January 28, 2004

Watching C-SPAN So You Don’t Have To

There was a lot of blood in New England this week, but you wouldn't know from the C-SPAN coverage of Campaign '04. The Democratic primary endured another high-profile orgy of retail politics in New Hampshire, as last week's Iowa upset by Big John Kerry gave way to another Kerry win, albeit with a reshuffled deck of also-rans in the winter snows underneath him. The numbers went like this: Kerry 39%, Dean 26%, Clark 14%, Edwards 13%, Lieberman 9%, Kucinich 2%.

Kerry's double-digit stompilation of Howard Dean may have sealed the Doctor's fate, but Dean has so far refused to drop out, and is still making noise about a turnaround on Super Tuesday. All the projection in the world won't help him now, though- initial polling pointed to a finish like this, but a delusional few still held out hope that Dean could close the gap to single digits and force Kerry to feign breaking a sweat. Deaniac desires were ultimately dashed, however, and the Doctor's supporters are now fanning out across the land, looking for someone to blame besides themselves and their candidate.

The real fight in New Hampshire was on the undercard, between John Edwards (coming in off a 2nd place finish in Iowa), Wesley Clark, and Joe Lieberman (both of whom skipped Iowa to concentrate their efforts here). The Carolina senator held his own for most of the night, but when the final numbers rolled in they favored the general, and Edwards was pummeled by the hated and feared "electability" meme. The exact meaning of that term has been slowly coagulating into a definition resembling militarized self-righteousness, as if voters seem to believe that the best way to take on George Bush is to offer up a candidate who actually saw combat.

This seemed a bit oversimplified to my elitist liberal brain, so Brian and I argued briefly over the quantity of bullshit coursing through the bowels of "electability," and my genius guitarist observed that perception, in this case "perceived electability," holds a voodoo-like sway over so-called "Flyover Country." We sneered in unison at our own cleverness, and finished our conversation beating up on Joe Lieberman.

"He's behaving like a crazy old lady," laughed Brian, phoning it in from San Francisco, "like some inverted, Faulknerian she-troll that keeps a decaying corpse of Scoop Jackson in her attic."

"Totally," I replied. "Only in the world of Lieberman-gothic would we ever hear a crime against English like the word 'Joementum."

After we hung up I pondered some more confusing minutiae. For instance, throughout the week Kerry kept insisting that he was not the frontrunner and kept campaigning like he was fifteen points down, as if he could almost smell the inevitable media barbs that always aim for Number One. Kerry further insulated himself behind a phalanx of veterans, who manned the phone banks on his behalf, repeating to anyone within earshot that "outsider anger" was a losing formula that would drag the party back into the wilderness of defeat.

There seemed to be something to that, of course, what with Dean's pathetic finish in the face of the Kerry campaign's last-minute push in Manchester. The senator's victory speech slipped into incoherence far less so than after Iowa, and according to the babbling dingbats on CNN, he will now seek to replenish his weary, but winning, organization with an injection of cash. New England is Kerry's home turf, and it will look like a blissful winter wonderland compared to the wholesale-hell he'll have to deal with come Super Tuesday. February 3 is still make-or-break time for everyone left standing, winners included.

No one is counting on that more than Howard Dean. Back in the ditch of his own making, the Doctor did penance for his bronze finish in Iowa by squirming his way through a wretched interview with Diane Sawyer, who honed in like a vulture on Dean's media-exaggerated temper, asking multiple inane questions of Dean and his wife Judy. It was an excruciatingly dull piece of television, and it should be an insult to women everywhere that Dean's numbers in that demographic seemingly rose on the merits of Sawyer's dumb fixations alone. Once free of the studio, the Doctor calmly outlined his stump speech at a “Women For Dean” rally: condensed by a spokesman to "universal healthcare, responsible foreign policy, better environmental policy, and reigning in the president’s failed economic plan." Dean made several other squeamish, supposedly “kinder, gentler” appearances like this during the week, which only made him look like a craven sucker once the final tally came in.

