Mr. Kristof is off today. Oh, sweet baby Jesus on a surfboard… In “Mr. Negative vs. Mr. Complacent” he babbles that the Obama campaign slashes and burns, while the Romney campaign stays generic. He’s trying to convince us that President Obama is an amalgam of George McGovern and Richard Nixon. He should be stuffed in a sack with angry ferrets. MoDo is off on another tangent about movie stars. In “The Love Goddess Who Keeps on Seducing” she squeals that some like it hot, lush and vulnerable, and ‘splains to us why the luminous Marilyn continues to glow. The Moustache of Wisdom says we need to “Get it Right on Gas,” and that we can have a natural gas revolution that transforms our whole country or one that just transforms the electric grid. What’s it going to be? Of course, there’s not a single word about solar or wind or geothermal power in the thing… Mr. Bruni is in a snit. He disapproves of “unseemly” behavior. In “Truculence Before Truth” he huffs that Harry Reid’s unsubstantiated charge that Mitt Romney paid no taxes for an entire decade was par for the 2012 election’s unseemly course. So when do you think he’s going to produce an op-ed about birtherism, death panels, birth certificate lunacy, etc., etc., etc., etc.? Probably about the time I’m elected Pope. Here’s The Putz:
During the dog days of last summer’s debt ceiling negotiations, with Washington gridlocked and the president’s approval ratings slumping, a narrative coalesced among disappointed liberals. President Obama was failing, they decided, because he was too moderate, too reasonable and too conciliatory. He didn’t have the ideological confidence required to actually fight for liberalism, or the brazenness required to really tear the Republicans apart.
Apparently somebody at the White House bought into this narrative, because so far Obama’s re-election campaign has delivered just about everything that liberal partisans were begging for a year ago.
Since the campaign kicked off, the president’s domestic policy rhetoric has become much more stridently left-wing than it was during the debt-ceiling debate. He’s dropped all but a pro forma acknowledgment of the tough choices looming in our future, and doubled down on the comforting progressive fantasy that we can close the deficit and keep the existing safety net by soaking America’s millionaires and billionaires.
On hot-button cultural issues, meanwhile — immigration and gay marriage, reproductive issues and religious liberty, even welfare reform — he’s moved away from Clintonian triangulation, offering a succession of explicit panders to Democratic voting blocs and interest groups instead.
To this bordering-on-McGovernite substance, he’s added Richard Nixon’s style, with a pitch to swing voters that started out negative and has escalated to frank character assassination. In Obama’s campaign ads, and in the rhetoric of his aides and allies, Mitt Romney isn’t just wrong on specific policies or too right-wing in general. He’s part Scrooge, part Gordon Gekko; an un-American, Asia-loving outsourcer; a tax avoider and possibly a white-collar felon.
If you’re an undecided, stuck-in-the-middle kind of voter, the president isn’t meeting you halfway on the issues, or pledging to revive the dream of postpartisanship that he campaigned on last time. He’s just saying that you’ve got no choice but to stick with him, because Romney is too malignant to be trusted.
By taking this line, Obama is testing the conceit — beloved of MSNBC hosts and left-wing bloggers — that a harder-edged, more ideological liberalism would be a more politically successful liberalism as well. And at the moment, the president’s continued lead in swing-state polls provides modest but real evidence that his strategy is working. If the election were held today, I’d bet gingerly on the president eking out the necessary 51 percent.
But Obama’s current edge may have more to do with the Romney campaign’s complacency than with the genius of his McGovern-meets-Nixon approach.
In Romneyland, it seems to be an article of faith that 2012 will be a pure up-or-down vote on the president’s performance, and that the most generic sort of Republican campaign — hooray for free enterprise and low taxes, with the details To Be Determined Later — is therefore the only kind of campaign they need to run.
But as The New Republic’s William Galston has pointed out, even a referendum election tends to involve a two-step process, in which voters first decide whether they’re willing to eject the incumbent, and then decide whether they’re willing to roll the dice with his opponent.
In this case, that roll of the dice involves handing the White House back to the Republican Party just four years after the Bush administration failed (and then some) to deliver on its promises. And by running a generic campaign in the aftermath of those failures, Romney isn’t giving voters any reason to think that he won’t just deliver the same disappointing results.
