The Pasty Little Putz, Dowd, Friedman and Bruni

The Pasty Little Putz has vomited up another bile-filled whine called “The End of a Catholic Moment” in which he snivels that both Republicans and Democrats are losing interest in the church’s ideas.  There really is nothing quite so tiresome as a convert…  MoDo has a question in “The Oscar for Best Fabrication:”  Why are Hollywood’s makers of historical films such slaves to fiction?  Sweetie, “historical films” aren’t documentaries.  Just thought I’d point that out to you…  The Moustache of Wisdom thinks he knows “How to Unparalyze Us.”  He says, AGAIN, that a new Grand Bargain is just what we need. And to reach one, President Obama is going to have to lead from the chin.  Little Tommy One-Note, beating on his tiny tin drum.  Mr. Bruni takes a look at “The G.O.P.’s Nasty Newcomer” and says Ted Cruz, a Republican freshman with a leading role in the fight against Chuck Hagel, typifies the knee-jerk belligerence that blots his party.  Here, FSM help us, is The Putz:

The last time the Chair of St. Peter stood vacant, during Pope John Paul II’s funeral in 2005, the Roman Catholic Church enjoyed a wave of unusually favorable coverage from the American press. The Polish pope had a way of disarming even his most stringent critics, and that power extended beyond his death, turning his funeral into a made-for-television spectacle that almost felt like an infomercial for the Catholic faith.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the mid-2000s were the last time the Catholic vision of the good society — more egalitarian than American conservatism and more moralistic than American liberalism — enjoyed real influence in U.S. politics. At the time of John Paul’s death, the Republican Party’s agenda was still stamped by George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” which offered a right-of-center approach to Catholic ideas about social justice. The Democratic Party, meanwhile, was looking for ways to woo the “values voters” (many of them Catholic) who had just helped Bush win re-election, and prominent Democrats were calling for a friendlier attitude toward religion and a bigger tent on social issues.

That was a long eight years ago. Since then, the sex abuse scandals that shadowed John Paul’s last years have become the defining story of his successor’s papacy, and the unexpected abdication of Benedict XVI has only confirmed the narrative of a church in disarray. His predecessor was buried amid reverent coverage from secular outlets, but the current pope can expect a send-off marked by sourness and shrugs.

The collapse in the church’s reputation has coincided with a substantial loss of Catholic influence in American political debates. Whereas eight years ago, a Catholic view of economics and culture represented a center that both parties hoped to claim, today’s Republicans are more likely to channel Ayn Rand than Thomas Aquinas, and a strident social liberalism holds the whip hand in the Democratic Party.

Indeed, between Mitt Romney’s comments about the mooching 47 percent and the White House’s cynical decision to energize its base by picking fights over abortion and contraception, both parties spent 2012 effectively running against Catholic ideas about the common good.

This transformation suggests that we may have reached the end of a distinctive “Catholic moment” (to repurpose a phrase from the late Catholic priest-intellectual Richard John Neuhaus) in American politics, one that began in the 1980s after John Paul’s ascension to the papacy and the migration of many Catholic “Reagan Democrats” into the Republican Party.

This was hardly the first era when Catholic ideas shaped American debates. (New Deal-era liberalism, for instance, owed a major debt to Catholic social thought.) But it was the first era when the Catholic vote was both frequently decisive and genuinely up for grabs, and it was an era when Catholic debates and personalities filled the vacuum left by the decline of the Protestant mainline.

The fact that the Second Vatican Council had left the church internally divided limited Catholic influence in some ways but magnified it in others. Because the church’s divisions often mirrored the country’s, a politician who captured the typical Catholic voter was probably well on his way to victory, and so would-be leaders of both parties had every incentive to frame their positions in Catholic-friendly terms. The church might not always be speaking with one voice, but both left and right tried to borrow its language.

If this era is now passing, and Catholic ideas are becoming more marginal to our politics, it’s partially because institutional Christianity is weaker over all than a generation ago, and partially because Catholicism’s leaders have done their part, and then some, to hasten that de-Christianization. Any church that presides over a huge cover-up of sex abuse can hardly complain when its worldview is regarded with suspicion. The present pope has too often been scapegoated for the sex abuse crisis, but America’s bishops have if anything gotten off too easily, and even now seem insufficiently chastened for their sins.

