Tuesday, June 6, 2006, seemed as good a day as any as to examine how far apart we are on issues these days.
Of course the amusing talk of the day was that the day was 06-06-06, or 666, the mark of the beast or some such thing. See this for the details, involving the Greek text of the Book of Revelations and such - the antichrist will arrive and whatnot. No one took the day's number very seriously, but it was a good day for the wide-release opening of the remake of The Omen, even if the original 1976 film was itself gloriously silly. This one seems just as silly, the antichrist as a nasty toddler one more time.
Some noted it was the sixty-second anniversary of D-Day, the key to the end of the last war everyone agreed was worth fighting, but not that many noted it. The days of "the good war" fought for the right reasons seem so long ago, and seem somehow quaint.
And AIDS turned twenty-five, as it was the anniversary of the day that the CDC reported two deaths from a form of pneumocystis that turned out to be a consequence of HIV. More was said about that. It's a problem here and a crisis in Africa, in real time.
And the day was the anniversary of an event thirty-eight years ago down the hill at the old Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire, now torn down - in 1968 Bobby Kennedy was shot there the night before and on June 6th he died at a nearby hospital, also long gone. Mike Gerber here makes the argument that what was happening then is somehow at the root of where we are today - Bobby's brother was shot in the head, Martin Luther King was shot in the head, then Bobby -
Buy that or not, the question is how directionless are we?
Forty years on, Kennedy-King-Kennedy looks to me like the moment things started going bad, when control really clamped down from above, and apathy really took root below. Our country is headed in the wrong direction, and without a shred of romanticism, I think that direction was set by the assassinations of the 60s - not only by the loss of those people, their ideas and their ability to inspire, but also by our getting used to unsolved public murder as business as usual. That is a coarsening equal to any suffered by the Roman Republic. Is it merely coincidence that we've turned from a country of possibilities to one grinding out the same tragic, hoary imperial script? The country is traumatized, directionless, hurt; and a generation of politicians have risen who are experts at keeping us that way.
The other movie opening this week, on Friday, June 9, is Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion, based on the popular and gentle Garrison Keillor radio show. Think of it as the anti-Omen, the darkest thing being Kevin Kline playing the hapless detective Guy Noir.
But Garrison Keillor does have things to say that don't make it onto the radio, and they are mostly about the great divide we find these days, as here where he discusses the latest effort by the Republicans to get their folks out to vote.
The whole thing is a scare tactic. If the Republicans stay way from the polls, being unhappy about this and that, the unthinkable will happen. Nancy Pelosi will become Speaker of the House - a woman, from San Francisco, where there are all those gay people - "Will the podium be repainted in lavender stripes with a disco ball overhead? Will she be borne into the chamber by male dancers with glistening torsos and wearing pink tutus?" That would be cool. But the right hates San Francisco. Last year Bill O'Reilly on Fox News invited the terrorists to destroy the place. They just weren't real Americans there, although his issue had to do with proposed bans on military recruiting, not with men in leather chaps and no pants.
But here's the deal. Keillor suggests we need San Francisco -
Ah, what the heck, the current crew doesn't like science and ideas very much. Global warming is a hoax. Stem-cell research is murder. All that stuff. Creativity is for chumps. Read your Bible.
People who want to take a swing at San Francisco should think twice. Yes, the Irish coffee at Fisherman's Wharf is overpriced, and the bus tour of Haight-Ashbury is disappointing (where are the hippies?), but the Bay Area is the cradle of the computer and software industry, which continues to create jobs for our children. The iPod was not developed by Baptists in Waco, Texas. There may be a reason for this. Creative people thrive in a climate of openness and tolerance, since some great ideas start out sounding ridiculous. Creativity is a key to economic progress. Authoritarianism is stifling. I don't believe that Mr. Hewlett and Mr. Packard were gay, but what's important is: In San Francisco, it doesn't matter so much. When the cultural Sturmbannfuhrers try to marshal everyone into straight lines, it has consequences for the economic future of this country.
And that's another divide.
