I was listening to Patton Oswalt’s My Weakness Is Strong on the train home last night. Hilarious guy, but this routine has gotten a little sad in retrospect. Actually, a lot sad.

Wonder what he would have to say now about the Folder in Chief?

Yeah, I know we dodged a bullet when Obama kept Cranky McCain and Caribou Barbie out of the White House. All props for that. Trouble is, there’ve been a few bullets since then, and instead of helping us dodge them, Obama has been letting the country take the hits in the name of — what do they call it? — bipartisanship. “Just stand still and let the Republicans shoot you in the leg,” Obama says. “They’ve promised not to shoot you in the head.” And the Republicans say: “Not today, that is.”

My Weakness Is Strong. Sounds like a swell all-purpose campaign slogan for the Democrats. Thanks a lot, guys.

Base Thoughts

December 18, 2008

Not that I expect anyone to be interested, but just for the sake of having it on record, let me say I am not at all happy about a bigoted Jesus-whooping wackaloon like Rick Warren being invited to deliver the invocation at Obama’s inauguration. I can only hope Warren’s willingness to appear causes as much distress to his wingnut evangelical base as it does to Obama’s progressive and liberal supporters. Maybe Obama thinks he can peel a few whoopers away from the GOP’s base.

I wanna be a base, too. I want to be part of a group so powerful and committed to political change that candidates have to be ready to throw us a bone or two just to ensure that we troop to the polls on the relevant day.

The best way to accomplish that is to avoid the impulse to sulk, say the whole system is rigged against the left and stomp off to mutter into one’s coffee. I voted for Obama with my eyes open and my mind clear. The comedic ravings from the Republicans about Obama’s plans for a Marxist revolution may have led some people to imagine he was a dream candidate for the Left, but anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex knew that was not the case.  Obama wasn’t a dream, but after eight years of nightmare a return to basic sanity was overdue.

If I were going to be in Washington for the ceremony, I would make a point of standing with my back to Warren as he spoke — there’s nothing that pouch-faced clown has to say that’s of any interest to a rational person. But as soon as he finished babbling, I’d turn back to the stage and start paying attention. We should all keep paying attention, too.

Just remember, Jesse Jackson and Pat Robertson both ran in the presidential primaries of their respective parties a couple of decades ago, and they both got shellacked. But Robertson kept his organization together, and within a few years Republicans were lining up to kiss his ring. Jackson let his organization fall apart, and within a few years he was a national footnote, hanging around the Capitol and asking to be made a “shadow senator” like a guy with a cup in his hand.

So pay attention to what Obama does, and when he does bad, get organized and make him pay for it. The conservatives have wrecked the country, and people are ready to hear what the Left has to say. Our job is to speak, and make sure Obama listens.

ADDENDUM: I like what this Balloon Juice commenter has to say:

If you followed the internal politics of evangelical and fundamentalist leaders, you’d see this for what it is—not an elevation of Warren, but a slap in the face of the old guard leaders like Dobson and LaHaye. They’ve been fighting to see who gets to be the spokesman for the movement, and lately it’s been a tie. Obama just broke it.

And let’s be clear, there is a difference between those groups. Warren may not be progressive on gay rights, but he’s been out front on a number of issues of global justice—traveling from Davos to Damascus, and working hard to get rank-and-file evangelicals invested in “creation care” environmentalism and the fight against global HIV/AIDS.

If he were put in charge of HHS or listened to on gay policies, I’d be pissed. But what Obama is doing here isn’t that. It’s a move that marginalizes the worst on the religious right, elevates a guy who’s more progressive than most religious leaders on a number of issues, and earns him some moderate cred at the outset.

If Obama sells out on the progressive promise in actual policy, I’ll be in the streets protesting with everyone else. But if his “selling out” is having a fairly moderate, popular evangelical give the invocation at the inaugural—when large sections of this country still worry Obama’s a scary evil Mooooslim—then who gives a flying fuck?

One crucial difference between Obama and the Clintons is that Chicago is a much tougher playground that Little Rock, and that experience gave Obama the kind of political street-smarts that helped him beat not just one but two candidates the mass market punditry had declared unbeatable. And he did it all while hardly breaking stride, or a sweat. He plays it close to the vest, that one. Everything I said above still applies, but let’s not start rending our garments and screaming betrayal just yet, okay?

Weekend Bookchat

November 29, 2008

The New York Times list of the 100 Notable Books of 2008 doesn’t have any truly egregious entries — true, they have Thomas Friedman’s latest book, but there’s nothing like Liberal Fascism or its ilk, and there are some outstanding liberal and progressive books, such as Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. Maybe this is the time for Weekend Bookchat to solicit nominations for the best progressive books of 2008. Either leave your nominations in the comments section or e-mail them to steve[dot]theopinionmill[at]gmail[dot]com.

