Archive

Tag Archives: Esquire

I would like to point out two articles I read recently that perfectly sum up the state of the national circus known as our political process, and those individuals who may be gumming up the works. One of the articles is as short as the other is (moderately) long, and one is as partisan as the other is (mostly) decidedly not.

First, the former, which is an essay by Mark Warren, writing for Esquire magazine, on the mostly self-induced situation our leaders on the right find themselves in:

The energetic right wing of this new Jacobin Republican party (which has swallowed the party whole) lately has been going through a purification ritual, turning on conservative stalwarts deemed insufficiently radical. In this atmosphere, merely participating in the essential acts of democracy — negotiation, compromise, legislating — becomes suspect. Worse, and perhaps the root of this phenomenon, is the party’s now decades-long habit of trying to win elections not on the basis of its governing strategy or vision for the country but rather on scandal-mongering and defamation, the two biggest targets being Bill Clinton, who was impeached by the Republican House, and Barack Obama, whom a majority of Republicans, according to some polls, consider to be an illegitimate president because they believe he was born in Kenya.

There are obvious problems with pursuing scorched earth as a long-term strategy. First, movement conservatives have become so ill-equipped to govern that when they do win elections (as with the Gingrich revolution of 1994), they don’t know what they are doing; second, and more important, what started as a tactic to win elections became, over time, a literal belief in the actual evil of their opponents. The party’s committed constituencies became conditioned to ascribing the very worst motives to people who in saner times would merely have been their political opponents. A poll conducted in the spring found that 20 percent of Republicans believe Obama could be the actual Antichrist.

If there is an error in Warren’s argument, it’s that he indicts all Republicans without specifically naming who he’s talking about, like Tea Party Republicans or the Republican Congressional leadership. But that is perhaps only a vagary of journalism or an issue of semantics. No one is claiming that every single last person in the Republican Party thinks or behaves this way. The people he’s talking about are the people he’s talking about. Res ipsa loquitur.

(Personally, I would very much like to hear the well-crafted, intelligently thought-out counterargument to Warren’s piece, and by counterargument I do not mean a similar ad hominem indictment of the Democrats.)

The latter article is by Peter Beinart, writing for the Daily Beast, and though titled “The Rise of the New Left,” it is more an assessment of the current transformations undergone by both parties and put in a historical context than it is a promotion of the left wing or a treatise on liberal values.

Maybe Bill de Blasio got lucky. Maybe he only won because he cut a sweet ad featuring his biracial son. Or because his rivals were either spectacularly boring, spectacularly pathological, or running for Michael Bloomberg’s fourth term. But I don’t think so. The deeper you look, the stronger the evidence that de Blasio’s victory is an omen of what may become the defining story of America’s next political era: the challenge, to both parties, from the left. It’s a challenge Hillary Clinton should start worrying about now.

To understand why that challenge may prove so destabilizing, start with this core truth: For the past two decades, American politics has been largely a contest between Reaganism and Clintonism. In 1981, Ronald Reagan shattered decades of New Deal consensus by seeking to radically scale back government’s role in the economy. In 1993, Bill Clinton brought the Democrats back to power by accepting that they must live in the world Reagan had made. Located somewhere between Reagan’s anti-government conservatism and the pro-government liberalism that preceded it, Clinton articulated an ideological “third way”: Inclined toward market solutions, not government bureaucracy, focused on economic growth, not economic redistribution, and dedicated to equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. By the end of Clinton’s presidency, government spending as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product was lower than it had been when Reagan left office. 

For a time, small flocks of pre-Reagan Republicans and pre-Clinton Democrats endured, unaware that their species were marked for extinction. Hard as they tried, George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole could never muster much rage against the welfare state. Ted Kennedy never understood why Democrats should declare the era of big government over. But over time, the older generation in both parties passed from the scene and the younger politicians who took their place could scarcely conceive of a Republican Party that did not bear Reagan’s stamp or a Democratic Party that did not bear Clinton’s. These Republican children of Reagan and Democratic children of Clinton comprise America’s reigning political generation.

It provides some enlightening answers to the questions of where we are going and where we have been – worth a read.

team-6“My wife doesn’t want me to stay in one more minute than I have to,” he says. But he’s several years away from official retirement. “I agree that civilian life is scary. And I’ve got a family to take care of. Most of us have nothing to offer the public. We can track down and kill the enemy really well, but that’s it.

