Jawboning Culture

Matt Yglesias disagrees with Amy Sullivan on the issues of culture.

He dismisses her position by suggesting that

a) It’s just posturing for electoral effect, hence shoddy;
b) There’s no real harm flowing from the media;
c) If there were, it’d be constitutionally protected anyway.

But taking this crowd at their word and assuming they actually don’t want to see censorship, what do they want? Feckless posturing a la Joe Lieberman, I suppose, where politicians will publicly denounce various shows, movies, or video games they find distasteful and then not do anything about it. That’s better than censorship, and if it’s really what the Democrats need to do to win elections I guess I’ll live with it, but it’s pretty silly. Does anybody really want to see America’s elected officials operating as freelance cultural critics? Wouldn’t that be a little silly? Aren’t they bound to do a bad job of it? More to the point, such an effort would only be meaningful if the (implicit, at least) threat of censorship lurked in the background, just as the politicians of several generations ago convinced the comic book industry to start censoring itself by making it clear that if they didn’t do it, Congress would. This isn’t an improvement over actual censorship by any metric I can think of. Which would all be worth contemplating if there were a substantive problem this was supposed to be addressing, but it seems to be nothing more than a crass stunt.

Well, actually it’s not.
First, there’s an intermediate set of steps between embracing Whoopi Goldberg onstage – after she riffs on her anatomy and the President’s last name – and marching into Warner Brothers with a five-gallon jug of gasoline, some rags, and a Bic lighter.

Yglesias names one of them – criticize publicly – and casually dismisses it. There’s an even simpler one, which is simply not to invite entertainment figures who think that making gynecological jokes in public is a good idea.

There’s another simple step, which is to say – instead of “This is the heart and soul (and bush, I guess) of America,” after a performance like Whoopi’s – “Whoopi, I’m really disappointed in what you just said, and I’d like to take this moment to apologize to my honorable opponent.”

You don’t have to threaten censorship in order to publicly disapprove, and to suggest that others should as well.

I have a deeper theory about the role of “legalization” – the concept that all social forces must be reduced to laws – in modern liberal thought, but it’s not fair to hang that issue on a casual post of Matthew’s. Because the only points he seemed to see in it were the use of the law, threats to use the law, or “do whatever you want.”

Those are not the only possible actions.

A Votre Santé!

The left side of the blogs is all agog over Matt Welch’s comment that he and his friends would prefer things the French way – as far as health care is concerned.

“Wait a minute wait a minute,” one guy said. “If you were sick — I mean, really sick — where would you rather be? France or the U.S.?”

“Um, France,” we both said.

Matt later touches on the core issue – that U.S. health care is better if you can afford it.

And yes, our system is broken, and relies increasingly on rationing by a combination of price and patience.

And yes, the French health care system is far better if you are a young, working-class couple, or a chomeur.

But have we forgotten the 11,000 deaths due to summer heat in 2003?

Every system has its problems and advantages.

If I were young, underemployed, and healthy, I’d far rather be in France.

If had a chronic or serious disease, and insurance, I’d rather be here. Without insurance, I’d rather be there.

You pays your money (in taxes, insurance, or fees) and you takes your choice.

Reform, Faith, and The Democratic Future

As long as I’m tying things together, here are two more things I just read that seem to fit together well.

Over at Political Animal, Amy Sullivan has a whip-smart post that sets out what I also think the Democrats need to do – to position themselves as a party of reform.

The real concerns of Americans go much deeper than gay marriage or abortion–even if they have a hard time articulating them. Americans are very anxious about the idea that people will do whatever they can get away with, and their perception is that Democrats are the ones who let people get away with things. But Democrats can gain the advantage if they craft a consistent message. Some people certainly are opposed to abortion on principle; but many are simply offended by the idea that some people might rely on abortion as a means of birth control. But who else can you think of who has done something simply because they could get away with it? Do I hear, Ken Lay? Tom DeLay? All sorts of unregulated industries? Tie these into a consistent call for responsibility and Democrats have a better chance of claiming some moral ground.

