October 22, 2008 - October 15, 2008
As the pressidential campaign reaches its final two weeks, I can't help
thinking of The Forgotten Man. No, not the Depression era icon of those who doubted FDR's
New Deal, but the lonely figure who still occupies the White House.
Whether you know it or not, he's still important, still
"misunderestimated." Republicans and conservatives in particular need
to focus on him right now if they want to use the remaining time before
Election Day wisely. I'm very serious about this. He is neither a fool
nor a tragic figure. He is an archetype. And anyone who misreads what kind of archetype he is runs the
risk of making bad decisions over the next fourteen days.
He's not a fool because whatever his faults, he succeeded in preventing the next terrible, seemingly inevitable thing from happening to the United States. Who wouldn't have settled for that seven years ago after the twin towers fell? He's not a tragic figure because he hasn't been destroyed, either by his own fatal flaw or the vengeance of the almighty, which would have meant blood and death for large numbers of us as well. He has been ridiculed and mocked and ostracized and shunned by those who should have known better, but he is still Commander-in-Chief of a nation which has not been defeated in the field on his watch. That was his mission. It became his mission the day America was attacked inside her own borders. He has made mistakes but he has not failed in this one supremely important responsibility. Mission accomplished.
To the extent that the War on Terror has been shoved to a back burner in the current campaign, it is a measure of George W. Bush's success as a president. Any objective reading of the evidence about the economic crisis facing the world today suggests that he did not cause it, in fact tried to prevent it, and lacked the clout to fix the burgeoning problem because his pursuit of the primary mission made him too unpopular to accomplish what was needed. But we have grown used to blaming him for everything, and so we blame him for this, too. Does he complain, whine, or point quivering fingers at his innumerable enemies? No. As he has from the first day of his presidency, he accepts the popular abuse and soldiers on.
Are either of the men we're deciding between to replace him as durable and stoic as he is? Does it matter? Yes. It matters. All presidents of the United States receive torrents of abuse, experience treacherous disloyalty from allies and subordinates, and are pitilessly second-guessed at every moment of every crisis. How many of Bush's detractors even remember a time when the president exploded in anger on camera at the umpteenth unfairness he'd been subjected to by rapacious media? Is sturdy equanimity something we've come to take unjustifiably for granted? Should we be so dismissive and ungrateful to a man who led us through harrowing times without ever once pleading for public mercy? What kind of leader is it exactly we think we deserve? And if we get what we truly deserve, how good a leader will we get?
We all have to ask and answer these questions for ourselves. For my part, I know that I cannot approach the coming election decision is good conscience without acknowledging the debt I owe as an American citizen to the eight years of service I've received from George W. Bush. In their own unique ways, both candidates to succeed him are greater and lesser men than he is. How much greater and how much lesser are the big question marks. George Bush has never committed the cardinal sin of turning on us and accusing us of being the problem. If this is the standard, I'm not sure either of our current choices will measure up. And that concerns me. Because -- and this will probably be news to a lot of brainy Americans -- I've become fairly certain that we've been spoiled in this regard by a highly unusual man. He may leave office unnoticed, without fanfare or expressions of regret, but I can easily imagine the day when people wish they had him back instead of what they so arrogantly desired to replace him.
Archetype? Since our subject is unpopular cowboys, one of the three or four best westerns ever made was John Ford's The Searchers. The basic plot may sound familiar. A decent but otherwise unexceptional cowboy is minding his own business when something horrific occurs to his family. He spends years of his life hunting down the people who did the horrific thing and in the process alienates other members of his family because of what he's willing to do in pursuit of what he conceives as justice. Along the way he has to walk a tightrope balanced between his gut hatreds and his familial love. At the end he succeeds in his mission. And watches the healing reunion of his loved ones unnoticed, from outside the family circle. The part of Ethan Edwards may have been John Wayne's greatest role ever. Hardly anyone gets to play it in real life. And certainly not with as much fierce resolve and personal grace. That's one definition of an archetype.
When George Bush leaves office, he may try to steal quietly away. But
I'll have an eye on him as he disappears into the sunset.
. I'm going to address here several of the reasons IP (The
has been so pessimistic about the upcoming election and explain why I
-- CP -- am less so. The logic gets complicated at times, but bear with
me. This thing is NOT over. Why? Because so many smart people are
working so hard to close the deal on the wrong assumptions.
