Friday, January 04, 2008

I'm pretty cynical myself, and mostly sympathetic to cynics generally, but every so often I run across someone who takes it too far. One Thomas Daulton, on an IOZ comment thread, quips:

[The Democrats would] love, and have tried, to form a personality cult around Bill Clinton, but it's been obvious since his Governor days that -- like other banana republic dictators -- Bill looked at public office more as a means of chasing tail than the Will to Power, and thus lacked staying power as a dictator.
Yeah, right. The focus of his presidency was chasing tail, and the best tail that he could get, as President of the frigging United States, was a college intern. I mean no offense to Monica Lewinsky here, who might well be a fine catch for the likes of me, but Bill Clinton --- he who routinely stayed up into the small hours debating issues with unattractive male subordinates, he whose memoir got panned because it was all policy and no dish --- if he'd really focused on chasing tail, he would have done better.

The irony here is deeper than, say, a Libertarian writing, in all apparent seriousness, that the true danger of government health care is that it might become as obnoxious and destructive to liberty as unregulated corporations have already been --- if perhaps not so obvious.

It's not just that Daulton's disappointment with cynical, substance-free politicians has itself become a cynical pose, which is obviously devoid of substance. If you read the whole comment, he clearly sees himself as a radical critic of the established political order. But in support of that position, he's taken one of the silliest talking points of the Washingtonian chattering classes (habitually projecting their own empty-headedness on everyone else), and just run with it, without subjecting the thing itself to the least critique.

Vacuous personality politics? He's soaking in it.

By the way, I was generally disappointed with Clinton, and didn't vote in the 1996 election because I didn't want to give him my support --- not that it mattered much in Massachusetts anyway. (Largely because of his civil rights record, but his failure to secure decent NAFTA side agreements was also a deep disappointment). I never doubted that he had serious, considered positions on issues, though --- I just didn't like them.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Wondering what's behind McCain's late resurgence in New Hampshire? Can't figure out if it's new support from establishment figures, distaste for Romney, or what?

Well, I've been avoiding primary news as much as I could, but simply by being situated in broadcast range of New Hampshire, I am perforce aware of local factors of overriding importance which may have escaped the attention of the national media. I refer specifically to the Red Sox fan base, which is deeply affected by the endorsement of the Man with the Bloody Red Sock himself, pitcher Curt Schilling. You can't watch a local sports game lately without seeing Schilling make his (remarkably effective) pitch for McCain at least two or three times --- and since we once again seem to have a professional basketball team in town, there are suddenly quite a lot of those... to say nothing of the broadcasts of Sportscenter and the two local variations on that theme.

Speaking of that primary news I've been avoiding: on the Democratic side, it's seeming more to me like Edwards is probably the best of a not entirely satisfactory lot, because he shows the most signs of actually understanding that the Republicans and business interests will howlingly oppose just about any attempt to roll back the lingering craziness of the Bush years, in any sphere. He's the only one who's making a point of saying that --- and given his background as a forceful litigator, it's conceivable that he actually means it. It's also nice that he's saying, at least in public, that pulling the troops out of Iraq means pulling them all out, not leaving tens of thousands in for some nebulous training mission.

Dodd certainly deserves props for being just about the only person in the Senate to actually lead opposition against at least one of Dubya's blatantly unconstitutional maneuvers --- very much against the will of his own party leadership. But if you have to choose between an emphasis on the economic disaster, and an emphasis on the civil rights disaster, consider this: people with food on their tables and roofs over their heads can agitate for more civil rights. People with civil rights but no food on the table may be trying too hard to get it the next time their civil rights get taken away.

I'm not decided myself, but Obama's echoing of right-wing talking points (even on social security, fercryinnoutloud!) has turned me off, and Hillary's talk about the war is downright scary, so it's down to those two, or to one, if I limit myself to media-annointed major candidates...

Update: Well, so much for Dodd, at least in the Presidency. I think he would have been perfectly fine in the general campaign --- as noted below, I think all the Democrats in this round are stronger than anyone running on the Republican side. But in this primary field, he didn't effectively compete...

