Beast Banner Sept. 7-21, 2006
ISSUE #106
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Ian Murphy

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Matt Taibbi

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Allan Uthman

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Alexander Zaitchik

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USA Today’s Commonground
Chris Famighetti

ArrowOff With Their Heads
Democrats walk themselves to the gallows
Matt Taibbi

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Josh Righter

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Off With Their Heads
Democrats walk themselves to the gallows.
Matt Taibbi

>>Talk back to Taibbi -- and see a complete archive of The Low Post.

Off With Their HeadsQ: Are bloggers too powerful?
A: Do I think they're important? Yes. Do I think the [bloggers] and Al Sharpton alone are the future of the Democratic Party? No! Welcome in, contribute, but it's about winning in November and moving the country forward, not about a firing squad in a circle.
-- Q&A with U.S. representative Rahm Emanuel, Aug. 28th issue of New York magazine

I badly want to move on to another topic in this column space -- there is very little in the world that is less interesting than the Democratic Leadership Council and their ilk -- but this stuff is fast becoming just too unbelievable to ignore.

What exactly does self-appointed congressional mega-celebrity and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Rahm Emanuel mean (says a friend of mine in Congress of him: "He's an amoral, showboating cock") when he says, "Do I think [bloggers] and Al Sharpton are the future of the Democratic Party?"

That's actually not hard to figure out; it's political hack-ese for the human sentence bloggers = Al Sharpton. As for what he means by that: Just think about the thought process that had to go into Emanuel's adding of the phrase "and Al Sharpton," when Al Sharpton wasn't even part of the question. Ask yourself if you really believe Emanuel isn't aware that he's addressing the mostly white, Upper West Side readers of New York magazine when he "offhandedly" ties bloggers to the legendary gold-medallion-wearing icon from forty blocks north in Harlem.

These DLC types are amazing, they really are. Their pathology is unique; they all secretly worship the guilt-by-association tactics of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, but unlike those two, not one of them has enough balls to take being thought of as the bad guy by the general public. So instead of telling big, bold whoppers right out in the open, they're forever coming out with backhanded little asides like this one, apparently in the hope that only your subconscious will notice. I won't be surprised if they respond to the next electoral loss by a DLC candidate by having Bruce Reed argue in the Wall Street Journal that "bloggers, Queer Eye, and Arabs with syphilis are not the future of the Democratic Party."

Then there is the phrase, "Welcome in, contribute, but . . . "

Welcome in? What is this, a political party, or a house in the fucking Hamptons? Who died and made these people gatekeepers to anything?

What Emanuel appears to be saying here is that "bloggers" -- by which he really means "people who voted against Lieberman" -- are welcome to "contribute," but not welcome to actually decide elections. In other words, we'll take your votes, but we'll decide who you vote for. An admirable sentiment for an elected official. How is it that these people have avoided being pitchforked to death for this long?

Finally, the "firing squad in a circle" line has been a DLC favorite for years. DLC chief Al From has been pimping it at least since the last presidential race. It's time we officially retired this line, which is really just a sorry take on the lame old high-school guidance-counselor saw: "Now, Jimmy. When you shoot spitballs at Vice Principal Anderson, you're really shooting spitballs at yourself." And little Jimmy thinks: No, actually, I was shooting spitballs at Vice Principal Anderson . . .

What's amazing about the "firing squad in a circle" line is that it is inevitably used less than five seconds after the DLC speaker has just finished dumping on Michael Moore, peace activists or whoever the party's talking-points-vermin of the day is (in this case, Sharpton and bloggers). He denounces Michael Moore as a disgrace to the party, then turns around and says that when we attack the party leadership, we're only hurting ourselves. These tactics are so transparent and condescending that one longs for some kind of cosmic referee to just drop down from the heavens and unilaterally disqualify their users on the grounds of their overwhelming general wrongness -- but the maddening thing about these DLC creatures is that that referee never arrives, and Al From is back on page one again the next day, shaking his head and grumbling piously about "unity" and "consensus" and "the lost art of bipartisanship."

The unspoken subtext of this increasingly bitter debate between the Democratic Party establishment and the supporters of people like Ned Lamont and Hillary Clinton's antiwar challenger, Jonathan Tasini, is a referendum ordinary people have unexpectedly decided to hold on the kingmaker's role of the holy trinity of the American political establishment -- big business, the major political parties and the commercial media. The irony is that it's the political establishment itself that has involuntarily raised the consciousness of its disenfranchised voters.

The surge in support for Lamont initially came from people motivated by two simple things -- a desire to protest the war in Iraq, and physical revulsion before the wrinkled, vengeful persona of Joe Lieberman. But the party, in fighting back, attacked not on the issues but on the means of protest -- blogs, grassroots activism, Lamont's independent wealth. In doing so, it threw into relief the essential parameters of the problem, which is this: The Democratic Party has been operating for two decades without the active participation of its voters.

It raised money by appealing directly to companies in private fundraisers, and it used the commercial media to enforce its policy positions, in particular its desire to "clearly reject our antiwar wing," as Al From put it a few years back. It's a simple formula for running one-half of American politics; you decide on John Kerry two years before the presidential vote, raise him $200 million bucks, and let CNN and The New York Times take care of any Howard Deans who might happen to pop up in the meantime. The same greased track is being prepared for Hillary Clinton right now, and we can be quite sure that guns are already being aimed at Russell Feingold.

It's been an essentially oligarchic system of government, where all the important decision-makers have been institutions, with any attempts by ordinary people to circumvent the system coldly repressed. Remember 2000, when Ralph Nader was not only not allowed to debate with Al Gore and George Bush, but wasn't allowed in the building -- not even allowed in a second, adjoining hall in the building, not even when he had a ticket? Well, we have a replay of that proud moment in our history going on now, with Hillary's Senate primary opponent Tasini being shut out of debates by New York's NY1 TV channel (owned by TimeWarner) which is insisting that qualified candidates not only reach 5 percent support in the polls (Tasini is at 13 percent and rising) but raise or spend $500,000. Said NY1 Vice President Steve Paulus: "All Tasini would need is for each [New York state registered voter] to send him a dollar. Right now, with the money he's raised, he does not represent the party he claims to represent."

So a war chest is now the standard for representation? In order to get on television, you need a dollar from every voter? (Are we electing a Senator or holding a Girl Scout raffle? What the fuck?) And this is decided by . . . an executive for a corporate television station? One that recently sent a reporter [Adam Balkin] to Japan to do features on high-tech toilets? In other words, NY1 will pay to put an exotic Japanese toilet on a few million or so New York television screens -- but insists on seeing a half-million dollar deposit before it will put a Democratic candidate with 13 percent support in a televised debate? Am I missing something?

This schism within the Democratic Party is the most interesting thing to happen in American politics in decades, because due to a system error, people have temporarily been allowed back into what had been a totally closed process. They're working round the clock to fix the loophole, though, because the Emanuels of the world know what's coming if they don't. The firing squad. And this time it won't be in a circle.

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