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Special Schadenfreude Edition... | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

Special Schadenfreude Edition...

My new Think Again is called  “Rupert, We Hardly Knew Ye,” and it’s here (with a special valentine to a Mr. Tim Groseclose).

Mark Schmitt did a longish review of lots of Obama books for the Boston Review, including Kabuki Democracy, here

(Whole lotta) Alter-reviews

Well, we’ve seen a kind of Macca-pallooza of late. Paul McCartney’s spectacular(s) at Yankee Stadium this past weekend were an awful lot like those of two years ago that opened Citi Field (minus the Billy Joel cameo on Friday’s show, but fans got it on Saturday). Like Brian Wilson’s shows—though on a much grander scale—Paul’s ambition is to recreate, exactly, the sound of his songs in the studio—and to make a case for his post-Beatles career together with the feel good/can’t fail sing along Beatles material—aside perhaps from “Revolution #9"—and so everybody goes home feeling good, and with top ticket prices near $300—richer or poorer, depending on whether you’re Paul or everybody else.

For everybody else, there’s two really sweet packages out lately, 1970’s "McCartney"—the album that announced the breakup of the Beatles and is Paul’s second or third best album—nowhere as good as “Band on the Run” and probably not as good as “Venus and Mars” but miles better than any of the others, and containing “Maybe I’m Amazed,” which is on par with any song he ever wrote though much of the rest is a throwaway; and "McCartney II," a weird, experimental CD which is worth a couple or three listens but is pretty hard to make sense of. If you read the Amazon page here you’ll get the history of both projects as well as the generous packaging and extras that make the whole thing worthwhile. And if all that is insufficient, you can stare at Paul’s face all you want—pre-work done that makes it look scarily like it did way back when—by picking up this massive collection of the late Linda McCartney’s work. It's a nice book, divided about evenly between Paul and the entire rest of the world. You’ll see some famous photographs there, of the Stones and of Hendrix, but the cover of “McCartney” is still one of my favorites of all time. I almost bought one recently for $4,500 but the little woman vetoed the purchase—wisely I’m afraid from an investment standpoint. Anyway, you can read all about Linda McCartney—Life in Photographs here. Finally, you can hear Paul rock out on this really fun new Buddy Holly tribute record which has some amazing performances, including Paul’s “It’s So Easy” along with some not bad ones. No terrible ones and most of the songs are great. (Paul owns the rights to the songs in case you were worried that he was not already making enough money.)  

I saw Raul Malo for the fourth time in the past year at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett not too long ago. It was a magnificent show. They had to cancel a Friday night show over a misssed flight but hastily rescheduled for Sunday night. He had the band with him and as the show went on both the band and the crowd—capacity is about 160—got more and more into one another. There was a lot of singing and drinking and Raul finally came across and sang my favorite song he does—the Hollies’ “Air that I Breathe”—and when it finally ended the band got a rousing standing ovation. I’ll go out on a limb here, though it’s not much of one, given that I’ve seen four shows this year and say that after a) Bruce, of course, and b) The Allman Brothers Band and c) I suppose the Stones, but they are after all the Stones, Raul Malo, particularly with band, is just about the most dependable form of musical entertainment you are going to find anywhere. The voice is a kind miracle, the muscianship first rate and the range of musical influences make it always interesting as well as fun. Trust me. And here’s the the most recent CD.

I also was happy to catch Loudon Wainwright’s annual summer show at the Talkhouse. Since he’s had a house nearby forever, and his parents are buried in East Hampton, it’s always a crowd of friends and family and Loudon could hardly be more comfortable playing his songs of difficult family moments—he’s created enough of them to launch his own country and western label—and “death and decay” now his favorite topic—before leading the crowd in a singalong of “Dead Skunk." It’s always a grand old time, though I can guaratee it would have been grander if Loudon had accepted my request to sing “I Don’t Think Your Wife Likes Me.”  The man has a new 4-CD/1-DVD box set, including a 40-page book. I don’t have it but I don’t really need it since I’ve been accumulating all the albums they’ve been on all these years, but you’ll like it if you haven’t and I’m sure the essay by David Wild is totally awesome because he used to edit me in college. About this Judt Apatow fellow, I cannot say.

