"I take orders from the Octoboss."


tn_spotlightbestpictureSPOTLIGHT is another one of the best picture nominees. I’d already seen it anyway. It doesn’t seem to me like signs are pointing to it as a potential winner, but it definitely feels like your traditional perfectly-good-movie-that-wins-best-picture-and-makes-you-resent-it. Unlike BIRDMAN or ARGO it is not about actors or Hollywood, except in the sense that it allows actors to shine in a big cast with mouthfuls of dialogue. But the appeal is they get to portray professionalism, a courageous Fight Against the System, and a true story about a heavy topic: the massive cover-up of child sexual abuse among Catholic clergy.

It’s an ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN type deal. The Boston Globe‘s “Spotlight” team of reporters who do long-term investigative journalism sort of stumble across this thing, an old story that no one paid much attention to that has bigger implications. They talk to victims, look at records, connect the dots, do the math, and start to suspect that the atrocity is much bigger than anyone realized. If it’s 3% of priests, let’s see, how many priests are in Boston? And 3% of that is… HOLY SHIT, that’s too many molesters in my opinion.

They discover lawyers who were involved with settlements between the families and the church. The families were led to believe the church would punish the abusers and getting some money for the kid to live off of would be the best thing to do. Whoops. They just made them move and let them keep working.

I don’t want this to sound like too much of a dis, but at times it definitely feels like a Law & Order episode or something: go knock on this guy’s door, talk to his wife, find out the name of some other person, etc. In fact, co-writer Josh Singer was a producer and writer on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Check out this IMDb plot summary of one of the two episodes where he’s credited as writer:

“After a young boy is hospitalized for blood loss following a rape, Stabler and Munch focus on a Hasidic order whose reluctance to cooperate may lead the investigation away from the real perpetrator.”

mp_spotlightSo this religion-interfering-with-justice-in-child-molestation-cases theme is not new to him. And also this makes me realize that the movie could’ve benefited from Ice-T being in the cast. I’m not gonna choose a specific actor who shouldn’t have been in there, because they all did a good job with their roles, but I’m sure most of them know deep down that the best thing for the movie would’ve been to step aside for Ice. It’s not always easy to do what you know is the right thing, is it?

Oh shit, and also director/co-writer Tom McCarthy – known for directing THE STATION AGENT, THE VISITOR, WIN WIN, but also THE COBBLER – started as an actor, and sure enough he was on an episode of SVU. Other procedurals he was on: New York Undercover, The Practice, Boston Public, regular Law & Order, and The Wire if you want to count that. So these guys are familiar with the format.

But the procedural element is compelling. Like cops they have to struggle with whether to go after the small guy they got dead to rights or keep investigating with the hope of bringing down a bigger fish. Also they gotta worry about another newspaper publishing one of these stories before they do and tipping off the powers that be.

It’s good to see Michael Keaton (HERBIE: FULLY LOADED) working more, even if he’s already done a newspaper movie before. Mark Ruffalo (THE DENTIST) is great as always, and gets the emotional outburst scene, hence the supporting actor nomination. Actually I think the most impressive performance is Liev Schreiber (HBO 24/7 narrator in CREED) as their new publisher. He’s very buttoned down but pushes them to get deep into this story and supports them against so many opposing forces.

It’s well put together. It works. And people love this movie. Does it do anything new with this format of an investigative procedural? Not anything that I’m perceptive enough to pick up on. But it’s an effective story about a topic that it’s hard not to be outraged by unless you just give up. I think there’s a certain amount of “no shit” about it, that we have to watch them being shocked by something everybody knows about now. But it doesn’t only apply to the Catholic priest molestation scandal. It speaks to the phenomenon of people doing small evils that add up to a big evil. The people at the church probly think they’re doing right by Jesus by moving the priests around instead of busting them and damaging the church’s reputation. They convince themselves maybe they won’t do it again. They can face that easier than having to discredit their entire religious institution. And the lawyers like the one played by Billy Crudup (M:I III) figure they can’t win the big fight, they might as well get settlements for the victims. Settling for settlements.

So, when power goes unquestioned and most people are too scared to say anything then horrible things can go on. When it happens it’s the duty of journalists to seek the truth and reveal it, even though they will be accused of being anti-Catholic or anti-American or whatever is loosely applicable. This also shows the value of having a team like this, that invests months into their projects and thus requires a larger financial investment from their publishers. We’re in an age where the bottom line has killed foreign news bureaus (not to mention Grantland, The Dissolve, many national film critics, and even the idea of writers getting paid for their work), so this is a reminder to the money people that there is nobility (and maybe even financial value) in supporting high quality work without instant pay-off.

So hopefully SPOTLIGHT will become SCARFACE to the media honchos and they’ll all fight over who can have the most extravagant Spotlight team.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016 at 10:45 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

40 Responses to “Spotlight”

  1. But if this were the SCARFACE of media honcho movies, wouldn’t it actually be a cautionary tale about the greed and hubris of having the biggest spotlight team that its biggest fans aggressively fail to understand?

    This is another one of those big Oscar hype movies with generic one-word titles that don’t give me any clue to their content and I never even find out what they’re about until Vern reviews them. Looking forward to finally discovering why anyone would name a movie ROOM. Or fuckin’ BROOKLYN.

  2. Thank God for journalists and writers with big fuckin balls to swing in these c*nts faces. The ‘Church’ will always care more about it’s reputation than actually being accountable for it’s heinous crimes. I’m stopping now before I smash the computer screen…

  3. I actually really dug the hell out of this one. It’s just such a solid, fundamentally well-constructed movie that it feels very old-fashioned in the best possible way. A classic example of a kind of film we mostly don’t get very much any more, which is just a straightforward drama, well-written and well-assembled with a bunch of excellent actors, which is 100% confident that the story itself will be interesting enough to keep us engrossed without any kind of hook or postmodern trickery or stylistic gimmicks.

