MORE ON EXPOSURE VERSUS ENDORSEMENT


Alyssa’s post this week on Game of Thrones inspired me to dredge up a 2005 post I wrote on differences between the approaches liberals and conservatives bring to media criticism:

Is the problem what kind of behaviors and images are shown on TV, or what kind of ideology is advanced there? Do we care what the media exposes or what it endorses?

My original post is here. This led Alek to post a thoughtful response in the comments here. I don’t think Alek and I are too far apart on this.

I also want “a simple policy of letting media creators both expose and endorse whatever they want.” I don’t believe in obscenity laws (or the overturned ban on depicting animal cruelty, or libel laws for that matter). That’s why I started the post staking out my disagreement with Rick Santorum’s view that “if it’s legal, it must be right…it must be moral” (and thus if it isn’t moral, it shouldn’t be legal). But we should still talk about the stuff they’re creating, right?

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LET SORKIN BE SORKIN

Alek puts together a semi-authoritative list of Aaron Sorkin’s latest pilot’s borrowing from his earlier work and his recent life, and a check-list of the borrowings yet to be:

So, what’s missing? We need a character whose parents split up after a long time, preferably because the father had a prolonged secret affair. We need something to be, sarcastically, a “barn burner,” and we need someone to ask if you’ve fallen on your head. We need a season one finale that will actually answer the question “What Kind of Day Has it Been?” We need a character whose younger sibling died, and who blames him/herself for it in a repressed way. We need legs that go all the way to the floor, and Shakespeare the way it was meant to be played. We need to make someone happy by coming home at the end of the day. We need someone writing a letter because something that was supposed to have ended (tennis match, filibuster), is going on way too long. We need someone “raising the level of debate.” We need smart people who disagree with you. We need a fight over the supposed significance of an anniversary. We need, when the fall is all that’s left, for it to matter a great deal, and we need to know that the fact that we want to please you, pleases you. We need underwear in an inappropriate place. We need you not to talk to us like we’re “other people.” We need someone complaining about the lack of admonishment from the clergy over religious violence. We need people accidentally saying the wrong word to someone important, then obsessing over it. We need Josh Malina.

Of course, when you’re as good as Aaron Sorkin, we let you get away with it.

EIDELSON AND THE UNNECESSARY EXEGESIS

That’s what Alek and I recently decided my band would be called, given my penchant for, well, unnecessary exegesis (take these seven paragraphs analyzing one from Barack Obama). If that didn’t satiate you, here’s some more:

Last month, I argued that there was only room in media discourse for one “Un-Hillary,” and that the lack of consensus about Hillary Clinton’s political profile creates the potential for that “Un-Hillary” to emerge from the left or from the right. Over at TNR, Ryan Lizza suggests, I think rightly, that John Edwards’ star as a candidate for the Un-Hillary mantle is rising at the moment. There’s plenty to agree with in his analysis. And then his piece ends with a peculiar turn of phrase:

A southern, moderate, antiwar, pro-labor candidate with low negatives and high positives who has already run for president is not a bad combination.

Why “moderate”?

Now, opposing our invasion of Iraq and the President’s plan to “stay the course” there is a majority position in this country, as is support for the right to organize a union free of intimidation and the negotiation of trade deals that don’t accelerate the race to the bottom. These are both areas where, at least for now, a majority of Americans are on the left. As Paul Waldman argues, there are more of them than one would think from listening to talking heads. And as David Sirota argued in a series of pieces after the 2004 election, “centrism” in the dominant media discourse has been warped to describe a set of policies with much greater support among the elite than the electorate. That said, the fact that most people in this country take a progressive position doesn’t in and of itself make that position moderate, at least in the short term.

Sure, in the long term social change depends on pulling the center towards your end, as the right has done much better than the left over the past few decades. And the most effective political leaders we have are the ones who can communicate progressive positions in ways which resonate with fundamental shared values even amongst people who don’t see themselves as on the left. But I still think it’s worth questioning what, especially in the pages of the New Republic, qualifies Edwards as a representative of moderation – other than the fact that he’s popular, and if you believe moderation to be popular with the American people, you’re inclined to look at someone as popular as him to be moderate as well (remember the DLC essay right when it looked like Kerry was going to beat Bush that celebrated how Trumanesque he was?)

