Is life is imitating The Coup? With the publication of a story in The New York Times about John McCain‘s relationship with a comely female lobbyist, we’re certainly in the neighborhood. A presidential candidate and a female lobbyist have some kind of relationship–is it sex? Is it a flirtation? Is it an older guy just feeling chipper? Who cares? Let’s jump to the assumption (emphatically denied, hardly proven, widely believed) that they’re having an affair. And because he has supported some of her issues–as best we can tell, in the most benign way–it’s assumed that he’s abusing his office. (Indeed, in order to be shocked by the ways the Times says McCain has benefited from the largesse of lobbyists, one would have to be almost hopelessly naïve. What he’s guilty of–if that term can even be used–is business as usual. As the author of a recent political satire put it–okay, it was me–“You don’t bribe these people to do something. You go to jail for that. What you got to do is figure ut how to give them money all year long, then maybe they think of you when your issue comes up. One gift, one time–that’s bribery. Lots of gifts over a long time–that’s politics.’
Richard Zoglin, a former colleague of mine at Time magazine, has written an excellent piece of history of entertainment history called Comedy At The Edge, about stand-up comedy in the 1970s. Not only has Richard been a longtime observer of the stand-up scene, but he is a top-notch reporter, and the book captures the broad history of this phenomenon, while offering rich and insightful details about the comics themselves. In this interview for Playboy.com, Richard answers some:
PLAYBOY: Your book is subtitled How Stand-Up in the 1970s Changed America. Okay—what was so special about what happened in the 1970s, and how did it change America?
ZOGLIN: I think the stand-ups of the late ’60s and ’70s really articulated and even helped shape the attitudes that we identify with the social and cultural revolution of the time: suspicious of authority, expressing a new freedom of language and sex, calling into question the hypocrisy and outmoded morality of old ’50s-era America – all the hits of the counterculture years. How did these comedians change America? They reshaped our sense of humor — and our sense of humor is what defines us today, provides the framework for how we look at the world and at ourselves. (more…)
Clinton supporters spent the weekend accusing Obama of plaugerism. Obama supporters are already huffily warning superdelegates not to upset the will of the voters, as though Obama’s narrow lead at the two-thirds mark of the campaign is proof of what that will is. Both sides need to chill out and remind themselves that as tempting as it is to become the first black or the first woman in the White House, what’s really important is that one of them become the next person to appoint a Supreme Court justice. As Jeffrey Toobin points out in his excellent new book The Nine, the long effort of the Republican right to remake the Supreme Court has begun to bear fruit. With Justices Roberts and Alito taking over for the more moderate Rehnquist and O’Connor, the Court’s decisions have swung to the right. Further decisions limiting individual right and ratifying expanded executive power are certainly possible. Justices Stevens, Ginsburg and Scalia are nearing the end of their careers. It’s important that their replacements bring an open mind to these questions. Clinton and Obama are in an odd position—each has to play to win, but not if it means damaging his or her rival’s chances. Nothing about this political season has been particularly predictable, but I’d be surprised if this race doesn’t stay close until the end. I have no problem if the superdelegates use their votes to punish a candidate if he or she doesn’t play fairly, or to tip the race to that candidate who actually has the best shot at appointing that next Justice.
Listen to Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham rail against John McCain. Listen, and enjoy. It is the sound of the conservative crack-up. The great, long ,pro-market, anti-government, pro-military conservative run begun by Ronald Reagan has been bankrupted by George W. Bush, and these commentators are slowly realizing that they’ll very soon be part of the going out of business sale.
The pendulum is always swinging in American history, and just as Reagan replaced the exhausted Carter and sent the country moving from left to right, something will move from right to left to replace Bush—the moderately conservative McCain, or the liberalism of Obama or Clinton. Either way, the far right’s time has past (for a while) and its cheerleaders are in a panic. No one is listening to them, most obviously not the voters (note that 70% of voters who identify themselves as conservative say they’re fine with McCain). At the CPAC convention last week, McCain was magnanimous to these people, but he didn’t have to be—the far right activists offer him very little that he doesn’t or can’t possess. Coulter and Limbaugh phumpher about supporting Clinton, but this merely shows the depth of their vanity and self-delusion. And shocking impracticality. If these commentators think they can carve out a comfortable living bashing a new democratic president like they did during the sunny nineties, they are kidding themselves. Voices will of course rise in opposition to whoever wins, but they will be new voices that are not invested in the past. The repudiation of Bush and his failed exhausted policies is also a repudiation of the blustering Limbaugh and the shrill Coulter and the condescending Ingraham. Soon they will join in has-beenhood Oingo Boingo and Wang Chung and the Flock of Seaguls, other eighties acts they were fortunate to have outlasted.
Schooled in football in Baltimore during the era of the peerless Unitas, I am properly reverential towards the special attributes of the great quarterbacks. And yet, over the years, it has been defensive players that I have found especially exciting–Rick Volk and Bobby Boyd, Mike Curtis, Jack Lambert and Jack Ham, Ronnie Lott, and the incomparable Lawrence Taylor. No doubt it’s the violence; I chortled conspiratorially when LT said that he liked it when he hit a quarterback hard enough for a snot bubble to come out of the guy’s nostril. But over the last 20 years or so, the NFL has become more quarterback-centric than ever, and with all the schemes and formations, football has become a game that is more about offense than defense. Thus it was especially thrilling to a fan of the old school to see a defense win a big game. Yes, Eli played very well, and yes, it was his amazing escape and David Tyree‘s spectacular catch that will brand this victory, but it was the relentless defense that ravaged Tom Brady and collapsed his running game and held the Pats to their fewest points all year, and that won this game. Not since the 2000 Ravens has a defense done so much. Brilliant work all around!