Enjoying reading about the last time I was this ticked off

At my desk at The State, evincing one of those moods./file photo from 2007

Today, grumpily wondering whether I’ll find the Democratic Convention next week as vapid, monotonous, insulting and obnoxious as I did the sliver of the GOP convention I listened to last night, I was reminded of column I wrote four years ago.

If past is prologue, it would seem the answer to my dreary question is “yes.”

That column, which ran on Aug. 31, 2008, was headlined, “Yelling at the television.” If you go back and read it, it will tell you what the rest of this week and all of next week will be like, if you find the parties as disgusting as I do.

A favorite excerpt:

What sets me off? Oh, take your pick — the hyperbole, the self-importance, the us-against-them talk, the stuff that Huck Finn called “tears and flapdoodle.”

Take, for instance, this typical bit from Hillary Clinton’s speech:

My friends, it is time to take back the country we love. And whether you voted for me or you voted for Barack, the time is now to unite as a single party with a single purpose. We are on the same team. And none of us can afford to sit on the sidelines. This is a fight for the future. And it’s a fight we must win together. I haven’t spent the past 35 years in the trenches… to see another Republican in the White House squander our promise…

Let’s deconstruct that a bit.

Take back the country? From whom? Did I miss something? Did the Russians roll right on through Gori and into Washington? No? You say Americans are still in charge, just the “wrong” Americans, of the wrong party? But your party controls Congress! Take it back from whom?

… a single party with a single purpose. Now there you’ve hit on the biggest lie propagated by each of the major parties, the conceit that there is something coherent and consistent about such loose confederations of often-incompatible interest groups. Did you not just spend the last few months playing with all the force you could muster upon those very differences, those very tensions — between feminists and black voters, between the working class and the wine and cheese set? What single purpose, aside from winning an election?

This is a fight… No, it isn’t, however much you love to say that. Again, I refer you to what the Russians are doing in Georgia — that’s a fight, albeit a one-sided one.

… that we must win together. Actually, that raises a particularly pertinent point, which is that the only “fights” that “must” be won are the ones in which “together” is defined as all Americans, or all freedom-loving peoples, whereas such divisive factions as your party and that other one that will meet in St. Paul militate against our being able to win such fights together.

I haven’t spent the past 35 years in the trenches… You’re absolutely right; you haven’t. So spare us the war metaphors.

… to see another Republican in the White House squander our promise… Like that’s what matters, the stupid party label. Like there isn’t more difference between you and Barack Obama in terms of philosophy and goals and experience and what you would bring to office than there is between John McCain and Joe Biden. Come on! Please!…

Sigh. Fume. Mutter.

Yep. I was thinking almost identical thoughts last night watching this convention.

I was pretty disgusted back then. Now, I enjoy reading about how disgusted I was. I always find that my writing improves with distance…

36 thoughts on “Enjoying reading about the last time I was this ticked off

  1. Lynn

    Chill, political conventions are just another form of popular culture that can’t figure out how to reinvent itself. You can’t take them seriously. And they aren’t entertaining. So you have to figure out some way to make them entertaining…drinking is one option, choose a word everytime a speaker uses/abuses it have a shot, in an hour or two, you won’t care. Turn the sound off, place a personal favorite sound track on, and do your yoga positions. You’ll learn all you need from visual images on TV.
    Or select a Monty Python movie and watch it instead. Or lastly take the spouse out for a date night and “forget about it.”

    You could of course surf E-bay, Craig’s list QVC,or HSN and select a wedding present for Mark and Maria.

  2. Stan Dubinsky

    Thank you for recalling these thoughts. Nothing has changed since then, unless one might say it’s gotten even worse. Needless to say, I won’t be watching ANY of it or either side of it.

  3. Doug Ross

    Guess what you will be writing about in 2016?

    Imagine two scenarios:

    Obama wins which means Biden will have to fall on his sword and say he’s not going to run. That will open up both the Democrat and Republican primaries to any partisan.

    Romney wins which leads to a major upheaval in the Democrat party. Imagine the infighting over whether Obama wasn’t liberal ENOUGH.

    Either way, it’s going to be a mess.

  4. Steven Davis II

    People who yell at their televisions are funny… and a little psychotic. It’s like someone who has a mixture of Tourette’s Syndrome and road rage.

  5. `Kathryn Braun Fenner

    At least it’s trimmed. The Santa Claus beard was the worst.

    You know why I’m not going to Rotary.

  6. Steven Davis II

    Brad, just for Kathryn… next time you shave I think you should go with pork chop sideburns that would make Elvis proud, just for one day.

