Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sunday Reading

If Obama Loses — Drew Westen outlines the reasons why.

Obama’s first mistake was inviting the Republicans to the table. The GOP had just decimated the economy and had been repudiated by voters to such an extent that few Americans wanted to admit that they were registered Republicans. Yet Obama, with his penchant for unilateral bipartisanship, refused to speak ill of what they had done. The American people wanted the perpetrators of the Great Recession held accountable, and they wanted the president and Congress to enact legislation to prevent Wall Street bankers from ever destroying the lives of so many again. Instead they saw renewed bonuses — and then they saw red. Republicans learned very quickly that they could attack Obama and his agenda with impunity. Only at election time, or when he’s up against the ropes, does this president ever tell a story with a villain.

The second mistake was squandering the goodwill that Americans felt toward the new president and their anxiety about an economy hemorrhaging three-quarters of a million jobs a month. That combination gave Obama, at the beginning of his term, a power to shape public policy that no one since Franklin Roosevelt had held. But instead of designing a stimulus that reflected the thinking of the country’s best economic minds, he cut their recommended numbers by a third and turned another third into inert tax cuts designed to appease Republican legislators whose primary aim was to defeat him. He stimulated the economy — but just enough to leave the results open to interpretation, rendering questionable what should have been an uncontested success.


The third way the administration created opportunities for Republican obstructionism will someday become a business-school case study: It let a popular idea — a family doctor for every family — be recast as a losing ideological battle between intrusive government and freedom. In the 2008 election, the American people were convinced that families should never have to choose between putting food on the table and taking the kids to the doctor. They were adamant that neither they nor their aging parents should have to choose between their medicine and their mortgage.

How did the administration manage to turn one of the most popular campaign issues of 2008 into one of the major causes of Democrats’ “shellacking” at the polls two years later?

In keeping with the most baffling habit of one of our most rhetorically gifted presidents, Obama and his team just didn’t bother explaining what they were doing and why. To them, their actions were self-evident. But nothing is self-evident when your opponents are spending millions of dollars to defeat you. Instead, the White House blundered around with memorable phrases such as “bending the cost curve,” which didn’t speak to the values underlying the need for health-care reform.

Republicans, in contrast, offered a coherent story: Democrats think the government knows what you need better than you do; you should be able to make your own choices, not have some bureaucrat stand between you and your doctor. The White House could have counterpunched, but instead it dropped its gloves.

Olympic Movie Moments — Danny Boyle, the producer of the London Olympics opening ceremony, paid tribute to great British films.

Sprinkled over the proceedings, as fans of Boyle both hoped and expected, were pieces of film—not scenes, not even clips, but tiny shreds, just enough to meet a dual need. First, the global audience could be reminded of the potent, though never less than peculiar, contribution that British cinema has made to the seventh art. Second, longtime moviegoers could be sent scuttling to the archives in their overstocked brains, hoping to identify the scrap in question before the next one blew along. And Boyle certainly kept them coming. Did you notice the momentary vision of David Niven’s kindly, desperate face, as he steers his stricken airplane through Michael Powell’s “A Matter of Life and Death” (1946)—a very British affair, in its sandwich of whimsy, politesse, and yearning? Or the mirror-warped face of David Bowie, in alien mode, from Nicolas Roeg’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth” (1976), a film as mysterious and withdrawn as the Olympic spectacle was boisterous and open-hearted? How about the bit of kickabout from “Gregory’s Girl” (1981) between young Scottish soccer-players—all of them worthless with the ball, apart from the girl of the title? How nicely attuned was that to an Olympiad in which, for the first time, every competing country, including Saudi Arabia, has sent women as well as men? Then, there was the looping flight of a kestrel. It took no more than a second or two, but many watching will have recognized and treasured that bird—as it was treasured, and lost, by the boy in Ken Loach’s “Kes” (1969), still a model of clean storytelling and unprettified pathos, after all these years. I was once lucky enough to meet Krzysztof Kieslowski, and he volunteered, without prompting, his love of Loach’s film.

There were other snippets, I am sure, that I missed as a television viewer. Surely we must have had more Shakespeare, for instance: a burst of Olivier’s “Hamlet” (1948) or “Henry V” (1944), to add to the easeful speech from “The Tempest” that was delivered by Sir Kenneth Branagh—dressed, a mite confusingly, as Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Many of the extracts that I did catch were projected onto the side of the house that sat, for a while, in the midst of the Olympic stage. There we saw the pale, grave hero of David Lean’s “Oliver Twist” (1948), holding up his bowl and asking for more; John Howard Davies, who took the role of Oliver, grew up to win acclaim of a very different but no less British variety—he produced six episodes of “Fawlty Towers,” in whose farcical extremes Dickens might have well delighted. Boyle was modest enough to make only passing reference to his own triumph, “Slumdog Millionaire,” which won him the Oscars for Best Film and Best Direction, in 2009; and nobody will have begrudged him the quick nod to “Trainspotting” (1996), his earlier and more scabrous hit. What we saw yesterday was a shot of Ewan McGregor running at full pelt, Boyle having decided, probably wisely, not to use the sequence in which an American tourist, needing directions, is waylaid and mugged on a trip to Edinburgh. That might have sent slightly the wrong message to the visitors who have gathered in London’s embrace, although, if I were Boyle, I might have been tempted to tack it on at the last minute, purely for the pleasure of freaking out Mitt Romney.

Critical Mass — Charlie Pierce on what some people believe.

I do not know how one can read the latest Pew poll and come to any other conclusion that the country is reaching critical mass on stupid.

Nearly four years after he was sent to the White House, less than half of American voters know President Obama is Christian, a new poll has found. A survey by the Pew Research Center found that only 49 percent of those polled knew Obama is Christian, while 17 percent thought he is Muslim and 31 percent said they don’t know. Surprisingly, the percentage of voters who know Obama is Christian has declined since October 2008, when 55 percent correctly identified him as Christian. It is higher, however, than in August 2010, when just 38 percent knew his faith.

This is not “surprising” to me in the least. There is an entire media universe dedicated to spreading just this kind of misinformation. That media universe has been doing that since at least the 2008 Democratic primaries and probably before that. There are politicians — mainstream politicians — who not only believe it themselves, but readily participate in the media universe where this is taken and preached as gospel. The longer he’s in office, the more of this poison is spread through the country so, quite naturally, the more people come to believe it.

It’s really time for responsible people — in politics, in the media, and in any combination of the two — simply to stop participating in that media universe. It’s time to stop treating the various outlets of that media universe as though they were colleagues, good-faith actors who simply might have different opinions than your own. Everybody knows who these people are. Everybody knows what they’re doing. Everybody knows the reasons why these numbers are the way they are. It’s time to stop pretending that propaganda is news simply because there are enough suckers out there to believe it. Of course, as The Washington Post told us yesterday, it doesn’t matter if something’s true as long as it “works.” Believe that, and this is what you get, fool.

Doonesbury — Generational shift.