The Fallen Standard of Frasier

I’ve been home in Maine now for a little less than three weeks, and I’ve spent one of those weeks – last week – with pneumonia. It’s the first time I’ve been truly “bedridden” for days at a time since middle school, and I had quite a bit of time to catch up on books, magazines, and television shows.

One of the highlights of the various forms of media I consumed was “Frasier.” The sitcom, a spinoff of “Cheers” that was on the air from 1993-2004, won 37 Emmy awards – more than any comedy show ever – and is one of my all time favorites. I still miss it. I started watching in 2002, and have since watched the whole series on DVD. While I’ve enjoyed comedy series that came before and after – “Murphy Brown,” “30 Rock,” and “Arrested Development” all come to mind – I have never seen a show that so brilliantly combines incredible acting talent, first-class writing, and a creative blend of “high” and “low” comedy.

As I watched a few episodes in bed last week, I began to ask myself when another show would come along that ‘did’ the sitcom format as well as Frasier did. Watching episodes of “Modern Family” and “Parks and Recreation” – while very enjoyable – reminded me how much comedy has changed since Frasier went off the air, and not necessarily for the better. What, then, has changed? It certainly isn’t the actors; Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, Jane Leeves, and John Mahoney (the four actors that were the core parts of the Frasier Crane household) have all acted in other television programs and movies, though none have received much acclaim. While the charm of Frasier was frequently derived from the high- quality cast, it’s pretty clear they’re not behind the show’s unique success.

If the actors are relative mainstays on screen and stage, the writers are the opposite. Almost all of them ended their careers after Frasier. The five writers who are credited with penning more than a quarter of the series all appear to have ended their careers in film and television with Frasier. Peter Casey, David Lee, and Glen and Les Charles all have Frasier at the very top of their IMDB profiles. David Angell, who is credited equally, died onboard American Airlines Flight 11 on September 11. Whether retired or deceased, it appears that the people behind the genius of Frasier decided to leave on the high note of the series finale.

What do they leave the rest of us, besides Netflix Instant? It might be too soon to tell. In my humble opinion, no show has lived up to Frasier’s fallen standard: just the right blend of slapstick and highbrow, Broadway and Hollywood, humor and heart. That said, many of the people that had smaller roles in writing and directing Frasier’s eleven seasons – people like Lori Kirkland and Christoper Lloyd – now lead promising careers. Kirkland has an executive producer credit on the popular (and sometimes, irresistible) “Desperate Housewives,” and Lloyd has one on the equally enjoyable “Modern Family.” While neither show replicates the standard or success of Frasier, they’re very good in their own right. Maybe it requires a little more temporal distance from Frasier for writers and actors to create a successful sitcom that picks up on its singular comedic style. I’m okay with that, and I understand; for now, I guess I’ll be spending a little more time on Netflix than on NBC.

Cross-Posting: “A Secret Memo, A Secret Panel, A Novel Process”

As you might know, I’m blogging now over at the Carlisle Policy Forum and at Blog Divided. I’m going to try and cross-post what I write over there occasionally, just to give you an idea of what I’m doing. In this case, I’m passing along a post I put up on Sunday night about the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki. Since then, it has received some interesting attention from a former assistant secretary of state and Princeton professor and from The Week magazine. There are some other perspectives in the comments section, posted as recently as today. Here’s the beginning of my post:

“Assassination,” Benjamin Disraeli once said, “has never changed the history of the world.” Whether or not it alters the history of the world – and I think a case can be made that it does – its occurrence and the decisions surrounding it have a tendency to consume our politics. In the past few days, the New York Times and Reuters have reported on, respectively, the existence of a secret memo justifying the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki (an American citizen) and the ‘kill panel’ that designated him a target. The exposure of the logic and process behind the assassination of al-Awlaki in such proximity to the actual event suggests a renewed debate is possible. I see two fundamental questions, not easily answered, arising out of such a conversation. One question, which is general (a hat-tip to Professor Crowley here): what is the government obliged to explain to the public after taking such actions? One question, more specific to the context of this moment: how do such events explain the Obama foreign policy, especially in relation to the rule of law?

The rest is here. Let me know what you think here, at CPF, or on Twitter.

It’s All in the Execution

I enjoyed the speech today immensely.

What I’m not understanding is this attack/compliment that the President’s remarks today “could easily have been delivered by George W. Bush” Well, not with all the words pronounced correctly. That’s besides the point though.

The crux of this argument, summarized well here, seems to be that the President’s endorsement of the “story of self-determination” represents in itself either support or vindication for the foreign policy of the second Bush White House. This contention seems to rest on the argument that much of the rhetoric utilized by “43” and “44” in speaking to and about the Middle East is similar. It’s hard not to dispute this, but also hard to draw from it some grand statement about either Presidency and its policies towards the region.

