It occurs to me that I write a lot about Obama even now, but can I be forgiven for not wanting to write about Trump all day? It’s so boring! And I think part of it is that I do feel Obama let me (and all of us) down in a couple of major ways–the debt ceiling standoff in 2011, Russia, the essentially reactive/passionless 2nd term–that liberals need to acknowledge but haven’t, but the other part is that I feel that anything I can do to prevent the uncritical hero worship of him that the right has for Reagan is worth trying, even though I suspect it’s hopeless at this point, more so than before thanks to Trump-initiated Obama nostalgia. Obama is beloved by liberals more than any other politician I’ve ever seen, certainly more than Bill Clinton, who despite generally being popular among Dems was always seen as all too human, and about whom even a lot of Democrats had some amount of ambivalence. Obama was from the start was seen by too many people who know better to be perfect. A hero. But not only is there no such thing as a hero (as opposed to heroic actions), having politicians as your heroes (regardless of your politics) is one of the worst possible things if you actually want them to deliver for you. It means you stop viewing them critically, and ignore the unsavory aspects and dispiriting compromises that all politicians have to celebrate the elements of them that tickle you. (And I’m not especially anti-politician! I don’t hate them or think they’re all crooks or anything. But they are, always, means to an end.)

I don’t think Obama worship is as bad for liberals as Reagan worship was for conservatives – Reagan in reality was terrible for conservatives by taking them out of the real world and into the realm of derp, in a way that Goldwater, Nixon, Ford, etc. never did. Obama didn’t do that. But the fact is that a bunch of friends of mine who during the Bush Era were stridently anti-war were much more equivocal when Obama wanted to do similar (though admittedly smaller-scale) versions of the same shit. Heard a lot of “well, if he thinks it’s a good idea, I trust him” and similar sentiments, which struck me as sympathy flowing in precisely the wrong direction. When I see people online reciting his arguments about how he couldn’t do anything about Russia because of Mitch McConnell–just about one of the lamest arguments going, along with “I just didn’t have time to do party-building”–I’m not really sure what to even say. And while the online community =/= the rank-and-file, with some very rare exceptions (the abandoned Syria bombing, the TPP), the available polling data seemed to back this up as well. The one bit of legitimate wisdom I learned during the Obama years was to stop looking for a hero. If I could convince just a couple of people of this as well, it’s worth it, I think.

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The addict as a character provides endless sources of comedic and dramatic potential. This is someone who can be both enormously sympathetic and monstrous, deeply vulnerable and emotionally stunted, tragic and pathetic, all at the same time. And in terms of famous addicts, few can compare to Andy Dick in terms of, well, all of these traits. During the 1990s, Dick appeared to be on the fast track, moving from the hip sketch comedy of The Ben Stiller Show to cult stardom on NewsRadio, in which he took a familiar type (the office weirdo) and invested him with fascinating, unexpected, and often hilarious layers. In a cast stocked with heavyweights he frequently stood out as a top performer. Unfortunately, what should have been the beginning of a successful career wound up being its peak, as the 2000s saw Dick become a constant punchline among comedians over his many public meltdowns. Inevitably, the question you’d have to ask is: how could such an obviously talented performer fall apart so suddenly and completely?

This is the question Danny Roane: First Time Director endeavors to answer. It’s a very thinly-veiled take on its writer/director/star’s addiction problems: Roane’s story is essentially the same as Dick’s, and takes on a meta quality as the latter is a first-time director making a movie about a first-time director making a movie. It bills itself as a dark comedy and man oh man, is it dark. (As for comedy…we’ll get to that.) After a montage that essentially recaps Roane’s/Dick’s career history up through the mid-2000s, we catch up with him in a period of hard-won sobriety, trying to get back into the game with a low-budget indie film (starring James Van Der Beek, oddly) about his addiction problems. It doesn’t take long for Roane to relapse, in a scene that probably best embodies the tragic/funny tone the movie aims for, in which the director attempts to demonstrate drinking technique to an actor by drinking what he thinks is water but which is actual booze and immediately loses control, furiously testing whether all the other alcohol bottles have alcohol in them and which contain water, rearranging and testing over and over again, to the stunned horror of the entire cast and crew. Roane loses control and sabotages his movie, deciding to turn it into a musical, firing his only bankable actor (Van Der Beek, whose reaction to his firing may be the funniest part of the film), and ultimately creating a pretentious pile of unintelligible nonsense. The film tracks several cycles between sobriety and relapse, in which he pulls it together only to see it collapse again, ending with a short speech by Roane in which he essentially surrenders to ever trying to break this cycle. This is an exceptionally bleak take on the problem, but it’s a clear and honest one, at least so far as Dick sees it.

