James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

What’s more American than stupid, dishonest Super Bowl advertising?

Posted by James McPherson on February 4, 2014

“What’s more American than America?” Bob Dylan asks in an ad for the Chrysler 200 that appeared during the Super Bowl (the ad is posted above).

The question is stupid — and in this case, largely irrelevant since in most years you can come closer to an “American car” with a Toyota than with a Chrysler. Last year’s Chrysler 200 was less than three-quarters “American.” The company itself is a wholly owned subsidiary of an Italian company, Fiat.

The Chrysler ad was also misleading in another way. You may have heard the line, “What Detroit created was a first, and became an inspiration to the rest of the world.” If the line refers to some specific type of car, such as Henry Ford’s revolutionary assembly line version, that line may be accurate — but the first two real automobiles were made in France and Germany (and the first American ones weren’t made in Detroit). The ad also shows a picture of an American freeway, followed by a sign for the German autobahn — which, in fact, inspired the American interstate highway system.

The Super Bowl must be a great place to sell cars: Besides the Chrysler ad, viewers saw commercials vehicles from Chevrolet, Ford, HondaHyundai, SuburuVolkswagen, Maserati and Jaguar.

Of course, the entire Chrysler ad fell short of what many of us would have expected of Dylan (though he had previously “sold out” to Cadillac and Victoria’s Secret). Designed to pull at the heartstrings like a campaign ad for Ronald Reagan, it was very similar to a Chrysler ad done by Clint Eastwood two years earlier. But it made me wonder how soon Dylan will stand alone on a stage, talking to a chair.

Coke did patriotism much better than Chrysler with its “America the Beautiful” ad. (Though the best Super Bowl ad of all was one apparently seen originally only in Georgia, for a personal injury lawyer.)

The Coke commercial also drew some criticism because of its use of multiple languages — which predictably offended Glenn Beck, some at Fox News, and other nitwits — and its portrayal of a gay family. The latter point is especially interesting, considering the fact that the words for the featured song were written by Katharine Lee Bates, a feminist who probably was a lesbian. Perhaps more surprising in regard to the Coke commercial is the reasoned liberal objection to the ad.

Incidentally, this was perhaps only the second time in decades that I’ve been more interested in the outcome of the game than in the advertising. As a longtime Seattle Seahawks fan, I was much happier with the result this year than when the Seahawks were robbed in 2006.

Next-day follow-up: Below is a video of Atlanta anchor Brenda Wood talking about the Coke ad.

Posted in History, Media literacy, Personal, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Conservative quackery and Santa Claus

Posted by James McPherson on December 20, 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone. I hope your appreciation of the season hasn’t been dampened by recent controversy involving those wildly popular but oft-misunderstood bearded guys.

No, I’m not talking about “Daddy Duck” Phil Robertson and the other guys of “reality” television’s “Duck Dynastyclan, as I see no need to join the discussion over whether clan leader Phil Robertson is a homophobic racist or just a committed Christian (other than to point out that those who claim that Robertson’s free speech rights are being violated are clueless about the First Amendment).

I’m more interested in the controversy involving those other bearded guys — Santa Claus and Jesus — whom a defensive and “very, very blonde” professional spokesmodel Megyn Kelly brought into Fox News’ annual weird, wacky, hypocritical and ultimately pointless (except to fire up viewers and drive up ratings) “war on the war on Christmas” by insisting that both were white guys.

Not surprisingly, Kelly was wrong about both Jesus and the inspiration for Santa. (Incidentally, Bill O’Reilly has now declared the war over, making himself the commanding general in a Christian victory, and the “war on Christmas” is just a subset of the equally ludicrous (at least in this country) “Christians are persecuted” meme, anyway.)

The “white Santa/white Jesus” discussion continued over several days (not much real news before the holidays, apparently), and I actually heard someone on television question whether we even know Santa’s gender. I’m not making that up, though I wasn’t in front of the TV and so don’t know who said it.