One commentator singled out the President’s emphasis on democracy as evidence of a new tie between the two Presidents. Really? Remind me, which President said, “we are deeply saddened by the spread of democracy from beyond our shores into the wider world?” None. Every President supports self-government – especially in the democratic form – around the world, and nearly every one says so. To somehow assert that President Bush has the franchise on White House support for developing democracies – and thus Presidents that support them are also supporting him – is just plain disingenuous.

Moreover, while the shared affinity for democratic self-government of Presidents Bush and Obama (and Washington through Clinton, too) may have been on display today, I noticed one significant change. While President Bush’s foreign policy focused on institutions and governments, grasstop foreign policy if you will, as in his Second Inaugural Address:

We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people.

President Obama seems much more interested in supporting and defending the citizenry, grassroots if you will, as in the speech today:

In too many countries, a citizen like that young vendor had nowhere to turn  -– no honest judiciary to hear his case; no independent media to give him voice; no credible political party to represent his views; no free and fair election where he could choose his leader.

Both Presidents, obviously, have lapsed into the other camp. President Bush alludes to the “dissidents” in his second Inaugural, and President Obama has obviously made it clear that he is willing to attack tyrannical governments and institutions if need be. However, their main focuses as it relates to developing democracies are as clear as they are opposite.

That said, all of this is about how the man in the Oval Office chooses to execute these policies, not how he articulates them.  President Bush chose to execute his policy emphasis on expanding democracy by using the power of our military to bring down rogue governments, a notion to which in good conscience I cannot completely object. President Obama, on the other hand, has chosen to execute that same emphasis by using the US as a protector of marchers and protestors around the world who are standing up to dictatorial leaders, a notion for which in good conscience I can do little less than cheer. Not only is it sensible in a time of austerity, it is humble and helpful at a time when the US needs to improve its image abroad while simultaneously continuing its mission to eradicate individuals and groups in the Middle East that work against its interests.

If that means the President and I – and hopefully a few other people – support an expansion of some of the principles articulated by President Bush, fine. Let’s just hope it works.

Through Obama, the Reagan Un-Revolution?

Last night, I had the privilege of dining with one of the country’s foremost political commentators. As the author of numerous articles and several books on President Obama, his knowledge of the man and the politician was illuminating in more ways than one. Not to mention the halibut, which was excellent.

More than anything else though – even the halibut – one point made last night has kept me thinking.

Over the course of the past few months, hundreds of news articles have been written about President Obama’s increasing interest in Ronald Reagan. Though he has not – to my knowledge – commented on this peculiar political bedfellowship since the early 2008 primaries, much time, print, and pixel has been dedicated to speculation on the nature of it.

Unsurprisingly, the topic came up in conversation last night. The guest of honor was nice enough to quell my own confusion over the connection; perhaps not so nicely, he replaced confusion with sheer depression.

I’m paraphrasing here, but the gist was: Reagan shifted the political paradigm. Even as a Democrat, you couldn’t make a political argument without coming – to a certain extent – from the free-market perspective. Obama finds this notion attractive; in other words, he would like to be the “Reagan of the left,” and shift the paradigm to the left once more.

A compelling analysis, smartly put. The sad part is, where Reagan was successful, Obama has failed. Sadder still, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of room for improvement, because Obama no longer seems to be trying. What we all saw [read: me, my parents, and anyone willing to respond to my texts and emails] as a campaign designed to redefine our politics has quickly devolved into an administration of capitulation and compromise. Moreover, starting just days after his election, President Obama has consistently chosen appointees and staff who seem more comfortable arguing on Reagan’s terms than creating new terms altogether. The sum total: two years of governing that has largely reinforced the public’s sense of skepticism towards government and those working in it.

It’s not that I’m a purist or an absolutist; I recognize that in a democracy, especially one with over 300 million members, compromises must be made. For instance: though they didn’t contain every provision for which I might have advocated, I felt and still feel that the health insurance and financial regulatory reform laws created in 2010 will serve our country well. Rather, it’s the smaller stuff – the misguided initiative-taking or lack thereof – that really bothers me. It is on this level that, for two years, President Obama has shown he simply isn’t capable of redefining the style or substance of our politics the way Reagan was.

Gun ownership comes to mind as I write this. Since Reagan, Republican talking points on both have largely been the same. In 1975, then-Governor Reagan said:

Our nation was built and civilized by men and women who used guns in self-defense and in pursuit of peace. One wonders indeed, if the rising crime rate, isn’t due as much as anything to the criminal’s instinctive knowledge that the average victim no longer has means of self-protection.

Meanwhile, more than 30 years later, potential 2012 GOP Presidential nominee Sen. John Thune articulated the same logic:

I say to my colleague from New York that if someone who has a concealed carry permit … in the state of South Dakota goes to New York and is in Central Park — Central Park is a much safer place.

