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Would You Like Some Humble Pie With That Tea? | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

Would You Like Some Humble Pie With That Tea?

My Think Again column is called “Our Trivial Political Media, Continued…” and it’s here

I’ve been very lucky in the live shows I’ve seen lately.

Last night… Bruce Springsteen, Roger Waters and John Mayer, Robin Williams, Jon Stewart, Ricky Gervais, Patton Oswalt, Max Weinberg (and band) and Mike Birbiglia paid tribute to wounded warriors care of the Bob Woodruff foundation and the New York Comedy Festival. Bruce, you’ll be happy to know, was quite sweet. He played solo—I guess he didn’t have time to rehearse with Max because he’s been kinda busy travelling of late—except for one (beautiful) song with Patti. He also told one bad joke and one terrible joke. Here was his set:

We Take Care of our Own
Bad joke about a dick injury and a wedding night
Working on the Highway
Tougher than the Rest (with Patti)
Another bad joke, but not a dirty one
Hope and Dreams
Auctions off the guitar and harmonica for and a personal tour of the backstage for $110K
Mystery Train

He followed John Mayer playing “The Long and Winding Road” which was pretty interesting and a really moving—shockingly, it must be said—set by Roger Waters who, together with G.E. Smith, (whom we like and admire, but will never forgive for agreeing to be Mitt Romney’s band leader), pulled together a band from the folk at Walter Reade hospital and they did an incredible version of “Wish You Were Here.” They also did a nice “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”  and a song from Levon Helm’s wonderful “Dirt Farmer” album, which replaced a Pink Floyd song we never heard, but was pretty great nevertheless. Because the audience was also filled with wounded warriors, the whole thing brought tears to lotta eyes.

The rest of the evening was all comedy. Jon Stewart was just fine and extremely respectful of the soldiers. Robin Williams was just terrific. Absolutely horrible, I am sorry to have to report, was Ricky Gervais. He was horrible last year when he did a bunch of old material from his HBO special, the balance of which was mocking overweight people (in a Republican science-denying fashion) and making fun of gay, anti-AIDS sex advice, (well, ok, but still). It was ten times as unfunny when he did the exact same material as before. I don’t have any obese people in my life but I still think it’s terrible that they are the only people whom it is socially acceptable to attack for who and what they are. Gervais insists that all of them suffer from a lack of will-power. HE is a socially regressive and ignorant jerk.

Though, it must be added that the audience loved it. And I’m glad the soldiers had a good time. And they did. So thanks to the Woodruff Foundation and the NY Comedy Festival for raising the money to help these guys out and doing it in such a fun and moving way.

The weekend before the hurricane, I was in a really great place: seeing each of Jazz@Lincoln Center’s two night tribute to the great John Coltrane. The first night, at the beautiful Allen Room, featured one of their short, intimate concerts by an incredible band led by the majestic McCoy Tyner with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette did up “The Gentle Side of John Coltrane,” and it was indeed a beautiful thing. The following night the big band put together a much more elaborate show of Coltrane tunes with new arrangements by members of the orchestra including Wynton Marsalis and Victor Goines, together with some pretty fancy soloing by guest Josh Redman, among others. It’s hard to find a body of work that has weathered the decades better than Coltrane’s but the combination of seeing McCoy et al, playing some of the originals as he did in the first place and reimagined versions of songs that were themselves reimagined in the first place—the highlight for yours truly being “My Favorite Things.” In any case, it’s a pretty good argument for what Jazz@LC does.

Also before the hurricane I saw a really nice show by Jane Monheit with fiddle genius Mark O’Connor at the 92nd Street Y. It was her birthday and she radiated a kind of warmth for her audience (and band, led by her husband Rick Montalbano Jr. on drums) that is impossible to fake. Monheit has released eight studio albums and one live disc since 2000 and she runs the gamut from classics to Brazilian numbers sung in Portuguese . Among the highlights was a powerful version of “Over the Rainbow” and, believe it or not, an exquisite version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which she sang because, hell, it was her birthday and she had no Christmas gigs this year.

Next I was extremely happy to be a Blue Note, which had been underwater and closed for its longest period in its history, for a one five nights of shows  done by the Chick Corea/Stanley Clarke  group with  Ravi Coltrane (sax), Marcus Gilmore (drums) and Charles Altura (guitar). You never know exactly what you are going to get with Chick. I have seen him do some of the worst shows in my life—I’m thinking of the band he put together in tribute to L. Ron Hubbard—and some of the most inspiring. I don’t think there is anyone in jazz—perhaps ever—who has mastered so many different kinds of music and proven himself a pioneer in so many as well. I was one of those people who was originally drawn to jazz via the “fusion” sound of the chick/Stanley/Al D/Lenny White version of RTF. Chick’s journeys have therefore been my journeys, whether moving backwards or forwards. (He was part of the amazing band Miles put together for Bitches’ Brew.)

