The Day After - Fallout
"The Day After" was one of those made for television movies - ABC first aired it on November 20, 1983 - a fictional nuclear war between the United States and NATO on one side and the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact on the other, as seen through the eyes of the residents of Lawrence, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, and a number family farms next to our nuclear-missile silos out there. That's where the bombs fall. The film was written by Edward Hume and directed by Nicholas Meyer, on spec from ABC Motion Picture Division president Brandon Stoddard - he'd seen "The China Syndrome" was impressed. It was time for a film exploring the effects of an actual war on the Middle America. You can find lots of useless detail about the thing here.
Now and then it pops up on television once again, but it's rather dated. All the international players have changed and it's a bit of an historical artifact - kind of like "Reefer Madness." And the sobering premise - nuclear war would actually be bad for you and missile silos in the next field over make you a prime target - seems typical Hollywood "seriousness." Like, you didn't know that? Jason Robards, as Doctor Russell Oakes, does his trademark long-faced-sadness thing and it plods along. Everyone dies, almost all from the radioactive fallout.
But it won an Emmy for special effects, and the usual praise for its "seriousness." Those were the days when the major networks got points for "serious" - it excused all the other fluff, maybe.
But not all fallout is serious. Political fallout is not entirely serious.
Two days after the midterm elections - Thursday, November 9 - there was fallout from the Republican meltdown ("China Syndrome") when the voters went nuclear ("The Day After") on the Bush folks and tossed a good number of them out. No one was getting any points for serious.
In the New York Daily News there was this -
Harlem's newly powerful Rep. Charles Rangel wants to stick it to his White House nemesis Vice President Cheney - by taking over his spacious House office.
At the same time, the veteran congressman offered a limp olive branch to the vice president yesterday, saying he regretted publicly calling him an SOB last week.
"I take back saying that publicly. I should have reserved that for him when we were together privately," said Rangel. "Believe me, he would have understood."
Rangel (D-Harlem), poised to become the next chairman of the important House Ways and Means Committee, spoke of the need for bipartisanship with the Republicans, even as he continued his feud with Cheney.
"Mr. Cheney enjoys an office on the second floor on the House of Representatives that historically has been designated as the Ways and Means chairman," Rangel mused. "And, I've talked with [future Speaker of the House] Nancy Pelosi … and I'm trying to find some way to be gentle as I restore the dignity of that office to the chair."
The White House declined to comment.
In the past, Rangel has branded the vice president a "draft dodger" and Cheney has predicted that Rangel would destroy the economy as head of the Ways and Means Committee.
Like the missiles raining down on Kansas, no one expected that one. The fallout is that the traditional losers just stopped acting like losers - they're all feisty and laughing at the guys who said they were the natural and perpetual winners. So much for the Republican century. Charlie wants his office, and he'll probably get it. Dick will just have to get over it, and go hunting again, and kill small animals.
And how should the president handle the "thumping" he and his party just got? Charles Rangel is not the only one being gleefully uppity.
The online editor of the neoconservative Cult-of-Bush National Review, Jonah Goldberg, at their open comment site "The Corner," has a suggestion -
I think James Baker and Dick Cheney should take Bush out to the woods around Camp David. After 24 hours in a sweat lodge, he should be given only a loin cloth, a hunting knife and a canteen of water. Bush should then set out to track and kill a black bear, after which he should eat its still beating heart so he can absorb its spirit. He should then fly back to Washington in Marine 1. His torso still scratched from the bear's claws, his face bloodied and steaming in the November chill, he should immediately give a press conference at which he throws the bearskin on the front row of the press corps, completely enveloping Helen Thomas, declaring, "I'm not going anywhere."
This will send important messages to Democrats and well as to our enemies overseas, who are no doubt high-fiving as we speak.
Let's assume Goldberg is being fanciful, and is just frustrated that those who wish to destroy America - Democrats and al Qaeda and more than half the voters in the nation, and gay folks and who knows who else - don't recognize that this world belong to the warriors, those proven in battle (like George Bush and not John Kerry - no wait, he can't mean that), those who crush their enemies and don't think a thing about it. The bear business was extra.
Or maybe it is a cult thing.