The Romney campaign is clearly afraid of talking too much about its candidate’s biography (all that money, all that Mormonism …) or offering anything save bullet points and platitudes on policy (because details can be used against you …). But a Republican candidate who won’t define himself is a candidate who’s easily defined as just another George W. Bush.
A Romney campaign that loosened up and actually took some chances, on the other hand, might find that the Obama White House’s slash-and-burn liberalism had opened up some unexpected opportunities.
Because Obama has moved left on fiscal and social issues, there’s more space in the center — assuming, that is, that Romney can get over his fear of offending his own party’s interest groups.
Because Obama has gone so negative, there’s room to accentuate the positive, and run as the candidate of (right-of-center) hope and change.
Because Obama’s message depends so heavily on voters’ unhappy memories of the Bush era, Romney can do himself an enormous amount of good just by exploding the premise that he’ll govern as “Dubya, Part II.”
Or he can keep doing what he’s been doing, in which case he stands a very good chance of losing oh-so-narrowly, and joining Thomas Dewey in the ranks of Republican presidential nominees who mistakenly believed that they could win the White House by default.
What a waste of perfectly good oxygen. Here’s MoDo, squealing about Marilyn:
Mike Nichols claims he called Marilyn Monroe to work on a scene.
“Are you sure you weren’t hitting on her?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t have dared dream of it,” he replied.
It was the mid-1950s, and they were both taking an acting class in New York with Lee Strasberg. Nichols recounted his conversation with the woman with the familiar breathy voice:
“The phone rang and somebody said, ‘Hello,’ and I said, ‘Hi, is Marilyn there?’ and she said, ‘No, she’s not,’ and I said, ‘Well, this is Mike. I’m in class with her. Could you take a message?’ And she said, ‘Well, it’s a holiday,’ because it was the Fourth of July weekend, and that, to her, was an excuse for not taking a message for herself.”
No one ever said Marilyn wasn’t complicated.
Nichols directed the Tony Award-winning revival of her third husband’s play, “Death of a Salesman.” I interviewed him for a BBC radio show based on a column I wrote for The Times about how we have devolved from Marilyn’s aspirational attitude toward knowledge, in which she wanted to collect great books and meet authors and intellectuals — even marrying one — to Sarah Palin’s anti-elitist scorn about reading and intellectuals.
Nichols surprised me when he said he was present at what he dryly calls the “historic moment” in May 1962 when Marilyn sang “Happy Birthday” to Jack Kennedy, who was turning 45. Marilyn was wearing that shrink-wrap, sheer Jean Louis gown ablaze with rhinestones — “skin and beads,” she called it. Nichols and Elaine May were also performing that night in Madison Square Garden, not that anyone remembers.
“I was standing right behind Marilyn, completely invisible, when she sang ‘Happy birthday, Mr. President,’ ” Nichols said. “And indeed, the corny thing happened: Her dress split for my benefit, and there was Marilyn, and yes, indeed, she didn’t wear any underwear.”
At a party afterward, “Elaine and I were dancing, and Bobby Kennedy and Marilyn danced by us, and I swear to God the conversation was as follows — ”
Here Nichols put on, first, a feathery voice and then a nasal one:
“ ‘I like you, Bobby.’
“ ‘I like you too, Marilyn.’ ”
The famous director has worked with many famous beauties. So I asked him, as we mark the 50th anniversary of Marilyn’s death, if he could explain her astonishing staying power.
“I think that the easy answer might be that she had the greatest need,” he said. “She wasn’t particularly a great beauty, that is to say, Hedy Lamarr or Ava Gardner would knock the hell out of her in a contest, but she was almost superhumanly sexual.”
Feminism has come and gone, and women now routinely puff their lips, inflate their chests, dye their hair and dress with sultry abandon. But Nichols said Marilyn’s heat went deeper, with a walk, a look and movements that were an “out-and-out open seduction right in front of everyone.”
Arthur Gelb, the former Times managing editor, likes to tell how he won a $10 bet as a slightly inebriated rewrite man in the ’50s when he reached out and, much to her annoyance, touched Marilyn’s flawless porcelain back as she dined with friends at Sardi’s.
