Turning Point

The apparent Obama post convention bump does not surprise me. Much of my life has been spent evaluating cultural projects as a producer or manager, from the early records of The Band, to Mean Streets or The Last Waltz, I was always pretty sure when the production made an emotional impact on the audience. Mitt Romney’s convention, with the exception of the Clint Eastwood/Samuel Beckett Moment, was as dull as dishwater. It felt like a Lions Club convention and all the faces of color seemed planted by a casting director for diversity on a reality show. In contrast the Democratic Convention had an air of authenticity that felt like the real America of 2012, not the fantasy America of Romney and Paul’s Back to the Fifties movement. The Republicans want to re-litigate issues like birth control, voting rights, and abortion that most of us thought were settled by 1964 when the voting rights act was passed or 1973 when Roe vs. Wade was settled by the Supreme Court.

So the Obama slogan of “Forward” worked. It would not only be back to the fifties socially with Romney/Ryan, but back to the freewheeling days pre 2008 crash on Wall Street. All it takes is a head of the SEC in the bag for Wall Street (like Chris Cox), for the Masters of the Universe to be unleashed again. John Paulson’s million dollar donations to Romney’s super pac will be a bargain. But I don’t think Paulson’s bet will pay off. Willard is a loser.

But more important than all of Republican convention failings was for the Democrats to give a series of really fine political speeches from Deval Patrick, Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden and Barack Obama. Every one of them had passion, ideas, poetry and hope. For the Democrats the staging was perfect (at least showbiz support counts for something) as when Barack arrived on stage at the end of Bill Clinton’s speech. For the Republicans it was amateur hour in Dixie to allow Clint to ramble on unscripted for the first 13 minutes of your prime time final night. Once you’ve screwed up the opening (as any film, TV or stage director will tell you), it’s almost impossible to get the audience back emotionally. Mitt didn’t. And so he left Tampa soggy and with a negative bounce down even before the Democrats started.

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10 Responses to Turning Point

  1. Jason Zelin says:

    Well said. I felt the same way watching the two conventions… It was like there were two Americas (even if John Edwards used that term first). And I didn’t want to live in the one in Tampa.

  2. debra says:

    It’s funny but my favorite quote out of both is when Bill Clinton said all politicians want you to believe they built the log cabin they were born in. I have been broke, and even homeless sleeping in my car. I have never ate off a ironing board especially with another person like the Romney’s have. I have ate with my plate in my lap. The ironing board sounds uncomfortable. Shame on their millionaire parents to not give them a little more help. How could they ever ask their parents for money to start a business?

  3. debra says:

    It’s scary to me. This Judge in Odessa, Texas that wants more taxes collected to prepare for Civil War if Pres Obama is re-elected again is not alone in his views. I’m old and I remember how liberal Iran was before the Muslim Regime. They had discos, mini skirts, and just as liberated. This last four years have alarmed me. Millions escaped Iran. Where are we going?

  4. Parkle says:

    The Dems had President Clinton’s brilliant speech in support of a man who was once a bitter rival, President Obama, while the GOP had an old man yelling at a chair. I agree, one of the best arguments against a Romney presidency is the poor job he’s done of running his own campaign. He was lucky in the primary to face a weak field.

  5. len says:

    The only thing I would be careful of in the next two months and beyond is reinforcing the image that this is a class war of wealth against poverty. That is a mistake. Wealth is part of the American Dream and there is no sin in making it or having it. Even the right tries to wage class warfare of this sort when it starts labeling Hollywood as somehow un-American in the way they make their money.

    In fact, Hollywood is one of the essential American success stories of doing it the American Way: innovation, risk, hard work, talent and … risk. Movies, songs, plays are very risky ventures. It takes keen awareness of the culture, a loyal crew of talent, and a boatload of chutzpah to succeed. Their history starts with American innovation a la Edison and is reinforced by decades of immigrant talent from Mack Sennett, a Canadian, Chaplin, a Brit and on and on. Hollywood is one of the best producers of return on investment world wide. However gossamer the final products may appear, they are made with back breaking work, sweat equity and years and years of the kind of experience that results in perspicacious situation awareness.

