A little something for the season.
My daughter shared this with me the other day. Since I’m reading Chernow’s book on Hamilton and listening to the musical these days, I particularly enjoyed it.
Here’s some info about the video…
In reaction to a previous post, Bryan Caskey wrote:
What a stupid time to be alive.
Yep. None stupider, in U.S. history.
I’m just so embarrassed for my country. And every day for the next few years, I’ll wake up and have to be embarrassed again. And who knows how long it will last? Our political system is now in such disarray — neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have any idea how to get back to electing rational people, and there are no other entities on the horizon prepared to do so — that I can’t see the end of this epidemic of stupidity.
I’ve always despised H.L. Mencken for his contempt toward most of America, but now it seems we’re every bit as stupid as he thought we were.
The people who made “Idiocracy” lacked imagination. It’s arrived 500 years earlier than they supposed. In that fictional world, President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho is a former professional wrestler. (As you see above, he shared a certain penchant with Ted “Machine-Gun Bacon” Cruz.) In our real world — and every day, I struggle to persuade myself that this actually is the real world — our president-elect is an inductee of the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame.
This, of course, is not an original thought. Quite a few people have said it in recent weeks. (My only defense is that I did THINK it Election Night, but didn’t feel like getting into it.) Joel Stein explored it in TIME magazine as early as May in this piece. Excerpts:
Eight years ago, with the publication of Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason, our country had a debate about whether its citizens were becoming less intelligent. This year, we had a debate about how big Donald Trump’s penis is. While we have not resolved the latter, we have answered the former. Former means first, and latter means second….
In the Idiocracy-est moment of the whole 2016 campaign, a Trump supporter who shoved a black protester in the face explained his candidate-selection process to a reporter on MSNBC, Ali Vitali, thusly: “He’s no-bullsh-t. All balls. F-ck you, all balls. That’s what I’m about.” Though George Washington never said those exact words, he would have certainly killed a man for saying them.
I called the people who made Idiocracy to see how they so accurately predicted the future. “I’m no prophet,” Judge told me. “I was off by 490 years.” He too is shocked at how eerily similar the world has become to the one his movie depicted. He and Idiocracy co-writer Etan Cohen have been working on fake campaign ads for Camacho to be used as anti-Trump web videos, but they’re having a hard time. “Our jokes would be like, ‘I’m going to build a wall around the earth.’ They were only incrementally stupider,” says Cohen. “Writing Idiocracy was just following your id. Now unfortunately our id has become our candidate for President.” The danger here is clear: we will no longer be able to have comedies with hilarious dumb characters….
And why is that? Because all of a sudden, it’s not funny.
Come to think of it, “Idiocracy” wasn’t all that funny to start with. The opening credits, explaining how intelligent people in the present day failed to reproduce, while idiots did so like rabbits — basically, the explanation of the premise — was the best part. The rest quickly grew old. Because it’s just not much fun to contemplate living in a world governed by stupidity.
And now, here we are…
By now, you’ve heard that Fidel Castro outlasted 10 U.S. presidents. I’ve read that several times. But I make it 11. Check my math:
Oh, I get it. They’re not counting Obama, since Fidel didn’t quite outlast him. Duh.
Whatever. Guy was in office a long time, longer than a lot of you have been alive.
And what’s he got to show for it? Almost six decades of oppression, and some beautifully preserved antique cars. I read over the weekend that since the thaw began, a huge part of the Cuban economy is American tourism and the officially tolerated sex trade, which takes us back to where he came in.
The big question now is, will things get better between the U.S. and Cuba now, or worse? I’m not overly optimistic, with you-know-who about to take over in Washington.
And now, let’s pause a moment to remember Ron Glass, whom we all remember (if we’re old enough) from “Barney Miller,” but I recall more fondly as Shepherd Book from “Firefly.” As you may recall if you’re a Browncoat, one of the great unsolved mysteries from the short-lived series was just what sort of shady past the Shepherd had.
Now we’ll never know, even if there’s a revival of the series, which there should be.
Requiescat in pace, Ron… (Do they have Latin in the future ‘verse, or is it just English and Chinese?)
“Hamilton” actor Brandon Victor Dixon, who plays Aaron Burr, did not take to heart the advice his character gives the young Hamilton:
While we’re talking, let me offer you some free advice:
Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for…
If he had been the real Burr, he would not have singled out his successor-elect, Mike Pence, for embarrassment after the show the other night.
A lot of people who are as distressed over the election results as I am think it was great for Dixon to deliver this message from the stage to Pence, who was in the audience:
“You know, we have a guest in the audience this evening,” he said to audience hoots and laughter. “And Vice President-elect Pence, I see you walking out, but I hope you will hear us just a few more moments. There’s nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen. There’s nothing to boo here. We’re all here sharing a story of love. We have a message for you, sir. We hope that you will hear us out.”
