Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Year That Was

These obligatory (for culture/political writers, anyway) year-in-review exercises started in earnest after 1968. That year was epochal and revolutionary, and not always in a good way. After all, the year started with Eugene McCarthy, Bobby Kennedy and M.L. King Jr. in ascendence and ended with...Richard Nixon in the White House. After all of that, you could forgive the various navel-contemplators for their what-the-hell-just-happened overviews. Even in retrospect, 1968 has held up as a year of major change. Most significant for the future that was to be; it seems that whoever put the assassins of King and RFK up to it got the right guys. Their absence stopped a lot of good things in their tracks and opened the door to a lot of bad things.

Since then, the year-in-review has become a staple of publications major and minor, Nobody took a break when the year deserved it – say, 1977 or 1986. Every year takes its moment in the sun as the Year That Was, complete with predictions and trends for the new year. Unqualified, self-appointed first-draft "historians" cast their wise gaze backwards; prognosticators prognosticate forward. All is forgotten by the first week in January, as fate, nature and trends collide to expose the next group of befuddled leaders and the next group of trapped and injured victims and voters.

I turned 13 in 1968; my son turned 13 in 2007. I watched the revolution on TV, hosted by Walter Cronkite. In 2007, he watched...The Daily Show (until the strike, anyway). That’s about what 2007 was worth, anyway – a transitory joke, a truly tedious exercise in just-getting-by.

Some awards, for what they – and the year itself – are worth:

PR Stunt of the Year: The Surge
Faced with the complete rejection of his policies and his presidency in the 2006 elections, Junior Bush’s handlers managed at least to save time (but certainly no money) for its disastrous occupation of Iraq by throwing 50,000 more troops into the civil war to provide "stability" for a corrupt bunch of Iraqi politicians who had no intention of seizing the opportunity. The result was a thousand more dead soldiers, tens of thousands more maimed soldiers, countless more dead and injured Iraqi civilians and at least $200 billion more borrowed money right out the window. The most dramatic "successes" in Iraq were a result of giving entire areas, such as Anbar province, over to local militias, who then used our money and guns to extract their tribal vengeance. No surprise there – that’s how Saddam did it. All this does is kick the can out to 2009, so Bush’s successor has to deal with the complexity and pain of withdrawal from that hell-hole. For those cynical war criminals, mission accomplished.

Spin of the Year: Low Approval for Congress
As soon as Democrats took over Congress in 2007, the Republicans made sure that nothing of significance would be passed or become law. To no one’s surprise, the resulting gridlock did not sit well with the American people, who thought they had sent a message in the 2006 elections for positive change. The GOP and their echo-chamber on mainstream radio gleefully trumpeted the resulting low-approval numbers for Congress – lower than Bush! It was impossible for anyone not on the GOP direct or indirect payroll to get a word in edge-wise about why Congress was unable to move – the unprecedented permanent filibuster employed by the minority Senate Republicans. It’s not like the supposedly-liberal MSM did anything to make this clear – like all spin, the spinner relies on the ignorance of the target audience and the reluctance of the MSM to clear anything up, lest they be accused of, well, you know, unfairly setting the record straight.

Mainstream Radio Wing-Nut of the Year: Charlie Sykes
With Don Imus nationally (and temporarily) and Jessica McBride locally (and permanently, we can hope) biting the radio stardust during 2007 due to various racist (Imus) and stupid (McBride) stunts on their radio shows, Sykes managed to survive his own various outrages as the strangely-protected darling of the Bradley Foundation and the Journal Company. The apparently bullet-proof Sykes got away with the following, at least:

  • Sykes accused pre-arrest Michael McGee Jr. of saying that "Jew cops" were out to get him, when it was clear McGee actually said "Jude cops", referring to the infamous cops who beat up Frank Jude. Sykes mustered an insincere apology the next day, only after the Journal Sentinel got hold of it.

