Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.
Last spring, when Fox News announced that Glenn Beck had been chosen for the rapture from their ranks—his last day will be Thursday—the network started playing a promo for Beck’s personal end-time that could have been a trailer for Enemy of the State. Called “The Final Chapter,” it flashes words of evil like “Obamacare,” “net neutrality” and even “Food regulations” with black-and-white photos of President Obama, Van Jones, George Soros et al., casting Beck and, by extension, his audience as characters in a national security state thriller:
The heart-pounding staple of fear-inducing Republican ads, sounds a lot like the music backing Tim Pawlenty’s much-mocked action-thriller campaign video, which in turn echoes the theme to The Dark Knight, one of the right’s favorite flicks. Conservatives see that Batman movie as a 9/11 allegory, a municipal security thriller—the posters showing Obama in Joker make-up were spin-offs, and no less than the New York Post once swooned that the Dark Knight was “Dick Cheney with hair.”
And it would be just like Beck to overdramatize his departure as a coup d’état, or a final plot twist in an Allen Drury script. Of course, Beck has been shedding advertisers and viewers for more than a year as his paranoid vigilante shtick wore thin, but that isn’t the reason he’s been axed: Rupert Murdoch subsidizes many projects that don’t turn a profit, the New York Post for one. No, Beck is leaving because he’s served his purpose for Fox and its subsidiary, the Republican Party. And the kind of movie that Beck’s audience has been cast in isn’t a superhero thriller or even a standard save-the-world spy thriller but a very specific genre all its own: the amnesiac national security melodrama, like Matt Damon in the Bourne movies or Gregory Peck in Mirage.
Those movies always start with the hero waking up just after a blinding psychological trauma that has left him unable to remember who he is or what he’s done. As he begins his search to find his identity, he comes to believe that danger is all around him. Only by relying on his most violent instincts can he hope to survive; slowly, with the help of a flawed, unprepared and often compromised helper (usually a woman, but Glenn Beck is very good in this role), the hero comes to terms with who he really is and finds the courage to live as that reintegrated personality.
This plotline pretty much describes the hysterical reaction of the Tea Party to the calamity of George W. Bush’s presidency and Beck’s role in reviving their will to live. After the economic collapse and the elections of 2008, the panic on the right was completely understandable. Bush made it clear that everything conservatives had fervently believed was false: tax cuts and deregulation don’t create jobs, American armies can’t remake the Middle East, capitalism is really socialism for the very rich, and the party of fiscal conservatism is in fact more profligate than generations of Democrats.
Taken together, this succession of ideological impossibilities hit the Republican base like the two bullets in Jason Bourne’s back. (Unfortunately, the rank and file do not have a laser signal for a numbered Swiss bank account buried in their hips—only their leadership gets that.) They underwent a severe psychological break, and when they came to they were no longer Republicans at all: They were Tea Partyers.
These conservative voters might well have awakened as progressives, given what had happened to them and at whose hands. Hollywood’s national security thrillers always have an anti–right-wing spin (even when the books they’re based on don’t, like the Tom Clancy adaptations), because the idea of leftwing authoritarians taking over the country is, frankly, not believable.
But through the alchemy of wild hysteria and Vick’s Vapo-Rub-induced tears, Beck convinced his audience that their values had never been wrong, they had simply been betrayed by conservatives-in-name-only—that the GOP’s ideology wasn’t flawed, only its leadership was.
Like, mirabile dictu, George W. Bush himself. To them, Bush’s worst lie wasn’t about weapons of mass destruction but about just how conservative he really was. During the Egyptian uprising, Beck told his audience that both Bush administrations “told our bombers not to bomb…ancient Babylon. Why? Because the Bible tells us that that is the seat, right here”—he points to a small blob on his chalkboard—“of power, of a global, evil empire. Well, that's also where the twelfth imam from Iran is supposedly going to show up…” (See?)