Dean's other bugaboo is the evaporation of his 2003 surge, which is now basically worthless after every other candidate overtook him in anti-war fervor. They're all wanking furiously, though; if Democratic primary voters really believe that the best way to fix Iraq is through a "responsible" war effort short of anything but full withdrawal, they deserve these jokers. Cleaning up after George Bush's utter stupidity won't be a glamorous job, gentlemen, but those Democrats feeling duped at their willingness to give Bush the benefit of the doubt are now aligning with the candidates who apparently feel the same way- Kerry and Edwards. Dean’s problem now: if the Vermont governor can’t win next door, where can he win? Dean has to pick up one or maybe two wins next week, or all the money in the world won’t push him into March.

The show position ended up being such a collection of mediocrity that I can't even expend worthy vomit on it. Wesley Clark had NH to himself during the Iowa caucases, but his brutal hazing began swiftly, and he barely held on to a 3rd place finish. John Edwards, whose campaign visibly gathered steam all week, is set to bounce form here to South Carolina, and will give Clark a few cheap migraines down there. Clark’s problem is based on the fact that all the reasons to like him are shared with another candidate: Southerner? So is Edwards. Strong on national security? So is Kerry. "Outsider?" So is Dean. Clark insists that he can yoke gullible conservative voters, but theoretically so can Lieberman. If voters like any of those reasons, so far they’ve shown a modicum of cerebral forethought and chosen the other guy, not the General.

Joe Lieberman predictably failed to make a decent showing for all his time spent in NH, and if he stays in the race til next week he may win in Delaware (where he’s been polling well) but is toast on the national stage. Speaking of burn-outs- in the concurrent Republican NH primary, Bush won, of course, but the striking thing was how many Republicans wrote in their choices, and those choices happened to be any one of the top 5 Democrats. Kerry, Dean, Edwards, Clark, and Lieberman all scored at least 100-500 write-in votes from NH Republicans. Chimpy McFlightsuit has been having trouble with both the "moderate" and “independent” Republicans (who apparently enjoy yanking Bush's chain) and this is now borne out (admittedly on a small scale) in his first primary.

If you can take even more cynicism, try this: the two guys who have done well in the past 2 weeks are “Washington insiders” Kerry and Edwards, to the point where speculation has begun centering on a Kerry/Edwards ticket. At this point, after only 2 contests, that sounds absurd, because the February calendar isn’t exactly merciless:

Feb. 3: AZ, DE, MO, NM, ND, OK, SC
Feb 7: MI, WA
Feb 8: ME
Feb 10: VA, TN
Feb 14: Wash DC, NV
Feb 17: WI
Feb 24: ID, UT, HI

So, retail campaigns will be horribly fucked as the campaign devolves into a mass-media blitz, especially next week. The dropouts will fall soon, and fall hard. Splatter is inevitable, gang. Stay tuned.

January 20, 2004

The Ghost of Muskie Haunts Iowa

I know I said I wouldn't make the DV a political blog, but events have overtaken me, and so I am now altering the deal, Calrisian. Pray I don't alter it any further. I gave in to the 2004 election sometime around the New Year, in a momentary fit of excitement at the possibility of seeing the Bush/Cheney ticket demolished in November. Election day is on my birthday this year, and the last time that happened, a Democrat won. Now, that Democrat happened to be Jimmy Carter, but let's not be too hasty in making assumptions yet. The Iowa Democratic Caucus isn't even cold, okay? The freak finish, Kerry-Edwards-Dean-Gephardt, certainly looks strange at first glance, considering the amount of Dean-frenzy in the past year, but the inside-baseball talk is already calling the nomination for Big John.

