Category Archives: 2008 Election

Farewell to a Focked-Up Year

Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller in "Little Fockers"Visiting Colorado this week, I was chatting with a couple, family friends, who remarked that I was the first person they’d met who admitted to having voted for Obama. Of course, where I live, in a New York City suburb full of elite media folk, no one will admit to not having voted for Obama. Except for the politics, we had a pleasant conversation, but it dismayed me that we continue to live in two countries with seemingly irreconcilable views, not only on which policies and politicians should govern, but on how to interpret real events we all experienced.

There’s Fox Nation, where Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are distinguished sages, where Juan Williams is rewarded for the thoughtless bigotry for which NPR punished him, where Obama is an alien bent on destroying capitalism, where Andrew Breitbart is the wronged party after he’s condemned for making Shirley Sherrod notorious and costing her her job, where a proposed YMCMA a few blocks from Ground Zero is a shrine to a terrorist victory, where the midterm elections are a sign of genuine populist rejection of the Democrats’ big-government agenda, and where white Christian male privilege is a sign of embattled martyrdom and not still at the centers of power in most places.

And then there’s the place where the rest of us live, a place that doesn’t even have a name because we’re too disorganized, disputatious, and dispirited to give it one (per Yeats: the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity); call it Colbert Nation — a place where jesters Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are taken seriously because they’re the only media/political watchdogs still actually doing their jobs, where Obama is a  Wall Street sellout who’s been too deferential to implacable obstructionists, where the midterm elections are a sign that a well-funded right-wing astroturf campaign beats an ineffectual Democratic party any time, and where the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is the only sign that we’re not on the verge of a wholesale repeal of every positive social advance of the last century.

During my brief visit to Fox Nation, I found only a couple of signs of hope that an America riven into two seemingly irreconcilable camps can find something to agree upon. Continue reading

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Filed under 2008 Election, Arts, Barack Obama, Feuds, Media, Movies, TV

The Late-Night Wars: Politics by Other Means

No, I probably won’t be watching tonight when Jay Leno returns to the Tonight Show, but I’m still fascinated with how this whole mess is going to play out. Certainly, the late-night wars are far from over, with Jay once again going head to head with longtime-rival-turned-Super-Bowl-buddy David Letterman, or with the deposed Conan O’Brien possibly barnstorming America with a live show before his likely face-off against both Dave and Jay if he lands on Fox this fall. The struggle is still of interest because. as seemed clear during the depths of the public Jay-vs.-everyone-else battle that played out in January, this is about a lot more than which pampered white guy gets to tell jokes at 11:35 p.m. It’s about great fault lines criss-crossing both our popular and political culture.

Some of those fault lines are: Continue reading

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Filed under 2008 Election, Arts, Barack Obama, Feuds, Late Night TV, Media, TV

Conan O’Bama

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Remember when George W. Bush became president, and the pundits said that, at last, the grownups were now in charge? (And how did that work out, by the way?) It’s a lot easier to imagine that the grownups are in charge now that the cool, seemingly unflappable, roll-up-your-sleeves Barack Obama is president, and when he took office, I felt a surge of almost familial pride. At last, the reins of power were passing to someone roughly my age (Obama is about five years older than I am.)

I felt a similar emotion this week when Conan O’Brien took over The Tonight Show. Johnny Carson had made the forum into the voice of national consensus; Jay Leno tried to maintain that role even as consensus crumbled around him (we’re a much more fragmented, factionalized people now, not just in terms of our politics, but also in our tastes in pop culture and our countless entertainment options). Now that desk was passing to someone of my generation (Conan is four years older than I am), and it felt like a momentous, torch-passing occasion.