    For me, anyway, it worked. I was absolutely involved for every single second of runtime. There’s not a sour note in here, and I think it actually makes people underestimate the movie because it makes it look so easy. Somehow it synthesizes and effectively communicates a huge structural problem, an equally complex structure of the newspaper, a large group of characters, and a long-term twisty-turny investigation into a completely streamlined, digestible, and completely engrossing format. That takes real focus to do, and there’s a real nuts-and-bolts focus on fine-tuning the details here until they’re just right, and the whole thing hums along even when it has to to near-suicidal things like stop cold to acknowledge that 9/11 happened right in the middle of everything. Frankly, it takes an enormous amount of discipline to make a film like this work so well, and it’s so unflashy that I actually think, despite the nomination, McCarthy isn’t getting enough credit for his work here. Despite the ripped-from-the-headlines-ten-years-ago subject matter, I think the result has a timeless quality which may actually give it some life beyond the usual hyped-and-forgotten Oscar-bait cycle. At the very least, I think it deserves it.

  4. I also really enjoyed this one because of its solidity. I don’t know what it is about movies that are really deliberate/non-flashy in their approach, but I love them. Maybe it’s just the craftsmanship. Anyway I liked this a bunch and *SPOILER* I thought it was a neat twist that basically it turns out that THEY were behind the cover-up (unintentionally, maybe, but still).

  5. I agree with Subtlety on this one, and I think I liked this movie a lot more than Vern did. The film knew that when telling a true to life story, sometimes it’s better to be a little subdued. The subject is dramatic enough. The trailers for this film made it look terribly over the top, and if it weren’t for the strong reviews I don’t know if I would have seen it in theaters. There are a few big moments in the film, but they feel earned.

    Here are a couple of smart moves Spotlight makes that I don’t think other films would have made: 1) the reporters are a part of the problem. People came forward before, but they weren’t listening. They’re not just single-mindedly altruistic. They can’t see something that’s right in front of them, and it takes an outsider to shake things up. (I initially thought Schrieber was going to be the asshole who comes in and tries to mess up a good thing, but, again, that’s something a lesser film would do). 2) We don’t spend much time examining the personal lives of the reporters. Sure, that stuff’s there, but the characters are drawn through their actions and interactions with one another. We don’t need husbands and wives taking up screen time. The screenplay trusts the actors to make the characters interesting. 3) They mention Cardinal Law’s work during the Civil Rights era. This was kind of a weird detail, but in other versions of this film, Law would be the embodiment of evil. I think the point of this information is that the problem cannot be boiled down to a single villain. It’s a systemic issue.

    I actually think the comparison to Argo is a little unfair. I enjoyed Argo for what it was, but there are broader questions raised in Spotlight than just the Catholic abuse scandal. It’s about how evil becomes embedded in societies and how difficult it is to dislodge. It’s about the moral failings of a community. You could probably do an interesting comparison of this film with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. I actually think that Spotlight’s reputation will grow in time.

  6. Hey Vern–I was a crew member on SPOTLIGHT during the Boston location shooting, glad to see it reviewed here. And Mr. Subtlety, THANK YOU for the excellent analysis. You completely got it.

  7. Haven’t seen it yet but I’m just glad that there is some kinda Michael Keaton renaissance going on in Hollywood right now. People had forgotten just how good he is.

  8. It’s interesting that Keaton doesn’t fit the narrative of other recent Comeback Kids like McConaughey, Rourke, or Downey Jr. He never sputtered out or went down in flames or became uncool. He did mostly decent movies, remained fairly popular, took some time off, and when he decided to start working more often, everyone was just like, “Oh cool, Keaton’s back. Here are some good roles.” No big deal. I like that.

  9. Interesting review Vern. The last couple of paragraphs are particularly strong.

    For me, this is the kind of thing where I think: who chooses to watch this film? Absolutely no disrespect intended to those who have or, more importantly, those who made it. I’m perfectly happy to believe it’s a well made movie but, given limited time, the only thing that would even make me consider watching is the Oscar nomination.

    Sorry, I guess that’s a microcosm of personal taste and why the Oscars really do make a difference!

    Cheers, Cosh.

  10. One Guy From Andromeda

    February 23rd, 2016 at 6:57 pm

    Couldn’t get through it. Made with no flair at all, like TV, not like a film. Every single scene is – room, someone enters room, muted conversation in the room, mostly shot reverse shot, person leaves room.
    It was so bland, i guarantee it will be named best picture…

  11. I’m going to sorely miss The Dissolve, such an outstanding website and we only got 2 years of it.

    Anyway remember how “Catholic priests like to molest young boys” jokes became as trite and cliche as airline food jokes? It always bothered me just a tad that comedians took something shocking and disturbing and made it into a punchline (Bill Maher is particularly guilty of running that joke into the ground)

  12. I take umbridge at the implication in a lot of people’s reaction to this one that it’s an “issues movie,” which is to say it’s a work which exists to draw our attention and concern to a particular tragic issue and raise “awareness.” Well, if that’s all it is, it’s a pretty worthless document, since this was one of the biggest news stories of the new millennium. I think it’s not much hyperbole to say that nearly everyone on Earth heard about this this. I suspect you could go to rural villages in China and ask them about Catholicism and they’d bring this up. And it hasn’t faded with time; despite the events of this movie being over a decade old (and a lot of the events exposed being decades older than that) its still very much a part of our current discourse; as a couple of you have pointed out, jokes about priest molestation have become so ubiquitous they’ve lost all meaning. There’s not a lot more “awareness” to raise, even about the particulars of the case.

