Tag: Hillary Clinton

Bernie is changing the game

BernieBy Alan Bean

I cannot recall another presidential election when both the official guardians of both major political parties were shocked and dismayed by the preferences of the base.   The Republican establishment is scared to death that Trump or Cruz will win the nomination.  Democrats are freaking out over a surging Sanders campaign.

But  let’s face it, Trump and Cruz are serving up the kind of red meat the party base has learned to love.  The  elite might prefer a compassionate conservative, but the folks in the trenches want an America that looks and sounds like 1953, a blessed time when the electorate was overwhelmingly white, men ruled the national roost, American economic and military power defined  the world and one-nation-under-God civil religion was the height of fashion.  The Republican base wants candidates who promise a return to White Eden and Trump and Cruz promise to deliver.

However George Will or David Brooks might define the term, Trump-Cruz is what contemporary conservatism looks like.

Conversely, the Democratic base looks and sounds like Bernie Sanders.  The prospect of a female president resonates, but economic populism is the driving passion of the Democratic base.  Sanders needs a haircut (badly) and his unmodulated apocalyptic rhetoric is shrill and predictable, but we all know what Bernie stands for.   Most movement Democrats, including many of those who think the man from Vermont is unelectable, agree with his economic analysis.

In fact, most Republicans agree with Bernie (so long as you don’t use the s-word).  American politics is controlled by corporate America and Hillary Clinton, for all her political merits, would do nothing to change that fact.

Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and the rest of a dwindling Republican field, realize their political success demands fealty to corporate sponsors.  They don’t wear corporate logos on their pin-stripes like NASCAR drivers, but they might as well.

Donald “you’re fired” Trump is the very face of corporate America.  We might not like the guy, but if you believe his entrepreneurial passion makes economic magic, you are willing to bow the knee.

Ted Cruz has been a willing tool of the corporate community since he was in high school.  All the constitutional blather boils down to cutting big business loose from federal regulation and taxation.  The money people rub their hands together when politicians like Cruz talk tough on foreign policy.  Militarism is as good for business as it’s bad for everyone else.  So is a dysfunctional immigration system predicated on private prisons.  Cruz can take an aggressively pro-life stance on the abortion issue because his corporate masters, being 98% male, have no strong feelings on the subject.

Social and foreign policy issues, from the perspective of those who own American politics, are a convenient distraction from the only agenda that really matters: the well being of the CEO class.  They would have us believe that the rule of the wealthy keeps America strong, prosperous and virtuous.

To the extent that American business is still subject to government regulation, the American form of plutocracy is approximate, not pure.  To the extent that the CEO class is taxed at all, the revolution is incomplete.

Most corporate types can live with a status quo that has them earning 500 times as much as their average employees.  Hillary Clinton is their candidate.

Others will only be satisfied when the taxing and regulatory powers of government disappear altogether.  They are bankrolling men like Cruz.

Donald Trump sees no reason to work through “conservative” surrogates when he could impose his will directly.  Initially, perhaps, he just wanted to pump us his celebrity (and indulge in a little innocent merriment) by throwing a spanner into the electoral works.  He never dreamed his crude antics would go over so well.

But they did and now Trump’s in it to win it.

The American electorate limps between two opinions.  We resent and envy the moneyed class, believing they have far too much influence.  Still, believing we’d be would be lost without the magnates and tycoons, we raise few objections when the political class calls for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Where you fall on this continuum largely determines your politics.

Should we placate the 1% a little, or a lot?  That is the question.

Bernie Sanders is a socialist.  He isn’t the kind of socialist who believes in government control over the economy; but he is challenging the suggestion that the average worker can’t do well unless the corporate class is doing 500 times better.  He’s calling for balance.  He wants more regulation and more taxation of the master class.  Lot’s more. And he is isn’t embarrassed to say so.

And that’s why Bernie’s star is currently in the ascendancy.  He ain’t pretty.  He ain’t smooth.  But he’s asking the right questions and jabbing his finger in the right direction.

The media (liberal and conservative) aren’t feeling the Bern.  Americans don’t elect socialists, so Sanders is bound to fade sooner or later. If we ignore him, they seem to be saying, maybe it will be sooner.