  7. Phillip

    …and, as I pointed out to you in a comment in that post from 2008, there’s no way that there was more difference between Hillary and Obama than there was between McCain and Biden. The voting records were there to prove it even at the time, and certainly four years later we can see that Sec’y Clinton has been the effective point person for the Obama foreign policy, with Biden presumably on board with most of it, while McCain continues to embrace Romney’s advocacy of a return to a Cheneyist foreign policy.

    Of course it’s absurd for the parties to claim that they speak for all people of any particular political bent, but there are substantial differences on the major issues, mostly because one major party has veered so far to the extreme, both in domestic and foreign policy goals.

    As bad as Romney/Ryan’s economic plans would be for anybody making less than $250K/year, the true danger in electing them lies in the realm of foreign policy, in a view that America is somehow “in decline” unless it’s sending as many of its young people to die in as many places in the world as possible at any given moment, and that the greatest contribution we can offer the world lies primarily in our ability to pulverize with our military might.

  8. bud

    The 2012 version of the GOP is one of the most radical, extremist political parties in the nation’s history. The platform they have put forth not only cuts domestic spending by a draconian amount, but it actually grows the budget deficit. Imagine that, the party of “fiscal responsibility” is probably the most fiscally irresponsible party in decades, if not ever.

    They manage this contradictory result by increasing an already bloated military budget and, most importantly, slashing taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Unless the American people wake up to this madness we will plunge headlong into the economic pergatory that is occurring in the UK as we speak. Just look at how the so-called austerity measures proposed by the GOP are working there.

    Don’t take my word for it. Look it up. While we are enjoying a modest growth of just under 2% the UK is plunging into a double-dip recession. And that’s just what the Romney/Ryan team has planned for the USA. All so a handful of super-rich can enjoy a few more years of unimaginable wealth. But even they will suffer by the end of the decade.

    It’s not too late people. Vote for the Democrats and we may have a chance. But until folks like Brad understand how completely wrong they are to paint both parties with the same “partisan” brush we are doomed. Let’s hope folks like Brad wake up before it’s too late.

  9. Steven Davis II

    @bud – Look at what Obama’s main statement has been on the campaign trail.

    “We need to keep working.”

    That’s because what they’ve been working on hasn’t worked. I believe they’re at the point where they’re just throwing darts and trying whatever it lands on. In other words, they don’t have a clue as to what they’re doing.

  10. bud

    Phillip I’m going to have to disagree with you. The foreign policy agenda put forth by Romney is indeed wrong-headed and dangerous. But we could survive as a nation relatively intact unless they go completely off the deep end. Frankly I think Romney is a bit more pragmatic that Cheney and I suspect he won’t be nearly as reckless as his stump rhetoric would lead you to believe.

    The domestic side of things on the other hand is a prescription for a complete economic meltdown for this nation with dire and indeed life-threatening consequences for millions of Americans. The plutocracy agenda Romney pushes for is in keeping with his aristocratic worldview and so I believe his stump rhetoric matches pretty well with his beliefs. So I find his domestic agenda more scary than his foreign.

  11. Brad

    Bud, I appreciate your response to Phillip — at least, to the extent that it calls his assertion into question.

    My response to Phillip is this: When have you heard Romney say these things about America’s role in the world? Because I’ve missed it. I see Romney as weak on foreign policy because I’ve been given no reason to think otherwise. But seeing him as having some sort of hyper-aggressive philosophy? I’ve missed that.

    If you want to talk hyper-aggressive, look no further than Barack Obama, who is perhaps the least-restrained president in exercising military power since Lyndon Johnson. Or maybe Truman. He sees an enemy of this country somewhere, and he goes after him with whatever tools he has at hand, and KILLS him. And he calls the shots personally.

    Of course, I’m not saying anything bad about him by my lights. For me, his aggressiveness is a plus in his column, because I have my doubts about Romney on that score.

    It just surprises me that anyone would see it the other way around.

  12. Steven Davis II

    Maybe if Romney put a clause into his foreign policy to promise to bow down to every nation’s leader upon meeting him/her. And give them an iPod.

  13. Phillip

    Brad, if you don’t see Romney as largely advocating a return to Bush/Cheney foreign policy, you’re either not paying adequate attention or that prospect just doesn’t bother you much so you don’t think about it. Of 24 special foreign policy advisors on the Romney team, 17 served in the Bush/Cheney administration, including one of Romney’s lead advisors, the notorious John Bolton. Need I say more?