“If I get killed on this next deployment, I know my family will be taken care of.” (The Navy does offer decent life-insurance policies at low rates.) “College will be paid for, they’ll be fine.

“But if I come back alive and retire, I won’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out for the rest of my life. Sad to say, it’s better if I get killed.”

– Phil Bronstein, quoting an unnamed SEAL Team 6 operator, in just one of the many stark, profound realities revealed in Bronstein’s excellent and much-discussed article “The Shooter,” written for Esquire magazine, about the Navy SEAL who actually shot and killed Osama bin Laden. Hopefully more on this will be coming later.

Last night’s State of the Union was many things to many people – and seemed intended to be all things to all people, indeed there was a little something for everyone, whether you were looking to laugh, cry, or scream – and whatever may come of it in the future, for the time being all things seem to be in their place.

A selection of responses to the SOTU:

From Harry Cheadle, writing for Vice:

Last night, we got to witness one of the least entertaining traditions in American politics: the State of the Union address. This is a speech that the president is (sort of) required by the Constitution to give to Congress every year. Normally, he uses that opportunity to go through a bunch of policies he’d like to enact (lots of paragraphs on jobs, a few on climate change, nothing at all on prisons), and everyone in attendance applauds periodically. Nothing really happens as a result of this speech—it’s mainly just an opportunity for Barack Obama to explain what he would do if he was king and not just president and for the Republicans to issue a response, which in this case consisted of Marco Rubio saying “cut taxes” 1,300 times and amusing the internet by drinking water. (Rand Paul delivered a response on behalf of the Tea Party; if anyone delivered a left-wing rebuttal to Obama’s speech, nobody paid attention, which probably tells you something about America’s politics.)

From Howard Fineman, writing for The Huffington Post:

In an effort organized by five Democrats from New York and New England — the region of Newtown — more than 30 members brought to the Capitol families that had experienced gun-related tragedies. It was powerful theater, especially when Obama himself paid homage to the parents of a victim from Chicago.

Using the call-and-response cadence of a church service, the president demanded that the Congress allow up-or-down votes on several gun measures. The idea was to put Republicans and wavering Democrats from Red States on the spot.

And it felt in the House Chamber Tuesday night that he had done so.

From Charlie Pierce, writing for Esquire magazine:

Some day, when we can look at it from a proper distance, the Obama Presidency is going to strike us all as more than passing odd in what appears to be its reckless, cockeyed optimism. Last night, the president delivered a State Of The Union address that was so wonkishly progressive, and so policy-laden, that he sounded like LBJ under the influence of some truly fine exotic mushrooms. My favorite line came when he was looking at a chamber full of climate-change denialists and half-baked creationists, and he started telling them all about the wonders of science.

Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy.

OK, so Mitt Romney got a better return on his genome just by being born, it was still a very compelling case for the economic benefits of science, with just a touch of Isaac Asimov to dazzle (or terrify) the rubes. And there was more. Universal pre-K! Rebuild all our crumbling bridges! Control our nation’s love of its shootin’arn’s! Confront climate change the way Joe Lieberman and John McCain once did! Vote on stuff! Be a Congress again!

And from Dana Milbank, writing for the Washington Post:

There is something entirely appropriate about holding the State of the Union address on the same day as Mardi Gras.

One is a display of wretched excess, when giddy and rowdy participants give in to reckless and irresponsible behavior.

The other is a street festival in New Orleans.

There is, thankfully, less nudity in the House chamber for the president’s annual address, and (slightly) less inebriation. But what occurs beneath the Capitol Dome is as debauched as anything on Bourbon Street.

The State of the Union ritual is by now familiar to most Americans. President Obama leads the Democratic side of the chamber to a series of standing ovations for proposals that everybody knows won’t become law. Republicans show their seriousness of purpose by smirking or making stony faces — and by inviting as guests to the speech people such as rocker Ted Nugent, who has called the president a “piece of [excrement]” who should “suck on my machine gun.”

But this spectacle, unlike the one in Louisiana, is not all harmless fun. Obama made clear that he is not entertaining serious spending cuts or major entitlement reforms. Republicans, in their responses, repeated that they are not budging on taxes. The hard choices will have to wait for another day.

More coming later.

