Saturday, February 16, 2008

 

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Friday, February 15, 2008

 


Photo by Jonathan Williams

Somebody who signs him- or herself as Barnes – I have a few cousins with that surname – wrote in yesterday’s comments stream:

"...Jeeze, Doc, I guess it's all right
but what the hell does it mean?"

Aside from the comic way it’s raised, that’s a perfectly legit question. A click on the link in the poem’s title would have brought Barnes, or anyone else, to the full text as I was reading it yesterday morning on the Academy of American Poets website. Doing so reminded me that this has always been a favorite Williams poem of mine, and the stanza I reproduced on my own site is the reason why. Published seven years ahead of Spring & All, the moment I always think of as the real start of Williams’ mature writing, “A Love Song” is one of the earliest signs of the great poet yet to come.

Narratively, the poem is not that difficult. A man’s lover has departed. He contemplates the residual stain – what my generation has tended to call “the wet spot” tho further on it appears possibly to be some residual semen shining still upon his own “horned branches” – and thinks of her, wondering if he will ever see her again. Or see her again in just this way. The act itself, figured in that stain, makes everything in the world seem far more lucid, even hallucinatory. Williams takes this idea & just runs with it. Some 50 years after this poem was written, people would begin talking of such reactions as “a heightened state of awareness.” It certainly is that.

For a man who made a lifelong reputation for himself as a love poet on the basis of his poems for his wife, Florence “Floss” Herman Williams, WCW also wrote, repeatedly and at some length, of his many trysts with others. At the time of “A Love Song,” he and Floss had been married for four years. Is this a poem about her? Does anyone really think so? Ambiguity will let you do a lot of things & Williams is one of the best at exploiting its potential. This reminds me of nothing so much as John Lennon’s comment that songs like “Norwegian Wood” were a way of writing about his times with other women without upending his marriage.

And for a poet who, some 16 or 20 years after this poem was written, would be associated with the neo-Marxian Objectivist poets, and functionally a scientist to a degree that any medical doctor is, Williams is also a writer who greatly trusts the irrational, what I would actually prefer to call, as here, the transrational. Making sense is not one of the critical requirements of verse – indeed it far too often just gets in the way of a much more direct treatment of our feelings & sensations. In the name of Ezra Pound’s only dicta for how to write, “direct treatment of the thing” is very often the exact opposite of treating it objectively.

I love the reiteration here of yellow yellow yellow – that’s the moment when the poem really abandons any literal sense of narrative reality¹ & Williams discusses exactly the impact of this sense and how it transforms the material world. That is the function of this stanza & it seems to me one of the elemental tasks not just of love & sex, but of poetry as well. Poems read with too much concern as to “what the hell does it mean” will always miss at least half of life, maybe much much more.

 

¹ Why yellow, which is hardly the color of semen? Is it the room, the light at that time of day, the color of the sheets or walls? We’ll never know, but the specificity of the color is as important as the fact that Williams did not write off-white off-white off-white.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

 


photo by Jonathan Williams

 

The stain of love
Is upon the world.
Yellow, yellow, yellow,
It eats into the leaves,
Smears with saffron
The horned branches that lean
Heavily
Against a smooth purple sky.

 


William Carlos Williams
from “A Love Song



Wednesday, February 13, 2008

 

Power Crazy Senior General Than Shwe:
a short anthology in support of jailed Burmese poet Saw Wai
(PDF)

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One year probation for aiding bio-art

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Ismail Gulgee has been murdered

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John Ashbery, collagiste

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Yevtushenko at 74

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Who’s in & who’s out
& what does that mean anymore?

Paul Hoover’s original post
and follow-up

Christian Bök: Why I am not “post-avant”

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Reginald Shepherd is shocked, shocked
by the responses he got

Shepherd on becoming a blogger

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Call for proposals: Poetry of the 1970s

Reassessing the ‘70s

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Is book blogging legit crit?

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Zadie Smith: lit prizes are B.S.

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Ron Padgett’s translation of Reverdy’s Prose Poems

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Talking with Amy King

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Reading Heather Thomas

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Daisy Fried reading Rexroth

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The art of deciphering manuscripts

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Mark Scroggins takes the 100 book challenge

Jonathan Mayhew is doing the same, but with novels!