Now, there are some problems in making this happen. Jim Moran, and his sweetheart $400K loan from MBNA (just before he introduced anti-consumer bankruptcy legislation); Nancy Pelosi, who appears to be as junket-happy (and also has a child on the campaign payroll); Harry Reid, whose children are a mini-lobbying empire, and so on.I titled a blog post in 2002, “Why My Ostensible Party, the Democrats, Will Not Be Able To Use Bush’s Corporate History Against Him,” and the point holds.

The GOP are massively vulnerable on issues of conflict-of-interest. But to capitalize on those issues, the Democrats will have to clean up their act first, lest we see what we’re seeing now – “if you attack DeLay, we’ll attack Pelosi.”

Sullivan also ties the issue to the culture clash shown by the Democrats -

Also, don’t miss Dan Gerstein’s op-ed in today’s Wall St. Journal (if someone has a link that doesn’t require registration, could you please send it to me?) Here’s a taste:
The cultural elites are guilty of the very of silly oversimplification of which they frequently (and rightly) accuse conservatives. Not all parents who are concerned about the avalanche of crud crushing their children every day are obsessed with SpongeBob’s sexual orientation. Nor are they seeking to shred the First Amendment. Most are just looking for a little cooperation from the captains of culture to make the hard job of raising children in a fully-wired universe a little easier….

One can only imagine how insulting our elitism is to the average mother in the exurbs of Georgia or Colorado who might be uncomfortable with open talk of threesomes on “Friends” at 8p.m. Well, actually, we don’t have to imagine too hard, not after John Kerry openly embraced Hollywood and went on to lose married women voters by a margin of 55% to 44%….

But that is not a discussion the entertainment industry or its Democratic defenders want to have. In fact, most of the time they actively work to squelch it. Their first move usually is to deny that the culture has any influence on attitudes and behavior….Part of this response is clearly motivated by profit margins. But it also flows from a profound aversion to making moral judgments. And that’s the nub of the values problem for Democrats today. We don’t hesitate to judge people’s beliefs, but we blanch at judging their behavior. That leaves us silent on big moral issues at a time of great moral uncertainty, and leaves the impression that we are the party of “anything goes.”

These last few points are especially critical. In recent talks–including one this morning–I’ve been telling people that voters find it odd when Democrats bash big business and oil companies but turn a blind eye to the entertainment industry. Wouldn’t their Hollywood funders rebel if Democrats spoke up?, someone asked this morning. Frankly, it wouldn’t exactly hurt the party to have Susan Sarandon stand up and denounce the Democrats.

And also points out their vulnerability to a narrow wedge of wealthy political investors.

This has come about, in no small part, because of their neglect of the real roots of local organizing as they (and the GOP, to a lesser extent) have become an increasingly media-driven institution.

I got a spam for a publication called The Boston Review (yes, spam works sometimes…),which caught my eye with an article by Ari Lipman of the greater Boston Interfaith Organization called “Losing Faith: The Democrats called, but they didn’t call back.”It’s a nice piece of commentary that pretty well nails the issues the Democrats will have to climb through to win.

A week before the Democratic National Convention, I got a call from an organizer of one of the convention’s largest delegate caucuses. He was struggling to find a local member of the clergy to open a Sunday meeting. Apparently the Democratic Party had few connections within the Boston faith community, so he called me, a staff person of a local nonpartisan interfaith organization, for help.

“Are you looking for someone from a particular denomination or with particular experience?” I asked.

“We want a minister of color.”

“I see. It will be hard to find a minister of color who is available on Sunday, because he is likely to be in, you know, church. How about a rabbi?”

“We really want a black minister.”

I should have hung up the phone, but I was caught up in the excitement of the convention.

He finds one – a Haitian Seventh-Day Adventist, and puts the Party staffer in touch with him.