This already sets it apart from being a standard vanity project – it’s pretty clear in intent, has a point of view and a strong message, and gets it across. The problem really is in the execution. There are some ideas in the film that work, but Dick has given himself a very tall order to accomplish here, and unfortunately he isn’t up to the task. It occurred to me after watching the film that Roane’s story is fundamentally absurd, and reminded me of reading Albert Camus’s works. Camus also expresses a fairly bleak worldview but was underrated in how he was able to use humor and irony to make it easier to swallow. One can also think of, say, The Wire, which interwove many funny moments into a largely bleak and absurd take on the futility of the drug war. Dick, though, does not make that choice. The movie bills itself as politically incorrect, which Dick apparently takes to mean that people say borderline racist things that we are intended to laugh at out of shock value. Now, there is a way to have characters say awful things and have the joke be on them for being jerks–It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia has been doing it for a decade now. But even if it were done cleverly (and man alive is it not done cleverly), it’s not any sort of fit for the story he’s telling. The movie is not about what a bad person Roane is, it’s about his ultimately hopeless struggle with substance abuse. The “politically incorrect” humor actually works at cross-purposes with what the movie wants to say. It seems that the intention was for these scenes to illustrate Roane’s downfall, but the movie presents these as “Oh shit!” cringe moments–it understands the need for the outrageous that good comedy requires, but it isn’t able to make it work reliably with the actual story it wants to tell. I can’t help but feel that Dick was in a little over his head: as a performer he’s assured, but as a writer and director, he lacks the experience and instinct for how to make his ideas work together as a film. He is, after all, a first-timer.

Ultimately, Danny Roane: First Time Director is a deeply depressing movie. There are several scenes of Danny Roane trying to call in a favor from some more successful former colleague of his (including Stiller and Jack Black), who claim not to remember him or are outright abusive, that are heartbreaking and really do make you feel sympathy for the character and his progenitor, who after all didn’t murder anyone, but is just an addict doing his best. And then there are scenes such as the final one, where Roane’s film makes it into a Z-grade film festival and he proceeds to torch the last chance he has of making a comeback by having another meltdown replete with uncomfortable anti-Semitic references (it’s a Jewish film festival that he’s accepted to, for some reason), that kill that sympathy. Dick even takes a shot at the work that defines him to most people, as the flashback clips of the NewsRadio-type show that Roane was on depict a hacky, mugging-heavy comedy, which doesn’t bear much resemblance to the witty comedy that the show typically delivered. You get the sense of a man not much happy with anything he’s done or anything he is, but who feels powerless to change it. Typically, comedy is the better way to approach such heavyhearted sentiments, but Dick’s attempt doesn’t quite connect here. I myself found this in a DVD bargain bin and decided to give it a shot as I wasn’t aware that he’d even made a film. It is interesting in some ways but, ultimately, not a forgotten gem.

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Is there any way that Barack Obama’s handling (or, if you will, under-handling) of Russia during the elections was not scandalous and disgraceful? Honest question. And these answers do not count:

  1. “It wouldn’t have mattered anyway if he’d spoken out frankly about it.” Perhaps not. But it may well have, and the stakes of the race were literally a fascist president or not. You don’t leave anything on the table in that eventuality. Not to mention that it was a pretty fucking important development that the public had an interest in knowing regardless.
  2. “He thought Hillary Clinton was going to win anyway.” So did we all. But she didn’t, and it was a bad assumption. What else?
  3. “Mitch McConnell was going to roast him for being partisan if he said anything.” So what? He doesn’t work for McConnell. Sometimes the thing that brings you partisan advantage is also the right thing to do. It’s not always a conflict. Should we really be concerned about Obama’s image among Republicans? Is not making a mess really worth not taking every step possible to deal with a nightmare scenario?
  4. “There was nothing he could do.” No. Nothing is what he did. Doing something would be more than what he did.

I just don’t find any of this compelling. He had the ability to act, he didn’t. That’s really hard to forgive, particularly since the reason for not acting was because he was concerned about appearing partisan. And all of this reasoning, while offered after the fact, applied just as much ex ante as well. All this makes Obama appear a tragic figure, someone who simply couldn’t break his rigid attachment to how he thought things ought to be, someone who just couldn’t overcome his pride and amend his glorious vision even after it became devastatingly clear that it wasn’t going to happen. Ultimately, he much more resembles Woodrow Wilson than Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson: bipartisanship on the one hand, the League of Nations on the other, both with devastating consequences for their parties. Let’s just hope that Democrats don’t spend as long in the wilderness post-Obama as they did post-Wilson.

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TrumpCare vote delayed. What’s next?

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This complaint always confused me. It’s usually a complaint about The Kids Today, but it’s not as though the all-powerful Childrens’ Sports Union demanded that this practice start because it wasn’t fair for only some to get them! It was adults who chose to start doing it. And honestly, it’s much more defensible than just a couple of top performers getting one as sports are team efforts, particularly the ones young kids tend to play, so giving just the top kids trophies merely encourages members of a team to play selfishly in order to get more praise and recognition, which come to think of it might explain why a lot of older people think it’s a grand thing. (And yes, I understand how sports are consumed and how there’s a strong interest in pro sports to stand out individually because you get more money/fame/awards, but in the context of childrens’ fucking soccer, it’s nonsense to create “stars” out of top perfomers who are often just kids who develop physically a bit faster than the others. The sports “gods” of my elementary school days are now without exception burnouts who couldn’t handle the pressure and adulation, such as they were, at a young age for something they never really earned.)

