Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
And, in a line I never thought I'd type, thanks to David Brooks for pointing to this.
Update: A point of clarification: I don't mean to say that fundamentalism and misogyny began because of modernity -- rather, that their reinvigoration is a reaction to the threat of modernity.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
More to come. Maybe we can start a new Web service, Wikidopes. The only criterion for inclusion is that the piece itself must be a hermetically sealed demonstration of idiocy. No commentary allowed, or required. Any gloss, no matter how perceptive, punny or pithy, would only dilute the perfect foolery. It must be ipso bozo. A definitive proof, a priori, of a posterior (vs. frontal) lobe.
Open for submissions.
Monday, December 6, 2010
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Lambert and Vastleft are arguing that it's a major mistake for progressive commenters to attribute either good intentions or weak leadership to The Precious -- because, in Vastleft's words, "Obama operates like a conservative because he is a conservative." They argue that he's not a weak leader but a strong, effective one -- because he's accomplishing very thoroughly what (they say) he always intended to accomplish.
There is some merit and utility in this argument -- insofar as it underlines how deluded the Obots, the Netroots and the misogynist fanboy punditocracy on MSNBC and what Anglachel calls the Stevensonian wing of the Democratic Party were about him. They gave this tablua rasa a free pass to the nomination because he served as their mirror, without regard to most of what he was actually proposing. For that act of protracted irresponsibility and fecklessness, the judgment of history is already in on them, and it is not kind. To paraphrase Somerby's trope on Iraq, the working class and the middle class of America look up from their places in the soon-to-be-closed-down unemployment lines at the likes of Dowd, Marcos, Booman, Avarosis, Olbermann, Rich, Donna and their ilk in devastating accusation.
However, it's another thing entirely to propose that the whole thing was some vast and extraordinarily effective kabuki in which The Precious was actually Sauron and was skillfully orchestrating all of these conspirators -- from Wall St. to Ms. magazine to MoveOn to the insurance companies, etc., etc. One really has to believe in the power of theater to think that entire sectors of the economy are expressing batshit-crazy outrage at him in public while chortling together with him in private -- because he is, after all, so skillfully carrying their water.
And even if you believe that, how does this account for the patent lack of political success of this strategy? Are we really supposed to believe that Obama, Axelrod et al. wanted collapsing poll numbers? That they wanted to be seen universally as wearing 'kick me' signs? If this guy is supposed to be such a clever, successful, right-wing political leader, how come he's already a lame duck? Are we supposed to believe that this, too, is part of the clever, "successful" plan?
This, to me, reveals the vulnerability of strictly ideological arguments. They ignore the kinds of institutional, cultural and political dimensions that, say, Anglachel describes so well (and that I find in Krugman, for all his self-proclaimed wonkiness). Pure ideology isn't psychologically acute, and that lack of acuity creates errors that are, well, a bit categorical.
To me, the facts certainly demonstrate that Barack Obama was never a liberal. To the degree he has anything that could remotely be called an ideology or world view, it is, as Anglachel has been arguing of late, the ideology of a "Herbert Hoover progressive" (nice). But the overwhelming preponderance of the facts also show that he is a total non-leader, a cipher, a man whose entire life has been a journey not of self-knowledge but of self-obliteration, an odyssey of opacity. He is Chauncey Gardner, Jimmy Carter II, Zelig. He has always wanted to be President, but he's never actually wanted to do anything specific -- which is tantamount to saying that he never wanted to do anything. All be, no do.
And one more observation: As disappointed as all of us white, feminist, Hillary-admiring types are in this turn of events, I expect it's not a patch on the kind of disappointment that's infecting black America right now. It's not just that the United States needed an FDR and wound up with Calvin Coolidge (or, fine, Herbert Hoover)... but after our country's tragic racial history, for all that agony to have achieved its putative culmination in this, dare I say, black hole... well, that's beyond cruel.
Friday, December 3, 2010
How much does Nature abhor a vacuum? How fast does it fill? And who fills it -- i.e., does the Democratic Party still possess any Force of Nature-ness? Will he be primaried? Or do only the wingnuts have the energy to rush in where better angels now fear to tread?
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
So, this is what the scattered, abandoned zombies formerly known as Obamanation are down to now? Couldn't they at least dial up the oldies station? You know, play back some of those great tunes from the past -- like "I Shot the Precious" or "Under My Thumb"?
