Friday, May 9, 2008

The “Bitter” End

A Nap...Or Something Seems Necessary Here. For Her. For All Of Us.

It was almost a month ago when the lower right side of my jaw turned against me and played LAPD on my nerve endings. It was during the height of what was deemed “Bittergate”, in which Senator Barack Obama while at a San Francisco fundraiser sparked a national “conversation” with these now infamous words:

“You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years. ... And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or anti-pathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

I was in the midst of writing a post on the whole brouhaha when the tooth fairy got ahold of some bad acid and spaced out in my mouth with a shotgun, but this is what I was working on at the time:

While this was a private function with its words not meant for general consumption, the age we live in is what historians may well call years from now “The Peek-a-boo-isticeine Era”, where nothing one wishes to remain clandestine or for one audience alone ever would. Be the recorder friend or foe, expect that your words and actions will be recorded somehow—especially on the campaign trail, as found out to the ultimate of dismay by former Virginia Senator George Allen via his infamous “Macaca” statement.


What Obama said, is something that many wonks and think-tank babies have postulated for years. Senator Clinton herself used even more brusque language to describe that demographic in 1992. Obama's near-grievious mistake was those words issuing forth from an erudite, and yes—somewhat aloof and “edumacated” Black man's mouth. It was an inartful and clunky phrasing more suited to the hash-it-out style of an academic bull session than the three-word sloganeering that so dominates American politics these days. I got what he was saying there, as did I think a lot of Americans. It is not so much that those embittered among us merely “cling” to those issues of religion, safety (guns), and national security (immigration), but the point that has been made by progressives since the Age of Reagan is that the powers-that-be who are hell-bent on looking out for their own and no one else heavily push these “third rail” issues through the media in an attempt to throw chaff into the air of debate on the things that really affect Americans.. Never mind that you can't afford to see a doctor—how 'bout those gays a' smoohcin' and a' feelin' all over each other! Yes, yes...we know we facilitated your company's shipping your gig halfway 'round the world for 40% of the compensation, but hey, the real pisser is that people want to limit your ability to buy guns that'd blow a moose's head into so much Hamburger Helper™ with a trigger squeeze of 1.75 seconds releasing fifty rounds.

When people are drowning, they will grab at whatever is close by. And if after pushing them into the sea, you throw specific things of your choosing at them to float on—not something that would actually propel them anywhere—they will desperately grab at those things too. Flag-burning. Gay marriage. Willie Horton. Threat levels. Assault weapons bans. All pushed while savings and loans failed, Habeas Corpus was mauled beyond recognition, Bin Laden went unpunished, our privacy ceased to exist and so on, and so on , and scooby-dooby-doo. People are manipulated to where they think these are the issues placed before them are the true issues of the day—not the ones that actually impact them from day to day.

Faux outrage is the true “opiate of the masses”—and this government is its sleazy -ass pusher.

But yes....Obama stumbled with this. Most folks got exactly what he meant, but to the “three word slogan” crowd, he left enough ambiguity there to where he gave his opponents a loaded gun and begged them to blast him in the grille with it—Yosemite Sam-style. Obama has a lot of Adlai Stevenson in him,—a tendency to be very “thinky, sometimes overly-professorial, and yes, sometimes annoyingly analytical. To the point where for all of his soaring rhetoric and verbal élan in-speech, there is a bit of the “I'm going to let you see me figuring this shit out 'cause it's so cool to see my gears working.” when he's just plain talking.

My move out of that rundown was this: Taking into account the mathematical situation Sen. Clinton was in electorally against him, there really is no reason why she shouldn't have tried to maximize the damage ithose words could cause him. It was a desperate time, and regardless of what camp you come down in, strictly on the political maneuvering tip, when your opponent trips and falls into a hole, you toss in snakes, rocks and raw meat so tigers dive in too. We're all adults here and I think we get how the politics game is played. As correct as the statement was, Sen. Obama found himself amending it (as it was open to being easily twisted to a slam on a demographic group) and apologizing for any misconstruement.

Bluntly, he fucked up there, albeit a petit mal fuck-up when you get right down to it. In the ensuing days there were people on the street interviews with Americans in the affected areas who agreed with his statement. Be that as it may, it scanned to many as a huge “kick me” sign taped to his crotch. And kick people did, until Rev. Wright deigned to touch down in D.C., make goofy faces, and rail away as “the pastor scorned”.

