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Slacker Friday ("Welcome Back Carlos Beltran" edition) | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

Slacker Friday ("Welcome Back Carlos Beltran" edition)

You may have heard—actually, it was here last week—that I published a 17,000 word essay on our political system and the problems any president, Obama in particular, but any potential progressive would face in trying to move it, on The Nation’s website last week. That’s here.

For my Think Again column this week, I round up some of the responses it has so far received. It’s called “Kabuki Democracy: The Responses” and that’s here.

Also, my latest Moment column is called "Israel's Greatest Enemy: Israel" and it's here.

I don’t feel like writing much on this long lazy afternoon, but I saw three shows last week when I was back in town and here are the world’s shortest reviews.

1)  Jill Sobule and Julia Sweeney at City Winery:  Incredibly fun and moving, I had no idea, and neither, probably do you. So see them if you can, trust me. (But Jilly, dahlink, Leslie Gore does not know your song.  Wouldn’t an impromptu “It’s My Party” singalong have been fun?) What wonderful women….

2)  Steve Earle and Allison Moorer and Rosanne Cash at City Winery: I know you’re jealous already. Steve and Allison are doing two more shows, the next two Thursdays. One with Greg Trooper and the other with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Tickets are appropriately scarce, so move on it.  He’s also touring with Hot Tuna. It’s nice of Steve to share my musical taste so intensely this summer.

3)  Cheap Trick and Squeeze at Radio City. How much does Cheap Trick suck, particularly if you get there late and miss “Ain’t That A Shame” and “I Want You to Want Me”? A great deal alas, and “Surrender” does not come close to making up for it, great as the studio version may be.  Anyway, they sucked.  Squeeze was just fine, though, so it was ok. Interesting how both bands can sound like the Beatles and nothing like each other.

Slacker Friday:

Charles Pierce
Newton, MA 

Hey Doc:

Let me take you baby down to the river bed/Got to tell you something go right o your head.

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Check Yo Bucket" (Eddie Bo)—I love New Orleans with all the mechanism in Dick Cheney's heart.

Part The First: I am glad that Dick Cheney once again was able to take advantage the benefits of single-payer, government-run health care. For some reason, his plucky battle against his failing heart reminded me of this piece I wrote for Esquire a few years back.

Part The Second: How Mark Halperin gets from his front door to the sidewalk without trading all the money in his pockets for a bag of magic beans continues to mystify and amaze. Again, I ask—why are these clucks never at my poker table?

Part The Penultimate: A question. Control of the U.S. Senate is hanging by a thread, given what may happen next November. It is possible that the balance of power in that body next year may well be in the hands of an ultraconservative claque made up of Jim DeMint, Rand Paul, and Sharron Angle, among others. (DeMint's already talking about it.) That being the case, do liberals really want to get rid of the filibuster? Really?

Part The Ultimate: The Landlord doesn't need me to defend his work, but he's getting a bad rap in the saloons along the docks of Blogistan for one line in his recent magnum opus: "Few progressives would take issue with the argument that, significant accomplishments notwithstanding, the Obama presidency has been a big disappointment.” This has been interpreted by some people to be the policy equivalent of Mrs. Lincoln's opinion about Our American Cousin. Roger Simon got the ball rolling, but Roger Simon is pretty much a clown, but then the folks at Balloon Juice chimed in. Actually, what The Landlord said there is neither contradictory, nor particularly unmoored in history. Legislative accomplishments, in fact, can be significant while, at the same time, hallmarks of a disappointing presidency. For example, the 1957 Civil Rights Act was unquestionably "significant." (It was the first such bill passed since Reconstruction). But its passage certainly was not proof that the Eisenhower Administration—or the Congress of the time—were not "disappointing" in the area of civil rights. This is why we had to have seven more years of violence and bloodshed before the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act were proposed and passed.