But Bernie’s not going away.  He may not win it all, but he has transformed a forgone conclusion into a genuine horse race.  And that is a great thing for American political discourse.

Brian Williams is the latest victim of a can-you-top-this culture

635587423561543077-XXX-20070305-NUP-106070-0039-APS-162-70579995According to one survey, 80% of American viewers think Brian Williams should lose his anchor seat for repeating, and gradually enhancing, a self-aggrandizing war story.  Is this a case of false memory, or did Williams know what he was doing?

The same question can be asked of Hillary Clinton.  Was her campaign story about scurrying across a Bosnian tarmac under sniper fire spun from whole cloth to win votes, or was that the way she actually remembered the incident?  Confronted with video footage showing her striding confidently with a smile on her face and a song in her heart, Clinton immediately backed away from her dramatic account.

False memory is a genuine phenomenon.  Common sense suggests that actual events lodge themselves in memory much more vividly than imagined scenarios and should therefore be retained more faithfully, but it ain’t so.  In their ground-breaking The Science of False Memory, C.J. Brainerd and V.F. Reyna demonstrate that “false-memory report can be quite stable over time, and . . . can be more stable than true-memory reports.”

Moreover, confidence in false-memory reports tends to grow over time, while confidence in true-memory accounts gradually fade.

False-memory bedevils the criminal justice system (as the growing number of DNA exonerations demonstrates) partly because, as Brainerd and Reyna explain, “memory suggestions may be accompanied by threats of punishment if interviewees do not accede to the suggestions or by promises of reward if they do.”

This element of reward and punishment helps explain the odd memory lapses experienced by Williams and Clinton, public figures who should have known their recollections would be subjected to empirical verification.

Brian Williams’ and the NBC Nightly News have been locked in a tight viewership race with ABC World News, with ABC making strong gains within the highly-prized 18-49 demographic.  Anything an anchor can do to enhance his credibility and charisma will be done.

Hillary Clinton crossing the Bosnian tarmac under sniper fire.
Hillary Clinton crossing the Bosnian tarmac under sniper fire.

Hillary Clinton conjured mythical Bosnian snipers in the midst of a tightly contested primary race with Barack Obama.  Deadly peril in Bosnia boosted her credentials as a foreign policy expert.

Neither Clinton nor Williams created false memories out of whole cloth.  Both public figures have brushed up against the chaos and calamity of war; they have witnessed wounded soldiers, burned out buildings and the rattle of sniper fire.  In an environment that pays big dividends for striking personal accounts of near-death experiences, public figures “remember” things that didn’t happen but which, given the circumstances, could have happened.

Once these personal accounts are shared publicly they seem much more real to the storyteller and this effect grows with each subsequent iteration.  So, when Brian Williams retold, and enhanced, his helicopter-hit-by-RPG-fire story on the David Letterman show, it didn’t feel like a lie.  It felt like the truth.  Almost.

Only when conflicting accounts pile up does the bold facade of false-memory begin to crack. Faced with overwhelming evidence that he got it horribly wrong, Brian Williams doesn’t want to say “I lied to make myself look like a hero, and I’m sorry.” That’s not the way things feel from his perspective.  Unfortunately, anything less than this kind of mea culpa sounds really lame to the viewer who doesn’t understand the dynamics of false memory.

But there is something more sinister than false-memory at work here.  Brian Williams and Hillary Clinton are both cogs in the machinery of American empire.  Americans disagree about everything but the need to continually stoke the military machine that protects our lives and makes the world safe for democracy.  Americans don’t do much for the soldiers who return, broken and bewildered, from our military misadventures, but while they’re in the line of fire we can’t praise “our men and women in arms” too highly.  Clinton and Williams wanted to associate themselves with armed conflict because Americans are unfailingly impressed by that sort of thing.