Senator Clinton made hay of that too. Again, considering her electoral position, magnaminity was not something to be expected. My father had a saying that “Sometimes in life, there's an ass-whipping or two you just have to take”. “Wright Redux” was one such ass-whipping for Obama. And the media joined in gleefully with Sen. Clinton in the “jolly stomping” as the story and the language around it was vinyl-car-seat-in-the-noonday-sun hot. For two weeks she and the media grabbed Wright by the feet and beat Obama over the head with him like he was a lead pipe used in a gang-fight.

Again. I hold no rosy-eyed view of the media, nor do I expect a mathematically-cornered candidate to have done any less than she did. This ain't beanbag.

However, as far as the media goes, at least in terms of debates, I expect at the minimum, the barest modicum of fairness. In fact—fuck fair, as screwed up as they are, I'd almost accept “Fair-esque—If you like the smell of fairness, you'll love (whispered) Fair-esque!

The Wright thing was a feeding frenzy, and that I can understand. The shitty, “Power Rangers”-level stunt work that George Stephanopoulos and Charlie Gibson pulled at the pre-Pennsylvania debate was a whole other smoke—laced with PCP, donkey piss and battery acid I think. I would love to tell you that what they did lowered my opinion of ABC “News” but it couldn't have. I'd crossed them off my list of reputable broadcast outlets more than a year before over their handling of the wingnut pile-on of Amanda Marcotte/Melissa McEwan/John Edwards:


A talking head for the network and news division that recently hired documented racist hatemonger Glenn Beck (google Glenn Beck and Media Matters) has the gall to feign moral outrage over a liberal blogger hired by the Edwards campaign's impassioned rants?

Even as said talking head's own brother, who runs a quiet, non-bomb tossing site called "Right Wing Nut House" (!) rails at the left in far worse terms? And has also taken this "story" up as a wingnut hobby horse along with the rest of the wingnutosphere?

Well...okay. I'd love to say hypocrisy like this is the reason I no longer watch ABC, (in spite of my actually being interested in getting into "Lost" this season, and watching "Grey's Anatomy" the last two seasons) but after "Path to 9-11", the entertainment-iaztion of "Nightline", and the general right-wing tilt of the Disney-owned network, the die was set.

And I don't miss it a bit. By all means Mr. Moran, enjoy your and your network's relegation to the "I used to watch you" dustbin.

Posted by: LowerManhattanite | Feb 7, 2007 1:53:55 PM

I wrote that on the ABC website TO Terry Moran and the network, and I fucking meant it. I still have the e-mail exchanges between Steve and myself from the year before where I was telling him how things had exploded at my then-job as we were dealing with ABC and their promotion of the revisionist, jingoistic “Path To 9-11”. There was an in-company revolt with e-mails flying back and forth between divisions to the point where I found myself forced to e-mail Steve outside of my job (because the goings on were so hot internally that outside communication of it being discovered would have cost people their jobs) to brief him on the contretemps. I walked away from ABC for good that day. That walk would be proven justified months later when I read about this:

This Week with George Stephanopoulos, May 13, 2007:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You have a very cool style when you're doing those town meetings where you're out on the campaign trail, and I wonder, how much of that is tied to your race?

SENATOR BARACK OBAMA: That's interesting.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: One of your friends told "The New Yorker" magazine that the mainstream is just not ready for a fire-breathing black man so do you turn down the temperature on purpose?

That's the idiot media we're cursed with.They have their special interests and ties to this and that and they do what they do. Which is why we often do what we do here and in other places in our blogroll to counterbalance all of that billion-dollar, pancaked and blow-dried stupid. All flag-pins, fancy salad greens, and fiery Reverends (of their selection, of course).

As I said downpage:

What's that old saying about “The devil you know vs. the devil you don't know”?

I know what I'm getting from the media. They play their stupid little games when the cycle gets light and gin up shit. They'll break a story down to smaller bits to create “new“ stories to fill the broadcast day and self-perpetuate their phony-baloney jobs. It's when people who should know better pick up on their slime-trail and try to sell it as spring water that I find myself wanting to scream.

And that leads us something either so indescribably dumb, ridiculously ill thought-out, or worse—desperately venal— that...that I...I just have to shake my head in disbelief:

USA TODAY INTERVIEWER KATHY KELLY: How does Hillary Clinton win the nomination?