Back in August, it was The Boss himself who explained how decision criteria change as the point of final commitment approaches. The closer we get to election day, the more people think about risk. The forces of liberal goodness and righteousness think they are dealing well with the risk issues and that fate has played directly into their hands with the financial crisis, which makes people remember that the Republicans have been in charge for eight years, the economy is tanking, and the least-risky choice is therefore obviously a Democrat. In this case, one named Barack Obama. Because everyone knows that it's Democrats who care the most about "working Americans." Right? Right.
Well, right if you know who your audience really is. Unfortunately for the Democrats and their allies and new "hop-on-the-bandwagon" friends, the evidence suggests they don't know who their audience is. For example, they think the most critical variable in the last three weeks of the race is the people who call themselves "independents" and "undecideds," the group TruePunk trashed in the most recent post here at Instapunk.com.
That's simply not true. The real most critical variable is the possibility of defections within the ranks of traditional Democrats who have been going along and going along and may yet come to smell a rat in the Obama narrative sometime in the final three weeks. The second most critical variable is the possibility that the election has always been much closer than the arrogant assumptions of liberals allow them to perceive. These two variables are intricately interrelated, which is why all analysis at this point is complex. That's why I'm going to make an apparent detour from argument into observations and thoughts about what's been happening the past few weeks. This will set the scene for some direct analysis at the end. With me so far? Some of my thoughts are going to seem like pure non sequiturs until I tie them in later. Okay with that? Well, try to hang in there anyway...
The Boston Red Sox.
I wrote of my own views about this scurrilous team a few days ago here. Among other things, I said:
Of course it's a wild exaggeration to say that the Red Sox play the
Yankees every day of the baseball season on national TV. But it
probably rings true with millions of baseball fans in San Diego and
Milwaukee and Kansas City and Baltimore and Tampa and Texas and
Atlanta, not to mention Philadelphia. The mass media in this country,
specifically including those who cover professional sports, are
overwhelmingly focused on the northeast corridor from New York to
Boston, with subordinate attention to Chicago and Los Angeles and
sometimes Dallas because it remains mysteriously in the NFC East
Division of the NFL, along with Washington, New York, and Philadelphia. Baseball's an older and smaller world though. There, even
ESPN's most talented correspondents spend 65 percent of their time
stewing about the prospects and screw-ups of the Yankees, the Red Sox,
and the Mets. Everybody else is peripheral, a subplot or a sidebar,
except when the Cubs have their rare chance at the end of their
This is the MSM geography of the United States. The infamous Steinberg cover from The New Yorker of a generation past remains the truth of it:
You might search in vain for Boston on the Steinberg map, but it's
there nonetheless, everywhere. The reputed intellectual power of New
York, including Wall Street and the opinion-shaping satirical
entertainment served up by SNL, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert, flow
directly from Boston, which also still exerts a snob claim over
Philadelphia with regard to the founding of the nation. (The Constitution may have been written in Philly, but John Adams was already penning his version of the "Fairness Doctrine" in Boston.) Between them,
Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School account for a striking
percentage of the CEOS, managing partners, and decision makers of the
most influential banks, brokerage houses, and law firms of Manhattan.
For example, Yale Law School may be equally famous, but each year's
class at Yale Law School produces 100 graduates compared to Harvard's
900. Yale has an equally cramped -- and fairly new -- 'school of
management science,' whereas Harvard Business School has been pumping
out 800 instant executives a year for generations. New York
contributes, of course. Columbia University's Law School is less
prestigious than Harvard's and about half the size. Its Graduate School
of Journalism, which dominates the upper ranks of the MSM,
produces a Yale-like 100 graduates a year. (There's a reason Yale is always in second place.) Overall, New York City is a
province of Harvard.
Back to the sports example for just a moment. I chanced to watch part of the Boston College-Virginia Tech football game last night on one of the ESPN channels. Showcasing the City of Boston during one of their standard returns from commercials to the game, they featured this building while referencing BC's home in Chestnut Hill, a suburb of Boston.
The building is in Harvard Square, Cambridge, not Boston, and it
belongs to Harvard, not Boston College. To the MSM, including ESPN,
apparently, Harvard is
Boston, the gleaming brain of the United States, the Kennedys, the
Roosevelts, and (ahem) Barack Obama. The musicians shown in the
photograph above are the Harvard football marching band, who are also
relevant, as I'll explain in a bit.
But here's a founding institution of the current MSM you may never have seen.
It's the Harvard Lampoon Castle. And, yes, it is a castle. Also a pivate,
prestigious undergraduate club for mostly private-school educated wits.
