I left St. Etienne Friday and spent the weekend in Lisbon with a wonderful man. It was great to get away (and Lisbon's awesome), and I'll probably head on out to visit my brother this week as well. But I've been catching up on my blog and newspaper reading from this weekend, and I'm just thinking, This is what I effin' come home to.
One of the first things I read is post-Bittergate polling. Not so bad; I scan the polling data regularly anyways to keep up.
Then I find out what Bittergate is. Ugh.
The fact that a former president's wife, a Yale lawyer from the suburbs of Chicago with a financially successful career and some $109 million is going around deeming others elitist or out-of-touch-with-the-commoners must just be a caricature of American politics.
It simply must be a joke. She's the Stephen Colbert the Politician! It's schtick!
(I was just telling Bil on the phone that this reminds me how fast these news cycles move. I don't see it because I read far too much when I'm at home, but going away for five days and coming back to polling about a non-scandal I hadn't heard about before I left, well, that's some action there. It's nice when people make an effort to report the news.)
Bittergate is, of course, far more important than this other story that broke on Friday:
President Bush says he knew his top national security advisers discussed and approved specific details about how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to an exclusive interview with ABC News Friday.
"Well, we started to connect the dots in order to protect the American people." Bush told ABC News White House correspondent Martha Raddatz. "And yes, I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved."
As first reported by ABC News Wednesday, the most senior Bush administration officials repeatedly discussed and approved specific details of exactly how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the CIA.
The high-level discussions about these "enhanced interrogation techniques" were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed -- down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.
These top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects -- whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding, sources told ABC news.
The president blithely admitted that he approved meetings in the White House to go over details of torture, and the media said "So?"
A president is best measured by his or her ability to bowl or to avoid talking about class while making base appeals to what coastal elites think the masses are like (from Media Matters):
On MSNBC, Reuters' Jon Decker raised the issue of Sen. Barack Obama's bowling performance and stated: "[T]his cuts to 'is this person real? Do they connect with me as a voter?' You know, for someone who's in a bowling league in northeast central Pennsylvania ... they can't identify with someone getting a 37 over seven frames." Decker's comments follow those of MSNBC figures, particularly Chris Matthews, who have purported to identify actions or characteristics of Obama that they claim suggest he is not a "regular" person and is out of touch with average Americans.
Because average Americans support torture and good bowling skill. And being good at bowling is enough to overlook details like violating the Geneva Convention to commit some of the most egregious acts I've ever heard of. And something about how paraphrasing Thomas Frank makes one a snob.
Even worse was this item Chris Matthews got all atwitter about (via d-day):
MATTHEWS: Did you see him there?
SHUSTER: -- but that's --
MATTHEWS: He's not that good at that -- handshaking in a diner.
SHUSTER: No --
MATTHEWS: Barack doesn't seem to know how to do that right.
SHUSTER: -- he doesn't do that well. But then you see him in front of 15,000 people in some of these college towns, and that's why, Chris, we've seen Chelsea Clinton and Bill Clinton in Bloomington and South Bend and Terre Haute. I mean --
MATTHEWS: What's so hard about doing a diner? I don't get it. Why doesn't he go in there and say, "Did you see the papers today? What do you think about that team? How did we do last night?" Just some regular connection?
SHUSTER: Well, here's the other thing that we saw on the tape, Chris, is that, when Obama went in, he was offered coffee, and he said, "I'll have orange juice."
SHUSTER: He did.
And it's just one of those sort of weird things. You know, when the owner of the diner says, "Here, have some coffee," you say, "Yes, thank you," and, "Oh, can I also please have some orange juice, in addition to this?" You don't just say, "No, I'll take orange juice," and then turn away and start shaking hands. That's what happens [unintelligible] --
MATTHEWS: You don't ask for a substitute on the menu.
MATTHEWS: David, what a regular guy. You could do this. Anyway, thank you, David Shuster. I mean, go to the diners.
Yes, David Schuster and Chris Matthews understand the regular coffee drinking guy. Only snobs drink orange juice! Barack Obama just doesn't get the common man like George W. Bush does - beer with voters, coffee in diners, and a bottle of whiskey for Alex to make this media coverage go down more easily.
What Hunter said:
Talk about elitism: when, exactly, did we get to the point where an assortment of multimillionares can vie, every four years, for the title of most folksy, and most "common", and have the attempts reported with a straight face by the most supposedly intelligent and insightful political minds available? Are we serious? Watching a set of multimillionaires competing desperately to each appear the most down to earth, the most folksy and hick, challenging each other with increasingly "common" costumes, extolling the virtues of barbecue and hot dogs and grits, admiring the local sports team in every individual state they visit; admit it, it is hilarious. It is one of the few contests the rich have, among themselves, that the rest of us get to enjoy as well, for watching a lifetime establishment insider play dress up, and watching them play act as they pretend to be what they see us as being, namely complete and utter rubes, more obsessed with our backyard grills than the fates of our own jobs -- that is a fine play indeed, if you are into truly dark humor.
That's the most optimistic interpretation I've heard so far.
It's hard to explain this to people who don't live in our system, who don't understand why Americans care so much about a president's affair or a blue dress but not at all about torture or starting a war in the Middle East.
And I'm generous when I explain it, trust me. Usually what I hear is that this whole thing is the result of some failing of the American educational system or that America just doesn't have a history so Americans don't understand the impact of their actions. And I try to explain how our corporate media work, how American culture makes us fear The Other, especially The Oriental, how gendered historical narratives make us imagine ourselves as the John Wayne styled sheriffs of the world, and how our discomfort in discussing money, and, by extension, class, makes us uncomfortable with calling out rich people games as being just that, rich people games.
Of course that's not everything, and it's not a perfect response. There are lots of reasons we're in this ship, and it's going to take a lot to turn it around.
But coming home to it all at once, oh my. You really have to live it to get it, and taking even a weekend off is too much.