Now it will be argued that the Obama administration's achievements in health-care reform and financial-regulatory reform can be seen as "stepping stones" to better legislation down the line. In fact, that's the primary argument being made in favor of both of them since, on their merits, they're pretty weak beer. If so, then ask yourself fairly—has the White House demonstrated that its treating these significant accomplishments as important way-stations on the road to Something Better? Are they campaigning for more and better Democrats so as to have a Congress that will build on the foundation already laid? Are they making the case for the measures already passed in an effective and meaningful way, so as to make sure the foundation isn't smashed to rubble come next January?

(The history of the 1957 Civil Rights Act is instructive here. Having passed it, the political establishment took a deep breath and tried to declare victory. The forward momentum didn't become irresistible until Dr. King and the rest of the movement made it impossible to ignore.)

Not to mention the fact that, handing over the "reform" of entitlements to a former Morgan Stanley tea-sipper, and the implementation of the health-care reform to a former Max Baucus staffer who once was the vice-president of Wellpoint, don't reassure me at all that this administration considers its achievements as important steps toward a more equitable economic system or a more sensible health-care system. But to argue that an administration cannot pass "significant" legislation and nonetheless be "disappointing" is pretty damn silly. Under Richard Nixon, we got OSHA, the EPA, and the Clean Water Act, and I still think his presidency was something of a letdown.

P.S.—Despite this adminstration's "significant accomplishment," the continued employment of a yutz like Tim Geithner in a job wherein he can mess with Elizabeth Warren makes this administration a "disappointment."

Dave Richie
Birmingham, AL

Dr. A,

I finally got finished with your lengthy piece on the Obama presidency. I have tried to stay away from this, especially with my fellow conservatives, given the short period of time Obama has been our president. But it is, I think fair to say that liberals are somewhat if not bitterly disappointed. What do you expect of a man who is simply media driven? He has no idea how to make an executive decision. Therefore its all left to underlings and "90's style bureaucrats to get the job done. At least Clinton had the good sense to appoint competent people and then let them do their job before groping another intern. You have to give "..ole sticky britches.." credit. He got a few things done. But look at the incompetent boobs Obama has appointed. This gang makes Bush's idiots look positively brilliant. It is useful in my business, chemical manufacturing on a relatively small scale, to assess problems as though the perpetrator of a mistake is simply doing what I told him to do. This isolates the solution to my responsibility alone. You cannot solve problems of this magnitude without full engagement. That is something you will never see from this president. Neither the left wing media (Rachel (god, am I smart) Maddow nor Bill (god, am I smart) O'Reilly have much to do with this. Reagan and the '80's democrats proved you could move things forward if you didn't care who got the credit. In the last 4 presidencies and several congresses we simply haven't seen a constructive approach. Good to see your still capable of throwing some truly sharp elbow.

Konstantin Doren
Boiceville, NY

You only use the word "unemployment" once in your "Kabuki" article. It is a winning issue for Dems. If they push through all sorts of ways of helping unemployed, especially the extension of unemployment payments, without the 60-vote majority, I very much doubt most Americans will punish the Dems at the polls in November. Do you think Americans would vote against the Democrats if they had passed legislation that extended unemployment benefits and created a jobs and retraining program? Voters do not really care about Senate filibusters and other Senate rules. Let the GOP forcefully support cutting off unemployed and see how far that gets them. It is clear that the Dems and GOP and Obama are simply waiting for the private market to recover; that is the only jobs creation program underway in Washington. The Dems only want to allow unemployed a few more unemployment checks, but only if they can get 60 Senators to agree. Failing to end the wars, doing nothing to get people back to work and pushing through a health care program that forces middle class people to purchase the shitty insurance policies that the health care industry offers only reinforces the thinking that Obama and the Dems are no different than the Republicans. I never got on the Obama bandwagon, so am not surprised that the difference between the Bush and the Obama administrations is mainly in the change of the White House stationary. That The Nation has acquiesced to this obvious folly does not make the pill any less bitter to swallow.

J.R. Taylor
Washington D.C.

From your latest Think Again: My guess is that Noonan never made it to those arguments, but I can’t be sure. Methinks Peggy no thinky when too many drinky. Keep giving 'em hell . . .

Fr: Eric Alterman
To: Carlos Beltran

Welcome back, bub.

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