The Character of Presidents
The President we get is the country we get. With each new President the nation is conformed spiritually. He is the artificer of our malleable national soul. He proposes not only the laws but the kinds of lawlessness that govern our lives and invoke our responses…. [T]he media amplify his character into our moral weather report. He becomes the face of our sky, the conditions that prevail. One four-year term may find us at reasonable peace with one another, working things out, and the next trampling on each other for our scraps of bread.
—E.L. Doctorow, November 9, 1992
A race-transcendent politics is most likely to succeed when the white community takes responsibility for overcoming its racism, not when the black community decides to forget about it.
–Haywood Burns, “Apology for Archie,” December 3, 1990
S&Ls, Triumphs of Capitalism
The savings and loan adventure [has left a] gambling debt of $500 billion ($150 billion plus interest and other incidentals)–or will it be, as some economists predict, a trillion four?…
If, as seems entirely likely, there is no wholesale imprisonment of S&L scoundrels and no massive ouster of the politicians who betrayed us, who is going to feel most of the pain? You know the answer. You will, sucker. You, O citizen of this wretched Rome, are going to get raptus regaliter. Royally screwed.
–Robert Sherrill, November 19, 1990
“Underclass,” an essentialist category, like underworld, became very popular in the Reagan years. “Overclass” somehow never caught on.
–Alexander Cockburn, “Beat the Devil,” July 24/31, 1989
A Blizzard of Images
Never before has a political movement set about implementing its demands by means of such a calculated manipulation of the media, by plastering the urban landscape with faux Madison Avenue advertisements that plagiarize existing ads or by drawing cartoon balloons containing messages about government inaction that billow out of the mouths of models in fashion and cigarette ads at bus stops.
…Although academic critics have long held that their own efforts are vitally relevant to left politics, ACT UP is the first practical application of the unwieldy apparatus of contemporary art and literary theory to grass-roots activism…. [T]he coalition’s media savvy derives from its members’ convictions that they must generate their own set of countercultural images to inoculate against oppressive racist, homophobic and misogynist ideologies…. ACT UP’s image-centricity is thus not so much one of its major concerns as it is its very modus operandi.
–Daniel Harris, December 31, 1990
In L.A., Burning All Illusions
Although arsonists spread terrifying destruction, the looting crowds were governed by a visible moral economy. As one middle-aged lady explained to me, “Stealing is a sin, but this is like a television game show where everyone in the audience gets to win.” Unlike the looters in Hollywood (some on skateboards) who stole Madonna’s bustier and all the crotchless panties from Frederick’s, the masses of MacArthur Park concentrated on the prosaic necessities of life like cockroach spray and Pampers.