- Interesting post by Ed Kilgore rounding up some of the possible side effects of filibuster reform. Also worth noting: the Administration will finally be able to do something on housing with a full-time FHFA Director. A lack of work on this front was a big reason for the C+ recovery we’ve had, but in this case the problem was with an interim director who rejected everything the Administration had to offer. Different story now.
- The Chris Christie Hubris has begun: after an attempt to launch a coup among NJ Senate Republicans and failing, with the further effect of creating brand new tensions within the state GOP. Now he’s toying with interfering with New York politics, which is something I entirely welcome. Nothing like a couple of backfired political maneuvers is just the thing to take the bloom off of that rose, as FDR discovered in his largely wasted second term. (Not that it prevented him from getting a third, however.) It seems entirely obvious that the ridiculously good press Christie has gotten recently has gone to his head, and now the guy is throwing his weight around (pun semi-intended), under the impression that he is some kind of superpolitician rather than a guy who got a second term entirely due to Sandy and Democrats ceding the race. Relatedly, Chris Christie’s landslide re-election managed to have absolutely no coattails.
- It’s official: Virginia politics come 2014 will (very likely) not feature any statewide elected Republicans. This is unprecedented in the post-Dixiecrat era, and provides a data point for people interested in arguing that the Obama coalition is likely to outlast the current president.
- This TPM interview got me thinking about what I’ve considered the most tempting counterfactual of the Obama Era: Tim Geithner and Tom Daschle both ran into similar issues with tax forms, what if Geithner is the one who gets dropped instead of Daschle? I think it’s likely you have a very different last five years: on the one hand, a Senate expert with that kind of access to the president could only have led to a better legislative process, while on the other, a Treasury Secretary with different priorities would have led to better economic and regulatory policy. America really got screwed there, I do believe.
This is a BFD, of course. Even my own state’s senators–often frustrating on this issue–got on board. Great news.
My cynical nature suspects that Republicans will retaliate by refusing to turn in the so-called “blue slips” for judicial nominees in their states, and thus prevent judicial nominees from even getting hearings. This is essentially what Ted Cruz has been doing over the past few months, and why Texas has not had any new judges this year. My guess is that this would be an even less-sustainable stand than recent filibusters–it’s essentially screwing up the legal system in their states by their own choices–but given the Republicans’ addiction to maximalist obstruction I would be surprised if they didn’t give it a try.
There are a number of ways to look at this, but I think the best one is that the Tea Party ethos of maximum obstruction at all times is simply counterproductive. It’s counterproductive electorally, and it’s counterproductive politically. I understand the value in politics of appealing to fear and anger, but it’s gotten to the point where every slight becomes an open grievance, every loophole has to be exploited, every fight is for the soul of the republic. It’s easy enough to see how this ends: eventually everyone just gets tired of your drama and just says enough. That’s what happened here, and it will continue to happen in various permutations as long as the Tea Party continues to wag the mangy dog that is today’s Republican Party.
Harry Reid is reportedly moving toward an elimination of judicial filibusters, which is good news indeed. Might I suggest, Mr. Leader, the following strategy:
- Nuke the filibuster for executive appointments
- Dare the GOP to filibuster another judge
My guess is that they fold after step one, or even before. I’d be happy if they didn’t though. My overall prediction is that if any portion of the filibuster is nuked, the entirety of it will be gone within a year or two, just like how the passage of the first, limited Civil Rights Act ensured that the major one would come just a few years later. The thing is, while I would favor that outcome heartily, it wouldn’t be necessary except that Republicans are simply addicted to filibustering. They simply cannot allow anything of significance to go through sans filibuster even though they control the House too, so there’s really very little need to filibuster ENDA or gun background checks or what have you. And there’s very little indication that the occasional filibuster of a Goodwin Liu or a Caitlin Halligan would have doomed it either. A tiny bit of moderation would probably have kept it around for the long haul, but Republicans are so obsessed with thwarting Obama that they can’t rule out any tactic and thus continually overreach. This is a pattern that keeps helping Democrats (see also: Tea Party primaries).
