Meanwhile, the December issue of Reason has just been released. I have three articles in it: a profile of Robert Anton Wilson, an interview with Bob Barr, and a brief bit about how some Ukrainian con artists bilked a bunch of Leninist sects.
He has this bitter look on his face, this very special bitter look that says I know....He looks with this kind of casual look, as though it's building up, this anger. And then finally it comes out, and he says:
The word is beginning to come. You can feel it!
Now he's beginning to really swing. He's really giving us the truth! He waves his hand for silence. His face has assumed the bitter look of the tea that General Yen long ago himself drank deeply to the dregs. Disgust is evidenced for the entire world -- all of the things, everything he sees!
Cartoonist Aaron McGruder's niche lies in applying this brand of comedy to black pop culture. Where Shepherd's prototype says "Ike," McGruder says "Sisqo"; where the prototype says "Adlai Stevenson," McGruder says "Juwanna Mann." There's rarely an effort to say something clever about the targets. It's easier just to pronounce their names with a sneer.
For all that, Boondocks is actually one of the less objectionable strips out there: It has one genuinely funny character (Huey's grandfather), the Sunday art looks great, and occasionally it pisses off the right people. It's come under severe criticism recently for mocking Condoleeza Rice -- the gag behind a dozen or so recent strips is that the woman just needs a good man to warm her heart, and while that isn't especially funny, it's entertaining to watch the political class get discombobulated over it.
It also shows how slow the pundits can be to catch onto these things. This is hardly the strip's low point, but it's still unleashed rants like this one from National Review's John Derbyshire:
Never mind Doonesbury. For a REALLY offensive comic strip, check out "Boondocks." The basic premises here are:
----White people are scum.
----Black people are wise and good, except that...
----Any black person not an anti-war white-hating socialist is a self-loathing moral criminal with a tortured soul.
----Capitalism is evil.
----Black and non-black Americans are engaged in a zero-sum game.
----Blacks are losing that game because they don't hate whites enough.
----Blacks who collaborate with The Man in any way are either evil or mentally ill, or both.
Which is just strange. Administration officials aside, white people are not the target of Boondocks. Black people are. They are mocked not for failing to be "anti-war white-hating socialists" but for being "embarrassing," a trait which sometimes consists of espousing the very ideas that Derbyshire is attributing to the strip. McGruder's politics are on the left side of liberal, but when his protagonist, the boy radical Huey, goes off on a real tear, chances are it's Huey and not his hate object that's being satirized.
But the biggest problem with Derbyshire's critique is that it's looking in the wrong direction. Boondocks is not mediocre because of its "premises." It's mediocre because its creator seems to think his job stops once his premise has been stated.
SELF-PROMOTION: Did a column for the Reason site today about the upheaval in Bolivia. Also, I wrote a brief review of Joe Conason's Big Lies for the October/November issue of Hampton Roads Monthly. The review isn't online, so here's the short version: The book sucks.
Put another way: Third parties have their uses, but they are neither the best path to radical change nor the best path to moderate change. And they're especially ill-suited for a coalition of radicals and moderates.
I do not write entirely as an outsider. I was briefly a member of the Libertarian Party in college, following a friendly argument with a party activist about whether the LP was good for anything. "Don't knock it if you haven't tried it," he told me, and in just a few minutes he had persuaded me to let the party list me as a candidate for Ann Arbor city council. I got to give a couple of funny speeches and I made a silly ad for public access TV, a Mister Rogers parody whose highlight came when my chair unexpectedly fell over backwards. (I refused to recut it without the pratfall, on the grounds that if I couldn't get votes I could at least get some laughs.) When The Ann Arbor News ran a story about me, its lead quote had me declaring "I'm too young for this job."
Actually, the article was kind of flattering. Here's an excerpt:
The young man, wearing a T-shirt whose graphic designs were half obscured by an unbuttoned long sleeve shirt, had a serious message to deliver to 50 business-suited men and women, but decided to have fun while doing it.
His audience was a candidates' forum last Thursday at Sheraton University Inn -- jointly sponsored by the Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors, Ann Arbor Apartment Association and Washtenaw County Homebuilders Association -- and they laughed and applauded when he announced he was "pandering" to them.
They applauded his poise behind the microphone and his agile tongue when -- taking liberty with Sen. Barry Goldwater's famous dictum on extremism -- he said that "insanity in defense of liberty is no vice."
I'm pretty sure the insanity line made more sense in context.
