The analysis has all been done and everyone has assumed his or her corner, but something has made me wait till the hubbub died down a little to put my thoughts in writing (briefly) on the outcome of the recent election in the United States. My prediction in the matter proved to be wrong. Actually, it’s about as wrong as I’ve managed to be about anything, ever, at least in writing. (I even had to issue a correction on a related post about Bob Dylan! Unprecedented!)
I have to suppose that the big-time pundits, like Michael Barone, Dick Morris, et al, can just roll over the next morning and dive right back in, but not so for everyone. Personally, I found myself deeply disillusioned in the wake of November 6th. I could blame it on the faulty analysis from people like those previously mentioned, but that wouldn’t be honest. Sure: I bought into the idea that Democrats were being oversampled in the polls, and that the turnout models being used were flawed by being based overly-much on 2008. Yet, my reasons for expecting Barack Obama’s defeat in 2012 went much deeper than any Gallup poll or punditry. Last year, during the GOP primaries, I fully expected that any Republican nominee ought to be able to beat President Obama (barring a credible third-party candidacy). I misjudged the center of gravity of the American electorate. And that’s a serious thing indeed and not one that this writer—insignificant though he may be—can just shrug off. Why should I have any credibility in the future?
With hindsight, there are reasons for all of it, but they are of limited comfort. I don’t blame Mitt Romney personally for losing; subsequent to getting the nomination, he ran what was probably the best campaign someone named Mitt Romney could have run, reasonably speaking. Even though he wasn’t my guy in the primaries, I came around to respecting him and liking him to a significant extent, despite my admission in the week before the election that he still seemed somewhat “soulless” and “a cipher.” Election choices are relative, none more so than the U.S. presidential election when you have two candidates and the choice between the two will determine so many decisions for the nation over the next four years. However, I was mistaken (as were others, including Romney himself) in presuming that the entire Republican base had done the same internal calculus and simply “gotten over” their dissatisfaction with Mitt. In the end, what was wrong with Romney was what was wrong with him in the beginning: he didn’t bring the whole base with him, and they didn’t all come out to vote for him on November 6th. That Democratic turnout would be lower than 2008 was something we all assumed, and it was true (if not to quite the extent anticipated). That Republican turnout would be lower was mind-boggling.
Still, I can’t say that that explains the loss. Where was the center? What is the center? How could the results of the Obama presidency be embraced by the country to the extent of asking for four more years of the same thing? (And he promised nothing new.) That is what shook me. I think it’s fair to say that it has shaken a lot of people. Continue reading “Windmills: A Post-Mortem Post”
One of the major events in my parallel life with Bob Dylan, which any fan has if you follow his work and his ups and downs … was election night in 2008 when he played the University of Minnesota for the first time. I just thought that was a fabulous event. I loved the way he timed the show so that it would end five minutes before the election would be called, so that everybody would be out in the lobby when the TV screen went on. I just felt like that was so appropriate, so not accidental. And ending the concert with that weird comment—“I was born in the year of Pearl Harbor, and it’s been an age of darkness ever since. But now I think things are about to change.” And that’s him just saying, “I know this is a special night, and none of us knows what, if any, changes in our own lives this is going to mean, but we all hope it will mean some change.” And I think when someone as in his own world as Bob Dylan can join his audience … I can’t imagine that would have happened in Poughkeepsie, or Birmingham or Seattle.
When Dylan’s remarks on election night of 2008 were first reported in the press, it was presented as Bob basically hailing Barack Obama’s great victory, with a triumphant “Things are gonna change now!” Greil Marcus’s tone is different to that here, but still slanted in a certain way. Back in November of 2008, I wrote on Bob Dylan’s election night remarks at some (perhaps painful) length. I wasn’t relying on any paraphrase in the press or half-heard snippets. I quoted his full remarks, and provided the audio as well. Then I reflected on what Dylan seemed to be getting at, given the full context, versus how it was being reported, and even versus how it was heard by those present, many of whom were (naturally enough) pregnant with expectations related to the election. With hindsight, despite the longwindedness, I stand by the substance of what I wrote. Briefly put, I thought and think that there was a deep (and intentional) irony in Dylan’s words, notwithstanding the fact that he likely knew it would be missed by most in the audience that night. I ended my reflection with a biblical quote from Psalm 118: “It is better to put trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.” I thought then and continue to think that that says more about where Dylan is coming from than anything I could say. It surprises me, still, that there are people who listen to Dylan’s music for years and for decades who don’t seem to get this.
As for Greil Marcus’s theory that Bob Dylan went out of his way to end his performance that night at the very moment that the election results were coming out … aww, never mind. You gotta let it go sometimes.
