A new poll indicates that Americans would prefer George W. Bush in the White House to Obama. Given that Bush left office as one of the most unpopular presidents in memory only two years ago, and that Obama has pretty much made a living off of blaming him for everything but halitosis since his election in 2008, that's not a good sign for the president. It's a certain sign that he's going to have to come up with something better than "at least I'm not Bush!" as a reason for people to vote for him in 2012. Given that he appears intent on taking on the GOP and fighting what Republicans feel will be losing battles for him after their presumptive takeover of the House on Tuesday, it's unlikely that he'll seek to position himself as an above-the-fray Clintonian triangulator either. I'm not sure that bashing the GOP for obstructionism is going to work, however, given that voters generally disapprove of his agenda and are poised to reward Republicans for trying to obstruct it over the past few years.
Radley Balko of Reason makes a very fair point re: response to the firing of NPR Juan Williams over comments he made about overcoming his personal fear of Muslims. Why is it that progressives feel it's okay to describe black people using language that, were it to come from a conservative, would (rightly) be decried as racist? I don't care what you think of Juan Williams' political views (and he doesn't seem like a staunch conservative to me), but referring to him using a racially loaded term like "lawn jockey" as Balloon Juice did is completely unacceptable.
The African-American community is not monolithic. It's composed of individuals, complicated human beings with their own opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints, just like any other demographic is. Some blacks, such as Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, and (debatably) Williams, hold conservative views. So what? They're entitled to do so. It's a free country. For other blacks to accuse them of selling out their race for opposing racial profiling laws or affirmative action or what have you is one thing. I don't agree with it, but I can understand where the impulse comes from. But for white liberals to do it strikes me as rather presumptuous, even when they're not using language that ought to have died out along with minstrel shows. When they do use such language, it's not just presumptuous, it's offensive. Like most people I know, I often think that political correctness is too frequently taken to ridiculous extremes. But certain formulations should be out of bounds in enlightened discourse. Declaring that any black that thinks like the stereotypical rich white guy is either a self-interested race traitor or a useful idiot is one of them. If white liberals such as the editor of Balloon Juice really believe in racial equality (and they should), they ought to just accept that such a person is merely an individual who disagrees with them politically and happens to have dark skin.
I don't think white progressives who talk like this are necessarily bigots, nor that most of them are cynical enough to deliberately exploit racial prejudice among either whites or blacks (Bill Clinton, with his comment on Barack Obama's "shucking and jiving" during the 2008 Democratic primaries, is one notable exception). But, for people who pride themselves on being racially enlightened, they come off as remarkably insensitve and simplistic in their thinking about racial issues. The black community does not belong to one party or ideology or the other. Many if not most may be liberals and vote Democratic, but that doesn't entitle Democrats/liberals to declare those who aren't and don't off the reservation. If there's going to be such a thing as an internal political debate among African-Americans, it should be left to them, and not subject to the self-important bleatings of white interlopers, conservative or otherwise.
The long-delayed, two-part Peter Jackson-produced adaptation of The Hobbit finally has a cast, certainly a gigantic step toward getting the damned thing made. As a card-carrying, badge-wearing, rafter-shouting Tolkien geek, I'm very excited about that. Many fans of Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy were disappointed when he announced he wouldn't be directing The Hobbit as well, but in tapping Guillermo del Toro he chose a replacement who proved with Pan's Labyrinth that he can make a fantastic fantasy film. In fact, I'd argue that he's a better fit for this material than Jackson is. Much as I admire the LOTR trilogy, Jackson's penchants for narrative bloat and visual excess had started to creep in by the end (for me at least, they ruined his follow-up effort King Kong), and I'm not sure I'd trust him to rein them in enough to do justice to Tolkien's story which, rich in action and adventure as it is, is an intimate, character-driven quest story at its heart. So long as Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis can be secured to reprise their roles as Gandalf and Gollum respectively (as is rumored), these movies should be excellent.
That's what the state's Republican primary voters have served up in the person of Senatorial candidate Sharron Angle, as Angle's latest bizarre and inaccurate statement in regards to Muslims in America attests. I'm no fan of Harry Reid's, and he's frankly among the Democrats I'd like to see ousted from the Senate. But I'm not at all enthused about his possible downfall given that his replacement would be a know-nothing loon like Angle.
It's a testament to just out of sorts the Republican party is that in a year in which all the fundamentals are in their favor, they may blow their chance at capturing control of the Senate by allowing people like Angle and fervent anti-masturbation advocate Christine O'Donnell of Delaware to get nominations in imminently winnable races. There are plenty of legitimate critiques to be made of both the Democratic agenda under President Obama and the Bush-style big government Republicanism it displaced and in some ways continued. Why can't the Republicans find smarter, saner candidates to articulate those critiques?
I'm back from Nagano, very sore and feeling the first symptoms of what I suspect is an uncoming cold, no doubt contracted as a result of running around sweat-covered in shorts and a tee-shirt in the chilly mountain air. Our team wasn't the worst there, but it wasn't the best either, and a draw that pitted us against the top three teams in the tournament in the group stage didn't help matters. We battled gamely but fell to the eventual champions on Sunday morning. At least I got to work on my goalkeeping skills - nothing improves you at that position like facing a lot of shots from skilled players.
Now, I'm just hoping this cold doesn't turn out to be anything to bad. I hate getting sick, particularly in Japan as the damp climate and lack of central heating always seem to mean it takes me forever to recover.
This weekend I'll be traveling to Nagano-ken, one of Japan's loveliest prefectures, to participate in a nationwide amateur soccer tournament. I'm not expecting to win (I've never played with most of my teammates before, but based on past experience I doubt we'll be particularly good) - all I want is to run around, get some fresh mountain air, and have a good time. The best things in life really are free.