    Note well what Jon says: he learned to read the tea leaves by practicing the craft for a long long time successfully. The phrase for that in engineering and other circles is “situation awareness”. It only comes from practice: the skill of using the past to see the future and not to be focused on one to the exclusion of the other. It is THE primary skill of the producers who succeed by savvy and not luck. It is THE primary skill of the combat ace who survives by fast analysis and reaction and not luck.

    When the right beats on Hollywood, they are beating on the American Dream.

    No, this is about a particular kind of wealth building, the kind that uses leverage to acquire control of a wounded business, then instead of fixing it, sucks the blood out of it for the benefit of others. This is the Pretty Woman businessmen, the Stuckey’s who live for the kill and take pride in the wealth they obtain without stopping for a moment to consider the misery they leave behind in the form of leveraged debt that the employees have to pay back without any benefit except keeping a job for longer hours at reduced benefits, reduced options, reduced futures.

    The people you saw in Tampa regardless of the overall monochrome mix with the occasional odd pixel here and there are not bad people. They are hypnotized, beguiled by the promise of wealth in most cases without the understanding that wealth that is the consequence of hard work, of building things, of creating safety and security for others is the most satisfying and that satisfaction is the victory. The wealth is a consequence of achieving that satisfaction. It is not something bad, it is deserved, but the satisfaction of the American Dream is to stand tall among your neighbors, to look across a factory floor or a studio set or a recording studio or a field of corn and know that the hands that keep it alive are living good lives because you stood up and made it happen. You are the Producer and Artist, skilled, aware, capable, and more often than not, a winner. As George C. Scott said as Patton, “America loves a winner.”

    Such are never begrudged. They are beloved. In the American Dream, love lives here.

    And love is never wrong. Envy is.

    Let’s be sure this campaign is about winners that we can admire because they are easy to love, not because they have something we covet.

  6. Edward says:

    Maybe it’s all explained by production, but maybe the Democratic view of America’s way to economic improvement is more persuasive than the Republican one. I think that the Obamas, Clinton and, to a lesser extent, Patrick, Biden and Warren articulated a vision that resonated more than Romney/Ryan’s did. No doubt, the Democrats got their message across better, but they also had a better message.

  7. JTMcPhee says:

    len, I gotta ask if we’re supposed to set aside the kind of anger, or resentment, or envy or covetousness, the emotion, whatever you want to call it, felt by so many hard-working people who don’t have the inherited setup of a Rmoney, or the “knack” of turning the kinds of tricks (not just the funny-munny, MIT-bred, financioderivatization that I think you cover with the “leverage” name) mastered by “wealth builders” (in a sense) via regulatory capture and externalizing of costs and that stuff about socializing loss and privatizing profit and such-like?

    Like the Koch brothers, and some (many) of our FL “developers”? “Developers” who “succeed’ by doing stuff like bribing or “persuading” elected officials to change zoning to do a “highest and best use” job on farmers and people who run boatyards and marinas, and even little people who have mostly paid off the 30-year mortgage on on small houses, taking their property by a sly form of condemnation, all “not illegal,” of course. And then dump the externalities of traffic, noise, Condo Nazism, concrete caverns, police and fire and ambulance costs, huge increases in potable water use (mostly wasted) from our depleting Floridan aquifer, all to be able with their “success” to erect huge mansions with “water features” and “plantings” on an 8-acre estate with a 100-room Great House that burns through some 6 or 8 million gallons of potable water a month, a little consumption that one of our local developer “beloveds,” for example, who helped the real estate bubble inflate beyond any elastic limits and was protected by his limited liability screen from the downside consequences, happily justified to a local reporter on the basis that “he could afford it.” How’s that again?

    Anger, that is, at people who on some part of the scale from mope-drunk-under-the-overpass to the manager at Wendy’s in South Pasadena, FL, to who, Donald Trump? are struggling with the features of our culture that involve people higher up the continuum stripping them of wealth, or even just the minimal necessities of life, and dumping piles of ineradicable debt on them.

