Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Interlude With the Departed

“Thousands entered the war, got just a taste of it, and then stepped out again permanently. These, by their very numbers, are respectable and therefore entitled to a sort of voice, not a loud one, but a modest one, not a boastful one but an apologetic one. They ought not be allowed much space among better people, people who did something. I grant that, but they ought at least be allowed to state why they didn't do anything and also to explain the process by which they didn't do anything. Surely this kind of light must have some sort of value.”

Mark Twain – “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed”

Before it vanishes entirely into the taupe goo that gets pooped out the puckered end of the Media Cuisnart of Recent History, I wanted to note that, from where I sat, “coverage” of the recent political conventions largely sucked.

Not camera footage, mind you: there were parsecs of that, from every imaginable angle. Not words expended either. Millions were spilled, but among bloggers they mostly seemed to fall into the “calling your buddies from the concert and shouting ‘Dude! Dude! I’m here!’ into your cell phone over the roaring crowd” variety.

Not enough blogger-specific activity to make it a Netroots thing, and a nettle-soup of news so airy and devoid of nutritional value that it even had (God help us) Greta Van Susteren was throwing up her hands:


In an interview with the Huffington Post, Greta slammed the news networks' coverage of the political conventions as a waste of resources on scripted events that produce no real news.
"Each year, the conventions get worse for me because they're so scripted," she said. "We really could do these back home. But the reason why the networks come and spend millions of because everybody else does," she said. "I think if all the networks got together and said, look, we're not gonna be held up by the two political parties, I think it would be a really smart idea because the conventions are so scripted. There's no news, no newsgathering. This really does have to end," she continued.

"I'd much rather see this money spent on every network going to Katrina, to Gustav next week," she said. "This is not why we all got into journalism....It's really time for the networks to revisit whether or not they should come to these."


There was the single, standout exception of the alternative media covering the abrupt arrival of a police state in Minnesota (“State Motto: Bring a covered dish…and a gas mask.”), but absent that, there was scripted spectacle, some terrific speeches, but little to command anyone’s focused attention, and very little justification for in-the-trenches reportage.

So, hungry for good blogger writing about conventions, I went a’digging in the pantry.

Back, I went. Back…back…way back to those dark, pre-Twitter days of 2004, when Freedom Fries walked the Earth and the late, lamented Steven Gilliard spent several days circling the Democratic Convention in Boston like a butcher sizing up a side of Kobe beef.

For those familiar with his writing, it will not surprise you that what Gilly had to say four years ago is every bit as topical, pungent, trenchant and amusing today.

For those of you who never read his stuff, here is what one of the very best writers on the Left wrote like.

Typos and all :-)

On race and politics and Barack Hussein Obama (in response to a poorly informed post by Atrios) Gilly wrote:

In America, there are two classes of people, white and not-white. If you are white, then you are white, but if you are not white, you are NOT WHITE. Have you ever heard of anyone described as half-white, unless they were visibly another race? No matter how pretty or how smart, if you are not white in America, you are not white.

But Obama didn't have to use the example of armed robbery, all he had to say is if he got into an elevator, some white woman would clutch her purse. The double Ivy League grad (Columbia, Harvard Law) is not white in America, to what degree doesn't matter, he could be half-Mexican like Bill Richardson or Jeb Bush's kids, and they are not white. It's not the degree of blackness you have, but the lack of whiteness.

In Latin America, any white heritage makes you white. Whiteness is the positive value, because when they were shipping slaves west, there were so few whites that interbreeding wasn't only essential, but encouraged. Of course, when you get to Brazil, which had slavery until 1888, blacks are still the vast majority, but still discriminated against based on skin color. One of my professors said that when he was in Brazil, the family he visited hid their black child.

But because of chattel slavery in the US, and the limited number and expense of slaves, meant that any black blood (later to be expanded to other ethnic groups) meant you were black. Now, my great grandmother was Native American, but no one calls us Indians. Most African-Americans from the Carolinas have some native heritage, but black is the catchall phrase used to describe us all.