As he pulled a small piece of paper from his pocket, Dixon encouraged people to record and share what he was about to say, “because this message needs to be spread far and wide.” The cast, in their 18th-century costumes, and the crew, in jeans and T-shirts, linked arms and hands behind Dixon….
“Vice President-elect Pence, we welcome you, and we truly thank you for joining us here at ‘Hamilton: An American Musical.’ We really do,” Dixon said to further applause. “We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us . . .”
The audience erupted in cheers again. “Again, we truly thank you for sharing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men and women of different colors, creeds and orientations.”
As I say, some thought it was great. I did not. It seemed tacky, gauche, not the proper place. The man in the audience was a guest, and did not come to harangue anyone — or to be harangued.
It’s not that the actor was hostile or cruel or anything like that. He wasn’t inciting anything; he was just saying, We’re all pretty upset your ticket got elected, so please reassure us by your actions. Which is the sort of thing I myself might say to Pence were I to run into him and be introduced. But of course, that’s a different dynamic from singling someone out of a crowd.
Nor did Pence mind, or so he says. (as to what Trump thought, which we learned all about when he launched him on another of his childish rants, I address that in a comment below.) And I get that the cast and crew didn’t want to throw away their shot. But it just didn’t seem the place. I’d have felt terribly awkward had I been there. I feel awkward just hearing about it, especially since, as I am so dismayed at the election result — because of Trump, remember, not Pence — this gaucherie was committed by someone who agrees with me on that point. That makes me feel responsible.
So I thought I’d say something…
One more thought: One would think that everything the cast and crew wanted to say — about “diversity,” about the value of immigrants, about fundamental rights — had already been said, beautifully and creatively, by the play they had just performed. And since Pence had come to hear it, it seems to me that the message had been delivered, by the masterpiece it took Lin-Manuel Miranda seven years to write, far better than a hastily-penned speech could do.
The only thing the little speech said that the play did not was, Yo, Mike Pence — we see you out there — yeah, you. And we’ve got a problem with you.
And that’s the bit that seemed to me unnecessary.
If they wanted to acknowledge Pence, the stage manager could have stepped onto the stage before the show to say, We have a special guest in the audience tonight, vice president-elect Mike Pence. Mr. Pence, we hope you enjoy the show, take it to heart, and go forth inspired. We hope you all do.
That would have been appropriate…
Y’all may recall that several years back, this item topped my list of Top Five Books that Should Have Been Made Into Movies by Now:
And today, just days after the death of Leon, I get this news:
True to its name, the Syfy channel has made a habit of adapting science fiction and fantasy literature both established (Childhood’s End, Hyperion) and contemporary (The Expanse, The Magicians). Now it seems there’s another much-beloved property on the network’s list: Robert Heinlein’s 1961 Stranger in a Strange Land.
According to a press release, this is the first TV adaptation of Stranger in a Strange Land—very broadly, the tale of a Mars-born man who travels to Earth and experiences human culture for the first time; it influenced the counterculture and won a Hugo en route to becoming a classic. No further details on the proposed TV series were announced, but we’ll be keeping an eye on this one….
OK, first, this had better be good. I’ve been waiting for it for 46 years. Not a long time at all from an Old One’s perspective (they’d be content to wait another century or two), but quite a stretch for those of us who have no immediate plans to discorporate.
And in that time — especially most recently — we have become accustomed to a level of quality in TV series that we couldn’t have dreamed of back when I first read the book.
So when I say this needs to be be good, I mean like “Sopranos” good, or “Band of Brothers” good. I want it to be better than “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones.” Merely making it better than “Dune,” The Worst Movie Of All Time, won’t even get you into the right universe of how good this needs to be.
So yeah, we’re ALL gonna keep an eye on this one. If they don’t grok the fullness, if we sense a wrongness in the result, the Old Ones will know, because they’re monitoring.
You grok what we’re saying, TV people?
Oh, also, I’d still like a part in the series. Ben Caxton would be best, but as I say, I’m too old. And I’m much, MUCH too young to play Jubal — he’s supposed to be so old, people are amazed to find him still walking around, much less as spry as he is. He’s like at least in his 90s.
I’d settle for something minor. How about James Oliver Cavendish, the famous Fair Witness whose services Ben engages to go interview the fake Man from Mars? I think that’s in my range.
Now, let’s discuss who will play the other parts….
I’m not saying there’s a connection to Trump getting elected last week. I don’t think this is actually happening because the coolest people refuse to stay on such a planet. But it would be nice to have a little break from horrible news.
First, there was Leonard Cohen — whom I recognize as one of “the coolest people” even though I was never much of a fan. I loved “Hallelujah” (as practically everyone on the planet does), and I recognized one or two other songs, such as “Chelsea Hotel #2,” but that was about it. (I knew he was someone people who were way cooler than I listened to way back in the ’70s, but never got around to him until a few years back.)