Beck’s querulous, portentous, giddily apocalyptic delivery was perfect for this message of shocked—shocked!—realization. Once through the looking glass of Bush’s perfidy, you could sell these people almost anything: the Democrats had somehow managed to steal away the bonny effects of trickle down, the stimulus had actually made things worse, taxes just never got low enough or regulations lax enough to really let the free market deliver us its riches, and so on and on. There were enough conspiracy theories in the John Birch archives to keep it all spinning like a top, at least for a year or so. By that time, Obama had been in office long enough to own America’s problems—and Beck’s form of extreme psychotherapy, once so useful in nursing the right through a kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome, was superfluous.
So now it’s time for Beck, like the dead girlfriend in The Bourne Supremacy, to float off into the dark river of talk radio and the Internet, his role accomplished, the hero—a k a “the base”—restored. With the confused, nerve-wracking, touch-and-go exposition now over, Fox is moving on to the part of the script where the beleaguered hero begins to take his vengeance. And for that, there’s a new supporting cast made up of 2010 freshman governors—Walker, Scott, Christie, Kasich, LePage—each a union-slaying, New Deal–demolishing enforcer.
Which brings us to the Beck Ultimatum. Glenn has jumped so many sharks in the past year that he couldn’t possibly have satisfied even his shrunken audience’s sense of impending doom day after day for much longer. Toting a sign around that reads The End Is Near will, sooner or later, force you to deliver an event of commensurate desperation—even if it’s only your own departure. Fortunately, the oligarchic economy itself, crippled by the radical policies of those Republican governors and their cohorts in Congress, is making good on Beck’s prophecies. The world is ending, in a way, for a lot of people, and so is that idyllic postwar dream.
“I have a strange relationship with you,” Beck confided to his TV audience in one of his “Final Chapter” shows. “I feel you when I look into the camera.… I feel you say, ‘We get it. We get it. Now what?’ ”
It's difficult to imagine your heroes and she-roes arriving at greatness in "accidental" fashion. It’s hard to envision Magic Johnson as an "accidental basketball player", who just stumbled into a gym and started zipping no-look passes. No one thinks Adele sings like Adele because she was pushed onstage at a karaoke bar. We are taught that focused, hyper-competitive ambition is a prerequisite to achievement. The reality is often far more pedestrian.
Enter arguably the finest sportswriter above ground: Robert Lipsyte. Lipsyte has chosen to call his new memoir "An Accidental Sportswriter" and title alone raised my eyebrows. He really did come upon this brilliant career accidentally: a dizzying tale of luck, talent, and political acumen merging to create an indelible journalistic mark. His acclaimed New York Times column blazed new trails as an unabashedly progressive exercise in the politics of sports. But as we learn, it didn't rise out of any sort of grand design. Lipsyte had a summer job as an editorial assistant (which meant assisting in getting coffee for the editors) at the "Grey Lady." It was a pit-stop on the way to grad school and he never left. For several years he toiled for little pay at the disrespected corner known as the sports page. Then came a stroke of luck: the Times’s regular boxing writer wanted to cover a horse race rather than travel to Miami to see a blowhard young boxer named Cassius Clay get his behind handed to him by the fearsome champion Sonny Liston. The 26-year-old Lipsyte was dispatched down south to see the 22-year-old Olympian the papers called "Gaseous Cassius." While the older media was somewhat horrified by Clay's antics, Lipsyte's youth and politics allowed him to see what others could not: that the man who would be known as Ali was something special.
Lipsyte has a front row seat when, in one of the great pop cultural collisions, the Beatles visited Clay's training camp.