    Aside from Romney per se, when I wrote the earlier comment I was reacting to the GOP convention speeches of both McCain and Condi Rice, who continued to hammer at this theme of America’s failure to “lead.” Within the paucity of their crabbed, cramped imaginations, “leadership” in world affairs can only mean one thing: military action, and if there is not enough of it going on for their taste, then we must be witnessing “America’s decline,” which according to them is what Obama favors.

    You are correct that Obama is anything but “feckless” (Romney’s word for him) in pursuing perceived terrorist threats. The difference, of course, is that Obama is addressing a more specific threat whereas Bush/Cheney/Romney/Ryan cared less about specific threats to the US and more about whether we are seen as being “tough enough,” and overcoming the so-called “Vietnam syndrome.” This is why the results in Libya matter less for these people than the fact that it wasn’t us doing all the blowing up and shooting ourselves. That just riles up the neocons to no end. You can claim Obama is “hyper-aggressive,” but he has launched no ill-advised wars of choice. Can we feel confident about that if Romney takes us back to the Bush-Cheney era?

    Trust me, Brad: if you like Obama’s “aggressiveness” you will be REALLY happy with a Romney administration on the foreign policy front.

    In any case, it will be interesting to see how the candidates will react in October late in the campaign when Israel launches its attacks on Iranian targets. That’s my bet on the “October surprise” of this election, though it’s maybe not that much of a surprise.

  14. bud

    Phillip, you may be right about Romney. He certainly talks big and has the foreign policy advisors to suggest a turn towards a more activist foreign policy. Just call me pollyanish but Romney just does not strike me as the renegade cowboy type that Bush/Cheney turned out to be.

    But we don’t have to risk it. With Obama we have a pragmatic leader who so far has acted with restraint in places like Libya and Syria. He hasn’t put boots on the ground anywhere other than Afghanistan. Hopefully that will wind down soon. The aggressiveness that gets Brad’s pro-military juices going is in many cases regretable but is also limited to a few drone strikes and missions with limited impact. That seems much more muted than invading non-threatening countries.

  15. Brad

    Obama’s aggressiveness in prosecuting the War on Terror is like Nixon going to China — he gets away with things his predecessor never could have. Nor could Romney, I’m thinking. This war that Democrats prefer not to name is in pretty good hands right now. Could be better — Obama is hamstrung in some ways by some of the same political factors that give him freedom elsewhere — but pretty good hands.

  16. Phillip

    But the name is the whole point. Obama is NOT prosecuting a “War on Terror” but addressing specific Islamic-terrorist threats, Al-Qaeda and offshoots, and the situation in Afghanistan vis-a-vis the Taliban (but the latter with caveats that we probably cannot assure total stability there, only minimize the conditions for free and unhindered operation of global terrorist cells). He’s moving away from large-scale troop deployments and towards the use of drones, surveillance, etc. (that even applies to Iran vis-a-vis the cyberattacks). I have some issues with some of this but the whole reason behind the Orwellian “War on Terror” label was to create a general sense of fear among the American people, in order to lump together every geopolitical goal the neocons had, especially Iraq which of course had nothing to do with the actual terrorist attacks on the US.

    While there’s an element of truth in saying Obama is getting a free pass to some extent from his base on his prosecution of actions against perceived terrorist threats, it’s not at all correct to say that his predecessor would have been excoriated widely for pursuing the same tactics. If you recall, when GWB launched action into Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11, the country was pretty much with him on this. Had he made these actions even more specific and not necessarily troop-level related (again, drones, high-tech surveillance in Afghanistan and yes, even into Pakistan) and stuck with this target in mind, rather than the diversion into Iraq, I think he would have enjoyed more-or-less bipartisan support for some time to come on that.

    This is a useful graph to follow Bush’s approval ratings, and it’s pretty clear that it was Iraq, not Afghanistan, that began to drag him down and down in an hardly-deviating direction throughout the rest of his Presidency from his post-9/11 peak.

    Lesson: the American people will by and large support a targeted approach to address a specific threat against our country, an “aggressive” approach if you will, no matter the partisan affiliation of the President. They will tend to begin to oppose military actions that come to be understood as being not central to the national security of the United States, again regardless of the partisan affiliation of the President.

  17. Brad

    There are a lot of things to respond to in Phillip’s comment, but I’d like to zero in on this one thing that has bothered me for years:

    “I have some issues with some of this but the whole reason behind the Orwellian ‘War on Terror’ label was to create a general sense of fear among the American people…”

    Antiwar Democrats (and Phillip objects to when I say “antiwar,” but help me out, what brief description should I use for the folks I’m trying to describe?) have said that, over and over, for years. And I’m totally convinced they believe it.

