Yay Garrison Keillor!

From his column at Salon:

What is so disheartening about politics is the putzing around in the shallows. The sheer waste of time — years, decades, spent on thrilling public issues in which the unconservative right fights tooth-and-nail against the regressive left and nothing is gained. It’s like a tug-of-war between two trees.

The so-called cultural wars over abortion and prayer in the schools and pornography and gays, most of it instigated by shrieking ninnies and pompous blowhards, did nothing about anything, except elect dullards to office who brought a certain nihilistic approach to governance that helped bring about the disaster in the banking industry that ate up a lot of 401Ks, and all thanks to high-fliers in shirts like cheap wallpaper who never learned enough to let it discourage them from believing that they had magical powers over the laws of economics and could hand out mortgages by the fistful to people with no assets and somehow the sun would come out tomorrow. The anti-regulation conservatives enabled those people. We’re still waiting for an apology.

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More on fat and class…

Daniel Engber has had several interesting columns at Slate.com about fat and class:

The point here is that sickness, poverty, and obesity are spun together in a dense web of reciprocal causality. Anyone who’s fat is more likely to be poor and sick. Anyone who’s poor is more likely to be fat and sick. And anyone who’s sick is more likely to be poor and fat.

New England Part 2

Here’s the whole thing, first draft, needs work, but please, feel free to comment.

It’s no wonder people fear and distrust these North Eastern boys of privilege.

In The Cider House Rules, John Irving’s tale about an orphanage in Maine, Dr. Wilbur Larch (a wonderfully New England-ish name, isn’t it?) salutes the orphan boys with these words each night at lights out: “Goodnight, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England”. I always really liked that part when Michael Caine said it in the movie.

(Disclosure: I’m not an American. New England is the only part of the United States that I know well and have extensively traveled in, so when I talk about Wyoming or Michigan or anywhere else, I’m talking out of my ass).

My friend Matt, raised in Salem, educated at St. John’s Prep in Danvers, a Massachusetts boy through and through, put it like this: “I’d vote for a retarded monkey if his last name was Kennedy.”

To which I responded, “But what if he was a Republican?”

“It’d never happen, but if it did I’d hold my nose and do it.”

It’s obviously well documented how the Kennedys became American royalty. But why? Why the reverence? Why the deification? So they’re an extremely ambitious, fairly good looking and Catholic bunch, but what’s the big deal? Now, I’m not really looking to discover the basis of the Kennedy mystique, although I would place a wager that it’s very nearly worn off.

Unless, apparently, you’re from Massachusetts.

Oh, glorious New England. Ivy-League-ish. Smells like money. The colonial mansions are nice. Prep schools are everywhere. (What are they being prepped for? Oh, right: money).

Conspiracy theories, stereotypes and blind envy abound.

I can’t be bothered going into the whole Skull and Bones society conspiracy either, but it sure does help stoke the fires of opposition: what a bunch of elite assholes…

A particularly astute move on Karl Rove’s part was the wide scale duping of the entire country: that Bush2 had nothing to do with New England, that he wasn’t actually born there, that he didn’t actually go to an elite prep school, Yale, Harvard and (gasp) get inducted into the Skull and Bones society. Well done, Karl. John Kerry went to Yale though, what an effete intellectual, faggy elitist bastard. Of course, Bush went to Yale, went to Yale at the same time as John Kerry. They may have funneled a few beers together.

But it’s all okay now in 2009, Bush2 isn’t really our problem anymore, and hey, Yale probably doesn’t really want to be associated with him either, unless there’s a rather large donation involved.

While we’re on the topic, Karl Rove, maybe it’s unfair to saddle you with baggage, but whoa, let’s talk about this for a minute:

In December, 1969, the man Rove had known as his father left the family and divorced Rove’s mother soon afterward; it later became known he was a homosexual. After his parents divorce, Rove learned from his aunt and uncle that the man who raised him was not his biological father; both he and his older brother were the children of another man… In 1981, his mother committed suicide in Reno, Nevada.

Pretty heavy shit, so I guess it’s no wonder you’re all about family values and making American hate the gays. But speaking of the gays, wanna hear Rove’s first impression of meeting Bush2 for the first time in the 1970s?: “Huge amounts of charisma, swagger, cowboy boots, flight jacket, wonderful smile, just charisma, you know, wow”. Mmmm. Delicious. Now that would be snarky and hitting below the belt if it weren’t Karl’s favorite tactic against his opponents. Make him seem gay! And a pedophile!

