In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.
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MICROTONES by Scott Gordon, editor-in-chief and publisher
I didn’t make it to Beto O’Rourke’s campaign stop this past Sunday at Cargo Coffee on East Wash, so I suppose I have about as much business writing a few scattered thoughts about it as Beto does running for president. I’m just born to be in it, or something? I am not sure if O’Rourke hopped on the counter; The Capital Times‘ Jessie Opoien reports that he stood on a metal chair, and the only place that makes sense to speak in there is across the room from the counter, in front of a historical map-style painting that sets Cargo’s old-world travel theme. All I can say is that the Beto timeline this week has been ever so excruciating and unhelpful, and tells me that this incredibly consequential election is gonna be a particularly exhausting one to experience in a symbolically fraught (and for-real crucial!) swing state that’s hosting the Democratic National Convention.
The discourse that Beto’s visit to a Culver’s set off was face-breaking in and of itself, and you know it’s only the start of a great wave of food-based pandering this election cycle. One of my grand political theories is that politicians say so much cliched stuff about cheese and Culver’s and beer because they’ve just been in Iowa, pretending to enjoy whatever the fuck a loosemeat sandwich is. When they get to Wisconsin they encounter comfort food that didn’t emerge from a serial killer’s basement, and it induces in even the most polished campaigners an almost sub-verbal experience of relief. Beto’s overall Culver’s spread seemed fine, honestly—burger, a cup of chocolate custard, an order of fries with radioactive cheese dip. People pounced on the cheese fries because they weren’t the cheese curds, which doesn’t make sense because the cheese curds there are just sorta crusty and not that good. Go to a dive bar or get the divine ever-so-lightly vodka-battered ones at Graze, but either way you can easily find better cheese curds than Culver’s ones. I mean, it’s probably too much to ask for no performative eating on the campaign trail, but we can at least up the quality, OK?
Look, I respect the challenge that Beto mounted against Texas Senator Ted Cruz in 2018. Giving that soup-hoarding goon a run for his money, in a state where voter suppression and political apathy allows Republicans to rule with an iron fist, is no small feat. The question is what he’s good for beyond that, and how he can best help get a neo-Nazi with syphilis brains out of the White House. What came out of this weekend’s visit to Madison was lukewarm on policy and heavy on mediocre male bluster. If it gets more Madisonians excited to go vote in the primary and general election, fine. I just don’t see a whole lot of substance there. He demurred on abolishing ICE. He speaks in bold strokes about embracing diversity and making our economy more fair, but that isn’t the same as asking for the bold policy proposals that would actually get us there. For instance, he’s waffled recently on how to achieve his goal of universal health care, saying he’s not sure about a single-payer system. He appears to be currently embracing a middle way, but, like, pick something and stick to it. Personally, I have a hard time getting convinced about any Democratic candidate who won’t ask for big things, which is why I don’t see a whole lot of actually useful contenders in the field right now. Elizabeth Warren is putting forth real policy proposals, and if there is mercy in the universe she won’t try to sell her campaign as “punk rock.”
Predictably, former governor and fascist errand-boy Scott Walker saw that the throwback map behind Beto depicted the USSR and tried to get something, anything, out of the largest country in the world by land area being prominently displayed there because [scare quotes] socialism. Beto isn’t a socialist, and his speech this Sunday was inside a small business that itself is inside a luxury condo/mixed-use development. Stumping for a vague center-left platform at a nice small business in a gentrifying neighborhood, and being accused of harboring some kind of crazy Stalinist agenda anyway, is about as good a summation of our current political discourse as I can find. May we all find patience and strength, and demand real answers from our primary candidates.
New this week:
Chris Lay picks out 30 great posters for Wisconsin Film Festival selections.
Holly Henschen reflects on body positivity, race, and more in the wake of Sonya Renee Taylor’s recent visit to Madison.
On a podcast short, Shaun Soman and Scott Gordon discuss a few shows coming up in Madison this spring.
Elsewhere on the Madison internet: WORT’s A Public Affair gets three perspectives on neon art. Dr. Sami Schalk responds to our above piece on body positivity. The Capital Times pans the menu at Tangent.
This week’s Madison calendar: A panel discussion about Eugene V. Debs: A Graphic Biography at A Room of One’s Own. Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye screens at the Central Library. Jazz trumpeter Paul Dietrich celebrates a new album at the Brink. Jenny Lewis plays the Sylvee. And more.