    But I think it’s more than that. I think this is much more interesting as a drama-thriller-news-procedural full of interesting twists and turns which gradually lay bare not just that there was a tragedy, but how a whole system conspired –mostly without actual malice– to facilitate and perpetuate that tragedy, including, unwittingly, the very people who eventually take the time to uncover it. Frankly, I think the movie would be just as strong –and hell, maybe even stronger, because it wouldn’t have the same baggage– if it was about a fictional event instead of a real one. Like The Wire the strength here is in the startlingly clarity with which it allows us to see both the large scale and the intimate scale, and how they’re connected. It’s so efficient at making these connections that you hardly even notice how much complicated information is crammed in there — but compare it to something like THE BIG SHORT, which spends most of its time having celebrities directly describe to the camera what we’re supposed to learn, and it should be immediately clear how remarkably strong McCarthy’s command of screenwriting, editing, and directing is.

    A couple of you describe it as “bland” or ask ” who chooses to watch this film?” To me, that represents an almost insultingly narrow view of what film should be. I love highly stylized, visually expressive cinema, but while it is primarily a visual medium it’s also a terrific narrative medium –and that’s what the focus is here. McCarthy elects for a simple visual aesthetic, probably more than anything to avoid distracting from –or abstracting– the great complexity of plot. That’s a artistic choice, not a flaw. I simply refuse to believe we’re incapable of finding a story fundamentally gripping without a flashy enough package.

    If you saw it and it didn’t grab you, no problem, you’re entitled to your own opinion. But I find a lot of commentary on this movie frustratingly dismissive for a film with so many obvious strengths (not necessarily on this site, of course, just venting in general). Is it really not enough just to have an interesting story, well told? Is it less ambitious a work of art for its focus on acting and storytelling rather than cinematic razzmatazz? Is it less interesting because it’s depicting a real event? I don’t think so. Honestly I walked out of this one positively aglow with the magic of cinema. It really bums me out to see so many people who dismiss it just under the assumption that it’s one of those cynical big-screen Lifetime movies that wants to grab unearned Serious Artist cred just by recycling a real-life tragedy. I mean, I hate those too. But I don’t think this is one. I think this is closer to the movie it understandably get compared to a lot: ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN. Yes, it happens to tell a true story which is still very much a part of the zeitgeist, but more than that it’s also a great, timeless example of top-notch writing, acting, and directing.

    I do wish it had a better name, though.

  13. Subtlety, once again, you got it. On behalf of the Boston crew of SPOTLIGHT (the movie, not the actual Boston Globe investigative unit), thank you.

  14. So is this what won best picture, that’s surprising.

    I was happy to see FURY ROAD win so many awards though.

  15. One Guy From Andromeda

    February 28th, 2016 at 11:50 pm

    Called it.

  16. I, for one, am glad.

  17. The Original Paul

    March 14th, 2016 at 8:51 pm

    So this movie was interrupted about two-thirds of the way through by a fire alarm. First time that’s ever happened to me in any cinema.

    Other than that, the screenings of this (and of LONDON HAS FALLEN, which I saw immediately before it) were pretty good.

    I endorse everything that Mr Subtlety has said about this one. An excellent film. It took an interesting story and told it very well indeed.

    I’ve given Vern a bit of a kicking over LONDON HAS FALLEN (not saying it wasn’t deserved though) so I’ll add that I completely agree that Liev Schreiber shone through in a movie full of good performances. But honestly, everybody was great in it. This reminded me a lot of SHATTERED GLASS, for fairly obvious reasons.

    It’s been an excellent night at the movies for me. I’d be very surprised indeed if LONDON HAS FALLEN and SPOTLIGHT don’t both end up near the top of my “best films of 2016” list, should such a thing exist. (Maybe this year I’ll actually get to see enough films to make one. That’d be nice.)

  18. Live Schreiber does a very good Dustin Hoffman impression.

    Thought the score for this movie was garbage. Like they took some kid who knew how to play the piano and said, “Hey, do a little bit that sounds both serious and sad” and just replayed those notes for every single break in the story. To help the illusion that yes, the story is moving forward and yes, this topic is serious and sad. I think the lame piano score is the MAIN REASON people are saying this feels like a TV movie.

    I thought the movie was okay. Thought the bit about 9/11 halting the investigation was interesting – though it only took up about ten minutes of the movie.

  19. Crushinator Jones

    August 1st, 2017 at 9:45 am

    Hey Vernster,

    Saw on your Twitter TL that you wanted to know why all the Bernie folks suddenly started going after Kamala Harris.

    It’s because she went to the Hamptons and the bankers loved her. She’s already being vetted/set up for a 2020 run.

    Major Democratic donor hosts Sen. Kamala Harris in the Hamptons as speculation mounts about her political future

    Speculation over California Sen. Kamala Harris’ political ambitions was stoked over the weekend by her appearance at the Hamptons home ...

    I’m speaking purely for myself, as a leftist: *At this time* she *appears* to be the same sort of HRC “pragmatic centrist” that lost us the last election. You simply cannot run a politician who is in good with the financial industry of this country because they will not be able to fix the economic problems (a huge one is: almost total capture of our government’s economic policy by the financial industry), they will be bad on trade, they will be bad on challenging power. America will continue to descend into a false meritocratic capitalist hell until the middle of the country flips out and goes full fascist reactionary.

    And Harris was very bad on this issue, she had a chance to prosecute Steve Mnuchin for fraudulent mortgages and didn’t.

    Kamala Harris Fails to Explain Why She Didn’t Prosecute Steven Mnuchin’s Bank

    The former California attorney general, now a U.S. senator, wouldn't say why she didn't prosecute the bank owned by Trump's treasury secretary nominee.