Honestly, no trophies would be the most defensible position, but if we’re going to have them, the recognition of all members of a team as contributors seems the more sensible model. I doubt this really has much of an effect on their social outlook and politics later on–the lack of good jobs, all that student debt and all those anti-gay Christian right warriors probably had more to do with creating the Bernie youth movement than getting some trophies during their pre-pubescent years–though who knows for sure.

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  1. Let’s say that Barack Obama wins the election to the House that in reality he lost in 2000, but the rest of his career goes exactly the same–wins the Senate seat in 2004, the White House in 2008. This means he goes to Washington as an anonymous backbencher in 2001 instead of as a celebrity senator in 2005. This also means that he sees with his own eyes such things as Republicans breaking whatever House rules they like in order to pass the bills they want to pass, Tom DeLay outright bribing people to pass Medicare Part D, the GOP using the Iraq War Resolution and the Homeland Security Act as partisan cudgels in order to win the midterms. Does Obama still go to the White House with the theme song from The West Wing burning in his ears, believing that Republican politicians are decent, reasonable people you can do business with?
  2. Let’s say that Bill Frist doesn’t retire in 2006 and remains the Senate Republican leader in 2009-2010. Does he go all the way to maximal obstruction like Mitch McConnell did in reality, or does he just incrementally build upon what Senate Democrats did under Bush, which incrementally built upon what Senate Republicans did under Clinton, etc.

I think my answers are (1) far less so and (2) not as much as McConnell but more than just an incremental increase. After all, in the second case, McConnell would still have been the whip, and had a lot of influence.

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Well, at least one of them:

  1. Susan Collins’s final pretense at being in any meaningful way moderate.
  2. Dean Heller’s hopes at any chance of winning another term.
  3. Rand Paul eating humble pie and voting for the bill over some pretty unequivocal objections to the underlying nature of the bill (they’re a bit more specific and broadly philosophical and not just vague “concerns,” like the rest of them) so there’d be a bit of a climbdown, and he’d look a fool).

My guess is that (1) is least likely. Collins is sort of like Dianne Feinstein in that she rarely sticks her neck out to the right when the lights are on her (though in all fairness Feinstein has been quite a bit less horrible this term, she even supported that resolution against Saudi arms sales which astonished me, symbolic or not). Collins likes being a highly visible (if largely useless) Washington moderate, fawned over by the press and No Labels jagoffs. And while there’s no reason to believe that that crew would show her any less love if she voted for TrumpCare, I doubt Maine would send her back for another term. She’d be joined to Trump indelibly in 2020 (or in 2018 if she runs for governor) and Maine is I think the poorest blue state, lots of people who wouldn’t take kindly to such a vote. And I don’t think she wants to move onto the Joe Lieberman phase of her career yet. Collins also has strong leverage in that she could win as an indy if she wanted, in fact, that would make her much stronger if she did. GOP needs her more than she needs it.

My guess is that (2) is most likely for the opposite reason. Heller may well decide that he’s already screwed so why depart from being the party hack he is? After all, if he derails the bill, no wingnut welfare for him after he loses in 2018. Of course, if he thinks he has a chance he’d have to be crazy to vote for it, though then again, Tea Partiers can bring Sharron Angle out of mothballs for a primary challenge that this time she’d win. Heller’s one of these guys like Mel Martinez or that guy who held Ted Kennedy’s seat for a month after he died, just a boring party functionary who could never survive the loss of its support. Someone like Lisa Murkowski had the skill to win after losing her party’s nomination but that’s all Alaska politics, patronage and family ties and all that shit come into account. Heller has nothing similar to lean on. Without the party’s support he’s nothing. So he won’t jeopardize that.

As for (3), I really couldn’t gauge. They could lose Collins and Paul and still win, which may well be what it comes down to. Paul’s survived the worst McConnell has dished out before and standing on (insane) principle, damn the consequences, is part of the family brand. On the other hand, at the end of the day, all Republicans have a not-so-hidden hard-on for helping out their rich friends at the rest of our expense. So it’s hard to call.

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I’ll just repost this:

Pursuing well-off white suburbanites is one of those ideas that never pans out but never goes away. Democrats and their consultants see people who are well educated (true), often don’t have iron-clad culture warrior stances on the issues (also true) and who have some discomfort with the religious-populist orientation of the GOP (true again). Problem is that most of these folks (though certainly not all!) have been acculturated into a sort of aggressive selfishness in which social concerns are seen as “not their problem” at best, and certainly less important than paying as close to no taxes as is humanly possible. Obviously you tailor different messages for different audiences but in terms of reaching people whose essential attitude is “not giving a fuck about anything going on beyond their front yard,” it’s really hard to see how Democrats can edge out Republicans with this group.

Look, I hoped that the repellence of Trump and Handel would make it happen for Ossoff, but as they say, the fundamentals were not in his favor. Some wonder aloud at how Republicans only care about/can only do tax cuts, but it apparently doesn’t dawn on people that this is merely because they know their base well. I used to joke that the GOP could run Heinrich Himmler and he’d still get 80% of the GOP vote if he held the line on taxes. Not such a funny joke anymore, I grant you.

 

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