As he writes,
"As I climbed the splintery stairs, there was a hubbub behind me. Four little guys around my age in matching white terry-cloth cabana jackets were being herded up. Someone said it was that hot new British rock group on their first American tour....A British photographer traveling with the Beatles had tried to pose them with Sonny Liston, but the champ had refused-"Not with them sissies," he was supposed to have said-and now they were settling for a photo op with the challenger. At the top of the stairs, when the Beatles discovered that Clay had not yet arrived, John Lennon said, "Let's get the fuck out of here." But two huge security guards blocked their way and crowded them into an empty dressing room. I allowed myself to be pushed in with them, figuring to get a few funny quotes. Had I understood who those four little guys were, I might have been too shy to become, briefly, the fifth Beatle. But then I was also clueless about Clay. The Beatles were cranky in that damp dressing room, stomping and cursing. I introduced myself, rather importantly, I'm afraid, and they mimicked me. John shook my hand gravely, saying he was Ringo, and introduced me to Paul, who said he was John. I asked for their predictions. They said that Liston would destroy Clay, that silly little overhyped wanker. Then they ignored me to snarl among themselves again. Silly little overhyped wankers, I thought. Suddenly the locker room door burst open, and Cassius Clay filled the doorway. The Beatles and I gasped. He was so much larger than he looked in pictures. He was beautiful. He seemed to glow. He was laughing. "Hello there, Beatles!" he roared. "We oughta do some road shows together, we'll get rich." The Beatles got it right away. They followed Clay out to the boxing ring like kindergarten kids. You would have thought they'd met before and choreographed their routine. They bounced into the ring, capered, dropped down to pray that Clay would stop hitting them. He picked up Ringo, the bittiest Beatle. They lined up so Clay could knock them all out with one punch. They fell like dominoes, then jumped up to form a pyramid to get at Clay's jaw. The five of them began laughing so hard their impromptu frolics collapsed. That photo op is a classic (Check YouTube; you might even see me.) After the Fab Four left, Clay jumped rope, shadowboxed, and sparred as his court jester, Drew Bundini Brown, hollered, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, rumble, young man, rumble!" Afterward, stretched out on a dressing room table for his rubdown, Clay pretended to fall asleep as reporters asked him what he was going to do after he lost. Finally, a crabby old reporter from Boston said, "This whole act is a con job, isn't it?" and Clay pretended to wake up and he said, "I'm making all this money, the popcorn man making money and the beer man, and you got something to write about. Your papers let you come down to Miami Beach, where it's warm." The Boston reporter shut up. I think that was the moment when I began to wish this kid wasn't going to get his head knocked off, that somehow he would beat Liston and become champion or at least survive and keep boxing. He would have been such a joy to cover, I thought. Too bad he's got no chance. Too bad he's only passing through, a firefly fad like those Beatles. We could all have had a blast."
This is only one gem in a book packed with stories alternately hilarious and moving about Mickey Mantle, Howard Cosell, and people at the gritty grass roots of sports in New York City. While I still don't fully understand Lipsyte's attraction to NASCAR the descriptions of him taking the wheel and burning rubber around the track at over 120 mph made me want to grab a helmet and ride shotgun.
But the book is more than a stroll down memory lane. In the most striking sections, he interrogates his old columns and laments how he would write about great female athletes like Wilma Rudolph or Billie Jean King. He examines his own assumptions about race, class, and gender and charts how they changed from the 1960s to today. Honestly, I've read many books like these and I have never seen a journalist put themselves under this kind of magnifying glass. It's brave and very affecting.
I should say in the name of full disclosure that Bob Lipsyte writes some very kind things about me in the final chapter. I should also say that even if he had chosen to say that I was little more than an oozing boil, this review would read exactly the same.(except I probably would write, “I could have done without the whole ‘Dave Zirin is an oozing boil’ section.)
This is a book to be read, shared, and treasured. It's beach reading. It's classroom reading. It's storytelling at its finest. In other words, it's pure Bob Lipsyte.
After a wretched start to the 2011 season, the Boston Red Sox are back in the driver’s seat, leading the American League East. Red Sox Nation, in all its obnoxious glory, knows that their meteoric rise has been fueled by the play of new off-season acquisition Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez is having a monster year, leading the AL in batting average, hits, doubles and runs batted in. The former number one over-all draft pick is a shoo-in to make the 2011 AL All-Star team. This honor is well deserved and I’ve confirmed with the Boston Red Sox and Gonzalez himself that, whether elected by fans or selected, he will in fact be playing at the All-Star Game in Arizona.