“When she walked, it was as though she had a hundred body parts that moved separately in different directions,” Gelb told me on the BBC show. “I mean, you didn’t know what body part to follow.”
Wherever I travel in the world, I run across the luminous image of the heartbreaking and breathtaking sex symbol who was smart enough to become the most famous “dumb blonde” of the 20th century. Marilyn, her white pleated halter dress flying up over the New York subway grate, is as deeply etched in the global imagination as Audrey Hepburn in a black Givenchy dress at Tiffany’s.
Starting as the 1948 Castroville, Calif., artichoke queen, Marilyn was a genius at self-creation, high gloss over deep wounds. “Marilyn’s like a veil I wear over Norma Jeane,” she said.
Lois Banner, a professor of history and gender studies at the University of Southern California, hails the star in her new book, “Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox,” as a proto-feminist who had to swim upstream past a mentally ill mother, 12 foster homes, a stutter, sexual abuse as a child, sexism as a star, manic-depressive cycles, addiction, Joe DiMaggio’s abuse and Arthur Miller’s condescension. “She is the child in all of us,” Banner writes, “the child we want to forget but can’t dismiss.”
Half a century after Marilyn was found on Aug. 5, 1962, in her Brentwood bedroom, nude, holding her phone, soaked in drugs, she continues to bewitch: her death at 36 and the sketchy cover-up; her tempestuous marriages to a famous baseball player and famous playwright; her role, with Jack and Bobby Kennedy, in the most intriguing film noir triangle of all time.
She gazes wistfully from the latest People, beside Rob and Kristen, with the headline, “Was Marilyn Murdered?”
“Could the iconic bombshell,” USA Today asked, “be any more alive?”
She made $27 million last year, gobs more than she ever earned in life. She was the poster girl at Cannes, a festival she never attended. And her time in England making “The Prince and the Showgirl” was the subject of a movie that got two Oscar nominations, even though the golden girl never won a gold statuette herself.
There’s a fresh cascade of books, photos, Twitter messages, Blu-ray box sets, Marilyn Monroe Cafes, Marilyn nail salons, and a MAC makeup collection.
NBC’s “Smash” is set behind the scenes of a Broadway show based on Marilyn’s life; Nicki Minaj has a song called “Marilyn Monroe,” and the documentary “Love, Marilyn” will have its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival next month. There had even been talk about revivifying the sex kitten for a hologram show.
While making her last movie, “Something’s Got to Give,” Marilyn posed nude for a young photographer, Larry Schiller, hoping to ratchet up her $100,000 salary to Elizabeth Taylor’s million-dollar territory for “Cleopatra.”
Schiller wrote in Vanity Fair that he saw the confidence that spurred Marilyn to become one of the first stars to create her own production company. “There isn’t anybody that looks like me without clothes on,” she laughed.
He also saw her dark companion, insecurity. “Is that all I’m good for?” she keened about nudity.
Yet Schiller told The Associated Press that “it’s women that have kept Marilyn alive, not men.” He says teenage girls flock to see gallery shows, and that the photos selling now accentuate her humanity, not her anatomy.
“I think,” he said, “people want to see her now as a real person.”
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:
We are in the midst of a natural gas revolution in America that is a potential game changer for the economy, environment and our national security — if we do it right.
The enormous stores of natural gas that have been locked away in shale deposits across America that we’ve now been able to tap into, thanks to breakthroughs in seismic imaging, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” are enabling us to replace much dirtier coal with cleaner gas as the largest source of electricity generation in America. And natural gas may soon be powering cars, trucks and ships as well. This is helping to lower our carbon emissions faster than expected and make us more energy secure. And, if prices stay low, it may enable America to bring back manufacturing that migrated overseas. But, as the energy and climate expert Hal Harvey puts it, there is just one big, hugely important question to be asked about this natural gas bounty: “Will it be a transition to a clean energy future, or does it defer a clean energy future?”
That is the question — because natural gas is still a fossil fuel. The good news: It emits only half as much greenhouse gas as coal when combusted and, therefore, contributes only half as much to global warming. The better news: The recent glut has made it inexpensive to deploy. But there is a hidden, long-term, cost: A sustained gas glut could undermine new investments in wind, solar, nuclear and energy efficiency systems — which have zero emissions — and thus keep us addicted to fossil fuels for decades.
