Instapun*** Archive Listing

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September 12, 2008 - September 5, 2008

Friday, September 12, 2008

What I'm Worried About

Where McCain has Obama right now. But does he know it?

NEXT STEPS. I know the left is deep-down vicious, but even I was surprised by the speed and depravity of the MSM/blog/Dem assault on Sarah Palin. It was over the top even for them, and though I have read many intelligent attempts to explain the irrational ugliness of the past two weeks in terms of who Sarah Palin is and is not, I think they're mostly wrong. It's not about Palin being a woman or a mother or a Christian or a conservative. It's about a light bulb that suddenly switched on in the subconscious minds of the Obama intelligentsia. As soon as she was named, they knew they had lost the election. What followed was an enormous tantrum, which hasn't stopped yet. It's true. They have lost the election. Unless McCain and his campaign staff don't see this fact or don't see why it's true. That's what I'm worried about.

I worry about the ads expressing Republican outrage about lipsticked pigs and Palin pursued by wolves. (Though I'm disdainful of ALL the pundits who profess belief Obama didn't paint the pig on purpose any more than he gave Hillary the middle finger on purpose. Grow up, naifs.) These are wholly unnecessary diversions because the election isn't about Palin. It's about McCain and Obama. And Obama is in the position of the bull in the photo above, bloodied, pierced by debilitating lances, and helpless to prevent a surgical political kill. All that's left is applying the sword with antiseptic grace in the upcoming three debates. There isn't even any need to be particularly negative from this point forward. No name-calling is required. The double-edged axe of Obama's/Palin's (in)experience doesn't have to be hauled out, only mentioned in passing. The coup de grace isn't a function of judgment, or Biden, or Hillary, or Bill Ayars, or Jeremiah Wright, or Michelle, or racism, or elitism, or the documentation of lies and misrepresentations. McCain shouldn't even have to raise his voice. Just slide the sword smoothly in at exactly the right location, and the election is over.

Unfortunately, I don't see much sign in all the heaped-up brilliance of the right that anyone on McCain's side is seeing the forest instead of a row of tempting trees. Although there is one NRO editor, Jim Geraghty, who has isolated and identified the only important fact in the woods:

All statements by Barack Obama come with an expiration date. All of them.

Before the supposedly disastrous Biden pick and before the Democrat Convention's odd conceit that McCain is exactly the same as the president he has battled, sabotaged, and embarrassed at every opportunity, Bill Clinton actually tried to tell the Republicans why Obama is so fatally vulnerable:

Speaking at a forum of former world leaders less than a mile from the site of the Democratic National Convention, Bill Clinton drew an analogy that had many wondering whether he had made peace with the idea of an Obama candidacy.

“Suppose for example you’re a voter and you have candidate X and you have candidate Y,” Clinton said. “Candidate X agrees with you on everything but you don’t think that person can deliver on anything. Candidate Y disagrees with you on half the issues but you believe that on the other half, the candidate will be able to deliver. For whom will you vote?

Of course, his analogy was veiled, discreet, and understated, but political double-agent that he is in this election, he was sharing his political genius with anyone capable of inductive reasoning. The only part he left out is that Obama has changed his position on so many matters of fact, policy, and his own character that it's impossible to take him seriously on anything. He may believe everything he says when he says it, which is why there's no need to accuse him of lying or cynical flip-flopping. It's simply that anything and everything he says is subject to radical change and even reversal at a moment's notice whenever circumstances, as they inevitably do, change his view of our view of him.

Consider any policy issue or position that comes up in a presidential debate. If it's Obama's tax plan, McCain doesn't have to explain the economic impossibility of funding trillions in new spending on the backs of the 5 percent who have their taxes raised while 95 percent get a tax cut. All he has to do is list the number of times Obama's tax promises have changed during the 19 months he has been running for president. He wanted to repeal all the Bush tax cuts and double the capital gains tax. Now he doesn't. In fact, he's no longer sure that taxing the five percent who are rich is a good idea in a recession. But inauguration day is three whole months away. What will Obama's tax plan be by then?

The same is true of everything in Obama's continuously fluid platform. The Iraq War (immediate pullot/conditions on the ground, surge failed/succeeded), FISA (determined to filibuster against it before he voted for it), NAFTA (no/maybe/yes), the federal death penalty (no/yes), negotiations with foreign tyrants (yes/sometimes/no), the Second Amendment (no/yes/who knows?), fixing social security (let's dance), the spiritual mentor he could never disavow (father figure/disappointing stranger), drilling for oil (no/yes/maybe), nuclear power (no/maybe/whatever), etc, etc. Bringing up any of these topics in a debate is tantamount to putting the old warrior McCain into a shooting gallery filled with nothing but targets of opportunity. "It doesn't matter what the specifics of this plan are; they'll change substantially before he submits his first bill to Congress as president. He can't help it. Circumstances change, public opinion changes, and his deeply and gravely held principles will change right along with them. Nobody can show you anything he's ever stuck to against the party line."

This is where Obama's lack of experience and any substantive legislative record is no longer a political charge, but a factual proof. Supporting a brilliant young talent with virtually no experience is fine in some circumstances (Sarah!), but without a record of experience all we have to go on is words. And while 19 months of campaigning is still not a credentialing experience for Obama, it is all the experience "we the people" need to make a decision about him. No matter how much we love his eloquent words, he has given us absolutely no reason to trust his word. It doesn't matter nearly so much that we know very little about Obama the man inside the image as it does that we know nothing about where he will choose to stand tomorrow, wherever he says he stands today.

That one argument, hammered home however tactfully, is all that's required to peel away the moderates, independents, and Reagan Democrats that constitute the margin of victory in this election. It's really that simple. McCain's word is good, backed by a lifetime of documented actions in the military and in public life. Game over.

Politically acute Democrats have known this, or felt it deep in their guts, for many months now. All parts of their coalition have been disturbed by the rapidity and degree of Obama position changes since Hillary suspended her campaign. Republicans somehow failed to notice that the thrust of the Obama campaign transitioned away from Obama the Savior to McCain as a third term for Bush. Why? Two reasons. First and less important, they -- no more than the electorate -- could work up any real hostility toward John McCain, whom they actually respected without wanting to, and the illusion of running against Bush was the only way the party pros could work up some passion in their speeches. Second, and critically important, because they no longer had a real candidate, only the wildly popular image of one. Their quite reasonable hope was that the sleeping Republican base wouldn't notice, that a tired and underfunded McCain wouldn't notice either, and that the general election would be a lackluster formality -- i.e., a vision of the Obama campaign coasting across the finish line on an empty gas tank.

That's why the Biden pick for VP actually made great good sense. He would be the excitement, the comic relief, the buffoon that people still had to take seriously because he was a Democrat Party elder regardless of his dumb blunders, and he would therefore reinforce the last remaining element of the Obama mystique, his aloof, above-all-the-nonsense gravitas. It was the exact right move for a campaign that had lost all its substance even before the nominating convention. (Hillary would have deflated the Macy's balloon gigantism of the Obama brand.)

Then came the Palin selection. In political terms, it was a nuclear explosion. Not because of who Sarah was but because of what her nomination did to the Republican base and the candidate. They all woke up, so suddenly that to Democrats it must have seemed a miracle in reverse.

That's why they immediately launched the carelessly self-destructive nuclear counterstrike against Sarah Palin. It was an act of projection and displacement. Mad at Sarah? Yeah, maybe, on general liberal fascist principles. But the specific personal vituperation was so psychotically vengeful that it couldn't have been inspired by a total stranger. Psychologically, the real target of their rage was Obama himself. Obama, the no-experience guy, the exotic life story from left field, the seductive mirage that caused so many to lose their senses and stupidly abandon the one real candidate whom they had rudely shoved out of the way. The more the Republicans embraced the inexperienced but sexy new unknown, the more their rage swelled and twisted their hearts. They wanted to destroy her in revenge for the fact that her race and gender opposite/apposite had cost them the White House a third time in a row. The hatred on open display was also self hatred. Is self hatred. Particularly for the MSM, which lives exclusively in the realm of what happens on TV and other media; they have a vivid nightmare image of just how bad the Obama-McCain debates might be. And what fools they will feel for having used all their prodigious power to create such a humiliating scenario for themselves.

