Sunday, May 7, 2006

Sunday Reading

  • This should really piss off the righties: Markos Moulitsas writes in the Washington Post today that Hillary Clinton may have some insurmountable problems with her own party in seeking the Democratic nomination in 2008, and that could deprive the Republicans and the wingnuts of their biggest target since her husband. And his legacy is what could do it.

    Despite all his successes — and eight years of peace and prosperity is nothing to sneeze at — he never broke the 50-percent mark in his two elections. Regardless of the president’s personal popularity, Democrats held fewer congressional seats at the end of his presidency than before it. The Democratic Party atrophied during his two terms, partly because of his fealty to his “third way” of politics, which neglected key parts of the progressive movement and reserved its outreach efforts for corporate and moneyed interests.

    While Republicans spent the past four decades building a vast network of small-dollar donors to fund their operations, Democrats tossed aside their base and fed off million-dollar-plus donations. The disconnect was stark, and ultimately destructive. Clinton’s third way failed miserably. It killed off the Jesse Jackson wing of the Democratic Party and, despite its undivided control of the party apparatus, delivered nothing. Nothing, that is, except the loss of Congress, the perpetuation of the muddled Democratic “message,” a demoralized and moribund party base, and electoral defeats in 2000, 2002 and 2004.

    Those failures led the netroots to support Dean in the last presidential race. We didn’t back him because he was the most “liberal” candidate. In fact, we supported him despite his moderate, pro-gun, pro-balanced-budget record, because he offered the two things we craved most: outsider credentials and leadership.

    And therein lie Hillary Clinton’s biggest problems. She epitomizes the “insider” label of the early crowd of 2008 Democratic contenders. She’s part of the Clinton machine that decimated the national Democratic Party. And she remains surrounded by many of the old consultants who counsel meekness and caution.


    Can Hillary Clinton overcome those impediments? Money and star power go a long way, but the netroots is now many times larger than it was only three years ago, and we have attractive alternatives to back (and fund), such as former governor Mark W. Warner and Sen. Russell Feingold.

    Just as we crazy political junkies glimpsed the viability of the candidacy of an obscure governor from a small New England state three years ago, today we regard Hillary Clinton’s candidacy as anything but inevitable. Her obstacles are big, and from this vantage point, possibly insurmountable.

    It’s a little fanciful to worry about Ms. Clinton’s electability when we’re still an entire election cycle away from her possible candidacy; keeping an eye on the Republicans and taking them out in November will be the deciding factor in that race. Therefore it’s important to see what the House leadership — rattled by the DeLay demise and the complete lack of planning for the future (wow, they sound like Democrats…) — is up to. According to Davide Broder, the Republicans have their own leadership issues.

    “We’re back for another fun-filled week.”

    That was the sardonic opening comment of House Majority Leader John Boehner last Tuesday as he faced a roomful of reporters at the start of yet another testing period for the embattled congressional Republicans.

    The week before, Boehner had barely managed to quell a rebellion from the big and influential bloc of Appropriations Committee Republicans, angry that their precious “earmarks” were targeted for reform in the leadership’s lobbying bill.

    By invoking the personal prestige of Speaker Dennis Hastert, Boehner managed to clear the bill for floor action — and last Wednesday it passed by a shaky four-vote margin.

    But the bill was roundly condemned by Democrats and independent reform groups as an inadequate answer to the Jack Abramoff scandals and the bribery conviction of former Republican representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham.

    So when Boehner told reporters he was proud of it as a “comprehensive response” to the need for accountability in government, eyes rolled.

    Then it was on to other topics, and the Ohio Republican went searching for safer ground.

    Gasoline prices and energy legislation? Not here. Asked about the previous week’s talk of a $100 rebate to motorists to make up for $3-a-gallon gas, he said his constituents found it “insulting.” The idea was “stupid,” he said, not caring that it had come from the mouth of his Senate counterpart, Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.

    Port security? In the aftermath of the blown-up Dubai ports deal, Democrats were pressing for U.S. inspection of every cargo container coming into the United States. Impractical, Boehner said. Random checks will have to do.

    How about a budget for the government? Just before the Easter recess, Boehner had to pull the Republican budget resolution off the floor without a vote because no agreement could be reached between conservatives appalled by the level of deficit spending and moderates resisting further cuts in education and health care. “There are a lot of conversations” about how to get it back on track — but no agreement yet, he said.


    And, oh, one other thing: The war in Iraq. As I confirmed again on a visit to Ohio last week, the casualties of that war — the group deaths of Marines and Army reservists plucked from their Ohio hometowns for repeated tours — have triggered a popular backlash more worrisome to Republicans than the scandals that have destroyed the standing of Gov. Bob Taft and jeopardized the whole state GOP ticket.

    Then there’s the CIA leadership, the entertainment suite at the Watergate, and more bad news emerging for Tom DeLay.

  • What can take away their troubles, or at least make them think less about them? How about a trip to the movies? ‘Tis the season for big blockbusters; one politically charged, and the other a camp classic remake. Frank Rich takes a look at “United 93.”