In a compelling and hypnotically well-written article in this month’s Esquire magazine, John Richardson valiantly argues against the artificial societal restraints put on sexual activity in modern, supposedly-“civilized” society, and in favor of true sexual liberation.

I want to suggest that sex, be it adulterous or premarital or deviant or polyamorous, is a good thing, not a bad thing, and that sex itself is the moment of grace. And that our sterile idea of perfection is the actual sin. To start with the subject on the table, adultery is a brave rebellion against the invisible prison we build for ourselves. When the sad little man Larry Craig widened his stance in that airport bathroom, it was probably the most honest and courageous act of his life. When Clinton got that blowjob in the White House, he wasn’t indulging a weakness (and an eager intern) but enacting the hero’s journey of reconciling inner and outer, risking all to break through the wall of hypocritical purity he had spent years building and projecting to the world in the effort to get elected. By risking martyrdom, in fact, he lifted himself up into an exaltation we still refuse to understand. He was the Martyred Jesus of Oral Sex with Interns and all we see is a mean little sin, as all the sexual deviates pretending to be puritans gathered around in an orgy of denunciation and scandal. In our condemnation, we focus on the supposedly broken vows and the supposed pain of his wife when in fact we know nothing of his wife’s true feelings or her knowledge and tolerance of his “frisky” side (frisky being one of the endless array of demeaning expressions we use as invisible prison bars, along with dog and pig and you only want one thing). We never consider that our reaction is the punishment and the meanness is all in our eyes. Every single time we play out this ritual, we replay the Old Testament rite in which the pious transferred their sins to goats, which were then driven into the wilderness, just as we drive David Petraeus and a parade of other scapegoats out the gates of our smug little village of lies in the hope that we can put the “sin” outside the gate — when it is, of course, always inside. That’s what happens when you put up gates.

In perhaps his most shrewd and astute passage – and one of the most sagacious passages I’ve ever read anywhere, on any subject – Richardson continues:

What we’re afraid of is the truth. We live in a world in which men and women are buried up to their necks and stoned to death for these same impulses. We recoil at such barbarism with smug assertions of our superior level of civilization while cheerfully meting out our own version of punishment for the same supposed crime — anything to avoid looking at the deeper questions of why adultery exists and what exactly all our endless sexual prohibitions and inhibitions are supposed to do for us. Because if they are there to stabilize the family or inhibit sexually compulsive perversions or avoid the conflicts attendant in jealousy, they’re failing spectacularly and they always have.

He does spend some column inches arguing in favor of adultery – not promoting it necessarily, but arguing for its acceptance as an inevitable corollary to the social strictures we’ve created in the institution of monogamous marriage, and that for a cheating husband we have only ourselves and human nature to blame – and that, I have to say, is a tough nut to crack. The presence of such an argument might make it difficult for some readers to get behind his treatise here, myself included. But in confronting us with the darker, animalistic side of our nature, particularly at a time when we are celebrating and relishing in our civilization and patriotic xeno-supremacy like never before, Richardson’s assertions are both challenging and helpful – even healthy, I think – to consider. With his writing, he lays out his argument with a beautiful intuitiveness that makes perfect and complete sense while being dissonant to what we thought we knew, and, at times, somewhat despicable. I dare you to read it.

Read More

His inaugural address aside, the president is not “more liberal” than he was on January 19. He’s still a cautious centrist with a jones for a purely functional view of government. But the one thing he is very good at is forcing the country to look honestly at the politics through which the country has chosen to govern itself. He has forced the issues. He has made the country confront the ignorance, and the lassitude, and the tolerance for the stupid — and, hell, the  tolerance for the intolerant — that it has allowed to have pride of place in our political debate simply because it too often served to win elections. This is what the Obama presidency has become. It’s the detox ward of politics. It’s the world’s most elaborate intervention. 

– Charlie Pierce, writing for Esquire’s Politics Blog, in reference to the virtue of Obama’s current unexpected popularity.

