"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 5 April 2001. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Hit & Run 04.5.01

Last time we checked in on Barbra Joan Streisand, the ruthless siren was subjecting TV audiences to a broadcast of her millennial swan song "Timeless" — a concert heavy on between-songs business, stage mother stories, even a playlet in which some unfortunate young singer/actress was made to play the Diva as a young woman at her first audition. Real power, Barbra has always understood, is the power to bore people.

But with her latest campaign, Babs stands, like Napolean before Moscow, at what may the outermost limit of her power — and with all her authoritarian ambitions revealed. "Nice Guys Finish Last," Barbra's open address to "leading Democratic legislators," gives new meaning to the idea of the Bully Pulpit. "This is not a time to be weak," la Streisand exhorts. "The public responds to strength ... Many voters are not sufficiently informed to protect their own self-interests ... Democrats should fight before it's too late! There's not a moment to lose."

You can say that again! Some of the assertive superstar's homophobic language (she worries that a defensive posture will leave Democrats "with our fingers holding the dyke") suggests that whatever she's got James Brolin doing, it's not copy editing. But the real problem isn't so much Streisand's Strong Man theory of history as the fact that she seems for once to have misjudged her audience. At least when Bill Clinton and Kris Kristofferson served as pack mules for the Streisandian message, they could be said to have volunteered for the job. But the Democrats who received copies of "Nice Guys" appear to have been so incensed by Barbra's hectoring that they leaked the message to unfriendly forums like the Drudge Report, and the subsequent "misreporting" by the "right wing media" has prompted the prima donna to publish the memo in its entirety — thus eliminating all avenues of plausible deniability.

"We must mount a strong, strategic and targeted offense against the Republican revolution that is now sweeping all branches of government," Barbra writes, but perhaps she's wasting her message on the cowards on Capitol Hill. After all, party changeovers in Washington are mostly cosmetic affairs. For the rest of America, the difference is more stark: During the Clinton era we had peace, plenty, and good times throughout the land; George W. Bush has brought us nothing but recession, ignominy, and imprisoned air crews. It's popular to view Streisand's fondness for What Is To Be Done-style manifestos as a relic of the age of Harry Thomason, but maybe this is the moment for her message. Can Barbra turn it around, connect one last time with the masses from whom she draws her strength, be the Woman of Iron our troubled republic needs? In the end will the icons we topple, like so many statues of Ceausescu, be images of W, or of Barbra?

If there's anything phonier than tears at the Oscars, it's an "emotional moment" in Washington. We got a taste of that this week, as the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill took one more step toward its inevitable Supreme Court reversal. Like bipartisanship and civility, McCain-Feingold is one of those bad ideas that people can't stop congratulating themselves for supporting. Where previous attempts to change campaign finance laws could only be challenged on broad interpretations of the First Amendment, this one puts its violation of free speech front and center — in the form of a ban on the "issues ads" that allow non-affiliated groups to make stealth attacks on the candidates. That these types of ads, almost always negative in tone have been demonstrated to be among the most effective ways that voters actually learned something about candidates should not concern you. They must be stopped because they further the power of "special interests" (who, unlike the other 270 million of us, do not share a single, unified "national interest"). Nor does it really matter that once "soft money" is curtailed (a move which incidentally will make third party formation even more impossible and strengthen the icy grip of bipartisanship), the same funds that now go to the parties will just go to like-minded interest groups — and it's a good bet the added logistical cost of coordinating these groups with the two parties will jack up the cost of campaigning even further. Who believes that McCain-Feingold, or Shays-Meehan, or any of these promotional campaigns, will reduce the power of money in politics by fifty cents? Certainly not the sponsors: Critics like to note that opponents of the bill "were elected under the current campaign finance laws" — never noting that the supporters were too. The tearful, self-satisfied brains behind the passage of McCain-Feingold can afford to make these grand gestures because they know the only thing at stake is perceptions. In the end, the political process will be controlled by the same people who control it now — the unions, the corporations, and Barbra.

Ravaged by biblical plagues and industrial disasters, the United Kingdom can still hold its own in one crucial aspect of civilization — player assaults. Yesterday's big win by Leeds United in the international pastime of "footie" took place in the context of an ugly assault trial involving three of the team's stars. According to the prosecution in the Hull Crown Court, Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer, along with a posse of hooligans, chased down and severely beat student Sarfraz Najeib outside a bar, leaving Najeib "near dead," in the words of a teammate. A third Leeds player, Michael Duberry, stands accused of "perverting justice" after the assault. While the jury deliberates, fans are arguing over which ways the defendants squirm. Duberry, who may face a career challenge from Woodgate, has pleased nobody with his testimony, and the splitting of the defense has made for some ugly moments. But the most tortured part of the case involves figuring out whether the incident is what Americans like to call a "hate crime." Woodgate and Bowyer are white, Duberry is black, and Najeib, as all news reports take pains to note, is an "Asian student." All of which suggests English culture may still be way ahead of our own. Blacks and whites getting together to beat up a Pakistani? In America, that would be a sign of racial progress.

Courtesy of the Sucksters

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