Thinking more about it though, it occurred to me that since I am all for gender equality, I should examine the evidence. I then posted my findings on Facebook, but thought I’d share them here, too:

  1. Santa is beloved, despite his obvious weight problem — in fact, people leave Claus milk and cookies, rather than leaving an obnoxious note saying, “Lose some weight, fatso!”
  2. Santa spends a lot of time in a “workshop,” and apparently has a thing for toys.
  3. Santa needs a Rudolph Guidance System to make it through the fog and finds every house — despite no record of having ever asked anyone for directions.
  4. Mommy was spotted kissing Santa Claus.
  5. Santa stays out all night on the night before a holiday.
  6. Claus apparently hasn’t had a wardrobe update for decades.
  7. Santa has been accused of being a “peeping Tom,” spying on people while they’re sleeping.
  8. Santa prefers to do things the hard way — i.e., going down the chimney rather than simply using the spare key hidden near the door.
  9. Santa postpones delivery of gifts until the last possible moment — and then frequently gives you something that someone who really knew you would never give.
  10. Many people write to Santa, but he never writes back.

I report; you decide.

Posted in History, Journalism, Legal issues, Personal, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments »

Riding, writing and resting

Posted by James McPherson on November 25, 2013

For the past six months, politics has been relatively low on my list of concerns. Call it burnout, or simple disgust with almost everyone in politics (including those in the media who cover it), but after my sabbatical began at the end of May I probably watched and read less about contemporary politics (especially from cable news) for the next several months than during any similar period in perhaps a decade. I have to admit that I didn’t miss it.

Nor have I missed most things about my “real job” as a professor. Someone asked me a while back the most important thing I’d learned during my sabbatical. My answer: “That I probably won’t have any trouble adjusting to retirement in 12 to 15 years.” I love being in the classroom and interacting with students, but certainly haven’t missed grading, course prep or meetings.

During my sabbatical I added a regular Wednesday “guys’ breakfast” and a regular Thursday golf game to my Tuesday and Friday morning basketball games. I’ve read more — and more for fun — than usual. I worked in the yard and garden. I spent time with parents, siblings, kids and a grandchild.

Most importantly, I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with my wife of almost 33 years, especially during a 25-day 5,700-mile drive that included visits to various family members and the cities of Boise, Tucson, Santa Fe, New Orleans and Natchez — the lovely Mississippi city (with the troubling history) in which my wife was born. The cities of Las Vegas, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and Salt Lake City we passed through quickly, but not too quickly to be reminded of the sprawling corporate sameness that scars the Great American Landscape (though perhaps not for much longer, if my brother and other “doomers” are correct about the fate of the world).

More directly related to my profession, while in New Orleans I attended the annual convention of the American Journalism Historians Association. The convention was held in the beautiful historic Hotel Monteleone, where, despite a steep discount, the nightly rate was more than I paid for my first car, and where it cost more to park my pickup each night than I’ve paid for a room in some motels.

Back home, I attended a breakfast at which I chatted with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and then (at her request) sent her a copy a book I wrote. (Unlike a similar event with George Will a year earlier, I didn’t notice any errors worthy of correction here.) Later that month I helped out with a high school journalism workshop.

In terms of writing, I have revised a book chapter, chipped away at a novel, compiled notes and done research for a new academic book, and written more than 90 posts for an ongoing blog project. Today I even started our annual Christmas letter, having put up and decorated the tree a couple of days ago. And naturally I’ve been writing on the most pervasive medium in America today: Facebook.

Yes, I’ve devoted too much time to one form of anti-social media, though I’ve managed to forego Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler, Pinterest and Alltherest. I don’t tweet, or even text, and I definitely don’t twerk, Thanks to modern media, sometimes I twitch.

What I’ve written on Facebook  was typically far less important than what I “shared” from elsewhere (the same sorts of things that have no doubt prompted some “friends” to hide me from their feeds). And in retrospect, at least some of what I took the time to share via Facebook also seems worth sharing here. Some examples follow, though for space reasons I obviously can’t include oh-s0-witty-and/or-insightful comments I offered with each post.