On the Friday evening before the convention I received a frantic call from another convention staffer. “We forgot to call Elder Benoit, and now we can’t reach him. We don’t have anyone confirmed to give the opening prayer! Can you call him for us?”

“It’s his Sabbath now,” I explained. “He won’t answer the phone until Saturday evening.”

“Oh.”

I staked out Elder Benoit at his church that next morning. “What’s going on with the DNC?” he asked me, disappointed. “Have they found someone else?” No, I assured him, they indeed wanted him to offer the prayer.

The next day, when we arrived at the Hynes Convention Center, we found that Elder Benoit’s first and last names were both mangled beyond recognition on the caucus program: “Elder Erdy Dinot.” What first had seemed like simple incompetence was now revealing itself as a pattern of neglect. We notified an event organizer of the mistake. We wrote out the correct spelling of his name, along with a phonetic pronunciation. She promised to pass along this note. The emcee then mispronounced Elder Benoit’s name three times.

Elder Benoit responded to the disrespect graciously and offered a powerful prayer. I was livid and embarrassed. We were given two credentials to the convention for our trouble, and that is the last we heard from the Democratic Party.

Read the whole thing. But I have to close by copying his conclusion, because it’s perfect, and I couldn’t say it any better.

It was clear that Elder Benoit’s role had been ornamental—a prayerful black face for a photo opportunity. The Democrats had no interest in recruiting or cultivating Elder Benoit as the talented leader of a significant constituency that might associate its diverse social and economic interests with either party. (my emphasis – A.L.)

The reality of American democracy is that religious assembly has always been a primary entry point for citizens (such as Elder Benoit) into public life. We transform our private religious values into public action at the ballot box. As the Democrats are now discovering, parties ignore this fact at their peril.

Engaging religious Americans does not necessarily mean altering the fundamental values and platform of the Democratic Party. After all, I would venture to say that many Haitian Seventh-day Adventists who vote Democratic do so even though they hold the same views on same-sex marriage and abortion as white evangelicals in Ohio—they just have, at least for now, a different analysis of their interests, priorities, and allies.

But Democrats need more than a pious new vocabulary. Party leaders must drop their thinly veiled scorn for religious Americans and seek to engage them sincerely around common interests, both in houses of worship and on convention floors. Treating potential leaders like Elder Benoit with simple respect would not be a bad place to start.

No kidding.

Read these two articles, Democrats, and pay some attention.

Bernard Henri-Levy and Ideology

Blogging will continue to be light for a while as I keep trying to wrestle real life into submission.

Go to the newsstand, though, and buy this month’s Atlantic. It’s chock-full of chewy things to think about, not the least of which is Bernard Henri-Levy’s article “In the Footsteps of Tocqueville” (subscribers only, I think – but check).

In addition to a wonderful expansive view of America, he elliptically raises a crucial point – and leaves it there (in anticipation of the book, I imagine) for us to mull.

What is the role of ideology in American politics? And what should it be?

I, among many, have beaten up the Democrats (a lot) and the Republicans (a little) about their ‘fantasy ideologies’ among other things. I certainly meant to suggest that a ‘real ideology’ (whatever that might look like) would be a Darn Good Thing. Democrats should stand for something. That’s the solution to the current political malaise. Some irreducible core of belief.

But Levy tosses a bomb into my notion.

What is a Republican? What distinguishes a Republican in the America of today from a Democrat? Does this division of the two Americas exist, the blue and the red, the progressive and the conservative, which Barack Obama challenged but in which Jim Harrison seems to believe?

On the one hand, I keep meeting Democrats who think like Republicans and who without any qualms, without thinking for a single second of leaving their original party, go and vote for George Bush (the former mayor of New York Ed Koch, the former CIA chief James Woolsey).

In the same vein, I keep seeing Republicans who—also without a qualm, and even without understanding my surprise—go and vote for John Kerry (Ron Reagan, the son of President Reagan) or abstain (that association of conservative gay men, the Log Cabin Republicans, one of whose leaders, Chris Barron, I interviewed in Washington, who don’t want to “endorse” Bush’s stance in favor of a constitutional amendment that would forbid gay marriage).

