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October 22, 2004

Political Elsewhere

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

My motto for this election season comes from my alltime fave novelist, the great Stendhal:

Politics in a literary work is a pistol-shot in the middle of a concert, a crude affair though one impossible to ignore.

But, vast as my admiration for Stendhal is, I modify his wonderful phrase a bit: where Stendhal is talking about the role of politics in a "literary work," I'm thinking about politics' place in life. I'm prone to such feelings as, "Sheesh, if only we could do without." And the people I'm temperamentally prone to be most suspicious of are those who approach politics with gusto. What's the matter with them?

In any case, as far as I'm concerned, politics is best viewed as a dirty necessity that, sadly, does require some attending-to. In that "patooie" spirit, here are some interesting political pieces I've run across recently.

  • I had a satisfying roar at this classic opening line in an Edmund Andrews piece for the NYTimes. Sometimes even journalists earn their paychecks:

    Less than a day after President Bush implied that Senator John Kerry lacked "fiscal sanity," the Bush administration said on Thursday that the federal government had hit the debt ceiling set by Congress and would have to borrow from the civil service retirement system until after the elections.

  • Slate's Michael Hastings suspects -- with what seems like good reason -- that FoxNews bloviator Bill O'Reilly may have a porn problem.

  • Randall Parker runs across evidence that -- contrary to the usual picture -- Republicans may be sexually happier than Democrats are.

  • Gene Expression's contributors yak about who they're going to vote for. Interesting to note that both Razib and Godless will be pulling the Kerry lever. Razib seems to think Kerry's the lesser of two evils, while Godless is one of those rooting-for-gridlock guys. [UPDATE: Razib tells me he's in fact a pro-gridlock guy himself.] By the way, sci-fi fans should have a field day exploring a blog the GNXPers have started up to cover their other main passion, Gene Expression Science-Fiction. A trenchant line from Razib, in a surprisingly post-modern mood:

    My overall point is that there will never be any good literary science fiction, because if it is acceptable to the English major, it is by definition not science fiction.

  • Disconcerting news from the Center for Immigration Studies:

    All of the job losses during the current economic downturn have been absorbed by native-born workers. In contrast, the number of immigrants holding jobs actually increased dramatically between 2000 and 2004.

    Remind me again whose benefit, exactly, the country is being run for?

  • As we get close to the wire, Steve Sailer's got the pedal to the metal. He reviews the candidates' stands on immigration, and he suspects that, IQ-wise anyway, Kerry doesn't offer much of an alternative to Bush. An immortal Steve wisecrack:

    Liberals tend to believe two things about IQ:

    First, that IQ is a meaningless, utterly discredited concept.

    Second, that liberals are better than conservatives because they have much higher IQs.

  • Steve links to a terrific Orange County Register editorial that asks a sensible question about GWBush: What's conservative about him?

    Imagine if another nation's military overthrew the United States government, and its leaders announced that, within a year or two, America was going to be transformed into an Islamic republic. It doesn't require one of the great minds of conservative political thought to recognize the absurdity of such a plan. Yet how different is this from what the Bush administration proposes to do in Iraq? ...

    That the Iraq war is a reckless adventure in utopian internationalism, made possible by the naivete to which liberal thought has always been prone, would be obvious if it were not being prosecuted by administration that, in the face of all evidence, calls itself conservative.

  • Reason's Ron Bailey has a few laughs at the expense of lefty anthro-psych-sociologists who have cooked up studies purporting to show that conservatism is a form of psychological pathology.

  • Thanks to the tireless and brainy Greg Ransom, who reprints this chart showing the employers of the biggest backers of both candidates. Fascinating to think of the election not as a race between Bush and Kerry but between Morgan Stanley and the University of California.

  • Greg also reprints an interesting WSJournal analysis of Mrs. Kerry's tax bill. My conclusion: the ultra-rich really are different than working stiffs, even very well-paid working stiffs. But you don't think it affects their point of view, do you?

  • David ("Naked Gun") Zucker has created an amusing last-minute anti-Kerry Bush ad that can be viewed here. Errol ("Thin Blue Line") Morris has created a whole series of amusing anti-Bush Kerry ads. They're spoofs of that Apple "switch" campaign, and are watchable here.

  • The Wife, who dislikes politics even more than I do, has issued her final statement on the election:

    My theory is that David Zucker and the "South Park" bunch are the true anarchists of our time who are going to get liberals back to where they should be, which is realizing they have to stop fucking thinking they are saints and get fucking down to doing something effective! .... God bless David Zucker and Trey Parker, and you can quote "The Wife" on that.

  • Tyler Cowen notices that members of Congress aren't having any trouble getting flu shots.

As always, I stand firmly on the fence. The best reason I can see to vote for Kerry is that he's not-Bush, while the only reason I can see to vote for Bush is that he's not-Kerry. Is there any way to slap some sense into our political class and make them realize how badly they're serving the rest of us? They're performing worse than the Detroit car industry did in the 1970s. Where's the needed competition? My mind writhes and squirms: well, perhaps we could just fire all of them ... And off I spin into fantasy.