    She also fought to keep prisoners in prison because they provided cheap labor for the state. She got overridden.

    California agrees to let prison laborers leave early

    California prison officials have agreed to allow minimum custody inmates who provide the bulk of the state prison system’s menial labor force to be eligible for early release.

    But, anyway, the reason that all us leftists came out of the woodwork to start dunking on her is because of that Hamptons article and the fact that she’s building some political heat. Can’t speak for anyone else but I don’t want another HRC-style #Resistance centrist.

    I want Nina Turner.

    Nina Turner: It Is Not Our Job to Fit Into the Democratic Establishment

    The new president of Our Revolution on race, class, electoral strategy, and whether we’ll feel the Bern in 2020.

  20. Crushinator Jones

    August 1st, 2017 at 10:31 am

    Well I guess my post did absolutely nothing, you’re now blaming “bernie or busters” who don’t actually exist in significant numbers. Oh well, life is hell, we’re gonna lose in 2020.

  21. Crush — I think the worry here is that whole screed, with all the muckraking links, strikes some of us as a tad reactionary at this point. There are things to like and dislike about Harris –as there are with virtually any established and successful political figure– and the sudden, coordinated and completely un-nuanced attack on her seems like a worrisome repeat of the kind of factionalist invective which, at least to some extent, did play a part in pushing some left-leaning voters away from HRC. I think people like me (and possibly Vern) worry that the Bernie faction has unrealistic ideas about the kind of candidate that can create a winning coalition in this country, and worrisomely little interest in compromising in the interest of consensus. Like the GOP in the last few elections, they seem to have taken the lesson that their mistake was not going partisan enough. I’m not convinced that’s good strategy, and I am especially not convinced that even if it is a good strategy, that it will be workable as governmental policy.

    I know you think I’m wrong and that people like me are the reason the party ended up backing a total loser like Clinton, and that the way forward is to back a less centerist, more radically progressive vision. I dunno, you may be right, you may not be. But I am definitely nervous about the kind of radical orthodoxy which has increasingly turned the GOP into a hellish nightmare, and when I see such a strong and coordinated knee-jerk backlash against a relatively benign politician like Harris –especially one which comes from a discreet faction of the left– it makes me very nervous that we’re going down that same rabbit hole. It has the distinct feel of a cultish “us and them” mentality that seems unsustainable in service of a cause which needs allies more than enemies. I’m sure Turner is great, but if you think Harris is the devil because she’s “good with the financial industry” (based on a Obama bundler’s instagram post), I get worried that orthodoxy is becoming more important than pragmatism. And pragmatism, I know, can be short-sighted too, but right now I’m not convinced it’s the left’s biggest problem.

    But anyway, don’t mean to attack you, just trying to articulate my personal discomfort with this sort of thing. Thanks for explaining your thought process.

  22. Crushinator Jones

    August 1st, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    “I think people like me (and possibly Vern) worry that the Bernie faction has unrealistic ideas about the kind of candidate that can create a winning coalition in this country, and worrisomely little interest in compromising in the interest of consensus.”

    First of all, I really don’t appreciate a post where I laid out pure factual stuff – I deliberately went out and got the most neutral articles I could find (except for the one on Steve Mnuchin because no one else really bothered to report it) – as a “screed” and “muckraking”. Not cool. I really tried hard to be nice and as generally non-confrontational about this as possible – and believe me when I say that’s REAL fuckin’ hard for me when it comes to this stuff – and it got thrown back into my face with negative and, to be perfectly frank, bullshit negative framing. So. Not a great feeling. I know you probably didn’t do this consciously though so I’m moving on. Just want to bring it to your attention.

    Second of all, let’s talk about quoted post above. I would wager 1 (one) Official OutlawVern Internet Dollar that you are a big West Wing fan. Because what you are saying – and I’m trying to put this as politely as possible – is demonstratively not how politics works at all outside of the DC Media Consensus and West Wing BTW I used to be a big West Wing guy, but I’ve since realized that politics is not “reaching across the aisle”, politics is not parlor room discourse between reasonable people with differing opinions, it is not Debate Team, it is not institutions, it is not any of that. Politics is about winning power and forcing your moral vision on society. Everything else is a distraction.

    As much as I hate ’em, Republicans get that. They constantly violate norms and abuse institutions and attack their opponents in the service of furthering their own power and they keep winning. This is what’s killing me. Mr. Sub, you KNOW that they held that Supreme Court seat open when they shouldn’t have. You know that they call Dems traitors, constantly lie and distort basic fact, try to pass horrifically extreme right-wing legislation that targets the most vulnerable, that we now have a horrifically unethical President who is enriching himself and his family through his office, and you also know that they keep winning and are running the show at almost every level of government in most states!

    Republicans have a very clear moral vision: your problems are caused by the government, which is populated entirely by out-of-touch, weak, judgemental liberals – telling you what to do, and lazy people – many of them minorities + undocumented immigrants – taking your tax money. The solution is to punish those lazy people by making them miserable – so that they are forced to work – and build a big wall, to keep out those undocumented immigrants – and also cut taxes, so that even if this other stuff doesn’t work, you still keep all your money and the government liberals lose their jobs. And then, we free the markets and you compete with everyone, all over the world, to win (and you will win, because you’re a hard worker, you awesome badass you!)

    It’s an absolutely heartless, degenerate, horrific capitalistic nightmare that has the side effect of letting the rich work everyone to death while they control everything and keep it all. It is also 100% internally consistent (note: this does not mean it is factual, big difference). It has great appeal to people whose lives are going badly – it acknowledges that yes, your lives are going badly, someone is to blame, we can fix the problem.

