance and change.

As Weisburg ends his column: "You may or may not agree with Obama's policy prescriptions, but they are, by and large, serious attempts to deal with the biggest issues we face: a failing health care system, oil dependency, income stagnation, and climate change. To the rest of the world, a rejection of the promise he represents wouldn't just be an odd choice by the United States. It would be taken for what it would be: sign and symptom of a nation's historical decline."

You may disagree, but at least he's saying something. New mathematical expressions of tired truisms and endless coverage of manufactured scandal--well those aren't saying anything at all.


yoggoth said...

Bonus points if those 5 lights in the photos remind you of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Herr Zrbo said...

I only see three lights.

Little Earl said...

I don't think I'm gonna get the bonus points.

But yes, that Slate article was more valuable than most. And I think the guy is right that it wouldn't merely be unfortunate if Obama loses; it would be just plain odd. Europe, especially, would just scratch its head and say "WTF?" I don't think McCain would be worse than Bush, but unless Americans seriously want to avoid that "crisis point" you mention, then half-measures and mild improvements aren't going to do it. It's time to get real.

Apparently there is this film out called "I.O.U.S.A." where they explain that we owe China tons of money and if China ever wanted its money back we'd be screwed. I did not really know about this. Does anybody else? Conservatives love to make fun of the "tax and spend" Democrats, but at least that's better than "no tax, just spend," right?

I say if Obama loses, get ready for a lifetime of "I told you so" as I scrape the last bit of moldy beans from a rusty can in post-apocalyptic 2036 New Mexico.

Little Earl said...

So yesterday I spent a few hours on the Fray (Slate's message board) reading what people had to say about this article, and it was like staring into the gaping maw of insanity. First of all, there were 22 pages of THREAD TITLES alone (the average Slate article has about two)! I think this guy really hit a nerve. Opinions varied so wildly I felt like I was being ripped into twenty different argumentative pieces at once. Some samples:

1) Jacob Weisberg is a racist
2) People don't want to vote for Obama not because he's black but because he's grossly inexperienced
3) People want to vote for Obama BECAUSE he's black, which is stupid and racist

Mostly the exchanges went like this:

"Don't call ME an idiot, YOU'RE the idiot!"
"No, YOU'RE the idiot, because of blank blank blank."
"Oh, that's exactly what a FLAMING IDIOT would say!"

And so on. It makes our arguments with Ninquelote sound like arguments between Simon and Garfunkel.

Note to self: Never read the Slate fray unless extremely, criminally bored.

yoggoth said...

Did Simon and Garfunkel have good arguments? I can't tell if that's an insult or a compliment. I'm trying to imagine them having an argument- Paul Simon is making a really good point that's intelligent and heartfelt, but Garfunkel's voice is just so sweet that I can't stop listening to him and Simon gets lost in the melodious effluvium...

ninquelote said...

I can't tell if that was an insult or a compliment either. I happen to think that our arguments are rather good. I don't think I'm an idiot, and I don't think you guys are idiots; just irrational and effeminate. (Just kidding)

Anyway; we might as well start the arguing here.

First of all, why would any American care what Europe thinks when it comes to America choosing a president. That's like the average Muslim caring who the next Pope is going to be. (And no, I'm not saying US presidents are like holy leaders, so no emails please.)

Second, I don't think Barry has any better chance of winning than old man McCain. They both seem like likable fellows, and they agree on a bunch of issues.

Third, I'm not voting for Obama because he's a socialist. I'm not a socialist and I don't believe that is the direction this country should be going; ever. Now does that mean I'm secretly a racist and I don't want to admit it? Of course not. Is America racist because some reporters found a couple of backwoods, redneck southerners that were willing to say on camera that they weren't voting for Obama because he is (half) black? Of course not. Everybody is looking for someone who represents them, but 99% of the time that doesn't happen, so we're stuck with Republicans and Democrats.

As a fourth note just so we're all clear about things here. I don't know if I'm voting for McCain either. I don't find him any more impressive than Obama most of the time. I think that's why the race is so close right now. We will have to wait for the debates to really get started.

I am ninquelote, and I approve of this message.

Little Earl said...

Lyndon LaRouche! Lyndon LaRouche!

ninquelote said...

Is LaRouche running again? I wonder if he got as many votes as Biden.

yoggoth said...

Socialism - "Any of various theories or systems of social organization in which the means of producing and distributing goods is owned collectively or by a centralized government that often plans and controls the economy."

All of Obama's proposed policies are capitalist as far as I know. Both his energy plan and health care plan involve tax breaks and subsidies for business. Any example of government ownership of the means of production in his proposals, or are you cleverly using my high school debating technique against me?

If I'm reading Little Earl's comment correctly he didn't say that Americans should be concerned about European opinion, but that Europeans would be particularly surprised if Obama did not win.