Dem Blues

The left, turning right, was plain wrong

to attack pop culture

Goldberg insists that "the evidence is very clear that it's political suicide for the left to turn on pop culture as part of their politics," but that hasn't stopped Democrats from demonizing pop culture--and from losing ground to Republicans, who at least have as their front man a guy who takes pictures with Bono and goofs around with Ozzy Osbourne at political functions and doesn't look like the creepy uncle no one talks to at family reunions.

There's no arguing the decline in young voters: Al Gore beat George W. Bush by a mere 2 percentage points among that age group, a huge drop from Bill Clinton's 19-point margin over Bob Dole in 1996 and his 11-point win over George I in 1992. And according to several surveys and studies, the under-30 voter isn't even going to the polls anymore; since 1972, their turnout rate has fallen by more than 16 percent. At this rate, if anyone under 30 votes in 2004, it'll be because he's related to George W. Bush or is trying to score with one of his daughters.

Goldberg certainly has good timing: The bashing of Democrats, and the party's lack of a viable candidate in 2004, has become an honest-to-God trend--the stuff of magazine cover stories. Joe Klein in Time recently suggested several ways in which the Democrats could rejuvenate the party; chief among them was "lose the frown." In the newest issue of GQ, Jeff Greenfield suggests that Democrats are getting their asses kicked by Bush and the Republicans because the party's had no real platform to stand on since, oh, 1968 or thereabouts--since LBJ's Great Society. Worse, Bill Clinton divided the party, because who wanted to stand behind that guy when someone else was kneeling in front of him? He had no legacy, so we're stuck with the 23 prospective candidates who spend every other weekend debating themselves hoarse in front of the four people tuned to C-SPAN. And just how is anyone expected to get energized about politics when you're forced to choose between the moribund (Lieberman, colder than a corpse), the nutty (the Reverend Al Sharpton, who even Def Jam founder-turned-activist Russell Simmons deems "unelectable") and the Steve Forbes-creepy (Howard Dean, who has The Joker's smile)?

I'd vote for any of these guys over Joe Lieberman: Danny Goldberg, middle, stands with Warren Zevon, right, who's signed to Goldberg's Artemis label.
I'd vote for any of these guys over Joe Lieberman: Danny Goldberg, middle, stands with Warren Zevon, right, who's signed to Goldberg's Artemis label.

You wonder how long it will take for a real rock-and-roll candidate to emerge--someone who likes Elvis Costello and doesn't pretend he's Elvis Presley. Who not only inhaled, but maybe injected during rare moments of experimentation. Who grew up idolizing Reggie Jackson, Kurtis Blow, Curtis Mayfield, Dr. J. Who barely remembers the moon landing, Watergate, Vietnam, long lines at the gas pump and sex without condoms. Who wasn't alive when Kennedy was assassinated. Who wears blue jeans without pleats. Who isn't gray and pale. Who doesn't smell like a grandmother's house. Who snuck into Saturday Night Fever, memorized Animal House and laughed at South Park and Jackass. Who loves David Lee Roth and hates Sammy Hagar. Who thinks they should have canceled Saturday Night Live after Eddie Murphy left. Who doesn't like to wear a tie. Who owns one suit that's dragged out of the closet only for special occasions. Who drinks and doesn't feel the need to apologize for it. Who smokes "socially." Whose dad wasn't in the CIA.

In the end, Goldberg and other liberals will tell you, the left lost its teen spirit because all politicians are old, and old people mistrust young people. Politicians--both the "liberal snobs and cultural conservatives," as Goldberg breaks it down--think anything that has to do with sex is filthy, anything addressing race is politically incorrect, anything containing violent imagery is dangerous. They look at pop culture without irony, without humor, without compassion, without common sense. They would prefer to take everything out of context--and there is nothing so funny as an old white man reciting hip-hop or heavy metal lyrics to a Congressional committee--and deem it treacherous, and then damn those who would purchase it.

What I want out of a politician is pretty simple: someone who doesn't hate me, who doesn't think my music's evil, my movies are dirty, my TV's violent. In other words, someone who doesn't have to crawl over my popular culture's dead body to get someone else's vote. I suggest to Goldberg that what my generation really needs is an electrifying, charismatic, youthful candidate--a rock star, in other words, a political Kurt Cobain.

"I don't think that's required at all," he says, in a tone that suggests he strenuously disagrees. "I think a politician who can galvanize an audience the way John McCain did on the left would be a hell of an improvement. I mean, I don't think you can expect politicians to have the charisma of rock stars, and they don't need to, but they certainly need to have as much charisma and as much of a sense of connection to youth as the people they run against. Ronald Reagan had it, Clinton had it in '92, I think Jesse Ventura had it when he ran, even Ross Perot and Nader had flashes of it at certain times in the life of their campaigns. I wouldn't expect any politician to be able to do what Kurt did, and I don't think Kurt ever wanted to be a politician, but you need at least enough connective tissue to speak to that audience about what you talk to them about. And the people on the right have just done a better job."

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