At the Blue Note last he was the leader of an old fashioned jazz band. They played some Charlie Parker, some Joe Henderson, some Chick and Stanley originals, and did it by the book. It was marvelous. Though they hadn’t played together that long, the members listened to one another and built off eachother’s riffs. Chick, who looks to have lost 20/30 pounds, was in great humor and it was sweetness itself when the Mrs., Gayle Moran (Corea) came on for an encore from Crystal Silence. This kind of show at a place like the Blue Note just a few days after a hurricane is one of the many (many) reasons life, particularly life in New York, that make it worth getting through the day.

It’s still a little early for me to begin the annual box set/gift-giving guide. It’s been an incredible year for it so far whether with bluray collections, cd box sets, vinyl collections, etc. It’s also been a good year for gift books. I am in the process of doing all that hard work for you, watching, listening, reading, etc. But in the meantime, I want to strongly recommend the new cds by Neil Young, (“Psychadelic Pill”) and the guitar phenom, Gary Clark Jr., (“Blak and Blu”). Neil’s set with Crazy Horse is not exactly inspired, but it is generous and solid and deeply ingratiating. It’s his best in a long time. (Just don’t listen to it as an MP3 or that will really piss Neil off.) Clark is sort of Hendrix-like in that he as a virtuoso at the same time he writes tough-minded hooks and melodies you thought you already knew. I plan to go back to his earlier, smaller-label stuff as well.

And if you’re my age, you’ll probably enjoy the newly repackaged version of Jethro Tull’s “Thick as a Brick.” It comes with a lot of fancy mixes on a CD and DVD but also that wonderful old newspaper in much more readable form and lots of essays and photos in a nice hardback book package.

Now here’s Reed.

Brand Old Party: Conservative Media Fails, Decides to Shoot the “Messaging”

by Reed Richardson

A few days removed, it’s now something of an understatement to say that the 2012 election results offered plenty of bad news for conservatives. But it wasn’t just the many Republican names and causes listed on ballots across the country that had a bad night. Indeed, Tuesday’s reckoning might have saved its harshest judgment for another rarefied, right-wing constituency—the conservative media.

Certainly, this cohort’s predictions were proven to be as lacking in foresight as they were unanimous in their forecast. Some, like GOP charlatan Dick Morris, finally slunk back into the spotlight to eat their well-deserved serving of crow. Others, like Wall Street Journalcolumnist Peggy Noonan, who based her rosy Romney outlook on ridiculous intangibles like “vibrations” and “passion,” have basically gone to ground. Of course, an overwhelming amount of polling data and statistical analyses had basically foretold the Obama victory (right down to the exact Electoral College count), so much so that Tuesday night unfolded with but a few (pleasant) surprises for us liberals.

Now, whether these conservative pundits actually believed their own bullshit or whether they were just savvy enough to recognize there’s little room for competing narratives in a one-track mind, the effect was still the same. Starting even before Obama’s election in 2008, the right-wing media incubated an alternative universe—and eventually a political movement, the Tea Party—that sustained itself by eschewing facts for fiction. Stay for too long on this chimerical path, however, and one day you’re bound to collide with reality head-on. Or, as The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf notes about Tuesday’s electoral trainwreck, which the conservative media never saw coming:

On the biggest political story of the year, the conservative media just got its ass handed to it by the mainstream media. And movement conservatives, who believe the MSM is more biased and less rigorous than their alternatives, have no way to explain how their trusted outlets got it wrong, while The New York Times got it right. Hint: The Times hired the most rigorous forecaster it could find.

For his part, Friedersdorf concludes with a less than sanguine expectation about the conservative media’s capability for self-reflection. And as if right on cue, from the fetid fever swamps of Fox News we see that “the mainstream media tipped the scales in favor of Obama.” So, naturally, the press would be able to predict a victory they helped engineer, I guess. But this tired rehash of the old “liberal bias” canard falls apart under the scrutiny of this recent Pew survey, which found that, when horserace coverage was removed, the Obama and Romney campaigns received nearly identical amounts of positive and negative press coverage over the last two months of the general election.

