Slacker Friday


We've got a new "Think Again" column here called "An Unhealthy Dialogue on Health Care," and a new Nation column here called "Love Me, I'm a Liberal."

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

"They brought her things down to the bay/What could I do?"

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click -- "Josephine" (Eric Lindell): Once again I have failed to paint across the vast, expensive -- and still freshly warm -- corpse of the Romney campaign words that would explain how much I love New Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First: Whenever I hear Barack Obama talk about bringing "Republicans and Democrats" together to make, you know, Change, I think of stuff like this and despair. This kind of thing doesn't help, either.

Part The Second: Young Ezra is very smart here.

Part The Third: I am not related to this chap, but I am glad it is he who is at the festival for fruitcakes and not me. Sit, John. Roll over. Good dog.

Part The Fourth: Once a foof, always a foof. The late Mittster. "Dammit, Osama, Romney's dropping out! We must surrender now and become feed salesmen."

Part The Last: Anyone who's had the misfortune of sitting through a Yankee win at The Stadium -- Hi Siv! -- has also had the experience of having one's gorge rise at the inevitable blaring of Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" at a level about two decibels shy of a Saturn 5. For years, I wanted to wake up in a city where they didn't play that f**king song. Anyway, Chan Marshall's transubstantiation of the tune on "Jukebox" is one of the damndest pieces of genius I ever heard. It reminds me of what Shawn Colvin did with "Viva Las Vegas" on the Doc Pomus tribute set several years back, where Colvin moved the song off the Strip and deep into the blasted moonscape of the city's north side. Chan moves this song from midtown to some shack in West Memphis. Extraordinary.


For the past couple of weeks, they've just gotten blatant about it. The administration of George W. Bush is bound by no law, bound by no precedent, bound not even by the forms of democratic self-government, let alone its actual substance, which is being used as a throw-rug in John Yoo's den these days. They will torture and the Congress can do nothing. Their powers to spy, to search, and to seize are unlimited and Congress is not remotely entitled to know even what those powers are. They can imprison without trial. They can force corporations -- and, indeed, individuals within the government -- to violate the law. They are not subject to treaties. They are not subject to oversight, nor even subpoenas. Read this swill from yesterday. Through his actions, and from the mouths of his minions, George Bush is now claiming fully the powers of a tyrant, by any reasonable definition of the term.

This is the only issue in the presidential campaign. It is the only truly existential threat to the country. Everything else -- health care, climate change, campaign finance, the deficit -- mean nothing if we fail on this fundamental issue. I don't know where the two Democratic contenders fall on this stuff -- their campaigns have been damnably vague about it -- but I know John McCain will be immeasurably worse. His anti-torture bill allowed torture. His "compromise" on judicial nominations allowed the Democrats to maintain the right to filibuster as long as they promised never to do so. This allowed Roberts and Alito to skunk through in order to deface the constitutional order, likely for the rest of my lifetime, and McCain has promised to let a theocratic loon like Sam Brownback to help him pick his own judges. He's always had a sweet tooth for executive power; his line-item veto was so nakedly unconstitutional that even William Rehnquist noticed. And, yesterday, he got up in front of the CPAC crowd that earlier had cheered every single one of the steps toward tyranny that the administration had undertaken. A while back, said unkind things about a soldier in a newspaper ad, and the entire capital got the vapors. The Congress of the United States was moved to resolve to condemn the newspaper ad. Democratic politicians rushed to sign on. Now, a group of very obvious extremists -- Dick Cheney is an authoritarian bully and a personal coward. His approval rating is 19 percent in the country and 100 percent in that hall. Res ipse loquitur. -- gathers in Washington, and not only do the party's most prominent political figures truckle and beg, your liberal media puts the worst of them on the air, as if they were serious people and not simple public vandals. Jesus Christ in Air Jordans, what in hell was David Bossie, a thug and a hoodlum, doing on Jim Lehrer's program last night? Tom DeLay is under indictment, for pity's sake. Why was he on MSNBC, grinning at Chris Matthews and lying about climate change? Mitt Romney's speech was a sprawling landfill of demagogic swill. It was treated as, well, statesmanlike by people who believe that John McCain is not conservative enough. This is plainly nuts, and any respectable conservative would work tirelessly to wring these crackpots out of the movement before the whole mess goes over the cliff again. Somebody should, you know, take out an ad or something.

