Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Upcoming Presidential Campaign Season

With all of these politicians announcing their candidacy in the past week, we should all get mentally ready for the TWO YEARS of the 2008 presidential contest that pretty much has just started. And I'll be honest, I'm not looking forward to it. Why? Not because I'm politically apathetic or cynical about the process (actually, I guess I am cynical about the process), but because this is going to be like a two-year-long movie where I've already guessed the ending.

I'm going on record, right now, in January 2007. It will be Hillary, with Obama as VP, versus either Giuliani or McCain, probably Giuliani, and Hillary will win.

There, I said it. I almost feel bad saying it, like I'm spoiling the ending of the Sixth Sense or something. And lord knows, I'm not happy about that outcome. I'd much prefer Giuliani. But in my own mind, a Hillary presidency has been inevitable for some time now. The day she announced she was running for the Senate, back in what, 2000? - was the day I knew she'd be impossible to beat in a presidential contest.

But we're going to have to listen to two years worth of reporting on meaningless BS in the meantime. "Judy, tell us what kind of organization Bill Richardson is putting together. Where is he getting his braintrust?" And "Shep, I'm here in Mitt Romney's campaign headquarters, where it's fair to say they are VERY excited about the upcoming Iowa straw poll."

Why? Why? Do you have any idea how much airtime is about to be wasted on these candidates who have no chance? Now, a year or so back, I complained about the Vanity candidates. These were the guys like Al Sharpton and Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer who must surely have known that their candidacy was hopeless, yet they pressed on anyway with the intention of furthering a personal agenda that had nothing to do with becoming president. With Bauer, he wanted a platform for his nutty ideas. With Sharpton, he just wanted to feed his appetite for publicity and keep his personal profile high. Keyes I think just wanted a TV show.

This time around, with the new crop of hopeless candidates, I don't sense the vanity candidacy as much as I do the delusional candidacy, more in the tradition of Dennis Kucinich than Jesse Jackson. The delusional candidacy is when your candidacy is utterly hopeless, yet you're incapable of recognizing it. Take John Edwards for example. He's the guy who couldn't beat Kerry in the primary. And Kerry is the guy who couldn't beat the loathed, reviled, hated George W. Bush. Democrat primary voters have already formed this thought with regards to Edwards: "We had an unbelievable chance to take the presidency in 2004, cause Bush was so unpopular, and Kerry somehow managed to botch it. And we're supposed to vote for the guy who couldn't even beat Kerry?"

So Edwards has no chance. When Quayle mounted a candidacy in 1996 (or was it 2000?) that was also a delusional candidacy. Didn't he know that his Q score or whatever was in the toilet? Didn't he know he was a national laughingstock? Did no one tell him?

How about Mitt Romney? He's in the low single digits. He's Mormon. He won't be able to carry his own state. He's far to the right of everyone else. And yet my friends on the right are doing everything they can to build his buzz. Friends, the Romney candidacy is so utterly hopeless that I'd have a better chance of bluffing my way into the Mormons' big, exclusive Disney-esque temple for my own wedding than Romney does in capturing the white house.

Someone, please, give me a modern example of a guy who started out in the low single digits at this point in the campaign versus two powerhouses in the 30 digits each who somehow came back to win it. It just can't happen. And yes, the Mormonism is an issue. Don't be fooled by the spin. "We're just as Christian as anyone else." Nope. Uh-uh. "Worrying that Romney will take orders from Salt Lake City is just as foolish as worrying that John Kennedy would take orders from the Vatican." True. But that's not the issue. It's not that Romney might be taking orders from high-priest whoever, it's that he's stupid enough to actually believe in that unbelievable pile of horseshit called LDS. Why LDS is horseshit is beyond the scope of my little rant here, but I encourage you to do the most cursory research and find out for yourself.

Moving on to the two republican contenders. Giuliani and McCain. Here is where I feel least sure, but I give the edge to Giuliani for a couple of reasons. First McCain is old. If he's elected, he'll be older than Reagan was when he was sworn in. Second, McCain is a known quantity. There's nothing new or exciting about him. His signature issue still seems to be campaign finance refzzzzzzz....(snore)