On one hand, then, a novel system of membership, which has no comparison to what we know in Europe, and in which one’s attachment to a party is both very strong and very pliable, extremely tenacious and in the end somewhat empty: an essentialist attachment, if you like (Koch, for instance, wouldn’t renounce it at any price, and he proudly shows me, in his Fifth Avenue office overlooking his beloved New York, hanging next to sacred images of Anwar Sadat, Dizzy Gillespie, Teddy Kollek, and Mother Teresa, his photos with Hillary Clinton), yet devoid of all content and even of direction. (When I ask him what it can mean, when you vote Republican, to declare yourself a Democrat, he hesitates, becomes a little flustered, looks at the photo of Hillary as if she could whisper the answer to him, and ends up blurting out, “Stubbornness and nostalgia—a mixture of stubbornness and memory, habit and loyalty, that’s all.”)

But on the other hand, for three days I attended the Republican convention in New York. I listened to speeches given by Rudy Giuliani and Governor George Pataki. I listened to Bush. I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger tell us, with an emotion that didn’t seem entirely put on, about his experience as an immigrant coming from a socialist country (sic) to discover this America that opened its arms to him. But mostly I interviewed crowds of delegates from Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, Kansas, Arkansas, each of whom I asked what being Republican and being there meant to them. And the surprise, the big surprise, is that the answers they gave me had nothing to do with the old French—but also American—cliché of a political spectacle reduced to its purely festive, playful, carnivalesque dimension, and thus without anything at stake.

Some talked to me about abortion and gay marriage. Some explained that nothing seemed more important to them than reinforcing the role of the churches or reducing the role of the urban elite. Others advocated a return to Main Street instead of Wall Street, the rehabilitation of the values of rural America as opposed to those of interventionist and cosmopolitan America, the defense of a concept of human rights that embraces the right to bear arms to defend one’s freedom and property. For others, hatred of the Clintons was a good enough reason. And for still others, the senator from Massachusetts and his plutocrat wife, Teresa, were embodiments of a France that was likened to an uneasy mixture of “femininity,” “decadent immorality,” “snobbish intellectualism,” and “chic radicalism.”

You can think what you like about these issues. You can deem them naive, retrograde, indefensible, contradictory. You can find it amusing to hear the same virtuous people condemning Teresa’s millions and defending, in the same breath, the hedge funds against the welfare state. But what you can’t say is that it’s a question of a weak or half-hearted position. Or one that’s purely pragmatic, and reduces the ideal government of the United States to a glorified board of directors. What you can’t claim is that you were present here at one more bazaar, another level of the circus, a second summit of the same nihilism that offers its two symmetrically standard Democratic and Republican versions. What you can’t argue without bad faith is that between the position of these people and that of the delegates in Boston who gave standing ovations to Howard Dean and Senator Ted Kennedy there is no difference in content or ideology.

For you can take that word, “ideology,” in whatever sense you like. You can understand it in the ordinary sense of a representation of the world. You can understand it in the sense of an illusion that conceals from people the reality of their situation. You can think about the grand philosophical “systems” and other “utopias” that Tocqueville thought Americans “mistrusted.” Or, on the contrary, you can think of this mania for “general causes,” this submission to ideas and broad social forces that act “on so many men’s faculties at once”—a tendency, he warns, that can paralyze individuals and societies. We have reached that point. These people who say “values matter more”; these activists for whom the struggle against Darwin is a sacred cause that should be argued in the schools; this blue-collar man from Buffalo to whom I explain that the promise of the current president to reduce federal taxes will have the automatic effect of impoverishing his native city even more, who replies that he couldn’t care less, because what matters to him is the problem posed by inflation in a quasi-Soviet state. These are men and women who are ready to let the questions that affect them most directly take second place to matters of principle that—in the case, for instance, of the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts—do not have, and never will have, any effect on their concrete existence. Aren’t they reacting as ideologues would, according to criteria that have to be called ideological?