Well Kathy, you know there was just an “AP” article posted that found how Senator Obama‘s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans is weakening again. And how the, you know, whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me, and in independents I was running even with him and doing even better with Democratic leaning independents. I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.

There's a pattern emerging here.”

The hothead in me wants to say “Yeah. You're right. That whole statement does indeed indicate an emerging pattern from you, ma'am.”

So, I'm gonna give Mr. Hothead a tumbler of Maker's Mark—neat—and have him chill for a few minutes as I look at this...statement.

Here is the deal. There is nothing wrong with discussing demographics and voting breakdowns. Both campaigns do so every damned day in their back rooms as they go over polling data. But when a reporter asks you “How can you win?”, and you start talking about demographics in terms of race, you'd better be Goddamned sure you can do so and finesse that language without coming off like either a.): a dog-whistling bigot, b.): an idiot just winging it off the cuff, or c.), the former and the latter combined.

Why, on God's green earth when asked the question “How can you win?”—asked ostensibly in the spirit of things looking dim and “What can you do to reverse that?”—would she start yammering about working, hard-working Americans, white Americans and whites in general shifting back to her?

There are so many awful tropes at play in that statement.

Is it a desperate call to, “come on home folks” to that group to save her candidacy?

Why the split off of “hard-working Americans” into their White sub-component?

Is that noting she has a “broader base” because of the support of “working, hard-working Americans, white Americans” another call-out to Black and Latin folks that when the rubber meets the road, your votes don't really count for much?

Never mind the seeming verbal exclusion of anybody other than Whites from the rubric of being “hard working”.

Senator Clinton's biggest downstate NY African American backer, Rep. Charles Rangel (who earlier this year called Obama “absolutely stupid” over his interpretation of Clinton camp statements about MLK and LBJ;s relationship) said the following:

But some of her supporters - including Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Manhattan)— slammed the comments.

“I can't believe Sen. Clinton would say anything that dumb,” Rangel told The News as he headed to the House floor, where earlier he had embraced Obama.

Yes Charlie. She did.

And there are so many reasons why she may have said it. Unfortunately...none of them are good ones.

Perhaps she misspoke. Or spoke inartfully. Or chose her words poorly. If so, this off-the-gorge gaffe makes Obama's “Bitter” statement look like a mere stumble.I want to believe it was a misstatement, but God, it's so damned specific, what with citing an AP article and all, and the odd, dissonant hammering of the racial paradigm that I don't know HOW that statement could ever be finessed in public discussion. Private? Closed-door talk—candidate to team? Okay.

But this ham-fisted kind of Bond-villain “I-shall-explain-my-plan-to-you-and-thus-expose-myself-to-destrcution-shortly-thereafter” pronouncement does her no good—in the short and the long run. You want to explain it away as a by-product of the fatigue of a long, brutal campaign? An effect of a strategic breakdown of command and control structures iin-campaign as key message personnel are now distracted with cutting their own financial deals that don't involve the candidate? Those are possibilities. But Melissa over at Shakesville deals with it thusly:

Now, I'm not particularly interested in discussing the veracity of the argument that white, working class voters' preference for Clinton makes her a stronger candidate—though, for whatever it's worth, I quite honestly believe that the vast majority of left-leaning voters are going to get behind whoever is the nominee, and the bigots who wouldn't support Obama solely because of his race are a wash with the bigots who wouldn't support Clinton solely because of her sex. That said, I know there are people who legitimately disagree, and fine, wev.

What I am keenly interested in is Clinton's having either intentionally or unintentionally equated "hard-working Americans" with "white Americans." Because, you know, on one hand, it's a cynical and ugly dog whistle to racists who equate brown-skinned people with laziness—and, on the other hand, it sounds exactly like a cynical and ugly dog whistle to racists who equate brown-skinned people with laziness. Even giving her the benefit of the doubt that she didn't intend to imply that non-white Americans aren't hard-working, the effect is the same.

And, since the best-case scenario is the one generally used to avoid apologies, I'm going with that only to show why she still needs to apologize, anyway.