    “America loves a winner.” America? Which part of it? “They” also say America loves an underdog, and America used to have some stuff in it about offering a helping hand, as well as stuff “they” say about figuring out how to climb the ladder of success by wearing golf shoes or lineman’s spikes and clambering up the backs, and standing on the bloody shoulders, of their neighbors.

    What you talk about here is I guess closer to the reality of where we collectively and on average are. Any more. A lot closer to anomie, to Galt, than all-together-now-ism. My book report for the day is on Barbara Tuchman’s “The Proud Tower.” A nice depiction of the period in Europe from about 1880 through the eve of WW I. A world where the inequality of wealth and opportunity was almost of the same order that we are cruising toward, but where there was still some residual notion of “noblesse oblige,” one of the things that’s pretty much totally missing in the current mix. Not that the imperial ethos of Olde Victorian Englande or Prussia had any more flexibility or insight or interest in avoiding “le deluge,” and only vague awareness that “le deluge” was building behind an ice dam that all the frictions of industrial urbanization and predatory capitalism and imposed debt slavery and “innovation” at an undreamed-of pace were heating up to melt.

    Tuchman has some notions about why anarchy failed, and the dreams of socialism and “democracy” failed, and Krups and Speer and a host of other Milo Minderbinders “succeeded,” at a rather horrific cost (9 million dead soldiers, not counting civilians). Where the Top Brass of the Allies, a Brigadier Kittredge as I recall, could assert with stiff-upper-lipped English public school assurance, that the Allies would defeat the Central Powers, because the Allies had several hundred thousand more trench soldiers “under arms” than the Central Powers.

    Tuchman has a great ear for the echoes, down through history, of the ills that are reflected in the current Great Repeat. Maybe no great prescriptions for what ails us, but some very evocative and piercingly acute observations of what the disease processes look like.

    I would “belove” the guy I read about in maybe Georgia, who ran a furniture business and worked from the notion that his “bidness” was a kind of family, where what he paid his employees was keyed to what was an actual “living wage,” and nobody got laid off or was forced to work 60 hours for a nominal 40 hours’ pay or to burn their “paid time off” so they might qualify for some half-ass “benefits.” I would not “belove” the “retail experts” who took command of West Marine Products, some years ago, and did all the stuff that is the American Business Model Dream of Cost Control and Quarterly Bean Counting, in the process trashing a fairly familial culture and racing to the bottom as a way to boost the value of their options.

    The Kochs are “capable, skilled and aware” of what it takes to “succeed.” We are not supposed to “begrudge” them? If I pick up a case of Lyme disease or a tapeworm, I am not supposed to begrudge the parasite its taking of my life substance, because it is uniquely skilled and capable and, without remedies being applied, a “winner?” Or to maybe take an antibiotic or antihelmitic, to kill off the bloodsuckers?

  8. len says:

    @jtmc: As someone who was in a company that was turned around, I have no problem with heaping scorn on the Bain vampire capitalists. They take, they conspire, they deflate and they build nothing. They are locusts. The point I am addressing is the conflation of them with the people who really do earn their wealth, class and prestige. The second group are the essence of what it means to achieve the American dream.

    I’m reacting to Callie K’s comment to this blog some months ago where she seemed to be concerned that she should not be proud of her success because she earned it. She did. She shouldn’t. And we shouldn’t get caught up in a wave of proud to fail because then we most certainly will.

    It’s ok to be wealthy and successful in America. Again, let’s not confuse righteous indignation over means with coveting our neighbor’s ass. That conflation is the basis for many a retort that attempts to turn this into indiscriminate class warfare just as people toss out Godwin’s Law to call someone a conspiracy theorist. That’s a cheap trick. Let the wheel grind fine and true.