    Because they have absolute (im)moral clarity, and because they go for the throat rather than saying “ya know, we really should compromise with these guys”, and because their resistance party – the Democratic Party – essentially accepts their framing and argues on their terms, America, with the exception of gay and trans acceptance, has moved steadily to the right in every area. Here are some things I think about, and some questions I had to ask myself:

    We’re 17 years into the right-wing 5 trillion dollar War on Terror and it’s never gonna stop under Establishment Dems. Who pays the price for this? The poor. Who are the poor? Disproportionally minorities and women.
    We’re 45 years into the right-wing trillion dollar War on Drugs and it’s never going stop under Establishment Dems. Who pays the price for this? The poor and minorities, who are arrested and prosecuted FAR in excess of their usage.
    All of Bill Clinton’s signature legislation was right-wing. It really was. Who paid the price? Who lost their houses in the 2008 crash that his repeal of Glass-Steagal precipitated? Who got bailed out? Who has been disproportionately imprisoned from his law-and-order push? Who got hurt by his welfare reform?
    Obamacare is a right-wing healthcare plan (without tort reform) that still leaves 28 million people without coverage, which results in tens of thousands of deaths per year and had a GOP Supreme Court-activated poison pill that is causing it to slowly self-destruct. From a leftist perspective it’s merely a stepping stone to what’s desired – Universal Healthcare, the dream of the guys who passed Medicare in 1968 – yet there’s a significant portion of Dems that are treating it like the end goal. Isn’t that weird – that so many Dems are treating an extremely right-wing healthcare paradigm as really good and acceptable?

    Now here’s the thing, Mr. Subtlety, when I actually look at what Establishment Dems get done, what they are actually passionate about and get behind and sign off on, the answer is “Some important liberal social change and a shitload of center-right-wing economic legislation, right-wing law-and-order legislation that ends up being implemented in a horrifically racist way, retrograde right-wing restrictions on birth control and abortion rights, and an extremely right-wing imperial foreign policy”. And a bunch of other people have noticed this, too. And “these charts say things are actually good” and “well the other guys are worse” worked for a while – but now things have gotten so bad that it doesn’t work anymore.

    (Our most successful left president, FDR, didn’t care about discourse or consensus at all. He took a big shit on corporations all the time – he famously said he “welcomed their hatred” – I highly suggest you listen to that speech and hear the crowd go absolutely insane when FDR pops off on the rich – Google “FDR I welcome their hatred” on Google. That speech could have been written today)

    The thing that I find so interesting is how hard the Democratic party has been working to erase this class divide. And it seems to have worked. For example, I recently went back and read Vern’s review on Elysium and he absolutely gets the class conflict in the movie. He absolutely feels the class disconnect. Now, not so much. I mean, I guess if somebody from Elysium flew down to Earth and said “yeah I’m gonna make everyone’s lives better, and everyone important on Elysium supports me” wouldn’t it arouse instant suspicion from the Earth people? How the fuck is that gonna work?

    Anyway, our total drubbing on the Left – we’re completely out of power and at the mercy of guys like McCain to stop these awful bills – and the fact that we’re still trying to advance these centrist Dems – after getting our asses kicked by Donald Trump, Literally A Human Greaseball – gets me down. I mean, this honestly feels like Rocky 3 except Rocky, after getting absolutely smashed by Clubber Lang, goes back to jumping rope amongst the bubbles. And so let me take this moment to yell, in my absolute best Burgess Meredith voice, “Come on, Dems! Ya gotta buck the consensus and the discourse and fight back! Give up lesser evilism and think big! Run a real left-wing candidate, not these centrist careerist banker-lovers!” Then I have an heart attack and die.

  23. Crushinator Jones

    August 1st, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    Well fuck, I didn’t close an italics. Sorry about that.

  24. Crushinator Jones

    August 1st, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    I mean, Mr. Subtlety, I guess if you don’t want to read my long-ass post I’ll sum it up: you can try to pretend that politics isn’t “Us vs them”. It is. It’s you vs. me, it’s us vs. Republicans, it’s them and us vs. The Aliens vs. The Predator. Politics is about who gets what, and based on what…there’s not a post-ideological way to determine that. Don’t be fooled.

    Your pal in solidarity (who, btw, will vote for Kamala over any GOP piece of shit, albeit regretfully) Crush

  25. Crush —

    first off, sorry to offend, “screed” was the wrong word to use there, I don’t mean to suggest you are ranting and raving or being unreasonable, at all. I really appreciate your thoughts and I’m trying to make sense of my own. But I think it is fair to call it “muckraking,” in the sense that the reason you have all these articles at a glance right now is that there is a noticable push by certain elements to smear Harris and diminish her rising political capital. It’s not just that some bold journalists are seeking the truth and trying to expose corruption; there’s a specific agenda under way here to make Harris look bad before she can accrue power. And it’s by people who want their own chosen arbiters in power, and know it’s a zero-sum game.

    Which is totally fine on one level, hey, that’s politics. And everyone looking to accrue more power certainly deserves to have their less savory moments publicly dragged out and scrutinized. I’m not saying that these charges are no big deal, or aren’t worth discussing and criticizing. But it’s not neutral or non-confrontational, it’s the product of a particular agenda, and one that worries me quite a bit. There are blemishes on the record of anyone who’s been a public figure long enough, and the reason these particular ones are being pulled out now is not that they’re stunning revelations or damning insight into corruption, it’s that someone is trying to shape a narrative here in their political favor. That’s what Vern was originally tweeting about (or at least, that’s how I read it) and that’s certainly why I reacted negatively.