Saturday, November 13, 2010
While we await Somerby's rant, a few choice bits from Nocera:
"Mr. Klein transformed both himself and New York’s $23 billion school system. He will leave his post with a reputation as the country’s pre-eminent education reformer."This despite the well-publicized fact that the city's rise in test scores has proved to be bogus. An ordinary, headline-browsing resident of said city would have been permitted to conclude that Klein was skedaddling out of town with his C.V. between his legs -- received by the welcoming arms of Rupert Murdoch, no less -- as everything he claimed to have accomplished over the past eight years goes up in smoke. But the Times' love for the dominant educational novel of our times is so strong that it scurries to chant the magic phrases of "reform" and "accountability" on its front pages over and over again, drowning out the inconvenient truths.
On choosing Klein in the first place: "'Joel had all the qualifications,' the mayor told me a few days ago, adding: 'He knows how to attract good people, motivate them and make them accountable. You can always find someone to do the technical stuff.' The fact that Mr. Klein did not have preset ideas about how to fix public education was, in the mayor’s view, a plus."Just let Mayor Mike's quote roll around in your mind. "You can always find someone to do the technical stuff." Don't mistake this for the view of a typical CEO. It isn't. No CEO of any company based on expertise thinks like that. "The technical stuff" is the core stuff, the bread and butter, the meal ticket. Whether you're running a media company or a movie studio or an IT innovator or a pharma -- or a university -- the experts, the talent, are what puts bread on your table, what differentiates you in the market. You recruit them, coddle them, nurture them. You pay obsessive attention to what they know, how they learn it, how they use it and how to leverage and spread it. You may not be able to open a picture or decode a genome or write a Pulitzer Prize article yourself, but you damn well build everything in your company around those who can. "You can always find someone to do the technical stuff." Right.
This is not the view of a typical CEO. It's the view, first of all, of somebody whose business succeeded not because of its journalists, but because of its desktop terminal, its platform. The Bloomberg terminal got in early in the game of digitizing and speeding up financial data, and he built an empire on that. Second, he's not just a CEO, he's a founder. Founders get to do whatever the fuck they want. Ordinary CEOs have fiduciary responsibilities. Boards of directors, even lax boards, can't let them run wild -- at least, not indefinitely. What Bloomberg brought to Gracie Mansion wasn't unique business savvy, it was the mindset and skills of a suave, socially liberal dictator. Sometimes, those impulses have been salutary -- e.g., his campaigns against smoking and trans-fats. But in his signature effort to transform an actual, complex, fraught system -- education -- that leadership model has been flunko.
Quoting the ever-quotable Steve Brill, a loud voice in the anti-teacher chorus: "'At Bloomberg, nobody has a contract,' said Mr. Brill, who is writing a book about school reform. 'He built a multibillion media empire in part on the idea that you can quit and he can fire you.'"Huh? Bloomberg's empire was built on employment-at-will? It's astonishing that the once-rigorous founder (N.B.) of American Lawyer and CourtTV -- legendary for his excoriating marginal notes to writers on their copy -- could say this. To claim that Bloomberg Inc. is founded on such a generic fact of business is like saying that the Roman Empire was based on the fact that humans breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.
But what this quote does reveal, again, is the founder mentality. In this narcissistic mindset, an enterprise or institution isn't just Emerson's "lengthened shadow of a single man," it's nothing more than he.
Anyway, enough Howler-channeling. Let me just close by raising the question of why the Times is so dedicatedly pimping this novel, over many years and in the face of massive contrary evidence. It suggests that they're laying the pipe for a third-party run by Mike for President, no? The Precious has proven to be a flop, and the GOP crazies are abroad in the land, and what are we Manhattanites to do?
NYC's educational reform revealed as horseshit? Quick, sweetie, get me rewrite.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Update: He's baaaaaack. Just to remind ourselves of the record of this noble defender of left-wing reason, cast your mind back to this ditty from his rap sheet. It started me blogging.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Yep, you read that right. Social Security was passed amid strong economic growth, rather than at the bottom of a recession. This is appearing on the op-ed page of the Paper of Record.
Friday, October 29, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
But in a couple of months, people will make choices. One of those choices, for many, will be to stay away from the polls. But those who vote will choose between the two major parties (with a smattering of third-party outliers showing up in the winner's circle). And what this poll (and many others like it) reveals is that (a) people want what the old Democratic Party (not the pale imitation we now have) used to do and advocate, and (b) the biggest electoral problem the Dems face is having a weak leader at the top.