There’s a scene in the movie The Room where Johnny, the main character, is asked to tell the story of how he got together with his fiancee, Lisa, in the first place. He begins by telling a story that is, according to Greg Sestero’s new book, straight autobiography of the man portraying Johnny, Tommy Wiseau: he talks about arriving in San Francisco with nothing aside from an out-of-state check he couldn’t cash anywhere. It’s an intriguing, revealing moment for a notoriously evasive and private person. But then he winds up the story by saying that Lisa paid for dinner on their first date. A bizarre botched joke? Sure. But, in a way, extremely revealing of the man. There’s a sense of, “Be my friend, please! Okay, now fuck off!” that runs through not only The Room but also Sestero’s The Disaster Artist, Sestero’s new book about a complicated, longtime friendship between the writer and Wiseau. What’s surprising about this book is just how rich it is in examining just a single friendship, going into great and gratifying detail in documenting the many twists and turns of the relationship, as well as the multiple dynamics at work. With a book of this type, you’re mostly in it to read about nutty shenanigans by a noted eccentric, and the book definitely doesn’t skimp on that stuff. But it is surprising to see one of these “inside story” books be so ambitious and honest in trying to find something deeper than just that, and the results in this case are highly satisfying.
The gist of the story is that Sestero, a former model and aspiring actor (who would go on to play Mark in The Room) met Wiseau in an acting class, and was greatly intrigued by his fearlessness and willingness to play scenes like he wanted to do them, regardless of what anyone else said. Sestero thought he could learn something from this enigmatic older man. Wiseau on the other hand saw in Sestero a lot of the things he craved but could never have, like youth and a clean-cut, all-American handsomeness. They bonded over some of the same cinematic idols, such as James Dean, Marlon Brando, you know, method guys. One of the parts I laughed at the most was a description of Wiseau doing the most famous scene from A Streetcar Named Desire as just an unending string of shouts of “STELLA!” Predictable perhaps, but visualizing it is simply too funny. What’s interesting is that the San Francisco phase of the friendship is defined as endearingly dorky and filled with mutual encouragement, while the subsequent L.A. phase is defined as much by jealousy, increasingly bitter competitiveness and distancing. Later in the book when the pair revisits the City by the Bay, the original dynamic resurfaces, which is something that is interesting to think about: do place and context do more to determine friendship than just about anything else? How state-dependent is it?
Obviously, the hook of this book is The Room and how the creation of it went down, and Sestero spreads that story across the entire book. It’s exactly what anyone could have hoped for: Wiseau comes off as clueless and delusional as a director, though in fairness that would have been inevitable for most first-time directors. His budgetary philosophy could be summed up as penny-wise, pound-foolish, given his ridiculous expenditures on useless equipment and exceptionally poor time management, though the ridiculously tiny budgets for lighting, makeup, and set-building could hardly be counted as “wise” in any case, and they obviously hampered the production value of the film. Generally, Wiseau as director comes off as somewhere between a prick and a raging asshole most of the time in dealing with people, with antics generally falling in the category of cringe comedy. Sestero insists he was never under any illusion of the film’s, ahem, demerits, and that most of the cast weren’t either. Notably, only one actor was willing to say anything positive about the production in the DVD special features.
So let’s talk about The Room for a little bit. It’s not a great film, though it does have some of the qualities of great films, such as a strong sense of personal style and a distinct point of view, reductive as it might be (as if that’s stopped people like David Mamet and Neil LaBute from becoming famous!). It is not, of course, the worst movie ever made. That title probably belongs to some five hour opus with terrible sound that’s mostly just someone walking around a room, which hardly anyone would want to subject themselves to. Cult “good bad movies” like The Room typically have some baseline level of competence, which is what makes the incompetent bits stand out as funny. And boy, does The Room have plenty of those. But putting aside the unremittingly atrocious dialog and some very questionable acting and directorial choices by Wiseau, this is largely a movie about a couple of people who don’t really know what they want, act impulsively, and get themselves into trouble. This is not the worst basis for a story at all. Most scenes in the film involve two characters, one of whom starts to open up to the other before clamming up suddenly, which is a technique that a better writer than Wiseau could probably have used to great dramatic effect. All of which is to say that not all of Wiseau’s ideas are bad, so much as that they’re doomed because of his execution of them. Deeply emotional scenes, like the infamous “YOU’RE TEARING ME APART LISA!” come off as hilariously overwrought, while scenes that should be emotional (such as the one I mentioned first off) are given little effort in terms of acting. Wiseau also doesn’t build tension so much as lets it flare up every couple of minutes in between goofy scenes of tossing a football and such. The tone shifts faster than a Star Wars prequel.
