Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Best of the Gym Reading, Volume One
I failed to keep most of my 2004 New Year's resolutions, including the ones about weight loss and, barring some minor miracle in the next two and a half weeks, finishing my novel. The good news, of course, is that I can simply re-make these ere the clock strikes midnight 17 days hence, and I did accomplish some things (career-related, got engaged, etc). Another good life change was that I've gotten into a routine of exercising four to six times a week... which gives you some idea of just how much, and how badly, I eat, having failed to lose weight despite spending about six hours each week in the gym.

What's made this possible, as much as anything, is finding that I don't have sufficient "other" time in my life to read everything I want to read that I come across on daily jaunts through the internet. Thanks to the magic of the stationery bike, I can do this while burning calories. It's been bad news for the City Futures Inc. computer printer, but otherwise a good arrangement for all concerned.

So I will start linking to the best of my gym reading, once a week or so, as entre into various topics of interest and as public service (albeit to a pretty damn limited public). If you've seen anything else that you think I might be interested in but probably missed, please let me know.

  • Marshall Wittman: Back from the Brink. By the author of the Bull Moose blog, a reformed right-winger suggests what comeback-minded Democrats might have to learn from... well, I can't bring myself to name the guy. But this is a worthwhile piece anyway.
  • Ed Kilgore: Reform! Yes, another New Democrat. Put aside his pissing contest with David Sirota (also a worthwhile read, which I linked to in an earlier post) and focus on the political and spiritual benefits of an agenda that includes fixing electoral processes, fighting against out of control gerrymandering that lets officeholders "choose which constituents they want to represent, rather than the other way around," and railing against the universally loathed lobbyists who constitute so much of Washington's permanent ruling class--and who are now mostly Republicans, as the next piece shows.
  • Andrew Ferguson: A Lobbyist's Progress. Forget where it's coming from: this is an astonishing story, told with great skill and style. (I read about this same scandal here in the Texas Observer, and Ferguson's piece blows it away... though I wonder if Lou Dubose's determination to tie Jack Abramoff to Tom DeLay is perhaps echoed in Ferguson's near-total avoidance of DeLay's role. At least he gets in some choice shots at Ralph Reed.) It's also Exhibit A of how the Democrats could--I emphasize "could"--tie dysfunctional policymaking and flat-out lousy human behavior to Republican priorities and, dare I say, "values."
  • Peter Dreier and Kelly Candaele: A Moral Minimum Wage. One of several good recent pieces in the venerable lefty publication (also check out this Micah Sifry article, and the Robert Scheer piece noted below). The authors point out that the minimum wage issue seems to resonate with voters far more than do certain Democratic candidates, and that a broader linkage to economic justice--egads, a "value"!--offers as good a road to electoral renewal for our party as anything else currently in circulation.

Now, I just wonder if the otherwise-estimable Mr. Kilgore, and his DLC compatriot Bruce Reed, are amenable to minimum wage fights, or if their loyalty to the corporate entities they've tried to cultivate goes so far as to turn off millions of folks who are evidently for increasing the wage, but against most Democratic candidates for national office. I honestly don't know the answer to this one, but I'd really like to find out.

Worthy of separate comment is this Robert Scheer article from The Nation, which--finally--fleshes out the Thomas Frank thesis that Republican candidates in many "heartland" states play a simple but devastatingly effective bait-and-switch on low-income, socially conservative voters. Scheer--another one of those Nation columnists with whom I generally agree, but can't stand for his evident humorlessness, finger-wagging, and other stereotypically obnoxious libburl behavior--says what the candidates never say: the "filth" that's purportedly debasing our culture essentially comes from the same corporate folks who benefit so spectacularly from Republican governance. And, of course, it's quite popular in its own right.

If anything is to blame for what appears on our screens it is the free market, a deregulated and hypercompetitive mediascape where a right-wing mega-capitalist like Rupert Murdoch can simultaneously make millions off satires like Married With Children and The Simpsons and a right-wing news channel that wraps itself in the very "God, country, family" tropes that those satires so crassly yet cleverly spoof.

Yet even some liberals have apparently bought the Big Lie, spewed with a vengeance throughout this election year, that a liberal, permissive, secular, coastal culture has perverted the otherwise pristine heartland of our nation. In reality, what we have here is Econ 101: supply and demand. Adam Smith's invisible hand, combined with mass media technology, now allows the best that humanity has to offer to compete with the lowest common denominator. And guess what is winning.
The bottom line of capitalism is that if somebody will buy it, somebody will make it. Yet instead of insisting that cultural consumers take personal responsibility for the choices they make--or, better yet, providing new resources for public education and nonprofit media--the professional tsk-tskers feign outrage at the sullying of televised football with Janet Jackson's breast or a naked Desperate Housewife jumping into the arms of an NFL player.

Worse, these national moralists--dominated these days by evangelical Christians--politicize the issue by blaming "liberal Hollywood" for what deregulation and the free market have wrought. Never mind that Arnold Schwarzenegger made all those violent movies, it is the Democrats and their ilk who are corrupting youth by promulgating our "relativistic" morality. But that's just bunk. The real engine at work here, for better or worse, is the profit motive. If this patently obvious point is absent from the complaints of social conservatives, it is because the truth of the matter is inconvenient to their agenda.

If any politician of either party were ever able to boil this down into a usable campaign message, our politics might well be transformed. Of course, the same media culture would probably respond to such audacity by chewing up and spitting out anyone who tried it. But it would be interesting to watch such a gambit play out.

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