What does this mean for the McCain campaign if they are smart enough to see it? Forget about forcing Palin to run any gauntlet of media accreditation. She owns the base, no matter what. Quit defending her. Quit tossing her into baited traps. Take the fight to Obama, but not in the way they have been doing the past few weeks. Produce and run ads that contrast, without much explanation or leading commentary, the fact of Obama's countless changes of position in every conceivable area. Deliberately withhold the charge of flip-flopper. Don't make any charge at all -- just statements, dates, documentations of the only change we can count on Obama for, the change in his own mercurial positions on everything that matters to the American people. Save the punchline for the debates. Then use the sword cleanly.

Do I think they'll do it? No. That's why I'm worried. I think they'll try to slug it out issue by issue, accepting each new Obama position as final, and thereby enable the cipher ZERObama to hide his nonentity in the weeds of detail.

Somebody please reassure me.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Other Side of the Cyclone Fence

Have you forgotten? Do you tell yourself there's no danger?

MRS. IP REMEMBERS. A few days ago, I mentioned this memory.

On September 11, 2001, I was at a meeting in a closed conference room on a Navy base. Suddenly, the door opened and we were all informed of what was happening. The base was being shut down and all civilians were ordered to leave. As we left, we drove out on the road alongside the base to get back to our highway. I was immediately struck by how little protection there was. A relatively short cyclone fence, just like what you would have in your backyard, was all that closed the perimeter. Anyone with a pickup truck could have driven right through it.

Today, I would like to recount the events of 9/11 as I experienced them and as the people with me experienced them.

I have been working in industry on Department of Defense contracts for more than 20 years. My work requires coordination and collaboration with members of my own organization, other corporations, and our end military customer. So it was that four of us (three with a different company) left New Jersey on September 10 to attend a meeting at a base in Virginia scheduled for the morning of September 11. We left early in the afternoon in two cars because one of our group was staying over a second night to attend a meeting in Washington, DC, the next day. I took my cell phone with me primarily so we could communicate between cars during the drive.

We checked into our hotel and went out to dinner. Several others who had also traveled in for the meeting decided to go with us, so about ten of us caravanned to the Olive Garden. We had all worked together for a long time, and our table was full of lively spirit, conversation, and camaraderie. Like all such occasions, we were our own island of shared experiences and comfortable laughter. After dinner, our group of four returned to the hotel and decided to meet in the lobby at eight-thirty am to drive to our meeting in one car.

Every one of us still remembers that amazingly clear and beautiful morning – the brilliant blue sky, the shining sun, the crisp air – as we made the brief journey to the base, passing through the gate staffed by what looked to be a rent-a-cop.

Everything went as usual. Until shortly after ten o’clock. The woman who broke into our meeting was terse and stiff. She told us the Twin Towers had been struck, the Pentagon had been struck, and the White House was on fire. Everyone was stunned to whispers. You just couldn’t absorb it. I felt as if I had entered an alternate universe and was suffering from transporter shock. One of the staffers operating the computers in the conference room said he would acquire the satellite so we could see what was being broadcast. That proved impossible. Imagine it – U.S. military personnel on their own base unable to link a satellite. Within minutes we were hustled out of the building. As we exited the base, we saw that the rent-a-cop was gone, but the armed squad of soldiers at the gate looked like nothing more than empty bluff. Nothing they could do about miles of undefended cyclone fence if war was coming their way. Once past them, we talked dully among ourselves about what to do next. No cell phones were operating. We were completely isolated and far from home.

Three of us had checked out of the hotel that morning, but one still had a reservation for that night. So we figured out, slowly, eventually, that we needed to head back to the hotel. Still no cell phones. We turned on the car radio and learned that the towers had collapsed, the Pentagon had been struck by a plane, and the White House was not on fire but a plane had crashed in Pennsylvania. Washington, DC, was closed to all traffic. Reporters inside the beltway were talking to people parked in their cars on the highways. I heard one man interviewed who’d been approaching the Pentagon at the moment of impact and had actually seen and heard the plane which crashed there. Still no cell phones. We felt adrift, lost in surroundings that used to be familiar and utterly ordinary.

When we got to the hotel, we decided to try for home. It was the only emotion we could actually recognize and so it trumped all others. We couldn’t contact anyone. They were probably all where they belonged, safe and sound, but who knew? We didn’t. Couldn’t. While we waited for our last person to check out, we saw the broadcast of the Twin Towers collapsing on the lobby televisions. It was an impossible sight that crushed us with its inevitability.You couldn’t pull your eyes away from it. And it ran over and over and over.We needed the constant repetition to make us believe it. The neutral background of a franchise hotel is a surreal place to be at such a time. It feels like a nightmare, but everything around you is too ordinary to let you suspend your disbelief. It’s happening. It’s not that last dream before waking.

When we were finally ready to leave, we solemnly decided where to stop for lunch, as if it were important, hoping the restaurant would be open. The radio kept flooding us with more chaos -- announcements that all planes had been grounded, bridges were being closed, and the Coast Guard was being sent to protect river mouths and bridges. Still no cell phones. We were 25 miles from Washington and almost 200 miles from our families and homes. We looked at each other, talked with each other, nodded, and acted as if we were together. But everyone was inside his own bubble of confusion, dread, that bright light of unreality which dimmed our own voices when we spoke, and we were only bumping against one another without touching.

In the car, we continued trying to call spouses, children, co-workers. No dice. We couldn't even communicate with our colleagues in the other car. Conversation in ours was strained. We all wanted others to relieve our bafflement, knowing none of us could. “Change the station.” “Go back to the last one, I thought I heard something.” The skies were eerily empty of airplanes. The radio reports kept coming, but everything was a rehash of still unconfirmed speculations.. No one knew how many people had died in the towers. 20,000? 40,000? Was the president safe? We didn’t know for sure. We crossed a bridge over the Potomac River (thankfully not closed) – no boats navigating there either. Hardly any traffic on the highway. It was like a scene from the The Road Warrior, empty roadways as far as the eye could see. We didn’t know where everyone had gone.

We arrived at the restaurant and found other travelers like us, confused and trying to reach home. I thought briefly of the restaurant the night before, all those little islands of comfortable conviviality. This time the whole building was its own desert island, and all the castaways were immediately intimate, sharing shreds of fact and fancy as if together we could make it all add up to something. We couldn’t. What we had in aggregate was not information but alarm. And rumors. A different one on every tongue. Still no damn cell phones. I had a calling card and -- there was a pay phone. Amazingly, I got through to the office. I let them know we were trying to get home and were all okay. One of my travel companions was desperate to call his wife so I gave him my card. By the time he hung up, he was in tears. Meanwhile, everybody in the place was talking to everybody else, trying to listen but helplessly talking over everyone else anyway, because we knew they didn’t know any more than we did and expressing our own opinions was the closest we could get to control of the situation. “I’m thinking about it, therefore I am not totally helpless.” Amid the clamor, I saw something wondrous. One man was actually talking into a cell phone. The real world was still there, out there, somewhere. And as was to happen again and again in the time after the attack, he offered us use of his phone. We left while the line was still patiently waiting to take advantage of the lifeline he offered.

We traveled the many miles of near deserted highways and finally made it home to the suddenly strange familiarity of New Jersey. Somewhere along the way, our phone calls started getting through and we plugged into a stream of up-to-the-minute reports from the car radio and people at home. The news was a thudding series of blows to the stomach. Stories about the loss of firemen, policemen, thousands of civilians and WTC employees. Deaths. There were dead. In the thousands. We kept talking and talking about the events – AND WE GOT MAD. Who had done this? Why? How quickly could we retaliate? And most of all, we felt and reiterated our utter conviction that these people, whoever they were, had absolutely no idea what they had awakened. We would be swift and harsh and righteous and merciless in response. By the time we actually got back, I think all of us would happily have manned a machine gun if we knew where to aim it.

Everything we thought we knew was gone. We were more vulnerable than we could ever have imagined. Terrorists no longer wanted to kidnap airplane passengers; they were making planes into missiles. They weren’t attacking military targets; they were targeting civilians. Not just Americans, but anyone in America or participating in our way of life.

So when President Bush went to Ground Zero and announced through his bullhorn that the world would hear from us, we all cheered along with the heroes who were working there. And they did hear from us. Do none of you Bush-haters remember or take any any pride in that kept promise? I do. We have taken the fight to them, and though it’s never been reported this way, they haven’t drawn an easy breath since America decided to take their war to them.


