Frank Rich: Our Politics, Our Theater

I now want to stand back from four and a half years and try to put together the narrative, essentially by which truth went down the toilet. And tell that story of how it happened, begin the summer before 9/11 when we were obsessed with Gary Condit and shark attacks, then go to the day that supposedly changed everything, 9/11, and then see how we ended up in a war against someone who did not attack us on 9/11.

Frank Rich on Open Source

[Scheduled for Aired Monday 6 February 2006.]

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

Frank Rich [Courtesy of the New York Times]

Frank Rich is effectively Jon Stewart for people who are still reading through the Bush circus.

Stewart, a modern vaudeville comedian with video clips, has become TV’s trusted Cronkite in these times. And another theater figure, Rich, late Broadway critic at the New York Times, has become the indispensable commentator, the Walter Lippmann of our second childhood.

Frank Rich is one of the rare press-card types, even at the Times, who on a Sunday last September could be reviewing Zadie Smith’s new novel on the cover of the Book Review and recounting, in his Sunday Op-ed piece, how Hurricane Katrina had unmasked the President as Professor Marvel in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Janet Jackson, Tim Russert, Dick Cheney, Martha Stewart, Colin Powell, Mel Gibson, George and Laura… Under the Frank Rich searchlight on Bush II America, the political and cultural cover-boys and girls are one vast company: poor players all, strutting and fretting their hour on the stage, soon to be heard no more. The fall of our freedoms, of the republic perhaps, is a tale mangled by an idiotic establishment of media blatherers and bloviators–full of sound and fury and almost always missing the point.

For all of us who start the week’s office conversation around Rich’s Sunday piece, it’s precisely his confident straddle of show-business and politics that makes Rich so unusual and so valuable. I don’t see anyone out there with so relentless an eye on the tricks and tricksters (think Karl Rove & Co.) who have made of this dawning Age of Information — equally and at the same time — a Reign of Propaganda.

Frank Rich has taken a leave from his Times column to compose a hard-cover account of our country — mind, body and spirit — since September 11, 2001. But he’ll take a break from his book to talk with us on Open Source on Monday, and to speak at John Hancock Hall in Boston on Sunday, February 12.

Please post your questions and comments for Frank Rich on this page. And if you’d like to enlisted in the live conversation, make sure we have an email address that will reach you.

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  • Jon

    Question for Frank Rich: What will it finally take for a majority of the American people to decide against accepting increasing restrictions on their historically protected freedoms–and by that time will it simply be too late?

  • gregor

    My 18 year old son decries the fact that I don’t have the Comedy Channel and John Stewart – It’s time I introduced him to Frank Rich.

    For years, at some point during my Sunday mornings, I’ve turned to his latest piece in the NY Times – whether it’s a scathing diatribe concerning the latest Bush administration foul up, cover up, fool hardy war rationale, or lie – or one of his seminal essays on an artist, popular culture or world event – and I read, usually both nodding my head in agreement, while admiring his artistry of the English language.

    I look forward to his book and will miss the Sunday encounters, until his return.

  • avecfrites

    Does Mr. Rich think that he would be more effective writing for a paper other then the NY Times? Despite the Times’ reach and reputation, do writers for the Times get ignored throughout most of the country because they are perceived as biased?

    If so, why not try to find a job at a paper with a more even-handed reputation? Wouldn’t that allow him a better shot at actually influencing events and saving the country? Is it just money and fame that stops him from doing this? Does he feel a personal mission to save the country, or is his political criticism just another form of theater criticism, meant as an entertaining sideshow to the main event?

    I ask these questions genuinely. I enjoy and agree with much of Mr. Rich’s work, but I wonder if we like-thinking folks ignore the question of what our personal mission is and should be, and decline to entertain more difficult options.

  • apllon

    Frank Rich, like Bill Maher, is a national treasure…. I wish him all the courage he needs to continue to bring his message to the American public and to the world! Thank you, thank you!

  • Chris wrote: “Frank Rich is effectively John Stewart for people who are still reading through the Bush circus.”

    “people who are still reading…” It sounds like you are using the word “still” in the sense of “people who are still using a rotary phone…” Yes, I still read, and I’m still paying through the nose for the Sunday Times.

    avecfrites, I don’t say this often, but your question is terribly naive. He won’t dignify your question with a response, but I will. Explain to me how the New York Times is “ignored.” The paper only has the third highest paid circulation, but please explain me who the columnists for the higher-circulating appears are (the USAT and the WSJ) and what they’ve written in the last six months. The Times leads the news. And Frank Rich is, by the very premise of this show, the Walter Lippman of this age. And please, name some papers with an “even-handed reputation.” If the Times weren’t so important, L. Brent Bozell obsess over it so much.

    And furthermore, a lot of the silly agitas that went on during the debate over TimesSelect was how the columnists would lose “influence.” Can somebody explain this? That would be a like a ballplayer leaving the Yankees for “more money” or a chance to be “more famous.”

    I do have a question for Rich. Back in February 2005, I reported on how the Gannon/Guckert story took almost a full year to break from it first being reported by the WaPo and by a blog– Stuck at the Gates, I called it, in mock-tribute to the saffron invasion of Central Park.

    So now I wonder now about Abramoff: this story had an even longer gestation. There were a few stories over 2004 about him. I found in the Post a July 15th story Ex-Lobbyist is Focus of Widening Investigations, and in the Times on September 30: Senate Opens Hearings on Lobbyists for Tribes. Well, I didn’t have to Google very far to see where all national attention was placed on that day. It was the day of the first Presidential Debate– and weirdly, what distracted some random Democratic activists for the next month was speculation on the “Bush Bulge.”

    The question should not be, how do “we Bush-whackers” put an end to this reign of error (a bit late for that). I’d like to frame it in a more neutral way– given that a chief criticism of today’s media is that it concentrates on the big news of the moment, how do we ensure that ongoing developments are tracked and given proper attention?

    It seems to me still that magazines still do this better than the bloggers.

    Does the fault, as Murrow channeled Shakespeare, lie not in our stars, but in us?