And too, the old Republicans are mostly gone, and the new ones have made a mess of things -
Let's see - they will rant, they will screech, they will wave their canes at you and call you all sorts of names? Cue Ann Coulter.
Somewhere in the quiet leafy recesses of the Bush family, somebody is thinking, "Wrong son. Should've tried the smart one." This one's eyes don't quite focus. Five years in office and he doesn't have a grip on it yet. You stand him up next to Tony Blair at a press conference and the comparison is not kind to Our Guy. Historians are starting to place him at or near the bottom of the list. And one of the basic assumptions of American culture is falling apart: the competence of Republicans.
You might not have always liked Republicans, but you could count on them to manage the bank. They might be lousy tippers, act snooty, talk through their noses, wear spats and splash mud on you as they race their Pierce-Arrows through the village, but you knew they could do the math. To see them produce a ninny and then follow him loyally into the swamp for five years is disconcerting, like seeing the Rolling Stones take up lite jazz. So here we are at an uneasy point in our history, mired in a costly war and getting nowhere, a supine Congress granting absolute power to a president who seems to get smaller and dimmer, and the best the Republicans can offer is San Franciscophobia? This is beyond pitiful. This is violently stupid.
It is painful to look at your father and realize the old man should not be allowed to manage his own money anymore. This is the discovery the country has made about the party in power. They are inept. The checkbook needs to be taken away. They will rant, they will screech, they will wave their canes at you and call you all sorts of names, but you have to do what you have to do.
Ann Coulter, the outspoken political commentator - Chief Justice Steven should be poisoned, the New York Times building should be blown up and all the people there killed, the leaders in the Middle East should be forced to convert to Christianity or be killed - was on the NBC Today Show on Tuesday the 6th, promoting her new book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism, and illustrating the great divide. She was all over the widows of the men killed at the World Trade Center almost five years ago. They don't think much of Bush. Coulter's assessment? They're fools, and immoral - "I have never seen people enjoying their husband's deaths so much." She doesn't like them at all.
There's no bridging this gap - the divide is too wide.
You can watch the video here, but the transcript will do. The host, Matt Lauer, has his hands full -
That's a response? What claim of infallibility? What's Ann's problem?
LAUER: Do you believe everything in the book or do you put some things in there just to cater to your base?
ANN: No, of course I believe everything.
LAUER: On the 9-11 widows, an in particular a group that had been critical of the administration: "These self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9-11 was an attack on our nation and acted like as if the terrorist attack only happened to them. They believe the entire country was required to marinate in their exquisite personal agony. Apparently, denouncing Bush was part of the closure process." And this part is the part I really need to talk to you about: "These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparrazies. I have never seen people enjoying their husband's death so much." Because they dare to speak out?
COULTER: To speak out using the fact they are widows. This is the left's doctrine of infallibility. If they have a point to make about the 9-11 commission, about how to fight the war on terrorism, how about sending in somebody we are allowed to respond to. No. No. No. We have to respond to someone who had a family member die. Because then if we respond, oh you are questioning their authenticity.
LAUER: So grieve but grieve quietly?
COULTER: No, the story is an attack on the nation. That requires a foreign policy response.
LAUER: By the way, they also criticized the Clinton administration.
COULTER: Not the ones I am talking about. No, no, no.
LAUER: Yeah, they have.
COULTER: Oh no, no, no, no, no. They were cutting commercials for Kerry. They were using their grief to make a political point while preventing anyone from responding.
LAUER: So if you lose a husband, you no longer have the right to have a political point of view?
COULTER: No, but don't use the fact that you lost a husband as the basis for being able to talk about, while preventing people from responding. Let Matt Lauer make the point. Let Bill Clinton make the point. Don't put up someone I am not allowed to respond to without questioning the authenticity of their grief.
LAUER: Well apparently you are allowed to respond to them.
COULTER: Yeah, I did.
LAUER: So, in other words.
COULTER: That is the point of liberal infallibility. Of putting up Cindy Sheehan, of putting out these widows, of putting out Joe Wilson. No, no, no. You can't respond. It's their doctrine of infallibility. Have someone else make the argument then.