On a different note, it certainly did make me smile to read Marcus’s line about his “parallel life with Bob Dylan.” I do know what he means, in terms of how fans can feel, even if I might tend to see Greil Marcus (not to mention some other prominent rock critics) as being more like the Joker to Bob’s Batman, as parallel lives go. Marcus is of Dylan’s generation (as also is Dick Cheney, for instance), so the parallel concept can come into play for him. I am not of that generation, so I’ve never really thought about my life as being parallel to Bob Dylan’s as such, but I think any dedicated fan of Dylan could define some kind of relationship between events in his or her life and particular music of Bob’s. It’s not that the music brought on the events (necessarily!) but that the music was there when the events occurred, and the music was there again after the dust settled on those events.
What I’ve found fascinating about this phenomenon, and continue to find fascinating, is how so much of Dylan’s music seems to change and deepen with the passing of the years, so that in the wake of events that change one’s perceptions and perspective, Bob’s songs don’t end up sounding trite or crass but instead are prone to produce the aaah moment, as in “Aaah, so that’s what that was about all along …” That’s kinda why we keep listening, isn’t it?
In the midst of all the fog, hypocrisy and nonsense, one enlightening fact has now emerged to answer the question, “What could have been done, that wasn’t done, to prevent Jared Loughner’s rampage?” There are no doubt a range of possible answers to that, but, according to a piece on NPR by Laura Sullivan, there is one very big and quite definite answer. Continue reading “Finally, a fact: Jared Loughner and the Tucson shooting”
Rich Lowry makes some great observations on the reaction of the American electorate to this past year of the Obama presidency and Democratic control in Washington that are not at all incompatible with my own from the other day (Rights versus “Benefits”). Lowry writes:
President Barack Obama learned from Bill Clinton’s mistakes in 1993-94. He ran, relative to Clinton, a buttoned-up transition. He sought to avoid Clinton’s tactical miscues on health care. And he steered clear of cultural land mines.
The backlash against Democrats in 1994 was famously attributed to “gays, guns and God.” Obama has mostly avoided stoking opposition around that hot-button triad, but faces a backlash almost indistinguishable in feel and intensity. Why?
Big government became a cultural issue. The level of spending, the bailouts and the intervention in the economy contemplated in health-care reform and cap-and-trade created the fear that something elemental was changing in the country — quickly, irrevocably, without notice.
Obama has run up against the country’s cultural conservatism as surely as Clinton did. But Obama is encountering its fiscal expression, the sense that America has always been defined by a more stringently limited government than other advanced countries. It’s an “American exceptionalism” backlash.
As the campaign for the American presidency gathered pace last June, Bob Dylan lent his support to Barack Obama, telling The Times that his candidacy was “redefining the nature of politics”.
In return Mr Obama described the singer as an icon, and boasted of having “probably 30 Dylan songs on my iPod”, including “the entire Blood on the Tracks album”.
But in an interview to be published on Dylan’s website today, the hero of 1960s counterculture seems to have cooled on the prospects of the recently elected American leader.
Asked if he thought that Mr Obama would make a good president, the singer said that he had no idea.
What’s that old saying or warning about the press? “They’ll build you up and then they’ll tear you down.” This is a particularly perverse twist on that concept. The media created the story of the “mutual love affair” between Bob Dylan and Barack Obama, and now somehow Dylan is to blame for not playing along.
All of this originated with an article by Alan Jackson in the Times last June. The article as a whole was just fine — Bob was giving the interview in order to talk about his artwork, an exhibition of which was about to open up in London. And it’s an interesting interview on the subject of his paintings and drawings, worth rereading.
But it was not the substance of this interview on his artwork that got picked up and spread around the world. It was the completely off-topic ambush at the end. As I remarked at the time (and still wonder about), it’s quite possible that Dylan didn’t even know his words at this point were going to be in the published interview. Read it again:
My time with Dylan is up and we stand in preparation for my leaving the room. As a last aside, I ask for his take on the US political situation in the run-up to November’s presidential election.
“Well, you know right now America is in a state of upheaval,” he says. “Poverty is demoralising. You can’t expect people to have the virtue of purity when they are poor. But we’ve got this guy out there now who is redefining the nature of politics from the ground up … Barack Obama. He’s redefining what a politician is, so we’ll have to see how things play out. Am I hopeful? Yes, I’m hopeful that things might change. Some things are going to have to.” He offers a parting handshake. “You should always take the best from the past, leave the worst back there and go forward into the future,” he notes as the door closes between us.