    And a follow-up, for those reading here. What would have happened if four years ago, the derivative blog style as we know it, didn’t develop, but instead, enough would-be citizen reporters instead tracked each day of their representative’s schedule? That would have been a tremendous use of distributed reporting. But instead, we– and I’ll include myself here– blew it by chasing the wrong distractions.

  • avecfrites

    JonGarfunkel:

    Thanks for dignifying things with your response.

    To clarify, I never said the Times was ignored. I asked if it was (and by whom). The opportunity for discussion here centers around whether we’re preaching or reaching. Do casual Bush-voters read the Times? Further, do they pay cash to read Times editorial writers walled off behind TimesSelect?

    My sense is that huge chunks of the swing-voting public automatically discount info coming from the Times, rightly or wrongly. My belief is that the Times would have more influence, though less short-term revenue, if they abandoned the TimesSelect experiment.

    As for papers perceived by Bush voters to be more even-handed, there are lots of them. None of them have the quality or cirulation of the Times. But that is the essence of my question — does the presumed gain in objectivity of working for another paper or media outlet outweigh the loss of the size of the megaphone of the Times? Ask yourself this key question: in the last presidential election, who had more influence on the outcome, the Times writers or the writers of lesser-nown newspapers in Ohio?

    I’d love to have Mr. Rich and Chris discuss which recent editorial writer or commentator has had the biggest measurable affect on political outcomes, as opposed to who writes the best or has achieved the most lasting fame.

  • re: “in the last presidential election, who had more influence on the outcome, the Times writers or the writers of lesser-nown newspapers in Ohio?”

    Yes, you have a point, the Times is not a direct influence in most people’s lives; certainly not as one of the television network. And, if your focus is places like Ohio, indeed the endorsement of the Columbus Dispatch (which ultimately went to the Republican candidate, as it has since 1920) was seen as a key indicator for the Ohio vote.

    But your assumption rests on the belief that Frank Rich do everything in his power to unseat the President — including moving to Ohio and begging a newspaper for a job, and assuming that he would be accepted by the readers, more than, say, the Dispatch’s Joe Hallett. That would have been so nakedly partisan it would have bene universally laughed at. He’s a journalist, dammit, and his first responsibility is to his own readers. On the other hand, our favorite bloggers have no such boundaries. Would Kos have traded Berkeley for Columbus? He didn’t have to; he exerted his Kossian pull to support the Hackett campaign.

    re: “My sense is that huge chunks of the swing-voting public automatically discount info coming from the Times, rightly or wrongly.”

    Let’s check who reads the Times. In the NY Metro area, of 16m adults, 2.7m read the Sunday Times. That’s 1 out of 6. There’s 2.4m readers in the rest of the country, or around 1 out of 116. And if you squeeze out the urban areas and the coasts, and greater Fort Lauderdale, you’re talking about a very small portion of “swing state America” that actually reads the Times directly. What you miss in your thinking is considering the secondary and tertiary effects of influence. The NYT influences people who influence others– that’s who they reach in the 1% outside of the NY area.

    Now as to the “automatically discount” part of your sentence. Let’s substitute “increasingly” for “automatically,” as this number is not fixed by the laws of physics. Where does this discount come from? A couple of possibilities: one, the conservative war on the Times, which has even inspired the hometown subscribers to question that it doesn’t do enough for liberalism, for Israel, for international law, etc.; two, the high-profile credibility scandals over the last four years involving Blair, Miller, Wen Ho Lee. Putting a price on the paper (or removing it) would not affect either of these perceptions. Rich certainly does his part to take on the Limbaughs and O’Reillys and other clone drones from the reality-challenged community; additionally, the public editors have pointed out that the Times, while reflecting the opinions of its subscriber base, shouldn’t always conform to them.

    As to “the presumed gain in objectivity of working for another paper or media” your argument is hollow. Can you name “another paper or media” that Rich should work for? And since when does a gain in objectivity lead to a gain in influence in this country? The lesson of the Limbaughs et al suggests otherwise.

    The job of the newspaper, and the reporter, is to gather facts and inform, and demonstrate to us how to think, not what to think. Unseating incompetent politicians is ultimately our responsibility and we should never expect a media personality to do it for us.

  • cheesechowmain

    “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

    — George Costanza

  • cheesechowmain

    Apologies to Marx, Truth has become part of “The Cult of the Fetish”

  • brosenmass

    We Americans are fat and happy. Why would we work hard for something, anything, on the civil circuit when we can play video games, blog about MTV, and browse Amazon? What motivates us? It seems to me that nothing does, and nothing will until we are up against the wall. When our standards are living are perceptably threatened by our own gluttony and hubris, or by China’s, we will finally start treating our system as it should be – as our own tool for change. Not as “my rich Senator’s forum to increase his portfolio’s value,” but as a representative democracy that is only healthy if everyone is civically involved.

    That said, the media’s role is small, until we are too hungry to care about Brad and Angelina.

  • nsbernstein

    Wag the Dog

    We just have to realize that Karl Rove is Conrad Breen (Robert DiNero), and it all makes sense.

    – Neil of Swampscott, MA

  • cheesechowmain

    Let me tell you nsbernstein, this is nothing. This is nothing. Piece of cake, walk in the park.

    This is nothing.

    What difference does it make if it’s true? If it’s a story and it breaks, they’re gonna run with it.

    — Stanley Motss

  • hmmph. I wanted to ask Rich why the Abramoff story gestated for so long before it broke. That was the short question at the end of the post.

  • brosenmass

    Avec Frites question is, basically, “Is Frank Rich preaching to the choir?” Is he changing minds or simply enforcing the thoughts that these readers already have?

  • “Certain brands are going to dominate”… they already do in some areas. Yes, no one will knock Marshall off his perch.