The president himself seemed to acknowledge the similarity between these two transitions in his interview with NBC’s Brian Williams this week (see above video). It was a puzzling moment; Time columnist James Poniewozik seemed to find it crass that Williams spent valuable face time with the president getting Obama to plug an entertainment event on Williams’ network, and O’Brien himself wondered why the leader of the free world should be devoting any attention to Conan’s career move. But such pluggery is standard procedure these days for TV news (which is more entertainment than news anyway, with the cotton-candy puffery throughout Williams’ primetime special as just another example), and the fact that Obama responded to Williams’ prompt not by saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me,” but by deadpanning a good joke about it without missing a beat indicates that, not only is Obama as media-savvy a chief executive as we’ve ever seen, but also is thoroughly conversant with the ironic, absurdist humor that is Conan’s (and our generation’s) preferred mode of expression. Continue reading

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Filed under 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Late Night TV, Media, Movies, Music, TV

Rattlesnakes Amid the Crabgrass

I’m a little worried about my neighbor. He recently mounted a large flag like this one (left) over his garage, and, just so his neighbors wouldn’t miss the message, put two more little ones in the tree in his front yard. Now, somehow, I don’t think he’s telling us to stay off his lawn, or that there might be rattlesnakes amid the crabgrass.

Students of American history will recognize the “Gadsden” flag as a banner of Revolutionary War-era rebellion and solidarity. Still, the sudden reemergence of this flag in recent months is about more than being a history buff or a garden-variety patriot. It’s about anti-Obama paranoia, plain and simple. Continue reading

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Filed under 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Music

From White Castle to the White House

I’m still reeling from Monday night’s House shocker, but I want to congratulate Kal Penn for coming up with the best excuse ever to violate the Jerry Orbach rule. Predictably, there’s been some grousing from the peanut gallery that Penn is another Hollywood liberal who’s unqualified to practice politics (funny how we never hear those complaints against Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, John Rich, Ronald Reagan, Charlton Heston, et al); such comments apparently come from people who confuse Penn’s pothead Kumar character for the real-life credentialed scholar that the actor happens to be. (By the same logic, however, he knows more about Guantanamo than all the politicians who denied we were committing torture there.) At least some of his ideological opponents are giving him credit for following through on his idealism (he campaigned for Obama in ’08; see video above) as well as for giving up a lucrative gig to do something he really believes in. Who knows whether the public at large will take him any more seriously in his new role as associate director in the White House Office of Public Liaison than the comment-board crowd does, but the Obama White House has been a lot less tone-deaf in coming up with clever ways to reach out to young people than, oh, every previous White House in American history.

Penn explains his decision here to EW’s spoiler king Michael Ausiello here; more spoilers are below the jump as I grouse about the way House‘s writers dealt with Penn’s career shift. Continue reading

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Filed under 2008 Election, Barack Obama, TV

Another Reason I’m Glad I Voted for Obama

Photo by a.drian at Flickr, licensed via Creative Commons

Photo by a.drian at Flickr, licensed via Creative Commons

My COBRA health insurance coverage for me and my wife was going to cost more than $1,000 per month. Thanks to President Obama, it’ll cost about a third of that through the end of 2009, saving me about $6,000 over the next nine months.

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Filed under 2008 Election, Barack Obama

Obama’s ‘Special’ Visit to Leno

Not sure why, aside from his wince-inducing Special Olympics joke (about 20 minutes into the clip below), President Obama’s visit to Jay Leno’s Tonight Show last night was considered such a shocking breach of presidential protocol. It’s just like when the Republicans derided Obama, puzzlingly, last summer for being too much of a “celebrity.” As if America didn’t love its celebrities, or thought there was any big deal about a presidential politician appearing on a late-night talk show. I don’t remember such complaints when Arnold Schwarzenegger (who warmly embraced Obama yesterday) announced his gubernatorial candidacy on Leno’s stage, or when John McCain announced his presidential candidacy on David Letterman’s show. Yes, Obama is now a sitting president, not a candidate, but yesterday’s visit was certainly a campaign whistlestop, and one as canny as any media-op staged by Ronald Reagan Bill Clinton, or George W. Bush.

Maybe old-school media gatekeepers are just as upset about this as GOP politicians are — after all, Leno is trespassing on their turf. But they ceded that turf to Leno, Letterman and other entertainers long ago when they allowed political chat shows (both the Sunday morning network interrogations and the nightly cable screamfests) to degenerate into pro-wrestling matches. Also, when they abdicated the role of tough, probing investigative reporter to the likes of Leno, Letterman, and Jon Stewart. The line between political journalism and entertainment has long been hopelessly blurred, and it’s awfully disingenuous to start complaining about it now. Hey, pols and press, do you want TV to take politics more seriously and stop treating it as a division of show business? Physicians, heal thyselves.

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Filed under 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Media, TV