That’s very good news for Major League Baseball and many fans. But it’s bad news for immigrant rights activists who have looked to Gonzalez to boycott the game because of Arizona’s horrific “papers please” immigration law SB 1070. Last year, as protests gathered outside twenty Major League ballparks with a focus on moving the 2011 All-Star Game out of Arizona, Gonzalez became the highest profile player to indicate that he wouldn’t participate if the “midsummer classic” went ahead as planned. He said last May, “It’s immoral. They’re violating human rights. In a way, it goes against what this country was built on. This is discrimination. Are they going to pass out a picture saying ‘You should look like this and you’re fine, but if you don’t, do people have the right to question you?’ That’s profiling.”
In a different interview he said, “If they leave it up to the players and the law is still there, I’ll probably not play in the All-Star Game. Because it’s a discriminating law.”
He now says that he always meant his comments to mean that he would follow the lead of the Major League Baseball Player’s Association on whether or not boycott. Last May, the MLBPA issued a stern statement that read in part,
“The Major League Baseball Players Association opposes this law as written. We hope that the law is repealed or modified promptly. If the current law goes into effect, the MLBPA will consider additional steps necessary to protect the rights and interests of our members.” From my contact with sources in the union, I can confirm what’s now become obvious: that they have no plans to call for any kind of a boycott. Their belief is that since the most controversial aspect of SB 1070—requiring police officers to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the United States illegally—has been struck down by the courts, the urgency for action has waned.
It’s certainly welcome news that the courts saw the lunacy of SB 1070 for what it was, but I would argue that the MLBPA and Gonzalez are mistaken for thinking that the worst is behind us. Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer is appealing directly to the Supreme Court for a full reinstatement of the law. Other parts of the legislation such as stiffer prison sentences and preventing municipalities from declaring themselves “sanctuary cities” are unchallenged and now on the books. Most critically, SB 1070 has spawned even harsher copycat legislation in Alabama and Georgia.
The attacks demand a response and the All-Star Game is a critical place for our voices to be heard. A boycott and protest outside the stadium gates has been called and rightfully so. Baseball depends on Latino talent for its very survival. Twenty-seven and one-half percent of all players were born in Latin America. They fill the ranks of every All-Star roster and are a near plurality of all minor league players. Commissioner Bud Selig, by financially rewarding the state of Arizona as well as the Diamondbacks’ owner, right-wing financier Ken Kendrick, is now underwriting bigotry. The way that Bud Selig continues to sponge himself luxuriantly in the spirit and memory of Jackie Robinson while ignoring the injustices of today—something Jackie would have never done—is, frankly, nauseating. As Enrique Morones, former Vice President of the San Diego Padres said to me, “If Bud Selig was around in the 1940s, he would have dithered and Jackie Robinson never would have gotten his chance.”
Here’s hoping that when Gonzalez takes the field, as the cameras turn toward him, he makes some sort of visible stand for those who are forced to live in the shadows. If he doesn’t, those outside the stadium will just have to shout that much louder.
Carmen García wrote this guest post, with reporting by Ari Melber.
Over one thousand liberal activists gathered in Manhattan on Thursday night, in a bid to counter the Tea Party and elevate a progressive who can tangle with the Becks and Bachmanns that dominate today’s outraged populism. The event launched "Rebuild the Dream," a MoveOn-backed effort to organize around economic issues.
The crowd that filed into Town Hall in midtown Manhattan was a mix of progressives old and young, in work clothes and casual attire. While they mingled and waited for music by The Roots, a second event was staged in a nearby press room. There reporters and bloggers heard from the would-be leader of a liberal Tea Party -- the attorney, author and former Obama official Van Jones. Bowing to the lexicon of today’s Left, however, it was clear that Jones was not announcing a “campaign,” (despite the flashy website, social media strategy and PR campaign). He was not launching a lobbying “coalition,” either, (even though the effort was backed by MoveOn, labor unions, USAction, TrueMajority and "many others to be announced"). The event promised the beginning of a movement.
According to Jones and MoveOn, the driving forces behind the launch, "Rebuild The Dream" is the Left’s collective effort to use grassroots organizing and new media to challenge the rhetoric coming out of Washington and strengthen the middle class.
Jones is a natural fit to lead the effort. For many Democrats and liberals, he is viewed as a rare pol who can leverage authority, celebrity and purity. His professional and ideological credentials are in good order; he led up Green Jobs for the Obama administration, and was infamously run out of that job after a misleading and race-baiting campaign by Glenn Beck. Jones never sold out -- he blew up.