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Put on your best white sheets and head for the nearest bookstore to reserve your copy of Ann Coulter’s upcoming book. Coulter is already well known as the author of such bulk-order bestsellers as Liberals Are Stinky, Liberals Are Poopyheads and, most recently, Liberals Make Ka-Ka in Their Pants.

According to recent news reports, Coulter’s upcoming tome, entitled Liberals Are Stinky Poopyheads Who Make Ka-Ka In Their Pants, will apparently recycle already exhausted wingerwhines about the mass-market media favoring Barack Obama over John McCain.

Apparently in a pre-emptive effort to keep herself from yawning at the tediousness of her own argument, Coulter has arranged for her jaw to be wired shut. Unconfirmed reports have it that Coulter may be using this as the springboard for a Madonna-like image makeover more in keeping with her personality and ethics.

(Say, now — there’s an idea. Imagine the Cenobites from the Hellraiser films recast as the Wingobites. Along with Ann Coulter, there would be Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, and of course William Kristol as Pinhead and Bill O’Reilly as the Engineer.)

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The attempts to defame the legacy of independent journalist I.F. Stone continue. At the Paper Cuts blog, D.D. Guttenplan steps up to defend Stone against yet another smear. Guttenplan has a new biography of Stone coming out this sumer, but it will have to go a long way to top Myra McPherson’s recent All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I. F. Stone.

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Having kept silent during the weeks and months when he was being used as a political weapon against Barack Obama, ex-Weatherman Bill Ayers has been making the print and radio rounds to talk about his radical past and his book Fugitive Days: Memoirs of an Anti-War Actvist. He’s been interviewed by Terry Gross and Walter Shapiro, and getting not unmixed reactions from people who aren’t quite prepared to accept Ayers’ presentation of himself. It should be noted that Ayers does at least this much right: he reminds us of the horribly divided state of the nation in the late 1960s, the sense that the tools of democracy were no longer effective for reining in a government on a bloody rampage in Vietnam.

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Attention, lit-mart shoppers! Why not pick out some black authors for white people? Take another look at H.L. Mencken’s Notes on Democracy. Read an interview with the authors of Unjust Deserts: How the Rich are Taking our Common Inheritance and Why We Should Take it Back.

Weekend Bookchat

November 15, 2008

Those unfortunate souls who just can’t get enough of the halting, barely coherent and wholly nonsensical thoughts of Joe the Plumber will be delighted to know that The Wurzelbacher has a book coming out. What’s curious is that the literary toilet plunger’s tome is coming out via PearlGate, an operation founded by his co-author. In an era when virtually any subliterate wingnut with name recognition can get a book deal with Regnery or Crown Forum, it’s remarkable to see that somebody who was essentially John McCain’s other running mate has to resort to what amounts to self-publishing. Must be quite a read.

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Helpful readers may want to contact Shelby Steele via his publisher, the Free Press, with suggestions for a new subtitle for the paperback edition of his book A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win. That’s assuming there is a paperback edition, since Steele is trying to blame the subtitle on commercial pressure from his publisher:

He made it clear that he was the one who slapped the subtitle onto the book — “in about 30 seconds” when Barack Obama was trailing Hillary Rodham Clinton by about 25 percentage points. But, he added, “subtitles are marketing devices — I hate them. I’ve always hated them.”

He said that for “White Guilt,” his book before “A Bound Man,” he tried not to have a subtitle, to no avail. In that case, Mr. Steele went with another provocative subtitle: “How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era.”

The editor in chief of the Free Press, Dominick Anfuso, disputed the idea that there was overriding pressure to come up with the most extreme subtitle to sell books. “It is the handful of largely successful books that do that, and that gives the impression that is what we seek,” he said. What publishers want, he said, are “good titles and good subtitles. Subtitles can make best sellers, but they don’t have to be provocative to do that. It is a package. They go together.”

Interestingly, Steele says that “I stand by every word of the analysis — what is between the covers of the book,” even though his thesis — that Obama’s candidacy was doomed by the conflicting roles he was playing in the eyes of black and white voters — was never all that persuasive to begin with, and became even more ridiculous as Obama swept previously rock-solid red states into the blue column.

By the way, I wonder how Hugh Hewitt’s book proposal is coming along.

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Crooked Timber offers a timely consumer warning to unwary readers who, on the basis of her having published a book about the Depression, might incorrectly believe that former Wall Street Journal editorialist Amity Shlaes might be something more than an ax-grinding wingnut. One of the site’s alert uniformed attendants cuts to the chase: “The main point that needs to be hammered home: that Amity Shlaes is an unscrupulous hack.” If you want to read more about Shlaes and her revisionist take on the Depression, here is a review from Slate and another from The New Yorker.

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During the civil rights upheavals of the 1960s, Malcolm X remarked that the South began at the Canadian border? Sweet Land of Liberty follows the course of the civil rights struggle as it played out in the northern U.S. Here’s an excerpt from Michael Wolff’s upcoming biography of Rupert “Daddy Wingbucks” Murdoch. And the Church of Scientology appears to have a penchant for making unflattering books and even poor Amazon reviews disappear.

