"It is easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor."
- Tyrion Lannister

"Lannister. Baratheon. Stark. Tyrell. They're all just spokes on a wheel. This one's on top, then that's ones on top and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel."

- Daenerys Targaryen

"The Lord of Light wants his enemies burned. The Drowned God wants them drowned. Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where's the God of Tits and Wine?"

- Tyrion Lannister

"The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are."

- Jorah Mormont

"These bad people are what I'm good at. Out talking them. Out thinking them."

- Tyrion Lannister

"What happened? I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics."

- Michael Barone

"If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."
- Dorothy Parker

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Million Dollar Question

Rick Perlstein's obit for "anti-American" Philip Agee.

Deep Throat passed away in December.

Mark Felt, a.k.a. Deep Throat, in
his old-timey FBI action pose.

I hope Obama is pressured into doing something about the warrantless wiretapping compromise the Democrats enacted during the election. (Reformers should point to the Nixon White House.) Glenn Greenwald has been very good on this. In his Salon column, however, he addresses Obama supporters (which I consider myself):
But there is one aspect of the worldview of many Obama supporters that I find genuinely difficult to understand. These supporters insist that by symbolically including and sometimes compromising with even those on the Right with whom he vigorously disagrees, Obama will be able to chip away at the partisan hostilities and resentments, and erode the cultural divisions, that have inflamed and paralyzed our politics. People on the Right may disagree with him, claim these supporters, but they won't be wallowing in rage, suspicions, and hatred towards him. Instead, they'll feel respected and accommodated. They therefore won't be distracted by petty sideshow controversies. As a result, he'll encounter less reflexive resistance to implementing the key parts of his progressive agenda. A New Politics will emerge: one of respectful and civil disagreements, but not consumed by crippling partisan and cultural hatreds.

The one question I always return to when I hear this -- and we've been hearing it a lot to explain the Warren selection -- is this: in what conceivable sense is this approach "new"? Even for those who are convinced this will work, isn't this exactly the same thing Democrats have been doing for the last two decades: namely, accommodating and compromising with the Right in the name of bipartisan harmony and a desire to avoid partisan and cultural conflicts? This harmonious approach may be many things, but the one thing it seems not to be is "new."

In fact, wasn't this transpartisan mentality exactly the strategic premise that drove the Bill Clinton presidency, exactly what Dick Morris' triangulation tactics were designed to achieve? Clinton spent the entire decade extending cultural fig leafs to the Right, from V-chips to school uniforms. Here's how The New York Times explained the 1996 unveiling of his "school uniform" policy:
By supporting measures like the school-uniform option, Mr. Clinton is trying to use the President's bully pulpit in this election year to articulate a moderate Democratic agenda that steps into the area of social issues that have long been the province of Republicans.
Greenwald nicely summarizes what Obama campaigned on, but Morris and Clinton didn't have that strategy in mind. I agree that the wiretapping/FISA compromise during the election was a Morris maneuver, but Clinton and Morris passed rightwing/centrist legislation in order to stay in office. I don't believe Obama will be that transpartisan.* What's "new" is attempting to get beyond the 60s cultural wars without compromising one's principles. In part this mean successfully reframing the debate conservatives want to endlessly engage in. Clinton and Morris engaged in the debate on conservatives' terms and passed conservative legislation without getting much in return.

As I noted earlier, Judis and Krugman point out that the political landscape today is much different - thanks in part to Greenwald and people like him. That's also what is "new" - which Greenwald keeps asking - as is Obama's politcal talent.

Regarding Obama's compromises and political interaction with the center and right, Mandela's quote vis-a-vis the ANC's South African Communist allies I mentioned earlier seems appropriate:
With this victory [1994] came new strains in the ANC-SACP alliance. While a number of Communists, notably Joe Slovo, occupied prominent positions on the ANC benches in parliament and in government, the ANC's programme did not threaten the existence of capitalism in South Africa and was heavily reliant on foreign investment and tourism. In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela famously remarked:
"There will always be those who say that the Communists were using us. But who is to say that we were not using them?"
Greenwald is afraid that the Left will be "used" as the Communists were, but there's a good chance it will be not the Left but some of those on the Right and in the Center who will be treated this way. This is what Obama has campaigned on. And like the South African Communists, these allies** will get some of what they want and a laudatory footnote in the history books.

* Like most, I don't like the terms postpartisan and transpartisan because they lead to this sort of confusion.

** Already Robert Gates and Lawrence Summers have expressed opinions more in line with Obama's than with their centrist pasts. Of course what Greenwald and Obama's supporters are waiting on is concrete actions.
As the Pendulum* Swings.
(or be Bold!)

John Judis wrote about the emerging liberal consensus back in November.
Could it happen? Kind of exciting. His advice:
These guys--and the others who are counseling Barack Obama and the Democrats to "go slow"--couldn't be more wrong. They are looking at Obama's election through the prism of Jimmy Carter's win in 1976 and Bill Clinton's victory in 1992. Both Carter and Clinton did misjudge the mood of the electorate. They tried unsuccessfully to govern a country from the center-left that was moving to the right (in Carter's case) or that was only just beginning to move leftward (in Clinton's case)--and they were rebuked by voters as a result.

Obama is taking office under dramatically different circumstances.
Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman agrees:
The reality of this [Southern] strategy’s collapse has not, I believe, fully sunk in with some observers. Thus, some commentators warning President-elect Barack Obama against bold action have held up Bill Clinton’s political failures in his first two years as a cautionary tale.

But America in 1993 was a very different country - not just a country that had yet to see what happens when conservatives control all three branches of government, but also a country in which Democratic control of Congress depended on the votes of Southern conservatives. Today, Republicans have taken away almost all those Southern votes - and lost the rest of the country. It was a grand ride for a while, but in the end the Southern strategy led the G.O.P. into a cul-de-sac.