The plodding but earnest Arthur Silber states the obvious -
Even playfully imagining that Bush could actually do anything remotely like this is ridiculously laughable, as laughable as thinking that Baker and Cheney would demand such a rite of passage. All these men have known only pampered, highly insulated lives of immense privilege and comfort. And when Cheney does go hunting, it's not actually "hunting," in the sense of a "sport." No: "It's disgusting bloody-mindedness, a lazy, cowardly, vicious sort of abuse." [His reference is here.] These people are all more than happy to send other men (and women) to fight genuine battles, and to suffer grievous injury and even death. But face actual physical peril themselves? Please. Inflicting pain and torture on frat pledges or helpless animals is one thing; when it comes to doing it in real life... well, they'll instruct soldiers at Abu Ghraib to take care of it. The first makes the second possible, but the first represents the full extent of these men's "bravery."
But this is very illustrative of a subject that I will soon be discussing in detail, when I analyze the myths about masculinity, war and violence contained in a very popular and widely praised film like Saving Private Ryan. (If you want a sense of where I come out on these issues, the title of that upcoming series will give you an idea: "Don't Save Private Ryan.") … These myths are deeply embedded in our country, and in Western culture generally. The death and destruction that results from them is incalculable, and we see it again today.
Yeah, yeah - but Jonah was just kidding around, sort of. He was just pointing out that what people need to be reminded of - especially after this election - is that we need leaders who are instinctively and unthinkingly brutal and ruthless. That's what works in the world, as he sees it, and such a warrior is the only kind of leader anyone respects. Consider it fallout from the election. That particular bomb seems to have caused brain damage here and there.
Out here the Los Angeles Times carries his column once or twice a week, where he is a bit more restrained and refined. The same morning he made another observation, on why so many Republicans lost their seat in the House, and why the Senate was lost - "The GOP once had the reputation of being able to run the government like a business and wars like a finely tuned machine." And they have unfairly lost that reputation, or some such thing.
Alex at Martini Republic offers some reality -
The last war won by a GOP President was the Spanish American War, which was concluded by treaty in 1898.
Not the last century, but the century before that. The previous Republican administration which prevailed in a war was that of Abraham Lincoln - and however monumental that achievement, no one has ever accused the North of running the Civil War "like a finely tuned machine."
So what was this putative reputation based on, if not Jonah's utter ignorance?
As for "running the government like a business," Pantload must have Enron in mind.
The last Republican President to offer a budget to Congress that didn't operate at a deficit was Eisenhower. During the 26 combined years of the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush Presidencies, all five GOP Presidents have failed to offer and pass a balanced budget. Every Republican President since 1982 has run the government at a deficit exceeding $100 million every single year.
It must be that fallout - brain damage, you know.
So why did the perpetual winners lose this time?
The folks at The Onion uncover the problem -
WASHINGTON, DC - Republican officials are blaming tonight's GOP losses on Democrats, who they claim have engaged in a wide variety of "aggressive, premeditated, anti-Republican campaigns" over the past six-to-18 months. "We have evidence of a well-organized, well-funded series of operations designed specifically to undermine our message, depict our past performance in a negative light, and drive Republicans out of office," said Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman, who accused an organization called the Democratic National Committee of spearheading the nationwide effort. "There are reports of television spots, print ads, even volunteers going door-to-door encouraging citizens to vote against us." Acknowledging that the "damage has already been done," Mehlman is seeking a promise from Democrats to never again engage in similar practices.
Ah ha! A secret conspiracy, damn it all. Of course the item was satire and Mehlman never said that.
Dana Milbank at the Washington Post covers what the president actually said about what went wrong. Yes, he said the notion that his chief strategist, Karl Rove, had spent too much time reading books, and "I obviously was working harder on the campaign than he was." That was the joke at the day after press conference. It lightened the mood.
But here's the rundown of what was said in all seriousness -
He blamed corruption: "People want their congressmen to be honest and ethical, so in some races that was the primary factor."
He blamed Mark Foley, whose name remained on the Florida ballot: "People couldn't vote directly for the Republican candidate."
He blamed ballot rules. "You could have the greatest positions in the world … but to try to get to win on a write-in is really hard to do."
He blamed Democratic organization: "I'm sure Iraq had something to do with the voters' mind, but so did a very strong turnout mechanism."
He blamed bad luck: "If you look at race by race, it was close."