Name: Nicholas Sinisi
Hometown: NY, NY

Isn't the alliance between McCain and Bush -- an alliance that helped guarantee us an additional four years of The Worst President Ever and produced many images of the two men LITERALLY hugging (good t-shirt fodder there!) -- a potentially huge albatross for McCain in November? And what do you make of the fact that McCain hasn't yet won over the right-wing media likes of Rush and Ann Coulter? Plus, McCain's not exactly renowned for his economic skills, is he? (He admitted it himself -- then tried to pretend he didn't say it.)

Just wondering ...

Name: Ed Mahan
Hometown: Boston, MA

My concern with this campaign is that I feel that the Obama supporters seem to have decided that if their "guy" doesn't get the nomination, then they are staying home or going with a non-credible candidate (dare I say Nader, et al). The Clinton supporters do not give off the same feel. How do we get across to everyone that it is important to vote for the nominee even if it is not your choice. There is little difference between Clinton and Obama on policy. He is clearly a better speaker and is much more charismatic. I personally feel that he does not seem to have a fall back position if the Republicans keep on being themselves and the whole Bipartisan Harmony he speaks off comes back in his face vis-a-vis the last 15 years. Then what?

The Obama supporters act like Hillary is the antichrist and some of the Hillary supporters act like voting against her is voting against suffrage. All of you need to get over it. It is politics. Ninety-nine percent of your platform is unachievable. If we can get closer to the real center (not the quasi-right-wing center) we will probably be doing well.

What would be really attractive to me is if either of them would talk about reclaiming the government (like Justice, HHS, DOT, etc.) from the right-wing fanatics that have been implanted within them. How are you going to address this? Or are we to pretend it is not so? Secondly, is anyone going to go looking for criminal behavior or corruption during the last 7 years (or 15 if you like) and if you find it, what will you do? How hard will you look?

A lot of what I see now is "movement politics" in the Obama camp, sort of like 1968, and business as usual in the Clinton camp (think HHH 1968). Worries me, both ways. BTW JFK was a very inspirational leader but not the greatest president. Cipher on civil rights. Ditto poverty. Cold Warrior all the way. Hot temper (think Bay of Pigs). Would rather see a more effective leader with charisma. How about FDR?

Name: Adam Sirkin
Hometown: Phoenixville, PA

We share a great appreciation for music. Of late, I find myself frustrated with finding music which really hits me. Digging deeply into MySpace (friends of friends of friends) I discovered a band called ThaMuseMeant. Go to and listen to their downloads. I've been needing to tell people about this band, but really have no one to tell. So I thought I'd give you a shot. I enjoy your site. Thanks.

Name: JP
Hometown: PA

While I will be voting for McCain's opponent this fall (as an Independent in PA, I am some sort of sub-citizen and am denied my right to vote in the primaries), I can truly say that my main feeling about this next election is that all that matters is George W. Bush won't be president anymore. I really believe that we can't go anywhere but up when it comes to our next leader.

Having said that, I think I concur with you on McCain vs. Hillary vs. McCain vs. Obama.

McCain vs. Hillary brings the Hillary/Bill haters to the polls that might otherwise stay at home during a McCain vs. Obama election, mainly because these are probably the same voters that are less than enthusiastic about McCain in the first place.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are both intelligent hard-workers and either would make a fine president, that at least would probably react to something like oh, say a PDB about terrorists planning to attack the country, in some fashion other than to see if the bass are biting that day. But, I'm with you, if you want to see a Dem in the White House, you need to give Obama an edge.

And, I'm sorry, but I can't help but feel that McCain, Hillary, Obama, they're not GWB, the best thing about the upcoming election is that he can't be elected for another term.

Name: Keenan Kline
Hometown: Santa Rosa Beach

I am excited that the Democrats have two candidates left who are head and shoulders above the GOP offerings and I am satisfied that either would work for progressive causes I support.

