Saturday, October 28, 2006

Clark cuts TV ad for Lamont

The Lamont campaign has just released an ad featuring General Wesley Clark in which Clark characterizes Lieberman's support for the Iraq war as a mistake. As a likely presidential candidate for '08, it surprises me that Clark would be doing an ad attacking Lieberman now. A month ago, when Lamont was polling within a few points of Lieberman and seemed to have the momentum, sure it makes sense. But to so publicly stand against Lieberman now that he appears to be pulling away... I'm just not sure I see the logic.

Control of the Senate is likely to hang by only one or two seats, giving Lieberman an innordinant amount of power as a closeted Republican who has historically been a member of the Democratic party and has said he will continue to caucus with the Democrats should he win re-election (although I don't know how much faith we should put in his promises at this point). Does a candidate like Clark, someone who's main challenge leading up to the primaries will be distinguishing himself from the non-Hillary pack, really want to piss off someone like Lieberman? Has Lieberman really become so persona non grata among Democrats that Clark thinks it will help in the primaries (it certainly won't help in the general, given Lieberman's high approval rating among Republicans)? Does he value netroots support that much? Is it strictly about positioning himself on Iraq?

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Why I'm scared about Nov. 7th

Just read this entry over at Daily Kos, linking to this article in the Washington Post. Apparently "James H. 'Jim' Webb" is too long a name for some voting machines to handle, so come November 7th, Virginians in Alexandria, Falls Church, or Charlottesville will have to vote for either Republican "George F. Allen" or Democrat "James H. 'Jim' ". The fact that something like this could conceivably end up determining which party controls the Senate should be an outrage to every American who values fair elections.


Monday, October 23, 2006

Studio 60

I just finished watching tonight's episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. For those of you who haven't heard of it, it's the new television series by Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing (my all-time favorite show), featuring Matthew Perry, Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet, Steven Weber and a number of other talent actors. The series is a drama which gives a behind-the-scenes look at a Saturday Night Live-style sketch comedy show.

West Wing was essentially a liberal political fantasy land (c'mon, a presidential election pitting a religious Latino Democrat from Texas against a pro-choice Republican from California?), occasionally leaning on characters like Ainsley Hayes and Arnold Vinick (the Republican presidential candidate) to provide intelligent conservative counter-arguments. With Studio 60, Sorkin has found a soapbox which allows him to provide slightly more subtle commentary on our society, albeit one that isn't quite as satisfying for politics junkies like yours truly. Sorkin's message these days largely eschews the left-right dichotomy in favor of a centrist-populist mentality which thus far I've found quite enjoyable, if occasionally a bit preachy.

One theme which has been central to many--if not all--of the episodes thus far is the struggle between art and commerce, featured most prominently in the pilot episode where a rogue producer interrupts a live broadcast to go on a rant about the disgraceful state of network television ("We're all being lobotomized by this country's most influential industry...guys are getting killed in a war that's got theme music and a logo...the two things that scare them are the FCC and every psycho religious cult that gets positively horny at the very mention of a boycott"). It's a worthy topic to engage, albeit somewhat ironic given the series role as an expensive new flagship show for NBC's fall lineup.

Speaking of irony, I haven't seen a demographic breakdown of Studio 60's viewers, but I'd wager that like West Wing it is watched primarily by mid-to-high income white households in the Northeast and California. Sorkin is bathing his elitist liberal viewers (myself included) with repeated admonitions to have greater respect and tolerance for the (non-hypocritical, non-Pat Robertson) religious people who make up a significant portion of this country, but he's doing so in a format that "others" the very people he wants his viewers to be be more accepting towards (using "others" as a verb... had a few race theory discussions in college, have we?).

If, like me, you want a less patronizing TV experience to assist you in understanding people that come from a culture you find completely alien, I highly recommend checking out Friday Night Lights, a great new series centered around a Texas high school football team. It looks real and gritty, has a strong ensemble cast, doesn't give the feeling that it's trying too hard to cram a certain message or narrative down your throat, and leaves you eager for the next episode without using faux-drama to create an unreasonable cliffhanger.

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Hillary (Rodham) Clinton for President?

According to a recent CNN poll, Hillary Rodham Clinton would defeat John McCain 51 percent to 44 percent, but Hillary Clinton would be defeated by John McCain 48 percent to 47 percent. The sample size for this poll was only 506, placing the results within the 4.5 percent margin of error. I don't know which is more ridiculous: that CNN is making a story out of a difference that falls within the margin of error or the possibility that the difference might be real. Will the mainstream media ever move away from covering politics like a horse race and actually force candidates to engage issues of substance?

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Politics, Emotion, and Religion

I'm ashamed to admit it, but my overwhelming emotion since hearing about the scandal with Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL16) has been glee. A member of Congress sends inappropriate emails and ims to his 16-year-old pages and I'm happy about it? Yep. Because the fact that it appears that Republican leaders like Hastert and Boehner knew about Foley's behavior for over a year and did not act on it makes it that much more likely that voters will hand control of the House over to the Democrats in November, and I am very excited about that possibility.

In my defense, an Emory University study says that it may not be my fault: when committed partisans are shown contradictory statements by a candidate (say, Kerry or Bush), the emotional portion of the brain is activated, not the rational portion. As Sam Seaborn said on West Wing, "Guys like you and me are quantifiably a little nuts." In fact, it was on West Wing that I first heard about that study, and it turn out to actually be true. You can read an article on it here or a draft of the actual paper here.

At what point do we go past good intentions and civic responsibility and move into the realm of blind partisan positioning? More importantly, how do we (I) go back? As a country, we managed to largely put partisanship aside in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but it didn't last very long. Is that the only thing that can bring us together: disaster? Well, we didn't see that in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, so maybe it only works if there is a common enemy we can oppose and blame for the tragedy.

Partisanship is so ingrained in me that even as I type this post, in my head there's a voice blaming the polarization on those evil conservative nutjobs. But I know that there are plenty of people out there who share my good intentions and still identify as Republicans. More and more, find that the issues where I am completely unmoved by opposing arguments are the ones where the opposing side is being championed by religious fanatics (er, that is, people whose political actions are motivated mostly or entirely by religious beliefs): things like gay marriage and family planning. In some areas, like education and gun control, I find myself willing to listen to the opposing side because we both want the same outcomes (improved education, safer communities), we just differ in opinion over the most effective ways to get there.

What we really need to do is mute the influence of the religious fanatics in this country. I'm not against religion or religious people, but I think that religious zeal is what threatens to literally destroy the world, as Christian and Muslim fanatics push their societies into increasing conflict to the detriment of all the other people who simply want to live their lives and leave their little corner of the world a better place for their children. I don't like most horror movies, but the movie trailer that scares me the most is the one for the documentary Jesus Camp. If you haven't yet, watch it but imagine how you and others would react if all references to Jesus and Christianity were replaced with Mohammad and Islam:

I just hope that somewhere after the first 50 pages of The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell gives me hope for an end to the global pandemic of religious extremism.

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