When people think back on the attempts of presidents and presidential candidates to engage directly with pop culture, they usually date the modern era to Bill Clinton donning shades and playing sax on the Arsenio Hall Show in 1992. There were a few awkward attempts prior to that, like Richard Nixon participating in the "sock it to me" gag on Laugh-In in 1968. But Barack Obama has probably done more of these appearances than anybody else, not just going on shows like The Tonight Show and The View to be interviewed, but actually becoming part of the entertainment.
He slow jammed the news with Jimmy Fallon, but in that case he was essentially the straight man, which is the safe place for a president to be. After all, he needs to be in on the fun, but not sacrifice his dignity. Nixon may have said "Sock it to me," but his advisers were smart enough not to let him get hit in the head with a giant club. This morning, however, we get a look at what may be a new high in presidential pop culture performance. Believe it or not, Barack Obama sat down with Zach Galifianakis for an episode of "Between Two Ferns."
The change in the social perception of drunk driving is one of the great public health success stories of the last half-century. It went from being perceived as an amusing bit of recklessness to something truly despicable, and today drunk driving deaths are half of what they were a few decades ago. And now that recreational marijuana is legal in Washington and Colorado, almost surely to be followed by other states, there's a renewed need to discourage driving while high.
The key to the success of the drunk driving campaign was creating a new social norm, one in which people would discourage each other from driving drunk. It also gave people a means to avoid it, by popularizing the idea of the designated driver. Washington state is starting a campaign to discourage driving while high with three PSAs soon to be airing in the state. No frying eggs here:
For while there, conservatives saw the hand of George Soros behind every conspiracy. It was always a little strange, not because there wasn't a certain truth underneath it—Soros has, in fact, given lots of money to liberal political causes (and he is an actual international Jewish financier, which certainly set a certain type of mind buzzing)—but because the idea of a billionaire using his money to shape America's politics isn't something conservatives object to. Quite the contrary; they think there ought to be a lot more of it.
Democrats, on the other hand, are not so friendly to the idea, which is why it's understandable that Charles and David Koch have taken on a larger role in the liberal imagination than Soros had in the conservative one (they've also spent a lot more money on politics than Soros ever did). But can Democrats convince voters who are not already liberals to be mad at the Kochs? That's how they're responding to the brothers' involvement in multiple Senate races this year, fighting back against the Koch's ads with with a public campaign against them.
While I don't think it's impossible that this could work, I'm skeptical. Greg Sargent explains the thinking:
In the wake of Debo Adegbile's rejection by the Senate and the sudden reemergence of the Mumia Abu-Jamal case, there's an interesting piece of rhetoric I wanted to draw attention to, because it's so common yet at such odds with reality. As Adegbile's nomination was discussed, one of the things his opponents would say is that he should be rejected because his organization filed an amicus brief in Mumia's case, and Mumia is a "cold-blooded killer." Delaware senator Chris Coons, for instance, explained his vote against Adegbile by saying that Abu-Jamal is "a heinous, cold-blooded killer." An op-ed in the Philadelphia Daily News described Abu-Jamal's victim being "gunned down in cold blood." Another Philadelphia writer said Abu-Jamal "murdered a cop in cold blood." The Philadelphia D.A. called Abu-Jamal a "cold-blooded murderer." We even heard Senator Tom Harkin, speaking in support of Adegbile's nomination, bring up the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts once defended "someone who killed eight people in cold blood."
What's odd about this is is that in the real world, there are almost no cold-blooded killers, and almost nobody is ever killed in cold blood.
Gaze upon me holding this fire stick, you easily mollified rubes.
Mitch McConnell is the GOP's shrewdest politician, but he's not exactly beloved by the party's base; he's got a Tea Party challenger in his re-election race this year, and he's regularly pilloried by hard-right conservatives as an establishment sellout. So he'll take whatever opportunity he can to do a little strategic outreach to that great grumbling mass that is, to paraphrase Howard Dean, the Republican wing of the Republican party. Fortunately, that yearly ritual of spittle-flecked rage, breathtaking extremism, and passionate theological debates about how many Reagans can dance on the head of a pin known as the Conservative Political Action Conference is going on right now. And when it was his turn to speak, Mitch made quite an entrance. Check this out:
President Obama is not afraid of this man. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
You probably saw a news item about a hearing yesterday of the House Government Oversight Committee. The reason you saw it is that it ended with some shouting, which is a relatively rare occurrence on Capitol Hill, and therefore that became an irresistible piece of news. But what really mattered about that hearing wasn't Darrell Issa cutting off Elijah Cummings' mike, causing Cummings to get extremely angry. It was that the hearing was happening at all. I'm not sure if there's ever been an opposition party more thoroughly convinced of a president's corruption yet so utterly incapable of doing anything about what they see as his crimes. You might think that's because Barack Obama is not particularly corrupt, and that's part of the story. But the Republicans' buffoonery—and Issa's in particular—when it comes to making Obama pay for his alleged misdeeds seems to know no bounds.
An Israel Day parade in New York. (Flickr/Johnk85)
There have been a lot of angry debates recently about Israel, complete with the requisite accusations of anti-Semitism hurled at just about anyone whose opinions about the country's history and policies contain any complexity whatsoever. Which means that this month is pretty much like any other. So let me make a proposal: Isn't it about time we just banished the very ideas of "pro-Israel" and "anti-Israel" once and for all?
Think about it this way: When was the last time you heard the designation "pro-Israel" or "anti-Israel" and found it a useful distinction that added to rather than subtracted from the discussion at hand? Ever? Instead, the terms are used almost exclusively as ad hominem, a way of shutting down debate by proclaiming that someone's intentions are sinister and therefore their arguments can be dismissed out of hand without addressing their substance.