  • Yes, but how come the blogs didn’t report on the Abramoff scandal for all of 2004? And played catch-up to the big media? My question, nobody’s answering…

  • tomhagan

    Re Truth/lies/BS in this administration: long after the famous carrier landing, the press finally began to question the theatricality of the episode, and GB was asked at a press conference whether the “Mission Accomplished” banner had been produced by the sailors aboard the carrier, or had it been created “in the basement of the White House by your ingenious PR people”. GB’s answer: “My PR people weREre “not that ingenious– it was done by the sailors on the carrier”. Within 24 hours this was reported (but not widely) to be untrue. Bush could have said “I don’t know”–and gotten off the hook. Or, he could have told the truth, but that would have confirmed the suspicions of the reporter who posed the question. So instead he lied, giving the most politically acceptable answer, not caring that it was untrue and more importantly expecting–correctly, as it turned out–that he would not be called on the lie.

    Similarly: at the meeting with troops where he was asked about the shortage of armor, Secy Rumsfeld made his famous remark that “you goi to war with the army you have”, which earned much comment for its insensitivity. But there was almost no followup to his subsequent assertion that everything possible was being done to supply the needed armor as quickly as possible, subject only to the limitations imposed by the “physics” of the process–i.e., how fast the ore could be dug and the steel smelted. Within two days, the Boston Globe reported that the firm in Florida actually making the armor was working a single shift and was ready, willing and able to increase production substantially by going to two or three shifts per day. They were just awaiting orders from the DOD.

    Both Bush and Rumsfeld told barefaced lies, giving false answers with total disregard for the truth, knowing that they would not really be called to account.

    The real failure is that of the media, which time and again let them do this with impunity.

  • ummm … are you kidding me?

    frank rich is an ulcer on the nation’s discourse.

    – gore “love story” scandal (fake: rich coinvented with dowd)

    – whitewater (clinton’s exonerated in open court: rich pimps to this day)

    – gore’s chinos! polo shirts! (pointless and inaccurate: rich was on it nonetheless)

    – kerry’s “who among us” (fake: rich repeated it, never apologized)

    almost barfed when i heard chris fawning over this loser. save the adulation for krugman.

  • woops — forgot to tell you to read the howler

    http://www.dailyhowler.com

  • David Weinstein

    Hurray for Radio open source for finally getting to the issue that has been like the pink elephant (no pun intended) in the room of American journalism and culture for the last five years: how is that the American public has been so gullible to the dog and pony show of the Bush adminsitration? And hurray for Frank Rich for feretting out the truth from the theatrics all this time.

    I am writing post 2 a.m. at the end of the normalyl scheduled airing of ROS in the Bay Area of California thanks ot the wisdom of the programers that be here. So I am jumping in a little late on behalf of myself and my friends who have normal jobs and don’t suffer form insomnia.

    I would like to address the question on he blog picked up by Brendan and asked on the air if Frank Rich is not preaching to the choir. I think the answer is yes on ther whole. Unfortuantely it was the tragic televised scenes of the Katrain/New Orleans disaster that fianlly broke the back of Bush’s charade, as he said. And sadly I believe that it will be even more disasters that will make he whiole thing unravel. In other words, undeniable reality.

    I think Bush’s legacy will be as “the disaster presdient” — 9/11 through Katrian and forward. Yet there is a silver lining. I think we were and are one step away from fascism in this country. Totalitarianism relies on lies, the repession of civil rights, the collusion of the courts in doing so, the complicity or at least the weakness of the press, and, yes, a certain collusion of the general public in all this. Sound familiar? Of course there is one big difffernce still, the use of physical force to quash dissent. That hasn’t happened yet. But it is a fact that Bush asked Congress for the right to use the military in the USA in that now infamous war powers act by Congress in 2001 but he couldn’t get the votes even in this Congress.

    In closing there was a strong fascistic streak in American politics in the 1930’s as there was a communist one. Franklin Delano Roosevelt held the middle, and, I am convinced, saved us from totalitarian government from the right or left. Now you understand why Bush so hates FDR and tried to undo the legacy of social security. And his grandfather was a nazi sympathizer and made bucks and marks doing business with the Third Reich during World War Two.

    Incredible? You can look it up. Google it, go to your public library.

    One step from fascism.

    Let’s hope America is lucky this time as we have been so far in the past.

  • Something seems to be wrong with the mp3 feed. I tried to download it from the webpage and also downloaded it through itunes and both have no sound. Previous mp3 recording are all OK.

  • yep–trouble with the mp3 alright. I have the same problem as sidewalker.

  • Just a reminder to those in the Boston area that Frank Rich will be at John Hancock Hall Sunday, February 12 at 3pm.

    Details and tickets:

    http://www.celebrityseries.org/perf_625_rich.htm

    or call (617) 482-6661 (M-F 10-4pm)

    Jack Wright

    Bank of America Celebrity Series

  • neuropet

    Echo on the MP3 problem. Would love to listen to Rich….but it’s dead air for 24 Mbytes.

  • problem with the MP3 podcast feed. Its silent!

    have you been censord??? LoL

  • Nikos

    David Weinstein: nice piece. I basically agree.

    Yet one thing many of us who see the specter of an ‘American fascism’ don’t account for is this: if you were a junta running a banana republic, which would you prefer –

    1. repression by armed force?

    or,

    2. silent public acquiescence to your reign through distraction-by-entertainment (TV, video games, PSP’s, cell-phones, etc., etc.), which not only obviates the need to cow by force, but which implies commerce that pads the Swiss bank accounts of you and your friends?

    This silent public acquiescence is aided, not coincidentally, by a (purported) ‘opposition party’ in thrall to the very same sources of lucre as the more openly fascist party – and the whole system is bolstered by the absence of ANY LEGITIMATE THIRD OPTION.

    I have thought for decades now that our two-party system is worse than the single party state, because at least everyone in the USSR KNEW they didn’t have a real choice. We seem to think we do. We have an illusion of choice. Tens of thousands of idealistic young people turned out in ’04 to win back our government from the plutocrats, only to watch in horror as the Rove propaganda-machine and falsehood-mill manipulated and stole yet another national election. How many of those disillusioned idealists will come back for their next beat-down this autumn or in ’08?

    Instead of lifting the blinders from our collective eyes, or tearing ourselves away from our entertainment-distractions, we prefer to whine that ‘it doesn’t matter if you vote because nothing ever changes’. OF COURSE NOTHING EVER CHANGES! The two-party state (accidentally) created by the 18th Century constitution in unspoken collusion to prevent anything that closely resembles a truly representative democracy.