I watched the Republican Convention (and the Democratic one) with a certain sickness at heart. I admire John McCain and believe he understands that the enemies of our country are implacable, patient, and willing to stop at nothing in their fanatic mission. But I was dismayed that even the assembled body of the most dutiful Republicans seem to regard the War on Terror as a fading artifact of the past. Otherwise, they would not have subjected their sitting president to the indignity of ignoring him almost completely, scarcely daring to speak his name aloud. They, and a huge majority of our fellow citizens, are currently in a state of profound denial. They can't bear to look again at the footage of September 11, 2001. They are not grateful for the safety they have enjoyed since then, preferring to believe that their well founded fears were overwrought and that everything which has been done, and sacrificed, in the years since to keep them safe was most likely unnecessary. Just as their president is unpopular, unwanted, and unacknowledged.

Today I am moved to remind everyone otherwise. Here's the first paragraph of an op-ed that ran a few days ago in the New York Times. Its subsequent policy analysis is one that can be debated from multiple perspectives, but his primary contention cannot. It is this:

THE next president must do one thing, and one thing only, if he is to be judged a success: He must prevent Al Qaeda, or a Qaeda imitator, from gaining control of a nuclear device and detonating it in America. Everything else — Fannie Mae, health care reform, energy independence, the budget shortfall in Wasilla, Alaska — is commentary. The nuclear destruction of Lower Manhattan, or downtown Washington, would cause the deaths of thousands, or hundreds of thousands; a catastrophic depression; the reversal of globalization; a permanent climate of fear in the West; and the comprehensive repudiation of America’s culture of civil liberties.

He's right about this if nothing else in his essay. That's why I keep thinking about what really protects America. Not a fence of any kind, but the character and resolve of our leaders in the face of a threat so immense that it's as unreal as all the emotions I experienced on September 11, 2001. And I think if that day seemed unreal even as it was happening, I can understand why the day yet to come, which will be a hundred or a thousand times worse, is unreal to my fellow citizens.

It's the same thing we experienced in our journey back home that day. It's called disbelief and denial. But we owe more to our country than to succumb to denial. We owe more to the thousands who have already died or otherwise sacrificed to keep that next terrible day at bay. And I am asking, in all humility, that each of us take time today to imagine the unimaginable. That people who are beyond the touch of reason and mercy are determined to kill our nation, our culture, and all who offend them. And I ask everyone, regardless of party, to factor that shattering vison of the unthinkable into their political decision making.

Let us all mourn the dead. Not as dusty memories of crises long past, but as vivid reminders of what we still stand to lose if we commit the one truly unforgivable sin -- forgetting the cost of forgetting the past.

UPDATE. A deeply moving remembrance in pictures of the towers and that tragic day, courtesy of IP commenter Peregrine John. Give yourselves a quiet and uninterrupted ten minutes in which to watch the whole thing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

No Politics Week (Hopefully*)

We just like the song, OK?




See? No links, no comments, no insults. BARRY - COO - DAH!

No Politics Week (Hopefully*)

The WorstBest TV Series

THE EVILS OF CABLE. If you're an uncritical supporter of the Media Research Center and allied organizations, prepare to be riled. It's no secret that a lot of conservative groups are united in condemning the Showtime series Dexter:

“Dexter,” the celebrated Showtime series about a sympathetic-seeming serial killer, went under the knife ahead of its broadcast debut Sunday night on CBS. The curse words were replaced and the most visible moments of gore were truncated.

But some critics believe the drama does not belong on broadcast television, with or without the edits, for a fundamental reason: the storyline encourages viewers to root for a mass murderer.

“They intend to air material that effectively celebrates murder,” stated the Parents Television Council in a message to members two weeks ago. “The biggest problem with the series is something that no amount of editing can get around: the series compels viewers to empathize with a serial killer, to root for him to prevail, to hope he doesn’t get discovered.”

The council, a conservative-leaning group that regularly mounts campaigns against programming it perceives to be offensive, has rallied supporters to call their local CBS affiliate and file complaints. It says it has collected 17,000 complaints in the past two weeks.

Everything the PTC is quoted as saying about the series is true, but only up to a point. There really is considerable artistry involved in this unusual dramatic offering, and I am inclined to defend it not just as entertainment but as a fascinating discourse on morality, human nature, and the human condition.

Longtime readers of this site will be aware that I was no fan of HBO's The Sopranos, and the superficial similarities between The Sopranos and Dexter -- glorifying criminal behavior by depicting it as a metaphor for run-of-the-mill family dysfunction -- is obviously sufficient for the most righteous among us to look no further. But that's my problem with hard-line Christian watch groups generally. They're happiest when painting with a broad brush, and if we left entertainment of all kinds up to them, we'd all soon expire of boredom and mediocrity. Their preferred music would consist of those sickly-sweet Christian boy band CDs advertised on the Hallmark Channel, and all movie and TV production would likely be terminated in favor of "Murder She Wrote" reruns and rereleases of the oldest, most banal of Dean Jones Disney movies.

Just as the behavior and politics of contempoary Hollywood stars is a legitimate flashpoint for conservative anger at the excesses of the left, the repressive, humorless, and appallingly prudish demands of the MRCs and PTCs are the single most legitimate cause of liberal paranoia about the crypto-fascist tendencies of the right.

So let me make a case for Dexter as a show that adult Christians might find intriguing and thought provoking if they can get past their kneejerk prejudice against anything that isn't saccharine, preachy, or continuously uplifting (uh, boring).

Yes, Dexter is a serial killer. His cover is a job as a forensic blood expert in the Miami police department. And he kills quite often, with no sign of remorse. (And miraculously, no sign of David Caruso.) But he has less in common with Tony Soprano than he does with Raskalnikov, the protagonist of Doestoevski's Crime and Punishment. His character is a brilliantly conceived contradiction in terms -- an admitted sociopath raised by a man who drummed this terrible fact of his nature into him and taught him how to channel his worst impulses into areas that would do the least damage to the innocent and to his own prospects for survival. Which means, above all else, that Dexter has been educated as an observer of so-called ordinary people, as a painfully self-conscious alien in camouflage trying always to understand what he sees in order to better accommodate his behavior to what is normal and accepted. He is also -- due to his father's unrelenting instruction -- a highly disciplined person with an absolutist (imitation of a) moral code. He is driven to kill. But he cannot kill unless his victim is guilty of heinous crimes against the innocents whom Dexter is sworn not to harm himself.

This is a very complicated moral universe. And for the viewer, it can be a completely unexpected bonanza of insight. We are given the opportunity to watch humanity, i.e., ourselves, from the outside, from a perspective which openly declares that it doesn't have and doesn't understand human emotions and human responses to love, fear, injustice, hurt, and  the desire for happiness, however conceived. All Dexter has is a father who bequeathed to him, well, commandments stipulating what he can and cannot do. The people he watches with such unflagging curiosity and bewilderment are making that stuff up for themselves, as if their own fathers (and mothers) were merely some starting point, a kernel they carry within and grow themselves and their behaviors out of, as they see fit. I don't want to overdo it, but it's entirely possible to see Dexter as an Old Testament kind of guy getting a good long look at all the baffling individual interpretations of the heirs of the New Testament.

It is in the conflict between these two mentalities that all the drama of Dexter originates. The long arc of the series is that Dexter keeps moving toward the experience of "normal" humanity as his camouflage embeds him deeper and deeper into the contexts of family, romance, and parenthood. He imitates behaviors and, in fact, experiences real human emotions he cannot appreciate because he has been so effectively taught to believe these are beyond him. In other terms, he is so gripped by his belief in the Original Sin of Dexter that he cannot even contemplate the possibility of salvation or what salvation might feel like.

A few words about production before I continue. The part of Dexter is played by Michael C. Hall, whose performance is worth a whole row of Emmies. His wry voiceover narration captures both his remoteness from others and the metronomic relentlessness of his curiosity about what it is that makes others good while he struggles to survive against his own model of himself as purely evil. The writing is also incredibly sharp. Most of the scenes seem to end a line before any character utters the next, obvious, expected banality. The direction and cinematography never editorialize; we, like Dexter, are somehow part of the staging -- detached observers of all kinds of behaviors, from the virtuous to the vile, and never invited in close enough to feel like participants in the human (non-Dexter) circus. No lingering closeups, no sentimental pauses, no protracted reaction shots. But no jump-cut, fake-suspense hurry, either. Paced by Dexter's spartan narration, the scenes keep marching along. We see treachery, violence, sex, flirtation, the mixed messages of love-hate romances, and professional infighting as a mere sequence of events that leads ultimately to consequences, some of which are precipitated by Dexter and some of which are not.