Mr. Obama therefore has room to be bold. If Republicans try a 1993-style strategy of attacking him for promoting big government, they’ll learn two things: not only has the financial crisis discredited their economic theories, the racial subtext of anti-government rhetoric doesn’t play the way it used to.

Will the Republicans eventually stage a comeback? Yes, of course. But barring some huge missteps by Mr. Obama, that will not happen until they stop whining and look at what really went wrong. And when they do, they will discover that they need to get in touch with the real "real America," a country that is more diverse, more tolerant, and more demanding of effective government than is dreamt of in their political philosophy.

*Actually looks like the whole pendulum apparatus is moving to the left.
Bullies and the thorns in their sides

Helen Suzman is dead at 91.

From the obit by John Burns and Alan Cowell:
In 1959, impatient with the United Party’s tolerance of racial segregation, she became a founder of the liberal Progressive Party, later known as the Progressive Federal Party, which favored a more inclusive, nonracial franchise that would lead to black majority rule. Some of the most relentless enforcers of apartheid eventually developed a grudging respect for her, even a hint of affection. James T. Kruger, the justice minister under Mr. Vorster during the Soweto riots, was one of the "bullies" Mrs. Suzman frequently denounced.

Years later, out of office, Mr. Kruger learned that Mrs. Suzman was planning a tourist visit to the Soviet Union with her husband. A keen amateur philatelist, he approached her in the parliamentary lobby and gave her a sheaf of self-addressed postcards and letters, each bearing new South African stamps, asking her to mail them back to him from Moscow.

When she said that the Soviet postal authorities would not accept South African stamps, she recalled, Mr. Kruger was puzzled. For Mrs. Suzman, the incident demonstrated the occluded world inhabited by many apartheid leaders, who often acted, she said, as if they belonged to the 17th, not the 20th century. "Poor old Jimmy Kruger," she said. "Like most of them, he knew very little of the world beyond South Africa."
The BBC has some video.

Martin Peretz had a blog entry at the New Republic comparing Suzman favorably to Nadine Gordimer. I can't find it now - maybe it was deleted - but his criticism of Gordimer is that she was soft on Communism. (It was admirable how Peretz stuck up for Obama over Israel during the election.)

Actually, the South African Communist Party, according to Wikipedia, "played a dynamic role in the development of the liberation movement in South Africa and had an influence beyond its size."
With this victory [1994] came new strains in the ANC-SACP alliance. While a number of Communists, notably Joe Slovo, occupied prominent positions on the ANC benches in parliament and in government, the ANC's programme did not threaten the existence of capitalism in South Africa and was heavily reliant on foreign investment and tourism. In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela famously remarked:
"There will always be those who say that the Communists were using us. But who is to say that we were not using them?"
In Burns and Cowell's brilliantly written obit, they note that Suzman was aware of her apparent ineffectualness.
This was a variation on a critique she had long endured, and to some extent accepted - that by engaging in what was largely a charade of parliamentary politics in apartheid South Africa, she became complicit, however unwillingly, in the larger deceits of apartheid, which would ultimately be ended not by a small band of white dissenters, but by the more powerful forces of the black freedom struggle and external political pressure.

Among her friends, it was a reality Mrs. Suzman conceded, though she and many opponents of apartheid believed that it was important to keep the hopes of eventual democracy in the country alive and that she could help the victims of apartheid by her efforts to expose the evils of the system in and out of Parliament.

In a 1966 profile in The New York Times Magazine, Joseph Lelyveld, the newspaper's correspondent in South Africa at the time, recounted one of her favorite stories, about an overeager dinner host who gave a black man serving her a lecture on her parliamentary achievements.

"Do you know who this is, John?" the host asked. "This is Helen Suzman, the champion of your cause - the champion of human rights in South Africa."

"She waste her time," John replied, as Mrs. Suzman retold it later, laughing brightly as she repeated the line. "She waste her time."

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Hitchens's review of the novel Revolutionary Road
In this microcosmic hell on Earth, there is always a lower circle. Yates shows us the schizophrenic son of the local realtor, on an outing from his asylum, and causes us to feel both the exquisite pain of madness and the unbearable toll that it exacts on the sane. To give you another sketch of the stupendous way in which Yates could both observe and write, here is how a crazy person smokes:
Lagging behind his parents, he stood with his feet planted wide apart on the wet gravel, slightly pigeon-toed, and gave himself wholly to the business of lighting a cigarette - tamping it methodically on his thumbnail, inspecting it with a frown, fixing it carefully in his lips, hunching and cupping the match to it, and then taking the first deep pulls as intently as if the smoke of this particular cigarette were all he would ever have or expect of sensual gratification.
New short story from Lorrie Moore. The context of the quote is that the protagonist Bake is stuck in a coversation with a conservative lobbyist, who says:
"Here is my real problem: this country was founded by and continues to be held together by people who have worked very hard to get where they are." Bake shrugged and wagged his head around. Could he speak of people having things they didn't deserve, in a roomful of such people? Now would not be the time to speak of timing. It would be unlucky to speak of luck. She continued. "And if you don't understand that, my friend, then we cannot continue this conversation."

The sudden way in which the whole possibility of communication was now on the line startled him. "I see you've researched the founding of this country." He would look for common ground.

"I watched John Adams on HBO. Every single episode."

"Wasn't the guy who played George Washington uncanny? I did think Jefferson looked distractingly like Martin Amis. I wonder if Martin is here?" He looked over his shoulders again. He needed Martin Amis to get over here right now and help him.
That ocurred to me also. The actor is Stephen Dillane.

Moore has a new collection out.

Heath Ledger should win all of the awards. Also, Sean Penn is good in Milk and Mickey Rourke is good in the Wrestler.