But speaking of John Kerry, I’ll admit something. I couldn’t vote for him, obviously, being a Canadian, but I wouldn’t have voted for him even if I could. Even at the ripe old age of nineteen, I was completely jaded with the American process – yes, it only took Dick Cheney four years in office to completely steal my innocence and I don’t even live in the same country.

At the time, I thought John Kerry was icky. A desperate Kennedy wannabe – he even had Kennedy hair, but unfortunately for him, not the face. I remember the heated primaries and slightly recall sort of liking Howard Dean (but hey, Howard Dean was a rich Long Islander who later became a rich Vermonter, but I had no idea at the time. He hid it well – Karl Rove lessons? Peggy Noonan seemingly mystified in the Wall Street Journal: “He doesn’t seem like a WASP. I know it’s not nice to deal in stereotypes but there seems to be very little Thurston Howell III or George Bush the elder, for that matter in Mr. Dean… He seems unpolished…”). To me, John Kerry was just a bit too slimy, but still, there was something about him I couldn’t put my finger on, something that just told me this man cannot be the President of the United States. Of course, this assessment was pre-Palin – I’ve since changed my tune to basically ‘anybody-can-be-president-so-long-as-she-never-is’ – but I digress.

Except now, for some absolutely bizarre reason, I kind of like John Kerry.

John Kerry. What a good old Irish name on a good old Irish boy. Except he’s not Irish at all.

I don’t remember hearing this at the time, but apparently the Boston Globe informed John Kerry during the 2003 primaries that they had dug up some interesting news: his grandparents had been born Fritz and Ida in Austria-Hungary and were Jewish. They converted to Catholicism in 1902 to escape persecution in Europe and moved to America. Many members of their family died in concentration camps. What a thing to find out on the campaign trail. So, it turns out John Kerry is ethnically French and Jewish and not at all Irish. How unpalatable to the um, Karl Rove electorate.

Kerry summered as a youth in either Cape Cod or Brittany. How very un-American. If only he’d known as a child he’d one day run for president, maybe he could have convinced his parents to take him to camp in Northern Michigan, or maybe even a ranch in Wyoming. The trouble with that plan, though, is that in the 1950s and early 1960s summering in Brittany/ Cape Cod/ the Hamptons was exactly what a future president was supposed to do. The elite would say: ‘Oh, look how far we’ve fallen, pandering to these low-class scoundrels’ but I would say a) I really do love the word ‘scoundrel’ or perhaps b) what the hell is wrong with Wyoming?

As the events of 2008 show Americans suddenly seem to like it when their politicians come out of left field: for example Kansas/Hawaii/Indonesia and/or Wasilla, Alaska. What a thrill it was to have Old Washington types like John McCain and Joe Biden sidelined for a few brief months. Forget the Kennedy mystique – it would appear that the whole old-white-man mystique is fading. For all that the opposing side tried to paint Barack Obama with the John Kerry brush, it was obvious to most “normal” Americans that he did not grow up as a child of privilege. He got into the Ivy League the new-fashioned way – based on his own merit, not on his father’s name. His summers were spent bouncing between Kansas and Hawaii and sometimes Indonesia – not at all normal, but far from ‘elite.’

And then there’s Ms. Palin, who attended something like four or five different mid-Western colleges until she eked out a journalism degree by the skin of her teeth, and so far no one has held it against her, except for those dastardly elitists. And moose hunting may not be a hit with the Brittany crowd, but to the chagrin of 90% of New England, it sure is with everybody else.

Now I would love to continue rambling on about New England stereotypes, because they are both helpful in some ways yet obviously terribly reductive in others. More importantly, they are fun to peddle. Ultimately, though, they hold little interest for me.

It does interest me, however, to find out how Karl Rove’s daddy issues begat a sea change of popular opinion in the United States. Most Americans prior to the Rove-era had a healthy distrust of liberal intellectuals, but come on – it’s moved from ‘healthy distrust’ in some areas to ‘shoot on sight’.  To anyone with Kennedy hair, I suggest putting a hunting cap over it.

The Atlantic’s Joshua Green wrote an infamous and rather in depth article on Rove in a 2004 issue of the magazine. In it, he quotes a veteran political strategist who has worked on several campaigns with Rove: “The rest of the country doesn’t emulate Texas in terms of voting behavior. But sometimes you see his Southern roots in Texas and his experience in Alabama kind of overtake him, and he seems to think the U.S. is one big-ass Texas”. I’d be seriously inclined to take that one step further and say that Karl Rove has made the U.S. into one big-ass Texas. What a coup!

Rove has hedged his political bets on the side of elite-fatigue and is riding quite a winning streak. What does that say about the country?

And what about all these Kings of New England? What have they done to deserve this?