Saturday, October 02, 2010


The 10-2-10 One Nation Together rally brought tens of thousands (which could also mean hundreds of thousands) of people to Washington Saturday, a very good turnout for a rally that wasn't all that well publicized. But it was a Democratic base rally--lots of unions, churches and other organizations did the organizing. Media accounts I saw were nondescript--participants noted the diversity (in marked contrast to the Beckistan rally) and good feeling. Here's what it looked like ( a diary posted at Kos by The Red Phone is Ringing, from which the above photos were liberally borrowed.) It's exactly a month until the election, and it's being recognized that if the Dems turn out, they win. Especially with info like this poll, which says that on all the issues polled (except terrorism), the majority of voters trust Democrats to do the better job.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"What I'm very proud of is that we have, as an administration, kept our moral compass, even as we've worked through these very difficult issues. Doesn't mean we haven't made mistakes, but I think we've moved the country in a profoundly better direction just in the past two years."

President Obama in his Rolling Stone interview. Photo above is from the rally this week in Madison, Wisconsin, with a crowd estimated by local officials at 26,000.

Politics of Governance

If as expected, President Obama announces the departure today of Rahm Emanuel as White House Chief of Staff, there's likely to be a lot of blather all day and night about the evil Rahm, his style etc. ad nauseam, and in particular from self-anointed progressives who blame him for leading Obama astray into compromises and misguided sissy attempts at bipartisanship. And maybe even a little worry that his replacement, Pete Rouse, isn't enough of a progressive fighter. (Interesting piece on Rouse in the W Post.)

While I'm reluctant to dive back into this mess at the point that progressive politicos may finally be focusing on winning midterm elections rather than whining, I'm still shaking my head over their conduct. Sure, they've got legitimate disappointments, and differences on how to get things done (the outside game of pressuring Congress by going to "the people" on issues vs. the inside game of carving out legislation and getting votes for it) but I'd like to point out that their inability to shift from braying constantly about politics to examining and analyzing governing is part of the problem, and one of the chief reasons for any "enthusiasm gap" that might exist. A big result of that is they talk much more about GOPers than they do about Democrats and President Obama (except of course to complain.)

For example, late last week President Obama went back to the U. of Wisconsin campus where he made headlines during his campaign by drawing an audience of 17,000. This time his audience was 26,000 with thousands unable to get in. He gave a rousing speech, which he duplicated to a smaller but very enthused audience of younger voters on Thursday. But both speeches were pretty much ignored in the progressive blogosphere (only the reliable blackwaterdog at Daily Kos diaried the former some 24 hours later, and an apparently very young and not very ept diarist did the latter), and while Rachel Maddow presented part of the Madison speech, other progressive gabfests turned to the complainers, one of whom--with unearned arrogance dripping from his Ready-for-K Street suit--said he was heartened because Obama used the word "fight."

On the day of the Madison speech, Obama's in-depth interview with Rolling Stone hit the net, and was quite amazingly ignored by these blogs and shows. I hope to write about this interview more than once in the next few days, but for now, I want to quote just this from President Obama:

"When I talk to Democrats around the country, I tell them, "Guys, wake up here. We have accomplished an incredible amount in the most adverse circumstances imaginable." I came in and had to prevent a Great Depression, restore the financial system so that it functions, and manage two wars. In the midst of all that, I ended one of those wars, at least in terms of combat operations. We passed historic health care legislation, historic financial regulatory reform and a huge number of legislative victories that people don't even notice."

Why didn't people notice? Maybe because on progressive blogs, Sarah Palin and the Tea Party get more ink than Obama and the Democrats. Maybe because the blogs and shows are so focused on the latest Tea Party racist xenophobic comment, the latest Republican lie and GOPer mini-scandal. Look at Friday's posts on TPM, which I regard as one of the better sites: one after the other about Christine McDonnell and her resume fibs. And not much else.

Some may say these kinds of stories are sexier, but I really don't get that. What's so sexy about gossip, which is essentially what these most resemble? I'm not denying they are relevant to a candidate's fitness for office. But so is what they've actually accomplished in office.

The way I see it is this: the progressive blogosphere and media couldn't break their addiction to politics long enough to cover governance. And Obama--and Nancy Pelosi--were about governance, in a time of multiple crises that deeply threaten(ed) the country on several fronts at the same time.

This was true more broadly. As President Obama said in Rolling Stone: "What is true, and this is part of what can frustrate folks, is that over the past 20 months, we made a series of decisions that were focused on governance, and sometimes there was a conflict between governance and politics. So there were some areas where we could have picked a fight with Republicans that might have gotten our base feeling good, but would have resulted in us not getting legislation done."