A curious affair. And a curious reversal. It surprises me as a Frenchman, coming from a country that has lived under the rule of ideological passion brought to white heat—and yet has recovered from it. But I can clearly see that it is all the more disconcerting to the most careful analysts of the evolution of a society in which each person’s appreciation of the just dividends he can get from the social contract seems to be the first and last word in politics. What’s the matter with Kansas? Since when has politics stopped obeying the honest calculation of self-interest and personal ambition? How can knowledgeable, reasonable, pragmatic men work for their own servitude, thinking they’re struggling for their freedom? That, Thomas Frank, is what is called ideology. That is precisely the mechanism that La Boétie and Karl Marx described in Europe, which we, alas, have experienced only too often. Now it’s your turn, friends. And as we say in France, À votre santé! —To your very good health!

This is a tough question.

Because we want to believe that there is more than self-interest soup tying us together as a people – in fact, as the social-historical bounds that tied us are slowly loosened, we need some robust beliefs to connect us as a polity. But are we really at risk for a European-style descent into the madness of absolute belief?

Schaar points us at Lincoln and suggests that it is a belief in our unique Founding that ties us together, and the obligations we take forward in time from it which represent our patrimony. That seems to me to be a resolutely non-ideological position.

But for the life of me, I’m not sure how to tie it to contemporary politics without becoming ideological. And, reading Levy, I’m not so certain that becoming ideological – in his sense – doesn’t risk more than I’m willing to bet.

More for me to think about late at night.

Pyramiding Progressive Paralysis

Much of what I decide to blog about blog comes from patterns I see when odd things catch my attention. Sometimes they come from two things juxtaposed. In this case, I’ve got two things and the glimmer of a pattern, but I haven’t yet been able to capture it and set it down. It does talk about one of the two issues closest to my heart – how to remake an effective Democratic Party that’s worth supporting.

First, Mickey Kaus’ scathing commentary on Bill Bradley’s “pyramid” op-ed.

It’s a small pyramid, but perfectly formed: Bill Bradley’s recent NYT op-ed was so well-constructed my immediate thought, like The Note’s, was that he couldn’t possibly have written it himself. But his prescription was all too familiar and, yes, a recipe for disaster! Bradley wants the Democrats to emulate Republicans and generate ideas from a stable, pyramid-like institutional base–with “Democratic policy organizations” engaged in the “patient, long term development of new ideas or of new ways to sell old ideas.” Just plug in a candidate at the top of this institutional pyramid and … victory!

The problem, of course, is that the Democratic party’s most stable institutional elements are also its most problematic elements: 1) unions; 2) the civil rights and Latino lobbies; 3) the senior lobby (AARP); 4) institutional feminists (NOW); 5) trial lawyers; 6) Iowa-caucus style “progressives;” and 7) Hollywood emoters. If a national problem could be solved without trampling on the interests of this institutional base, Democrats would have solved it in the decades when they were in power. What’s left are the problems that can’t be solved–even solved in accordance with liberal principles–without trampling on these liberal interest groups: competitiveness, for example, or public education, or entitlement reform. If the Dems’ permanent institutional base is what gets to “develop” and “hone” the ideas to be adopted by the party’s presidential nominee, then the Democrats will in perpetuity be the party of union work rules, lousy teachers, mediocre schools, protectionism, racial preferences, unaffordable entitlements, amnesty for illegals and offensive rap lyrics! That winning collection gets you, what, 35%?