The recent turn away from Catholic ideas has also been furthered by a political class that never particularly cared for them in the first place. Even in a more unchurched America, a synthesis of social conservatism and more egalitarian-minded economic policies could have a great deal of mass appeal. But our elites seem mostly relieved to stop paying lip service to the Catholic synthesis: professional Republicans are more libertarian than their constituents, professional Democrats are more secular than their party’s rank-and-file, and professional centrists get their encyclicals from Michael Bloomberg rather than the Vatican.

Nothing that happens in Rome over the next few months is likely to convert the Acela Corridor’s donors and strategists and think tankers to a more Catholic-friendly worldview. The next pope may be more effective than Benedict, or he may be clumsier; he may improve the church’s image in this country, or he may worsen it.

But if there is another Catholic moment waiting in our nation’s future, it can only be made by Americans themselves.

Why the Times keeps this moron on its op-ed pages defies reason.  Here’s MoDo:

I saw “Argo” with Jerry Rafshoon, who was a top aide to President Carter during the Iranian hostage crisis, when six Americans escaped and were given sanctuary for three months by courageous Canadian diplomats.

We were watching a scene where a C.I.A. guy can’t get through to Hamilton Jordan, Carter’s chief of staff, to sign off on plane tickets for the escaping hostages, so he pretends to be calling from the school where Jordan’s kids go.

“Hamilton wasn’t married then and didn’t have any kids,” Jerry whispered, inflaming my pet peeve about filmmakers who make up facts in stories about real people to add “drama,” rather than just writing the real facts better. It makes viewers think that realism is just another style in art, so that no movie, no matter how realistic it looks, is believable.

The affable and talented Ben Affleck has admitted that his film’s climax, with Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers jumping in a jeep, chasing the plane down the runway and shooting at it, was fabricated for excitement.

Hollywood always wants it both ways, of course, but this Oscar season is rife with contenders who bank on the authenticity of their films until it’s challenged, and then fall back on the “Hey, it’s just a movie” defense.

“Zero Dark Thirty,” “based on firsthand accounts of actual events,” has been faulted for leaving the impression that torture was instrumental in the capture of Osama. It celebrates Jessica Chastain’s loner character, “Maya,” when it could have more accurately and theatrically highlighted “The Sisterhood,” a team of female C.I.A. analysts who were part of the long effort.

And then there’s the kerfuffle over “Lincoln,” which had three historical advisers but still managed to make some historical bloopers. Joe Courtney, a Democratic congressman from Connecticut, recently wrote to Steven Spielberg to complain that “Lincoln” falsely showed two of Connecticut’s House members voting “Nay” against the 13th Amendment for the abolition of slavery.

“They were trying to be meticulously accurate even down to recording the ticking of Abraham Lincoln’s actual pocket watch,” Courtney told me. “So why get a climactic scene so off base?”

Courtney is pushing for Spielberg to acknowledge the falsity in the DVD, a quest that takes on more urgency now that Spielberg has agreed to provide a DVD to every middle and high school that requests it.

Tony Kushner, the acclaimed playwright who wrote the screenplay, told me he was outraged that Courtney was getting his 15 minutes by complaining about a 15-second bit of film on a project that Kushner worked on for seven years.

The writer completely rejects the idea that he has defamed Connecticut, or the real lawmakers who voted “Aye.” He said that in historical movies, as opposed to history books where you go for “a blow-by-blow account,” it is completely acceptable to “manipulate a small detail in the service of a greater historical truth. History doesn’t always organize itself according to the rules of drama. It’s ridiculous. It’s like saying that Lincoln didn’t have green socks, he had blue socks.”

He feels that if he had changed the margin of the vote, or made someone a villain who was not in real life, that would have been inappropriate. (He’s one-up on Shakespeare there.) But he wants “wiggle room” on some things.

Spielberg’s production people called the National Archives in 2011 to get a copy of the original voting roll and to plumb deeply into the details of the vote on one of America’s most searing moral battles, even asking whether the vote was recorded in a bound volume or on loose ledger forms. That roll shows that the first two votes cast were “Nays” by Democratic congressmen from Illinois, Lincoln’s own state. Wasn’t that enough to show the tension?