Reporters at an Obama rally in 2007. (Flickr/Steve Garfield)
As we begin inching our way toward the next presidential campaign, it may be far too early to begin the idiotic speculation with which coverage at this stage tends to be consumed (Can anyone beat Hillary? Will Ted Cruz be the Tea Party darling? Who'll win the Iowa straw poll? Dear god, who?). But it's never too early to ask whether anything can be done to improve the news coverage through which Americans see campaigns.
Like all readers of this magazine/web site, you're an up-to-the-minute, techno-savvy news imbiber, surfing the info waves like a Kelly Slater of the media, uploading data to the C-drive of your mind through your panoply of mobile devices, not letting your on-the-go lifestyle inhibit your endless search for knowledge. Or maybe you watch a lot of TV, just like people did in the 50's. Or maybe both!
Either way, this may be of interest. A new report from Nielsen (via AdWeek) shows just how large TV still is. And though digital video is gaining fast, it still brings in only a tiny amount of money. Behold:
What interests me for the moment aren't homicides, but accidental shootings. How do they compare to other causes of accidental death and injury? We all know that vivid individual cases, no matter how vivid, don't necessarily give an accurate impression what's happening overall. So let's delve into the statistics, shall we?
If Obama started on the Charles Atlas program, no one would kick sand in America's face.
Am I the only one seeing a new sense of purpose in the old neoconservative crowd, an almost joyful welcoming of a good old-fashioned Cold War showdown with the Russkies? Nobody's saying they don't love the War on Terror, but let's be honest, it's getting a bit old. Best to forget all about Iraq, and Afghanistan isn't much better. That jerk Barack Obama ended up getting Osama bin Laden, which was—well, let's be kind and call it bittersweet. But this Ukraine thing is just like old times. It's us against them, a battle of the big boys! Well, sort of anyway. So now is the time for action! Aren't there some missiles we can move into Turkey or something?
Ukraine is providing a great opportunity for the muscle-bound manly men of the right, who are totally not overcompensating so shut up, to demonstrate how tough and strong they are. Action!, they demand. Not words! We have to show Putin who's boss! He thinks we're weak! Obama is weak! We must be strong! Strong strong strong!
You may have seen previews for the upcoming big studio Hollywood production of Noah, which stars Russell Crowe as the famous biblical shipwright. As we learn from The Wire, Paramount Pictures, at the urging of the National Religious Broadcasters, has acted decisively to make sure that people don't get the misapprehension that the film is a literal retelling of the biblical story of Noah. For instance, in the biblical story, God has not only all the best lines, he has all the lines. Noah never says a thing, nor does anyone else, but as you can see from the trailer, this film is full of people talking. Discrepancies like that could cause mass panic, so the studio will be adding this statement to all the film's promotional materials:
"The film is inspired by the story of Noah.
While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide.
The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis."
Phew! Now that we have that cleared up, I thought as a public service I'd detail a few more things in the film that aren't taken directly from the Old Testament:
Bill O'Reilly tells Valerie Jarrett what black people need.
In 2006, after being a United States senator for one year, Barack Obama made an appearance on Meet the Press. After talking about the Iraq War for a while, Tim Russert asked Obama this: "I want to talk a little bit about the language people are using in the politics now of 2006, and I refer you to some comments that Harry Belafonte made yesterday. He said that Homeland Security had become the new Gestapo. What do you think of that?" Obama said he never uses Nazi analogies, but people are concerned about striking the balance between privacy and security. Russert pressed on, asking Obama to take a position on whether some insulting things Belafonte had said about George W. Bush were "appropriate."
I thought of that interview today as I watched another interview, this one with Bill O'Reilly interviewing White House aide Valerie Jarrett. I bring it up not because it's important to be mad at Bill O'Reilly (it isn't), but because it's yet another demonstration of the rules both prominent and ordinary black people have to live with. Unlike white Americans, they are subject to an entirely different and far more wide-ranging kind of responsibility. A black senator has to answer for the remarks of every black activist, black musicians are responsible for the actions of every wayward teenager, and black people everywhere carry with them a thousand sins committed by others. That burden isn't just psychological; as we've seen in cases like those of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, it can be deadly.
You haven't heard much about healthcare.gov lately, and that's because it's working pretty well. So this is a good moment to think back on both what went wrong and how it got fixed, which we get in a timely article from Steven Brill. The fixing story is an interesting one, but before it's too late, I want to do a little more blame-placing.
It goes without saying that much of the responsibility lies with the contractors who did such a terrible job of creating the site. Another way to think about the problems is that there was a missing middle: you had people who understood the technology but didn't grasp the politics, and people whose job was politics who didn't understand the technological challenges. That's intuitively appealing, but I think it lets the political people off the hook. Their screw-up wasn't a result of their unfamiliarity with technology. It was a political failure, full stop.
Arizona governor Jan Brewer. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
For the longest time, Democrats were the party of infighting and disunity, whose squabbling never failed to find its way into the news. It's a grim inside joke among liberals that the most common headline in the political media is "Democrats in Disarray." But it hasn't been that way for a while. In fact, perhaps the most important political dynamic of the current era is the conflict within the previously monolithic Republican party. Not that there wasn't always tension between the Republican establishment, whose primary concern was laissez-faire economics, and the conservative foot soldiers spread across the country, who cared much more about social issues. But open warfare between the two was rare.
Not these days, though. And after a couple of years of the establishment running scared, today they can celebrate (if that's the right word) a momentary victory. Yesterday, Arizona governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill passed by the legislature there that would have made it legal to deny services to gay people as long as the one doing the discriminating cited their religious beliefs. The veto itself wasn't really a shock—Brewer is much more a malleable politician attuned to public opinion than a Tea Party true believer. But the pressure she was under was truly remarkable