When some of Thomas Jefferson's black descendents were found, most of who looked as white as any other white person, some of their neighbors began to treat them differently, of course, this was on Staten Island, where racism is a local sport, but still. Any black heritage was seen to make them black, even though Sally Hemmings was only half-black to begin with. She was Jefferson's sister-in-law. It took decades for the white Jefferson descendents to allow their black relatives to be part of the family.

I was watching the Super Bowl with my friends and someone said something about being black. My friend said, well, I'm not all black. I said, "well, 25 percent makes you a member of the club and 50 percent gets you a seat at the table."

Italians love to insult Sicilians by saying they're part black. It's one of the most common jokes heard.

Barack Obama is black because he looks black. His actual heritage is not relevant. His upbringing is not relative. All you have to do in America is look black to be black. Because that is how people will treat you.

Read the whole thing here.

On blogging a political convention:

I haven't been following the inside baseball, because, at it's heart, a convention is a trade show, but with better exhibits. I don't really care about what the Pennslyvania delegation thinks. I'll read the people who do care, saving me energy.

I don't want to make any judgment about the bloggers until tommorow, but when I hear about some big party for bloggers, I want to bang my head against the wall, playing The Wall at full volume. I'm nearly 40 years old and I've had my fill of parties and ass kissing and playing journalist.

If people are wondering if I'm pissed at not being given creds, I'm not. Why? Because I know how to cover a story. If creds were so fucking important, I would have wheedled them from a friend or someone who reads the site, which includes the DCCC. Or I would have begged for help.

I am so glad I didn't do that, because then I would have written stories like every other blog. And that would have been a moral failure.

The speeches are on TV, and while it's nice to hobnob with your political heroes (the thought makes me ill, the only place I care about seeing Ben Affleck is at Fenway Park), what does it really bring to the table.

The bloggers didn't need to hang around the hall all four days, there are other stories. But that first press pass is intoxicating, illuminating. But goddamnit, I don't trust politicians who want to throw me a party and pat me on the ass. Something is just fucking wrong with that. It sets off 20 years of bells and whistles. I thought there would be people blanketing the city, hanging around different places.

I wonder if anyone will cover the protests during tonight's speech by Kerry. My hopes are minimal.

On Public Speaking 101 and the Democratic Convention (emphasis added):

In 1988, Bill Clinton gave the first big speech of his national political career, which I saw.

Without question, it was a disaster, like most things that year. Some Republican wag asked why Michael Dukakis was not part of the convention. Well, Michael Dukakis lied about his wife's sobriety when asked and the party never really forgave him. Kitty Dukakis was swilling cologne like a Russian tank driver. But Clinton's speech was like a turd in a punchbowl. It was truly awful, too long, too unfocused, too boring.

However, Barack Obama had better luck. If he were better known, the speech he gave would have been an excellent nominating speech for John Kerry. As it stands, it will serve as a template for Democrats to speak about any number of issues for years to come. Not only does the man drip charisma, he seems to have recovered the voice of the Democratic Party. He talked about money and faith in ways that the Democrats haven't in years.

I posted the text of the speech because it is something that should be read, not just talked about.

Speeches are funny things, they can do as much harm as good. I remember Pat Buchanan's KulturKampf speech in 1992, and the generally horrified reaction to it. Molly Ivins said that the speech "sounded better in the original German". As usual, she nailed it. It was an awful, Falangist kind of speech, the kind of thing which sounds better with an armband on at a rally.

Obama blew the room away. It was the kind of speech where you wish you were there to hear it. I wasn't and I wish I was.

I am rarely impressed by the poise and grace of a politician, because that IS their job. But Obama seems like a winner, such a winner that the Illinois GOP seems afraid of him. Is there no State Rep or Senator willing to risk a run? Scary. And if he has the presence of mind on the campaign trail he did tonight, well, that man is going places.

On the minefield that is biracialism and Young Mr. Obama.