So, many thanks to Jimbo for reminding me of this hilarious and sanity-making Fred Reed column. Fred disses politics as silly and hopeless, and writes eloquently about saving your "caring about it" energy for friends and family instead.

Voting in particular is an embarrassment, being a public display of weak character and low intelligence. Let us face the truth: Democracy, like spitting in public or the Roman games, is the proper activity of the lower intellectual and moral classes. It amounts to collusion in one's own suckering.

I don't know about you, but I'm feeling cheerier already.

On to more important things, in other words. Hey, here's a page of scans from the lingerie company Aubade's most recent, and very beautiful, ad campaign.



UPDATE: Thanks to Alice in Texas for linking to this good interview with "Team America"'s Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

posted by Michael at October 22, 2004


Well, I was going to attempt to make a thoughtful comment about politics and voting and then I took a look at Toutes Les Photos at Aubade -- groan.

Posted by: ricpic on October 22, 2004 11:08 AM

Election? What election?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 22, 2004 1:47 PM

Two days ago, six students at Seton Hill got together to hold a panel discussion over Republican and Democratic policies. I'm impressed - they did an excellent job with the research, discussion, and arguing. Much better than most politicians I've seen.

While I'm happy that there are people in my generation who aren't completely disgusted with politics, why is it that the most intelligent political conversations I've had lately have been with the 20 somethings? Thanks for the great post Michael.

Posted by: Neha on October 22, 2004 4:38 PM

no, i'm voting for gridlock. or, more accurately i want the republican congress to behave like...a republican congress.

Posted by: razib on October 22, 2004 5:25 PM

There won't be gridlock. What will happen is that a shutdown will be forced and the press and Kerry will put the Republicans in such a spot that they have to cave.

Posted by: lindenen on October 22, 2004 5:49 PM

well, for me what made me vote for kerry (yay absentee ballot! - and i almost pulled the trigger for the constitutional party, but only just :) was that i'd find another four years of evangelical christian fundamentalist chest-beating rather distateful, not to mention a lifetime w/ a couple more creationist supreme court justices or something... and then i consoled myself by voting libertarian for some local offices...

as for iraq: stay, leave, whatever. i think the US' ability to influence anything there is overstated. by all means try to build a nation and create democracy, i won't begrudge my tax dollars. but i think iraqis are gonna do what they're gonna do regardless of what the US *wants*; it's their country afterall.

split up civil war? knock yourselves out! i doubt we could do anything to prevent it short of either being the immeditate target of hostilities (sorta like we are now, i guess) or by making it a *real* occupation and raising (nonexistent reserve) troop levels there massively.

so if we "cut and run" i think it'd just hasten the process that'd have to be worked out eventually anyway, re: some kind of settlement between the shias, sunnis and kurds. and, being the optimist, i think the iraqis have the ability to *gasp* govern themselves; self-organization, what an unpatronizing concept :D

to the extent that the US is in the way of that, there's chaos. like it's a fine line between assistance and interference.

and, being fatalist as well, i sorta see running out of money or declining troop enlistment ("re-ups") being the main limiting factor anyway, so again it hardly matters who's in charge, to me at least.

finally, on terrorism, like iraq i think the US' ability to stop it is overrated. so while who can "fight a more effective war on terrorism" is debateable, i think it's a dinstiction without a difference. it's like neal stephenson just said in his recent slashdot interview, "the best 'self-defense means' when you are surrounded by a hundred million people of some other culture is to avoid dangerous places and figure out some way to get along with the folks around you." but, like assistance and interference, to "get along" for some looks a lot like appeasement.


to sum up! the iraqis are gonna do whatever they're gonna do. the terrorists are gonna do whatever they're gonna do. and the voters are gonna do whatever they're gonna do. i think it's arrogant to presume (or delude yourself) that you or anyone has any real control over it. so if you're gonna vote, vote for the person that's gonna be less annoying. to you. personally. just don't get all pissy when 'your guy' doesn't win :D

Posted by: glory on October 22, 2004 7:22 PM

In other political news:
- "It is very tricky for a naked man to ride a bicycle" D.E Westlake/ Smoke
-Philippe Matignon. I would link, but all I could find online is very under-representative, at least of my Black Lily number.

Posted by: Tatyana on October 22, 2004 9:21 PM

Like this?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 22, 2004 9:35 PM

Yeah, that's almost the only thing you can find. Way underrepresented, as I said.

Posted by: Tatyana on October 22, 2004 9:42 PM

There won't be gridlock. What will happen is that a shutdown will be forced and the press and Kerry will put the Republicans in such a spot that they have to cave.

that happened, and the fiscal situation turned out much better than anything we have today. but never mind, perhaps you are one of those people who keep telling me that without the pressure of reelection bush will become a hardcore fiscal conservative next term....

