Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Dispatches, Volume 13

The Roving Storm Returns…The Dark Knight Cometh…The Quadrennial Veepstakes Rock the Rudderless Punditocracy…
Last Monday I sat in the last row of an AMC Theater to watch The Dark Knight. In India, the back row is the most coveted place in the house, probably because it is the least likely to get soaked when the theater roof starts pouring down rainwater like it did during Apne, a disastrous Bollywood rip-off of Rocky, where a middle-aged businessman becomes a boxer to avenge his singer-turned-boxer brother, who was nearly killed by an evil American heavyweight champion. But I’ve digressed already.
Welcome back to Roving Storm. The five month lay-off has been intentional, because Roving Storm articles are born out adventure, not armchair punditry. I almost wrote about the April and May primaries, but once Hillary had statistically lost, further intra-party bloodshed seemed unnecessary, although her campaign didn’t seem to think so. I almost wrote about the campaign in the context of our annual 4th of July destination, the boardwalk of Ocean City, Maryland.
It was chilly and cloudy this year, and the boardwalk crowd sought out new forms of entertainment, often gravitating in packs of ten or twenty to observe the machinations of the porch and sand dune crew at the house of Martin. The boardwalk crowd had a fondness for pointing out the literal nature of things, especially during our outdoor beer pong sessions.
“They’re playing a game down there.”
“That is a house.”
“They’ve got beer on the table.”
“Hey fella, that game is like ping-pong.”
“No,” an exasperated Crispus Knight yelled back. “It’s like sky-diving!” He shook his head. “We’re playing with ping-pong paddles and a ping-pong ball on a ping-pong table.” Some took the more diplomatic approach, and explained the concepts of the sport to onlookers, who not only adopted teams, in true partisan style, but also showed their hospitality to fellow strangers.
Stranger One, remarking on cup hit: “What happens now?”
Stranger Two: “Well, you see, since they hit the cup, the other side has to drink half of it.”
Stranger Three: “If they had sunk the cup in, it would be the whole cup they’d have to drink.
Stranger One: “I wish they’d sink it in one of my cups, I could use a beer up here!”
Laughter, laughter, laughter…
Then there was the dollar trick, a boardwalk favorite for the ages. The newest member of the crew crawls underneath the boardwalk, waving out a dollar bill through the boardwalk cracks. Just as some unsuspecting boardwalker licked his lips, and greedily bent down to seize the dollar to buy his eye-rolling girl-friend a snow-cone, someone gives the signal, and the dollar disappears- just out of the boardwalker’s reach. Everyone has a good laugh, including people on the porch, folks from nearby hotel balconies, and sun-bathers by beachside umbrellas. In an interesting display of human psychology, because not only do the victims generally take the humiliation good-naturedly, but they often go sit on the sea wall, and wait till the next victim came along, so they can laugh at them too.
These crowds were composed of all ages, races, and waistband sizes, a beautiful tapestry of America, on the 4th of July, no less. It was a weird 4th alright, but not as weird as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams dying hours apart on the 4th of July in 1826, exactly fifty years after the Declaration of Independence. The two were close friends in the years after their presidencies, and I suppose if they could put their differences aside, so could we all for that one day.
There were some major adventures after Ocean City, including the legendary Marathon Day (which will get its own post down the road), but summer is a trite time in political news, and it took a cinematic awakening to revive me.