Now. Back to the question of salvation. Contrary to every impression I might have given, this show is neither nihilist nor devoid of hope. There is nothing overtly religious about Dexter, but its modern nature-versus-nurture argument is neatly embedded in Dexter's biography as an easily comprehended stand-in for the oldest debates about original sin. There is an absolutely horrifying seminal experience responsible for Dexter's pathology, so vivid, so revolting and unspeakable that it effected the same dehumanization of his biological brother, which leads to an agonizing evocation of Cain and Abel. Moreover, Dexter himself not only battles his worst impulses but, impossibly for a true sociopath, continues to advance in the direction of his only fear, the chaos and dangerous complications of getting ever more deeply involved with the others: those unpredictable -- and frequently nasty and selfish -- ordinary human beings he knows could bring about his death by lethal injection. Multiple times in the course of the series he risks his own life and well being for others, including his stepsister and near total strangers. Along the way, he begins to recognize that he might indeed possess some moral sense that is not automatically inferior to the human beings he lives with.

That's why we root for him and hope he escapes to live another day, another season. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the series ends with him settling into the chair of his execution, but by the time that happens, I would be surprised if Dexter hasn't realized that some power exists which is capable of forgivng his sins because he does belong to the world of human beings, regardless of what he was taught to believe about himself in childhood.

On top of all that, the dialogue is funny, the characters sharply and realistically drawn, the acting beyond reproach, the plots intricately woven and beautifully paced, with subplot arcs nested within the grander conflicts that provide minor resolutions which sometimes merge with mighty cliffhangers, and the whole reacquaints us all with the nature of the sin within ourselves, because when we share the satisfaction of Dexter's obsessive justice, we are reminded that his original sin is ours, too, which may be the real reason the hard Christian right hates this masterpiece of a TV series so much.

Rent it on DVD. If you find you despise it, so what. If you like it, maybe you'll have helped the rest of us avoid the specter of 392 Hallmark channels on our Hi-Def cable TVs.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

No Politics Week (Hopefully*)

The Biden-Palin Debate

Skip to 7 minutes, 15 seconds in to see the outcome.

ENTERTAINMENT. Just kidding. We all need a breather from politics, don't we? Not that we're going to get it. Or even deserve it. This is our quadrennial duty, after all. Still, we've got plans to talk about other things for a few days. If something comes up, we'll deal with it. But in the interim we got to thinking of simpler schemes, where good battles evil in  the most direct possible terms. Which led us to wondering which of all the thousands of western gunfights that have occurred in the movies were the very best. Any such list is largely subjective, though if you think the one up top belongs on it you're an idiot and should go away.

The hard part is coming up with a Top Ten that isn't all or even mostly Clint Eastwood. John Wayne rarely played the role of the man who walks onto the street (or into the saloon) to gun down a villain via the fast draw, and truth is, he was so big and bulky that a six-gun mostly looked like a toy on his hip. And the fast draw is what we're concerned with here, which is why we had to exclude classic westerns like the Magnificent Seven, whose climax involved other kinds of intense exchanges of lead.

And, yeah, we know that this is the kind of ranking that starts fights. Great. At least they're fights that don't involve McCain, Obama, taxes, and earmarks. Well, not those kinds of earmarks anyway. So here's our list of the ten greatest gunfights, from tenth best to Numero Uno. Feel free to disagree. Unavoidably, Clint is on the list multiple times, but he's not the majority, and (gasp) he's maybe not even the grand prize winner. That's our small nod to suspense.

First, some Honorable Mentions. It's unthinkable to leave John Wayne completely out of the mix. Or Jimmy Stewart. That's why we have to give a nod to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Even though the gunfight wasn't really a gunfight but a kind of put-up job. There was also Jimmy Stewart's painful showdown with Henry Fonda in Firecreek, which violates every rule of fast-draw gunplay but still produces a certain dramatic impact. (Stewart did get his licks in in Destry Rides Again and other westerns, but nothing that belongs on the Top Ten list.) And after his shoddy treatment in Liberty Valance, Lee Marvin does earn a tip of the hat for his comedic, and Oscar-winning, role as the drunken gunslinger in Cat Ballou. Anyone else? Well, we'll always love the sawed-off Winchester rifle Steve McQueen carried in his holster in Wanted: Dead or Alive, but that was a TV show and we can't remember a single individual showdown, so it's just an asterisk. Now for the real contenders.

Number Ten.

The pacifists will love this one. Nobody got killed, which is why it comes in so low on the list. But this scene from Tombstone is still an iconic reminder of just how close to death gunfighters (and gamblers) lived. It's funny and nerve-wracking simultaneously, as well as charmingly subversive of the notion that cowboys were all illiterate idiots. Doc Holliday versus Johnny Ringo:

(Skip to 1 minute 7 seconds in.)

Number Nine.

I know a lot of you are thinking of the spaghetti westerns. I looked at Fistful of Dollars. It's still highly entertaining, but it's got nothing that belongs on this list, as I think you'll agree if you give it some objective scrutiny. Clint's victims for the most part are reminiscent of small boys pretending to be shot, cartoonish and enjoyable but hardly convincing if you're not a native Italian. On the other hand, Bruce Willis's remake of Fistful (which was itself a remake of Yojimbo, so don't be a snob about it) contains an outstanding rework of Clint's response to the humiliation of his mule. If you haven't seen the whole movie, do so. Last Man Standing is dark -- in lighting as well as tone -- but it's got Christopher Walken in addition to Bruce, and it all winds up being great grim fun. It would rank higher but for the fact that it's been updated to the 1930s and therefore can't qualify as a true western. (That won't happen again on this list, promise.) Bruce versus the guy who vandalized his Model A.

Number Eight.

I admit I'm not a big fan of the next movie, Unforgiven. I understand why Clint made it, and I don't have any particular objection to his theme. The idea is interesting, and it's the most ambitious of his trilogy of reinterpretations of classic westerns (the other two being High Plains Drifter (High Noon but darker) and Pale Rider (Shane but darker). Unforgiven, unlike the other two, is nothing close to a remake of its inspiration, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but a very dark examination of the same subject, the popular mythologizing of wild west violence. My only problem with the movie is that I don't think it's a very good movie. It's long, dull, and a definite slap in the face to Eastwood's own fans. That's why it earned so much praise in lefty Hollywood and its Oscar represented Clint's acceptance into The Club of Serious, Socially Conscious Directors, where he already belonged. I have called it in other contexts "The Last Western," because nobody's made the kind of movie that made Clint a star since.

Still. The climactic gunfight has real power and cinematic stature, if only because it represents Clint Eastwood's final bow as the deadliest gunslinger ever to appear on the silver screen. Here it is. Clint versus Gene Hackman and his supporting thugs.

(Skip to 2 minutes in.)

Number Seven.

I know, I know. This one should rank below the previous one. Take it as a measure of my irrational dislike of a movie that for me remains stubbornly "unforgiven." Quigley Down Under isn't even set in the American west, but in Australia. I like it, though. When it comes on, which it does often in our cable universe, I watch it. There have never been more than a couple dozen movies I can say that about (On the Waterfront being the all-time champ). So I suspect it of being a better movie than the two stars it gets in the listings. It has excellent performances by Alan Rickman, Laura San Giacomo, and, yes, Tom Selleck as the nineteenth century equivalent of a world-class sniper. His weapon  is a state-of-the-art long rifle requiring special shells that enable him to shoot the wing off a fly from a mile away. He comes to Australia from America in response to an ad promising big money for his skills, only to learn that he is expected to shoot aborigines like, well, flies. His villainous employer is, in a clever twist, a wannabe American gunfighter himself, and the final showdown between them is curiously satisfying. Maybe it's the totally unexpected reference to another favorite of mine, Zulu, that occurs after the climactic gunfight. (Not shown in this clip. Sorry.) Tom Selleck versus Alan Rickman and his two sidekicks.

Number Six.

Time for a spaghetti western yet? Yes. For a Few Dollars More. But the showdown isn't one of Clint's. You fans may not have not have noticed this, but the unpleasant fact is that Clint's spaghetti trilogy -- all eight hours worth -- contains only one gunfight that has any real emotional subtext. It's the one between Lee van Cleef and El Indio, the psychotic bandit who raped and murdered Lee's sister. The siblings were close; each owned an identical chiming gold watch, and Lee carries his everywhere as a reminder of his loss, while El Indio is demonically obsessed with the sister's watch he took from her body as a trophy. Clint does wind up playing a key role in the final confrontation, but not as a shooter. Rather, he chimes in as a, um, timekeeper... Lee van Cleef versus El Indio.