    And really, I think that’s the main point of contention we have here… obviously our ultimate goals are virtually identical, and I think the way we imagine a better future society is probably close to identical. We just have different ideas of the best path to get us towards that goal. You’re wrong about me watching WEST WING (never saw an episode), but you’re still broadly right in your characterization, because I’m a longtime Washington DC resident, and every day I interact with incredibly smart, dedicated people who spend their time working hard to solve real problems. And so when I hear you say…

    “politics is not “reaching across the aisle”, politics is not parlor room discourse between reasonable people with differing opinions, it is not Debate Team, it is not institutions, it is not any of that. Politics is about winning power and forcing your moral vision on society. Everything else is a distraction.”

    …I just can’t follow you there. Yes, the GOP won, but in the process they lost every single bit of papered-over integrity they could ever have claimed. And moreover, they completely lost their ability to govern, to even propose realistic policy or a coherent bill, to even be taken seriously making any public statement of fact. I mean, it’s honestly a tragic thing to behold. And ultimately, their only legacy is going to be embarrassing the American people, tarnishing the values that this country has at least tried to stand for, and making a few rich people slightly richer at the expense of vulnerable people, but honestly not really by enormous margins. They may be in power, but they didn’t win. They lost everything that they ever claimed to stand for, and revealed themselves to be nothing but empty hypocrites clinging pathetically to their last remaining shared value, petulant self-pity. If that’s victory, I don’t want it for the left. If that’s victory, we won’t actually accomplish the things we both want. We’ll get the power, and just implode into dogmatic grandstanding while the country grows ever more cynical about the very concept of democracy.

    So I don’t think it really works to just force your moral vision. I think you actually do need consensus and buy-in and multiple perspectives to govern a country successfully. FDR couldn’t have done the things he did if he didn’t have enormous broad-based popular support. The American Right wing is a dangerous cancer on our society, but that doesn’t mean we have to become one too, just to fight it. We’ve got to be the adults in the room and do things the right way. That’s complicated and wonky and dull, but it’s the only way to craft a functional society. Winning is important, but actually governing is more important. And becoming a party of hard-line ideological purity might –might– help us win, but it will make it impossible for us to translate that victory into the change we want.

    Or at least, I think so. But then again, I’ve been absolutely 100% dead wrong about everything related to politics for going on two years now. Certainly, if the Dems are going to stay the course, they’ve got to be a fuck of a lot better at articulating themselves and fighting the ultra-right-wing media juggernaut. You’re right, “well, the other guys are worse” isn’t going to cut it anymore, even when it’s obviously and objectively correct. More vision is without a doubt a necessity, and I 100% hear you there. I’m just worried that some people (not you, but plenty of people) are going to confuse more orthodoxy for more vision. And THAT could well be a disaster.

    Again, apologies if that came off preachy or accusatory. I’ve been wrestling with a lot of what you’re saying for years, and I’m still struggling to figure out where the line is. So this is as much a way for me to think through this stuff as it is a response to you. I really appreciate your perspective and your effort in responding so fully.

  26. Crush: Only somewhat tangibly related. A co-worker (I sometimes think the only other left-leaner in the company) have recently had a discussion about why will the Left vote third party or not vote as a protest vote but the right, even when like “last time” they REALLY do not like their candidate, will hold their nose and vote for him? Or: Why are (poor/non-upper-class)Republicans-united and seemingly all Democrats not? Do you feel this is related to what you talk about here, that the Dems are not pushing candidates and we/they want/demand better?

    Thank you for your time if you respond.

  27. Democrats need to stop making such a big deal about the President and start focusing on the state legislatures. In reality the President is pretty useless compared to if the US had more democratic governors.

  28. Crushinator Jones

    August 1st, 2017 at 4:14 pm

    Mr. Sub,

    Thanks! I’m enjoying talking with you. I didn’t get a preachy note from that.

    BTW I had those articles because I googled ’em. I didn’t have them in some oppo file. In fact I tried to get the most neutral ones because, you know, I’m trying to be fair about this. But anyway we’ll just let that point lie. If you feel like they’re muckraking, ok. They’re muckraking. I hope you’ll agree they’re pretty damn thin muck though.

    But let’s talk for a moment about forcing moral vision. I think you would agree with me that gay marriage is absolutely 100% correct, morally. Well, guess what. We forced that on society. Check out the graph if you don’t believe me:


    Do you think couples that live together before marriage are more likely or less likely to get divorced than couples that do not live together before marriage?Do you think marriages between same-sex couples should or should not be recognized by the law as valid?

    That is by no means unanimous support when we repealed (Bill Clinton’s) Defense of Marriage Act (54% for GM to 43% against). But look what happened? We did get gay marriage legalized, and we revealed that the anti-gay marriage people were full of shit, that naked LGB people were not going to marry their fuckin’ dogs or whatever, that everyone will be ok, and look at those numbers rise! Because our moral vision was the correct one.

    We can do the same thing with single-payer, which by the way is now 60% for to 39% against – and YES that’s because of Dems, but it’s absolutely NOT from Establishment Dems, who have always hemmed and hawed about it. It’s the Lefties who have been pushing. And we still are! Kamala’s lukewarm response to single-payer is one of the main reasons I’m fed up with her. Get with it, Kamala!

    Public support for ‘single payer’ health coverage grows, driven by Democrats

    A majority of Americans say it's the federal government’s responsibility to ensure health coverage for all, and a growing share favors a “single payer” approach.

    But another thing I want to talk about is that people do not view their problems through a moral framework, usually. So when I say “force a moral framework” it’s more like “provide one”. Like if a non-ideological person (the vast majority) works hard and gets nothing for it, they don’t say “oh this is because my labor is being exploited” or “free trade agreements caused me to have to compete with some guy in Asia” or “regulations caused my employer to close.” They just say “Society says if you work hard you should be rewarded, I worked hard and was not rewarded, that makes me mad! I was lied to!”

