Dreaming of Some Other Place

Let’s do this in the second person, because it could be you. That’s why people write in the second person – to suggest something that could be universal, or at least fairly common. And let’s posit a given, something everyone agrees is true. In geometry they call that the axiom – you build your proof on that self-evident assumption. It is possible to draw a straight line from any point to any other point – everyone knows that – and you take it from there. And in this case let’s posit that everyone, sooner or later, is unhappy with their life – that’s the given. Things go stale. You grow tired of your nice house, or even your favorite chair, and tired of the happy dog, or the loving spouse, and tired with what’s on television, and tired of the kids’ predictable big crises, and tired of your job, which isn’t bad, or good, but is the same old same old.

You feel you need a change. Thoreau said that most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them. You don’t want to be that dramatic – it’s not that bad – but now and then you buy a lottery ticket. There’s that spread high up in Montana with the miles of high meadows and open sky, or that penthouse in Manhattan with the wall of glass and the killer view of the Chrysler Building, where, late at night, you can sit at the long black piano and quietly plunk out In the Still of the Night and sip cognac – just like Cole Porter long ago. Or maybe you daydream about a cottage in the Cotswolds, in that green and pleasant land just west of Oxford, where you’ll smoke a briar pipe and wait for the Hobbits to drop by. Or maybe you want to move to Venice Beach or Hollywood – or Tulsa. You just need a change.

Maybe, if you’re a jazz fan, you find yourself humming that Billy Strayhorn tune Lush Life – “A week in Paris will ease the bite of it, all I care is to smile in spite of it.”

Yeah, well, the harmonic structure of that tune is a nightmare – Ravel meets Gershwin with a lot of major ninths shifting a half-step this way and that when you don’t expect it – and Paris isn’t like that anyway. Ten years ago it was walking back from the Marais across the Pont de Sully late one December night. The air was cold and brilliant and there was the Eiffel Tower in the distance, sparkling, as it does, with a full moon rising behind it – and as a final touch, a few snowflakes magically appearing and disappearing in the glow of each streetlamp. It was absurdly perfect. But you were still you, a bit tipsy and miffed with your new friends that evening, and tired and in need of some sleep. And soon enough you’d be back in LA. Two weeks alone in Paris each December, just kicking around, wasn’t the answer to anything. It is just another place.

And sometimes it’s not even another place. The summer before it had been driving back from Aix to Avignon and deciding to stop in Gordes – but something was odd on the drive. It looked too familiar – the topography and geology and the vegetation – oleander everywhere – and the climate – was the Hollywood Hills. It might have been Nichols Canyon between Hollywood Boulevard and Mulholland Drive, and that’s just down the street here. They look just alike. And of course Provence is supposed to be wonderful. This was odd, but maybe everywhere, and anywhere, is wonderful – or ordinary. Half the young people you meet in Provence say they’d love to live in Hollywood like you do. You end up telling them it pretty much looks like where they live. After they’ve seen the movie studios and the Sunset Strip they’ll be disappointed. It is just another place.

But people do want change, especially when times are tough. And no one wins the lottery, really. Fran Lebowitz put it nicely – “I figure you have the same chance of winning the lottery whether you play or not.” A lottery ticket is pretty much entertainment – spend a buck for an afternoon of daydreaming. That’s not such a bad deal. But it’s just daydreaming. It has nothing to do with real change. Billy Strayhorn wrote Lush Life when he was a high school kid in Pittsburgh.

What people do for real change is decide the country is going to hell and decide to do something about it. That’s politics and not playing the lottery, and the general consensus is that people are so unhappy with the Democrats that in the upcoming midterm elections the Republicans will win back the House and maybe the Senate – at least that is the current thinking. See National Review: Doom for Democrats – or see The New Republic: Republicans Might Have Peaked. It’s hard to tell. But current polling shows people hate the Democrats, and they hate the Republicans just as much or even more. It seems people want wholesale change. And then there’s the Tea Party crowd – ten percent of the country says they are fully aligned with them, but they’re openly and explicitly, in the Wall Street Journal no less, talking about a hostile takeover of the Republican Party – a big change. Cue Madeline Kahn singing I’m Tired.

But there was pausing on the Pont de Sully that one December night long ago, and the comforting pipe and the fine Danish pipe tobacco and watching the dark Seine slide along far below. Yeah, it was Paris. It wasn’t Pittsburgh. But it was just another place. Sometimes when you get what you always wanted you find it isn’t what you thought you wanted.

And what will we get when the Republicans take back the House and maybe the Senate? Consider this report from David Weigel on lobbyist Ralph Reed’s big conference in Washington:

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) addressed the Faith & Freedom Conference with a hook you’re hearing more and more often. He reminded the crowd that after Republicans won Congress in 1994, they forced a fight over the budget with President Clinton.

