Saturday, December 19, 2020


Sean Trende, a conservative-but-not-crazy elections analyst at Real Clear Politics, posted this on Twitter yesterday, in response to Barack Obama's release of his list of favorite 2020 movies and TV shows:

It might be hard to think of a president who's enjoyed critics' favorites the way Obama does, but Bill Clinton fared pretty well in American elections, and he let it be known in 1992 that he was a great admirer of Marcus Aurelius's Meditations and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. (We were also told that he read murder mysteries and big biographies of statesmen; his favorite movie was High Noon.) After Clinton left the White House, in 2003, he released a list of his favorite books. Marcus Aurelius and Garcia Marquez were on the list, as well as T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, William Butler Yeats's Collected Poems, and works by Reinhold Niebuhr and Max Weber. Not exactly beach reading. And yet that guy did all right in electoral politics.

George W. Bush tried to go both high and low. In 2005, we learned about the songs on his iPod, which included a lot of uptempo hits:
... Mr. Bush's iPod is heavy on traditional country singers like George Jones, Alan Jackson and Kenny Chesney. He has selections by Van Morrison, whose "Brown Eyed Girl" is a Bush favorite, and by John Fogerty, most predictably "Centerfield," which was played at Texas Rangers games when Mr. Bush was an owner and is still played at ballparks all over America....

The president also has an eclectic mix of songs downloaded into his iPod from Mark McKinnon, a biking buddy and his chief media strategist during the 2004 campaign. Among them are "Circle Back" by John Hiatt, "(You're So Square) Baby, I Don't Care" by Joni Mitchell and "My Sharona," the 1979 song by the Knack....
Later, we were told that he was in a book-reading contest with adviser Karl Rove. Rove said Bush's reading in 2006 included these books:
Biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, Babe Ruth, King Leopold, William Jennings Bryan, Huey Long, LBJ and Genghis Khan.
Andrew Roberts’s “A History of the English Speaking Peoples Since 1900,”
James L. Swanson’s “Manhunt,”
Nathaniel Philbrick’s “Mayflower,”
Eight Travis McGee novels by John D. MacDonald,
Michael Crichton’s “Next,”
Vince Flynn’s “Executive Power,”
Stephen Hunter’s “Point of Impact,” and
Albert Camus’s “The Stranger.”
None of this mattered. Obama's tastes don't matter. Americans appreciate these lists, criticize them, mock them, or ignore them, but they don't vote on them.

We also talk as if this is the first time in American history that we've had cultural divides. That's absurd. Let's go back seventy years. Here was one of the top hit songs of 1950:

But some people in 1950 much preferred this:

Or this:

Or this:

In 1950, these divisions didn't lead to civil war. People just liked different things. (Rock music was part of a civil war a couple of decades later, but that war was about much more than music.)

We don't have to let these matters divide us as a nation. We can agree to disagree on music, books, movies, and TV shows. If we're letting them matter, it's because conservatives know that if they redirect voters' class anger away from plutocrats and toward "cultural elitists," they'll keep winning elections and be free to continue lining the plutocrats' pockets. When we're encouraged to care, we should recognize that we're being played for chumps.

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