The eclectic mix includes: an 1812 test for eighth-graders that few of us today could pass; a professional football coach (who knocked me out in practice when we were on the same college team);  the discovery of a new dinosaur; police brutality in New Mexico; empathetic high school football players; a revised “U.S. map” based on watersheds; Boeing’s anti-union efforts; Richard Cohen’s racism and sexism; how some of Apple’s overseas employees end up as virtual slaves; “15 Ways The United States Is The Best (At Being The Worst)”; the highest-paid employees in each state; a lesson on being quick to judge; some bragging about my workplace; and “the incredible story of Marion Stokes,” an obsessive librarian who taped — on VHS videocassettes — 35 years of television news.

Related to media, I posted items about the dangers of texting while driving and  sexist cyber-bullying by football fans. I explained why my local newspaper screwed up, placing a beautiful photo of a Native American mother and child next to an unrelated headline stating, “Child porn cases result in prison.” I pointed out that a widely quoted ESPN piece about NFL hazing used faulty math and therefore probably drew erroneous conclusions. I made fun of a local television station for misusing a word during a hostage crisis. And I shared a funny piece about a newspaper that retracted its criticism of the Gettysburg Address as “silly remarks” worthy of “a veil of oblivion.”

As a feminist who sometimes teaches a class on women and media (while serving on the board for a local nonprofit devoted to media literacy), I shared various items related to women’s issues: a story about “how we teach our kids that women are liars“;  a piece about sexist treatment of Janet Yellen; how women like working for women; and one about the Bechtel test for movies. I also addressed males, sharing “Five Things Every Self-Respecting Man Over 30 Needs.”

I shared some items about religion, including mega-churches and the fact that the region of the country most opposed to government health care is the Bible Belt. Naturally I couldn’t avoid mention of the Affordable Care Act. Posts compared: Al Jazeera America’s coverage of Typhoon Haiyan and Obamacare with the coverage by CNN, Fox News and MSNBC; how journalists were fact-checking other journalists; Sean Hannity’s lies;

I didn’t managed to ignore other politics entirely, either, discussing such issues as Barack Obama’s judicial nominations; Senate filibusters and the “nuclear option”; nutjobs who advocate killing Obama; National Security Agency wiretapping; Texas textbooks and evolution (a subject of this blog in 2009 and 2010); George W. Bush addressing the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute; some loony Sarah Palin fiscal hypocrisy; Chris Christie’s flip-flop on immigration; and Rand Paul’s plagiarism. What, you expected me to go six months without criticizing a few conservatives?

Most of those Facebook comments came during the past month and a half, suggesting that I’m being sucked back into caring more about politics than may be healthy. Too bad; I’ll have to keep working on that for the couple of months that remain on my sabbatical. Perhaps I’ll report back after that.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Legal issues, Media literacy, Personal, Politics, Religion, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , | 14 Comments »

On sabbatical

Posted by James McPherson on June 18, 2013

I’m on sabbatical from my “regular job” until the spring semester. Among other things, I’ll revise my small chapter of the the most popular media history text in the U.S., work on a new academic book, and perhaps finish writing a novel that I began some time back. That means I won’t be doing much, if any, writing here.

And however much as I may need a sabbatical break from teaching, I need one even more from the nonsense that now passes for political discourse in this country. I will be doing a bit of fun and easy blogging with a new project (which for the next few months will also become my primary WordPress blog).

And perhaps I’ll write something here once in a while. I can’t seem to help myself, despite my best intentions.

Posted in Education, History, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 42 Comments »

Inane confessions of the anonymous kind

Posted by James McPherson on February 23, 2013

When I was a kid, a friend’s mother always seemed to have copies of “confessional” magazines such as True Confessions or True Romance lying around. They seemed pretty silly and I didn’t understand their appeal, though of course I wasn’t among the target audience.

Such publications do have a long history (the issue pictured here is as old as I am). As a media scholar, I now have a better understanding of why those magazines became popular — why people choose the media they do — though at a personal level I still have trouble understanding the attraction of those particular publications.

