Thursday, June 7

What a fucking phony

There's an old joke that goes like this: A freshman from Fort Worth is wandering the Harvard campus, obviously lost, at the beginning of the fall term. "Can you tell me where the library's at?" he asks a passerby. His interlocutor says, "My man, here at Harvard we are not so base as to end a sentence with a preposition. Will you please restate your question?" And the kid from Texas says, "Can you tell me where the library's at -- asshole?"

It is virtually impossible for someone to attend Andover, Yale and Harvard Business School for a total of 10 years without losing one's provincial accent. That is, it's impossible unless a person has a core of limitless rage at the elite people he went to school with. That kid in the joke, looking for the Harvard library? That's George W. Bush. He's always right and always has a chip on his shoulder and he's always daring you to knock it off.

Josh Marshall asks, "what sort of cultural imprint makes some of us hear it with (a shocking phoney like) Mitt Romney and others with Bill Clinton?" Who, Josh asks, makes you hear the dog whistle of phoniness? Josh hears all sorts of phoniness when Mitt Romney speaks. For me, it's George W. Bush.

As a native Texan, I'm finely attuned to phonies who try to out-Texan everyone else, and George W. Bush is one of those phonies. I always saw right through him. His pseudo-Texanness didn't bother me as much as the fact that he kept that exaggerated Texas identity, especially the accent, after attending elite northeastern schools for a decade. As I said, this is a sign of a deeply pissed-off person, and Bush campaigned in 2000 as a guy who never got angry, never held a grudge. We certainly know how that turned out -- he manifested his sick, twisted anger by invading Iraq, throwing people into Guantanamo, authorizing torture and illegal renditions, and getting rid of habeus corpus. He could fake not being pissed off, for a while. But it finally came out in the form of fascist behavior.

Romney strikes me as a phony. So does McCain with this obviously fake laid-back affect, like he's on pharmaceuticals that flatten the emotions. But no one strikes me as being as phony as George Bush, and to spot the extent of his phoniness, perhaps one needs to be a native Texan who rejects the rampant Texas chauvinism that one sees and hears all over the Lone Star State.

Yes, plenty of people saw Bill Clinton as a phony, and they didn't see that George W. Bush was one. I think that those people are incapable of seeing politicians as real people, with ordinary human failings. Instead, they view politicians as symbols, as holograms that are the manifestations of their hopes and fears.

Many people, when they saw Bill Clinton dressed in a business suit, saw a hallucination. They genuinely thought they saw a guy wearing cut-offs and a tie-dyed T-shirt, smoking a joint. Seriously. If you said to one of these people, "What was Bill Clinton wearing at his first inauguration," they would say, "A tattered down jacket over a tie-dyed T-shirt, raggedy jeans, and one of those Austrian ski caps with earflaps and cords that you tie under your chin." And they would not be joking. That's genuinely what they saw.

Conversely, when these people see George Bush, they see a straight-talkin' he-man. That's what they want in a president, so that's what they believe they have.

I'll bet you are attuned to Romney's phoniness because you have had experience with salesmen. Maybe you have an uncle who's a slick, and not entirely ethical, salesman. Maybe it's someone else, and it's probably more than one person. But Romney comes across as the slickest of used-car salesmen, and he probably comes across that way most strongly to people who have been intimately exposed to slick salestypes.

Monday, June 4

Steve Gilliard, 1964-2007

The first blogger I ever read was Jorn Barger's Robot Wisdom Weblog. When he drove me away with his anti-semitism, I was happy to become a hanger-on at the Metafilter community. Then came the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and I soon discovered other blogs: Stephen den Beste,, Arthur Silber. Around the same time, Kos and Eschaton and Josh Marshall. And then I discovered Steve Gilliard and his News Blog.

Steve quickly became my favorite blogger. He was my favorite until the day he died. The News Blog community was my hangout. I could discern a Hubris Sonic comment from a Gracchus observation from a "Doc" Jesse Wendel diagnosis from a LowerManhattanite gem, before seeing the names at the ends of their comments. For a long time I commented under a variation of my real name, and then as Queequeg.

I was missing Steve terribly just a week or two after his hospitalization. I read today that he fell ill in February, and it was shocking to realize how long he had been out of commission.

I miss his perceptiveness and his combativeness. I miss his stentorian predictions: Bush would resign before the end of his second term; the Democrats would win both houses of Congress in 2006. Steve was right about the latter and let's hope he was correct about the former.

The Internet has a big hole to fill. Let's hope Hubris Sonic, Julia, Gracchus and yes, LowerManattanite can put together a permanent group blog to follow Steve's tradition.

I will always miss him.