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Remembering Burt Hatlen:
Mark Scroggins and Norman Finkelstein

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The brat-like qualities of Arthur Rimbaud

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Talking with Samuel Menashe

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textsound, an audio ezine

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Rigoberto González on A Midsummer Night’s Press

& on Slapering Hol Press

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Les Murray’s Selected Poems

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Responses to Reed Whittemore’s memoir

Furioso archives at Yale

Whittemore’s first co-editor, James Angleton

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The 99-year-old bookstore
& the secret Bukowski book signings

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Zimbabwe poets tackle human rights

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Nigerian prison poems

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Dub poet Guiding Star

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There are only 5 colleges in Australia
that don’t offer a degree in creative writing

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Michael Wells on Jayne Pupek

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The poet plays hoops

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Talking with Gregory Betts

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A parish poet for Lickey & Blackwell

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Distribution & equilibration in Three Lives

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Talking with Mukoma Wa Ngugi

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Nikki Giovanni in Tulsa

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Mike Burwell’s Cartography of Water

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Daniel Green: avoiding oblivion

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Bipolar poets

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Some wordy verse described as “precisely detailed”

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A profile of Walter Bargen,
Missouri’s poet laureate

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Talking with Jared Smith

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Nick Powell on Robert Hass

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The chanteuse, her poets & the French president

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Cate Marvin’s Fragment of the Head of a Queen

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Ted Kooser, “mass mail Casanova

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Ectopia Cordis

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A profile of John Hodge

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Helen Losse on Forrest Hamer

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Poems from the factory floor

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Shut up & write

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Matt Hart’s Simply Rocket

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Vorticisms

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Bedouin poet salutes Big Brother contestant

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Talking with Rita Donovan

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The poetry editor of Ladies Home Journal

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Steve McOrmond’s Primer on the Hereafter

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Stranger to the language

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J.G. Ballard’s last book?

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Writing trash isn’t easy

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Short, flat poems that go on too long

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Rita Wong & Stuart Ross

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Devotional poetry, then & now

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Love poetry & Valentine’s Day

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The influence of Lee Sang-hwa

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A profile of Jeff Vande Zande

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The return of Alfred Kazin

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40 years later, A. Alvarez has a second collection of essays

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What are the limits of academic freedom?

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Online vs. print publication

The right to distribute your work online

(But what about peer review & the impact on publishers?)

HarperCollins to post free books on the web

The net is more than just a copy machine –
it’s the basis for the world economy

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Who won the writers strike?

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Is Terry Eagleton “too old” to teach?

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Can New College survive?

Can liberal arts colleges survive?

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Just how far does © extend?

Not to Canada it would appear

The feds have their own idea

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Tolkien heirs sue for their share of The Ring

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Who qualifies as a public intellectual?

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If you’re in New York,
check out the 2008 Persian Arts Festival

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A collaboration between a poet,
a filmmaker & a composer

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The Poetry Foundation survey applied to music

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What Pete Seeger wrought

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The Jewish roots of Bob Dylan

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Going to school on Opus 95

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Fifteen-minute operas

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The center of the jazz world?

Boeing begs to differ

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Individuals within a quartet

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Neil Young: Music changes nothing

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Eli Broad’s active critique of museums

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The most important art work of the 20th Century

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Barry Schwabsky on Lawrence Weiner

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The problems of shipping art in Canada

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The price of fame

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Silence and Lee Friedlander

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The future of repertory cinema

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Smash labs

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Where the candidates stand
on funding the arts

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

 


Project Runway’s judges for the final competition (from left):
Nina Garcia, Michael Kors, “Posh Spice” Victoria Beckham & Heidi Klum

The time it takes to edit down the raw footage of a Project Runway show into the smooth final product creates some interesting problems for the program’s narrative. In order not to give away the secret of who the final three contestants are, the show has had to let a fourth designer – one who has narratively “already been eliminated” – produce a collection to show under the tents. The potential problem with this popped up during the very first season, when a few attendees wrote that the “eliminated” collection of Austin Scarlett was superior to any of the final three.

When the penultimate show of the third season saw all four of the contestants present particularly strong designs, the judges & producers threw up their hands and declared that they all would show and be in the final challenge to see who would win. It was an interesting step, in that it made television’s best “reality challenge” show a little less visibly unreal.