    Is this movie too soon? Hardly: it’s already been preceded by two TV movies about the same flight. The question we should be asking instead is if its message comes too late.

    Whatever the movie’s other failings, that message is clear and essential: the identity of the enemy. The film opens with the four hijackers praying to Allah and, in keeping with the cockpit voice recording played at the Zacarias Moussaoui trial, portrays them as prayerful right until they murder 40 innocent people. Such are the Islamic radicals who struck us on 9/11 and whose brethren have only multiplied since.

    Yet how fleeting has been their fame. Thanks to the administration’s deliberate post-9/11 decision to make the enemy who attacked us interchangeable with the secular fascists of Iraq who did not, the original war on terrorism has been diluted in its execution and robbed of its support from the American public. Brian Williams seemed to be hinting as much when, in effusively editorializing about “United 93” on NBC (a sister company of Universal), he suggested that “it just may be a badly needed reminder for some that we are a nation at war because of what happened in New York and Washington and in this case in a field in Pennsylvania.” But he stopped short of specifying exactly what war he meant, and that’s symptomatic of our confusion. When Americans think about war now, they don’t think about the war prompted by what happened on 9/11 so much as the war in Iraq, and when they think about Iraq, they don’t say, “Let’s roll!,” they say, “Let’s leave!”

    The administration’s blurring of the distinction between Al Qaeda and Saddam threatens to throw out the baby that must survive, the war against Islamic terrorists, with the Iraqi quagmire. Last fall a Pew Research Center survey found that Iraq had driven isolationist sentiment in the United States to its post-Vietnam 1970’s high. In a CBS News poll released last week, the percentage of Americans who name terrorism as the nation’s “most important problem” fell to three. Every day we spend in Iraq erodes the war against those who attacked us on 9/11.

  • Remember the hit song “The Morning After,” sung by Maureen McGovern back in 1972? It was from the film The Poseidon Adventure, and the re-make is about to open.

    For junk-film buffs, the 1970’s were the golden age of disaster. Years before “Titanic” and “The Day After Tomorrow” thundered their way onto the big screen, there was “Airport,” “The Towering Inferno,” “Earthquake” and “The Swarm.”

    And, of course, “The Poseidon Adventure.”

    Alone among the all-star blow-’em-ups released during the Watergate era, “The Poseidon Adventure” has achieved cult status. This Friday, the $160 million remake, titled simply “Poseidon,” will open nationwide, and last fall, NBC broadcast a made-for-TV version. But for many, nothing can supplant the original 1972 epic about a luxury liner capsized by a monster wave.

    We’re talking serious “Rocky Horror Picture Show”-type devotion here. Die-hard “Poseidon” fans have dissected the movie frame by frame, committed it to memory, satirized it in home videos, built action figures of the cast, even designed homes with “Poseidon” motifs.

    No detail is too trivial. Poseidoneers know the cabin number of Mike and Linda Rogo, played by Ernest Borgnine and Stella Stevens (M-45). They delight in telling you about the actress who played the character they call India Lady (she’s Freida Rentie, sister of Marla Gibbs, who played Florence the maid on “The Jeffersons”). They speculate at length about the gravitational qualities of Gene Hackman’s comb-over.

    And, like true devotees, they convene. This weekend, the Poseidon Adventure Fan Club is holding its seventh annual reunion at the Warner Grand Theater in San Pedro, Calif. Joe Shea of Babylon, N.Y., was flying to the West Coast to attend. As an 8-year-old, he saw “Poseidon” seven times during its initial theatrical release.

    “The excitement of the boat flipping was spectacular,” he recalled last week. “Instead of playing cowboys and Indians, my brother and I played ‘Poseidon Adventure.’ We’d hang upside down by our knees from trees.”

    Kevin Sandoval of Wailea, Hawaii, was 9 when “Poseidon” came out. He has since watched it at least 400 times.

    “I was fascinated with these beautiful people in this beautiful ship in the middle of the ocean, then seeing that turn into hell in 45 seconds,” he said. “I’d never seen anything like that. It just blew me away.”

    Phil Dearing, a Los Angeles train dispatcher and 50-time “Poseidon” viewer, has a “Poseidon” memorabilia collection. The centerpiece is his handmade 63-inch model of the ship, with lights and working propellers. It took him two years to build.

    “I don’t sail it too much because it’s top-heavy, just like the original,” Mr. Dearing said. “I don’t want to lose her.”

    “The Poseidon Adventure” inspires this fascination, adherents say, because it’s not just another action-adventure movie; it’s also a character-driven drama with deep philosophical overtones. When the ship capsizes, the victims must reorient themselves, both literally and metaphorically, to a world turned on its head. As the rebellious Reverend Scott, Gene Hackman leads his followers, Moses-like, to the top (that is, the bottom) of the ship, sacrificing himself so that others may get to the promised land.

    I imagine there are a few Republicans who are wistfully hoping that “there’s gotta be a morning after…”