To wit (emphasis added):
"A case for Republicans: Voters are remarkably open to change, even if they are not sure where Republicans will lead them. Most Americans, including one-third of those who were part of the coalition that elected Mr. Obama, now say he does not have a clear plan to solve the nation’s problems or create jobs. Democrats remain highly vulnerable on the economy.
"A case for Democrats: The party is seen as having better ideas for solving the country’s problems. The public steadfastly supports the president’s proposal to let tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans. And far more people still blame Wall Street and the Bush administration than blame Mr. Obama for the country’s economic problems.
"The public has a darker view of Congressional Republicans than of Democrats, with 58 percent disapproving of Democrats and 68 percent disapproving of Republicans. But with less than two months remaining until Election Day, there are few signs Democrats have made gains persuading Americans that they should keep control of Congress."
In other words, strictly in terms of political and electoral outcomes, Democratic chances are poor most importantly because of Obama. People wanted FDR, and they got Calvin Coolidge.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Sunday, August 8, 2010
And our "leaders"? Too little, too lame. The judgment of history will not be kind -- on them, on the Democratic Party, and on the crocodile tears of the punditocracy.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Emotionally intelligent, politically intelligent, policy intelligent. This is what leadership looks like.
Update: Clearly, this was a considered political decision - and a very smart one. This guy has an understanding of the moment and an understanding of what people feel to match his razor-sharp understanding of public policy.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
But... one thing I do root for and deeply admire is Paul Krugman. He has laurels aplenty on which to rest -- not just the Nobel Prize (in his case, richly earned), but the fact of having put himself out there voluminously for years, with an astonishing batting average. In terms of economic and political analysis and judgment -- and in the Show, not the minors -- he has a batting average that dwarfs any superstar in any field you can think of. A-Rod? Gretzky? Michael Jordan? Lombardi? Fuggedaboutit. Shakespeare dropped the ball more often.
And yet, he never seems to rest. He never stops reading, looking, thinking. Those on the right who dismiss him as a shrill, one-note ranter miss entirely his seemingly bottomless curiosity -- his true reporter's instinct. There is no public intellectual one can name who is so entirely engaged. And those on the left who dismiss him for this or that point of doctrinal difference miss entirely how seriously he takes the idea of using his unique bully pulpit to make things right -- or at least better. He is staying in the game, because he's genuinely committed to having the game come out as well as possible.
Every day, on his blog -- take a look at any of the posts on today's, for example -- he engages in serious discourse on serious issues with serious intent. Yes, he's our 21st century Cassandra -- and its hope-filled Energizer Bunny. If he hadn't gotten the Nobel for Economics, he would deserve one for Sincere Conscientiousness.
Update: Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Monday, June 21, 2010
Obama is a liberal? The liberals are the ones who are theory-mad?? The "conservatives" are the ones who are grounded in reality -- and about to re-ascend??? It's the welfare state that's in crisis, about to be smacked down by the Invisible Hand????
From which galaxy are these people receiving their radio signals?
"Conservatism" must be put in quotes, of course, not only because it isn't remotely conservative -- in fact, it's been swinging from the chandeliers since Reagan -- but because it's no longer even a perspective, much less a theory. Put aside entirely Tea Party goofitude ("Keep the government's hands off my Medicare!") or nativist xenophobia. The entire Milton Friedman neo-classical architecture has been blown away. In reality, it was always logical positivist nonsense, the Economist's New Clothes, ruling out of existence (into the ether of "externalities") anything that doesn't fit your equations... the drunk who looks under the streetlight for his keys because he can see there. But after its utter collapse and exposure as The New Alchemy, in the face of the worst unemployment since the 1930s -- indeed, with that specific object lesson in front of our eyes (hello? 1937, people?) -- it should be impossible for any sentient being to argue for it in public.
So what do you do? Well, you don't argue for it -- you project your own mishagas onto your "opponent." Onto the "liberals." Another idea we have to put under erasure, of course. If only. (We live in a boom era for quote marks. Too bad Derrida died before he could cash in.)
Almost makes one nostalgic for the time when the best lacked all conviction and the worst were full of passionate intensity. We're way past Yeats. More like Beckett.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
And then the Gulf of Mexico has a massive coronary -- an environmental 9/11, as Tom Friedman accurately described it. And as if to prove himself Bush III definitively, Barack Obama stands like a deer in the headlights, helplessly watching the epic catastrophe unfold. Issuing stern, empty warnings. Sending Cabinet secretaries out to issue stern, empty warnings.
