December 21, 2002

Of course, racist appeals have long been a part of our political discourse. When I was at Berkeley, the introductory U.S. history course was taught by Leon Litwack, who had won a Pulitzer Prize for his book on the black experience during Reconstruction, Been in the Storm so Long, and is still, in my opinion, one of the most eloquent public speakers I have had the privilege to hear. The theme of Prof. Litwack's course was that of racial suppression: he was a social historian, so his examples typically focused on how racism impacted ordinary people. It was a most humbling experience for someone who loved (and still loves) his country, because he didn't sugarcoat matters by painting American history as an upward movement towards "progress". Each of his lectures was a gem of storytelling. I took his class my sophomore year, and became a history major about halfway through; he offered the same course when I was a senior, and I audited almost every lecture, just to listen to him teach.

Anyway, one of his villains was Woodrow Wilson. President Wilson has become, over the years, something close to a saint, due in large part to his unsuccessful advocacy of the League of Nations, a cause for which he would die. This article focuses instead on Wilson's principle domestic legacy, one that progressives would just as soon forget: his unabashed bigotry [link via Matthew Yglesias]. It is fair to say that Wilson was the most racist of all post-Civil War Presidents: worse than Andrew Johnson, worse than Nixon, worse even than Reagan. Wilson pretty much ended the last legacies of Reconstruction, purging African-Americans from holding government offices in the South, and imposed Jim Crow in the nation's capital, an odious practice that lasted well into the century. Most famously, he praised the film Birth of a Nation, in words that have lasted to this day whenever the D.W. Griffith movie is discussed, as "history written in lightning". His deeds matched his words: although as President he was one of the first to actively promote Catholic and Jewish officeholders (including nominating Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court), he was also a child of the Confederacy, who never outgrew the notion of white supremacy, and fought throughout his Presidency to support that end.

And he was a Democrat. In 1948, Wilson's death was as recent to Americans as the deaths of Hubert Humphrey and Harvey Milk are to us. Among progressives, Wilson was still a revered figure, and for Democrats, he was often paired with the recently deceased FDR as the greatest of all Presidents. When Strom Thurmond ran for President that year, he campaigned on a platform that was well within the mainstream of the Democratic Party of the 1910's and 1920's, and spoke words that could have (and did) come easily from the mouth of Woodrow Wilson. None of this, of course, can excuse the Dixiecrats' campaign that year, much less Trent Lott or John Ashcroft's nostalgia for the Old South. But it should force progressives to feel some measure of humility, especially when considering whether we have unexamined assumptions that may one day be found wanting.
This morning's Frank Rich column beautifully summarizes l'affaire Lott, and why it symbolizes our current political climate. For some reason, I think he might be a rather interesting blogger, if he took it up.

December 20, 2002

Next Saturday I will be embarking on the third Smythe's World Cruise, a seven day trip down the Mexican Riviera on the Star Princess. Still have a spot left !!!
Trent Lott steps down !! Advantage Blogosphere !!!

UPDATE: Bill Frist is the likely replacement. TPM focuses on how he has played the race card in past elections.

UPDATE, PART DEUX: Counterspin has an encylcopedic takedown of Dr. Frist and his coziness with the pharmaceutical industry. Get a load of that rider he snuck into the Homeland Security bill at the last second, geared to benefitting Eli Lilly in their brave efforts to defeat terrorism through the use of mercury.
Right now, only the September 2002 archive is working for this site. It appears to be a problem with the server, so some of you may like to try again later.

Finally. The first season of Alias is being released next September on DVD. I never saw the first five episodes, so there's much to the back story that I would be interested to see. For example, why is the CIA allowed to investigate a domestic entity(SD-6) that may be involved in organized crime? Wasn't that proscribed by the Church Committee? Why won't investigators use the media (or at least a reporter more reputable than Will Tippin) to bring down the Alliance, through a process of well-placed leaks, rather than two overmatched double agents? If a newspaper won't publish the story, a blogger certainly will. And considering how Sloane was so paranoid that he had Sydney's fiance murdered because he knew of the existence of SD-6, doesn't he wonder about the number of conversations she has that are bug-proof, especially in his office with her dad? Also, aren't any of the characters
(besides Jack) going to wonder about what happened to Haledki? Anna Espinoza? McKenas Cole? Oh well, the show hasn't disappointed me yet....

December 19, 2002

After tonight's atrocious performance in New Jersey, there will be some who suggest that the Lakers better start looking at the merits of getting a good lottery pick. It may take some doing to get LeBron James, but (the thinking goes) the Lakers are so far away from being a championship team that it is best that the rebuilding begin post haste. The geniuses who buy into that theory forget that Jerry West is no longer the G.M. To date, Mitch Kupchak has yet to make a move that works, and the team now surrounding Kobe and Shaq consists, in large part, of players signed or drafted by him.

This team is the defending NBA champion, have all their players healthy, and yet are perhaps the worst Lakers team since the days of Elmore Smith. To believe that things are going to get better requires one to have faith that Derek Fisher is going to suddenly find his range, that Samaki Walker is going to start playing like he cares, that Rick Fox is going to give four quarters of solid effort every night. And that Robert Horry is going to turn 25 again. And that Phil Jackson is going to lose the deer-in-the-headlights look every time his team falls behind by ten points in the first half. Yeah, I don't see that happening, either.
According to Neal Pollack, our country could save a lot of money on missile defense by just entering the NBA lottery. Great, the U.S. can battle the Lakers for that.
I can understand how someone might cringe when he realizes that posterity will hold him at least partially responsible for inflicting "In My Life" or "Revolution No. 9" on the world, which is why I don't hold Paul McCartney's attempt to switch the songwriting credit on some Beatles' songs from "Lennon-McCartney" to "McCartney-Lennon" against him. More to the point, is there any reason to pretend that they existed as a songwriting team in any real sense after, lets say, 1965? The whole fiction seems to have been designed to satisfy their greed more than anything else.