Oh sure, Kerry will now have to face General Clark, who abandoned Iowa, and who's been hiding out in the New Hampshire snows for weeks now, and the two old soldiers may indeed maul each other to death yet, because if Kerry's victory speech was any indicator, El Lurcho is still tired and listless despite regaining his precious frontrunner status. His main line of assertion at this point, that of "electability," is eerily similar to that of another glowering golem from primaries past: Ed Muskie of Maine, who crashed and burned at the feet of George McGovern way back in 1972, despite wide acclaim for Muskie as the only man who could beat Nixon. If that's any model at all, Senator Kerry is in for a bitterly cold week in New Hampshire.

This cycle's other flashback, the rabid badger of a doctor-governor known as Howard Dean, is looking more and more like a freak hybrid of McGovern and Gene McCarthy, with a few Dukakis alleles thrown in for good measure. The Doctor choked in Iowa, or rather, his organization did. What many armchair analysts figured was a well-oiled machine turned into a swaggering phallus on the caucus floor, where Dean partisians failed miserably to convert Gephardt or Kucinich supporters. Dean himself proved unequal to resisting Gep's bait of relentless negative advertising, and the Doctor lashed out often, looking like Nicholson's Joker pumped up on good trucker speed. NH is now, arguably, as must-win for Dean as it is for Kerry, even though the Doctor apparently still has enough cash to last him through Super Tuesday.

Dick Gephardt, who last ran for President in 1988 alongside Gore, Hart, Jesse Jackson, and other hopeless losers, demolished his 2004 campaign by heaving-ho at Dean. Armed with twenty-plus years of Washington grease, Gep apparently took one for the party-establishment team behind Kerry, blowing himself out of the race and now out of public service as well (he has declined to run for his Missouri seat again). Perhaps someone who cares more than I do should write his political eulogy, because right now Gep's back down in the ditch with all the other well-meaning, useful idiots, where he will stay for the forseeable future.

The only real winner in this scenario besides Kerry is John Edwards, the freshman senator from North Carolina. Miraculously, his refusal to go negative on anyone made his platform jump to the fore, briefly, and he survived the Dean/Gep mudwrestling session by apparently cutting a deal with Dennis Kucinich. The Ohio congressman released his Iowa supporters to Edwards at crunch time, catapulting the senator and his fantastic haircut above Dean. Several Iowa papers were seduced by the Edwards pitch, and their endorsements evidently meant more to Iowans than Dean's retinue of party heavy-hitters (Gore, Bradley, and Mosley-Braun). Several high-profile bookmakers now predict that if John Edwards can use an Iowa second-place finish for momentum into NH and keep up his "positive" message campaign, then he's got life after South Carolina on Feb 3 (where he'll still have to face Clark and Lieberman).

Speaking of those two, they own NH at this point by opting out of Iowa. Look for next week's primary to be another four-way grudge match of hideous quasi-liberalism, this time with Kerry/Edwards/Dean/Clark as the principals. Joe Lieberman is doomed; there's not much further he can drag out his shameful status as the party's boundary on the right, and if he continues with his Maggie's-Ma mantra of "scold first, think later" he's gone after next week with no hope in South Carolina. As for Dennis the Menace, he should have dropped out tonight as well. If the deal with Edwards is any indicator he may soon do so, and follow that with an Edwards endorsement.

Jesus, that's a lot of talking out of my own ass. If I don't turn off the TV I'll start throwing things at it (which is also why I won't be watching Bush's state of the union speech tomorrow). If I can bring myself to care enough, you'll get more virtual reporting from desolate New Hampshire. This young year is already horribly ugly and it's only gonna get worse. Ugh.

January 02, 2004

U2004 Pontifications

My late-breaking entry in @U2's predictions:

2004 is looking to be one of the meanest, nastiest twelve months in history. Any self-righteous theologically political rock band will have sensed this intrinsically some time ago, and will have either run screaming and wailing into the comforting arms of nostalgia, or instead will have decided on blundering gamely inside the gaping maw of mass media to suffer gross misinterpretation and crushing overexposure before being mercifully cut off from all supporting record conglomerate cash flow, leaving the field to the bland ravings of hyper-hip art rockers, loopy hip-hoppers, and libidinal pop tarts.

