“It’s hard to look at the Cubs and the Sox as they prepare for spring training and not conclude that both teams have gone backward.”

Reader sports columnist Ted Cox. He was half right.

Politics and money

Why do you think it’s so easy for the Republicans to stop any argument about economic self-interest by raising the bugaboo of class warfare?

Tom Frank: It’s really simple. It’s because of the power of money in politics. This is an anecdote I heard the other day, and I don’t know if it’s true or not, but do you remember in the primaries Kerry had this line about “Benedict Arnold CEOs”? It was a pretty good line—it was about outsourcing. And he dropped it. Didn’t talk about it anymore. And someone told me that they asked someone on his campaign staff why they got rid of that, and it was because Wall Street didn’t like it. And that’s pretty much the story of what’s happened to the Democrats. They are constrained from talking the way Democrats used to talk—like Franklin Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy—they can’t talk that way anymore, because it scares the investors, it scares the people who fund their campaigns. And the basic fact of politics these days is, you’ve got to have money to run your campaign, to run TV commercials.

In “Spoils of the Culture Wars,” the Reader‘s Mike Lenehan sorts out the 2004 election with the author of What’s the Matter With Kansas?

Politics and focus

Being on message may be “key,” as Guy once told me, but it is nevertheless a strange thing to be as an idealistic college sophomore. To be on message is to understand that no single person can change the world, but that thousands of people all relentlessly repeating the same arguments can.

This is a lesson Republicans have learned well. While Democrats are prone to a kind of ad hoc message improv, Republicans on the networks, airwaves, and Capitol Hill methodically hammer home the same points, using the same language, until, like a jingle you can’t get out of your head, their messages nestle deep in your psyche. Consider this: How many times had you heard the word flip-flopper in your life before last year? How many times did you hear it last year? That’s not an accident.

During the many hours I spent with Guy, whenever conversations turned to the substance of his politics, my blood would start to boil: he calls abortion “genocide,” finds unions “distasteful,” and thinks the government has no business providing retirement security for the elderly. There’s not much we agree on, politically speaking. But when Guy mocked the style of liberals and Democrats, taking shots at Al Gore’s ponderousness, or the hypocrisy of rich liberals, orperpetually aggrieved undergrads, I’d find myself agreeing, siding with him against my own people. The right has virtually perfected swatting at this kind of low-hanging fruit, and they’ve discovered that if you do it enough, pointing out those parts of the left that everyone finds grating, you almost never have to engage with the substance of what those people, or anyone associated with them, say. They’re dead on arrival.

From “Birth of a Pundit,” a profile of Northwestern sophomore Guy Benson, by Chris Hayes, who this month launches his own weekend show on MSNBC.

Meanwhile, a war continued . . .

He’d lost whatever will to be there he’d conjured. He no longer wanted to help Iraqis, no longer could maintain the feeling that he was doing some good. He hoped that people back home would rise up and demand an end to the U.S. occupation, but he knew it wasn’t going to happen. He asked a military doctor about antidepressants. “The doctor doesn’t even raise an eyebrow, doesn’t even hesitate . . .” Jake wrote in his journal. “He doesn’t even need to ask you what’s wrong because he already knows—you’re in Baghdad, of course you need antidepressants, son.”

“Jake,” an army interrogator, talking to Tori Marlan in “How I Learned to Hate the War.”