What ‘American Factory’ says about the soul of our nation — and the coming campaign

A scene from “American Factory”

The botched Iowa caucuses and the State of the Union mark the official opening of the presidential campaign. From now until November, you’re going to hear a lot about whether Democrats can take voters in the Midwest back from President Trump.

And so politics was very much on my mind when I watched “American Factory” over the weekend. The Netflix documentary, the first released by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground, tells the story of a glass factory opened by the Chinese in 2016 at the site of a former General Motors plant near Dayton, Ohio. The film has been nominated for an Oscar.

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Michelle Obama’s magnificent convention speech

If Michelle Obama had gone on any longer, she risked being nominated for president. What a magnificent speech from a great First Lady.

The pain over Spain is easy to explain

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that complaints about Michelle Obama’s Spanish vacation are just the latest manifestation of a by-now-old ritual, in which the mainstream media allow themselves to be bullied by right-winger activists into promoting a non-story.

Jeremiah Wright’s running mate?

Jake Tapper reports that Sarah and Todd Palin are former members of the Alaskan Independence Party, whose motto is “Alaska First — Alaska Always.” The controversy, Tapper says, is over how hard the party has pushed for independence from the United States. But it gets a whole lot better than that.

According to Lynette Clark, a top party official with whom Tapper spoke, the Palins were members in 1994, and attended the party’s statewide convention, in Wasilla, that year. Sarah Palin quit the party in 1996 in order to run for mayor of Wasilla; there is no indication of when she first joined.

Why are these dates important? Because party founder Joe Vogler, who was chairman right up until his death in 1993, was a “sulphurous” presence known for his “‘America be damned’ rhetoric delivered at D-9-cat decibels,” according to an Anchorage Daily News editorial published in 1998.

America be damned? Gee, who does that remind you of? And could the Palins have been ignorant of Vogler’s views in 1994?

To this day, the Alaskan Independence Party’s Web site proudly carries the following quote from Vogler: “I’m an Alaskan, not an American. I’ve got no use for America or her damned institutions.” And Tapper found that Palin had sent a video message to the party’s annual convention just last year.

I’m leery of relying on Wikipedia, but, given what we already know about Vogler, this seems safe: he was murdered, and, as he had previously made it clear that he wished not to be buried under the American flag, he was buried instead in the Yukon.

Country first, eh, Sen. McCain?

Let me jump ahead to the defense we can anticipate: the Alaskan Independence Party is part of the cultural milieu of Alaska, it doesn’t mean the same thing to Alaskans as it would to us, Palin is really a patriotic American, blah blah blah. And you know what? I have no trouble believing any of that.*

Just as I had no trouble believing that Barack and Michelle Obama are patriotic Americans despite their long membership in the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s church.

*But you know what? On reflection, I wouldn’t be surprised if Palin thought Alaskan independence was kind of a neat idea. That would have been the whole point to joining the party, right?

Michelle Obama speaks again

I’m watching Michelle Obama speak to an Emily’s List gathering on CNN.com right now. And though I liked her speech last night well enough, I find it interesting that she seems much more relaxed and natural today, without sacrificing any of the warmth she projected on the big stage.

A presidential makeover

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that two contrasting speeches by Michelle Obama show she understands what works in Chicago doesn’t work on the national stage. Unfortunately for Democrats, the Obamas’ efforts to reinvent themselves risk making them seem inauthentic and leave them vulnerable to Republican attack.

Michelle Obama’s speech

She was appealingly nervous and sincere. Given that she’s been caricatured as Angela Davis, only less fun, all she really had to do was come across as normal and friendly. Which she did. And the girls are adorable.