An apology is in order as this was indeed a fuck-up, whether a simple marble-mouthed, accidental verbal gaffe (kind of unlikely) or a sleep deprivation-fueled “I-thought-I was-using-my-inside-voice” screw-up. Sadly, I doubt one is forthcoming. It's late in the game and when teams are down or feeling frustrated, “flagrant fouls” are likely to occur. Sorry doesn't get said at that point in the game. It's an outgrowth of the situation at hand. It may not have been intended to injure, but you've already clotheslined the mother-fucker and sent the message to the other side, and the whole arena—those who haven't headed for the exits—know the game's situation. And I can only pray that this wasn't an intentional play to super-spike the numbers in the decidedly less-progressive West Virginia and Kentucky where she'll probably win big, just to score some “Bubba vote”-credited “garbage time” points. To cynically goose the margins to the point where she can point and claim “See! I am popular!” Leave us not venture there, please? That isn't a discussion of demographics—that's an appeal to the “Deliverance” crowd.

I mean, It's been evident for quite some time that there's a level of upset in the Clinton camp over the seeming abandonment of them by a once-faithful African American voting public. It was as late as December when pundits across America were wondering whether Obama was “Black enough” and how he'd have difficulty in poaching much of the Black vote from Clinton. And when it happened, it seemed to catch them both—the senator and the former president woefully off guard. There has been a palpable frustration in them over that new reality—and voiced loudest by her most prominent surrogate, her husband Bill. The statements spoke for themselves. And that loss of a key voting bloc identified for years with them had to hurt. We all know that. And when someone you've counted on for-ever stops “picking up the phone”, you look elsewhere for help. And maybe...just maybe you throw a dig at the abandoner to make yourself feel a a little better. You play up your replacement suitor to stem your feeling of betrayal—Hey, he/she/they want me—and to appear to the world as still being desired.

That's human nature. But it comes with a cost.

Whatever short-run gain it achieves with the “new” paramour, once word gets back to the old one, especially if the two of you still have to deal down the will have a problem. Last night I went out to a meeting at a coffee spot in Brooklyn and stumbled into an open mic night. There was no “quiet policy” and people still chattered as the various poets and troubadours did their thing. I overheard a verrrrry animated conversation between four Black women ranging in age from their early thirties to mid fifties.

Having moved from talk of a project they were all working on, they lapsed into discussing Senator Clinton's statement on “working, hard-working Americans, white Americans”.

They were merciless.

There were lots of “Can you believes?...”, “Oh no, she knew exactly what she was sayings”, and worst of all “I will remember THAT shit come her next election days” bandied about. Senator Clinton's home state for the U.S. Senate where this heated discussion was going on. Now, throw that in with Rangel's angry response, and the feeling—founded or unfounded—that she has been a bit too liberal with the shiv in dealing with Sen. Obama and you have a to say the least, very disillusioned portion of a voting bloc she will desperately need for Senate re-election. It's kind of a “Black New York: Drop Dead!” kind of thing. And don't think for a second that when her Senate re-election time comes around that some enterprising opponent—either a lefty-leaning Dem upstart, or a wrench-in-the-works GOP'er won't trot those words out against her again and again and again.

Black folks in NYC are not happy with her right about now. This shit? Ain't helping out with it.

These are the wages...of bitterness.

And bitterness is an ugly thing indeed. It twists you. It curdles your soul and hardens your heart. It deadens the eyes and rots your relationships. It will drive you to say and do things that a clear-minded person wouldn't dare. Senator Obama's statement about what bitterness brings echoes like a brick ricocheting down an elevator shaft. People will cling to polarizing things as a way to express their frustrations.

I don't like the way this primary season is ending, in spite of my long-held, heartfelt desire for the damned thing to be over. There are things happening here—ugly, unseemly things that'll have a shelf life far beyond this mere blip in time. Class splits unearthed. News agencies exposed and de-legitimized. Reputation-damaging gaffes and cynical plays to people that lower you. Ugh. As a student of history and politics, I forget very little of what I've learned over the years, and I'm already wishing I could forget some of the things I've seen this year. But sadly, I won't.

I guess I'm a little bitter too. Maybe we all are. And a little broken-hearted to boot.

It was a couple of weekends ago when I was at the peak of my dental suffering when the blogospheric story broke about Senator Clinton's meeting with fundraisers where she was imploring their deep-pocketed help. This was never meant to be heard publicly (I think) but when it got out I was very, very down about it. I wasn't alone. From Jane at FireDogLake:

The Huffington Post has Hillary Clinton on tape disparaging Barack Obama and his support from MoveOn, saying that the organization "didn't even want us to go into Afghanistan.”