“The government shut down,” said Westmoreland – and the crowd started cheering. “That’s what I wanted to hear! A good clap for that!”

According to Westmoreland, if they won a House majority Republicans were going to be “ready to hold the line and get those courageous men and woman” in the new class to stand fast and shut down the government.

Steve Benen adds more:

The right-wing Georgia congressman said, after they shutdown the government, Americans will say things like, “Daddy can’t go to the VA, the national parks are closed.” But, Westmoreland added, just so long as far-right activists stand with Republicans during the shutdown, the GOP will “hold the line” and fare better than the last time the party pulled this stunt.

And today’s extremist crowd signaled their intention to do just that.

I can only assume the public isn’t quite prepared for what a Republican majority would actually mean for our system of government.

Well, Paris is never what you think either. And this was said as Obama was presenting his ideas for the economy – get people to work fixing roads and bridges and schools, and help small businesses to get credit so they can get going again, and extend the tax cuts for ninety-eight percent of everyone, and let the tax rates for the top two percent, the millionaires, revert to the previous rates. But Lynn Westmoreland, the vice chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, offered an alternative vision:

If Republicans take back the House, Westmoreland said, they would use their new majority to force a budget battle akin to the fight staged by former Speaker Newt Gingrich with President Clinton and shut down the federal government. Westmoreland cautioned that he was fully aware that such a move would close down hospitals for veterans and shut down National Parks. But, Westmoreland argued that taking down the government is worth “the pain” because health reform and government programs are like a “gangrene” that “needs to be cleaned out.”

Benen also comments on that:

Westmoreland wasn’t characterizing a shutdown as some kind of drastic step he hopes to avoid; he was describing a shutdown as something he’s actively looking forward to. Indeed, as far as Westmoreland is concerned, a shutdown would be a good thing. Mixing metaphors, he specifically told his receptive audience: “There’s going to have to be some pain for us to do some things that we’ve got to do to right the ship.”

And remember, when Westmoreland brought up the last GOP government shutdown, urging right-wing activists to stand with Republicans the next time, the assembled far-right activists applauded. The right, in other words, is already looking forward to this.

Benen also notes that Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen released a statement in response – “The Republicans’ plan to shut down the government would mean that millions of seniors wouldn’t get their Social Security checks or Medicare coverage and America’s veterans wouldn’t get the benefits they earned. While American troops are in harms’ way, it is outrageous that Republican leaders would even consider shutting down the government.”

And then White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer offered this item on the White House blog – Pfeiffer points out that Westmoreland is only one of many Republicans pushing the idea of a shutdown – “While the President is offering a vision about how to move the country forward and help middle class Americans and small business owners.” And this – “Republicans in Congress are busy telling partisans and Republican party activists to get prepared for the same stalemate and gridlock they brought the last time they were in charge.”


I mention this for two reasons. The first is that the mainstream American electorate probably has no idea just how radical the Republican agenda would be next year. By one credible estimate, the GOP now has about a two-in-three chance of claiming a House majority and it’s very likely that much of the country will ask themselves, in early 2011, “Wait, we voted for what?”

You know how that goes. This is Paris? This is it?

And Benen continues:

The second reason is that the debate over who’ll be blamed for a shutdown is practically over before it starts. There was talk in some circles that the Republicans might force presidential vetoes and say it’s Obama, not the GOP, who shutdown the government. That strategy appears to have been abandoned altogether – now both sides already agree that it’s Republicans who are actively promising and looking forward to shutting down the federal government, regardless of the circumstances.

Benen is amazed that Westmoreland seemed to take pride in the idea – “That’s not reluctance about a scenario leaders should want to avoid, it’s fanaticism about a disaster in the making.”

But this has been going on for some time. Back in April, Faiz Shakir at ThinkProgress covered Newt Gingrich pledging a total government shutdown if the Republicans win back the House and Senate:

On Wednesday night, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told Sean Hannity that he’s been tasked by the House Republican leadership to “to organize an effort over the next four or five months to develop a [new] compact or contract [with America].” On previous occasions, Gingrich has made clear that a staple of that new contract will be to repeal health care reform.

And Gingrich offered a two-tiered approach to this:

Here’s my promise: … When we win control of the House and Senate this fall, Stage One of the end of Obamaism will be a new Republican Congress in January that simply refuses to fund any of the radical efforts. …

Once upon a time, I used to be Speaker of the House and I actually understand the legislative process. And the truth is, under our Constitution, the Congress doesn’t have to pass the money. If EPA gets no budget, it can’t enforce cap-and-trade. …

So Stage One of Obamaism being gone is to simply win this fall and not fund it for two years. Stage Two is… to ensure Obama joins Jimmy Carter in the tradition of one-party presidents [he mean one-term of course]. And, that in that context, that we be prepared to commit that a Republican President and a Republican Congress in February and March of 2013 will repeal every radical bill passed by this machine.

