The American Scene

An ongoing review of politics and culture


Tea & Me

Below, Conor beats me to that NYT piece on the tea partiers. My take is a bit different. When it comes to reforming the right, a phrase I use advisedly, Conor and I are allied — as has been clear enough for at least a year — in some important respects. In others, however, there are important divergences. The latest reflection on the demise of Culture11 (yes, these are still being written) is worth a read, but I must disavow impressions like the following:

Culture 11 writers like Conor Friedersdorf and James Poulos are are in bad odor with most who consider themselves “real” conservatives, largely because they sometimes speak well of liberals and take a decidedly less ideological approach to their writings.

I hope I’m not in bad odor with self-identified real conservatives for a number of reasons, but at the top of the list is my own self-identification as — well, let’s say a ‘mere conservative’. I suppose any confusion on this count is my own doing. During and immediately after the Culture11 years (2008-2009), my ‘project’, such as it was, involved what now strikes me as a far too academic move to peck tactically at the edges of certain debates while taking up strategically, for purposes of criticism, a position too readily mistaken for a view from nowhere. Even on its own terms, I can’t say that approach worked. But trying to match my dispositions, commitments, and convictions — to speak the language I tried to work with back then — to events on the ground in such a way as to ‘declare for’ one team or another seemed like an exercise in pundit theater. Often, in DC, if you want to make it as a pundit the first thing you must do (and sometimes the only thing) is pick, defend, and advocate for a team with the enthusiasm, if not the sophistication, of a well-paid lawyer. I hoped my unwillingness to sign up for an ism — neocon, paleo, libertarian, whatever — would be made good by the sweeping changes of ’09: the election of Obama, the defeat of the Clintons and Clintonism, the waning of the Iraq War, and, of course, the Econopocalypse. I bet that those things would make it possible again to speak intelligibly and successfully as an undifferentiated or otherwise unclassifiable conservative.

In the best post-mortem on Culture11, I was described as “far too idiosyncratic in [my] own politics” to get wrapped up in the “self-immolating Hindenburg of movement conservatism.” Since it’s movement conservatism itself that has started to change that formulation — courtesy, in no small part, of the tea partiers, I’m obliged, I think, to return the favor and step out from behind the mannered meta-critiques of yesteryear. This is a good place to start.

Read the full article

Good News for the GOP?

The New York Times:

Tea Party activists are trying to take over the establishment, ground up.
Across the country, they are signing up to be Republican precinct leaders, a position so low-level that it often remains vacant, but which comes with the ability to vote for the party executives who endorse candidates, approve platforms and decide where the party spends money.
A new group called the National Precinct Alliance says it has a coordinator in nearly every state to recruit Tea Party activists to fill the positions and has already swelled the number of like-minded members in Republican Party committees in Arizona and Nevada. Its mantra is this: take the precinct, take the state, take the party — and force it to nominate conservatives rather than people they see as liberals in Republican clothing.

I am cautiously optimistic that this is going to be a good thing for the Republican Party in the long term. Should Tea Party activists rise in the party from the bottom up, they’ll begin from the mistaken premise that the GOP is in a mess because it elects closet liberals. As I’ve noted before, this is incorrect: though Tea Party attendees may imagine that the folks who sold them out during the Bush Administration were insufficiently conservative in their ideology, the fact of the matter is that folks like Karl Rove and Tom Delay were calling the shots and doing the most harm. I’ve heard those men called corrupt, but I’ve never heard them called RINOs.

Actually taking over the GOP by rising through the ranks, however, is inevitably going to open the eyes of these new politicos to what actually goes on inside the conservative movement, and hopefully over time they’ll seek candidates who are less like Sarah Palin and more like Gary Johnson. This presumes that the Tea Party folks are earnest in their small government beliefs, and that they won’t be corrupted by rising through the ranks. Some of them obviously will be corrupted, but while I don’t imagine they’ll be spectacularly better than what we’ve got now, I do think that the way they came to power might make them marginally less corrupted by the power they’ll eventually wield… if only they don’t fall prey to the catastrophic success that Ross Douthat and Ramesh Ponnurru are smartly worrying about.

The Korean Cinema's Niche Musicals

The best thing about doing karaoke at Sing Sing in New York City is the collection of visuals accompanying the songs. It’s as though sometime in 1992 someone gave an out of work Hollywood director $10,000, six months, and a mandate to make music videos for 1,000 popular karaoke songs. My favorite is probably Like a Rolling Stone, since the protagonist is the quintessential hobo, though the aesthetic is mid 1980s. Only a Val Kilmer cameo could improve upon it.

What I never knew, until doing karaoke with my sister in Korea Town, Los Angeles, is that certain immigrant owned karaoke parlors show a different set of videos, apparently produced in Seoul. It is pretty damned interesting to see how they interpret the lyrics of famous American songs. The video for Scenes from an Italian Restaurant was set in Australia — is that the easiest place for Korean production companies to find white actors? — while Bob Seger’s Against the Wind took place in a hard core Korean penitentiary (you’ll not find spoilers here, though if you want to see the flick it’s playing now and indefinitely at Cafeoke Ding Dong Dang. They don’t sell beer, so be sure to bring a sweatshirt or messenger bag big enough to smuggle in cans of Modelo purchased at the Circle K across the street. If the proprietors catch you, warn you that the police come around every night to ensure there isn’t any alcohol, and inform you that in twenty minutes they’re going to return for all the beer, so you’d better finish it, they’re bluffing, though your group not knowing that and finishing all the beer in twenty minutes actually works out decently well.)

They say that those who can’t do, teach. I aspire to produce my own original set of karaoke videos, but that will take years, so if there’s any obscure university intent on giving out grants for research into multiculturalism, I’d be happy to study what’s already out there in the meantime, and even to teach the most peripheral class ever to appear on a college syllabus.