Number Five.

By now you may be starting to understand the criteria. A gunfight really shouldn't be just about killing. It has to have meaning in some context if it's to be really great. (Mostly.) The movie in which Clint finally enters the countdown is The Outlaw Josie Wales, which is the closest Clint ever came to making an epic western. It's the beginning of his increasing ambivalence, as a director, toward six-gun justice, and he does a brilliant job of reinvigorating the cliche of the burned-out gunfighter who wants to settle down peaceably but can't. This scene presents that bitter fate as a kind of kabuki dance. The big name gunfighter can't stop defending himself against glory hounds and bounty hunters, and they can't stop pursuing him. So they perform the necessary, stylized ritual. Josie Wales against a no-name hunter.

Number Four.

This one's here because it just can't not be here. For the last forty years it has reigned as the all-time, iconic, operatic gunfight. You know the one I mean. Never mind that there's no real reason to care who wins. All three are there for the money, disdainful of even the American Civil War through which they wander back and forth as if it were no more substantial than the shadows on the wall of Plato's Cave. Underneath the macho glamour and the sensational music, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is probably one of the most despicable westerns ever made. But there is this scene. Clint versus Eli versus Lee.

Number Three

Clint again. This time for Pale Rider, his interesting remake of Shane, deliberately uglified in its depiction of violence and even in its major characters. The people who need saving are not homesteaders but gold miners, many of whom are seeking the easy score rather than roots and a life on the land. And Clint's character, The Preacher, doesn't ever seem to bond as completely with his charges as Shane. He has his own score to settle with the posse of villains who threaten the miners. The scene in which he does so, however, represents a striking blend of the mythic Eastwood image with vivid physical and period realism. How many hundreds of times in the movies has it seemed that the giant-caliber .44 revolvers of the wild west killed without generating more than a sharp pain in the tummy and a neat little spot of blood. Not so in Pale Rider. (To be fair, Altman tried something similar in McCabe and Mrs. Miller, which may well be the better movie, but it's just too depressing to watch.) What happens to the Marshal is not pretty. Nor should it be. The Preacher versus the Marshal.

Number Two

Pale Rider was a remake. This is the real thing, a masterpiece of cinematography, scene composition, and poetically spare dialogue. Shane can be hard for young people to watch, I suppose, because we never learn how good Shane is until the very end. Despite its violent theme, it contains remarkably little violence. But there are compensations of the sort Clint Eastwood failed to provide in Unforgiven. Shane is an essay on life, the value and costs of dreams, the difficulty and unfairness of the decisions life sometimes requires of us. The real test Shane passes is not his showdown with Wilson, but his honorable choice not to consummate his love for Jean Arthur (unlike Clint's 'Preacher'). When he leaves the valley, it's not because his work and justice have been done; it's because he knows he doesn't belong there. But all that aside, the gunfight itself is still extraordinary -- brief, shockingly sudden in such a lyrical movie, and by the standards of its day, realistically violent. It's our only glimpse of the old Shane, the one he so yearned to lock away in a trunk forever. But it's all we need to see of him. He was a pro, a killer, and someone to be feared. Shane versus Wilson.

(Skip to 3 minutes in.)

Number One.

What would make one movie gunfight the best? It would involve characters we have come to know something about, neither wholly good nor wholly bad, a mythic context perhaps involving some degree of historicity, drama but not melodrama, realism without voyeuristic reveling in gore, and a terrible, close-in intensity that makes the confrontation inevitably a fight to the death. Well, here it is. It's the other shoe dropping after the initial encounter we showed you in Number Ten above. Val Kilmer's performance in Tombstone was brilliant. In fact he steals the movie from Kurt Russell and Sam Elliott. And this scene is a movie in miniature of the complex character of the wild west's most famous consumptive. Doc Holliday versus Johnny Ringo, Part II.

There you have it. Your first day off in a while. We'll see if we can't muster a few more along the way to November.

*Unless we can't help it.

Monday, September 08, 2008

 Mrs. IP Makes Landfall

Commenter Peter recently launched another of his commercials for Ron Paul in response to a TruePunk post about the Republican Convention. Peter has commented before, and both InstaPunk bloggers and some of our more able commenters have sought to reason with him about his, uh, convictions. This time, though, he seems to have stepped in it. He made Mrs. IP mad, which is hard to do and never a good sign about your writing and thinking ability. At such times, we all know the best thing to do is stand aside and hope the high winds and lightning don't take us out, too, by accident. Sorry, Peter. You have had it coming for quite a while now. And Mrs. IP always did like McCain. A word of warning to everyone who doesn't want his ass kicked in print.

THE THINGS THEY SAY. Peter. I read your comments and take great exception to what you’ve said and your use of this forum to make such statements with not a single example. It seems to me that you have indulged in the same type of smear tactics you object to in the media.  So I have made some responses in boldface to individual paragraphs of your comment. I have also added a brief statement of my own at the end.

I was MN as well this past week, but at the other event across the river. There people like Gary Johnson, Grover Norquist, Bruce Fein, Tom Woods, and Doug Wead talked about the country's problems, the GOP's problems and solutions for both. Theirs were familiar pleas for the party to listen to the movement, for once, and for the movement to actually take its role, power and mission seriously. They had their opportunity in the primaries. What you fail to understand is that your movement failed to be convincing or even persuasive to more than a splinter group of delusional fanatics.

Yes, Barry Goldwater, Jr. came out and said that the direction Ron Paul suggests is the best thing the movement has going. Then Ron Paul came out and expounded with the usual. You may disagree with policy suggestions, but that's all the substance that came out of Minnesota this week. The majority does not agree. Again, this is what primaries are for. As for citing Barry Goldwater, Jr., I feel for you. I, personally, have always admired Robert Todd Lincoln, son of the Great Emancipator, who  lived up to the legacy of his father by committing his mother to an insane asylum.

I want to like Sarah Palin. I want McCain's compelling story to make a difference to me. Likewise, I want this website's writers' insight into McCain's deepest motivations, and their self-projections onto his candidacy, to win me over and to make me feel good about not just voting for McCain, but working to get others to do so as well. But I'm not sold. It seems to me that John McCain’s own words should be what must convince you, not someone else’s interpretation. It also seems to me that the only input which ever sells you on anything is your most recent exposure to Ron Paul. Unfortunately, I dare say McCain and Palin know that about you, too. The one thing Paulistas have made abundantly clear to everyone is that nothing anyone can say to them will ever convince them to take their heads out of the sand and look at the world as it is. Which makes you quite a bit like the hardcore Obamaniacs. A door long slammed shut against common sense and garden variety logic.

What about policy? This must not be discussed. We know Barack Obama will be bad for the country. McCain's personal story and Palin's small-town cred are not answers to that, though. Policy is not discussed because there would be no fundamental difference between either administration. No fundamental difference between either administration? That’s ridiculous. Indeed, it’s preposterous, In point of cold fact, the only way to begin the kinds of reforms libertarians claim they believe in is with the “veto pen” McCain referenced in his speech. Without that pen as a first step toward slicing the lard out of existing government, every plank of Paul’s reform platform is as much a naïve fantasy as his belief that the U.S. can turn its back on the world without crippling consequences. John McCain’s record on reducing federal spending speaks for itself. Your bald assertions to the contrary are offensive.

This is because they share a love for big government, an imperial presidency and the arrogance that the elite in this country know what's best for not only every person in each American town and neighborhood, but for every 'global citizen' and their nations. As President, Obama or McCain know they have to answer to no one regarding their dealings with other nations. If you took the time to actually check John McCain’s record, you would know what a malicious falsehood this statement is. I’m wondering if you understand the structure of our government. Does the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a check and overseer of “imperial” executive foreign policy decisions ring a bell? Again, you fail to discern the obvious. If the Congress had a real rather than strictly political case to be made against the Iraq War, that war would be over. They could have defunded it any time in the last two years. They didn’t. Not because their mattresses were bugged, but because they don’t have an alternative foreign policy that effectively addresses what even they know is a serious terrorist threat. I truly believe you are becoming a monomaniac on this issue.