LAUER: What I'm saying is I don't think they have ever told you, you can't respond.
COULTER: Look, you are getting testy with me.
And Lauer thought Tom "I'm a world-renowned expert on psychiatry and medication and you're not" Cruise was a pain.
So these rich uppity "broads" who happened to lose a husband should just shut up. What gives them the right to criticize anything? They're just show-offs, giddy on being famous. They don't know jack.
Pot. Kettle. One calling the other black.
Okay, then. There are two different worlds here. They don't intersect. They don't even touch.
And on the political front there was another example of a disconnect, the same day, as noted here -
What? They tried that. They ran it up the flagpole. No one saluted. The president traveled the country talking it up, and people decided they'd rather have a safe retirement income in a government sponsored insurance plan than be their own investment managers and play the stock market, especially as a transition to the latter would cost the government a few trillion dollars. It made no sense.
Congress should make Social Security overhaul its top priority next year, while a rewrite of the tax code and revamping the nation's healthcare system probably will wait until at least 2009, House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Jim McCrery, R-La., said today. McCrery said it will take the expiration of tax cuts in 2010 to build enough political support for tax reform, even though President Bush and many Republican lawmakers would like to tackle it sooner. "I think the president wants to do tax reform, and I'm certainly ready to help him do tax reform in '07 and '08. ... Looking at the lay of the land politically and substantively, it seems to me the more logical order would be Social Security, then tax reform, then healthcare reform," he told reporters after addressing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The minority leader in the House, that woman from gay San Francisco, Nancy Pelosi, spoke for the other world -
No, it's not. It's an odd message from another planet.
When the House Republican point man on Social Security says that privatizing Social Security will be a top priority next year, it is clear the Republicans once again are not listening to the American people, who resoundingly rejected this risky scheme last year.
This is simply not a priority of the American people, yet Republicans continue their relentless quest to privatize Social Security over the real needs of Americans. The Republican plan to dismantle Social Security, which would slash benefits for the middle class, is a blast from their failed policies of the past.
But then Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly here offers a report on that other planet, noting that last month the Boston Globe reported that Republican leaders in Congress were considering a legislative agenda "in which they would literally give up on passing major policy initiatives and instead focus on divisive bills that they didn't expect to pass."
That's the planet where a legislature exists not to do the people business and work on law that make things run smoothly but to make grand and noble failing gestures.
Benen cites Roll Call -
With only a few months left on the legislative calendar, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has decided to abandon any efforts at bipartisanship in favor of using his chamber to hold a series of highly partisan, mostly symbolic votes on conservative causes, including amendments banning gay marriage and flag burning, and fully repealing the estate tax.
Although Frist has peppered the Senate schedule with a handful of substantive issues - including likely votes this week on a new U.S. trade representative, a Native Hawaiian-rights bill and a new mine-safety czar - the chamber will put off work on major legislation such as the fiscal 2007 Defense authorization bill in order for Frist to pursue items of special interest to his party's conservative base.
Well, that's their world. And it will keep them in power. In the morning's Washington Post E. J. Dionne pointed out that the Republican Party "thinks its base of social conservatives is a nest of dummies who have no memories and respond like bulls whenever red flags are waved in their faces." Yep. (Dionne say much more and that's all here.)
It's been painfully obvious for a while now, but it's almost comical how unserious congressional Republicans are about matters of state. They're not only failing to govern, they're shirking their duties intentionally as part of an electoral strategy.
That's whole different world.
And the war rolls on -
We're making good progress, and Baghdad is half as secure as it was a year ago. That's also news from another planet. But the number of hapless and harmless civilians we shoot dead at checkpoints has dropped from one a day to one a week, on average. Progress.
Security in the capital has deteriorated precipitously in recent months. Increasingly brazen assassinations torment neighborhoods and no longer seem to follow any obvious patterns. In May, the Baghdad morgue recorded the highest number of bodies received since the beginning of the war: 1,375, approximately double the toll of May 2005.
There is a great divide. The November election should be interesting. It's not a plebiscite on Bush. It's an election where each voter decided on which planet her or she lives.