Thursday, June 19, 2008

Three's Company

I have waited, I think, a respectful amount of time - or at least I hope I have.

The near-orgy of self-love that swirled around the passing of Tim Russert has died down at last -- and to be fair, thankfully, there was a decent amount of commentary about the almost unseemly, well, quantity of Russertania that accompanied his passing. "As big as Reagan's funeral...." "A Modest Man gets A Grand Goodbye..." etc., etc.

I think a lot of people can agree that all of the media's worst faults were on display for the entire week -- foremost among them an incredibly distorted view of its own importance. But then there's also the issue of scope even within the profession itself -- where was the similar outpouring for Peter Jennings? David Brinkley when he went? What will have to be done when Walter kicks the bucket, for gosh sakes? Will Bob Scheiffer's family be bummed if he doesn't get, oh, one-third the coverage? What would happen if David Gregory suddenly keeled over? If the NBC Nightly News devoted its full nightly half-hour to Russert, how much for Andrea Mitchell? Does she get a full segment between commercial breaks?

The guy was the host of Meet The Press, people. So was Garrick Utley, who may be dead already for all I know -- if he's not, he's gotta be pretty steamed.

Now, I am quite sure he was a decent man, a great friend, clearly a terrific Catholic and a fine son, a great citizen of Buffalo, a Bills fan, or so I've been told 453 times the past week -- and poor old Big Russ, my heart goes out to the guy....

And yes he was pretty darn good at what he did, his commentary on MSNBC this election season was usually spot-on, and his enthusiasm for the historical nature of the Obama and Clinton candidacies was in general really infectious.

But he was too close to the forest.

The worst moment of recent American political life, maybe even recent American history, was without a doubt the Election of 2000. What happened in that travesty of an election cannot be overstated, and better, more astute political commentators have written far more probing indictments of the horrors visited upon the nation by both the press and the politicians during that sorry period.

But what I remember is this:

The Networks called it wrong.


They jumped the gun -- twice -- on Florida. With devastating consequences.

Had they not, had they not called Florida for George W. Bush prematurely, had they not, in their absolute insane and ridiculous but completely congenital desire to tell the story in advance of the story's actually happening -- it is almost a certainty that Al Gore would have won the election. Why? Because there would not have been, as there was throughout that brutal six week period, a sense that something was being taken away from George W. Bush. And all the votes would have been counted.

Imagine it: Florida would have been, all night long, 'too close to call' -- and, with Florida never in anyone's column, it would have been in everyone's interests, George W's as well as Al Gore's, to count all the damn votes. They would have had to count them -- because we wouldn't have known who won the election!

As in fact, though not in perception, we didn't.

We didn't really know -- but we thought we knew. We thought we knew that Bush had won, but that if the votes were counted, well, who knows what could happen? But that first part -- we thought that Bush had won -- that's what killed me. We thought we knew it because those fucking assholes at the networks had decided they had to call Florida! (And how could they have called it for Bush? When earlier in the night they had been burned by calling it for Gore? Once they realized they better pull back from that first premature call, how could they not have exercised a little self control?)

But what really gets me is this:

The morning after the election -- now that we'd all agreed that Bush had won but that Gore was contesting the election -- not now that we'd all realized we still didn't know who won, a crucial difference -- I was dumbfounded as I switched among the channels.

The networks didn't get it. They didn't understand the colossal role they'd played. The commentators were reveling in what a crazy night it had been, how historical, how crazy, with calls being retracted, and madness and oh Tom, did you even go to sleep last night? They were acting like a bunch of 13 year-olds after an all-night Fantasy Baseball draft.

And the worst offender, in my memory anyway, was Tim Fucking Russert. Sitting there with a big dumb grin, like he couldn't believe he was lucky enough to have been part of it -- with his damn 'Florida, Florida, Florida' whiteboard -- as if he hadn't helped create the problem, as if it was all just fun and games. Over and over and over and over, these morons on the morning after the greatest disaster to have befallen their profession since I don't even know, they delighted in retelling the blow-by-blow of their monumental ineptitude: 'And then NBC called it for Gore, and then CBS did, and then NBC took it back, and then ABC did, and then CBS and NBC both called it for Florida, and, and, and...!" The whole thing made Dewey Defeats Truman look like a scoop.

Well, we all know what happened as a result of this giddiness -- George W. Bush happened. An unnecessary and stupid war happened. Abu Ghraib happened. Katrina happened.

And I think Tim Russert, God rest his soul, went to his grave never even beginning to think about how he'd helped bring it all about.

So you'll forgive me if I don't add to the chorus of praise for the guy. Me, I'm still smarting for how quickly and unceremoniously we said goodbye to John Ritter.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Fantasy

John McCain really doesn't look that well, does he?

I know, the doctors gave him a clean bill of health and everything -- but he looks wan and confused, and I know he avoids looking stage right to keep us from looking at one of his melanoma scars... and I am not saying I wish this, I do not wish this, not on anyone, but after all, the man is 71 years old, and who knows what unspeakable and aging horrors were visited upon him in the Hanoi Hilton all those years back?

Let's just say he starts to age, seriously, in the next few months; and that his episodes of confusion and misplaced anger become more and more frequent; and that the rigors of the campaign start to get to him; and that having a less-than-totally glowing press pack following him brings out the truly grumpy old man in him; and that, you know, in late July he basically has a stroke which leaves him paralyzed on one side of his face but he insists on carrying on, dribbling and salivating his way through a few August appearances before the convention?

I'm just saying, is all....