    The fascism you and I both see isn’t ‘proto-’, it’s established – albeit in a smiling American face instead of in the iconic mid-20th Century snarling mustachioed Hitler and Mussolini street-poster.

    And until we’re willing to honestly question whether our 18th Century constitution provides us a democracy or an oligarchic republic, critics like Frank Rich will continue to ‘preach to the choir’, because, frankly-my-dear, the rest of the electorate—the ones whose attentions we’ll need to engage—couldn’t care less.

  • jc

    David Weinstein, I do believe you are wrong regarding, “Of course there is one big difffernce still, the use of physical force to quash dissent. That hasn’t happened yet.”. It seems to me that is constantly happening. Just the other day a lady was arrested at a speech venue becarse she was wearing a T shirt with a dissenting message on it to the policies of the speechifier. I heard no outrage from this society – just a deafening silence other than an occassional “Ho hum” or “Oh well.” I’m not much of a(n?) historian, but I remember Kent State and another college campus murder. The governments have always been used in this country to harrass, impede, abuse and, often, murder peaceful demonstrators or strikers re: strikers against Henry Ford, striking minors in Colorado and Appalachia, the Pullman incident in Illinois, the state and local governments in the south enforcing Jim Crowism, slavery itself and enforced Chinese labor under false premises, etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum.

    Other than that, it seems like you got the rest of it pretty much right.

    Cheers.

  • Abby

    A small correction. You have no trouble convincing me that George W. Bush is a liar, but I’ not sure that your example from the SOTU is valid. The Bushies have certainly conflated the Iraq war with the never-ending war on terror/ Al Quaeda, but I think it’s reasonable to assume, in this context, that the failed state he was talking about was Afghanistan. I don’t know my geography all that well,but it’s probably around 7,000 miles away, and I think it’s fair to say that it was a failed state. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone refer to Iraq as a failed state.

  • Nikos, you are right on…dare I say…the money. Physical force is far more difficult to sustain and begets a stronger counter force than a steady dose of pabulum.

    The “consent” of a public to a government that keeps spending sacrilegious amounts of tax dollars on a bombastic military while poverty rates increase and the income gap widens to Grand-Canyon proportions is hard to believe and even harder to understand. While the believers, the amused and the unconscious make up the “silent” part of the majority, it is, as you mention, the ability to positively direct the energy and agency of more engaged Americans into the limited Burger King/McDonalds, Pepsi/Coke or Starbucks/??? choice among political party near-equals. This form of democracy is about as healthy as the aforementioned junk food. But it simplifies choice (and the work of the media in re-present the issues), creates the perception that one is participating and is fulfilling civic duty and keeps people whining about the pickles and from imagining more socially healthy alternatives, such as a tofu burger or a hot bowl of clam chowder.

  • David Weinstein

    Yes, Nikos, the two party system is pretty dismal. We have a choice between a proto-fascist party in the Bush wing of the republicans and a spineless democrat one. But if you decry the acquiesence that makes this state of affairs possible possible, please let me suggest in all good will that the answer is political activism either in trying to reawaken the democrat party to its idealistic roots, or if you think it’s too addicted to money and fundraising, making your voice heard in whtaever manner you feel you can effectively do so. After all the corporations and their authoritarian puppets are counting on the public’s acquiesence. Cynicism is just another excuse for acquiesence, it seems to me.

    Yes, JC, the woman who was arreted was Cyndy Sheehan, taken in handcuffs from the balcony of the senate by capital police for wearing a shirt spelling out the number of dead combat troops in Iraq, supposedly against rules for the state of the union. No politial theaer here or tweeting of W.’s conscience such as it is.

    As a history buff, I aware of the violence used against the labor movement by the captains of industry, often our own soldiers before the fairly recent law of baning military force against ones own citizens passed fairly recently in our history (by the way some of the unions gave as good as they got from time to time). I too remmeber Kent State and the tear gasing and clubbing of students and protesters in that turbulent time. And the history of the west runs with blood. The robber barons routiney used violence when they couldn’t buy off governments to do their bidding. In fact, I think the Bush family cabal goes back to that time.

    So, yes, it might be a matter of degree compared to the use of force by totalitarian governments against their citizens as in the former USSR and Nazi Germany whe there weasn’t even the charade citizen rights.

    But no matter, as unce Joe Stalin said, “we have the power becasue we count the votes.” Think Diebold.

    A few afterthoughts to last night’s piece though: I do think Frank Rich is basically preaching to the choir at this time. But his insightful journalism and analysis will hopefully speed up he fall of the Bush fascistic machine by helping folks connect the dots. That’s been the crying shame of this whole Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld run on our democracy. People just don’t seem to be able to connect the dots, from 9/11 to going to war under false pretense and so on. Furthermore I think when this whole Bush crime family thing collapses, people will be able to say because of Frank Rich and a few other courageous journalists, our dear Chris Lighton and staff included, “so that’s how they were able to do it.” And hopefully the next time we will see it coming. Hopefully…

    One last word about politics and theatrics. Bush’s “mission accomplished” on he aircraft carrier a dusk pales in comparison to the nazi party’s public theatrics and rallys of the late twenties and thirties. Have any of you seen Leni Riefensthals “Power of the Will” ? She knocks Rove’s boys right out of the ring. The newsreels of nazi parades and rallies are chilling for their hypnotic effect with a blend of medieval pagentry and the best hits of teutnic paganism under those flickering torch lights and parading brown shirts. Watch them if you dare.

    But what the nazi party disn’t have were consumers with credit cards as in the good ‘ol USA. What both current parties have well understood is not pagentry but another kind of hypnotic coming out of the focus group and the most cynical Madison Avenue advertising — relntless mind numbing televsion ads. Yeah, perhaps you don’t need the jackboot if you have a voting public whose minds have been washed by TV and hundres, thousands of hours of advertising. Frank Rich is right, we just don’t know truth from fiction anymore because of this and other cultural influences. And Bush/Rove have run with the big lie like there is no tomorow.