Currently, the Democrats’ only hope is that once every four years a maverick candidate will come along who tells the party’s permanent institutional base to shove it and actually fashion an appealing platform. The party’s post-Vietnam presidential winners–Carter and Clinton–both fit this pattern. Bradley seems to regard Clinton’s success as a failure because it wasn’t replicated. But it wasn’t replicated because people like Bradley sneered at it, and played instead to the party’s reliable, pyramid-like base. …Over the long run, of course, the Democrats’ institutional problem may at least partly solve itself as the role of unions in the private economy asymptotically approaches zero. … P.S.: Bush’s problems selling his Social Security plan suggest that not everything generated by a mighty idea-honing institutional GOP pyramid succeeds. Crazy thought: Maybe the substance of ideas, and not the mechanism that produces them, is what counts.

Then I read Robert Greene’s article in this week’s LA Weekly and an article on the current – highly progressive – City Council’s failure to get very much done.

Now, after two years of the supposedly progressive Los Angeles City Council, there is — what? Community-impact studies, a cornerstone of a social-justice movement to give labor and neighbors a say in major development, failed first in the Community Redevelopment Agency, then in the City Council. A proposed ban on grocery-selling big-box superstores turned into an ordinance that simply requires the Wal-Marts of the world to jump through a few extra hoops — but only in certain parts of town. Inclusionary zoning — a mandate that builders include affordable units — has been debated forever but seems perpetually a day, or maybe a week or a month, away from a vote. Housing is still beyond the reach of average wage earners, while many apartments remain unsafe and substandard. Schools are a failed warehouse system for the city’s youth. Cops in a reformed, enlightened Los Angeles Police Department still beat and shoot to death black men and boys in South L.A., and innocent children still are murdered in the crossfire of gang warfare.

So what happened? Where is the progressive legislation? Why is there no motion to second? Why are progressives split on the city’s leadership? Why is this City Council, far from being the most charismatic in years, so downright — well — boring?

“Oh, so you’ve noticed,” said an aide from an earlier council who now works for a labor union. “Not much going on there, is there? A lot of talk. Not much walk.”

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something there…what do you think?

MSM 1, Blogs 0

Well, the Republican memo that wasn’t looks like it was again…

Republican Senator Mel Martinez just fired his counsel who admitted to drafting the Terri Schiavo talking points that were just disavowed by everyone in the Republican Party – including Martinez.

Puts the “us” back in hubris, doesn’t it?

Actually a healthy dose of humility on both sides – blogs and the media – would be good about now. We’re in full train-wreck “gotcha” mode, at a time when there’s actually a lot of real work to do on both sides of the political aisle.

This is where a touch of John Glenn by the blogosphere would be a really good thing.

Propaganda Redux

No time to blog later today, but check out Kenneth Turan’s review of Marshall Plan propaganda films in the L.A. Times – “How the U.S. waged peace after WWII.” It’s behind the subscription wall, so I’ll quote a bit:

Once upon a time, a country won a great war but found itself uncertain about how to proceed in the aftermath of victory. How best to ensure that the enemy got on its feet economically? And, more important, how to encourage a revival of democracy in countries that had been under totalitarian rule for many years? How indeed.

Though the parallels to America’s challenge in postwar Iraq are unmistakable and intriguing, the cataclysm that previously put America into that kind of a quandary was the Second World War. How we responded to those dilemmas is the subject of a fascinating and surprisingly relevant four-part series of rarely seen films — at one time actually illegal in this country — beginning tonight at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood. Its title says it nicely: “Selling Democracy: Films of the Marshall Plan, 1948-1953.”

A key element of that recovery plan was the production of films candidly intended to influence public opinion and, as the title proclaims, sell democracy. A Marshall Plan Motion Picture Section was set up, headquartered in Paris but working out of 18 countries. Stuart Schulberg, the son of pioneering studio executive B.P. and the brother of writer Budd, was one of the heads of the section, and it is his daughter, Sandra Schulberg, who has spearheaded the creation of the current 25-film series.

The motion picture section made some 250 films, all shorts and most in the 20-minute range. In an era when audiences demanded shorts, the films played widely in theaters and had an extensive nontheatrical life in 13 languages as well: The Athens administrator of the Marshall Plan even hired boats to bring copies to the Greek islands. As a result, the prints of these films were pretty beaten up, which is where the Academy Film Archive stepped in to preserve a good percentage of the ones being screened.