Of course that sounds familiar. But it didn’t work out last time around. When Newt Gingrich engineered the shutdown of the government in 1995 – Newt and his party wanted massive cuts to Medicare – the Republicans came off as brats throwing a tantrum. That Daily News cover summed it up – the cartoon of Newt as a screeching baby in a diaper.

But we do want change. And it is Newt Gingrich’s time. In five months time he has swung his party around to a new position – a promise to simply shut down the government. And earlier in the summer Gingrich insisted to anyone who would listen – Obama and his allies represent “as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.”

He’s having a harder time selling that, but he has an alternative:

Citing a recent Forbes article by Dinesh D’Souza, former House speaker Newt Gingrich tells National Review Online that President Obama may follow a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview.

Gingrich says that D’Souza has made a “stunning insight” into Obama’s behavior – the “most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama.”

“What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?” Gingrich asks. “That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”

“This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president,” Gingrich tells us.

“I think he worked very hard at being a person who is normal, reasonable, moderate, bipartisan, transparent, accommodating — none of which was true,” Gingrich continues. “In the Alinksy tradition, he was being the person he needed to be in order to achieve the position he needed to achieve … He was authentically dishonest.”

Huh? Dinesh D’Souza had said this:

Obama supports the Ground Zero mosque because to him 9/11 is the event that unleashed the American bogey and pushed us into Iraq and Afghanistan. He views some of the Muslims who are fighting against America abroad as resisters of U.S. imperialism. Certainly that is the way the Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi portrayed himself at his trial. Obama’s perception of him as an anti-colonial resister would explain why he gave tacit approval for this murderer of hundreds of Americans to be released from captivity.

And the Big Insight:

Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anti-colonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son.

Again, Benen comments:

Gingrich appears to have been inspired by D’Souza, perhaps best known for writing an entire book arguing that terrorists are right about the problems with American culture. Osama bin Laden and other dangerous Islamic radicals believe the U.S. is too secular, too permissive, too diverse, too free, and too tolerant – and D’Souza concluded that they’re absolutely correct. Indeed, D’Souza went so far as to argue that liberal Americans are at least partially to blame for 9/11 – the left invited the attacks by reinforcing the beliefs al Qaeda had about the United States.

Benen reminds us of that one episode of The Colbert Report where D’Souza conceded an interesting point – he finds some of the critiques from radical, anti-American extremists persuasive. Colbert had him saying immodest American women really should cover up – he understood the burqa thing. And women should know their place too. And there was rap music and sex and violence in the movies and on television and general disrespect – and maybe forcing public piety wasn’t a bad thing. Colbert had him going. So you agree with the radical fundamentalist jihadists? D’Souza looked stunned. It was amusing.

But Benen is not amused this time:

And now that D’Souza has crafted some new twisted theory – the president, the argument goes, is executing an anti-colonial agenda pushed by his father – Gingrich’s twisted little mind has concluded that the “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview makes perfect sense.

I care about this, not because Gingrich is a lunatic, but because Republicans and the media establishment continue to treat Gingrich as a sane, credible visionary. I think it’s fair to say most reasonable people would charitably describe his attacks on America’s leaders as idiocy, but the problem is it won’t make any difference.

Given the way the political establishment is “wired” for Republicans, there simply aren’t any consequences for this kind of abject stupidity. In the first year of the Obama administration, the most frequent guest on “Meet the Press” was Newt Gingrich. Despite having left office more than a decade ago in disgrace, he remains a leading figure welcome in polite society.

See Josh Marshall on the structural reasons the political establishment is “wired” for Republicans:

We’re coming off of, or at least we’ve had a period of (because who knows about the future) thirty plus years of conservative dominance of Washington. By some measures you could say forty years. But at least thirty, notwithstanding Bill Clinton’s eight years in office. That conditions a generation of people with mindsets based around Republicans being the party of power, the party whose ideas get vindicated at the polls. Most of all Washington is a city that coddles up to and worships power. But a generation of one party holding the reins selects for certain kinds of journalists in key positions of power, the policy experts at the think tanks who get the journalists calls, the lobbyists who move the most money and so forth. You build up a set of assumptions about what kinds of people and ideas are respectable and which aren’t. Which are old-fashioned, which are ‘cutting edge’ and so forth? Who defines conventional wisdom? In all of these respects, DC remains overwhelmingly wired for the GOP.

So you want a change? You want these guys back in power, just for a change? Or the Tea Party crowd who are even nuttier? Sometimes when you get what you always wanted you find it isn’t what you thought you wanted. Sometimes it’s just a cold night in another city.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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