The week (June 9th): Nobody asked me, but…

As always, with a nod to Jimmy Cannon, columnist extraordinaire, nobody asked me, but…

DEMOCRAT FRANCINE BUSBY, loser in the runoff election in California's 50th District, gets the 2006 "Gas on the Fire" Award. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Busby handed her Republican opponent Brian Bilbray the ammunition to paint her as"soft on immigration" when she told a Spanish-speaking supporter: "Everybody can help. You can all help. You don't need papers for voting, you don't need to be a registered voter to help."

As the Associated Press reported: "The radio ad sponsored by the national Republican Party said, "Francine Busby's position? Government handouts for illegal immigrants, and 'you don't need papers for voting.'"

Busby had been leading in some polls before her comments; she lost by some four percentage points.

The more surprising results from the Golden State: the thumping defeat (61 to 39%) of Proposition 82, the Rob Reiner-backed ballot measure that would have guaranteed access to preschool for all of the state's 4-year-olds. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne points to that defeat, and the rejection of a $600 million bond initiative for California's libraries and calls it "truly sobering news for liberals."

Dionne further notes:

Progressives have a lot to think about. For one thing, there remains a deep skepticism about government spending, even for the best purposes. On the same day the two propositions went down, voters in five California counties rejected sales tax increases, mostly to fund transportation projects. Attacks on tax-and-spend sound old and tired, but they still have force.

Dionne thinks that liberals should narrow their sights and "deal with the sources of voter skepticism about public spending."

AMERICANS REMAIN DRAWN TO REALISM in art: in New York the Whitney Museum is hosting a mini-show of Edward Hopper's paintings and drawings; in the City of Brotherly Love, it's Andrew Wyeth at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (BTW, the Art Institute of Chicago will loan Hopper's famous "Nighthawks" in October.) Modernists will sniff, or sneer, but the viewers will vote with their feet.

IT'S CLEAR THAT NATIONAL DEMOCRATS want former Navy Secretary James Webb to win next Tuesday's Virginia primary against businessman Harris Miller and then face incumbent Senator George Allen in November. They think Webb can beat Allen and that Miller can't–which is why Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee gave Webb an unusual endorsement in the contested primary. Politics does make strange bedfellows: Schumer and other liberal Democrats (like John Kerry) won't subject the former Reaganite Webb to any litmus tests because he could pass the only test that matters–winning a general election.

SCOTT SHANE has an interesting piece in the New York Times on how the now thankfully-departed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi made use of the Internet, often in grisly ways with snuff videos and terrorist instructions, in his quest for global jihad. Shane quotes one terror expert who calls Zarqawi "the Alexander Graham Bell of terrorist propoganda." The Zarqawi situation demonstrates once again that the Web is a powerful tool, which can be used as easily for evil as for good, a fact often ignored by those who see only the positive side of social networks.

PHOTOGRAPHER SLIM AARON's amazing photo, "The Kings of Hollywood," surfaced next to newspaper obituaries and on the Web last week following the celebrity photographer's death at 89 years. The photo, taken on New Year's Eve in 1957, shows Clark Gable, Van Heflin, Gary Cooper and Jimmy Stewart in the Crown Room of Romanoff's Restaurant laughing together as they cluster at the bar. The New York Times noted that novelist Louis Auchincloss had called it "the very image of American he-men." All four actors, however, were gentlemanly he-men, with none of the insecure swagger of many of today's Hollywood stars. But that was a different time…

IS AUSTRIAN AUTHOR Peter Handke the Ezra Pound of our time? Handke has turned down the jury-awarded Heinrich Heine literature prize, which the Dussledorf city council was likely to revoke because of Hanke's noxious politics (he is known for his pro-Serbian statements and writings and eulogized Slobodan Milosevic, the Butcher of the Balkans.) Like Pound (who also had nasty political views), however, Handke's talent can not be denied: his novels Wings of Desire and The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick are intriguing modernist works.

Handke's flirtation with Milosevic's nationalism echoes an old, sad story; the artist or writer drawn by the romanticism of extreme politics, of the Right (Pound, Evelyn Waugh, Knut Hamsun, Celine) or the Left (Stephen Spender, Arthur Koestler, Lillian Hellman, Diego Rivera). What of any value–aesthetic or otherwise–could Handke see in Milosevic's thuggishness? What did Pound find admirable in Mussolini? The answer lies, no doubt, more in the province of psychiatry than literature.

Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

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