Spectacle: Elvis Costello with... Apparently this show was cancelled after only seven shows, which is a damn shame, since it’s the best music show to air on television since the Johnny Cash show. These seven shows on two DVDs run 315 minutes in total. Once again, they ignored my complaints of last year and make it impossible just to watch the songs, like almost every other music DVD/Blu-ray in the world. So you have to listen to the talking part over and over. This is really silly in my view. But they have their reasons. Anyway, the shows are: Bono and The Edge on the first program; Neko Case, Sheryl Crow, Ron Sexsmith and Jesse Winchester on the second; Levon Helm, Nick Lowe, Richard Thompson and Allen Toussaint on the third; Elvis himself on the fourth (interviewed by actress Mary-Louise Parker); Ray LaMontagne, Lyle Lovett and John Prine on the fifth; and Bruce Springsteen as the sole guest on the final two programs, which are among the greatest shows ever.

The Drive-By-Truckers have a new greatest hits collection. They are one of the greatest bands around, fun, intelligent and surprising. And anyone ought to love this album as long as they like this kind of music and don’t have all the songs already. Still, life being what it is, they left off their by-far-and-away best song: the live version of “18 Wheels of Love.” They also left off their version of “People Who Died.” What are you gonna do? Read all about it here.

Now here’s Reed:

(Republicans) Party like its 1996

I realize the folly of trying to force historical analogies on current events. No two political moments in time are ever really the same, thanks to a myriad of different circumstances. So, it’s fair to say, as others have already pointed out, that the ongoing debt ceiling debate roiling our nation’s capital differs in many individual ways from the one that we experienced 15 years ago.

Nevertheless, if one was to step back and examine the broader themes being pushed and goals being pursued by today’s Republican Party in this political battle, it’s not at all difficult to find numerous examples seemingly ripped from the headlines of 1996. To me, the striking similarities between these two eras help to dispel two popular myths about the GOP circa 2011. The first of these is the idea that its fierce obsession with the current deficit is born out of a real concern for our country’s dire fiscal situation when, in fact, it’s little more than a tried-and-true tactic of sheer political opportunism. The second is the belief that the core constituency now charting the GOP’s ideological course is some newly conceived breed of conservative heretofore unseen in American politics, rather than the same-old aggrieved, pro-rich, anti-entitlement, culture warriors from decades past.

I admit that perusing the back-and-forth news accounts below can make for a somewhat depressing read—they only serve to highlight how little progress liberals have made in shifting the debate on this issue in the last decade and a half. But the political lessons learned in the trenches of the 1995-96 debt limit skirmish are worth revisiting. The public, as my very last example demonstrates, respects and ultimately rewards those political leaders willing to stand up and fight to protect and preserve the promises made to them by their government. Willingly negotiating those social compact promises away in the interest of seeking some ephemeral ‘grand bargain,’ however, not only makes this a less vibrant and just nation for its citizens, it’s a risky (if not fatal) proposition come Election Day. So, here’s hoping that, in this last case, the current occupant of the White House understands both the real-world and political value of history repeating itself.

Theme #1: Budget experts at CBO decry the counterproductive nature of debt brinksmanship; GOP repeatedly ignores them.

1995: “In July of 1995, during testimony to the Senate Committee on Finance, CBO Deputy Director James Blum decried the use of the debt limit statute as a tool by which to achieve deficit reduction: ‘Limiting the Treasury’s borrowing authority is not a productive method of achieving deficit reduction. Significant deficit reduction can best be accomplished by legislative decisions that reduce outlays or increase revenues.’”

2011: “Ironically, [CBO Director] Elmendorf noted that one of the potential consequences of even a brief period of default would be higher federal debt, triggered by a spike in interest rates and, thus, higher interest payments on federally issued debt.” 

Theme #2: For Republicans, raising the debt limit is really an excuse to attack entitlement programs.

1996: “The Republicans have used the debt limit—the need for an extension of the nation's borrowing authority—as a major club as they have sought to force Mr. Clinton to agree to a budget that would be balanced by 2002…‘We are tremendously apart on basic policy issues,’ like changes in Medicare, Mr. Gingrich said.”

2011: “Republicans in Congress will insist on real budget cuts and reforms of entitlement programs like Medicare before voting to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor said on Tuesday.”

Theme #3: Republican leaders identify the real budget problem—a Democratic President sitting in the White House.

1996:  “But [House Speaker Gingrich] said Republicans would probably not achieve a real balanced budget ‘while President Clinton is in the White House.’”

2011: “[Republican Senate Minority Leader] McConnell's proposal to allow the president to raise the debt ceiling came after he said in a Senate speech that the country cannot solve its fiscal problems with Mr. Obama as president.”

Theme #4: Congressional Republicans accuse the President of being too coy and passive about slashing the budget.

