Friday, November 11, 2016

Hillary Clinton’s Maginot Line (or How Do We Fight and Win Tomorrow's Political Battles?)

Generals who plan to fight the previous generation’s war are bound to lose. Hillary Clinton had 8 years to crate a presidential campaign, and she spent 8 years building a political Maginot line.
Hillary’s primal political experience at the national level was the DLC of the 90s. After being kicked around by Regan's Republican Party, the Democratic Party essentially followed the “New Labor” model of cozying up to big business and the moneyed elite, at the expense of the working class And labor unions. Essentially the DLC Democrats split the baby in half, trying to be “Republican Light”… pro business, but with liberal social values. And with the charismatic Bill Clinton leading it, this was enough to keep the executive branch, even if it meant losing legislative branches of the government.  The 1990s Gingrich revolution was possible because Democrats abandoned its labor and working-class base.
So it was utterly predictable that the centerpiece of Hillary Clinton’s Presidential bid was the Clinton Foundation. Cozy up to big money. Get the support of the moneyed elites. Signal, both in dog whistles and in overt speeches, that the wealthy and the powerful have nothing to fear from a Clinton White House… she was one of them.
The problem is she did this in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis. She did this in the wake of President Obama winning 2 elections on the promise of CHANGE.  One of the Cornerstones of her presidential bid was something that worked in 1992, but was surely going to be an Achilles heel in 2016. She could have spent 6 years building up a populist base… building up a coalition that could splinter the lower class/lower-information foundation-stone of the republican party. Instead she went with what she knew.  It probably seemed like a safe bet.
But then she went on to make another “safe bet.”  Her time at the State Department could have been spent building up her bonafides as a genuine progressive leader in the realm of foreign policy... she could have been a vocal counterpoint to Obama’s hawkishness… but instead she was the vocal hawk in the Obama administration.
This hawkishness was a cornerstone of Clinton’s Campaign. If you are going to be a woman, and want to have a chance of leading the free world, you better be ready, willing and able to bomb the shit out of everyone and everything. That seems to have been the conventional thinking of her campaign.  Her foreign policy was a weird fusion of Neo-Con imperialism, and Cold War Democratic “pragmatism,” which, given the absence of a cold war, required reigniting one. 
This foreign policy can be summed up quite clearly, by her campaign speech on Israel. Again… she went with what she knew.  She went with what worked in the 90s. She promised another 4 years of the same foreign policy.. the same wars… the same bombing and the same imperialism. The same surveillance state and endless war on terror.  It is unsurprising that in a “change” election, promising more of the same wasn’t very compelling.
Another cornerstone of her campaign was “another 4 years of Obama… I’m sort of like Obama, right?”. The expectation that the racial coalition that Obama had put together would turn out in full force for her… because she was a minority too(?!).. a woman. But turnout was lower for her among these ethnic voting blocks then it was for Obama… In large part because of the economic and foreign policy triangulation she chose.  And the women? White women voted for trump at a 53% rate. There was a serious misunderstanding of gender solidarity in this country… at least in the context of presidential elections.
And finally, the main message of her campaign seems to have been “That other guy is scary and horrible and incompetent. So you better vote for me or else.” And she wasn’t wrong… Trump, or (frankly) any other republican who was running was scary and horrible and incompetent.  But this was the central message of the John Kerry campaign, when Bush won a second term. It was not a compelling campaign message then, and it wasn’t in 2016.  It’s a message that one goes with when one has nothing better to offer.  Vote for me or else we will lose Obama Care… we will lose the right to Abortion… we will lose the racial and gender equity we’ve gained… etc etc. 
Except most of the people she needed to convince and excite and get the vote of were not the beneficiaries of these “gains.”  Its hard to get an abortion in Red States. Racial Equity and justice isn’t terribly visible when the police continue to kill POC with impunity, literary every day. And throughout the rural red states where governors refused to expand Medicare coverage, Obama Care isn’t something to protect, because it hasn’t done anything for most people.   This fear that she shamelessly stoked (Russian agent! Putin! Putin!!) was ultimately not compelling enough, to enough voters.

I hope the Democratic Party learns the right lessons from this defeat. And to be frank… after 30 years of watching the democratic party form a circular firing squad, and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, I’m not terribly hopefully.
But I have children. I’m fighting now, for their future. I don’t have the privilege of despair or denial or disengagement. The struggle is long, and exhausting. But I’ll keep fighting. I am tired, and filled with rage and horror and frustration.  I had hoped that the Bush Regime would be the most horrible thing that I would have to explain to my children.  It turns out it is not. There are far worse horrors in the world, and they are banging on our doors.
But I will keep fighting. I hope others are willing to continue as well, with eyes wid open, and a willingness to face hard truths about our Maginot Lines and conventional wisdom.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Depictions of, and Insights Into Media, Power, and Ethics (Plus a Side-trip Down the Spike Lee Trivia Rabbit Hole)

So... I have felt for a long time now that the movie Network perfectly captured, at a very early date, the political and financial pressures that drive modern media. wanted to put Network into a larger film and historical context, and point out some of its inspirations, and some of the things it inspired.