But yesterday the real blow came — the death of Leon Russell, The Master of Space and Time himself! The man who defined cool! The calm, imperturbable center of his very own “hippie commune, bonafide,” the Shelter People. The mysterious master who drew so many other famous musicians (George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker, Rita Coolidge, Elton John) to him, but was always apart — presiding imperiously at the keyboard with his bone-straight graying hair (who that we knew had gray hair in 1971?) falling around his shoulders, the regal beard, the top hat, the mirror shades.
Even though he had been a fixture on “Shindig!” years before (a previous incarnation, with a dark Elvis pompadour, no facial hair — but still the same Tulsa voice, the same piano magic), I never knew who he was before the “Shelter People” album in the summer of 1971. But then it seemed he was everywhere — doing the rockingest set of all at the Concert for Bangladesh!… having his own very trippy TV special with the Shelter People just hanging out in a studio — and had always been everywhere, though I hadn’t known it. (Listen to Elton John reel off a litany of people Leon had played with over the years — Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, Doris Day, Dean Martin, Herb Alpert, Frank Sinatra, before he even got to Delaney and Bonnie and all the others of my generation — on this clip.)
A year or two later, I saw him in what may be the best rock concert I ever saw in my life, or ever will see. I may have described it before, but let me just tell you how he made his entrance: It was in the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis. The whole entourage was out there on the stage before him — maybe 20 people, from the usual long-haired guys with guitars to the women who sang backup standing on elevated platforms. At the center of the stage were two grand pianos, and sitting at one was this black dude (probably someone famous, but I don’t know who) banging away in this raucous gospel-rock style, and everybody else jamming along with him. But no Leon. They went on like this for maybe 10 minutes, and as it climbed toward a climactic crescendo, Leon made his appearance. He was in a snow-white suit with white top hat (or was it a cowboy hat? — either worked for him), and he was playing a matching white Stratocaster, and I’m like I didn’t even know he played guitar, but I realized that of course, Leon could play anything he wanted.
He strolled out, so casually, so in command of the stage. Then he stepped up onto the second piano’s bench, still playing, then on up to the top of the piano, and stood there and kept playing for a moment, with everybody else rocking away like mad. Then he stepped down, ditched the guitar, sat at the piano, starting dueling with the other pianist, and that’s when the music really hit its peak.
I’ve never seen anyone else with that kind of presence on stage. I was as impressed as Huck Finn at the circus. Worth every penny of the probably $5 the ticket cost me, and then some. Later, I saw Elvis on the same stage, and I don’t think even The King topped Leon, although perhaps I should shy away from committing lèse-majesté — after all this was in E’s own hometown.
And now he’s gone…
I thought I’d share my very favorite Leon song, “Stranger in a Strange Land,” above. I chose that clip because it’s a live performance (a less polished one than I saw in Memphis, but you can feel the energy), so you can get a sense of his style, but I actually prefer the studio version, which you can hear here. I first heard this song when, at the suggestion of my uncle, I got the “Shelter People” album in mid-1971. It was within a year after I first read Heinlein’s novel — which has nothing to do with the lyrics of the song, but is all part of the sensibility of the time.
And to reinforce that Leon had always been with us, even when we didn’t realize it, I also include this clip from his “Shindig!” days…
OK, one more pop-music-oriented post. It’s obliquely related to the one on Leonard Cohen.
Remember long ago when I asked whether Phillip or other musical experts here could explain how “Hallelujah” worked, what it was about it that was so appealing? Phillip and many others rose to the occasion.
Well, I’ve got a tougher one today. This morning, I was listening to “One-Note Samba,” and wondered how in the world that could reach out and grab me or anyone else.
Maybe it doesn’t speak to you, but I’ve always had a thing for samba music ever since my Dad brought back some records from a trip to Rio when I was a kid (sort of the way Liverpool kids learned about rock ‘n’ roll from the discs brought into port by sailors). And obviously some people besides me like this one, since it’s been covered so often.
So tell me:
Why does it work? Why isn’t it too monotonous? Does it keep us listening purely because of the rhythm? Is that it? Or is it the fact that we know, as we endure the one-note parts, that it’s going to change, and that change is what rewards us? Or is it because of what the instruments are playing while the singer is stuck on the one note?
Just wondering. Because to me, music is just magic, and far beyond my ken…
In recent days, Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” has been sort of playing in the background of my mind when I was thinking about other things. I kept finding myself silently mouthing, “pocketful of mumbles,” without bothering to think about it.
Well, in the shower (that font of inspiration) this morning, I suddenly realized why, when I thought of the context:
I am just a poor boy
Though my story’s seldom told
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of mumbles, such are promises
All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest.
Of course, the last two lines are the most pertinent. For a generation now, people have been rejecting Moynihan’s dictum that we’re not entitled to our own facts, and insisting that they have a right to them. This was the election in which that dynamic, men hearing only what they want to hear, has manifested itself most dramatically (and destructively).