The current season four took awhile to show up. Tim Gunn, formerly the head of the Parsons School of Design where the competition takes place, had left Parsons to take over as the head of design at Liz Claiborne. His presence as mentor to the 15 designers – he’s the perfect Henry Higgins – has more than a little to do with the show’s popularity & his signature phrase, “Make it work,” has become part of the contemporary lexicon. Just last week one of the build team members of Mythbusters, a “let’s blow this up for science” show that is the antithesis of Runway, was not only quoting Gunn on the air, but imitating his clipped & precise manner of delivery.

Runway does a better job of showing creative people being creative than any television show ever, but half of its pleasure lies in the personalities. In addition to Gunn, host Heidi Klum sparkles as she shows up in one impossibly fabulous outfit after another – made even more pronounced in seasons 2 & 3 when she was going through a pair of pregnancies. Elle magazine fashion director Nina Garcia & dour, always dressed in black Michael Kors round out the regulars, performing solely as judges in addition to Klum & a rotating “celebrity” jurist.

I don’t know what happened this season, but the word on the street is that there will be only three finalists this year even though five designers presented last week in Bryant Park. The five remaining contestants include Rami Kashou from Ramallah in the West Bank, Christian Siriano, only 21 when the competition started, Chris March of San Francisco (already well-known in the gay & theater communities for his costumes for Beach Blanket Bingo), Jillian Lewis from Long Island, a talented designer with serious time-management issues, and “Sweet P” Kathleen Vaughn from Los Angeles, at 46 the senior contestant. Virtually none of the contestants are really newbies to the design world – one worked for Ralph Lauren, another already has had gowns worn by the likes of Jessica Alba. One contestant who was eliminated near the end of the competition, Victorya Hong, successfully competed to have her own show at Bryant Park this year as well. So, yes, this is the year in which six of the original fifteen contestants made it to the tents in the park.

One “innovation” this year has been that the show has really not had anyone who could be called a “villain,” a standard feature of all reality TV. In each of the first three seasons, it was very clear who the villain was and, in each case, the villain made it to the final three, even if he or she did not deserve to be there. One, Jeffrey Sebelia, won the third season competition.

Actually, I think the show was in the process of evolving – or identifying – this season’s villain, Carmen Webber, when she was eliminated in one of the earlier challenges. Soon thereafter another contestant, three-time All America swimmer Jack Mackenroth had to drop out due to illness. Because of some upcoming “team” challenges, the producers were then forced to re-up Chris March, the last contestant at that point to have been eliminated, and the group of competitors pulled together in a way that I’ve not seen in any previous season. It is not that everyone is friends – Christian’s catty comments has the rest of the cast’s eyes rolling. But they all seem to take the pint-sized designer from Annapolis as if he were just an annoying kid brother. Even Jillian, who is all of 26, feels like she’s at least a decade his senior. Plus it’s hard to have a villain who is not only both younger & shorter, but also more talented, than everyone else. If Christian just learned to listen & care about others, he’d be the total package.

If I have any complaints about this season, it’s mostly that the designs themselves have not been up to the standards set in previous rounds. Rami is great at draping fabric – but that is all he does, the proverbial one-trick pony. As befits his background, Chris’ pieces tend toward the cartoonish – that he’s survived something like five challenges since being “uneliminated” is itself a considerable accomplishment. My guess is that he’s not going to be one of the three “finalists” even though you can see his Bryant Park show here.

The other contestant whom I expect to be eliminated is Sweet P, the post-hippy LA designer who seems flabbergasted by every single assignment & has not won any of the ten weekly challenges. Somehow, she has managed to hang on in elimination after elimination. When she stayed & the popular Ricky Lizalde was eliminated, I think everyone watching must have gasped. Ricky’s designs often don’t work, but he always has some idea.

The other two whom I expect to show besides Rami are Jillian & Christian. If the judging is on pure talent (as it was last season), the winner overall will be Christian, unformed as he is. If it is on whose clothes women would want most (as it was the second season), then I think Jillian. Jillian should benefit from having an entire month to work, even tho the designers always discover one last “design challenge” waiting for them when they return to New York. I can’t even count how many times this year Jillian has been sewing her model into her outfit as they literally were proceeding to the runway.

I should note that if you check around on the web, you will discover that almost everybody who attended the show in the tent had the same idea as to who the winner should be. One site even has links to photos of each collection and a poll. The one discordant note that I've seen, however, came from Victoria Beckham, the celeb judge, so I think it could go either way.