I beat the Republican in my home precinct, mostly because the precinct consisted almost exclusively of my dorm. And while my total tally -- I got 2.5% -- wasn't particularly impressive, it might have made the difference in the race. The margin of victory, after all, was less than 10 votes.
But that's wishful thinking. I ran into the Democratic candidate after the election, and I asked him if there was any chance his party would push itself in a more libertarian direction to pick up those vital swing voters. He laughed and said that they'd talked about my campaign after the results were announced; their conclusion was that "Jesse Walker's supporters consisted mostly of people who do not ordinarily vote." I conceded that this was my take as well.
In retrospect, the fact that the Libertarian Party was willing to nominate an inexperienced 18-year-old who'd lived in town for only a few months may be the best argument yet against it. As far as I'm concerned, it's the best argument for it. But I'm biased.
If a divided government is more constrained than a regime where the same party controls both the legislature and the executive, it's also true that the combination of donkey president with elephant House seems preferable to the combination of elephant president with donkey House. I certainly preferred living under Clinton plus a Republican Congress to living under Bush Sr. plus a Democratic Congress.
The economist Jeffrey Frankel has made a good case that within the executive branch, "The Republicans have become the party of fiscal irresponsibility, trade restriction, big government, and failing-grade microeconomics. Surprisingly, Democratic presidents have -- relatively speaking -- become the agents of fiscal responsibility, free trade, competitive markets, and good textbook microeconomics." The flipside is that, in the '90s, the Congressional Republicans somehow became the party of peace and civil liberties while the Democrats went AWOL on both fronts. (If you were a lefty who hated war or had a fear of federal jackboots, your candidate in 2000 wasn't Gore. It was Nader.) Aside from medical marijuana (which has bipartisan appeal) and the drug laws' racially disproportionate effects (most loudly denounced by the Congressional Black Caucus), there even seems to be more room for drug war dissent among elected Republicans than elected Democrats, though it remains a minority position within each party.
With Bush and Ashcroft in power, this trend has been partially reversed: formerly populist Republicans roll along with the administration's most disturbing requests, while the Democratic rank and file rediscovers its anti-authoritarian principles. The Democratic leaders remain as spineless as ever, though, so this isn't much of a trade-off. (Dean, to his credit, is a partial exception.)
Given all that, and given how bad Bush has been, I'm inclined to cheer for the Democrat next year. Some Dems are better than others, of course, and for all the problems I have with Dean I'd find it a lot easier to root for him than for, say, Lieberman or Clark.
Needless to say, the fact that I could cheer for a Democrat does not mean I would actually vote for him. The chances of one ballot making a difference in a national election are almost impossibly small, and if the outcome ever did come down to my one vote you can be sure the results would be decided in court instead of the polls. So with nothing riding on my ballot, I'd rather not throw it away on a man who's sure to upset me once he's in office. Better to back a third party, to write in a cartoon character, or not to cast a vote at all.
USE THE FORCE, CHEETAH: By now you've surely heard about the monkeys with electrodes in their brains that let them control a robot with their thoughts. I'm only mentioning the story here because I really wanted to write the phrase "monkeys with electrodes in their brains that let them control a robot with their thoughts." Also, because I'm glad to hear that the monkeys and robots have finally decided to set aside their feud and get along. But mostly because I'm happy to learn that there might someday be a use for this WiFi port on the side of my head. It itches.
Hans Blix had five months to find weapons. He found nothing. We've had five weeks. Come back to me in five months. If we haven't found any, we will have a credibility problem. I don't have any doubt that we will locate them. I think it takes time.
And here's Krauthammer today, after his five-month deadline has passed:
Hussein was simply making his WMD program more efficient and concealable. His intent and capacity were unchanged.
While I'm at it, I gotta register a complaint about the double standard at the heart of the war party's line on the occupation. Apparently, it's too early to declare the reconstruction of Iraq is failing, and anyone who says otherwise is a peacenik defeatist. But it's never too early to declare the reconstruction is succeeding, and anyone who says otherwise is a peacenik defeatist.
Fer chrissakes, people, isn't there any room for uncertainty in your world?
CLICHÉ QUERY: The Free State Project, which aims to move en masse to a single state and agitate there for libertarianism, has picked New Hampshire. "We're not here to invade or take over," one member told the Associated Press. "We're here to restore the American dream."
My question: What is the American dream? All my life I’ve heard people yammering about it, and I still don't know what the hell it is. I gather it has something to do with homeownership. If you know more details, please fill me in.