And like some other forms of other print media, those magazines have largely disappeared. But of course the inane “true confession” style of media has only spread, from Oprah and Jerry Springer to reality television to the “anonymous” Facebook sites that have now become popular with the college crowd — including, sadly, among the generally more sensible students where I teach. Though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised or too disappointed by that; such sites can also be found for the likes of Harvard, Yale, Stanford and Princeton.

In fact, if you want to depress yourself, the next time you’re on Facebook do a search for “university confessions.” Or put in the name of your own university — there’s probably at least one “confessions” page there (some have two or more), with dozens or hundreds of undergrads sharing their supposed insecurities, misdeeds, fantasies, sexual escapades, etc., so that other students can then provide a running commentary.

I wonder: Does the “confessor” who gets the mosts comments feel as if s/he has “won” something?

The Facebook confessions craze is relatively new, but seemingly nearly as ubiquitous as renditions of the “Harlem Shake.” “Confessions” pages have caused problems at a few schools, including the National University of Singapore, the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse and Sam Houston State University. Mostly they just reflect poorly on the students involved and their universities.[Update: At the high school level, perhaps cause more problems have come from both confessions pages and the "Harlem Shake."]

As a writer and former college student who now spends most of his time around students, I suspect that many of the supposed “confessions” are fiction. Most seem to be trivial. A fair number are simply stupid. A few of the most troubling, whether true or not, seem to reflect a need for their writers to take advantage of the counseling services available (probably for free) at their institutions.

In part because media around the world have chosen to treat them as news, I decided to contribute my small bit here. Still, as far as making a meaningful contribution to the media world at large, the “confessions” might as well have been scribbled in crayon on notebook paper, folded into paper airplanes, and then launched into the wind.

I also suspect that the trend and the sites themselves will be fleeting, disappearing even before their student moderators graduate and go on to other things. In the meantime, the sites will worry some university administrators, titillate some juvenile readers, offend some people, and be ignored by most — pretty much like every other form of student media throughout history.

One thing I do somewhat appreciate about these Facebook sites, particulary compared to blogs: While the original posts may be anonymous, the commenters are not. That undoubtedly reduces some of the vitriol so often found among bloggers and among those who can comment anonymously on blogs — people who obviously should have no more credibility or popularity than the anonymous “true confessions” on Facebook and in once-popular magazines.

Oh, and if you’ve somehow managed to miss the whole “Harlem Shake” phenomenon (which may have absolutely nothing to do with the original “Harlem Shake”), here is a compilation of examples:

Posted in Education, History, Media literacy, Personal, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Lost in America–or at least in two cities

Posted by James McPherson on January 30, 2013

Though at least one major political party seem to be wandering aimlessly, I wasn’t ever actually completely “lost” during a just-completed 18-day trip to New York and Washington, D.C., with a dozen students (see the class blog here). But do I lack a great sense of direction and don’t use a smart phone, and so rely heavily (if not always well) on maps–as some of my students humorously chronicled in the video below.

I will note that we visited approximately 20 media-related sites in the two cities, and found our way to each meeting with time to spare. On the other  hand, I guess the video may provide some support for the common but nutty claim that liberal professors are leading students astray.

I’m fortunate to work in a university that values off-campus study, and have been lucky enough to coordinate two of my last three every-other-year study programs with presidential inaugurations. To be sure, there were a lot fewer people in Washington this year than four years ago–but it was interesting to see the shift in crowds from the Obama supporters there for the Inauguration at the beginning of the week to the people who came for the annual “March for Life” at the end of the week.

Demonstrating that political views are not black and white in America, at least one of my students attended both the inauguration and the march. I avoided both, and though I may disagree with the student’s politics, as a fan of peaceful political activism I commend her decision. Though students sometimes disappoint me, they far more often make me proud to be associated with them.

This year’s group had the added benefit of sharing a hostel with Wiley Drake, a somewhat pitiful “pastor” who earned some degree of notoriety a few years ago by praying for President Obama’s death. A birther who claims Osama bin Laden died in 2007 and who ran for president himself last year, Wiley has an Internet radio/TV show that he broadcasts (poorly) from wherever he happens to be–including from the hostel dining room.