I’m always on the lookout for someone to explain to me – and I say this with a completely straight face, and no hint of irony – why I voted for Barack Obama. I don’t mean that cynically. I know why I voted for him, but I should say I’m always on the lookout for anyone who can explain why I voted for Barack Obama better than I can. And, in a more general sense, I’m always looking out for anyone who can articulate beliefs similar to mine – as I’ve mentioned before, I’m still searching for a coherent and comprehensive worldview, since some of my beliefs, if followed to their logical conclusions, can tend to be contradictory. I know what I believe, and I know what’s right when I hear it, but I’m always interested in anyone who can explain it better than I can. As an aspiring writer, you can imagine that this takes a certain amount of humility…which are two other things that may seem contradictory – aspiring writer and humility – but are not mutually exclusive.

Anyway, this has all been a long way around to the fact that the good folks at Esquire, specifically one Tom Junod, have once again articulated what is in my head better than I can (emphasis mine):

I watched the inauguration on Fox News. I admit there was some perversity involved — I wanted both to tremble with outrage and to gloat. I also wanted to remember why I liked Barack Obama, and there is no better way of liking Barack Obama than watching him on a network that pays people to hate him. His first term was questionable in many ways, but one thing was certain — he wasn’t them. He wasn’t Brit and Megyn and Brett and Chris, with their grievances and their grudges and their hurt feelings, and he wasn’t the man they were still half-heartedly defending, Mitt Romney.

On any list of Obama’s best qualities, this should be at or near the top. It is certainly one of the best arguments in favor of him.

The article is a brilliant piece about how extensively Fox News has marginalized itself, and is very much worth reading in its entirety. Junod continues:

Read More

In the January 2013 issue of Esquire magazine, Stephen Marche has gotten to the heart of what is quite possibly, in my opinion, the root problem facing…if not our country, then certainly our culture. It is not the problem of government or politics, though the problems of those institutions certainly stem from it. It is the ingrained, pervasive, and persistent narcissism attributable to the Gen Y “millennial” demographic cohort, and on which the ongoing infotainment deluge intended to placate the masses – our so-called dumbed-down society – is predicated. It is the grease that keeps the gears turning – without being driven by narcissism to participate in our own placation, the system would not work.

To begin with Marche’s premise:

Television is inherently an act of narcissism. It both feeds and fuels what Freud described as the core of the narcissistic personality — “the delusion of being watched.” Television’s narcissism is currently shifting ground. This month, The Carrie Diaries relaunches the Sex and the City franchise while Girls starts up its second season. The contrast is stark: In the old narcissism, we have dumb, beautiful moneyed people trying to become more beautiful and more moneyed. In the new narcissism, we have smart, unattractive poor people trying to confront their pervasive, intense self-obsession. All of the best shows on television, the most urgent, most relevant pop culture of the moment — Louie, Community, the upcoming season of Arrested Development — reflect us as we are: narcissists in search of a cure from ourselves.

Self-conscious narcissism of the Carrie Diaries variety is still the bulk of mainstream culture, of course. Why do people watch the Kardashians or any other reality-television show? To learn how  much self-exposure is acceptable. And every episode conveniently gives the same answer: more. In 2011, Americans spent an estimated $10 billion on plastic surgery, according to an industry association, and about $5 billion on NASA space operations. By this logic, having perfect tits is worth twice as much as exploring the universe. The academic authors of The Narcissism Epidemic found that among thirty-seven thousand college students, the rise of narcissistic traits from the 1980s to the present was as steep as the rise in obesity. And the epidemic is largely generational: According to a National Institutes of Health study, 10 percent of young Americans exhibited symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, while only 3 percent of older Americans did.

The current generation of college-aged people thinks unprecedentedly highly of themselves, and with no good reason to do so. In an ongoing study by the American Freshman Survey, college students have been asked to “rate themselves as compared to their peers” every year since 1966. The Survey has compiled the responses of about 9 million students, and a new analysis of the results reported here says:

Read More

The Insomnograph

Dispatches from the Pit

John Hively's Blog: News and Analysis of the War Against the Middle Class

By The World's Most Accurate Economic Forecaster Since 1989.

Digestible Politics

Politics Made Easy!

The PEEL Literary Arts Magazine

your voice. your vision.

the first casualty.

irregular digressions into politics, media, and tech

The Secular Jurist

Social commentary from a perspective of moral secularism

TED Blog

The TED Blog shares interesting news about TED, TED Talks video, the TED Prize and more.

Regaining the Center

Commentary on the Politics of Division

gunsdrugsandinsanity

Ending government prohibition on guns and drugs.

The Political Equation

The intersection of data and intuition