See my post on propaganda, below.

Of all the reasons to see this landmark series, its relevance to what has been happening in Iraq is the most absorbing, and not only because the administration has yet to come up with a comparable way to win the peace in the Middle East.

To see these films, to hear their talk about “the victory over the power of darkness,” is to experience a postwar world where a positive attitude and hard work was all that was needed to succeed. It’s also to understand why the simple, powerful rhetoric of World War II and the Marshall Plan has had such a seductive lure for today’s policy-makers. We did it then, the powers in Washington are no doubt thinking, we can do it now.

How much of a parallel exists between postwar Europe and postwar Iraq, however, is a question history has yet to definitively answer.

Sadly, in all the four layers of editing at the L.A. Times, no one has apparently heard of the Morgenthau Plan. Perhaps if they read blogs??

Sin City

TG, Middle Guy and I went and saw Sin City last night, and loved it. When the film was over and credits had rolled, Middle Guy turned to TG and me and said “Let’s stay and see it again” and we almost did.

Josh Chafetz, over at Oxblog, was appalled by Sin City.

SIN CITY IS A MASTERFUL FILM. It’s visually stunning, conceptually interesting, and well acted. It’s also almost totally unwatchable. The violence is so extreme and so constant as to make the movie an almost entirely unpleasant experience.

I think what bothered me most was that some people leaving the theater clearly did enjoy the movie. I worry about the state of their souls as individuals, and about the state of a society that produces people so inured to violence and gore.

and he explains in his next post on the film that the violence was, worse, “purposeless.”

MATT SINGER AND MATT YGLESIAS both seem to think there’s something ironic about someone who supported military action in Iraq decrying the violence in Sin City. That strikes me as too cute by well more than half. We all accept violence for certain purposes — criminal punishment is violence directed by the state against an individual, but we pretty much all think that imprisonment of, say, armed robbers is okay. My support for the Iraq war was always premised on the idea that it would do more good than harm — that it would prevent more violence than it would perpetrate. That was an empirical judgement — a judgement that Singer and Yglesias may think was incorrect, but that was the judgement nonetheless.

Sin City depicts violence for its own sake. There’s no purpose behind the violence — it is simply presented as entertaining in and of itself. That is what I object to. I wouldn’t object to violence in a movie that got at some deeper message through the depictions of violence. That would be violence in the service of a purpose. But the idea that depictions of violence, without more, constitutes entertainment … well, yes, I find that deeply disturbing, just as I would find it deeply disturbing that someone supported the Iraq war because he liked seeing destruction on the evening news.

Here he’s just flatly wrong about the film (although right about the political point).

Part of the attraction of the film – and of noir in general – is the tight moral code that the stories extol.

Every noir hero – and noir stories typically involve either a heroic struggle or a didactic decline – is built as a hero on a moral decision taken at some risk. The stories with heroes involve a deeply flawed hero – a superficially bad man – who at some risk, stands up against his own interest against a powerful and deeply bad force.

The three stories in Sin City each involve exactly such a hero, who should – as Harrigan is told – simply go home to his wife, but who can’t and instead tries to protect someone against a powerful and evil force.

Without that framework, we’re left watching “Natural Born Killers,” and the difference between that movie and this one is instructive to consider – and an explanation of why Sin City works and NBK failed.

It’s not a movie for the squeamish, but it is a movie with a moral center. It’s more Hamlet than The Duchess of Malfi.

A Democrat To Watch – Gov. Phil Bredesen

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen has gotten a lot of press (and some blog coverage) for his interview in the London Times in which he complains about the rush to coronate Hillary Clinton as the presumptive Democratic candidate. Note that at this point in the cycle, I think three things about Senator Clinton:

# She’d probably make a pretty good President in all areas but one;
# She’s arguably one of the most polarizing and divisive figures in national politics today and her nomination would be a train wreck for the Democratic Party;
# I’d pay money to see a Hillary – Condi election, or at least the debates.