But the rest of it fits, too — the meaninglessness of political promises (which I dislike in the best of times), the predominance of lies, and so forth. And who was Fareed Zakaria’s column reaching out to but “poor boys” who feel that their stories have gone ignored?
I seldom hear that song without thinking of a church youth group that I attended some when I was in high school in Hawaii. It was in an architecturally unassuming (a low, frame building probably left over from WWII) Navy chapel up the hill from Pearl Harbor, somewhere between my house in Foster Village and the Sub Base gate. (I just tried to find an image of it using Google Maps Street View, but first, I think it’s gone, and second, Street View stops working with you get to the edge of a military installation. This was actually off base back then, but now all all Navy property seems to be sealed off.)
It was led by a chaplain of that sort we’ve all met, who is really, really trying to reach out to the kids where they are. I can vaguely picture him, and the only thing else I can remember about him was that he once told us about ministering to Marines during a siege in Vietnam when for awhile it looked like they were all going to die. (Khe Sanh, perhaps? Or maybe some smaller action that’s less well known.)
Anyway, one week he urged us to bring our favorite songs to the next week’s meeting, where we would play them and then discuss why they were important to us.
I couldn’t really think of a favorite song. A year or so earlier it would have been easy — “Let it Be.” But I wanted something more contemporary, so I took my copy of the “Bridge Over Troubled Water” album and asked him to play “The Boxer.” I didn’t even know why I picked it then. I think maybe I thought, as a boy starting out in life, to be sort of profound in a self-absorbed young man kind of way, and even literary — the protagonist struck me as a more humble Nick Adams, or something. Maybe I thought it would impress somebody.
Anyway, it’s been there in the background a bit this week…
Just thought I’d put this up to mark the passing of Leonard Cohen.
As y’all know, I love this song, so much that awhile back, I asked Phillip and other musical sages here on the blog to help me understand why it was so awesome…
Interestingly, the song almost never reached a wide audience, thanks to the myopia of a record executive.
It’s almost certainly his most covered song, which prompted him to say, “I think it’s a good song, but I think too many people sing it.” See one of the less conventional video versions below.
Anyway, thanks, Leonard, for spending five years writing it. And for all the rest….
One of the best directors in the ‘verse has stepped forward to try to get out the vote for next week.
I especially enjoy the one above, making appropriate fun of the notion that what all situations call for is a businessman.
But Doug and my other Libertarian (or should I say, “Browncoat“) friends should enjoy the one below, entitled, “If Congress was your co-worker…”
My favorite, though, might be this one, in which a Brit, thoroughly embarrassed by Brexit, begs us all to vote for Trump so we Yanks will go back to being the idiots the rest of the world looks down on. It starts, appropriately enough, with “Bit of a favor to ask…”
Roughly ten years ago, I was sitting at my desk in my office at The State, talking on the phone with Fritz Hollings. This was shortly after he had left office, and we frequently had occasion to talk. I don’t know what we were talking about, or who had called whom. It might have been about one of several op-ed pieces he wrote for us in that period — he was still having trouble letting go of policymaking. Maybe it was the conversation in which I called him to ask a favor — his good friend Joe Biden was going to be in town, and I wanted him to drop by the office if he had time so we could get acquainted, before he ran again for national office (Fritz came through on that).
Anyway, we got off the subject, whatever it was. Fritz had just read Ron Chernow’s book, Alexander Hamilton, and he started singing its praises, saying I must read it. I took his advice — almost. I put the book on my list for family members looking for gift ideas for my birthday or Christmas, and someone promptly gave it to me. And… it has sat on my shelf ever since, until this weekend.
I really, truly, meant to read it. I’d always been interested in the Founders. On my way to sort of inadvertently getting a second major in history, I concentrated to a certain extent on that period. And I came away convinced that had I been alive and in politics at the time, I’d have been a Federalist. That was the party Hamilton had founded, and I knew he was brilliant, and that he provided most of the arguments that sold the Constitution to the country among other startling achievements, but… I was less attracted to him than to the others, and I knew that as a result I had neglected him. Which is why I had dutifully put the book on my list. But still, I kept my distance. Maybe I had absorbed some of the propaganda put out about him by Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans, but it seemed to me that there was a reason why Hamilton wasn’t ever president, and I thought that if I was a Federalist, I was more of an Adams Federalist than a Hamiltonian. I mean, the guy was so into money and all…
So there the book sat. And during the years that I failed to read it, a young man named Lin-Manuel Miranda picked it up, and it set his mind on fire. He was inspired to write a musical based on the book, and it became the biggest hit on Broadway in a generation.
So, I missed a big opportunity there.