  • During the Imus imbroglio, Sykes called civil rights leader Al Sharpton a "pimp", as racist a word used against strong black men as "ho’s" is against black women. My post on the subject was ignored.

  • Sykes came out boldly in favor of equating the Muslim faith with Naziism, posting and then snidely defending a parody of the (now more) popular COEXIST bumper-sticker. "Shame on you," the shameless wing-nut shouted to the Interfaith Council that had the audacity to write a letter to the Sainted One complaining about his selective religious intolerance.

Apparently, Sykes has a hands-off deal with his employer, at least as far as his racist and otherwise offensive substance goes. "I stand by Charlie’s response," his radio GM said when faced with the COEXIST business. We’ll see if this sort of blind support survives Sykes’ ratings battle with third-rate squawker Jay Weber, whose lame bleatings on WISN are apparently challenging Sykes in his time slot. I mean, shouldn't one of the 50 Rules be that, if you can't even attract more Angry White Men than a Neanderthal like Weber, you have to leave the building?

Dark Omen of the Year: Annette Zeigler
By single-handedly getting the ethically-challenged Zeigler elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court this past April, the right-wing front-group disguised as a business-interest group, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), showed that it would use its considerable resources to manipulate the Court and any other entity that might stand in its fevered way. After being rejected by more qualified jurists, WMC recruited obscure Burnett County (that’s way in the northwest corner of the state) judge Michael Gableman to run against Louis Butler for his seat on the Supremes.

Early indications of how WMC will roll in this spring 2008 election indicate that their success with Zeigler has led them to believe that "anything goes". Recently, the long-time GOP shill "advising" Gableman’s campaign, Darrin Schmitz, said "Louis Butler and his allies cannot hide the fact that he consistently sides with criminals over law enforcement." This type of false flaming was properly criticized by the State Bar’s Judicial Campaign Integrity Committee as out-of-bounds for a judicial candidate. The committee was advised to "get over it" by well-paid GOP flack Brian Fraley on his blog and by Rick "As-long-as-my-side-does-it-it’s-OK" Esenberg. (What would Esenberg say if Butler or someone on his campaign called out Gableman as a WMC stooge? You would be able to hear the squealing all the way to Burnett County.) Fraley would be well advised to remember the Rove strategy of keeping the candidate above the fray, while surrogates like him spew the venom. Especially in a judicial race, where the rules really are – and should be – different.

Full disclosure: I am a good friend and contributor of Louis Butler. Now let’s see Fraley and Esenberg disclose their interests.

Legal Outrage Top 10: My favorite legal writer, Dahlia Lithwick, lays out the Worst of Bush in Slate.

With the Iowa caucuses rolling up on Friday, 2007 will be forgotten within the week. Who knows where we will be a year from now? It will be interesting and important to watch. My New Year’s Resolution: More and better posts in 2008.


Anonymous said...

If the surge isn't working and it's merely nothing more than a PR stunt, then why is the topic "off the table" for the democrat presidential candidates right now?

Mike Plaisted said...

1. That's how good of a PR stunt it was.

2. The Dems don't have to talk about it. Every one of them are right (get the hell out) and everyone of the Republican candidates are wrong (stay until...?) on the issue of Iraq. There will be plenty of time to talk about it in the general, which is another reason the GOP is going down, big-time, in '08.

Anonymous said...

What is preventing the dems from talking about it? Does the cat have their collective, proverbial tongues? If it's such a big issue as you say it is, then why not talk about it? Isn't that what got some dems elected in 2006?

In our media era of "if it bleeds, it leads," the fact is that the surge has significantly reduced casualties therefore it is not the lead story of every newscast.

And please Mike, keep saying that it will be a dem landslide in 2008, that is music to my ears. As Luke told Palpatine: "Your overconfidence is your weakness"

Mike Plaisted said...

The Dems will talk about Iraq all you want -- they aren't hiding from the issue -- but people are concerned about more bread-and-butter issues, such as, well, bread-and-butter, health care, how to best recover from the various Bush disasters, etc. And I wouldn't beat my chest too much over violence in Iraq returning to pre-surge levels. It is still too many Unnecessary Dead in the Stupidest War in American history.