Do the Republicans at that point throw him, as they say, under the autobus? Do they say, oh, hell, let's just go with Romney? Or Rudy? Or -- you know, Jindhal, or Pawlenty, or whoever old Mac had lined up for Veep? Or do they just say, well, screw it, we can't win this one anyway, let's just run the old man anyway?

Obama would obviously be in a somewhat tricky position -- you can't really run that hard against a man who can't take a sip of water without making us all clench in worry -- but for all kinds of reasons, this kind of scenario is pretty easy to envision, especially as the campaign heats up and we start to see Big Mac slip and slide all over the place.

And if the Republicans do jettison him - or, forgive me, quietly persuade him to step aside - then Obama gets to run a totally different campaign - either against a guy who lost the nomination like Huckabee or Romney - or against a relative newcomer who didn't run for the nomination? It would be like a sparring match for Obama, kind of just to keep him in shape. And he'd win, I would guess, at least 45 states.

Either scenario, I think, would underscore what some people have said about Obama -- that he is one lucky candidate, never had to fight a really tough battle. (They said that before he beat the Clinton machine, anyway...) But it also might spare us a really ugly campaign, and give us a President Obama who is able to send best wishes to his once formidable opponent as they wheel the old guy around on a patio overlooking a golf course in Scottsdale listening to the Inaugural.

Vetter Vetted

At first blush I thought, "Oh, no, this is precisely the kind of game Obama is running to end, and here he is, letting (or encouraging) this probably decent man Johnson to fall on his sword because he may have gotten a break on a mortgage. And anyway, what the hell does getting a mortgage have to do with trying to find a good Vice-Presidential candidate? Nothing! Obama shoulda told those people where they could stick it!"

But when I calmed down, I realized, thank God Obama doesn't let these completely petty things (like Ms. Powers labeling Hillary a 'monster') become a distraction in the all-important battle to win, actually WIN the Presidency. It's true, it makes no difference if the guy got a mortgage or not, should have absolutely no bearing on whether or not he can tell us about Ed Rendell's suitability on the ticket -- but if it's become an issue, and it's an issue that could go away in a second, let's get rid of it.

When it's time to govern, there will be time enough to stick around and fight these completely petty battles -- but for now, he's absolutely right, let's just get rid of this non-issue however we can. Obama's an absolutely brilliant politician in that sense, and as idealistic as he can sometimes be, and as inspiring and messianic and all of that -- let's not forget the guy's got serious game.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Fonz

The events of the last week have been dizzying, terrifying, historic, moving, inspiring....

Through it all, thoughts would whistle through my brain as possibilities for things to blog about ('As great as Obama is, he's a lot like the Beatles in that he is inspiring a lot of really God-awful stuff, and future politicians who will try to be like him -- Deval, Jindhal, Cory Booker etc. -- could end up being almost embarrassingly un-inspiring, answering him in pale imitation, no longer John and Paul but Liam and Noel Gallagher now...' or 'I can't pretend to know what it feels like to be on the other end of sexism, but...'), but nothing really jelled for me until I received the following email from one of you beloved readers, which read in part:

So I was looking on your blog for a sign of satisfaction at the results of the Democratic primary that it is over, even by Hillary's own declaration.

Where is it? Nothing to say that in some form recognizes that your candidate has won this strategic primary race? Nothing to acknowledge the very excellent and superb concession and Obama endorsement speech that Hillary gave on Saturday? I know you didn't like the woman...and you folded your disdain into statements that she was the most hated person since Nixon...etc. etc., without ever really saying directly that you, Nick Davis, hated her guts. But honest-to-God, you gotta give it to her on that Saturday speech. (okay, she had someone write it for her, but she was the boss..the ultimate decider about what stance she would take and what attitude she wanted to convey...her "handlers" would not ever have been able to get her to say anything she didn't want to say...and had it not been sincere, we'dda picked it up immediately...she ain't that good an actress.

So give a little baby..a round of applause at least. She deserves it.

And my first response was in fact, yes, she did it. She did it beautifully and well, and with the proper amount of charm and graciousness and all that, and it almost made you forget most of the horrible things she'd done and said during the primary season. And I definitely feel, as I don't think I did in the heat of the Primary (now that we've decided to just singularize the damn thing), that she is going to be a solid envoy for the Obama campaign during the upcoming General Election, that she will campaign her heart out for the ticket (which I don't think will include her), and she'll do beautifully....



Then ask yourself: if she was going to be so good, if she had it in her all along to be so gracious, so smart, so well reasoned and thorough and yes even inspiring...

Then what the H-E Ell was she doing acting the way she was during the Primary? What was all that crap for? Was that just an act? Was that just 'let's do anything we can to win because this is all a game, and at the end of it we'll all shake hands and agree it didn't mean anything'? Because if that's what it was, I have news for you, Senator Clinton: this IS NOT a game. This is actually, you know, kind of important, more important than a game, more important than your ambition and ego and unapologetic shamelessness in pursuit of power.

Yes, I admit it: I hate this woman. I'm not proud of it, not proud of how she gets under my skin, but I also can't pretend that just because she said and did all the right things on Saturday, that somehow this makes it all okay. We know now who she is, and why does what she does - and it's no different than with her husband: they do it because they want power. Nothing wrong with that, either, of course. Doesn't make them different than about 99.9% of the other politicians out there (and I'm not even saying it makes them different than BHO himself), but it does mean that you can pretty much take what she says -- on any day -- with a kind of grain of salt. She does what she does to retain power. Period. The end.

The good news is, she and her husband have calculated that the best way for them to retain or regain power is to support Obama.

They are smart people, these Clintons. They rarely back the wrong horse. So that makes me happy, at last....