Third, there's the Edwards problem. McCain is the guy who couldn't beat Bush in 2000. The hated, loathsome, reviled George W. Bush. Who's going to give McCain a shot now when his opponent this time (Hillary) will be much more formidable than Gore was back then? He couldn't beat Bush! On the Giuliani side of the equation, there's more to like. Sure he's not as conservative as many republicans would want, but primary voters are more savvy than that. They value electability. They will elect whichever republican has the best chance of beating Hillary. And that's Giuliani. Why? Here's my theory. Voters gravitate toward the candidate who best makes up for the specific shortcomings of the previous president. We have short memories. Bush was the anti-Clinton in 2000. He was a straight-talker, a straight shooter. He'd never betray his wife. Lying and being verbally slippery were against his nature. He promised to exercise moderance and temperance in his presidency. Now without getting into a debate about how Bush turned out, we can all agree that this was his persona in the 2000 campaign. He ran as the un-Clinton. The winner of the 2008 race will be the guy (or gal) who is the anti-Bush. This favors Giuliani. Giuliani projects raw, determined competence. He thinks. He acts. He takes no BS. He gets things done. He's smart. He motivates and can lead. He inspires. He's like the Joe Pesci of politicians. Whereas Bush is verbally clumsy, and articulates everything he says with that folksy smile and swagger that drives liberals insane, Giuliani has that no nonsense tone of voice. Giuliani's reputation, deserved or not, of competence and a record of results could propel him to the nomination. So at this point, I think he has the best chance.

Moving to the democrats, this one's a no brainer. I will start by observing that it appears that I am the only one in the universe who sees that Barak Obama is clearly running to become Hillary's VP, and not to become president himself. Just like I was the only one who was willing to say that Bill and Hillary's marriage was 100% about mutual political ambition, and that when Bill cheated, it enraged Hillary only in the sense that it damaged their careers. Who besides me ever said that, and who will dispute it? And now, in 2007, it is equally obvious. McCain or Giuliani would slaughter Obama. But he'd be mighty attractive in the VP slot. He's making a show at a run to demonstrate his chops, but that's it. His place is at Hillary's side, holding up her arm and smiling for the cameras.

So Hillary. Why will she win. And full disclosure here - I hate her guts. I think the only thing that motivates her is a lust for power, and I've never seen anything to dissuade me in the slightest. Sure, I don't like liberals, but observe how far to the right she's moved in the last 4 years. Do you think, my liberal readers, that this represents a genuine change of heart on her part, or that it's all a calculated move to make her more electable? Say what you will about any other candidate, I can't imagine anyone else in either party having such flexibility with their basic values and principles. It's disgusting, frankly. I prefer a passionate and sincere liberal to someone whose core values are for sale. But anyway, why will she win?

Simple. And again, this is a point no one will make. There are tens or hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of women, who know nothing about the candidates or the issues, who will vote for the woman because, hey, a woman is running for president. And with Obama as the VP you simply seal the deal with the African American vote. Are there white males who will have the opposite impulse? Guys who won't vote for her because she's a woman? Yes, but not nearly as many.

And yes, there are plenty of women who will say "Hey, I'm not that simple or stupid, and I don't like Hillary.". Sure, but there aren't enough of you. Candidacies these days boil down to a few simple things like name recognition and reputation and basic characteristics. Somebody like Bill Evans or Sam Brownback has zero chance because we don't know who they are, and there's no amount of money that can change that.

Well that's it. I'm on the record, 2 years in advance. We'll see how things shake out. And if I turn out to be utterly wrong, I will admit it. But barring some completely unexpected development that changes the game, some event of 9/11 power or significance, I see this playing out very predictably. Anyone disagree?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

These Baffling Movies with Anonymous Teen Casts about Kids Who are Deadly Serious about Their Really Gay Extra-Curricular Faux-Sports

Apparantly when I was a teenager I missed out on a major part of adolescence. That is, the part where you pick some random, mildly gay, fundamentally uninteresting extra curricular activity - like frisbee tag or ham radio - and then immerse yourself in the secret world of its cutthroat, hyper-competitive, elite upper tier.

This was the message I gleaned from the current fad of movies where teens take their extra-curriculars waaaaay too seriously. As my post title indicates, I'm referring to these movies where unknown teen actors play high schoolers who balance complex social lives with their struggle toward the national championships of.... A capella singing. Or ice sculpture. Or capture the flag.

And this message comes to you bullshit free. Which is to say, I've actually SEEN these movies and can report faithfully on them. I have seen Bring it On. I sat through Drumline. I watched several scenes of "Stick it" - and, most tellingly, I saw most of "Center Stage" - the movie that dared to portray male teenage ballet dancers as macho guys. I will say in my defense that all of these viewings involved being over at friends' houses, deciding to watch a movie (from the friend's massive DVD collection), and then letting the friend's wife/girlfriend make the choice. The wife always gets to make the choice, doesn't she?