    When I think of Bush though, I do not think of the genecidal madman, Hitler, it’s preening, strutting Mussolini who comes to mind. Like Mussolini, Bush has gone from the puffed-up, to the preposterous to the pathetic. Mussolini actually rose to power on the strength of bringing back the moral fiber to Italian society. Yes culture wars. Think the Christian right. And the Italian dictators tanks ran over Ethiopia in a matter of days like Bush’s did (not in my name). And the swagering Italian fascist could not hold tht country as Bush can’t do with Iraq.

    Not too many years later the Italians literally handed him his head.

    Finally, friends, speaking of theatrics and Hollywood, screenwriter Robert Riskin and his director, Frank Capra, had it right in the 1941 dark comedy, “Meet John Doe,” where a ruthless business magnate uses the failed suicide of a hobo played by Gary Cooper to launch a faux-populist party to take over the nation. What kind of business was this captain of industry in? He was an oil baron. They knew something Hollywood in those days, or at least Riskin and Capra did.

    Peace and keep the faith.

  • Nikos

    David Weinstein: re: Apathy.

    First, thanks once again for another fine offering.

    Mussolini indeed! – but with the combined armies of mid-1943 USSR AND Germany at his disposal, plus the mid-1945 American navy and air force!

    And then we wonder why the rest of the world quietly insults us while rubbing up to our legs like hungry cats.

    I think we have our very own “Triumph of the Will� ’s , but since we’re Americans, we do it with smiles and love stories – like “Top Gun� and god knows how many other military romances I haven’t ever wanted to watch and therefore can’t name. These pseudo-propaganda flicks perform essentially the same service though, that “Triumph of the Will� did for the Nazis. (At the very least they conflate love, both romantic and ‘patriotic’, with militarism.) Remember: Americans aren’t recently defeated and furious about it like Germany in the 20’s and 30’s, so, to be appealing to the inattentive electorate, our fascism must be friendly, heartwarming, and ‘inclusive’.

    Our fascism is quintessentially neocon too, in that our version of Goebel’s Ministry of Propaganda is the privatized entity called Fox News (the Fictional News Network). See, we’re ‘mericans, pal, so we do fascism BETTER than its inventors! Brilliant, huh?

    Now, finally, to apathy: only after reading my last offering did I see that I hadn’t sufficiently ‘connected the dots’ between its points. So, here’s a belated attempt.

    I’m not any more apathetic than I believe the electorate would be if we had a broad slate of political parties to choose from instead of these bloated, try-to-please-everyone-at-once coalitions of grassroots-piloted-by-rich-elites of the Elephant and Donkey.

    But to create the excitement such a wide selection would surely engender, we must first replace the creaking and sagging platform of the wooden 18th Century constitution with something new: a constitution that first admits to the realities of economic influences and power in the 21st Century, and then is designed to offer the ENTIRE people, not merely the vested interests, the prospect for authentic representative democracy.

    Europe, once the land of monarchs, has created many representative democracies, most of which are far more democratic than ours. These democracies boast vastly higher voter interest than ours too.

    Our Elephants will struggle against any such change with all their might, of course, since their hold on their portion of the political spectrum relies on having only one overly broad coalition to fight—in no small part by pointing out the Donkey’s internal contradictions, putting them on the defensive while spewing jingoistic falsehoods about their own true intentions.

    The fundamental question—the first question worth asking—is whether we will continue to arrogantly blindly believe and proclaim our constitution’s ‘superiority’ to all others.

    Any objective examination will expose something very different.

    To this end, I recommend to all Daniel Lazare’s ‘The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution is Paralyzing Democracy’. (Harcourt, Brace & Co.; 1996)

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  • David Weinstein

    Nikos,

    Thank you for your insightful thoughts about the Bush/Cheney/Rove brand of neo-con, feel-good, fictional news network style of fascism… But you have to admit a young Tom Cruise singing out, “I have a need for speed!” is hard to resist.

    I also have to admit that I am not as much up on my civics as I’d like to be. But it seems that our 18th centry consitution does not forbid more than two parties. It does seem that we’ve alwasy had two major ones, sort of the American representative democracy version of coke and pepsie. At first it was the federalists and the Jeffesonians, then the whigs and Jacksonians. Lincoln was a Jacksonian and then helped found the republican party to be opposed opposed by the deomcrats and so on…

    I think you might be advocting parlimentary democracy as in most countries in Europe. The third parties can carry more weight. If we had that here I still think something like the ruthless republicans and dazed donkey democrats would get the post of prime minister. But the greens could have a minister of the environment by making a cioalition with the dems, and the libertarians can control the ministry of anarchy by making common cause with the repubs.

    I think the down and dirty issue of why we do not have an authentic represeantative deomocracy is the role of money in politics. One idea, which I picked up from the UC Berkeley daily Cal, is to ony allow registered voters in any district to donate money to candidates with a cap per person. The parties can only match, let’s say, what the citizens have donated, or some fraction of that. And no PACS, period.

    And this issue of earmarks where every politician can put in his favorite pork for his K street lobbyist who flew his from his Scottish golf vacation that have become routine. No more eamarks at al in national legislation.

    Of course there is the legal/constitutional issue of whether $ = free speeech in this great land of ours. And with Alito, the corporae and intrusive government justice on the court in the era of federal corruption, good luck.

    But you know, Rove et al are ahead of us. By having republican voting machine and sysem vendors such as Diebold silently and electronically rig a large part of state and federal elections such as in Ohio, we effectively have a one party system anyhow. Bush/Cheney lost the election in 2000 and 2004 and no one seems to know or care about it.

    I have aleady used up a lot of cyber space on this site about this outrage to our democracy so I won’t go on any further here. There are at least three fine, well researched books on the market about that as well as Ohio representative Conyer’s report for Congress. You can look them up, google articles.

    But the sad fact is that Bushco seems to get away with this because we the people are not vigilent enough, caring enough about our basic rights. Those revolutionaries who wrote our constitution and bill of rights spoke about “civic virtue,” as the saving grace of our republic. By that they meant a commitment by each citizen to protect and improve democracy by direct participation and an informed critical stance towards the workings of our democracy.