So, how did things go so spectacularly wrong for conservatives? Why did the poorest Americans, unmarried women, and young voters, who are suffering the most in this white-knuckle recovery, still turn out in droves for Obama? Why did the increasingly powerful bloc of Hispanic voters flee Romney to the tune of more than 40 percentage points? Why did a solid majority of the middle-class think the president better understood their problems?

Well, the chafing dishes at Romney Victory headquarters had barely gone cold before you began to sense the conservative media coalescing around a possible answer to these difficult demographic dilemmas. Was it more mainstream views on reproductive rights? Nope. How about less xenophobic policies regarding immigration? Hardly. Maybe stop trying to dismantle our nation’s social compact at every turn? Dream on. Instead, all that conservatives really need to succeed in the next election, according to the conservative media, is some re-branding.

To be fair, the Republican Party brand is indeed damaged goods and has been for more than a decade. But to hear someone like the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin tell it, changing the policies takes a backseat to changing the presentation. Rubin, who really and truly has no intellectual honesty whatsoever, has been spending the post-election period both trying to airbrush over her prolific fealty to the Romney campaign while simultaneously pushing this re-branding message:

In the future, Republicans will have to find a way to appeal to the non-married, nonwhite, non-religious parts of the electorate. They must find a messenger or a message that is more than a standard conservative laundry list. They must figure out how conservatism can be presented as more than an abstract theory of the free market and as a compelling approach to addressing complicated problems.

Is there a “compelling” way to say, “more war, less healthcare, increased taxes for the rich, decreased job security?” I’m not so sure.

Over at The Corner there was a similar fixation with marketing and messaging, as much of the site’s post-election soul-searching read like the minutes of an advertising agency’s brainstorming session. (Warning, some of the deluded understatements below might snap your head back):

Charles Donovan: Still [the GOP young guns] have a challenge—to keep their message consistent, avoid talk of truces on the issues, learn how to speak to and represent women, especially single women, rethink the foreign-policy rhetoric that implies the next war is just around the corner, and reach an accommodation on immigration that welcomes new people to our shores while maintaining social order.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: He’s a good man and would have been a good president, but in the 47 percent moment, Mitt Romney did not articulate what you might have hoped. He did succeed at times, but it wasn’t the heart of the campaign, not in any obvious and consistent way. Not in the way we heard about Friday Night Light and theChallenger flag in the governor’s stump speech. Paul Ryan gave a fantastic speech on poverty, but it was at the end of the campaign.

Mona Charen: For now, before drawing larger conclusions, I think the roots of yesterday’s loss are to be found in a few places: […] as I’ve been arguing for many years—the Republican party’s unfortunate tone regarding immigration which gave Hispanic voters the sense that we are hostile.

To be fair, there were a few legitimate attempts by Cornerites to come to grips with the demographic reality confronting the Republican Party and how its ideology has alienated vast swathes of the electorate. In what passes for, at least these days, a healthy dose of conservative candor, Heather Mac Donald had the temerity to say what should be obvious—that Hispanic voters reject Republicans in the voting booth because they dislike the party’spolicies. But hers was the exception to the rule.

Indeed, one can still hear the echoes of the November 5th mindset in this post-electionback-and-forth between The Corner’s Lopez and conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt. It’s as instructive about the blinkered, stubborn nature of right-wing conventional wisdom as it is unintentionally hilarious:

KJL: Was the case against Barack Obama not strong enough?
HEWITT: The case against the president’s reelection is airtight, but just enough of the electorate voted for the hope that he could do better with experience.

“Airtight,” huh? (Mental note: Never ride out a hurricane in a storm shelter built by Hugh Hewitt.) Then again, maybe Hewitt meant for his comments on Wednesday to be taken literally, since it is technically correct to say that Obama can’t be reelected a second time, because of, you know, the 22nd Amendment. But I digress…

KJL: What message should this send to Republicans?
HEWITT: From Sesame Street: “Practice, practice, do it again. Over and over, till you get it.” The GOP has caught up on the technology front but not messaging. Its candidates need to be much more disciplined about ideas and their delivery. Mitt Romney was badly hurt by down-ticket races and controversies taking the focus off the message of freedom and faith.

Those vaguely intoned “down-ticket races and controversies” of which Hewitt speaks are no real mystery, of course. Over at the American Spectator, Robert Stacy McCain was bemoaning the electoral wounds self-inflicted upon the GOP by extreme right-wing Senate candidates Todd “legitimate rape” Akin and Richard “rape is a gift from God” Mourdock. On Tuesday, both men lost what were expected to be easy Republican pick-ups thanks to blowback from what McCain blithely calls their “ill-considered remarks.” His recommendation—massage the message so voters won’t know the truth:

Perhaps pro-life groups should sponsor a training session for political candidates, teaching them how to answer "gotcha" questions without either ceding anything to the abortion lobby or offending voters with off-the-cuff comments about rape.