You cannot make this stuff up. The signature event that tanked Object-Lesson-in-Chief... in the exact same place on the planet... and At-Least-I'm-Not-W grabs for... W's playbook.
Well, my pet goat is lying on the beach, choked with oil.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Update: Even if Krugman is right that there is little chance of financial reform before November -- which seems entirely plausible -- that doesn't alter the political calculus. The main point, politically, is for Obama and the Dems to get out there and throw punch after punch. Frankly, I will be astonished if they don't. This isn't rocket science, it's sweet science.
Update 2: More grist. As His Shrillness's latest column suggests, it's now down to the politics. Shelby and others will attempt Orwellian FUD, so our president must get out on the stump and make it clear, forcefully, daily, unambiguously, that he and his administration regard banks as bad guys. As with the last month's push for the ersatz healthcare bill, the imperative is no longer to argue the fine points -- it's to clarify the sides in the battle.
Monday, March 22, 2010
David Sanger in tomorrow’s Times – with unintended irony – describes the moment thus: “After the bitterest of debates, Mr. Obama proved that he was willing to fight for something that moved him to his core.” Of course, that “something” wasn’t a serious healthcare bill. Rather, it was his own political future. Not very inspiring for the rest of us, to be sure – but it’s a start. His lizard brain, at least, has awakened. He has grokked that he had to do more than float like a butterfly if he wanted to avoid becoming a lame duck by this November – or by tomorrow morning.
So, for the past month, he actually fought, actually (yes) demonized somebody, actually defined the terms of a debate. In other words, he actually engaged as a political actor. And the very salutary results of that engagement were evident on the floor of the House tonight. His enemy – our enemies – were forced to react, and their reactions committed them in public to a stance that will further marginalize them, will accelerate their collapse into white dwarf stardom. Republican after Republican rose to utter patently incoherent, untruthful and amoral nonsense. They voted as a bloc against their own type of plan (Romneycare writ larger). And the coup de grace came when Bart Stupak, of all people, rose to denounce their last-ditch obstructionist bid.
(It’s enough to make one speculate that the whole Stupak Amendment dance was pure kabuki from the get-go – a way to establish this no-name as the face of anti-choice, so he could, in the end, provide his blessing to Obama’s plan. Or not.)
Contra the Times editorialists, Barack Obama did not "put his presidency on the line for an accomplishment of historic proportions." His presidency was already on the line. He merely woke up to that fact. And the proportions here aren't anything like historic. It remains the thinnest of gruel, at best. At worst, it’s a betrayal of women, and a massively missed opportunity. Nonetheless, I’m pleased our president has taken this initial step. Maybe it’ll lead to another. In politics, the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first punch.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Friday, March 12, 2010
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, speech to the Democratic National Convention, Madison Square Garden, 1936
“I know both those guys [Jamie Dimon, CEO, JPMorgan Chase; and Lloyd Blankfein, CEO, Goldman Sachs]; they are very savvy businessmen. I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system.”
- Barack Obama, interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which will appear on newsstands Friday.
Yes, as Paul Krugman and Simon Johnson say, this is some combination of clueless and perfidious. Yes, it's a profound betrayal of the Democratic Party. Yes, it's as politically insane as it is substantively deranged -- as Johnson points out, there is nothing about JPMorgan Chase or Goldman Sachs today that resembles the "free-market system." They are wastrel-son wards of the state.
But again -- my idee fixe of late -- it's also a fundamental failure of leadership, a total incapacity to do the job. In the interview, he goes on to talk about "say on pay" -- in his characteristic "no earth-shattering things going on here" way. He's emotionally out of touch with the majority of Americans... indeed, he's emotionally out of touch with himself. Such a person is unfit to lead.
Friday, February 5, 2010
Update: Meanwhile, dispatches still come in from the bizarro universe.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
One of them was weak, indecisive, self-involved, malaise-mongering. It lasted one term, and did great things... for the Republican Party.
The other, while flawed, was energized, smart and combative. It swam against the prevailing tide, and yet managed to last two terms and deliver unprecedented peace and prosperity.
Guess which of those models our current occupant has run away from as fast as he can? Guess which predecessor he has mirrored -- up to and including a reflexive desire to self-flagellate and appease enemies?
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Saturday, January 23, 2010
So the Administration’s two signature initiatives – healthcare reform and financial recovery – are now generally regarded as failures across the political spectrum. Even if Congress manages to semi-rise to the occasion, the moment has passed for the party's and nation's leader to get political credit for it. Overall, “Change you can believe in” has devolved into “Better than nothing.” And that’s among his supporters.