...young Mr. Obama had to make a conscious decision about who he would be. Which is no small deal, and it had to influence him at Harvard, which has a solid tradition of black scholarship (it was the one Ivy which readily accepted blacks as far back as the 19th Century).

Why does this matter?

Because his acceptance of being an American black is not small, not a minor detail. It isn't his heritage, it isn't how he grew up. He had to decide to accept it, and take no small abuse for not being like other blacks. He didn't have family in the South or eat their food, or learned their stories. He had to decide to do that. It's not like he could have said he was white, but he certainly didn't have to become a civil rights attorney in the most racially divided of America's large cities, Chicago. His wife is black, as well. Which means he was comfortable in his skin in a way some people, biracial or not, are never.

Yes, it was only a speech, but this is a guy who doesn't seem to take the easy way out of things, and that is a good sign in a person and a politician.

On Those Earnest Kids:

A lot of women, young guys in ties and khakis. What I realized was that most of these people were the same kind of student government types you hated, if you had any sense, in high school. The same earnest faces, disconnected from brutal reality, willing to suck up to anyone willing help them. This doens't mean they're bad people, but they are not risk takers. After all, what kind of 25 year old wants to do politics. The kind that can't be trusted, of course.

On why Conventions are actually important:

There something you should never forget about a convention, especially a Democratic convention, is that it really does look like America. The blacks and hispanics aren't tokens, and they aren't ignorant and poor. It is the American middle class in action. Rational, sane people, and very few of the Greens or hippies in action. Even the kids dress seriously. It is rote, to some degree, but it is also important, if no other reason, to remind ourselves of what democracy should be.

“The News Blog” was a wild, profane, knives-out-wonderful Liberal joint for the simplest of reasons: its proprietor wrote with a powerful, consistent voice every day with his pen set at full-tilt-smashmouth.

Gilly insisted equally from people in public life, in the blogosphere and in his comment section that they think for themselves and defend their opinions. He was blunt and lavish with his loathing of Quisling Democrats, slapped the daylights out people who counseled despair and defeat, and mercilessly flattened those loud-of-mouth-but-small-of-brain who endlessly fire off reams of hectoring declaratives about every-damn-thing while clearly having no idea how real politics really works in the real world.

And this year, this election, I feel the loss of that voice more keenly than ever.

UPDATE: Links have corrected. It was my own stupid mistake for being rushrushrush. Thanks for the catch, Anonymoustache.


Anonymous said...

Nobody deserves such a tribute more than Gilly, and nobody could have delivered it like you, Drifty.

Anonymous said...

Damn you for making me remember just how badly I miss that man. And thanks.

Anonymous said...


Great post and many thanks for bringing some of Steve Gs words back to life.

How I wish he were around. One thing I think he'd be saying is that it's TIME TO FIGHT BACK.


Anonymoustache said...

Beautiful post.
The last few links come up with "page not found" though...dont know what's the deal there.

Anonymous said...

He was the one blogger the 'sphere couldn't afford to lose.

And yet.

Anonymous said...

It still hurts to have lost him, now more than ever...

Cirze said...

Thanks for taking the time for the loving tribute to Gilly.

A huge loss (and gift) to humanity.


Anonymous said...


I can only imagine how Steve would feel about Obama now.

Anonymous said...

Nice. Real Nice.

Well done Drifty . . .

And yes, there was some SPECTACULAR blogging about the facist cops, FBI, and SS in Twin Cities, and not much else . . . but FDL stood tall on the coverage of the facists . . . and outshone all others.

Some blogs, were an incredibly disappointing showcase of what they promised. No names, we know who they were.

And last . . . thanks for some old Gilley I never read.


Gilley WAS the voice, and somehow, you've found his dialect . . . as no one else has. NO ONE!

Good on ya.

On we crawl.

The Minstrel Boy said...

thanks drifty.

Anonymous said...

gilly is missed....he made my speelign seem sane

Anonymous said...

