Saturday, October 30, 2004

Odds and Ends

Seeing bin Laden's face on the television did inspire fear, but not of more terrorism. Terrorists can be thwarted, and terrorists can't destroy the basic social and political framework of this country. Only we can do that, and electing Bush would be a big step further toward the destruction of American democracy. That's what I was afraid of.

Incidentally, it appears that supporters at Bush rallies are taking some sort of pledge of loyalty to him. This is unpleasantly reminiscent of the Nazis forcing new Wehrmacht soldiers to take an oath of loyalty not to the German nation, or the government, but to Adolf Hitler. Historians now regard this as the final step in the reduction of the Wehrmacht to a tool of the Nazi party. (Of course, I'm not saying that Bush is equivalent to Hitler. Not yet, anyway.)

Finally: I made a curmudgeonly remark a few posts ago about unusual names for children. I still believe that parents who give their children "creative" names are just asking for trouble. On the other hand, I must admit that the world is a better place for including someone named Bunnatine Greenhouse.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Bin Laden Determined to Fuck with U.S. Election

Bin Laden's video was clearly timed for release just before the election, to throw a little thrill of fear into the electorate. Gee, I wonder which candidate would benefit from a heightened state of fear?

So our old nemesis is still out there, and still trying to mess with our heads. But he can only do that if we let him. As far as I am concerned, letting the fanatic change things in any way means, literally, that the terrorists have already won.

Anyway, I don't think this will have much impact on the election. Anyone who would be susceptible to a stunt like this is probably already in Bush's camp. A new terror attack — that might have changed things. But this just indicates that Osama's not up to pulling off another terror attack (yet).

Predictions and Remarks

For what it's worth, here are some thoughts on next week.

I expect a Kerry victory in both the Electoral College and the popular vote. I also predict that his margin of victory will not be small. I don't expect a landslide, but I also don't expect a frighteningly close election. Most of the polls are showing Kerry nudging ahead already as he picks up most of the undecided voters, and that's even before adjusting our expectations based on the built-in pro-Republican assumptions in most of these polls' methods of collecting data.

I'm not going to make any predictions about Congress, as I don't have a clear sense of how things might go. I hope Kerry has long coattails; he'll need a reasonably compliant Congressto have any hope of correcting the disastrous course we've been on for the last four years. (Wait: I do have one prediction: Obama in Illinois. I know I'm going out on a limb here, but I think he can pull it off.)

Regardless of who wins Congress, Kerry will face an uphill battle with the right-wing propaganda machine. Expect attacks to begin almost immediately. The traditional media used to lay off the President-Elect and even give him a "honeymoon" at the start of his term, but those rules no longer apply. This became clear in 1992, after President Clinton was elected. I've seen remarks about how Clinton had had trouble with the right wing "from the start of his term," but the trouble actually started before he even took office. In the months before his inauguration, "Gays In The Military" had taken the front-and-center position in the national political debate. Clinton found himself having to deal with this divisive issue right away after taking office, denied the chance to set the agenda for his new presidency.

Clinton bobbed and weaved; he tried to conciliate and compromise in order to get these issues settled so that he could take up his own issues, but the attacks continued. I vividly recall the sense of glee on the right and dismay on the left in the early months of Clinton's first term, as he compromised his policy positions and abandoned his prospective appointees such as Lani Guinier. I remember thinking, at the time, that he simply wasn't prepared for the move from Arkansas politics to the national scene. But in retrospect it's clear that he was facing something that earlier Presidents had not had to deal with. He was dealing with an early version of today's right-wing techniques of media manipulation and opinion creation. (Who originated the term "Mighty Wurlitzer," by the way? Was it Digby?)

The big innovation in those days was talk radio. Rush Limbaugh was expanding his influence in 1992, though his full power was only evident in the midterm elections of 1994. The potential of the Internet became clear during the Lewinsky fiasco, when Drudge served as a conduit for rumor and lies. right-wing in its early stages. But regardless of the technology involved, the strategy was well-planned from the beginning and has just been polished over the years.

The strategy: Attack unexpectedly, including in cases where traditionally the target has been given leeway (such as the traditional honeymoon at the beginning of a presidential term). If possible, choose a wedge issue that will help you push public opinion rightward (such as "partial birth abortion"). Coordinate talking points with the RNC, talk radio, Drudge, and (now) right-wing blogs; hammer on it until the mainstream media pick it up. If necessary, lie outrageously, because the mainstream media will never, never use the words "lie" or "lying," especially with reference to a politician. Always keep the target off-balance and on the defensive. Never let them set the agenda; make them respond to you, and try not to give them a chance to make attacks of their own. Milk the current topic for all it's worth. Then, as soon as the mainstream media spin cycle has started to wind down, choose another topic, however bogus, and start up on that one.

This strategy has worked extraordinarily well for the Republicans, to the point that large majorities of the population disagree with them on virtually all major political issues, and yet they still maintain control of all three branches of the Federal government, as well as a majority of state governorships. It's a winning strategy, regardless of the occasional tactical setback (such as Trent Lott). Expect it to continue starting on November 3.