Just like with Jindhal, I'm worried that what could have been a great thing for Alaska will be a Sarah Palin as VP remade into what is best for the DC establishment, of which McCain is certainly a part - at least once election season is over. The great thing about being a paranoid is that wherever they look they see evidence of their worst nightmares. Must be hell.

National political conventions used to be days, sometimes weeks long. There party activists and officials actually debated and did battle with members of their own party to best define it and elect the best candidates who will represent the ideas for which that party is a vehicle so that it would be united against the opposing party. And who do you think the delegates were? They did debate, and they had some acrimonious fights. Easy to miss that if you decided ahead of time that it didn’t happen. And your nostalgia for smoke-filled rooms is quaint to the point of infantile. Today’s party reps can communicate and argue and resolve issues without necessarily being locked in one room for a few weeks. Have you heard about recent developments like cell phones, email, video conferencing and chat rooms? If you haven’t you might find them exciting if you opened your eyes long enough to escape from the 1880s.

This is no longer the case. The entirety of this event was a media show, of course, but it was a show in which the delegates, and thus the rank-and-file Republicans who elected them at their caucuses and county and state conventions had no say. There were no resolutions, no debates, no motions, no voting. Only a coronation to look good for the media. Wrong. These things didn’t occur on the convention floor because the media is watching and filming the convention floor 24/7. It all happened behind the cameras, in un-smoke-filled rooms, but it happened nonetheless. You’re free to disagree with a platform that doesn’t call for total unilateral disarmament and abandonment of the world to apocalyptic Iranian Jew-haters, neo-Soviet adventurism, and suicidal European socialists, but that doesn’t mean your ignorance is proof of some kind of imperialist conspiracy.

In fact, the media's presence is the main argument for this scenario. However, if the media's main goal was to make Republicans look bad, even among the delegates there were ample opportunities and people I know that were on the floor, and were interviewed, who highlighted the corrupt nature of the event. This paragraph doesn’t even make any sense.

Two major reasons none of these accounts are aired or printed, in my opinion, is first that the media and its establishment has no interest in allowing the public to consider, if even for a second, that these conventions and the meat of the political process are centrally controlled and not in our best interest (as most probably already know), but that every aspect of the political process the public can easily take total control over, wresting power from the few and returning it to their neighborhoods. See comment about paranoids above. Of course the media would have an interest in exposing the lunatic conspiracy you describe with no evidence whatsoever. That’s the kind of story that makes journalists rich, networks more powerful, and restores vanishing circulations to newspapers. For someone who claims to believe in capitalism, you appear to have zero understanding of how it works.

The other is that greater media scrutiny and individual involvement would cement for the public the similarities between the two parties (at least their DC wings), thereby shutting down the horse race the people eat up which makes the whole charade possible. Thank God there’s you, the one supremely brilliant person on earth who sees through all the lies being perpetrated on the American public. It’s absolutely staggering how well you can do this at such a distance from everything that’s going on, while surrounded by certifiable crazies who haven’t understood anything that’s happened in America since 1932. Hats off to your genius.

Please, go become your GOP precinct committeeman. Get on your county GOP central committee. Get on your GOP state committee and work to get actual conservatives as your State Chairman and national committee members. We can write and yell all we want, but politicians and party hacks know they don't have to change because our votes are in the bag. Actual involvement starting at the precinct level is the only way to change this party and what its elected officials do with the mandate we give them. No more.  You forgot to tell us where we should send our checks, money orders and credit card payments to Ron Paul to fund the most doomed political campaign since Pat Paulsen ran for President.


That’s your say. Here’s mine. Your wandering, ahistorical, data-free assertions are no longer cute. Not to me, anyway.

I have known about John McCain for decades. I remember his capture, his long captivity. I remember the talk when the last POWs were released by North Vietnam. No one was sure he would be released. Because of his father’s position, we were afraid he would be kept. Photographers and reporters scoured the buses to find him. I remember his return. The next time John McCain crossed my radar was his involvement in reestablishing relations with the Vietnamese. I asked myself what sort of man who had suffered all that he did at the hands of such a cruel enemy would want to be part of this. I also followed some of his career in politics as he hit the headlines from time to time.  For you to blithely lump him in with Obama as part of a vast monolithic sameness that is perceived only by you and your wannabe revolutionary co-zealots is actually disgusting to me. American politics is not a video game. It’s a flesh-and-blood reality where personal character, biographies, and decades worth of political positions and records are more important than rigid ideologies.

It sounds as if you’d prefer the parliamentary systems that are slowly strangling personal liberty, capitalism, and vigor in the European nations you want us to stay away from. In the U.S., we don’t vote for local ideologues who pick a party leader to lead the nation. We choose a president whom we trust to make hard decisions, including decisions we may not always agree with and which cannot be punished by an immediate ideological vote of no-confidence. It seems you have failed – for all your vain constitutional talk – to understand this central identifying characteristic of the most successful democratic republic in human history. I feel sorry for you on that count.

The critical point for me in presidential politics is actually believing what I’m being told by each candidate and trusting that the person will do what he says and that what he does is in the best interests of Americans. On September 11, 2001, I was at a meeting in a closed conference room on a Navy base. Suddenly, the door opened and we were all informed of what was happening. The base was being shut down and all civilians were ordered to leave. As we left, we drove out on the road alongside the base to get back to our highway. I was immediately struck by how little protection there was. A relatively short cyclone fence, just like what you would have in your backyard, was all that closed the perimeter. Anyone with a pickup truck could have driven right through it.

I realized just how open a society we are – so confident that our way of life is preferable to any other that we can’t even formulate a scenario where we would be under attack. Some still also believe that our oceans protect us.

I believe we are still struggling with the methods needed to protect ourselves. I see weaknesses everywhere. But there certainly have been improvements since we have not come under such an attack again. I am thankful George W. Bush understood that a nation as free as ours cannot fold in on itself for defense like an armadillo. He understood that the only way a society as free and open as ours can defend itself against the treacheries of terrorism is to seek out the enemy and attack him in whatever non-domestic battleground can be found.

Nobody tried to lynch FDR for joining battle against the European conquests of the Nazis by fighting them first in (huh?) Saharan Africa. (Damnit: shouldn't we have gone immediately for the Eagle's Nest [scroll]?) Bush, and McCain, too, found their own desert in which to confront al qaeda, and because there were no invisible mountain redouts like the ones Afghans have used for centuries to bleed invading armies (Brits, Russians, etc) to death, the United States Army and Marines have killed more al qaeda troops in Iraq than they’d ever have seen in the Barbaristans. And that’s why that frail Home Depot cyclone fence still hasn’t been breached in all the years since 9/11.

There was a time when I was convinced that a civilian president was the best choice for Commander in Chief.  We are, after all, a nation of citizen warriors. I have since changed my mind. In a world of terrorists who wish all of us dead, we need a person who understands the complexities of both the Department of Defense and the military structure. For all his good intentions and perseverance against fierce domestic opposition, George Bush could never overcome this lack in his own experience. It took McCain to sell the necessary Surge ito the administration and the congress, which he did by a heroic refusal to take the easy political out.  That’s a sterling example of why your glib ideological rantings aren’t worth the tidal wave of alphabetic characters you waste on them. And if you’re paranoid about a militarist dictatorship as well, go (re)read your American history. The record shows that previous Republican presidents who had prior military careers were anything but militaristic or imperialist (HINT: Do a Wiki search for Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower. They had their weaknesses, but tyranny wasn’t one of them).

When our nation must call on its military in a time of need – as we must now, regardless oif your willful and juvenile blindness -- I want someone who has shown some skill and comprehension about how best to use it. John McCain has proven he has that understanding by calling for the Surge long before anyone else and defying his own party and his president to win his case. You might recall that he received a lot of criticism at the time and even well after positive results were being achieved. Today, the Surge is a huge success acknowledged by all but Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. Even Obama conceded late last week that it has been successful beyond all hope, even though he still refuses to admit he was wrong to oppose it. Character does matter, young man. The one thing Obama’s character can never permit him to do is acknowledge an error or a mistake. That’s a sign of narcissistic egomania. I would never vote for such a person for president, and I would advise you to consider what your own persistent refusal to face the obvious holes and errors in your political views might mean about yourself.