Does the "towering inferno" who writes this blog, or the firebrands who read it and comment on it know how to get Obama's attention, to point out to him that "turning the other cheek" is NOT going to make it this time. He needs to turn to the scriptures to see how Jesus dealt with the moneychangers in the temple. He wasn't meek. He found a way to stay on message and even do demonstrate the strength of his message by clearing out the scum. Release the dogs, stop the "meek and mild", stop the Swift Boating attack, stop moving dangerously close to demonstrating "slave mentality".

Imaginista said...

Drifty, this is beautiful and fitting. Yes, Gilly is missed and oh how I wish I could read what he'd be saying about Obama now. Confession: I actually cried when I found out Gilly died. I don't have that reaction when people I ACTUALLY KNOW IN PERSON die. That's how powerful the man was.

But he does live on, in the voices who've picked up where he left off; voices like yours and Lower Manhattanite's and Al Giordano's. He's the left's version of the Beatles for me - the quality you then look for ever after. But you're there, man, you're there.

Anonymous said...

thanks again, DG. Like any good DJ, you know how to place the classics along side the fresh picks in the mix.

one lil quote said it all for me:

*"this is a guy who doesn't seem to take the easy way out of things, and that is a good sign in a person and a politician."

Whether Obama wins or not, he's brought back a lot of class. I'm not an obamamaniac by anystretch, i originally thought he was a greenhorn thru and thru. But to underestimate him only shows my own ignorance. If the Dems fail to take the house in Nov, there's still work to be done. We fight back, and we don't stop.

cheers ya'll!

Anonymous said...

Mermaid, reference your 'turn the other cheek' comment. . .

I've always thought that He wasn't telling us to be meek and stand there getting the shit kicked out of us without fighting back. Quite the opposite.

When a master strikes a slave, as most Jews were to Romans at the time, the master backhands the slave in the face. I think He was telling the slave to turn the other cheek and thereby force the master to attempt to strike him as an equal, straight on, man to man.

He wasn't telling us to lay down. He was telling us to stand up.

At least that's what I got out of the story the couple times I attended sunday school.

And thanks Drifty for the tribute to Mr G. I never tire of his wit and wisdom.

Unknown said...

How interesting, Agordon, I hadn't heard that interpretation of the "turn the other cheek" line.

Frankly, I think what the O campaign is doing is aikido -- where you allow (and often *encourage*) your attacker to continue in the direction and manner of their attack, without direct resistance.

The attacker goes past you and then splat against the wall or floor.

PS -- drifty, thanx a million for the Gilliard links.

Anonymous said...

My partner introduced me to Gilliard's blog at a time when I didn't really know about blogs. Gilly's became the first blog I read each day, and he helped me tremendously to understand what the hell was going on. When Gilly died, San and I mourned the loss of a man neither of us had met as if he were a member of our family. We both miss him terribly.

Thanks for this tribute, Driftglass.

Anonymous said...

I had to stop reading and let you know how much your post has made me MISS Steve Gilliard. Words fail me, but thanks for reminding me.

clio said...

Thank you for this reminder, driftglass. I miss Steve's thoughts this election season.

drbopperthp said...

You do The Big Fella proud - as always Brotha Drifty. Peace & Love...

(and when those those run out - bullets and bayonets!)

Anonymous said...

Darned blurry monitor...

Plummet said...


Blurry monitor indeed. And because no one else has said it -
fuck the fuckin' Yankees

Anonymous said...

Like everyone says, thanks for putting up the Gilly links, re-reading them makes me remember why I cried, too.

Anonymous said...

Nice one plummet, you beat me to it.

stellans said...

Gilly's blog was the first political blog I ever subscribed to, and ever supported financially, little though it was. I still miss him.

Thank you, as so many others have said, for posting the links. It was like rereading a well-loved book again.

fahrender said...

amen .....

Gilliard was a giant. we're lucky to be able to keep reading what he wrote.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, holmes. One of my greatest blogospheric regrets is that I never got into this shit before Gilliard died. Every time I read something he wrote, I long for the opportunity to engage his powerful mind directly.