Weekend Bookchat

November 8, 2008


George W. Bush continues to blaze new trails in the realm of failure. The Squatter-in-Chief’s latest coup is to fail to generate any interest from publishers in bidding for his as-yet unwritten presidential memoirs:

“If I were advising President Bush, given how the public feels about him right now, I think patience would probably be something that I would encourage,” says Paul Bogaards, executive director of publicity for Alfred A. Knopf, which in 2004 released Bill Clinton’s million-selling “My Life.”

Particularly striking is the fact that even Regnery Publishing, the venerable right-wing sausage factory, thinks Bush should hang back and horde his crayons for a more propitious time. Besides, right now dozens of anti-Obama manuscripts are being churned out and Regnery would rather publish those:

“Certainly the longer he waits, the better,” says Marji Ross, president and publisher of the conservative Regnery Publishing, which is more likely to take on anti-Obama books in the next few years than any praises of Bush.

“There’s a pent-up frustration among conservatives that will focus their attention on a Barack Obama presidency and lead them to buy a lot of books about Barack Obama. But that’s not the kind of emotion that anyone is going to use to turn to reading a memoir by a conservative president.”

Bill Clinton, as you may know, signed a deal for his presidential memoirs and pocketed a $15 million advance only months after leaving office.

“I don’t think Bush can get the kind of money Clinton did if only because the foreign rights interest will be considerably less,” says Jonathan Karp, whose Twelve imprint at the Hachette Book Group USA published “Hard Call,” the latest book by Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

“President Bush is perceived as a unilateral cowboy who didn’t respect other nations. So there’s a shortfall overseas. At the same time, he could still sell a lot of books. Maybe only 30 percent of the public is still behind him, but 30 percent of 300 million people is not a small number.”

Certainly not when they’re bulk-ordering the books.

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Adam O’Riordan praises Barack Obama’s inner poet, while Rob Woodard thinks the quality of Obama’s writing bodes well for his presidency. Meanwhile, Chicago Tribune reporter Naftali Bendavid has written a book about Rahm Emanuel that may help you understand the combative character of Obama’s new chief of staff. And Toni Morrison, one of Obama’s favorite authors, talks about her new novel.

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David Rees, author of Get Your War On: The Definitive Account of the War on Terror 2001-2008, talks to Bat Segundo. Judging from the homicidal anti-Obama chatter in the comments fields of conservative sites, this might be a good time to read Et Tu, Brute? A Short History of Political Murder. How about a book called Political Hypocrisy? And here’s a late-breaking review of the Great Orange Satan’s Taking on the System; Rules for Radical Change in a Digital Era.

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Though he turned into an odious crank late in life, Michael Crichton (who died this week at the age of 66) was the master of the Fun Read. William Wharton, aka Albert du Aime — author of the antiwar novels Birdy and A Midnight Clear — has died at 82.

The Write Stuff

November 5, 2008

Prices for autographed copies of President-Elect Barack Obama’s books just took a big jump on the collectible market. His predecessor? Not so much, though those prices are still pretty high. Even so, I’m not sure a book inscribed by Gorge-Us George is worth that kind of tariff — crayon signatures smear so easily. And I like to think books are worth more when people believe the authors actually wrote them.

Is It Still Good?

November 5, 2008

I halfway expected to wake up this morning and find out the Supreme Court had stepped in to overturn the results and hand the election to McCain. There would be Clarence Thomas on FoxNoise yelling, “Lawn jockey this, you Marxist motherfuckers!” But for the first time this century I woke up the day after a presidential election and found the world still made sense.

Say it with me, people: President Barack Obama. Whheeeeeeeee!

Obama’s acceptance speech was superb, naturally. There was a charming moment as the future First Lady and ther kids left the stage, swinging their arms a bit as they held hands. There they were in the world spotlight, acting like they owned the thing, and really they did. Obama and his people out-thought, out-fought, out-organized and just plain outclassed the Republicans and their squalling, loaded-diaper campaign.

In his concession speech, John McCain looked relieved. After all the time he spent soiling himself with the deranged nonsense he’d been required to mouth in his role as King of the Knuckleheads, McCain finally had a chance to talk like a grownup. In a way, he reminded me of Bob Dole, another smart guy with an appealingly sardonic sense of humor, who nevertheless had to sound like a grunting moron for several months in order to win his party’s support, and who looked like a big weight had been lifted from his shoulders when the better man took the prize.

Oh, but the crowd was not nearly so gracious as McCain. They reminded me of the manimals in The Island of Doctor Moreau, looking for somebody to drag off to the House of Pain. Sarah Palin barely connected with her erstwhile runing mate on the stage. No doubt she was plotting her future campaign, and I hope most fervently she makes it happen. These lemmings need to be led off the cliff a few more times, and if Caribou Barbie wants the job, I say let her have it. The prize will be her punishment, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer creep.