I've tried to stay out of the pie fights of late, but as a long-term defender of MoveOn and other progressive organizations -- this is completely unacceptable.

"MoveOn opposed military action in Afghanistan" is a Republican talking point, articulated specifically and purposefully by Karl Rove:

Rove went on to say that conservatives wanted to "unleash the might and power" of the military against the Taliban in Afghanistan, while liberals wanted to submit petitions. He cited a petition he said was backed by that called for "moderation and restraint" in responding to the attacks.

And via The Huffington Post:

At a small closed-door fundraiser after Super Tuesday, Sen. Hillary Clinton blamed what she called the "activist base" of the Democratic Party -- and in particular -- for many of her electoral defeats, saying activists had "flooded" state caucuses and "intimidated" her supporters, according to an audio recording of the event obtained by The Huffington Post.


“ endorsed [Sen. Barack Obama]—which is like a gusher of money that never seems to slow down,” Clinton said to a meeting of donors. “We have been less successful in caucuses because it brings out the activist base of the Democratic Party. MoveOn didn't even want us to go into Afghanistan. I mean, that's what we're dealing with.”

Jane was very hurt by that, namely seeing the senator use a Rovian lie—an actual Rovian lie—as a stalking horse for grubbing campaign dough. And In spite of my pain, I was too when I read it.

Yet, I wanted to understand. Give the benefit of the doubt because not doing so would've sent me deeper into despair. Sen. Clinton's being angry about MoveOn's “endorsement” I could understand somewhat. Even her holding a grudge against them. It was in many ways yet another abandonment.

That's human nature again—especially when one considers the irony of how MoveOn came to be.

The group was originally called “Censure and Move On”—founded as a bulwark against the evils of Ken Starr's vendetta against Bill Clinton.

What was the knife in my gut was her slandering a progressive FORCE with a straight-out-of-Karl-Rove's-mouth lie. Her bitter, (yes, bitter) “how could they”-ish line about MoveOn “not supporting Afghan intervention” was a lie that Rove himself has repeatedly used to pillory the group. His quote in the blockquote a little ways up verfies that.

And the salt water on that knife to the gut was her trotting that shpiel out to fat cats at the fund-raiser as some sort of “I'm not with them!” bona fides. It got me to wondering in one of my more lucid moments, “just who those financiers were and WHY SUCH A ROVIAN SENTIMENT WOULD BE FIGURED TO RESONATE WITH THEM.” I didn't want to be lucid after thinking on that for too long. So I popped a vicodin and went off to the land of nod, where anger and bitterness could not find me. But before I did, I remembered something that FDL's Jane, who has been decidedly, refreshingly fair about the whole primary season said last fall to Elizabeth Edwards:

“So here’s the rule. You never repeat right wing talking points to attack your own, ever. You never enter that echo chamber as a participant. Ever. You never give them a hammer to beat the left with. Just. Don’t. Do. It.”

I remember thinking on her “Just. Don't. Do. It.” as sleep enveloped me.

And when I awoke, I was angry again. And yes...bitter. That event was pretty much the nadir for me. All that has come since is just after-the-coma cock-punches. Wright Redux. Hard-workin' Whites. Sillyfuck debates.

There is no joy in Mudville.

Maybe soon. But right now? As Phase One of “Campaign '08” draws to an end? No. I see it a bit here, but even moreso at other stops I used to love frequenting around blogtopia. There is rancor. There is angriness. And smoldering semi-loads of just-dumped / mixed-in-with-old-mountains of bitterness. A teeming, ever-growing landfill of bitterness.

It needs to stop. But how?

Well, whenever I'm feeling a bit down, I've found that music tends to help me through, and one of this blog's longtime regulars—DocBopper e-mails me regularly with this message in every missive's footer:

“The one thing that can solve most of our problems is dancing”---James Brown

The man's got a point. I ain't talkin' 'bout a tired-ass “kum-ba-ya” circle of Cowsills-like blended tenors, sopranos and baritones swaying choirfully...I mean an ass-shaking, soulful on-the-two-and-four get down. For release. To get back “on the beat”, if you will, as we gear up for “Phase Two”. As “The Godfatrher” himself said:

People, people
We got to get over
Before we go under...

Hey, country
Didn't say what you meant
Just changed
Brand new funky President.

Who sure as hell ain't the bearings-challenged John McCain.

Dance it out, ya'll.