Frankly, my students would do a better job of broadcasting than Drake does, and would generally make more sense. Even if they keep making the mistake of thinking I know where we are going.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Personal, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Sandy, Bloomberg & Christie should help Obama win re-election

Posted by James McPherson on November 1, 2012

Barack Obama made this election a lot closer than it should have been by sleepwalking through his first debate with Mitt Romney and, in my view, by failing to run enough of an optimistic campaign that emphasized his many noteworthy accomplishments. Those include an improving economy, the expansion of gay rights, the auto bailout, increased access to medical care for young adults and people with pre-existing conditions, and improved student loan policies.

For many individuals, he has been a very good president, and who knows what might have been accomplished without the worst, craziest, and most obstructionist Congress in history, a Congress dedicated from the outset to try to make Obama fail even if it meant reversing their own positions?

Since most American voters seem to have the attention spans of gnats, flip-flopping on one’s supposed values too rarely hurts politicians–even in the case of pathological Etch a Sketch liar Mitt Romney, who has actually improved his standing with voters by avoiding answering any questions from the news (including even GOP house organ Fox News) for the past three weeks. His latest campaign strategy has included a phony “hurricane relief” rally and repeatedly lying about the auto industry–to the degree that even company executives declared that Romney (who once joked about his father closing American auto plants) is lying to scare voters. One can only wonder what highers-up in the Mormon church think about such dishonesty.

So now the election is relatively close, as predicted and desired by media folks and talking heads that I’ve previously ridiculed. Some polls have Romney leading, and some people (including Michael Graham of the Boston Herald and conservatives Michael Novak, Karl Rove, Frank Donatelli, Steven Hayward and Boris Epshteyn) predict a GOP win. Former Bill Clinton aide Dick Morris, who has managed the nearly impossible trick of looking even sleazier than Clinton and a few others (see here, here, here and here, ) have gone so far as to predict a Romney landslide.

I hate the reliance of the news media on polls over substance, so I actually appreciate the fact that this year’s polls seem to be contradictory and confusing. Still, barring some GOP to steal the election through rigged voting machines or even more voter suppression than expected, however, I have strong doubts about the chances of a Romney victory. In fact, as I’ve been doing consistently since last spring, I predict an Obama win with at least 290 electoral votes (270 are needed to win). I also expect Democrats to hold the Senate while Republicans maintain control of the House of Representatives.

The facts that Obama has been endorsed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, largely endorsed by GOP favorite Chris Christie, and that Hurricane Sandy has allowed Obama to look presidential while Romney avoided and then struggled with questions about whether he would fund FEMA, makes me more confident in my prediction. Based on information released today about a jump in consumer confidence and a jobs report by the ADP Research Institute, I suspect that tomorrow’s Labor Department jobs report will fail to give Romney a boost and may help the president.

Whether Obama deserves to win (or whether either either of these two guys should be elected) is another question, but most of the people who use a statistical approach expect the same electoral result. In that camp are Nate Silver (who has drawn considerable attention both positive and negative for his influence), Sam Wang’s Princeton Election Consortium, Drew Linzer’s Votomatic, polltrack.com, the New Republic‘s Nate Cohn, Andrew Tanenbaum’s electoral-vote.com, Josh Putnam’s Frontloading HQ, Thomas Holbrook’s Politics by the Numbers, Scott Elliott’s ElectionProjection.com, (Several of those I’ve mentioned previously, but some I learned about just today from Asawin Suebsaeng of Mother Jones.)

The conservative Rasmussen Reports, Real Clear Politics, the Washington Times, CNN, PBS, NPR, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Intrade, the Huffington Post, 270towin.com, all have Obama leading the electoral vote, though all their maps have “toss-ups” that include Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, North Carolina, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and/or Florida.