I kept hearing about the play, and seeing video clips from it, and I thought it was really exciting that someone had made a hit out of one of the Founders (and, to my mind, the Founder least likely to inspire a hit musical), but I had some Clueless White Guy questions: What did hip-hop have to do with the guy who had founded banks and our whole financial system? And why were most of the actors on the stage black — or at least, seemingly nonAnglo-Saxon? I didn’t object to them being black — I just wondered why. It seemed that there was a point being made, but I didn’t understand what the point was. I wondered whether it had to do with Hamilton’s obscure origins. All I knew (thanks to Jefferson’s folks) was that Hamilton was a bastard out of the West Indies. Was Miranda saying that, coming out of the ethnic richness of the Caribbean, he was of mixed race, so it was fitting to have actors of color fill the stage?
Well, on Friday night, I saw “Hamilton’s America,” the fascinating documentary about the creation of this play, and suddenly I got it. I saw what people were so enchanted with. I understood why, when Manuel was reading Chernow’s book on vacation, he thought, “This is a rap!” And I was deeply impressed by how everyone involved in the production was thoroughly immersed in Hamilton and the other Founders and what they were all about, and why they are important today — and not just to pasty-faced people of English extraction.
I was really impressed by that part. Decades ago, when I did some community theater back in Tennessee, I met a lot of talented people. And I was shocked to find that people who were brilliant musicians — something I could never be — and really gifted amateur actors were nevertheless… how shall I put this… not well read. They might do a play based on history — say, “The Lion In Winter,” which I acted in — and they’d get their lines and the intonations perfectly, but they wouldn’t really know the history or the cultural context of what they were pretending to be.
In this documentary, not only Miranda was able to speak fluently and inspiringly about Hamilton and his world, but the other actors as well. They went on and on about it, and you could learn a lot by listening to them.
And as I listened, I — who was last attracted to musical theater when Andrew Lloyd Webber came out with “Evita” (another sort of history I sorta kinda concentrated on in college was Latin American) — started really, really getting into the music. And that’s really, really saying something, since the only rap numbers I’m familiar with and like are the ones from “Office Space.”
So here’s the irony: Hip-hop helped get those young actors into history. And now history is getting me into hip-hop. As I type this, I’m nodding my head to “I am not throwing away my… shot!”
OK, OK, Lin-Manuel! You got me! I finally picked up the book yesterday, and started reading. Slow reader that I am (the book’s 800-plus pages of small type pushed me away as much as anything), I’m on the third chapter now, and wow! He was right: This is a rap. I’m still in young Alexander’s shockingly difficult childhood in the Indies, and there’s nobody who ever came from meaner streets than he did. What a story.
So I’m really into it now. Fritz was right. So was Lin, who gave me the swift kick I needed…
Finally, the Nobel Prize for Literature goes to a writer whose work I both know and appreciate:
Bob Dylan was named the surprise winner of the Nobel prize for literature in Stockholm today “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.
Speaking to reporters after the announcement, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, said she hoped the Academy would not be criticised for its choice.
“The times they are a’changing, perhaps,” she said, comparing the songs of the American songwriter, who had yet to be informed of his win, to the works of Homer and Sappho.
“Of course he [deserves] it – he’s just got it,” she said. “He’s a great poet in the English-speaking tradition. And he is a wonderful sampler, a very original sampler. He embodies the tradition and for 54 years now he has been at it, reinventing himself constantly, creating a new identity.”
Danius said the choice of Dylan may appear surprising, “but if you look far back, … you discover Homer and Sappho. They wrote poetic texts that were meant to be listened to, performed, often together with instruments, and it’s the same way for Bob Dylan. We still read Homer and Sappho, and we enjoy it. Same thing with Bob Dylan – he can be read and should be read. And he is a great poet in the grand English tradition.”…
Trying to remember the last time this happened for me, I looked back at the list of past winners.
Let’s see: There was V.S. Naipaul in 2001 — I’ve been meaning to read something by him, but haven’t gotten to it….
Ah, William Golding in 1983! Pass me the conch, and I’ll tell you what I know about him.
I’ve read one book by Gabriel García Márquez (1982). Didn’t like it. Even though I thought it would be awesome, being about Simón Bolívar, whom I had been taught to revere in history classes in Ecuador. Instead, it was just… unpleasant… wearying.
1976 — Surely I’ve read something by Saul Bellow… nope. But I have read Bernard Malamud and Chaim Potok, in my defense.
Steinbeck in 1962! Now we’re talking…
1957 — I’ve read The Stranger by Camus. Didn’t like it.
We’ll stop with Hemingway — the one person on this list I have really read avidly — in 1954. That covers my lifetime.
As far as my being able to relate, Dylan blows all but Hemingway away. (And yes, I’m embarrassed to admit this way that no one will say to me, “you’re very well-read, it’s well known.” But this is a blog where we tell truths, is it not?)
This is amazing. Something is happening, and I don’t know what it is. No, wait: I do. Boomers are finally truly in charge. Yay, us! It’s gear, it’s fab, it’s boss, it’s tuff, it’s righteous. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand, etc….