One of its most talented members was Robert Benchley, arguably the strongest pillar of the famous Algonquin Roundtable of 1930s fame and a
founding talent of the illustrious New Yorker magazine, which
still sneers from Manhattan at the submerged 99 percent of American
society today. Benchley was a kind and humorous soul rather than a snob
-- ironies always abound in such matters of history -- but the spirit
of Algonquin wits like Dorothy Parker fed back into the Lampoon through
the years and made it first an innovator in parodying American
magazines like Time, Cosmopolitan, and Playboy, and then a pioneer in
subverting all American institutions via irreverent and increasingly
leftist humor. The National Lampoon
was a sixties offshoot of the collegiate club, with obvious
inspirational and show biz links to Chevy Chase, John Belushi, and
other stars from the original Saturday Night Live TV show. Sound like
ancient history? Conan O'Brien is also a past president of the Harvard
It's not unreasonable to suggest that without the Harvard Lampoon, there would never have been a Saturday Night Live, a Daily Show, or a Colbert Report. Everyone's favorite comedy movie, Animal House, was a National Lampoon production with an inside joke nobody but the merest handful ever got; Faber College was Harvard's view of its neanderthal Ivy football rival Dartmouth. (And now, irony of ironies, the Czar of the Financial Bailout, Hank Paulson, is a former Dartmouth tight end.) These are inside jokes, people. And the American electorate -- as well as a lot of the current comedy writers -- are the true butt of those jokes. (Do the Brits get no credit? Of course they do. Second City TV is an obvious connection, and Punch is the patriarch of all juvenile intellectual humor, But SNL and Monty Python are twin traditions: Oxford and Cambridge are as heavily implicated as Harvard, and all of them are "superior" to ordinary dummies like Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin.) The Lampoon mentality was the ultimate in elitism: we laugh at everybdoy because we're above everybody. Today, the same ethic holds; it's just that the Harvard source has been forgotten and the Tina Feys of the Manhattan set believe their assumed superiority derives from being citizens of the nation's most incredibly parochial subculture, the dumb smarties who prefer living in the neurotic capital of American narcissism to living in the other 99.9 percent of the United States. That is, the part that is not utterly dominated by Harvard University and its snooty, sometimes invisible tendrils of absolute intellectual dominion.
Nod to the Boss.
None of this is news to IP. He knows everything I've been describing. The difference between us is that he thinks the proverbial tipping point has been reached. He thinks Americans have lost the ability to see they're being ridiculed and fight back. He thinks Harvard now rules the United States, the way they always intended to. I don't. Here are some other observations that make me disagree with his pessimism.
The Harvard Football Marching Band.
Starting in the sixties, Harvard's marching band started thinking it would be funny to be a parody of a marching band. They quit wearing hats, abandoned the discipline of drilling in even rows, and made a mockery of the traditional practice of marching in order to their on-field spellings. Instead, they simply ran chaotically to their assigned locations. They even gave up trying to play very well because it was more fun to be a loud disruptive band than a good one. Before the half, they massed in the end zone and then ran like a mob into place for their first number. It was funny at first, but it was a single punchline they repeated until they killed it. In the end, they simply weren't a good marching band. But they never perceived this part. It never occurred to them that the bands of Ohio State and Alabama and Texas could master their joke in a day, while they had permanently lost the admittedly minor art of performing their act in an orderly way with pride. The simple fact that they dared to be awful was a joke that, to them, never stopped being funny. This is a textbook example of how smart people outsmart themselves on a regular basis.
Yes, the Red Sox are a better baseball team than the Harvard band is a
football marching band. But there's still a worthwhile point of
comparison. The Boston Red Sox are the Ivy League, the Harvard, of
major league baseball teams. Old, imbued with tradition, scrupulously
documented myths, an ancient edifice that confers a certain kind of
aristocracy by mere association. There's nothing more Harvard-like than
the legend of a team too good to keep Babe Ruth. They're also complete
slobs. (The notion that snobs are always more neatly dressed is at
least partly due to the mythology of the Animal House Greek hierarchy
and all its endless
imitators...) Like the Harvard band, they are above observing the
traditions of discipline and grooming that still signify the blue
collar Yankees and the (once blue collar Brooklyn) Dodgers. They're too
good to be so conformist as to shave, bathe, and dress up in their uniforms. That's
something lowlife Marines
would do. But I don't happen to think most Americans like the Red Sox.
I think most MLB towns and communities think they're a bunch of
overpaid slobs playing in an obsolete park that gives them an unfair
The Fox News Panel.