    And of course the GOP steps in and says “you should be mad, it’s the government, and those immigrants!” and the lefties say “It’s your boss, and capitalism!” and they fight it out.

    And that’s why FDR won 4 terms, because he said “it’s your boss, and capitalism” and he was 100% right, and when he was allowed to force that moral framework on the country through legislation, things got better, and people realized he was right, and kept re-electing him. Then they elected Dems for 50 years afterwards. They had the correct moral vision which is “Big Government can protect you from the worst predations of capitalism.”

    I mean, you know as well as I do that part of politics is building a narrative that connects with people and then (and this is the part that Obama fucked up) you have to actually have the correct solutions to the problems. Obama said “it’s time for hope and change” which really connected with people (he’s also an incredible speaker and charismatic). But then Big O spent 8 years and trillions drone bombing the middle east and letting the banks re-capture the economy and kept trying for more middle-class destroying free trade stuff and kept trying to pragmatically reach across the aisle to the GOP, who hated his guts and only wanted power. They did not want to pragmatically incrementally govern. These missteps did not actually fix a lot of the economic problems with America. So, bad backlash. Trump time.

    What we have right now is basically a Left divided: the Centrists, who say we just need some tweaks here and there and better representation, and the Left, who say we need to radically change the way our economic system functions in addition to representation. And we’re gonna keep fighting it out, sometimes dirty, sometimes clean, until either one side becomes unelectable, converts the other, or purges the other. I’m sorry but that’s just the way it’s going to go, it’s nothing personal. We both want to salvage America. The one thing I’m confident of is more Obama-style Pragmatic Centrism, even if it wins our intra-party conflict, is not actually gonna fix the problems. It’s going to heighten them, because if it gets back in power again and still doesn’t fix the problems (and my ideology says it won’t) then the second wave of backlash and Trump 2.0 is probably going to be a genuine fascist crisis. This is also why, even though I voted for her, I was terrified of what would follow Hillary. She would not have fixed what was wrong with America economically and I assumed the GOP backlash in 2020 was going to be horrific.

    At the same time I’m not an accelerationist, I’ll do what I can. If the Obama Centrist guys win the primaries then I’m going to vote for them, even though I disagree with about 45% of their stuff. Better than the 99% of the GOP. But keep in mind 45% of people didn’t vote in the last election, and those aren’t Bernie Bros or Hillbots or MAGA people. They’re the people that have given up, and I doubt more Pragmatic Centrism is gonna move them. Hell if they wouldn’t vote for it against Donald fuckin’ Trump I doubt they are gonna start now.

    On another note: I am not sure that GOP has lost their “integrity”, I am not sure that they will pay any price, I am not sure that they are gonna be (rightfully) exiled to the political wilderness because they are still advocating a moral framework for a good portion of the American population, and that population reliably comes out to vote for them. It’s kind of how the Confederacy was largely rehabilitated even after they killed tens of thousands of their fellow citizens in the name of slavery.

    Look I am not trying to shit on you, and I know you are working hard and trying to fix problems, but I want you to understand that institutional Washington DC is enormously unpopular in huge sections of the country and especially with the right-wing base, and the fact that Trump has totally shredded your consensus and zeroed out his integrity in the DC area does not matter. It really doesn’t! They are absolutely playing a different game than you are, if the right manages to get that legislation passed they won’t care a bit about the decorum or institutions or Our Great Process or what have you. I truly believe Paul Ryan would wipe his ass with the Constitution if it meant ending Medicare and Social Security. So the fact that people are shocked and outraged doesn’t bother them at all. Look at their base’s approval. That’s the important number.

    Now I’m no expert. I don’t know much about DC aside from what I’ve read and seen on TV. From what I’ve heard it’s a rich town where the extremely hyper-competitive wonks mingle with the rich who mingle with the super-rich who mingle with the ultra-rich. It’s a bubble and it’s hard to keep track of everything (as a former resident of Los Angeles, I sympathize). It’s a big country. But what I can tell you is my own lived experience. What I really want you to understand from a guy whose wife is a special education public school teacher and who works in a beige corporate hell as a mid-level manager and who is living an upper middle-class life: the system is *barely* working for me, and it’s absolute hell for my friends who are lower on the socio-economic ladder. Everyone is in despair or in a panic. Everyone feels like they are running ever-faster on a treadmill going nowhere, like life is getting worse for them and is even going to get worse for their kids, like everything is stacked against them. Everyone over the age of 35 has seen, in their living memory, everything get worse and worse for them and everything get more fucked up. And the millennials! My god, they’re in their early 30s and still living with their parents while hugely profitable corporations attempt to exploit them with pitiful wages and internships and expensive degrees. It’s disgusting. They are truly a lost generation.

    So, my take is that the instability you’re seeing is a result of the system not working. Which leads me to another point: It’s been my experience that institutions, as fictional constructs that exist exclusively in the mental realm, only have as much power and respect as people give them. And when the people are hurting, and the institutions seem unable to help them (or even worse, seem to be actively working against them) the power of those institutions corrodes, the respect for them corrodes, and the negative emotions build. And eventually the people want to make their displeasure with those institutions known, they want to let those in power know that they don’t respect them and want them gone. Or they slump into existential despair and let chaos reign, hoping that a shake-up might turn up right for them. Thus, Brexit and Trump.

