A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Politics as Ususal

Sorry for the paucity of posts the past few days. This blogging thing, I’m told, only works if you keep it up regularly. I’ve been blaming my dilatoriness on this head cold and on a review deadline. The cold is still with me but the deadline has been met.

And there’s good news on the DSL front: The problem seems to have resolved itself. I finally did a wholesale shutdown. I reset the modem – that paperclip trick where you poke a little hole in the back of the thing. And when everything came back up, voila! The VCR, on the other hand, still seems to be stuck in a time warp four and a half hours away.

I’ve been meaning to write something about politics – one of those so-you-know-where-I’m-coming-from posts.

My parents were New Deal Democrats. Having suffered the blows of the Depression, they thought of FDR as the Great Deliverer and of his party as the hope of the future. And even when most of their kinfolk deserted the party in the 1960s, they remained true to it.

I’ve never found a compelling reason to depart from their beliefs – or at least their political beliefs. I don’t think I’ve ever voted for a Republican. And I certainly can’t find a reason to do so this year. Where did they get these guys?

  • Romney is the Oakland of politicians: There is no there there.
  • McCain withstood the torture of the Vietnamese, but the loony right has made him strip himself of all his once-praised integrity.
  • Giuliani is the product of media hype, a weird little man whom the careless media converted into a hero after 9/11 – to the amusement and disgust of many New Yorkers. But now all the sordid little secrets are oozing out of his closet.
  • Huckabee? Now, really. President Huckabee? Never having voted for a Republican I’m sure not going to start with one who’s also a Southern Baptist preacher and doesn’t believe in evolution.
  • Thompson? If we have to elect a character actor, why not Paul Giamatti? At least he’s a good one.


No, I can easily vote for almost any of the Democrats. I’ve never had any problem doing that – even with Hubert Humphrey.

I think I like Edwards the most, because what he’s said about poverty and health care makes sense, and even though he’s doing the usual waffle on gay marriage, at least his wife came out for it. But the media have been unkind, focusing on the $400 haircut. So he’ll wind up third in the early primaries, and by the time I get to vote in California, he’ll be out of the picture.

Obama is charismatic and incredibly smart, but I’d rather wait to vote for him in 2016. I’m just not ready yet to vote for someone young enough to – gulp – be my son? Back in 1987, I wrote a piece for the Mercury News’ now-defunct Perspective section in which I bemoaned the fact that half of the Democratic candidates were younger than me.

I may have to vote (shudder) Republican next year.

It's not that I like any of their candidates. George Bush makes me think of those Ralph Bellamy characters Cary Grant took Rosalind Russell and Irene Dunne away from. And I want to see Bob Dole stand in front of a mirror; I'll bet he doesn't reflect in it.

But at least they're old.

Not real old -- just old enough to be president. Bush is 63, Dole 64. Which makes them old enough to be my . . . well, my uncle.


The “George Bush” referred to there is H.W., of course. And no, I didn’t really vote for him – I voted for Dukakis. But there are times when I almost feel nostalgic for him. That’s because of his son, who makes me think of what one of the Ralph Bellamy characters might have fathered if he’d married the kind of character played by Gail Patrick or Binnie Barnes: a selfish, resentful spoiled brat.

The younger Bush’s relentless incompetence, combined with his stubborn refusal to use government as anything but a vehicle for enriching his own kind, has put us in a terrible predicament. John Dean, who should know, since he worked for a president who pointed us in this direction, calls it “broken government.” I fear that it’s true, that it will take years to remake the federal government into an efficient and beneficial instrument of policy, to weed out all of the hacks and incompetents who have infested the Justice department, the intelligence agencies, and all of the agencies concerned with quality of life, such as the FDA, OSHA, FEMA, the EPA and so on.

Which is why I’m reluctantly deciding to cast my vote for Hillary. She’s the one who has direct knowledge of the way the federal government is run. The question is whether she knows how to make it run again.

Five years ago, I reviewed Joe Klein’s book “The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton” for the Mercury News. Since then, Klein has become something of a joke in the blogosphere – indeed, he’s often referred to as “Joke Line” – because he’s stuck in the centrism of the 1990s, which often makes him urge Democrats to be more conciliatory to the right, and occasionally betrays him into uninformed and wrongheaded characterizations of the left. But he did have some shrewd and informed things to say about the Clintons, for example:

''Over time, I decided that the wisest course regarding the Clinton marriage was to be indiscriminately credulous, to believe all the stories: He was chronically unfaithful. They fought like harpies. They were political partners. They were best friends. They loved each other madly, in every sense of the word. None of these were mutually exclusive. . . . Which is not to say that it wasn't a stupefyingly weird relationship.''


I also wrote:

''The Natural'' is weakest when Klein attempts to sum up the concrete achievements of the Clinton administration -- but Klein can give you a sense of the human beings at work. He's particularly good at quick-hit descriptions. Al Gore, for example, ''had a genius for subservience (and also, unfortunately, the submerged, constricted anger that often accompanies such passivity).'' Klein says of Ralph Nader that his ''personal asceticism and low-key style masked a sour and unrelenting demagogue.'' And Hillary Clinton's staff ''suffered from Tippi Hedren Syndrome: They looked as if they were about to be attacked by birds.''


Clinton's gift was an ability to overcome crisis -- unfortunately, many of the crises he faced were of his own making. The drifting, indecisive first term, with its disastrous bungling of health-care reform, led to the Republican triumphs in the election of 1996. This proved to be the challenge Clinton needed, Klein says: The ''battle against a rigid American mullah named Newt Gingrich would consume the next several years. It would prove successful; indeed, it will probably stand as a textbook example of how a tactically astute President can transform a position of weakness into strength.''


I don’t know how much of this tactical astuteness has been transferred to Hillary. I suspect that she possesses more of it than her husband does. And I feel sure that she knows the ways of Washington far better than any of the other candidates – firsthand knowledge.

And because I think we’re going to be in serious trouble unless the next president knows how to make Washington work – for all of us – I guess that’s why I’m hoping she wins.

That said, I’ll probably still cast my primary vote for Obama … or Edwards.