Note that we don’t hear what the actual question was that Dylan was asked. Note the “…” at one point, telling us that something was redacted. Note, above all, that what Dylan is quoted as saying doesn’t appear to make any clear sense. Sure, he appears to be saying something quite positive about Obama, although we can’t tell if he’s smiling while saying it, or being at all ironic when he credits a politician with “redefining the nature of politics from the ground up.” But what is that stuff about poverty and purity? How does that fit with anything else he’s saying? I don’t care how smart you think you are: it is incomprehensible in any normal way, as published. It’s crying out for more context or a follow-up question. But there is none. As they stand up to go their separate ways, the journalist threw some unknown question at Bob about politics and then later printed this rather mixed-up response from him. The editor should have struck it out, frankly. But instead, I’m sure the editor was wetting his pants, knowing what a big story it would be, if it could be spun as “Bob Dylan endorses Barack Obama!” And the Times duly did that in a separate article, and the rest of the world enthusiastically followed suit.
It became gospel. Well, some might say, “Dylan didn’t fight it.” But then, he never does, does he? If he tried to fight every distortion and misconstrual that appears in the press with regard to himself, he would go crazy in about twelve hours flat (believe me, I know). Later, Jann Wenner interviewed The One on the campaign trail, and did his best to erect the entire myth in stone.
You were endorsed by Bob Dylan a few days ago. What’s that mean to you?
I’ve got to say, having both Dylan and Bruce Springsteen say kind words about you is pretty remarkable. Those guys are icons.
It’s kind of funny, isn’t it, to endorse someone for president and then, not even 90 days into his presidency, say that you “have no idea” if he’ll even be a good president. But the endorsement never happened. It was fog, mirrors and wishful thinking, pushed hard by Jann Wenner and a host of other committed leftists pursuing their undeclared agenda in the pages of newspapers and magazines everywhere. Nothing much new there. Then, we had Dylan’s remarks from the stage in Minnesota on election night, and more distortion by the media, completely leaving out the context and the irony inherent in Dylan’s words.
It’s a lesson, if needed, on the extraordinarily strict standard to which you have to subject everything that you read. And that goes double when politics is involved, and quadruple when the name Bob Dylan is involved.
On a personal note, I well remember the day that Dylan’s alleged endorsement of Barack Obama hit the wires. I was out of state on vacation and not planning on blogging or anything like that. Not having seen the news, I casually checked my e-mail. Expecting at most one or two messages, I was greeted by a couple of dozen. Quite a few were from people who apparently don’t like RWB very much (a thing which is very painful to contemplate), saying things like, “See this?!” “What do you say to that!!” and “Look’s like your site’s reason for being just ended!!” There was also a reporter from ABC News trying to get my reaction to it. Altogether, I was suddenly pretty busy, coming up with an instant response and then writing about it in this space. In truth, rather than trying to figure out Dylan’s remarks, I should have just said: This is nonsense, and incomprehensible as printed. Not Dylan’s fault, just bad journalism. Of-course, that wouldn’t have been enough for anyone — it would have seemed like a cop-out. But the passing of time has proven, in my belief, that this is really the only way to look at it.
Of-course yesterday, when the Times found itself printing what is effectively the antidote to their previous shoddy story, in the form of a plain Q & A between Bob Dylan and Bill Flanagan, I didn’t get any calls from news organizations asking for my reaction to Bob Dylan not being an Obama endorser after all. And there were no e-mails from enemies saying, “Hey, guess we were wrong about this – sorry!”
About this, I am not at all surprised, but never let it be thought that I am so noble as to resist pointing it out.
It was in the UK Times last June where the whole “Bob Dylan endorses Barack Obama” story got started, so it is appropriately ironic (if indeed it is not purposeful) that it is in the UK Times today that that whole canard gets put finally to rest. (D’ya think?!)
The third part of Bob Dylan’s interview with Bill Flanagan is published in the Times Online today, instead of at BobDylan.com where we read the earlier parts.
The second part of the interview closed with Bob being asked some general questions about politics. Let’s recap:
[Bill Flanagan] What’s your take on politics?
[Bob Dylan] Politics is entertainment. It’s a sport. It’s for the well groomed and well heeled. The impeccably dressed. Party animals. Politicians are interchangeable.
[BF] Don’t you believe in the democratic process?
[BD] Yeah, but what’s that got to do with politics? Politics creates more problems than it solves. It can be counter-productive. The real power is in the hands of small groups of people and I don’t think they have titles.
Not a vote of confidence in politicians in general, as being the kind of people who can bring on an “age of light” or anything like that. When the interview starts up again, Flanagan doesn’t pursue Bob on his assertion about power being “in the hands of small groups of people.” That’s a pity, since it leaves the impression that Dylan might subscribe to some odd conspiracy theories. And, well, maybe he does! But kudos to Bill Flanagan for going directly at Bob on the subject of Barack Obama. Herewith is the money part of the exchange (of-course everyone will read the whole interview at the Times Online site).
Bill Flanagan: In that song Chicago After Dark were you thinking about the new President?
Bob Dylan: Not really. It’s more about State Street and the wind off Lake Michigan and how sometimes we know people and we are no longer what we used to be to them. I was trying to go with some old time feeling that I had.