    They knew how easily tyranny can take over our rights and liberty. And tyranny has done just that in the last six years of the Bush occupartion of the Whie House.

    It’s up to us, each and ery one of us, to take back our democracy, our country.

    Peace and keep the faith.

  • zeke

    Just catching up on this fine show several days late, so I suspect the blog thread is pretty well petered out. Nevertheless, since so much of the show was devoted to the scrutiny of text for truths, lies and/or truthiness, I want to call attention to one place where I think both Chris and Frank Rich mischaracterized the President’s ploy.

    In the SOTU address, the “failed state” which bred terrorism leading to the deaths of thousands of Americans, was not Iraq as they seemed to imply; if pressed on it (as Chris wished the media had done), the administration would have said it was Afghanistan.

    I detest the way this administration disrespects truth. Indeed I am currently rereading 1984 (which might fit into a future show somehow) in order to recall what Orwell actually wrote before so much of it became slogan and cliche. Still, I think critics should work hard to be more pure than Caesar’s wife and, in this small instance, I think you got it wrong.

    Perfectly happy to stand corrected if I misheard. Thanks for a wonderful show.

    Zeke

  • Nikos

    Good afternoon again, David.

    You’re right that the constitution doesn’t limit the number of the nation’s political parties – but this isn’t because the founders were happy to create an arena for a free-for-all.

    They were uncomfortable with the prospect of ANY parties. We elect individual presidents, individual senators, individual representatives, and not party-slates, specifically for this reason.

    Yet almost immediately after the constitution’s ratification, like-minded citizens (only white males of property back then, keep in mind) began communicating their concerns, promoting individual candidates, and forming leagues. Thus, our two contemporary titanic zeppelins (gas-bags) of Elephant and Donkey are the descendants of hopeless naïveté. (The ‘looseness’ of today’s two party ‘big-tent’ coalitions is a legacy of this hesitant but inevitable party formation.)

    The presuppositions behind the constitution became obsolete almost immediately. Let’s give the founders an ‘A’ for effort and for good intentions, but let’s please examine their product in the light of contemporary reality, and not against the backdrop of 1780’s post-colonial America.

    Anything less is just useless jingoism.

    Parties exist in every democratic republic I’ve ever heard of. So, to continue this system that ignores and/or hopes against their eventuality is silly at best and self-destructively Pollyanna-ish at worst—which is precisely the state of the union right now. We are naively letting the legacy of an 18th century experiment slowly redact its last few democratic features and possibilities.

    Only the moneyed have a genuine stake in this senile body-politic.

    So let’s say we amend the constitution to elect party-slates instead of individual reps (and for this argument we’ll leave the Senate until later). Let’s say we also make constitutional provisions for limiting the campaign monies in order to offer a level field for political debate, and limit the campaign duration, too.

    Let’s say we allow for 10 reps per state, but distribute this 500 proportionally just as we do currently (leaving Wyoming and its like with only one rep).

    Voters could then go into the booth and select parties, not individuals, and base their decisions on the avowed policies those parties advertise – instead of selecting ‘D’ or ‘R’ and hoping that the zeppelin they vote for might just maybe eventually address their concerns in an unreadable omnibus bill that tries-to-please-every-rep-and-senator’s-district to generate future votes (pandering) and that the president doesn’t dare veto lest his own gas-bag rupture and burn.

    You still with me?

    What I’m suggesting – no, guaranteeing – is that smaller, leaner, more sharply focused parties will not only sharpen the policy debate but sharpen actual GOVERNING.

    Which is great if your slate of opinion is a part of the governing coalition.

    Scared yet?

    Don’t be, and here’s why.

    Let’s say for argument that in the first election after the constitutional revolution the G.O.P. refuses to splinter into its constituent factions, but that the Dems, true to form, get right to it. The former Dems would likely become something tripartite: like the Greens, a very progressive ‘Social Democrats’, and a more moderate ‘Christian Democrats’.

    Aside from the likelihood that the Christian Democrats would peel away much of the GOP’s mushy middle, and apart from the likelihood that the Social Dems could make their case forcefully enough so that the young male macho-appeal of the GOP would begin to look as silly as it truly is, let’s say that the initial four-party election holds true to form:

    The Greens get, say, 5%, the Social Dems get 15%, the Christian Dems get 31%, and the GOP gets its usual 49% – not a majority, and therefore unable to form a government.

    The former Dems will therefore form a coalition government, assigning the Greens to the EPA and Interior, and making the proper deals for the rest of the administration’s departments—and selecting open-minded judges to the judiciary!

    Such a ‘shut-out’ will begin the splintering of the GOP into its true factions: the Country Club Republicans, the Log Cabin Republicans (who will likely defect to the Christian Dems), the Christian Right (the formerly ‘Moral Majority’ – who won’t ever again be able to seriously claim that un-factual name!), The Bring Back the Confederacy and Keep the Coloreds Out of Our Lily-White Neighborhoods Klan-Descendants, and the National Rifle and Machine Gun Party.

    And then watch the backbiting and infighting begin!

    This of course, is why the GOP leadership will fight with all their might any real push to amend or overhaul the constitution – and why progressives ought to begin making it into an issue of national importance – indeed, a question of the country’s very health.

    Such an authentically representative democracy would be a nation I could wax patriotic over (unlike now).

    I’d better leave the Senate issue for a follow-up offering – this one’s already a zeppelin of its own.

    (But, of course, it typically takes a lot of words to begin a revolution. Just like our founders would attest if we could only ask ‘em.)

  • Nikos

    In my haste to finish my last word-dump in the half hour available, I forgot also mention that a multi-party system would, for the first time in decades (if ever), afford the political center its very own indigenous voices.

    Because as it works now, the two party primaries initiate a process that works from the extreme flanks inward toward the center. The center never really have a say in the two party system until the candidates have obtained much or most of their funds. No wonder so many choose to stay home, disenchanted with the ballots that show up in November.

    Enough for now.

  • Nikos

    For what it’s worth (and if anyone is still reading this thread), Gary Hart — entirely coincidentally — in the first few minutes of Monday’s show validated pretty damn near every one of the points of my constitution critique.