Ultimately, the combination of sincere ambition, some decent concepts and laughable execution combine to make The Room a terrific unintentional comedy, though it’s no simple disaster story. It’s also the story of two guys trying to accomplish their dreams in the face of an entertainment industry that didn’t give a fuck about them, treated them with contempt in fact. The book also goes into Sestero’s attempts to make it in Hollywood as a young actor, in which he probably beat the average by booking a lead in a real movie and a couple other gigs, but the reality of his experiences reveals just how tough the experience can be. So despite The Room being nobody’s idea of great cinema, the completion of The Room is something of a triumph and is treated as such. The comparisons with Tim Burton’s Ed Wood are undeniable, and both end in a (deliberately?) very similar way, with the last scene taking place at the premiere of the movie that each respective director would become famous for. The warm ending of The Disaster Artist feels earned. Sestero doesn’t for a second argue that the movie is a misunderstood masterpiece, but he does legitimately feel proud of Wiseau for following his dreams and finishing the movie in spite of everything. It’s hard not to feel a little twinge of that too.
From The Times:
The long-sought bipartisan “grand bargain” on the nation’s fiscal future is not going to happen this year, and probably not for the rest of President Obama’s term. There is the simple, familiar reason. And then there is the dirty secret. [...]
But the dirty secret — a phrase used independently, and privately, by people in both parties — is that neither side wants to take the actions it demands of the other to achieve a breakthrough.
That is, many Republicans are no more interested in voting to reduce Medicare and Social Security benefits than Democrats are, lest they threaten their party’s big advantage among the older voters who dominate the electorate in midterm contests like those in 2014.
And Democrats are no more eager than Republicans, with control of both houses of Congress up for grabs, to vote for the large revenue increases that a grand bargain would entail. They do not want to limit popular but costly deductions, as Mr. Obama and past bipartisan panels, like his Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission, have proposed. That is especially true for Democrats from states like California and New York where affluent voters value deductions for mortgages on first and second homes, charitable giving and state and local taxes.
Some qualification here: Republicans would love to see cuts to old-age programs and indeed to see the whole welfare state lying in ruins, but they just want to be insulated from any kind of political fallout from such things because it would be intense. They want to bully Democrats into proposing the cuts, disown them, and then appear to accept them reluctantly as some kind of compromise. Hence the incident where Obama proposed chained-CPI cuts for Social Security and was jeered by the GOP for his efforts. But then they wanted similar cuts in exchange for modification of the debt ceiling. It’s a clever little game in fact, one which gets them what they want (kicking the poors) without having to suffer much in the way of political punishment. After all, Barack Obama was the one who wanted this! He said it in the first place. Nifty little trick, it is.
It speaks poorly of Obama that he doesn’t understand what is, really, a pretty obvious game, and to stand up to it. It was nice to see that he wouldn’t give in to debt ceiling extortion, and it’s all but certain that the Tea Party will torpedo any deal Obama cuts simply because he’s Obama. But that’s no reason to be hopeful that he won’t play into this strategy in the future and take on political damage in the process, particularly given his fondness for making preemptive concessions to Republicans as an inducement to bargain, rather than a traditional negotiation where both sides start out by saying what they want and go from there. I’m not naive and I realize that any Democrat elected president is going to have to talk up Grand Bargains and the like, but I strongly doubt your generic Dem president would be so single-minded about them as not to see that he/she is being played.
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