As you can see from the transcripts though, in both the case of Akin and Mourdock—and contra McCain—there was no loaded, “gotcha” question. The pair’s shockingly ill-informed and condescending answers arose organically from run-of-the-mill exchanges during scheduled campaign interviews. More importantly, neither Akin nor Mourdock thought they’d said anything remotely controversial at the time. And that telling disconnect is what McCain and his ilk still can’t get their heads around—that the public’s outrage over their rape comments was never merely a superficial objection to the language they used to discuss their beliefs, it was a deeper rejection of the extreme nature of the beliefs themselves.

Good old Fred Barnes, over at The Weekly Standard, was trotting out the same “Ixnay on the aperay, you guys!” advice even before the last votes of the election had been counted. In the wee small hours of Wednesday morning, he was already chastising the GOP and blaming, in part, Akin and Mourdock as “Tea Party types who can’t talk about abortion sensibly.” Sensibly, in this context, apparently meaning in a way that obscures the fact that the Republican Party’s national campaign platform, which bans abortions even for rape victims, would offer up the same reproductive policy prescriptions as the likes of Akin and Mourdock.

Of course, there is a rich irony in all this after-the-fact tut-tutting over the Republican candidates’ mixed or missed “messaging.” That’s because the all these poisonous narratives that the conservative media now recognizes as having failed can be traced directly back to the very same conservative media. For the past four-plus years, nearly every conservative pundit, Tea Party activist, and Republican pol in this country has marinated in a toxic, right-wing media stew of mythical conspiracies, unfounded injustices, and barely disguised racial resentment.

By the time the GOP presidential primary rolled around last fall, the field of potential candidates were so saturated with invective toward the Obama administration that the only way to distinguish oneself was to run even further toward the extreme right. Hence, a formerly moderate, pro-choice Republican governor that had pioneered a model for universal healthcare surmised that, to win his party’s nomination, he had to become an almost unrecognizable, “severely conservative” candidate who talked about “personhood amendments,” “self-deportation” and “apology tours.”

Romney’s final evolution from moderate to reactionary came in mid-September, when he tromped all over the bounds of decency in order to score a cheap political point by mischaracterizing Obama’s handling of the unrest in Libya before knowing that four embassy officials had been killed there. As this Washington Post election autopsy from earlier this week reveals, even Romney understood that he had gone too far.

“We screwed up, guys,” Romney told aides on a conference call that morning, according to multiple people on the call. “This is not good.”

His advisers told him that, if he took back his statement, the neoconservative wing of the party would “take his head off.” He stood by it during an appearance in Florida. Two days later, Obama traveled to Joint Base Andrews to meet the four flag-draped coffins.

That the conservative media went on to vigorously defend what even Romney recognized at the time was a political mistake is symptomatic of their perverse ability for reflexive groupthink. (Also telling, that Romney is someone so craven and thirsty for power that he was willing to forego his own personal judgment and principles to basically appease the people who got us into the war in Iraq.) This moment, which represented the nadir of the Romney campaign, turned out to have great import not only on the 2012 presidential campaign but on its aftermath as well.

Why is this? Because perhaps born out of desperation, the Romney campaign finally decided to flip the script. And coincidentally, this plan, as this New York Times post-mortem uncovered this week, involved using the first presidential debate to completely reorient the campaign’s messaging to sound less conservative:

There was, advisers decided, one last opportunity on the horizon: the presidential debate in Denver. […]

Mr. Romney began testing out one-liners on friends flying with him on his campaign plane. On issue after issue, Mr. Romney led discussions on how to frame his answers, to move away from the conservative tone of his primary contests in front of the largest audience he would have as a candidate.

That’s why, starting in Denver that night and then over the final month of the campaign, Romney lied, contradicted, and obfuscated. Why he rolled out no new centrist policy proposals, but unveiled plenty of new bipartisan talking points. Why he seemingly agreed with Obama more during the final foreign policy debate than most liberals would have.

In other words, what the conservative media now recommends the next Republican presidential candidate do to win in four years sounds exactly like what the previous Republican presidential candidate did the last four weeks to no avail. The American people saw through this charade. Simply put, shooting the “messaging” is not enough when the conservative message itself is flawed.

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com.

 

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