One issue that has been insufficiently addressed in the media is the position of any candidate on reversing the damage inflicted by the Bush administration on the Constitution and the separation of powers. The list of patently illegal acts by the administration is enormous and I don't even include the fraud, waste and abuse now surfacing around the war in Iraq.

Am I naive in assuming that a new Democratic president would want to set things right? What's the downside of stating that "my first act will be to restore and respect the Constitution?"

I'm sick at heart over the dictatorial power shift towards the president and violation of our sacred pact with ourselves. A solemn vow to restore the integrity of the Constitution and rule of law is my only litmus test.

Name: Mike
Hometown: Chicago

Although McCain's maverick nature and broad appeal to moderates and independents seems to be taken as undeniable and irrefutable at this point, could his problem with the self-anointed right-wing kingmakers on talk radio and blogs ultimately lead to his undoing? Although he will try and make nice this week at CPAC and I'm sure spend the summer trying to shore up support, it seems like it will take a lot of work to heal his reputation for Republican apostasy. Combine that with the need for a new narrative now that he has the nomination locked up while the Democrats seem to be headed for a protracted battle, and I think McCain might either be unable or unwilling to make the move to the center during the general election. Depending on his strategy, he might spend the summer and fall highlighting his conservative credentials and the illusion of his moderation and bipartisanship will begin to fade. Ultimately, I think this is all irrelevant if Hillary gets the nomination, as that will rev up Hannity and his brood like nothing before. But if Obama is the nominee, his strong support from the base should put him at a distinct advantage against McCain with swing voters.

Name: Garett Yoder
Hometown: Berea, KY

Dr. Alterman,

In your Feb. 6 post, you give the slight advantage to McCain in a Clinton-McCain general election. I was wondering if you were basing that on recent polls that show a slight lead for McCain in a hypothetical match-up? I know Krugman used polls on his blog in his Feb 4th post about electability. I wanted to sound a note of caution when looking at these polls. Since pollsters cannot generate a true random sample of voters, they always assume people who vote will be demographically similar to voters in past elections. That is, they make sure they have X percentage of Democrats and y percentage of Republicans, etc. Pollsters enjoy a good deal of success in their polls by doing that. However, I think it is becoming clear from the turnout of voters in the primaries that the demographics of the voters in November is very likely to be very different than any past election. A turnout that would definitely favor either Democratic candidate.

A simple example of this is Zogby's miss in the California Democratic primary. He explains this by saying, "It appears that we underestimated Hispanic turnout and overestimated the importance of younger Hispanic voters. We also overestimated turnout among African-American voters." In other words, he did not predict the demographics on the election accurately, which turned a predicted 10 percentage point win by Obama into a real 10 percentage point win by Clinton.

I think the general election polls, at least at this point, are really meaningless.

Keep up the good work!!!

Name: John Moore
Hometown: San Francisco

Dear Dr. A,

I agree that there is some reason to view Irene Namirovsky as a Jewish anti-Semite. At the very least, she was a woman who could not cope with the anti-Semitism she experienced before the war, and who thought her fellow Jews were, in part, to blame. Hence her later conversion to Catholicism, a conversion that meant nothing to the Nazis and their collaborators.

I'm nevertheless disappointed that you did not like "Suite Francaise." Without wishing to sound snarky, I think some of the author's artistry may have been lost in translation. A key attribute of the French original is the way Namirovsky uses her characters' particular method of speaking to indicate their social class. And class conflict is, after all, a prominent theme throughout the novel. Readers will find a wonderful example of what I'm talking about in Chapter 9 of "Dolce," in the confrontation between the viscountess of Montmort and old Mme Angellier. It's classic.

Name: Robert Kurnick
Hometown: Rockville, MD


I was a bit disappointed that you did not acknowledge that "Love Me, I'm a Liberal" is the title of a song by the late folk singer Phil Ochs. Of course, he had low regard for self-styled liberals of the 1960's and therefore used the phrase differently than you do now.

Eric replies: Sue me, sue me, what can you do me?

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.