The one issue where she’d fall down as President comes directly from the divisiveness of her persona (used to mean the public projection of who she is); the President’s job is to bridge the gaps (yes, Bush has done a horrible job as well) and forge a national consensus.

But Bredesen said a few other things worthy of note (tip to Instapundit for noting them first):

Bredesen, a former mayor of Nashville, believes his party has “somehow gotten itself divorced” from the blue-collar constituency it has always relied on for presidential success: “I’ve always felt the Democratic party was a kind of alliance between the academics and intellectuals and working-class men and women. I think what happened is that in my lifetime, the academics won.”

As a result, the governor said, the party had lost its broad appeal. He mocked other Democratic candidates who think connecting with middle America means quoting a few verses from the Bible or being photographed with guns.

That’s the key – the class and cultural bond that once tied the academics to the working class. This was rooted in the fact that the financial engine for the Party was the labor unions. Once they were supplanted by Hollywood and the media business – as labor unions declined in membership, as Hollywood unleashed the power of celebrity in politics – they were cut adrift from those roots, and what had been an alliance became a rhetorical device.

The Democrats’ problem, Bredesen believes, has little to do with bullets or the Bible. “The point I’m trying to make is that you’ve got to stand up for some clear things,” he said. He is tired of listening to members of his party attempting to appeal to both pro-gun and anti-gun voters: “When you do that, you’re left with nothing.”

In a recent speech to southern Democrats in Atlanta, Bredesen summed up the Republican party platform as follows: “A traditional view of family, no abortion, no gay marriage, a central role for faith, gun over the mantel, low taxes, an assertive and combative view of American interests abroad.”

He then challenged his colleagues to sum up the Democratic party in less than 30 words. Nobody could oblige. Asked what his 30 words would be, he replied: “I don’t have any yet. I’d be delighted to tell you if I did.” He may be waiting until after his re-election to unveil his national vision.

Right on. I’ll be watching Gov. Breseden with a lot of interest.

I’ve said in the past that if the Democratic Party stands for one thing, it should stand for balancing the tables to create fairness between the powerful and powerless. And that in pursuing the Skybox politics of Lakoffian self-fulfillment (laws that don’t do much, but make the legislators and their supporters feel better about themselves), they are acting fundamentally immorally, because they are failing to protect those who progressives ought to exist in order to serve. The Democratic Party has a moral obligation to both stand for something, and to do so in an effective way. All the consultants and elected officials who make a damn good living from the Party seem to forget that pretty frequently.

Get Fuzzy Censored??

Here’s one on censorship and the culture wars for Jeff Jarvis

There are two main reasons we still take the LA Times (as opposed to just reading it online); coupons and the funnies. I read the papers we get cover to cover, but when pressed for timeI tend to just read the funnies and the editorials, confident that breaking news will be better covered online.

Because we get a bunch of papers, I tend to skip the comics that overlap – the strips that appear both in the Breeze and the Times. [Update: TG explains that this wasn’t how she found it; she just read it and thought it worth remarking about – note to authors: when your wife suggests a correction, do it.] TG doesn’t, which is how she discovered that the Times had bowdlerized a strip today.
If you go to the comics.com site for Get Fuzzy you can see the edited strip as well.

See the panel where Bucky lists the traditional holiday meals?

Christmas turkey, Thanksgiving turkey, Valentine’s Day Marmot, Easter Bunny…

In the Breeze, the list reads

Christmas turkey, Thanksgiving turkey, Valentine’s Day beaver, Easter Bunny…

…which makes Rob’s reaction in the last panel

No, No n- Hold on…Valentine’s day WHAT?

a lot funnier.

I’d love to know about the internal politics of this one…personally, I’m conflicted as usual. I’m glad I only had to explain to Littlest Guy what a ‘Marmot’ was…