Right or wrong, obviously I have plenty of company. Either way, a lot of people who make considerable money off of their predictions (I make none from mine) are going to be wrong. And those folks probably all will be back, making equally bad predictions, four years from now.

So with that in mind, I’ll go ahead and offer my first prediction for 2016: Seeing how well bizarre flip-flops worked for Romney, and trying to up his credibility with both Hispanic voters and conservative Christians in a 2016 bid for the White House, Christie will legally change his first name to “Jesus” and drop the last two letters of his last name from campaign literature distributed in solidly conservative states. And at least 23 percent of voters in Texas will fall for it.

Posted in History, Journalism, Personal, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 55 Comments »

My breakfast with George Will, and correcting his errors

Posted by James McPherson on October 16, 2012

Today I had the opportunity to have breakfast with noted conservative political commentator and baseball fan George Will, someone I’ve both admired and criticized at times in the past. OK, saying I had breakfast with him is stretching things: In truth, it was me and several hundred other people eating breakfast, while Will addressed the crowd and then answered a few questions as part of an event hosted by my university.

I wore my best suit and sat at a table sponsored by my local newspaper, chatting before and after the speech with the publisher, the business manager, and and a few editors of the Spokesman-Review. I met Will during a reception after the event, and I’m sure he didn’t remember my name 15 seconds later. Nor should he have.

As would be expected from someone as intellectual, witty and well-paid (typically $40,000+ per speech) as Will, he gave an interesting speech about politics, well-illustrated by baseball anecdotes. Several of the lines I’d heard before, but they were well-delivered, often funny and greeted with appreciation. He didn’t come across as a big fan of Mitt Romney, which might not be surprising considering Romney’s inconsistencies and the fact that Will’s wife has worked for Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry during this campaign.

Still, Will got some things wrong in his speech. For one thing, Will offered the common conservative complaint about inheritance taxes. You can take all your money and blow it in Las Vegas, and that’s fine with government–but you can’t give it to your kids, he said. And of course that’s a blatant mischaracterization long promoted by “death tax” folks. In fact, if you choose to toss away all your money in a casino, the casino will pay taxes. Likewise, you can give away anything you want, to anyone–but the recipient should expect to pay taxes on the gift. Despite what Will and others would have you believe, it’s not the giver who is taxed; it’s the receiver.

And most of the time, if we’re talking about inheritance taxes, even the recipient isn’t significantly affected. Only the estates of millionaires like Will actually get taxed at all by the federal government–a fact that would Founding Father and “Common Sense” author Thomas Paine would find appalling. It is ironic that so many Will-style conservatives who promote “equality of opportunity” have no problem with the children of millionaires starting out with little chance of having personal stupidity bringing them down to the economic level of the smartest and hardest-working children born into poverty.

Will also criticized the format of the presidential debates, and I happen to agree with him in that regard. These tightly regulated political events are not “debates,” and (like me and many others) Will suggested he would like to see Lincoln-Douglas-style debates in which each candidate talks, uninterrupted, at length. But then Will added something like, “Can you imagine either of these guys being able to string together coherent paragraphs for an hour?” Many in the audience chuckled at the implication that neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney would be smart enough to keep up with someone like, say, George Will.

But in fact, I can imagine it. In fact, though it will never happen because of cowardly party handlers, I love to imagine such a scenario. Neither of the presidential candidates got where he is by being an idiot, and having the opportunity to speak for an hour or so at a time–which both men have undoubtedly done numerous times in their noteworthy pasts–and then to answer an opponent’s comments might actually force each to stray from pre-scripted jokes and talking points. Obama might even prepare (though after his first debate performance this year, I assume he’s done a bit more prep for tonight’s version).

Will’s mischaracterizations of inheritance taxes and of the intellects of Obama and Romney are common ones, of course, and today’s errors were pretty minor compared to some in his past. And to be fair, someone who spends as much time in the public eye as Will does is bound to be wrong or to speak too flippantly some of the time. I’ve criticized him in a book (something I didn’t bring up today) for a couple of things: helping Ronald Reagan practice for a debate with Jimmy Carter (using a stolen Carter briefing book) and then praising Reagan for his performance after the debate, and for repeating a myth that Al Gore (rather than a supporter of George H.W. Bush) was the first to “use Willie Horton against Michael Dukakis” in 1988.