Otherwise, what is it that makes Edwards moderate in Lizza’s eyes? His voting record when he last held office (by which standard the likes of Howard Dean and Ned Lamont – neither likely to win any popularity awards from TNR – are at least as moderate)? His support for the death penalty? His equivocation on civil unions? Or is it just the fact that he’s from the South, and liberalism in some pundit’s minds is a cultural affectation and not an ideological vision, and thus not something a southerner could or would want to take part in?

Look, Edwards is no uber-leftist by any means, and there are certainly issues on which he could be more progressive and deserves criticism for not being. But it’s hard to escape the sense that he wins the moderate label here and elsewhere because he comes off as likable and electable, and it’s assumed that any likable electable politician must be a moderate.

FIGHTING WORDS

Thomas Frank: “History will record that in the week our laissez-faire government fiddled while a major city burned, the fourth most popular non-fiction book in the land, according to the New York Times, was an itemized account of the ways in which liberals are ruining the country.”

Deborah Pearlstein: “We are not doing well. And the unlimited-power executive holds a lion’s share of the blame.”

Eric Alterman: “When you think about it, it is a tribute to the American people that they remain as receptive to liberal arguments as they do, given how infrequently they hear them.”

Alek Felstiner: “And the political contributions, which are supposed to enrage the common man, are comically small compared with industry counterparts. In fact, they’re small compared with the $5 million/year Berman plans to spend on this campaign.”

E.J. Graff: “For nearly twenty years, across the country, lesbians and gay men have been doing what Laurel Hester did: letting others see the injustice within their personal tragedies.”

Zach Schwartz-Weinstein: “But it isn’t just about refusal. It’s about “A Better Way,” about a democratic, constituent, immanent (sorry) vision for how universities can be reorganized and what kind of work they/we can do.”

John Nichols: “The problem with the Bush administration’s support for a move by a United Arab Emirates-based firm to take over operation of six major American ports — as well as the shipment of military equipment through two additional ports — is not that the corporation in question is Arab owned. The problem is that Dubai Ports World is a corporation.”

If you’re willing to wade through some (tounge-in-cheek) problematic gender politics, Alek has an encouraging post on the California Nurses’ Associations’ legal victory over Schwartzenegger’s attempt to rollback the staffing ratios they’d won:

So the CNA sued, and for the last two months they have been targeting Schwartzenegger in force. Last Friday, Judge Judy Holzer Hersher issued an injunction against the emergency regulation, and told Arnold that instead of appealing he should just go sit in the back of the class and babble incoherently about steroids like an idiot. It’s possible I was reading between the lines a little there.

The highlight is Nurse Martha Kuhl’s fierce and unapologetic rejection, in a Newsweek interview, of the idea that working people fighting for a real social contract represent a greedy “special interest“:

I spent my day treating kids with cancer. I guess you could call that my special interest.

Earlier this week, William Sledge, from his perch as Master of Calhoun College – a spot that puts him in loco parentis for one twelth of Yale’s student body – having already donated $250 to Ward 1 Aldermanic candidate Dan Kruger, took to the pages of the YDN to vilify current Alderman Ben Healey for supporting the removal of arrest powers from the constables at Yale – New Haven Hospital, who are accountable not to the city but to the Hospital Board, in response to a pattern of that Board using the constables not to protect patients but to arrest leafletting staff. Sledge, who serves as Medical Director of YNHH’s Psychiatric Hospital (that he serves as Calhoun Master while otherwise employed not by the University but – since it was subcontracted last year – by the Hospital further disproves the argument that the two institutions are discrete), argued that Healey’s move to defend patients and workers from illegal, counterproductive, and unjust abuses of the constable power,

reflected a strong bias towards meeting the goals of the union and indicate that his activity as an alderman is driven by an ideology that is so strongly pro-labor that it overwhelms matters such as the security of those he represents. This bias gets in the way of clear thinking and inhibits the political and administrative imagination required to work out creative solutions.

Alek Felstiner, who witnessed the arrests last year, ably and resoundingly refutes the argument here.