Bono, being the stubborn bastard he is, will gallantly lead his semi-skeptical bandmates into the coming year’s swirling maelstrom with a confidence bordering on the delusional, but, I predict, will somehow emerge relatively unscathed, retaining for U2 a phoenix-like avatar status among their peers despite a slew of assaults upon common sense, practicality, good taste, and other sick and twisted enemies of rock & roll. Plus, since people seem to put stock in such things, a Hall of Fame nomination to boot.

U2 can’t do this without a killer album, and I don’t mean a safe return to simplicity like “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” or “Electrical Storm”, and certainly not in disjointed, throwaway narratives like “The Hands That Built America”. No, for me, this record is going to need an epic scope on a personal scale in order to come across as not only relevant to today’s wretched times, but to stand up to the high points of their own back catalogue, since U2 are in effect competing with themselves at this point despite any protestations otherwise. That’s a lot to expect from a middle-aged group of rich Irish dorks, and I don’t blame them for giving two fingers to bogus pontifications like that.

Still, sonically this might be a corker. If Edge can interpret the “Psychocandy”-riffage of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club into whatever he’s doing, I’ll be interested, even if that only amounts to a kind of name-dropping, selectively pruning endeavor which might just disguise how much of a third-generation theft it would be. Elaborate sonic appropriation was all that “Achtung Baby” was at its roots anyway, and I went for that full bore.

Well, went for it because of the lyrics on top of that theft, anyway. Bono’s lyrics are going to need to be top notch here as well, or else he’ll have to resort to a delivery that may be beyond his physical range these days. Let’s face it, folks, the two or three lyrical cracks showing on “Pop” burst into a gaping hole of banality on the vast majority of U2 tunes that followed. Valiant though his globe-trotting, world-saving ambitions may be, Mr. Hewson needs to balance that energy with his verbiage-generating reserves, lest we all be afflicted by more “Elevation”-style nursery rhymes.

U2 have more leeway from prickly geeks like me when it comes to touring. The 2001 tour waited a long time to degenerate into a victory-lap jukebox affair, and until that point we were treated to a very well-rehearsed band charging through our favorites and their favorites, with a (relatively) dynamic setlist. The shows, as most of you know, were fantastic, if you could actually get a ticket for them. If the album’s good (or the promotional campaign is, at any rate- Olympic tie-ins, anyone?), I may yet again end up waiting in line for hours before scoring expensive, last-row arena seats. Oh well. I hope U2 will take the good aspects of Elevation and run with them- namely, showcasing a wide variety of their material for as long as possible, or at least the older stuff that fits well in context with the new album, before shoving a live version of their 80’s hits album down our throats when James Henke and Cleveland come calling. A new version of “We Will Rock You” would also be nice in this vile election year.

Even so, lots of this is small potatoes compared to my other pressing musical questions: will PJ Harvey’s new album be as awesome as the last one? Will Elbow finally break Coldplay’s stranglehold on the all-powerful demographic of 25-45 year-old-women, or will R.E.M. finally regain that crown? Will people finally get sick of the ruling Strokes-White Stripes oligarchy of uber-cool? Will Radiohead float off into the proggy ether again? Will Wilco continue to quietly demolish everyone else? Will my brother still insist that Pearl Jam is the greatest live band ever? Will sniping critics ever stop saying “Rock is dead!” Will my own musical myopia ever allow me to become a rock star in my own right? (easy answer for that one: No, you twit.)

Oh, one other thing: I predict that I will, at some point in the future, write an article about U2 that will be criticized as insufficiently fawning and hopelessly stupid by someone on u2france.com or some other French fansite. This actually happened in the wake of my lukewarm Elevation show review (discovered thanks to a Google vanity search)- apparently my Cali-yankee sensibilities so offended someone in Gaul that they publicly mocked my fandom and my intelligence. Welcome to the majors, Mr. Hobbs.

Anyway, I hope your coming year in U2 brings you either exactly what you wish for or exactly what you deserve. I’ll probably get a heaping helping of both.

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