Let’s set aside for a moment this contest of character and pretend we have the luxury of talking about ideas in this presidential election.
Were that the case, the most interesting moment in last night’s debate would have come at this point:
RADDATZ: … This question involves WikiLeaks release of purported excerpts of Secretary Clinton’s paid speeches, which she has refused to release, and one line in particular, in which you, Secretary Clinton, purportedly say you need both a public and private position on certain issues. So, Tu (ph), from Virginia asks, is it OK for politicians to be two-faced? Is it acceptable for a politician to have a private stance on issues? Secretary Clinton, your two minutes…
Let’s set aside the loaded wording of the question (“two-faced”), and look at the underlying issue, which speaks to the nature of leadership and the ways we communicate in a representative democracy.
Can an honest person have a public position that differs from what he thinks in his heart of hearts? Yes, he (or she) can. In fact, there are times when he or she must.
As a longtime editorial page editor, I’m quite familiar with this. Most of the time, our editorial position was consistent with my own personal position. But we operated by consensus — I was not the only member of the board — and what we ended up with was not always exactly what I thought. I deferred to my colleagues, at least to the extent of modifying the position so that we could get everybody on board. And once the decision was made, I did not publicly say things to contradict it, because that would have militated against our consensus. I had a duty as leader of the board not to undermine its positions — even on the extremely rare occasions when our official position was very different from my own, such as when we endorsed George W. Bush over John McCain in 2000.
But my care with my utterances in order to keep the board together was nothing compared to what a president faces.
The president of the United States daily, if not hourly, faces situations in which it would be grossly impolitic, unwise, and even harmful to the country to say precisely what he or she personally thinks or feels about a situation. A president must be diplomatic, not only with representatives of other nations, but with multiple contending and overlapping constituencies right here at home. This is why a president is surrounded by people who are talented at helping choose precisely the right words needed to help move things in a desired direction. It would be grossly irresponsible, indeed a dereliction of duty and perhaps a deadly danger to the country, for a president simply to spout off from the gut without pausing to temper the message (see “Trump, Donald”).
People who don’t work professionally with words are sometimes pleased to call carefully moderating one’s speech “lying.” Those of us who work with words know better. You can say the same true thing many different ways, and how you choose to say it can make all the difference between communicating effectively and having the desired effect, or failing miserably.
Back to the debate…
Secretary Clinton responded this way to that loaded question:
As I recall, that was something I said about Abraham Lincoln after having seen the wonderful Steven Spielberg movie called “Lincoln.” It was a master class watching President Lincoln get the Congress to approve the 13th Amendment. It was principled, and it was strategic…
Did you see the film? If so, you know there was a lot more to Lincoln than the fine words in the Gettysburg Address. He may have been the most skilled, determined, clear-eyed, illusionless man ever to hold the office — and the most effective. (The only two men I can imagine coming close to him in these regards were FDR and LBJ.)
The film shows Lincoln involved in the noble task of permanently saving our country from the stain of slavery, going beyond what fine words or even four years of unbelievable bloodshed could accomplish. The Emancipation Proclamation had been a stratagem in winning the war (and one he had held back from issuing, with flawless timing, until the political climate was ripe for it), an ephemeral, self-contradictory thing that did not truly free the slaves. He needed something that went far beyond that; he needed to amend the Constitution.
And he pulled out all the stops — all the stops — in getting that done. Set aside the unseemly spectacle of promising government jobs to lame-duck congressmen — that was routine horse-trading in that day. Let’s look at the central deception — and the word is apt — that was essential to getting the 13th Amendment passed.
Lincoln knew that once the war ended, Congress would see little need to ban slavery — and the war was in danger of ending before he could get it done. In fact, a delegation led by Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens was on its way to Washington to sue for peace. It would in fact have arrived if Lincoln hadn’t ordered Union troops to detain it some distance from the capital. While the delegation cooled its heels, Lincoln worked feverishly to get his amendment passed.
At a critical moment in the debate in Congress in the film, a rumor spreads that there is a Confederate peace delegation in the city. This threatens to defeat the amendment. Lincoln tells Congress that not only is there no such group in Washington, but that he does not expect there to be. He conveniently leaves out the fact that the reason he doesn’t expect there to be is because he has issued orders to that effect.
Another instance in which Lincoln has a public position differing from his private position is with regard to Republican power broker Francis Preston Blair. The reason the Confederate delegation started on its journey to begin with was that Lincoln had reluctantly allowed Blair to reach out to Richmond. Why had he done that? Because Blair urgently wanted peace, and Lincoln needed his support to keep conservative Republicans in line on the amendment.
So… Lincoln did these things — playing every angle, and saying what needed to be said to the people who needed to hear them –, and rather drawing our disapprobation for having done so, he is rightly revered.