Kushner explained that in his original script he thought, as in the musical “1776” or the Continental Congress or conventions, the lawmakers voted by state, so Connecticut would have been one of the first Union states to vote.

Harold Holzer, a Lincoln historian attached to the film, pointed out the mistake to Spielberg and Kushner, telling them that voting in those days was done alphabetically by lawmaker. But Kushner said the director left the scene unchanged because it gave the audience “place holders,” and it was “a rhythmic device” that was easier to follow than “a sea of names.” They gave fake names to the Connecticut legislators, who were, he said, “not significant players.”

Yet The Wall Street Journal noted, “The actual Connecticut representatives at the time braved political attacks and personal hardships to support the 13th Amendment.” One, the New London Republican Augustus Brandegee, was a respected abolitionist and a friend of Lincoln. The other, the New Haven Democrat James English, considered slavery “a monstrous injustice” and left his ill wife to vote. When he said “Aye,” applause began and the tide turned.

I’m a princess-and-the-pea on this issue, but I think Spielberg should refilm the scene or dub in “Illinois” for “Connecticut” before he sends out his DVDs and leaves students everywhere thinking the Nutmeg State is nutty.

Kushner says that won’t happen, because this is a “made-up issue” and a matter of “principle.” But as Congressman Courtney notes: “It was Lincoln who said. ‘Truth is generally the best vindication against slander.’ ”

Anyone who thinks Hollywood movies have anything whatsoever to do with actual historical fact is even dumber than the Putz.  Jeez Louise…  Now let’s press on to The Moustache of Wisdom banging away on his favorite little tin drum:

I was struck by one particular moment during President Obama’s State of the Union address. The president proposed a $1 billion investment to build a new National Network for Manufacturing Innovation to spur high-tech manufacturing in America. I’m sure that would be helpful, and I’m sure the president will have to beg to get any such funding out of Congress. Yet sitting up there in the balcony listening to the president’s speech was the chief executive of Apple, Tim Cook. Apple is currently sitting on $137 billion of cash in the bank. There are many reasons Apple has not spent its cash horde, but I’ll bet anything that one of them is the uncertain economic and tax environment in this country. Think about how much better we’d all be if Apple, and the many other companies sitting on cash, felt confident enough in the future to spend it. These are the most dynamic companies in the world. They don’t need any government help to innovate.

Message: There is no doubt our economy is primarily being held back by the deleveraging and drop in demand that resulted from the 2008 financial crisis. But they are being reinforced today by uncertainty and worry that we do not have our political house in order and, therefore, our tax, regulatory, pension and entitlement frameworks are all in play. So businesses, investors and consumers all hold back just enough for us not to be able to move the growth and employment meters with any robust momentum. Sure, we’ll throw money into the stock market if the only alternative is zero interest from bonds or banks, but it is not being recirculated with confidence in the long term. It’s a tragedy. You can feel the economy wants to launch, but Washington is sitting on the national mood button. We the people still feel like children of permanently divorcing parents.

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, conducted in mid-January, found that Americans see some signs of improvement but that “just over half of those surveyed said they were less confident about the economy as a result of the budget negotiations.” The Journal article quoted Bill McInturff, one of the pollsters, as saying, “This is now Washington’s economy. The problem in Washington is … contributing to a very negative sense of what’s going to happen in the economy.” Richard Curtin, who directs the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment, told me that his team regularly asks the consumers who are polled whether they’ve heard of any events impacting the economy — positively or negatively — without giving them any choices. Since August, the index has seen record numbers citing government paralysis as contributing negatively to the economy, including in the survey released Friday.

“People’s incomes are so stretched,” said Curtin, “that any additional uncertainty about how taxes or government spending might affect them has a big impact on their situation and how they plan for the future. … There is real economic uncertainty out there.” In addition, he said, historically, “people have always turned to Washington in times of economic crisis, but now they’re losing confidence in the government’s ability to reshape the economy, and that affects their buying and investing habits.” People now think they have to “take more control themselves.”