The Dark Knight Cometh…
The Dark Knight…The Dark Knight…
The spoiler alert goes out here. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, who are you? If you plan on waiting for the IMAX to stop selling out so you can watch it a second time, read keenly.
The Dark Knight is an excellent action movie, which is what everyone expected. Heath Ledger was phenomenal as the Joker, and not just because he’s dead (all of the main characters gave excellent performances). But what surprised me was the depth of the movie’s themes, unmatched in an action movie since at least The Matrix- taking on questions of justice, power, morality, and duty.
An Indian friend of mine remarked that reviews in the subcontinent considered the movie an allegory for the War in Iraq. The U.S is like Batman, a liberator never truly accepted, especially wearing out his welcome as chaos descends on Gotham. Appreciation for past deeds (running out the mob) quickly forgotten in the wake of a greater destruction (the unleashing of the Joker). The Joker quite literally plays the role of a terrorist; one of my only wincing moments came when Harvey Dent pounded the podium in a vow “not to give in to a terrorist.” Though, of course, the terrorist angle raised multiple questions, like the role of torture and illegal surveillance in times of terror. The Iraq allegory is most vivid in Batman’s insistence that Gotham have a face it can look up to, in Harvey Dent, so as to make Batman unnecessary. A ‘when the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down’ kind of message. This philosophy is unimpeachable- just as Gotham needs to be inspired by one of their own using the rule of law to enforce order, so will Iraq ultimately step out of the darkness when a generation of Iraqi leaders take the reins in moving their country forward. The allegory leads to a confusing conclusion; if we are the Dark Knight, then was the occupation of Iraq worth it or not?
History, Bush always says, will judge him. When the invasion of Iraq was first proposed, I was at least intrigued by the long-term humanitarian argument for overthrowing an oppressive dictatorship. My opposition to the war was rooted in the knowledge that humanitarianism was not the public or private goal of the war, as much as Bush may rewrite history to argue it was, after the failure of all other plausible reasons for fighting it. But at the end of the day, the War in Iraq was so hastily conceived, so deceptively foisted, so poorly executed, and so spirit-breakingly divisive, that Bush and his Project for a New American Century cohorts become not the Dark Knight, but only a Chris O’Donnell, punch-less Robin at best.
The war is one prism through which to watch The Dark Knight’s themes develop. Equally potent is the notion of the activist at the cross-roads of working to fight the system and working to change it from within. The old expression “it takes all kinds to make the world go round” is certainly true in activism. I once experienced serious disillusionment at some of the radicalism proffered at an activist workshop in 2006 (actually standing in a small minority defending the troops at one point). My friend smartly pointed out, however, that every issue requires the agitator to distill the ideological concept, the protester to keep it in peoples’ minds, the thoughtful intellectual to flesh out the policy, the organizer to apply the issue practically to peoples’ lives, the leader to push gently for change with professionalism and composure, and the compromiser to implement the issue palatably to the greater local or national constituency. None of these individual parts can take an idea and make it an enforceable bill. Finding a place in the chain that balances one’s strength, morality, pragmatism and skill-set should be the goal of all activists. Batman made me think of this because he was not ready to be the face of Gotham, because it required him leading in a way he could not lead. Ultimately, that doesn’t shortchange his importance, for his own role in Gotham is no less critical than the separate but equal role played by someone like Harvey Dent.
The point is- The Dark Knight was awesome.

Quadrennial Veepstakes Rock the Rudderless Punditocracy…

Despite my fierce opposition to unfounded punditry, the temptation to weigh in on the Democratic Vice-Presidential sweepstakes is far too great, and, as the capitalist crowd clamors, there is demand to meet the supply. My track record is one for one so far, having predicted that primary winner Kerry would pick John Edwards in the fall of 2002. A lot happened on the road to Boston, but that’s another story, a sad, sad, story.
Senator Obama has a number of very good choices, but no truly great ones. It’s worth a stroll down the “unlikely” list, before we get to the made-for-TV “short-list.”

John Edwards: Categorically will not be the running mate. Put aside his three national campaign losses in four years (quite a feat!), his paper thin public sector resume (yes, less experience than Obama) and the recent tabloid scandal. The real reason is that despite the punditocracy’s simplistic and inaccurate storyline, Senator Edwards has absolutely no base among blue-collar white voters. His strongest performance, Iowa, came after six years of virtually living there. He never beat Clinton and Obama subsequently among the coveted “blue-collar voters.” So he brings nothing to the ticket. Not going to happen.

Al Gore: Just not going to happen. It’s too tiresome to explain to this informed crowd, but I had to acknowledge the never-ending and preposterous rumors.

Michael Bloomberg: Ditto. Mayor Mike loves his name in national headlines, doesn’t he? I’m not saying being a tease to both campaigns isn’t smart politics, as he’s ever improving his ‘dead-centrist’ brand.

Bill Richardson: Is it because he’s dull as dry paint on television, because he has ‘women issues,’ or because this country isn’t ready for a full-colored ticket? Three strikes and you’re out, even if the last one should have been called low.

Jim Webb and Brian Schweitzer: The Virginia Senator and Montana Governor are both real alpha men, sadly a dying breed in the party of Truman and LBJ. But they have their own careers to cultivate, and don’t seem interested in being #2 men to anybody.