That would be reckless. This year’s global extremes of droughts and floods are totally consistent with models of disruptive, nonlinear climate change. After record warm temperatures in the first half of this year, it was no surprise to find last week that the Department of Agriculture has now designated more than half of all U.S. counties — 1,584 in 32 states — as primary disaster areas where crops and grazing areas have been ravaged by drought.
That is why on May 29 the British newspaper The Guardian quoted Fatih Birol, the chief economist for the International Energy Agency, as saying that “a golden age for gas is not necessarily a golden age for the climate” — if natural gas ends up sinking renewables. Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of the I.E.A., urged governments to keep in place subsidies and regulations to encourage investments in wind, solar and other renewables “for years to come” so they remain competitive.
Moreover, while natural gas is cleaner than coal, extracting it can be very dirty. We have to do this right. For instance, the carbon advantage can be undermined by leakage of uncombusted natural gas from wellheads and pipelines because methane — the primary component of natural gas — is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas, more powerful than carbon dioxide. The big oil companies can easily maintain high drilling standards, but a lot of fracking is done by mom-and-pop drillers that do not. The standards that can make fracking environmentally O.K. are not expensive, but the big drillers want to make sure that the little guys have to apply them, too, so everyone has the same cost basis.
On July 19, Forbes interviewed George Phydias Mitchell, who, in the 1990s, pioneered the use of fracking to break natural gas free from impermeable shale. According to Forbes, Mitchell argued that fracking needs to be regulated by the Department of Energy, not just states: “Because if they don’t do it right, there could be trouble,” he says. There’s no excuse not to get it right. “There are good techniques to make it safe that should be followed properly,” he says. But, the smaller, independent drillers, “are wild.” “It’s tough to control these independents. If they do something wrong and dangerous, they should punish them.”
Adds Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fund who has been working with the government and companies on drilling standards: “The economic and national security advantages of natural gas are obvious, but if you tour some of these areas of intensive development the environmental impacts are equally obvious.” We need nationally accepted standards for controlling methane leakage, for controlling water used in fracking — where you get it, how you treat the polluted water that comes out from the fracking process and how you protect aquifers — and for ensuring that communities have the right to say no to drilling. “The key message,” said Krupp, “is you gotta get the rules right. States need real inspector capacity and compliance schemes where companies certify they have done it right and there are severe penalties if they perjure.”
Energy companies who want to keep regulations lax need to understand that a series of mishaps around natural gas will — justifiably — trigger an environmental backlash to stop it.
But we also need to get the economics right. We’ll need more tax revenue to reach a budget deal in January. Why not a carbon tax that raises enough money to help pay down the deficit and lower both personal income taxes and corporate taxes — and ensures that renewables remain competitive with natural gas? That would ensure this gas revolution transforms America, not just our electric grid.
Frack you, Tommy. Now here’s Mr. Bruni’s tantrum:
For the dwindling few out there who still believe that big accusations require a little foundation and that truth — as opposed to conjecture — matters, here’s an update:
As last week drew to a close, Harry Reid, the Senate’s Democratic majority leader, had backed up his claim that Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes for a 10-year period with absolutely nothing more than some vague reference to some unnamed guy who said something of the sort to Reid during some phone conversation some time ago.
That’s it. That’s all. But for Reid, it was enough not only to level his charge but also, as the days pressed on, to double and triple down on it, his language and manner growing more righteous even as his evidence grew no more detailed or persuasive.
The claim appeared first in an interview with The Huffington Post that went online Tuesday.
“Now, do I know that that’s true?” Reid said in the interview, which also included his mention of the phone call, supposedly from an investor in Bain Capital. “Well, I’m not certain.”
No biggie! Full steam ahead! He proceeded to assert that Romney’s net worth is probably greater than published estimates of $250 million because, he explained, “You do pretty well if you don’t pay taxes for 10 years.” And so a wild supposition was magically transformed into the given from which yet another bit of speculation blossomed, and any concern with provable information was long gone, a casualty of the craven rules of political engagement these days. It’s beginning to seem as if everyone’s at the prow of a Swift Boat, pants on fire and conscience on ice.