“He’s a great communicator,” says MoveOn head Justin Ruben, “and we need more great communicators.”
Ruben and Jones say they are following the Tea Party's strategy. “The thing that we’ve been doing a terrible job of is telling our story,” says Ruben. Highlighting how conservatives managed to unite Birthers, tax-phobes, and social conservatives under one ideological and—perhaps more importantly—rhetorical brand, Ruben said "Rebuild The Dream" could play a similar role for multi-faceted liberalism. It will be a “movement service organization,” he said, with Jones as a visionary -- not director -- and an opportunity for activists to unite under a “common banner, both literally and figuratively.” There will be "American Dream House Meetings" in mid-July, convened through MoveOn, to gather input on the effort's goals.
Some major principles, however, have been predetermined.
In Jones' speech on Thursday, he argued that an active government was critical to building a healthy middle class, regulating responsible employers, and cultivating “good citizens.” He warned the audience about three “lies” animating the conservative narrative: America is broke; Taxing the wealthy is bad for the economy; and “Hating” on our government” is actually patriotic. There was more red meat on these contrast points. Jones offered several lines zinging Right wing greed, including his observation that “Corporate America would be the worst boyfriend ever” -- which drew plenty of cheers. Defining an opponent is useful for organizing, but it’s an open question whether Jones’ critique of conservatives is shared by all the potential allies he wants to recruit for this effort.
As Jones spoke, his old boss was 11 blocks away at the Sheraton in midtown, asking for campaign donations. While rarely referenced explicitly, Barack Obama definitely loomed over the proceedings on Thursday. Rhetorically, Jones cast Obama's election as a step towards larger goals. His tone was deft, toggling between a dose of disappointment with Obama (“We voted for peace and posterity, we got war and austerity”) and a call for people to finish the job themselves (“It’s not yes he can -- it's yes we can”). Substantively, the core premise that liberals need their own populist Tea Party assumes a failure of Obama's Democratic Party, as well as the extant national institutions on the Left. Finally, it's worth remembering that Obama functions as something like the negative space on the Tea Party's canvas; their protest movement is cohesive because its adherants are all mobilized against Mr. Obama. There's nothing like uniting against a single, clear opponent, and for "rebuilding the dream" or re-electing the President, the Republicans' disarray has left the Left without one for some time.
For more on Van Jones' work with Rebuild The Dream, check out this article by The Nation's Ari Berman. For reporting on the attacks on Jones when he served in government, check out this article by The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel.
Article by Carmen García, with reporting by Ari Melber. Photo: Jones with The Roots, courtesy of Rebuild The Dream.
“Families who are scraping by every day see no real relief in sight,” Amanda Greubel, an Iowa mother of two, told a roomful of US senators Thursday morning. “We hear that corporate welfare continues and CEOs get six-figure bonuses at taxpayer expense, and we look across the kitchen table at our families eating Ramen noodles for the third time this week…. We know that money talks around here, and that means you don’t hear us.”
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions heard Greubel’s pleas during a hearing called “Stories from the Kitchen Table: How Middle Class Families are Struggling to Make Ends Meet.” As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee three floors below, outlining American plans for “longer-term sustainable development that focuses on spurring growth” in Afghanistan, senators on the HELP Committee heard about the urgent need for “nation building here at home,” as President Obama put it in his address to the country last night.
Greubel and her husband work for the public school system in DeWitt, Iowa, and both had their salaries reduced during recent state spending cuts. She tried to convey to the committee the real effect it had on her family. “The loss of that income required a complete financial, emotional, and spiritual overhaul in our family,” Greubel testified, describing shopping trips to Goodwill stores and discount supermarkets, and cold cereal for her children at dinnertime. “We did everything that all the experts said we should do, and yet we’re still struggling. When you work as hard as we have and still sometimes scrape for the necessities, it really gets you down.”