As I said above, the only two presidents I can see even coming close to Lincoln in terms of political skill and effectiveness were Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. Which reminds me of a contretemps from 2008. An excerpt from my column of January 20 of that year:
It started when the senator from New York said the following, with reference to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done.”
The white woman running against a black man for the Democratic Party nomination could only get herself into trouble mentioning Dr. King in anything other than laudatory terms, particularly as she headed for a state where half of the voters likely to decide her fate are black.
You have to suppose she knew that. And yet, she dug her hole even deeper by saying:
“Senator Obama used President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to criticize me. Basically compared himself to two of our greatest heroes. He basically said that President Kennedy and Dr. King had made great speeches and that speeches were important. Well, no one denies that. But if all there is (is) a speech, then it doesn’t change anything.”…
Hillary Clinton was not my choice for president that year. Several weeks later, we endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination (right after endorsing John McCain — whom we would later endorse in the general — for the Republican).
Her point was that fine words (such as those with which her opponent excelled) are well and good, but if you want to see a good thing get done, you need someone who will roll up sleeves, dig in and do what it takes. Which LBJ never shied away from.
When she was a fresh grad at Wellesley, Hillary Clinton was dismissive of politics being the art of the possible. As she grew up, ran into brick walls of opposition and in other ways found how resistant the world could be to fine words and finer sentiments, she learned. Her concept of what it took to get things done — and of what things were doable — matured.
Hence what she said in that leaked speech.
I don’t say this to defend Hillary Clinton personally. As I said, I wanted to raise a point that we might discuss were we in a different situation. But we’re not in a different situation. Right now, our representative democracy faces supreme degradation, and possibly worse, if Donald Trump is elected. So we have that appalling threat to deal with, and fine points and ethical ambiguities are not the order of the day.
So pretend that speech — the one to the paying audience, not to Wellesley grads — was delivered by someone else. Think for a moment about the ideas being expressed, not the person expressing them.
It’s a question that all of us should wrestle with as we grow and mature. When I was a young and cocky editor, very free with my thoughts on everything, and to hell with whether others agreed, my then-boss posed me a question: Would you rather be right, or effective?
Of course, I wanted to be both. But what about when you can’t be?
At the end of the week, I did a blog post for ADCO about this video that a bunch of celebrities did to urge people to vote.
Not until today did I see the outtake from what Robert DeNiro said about Donald Trump. It’s just a tad more restrained than in his performance below.
So, ya think Bobby’s kinda ticked at this guy? A li’l bit, li’l bit…
This one had me going for more than an hour this morning, and I feel great relief that I finally got to the bottom of it.
I heard the song as a jazz instrumental on the Muzak system at the Cap City Club at breakfast this morning, during a lull in the conversations going on around me. I knew it was an old standard (meaning, from before my time), one that was as familiar as my own heartbeat, but could… not… place it!
Trying to sing along in my mind, I thought the lyric at one point said something about “puppy on a string.”
But that couldn’t be right, could it? Obviously, it would have to be the cliche, “puppet on a string.” Unless, of course, it was a play on the cliche, but I doubted it was. So I started searching on my phone for songs with lyrics containing the phrase, and had trouble getting past the song of that name. Actually, there’s more than one song by that name, although I don’t think I ever heard this one, I’m happy to say.
Then I decided that the last words in the verse were “so much in love.” (Those words turned out to be “holding your hand,” but my words would have worked there just as well, evoking much the same feeling.)
Of course, that produced this. Great pop song, but definitely not what I was seeking.
So I gave up trying to figure it out detective-fashion (Tom Sawyer would be ashamed of me) and decided to close my office door and hum it into the SoundHound app on my phone. Since I couldn’t remember the crucial first three notes (“Look at me” in the lyrics), SoundHound wasn’t at all sure what I was humming, but it suggested that maybe, just maybe, I was trying to hum “Misty.”
YES! Finally, I can turn to other things and get on with my day.
Oh, and by the way, the lyric I remembered as “puppy on a string” was “kitten up a tree.” But you can see the association, right? Please say “yes.” Anyway, “puppy” was definitely closer than “puppet.”
That was a toughie…
“What is truth?” asked Pilate, and washed his hands. Sometimes I ask the same question, because it’s not always as simple as people like to think it is. At least, not in politics. (As a Catholic, I accept that the One of whom Pilate asked the question did trade in actual Truth.)
I had the chance to explore that a bit over at WACH-Fox studios this morning. Cynthia Hardy asked me to participate in a discussion of truth, lies and the current presidential election for the weekly TV version of her OnPoint show. Catch the show on WACH Sunday morning at 8:30. (Hey, you can DVR it, can’t you?)
At this point, I don’t recall precisely what was said during the taped segments, because we were talking about all this before and after the taping, and during breaks. But here are some of the points I made at some time or other while I was there:
I could go on and on, but there’s real work to be done. I’ll check back in and see what y’all think…
To most people who know anything about debating, or about national and international issues, or about the presidency, Hillary Clinton pretty much cleaned Donald Trump’s clock last night.