But what frustrates people including me is this obsession with the GOPer freaks and with everybody's opinion on how things should be done instead of reporting on what was being done. Apart from the diarists propelled chiefly by their glands and the usual inflated egos attracted to the big political stage, a lot of it is due to this tight Washington/media game that big time blogs are now part of. People get reputations and air time for being controversial and as extreme as they can get away with. They talk to each other on each other's shows, and they bounce around in the same echo chambers.

I know I'm not the only one who followed them with bated breath during the campaign who has been largely turned off by them since the Inauguration. This is a cumulative thing--individual hosts and writers can probably point to stories they've done on governance issues. But careers apparently aren't made there anymore.

They basically have been playing the GOPer FOX game: they talk about the same GOPer folks on progressive blogs and shows as Fox News does, except that Obama is probably on Fox more. And they wonder why the Obama administration makes some intemperate comments about them.

Besides which, I doubt that it's effective. Except for the gossip buzz, nobody outside of Delaware cares about just how weird Christine O'Donnell is, and moreover, nobody outside that tiny state can vote for or against her. The only national story with impact on local elections is what President Obama and the Democratic Congress do or don't do. That's the story that hasn't been very well told.

Taking a tabloid or more pertinently, a social media approach to issues and elections doesn't cut it, at least not by itself.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tony Judt

The last two quotes posted here, from Emerson and William James, both apply to Tony Judt. There's a fine memorial piece on him by Timothy Garton Ash in the New York Review of Books. Here are some excerpts:

"Critical though he was of French intellectuals, he shared with them a conviction that ideas matter. Being English, he thought facts matter too.

There are, broadly speaking, two kinds of polemical intellectuals. There are those for whom the taking of controversial positions is primarily a matter of personal peacock display, factional or clique positioning, hidden agendas, score-settling, or serial, knee-jerk revisionism. Then there are those who, while not without personal motivations and biases, are fundamentally concerned with seeking the truth. Tony Judt was of the latter kind.

Sharp and cutting his pen could be, but his work was always about seeking the truth as best we can, with all the search tools at our disposal—from the toothpick of Anglo-American empiricism to the searchlight of Gallic overstatement. Unlike the other kind of polemical intellectual, he was always in good faith. And he was always serious. Not drearily earnest—he enjoyed the acrobatics of intellectualism as others enjoy baseball—but morally serious. This was as true in private chat as in public discourse. In what he said and wrote, there was always that moral edge. He felt what he himself called, in a study of three French political intellectuals, the burden of responsibility.

Tony Judt was a very public intellectual but a very private man. He had a rich, close family life. In the last months of his illness, his wife, Jennifer Homans, and their sons, Daniel and Nicholas, set up for him a screensaver slide show on his desktop monitor. Besides happy moments from family holidays, it showed a lot of mountains (particularly the Alps) and railway stations—trains and mountains being two of his private passions.

Tony was a fighter, and he fought this illness with all his strength and will. Not for him the consolations of imagined eternity or Kübler-Rossish “acceptance.” We laughed at the great line that the English playwright John Mortimer reported coming from the mouth of his dying father: “I’m always angry when I’m dying.” He was a clear-sighted realist about what was happening to him, and what would or would not come after. Less than three weeks before he died, I said something to the effect that I knew he was going through hell. “Yes,” he said, with the eye equivalent of that no longer possible shake of the head, “but hell is a nontransferable experience.” So better to talk of other things: friends, bêtes noires, politics, books.

With the dedicated support of his family, devoted students, and professional carers, he found a way to go on doing what he did best—thinking, talking, and writing. In fact, the two years of his fatal illness were the occasion for a creative outpouring, with the Remarque Lecture on social democracy expanded into a short book (Ill Fares the Land, 2010); a set of memoir essays, composed in his head in those long periods of immobilized solitude, and then dictated (some have been published in these pages; the complete set will appear in book form as The Memory Chalet); and a book in which Tony talked through his planned intellectual history of the twentieth century, in conversation with Timothy Snyder. On e-mail—for once, an unmixed blessing—he could continue to “speak” in his old voice.

It is probably inevitable that his life and work will now be viewed, at least for some time, through the prism of his cruel illness—and the quite public way in which he described and fought it. But death should not be allowed to define life. These were, after all, only two years out of sixty-two. As a hardheaded, nonreligious, unsentimental realist, Tony would have greeted any formulaic sentimentalities about what “lives on” with that dismissive shake of the hand. But in some important sense, his intellectual Czernowitz is still alive; and his books will long be walking and talking among us."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

“We measure ourselves by many standards. Our strength and our intelligence, our wealth and even our good luck, are things which warm our heart and make us feel ourselves a match for life. But deeper than all such things and able to suffice unto itself without them, is the sense of the amount of effort we can put forth...He who can make none is but a shadow; he who can make much is a hero.”
William James