The committee also watched a short video by documentarian Susan Sipprelle, who is working on project called “Over 50 and Out of Work,” which tells stories from people facing unemployment after long careers but before retirement. It was similar to this version, posted on the project website:
Jared Bernstein, a progressive economist who until recently worked in the White House on Vice President Biden’s economic team, also testified and presented some data behind what he called the “middle class squeeze”—the notion that middle-class families are having an increasingly difficult time achieving things like home ownership, college education and healthcare coverage. He noted that worker productivity has grown at much higher rates in recent decades than real median family incomes, and that income inequality has dramatically increased over that same period.
It was overall an unusual display in the Senate, as stories of economic hardship were brought directly into official hearing rooms. Senator Tom Harkin, who chairs the committee, appeared visibly distressed during some of Greuber’s testimony and later called it “one of the most eloquent statements about the plight of the middle class and what’s happening to families out there that I’ve ever heard.” (You can watch her testimony here, at the fifty-one-minute mark).
But the hearing also had a feeling of futility to it. The Senate is mired in gridlock, and earlier this week wasn’t even able to pass reauthorization of the Economic Development Act, which would have provided grants to economically distressed areas to generate job growth. The reauthorization enjoyed wide bipartisan support in the past.
That gridlock and indifference was on full display Thursday, as only one Republican showed up for the hearing—Senator Michael Enzi, who essentially had to appear, since he is the ranking member on the committee. (Five Democrats attended).
Enzi invited the operator of an offshore drilling operation machinery company in Louisiana, Thomas Clements, to testify before the committee. Clements said that 85 percent of his business disappeared after the post–Deepwater Horizon drilling moratorium, and in Enzi’s version of events, it is federal regulation that’s killing jobs and putting pressure on the middle class. “On the Gulf Coast, many of the thousands of jobs that were supported by the offshore drilling industry are simply gone due to the moratorium, permit and bureaucratic delays on off-shore drilling in the Gulf,” he said.
Clements had a genuine tale of hardship, but more drilling permits aren’t going to solve the “middle class squeeze.” Amidst all the moving testimony Thursday, it wasn't clear what will.
Economic justice was a major theme at last week’s Netroots Nation conference and Van Jones’s keynote speech previewing a new “American dream movement” was widely considered the highlight of the progressive summit.
Jones and MoveOn.org will officially launch the new “Rebuild the Dream” campaign in New York City tonight. This morning I interviewed Jones and MoveOn executive director Justin Ruben about what the campaign will look like and what they hope to accomplish in the coming year.
Jones, a former green jobs adviser to the Obama administration, envisions “Rebuild the Dream” as a progressive response to the Tea Party. “The entire DC establishment, in both parties, has been captured by the bad logic of war and austerity, and the gravitational pull of the Tea Party,” says Jones. “The peace and prosperity agenda that most of us voted for in 2008 doesn’t have a center of gravity anymore and that’s why people feel so demoralized. But we’re about to re-establish that center of gravity.” The aim is to “change the conversation” by building a movement for economic justice that will advocate on behalf of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, college graduates who can’t find a job, Americans who’ve lost their homes or whose mortgages are underwater, and embattled cops, firefighters, nurses and teachers.
The pushback to the nation’s austerity craze began in Wisconsin, which inspired Jones and MoveOn to launch their new campaign. “Madison is bringing out a new sense of hope and determination among people in the political process,” says Jones. Adds Ruben: “We were seeing energy after Wisconsin, from our members, that we hadn’t seen in a really long time, especially on anything related to the economy.” Now they want to connect what is happening in Wisconsin to the rest of the country under one common banner. “There will be more moments like Wisconsin,” says Ruben. “And we’d be crazy to try to predict what they’ll be. Part of what we’re doing is creating a context so that if Wisconsin happened now, there would be even more mobilization in the country around it. It won’t just be solidarity with Wisconsin, but will spark more energy around the country that will be locally and nationally focused.”