Lennon's combination of flaccid experimentation in psychedelia with treacly anthems has dated rather badly over the years; outside of "Revolution", "TBOJ&Y", "Come Together", "Rain" and "Cold Turkey", his post-1965 material is more a testament to how easy it can be to glide along for years on a reputation. He's kind of like the Arnold Palmer of rock. Arnie quit winning tournaments after the age of 40, and wasn't close to Gary Player or Lee Trevino, much less Jack Nicklaus, after about 1969. But he was great once, and moreover, had tons of charisma; even though his accomplishments really don't measure up, he still gets paired with the Golden Bear as a "rival", and was as much a symbol of his generation as John Lennon.

Over the passage of time, McCartney's songs have held up better; most of the ways the Beatles influence music today were Paul's ideas, not John's. Maybe McCartney just handled his drug use better. But Lennon died young, and he will always be remembered for what he supposedly stood for, while McCartney has spent the past twenty years producing crap as bad as anything Lennon put out in Walls and Bridges or Double Fantasy. So he complains now, and looks petty, even though if truth-in-advertising had anything to do with the music industry, one or the other (but not both) would receive sole credit for most Beatles songs.
Well, it seems Bubba was right yesterday. Another GOP senator has an interesting Conrad Burns.
TBogg presents (via a selection of the least-beloved holiday stories. My favorite involves the Ewoks.

December 17, 2002

This is the legal equivalent of a war between Iraq and North Korea; one is tempted to hope for a prolonged, expensive battle in which both Condit and Dunne are bankrupted, the end result being Condit awarded one dollar in damages.
If it's the holiday season, it must be time for The Onion's annual Least Essential Albums for 2002. I might like to get the Roy Jones Jr. CD, though.
One of the hooks the "liberal media" has used to cover l'affaire Lott has been to claim that the story was pushed by conservatives and ignored by liberals. I certainly do not wish to disparage the voices of the right that have spoken out against Lott on this issue, especially Andrew Sullivan, a writer who is more often than not the focus of unremitting scorn from myself and other progressive bloggers, and whose outrage about this story has been relentless from the beginning. More relevantly, he (and to a lesser extent, Instapundit) has used the occasion to examine the dark side of conservatism, where many have used the rhetoric of small government and support for tradition as a cover for old-fashioned bigotry. Good for him; I hope that when a similar test of political character is put before me, I can pass it with as much integrity (though I doubt it).

Too bad the conventional wisdom is full of s---. Sullivan aside, most of the writing on this topic has been driven by liberal outrage. The noble Atrios was the fustest with the mostest on this issue; if you want to link to the 1948 Dixiecrat platform, or find another instance when Lott praised his Confederate forbears(such as the General referenced, above), or acted as an apologist for slavery, that's where you go, several times a day (weekends included). Almost all of the bloggers linked on this page have weighed in with their own two cents on the issue. Now that Lott is twisting slowly, slowly in the wind, they have gone on to other political targets, such as the virulent homophobia of Lott's likely replacement, Don Nickles, or the similar political associations of John Ashcroft.

On the other hand, for every conservative pundit who is calling for Lott's head, there is another who thinks the whole thing is being blown out of proportion (ie., Rush). Moreover, much of the conservative opposition to Trent Lott seems driven by personal factors, as if his mistake was one of letting the cat out of the bag, thereby embarassing the Party, not a test of political character. Well, where were they before, when Trent Lott was making numerous speeches before a white supremacist group, or extolling Strom Thurmond's '48 campaign on other occasions, or compiling one of the most regressive records on civil rights in Congress. Why didn't they express their outrage then? Lets face it: if Lott had made those same remarks two weeks ago, but did not have the previous baggage, this story would have blown over almost immediately. This is an issue now not because Trent Lott made some loose remarks paying tribute to a 100-year old man, but because of a lifetime of racist insensitivity, lived out in broad daylight. Any conservative now demanding his resignation must answer why it took so long to speak out.

December 16, 2002

With The Two Towers scheduled to debut in less than two days, here's a truly revisionist view: what if Lord Sauron was the good guy?
A worthwhile challenge for the U.N., certain to be endorsed by all who have been forced to watch Notting Hill on a trans-Pacific airplane flight.
It goes without saying, but Gore's withdrawal from the 2004 race means that a number of politicians who might have been scared off by his candidacy, or who may have held back in deference to him (besides Joe Lieberman), will now get into the race. At least, I hope that someone else is thinking about jumping in; no matter how bad the economy is, I just don't see Richard Gephardt or Tom Daschle running a competitive race against W. My hunch is that Gray Davis will reconsider his decision last week not to run, and that he will be joined by at least one other sitting governor and one ex-Cabinet member from the Clinton Administration. Of course, it also clears the deck for a Hillary Clinton campaign.

December 15, 2002

A bad political year gets worse, for the Democrats. While Al Gore had high negatives, he was still the people's choice in the last election, and he would have breezed to the nomination had he decided to run. And as the nominee, he would have been assured of a lot of votes from people who may approve of the Bush presidency, but who respect the fact that Gore won the last election but did not decide to mount a coup, figuratively or otherwise. I may decide to support Kerry, simply because all the wrong people hate him so much. If Lieberman is the nominee, I vote for Nader.
Kobe Almighty, that was a funny sketch last night on SNL, with Al Gore playing "Trent Lott". When the first GOP senator to call for him to step down is the one most likely to assume his role, I think it's safe to say his days are numbered. [link via Counterspin]