It begins and ends with “Ball and Biscuit,” and by “it,” I mean “Western civilization.” The 21st century’s most astounding, most wryly pornographic, most brain-meltingly electrifying blues song. Did the electric guitar even exist prior to “Ball and Biscuit”? Did distortion? Did hype? Did critical praise? Did the colors red and white? Did outlandishly oversize declarations of virility? Has there been a single memorable guitar solo performed anywhere, by anyone, in the decade since its release? “Ball and Biscuit,” all 439 stomping, seething, snarling, Sam Ash-smiting seconds of it, is what we should broadcast out into deep space if we wish to communicate to uncouth aliens the idea that they should not fuck with us, ever. It is a song to repel interstellar invasions, to vaporize asteroids, a preemptive strike so comically priapic it renders everything in its path limp and docile.
- Rob Harvilla, on the 10th anniversary of The White Stripes’ Elephant
But if Portman can turn around on one issue once he realizes how it touches his family personally, shouldn’t he take some time to think about how he might feel about other issues that don’t happen to touch him personally? Obviously the answers to complicated public policy questions don’t just directly fall out of the emotion of compassion. But what Portman is telling us here is that on this one issue, his previous position was driven by a lack of compassion and empathy. Once he looked at the issue through his son’s eyes, he realized he was wrong. Shouldn’t that lead to some broader soul-searching? Is it just a coincidence that his son is gay, and also gay rights is the one issue on which a lack of empathy was leading him astray? That, it seems to me, would be a pretty remarkable coincidence. The great challenge for a senator isn’t to go to Washington and represent the problems of his own family. It’s to try to obtain the intellectual and moral perspective necessary to represent the problems of the people who don’t have direct access to the corridors of power.