Up Front

THE BAD OLD DAYS

Nostalgia has its purposes, but what on earth were the organizers of demonstrations being planned for this summer's national political conventions thinking when they named their group "Re-Create '68?" Bemoaning the "apathy in our community," they proclaimed their intention "to re-create that revolutionary feeling and pick up where our predecessors left off."

Would consciousness -- not to mention, history -- were so malleable! 1968, in fact, was a calamitous year for left and liberal ideals; what created much of that year's "revolutionary feeling" were the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy and the defeat of the anti-war forces in the Democratic Party. This year, thankfully, hasn't seen any such disasters, and "apathy" doesn't seem a very apt description of young people's political mood, if the Obama campaign is any measure of that. Happily, the organizers and the convention cities' leaders do seem to have learned something from yesteryear's debacles: Re-create '68 is working with the Denver and St. Paul city governments to ensure that things stay cool.

But the winner of this year's Dubious Nostalgia on the Left Award has to be Ralph Nader, who, in announcing yet again his run for president, seems bent on re-creating his triumphal (for Republicans) intervention of 2000. Still holding himself blameless for George W. Bush's election, Nader, like the Bourbons, has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. It's one thing not to learn from history, quite another to condemn us -- as Nader quadrennially endeavors -- to repeat it.

DEMOCRATIC UNITY

At this moment of tension and division within the Democratic Party, it's worth remembering that there are things that even the most sharp-elbowed insiders within the Clinton and Obama campaigns still agree on. Chiefly, they all loathe Mark Penn.

Hillary Clinton's chief strategist and pollster is hated and derided in the Obama camp and across a much broader swath of party leaders for his insistence on micro-triangulating policies and politics, his high-dollar arrogance, his (odd in a pollster) tone-deafness to public opinion. According to a story in The Washington Post, however, it turns out he's hated throughout Clinton's circle of friends and advisers for the very same things. James Carville, Paul Begala, Rahm Emanuel, John Podesta, Harold Ickes, and Mandy Grunwald, the Post reports, can't stand him. Hillaryistas have repeatedly tried to persuade Hillary to fire Penn for, among other things, his unwillingness to embrace the idea that this is a change election. To elucidate the working relationship Penn has with his colleagues, the Post quoted the following conference-call colloquy between senior campaign adviser Ickes and Penn:

Ickes: "[Expletive] you!"

Penn: "[Expletive] you!"

Ickes: "[Expletive] you!"

So if, at this summer's Democratic convention, tensions between the Clinton and Obama camps reach fever pitch, convention chair Nancy Pelosi might want to entertain a motion that says, simply, "We hate Mark Penn." Nothing, apparently, could so quickly unify the party.

HOPE CHEST SPRINGS ETERNAL

In an effort to drum up sales of its annual "Luce Ladies" calendar (featuring conservative hotties like Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter), the prim and proper ladies of the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, a right-wing anti-feminist think tank, have made college students an offer they will, in all likelihood, refuse. It promises to reward the co-ed who collects the most names for the institute's mailing list with her very own hope chest. You read that right -- a hope chest, that relic of the 1950s, fully stocked with "dowry items" like bed linens and tea towels. All of the things a young conservative woman will want to assemble before she embarks on her career as a homemaker. The institute promises it's a "lovely spiced-up twist on your grandmother's trousseau." (No doubt it contains a daringly sexy pair of culottes for the wedding night?)

The Luce institute, however, may have slightly overestimated the demand among "modern American" college women for cedar boxes stuffed with doilies. The deadline for the contest has been extended, presumably due to lack of interest. The Lucees may have to find another way to get rid of those calendars.

THE COAL SHOULDER

Unsuspecting viewers who've turned on their televisions lately might infer that the coal industry dreads the prospect of comprehensive climate and energy legislation passing in the very near future. As if its sponsorship of every single debate in the presidential primary season wasn't enough, the industry has also taken to interrupting regularly scheduled evening programming with ads intended to convince viewers that coal is the power of the future. These ads have cost coal a cool $35 million during this year's primary season.

This campaign is even worse in West Virginia, where the industry seems to have decided that the average resident is the intellectual equivalent of a five-year-old. Ads sponsored by "Friends of Coal" and mining tools manufacturing company Caterpillar feature such cartoon characters as Mr. and Miss Bug, who assure viewers that coal is great for everyone and opponents are crazy for thinking that coal mining destroys mountains and waterways. It's unclear whether this campaign is pitched to actual kindergarteners, whose awareness of coal is probably confined to fears that Santa Claus will put it in their stockings, or if the coal meisters really think a cartoon insect is a way to appeal to the hearts and minds of West Virginian adults.

THE QUESTION:
What other stories is the New York Times sitting on?

"John McCain's new gig promoting Viagra." -- Pam Spaulding, editor, PamsHouseBlend.com

"Contra Charles Darwin, John McCain was created through intelligent design 4,000 years ago." -- Matt Yglesias, The Atlantic

"Barack Obama secretly wrote 'What's Going On?' when he was nine, and gave Smokey Robinson the main idea, but not all the chords, for 'You Really Got a Hold on Me' when he was two." -- Eric Alterman, The Nation

PARODY by T.A. Frank

"North Korean officials have invited the guitarist Eric Clapton to perform there, according to a representative for the North Korean Embassy in London."

-- The New York Times, Feb. 27, 2008

Dear Esteemed Singing Friend Clapton:

The Korean people have long paid tribute to Comrade Clapton's revolutionary and soldierly approach to the electrical guitar, from his work with cream to his single-man, non-cream concoctions. The great defender of socialism Kim Jong-Il, in his famous work "Abuses of Socialism Are Intolerable," emphasizes that the Korean people must appreciate Comrade Clapton as a stalwart defender of the rock and blues in the face of reactionary imperialists such as Robert Plant.

In exchange for your appearance before the Korean masses, we shall offer 15 to 20 personal guides always on call and an audience with the Great Leader Comrade Kim Jong-Il and his friendly if slightly aggressive son Kim Jong Chol.

However, since the imperialists' anti-Juche campaign has reached a zenith, we must also suggest you defend socialism through selected editorial rectifications to your word-content in certain of your musical songs. We recommend the following titles: "Tears in Heaven, But Smiles and Laughter in the Workers' Paradise," "Cocaine -- is a Dangerous Bourgeois Substance," and "General Secretary Kim Jong-Il Looks Wonderful Tonight."

Reviewing your so-called backstage rider request, we cannot accommodate your requests for the "Gatorade," the "Volvic," the Earl Grey (he is deceased), or the table of "foosball." We can, however, offer Komppyoyaksul (bear-bone liquor), Totorisul (acorn liquor), Poyangju (chlorella liquor), a copy of Kim Jong-Il's latest work, "Respecting the Forerunners of the Revolution Is a Noble Moral Obligation of Revolutionaries," and a plate of cabbage.

With friendly wishes,
The Korean People's Cultural Ministry of Rock

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