  9. JTMcPhee says:

    I kind of react to the notion of grouping, good capitalists versus bad. There are paragons of both types, but…

    I once worked for a golf equipment distributor who was quite successful and also ran his business more like a family (not the Soprano kind), paying well for people who felt “invested” in his success. That’s one part of a spectrum, not a group, that extends from vulture capitalists and vampire squids at one extreme to the kindliest of hot dog cart vendors at the other. And of course there’s bits of value-judgment in all that, and of course another axis, of many, would be what the successful produce. Developers here produce personal profit, shitty construction, trashing of wetlands and shoreline biology that protects against hurricane damage, dysfunctional living spaces and architecture that creates some pretty awful kinds of human behavior, corruption of political processes and regulatory systems like building codes and land use planning, on and on. And I guess I would include Colt and Smith&Wesson, and a host of others at smaller scale (sanctified in TV shows with stock episode plots like “American Gunner”) in that niche.

    One wonders about whether there is some kind of homeostatic process at work, at larger scales and longer time frames. My father, who was an Ad Man with the Wm. Wrigley Jr. company flogging Juicy Fruit and P.Ks (like Chiclets)and such (and instrumental in bringing bar codes into retail, way back when, and then telephone marketing instead of field sales people) was offered a much more lucrative job with Culligan, the ion-substitution water-softener people. An opportunity that several of his peers in our bedroom community availed themselves of, with a newly-goosed, Fast Growth management. One of the perks (and company-loyalty proofs) was whole-house water softening. Interesting that all those other guys died young of heart disease/MIs, since water softening swaps calcium and other ions in your tap water for sodium, with what comes with that. Correlation or causation, who knows.

    When I worked for the EPA, and with the IL Attorney General’s office, i got to see “successful” people who were all about the American Dream in action. Like Zollie Frank, who ran a huge Chevy dealership in Chicago, where fraud and ripoff were institutionalized to a highly competent degree. Zollie was a patron of the arts, a force in city politics, and well respected in the community as a “success.”

    Or a guy named Steve Martell, who stuffed a 4,000-gallon tank in a garbage truck body, went around to various businesses with toxic and hazardous liquid waste to get rid of, sucked it up, drove to the “sanitary landfill,” and along with a yard or two of trash-for-show used a solenoid-operated valve to dump the toxins into the landfill — or by the side of the road, or as he drove along the street. And who when asked why he did that, for a lot of money, responded “If there’s a legal way and an illegal way to do something, I prefer the illegal because it’s more fun.” And I could go on about the kinds of Pillars of Society and Success that hold up outfits like Dow Chemical and Monsanto, who stand on the crushed bodies of employees and the general public.

    My little cavil is that this ain’t a binary system. There’s a whole spectrum, and the American Dream has some pretty nightmarish aspects to it, including incremental additions to human misery and damage to the planet.

    We humans are what we are, but it sure would be nice to figure out how to strengthen the expression of the “nice” gene, and the one that triggers “pay-it-forward” behaviors, and the ones that tell us that certain products and practices however “successful” for the individual are deadly for the culture and the species. Soylent Green, say.

  10. len says:

    It’s a very old story, JTMc: Am I my brother’s keeper?

    I also worked for a company who’s founders treasured their employees and among themselves became wealthy. But for every compromise of morality, sexual, monetary or otherwise, they would spawn a small nest of snakes. Overtime, they could not kill all the snakes. The snakes were cold, consumed with ambition and ruthless. They became adept at hiding their nature and when discovered, fast at finding another place to nest.

    It’s an old old story. What will we trade to belong to the in group? What will we pay for a pleasure or and advantage? Who will we fall on with the sword and what will fall upon us because a neighbor breeds snakes for fun and profit?

    The Everglades are filling up with pythons, JTMc. Where did you say they were putting those condos?

    It’s an old old story. Some people do keep doors open after they have passed through them. Some people do understand that bringing exotic killers into virgin waters is wrong. Some people do forgo a bonus or a stock advantage to see to it their neighbors keep their jobs. Love them. That is the reward. That strengthens the behavior. Justice one heart at a time. That is all there is. Unless we do one of those planet species killing things, it is enough. If not, nature and the universe will try again.

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