I will have more to say as the fall campaign continues.  For now, I suggest that Pete and others like him do a great deal more homework before they attempt to condescend to the rest of us again.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The McCains

NOW IT'S TOMORROW. We've seen a lot of great oratory in the past two weeks. Michelle Obama's brilliantly executed public makeover. Hillary Clinton's glowing affirmation of herself and, uh, Obama. Bill Clinton's star turn, Obama's "WeI Am the World" Free Concert, Rudi Giuliani's tour de force of political ridicule, and Sarah Palin's "bring-down-the-house" emergence from nowhere. Masterfully delivered speeches, every one. What we saw last night was not that. It was a cut below -- and a cut above. It included something I doubt anyone alive has seen before, which may explain why none of the cable pundits even seemed to notice it.

I admit I didn't bother looking at CNN, MSNBC, or the alphabet networks. At this point their commitment to Obama is so open and devoid of intellectual or professional integrity that it just doesn't matter what they claimed to notice or didn't. The Fox pundits were indicative enough of the inside-the-beltway perspective, including the predictable Democrat reactions. Former Hillary lieutenant Howard Wolfson pronounced the evening a failure because McCain refused to take the Bush administration apart brick by brick and announce his switch to the Democratic Party at the beginning of his speech. Juan Williams was somewhat fairer, conceding that the last night of the Republican Convention probably wasn't an appropriate time for the Maverick to change parties officially, but he was disappointed that McCain wasn't specific about any of the issues he was specific about.

From the right, Fred Barnes was grumpy because McCain attacked the Republican Party in a roomful of Republicans, used the word "fight" too much, which is what Democrats do, and besides he'd heard the P.O.W. stuff before: Who hasn't? Mort Kondracke's response was somewhere in the middle, naturally, between Fred and Juan, but it's hard not to notice that his moderate smile is gradually twisting into a liberal sneer. Bill Kristol thought the speech was good enough if not particularly memorable or great. Karl Rove thought the speech had 67 paragraphs. Nina Easton noted that the loudest cheers of the night were reserved for every mention of Sarah Palin. Brit Hume gave McCain's speech a passing grade, though it was obviously too long and important stage mechanics were bungled several times. And Charles Krauthammer thought everything about the convention was backwards and inside out, though he held out the possibility that it all might actually have worked somehow.

Now then. Here's what really happened. Right under the noses of the inside-the-beltway pros, without their even seeing it. Thanks to Sarah Palin, the conservative base was already locked up tight. Last night McCain was free to go as far as he wanted to reach out to independents, Reagan Democrats, and disaffected Hillary supporters. And so, for the benefit of the television audience, he mounted the most concerted and utterly devastating attack on Barack Obama that man has had to endure in his entire 19-month campaign.

It was the night of the McCains, the entire family, presented to us in implied contrast to the entire Obama family. The images, the recollections, the proofs of faith, patriotism, accomplishments, and courage were so vividly opposite the Obamas that they might as well have been standing there like defendants in the dock. Everything Barack and Michelle say they believe in, John and Cindy actually are, and have been for more than thirty years.

While Michelle Obama has spent a few months on the campaign trail decrying the meanness of America and demanding more attention to the needs of the poor and dispossessed, Cindy McCain has spent her adult life serving the needs of the poor and dispossessed throughout the world, without ever lecturing anyone from a campaign podium. Last night was her very first formal speech to a large audience. It showed. Her delivery was at times uncertain and the audience had to strain to hear what she had to say, which they did with increasing wonder, because it was hard to reconcile the tailored media image of this supposed "trophy wife" with the reality of a mother of seven -- including two Iraq War veterans and a daughter adopted from an orphanage in Bangladesh -- who builds race cars with her sons and travels to some of the world's most dangerous places to battle disease, hunger, land mines, and natural disasters. It was impossible, watching her, not to be reminded of the stark difference between her and the haughty internationalism of Teresa Heinz-Kerry or the narrow fixations of Michelle Obama. No orator, Cindy McCain was surpassingly eloquent as a vibrant yet humble example of all that is fine in the American heart.

Her husband is also no orator. Unlike Barack Obama, he has spent thirty years in public life without ever learning how to work the crowd in a formal speech. He doesn't know how to synchronize his lines in a rhythm the audience can help him sustain and elevate. He has to eschew high-flown phrasing because it would only sound flat and phony in his plain mouth. And so he used this opportunity not to unleash a river of rhetoric but rather to build an edifice whose final shape could not be discerned until the very end. And such an end.

Yes, he used the word "fight" a lot because that's his nature and accordingly that's also what his life has been. He described his convictions, his bedrock principles, and he built for us the story of his career, showing us what it means to be a man apart in service to a community in which the most popular are frequently the worst servants. Anyone who has stood up against entrenched opposition can understand what John McCain has confronted in politics. That's a much larger audience than the pundits know, a constituency they've never identified on their demographic charts. It consists of parents who have battled school boards, corporate professionals who have taken the career risk of opposing the bad and sometimes immoral decisions of bad management, college students who refuse to be silenced by the armies of political correctness that are suffocating higher education, union members who can't accept the dictates of a runaway local or a distant national leadership, citizens who fight at the grass roots level against corrupt zoning boards and greedy local governments, anyone in fact who has ever had the guts to take on the inertia of a bureaucratic organization which no longer responds to anything but its own internal imperatives.

There are a lot of people in this constituency, from both sexes and both major parties. These are people who know that change is hard, very hard, and achieved only by those who are willing to pay a sometimes exorbitant price that includes despair, exhaustion, loneliness, and even persecution. When you lose, it is always the winners who get to write the official version of what happened. And sometimes all you can do is take your beating like a man, get back up, and go do it all over again. That's what was implicit in John McCain's account of his experience in the U.S. Senate as a reformer. It is also what is explicitly lacking in the resume of Barack Obama.

McCain may have beaten up on the Republicans, but he was also confessing his own failures. Washington, DC, the government of the United States, is a lumbering crippled dinosaur that has perilously little capability to meet the rapidly changing needs of its people. He was telling us what has to be fixed first, before all the gleaming skyscrapers Obama has drawn in the air can even be contemplated. His most important promise was to veto the first pork-laden bill that reached his desk in the Oval Office -- and to publish the names of every corrupt accomplice. Those are fighting words. They're the end of business as usual in Washington and the absolute prerequisite for transforming change from an empty campaign slogan into reality. All the people out there who actually know something about change don't need any more of a blow-by-blow description of what McCain intends to do as a government reformer.

There's a huge difference between being a 'maverick'' and being the kind of presidential candidate McCain has become. (Something else the pundits failed to spot.) A maverick isn't necessarily a fearless idealist who's always on the side of truth, justice, and the American Way. He can also be a man who simply prefers to be alone, a contrarian, a curmudgeon, a fighter who picks fights just for the grim pleasure of fighting. McCain has often seemed more the latter than the former. Until the convention, his campaign seemed that way, too. It had a "told you so" air about it, a kind of fatalism which suggested that the candidate knew he would probably lose, because people are so damn dumb, but even if he lost he would never knuckle under to all the jerks who couldn't see things his way. I've previously expressed my doubts here that McCain even wanted to win the presidency.

Two things happened at the convention to change my mind. First, McCain picked Sarah Palin, which reenergized the conservative base (important) and also seemed to reenergize him (more important). As if a light had been switched on, McCain's whole demeanor changed. The crust of his long weary battles in the Senate and on the campaign trail burned away, and the younger man underneath emerged. I believe Palin showed him, quite sudeenly, that it was indeed possible to win the presidency, and when he realized that, he remembered everything that had motivated him as a reformer in the first place. He ceased in a moment to be the safe, experienced alternative to a callow shooting star and became instead the man who knows how to fix Washington.

The second thing that happened happened last night, at the end of his speech. For McCain skeptics, there has alway been a missing piece in the puzzle of his life. Why the seemingly obsessive need for the public spotlight? Why the continual contradiction of a brave soldier who knows brave soldiers don't speak of their own military exploits and the politician who has to speak of such things, again and again, for the sake of getting elected? Why the persistence of such ambition in a man no longer young who had obviously earned some Golden Years of contentment and reflection? What was the nature of the hole in his life that couldn't be filled by the gratitude of a nation or the love of a wonderful extended family? Something didn't compute, and the inference many of us drew was that he was the second kind of maverick, the kind that simply gets off on making trouble, which is the simplest way of being the center of attention.