Implicitly, of course, he blamed Donald Rumsfeld, by firing him as defense secretary in favor of the "fresh perspective" of Robert Gates.
And, not least, he blamed the uncomprehending voters: "I thought when it was all said and done, the American people would understand the importance of taxes and the importance of security. But the people have spoken, and now it's time for us to move on."
It's an interesting list. He wasn't on it. It must be that fallout - brain damage, you know.
The war wasn't on the list either -
He began by saying "Iraq had a lot to do with the election." He amended that to "Iraq had something to do with it." And finally he cited cases where "I'm not sure Iraq had much to do with the outcome." While he said "many Americans voted last night to register their displeasure" with Iraq, he looked puzzled when a reporter suggested that voters wanted the troops withdrawn. He said he was "making a change" at the Pentagon to respond to the voters, but he also said he was going to sack Rumsfeld "win or lose."
Whatever. His guys lost. He admitted it was "a thumpin'." Then Ken Herman of Cox News did a Charlie Rangel - "That was 'thumpin',' without a 'g,' correct? I just want to make sure we have it right for the transcript."
Fallout is a bitch.
Maybe things would have been different if every state had what was on the ballot in Arizona - Proposition 200 -
Proposition 200 would establish a $1,000,000 prize to be awarded to a randomly selected person who voted in the primary or general election. Anyone who voted in the primary or general election would be automatically entered in the drawing for the prize money, and if a person voted in both the primary and the general election, that person's name would be entered twice in the drawing.
Would such a thing change results? We'll never know. They voters in Arizona rejected that one.
And the was the other fallout - Bill Maher on Larry King discussing how lot of the chiefs of staff, the people who really run the underpinnings of the Republican Party, are gay, and everyone knows it. Maher said everyone knows Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman is gay. King is taken aback. If you click here you can see a clip of that as originally broadcast, and a clip of CNN's later version with the "Ken" business removed. It was gone from the west coast feed. These guys posted the Youtube of Bill Maher saying Ken Mehlman was gay on CNN, and CNN demanded that it be pulled - and they've altered their own transcript. Late Thursday Ken Mehlman stepped down.
Fallout is a bitch.
So what to make of this election? What happened? The sensible center just got get up?
Glenn Greenwald offers this -
The notion that this is a victory for some sort of mealy-mouthed, Bush-lite, glorified centrism is absurd on its face. Democrats won by aggressively attacking the Bush movement, not by trying to be a slightly modified and duller version of it. The accommodationist tack is what they attempted in 2002 and 2004 when they were crushed. They won in this election by making their opposition clear and assertive.
… The basic mechanics of American democracy, imperfect and defective though they may be, still function. Chronic defeatists and conspiracy theorists - well-intentioned though they may be - need to re-evaluate their defeatism and conspiracy theories in light of this rather compelling evidence which undermines them (a refusal to re-evaluate one's beliefs in light of conflicting evidence is a defining attribute of the Bush movement that shouldn't be replicated).
Karl Rove isn't all-powerful; today, he is a rejected loser. Republicans don't possess the power to dictate the outcome of elections with secret Diebold software. They can't magically produce Osama bin Laden the day before the election. They don't have the power to snap their fingers and hypnotize zombified Americans by exploiting a New Jersey court ruling on civil unions, or a John Kerry comment, or moronic buzzphrases and slogans designed to hide the truth (Americans heard all about how Democrats would bring their "San Francisco values" and their love of THE TERRORISTS to Washington, and that moved nobody).
All of the hurdles and problems that are unquestionably present and serious - a dysfunctional and corrupt national media, apathy on the part of Americans, the potent use of propaganda by the Bush administration, voter suppression tactics, gerrymandering and fundraising games - can all be overcome. They just were.
Bush opponents haven't been losing because the deck is hopelessly stacked against them. They were losing because they hadn't figured out a way to convey to their fellow citizens just how radical and dangerous this political movement has become. Now they did, and as a result, Americans see this movement for what it is and have begun the process of smashing it.
That's a different sort of fallout. Even if the president were to now appear, his torso still scratched from the bear's claws, his face bloodied and steaming in the November chill, and immediately give a press conference at which he throws the bearskin on the front row of the press corps, completely enveloping Helen Thomas, declaring, "I'm not going anywhere," it wouldn't make a difference. That's the fallout.