The Republicans will try to rearrange the desk chairs on their self-made Titanic during '08 and will have their echo-chamber in mainstream radio to carry much of the weight for them. I don't underestimate their ability to work the politics of personal destruction on whoever the Democratic candidate is -- I mean, that's all they have. But I sense the public has had it with that crap and, with every GOP candidate endorsing every bad Bush policy, I don't see how they win dogcatcher, much less president or congress. They have all had to bend so far over to please the red-meat base, they are going to have a hard time pretending they didn't say all that nonsense in the general.

I'm not overconfident as much as I am hopeful. Given the Electoral map, no landslide, perhaps, but certainly a bigger Dem margin in both houses of Congress and a Democrat in the White House to clean up the enourmous mess left behind.

Anonymous said...

More bread and butter issues? Isn't the war in Iraq the BIGGEST blunder of the Bush Administration? So how can that NOT be the biggest issue on the table? It certainly was for the 2006 mid-term election according to the polls.

The fact is that the left decides what their issues are based on the daily swings of the polls. As soon as a topic is off the radar screen of their voters, then they dump it. Sounds eerily like our drive-by media.

And you really need to stop with this whole "megaphone" thing with regard to radio. You're really showing your media ignorance here. How do you not realize what a dying mass media radio is? It's not like it's wall-to-wall conservative talk radio on the AM dial...they may have ONE or at the very most two stations on the entire AM/FM dial in a given market.

Rick Esenberg said...

I plan to comment on the bar committee after the first of the year. You can bet on the notion that I will not be saying that Louis Butler is a stooge of WEAC or anyone else who supports him.

You know darn well that there are judges that are more or less favorabvle to defendants (tell me you never substituted on one) and that it's not simply a question of following the law but where you place yourself within the law's uncertainty and realms of discretion. There is a difference between saying that a judge has an expansive view of the rights of criminal defendants and saying that they are a "stooge" of supporters. The latter impugns character while the former does not (although it may be a reason to oppose or support, a candidate.)

As for my interest, I not yet met or spoken to Michael Gabelman and have not contributed to his campaign. I am not going to publicly support either candidate because I have agreed, instead, to do some educational stuff for the Federalist Society. Yes, I get honoraria and research support for that. I also did an educational project with WMC for which I have not been paid. No one tells me what to say.

Mike Plaisted said...

Jeez, give me a break. The Dems are united on Iraq -- there is no reason to talk about it any more than they already do, which is plenty. And, if they were reading the polls, they'd find that a solid majority still wants us out, thinks the whole adventure was a mistake in the first place, etc. "drive-by media", huh? Thanks for visiting, Rush.

One or two stations of wall-to-wall right-wing squealing in each market? Well, that's one or two more than the left can claim (and, no, the MSM doesn't count). If radio was such a dying media, the right wouldn't be clamoring for special protection from any future Fairness Doctrine. Only the right-wing would deny radio's special, exclusively-licensed power while at the same time beating people over the head with it every day. Nice try.

Happy New Year!

Mike Plaisted said...


Schmitz didn't say Butler had "an expansive view of the rights of criminal defendants" -- he claimed that he "consistently sides with criminals over law enforcement". There's a difference there, too -- just as much impugning his charactor as my example, besides the fact that it's a lie. There's this little matter of the Constitution and due process involved in all this, which justices should be able to sort out with their collegues without being called out by rented pipsqueaks working for judicial candidates.

My point, Rick, is that, rather than explain to your non-lawyer friends like Fraley why judicial campaigns are (or should be) different, you say it's OK to throw this kind of mud in such a race. You wouldn't say the same if the shoe was on the other foot, however you want to define it.

If this is the kind of "educational" support you are giving to WMC or (jeesh) the Federalist Society, I fear the worst for this campaign. They don't have to tell you what to say -- you are wrong enough already.