    Although, and admittedly, I don’t expect him or anyone else living who ever took an oath to ‘support the constitution’ to agree with my seemingly radical call for an overhaul.

    But I WOULD expect just such agreement from Misters Jefferson and Madison, if only they could see the titanic tumor that grew within the government their republican experiment created.

  • David Weinstein

    Hi Nikos,

    This thread is run out probabaly except for you and me.

    I liked your scenario for the party-only/parlimentary version of a new government forming apparatus in the constitution. Especially since in this scenario the liberal-leaning parties get 51% of the vote. But it could be the other way around.

    And no doubt the G.O.P. has more to lose because their tent is more unwiedly.

    Anyhow we need some improvement with the choice between the visionless donkeys and the ruthless republicans one way or another.

    Take care.

  • Nikos

    Hi David:

    “…in this scenario the liberal-leaning parties get 51% of the vote. But it could be the other way around.”

    Don’t worry: when Americans are polled on policy positions without reference to party, the progressives win a majority every time!

    I still want to post a few questions about the Senate, but I’m currently working out my Afghanistan-horrors on another thread.

    Regardless, thanks for the response.

    See you round the site.

  • Nikos

    Constitution

    I’ve cut, pasted, and modified this post from 3 or 4 others I made in several other threads over the past 5 months. To older Rosbats, this post will be redundant since they might have read it when I first drafted the originals, but at least it’s a way to experiment with the ‘de facto’ nesting thread idea – to see if anyone will link to here from Guttersnipe Alley and engage in conversation. If you do, please say so in the Alley – and while here you can click onto your post’s date, which will give a identifier in your web-browsers ‘history’ drop-down box that you can copy and paste into the alert you write in the Guttersnipe thread.

    (Does that make any sense?)

    On the Insta-Bloggers show, one of the guests said:

    ‘The blogs are broadening politics’

    Quite right!

    S’why I’m here.

    This format is effectively the ‘Federalist Papers’ of the 21st century – or, at least, the forum from where the 21st century’s new American constitution’s “Federalist Papers� will be drawn and debated prior to the ‘IRL’ constitutional convention.

    Or so I hope.

    Despite my decidedly mixed feelings for the slave-owner Thomas Jefferson (& Madison too, right?) I don’t despise the constitution’s drafters. I consider them wealthy men who created a republic that served not merely their interests but the interests of a democracy they hoped to found. That’s certainly laudable and noble, but hardly worthy of secular sainthood. They did, after all, legitimize slavery in their new republic. They weren’t the end all be all livin’ end, but just bright guys doin’ their best in the racist and classist society of that era. I neither venerate nor deplore them.

    None of this is especially vital to the question of whether the republic has evolved anti-democratically – which I contend has happened. The country’s economic and social conditions today are unrecognizably different to conditions at the time of the constitution’s drafting. The founders’ job was to unite 13 state governments under a single federal government that gained its legitimacy from 13 states’ citizens – and said citizens were only white males ‘of property’.

    Contemporary veneration of the ‘Founding Fathers’ is of no practical value, and a constitutionally-conservative equivalent to Hillary Clinton’s jingoistic anti-flag-burning-amendment. Politicians commonly invoke the ‘Founding Fathers’ to convey an implication that their constitutional creation is above reproach and impossible to improve upon.

    Yet their creation is outdated — an 18th century republic in a 21st century world. It may have been a model democracy in its day, but no longer, especially when compared to modern parliamentary systems. Unfortunately, the founders simultaneously made any sort of meaningful constitutional overhaul a near impossibility. And their secular sainthood makes any such criticism into a secular sin.

    Let’s talk about it anyway. If there is a hell, secular or religious, I’m doomed to it no matter what.

    I was lucky in my youth to spend time in Europe. And I can tell you that to your average European in your average European multi-party parliamentary democracy, the American two-party system doesn’t look democratic in the least. Why?

    Well, to people who live with multi-party palate of legitimate electoral choices, our system looks like a one-party state offering the illusion of choice. A corporate-oligarchic Soviet Union masquerading as a democracy, and much more effectively that the USSR ever could because the fights between the two parties seem so vicious and therefore so real.

    But are they? Or is the viciousness really only a byproduct of hotly contested one-on-one elections? (Keep in mind that in many multiparty states you vote for the party, not for individual representatives.)

    Or, is that the Elephantine Right really have an ideological axe to grind, while the Donkeys are only interested in surviving the next Rove-ordered strafing run by the Limbaughs and O’Reillys of the rightwing attack machine?

    I’ve got no confident answers to those questions.

    But I am sure of this: We The People haven’t any real champions right now. And we won’t without fundamental constitutional change: creating a genuine multi-party palate wherein the left, right, and center all have distinct parties articulating their particular segment of the political spectrum.

    Imagine, please, what a Christian Democratic Party would do for the center of American political thinking—a party wherein the planks and platform were drafted, instead of by the fundamentalist lunatic fringe, by PROGRESSIVE Christians! (Even I, an agnostic, would be a sympathizer to such a party, although I’d strongly prefer the ‘Democratic Socialist’ option.)

    Imagine, please, a Green Party that could actually win seats in an American national legislature. And could then partake in a coalition government! Do you think we’d have to endure any more farces like the ‘Clean Skies Initiative’ if the Greens were in charge of the new EPA?

    And imagine, please, the Republican coalition broken into its real constituencies: The Moral Majority (sic) Party, The National Rifle And Machine Gun Party, The Bring Back The Confederacy And Get These Coloreds Out Of Our Neighborhoods Party, and The Corporate Oligarchy Party (whose slogan would surely be “Just let us make all the decisions and we’ll you promise Really Good Video Games for Christmas!�).

    I’ve probably left out some segments of the spectrum, but surely you get my drift.

    And please remember that some of the notable drafters of our current 18th century constitution expected it to evolve as the nation needed it to. I don’t think those guys — who BANNED CORPORATIONS, btw! — would rest easy if they thought the system they’d crafted would never, ever evolve, and would only and ever serve the interests of one percent of the population!

    It’s time to push for change: a new system wherein the legislators answer to the People instead of to the heirs to the 18th Century’s mercantile barons.