Along with MoveOn, some of the most influential groups in the progressive community have signed on to the “Dream” campaign, including the AFL-CIO, SEIU, Campaign for America’s Future and the Center for Community Change. The goal is to move beyond dependence on President Obama and the national Democratic Party by building and boosting independent sources of power, which can then persuade elected officials to support a progressive economic agenda. David Dayen of Firedoglake summarized this nicely after watching Jones’s speech at Netroots Nation:
It’s also a moment to create a movement based on principle. In a very telling moment in Jones’s PowerPoint presentation, he described how the issue groups filtered up to the Obama meta-brand in 2008, and in one move, he wiped out Obama from the picture in favor of the American Dream Movement. In other words, an icon or a symbol of progress won’t cut it anymore. The movement is sustained not based on an individual but on an idea. It’s a movement that says “I support Democrats when they support me.” It’s the only way for a movement to endure, rather than become subservient to a personality. And we’ve seen proof of this just this year in places like Wisconsin and Ohio.
The first step, Jones says, will be to create a giant crowd-sourced document and hold thousands of house parties over the summer to solicit ideas for a new “Contract for the American Dream.” The coalition will then use that document as an organizing and activism tool, pressing elected politicians to support the “Dream” agenda, possibly as early as over the August Congressional recess. These efforts will be bookended by the national Take Back the American Dream Conference in October. Maybe by that point, Washington will start to take notice.
--Ari Berman is the author of Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics. Follow him on Twitter at @AriBerman.
As Josh Marshall points out, the more “he-manish” and bellicose Tim Pawlenty acts, the more cowardly and weak he looks. The iconic moment for T-Paw’s desperate tough-guy act will always be when he whiffed at repeating his neologism “Obamneycare” to Romney’s face at the New Hampshire debate earlier this month. But he’s been over-manning-up ever since. Last night he complained to Bill O’Reilly about Obama’s speech on Afghanistan: “He said we need to end the war ‘responsibly.’ When America goes to war, America needs to win.”
“Pawlenty has been telegraphing this over-compensation for months,” Josh writes, and he refers us to Pawlenty’s Independence Day–like pre-campaign video from January.
Telegraphing is right: What I noticed about the vid only now is that at the very end, at the final, climatic drum beat, as the camera closes in on our would-be hero’s face, Pawlenty literally blinks.
Dick Gephardt, the two-time presidential candidate and former House Democratic leader, has come out against the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which is responsible for controlling Medicare costs under the Affordable Care Act. His reasoning? We don’t want to hand medical decisions to unelected bureaucrats, oh, and won’t someone think of the seniors?
Under the current law, IPAB will be an unelected and unaccountable group whose sole charge is to reduce Medicare spending based on an arbitrary target growth rate. It will propose cuts to Medicare that Congress can override only with supermajority votes, an unnecessarily high and unrealistic bar. Just as important, these cuts are likely to have devastating consequences for the seniors and disabled Americans who are Medicare’s beneficiaries because, while technically forbidden from rationing care, the Board will be able to set payment rates for some treatments so low that no doctor or hospital or other healthcare professional would provide them.
Unfortunately for Gephardt (and others who make this argument), we already live in a world where unelected, unaccountable groups devote their energies to reducing healthcare costs based on arbitrary (or at least, obscured) targets and growth rates. They’re called health insurers, and incidentally, they are big clients of Gephardt’s consulting group, Gephardt Government Affairs, which goes unacknowledged in the piece.
In any case, yes, IPAB is mostly isolated from electoral pressures, but like members of the federal judiciary or the Federal Reserve, IPAB members are subject to Senate confirmation. By the standards of our Constitution, IPAB is thoroughly democratic, and by the standards of health insurance companies, it’s a paradise of political participation.
As for seniors, Gephardt is simply scaremongering. There’s plenty of low-hanging fruit in Medicare, and IPAB can save a fair amount of money by ending payments for dubious procedures and inefficient providers. More importantly, Medicare compromises a huge part of the current healthcare system, and even with cheaper procedures, it’s still worthwhile for doctors and healthcare professionals to take Medicare patiences. What’s more, if Medicare cost control measures trickle down to private health insurers, doctors won’t find any advantage in rejecting Medicare patients.
This past weekend, 1,000 conservative activists gathered in Minneapolis for the RightOnline conference. The “grassroots” summit was convened by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which was founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, who are among the most prolific funders of the conservative right.