What to do? To be sure, the G.O.P.’s lurch to the far right has been more responsible for this paralysis than the Democrats, but Barack Obama is president. He wants to succeed. The country needs him to succeed. Therefore, he owes it to himself and to the country to make one more good shot at a Grand Bargain on spending, investment and tax reform before he opts for a strategy of trying to pummel the Republican Party, hoping that he can win the House for the Democrats in 2014 and then push through his second-term agenda unencumbered. I don’t think the latter will be so easy, and I think the former would give the country so much more of a lift and the president so much more momentum to get the best ideas in his speech — like infrastructure, early childhood education and a trade agreement with the European Union — enacted.

To have any effect, though, the president can’t just say he is ready for “tough” decisions. He has to lead with his chin and put a concrete, comprehensive package on the table, encompassing three areas. First, new investments that would combine immediate jobs in infrastructure with some long-term growth-enablers like a massive build-out in the nation’s high-speed broadband capabilities. That would have to be married with a long-term fiscal restructuring, written into law, that slows the growth of both Social Security and Medicare entitlements, along with individual and corporate tax reform. Obama has hinted at his willingness to do all of these. They should be agreed upon in 2013 and phased in gradually, starting in 2014. There are a lot of good bipartisan packages out there to choose from; we just need one that puts us on a trajectory to shrink our ratio of debt to gross domestic product over time. Otherwise, we will have little in reserve to fight the next economic crisis or 9/11 or Hurricane Sandy.

Our choice today is not “austerity” versus “no austerity.” That is a straw man argument offered by both extremes. It’s about whether we phase in — in the least painful way possible — a long-term plan that balances our need to protect the most vulnerable in this generation while funding the most opportunities for the next generation, and still creating growth. We can’t protect both generations in full anymore, but we must not sacrifice one for the other — favoring nursing homes over nursery schools — and that’s what we’re on track to do.

A Grand Bargain now, rather than a meat-ax sequester, would offer stability for the long-term and maybe even a boost for the short term. “It would give people some reason to redeem their hope in their own economic future,” said Curtin. “It would be such a relief for most consumers to see that the government was actively working as a cohesive unit toward the betterment of the economy.”

After the whipping the G.O.P. took in the election, I believe there is now a group of Republican politicians and C.E.O.’s who would meet Obama in the middle, if the president showed he was ready to take on some of his base as well. If the president tries, and I am wrong, well, he’ll have a few bad weeks. If I am right and enough Republicans meet Obama on a Grand Bargain, it would both split the G.O.P. between the sane conservatives and the certifiable crazies and give the president a real foundation for a truly significant second term.

He thinks there are Republicans who will “meet Obama in the middle.”  Sweet baby Jesus, I’m beginning to wonder if he doesn’t use the Thomas Friedman Op/Ed Generator to produce his stuff, just to save himself time.  Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

When a Vesuvius like John McCain tells you that you belch too much smoke and spew too much fire, you know you’ve got a problem.

And Ted Cruz, a Republican freshman in the Senate who has been front and center in his party’s effort to squash Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense, has a problem. He’s an ornery, swaggering piece of work. Just six weeks since his arrival on Capitol Hill, he’s already known for his naysaying, his nit-picking and his itch to upbraid lawmakers who are vastly senior to him, who have sacrificed more than he has and who deserve a measure of respect, or at least an iota of courtesy. Courtesy isn’t Cruz’s métier. Grandstanding and browbeating are.

He sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and during its final meeting on Tuesday about Hagel’s nomination, he made such nefarious and hectoring insinuations about Hagel’s possible corruption by foreign influences that McCain, who’d gleefully raked Hagel over the coals himself, more or less told Cruz to cool it. It was an unforgettable moment, and one that Republicans shouldn’t soon forget, because Cruz, 42, isn’t simply the latest overeager beaver to start gnawing his way through the halls of Congress. He’s a prime illustration of what plagues the Republican Party and holds it back.