    But it’s never made any sense to me. Who are these people who are fearful? This is a huge part of the antiwar message: That our post-9/11 actions were part of a successful effort to sow fear in the hearts of the electorate. But I never saw that. I certainly never experienced it.

    When you see that there is a pattern of terrorism, or asymmetrical warfare, being conducted against your country, sometimes with horrific success (from the USS Cole through 9/11), then the rational thing for people in positions of authority to do is to take practical steps to counter it. The only debate is over what is a practical step. Most people (although I believe Doug disagrees with this) would agree that increasing security measures at airports is one rational response. It’s not a matter of FEAR; it’s a matter of you’d be grossly irresponsible to allow conditions in which terrorists could take over an aircraft and do what they did on 9/11 again. That’s a door you have to close.

    At the other end of the spectrum are the practical responses with which you strongly disagree, the “draining the swamps” approach to changing political conditions in the Mideast. Our Iraq invasion was part of that overall strategy, just as Vietnam was a part of the Cold War strategy of containment.

    Measures such as that don’t make sense to Phillip and Doug and Bud and many others here, but they do to me. That’s because it seems self-defeating to play defense at airports and other vulnerable venues forever (if there are enough terrorists out there, eventually one will bypass your countermeasures); long-term you want to change the political conditions that produce people who want to turn your civilian aircraft into weapons.

    There was a moment there when we have a (shaky) national consensus to do that, to pursue the “long haul” of nation-building (or perhaps I should say “nation-rebooting”) on a broad front, but the moment didn’t last very long. The antiwar movement gained traction as the insurgency grew in Iraq. And eventually, national will even started to wither in Afghanistan, as Americans started thinking that preventing the Taliban from coming back to power was just too hard.

    Anyway, back to my point… this fear thing. I don’t see it. I never saw it. Who was afraid? Maybe it was the people who see “War on Terror” as a bid to frighten people who felt the fear; I don’t know. But I haven’t seen any evidence that there has been any widespread fear response in the populace — at least not past those first weeks in the fall of 2001. Nor have I ever seen any concerted effort to instill such fear.

    There was a shaken nervousness in the country in the days and weeks after 9/11. How else do we explain the anthrax scare? But was the administration feeding that, pouring fuel on the fire? Not that I saw. On the contrary, the president was telling people to forget about it and go shopping. Which went to far in the opposite direction.

    What we should have done — what would have been proper leadership under those conditions (not wasting a crisis, as it were) — was seize that moment to transform important national policies. Call it putting the economy on a war footing, if you’d like. But as we went into Afghanistan, we should have put a huge tax on gasoline both to finance the war, and to force a move toward a rational energy policy, and reduce the distorted effect that those unstable parts of the world have on the world economy.

    It should have been a moment to change our ways on a number of fronts. And yeah, that might have been trading on fear, but it would have been using fear in a good way, to stimulate us to do difficult things that needed doing.

    Anyway, I suppose I’m getting far afield now…

  18. bud

    At the other end of the spectrum are the practical responses with which you strongly disagree, the “draining the swamps” approach to changing political conditions in the Mideast. Our Iraq invasion was part of that overall strategy, just as Vietnam was a part of the Cold War strategy of containment.


    We’re back to “draining the swamps”? Really, that is just such an idiotic phrase. Even worse than the Orwellian “War on Terror”. And that’s pretty dumb.

    We have gone around and around on this but this for a decade now. But it just cannot be left to stand. The Iraq war was not, NOT a thousand times NOT in any way shape or form a part of a larger strategy to go after terrorism. It was a pre-meditated invasion of a country that was completely harmless to us in every way. Bush wanted to go after Saddam BEFORE 9-11 and simply used that as an opportunity. Iraq posed no threat to American Security, period, end of story. It’s a ridiculous claim. A nonsensical claim. It is Bogus with a capital B. It cannot be believed by anyone who spends 10 seconds thinking about it. Brad you have somehow convinced yourself this utter, utter nonsense is true. And for those of us who have read this in astonishment over the years we completely fail to find any defense of it within the laws of basic logic. Yet many do believe this. And that’s the scary part.

  19. Brad

    There’s no way I can explain it to you; we’ve amply proved that.

    One thing, though, and this is me with my editor hat on… there’s nothing “Orwellian” about “War on Terror.” It would be Orwellian if we were saying “War on Terror” but meaning “War on Sweetness and Light.” But that’s not the case.