One of the interesting aspects of this show is just how many of its participants have gone on to make use of their success here, even if they didn’t get all that far into the season. Get into the final six, which is really about the point when it stops being a crowd & turns into a community, and you’re suddenly a hot ticket in the garment district. Now a number of these folks already were hot tickets before they began on Runway. But Austin Scarlett, who finished fourth in season one, is already the creative director at Kenneth Pool. That’s not hot. That’s blazing.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

 

For some time now, political pollsters have been telling me that I vote just like an African-American female under the age of 30. Given just how far that is from the 60ish white guy I see in the mirror every morning, it’s a characterization that has given me pause. What I think it comes down to is that the political self-interest of young black women more closely aligns with the broadest needs of our society. While everyone benefits from peace, economic prosperity and social justice, younger African-American women vote that agenda more often than anyone else. Address their political concerns and everything else will follow. According to this logic, I ought to be voting for Barack Obama when the Democratic primary process finally rolls into Pennsylvania late in April. Right at this very moment, however, I find myself filled with ambivalence.

Readers of this blog know from experience that I have no hesitation saying what I think on the subject of politics, at least when I know what that is. I first came out for Howard Dean here in October 2003, well before he’d started his net-based leap from obscurity to briefly become the next new flavor among the Democratic contenders of ’04. I felt that he had the best program, which he did, and which propelled him to the front of the polls in advance of the Iowa caucuses. It was there, of course, that Missouri Senator Dick Gephardt, whose own campaign chances required Gephardt to carry Iowa, went negative on Dean, the result being that John Kerry ended up carrying the state & ultimately the nomination.

This time around, the serious candidate who was saying the most useful and important things last fall seemed to me to be John Edwards. Edwards’ class-based social populism still strikes me as undeniably a more accurate take on what is wrong in this society than anything I have heard the other two candidates say. But Edwards was never able to break through with an electorate that appears to have grown very weary of white males. That’s not necessarily the entire electorate, just the Democratic one. By the time the primaries reach Pennsylvania, nobody will even remember that Edwards once was one of the Big Three who elbowed aside more veteran Democratic senators like Joe Biden & Chris Dodd with ease.

So we now find ourselves in this very curious two-person race. Curious in that the policy differences between the two candidates are minimal. Barack Obama clearly has the better record on Iraq, but his plans for the future there are not measurably different from Clinton’s. Hillary Clinton clearly has the better plan for health care – she’s absolutely right when she says that Obama’s kids-only universal health care is a set-up for something being nibbled to death by the health care industry. Except that Senator Clinton has what I would call an imperfect record on health care herself.

Voters so clearly want anything that looks different from what we currently have in the White House that they seem far less concerned with what the actual alternatives might be. In debate after debate, I heard candidates – even McCain & Huckabee – articulating how they will create change going forward. I get that. I think we all get that.

What I really need to know is which change, and how. It isn’t the Bush presidency I need them to differentiate themselves from – any halfway literate bumpkin could do that – so much as it is the Clinton administration before it. What I want to know is how will the next regime look different from that. I don’t hear Clinton addressing this at all. And the terms I hear Obama using, about getting beyond the divisions between red state & blue state, sound to me nothing less than Jimmy Carter with an Ivy League accent. My gut reaction is thank you, no. Been there, done that. The result wasn’t pretty.

But I don’t buy into the argument that this spiel signals any naiveté on Obama’s part so much as it taps into a genuine desire in the American public, the same one that has driven many Democrats out of the party, the same one that has driven many Republicans out of their party, all swelling the ranks of independent voters. But frankly I worry about any administration that attempts to embody post-partisan values. What in practice will that mean? I wish I heard Obama addressing this with greater specificity.

If I look at Obama’s staffing as senator, I see a lot of inside-the-beltway experience, something Carter’s team lacked. Pete Rouse, the chief of staff, previously held the same position for Tom Daschle, whom he’d met when the two served as legislative aides to James Abourezk. Obama’s policy director, Karen Kornbluh, is an economist who has worked for everyone from John Kerry to Alan Greenspan. Kornbluh is one of several former Clinton administration officials in the Obama camp, along with foreign policy advisors Anthony Lake & Susan Rice. The other key figure, as best I can tell, is Samantha Power, the Irish-born journalist who won the Pulitzer for her book A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide. This isn’t a bad team at all, but it also isn’t the outsider profile that the campaign has been trying to paint for Obama either. Maybe he won’t get slapped around by Congress the way Carter did – I don’t see any obvious “Not Ready for Prime Time Players” like Bert Lance or Hamilton Jordan on the horizon. But I worry about what happens when the expectations set by the rhetoric of a post-partisan future meets the harsh partisan present running the government.