And if I may offer one final recommendation to the Democrats and anyone else on the left: keep fighting back. Don't let up for a minute. Treat calls for "bipartisanship" as the joke they've become in the last four years. The right wing is not interested in compromise or cooperation. They cannot be reasoned with. They do not care about the well-being of the majority of the people of the United States, or anyone else outside their narrow ranks. All they want is power. Fight with every means at your disposal to deny them that power, as they have used it to the detriment of everyone except the rich and malevolent.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

All in the Family

I'm trying to figure out what I found so irritating about the cover story in today's New York Times Magazine. The topic is growing up with gay parents, as experienced by one family, and particularly the younger daughter, Ry Russo-Young.

For a little while, I was at a loss. What was annoying me? It certainly wasn't the politics of gay families. I think family is a great thing, and support gay families, gay rights, gay marriage, and practically any other gay issues one might mention. Nor was it the article's treatment of the topic; in fact, I thought the broader social discussion was especially enlightening.

No, it seemed to be the family in question that was annoying. But what could I possibly have against them? Was it this?

Sitting behind a projector last April in the front row of a small theater in the East Village, Ry was looking apprehensive. Although her work has been shown at venues like the Turin Film Festival, she was now about to show a short film at a comparatively humble event called Avant-Garde-Arama. The festival's hosts, dressed in a look somewhere between bridal and bondage, were calling on audience members -- straight, gay, strangers, whatever -- to volunteer to be married onstage. It might have been great theater if anyone had, but no one did, and eventually the hosts introduced Ry, who started the projector rolling.

She had mounted three separate screens, and on each a different variant of the shower scene from ''Psycho,'' recreated in stark black-and-white flatness, played itself out: on one, the stabbing of the doomed Janet Leigh figure happened on cue, while in another, a second actress playing Janet Leigh turned the knife on her attacker and left him bloody at her feet. That vengeful Janet Leigh figure then seemed to step, naked and dripping, into the third screen, where she took her knife to Janet Leigh figure No. 3. The film was visually interesting and unexpected, a slasher film with a brain, and the audience responded with enthusiastic applause.

After a few more acts -- a nude dance, a rapper named Mint T. -- Ry's parents, Robin Young, 49, and Sandy Russo, 64, left their seats to meet Ry by the stage. Ry was dressed in vintage femme fatale, a black checked dress with fish nets and heels; her mothers wore jeans and glasses. Ry still looked uncomfortable, and Young and Russo (whom everyone calls by her surname) seemed less than enthusiastic, with shrugs passing for commentary. ''I don't think they liked it,'' Ry reported later. ''They're not into the violence-against-women thing, I guess.'' She'd been trying to comment on the hackneyed image of woman as victim, she said, but ''Moms,'' as she and Cade sometimes call their parents, apparently saw only the same old thing. She sighed heavily: ''Do you ever stop caring what they think?''
Yes, this seemed to be getting closer to the nub. For a self-consciously queer and creative family, they sure seemed to be hitting their stereotypical marks: the daughter who is a filmmaker and "performer," whatever that means; the pretentious arts festival whose hosts were "dressed in a look somewhere between bridal and bondage" (cue eye-roll); the predictably and tediously P.C. parents from the West Village (cue second eye-roll).

But what could I have against these people, as long as I am never forced to sit through a meeting with the parents, or watch the daughter's films? —I'll take the author's word for it that the film was interesting; I think I'll pass on finding out for myself. They seem like pretty nice people, on the whole, setting aside the business of the daughter's name. (When people give their children weird, made-up names, I think the idea is to celebrate their children's individuality. Unfortunately, the result is that for the rest of their lives, whenever they meet anyone new, regardless of context, the first conversation they'll have is about their special name and why it's so special and how they are so, so special because of it. It takes a very, very special kind of parent not to realize this, or, worse, not to see how there could be anything bad about it.)

No, finally my complaint was with the article itself. Two things stand out. One is the article's standard upper-middle-class New York provincialism. I have the very strong suspicion that the author met up with her subjects through the usual journalistic means, namely by telling her friends she was going to write an article on families with gay parents and asking if they knew anybody interesting who might want to be interviewed. This technique usually works, and it's very easy, but it means that a huge percentage of articles end up being about the same general cast of characters. The Times does write articles about people who live outside the New York metropolitan area, and/or outside the well-off, well-educated classes. But by and large, these articles might as well be written about space aliens — at least that's the tone that usually crops up. This article fits the more comfortable mode, written by and for members of the upper-middle-class New York family. Maybe some of the aliens out in flyover country might read it and learn something — good for you, rubes!

The other thing can be stated more simply. Ry, our tall, striking, flamboyant, Oberlin-educated filmmaker and "performer," is the focus of the piece and the cover photo. She also has an older sister named Cade, a pudgy, unflamboyant woman who works as an AIDS educator. A New York Times reporter might have interviewed her for an article, and the article might even have been published. But never in a hundred thousand years would Cade have been the center of the article and photographed by Robert Maxwell to be splashed across the cover of the magazine. Even in our self-declared transgressive age, some standards will never be transgressed, or questioned, or probably even consciously recognized.

Growing Up With Mom and Mom