Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Kaus on the Heartland

Sometimes after the election I stopped regularly reading Mickey Kaus. But a friend called my attention to this recent piece that he and I both think has a lot of merit. The piece also touches tangents with the flap that spluttered to life when I admitted I would not go to see Hollywood movies made with publicly proclaimed polemical goals.

Kaus opens by pointing out how much the marketing strategy of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" matched that of "Brokeback Mountain" in what he calls the Heartland Breakout meme. Moore boasted that his movie was big "in every single red state in America." The press bought into the story. But a closer look at the statistics shows that "Fahrenheit" made most of its money "in the usual blue state urban centers (and in ... Canada). It had almost uniformly underperformed in red state cities ...."

Yet the champions of political change through film regard the obfuscated statistical suggestion of approval in the Heartland as encouragement to push ahead with their most strident messages, assured that they speak for the new silent majority of Americans. When I complained about films like "Syriana," I got told, don't be so uptight; you're just buying a movie ticket; it's not like you're casting a vote. But in effect, in the minds and media of the people who made and backed such movies, you are casting a vote.

Kaus is less concerned with that than with the danger to Democrats of falling into this trap:

But this B.S. falls into a special category: the sort of gratifying myth that in the past has helped lull liberals (and gay rights activists who may or may not be liberals) into wild overconfidence. Remember when Democrats actually believed that Fahrenheit would help push Bush out of office? It didn't work out that way. ...

Much of Democratic politics seems to now consist of embracing and fanning similarly comforting, but ultimately deceptive, liberal memes. Enron has fatally damaged Bush, Abu Ghraib has fatally damaged Bush, Katrina has fatally damaged Bush, Abramoff has fatally damaged Bush, the Plame investigation will fatally damage Bush--you can catch the latest allegedly devastating issue every day on Huffington Post or Daily Kos (and frequently in the NYT). If you believe the hype--if you don't compare Michael Moore's box office with Mel Gibson's box office, in effect--you'll believe that Democrats don't need to change to win. They just need to push all these hot memes forcefully. If you don't believe the hype--if you think that netroots Dems are too often like the Iraqi Sunnis who think they're a majority--you'll look for a Bill Clinton-like alternative with greater red-state appeal.

More specifically, if you believe Brokeback Mountain is sweeping the heartland, you won't hesitate before presenting gay marriage as the obvious next step in the evolution of civil right--a step that's already been taken, really, according to Frank Rich. After all, they swooned over Ennis and Jack in Plano, Texas! If you don't buy the Heartland Breakout spin, you'll press the gay marriage issue much more cautiously (and will especially avoid the moralistic, guilt-tripping attitude that allows Republicans to pull off the Democrats-are-the-real-elitists act that Tom Frank writes about in What's the Matter with Kansas.)

Kaus's point about "a facile analogy of civil rights for gays with civil rights for racial minorities" is a bit more tenuous, however.

Meanwhile, here's a poignant lament for the cruel and unnecessary quagmire we find ourselves in.

The Democrats and progressives have been waging a war on Bush for years now. It started out for admirable reasons - getting Bush out of power using any means possible - but now it has become obvious that this can no longer be accomplished. Instead, the only ones losing power are Democrats. This war has to end.

How many Democrats have lost office in this fight against Bush? While people seem to care about the death counts in Iraq, no one takes note as the number of Democrats who have lost office increases. Not only that, but there is the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from losing against Bush. It is obvious that Al Gore will never be able to live a normal life again and will require constant supervision for the rest of his days. Just check the internet for more instances of people having lost their minds trying to fight against the ethereal foe that is the Bush Presidency. And, to what end is this?