    Of course, you may be using some other sense of Orwellian, but generally it refers to the ironic naming of something in a way that states the opposite of the truth, such as calling the Ministry of War the “Ministry of Peace,” or the Ministry of Propaganda the “Ministry of Truth.”

    There’s something slightly, but only slightly, Orwellian in the fact that in my lifetime we’ve called the War Department the “Defense Department,” when obviously it sometimes engages in offensive operations.

  20. Brad

    An example in South Carolina of a rather Orwellian name is “South Carolinians for Responsible Government.” When, you know, they’re pretty much against government, especially what they call “government schools.”

  21. bud

    War on terror is Orwellian because many aspects of it (wiretapping for instance) are really a war on freedom. Not exactly an opposite thing but close enough.

  22. bud

    Terrorism and Freedom are indeed related. Terror is among other things denying people their freedom to feel secure. Without that security they are less free to do other things. Wiretapping also denies a freedom, freedom of privacy. Ultimately wiretapping could also be considered a form of terrorism by making folks fearful of losing their privacy. Therefore I would conclude that “War on Terror” as used by Bush and his minions is, indeed Orwellian.

  23. Phillip

    “…this fear thing. I don’t see it. I never saw it. Who was afraid?…Nor have I ever seen any concerted effort to instill such fear.”

    What’s scarier: “We’re taking targeted action to destroy Al-Qaeda (who attacked us) and any state/government that harbors/enables them?”…or “We’re fighting a Global War on Terror!”

    And some of the other “Greatest Hits” of those days, all of which became so ingrained in our consciousness in the 00’s:

    The color-coded threat-level scheme. “Weapons of Mass Destruction.” “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” “Axis of Evil.”

    It’s splitting hairs to take issue with the term “Orwellian” just because the terms don’t incorporate their opposites. The point is that at the root of the increasing dysfunction of our democracy lies the utter perversion and corruption of language, something which Orwell understood was an essential element in an anti-democratic society. “GWOT” is such an example, thus I stubbornly mock the term at every opportunity, because to me it represents a placeholder for the exercise and precision of thought and effort to understand complexities of our present world, being rather a surrender to ad-speak, to our incessant American desire to “brand” everything and to make the complicated simple, or simplistic. (Re the “draining the swamps” one-size-fits-all approach to the Middle East, or Vietnam as Cold War containment between superpowers rather than the reality of what the conflict meant to the Vietnamese themselves).

  24. Doug Ross

    As for my thoughts on increasing security at airports post-9/11, as someone who has flown approximately 750 flights since then, all I can say is that the security hasn’t made us any safer but has created a real hassle for regular travelers AND has cost billions of dollars that could have better been spent anywhere.

    Remember – 9/11 was accomplished by 20 terrorists with some box cutters and them being able to get access to the cockpit. Removing the threat of entering the cockpit pretty much eliminates another 9/11 from happening. Instead, the government went WAY overboard with silly rules, expensive scanners, and far too many guards. I have seen cases where there were ten TSA personnel at the Columbia airport on a Sunday night monitoring 2-3 travelers at a time.

    Plus, anyone who wanted to get on a plane with a weapon could do so. There are so many holes in the system – starting with the fact that all you need to get thru security is a printed piece of paper (boarding pass) with your name on it and valid flight information. They don’t tie it back to any actual reservation. Five minutes with Photoshop and you’d have all you need to get in.

  25. Steven Davis II

    Doug, can I be Secretary of State? My motto will be screw everyone else, until we can get things done that we need done at home. We’re building schools in countries that hate us, but our students are being taught out of trailers. We’re building roads in other countries, but our roads pretty much suck across the nation. It goes on and on. I don’t understand why we hand out billions while we’re circling the toilet drain at home.

  26. Kathryn Fenner

    @Doug, indeed, several people have defeated security measures just to show they could do it!

    The TSA is just chasing the last foiled attempt. Somebody tried to blow up his shoe: take off your shoes. Somebody tried to make a bomb using liquids and gels on the plane: quart sized ziplock for everybody. Somebody tried to conceal a bomb in his underwear…. What will they do when someone puts a bomb in a diaper? Eats one?
    We need Mossad style security screenings, or forget about it. Security theater is wasteful!

  27. Steven Davis II

    Is the TSA really going to analyze the contents of someone’s colostomy bag or a tampon? For $100 you could get one of the cleaning crew flunkies to put just about anything you wanted on a plane.

    Archie Bunker had it right.


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