A new video by Robert Greenwald and his Brave New Foundation illustrates the Koch brothers’ echo chamber by looking at one prominent example: Social Security. “What the Koch brothers want to do is destroy Social Security, because Social Security is a federal government program that has been enormously successful,” says Senator Bernie Sanders, who narrates the video.
The video shows how the Koch’s perpetuate the myth that Social Security is in crisis by funding prominent think tanks like the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, pundits on Fox News and CNBC, and politicians like Paul Ryan. The $28.6 million that flows to the think tanks leads to over 300 policy papers advocating the dismantlement of Social Security, which in turn provides new fodder for conservative talking heads and politicians. The film debunks three top “Social Security distortions”—that the retirement age must be raised, that the program is going bankrupt, and that Social Security must be privatized. “The Koch brothers job is to do everything they can to dismember government in general,” said Sanders, “and if you can destroy Social Security, you will have gone a long way forward in that effort.”
Here’s the video:
Minus some new graphics and backdrops, the new Countdown with Keith Olbermann is identical to the old Countdown with Keith Olbermann. It includes his best—his delight in ridiculing the powerful and the awful, and his worst—his delight in ridiculing the weak and the merely foolish. For the premiere Monday night, Olbermann chose to publicly humiliate a previously unknown woman as the Worst Person in the World.
The woman, riding a train to visit her parents, had apparently been talking loudly and swearing on a cell-phone conversation when a conductor told her keep it quiet. The woman gets obnoxious, saying, “Do you know how well educated I am?…. I’m not a crazy person. I’m a very well-educated person.” Another passenger tapes and then posts the scene on YouTube, where it becomes yet another “sensation.” “You haven’t seen the video of the woman on a train? The greatest cell-phone video ever?” Keith giddily asks us, as if we just must keep up with the permanent mob’s latest piñatas.
He didn’t stop at showing the video. He gave out the woman’s name, and quoted from her LinkedIn profile, where she (like the other 50 million people on LinkedIn) claims to have “excellent management and communications skills” with “a passion for pushing the limits on expectations.” Those were ironies Keith couldn’t help but grind in. And get this knee-slapper: She’s “likely to be driving to her folks from now on rather than taking the train—today’s worst person in the wooorld!”
We’ve all had bad days and have said things we regret, but do those moments really deserve YouTube and then “Worst Person” notoriety? Even the person who originally posted the video has removed it (for reasons that aren’t clear). Keith, however, revived it and gave it a whole new audience. But he seems unaware that the segment is far more embarrassing to him than to the woman, who you only end up feeling sorry for. As one of Olbermann’s commenters wrote: “Keith, are you going to do stories that make a difference or just post cellphone videos to ruin the lives of people who are trying to get work on LinkedIn? Sickening.”
Olbermann’s had a hot-and-cold relationship to WPITW. After Jon Stewart’s Rally for Sanity, in which he equated Olbermann and other media liberals with Fox News’s O’Reilly and Hannity (I defended Keith against that gross false equivalency), Keith actually dropped the segment. “Its satire and whimsy have gradually gotten lost in some anger,” he explained. “So in the spirit of the [rally], as of right now, I am unilaterally suspending” it. He soon brought it back, though, but with an awkward “whimsy” alert, calling it “(Not Really) The Worse Persons in the World.”
As tired as the bit now is it still has value. The lies and sleaze of pols and pundits are simply made more memorable when stuck with a “Worse Persons” label. Last night, for instance, the WP runners-up were Sarah Palin (for trade-marking the term “Sarah Palin”) and Fox News’s Chris Wallace and Bill Sammon (for editing out of Wallace’s interview with Jon Stewart, Stewart’s mention of Sammon’s memos that tell those freedom-loving Fox News hosts what propaganda to mouth on any given issue).
But by taking as much glee at shaming some little guy as he does the Sammons of the world, Keith is doing his own false equivalency dance.
And this meanspirited tendency is almost the mirror image of the mission statement Keith proudly announced for the new show last night.
“This is to be a newscast of contextualization,” he said. “And it is to be presented with a viewpoint: that the weakest citizen of this country is more important than the strongest corporation.”