I started reading Will’s column when I was a kid, and have always admired his intellect, his use of the language and his love and understanding of baseball–but frankly I thought he went a bit nuts during the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, letting his disgust over Clinton’s personal behavior color his perspective on more political issues. Since then he seems to have reverted to his more rational self, and I do enjoy reading his column and listening to him on Sunday mornings. But I never forget that he’s every bit as biased as I am, and therefore prone to errors that support his own side.

And even when we’re not factually wrong, sometimes we’ll just disagree. For example, Will criticized early voting, because he misses the civic exercise of going to a polling place on election day. I miss it, too–but I’d rather have more people voting while diminishing the prospect of having an “October surprise” swing an election. The old system favors financially secure conservatives, while early voting aids those who work long hours. I wish Will–a lifelong fan of perhaps the ultimate working-class team, the Chicago Cubs–had more empathy for their struggles.

Next day: After the breakfast Will went on to San Francisco to provide debate commentary for ABC. Afterward he declared Obama the winner and indicated that the debate was far, far better than what his words of that morning indicated he expected: “It was a very good fight. I have seen every presidential debate in American  history since the floor of Nixon and Kennedy in 1960. This was immeasurably the  best.”

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Personal, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Back to the future: From Goldwater to Tea

Posted by James McPherson on September 14, 2011

Looking through drafts of blog posts that I never finished, I see that nearly two years ago, on Feb. 18, 2010, I started a post with the tentative title of, “Paleocons may hurt GOP in the short run, save it in the long run.”

My thought at the time was that Republicans were generating some nutty ideas–and some loony candidates such as Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell–but that the “grown-ups” would eventually regain control of the party and sanity would be restored.

Events since then have demonstrated otherwise, of course, with the recent debt ceiling debacle being merely the latest example. And whatever you may think of Barack Obama’s jobs bill, the fact is that if it was made up entirely of ideas created by Republicans, those Republicans would then feel obligated to spin on their round heels to then oppose what they had proposed.

In fact, the current situation may be a return to something much earlier in American political history–the rise of Barry Goldwater, about whom I wrote at some length in a book. I credit the failed Goldwater campaign with providing much of the impetus for a new conservatism. Goldwater’s campaign was doomed, but the energy of that campaign helped bring us Ronald Reagan and eventually the 1994 Republican Congress.

Likewise, Republicans may be working toward producing another sacrificial candidate in Rick Perry, shifting a party that would now too inflexible for Goldwater or Reagan even further to the right. Barack Obama may be the luckiest presidential candidate ever, getting to run twice against Republicans who can’t win despite Obama’s serious flaws.

It’s still early, and we’ll find out much more about Perry as his GOP competitors continue to bash him. But if Perry is the nominee and then loses to Obama, does anyone think those who have drunk the Perry tea are going anywhere, or that Obama will be any more successful in dealing with the next Congress than he has been in dealing with this one?

One key difference exists between the 1950s-60s rise of neoconservative and that of today. That earlier version was a party of ideas, highlighted by the genius of William F. Buckley and a host of thoughtful conservative publications. Unfortunately those publications have generally become as shallow and shrill as most of the rest of what now passes for rhetoric in America. And big ideas of the sort tossed around gleefully by Buckley can’t be examined via the likes of Twitter or Facebook.

Posted in History, Journalism, Personal, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Cardboard cutout Congresswoman to have town hall meeting

Posted by James McPherson on August 30, 2011

Though she’s not advertising it on her own website (a mistake, since one would think that her supporters would be more likely than her detractors to read it), Cathy McMorris Rodgers apparently will host a town hall meeting Wednesday at 6 p.m.

I’ll be there. If you can’t be, and there’s anything you’d like me to ask her, let me know and I’ll try.

Posted in Personal, Politics | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

 
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