This morning on Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace conducted the most MSM-type interview of McCain I've ever seen him administer. He was every bit as truculent, misrepresentative of known facts, and needlessly argumentative as if he were Charles Gibson, George Stephanopoulos, or Tom Brokaw. The Fox panel -- reminiscent of the similar panel that was predisposed to declare McCain the hapless loser of the third debate -- was equally anxious to jump on the Obama bandwagon. ("It's over, he hasn't much of a chance, and even that chance is mostly fantasy," the conservative panelists said, while Juan Williams preened in a suit with shoulder pads borrowed from the Washington Redskins...). Then Bill Kristol decided to underscore his own analytical surrender by dispensing with facts and polls altogether and plighting his troth to the fate of -- who else? -- the Boston Red Sox. He declared that McCain was in the same fix and that if the Red Sox won, McCain would, or at least could, win the election.
Chris Wallace confessed his discomfiture with Kristol's metaphor. He admitted to being a Red Sox fan himself. If the fate of McCain and the Red Sox was intertwined, he would be, uh, "conflicted."
It was all in good fun. But it wasn't. We we were being given a glimpse of the smallness of the pundit universe. Hell, even Brit Hume was choosing his words of hope for McCain from a diminutive slagpile. They all live in the northeastern corridor, in, well, the NFC East, and all their views (and similes) were products of that tiny slice of the American cosmos. I don't think most Americans see any relationship between the fate of the Red Sox this season and their own prospects for the future.
The World Outside the Beltway.
So the veterans of Fox News are preparing themselves for the inevitable transition to an Obama presidency. Just like the intellectual conservatives, the "hope and change" Republicans, and other floaters on the river of public opinion. What is persuading them? Why, it's the polls, man. Who wants to be left out in the cold if it's going to be an Obama universe?
How do they know they can trust the polls? Because the polls were more or less right the last time. Even if they haven't been close to right most times in the last thirty years. And besides, the polls correspond to their own notions of who is good enough in their terms to win. Which has to do with a view of the United States very much like the New Yorker graphic shown above.
I don't think most Americans believe that the opinions of pundits have any bearing on reality, whether from the right or the left. I think they see it all as noise. And, unfortunately, noise that has intruded much more than it should on their own private concerns and decisions.
Our own esteemed commenter Guy T. has linked to a Zombietime discussion of polls everyone should read. It does a lot to explain why we shouldn't believe published poll results, but I don't believe it goes far enough.
It doesn't deal with the probability, for example, that registered Republicans and McCain voters might simply hang up on pollsters before being polled. Which I myself have done several times this year. Yes, the professionals might try to fill in the blanks of people like me, but if a higher percentage of McCain voters and conservatives are hanging up, how are they determining their Republican-Democrat percentages? Historically? How? And how can they be sure that the replacements they eventually get -- for whatever percentages they're determined to use -- are representative of those of us who hung up disgusted with the whole business of polling? What if the hard-core conservatives aren't represented in either the presidential votes or the party affiliation identifications? What then?
The truth is, the only reasonably accurate polls over the last fifty years have been in the last two elections, which were notable not for incredible advances in probability theory, but for their rare scarcity of key variables in electoral decison-making. In 2000, there were no threat issues: the economy was sound, the Soviet Union was gone, and the principal issue was, who do you like more as a steward of the inevitable, ongoing American prosperity? In 2004, it was who do you trust more in the War on Terror: A sitting president who accepted the challenge of 9/11 and took the war to our enemies? Or a former sympathizer with our communist enemies in Vietnam? Granted, the result was closer than it should be in an intelligent country. But the decision points were few.
This year, there are way too may variables for any pollster to guess right about who will vote, how reliably who will show up, and for what ultimate purpose. This year, the polls are going to be wrong, one way or the other. They're just a rough guess. Here are some of the reasons why.
Regardless of the outcome, this year's election will set back the cause of racial relations in the United States. Americans who thought they were past race-based decision making on electoral matters are now rethinking their positions. They have learned much they would rather not have known. That there is some something called Liberation Theology which perverts Christianity into white-hating racial separatism. That even the most revered black statesmen like Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice are willing to put race above supposedly lifelong philosophical and political convictions. That black politicians are somehow immune from the ordinary process of interrogation about their associations with potential criminals, seditionists, and radicals, to the point that even asking questions about such associations makes you a target for persecution yourself. And they've learned that it can even be dangerous to tell people what your political preferences are in an election involving a black person, lest you be charged with the worst charge available against an American citizen, that of being racist. Which means people are lying to pollsters and each other by the millions.