Mark Warner: Virginia’s former governor and soon to be Senator is just great. He was my first presidential choice, and both on paper and in person he comes across as a razor-sharp, excellent executive. I was wondering why he was doing a stump speech in Chelsea a few weeks ago, when, in his pandemonium, I heard him blurt out, “I may not be running for national office this year, but what about 2012? What about 2016!?” He lacks the charisma to be elected president, but he’d make a great VP. Winning that Republican Senate seat in Virginia, however, takes priority.

Wesley Clark: Does Obama really have a “foreign policy problem?” He has been, and continues to be right on the war, after all. I like Wesley Clark (he actually has very sound domestic policy positions), but after the media sand-bagged him for his totally benign comments about McCain’s foreign policy credentials, it would be surprising to see Obama go this route.

And now…the public “short-list.” You read a lot about smoke-screens, how the real short-list is under tight wraps. I can’t imagine someone not on the list above or on the list below being nominated for Vice-President, but here goes nothing…

Joe Biden: Kill me now. People seem to like this guy, including my own brother. First of all, he single-handedly ruined the Alito confirmation hearings with his wind-baggery. After Biden used up 23 of his 30 minutes for a rambling monologue, Alito took a deep breath, smiled, and asked, “I’m sorry, could you repeat the question?” Everyone roared with laughter. Thirty years later Alito was replaced on the Supreme Court. Biden, if everyone can recall, is the person who noted, ON THE FIRST DAY OF HIS CAMPAIGN, that Obama was “articulate and clean.” He’s made fun of South Asians, wished Delaware was part of the Confederacy, and voted for the war in Iraq. Did I mention he’s a Six-Term Senator? Talk about bringing change to Washington.

(10% chance) Evan Bayh: If Obama is going for a dull as molasses, ‘solid American,’ it’s hard to argue with the moderate Senator and former Governor of Indiana. Evan Bayh well could be the nominee, depending on what happens with the three people below. His nomination would also mean the loss of an irretrievable Senate seat.

(30%) Tim Kaine: The Virginia Governor may have flunked his State of the Union Response in 2006, but man, can he bring down the house! A couple of us saw him introduce O in Northern Virginia. He got so excited comparing Obama’s days as a community organizer to his as a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador that he started giving his stump speech in fluent Spanish. He has that very key quality, the “Arm Around the Shoulder Wave.” He and Obama are friends, you see, and Kaine was his first national supporter outside of Illinois. When they hug and wave and smile together, they mean it, unlike Kerry and Edwards for example. We all remember how awkward that looked. So why is he being such an unbecoming chatterbox in the media? I believe he is Obama’s personal first choice, but insecurities about his record as governor and stances on social issues require a proper ‘feeler.’ Getting his name out there is the only realistic way of doing that.

(25%) Kathleen Sebelius: A few of us met the Kansas Governor when we were in Ohio. She is great. Commands authority and respect when she speaks, exudes competence as Warner does. Absolutely not a barn-burner, but that might not hurt, given that Obama’s got the corner on that market anyway. She would be my first pick. Of course, there’s that loving line you hear- “too much change on one ticket.” These aren’t fucking aliens, folks. It’s an Ivy-league educated African-American Senator and two-term white woman governor. These are probably the same people who said an African-American couldn’t win a major party nomination. I’m curious about how Hillary supporters would feel about this seismic glass ceiling blast being performed by someone besides Hillary. Let’s face it though- Sebelius is a VERY popular governor of a VERY red state, and she’s won tons of support for her ability to pass bi-partisan legislature, winning re-election easily, all while staying true to progressive values. If she were a man, she’d be on this short-list.

(25%) Hillary Clinton: I don’t have to tell any of you about Hillary Clinton, her strengths or her weaknesses. Obama basically has a lingering fear that his VP choice will come off like a big dud. Let’s face it, there’s nothing of epic grandeur in any of the people I just talked about. Hillary’s got that. Obama knows that. Now he just has to decide if he wants it.

(10%) Not Bayh, Kaine, Sebelius, Clinton: You heard it here first.

That concludes the rare foray into wildly speculative punditry. As the email noted, Roving Storm is officially back up and running, with more vitality than ever. In the days to come, there will be postings about the new Roving Storm Book Review, some new websites that will keep your head bopping and your mind racing, and exciting on the ground action from Colorado, battleground state de jour and honored Convention host.

Till next time, keep living the dream.