(And just a little aside on that. The unwritten rule of wife-makes-the-choice has resulted in me watching a whole lot of crap. The Heath Ledger one where he's the knight? The Drew Barrymore one where she's the princess? I drew the line at American Pie. I still refuse to watch that. Why doesn't any wife ever want to watch, say, The Score with Robert De Niro and Edward Norton? Wouldn't she be the coolest wife of all time?)

So these movies cover a diverse array of gay extra-curriculars: the four I mentioned are about Cheerleading, Marching Band-ing, Gymnastics and Ballet. All of them activities that a few dudes, for whatever reason, choose to participate in.

Out of these four, the most ridiculous by far is Drumline. These are marching band drummers who have turned the gentle art of halftime music into some kind of martial and aggressive interpretive dance of anger and ferocity and badassedness. They've managed to change halftime drumming from the poofy-hat-wearing effeminate display that it is - the sad performance of people who can't actually BE on the team yet still want to participate - into this macho peacock strut thing. It is, simply, the stupidest idea of all time. And moreover, the drummers of one team "battle" the drummers from the other team - challenging each other in that special "you got served" style of coordinated dance - a method of demonstrating superiority that seems to be reserved exclusively for people with both intense pride and nothing whatsoever to be proud of.

And I do want to take a quick second to point out that the drummers in Drumline have practice uniforms.

Meaning, when you show up for drumming practice, you presumably need to be wearing your drumming practice shorts and your drumming practice shirt. If you showed up for, I repeat, drumming practice, in a regular old t-shirt and shorts, would they kick you out? Would they yell in your face, drill sergeant style, about commitment and honor as you stood at attention with eyes forward?

But just how fictional is this whole culture of macho, in-your-face, halftime drumming? According to some of Drumline's imdb reviewers, these badass drummers are quite real. Here are some real quotes from the imdb...

I marched in one of these bands (Southern University in Louisiana) 20 years ago and back then, band camp was FAR MORE INTENSE than anything you see on the screen in this movie. YES, it is that competitive. YES, it is that grueling. YES, it is that disciplined. Black College marching band is serious business and this film gives you only a small sample of what it takes to "make the band."

Performing in a competitive marching band is HARD work. Everybody thinks the football players have a rough practice. We would practice on the field adjacent to the football team. We would be on-line ready to march at 0700. The jocks would ramble in about 0900. We'd practice 'til noon, have a 1 1/2 lunch; practice again until 5:00 pm. The footballers would leave at noon and not return to the field until 6:00pm. After dinner, we'd continue practice 'til 9:00 - 9:30 pm...My point in all this is everybody thinks band members are a bunch of weenies. Well they're NOT.

Yes. Yes you are a bunch of weenies. You're taking your little halftime show waaaaaay too seriously. Let's think about this for a second. Why would a person join the marching band's drum squad? Seems to me there are maybe two reasons. You like drumming, and/or you want to support the football team. What am I missing? How did this harmless activity morph into "battling"? You're twirling a wooden rod and doing synchronized percussion and dance. That's Ga-Ay. How is this something that you can stake your ego on? It's the friggin halftime show. You're the entertainment. Your entire purpose in the stadium is to provide an alternative to taking a piss. The more serious you take the drumming, the less serious anyone can take you. I mean, if your school janitor came home with a trophy from the national mop finals, could you take him seriously either?

Another feature of these extra-curriculars movies is that they get some very, very low star wattage courtesy of a b-list actor playing the coach. Is there any surer sign that you're a has-been actor than when you get cast as the brooding coach in a teen extra-curriculars drama? Observe Jeff Bridges and Peter Gallagher:

Remember when teen movies were significantly better than this? Or is my nostalgia clouding my judgment? We had Better off Dead. We had Ferris Bueller. We had Revenge of the Nerds. We had the pouty angst of Molly Ringwald and the stereo-over-his-head-holding John Cusack. Naturally, a Duckie or Booger sidekick was standard issue. We had Spicoli ordering pizza in class. We had a hot chick materialize out of Anthony Michael Hall's computer. We had Val Kilmer holding a penis-extender. These were the salad days. The John Hughes days. A whole era defined by that eye from Porky's peeking into the girl's shower room.

Booger = Good

Jeff Bridges = Less Good

What do we have now? Taj? Stifler? The comedy stylings of Ashton Kutcher? These are dark days for teen cinema. Where is Christian Slater and his underground radio station? Where are the cliques of girls all named Heather? I say for shame. Enough with these modern teen comedies where the "joke" is that someone is tricked into drinking spooge. Enough with the teen dramas where the pathos is provided by ascending to the highest competitive levels of Bake-Offs or Indoor Climbing or Darts or Mock Congress.

Napoleon Dynamite aside, this generation has nothing on the teen movies of yore.

I want my two dollars!