Hillary Clinton has a completely different problem. Actually two. One is that the Bill Clinton administration was nothing to write home about. After it got beaten up over gays in the military & then health care reform, Clinton retreated to his Democratic Leadership Council roots and was content to behave like the mayor of America, with incremental this & incremental that, so that the only major policy accomplishments from two terms in office NAFTA, welfare reform & the No Child Left Behind Act were all Republican initiatives, primarily benefiting the GOP and its agenda. None has proven over time to be good policy.

The second problem is more pragmatic. I’m convinced at this moment that there is almost no path available to Hillary Clinton by which she can become president. I’m convinced that she can conceivably win the nomination – if she uses the brute force of the Democratic establishment, especially the so-called Super Delegates, to do so. But I’m also convinced that this will lead to a fall campaign in which black and younger voters will stay home in droves & independents will turn instead to John McCain.

The alternative – an Obama campaign in the fall – is by no means a gimme. The states he has been winning are precisely the ones most apt to go to the other party in the fall (a curious phenomenon that McCain has replicated on his side of the contest as well).

The Republicans do seem set, against all their instincts, on nominating the one person in their party who could beat the Democrats after eight years of Bush. The possibility of a rightwing third party insurgency is at best a long shot, tho it’s worth remembering that Bill Clinton himself would not have been a two-term president without the active assistance in each election of H. Ross Perot. The more chilling prospect of a Michael Bloomberg candidacy would sink whatever hope the Democrats might have. Many of Bloomberg’s domestic positions – on gun control, on abortion, on the rights of gay people – are to the left of both Democratic contenders.

So what about a dual ticket? It seems clear that Hillary Clinton will never be anyone’s vice-president – she had more power than Al Gore in the first Clinton administration. That leaves us with only the possibility of a Clinton-Obama campaign. Right now the national pundits are saying that Obama is recoiling at that idea, and I can’t say that I blame him. Unfortunately, I can predict – with a lot of historical evidence to support it – that if he doesn’t become Vice President at the very minimum, Barack Obama will almost certainly never become president.

The reason is simple. America has only twice elected a sitting senator to the presidency: Warren Harding & John F. Kennedy. When presidents depart, the candidate is almost always going to be the sitting VP: Nixon, Humphrey, Bush I, Gore. When the other party – doesn’t matter which – is trying to oust the incumbent, somebody from outside Washington is a much more believable candidate for change. This is why we get so many governors when parties change hands: Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush 2.

But 2008 is an anomaly. Cheney isn’t running, the governors who ran – Romney, Richardson, Huckabee – all had something distinctly wrong about them, and the one governor with a national constituency – Arnold Schwarzenegger – is constitutionally prohibited from becoming president. So we are about to have our third sitting senator become president. That still represents less than seven percent of all presidents in history. Unless something changes dramatically going forward, the winner this year will be the last such exception to the “No Senators Need Apply” rule in my lifetime.

I do think that a Clinton-Obama ticket might be the one combination that would enable Clinton to make it to the White House, but I’m very skeptical that it’s apt to happen. Picking an “alternative” African-American running mate, such as Harold Ford, won’t even carry Ohio.

So this leaves me in this pickle. I don’t dislike either candidate. Hillary speaks directly to my own wonkish side (like you haven’t noticed), while I have to concede that Obama proposes to at least change the terms of the debate, if not the actual existence of one.

But in spite of the rhetoric, I don’t see either candidate doing much to seriously break the control of corporations on the Democratic establishment. Any more than I see John McCain doing much to make the Republican party safe for moderates in the future. I think, after eight years of openly dishonest government, a brutish administration with no respect whatsoever for the Constitutional rights of Americans, it is vitally important that the next president be a Democrat. And the person who has the best chance of winning is Barack Obama. So that puts me right back with my traditional voting demographic – young, black & female once again.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

 

 This Monday
 February
11 
7:00 PM
  Pacific / 10:00 PM Eastern
on
 The Moe Green Poetry Hour
Listen live or later
  Call in number (718) 508-9717

Join Moe Green (aka Rafael F. J. Alvarado) and
his cohost Stacey Mangiaracina
as they listen to the poetry of

Brenda Hillman
Jean Valentine
Rachel Zucker

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