A fascinating illustration, too. On the surface, he should be part of the solution: young, Latino, with a hardscrabble family story including his father’s imprisonment in Cuba and escape to the United States. But Republicans who look to him and see any kind of savior overlook much of what drags the party down, which isn’t merely or even principally the genealogy of their candidates. It’s the intransigent social conservatism, the whiff of meanness and the showy eruptions. It’s what Cruz, who rode a wave of Tea Party ardor to victory in Texas in November, distills.

I don’t say that to celebrate the Republicans’ struggles. Just as the country benefits from a balance of powers between branches of government, it’s best served by two viable parties in healthy tension, each checking any capacity in the other for ideological indulgence and excess. And right now the Republican Party accommodates too much quackery, belligerence and misplaced moralism to play a fully credible part in a vital, essential debate about the size and scope of government. The party should be a place where voters who are reasonably concerned about government overreach can turn. It shouldn’t be a bastion of regressive social ideas and foul tempers.

The party certainly knows it needs repair. That’s all it talks about lately. Karl Rove wants to raise and disperse money in a way that guards against the elevation of kooky, doomed candidates like Christine O’Donnell and Todd Akin from primaries into general-election contests. Marco Rubio delivered a response to the State of the Union address that took pains to detail the ways in which his biography made him the antonym of a plutocrat, the opposite of Mitt Romney. And a generation of young Republican strategists wring their hands about the party’s tenuous grasp of social media and outmoded mechanisms of outreach in a story by Robert Draper in The New York Times Magazine this weekend.

Read it. Note in particular a Republican pollster’s recent interviews with Ohio voters. When the pollster asks them to play word association with “Republican,” the answers indeed include a few descriptions that the profiles of Rubio and Cruz push back against: “rich,” “white.” But the adjectives “rigid” and “polarizing” also come up, along with a lament about an “all-or-nothing” approach. These descriptions fit Cruz like a glove.

One voter tells the pollster that he’d be more kindly disposed toward Republicans if they could “be more pro-science.” Cruz has expressed skepticism about climate change, a position perhaps in tune with his hyperconservative base and his state’s oil interests but at odds with his apparently keen intellect.

He has an impressive academic résumé: an undergraduate degree from Princeton, followed by law school at Harvard. I’ve talked with his fellow students at Harvard and with his former colleagues from George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. All of them mention how fiercely smart he is.

But the flattery stops there. They remember him as arrogant, sour and self-serving, traits that apply to his brief time in the Senate so far. In questioning Hagel during the nominee’s confirmation hearing, he took a surprisingly, audaciously contemptuous tone.

Separately, in front of an audience of conservatives, he smirked dismissively as he griped that Hagel and John Kerry were “less than ardent fans of the U.S. military.” Those two men fought in Vietnam, and earned Purple Hearts; Cruz never served in the institution he purports to regard so much more highly than they do.

ONLY three senators voted against Kerry’s confirmation as secretary of state. Cruz was among them.

He has an affinity for opposing, a yen for obstructing. He belonged to the minority of 22 senators who voted against the Violence Against Women Act, which passed with 78 votes. He also voted against suspending the debt ceiling for three months and against aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

He has already flagged his disagreement with the immigration reform proposal by a bipartisan panel of senators. He has already indicated antipathy to the new push for meaningful gun control. During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” when he was twice asked about the broadly reviled National Rifle Association ad that brought the president’s daughters into the debate on guns, he more or less defended it.

He’s been quick to seize spotlights like the one presented by “Meet the Press,” and while newly minted senators often keep a relatively low profile, he reportedly holds forth in Senate conferences at great and off-putting length. And he’s drawing unusual admonitions from senior Republicans.

“I think he’s got unlimited potential,” Senator Lindsey Graham told Politico. “But the one thing I will say to any new senator — you’re going to be respected if you can throw a punch but you also have to prove you can do a deal.”

Indeed, the challenge for Republicans now — a challenge that, to limited and varying degrees, Rubio and even Eric Cantor are beginning to grasp — is to be seen and to act as a constructive force, as a party that’s for things, that wants to be inclusive and that operates with a generosity of spirit, not an overflow of spite. With his votes and his vitriol, Cruz undermines that. He brings himself plenty of attention. He’ll bring Republicans nothing but grief.

And the more grief he brings down upon them the better.  The whole rotten structure of the Republican party should crumble into dust.

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