    Doncha’ think?

  • h wally

    Hey Nikos, I live in a country that, until just recently, had a one-party system. If you examine things down here you may get a futuristic vision of what’s up for us if we don’t change soon. I’d love a revolution but it’s hard to imagine in a country that is devided on so many issues.

  • babu

    Nikos: I’m interested to hear your analysis of what contributes to the popular vote being so statistically close to 50 – 50. I don’t mean on the merits of either Party, you’ve been quite forthcoming about that, but the 50-50 aspect of it.

    Actually, I think that question would be a good topic for a show.

  • Nikos

    Hey babu, I’m finally getting caught up on my ROS backlog.

    Sooo…

    I would start my own opinion on the 50/50 split by noting that in our usually apathetic country, a 60% turnout for a national election is considered remarkable.

    I, for one, consider it pitiful.

    Not enough voters feel enfranchised. This is a condemnation of the two parties, yet it also compares unfavorably to the typical turnouts in multi-party parliamentary elections abroad. Any body politic able to shop through a full spectrum of political philosophies will generate more interest than this one-party-with-two-heads hybrid republican system we’re stuck with now. Here’s why:

    It’s true that many people would know that their smaller party could not win a majority of seats in the national legislature. But in a multi party sate, this isn’t the game anyway. Winning as many seats as possible is the goal, and then – after the election — the various parties parley to form a governing coalition. This ensures that the issues most important to the smaller parties will garner the attentions of the policies of the governing coalition. Often this entails the smaller party leaders assuming ministerial roles in the government agencies most responsible for the issues or policies.

    How does this differ from the current system?

    As it stands now, Americans convene in quadrennial political conventions where the diverse affiliated interest groups who, in a parliamentary system would have their own parties, must hammer together titanic platforms. Yet because none of these policies can be implemented until after the election, the voters, with justified skepticism, view the platforms as mere ‘campaign promises’. Worse, this often turns out to be true in the practical reality of Washington shenanigans since the opposition party – especially in the Senate with its filibuster threat – can stymie whatever policies it most decries.

    This legacy of ‘broken promises’ leads directly to the feeling among the stay-at-home 40+% of eligible voters that neither the Elephant nor Donkey can be trusted to represent their interests. Disillusion = disenfranchisement.

    Now, it’s only natural that the 60% who feel enfranchised will spilt the center. As the political debate lures people from the stay-at-home sidelines to the voting booths, those lured to the fray will likely be even split. This held true even the last time but with one minor statistical glitch: Republicans won the last Presidential mud-fight because Rove rightly calculated that 4,000,000 more evangelical Christians would turn out to support the ‘God-fearing’ (that means ‘fundamentalist-respecting’) Dubya than the Donkeys could summon from their disillusioned stay-at-home sympathizers.

    And the SOB was correct.

    To me, this implies that if a multi-party system invigorated all those stay-at-homes, the political center would swing back to the left. The Republicans know this as well as I do (no matter what they say publicly), which is why slimeball folks like Newt Gingrich freely admit that Elephant hegemony depends on depressed voter turnouts.

    And, therefore, the Elephant would fight with all their might any effort to amend the national legislature into a multi-party parliament.

    Screw them.

    Let’s do it anyway.

    It’s only Moonbatting in the beginning. Talk it up, talk it all the damned time, and make it into a movement.

    It will happen eventually – or, Sandra Day O’Connor’s warning of incipient dictatorship will prove more prescient than we care to contemplate.

    Our tottering old republic will morph into a dictatorship or a real democracy, one or the other, and within 20 to 30 years, if the history of other quasi-democracies is any guide.

    If this isn’t convincing, forgive me: I’ve been cogitationally hampered lately. Fire back a critique and I’ll try again. And thanks.

  • Nikos

    Here’s another post from another thread:

    In the Obsession with Secrecy thread, CCM wrote (@ 7:33PM, March 1st, 2006): “there is an inherent power struggle between the citizenry (the vast, invisible branch of a nation) and the government. Both struggle to avoid serving the other, both struggle to reduce the control over the other.�

    I responded: We ignorant Americans don’t seem to know or to care, but in state-of-the-art 20th (and 21st) century parliamentary democracies, the executive can’t play such effective secrecy games with the voters because the executive is drawn from the parliament – and representatives in those systems – which sport vastly fewer lawyers than our legislature (see book recommendation below) – aren’t nearly so willing to delude their constituents for the good of the party. The recent blowups and flaps in Blair’s government – which are not genuinely parallel to the seemingly similar ‘mini’ scandals of the Bushies – bear this out.

    So, regarding this: “Should the government serve the citizenry, or should the citizenry serve the government? Many issues of transparency and how they should be managed boil down to this tension … a struck balance is difficult to achieve…�

    In parliamentary democracies, the government is viewed as the implementer of the will of the citizenry – not as an elected but sovereign (and coercive) quasi-adversary.

    If you don’t believe me (and my assertions based on extensive time discussing this sort of thing with the highly civically-involved citizens of Sweden and Greece), please check out Daniel Lazare’s The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution is Paralyzing Democracy Harcourt, Brace, & Co.; 1996) http://www.powells.com/biblio/61-0156004941-0.

    I know I’m surely developing a reputation as an obsessive for so frequently suggesting this book, but it’s for a damn good reason. These problems of our government, from the seemingly simple problem of voter interest and turnout, to these vexing questions of congressional integrity and executive imperiousness, are all a by product of an experimental blend of democratic impulse and the founders’ simultaneous fear of democracy (which they dubbed something like ‘mobacracy’, if memory serves).

    So, they gave us a republic only one step removed from monarchy (we elect our ‘king’ to four year terms, while skipping altogether the British ‘prime minister’ model), that was rigged to favor the propertied over the ‘ignorant masses’.

    And we seem so smug with our constitution that we’re not willing to question whether or not two centuries worth of untrammeled development of corporate power and international commerce hasn’t perhaps nudged it into obsolescence.

    To one who has read the Lazare book, it’s blatantly obvious that this is exactly what’s happened. (And I feel more strongly than ever that this is worthy of an hour of ROS.)

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