Spew first and sweat the details later, or never. Speak loosely and carry a stick-thin collection of backup materials, or none at all. That’s the M.O. of the moment, familiar from the past but in particularly galling and profuse flower of late.
It has spread beyond the practiced rabble-rousers of the far right, and Democrats are exuberantly getting in on this unbecoming, corrosive game. For many years they bemoaned an unfair fight: Republicans were by and large willing to play faster, looser and flat-out nastier than they were. Is there as much credibility to that lament today?
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was forced last week to issue a public apology to the international casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who is giving tens of millions to Republicans this year, for having asserted on its Web site that he was knowingly profiting from “a Chinese prostitution strategy” at his casino in Macau. It has no proof of that.
Its defenders will say that Adelson is so brazenly exploiting lax campaign-finance regulations to hijack the political process that he must be discredited and neutralized by whatever means necessary. Details, schmetails.
And Reid’s defenders will say that Romney’s reluctance to release more than one complete year of tax returns (at least so far) makes clear that he’s hiding something, which must be flushed out one way or another. Plus, to them, Reid’s claim has the feel of near-truth. It passes muster as a metaphor if not as a matter of demonstrable fact. It’s a genuinely felt worry of sorts and valid as such.
But if you’re going to subscribe to that sort of reasoning, “You might as well put a dead cocker spaniel on your head and start yelling about birth certificates,” said Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show,” flashing a photograph of the quizzically coiffed Donald Trump, who to my eyes was wearing either an Irish setter or maybe a Pomeranian. Stewart’s point — an excellent one — is that the crazies who insist that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States are Reid’s philosophical and strategic kinfolk.
DO one tribe’s antics justify the other’s? Is this a road we really want to continue barreling down? We’re already on it, thanks in part to a presidential contest in which each candidate’s main pitch — I’m not half as awful as the other guy — points everything in a negative direction.
The new shape of the news-media universe doesn’t help. Balkanized into micro-niches where partisans can have their passions stoked and prejudices reinforced, it gives reckless allegations many places to land and even stick before they get a sober look. Those allegations are intended and tailored to rally the troops, who are believed to care more about truculence than truthfulness. The ends justify the Reid.
After the Senate leader made his accusation, the Salon.com writer Alex Seitz-Wald consulted several tax attorneys about its theoretical plausibility and determined that it was “nothing short of ludicrous.” Meanwhile, the Romney campaign — and, later, Romney himself — denied the charge.
Reid was unbowed. Inconsistent, too. At one point he told reporters from his home state of Nevada that “a number of people” had whispered to him of Romney’s alleged tax evasion, while at a subsequent point he issued a statement citing only “an extremely credible source,” singular. In neither instance did he hang any flesh on these bones.
“I don’t think the burden should be on me,” said Reid, whose history of intemperate, borderline adolescent remarks was detailed in The Times by Michael D. Shear and Richard A. Oppel Jr. “The burden should be on him. He’s the one I’ve alleged has not paid any taxes.”
So if I just decide to allege that Reid levied that accusation under detailed and persistent instructions from the Obama campaign, the burden would be on him to provide all of his office’s e-mail and phone correspondence in order to contradict that?
Reid took a wholly legitimate source of concern — that Romney owes voters more candor and transparency than he has been willing to furnish — and undermined it by going too far and too farcical.
But then there’s plenty of overreaching tragicomedy to go around.
“Sometimes I have to catch my breath and slow down because the rhetoric in this campaign is just over the top,” observed John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, on the Fox News Radio show “Kilmeade and Friends” on Thursday. In regard to Reid’s casual slander of Romney, Boehner said, “It’s one of the problems that occurs here in Washington. People run out there without any facts and just make noise.”
And in that very same interview, when Boehner turned his attention to President Obama and called him inept at creating jobs, he also said: “He’s never even had a real job, for God’s sake.” Thus he made his own journey over the top, facts falling by the wayside, his pants getting toasty, the noise grinding on and on.
So we can expect a column detailing the lies of Mittens’ supporters next week? I thought not…