And the White House's political response is... to bring back David Plouffe?!
Why did this collapse occur? The standard trope in the Pumasphere is that it’s about ideology: He wasn’t Left enough or principled enough. As BTD always reminds them, “pols are pols… and they do what they do.”
In many respects, I share that view – and I greatly admire BTD. But I don’t think it’s a sufficient explanation of the current devolution of the Administration to say that Barack Obama is, after all, just a pol… or even to say that he’s a Republican in Dem’s clothing. Because the collapse of his Administration isn’t only about motives or ideology. It’s also about the skills of leadership.
FDR was a pol. Lyndon Johnson was a pol. Jimmy Carter was a pol. Bill Clinton was a pol. All of them were left of center. But their impacts varied greatly. Of course, much of that had to do with the moment in history each inherited – the pond inside of which each was fated to swim. But it also had to do, in part at least, with their individual capacity to lead – to understand present societal and economic realities, to project trajectories into the future, and to turn that understanding into actual outcomes through political action. Their ability to form coalitions, to frame debate, to set agendas (rather than play inside somebody else’s), to make decisions. Their degree of clarity about who they themselves are.
On that front – the capacity to lead – Barack Obama doesn’t get a B+, or a C+. If we’re being generous, he’d get a D+. He just isn’t right for the job. And that is, imo – yes, along with the other factors of policy squishiness and faux purity (or, if you prefer, the delusions of his Kool-Aid drinking followers) – the reason for his political collapse, his loss of the capacity to govern.
As we sit here today, does Barack Obama have any base left? Is there any chunk of the population, even of the Village, that would rally to his defense in the event of a challenger for the nomination? BTD thinks so. I'm not convinced. And so it is seeming to me more and more possible that Hillary Clinton will become President in 2012... that the next election will be a do-over.
Obviously, she wouldn’t do anything to break away from the Administration before the mid-terms. But assuming that this implosion of Obama’s political power continues, that his descent into Jimmy Carterdom isn’t reversed in some as-of-now inconceivable way, the Democratic Party will be presiding over a dyspeptic stasis come early 2011, even if they hold onto majorities in both houses. They’ll be looking around for some way to save their individual and collective asses in the next Presidential cycle, looking for someone, anyone, to fill the empty space currently occupied by our Vacuum-in-Chief. And who else is out there who could challenge Hillary for that job – assuming she wants it?
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
With the debacle in
As I speculated in my previous post, the time will (in all likelihood) arrive when a consensus crystallizes that this Administration is Jimmy Carter II. That moment might be right now. Certainly, the hamina-hamina-kumbayamina response from the White House does nothing to staunch that perception.
Whether it’s now or in November, once this consensus forms, it’s game over, politically speaking. When it becomes generally understood that a person in charge can be rolled, everybody starts acting on the basis of that understanding, and the natural forces of vacuum-abhorrence take over. Departmental satraps strut a bit more confidently. External competitors and allies alike make plans with a weak actor in mind. Everywhere, small-ball power games get ramped up. The center does not hold. Mere anarchy may not yet be loosed… but at best, stasis reigns supreme.
As to the personal narratives here, the whole thing has a kind of Mobius-strip-like quality, folding back on itself.
Ted Kennedy's long-ago fatal sexual flaws mean he doesn't defeat Jimmy Carter for the nomination…
So that Jimmy Carter's leadership flaws mean that we get Ronald Reagan…
So that Ronald Reagan's political luck can land him in office at the moment the
So that the end of the Cold War (and related rise of globalization) can unleash a new political alignment…
So that Bill Clinton can emerge to grab one part of that new alignment – and do the best that can be done, still inside the rightward pendulum swing…
So that his sexual flaws can then derail the end of his presidency... and cloud Al Gore's vision...
So that Gore's political limitations (and a criminal Supreme Court) can allow W to "win"…
So that W and Cheney can unleash the Right’s fondest fantasies...
So that those fantasies can crash and burn -- not only much of our government and society, but the GOP as a national party...
Meanwhile, back to Ted Kennedy…
Whose jealousy and unresolved regrets about his own truncated ambitions lead him to turn on the
So that Obama gets crucial help in gaming the nomination…
So that, when Teddy dies, Obama's limits as a leader result in the loss of Teddy's empty seat to a W clone...
So that the chances for Teddy's lifelong political goal may once again fail to materialize.
“Where have all the flowers gone? Picked by young girls every one..."