Thursday, August 10, 2006

So... Why don't I feel better about this?

Note: This will be a somewhat lengthy and only tangentially movie-related entry that I just need to get off my chest. A review of Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center" is forthcoming.

It's all over but the shouting.

You'll find no great affection for Conneticutt senator Joseph Lieberman in these parts. Anyone who was a video game fan in the 80s and 90s (and now, really) will likely have a bone to pick with the man who essentially appointed himself the Joseph McCarthy of interactive entertainment "obscenity." In many respects, Lieberman always represented the nightmare scenario of a public figure in the realm of censorship: A well-liked, well-connected, powerfully-tenured politician who vehemently supported censorship as a favorite cause and was also a fairly liberal "reform" Democrat; thus meaning he had little political/ideological trouble with using the principals of Big Government to carry out his wishes (the still-potent ideological imperative against using Federal power to muck with private industry being the crucial pressure-valve that usually keeps Republican censorship proponents like John McCain most in-check.)

For me, the censorship issue always becomes more of a concern whenever the Democrats are on slippery footing in an election cycle, as it's become the party's only "safe" entry on the "Moral Values" plane. The Dems' admirable secularism on most cultural/values issues renders them largely incapable of reaching out to the hyperreligious nutters and "traditional morality" types that the Republicans have mined so successfully. Of the issues most resonant with "values voters," the Democrats have no traction in regards to gay rights, abortion, etc; (and good for them, BTW,) leaving entertainment "obscenity" as the only issue they can exploit to make inroads with the so-called "traditional values" crowd. Helpfully, doing so stays right in line with the broader party policy of using the government to curtail private industry for the "common good": For Democrat censorship advocates like Lieberman, imposing such on Hollywood or the Game Industry in order to "protect" people from "obscene" material is the same basic thing as imposing government controls on, say, "Big Tobacco" or the fast food industry to "protect" us from unhealthy products.

Now, Joe Lieberman seems to be on his way out. A previously unheard-of politician named Ned Lamont stepped up to challenge the long-time Senator in his home state, backed by a guerilla campaign almost-entirely supported by left-of-center bloggers and web activists who openly aimed to throttle Lieberman as a warning to all other Democrats: If you try to run for or hold your office with ANY position on the Iraq War that doesn't jibe with ours (100% against, for those keeping track) you'd better watch out. Two days ago, the Connetticut primary ended with Lamont defeating Lieberman, thus becoming the de-facto owner of the larger party's support in the upcoming November elections. Lieberman has conceded the race, though he does harbor ambition to perhaps run as an Independent.

So, there it is. The most visible political face of the pro-censorship movement unceremoniously tossed out on his behind by his own party. It's a disgraceful, pitiable end to a distinguished career that included the historic event of being the first Jewish American to be nominated for Vice President of the United States. A man whom I've long counted as an enemy in the censor wars has been fragged by his own troops, kicked in the teeth and left in the street alone. So why do I feel vaguely... icky, to see it end this way? Why can't I take my usual pleasure in an ideological opponent's downfall?

The fact is... as much as I won't be missing his influence on the politics of free speech, Joe Lieberman really deserved better than this. I say this to take nothing away from those Democrats who worked to rid themselves of him; the citizen members of a party voting out a longtime incumbent in favor of a candidate they feel more fully respresents them is the quintessential essence of the way our government of the people, for the people, by the people is supposed to work. You want a united hard-line anti-war party? Great, work for it. At this point, it's looking more and more like a winning angle.

That being said... yeah, I think Lieberman has caught a raw deal here. He's a "good," party-line fellow on almost every major issue BUT Iraq, and it's not as though Connecticutt is going to go Red State anytime soon with or without him. In other words, Lieberman has served the function, if you'll permit me a somewhat crude metaphor, of the random hostage the baddies always shoot in "Die Hard"-style action movies to prove how serious they are: Regardless of whether or not you think he deserved what he got or are glad to see him go, that's the basic rub of what's gone down. Lieberman was "capped" by DailyKos, etc not because removing him was crucial, but because he makes a good example of how serious they are about running "da show" from now on. And, as someone who's lost a job or two in order to be made an "example" of... yeah, I feel a little bit of sympathy for the guy even as I'm relieved I won't see him staring down game designers in subcomittee anymore.

Political devotees on both sides would do well, in the wake of this event, to study two seperate cases and reexamine how they feel about what's gone on. Republicans and conservatives should recall the unfortunate case of John McCain in the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, when the veteran Senator's campaign for the nomination was targeted and dusted, because he did not share the hard-right views of vocal Religious Conservatives, in favor of George W. Bush who was more in lockstep with that side of the party. Now, this case is certainly MUCH worse than Lieberman's, because the hard-right dynamited McCain's run through vicious lies and outright dirty tricks, but the operating principal is the same: Party hardliners knocking off a paradoxically loyal maverick over a few individual issues. So before you gloat over those scruffy young blogger punks having too much influence on the Dems... remember how much influence YOUR crazies have over you. McCain, fortunately was enough of a street-fighter to stick around and live to fight another day (hopefully, imo, as a Republican nominee in 08)... Lieberman may not be.

Democrats and liberals, on the other hand, should brush up on the curious history of George McGovern, the Democrats' nominee for president in 1972 against Richard Nixon. McGovern leapt from obscurity to the head of his party riding a wave of support by the most vocal and active members of the full-bore anti-Vietnam War movement. He ran with great show and momentum, backed up by armies of young activists brimming with revolutionary zeal, and he had the very public support of powerful and seemingly-influential members of the entertainment industry, musicians especially. The results, though not helped by a disasterous revelation involving his running mate, are the stuff of legend: The biggest loss to date at the time, with only TWO electoral college votes. This, again, is not something I'm saying is a definate, just worth considering: Running really hard in one direction can have disasterous consequences (ask party Republicans how they feel about the specter of Pat Buchanan still haunting their party.)

A footnote, also for Democrats: You'd better hope Lieberman is bluffing about an independent run, because it'd be a disaster for you. He sticks around, and the Republicans will have a BIG bright billboard on which to project a message that "moderates" (and thus moderate voters) are unwelcome to the Dems, and thats not a message you want if you're trying to win back the gov. He sticks around, whether because he thinks he can win or just to stick his thumb in the eye of his percieved betrayers, and you could be looking at ANOTHER Republican-controlled Congress (and I don't want to see that any more than you do.)

So, so long Mr. Lieberman, an enemy I genuinely wish could've been beaten in a more honorable way. Tonight, I'll play a round of "Mortal Kombat" in you're memory ;)