What the pundits apparently didn't observe was that McCain filled in the missing piece last night and therefore set the capstone of the edifice of his life. He told us that he didn't survive his captivity, but that he was slain and made anew by it. Here, on the night of his life's greatest triumph, a moment of adulation every candidate seeks to keep pristine in his mind forever, John McCain declared to all of us the moment of greatest shame in a long life. "They broke me," he said.

"They broke me." It wasn't an unfortunate blip in a mostly honorable performance of military duty. It wasn't just a bad day that you could eventually forget about. It wasn't a black mark on a report card. What he told us in plain but unmistakeable words was that the John McCain who entered the Hanoi Hilton -- the maverick of the second kind -- died there, of pain and fear and shame. I defy anyone to cite an example from any American political speech in such a triumphant setting that contains such a naked revelation of human frailty. He wasn't spinning. He was explaining something important that we all have to know about him. Something that makes sense of all the twists and turns and odd detours we have witnessed over the years. Since he was nursed back to belief in his cell, he has given his life to his country. Not having had to die for his country like so many who did not return from Vietnam, he has chosen to live for it instead, to his very last breath. And he's not going it alone. He's just been waiting for us to catch up and join him, to get this one great chance of winning a better future.

There is oratory and then there is eloquence. The close of McCain's speech was eloquent at an incredibly deep level. It was impossible to see and hear him and not know that on this night of all nights in his life he was telling us the truth, the most personal and intimate kind of truth a man can tell. A kind most men can't.

Barack Obama might as well have been standing there beside him, a mere graphic of a man, transparent and insubstantial. And John Kerry, too. Throughout the speech, my mind, unbidden, kept flashing back to that ludicrous salute, the "reporting for duty" of a four month combat veteran who had returned from war to denounce his country and still expected us to follow him.

They didn't show us how John McCain's mother reacted to his extraordinary oath to the American people, but I tend to think that beautiful 96-year-old woman simply gave him a quick nod: "That's it. You've finally got it right."

I think he's got it right, too. Enough anyway, in our imperfect world. No one with any common sense or real adult experience will ever be able to look at John McCain, or Barack Obama, in the same way again. McCain the presidential candidate is clothed in crisp purpose, while the would-be emperor is naked as a jaybird.

That's what really happened last night.

Final Convention Notes

Beauty and the Beast, in some order.

MY TURN. An ugly metaphor. The MSM is a bloated, rotten hog carcass that is about to burst open in the late summer heat and spill its maggot-riddled guts all over the nation.

Isn't 'tipping point' one of the recent terms du jour? I think we hit one this week. Incredibly, the MSM still doesn't get it. They have finally, and spectacularly, blown their credibility sky high with the American public and they won't get it back again in this election cycle. That includes even the nominally conservative media like National Review, the Weekly Standard, and Fox News.

Traditional conservative pundits like David Frum and Charles Krauthammer brush away their sudden avalanche of email to reiterate their solemn objections to McCain's spur of the moment choice of Sarah Palin for VP. Well, it wasn't spur of the moment and they're among the the ones who don't get it. As are Oprah, Hollywood, the alphabet networks, and the Obama campaign. What don't they get? We get to decide who's qualified to lead us. They don't.

Typically, it was Thomas Sowell who quietly laid bare the enormous myth of "foreign policy experience" as a necessary and legitimate credential for candidates in U.S. presidential politics. I'm not going to take time out to do more than turn his well considered essay into a longish bumper sticker. The fact is, almost no one has foreign policy experience but current and past presidents, secretaries of state and defense, and an unelected (and unelectable) coterie of state department professionals. Everyone else is either a world traveller or a spectator, including senators with thirty years seniority on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and importantly, ALL state governors. Foreign policy experience consists of making foreign policy decisions for which you are personally accountable. Period. This year, though, the MSM has decided that only veteran U.S. Senators are qualified to be president, plus one three-year part-timer who did a concert tour in Berlin.

Are we really supposed to forget that the only sitting senator elected president in living human memory was John F. Kennedy? Yet according to MSM logic, the only candidates on the contemporary scene equipped for national office are the gang of Democratic senators beaten by first-termer Obama, Fred Thompson, and John McCain.

Bill Clinton wouldn't have made the VP cut this year. Or Franklin Delano Roosevelt. According to the media. But senators tend to be, in the eyes of voters, indecisive and untrustworthy. Something about being on all sides of every issue. If you know what I mean.

That's why Americans overwhelmingly prefer to elect presidents with executive experience (i.e., governors rather than senators). Executives know they're not subject matter experts in every area and they don't pretend to be. What they are is skilled at using experts and determining whether or not they know what they're talking about, and which of the myriad issues that cloud expert judgment are the important ones. Then they make the hard decisions. That's what executives do. That's what presidents do.

There are also different varieties of executive experience. The CEO of a startup gets an enormous amount of decison-making experience in no time flat. He's preserving the life of his enterprise on a day-to-day basis. CEOs of big, going concerns may take ten years to encounter the number of decisions a startup has to make in in six months. Time may seem a constant, but it isn't. Sometimes a year of experience here is worth ten years of experience there. Which is pretty much Sarah Palin's position. Having lobbed a very large reform bomb into Alaska state politics, she unquestionably had to make more executive decisions in her two years in office that the governor of a populous but steady state like Texas might make in a dozen years.

Was there anything in the press coverage of Sarah Palin that recognized these elementary principles of executive decision-making? No.

Amazingly, though, average citizens have a way of knowing these things. They know state governments can't play imaginary federal-style games with money, can't run their budgets in the red year after year, can't blithely delegate basic responsibilities for public safety and crisis management to other governments lower in the food-chain as 'mandates'. Governors are accountable in ways no legislator ever is. Palin is the only one of the four on the two parties' tickets who has this kind of experience.

People also know when they're being propagandized. And they resent it. What the MSM can't seem to get through their thick heads is that ordinary Americans of both parties regard the media elite exactly the same way they regard the U.S. Congress and all the other Washington politicians. The ones who can't close the borders when we're obviously being overrun by an underclass of illegal aliens, who can't decide to drill when it's obviously time to drill, and who can't permit any outsiders into their club without trying to annihilate them and their families in the most despicable possible ways.

Another thing. Americans of both parties and sexes detest snobs, people who think they know so much more than everyone else they're entitled to decide on behalf of the rest of us who we're allowed to consider legitimate candidates in the political process.

The prime cause of the bloat in the hog carcass is the MSM's gangrenous insularity. There is no vent for the internal toxins. And so they fester and simmer and multiply and expand like the foul-smelling gases of fatal infection.

That's where we are right now. Obama was right that people deeply need and want change. He was wrong to think that this yearning originated with him and requires him to be fulfilled. That's a failing of youthful ego, ignorance, and inexperience. He was also wrong to think that the American people were making an ideological choice when they began responding to promises of change. Obama was untouchable until people began to suspect that the change he was talking about meant giving the media elite even more power to pass judgment on all the rest of us, our individual choices, our lifestyles, our values, our personal economic and moral preferences. They thought Obama was talking about freedom from the unresponsive authoritarians of the political class. When they started to realize that his most ardent promoters were the elite authoritarians of the most arrogant didacts in our nation, they began to drift silently away.

However dumb the MSM thinks we are, ordinary Americans are unified across all party lines by a fundamental commitment to fairness. No one succeeds in small communities, businesses, or organizations of any kind if they routinely cross the line in their dealings with others, including their most vociferous opponents. Now, finally, right now, the MSM have crossed lines most people regard as sacred, and the electorate is onto them. It's not just women who are mad about the public media rape of Sarah Palin. It's men and women, Republicans and Democrats, northerners and southerners, white collar and blue collar, everyone in fact but the nucleus of rabid dogs on the far left of the political spectrum who hate not just Palin but everything American.

Fatal facts coming out of the Republican Convention: 52 percent of Americans think the MSM is actively trying to get Obama elected; and Sarah Palin after one week in the public spotlight -- as compared to Obama's 19+ months in the public spotlight -- has a higher favorability rating, 58 percent, than either Obama or McCain.

That's a consequence of the hog carcass splitting open. Everyone can smell the smell. And you can't put a bad smell back inside the rotting body it came from.

The cultural revolution the MSM thought it wanted may be upon us. But they may not like the results of the crisis they have forced upon the body politic. And "body" is the operative word.

But there's one ineradicable fact about a "body" of this sort; it's past learning and past the possibility of recovery.

Go get'em, Keith and Chris and Mika and all you other decomposing royals of the MSM kingdom. May you rest in peace.

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