1996: “‘While we always welcome the President's support, his sincerity about working together to fulfill our goals is too often fleeting, with no real action to back up his words,’ [Republican] Senator Gregg said.”

2011: “‘Because you have not presented any written detailed proposal to raise the debt ceiling, our constituents are left in the dark as to what specific cuts you propose as well as what taxes you are planning to raise,’ the letter [to President Obama], which was signed by 64 House Republicans, reads.”

Theme #5: Doctrinaire conservatives in Congress show no compunction about blowing up themselves and the government.

1996: "Republicans and conservatives have been following a suicidal strategy for the last year," Donald Devine, a director of The American Conservative Union and a senior consultant to the Presidential campaign of Senator Bob Dole, said last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington…‘you fail if you try to run the Government from Congress when you don't have two-thirds and the President is from the other party.’”

2011: “House GOP Suicide Squad gets bigger…The House won’t pass a clean bill; it won’t pass a Grand Bargain; it won’t pass the Gang of Six proposal; and at least 80 House Republicans are prepared to try to kill the Plan B compromise.”

Theme #6: As a result, the crazy and slightly less crazy Republican factions in Congress can’t come to an agreement.

1996: “House and Senate Republicans are less in tune over the debt ceiling.”

2011: “House, Senate GOP leaders divided on debt-ceiling deal”

Theme #7: Then, Congressional Republicans whine loudly when confronted with the potential consequences of their political recklessness.

1996: “The Clinton Administration said this week that without an extension the Government might not be able to issue an estimated $30 billion in benefit checks on March 1. ‘This bill is designed to protect America's seniors from the scare campaign President Clinton is waging against them,’ [Texas Republican Congressman Tom] Archer said.”

2011: “Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) on Wednesday charged President Obama with using a ‘scare tactic strategy’ by saying he ‘cannot guarantee’ that Social Security checks would go out if no debt-ceiling agreement is reached by Aug. 2.”

Theme #8: Nevertheless, the GOP holds debt limit hostage up to the deadline, pushing for repeated stopgap measures tied to its draconian policy goals.

1996: “House Republicans will vote to give the Administration a 30-day extension on the debt limit, but only if it accepts some of the Republicans' legislative agenda on balancing the budget and cutting taxes.”

2011: “House GOP leaders have been discussing with Vice President Joe Biden a package of cuts, worth perhaps $1.5 trillion—that could be used as part of a potential deal crafted by Senate leaders that would let Obama raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit. A GOP source tracking the talks said House leaders might also use the cuts in a standalone bill that achieves a short-term extension.”

Theme #9: The public slowly comes around to the seriousness of the debt crisis and begins to realize who’s really at fault for not finding a solution.

1996: “President Clinton will address a public that is suddenly expressing new concerns about the Federal deficit but still gives Mr. Clinton higher marks than the Republican Congress for trying to break the budget impasse… His overall job approval rating among all those surveyed remained fairly steady at 47 percent.”

2011: “Voters will blame Republicans over Obama 48%-34% if the debt limit is not raised…The president's overall approval rating in this poll is 47%.”

Theme #10: In the aftermath, one party’s stand against gutting entitlements during the debt limit crisis gives it a powerful (and winning) message in the next presidential election.

1996: “When Medicare emerged as the defining issue in 1995, it allowed Clinton to run campaign ads the next year portraying Dole as indifferent to senior citizens’ fears and pains….In the post-election discussion at Harvard, Dole's campaign manager Scott Reed gave the Clinton campaign credit for ‘the way the Medicare issue was played out. It was very effectively wrapped around our neck.’”

2011: ???

The mail:
Greg Springer
Forney, TX
I'm hardly a wealthy republican.  I am an educator like yourself.  I teach at an innter city school in Dallas and in addition to teaching calculus and algebra to my students.  I try to convey the message that we live in the greatest country in the world that allows one to chase a dream and backed with a little knowledge and a risk taking spirit you can rise above generations of government dependancey.  A cornernstone of my philosophy is personal responsibility.  Your attacks on the rich, who pay almsost all of the income tax in America, is akin to bitting the hand that feeds you.  I admire these risk takers who have made this country great and have fostered many technologial and medical advances.

I imagine this message won't even be read and if it is you will assume that I have been brainwashed by the conservative media.  I hope this is not the case but I will close with this: The Country that we both love enjoys the greatest freedoms in the world.  The one most imprtant freedom is the ability to share our ideas without fear of being locked up or worse.  Keep up  your idealogical fight and I will keep mine in the trenches as well.

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