    I guess what I’m saying is that the best way to make people respect norms and institutions again is to show that those norms and institutions can actually fix their problems. And that Trump shows that angry people will accept any narrative framework and solution to their problems, no matter how corrupt or ridiculous. Clinton did not offer one at all, this was a huge mistake. She went with “I’m the status quo”. And I think we can definitively say: at 55% participation for an enormously important election, the status quo does not inspire people to vote. We gotta have something better and real leftist solutions. No more center-right stuff. Those are the wrong solutions to the problems, and only create backlash that threatens the progress we’ve made so far. I sincerely worry that the next wave of right-wing reactionaries is going to manage to repeal Roe vs Wade and walk back gay marriage. I won’t let them. It’s no coincidence that our greatest civil rights victories in the 60s came when the economy was good and the average worker was seeing their living standard increase. Let’s bring that back.

  29. Crushinator Jones

    August 1st, 2017 at 4:34 pm


    This is a very complicated question. Let me collect my thoughts and try to answer it. Probably tomorrow. There’s several factors.

    But until then, for the record: I do not think the Democratic party is worthless or unsalvageable, or that you should vote third party, for the simple reasons that:

    1) The lesser of two evils is still less evil. Accelerationism does not work. “After Hitler, our turn” is a sucker’s bet.
    2) Our political parties and old-ass Constitution have conspired to structure every part of our electoral system to make a third party vote a wasted vote in most cases.
    3) Use the primaries like they are intended, and promote candidates that share your values and ideology. That’s why we have them.
    4) The party has been re-organized before and can be again.

  30. Crush, I don’t want to be involved in infighting. And I like you and you are more knowledgeable and angry about this stuff than me so that’s a few reasons why it’s not fun.

    I have read both very good and iffy bad things about Harris’s past career. She stands for alot of good things but I think overdoes it with the emails. (Not sure how I got on the mailing list.) When I heard her on a podcast my view of her rose exponentially because I realized how funny and cool she is. Without seeming strident she speaks on race and gender inequality and police accountability with a passion and authority that I don’t get out of some of your alleged not-centrists. And that stuff is very important to me. She’s smart and accomplished and persuasive. I want to believe in her.

    I don’t know if I do want her to run for president, or if I would caucus for her, and I do think your criticisms are worth considering. But why can’t it be, “to me, the decision with Mnuchin is disqualifying,” why is it always a laserblast of shaming fired in the balls of the many who share most of the same goals as you but don’t know of the incidents you refer to or see them as more nuanced than you do or prioritize differently or aren’t convinced of your theory of how to win elections? This kneecapping and demonizing of people who a part of the left believes are not doing it right could get us a really great and pure candidate/president, or could kill us. For some people literally. There’s a reason why all Democrats being too centrist is the same narrative that the Russian misinformation campaign was pushing – because it makes people not want to vote and causes us to waste our time cannibalizing each other. I wish I knew how to stop it, but here we are again.

    Let’s shake hands and separate now like I did with the guy who tried to sell me a socialist newspaper and got me a little too worked up.

  31. Also I voted for a spoken word artist who doesn’t believe in police for mayor if that helps get me in your good graces.

  32. Crushinator Jones

    August 1st, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    You don’t need to be in my good graces. Ultimately we’re on the same side. You are in my good graces no matter what you do. And thank you for voting for Nikkita Oliver.

    Also I am really not fighting with anyone. I’m advocating! My angry days are over. I reserve the right to get incredibly depressed, though.

  33. I basically agree with Crush here that the Democrats since Bill Clinton have been essentially a neo-liberal Republican-lite. And I think Hillary probably would have been more of the same It took me awhile to get to that view. Eisenhower was arguably to the left of these guys. Hell, even Nixon flirted with universal healthcare and basic income. I would like to see policies in place that are much further to the left of anything than we’ve seen in the last 30 years. I’d love to see another FDR.

    Like most here, I lack Crush’s strategic insights or in-depth knowledge of how to get there. I can only say that I will vote for the most fiscally and socially liberal person who has basic competence and can get elected. In 2020, I’ll close ranks behind just about anyone who is not Donald Trump.

    Meanwhile, as long as Crush is pushing credible alternative candidates who have a prayer of getting elected, I think it’s worth listening. And although I agree that your posts can be overly defensive and borderline offensive at times, Crush, I’m coming to the conclusion that this is just how you express passion and blow off steam. It’s all good.

  34. Also, I enjoyed SPOTLIGHT quite a bit. Fine performances across the board from a great cast in a good throwbacky little journalistic potboiler. I’ll watch Michael Keaton chew the scenery all day erry day.

  35. Some relevant political science about moderate candidates versus extremists, if you’re interested. Moderates generally do better.

    “Extremist candidates do worse because, contrary to rhetoric, they fail to galvanize their own base and instead encourage the opposing party’s base to turn out more, on average.”

  36. Jake — nothing’s linking there. It’d be interesting to see this side of the case, since at the end of the day we’re really just arguing who is better poised to win: far-left candidates who can galvanize the base and appeal to a demographic which otherwise is unlikely to vote, or centrist candidates who can appeal to broader swaths of the mushy middle.

  37. Mr. S, you can google search for the excerpt he quoted and the article should show up.

  38. Sorry, I only noticed that link wasn’t working correctly a day or so after I posted it and didn’t bother to repost it. Here’s the link, if it works correctly this time.

    And here’s a good article that draws on a bunch of political science, including that paper, which argues a more progressive candidate may still make more sense, even with the evidence from that paper that extremism can hurt a candidate.

    Democrats Can Abandon the Center — Because the Center Doesn’t Exist

    The center is a myth that obscures the genuine electoral risks that Democrats would face in moving left — and the potential benefits of such a pivot.

    And another good one linked in that article which refutes the rose-colored view of FDR progressivism and the Democrats supposed turn rightward.

    How ‘Neoliberalism’ Became the Left’s Favorite Insult of Liberals

    The rise and meaning of an ubiquitous term of abuse.

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