While the Democrats have believed they were, as usual, waging a clever class war against fatcat Republicans, millions of Americans have been learning that the media were also fighting a very stupid class war against them. We learned that the media regard themselves as so much smarter than the most of us that they don't even have to conceal their bias, their hatred of our humble tastes, or their contempt even for the ways we earn our daily bread: plumbing, electrical work, construction, truckdriving, pumping gas, and anything else involving real work with hands and muscle. We're too dumb to have an intelligent opinion, and if we dare to ask a question of one of the lords running for king, we can expect to be ridiculed and humiliated into ruin.
And we're expected not to notice or take offense at the fact that there's nowhere to hide from the constant propaganda on behalf of Obama. The Lampooners have smuggled their clever putdowns of Republican idiocy into everything -- cop shows, sitcoms, late-night monologues, daytime women's fare, and celebrity gossip programs. Not even Sunday Night Football is safe from media snark about the stupidity of the Palins among us. Do they really imagine there's no breaking point? No straw that will sting the camel into biting the foreman before his back breaks under the load?
This time around, it's not just a matter of personality. A LOT of people know or feel that the stakes are this big.
So the Harvard crowd have attempted to convince us this week that 1) the election is already over, 2) Joe the Plumber is a dumbshit who should never have challenged Barack Obama, and 3) Sarah Palin fell into a perfect trap when she agreed to go on Saturday Night Live.
I'll answer in reverse order. Sarah Palin made the SNL crew, and all its celebrities, look like what they are -- pompous pretenders who have nothing whatever to do with real life. Did she know they were trying to set her up to look like a fool? Yes. Did they succeed? No. (With each other? Yes. Maybe.) Facts. She's done more substantive things with her life than any of them have. She's better looking by far than Tina Fey, who looks exactly like the arid, thin-lipped, career-obsessed narcissist she is except when she's imitating Sarah Palin. (God. How sick are you of hearing even Republicans claiming they're identical in appearance...?) Her gracelessness about the greatest career break a journeyman comic could ever receive is all the proof we'd ever need. And Sarah Palin's participation in the "rap" sketch is an extraordinary statement all its own. It says, "Yeah... So?" Meaning, so what if you think this is who I am? I'm here and I'm laughing. Tell me again who it is the joke's on?
The Harvard Lampoon mentality doesn't work when you try to apply it to people who aren't made-up caricatures. It doesn't work with Sarah Palin. It makes the jesters look cheap and shallow. It doesn't work with Joe the Plumber either. Ordinary people have the sense to know that the media don't get to rip you apart because you asked one question of a powerful person.
Palin and the Plumber are a potent one-two punch. They're the real people. And the Democrats and their Lampooners have made the ill-advised decision to ridicule and humiliate them for not being among the glitterati. Poll death soon to follow.
This is not Harvard America. It's the United States of America. Even for the sake of a joke, there are a lot of blue-collar registered Democrats who will find something wrong with Alec Baldwin, even in jest, demeaning a candidate for Vice President of the United States as a "horrible woman." It doesn't change this fact that she she participated or smiled. What matters is that we know the fake part was his good humor.
Then there's reality. Everyone without an embittered eye can see that she's more woman, and more beautiful, than Tina Fey will ever be. There are acid tests. Why do you think Fey refused to do more than pass Palin on stage? She was afraid.
Deep in the heart of America, this is known. And the Americans who have Sarah Palin for a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, or a friend are perfectly prepared to cross up Harvard America and blame Obama for trashing her. Including many many Democrats that party used to honor as "working Americans" -- from plumbers to welders to ditch diggers to trash haulers to blue collar business owners -- who don't appreciate being ridiculed by SNL, Joe Biden, CNN, or Barack Obama for the possibility that they might dare to ask one question. The election is officially up in the air. That's why it pays to know your audience before you start cracking jokes you THINK will level the opposition.
In the long run, this isn't going to be good for the Red Sox either.
P.S. Harvard can do better. But apparently they'd rather rule the world than inspire it. [Have to say this: Take this link. It really is lovely. Not everything Harvard is bad.]
P.P.S. One of the threads I didn't get to in this post was moderate Republican talk show host Michael Smerconish of Philadelphia endorsing Obama when even the lefty Philadelphia Inquirer felt compelled to endorse McCain as well as Obama. Smerconish has a particular reason to be ashamed of his choice. We'll get to it. I promise.