BF: You liked Barack Obama early on. Why was that?
BD: I’d read his book and it intrigued me.
BF: Audacity of Hope?
BD: No it was called Dreams of My Father.
BF: What struck you about him?
BD: Well, a number of things. He’s got an interesting background. He’s like a fictional character, but he’s real. First off, his mother was a Kansas girl. Never lived in Kansas though, but with deep roots. You know, like Kansas bloody Kansas. John Brown the insurrectionist. Jesse James and Quantrill. Bushwhackers, Guerillas. Wizard of Oz Kansas. I think Barack has Jefferson Davis back there in his ancestry someplace. And then his father. An African intellectual. Bantu, Masai, Griot type heritage – cattle raiders, lion killers. I mean it’s just so incongruous that these two people would meet and fall in love. You kind of get past that though. And then you’re into his story. Like an odyssey except in reverse.
BF: In what way?
BD: First of all, Barack is born in Hawaii. Most of us think of Hawaii as paradise – so I guess you could say that he was born in paradise.
BF: And he was thrown out of the garden.
BD: Not exactly. His mom married some other guy named Lolo and then took Barack to Indonesia to live. Barack went to both a Muslim school and a Catholic school. His mom used to get up at 4:00 in the morning and teach him book lessons three hours before he even went to school. And then she would go to work. That tells you the type of woman she was. That’s just in the beginning of the story.
BF: What else did you find compelling about him?
BD: Well, mainly his take on things. His writing style hits you on more than one level. It makes you feel and think at the same time and that is hard to do. He says profoundly outrageous things. He’s looking at a shrunken head inside of a glass case in some museum with a bunch of other people and he’s wondering if any of these people realize that they could be looking at one of their ancestors.
BF: What in his book would make you think he’d be a good politician?
BD: Well nothing really.[emphasis added] In some sense you would think being in the business of politics would be the last thing that this man would want to do. I think he had a job as an investment banker on Wall Street for a second – selling German bonds. But he probably could’ve done anything. If you read his book, you’ll know that the political world came to him. It was there to be had.
BF: Do you think he’ll make a good president?
BD: I have no idea.[emphasis added] He’ll be the best president he can be. Most of those guys come into office with the best of intentions and leave as beaten men. Johnson would be a good example of that … Nixon, Clinton in a way, Truman, all the rest of them going back. You know, it’s like they all fly too close to the sun and get burned.
This all really leaves me with just about nothing to comment upon. It’s just about as straightforward as you can get, isn’t it? Bob Dylan was intrigued by Barack Obama as an American figure — and he certainly is an interesting American figure — but it wasn’t about believing he was some kind of savior, or even about supporting his political agenda in particular. He read Obama’s book — not the fluffy one he ran for president on, but the earlier one that’s actually about his life — and found it interesting. As illustrated in the later part of the interview, Bob is a history buff (we knew that already anyway). He reads plenty of American history, and he has a fascination with presidents. He is struck by Obama’s blood ancestry, and the idea that he might even be related to Jefferson Davis! But he has “no idea” if Obama will make a good president.
There is nothing much for me to comment on here, because it pretty much matches how I thought Bob looked at these things. On the other hand, those who were under the impression that he did endorse Barack Obama last June, and those who were under the impression that his remarks on election night in Minnesotawere a joyous welcoming of the new era of Obama, as they were portrayed in many other places — those people will have a pretty hard time reconciling these straightforward remarks of Bob to Bill Flanagan with their mistaken conception of where Bob has been coming from.
In this case, his remarks are clear because we are getting them verbatim and in context, and the interviewer is doing a decent job of getting at what Bob thinks. In the Times interview from last June, this was not the case, when it came to his remarks about Obama. And the remarks from the stage in November were unclear because they were remarks from the stage, and so many people just needed to presume that Bob was expressing their own inner joy at Obama’s election (even when it was helpfully explained that this was not really the case).
What’s left to say? In terms of Bob’s personal politics — if he thinks about things that way — nothing is revealed. He’s neither endorsing nor slamming Barack Obama. He simply is saying he finds it interesting, from a historical perspective, to watch this next chapter unfold in the long drama of the U.S. presidency.
It might be noted that he includes Richard Nixon as one of those presidents who came “into office with the best of intentions” and left as a beaten man. That is not the thinking of any doctrinaire liberal/left individual.
But then, we all knew that Bob has never been one of those. Didn’t we?
With all this hullabaloo about Obama, don’t miss the new song from Together Through Life which has been released today. It’s I Feel A Change Comin’ On, and you can hear it on that page at the Times and elsewhere. And no, it’s not about Barack Obama. But it is a darn cool song, I think. This album seems to have just a gorgeous and wonderful feel to it. I can’t wait.