Posted by: razib on October 22, 2004 10:21 PM

by "that happened" i mean 1995

Posted by: razib on October 22, 2004 10:21 PM

I'm no admirer of liberals myself, but it's not because I'm conservative. For those who are, I recommend "The Hammer," about Tom DeLay.

Warning: You won't like it. DeLay is a creep who makes Bush look good.

Posted by: john massengale on October 23, 2004 12:22 AM

Aubade's sure as hell ain't Montgomery Wards. "We're not your mother's underwear anymore!" No duh.

Problem is, without that HARDbody in the stuff, the illusion is lost. And everyone knows, HARDbodies are Hard to come by. Oh but I could get crafty with that four-lettered word!

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on October 23, 2004 12:37 AM

And the people I'm temperamentally prone to be most suspicious of are those who approach politics with gusto. What's the matter with them?

What makes JFK such a great movie is the way it nails the mindset of the bottomfeeding political junkie: the rage, the paranoia, the love of armtwisting for its own sake...

Richard Posner likes to say one of the purposes of government is to keep the sociopaths corraled where they'll attack one another instead of us.

Changing subjects...

Republicans have more nookie? Maybe that's why we're so much happier.

And the whole "the system sucks so I won't vote and it ain't rational besides" meme was wholeheartedly adopted by the Libertarians a while back.

Think about that.

Look in the mirror.

Do you really want to emulate the Libertarians?!?!

I thought not.

Posted by: Brian on October 23, 2004 1:52 AM


Your claim that you are 'firmly on the fence' is preposterous. You have decided opinions, subtle ones too, on many, many subjects about which you probably no far less than you do about the state of America. It is simply not credible to me that you can see no significant differences between Bush and Kerry. It is not at all to be taken seriously.

And your 'above it all' posing is also not believeable.

Posted by: David Sucher on October 23, 2004 9:18 AM

That OCR editorial snippet is infuriating. We're supposed to take at face value the hypothetical that an Islamic theocracy is on par morally and philosophically with a democratic republic? Maybe it's more nuanced than I can comprehend, but Hogwash.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on October 23, 2004 9:18 AM

Pattie -- I suspect that the only bodies that can do justice to under-duds like Aubade's are 1) rare, and 2) 17 years old, max. And even then they'd need the world's best makeup artists and photographers to help them get by. Still: beautiful ads, no? The French may not be able to do anything else well these days, but they can still make one heck of a lingerie ad.

Brian -- You gotta wonder about anyone who wants to be a politico, don't you? The ass-kissing, the power-mongering, the deal-making, the public humiliations ... Anyone who'd want to go through that is someone I'd never be able to vote for. Scary to think that if I skip voting I'll be in the company of Libertarians, though. Surely there's a way out of this.

David -- Your faith in me is touching but entirely misplaced.

Scott -- Did the editorial say that there was a moral equivalency? I thought its point was that it ain't conservative to go around attacking whichever regime we want to and then trying to remake an ancient civilization in our own image. Conservatives are supposed to be strong, but also cautious about this stuff. FWIW, I'm also open to the argument that it behooved us to kick some random mideast butt.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 23, 2004 12:06 PM

It has nothing whatsoever to do with 'faith' but is simply a matter of emperical observation.

In the area about which I know quite a bit -- cities, their operation and design -- you have excellent instincts and judgment. Your comments on matters about which I know some but quite a bit less -- book publishing and technology - seem to be very astute. Your remarks about movies, literature, painting etc etc strike me as quite intelligent, though as I lack knowldge in these areas, I hesitate to say more.

But in general you OPINIONS ABOUT EVERYTHING! (And usually quite thoughtful ones.)

So I say again that it is puzzling, preposterous and frankly just a bit weird that you continue to claim to have no opinion, that you cannot distinguish, between Bush and Kerry enough to have an opinion which leads to a decision on how to vote.

Are you an extremist (such as Alexander Cockburn? -- so far on the left but that he seems to emerge at the other end) who thinks that "they are all the same." Huh? Other than that explanation -- or simply that you really don't even glance at the papers -- I cannot grasp how you fail to form an opinion. It's an odd dissonance.

Posted by: David Sucher on October 24, 2004 10:09 PM

You're not allowed to sell your vote, but you are allowed to give it as a gift, and some people - weirdly - value it quite highly. So my solution to the problem of choosing between these two pathetic excuses for candidates was to promise to vote for Kerry as a birthday present for a close friend of mine. Had I not done that, I was torn between voting for Badnarik and not voting at all. (The great thing about voting for a libertarian is that it is an excellent regret minimization strategy -- there is no chance the person you vote for will win, so there is no chance you will regret having voted for him and thereby lent his regime your moral sanction.)

Posted by: Glen Raphael on October 25, 2004 2:41 PM

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