A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Stars Are Out

One of my friends got a robocall from Scarlett Johansson for Obama. Another heard from Chris Rock. And I got Jack Nicholson for Hillary.

Vote as You Please, But Please Vote

My friend Fran Smith, a Hillary supporter, and I, a late convert to Obamaism, recently had an e-mail debate that to my mind encapsulates the dilemma that many of us face today. Fran has kindly given me permission to reprint our dialogue.

Fran: I actually don't know what kind of leader Obama would be. All I know is what kind of a speaker he is. What am I missing? Besides a drink of the Kool Aid...

Me: Good point, and I don't have an answer -- that Kool Aid is mighty tasty. I guess it really comes down to my sense that I know what kind of leader Hillary would be: Enormously competent but freighted with sixteen years of history. Obama promises at least initially to give us a break from that history. If it were just Hillary, I'd be more enthusiastic. But I'm just not sure I want to put up with four to eight years more of Bill Clinton, who will be there no matter what she can do to control him.

Fran: Yes, I get that about Bill and Hill and the baggage. But a lot of the "divisiveness" and "polarization" of Bill's administration that I keep reading about came from the mad-dog right-wing smear machine. Yes, the Clintons provided plenty of ammunition, but none of their sins comes close to what we've witnessed and endured and pretty quietly put up with these past eight years. Monica vs. Iraq? Hillary's clumsy health care efforts vs. torture, White House secrecy and the war on civil liberties? I think it's revisionist history -- and a delusion -- to think that the attacks and divisions were about the Clintons, and not first and foremost about the Republicans, and that Obama could somehow float above the partisan nastiness. If the Dems win, it may take the Republicans a while to regroup, and that would be an excellent thing. But if and when they do, they will go after whoever holds that office, with the cynical, vicious, deceitful win-at-any-cost tactics that are their M.O. At least with Hill, we know we have a fighter and survivor.

Me: You get no argument from me on the basic point that Republican nastiness (and incompetence and lust for power and so on) is to blame for what we've endured. Or that it won't resurface whatever Democrat is in the White House. But given a choice between two competent and attractive candidates (Hillary and Obama), I have to go with the one who has the better chance of giving us at least a brief respite from the brutality of right-wing attacks. The Republican Party is in disarray right now, but I fear that nominating Hillary will give them a point to rally around. Nor do I see any sign that Obama is any less capable of fighting and surviving whatever the right-wing attack machine may throw at him. He's already had to deal with the "Barack Hussein Osama" nonsense and the e-mails about his being a covert Muslim and so on. It's the enthusiasm I sense from younger voters and his ability to inspire -- even if it's only rhetoric, which can only take you so far -- that I think will help him along. It's why people remember JFK so fondly, even though he really wasn't a very good president. You felt something at the time that gave you a sense of promise. I feel it with Obama. With Hillary, I just feel the tug back into the Clintonian past -- and even though that past was better than the Bush years, I just don't much want to go back there.

Fran: You get no argument from me on your basic points, either. We agree on pretty much everything except which way to vote today! Kind of like Clinton and Obama....

Me: And may whoever it is win, and win big, in November.

What to Read Next

Critical Mass, the National Book Critics Circle's blog, has a regular feature it calls Good Reads. It surveys the membership as well as some eminent authors to come up with a list of top choices in fiction, nonfiction and poetry among the current books. Their current picks are these:

Fiction

1. Denis Johnson, Tree of Smoke (Farrar Straus & Giroux)
2. Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead)
3. J.M. Coetzee, Diary of a Bad Year (Viking)
4. Geraldine Brooks, People of the Book (Viking)
5. Steve Erickson, Zeroville (Europa)

Nonfiction

1. The Rest Is Noise, by Alex Ross (FSG)
2. Brother, I’m Dying, by Edwidge Danticat (Knopf)
3. In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan (Penguin Press)
4. Musicophilia, by Oliver Sacks (Knopf)*
5. The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein (Metropolitan)*

Poetry

1. Elegy, by Mary Jo Bang (Graywolf)
2. Time and Materials, by Robert Hass (Ecco)*
3. Gulf Music, by Robert Pinsky (FSG)*
4. The Collected Poems, 1956–1998, by Zbigniew Herbert (Ecco)
5. Sharp Teeth, by Toby Barlow (Harper)

*There was a tie for fourth in nonfiction, and for second in poetry

I can endorse the list, even though I've read only one of the titles (Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food). My own choices, which didn't make the final cut, were:

Fiction
The Commoner, by John Burnham Schwartz (Talese/Doubleday) -- My review of this fine novel should be up next weekend.

Nonfiction
Coal River, by Michael Shnayerson (Farrar, Straus) -- See here for my review.

Sadly, like most people, I know nothing about contemporary poetry.