Network can be seen as a foundation of media criticism, because it eschews the self aggrandizing narratives that usually go along with Hollywood movies covering journalists and the media. From All the Presidents Men, to Good Night And Good Luck, the roll of the reporter, or journalist is usually a heroic one, or at least is tangentially friendly to the idea that the 4th estate is in irreplaceable pillar of Democracy. Network doesn't wear those tinted glasses, and that's one reason why it has withstood the test of time, and why TV shows and movies obviously inspired by it (Newsroom, for example) don't quite ring as true. Network, I want to jump to a classic, underrated movie that is usually considered in the context of Noir, or Jazz; that movie is The Sweet Smell of Success.  While the narrative focus is on that of the small time PR hack played by Tony Curtis, the driving engine of this movie is the indomitable character of J.J. Hunsecker... Played by Burt Lancaster, and based on real life columnist Walter Winchell.  The technology may change, but the dynamic is the same.  J.J. Hunsecker is a Mid-20th-Century Matt Drudge, power mad, and paranoid. Watch this movie with an eye on the relationship between the Media and the political machinery, and watch how personal drama's influence both. Smell leads nicely into the thematic inspiration for Network... which is A Face In the Crowd. This movie chronicles the rise from obscurity too fame, of a folksy country singer who ends up with his own national television show. While his public persona is that of all around nice guy, he is in fact an angry, mean drunk. One of the beautiful ironies of this movie is that the folksy, yet secretly angry-mean-drunk is played by Andy Richards, who turned in this performance before he became the folksiest every-man of 20th century American television. This movie captures perfectly how the media manufactures fame, and eats up and chews out the people it uses, and also captures the strange relationship between fame, Media, and politics.  If Hunsecker from Sweet Smell... is Matt Drudge, then the Andy Richard's character in A Face In The Crowd is Michael Savage.

From A face in the Crowd, lets jump forward to Spike Lee's massively underrated classic Bamboozled.  Which is in direct dialog with A Face In the Crowd, and Network... but adds the complicated issue of the media's depiction of race into the mix. This movie is  powerful, and filled with amazing performances. The depiction of race, and issues of complicity and collaboration with the media industrial complex's racism is at the heart of Bamboozled, and it can be painful to watch at times. But it should not be missed.

 It was from the Spike Lee himself, in the film's directors commentary, that I learned of the existence of the movie A Face In the Crowd, and how Lee was consciously making a film in this tradition.  What went unsaid, however, was some of the other cultural references in Bamboozled. Lee didn't give away everything in the cliff notes, and one of the biggest mysteries for me in Bamboolzed was the origins of Pierre Delacroix's accent. In one memorable scene, the character's own father confronts him, saying "N****r, where the fuck did you get that accent?" years, I never found an explanation for Pierre's accent. Spike Lee seems to never have commented on it publicly, and neither (from what
I've been able to find) has actor Damon Wayans who turned in an absolutely stunning performance.  In 2013 (at the Noir City Film Festival), I discovered the 1951 Argentinian adaption of Richard Wright's novel Native Son, starring non-other than Richard Wright himself. And it it, he has a unique, idiosyncratic, and vaguely European accent that is clearly the inspiration for Pierre Delacroix's accent. Mystery solved! Given this accent would have been completely out of place for the character Wright was playing, I can only assume it was in fact his  actual accent, and not an affectation for the film... though I would love to find some recordings of the author to confirm this. am sure there some who probably took this Richard Wright allusion for granted, but I feel like its an obscure enough tidbit that it should be mentioned... and I've never seen it mentioned anywhere, in any conversations about Bamboozled, Damon Wayans, or Richard Wright.

Please let me know if there are any other films or TV shows that fit into this cycle of media and political criticism. As I alluded to above, I'm painfully familiar with Newsroom. :)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Yet Another TFA Review: (Spoilers)

My favorite part of the movie was the Musical cue, when Han Solo died.

I spent most of a month trying to figure out where I heard it before. Upon my second viewing, about ten minutes after Han died, I realized it was from Cemetery man.

Check it out:

Cemetery man Score:

Han Solo Death scene:

pretty cool, right?

I'm pretty sure this means that a zombie Han Solo is going to come back at some point.  I mean, that's the only thing that makes sense, right?