This has been their mantra for decades, but rather than finally sweep it away – with the ample evidence contradicting the argument that gun ownership somehow prevents crime – President Obama has remained curiously silent on gun control in its entirety. No speeches, proposals, meetings, or even “unconfirmed reports.” So much for shifting the political playing field to the left.

Gun ownership is far from the only political issue on which President Obama has conceded the liberal argument, but at 637 words, to expound on a few more would likely be overkill. Federal worker pay, judicial appointments, and economic policy all come to mind almost immediately, though.

In summary, my commentator-cum-dining companion seems right about the intentions of President Obama in aspiring to be a kind of liberal Ronald Reagan. Where said commentator stopped, and where I start off, is whether one might ever realistically hope that Obama can achieve the same kind of transformative presidency Reaganites can – for better or worse – claim. It is with sadness that I thought it last night and sadness that I write it now: if Democrats are seeking the mantle of “transformative politics,” as Roosevelt did in 1932 and as Kennedy did in 1960, I think they should look past Barack Obama.

Flashback: Sarah Palin, just Swim back to Russia

As Sarah Palin’s handlers – she needs them – try to defend her indefensible behavior, I thought I’d repost an old article I wrote for Huffington Post. The original can be found here. Enjoy!

It has now been a little over a week since your resignation as governor of Alaska, and thankfully you haven’t made many recent headlines. It seems America has been too busy discussing race relations, health care, and the economy to notice you. How refreshing!

As a 17-year-old American who has to live in this country for probably the next 80-90 years, I formally request that you pack your bags and swim across to Russia. After all, it must be close enough if you can see it from your house. I have never seen, nor have I ever heard of, a politician less qualified and less engaged than you are, and I want you to leave politics for good before you start giving the impression to other politicians that somehow these deficiencies are acceptable.

It’s not so much that you and I see two different Americas, or that we just have different perceptions of the same core American ideals. It’s that you fundamentally misunderstand America’s ideals. Every time you talk about freedom, or the future, or “the wisdom of the people,” I only have one question: what the hell are you trying to say?

One of the most absurd “arguments” you made in your farewell address was that the “wisdom of the people” can solve our most complex problems. The day that the “wisdom of the people,” and I assume you are referring to white, Anglo-Saxon, gun-owning Republican people, solves health care, education, or really any part of domestic or foreign policy is the day I move to your state, start a gun shop, hunt caribou, and build homemade artillery shells to send to the minutemen on the US-Mexico border. You’re right in asserting that government can’t make us happy, just like it can’t tell women what they can and can’t talk to their doctors about, and can’t tell gays and lesbians what kind of love is moral. However, you are wrong in saying that government can’t cure the sick and insure their families; that it can’t educate our children and reform our adults; or that it can’t generate employment for those who need it and lift those who don’t have it out of poverty. Government has done all of those things for a very long time, and will continue to do them for even longer.

We have very complex problems in America, problems that require complex solutions and intelligent leaders. I don’t want to grow up in this nation knowing that my destiny – and my country’s future – has been determined by a woman more concerned with maxing out the Republic National Committee’s wardrobe budget than tackling the tough issues.

It gives me some hope that you’ve all but disappeared from even the cable news networks this past week, but I am still wary. I’m wary that when the “birthers” that replaced your news cycle finally implode into a racist, xenophobic spitball of self-righteousness, you might feel it appropriate to make more of a fool out of your party and your country by re-entering the national spotlight.

I have had to grow up in this country, the land Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy, under George W. Bush. A man who demonizes being smart and educated as “elitist,” and who somehow manages to make being uninformed and unengaged into something honorable. I’m lucky enough now to have a President who does none of those things, and quite frankly I don’t want to turn back the clock.

Tabbed Browsing: January 8, 2010

The unspeakable tragedy in Tucson today has brought with is a steady stream of news analysis, many of it worth a read.

A Passionate Politician with a Long List of Friends. The New York Times on Rep. Giffords’ persona and political skill in the District.

The Cloudy Logical of “Political” Shootings. The inimitable James Fallows pens a phenomenal piece on the Atlantic’s website about the tenuous connection between political violence and specific policy. He argues that the “tone” of an era is often a more important tool for understanding why acts of violence occur.

A “Mecca for Prejudice and Bigotry.” This is how the Sheriff of Pima County labeled his state today. He held a blunt and honest news conference, appraising what was happening in Arizona as a whole, and how it relates to what happened in Tucson on Saturday morning.

Lawmakers Consider their Safety after Gabrielle Giffords Shooting. Politico covers what is on everyone’s mind right now, including mine: how this event affects security for Congressional officials moving forward. Great quotes by John Dingell about Lyndon Johnson’s own encounter with vitriolic politics.