She was serious, focused, informed, composed, presidential. He was thin-skinned, blustery, illogical, inarticulate, uninformed — the usual.
But does it matter? Does it make a difference? In 2016, that is the operative question.
I’ve had several conversations with folks this morning, and everyone has more or less agreed with this assessment. But I tend to speak to well-informed people.
I keep thinking about the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960. Debate experts said Nixon won. So did most people who heard it over the radio. But those who saw it on TV said Kennedy won. And that was the new factor that the professionals, the experts, didn’t take into consideration.
Today, the new factor is that a significant portion of the electorate has gone stark, raving mad.
A debate like what we saw last night would have been inconceivable in 1960. Regardless of whether you think Nixon or Kennedy won, both of them did an excellent job by any informed standard. It would have been completely impossible for someone like Donald Trump to be on that stage. (Some would say it would be impossible for someone like Hillary to be there, but such people are looking at the superficiality of gender. The fact is with regard to factors that matter, she fits comfortably into the Nixon-Kennedy set of candidates.)
No one like Trump would be the Republican nominee. No one like Trump would have made any kind of showing in the primaries. Anyone as blustery and undisciplined as Trump would have been lucky to have been allowed to sit in the audience and watch.
So the difference between him and Hillary Clinton last night is far, far starker than the minimal contrast between Nixon and Kennedy. It’s not a contest between two qualified candidates. It’s between a qualified candidate and a nightmare.
But our politics are so messed up today, the electorate’s Kardashian-numbed sensibilities so accepting of the unacceptable, that the fact that she beat him like a drum last night — in the eyes of the knowledgeable, the thoughtful — may be as irrelevant as Nixon beating Kennedy on points. More so.
Trump’s support is such an illogical phenomenon that one cannot logically predict the effect of the debate.
And that’s yet another very, very disturbing thing about this election…
I didn’t watch “The Age of Adaline,” but since the Amazon Prime account is in my name (it was a Christmas gift), Jeff Bezos et al. asked me to rate it.
So I asked my wife, and she suggested 4 stars. I considered protesting — you’re sure that’s not overly generous? In my book, 4 stars is semi-awesome, like “Vertigo” or “Conan the Barbarian” or “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (the movie version — the Alec Guinness TV version is 5 stars).
After all, I only gave the first season of “Vikings” three stars.
I don’t really know anything about “The Age of Adaline,” but the image with it scares me a bit. Starry-eyed young woman in extreme closeup with handsome young man with neatly trimmed beard? It’s got Hallmark-channel romance written all over it. Even with the sci-fi premise, do I want Amazon throwing a whole lot of these at me?
But I want my wife to find movies she wants to see, too — I’m not a selfish monster, or at least not that much of a selfish monster — so I went ahead and gave it 4 stars.
Then, I went back and upgraded “Vikings” to 4 stars, too. Just to balance things out, make sure Amazon suggests stuff I like as well. “Vikings” has young men with beards, too, but the beards are wild and weird and blood-encrusted and tied into bunches for scaring those wimpy Saxons. Proper beards.
So more Ages of Adalines will come our way, but there will be leavening — with battleaxes!
The Wall Street Journal had a fun piece today about the fad of re-enacting the printer-smashing scene from “Office Space.” Above, you see the spoof produced by the Ted Cruz campaign a few months back. Here’s the original.
But the story was accompanied by a short (only five questions) quiz about “Office Space,” and unfortunately, I missed one. When I guessed the minimum number of pieces of flair, I guessed too high.
Which is not a bad thing if you’re an employee of Chotchkie’s. Seriously, what do you think of a person who only does the bare minimum?
But it’s not good if you’re a huge “Office Space” fan.
So if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not talk about my flair…
I was struck by this yesterday, but didn’t get around to sharing it until now:
The University of South Carolina will add around 1,300 new beds in privately owned student housing properties in time for the fall 2016 semester, seventh-most in the country.
A study by student housing and apartment market data provider Axiometrics found seven of the 10 university markets expecting the most new beds were in the Southeast or the Southwest. Arkansas led the way with an anticipated 2,319 new beds.
Several new student-oriented apartment complexes have recently opened in Columbia, including: Park Place, located at Blossom and Huger streets, with 640 beds; Station at Five Points, located at Gervais and Harden streets, with 660 beds; and 650 Lincoln Phase Two, with 297 beds.
Nationwide, a total of 47,700 new beds are scheduled for come to market in time for the fall semester….
Hey, I don’t care about nationwide. I care about the fact that, as many additional students as we’ve absorbed downtown in recent years, 1,300 more are moving in right now!
And that does count hundreds or thousands more that we can see under construction!
Already, walking down Main Street makes me feel like Peter Ustinov in “Logan’s Run.” This is bizarre.
Where are they all coming from?