Sunday, January 22, 2006

Gore, Kerry, Chocolate City and the Mencken of Crazytown

Karma's being a dick. My weeks of stumbling around Europe and a two-book-a-week reading habit are now being balanced out by late nights and weekends in the office. Hence, fewer updates on here, which may be a blessing or a curse, depending on your misguided interest in the drug habits of a former child star.

Hot off the heels of the Democrats' trainwreck in the Alito hearings, it was a week worthy of Sinclair Lewis, which, I suppose, is better than the usual Yeats.

Big kudos to Al Gore and John Kerry, for real. To read the battery of posts at Daily Kos, you'd be reasonable to conclude that Al Gore's speech on Monday about presidential wiretaps was the equivalent of Lincoln's famous 1859 speech at New York's Cooper Union -- historic remarks that pushed a longshot to the front ranks of presidential contenders.

It was a wonderful speech. Everyone should read it. Put aside your flow chart or HR memo and read it, right now, or else shut up and move to Vancouver.

When I was in college I had to read a stack of speeches by Congressmen of the 1850s: Lewis Cass, William Sumner, Henry Clay, etc. Gore speaks like them. He doesn't appeal to emotion. His speech was passionate and furious, but it wasn't a lame stab to make you scared for your kids or your own safety. Gore talks on epic terms, not about the perhaps understandable paranoia people feel as citizens, but about the fragility of institutions and liberties and the genius of the Constitutional system. It's sad how grateful I feel to hear a politician not beg to the lowest common denominator.

A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government. Our founding fathers were adamant that they had established a government of laws and not men. And they recognized that the structure of government they had enshrined in our Constitution--our system of checks and balances--was designed with a central purpose of ensuring that it would govern through the rule of law. As John Adams said: "The executive shall never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them, to the end that it may be a government of laws and not of men."

An executive who arrogates to himself the power to ignore the legitimate legislative directives of the Congress, or to act free of the check of the judiciary, becomes the central threat that the founders sought to nullify in the Constitution--an all-powerful executive too reminiscent of the king from whom they had broken free. In the words of James Madison, "the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet on "[c]ommon [s]ense" ignited the American Revolution, succinctly described America's alternative. Here, he said, we intended to make certain that, in his phrase, "the law is king."

Gore's speech is dead right about everything, and it's unfortunate that so few Democrats have been willing to talk about the wiretaps in these concrete terms. The speech is an inspiration. I'm happy to work more weekends if it means saving enough money to spend 2007 and 2008 volunteering for a Gore campaign.

Contrast Gore with Chris Matthews, a vile little toad, or Ray Nagin, who employed imagery that was not only racially and religiously loaded, but to my ears cannibalistic and sexual to boot.

The amusing but functionally retarded Matthews saw excerpts of the new bin Ladin tape and said that bin Laden "sounds like an over-the-top Michael Moore, if not a Michael Moore," which became the trope of the week for conservatives trying to label bin Ladin a liberal. I've never understood why it's considered inappropriate to compare Bush to corporatist, warmongering, mid-2oth century fascists, yet fashionable to compare secular pacifists to mass-murdering religious extremists, whose methods and rhetorics nicely complement the American right.

For his effort to play the H.L. Mencken of the asshole crowd, Matthews would have been my hands-down winner for Tard of the Week, but since the writer sometimes known as spinachdip selected Nagin, I'll pile on. Nagin's remarks were too sad and strange to be properly outrageous. Their racial and religious overtones were tragic PR for a city gasping for political and monetary support -- I'm sure Dennis Hastert did not receive them warmly. Rhetorically, he talked about a populace (in the original Chocolate City context and the even stranger milk chocolate context) that you want to eat and drink. I mean, I've got my gripes about Bloomberg, but at least he hasn't referenced me in a lactic context.

Like Gore, the once-demure, badly slandered John Kerry is stepping up. He immediately called bullshit on Chris Matthews's nonsense. Kerry is now posting diaries on left-wing grassroots activist site Daily Kos, where he sounds like Howard Dean circa 2003. Within hours of Matthews's remark, Kerry stated the following:
This is not about Michael Moore, this is about what it means to be an American. Are we a country of strongmen who thrive on bullying and accusations of treason, or can we tolerate divergent views? Is the media about raw power and shouting ability, or is it about journalism? That's the question that Matthews must answer. Calling Americans treasonous murderers because of their political views has no place in American politics or journalism. Chris Matthews needs to apologize, now.
The wheezing, limping tarts responsible for SNL's unfunny "Weekend Update" portrayed Gore and Kerry's remarks as the vinegar from sour grapes. I wouldn't care if the subject weren't so serious. Both of these cautious, play-by-the-rules guys were shredded by a reckless political machinery, the unethical and amoral campaigns of which showcased all the worst that came with the Republicans' governance. Their hesitant predispositions scorched by some the vilest campaign tactics since 1928, Kerry and Gore's newfound vigor is the product of having endured some of the worst that this country has to offer. Unlike the Democrats on the Senate Judicary Committee, they've learned what's at stake. Two presidential nominees who I never liked have become quasi-heroic

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