Unlike the politicians and news anchors of an earlier generations, Williams and Clinton lack actual military experience.  Consider this snippet from Walter Cronkite’s Wikipedia page:

Cronkite was one of eight journalists selected by the United States Army Air Forces to fly bombing raids over Germany in a B-17 Flying Fortress part of group called the Writing 69th, and during a mission fired a machine gun at a German fighter.  He also landed in a glider with the 101st Airborne in Operation Market-Garden and covered the Battle of the Bulge.

How can Brian Williams, or his current competitors, compete with that?  How can Hillary compete with JFK’s PT-109 hagiography?  They can’t.  So they make the most of what they’ve got, and when it doesn’t sound quite good enough, false-memories emerge to fill the resume gap.  That’s the way the mind, and modern America, works.

Before I get too high and mighty, let me share my own painful admission. My wife and I have been working our way through six seasons of Sons of Anarchy, an over-the-top (but brilliantly produced) cable drama about a California motorcycle gang.  It’s actually a morality play; a cautionary tale about living and dying with the sword.  Like The Sopranos, the show forces us to love deeply flawed characters.  But impressive production values and high moral purpose aren’t enough to stay ahead of the competition, so we have been exposed to oceans of sleaze and genuinely shocking violence.

The other night, when the boys were riddled by drive-by machine gun fire for the 47th time this season, I found myself laughing out loud.  Verisimilitude had vanished.  It was too much. But the producers obviously think that if they don’t keep the mayhem coming they can’t hold the viewers.  The bar, in the world of American popular entertainment, is constantly rising.

katy-perry-2-800In a similar vein, I watched Katy Perry’s half-time show at this years Superbowl.  My interest was largely piqued by an idiot preacher predicting pure, unmitigated evil from the ex-Christian singer.  Was Katy going to be flashing satanic signs while bathing in the blood of seven virgins?

Not so much.  We didn’t even get a wardrobe malfunction.  Instead, Katy rode into the stadium perched atop an enormous mechanical tiger while belting out her biggest hit, Eye of the Tiger (get it?)  Somebody invested months of labor on that tiger and it probably cost several million dollars to perfect, but, one verse and the chorus later, Katy was on to the next special effect.  Fans roared (why, I wasn’t quite sure) as Ms. Perry jiggled and gyrated through a series of hits backed by a cast of thousands.

And whoever headlines next year’s halftime show will have to top that.

Rarely has so much sound and fury signified so little.  I wasn’t shocked by Perry’s performance, I was bored.  If you have never seen fireworks, a good display can be mesmerizing.  But when fireworks are a constant feature of life, they get irritating.  Maybe that’s why Perry appeals to young girls who, blessedly, haven’t been jaded, and numbed, by pop culture.

Brian Williams and Hillary Clinton live with the temptations that come with a can-you-top-this world.  They succumbed.  We all succumb (I am still watching Sons of Anarchy after all).

This year’s Superbowl is a case in point.  No one could celebrate the gritty play of the Seattle Seahawks because they passed when they should have run. One of the most spectacular, and improbable, catches in the history of NFL play was quickly forgotten because, moments later, an anonymous defense back jumped a route and wrecked the plot.

The Seahawks had to win or they were just another bunch of losers.  In America, as Vince Lombardi put it, winning is the only thing.

There can be no grace in a culture shaped by competence, success and control.   Subconsciously,Brian and Hillary knew that.

Nobody is allowed to critique the fundamental premise under-girding our shock-and-awe society: the notion that success, peace and prosperity demand an unending round of heroic, and unavoidably violent, exploits.

Winners rock; losers just lose.

Here’s the thing, our can-you-top-this culture is the perfect antithesis of the gospel Jesus is perpetually sponsoring in our world.  It’s okay if Brian’s helicopter didn’t sustain RPG fire.  It’s okay if Hillary wasn’t subjected to sniper fire.  Get off the mechanical tiger, Katy, and sing us a real song from the heart.  Let’s be grateful to the Seahawks and the Patriots for putting on an amazing show.

We can’t all be winners, but we can all be real, right?

Hillary, Brian, and Katy would suggest otherwise.  In America, under the prevailing rules, you’ve got to fake it to make it.  When losing isn’t an option, the truth is for losers.  America becomes an interminable unreality show where winners are celebrated and we all lose.