Poulenc blogging

New favorite things...the short piano works of Francis Poulenc, specifically, this recording by Gabriel Tacchino. If you only know the choral pieces (as I did), the piano pieces are a wonderful distillation of everything that makes that work so distinctive: the humor, the range of colors and tones wrung from spare harmonies. But the piano pieces have something more--a deep, inviting warmth. This Poulenc, personal, ironic, passionate, should be enough to silence anyone who has acccused him of being cold and mechanistic. The recording itself (while I don't have anything to compare it to as yet) is quite fine as well. Tacchino has the sort of light, nimble touch that immediately puts a smile on your face, but when the time comes, he doesn't hesitate to to extract every last drop of knowing humanity out of these simple, yet worldly little essays.


You got me....

Kevin Drum asks the million dollar question today: why has Bush gone and blown all his political capital on the loser Social Security debate? Its a question that will linger long after this whole thing has blown over, and, indeed, would probably already be hailed as one of the great political swan dives of our time if the press, public, not to mention liberals didn't accord Bush a sort of super-human political infalliability.

But what has been the source of that perception of infalliability so far? Three things: a willingness to push a lowest common demoninator popular sentiment, no matter what the cost in lies and red ink; a right wing machine that only has its (tiny) centrist wing to lose; and a strong coalition of business interests willing to pony up the cash. Unfortunately for G2, the Social Security push is missing two of those things in a major way: its popularity with the public is simply not very resilient (something the pollsters really should have told him in December) and there are a slew more Republicans than just those stuck up Northeasterners that want nothing to do with gutting the program a large number of their constituents rely on.

But that still begs the question: why did he do it? At this point, my guess has got to be sheer unbridled ignorance of the situation. Someone pitched this to Bush, Rove, whoever, as an easy issue with broad appeal. They needed a big domestic issue for the second term because they didn't have anything left to stay relevant, and, as we have seen time and again in this White House, once a decision is made, backtracking on it becomes a form heresy.

So that's it? They didn't have anything better to do and privatization gained some traction? In part, I think it may be just that simple. The other component is the disconnect between the logic of the Washington think tank world, that has been training very smart people to like privatization for 20 plus years, and the rest of the country. The logic of privatization is, quite simply, very attractive to a large number of people in power because they have been learning it for a long time now. The effect of this groupthink, and how out of step it is with popular opinion is not necessarily obvious, but it should not be underestimated. This is the conservative movement catching up with itself, as expected.


Abortion trickery

No good very bad Brooks today; and a nice post from Ed Kilgore with all the grisly details on the 10-car logic pile-up contained therein.

Of the many sleights of hand Brooks has developed to excuse the excesses of the Christian right, perhaps my personal favorite is the "Christian right as a justified abusive spouse" tack, on view here. Basically: all the bullying, Constitution bashing, intolerance, disregard for the rule of law and other bad behavior that comes out of the right is not pretty but, well, liberals left them no other choice, i.e., "I don't want to hurt you, but you just make me so mad!"


War of the culture persuasion

Well, let me come out of hibernation for a moment to comment on the recent back and forth regarding whether Dems should "take on" the entertainment industry. Ed Kilgore and others favor this, while Matt Yglesias has been an outspoken opponent.

I agree with a little of both. I certainly don't want to see more Joe Lieberman posturing, as Matt fears--this is merely a small scale version of the Dems' general misconseption about the value of aping Republican positions and rhetoric. It will pay off for a few individual politicians, maybe, but it horrifies the base and it has no relationship to a larger liberal vision.

That said, there is another route for Democrats beyond empty moralizing and fundamentalist pandering. And one they already instinctively sympathize with. As many have pointed out, the "crap culture breeds teen sociopaths" canard doesn't actually resonate with people, becuase they know its not very true beyond some research that is inconclusive at best, impossible at worst.

So why are all these red staters up in arms against culture? What's the seed of truth in their anger beyond all the trumped up political hobbyhorses about homosexuality and promiscuity and talking sponges? It's the fact that mainstream culture is for the most part, actually, well, crap.

And PS, this is not news to liberals. The great swath of America that is the target of the culture warriors doesn't lie somewhere to the left of Rush Limbaugh and the 700 club, but squarely between those charlatans and your friends who haven't turned on the radio except to listen to NPR in the last decade.

I'm not saying there's any hope of an alliance between these two extremes that care deeply about the middle 80 percent, but that these struggles are, in some sense, the same. The only difference is that liberals are refusing to fight right now.

This isn't about stealing Pat Robertson's market share. It's about reclaiming the government-culture intersection that liberals used to care deeply about, but have been running scared from for decades now. It says that the culture that makes this a country worth living in shouldn't always have to submit to the whims of profit, and that the government is the right actor to take up the slack.

Now, this obviously isn't some magic key to winning elections in the near term, but its the long term work that needs to be done. Government has never divorced itself from culture, yet liberals, frightened by the costs of the 1990s culture wars, have decided they can get along without engaging in that debate. And it is part and parcel of the cut your losses til you have nothing left mentality that is so detrimental to liberalism today.