Anonymous said...

"It's one or two more the left can claim"???

Whatever happened to Air America? And you know darn well Mike that there a numerous liberal talk radio stations in the US that existed pre and post Air America.

The fact is Mike you are demanding to cut conservative talk radio's air time in half in order to make it "fair". So what do you do when NO ONE wants to advertise during the times when liberal talk is on? But if you say people would advertise, then why didn't they when Air America was around to keep it afloat?

Mike Plaisted said...

I wish I had a nickel for every time I had to respond to the Air America thing. I'd have at least a quarter by now. But you have to make up your mind -- either AM radio is a dying media that no one should care about or it's this all-important venue for the poor advertisers.

I don't know what you are talking about with the "numerous liberal talk radio stations" That's crazy. What are you talking about, Larry King pre-CNN? Are you counting every time a station plays "For What It's Worth" or "Ohio"? Get real.

Before Reagan dumped the Fairness Doctrine, there simply was no screeching political talk on the radio. Stations avoided it so they wouldn't have to deal with "equal time". So, reinstitution of the Doctrine doesn't mean your poor, dying radio stations have to support liberal talk radio -- they simply would have to stop shilling for the GOP 24/7. Why the RNC thinks it is entitled to this free advertising on publicly-licensed airwaves is a mystery to me.

Anonymous said...

If you had a nickel for every time someone mentioned Air America? Well what about it? Why did it fail if so many people in this country vote democrat as you claim? Why didn't advertisers flock to liberal talk radio despite the unbelievable amount of free promotion they got from the MSM prior to and shortly after their launch?

Radio is a dying media, their audience is becoming more and more diluted because of other choices (satellite radio, iPods, cell phone use in cars, etc).

So then smarty pants, what should be on AM talk radio if you get conservative talk banned? Can we also ban stations like AM820 in Chicago (progressive/liberal talk)?

And why do you care in the end anyway if the dems are gonna win in a landslide in 2008? Obviously conservative talk radio had little influence since it's going to a lefty landslide. In one breath you say it's an unfair megaphone for the right but in the next breath you say that conservativism is dying and that the dems will win a landslide in 2008. Which one is it?

Mike Plaisted said...

It's both, Anony. The mainstream radio right-wingism gives an unfair advantage to GOP, especially in local races, school funding referendums, etc. Nationally, it skews and poisons the political conversation, since it creates an artificial 30% crank base and because the MSM sucks up to the right wing to avoid getting called "liberal", which the right is going to call them anyway. I think a society bombarded with lies is less healthy, don't you?

Conservatism isn't "dying", it's losing -- this time, at least (and, again, I never said landslide, although that's what they deserve). The fact that the Democrats (not necessarily lefty, except in comparison to the wing-nut extreme) will take the presidency and increase their margins in both houses of Congress in the face of the free advertising that mainstream radio provides for the Republicans proves the strength of Democratic (large D) values and an even more emphatic rejection of the right-wing agenda.

As for Air America, 1) it hardly appeals to the same demographic as the Angry White Men who listen to right-wing talk; 2) lefties don't talk in the same sort of black-and-white absolutes that are so "entertaining" when the wing-nuts call lefties "Unamerican", etc.; 3) lefties do much better with humor (see the Daily Show) and that's hard to manage for a half-hour a day, much less three; and 4) lefties don't get their scripts written by political operatives like right-wingers do and, even if they did, are less likely to follow in lap-dog fashion, like the unimaginative wing-nuts do.

As for what AM radio would do with a Fairness Doctrine, they'll do fine, as they always have -- owning a radio station is like owning a license to print money and that hasn't changed. There are plenty of models, from advice to chat (like WLS between 2 and 6) to music to whatever. How radio stations make their money is not my problem, but don't worry, they'll do fine.

Anonymous said...

Sykes wife is the president of the Bradley Foundation, hence his free pass there.