And one last point: for this primary round, we can say to hell with "electability" even on strictly tactical grounds. Given the weakness of the Republican primary field, and all that the Republicans have to live down, any of the Democrats should be able to wipe the floor with any of the Republicans --- and if they can't, it's a problem with the party itself. So it actually makes sense, for once in our lives, to really think hard about a strange question that no one is accustomed to discuss at all when talking about the various presidential candidates: which of these people would actually do the best job at governing the country?

Monday, December 31, 2007

Of all the encomiums I've seen for Benazir Bhutto over the last few days, I was most struck by a passage from this reminisce from the brother of a college friend:

Her family, for reasons never explained to me, had told her that someday she would be the leader of her home nation and in order to achieve that she would need the credibility in the eyes of the western world that would come from a premier western education--they decided that the Harvard/American connection would be more valuable than the connections she would get if she was educated in Europe.

She seemed to believe in this preordained destiny and did not fight it. She said it was her obligation. I thought the whole thing sounded crazy, how could her family just DECIDE to make her a national leader? I mean, a Harvard education is a wonderful thing, but not every Harvard graduate goes on to lead a nation. I used the word "preposterous" more than once to describe her life plan. Later, I learned just how wrong I could be.

She was so convinced that she would become Pakistan's leader, she said the only one way that could not happen, would be if her brother killed her first. One of her brothers was furious that she, a worthless girl, had been chosen by the family instead of him--a not girl. I read in the newspapers years later that one of her brothers had been killed and that her niece blamed Bennie for it. I always wondered if that was the brother who had threatened her so many years before.

De mortuis, said the Romans, nil nisi bonum. I'm not Roman.

With a brother like that, her family didn't exactly adhere to Western standards of good governance much --- they were formal feudal landholders saw themselves as dynasts, and Bhutto's rule was of a piece with that heritage. In the huge bribes she took from Western interests. In her tolerance and support for Muslim fanatics (including the Afghan Taliban), from which her assassination may have been blowback. And, at the end, in her political will and testament, which nominated as successor not some trusted, experienced lieutenant (of which she apparently didn't have any), but the obvious dynastic successor --- her callow, nineteen-year-old son.

The family didn't send her to Harvard and Oxford to become Western. She left as she came --- as one of their own. They sent her for the reasons she said they sent her --- to make contacts, and to learn to play the part of the friendly, Westernized leader for as long as there were Westerners in the room. It's a way that third-world elites have of dealing with our own --- Europeans and particularly Americans who seem to always think that they're too smart to be fooled by anyone with a brown skin and a third-world pedigree. Witness, say, Ahmed Chalabi, on the run from a conviction for massive bank fraud in Jordan, who had half the White House primed to make him our savior in Iraq, while all the while he was playing footsie with Iranian intelligence --- among numerous other sad examples strewn across the globe.

That's what Bhutto went to learn at Harvard and Oxford. And the proof of her determination and talent is the hagiography that we've been drowning in over the past few days. She did spectacularly well.

More: In the Guardian, William Dalrymple memorializes the Benazir that hung out with the rich and powerful in London, and the one that ruled Pakistan --- which he describes as two very different people. Via Patrick Nielsen Hayden

(Most links from Matthew Yglesias, who's been all over this).

Ad Broadcast peeve of the week: on the broadcast network simulcast of the Pats/Giants game Saturday evening, just before kickoff, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and some minor on-air "talent" for the NFL's private cable channel ran through a painfully scripted interview in which Goodell's speechwriter made a point of saying that "this [was] not the moment" to argue the NFL's case in its ongoing dispute with major cable companies.

That moment apparently arrived about five minutes later, with the first of at least three airings of a commercial in which a diner full of people spent 60 seconds bitching about how they couldn't get "NFL network" on their cable systems.

For those unaware of the dispute: "NFL network" carries eight games a year, which amount to about 24 hours a year of general-interest programming. The other 364 days a year, it reruns games that were already broadcast (and recorded by fans with an interest), and carries a bunch of other stuff of interest to only hard-core fans. For some incredibly strange reason, the cable companies haven't seen fit to pay more for this than they do for CNN --- and the NFL owners, for their part, are howling that the networks are betraying their viewers by trying to negotiate on price, and refusing to take part in such a base betrayal of trust. That's what they say --- and why wouldn't you believe them?