In his 1979 memoir Breaking Ranks, Norman Podhoretz, then the editor of Commentary magazine, told the story of his political shift from left-liberalism to neo-conservatism. A key reason for his political rethinking, Podhoretz asserts, was the intemperate attacks on legitimate political leaders by the New Left and its fellow travelers. As an example, we’re told about an argument Podhoretz had with his old friend Jason Epstein, the book publisher and eminence grise behind the New York Review of Books. Continue reading
Like a lot of people watching Obama at a distance, I was a bit dismayed at how establishment his big foreign policy picks have been (Hilary Clinton and Robert Gates). But as we’re seeing more and more names, it looks like there is a method to his seeming madness (as there almost always is with Obama). He’s letting the establishment names remain as figureheads but he’s putting his own people in secondary positions at State or the United Nations (Samatha Power, Susan Rice, maybe Jim Steinberg). These are all people loyal to Obama. In effect, the establishment will continue to be the face of policy but the actual makers of policy will be Obama’s people.
In some ways, Obama is doing exactly what Cheney did in late 2000 and early 2001 (when he was in charge of staffing the Bush administration): Cheney co-opted familiar big names (Colin Powell, Paul O’Neill) but he made sure that all the secondary people were neo-cons loyal to the vice-president. In sum, the strategy seems to be to let the generals keep their ribbons, as long as the lieutenants belong to the President.
John McCain, trying to fake a smile.
Obama met with John McCain earlier this week: a magnanimous gesture that turned into an awkward event. If you look at any of the photos or videos from the event you’ll know what I mean: McCain was squirming throughout, like he was about to be recaptured by the Vietnamese.
When I saw the pictures of the meeting, I thought, there’s something going on here. It’s not just partisanship or McCain being a sore loser. Other politicians are similarly made awkward around Obama. I’ve seen that McCain squirm on Joe Lieberman’s face as well. As Stephen Colbert has noted, whenever Bill Clinton forces himself to say the name “Barack Obama” he looks like he’s passing a kidney stone.
Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States.
In today’s National Post, I look at how Richard Nixon’s politics of cultural resentment continue to influence the Republican party. The essay also doubles as a review of Rick Perlstein’s excellent book Nixonland.
I think this should belong in the catagory of “too good to be true” (or at least too good if you’re me). But there is some evidence emerging that Obama is a comics fan. The Daily Telegraph reports he collects Spider-man and Conan comics.
I was inclined to skepitcal because the Telegraph isn’t the most reliable newspaper around (it’s bad even the low standards of the British press).
But a much better paper, the Guardian, carried this report from a childhood friend who remembers “Barry” being a good artist:
Grandpa bought me all the DC Comic books, and I was the only one who had them, so Barry and Yanto would borrow the books and copy pictures of Batman and Spider-Man out and ask me to judge which was better. Barry was always better than Yanto. Even Yanto always agreed with that. Barry had a great eye.
And during the Al Smith dinner in October, when the candidates took turns doing stand up comedy, Obama made a joke about the high expectations he’s facing, saying “I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father, Jor-el, to save the planet Earth.” The reference to Jor-el is fairly insider-ish.
We know that America is ready to have a black president. The question now should be, is America ready for a fan-boy president?
“Well, Andy, he did it.”
“What’s that, old boy?”
“He ran them off their feet.”
– Chariots of Fire (1981)
He did indeed do it, carrying not only the presidency but also the Senate and the House for the Democratic Party. He did it with a generational push redolent of the mythology around JFK — of 18 to 29 year-olds, a full 66% voted for him — and with an almost equally strong push from women, 56% of whom supported him. He did it with a wave of new voters adding onto what became the largest voter turnout (by percentage) since 1908. In the midst of two wars, in the midst of a financial crisis worse than anything since the Great Depression, and — catalyzed by these events, certainly, but also catalyzed in no small part by the man himself — in the midst of a mighty swell of “this really matters now” civic-mindedness, he did it. He ran them off their feet.
Stanley and Madelyn Dunham with their grandson.
Imagine if your writing a novel about a young man whose parents separated when he was very young, leaving him under the care of his grandparents. Although these grandparents are very different from the boy they raise him with love. Over time, the boy rises in the world, become a distinguished political figure. As he hits middle age, his closest guardians die one by one, leaving him only with a grandmother. And then, two days before he’s about the be elected President of the United States, his grandmother dies.
Via Mark Kleiman, this heartening song:
O’Leary, O’Reilly, O’Hare and O’Hara
There’s no one as Irish as
(Performed by Shay Black, a modified version of song written by the Corrigan Brothers).
Almost all political campaigns suffer from overheated rhetoric but there is something especially febrile and demented about the ongoing American presidential election, where the intensity of attacks on Barack Obama are notable not only for being over-the-top but also because they’ve been authorized and sanctioned by reputable and elite sources (i.e., the Republican party and its fellow travelers in the press). Not just on blogs but in publications like National Review and the Wall Street Journal as well the speeches of John McCain and Sarah Palin, one can read stories about Obama being a terrorist sympathizer, a covert Marxist, a man with shadowy ties to the enemies of America.
Stanley and Madelyn Dunham.
Other bloggers have picked it up but I want to join in the chorus and say that Ta-Nehisi Coates’s post about Obama’s maternal grandparents is very thoughtful and beautifully written. Coates himself is one of the best bloggers around, partially because of his intellectual curioisity. He doesn’t stop at his own ideas but is constantly trying to push himself to see the world anew.
Likewise, I was looking at this picture of Obama’s grandparents and thinking how much he looks like his grandfather. And suddenly, for whatever reason, I was struck by the fact that they had made the decision to love their daughter, no matter what, and love their grandson, no matter what. I’d bet money that they never even thought of themselves as courageous, that they didn’t give much thought to the broader struggles in the the world at the time. They were just doing what right, honorable people do. But the fact is that, in the 60s, you could be disowned for falling in love with a black woman or black man. There is a reason why we have a long history of publicly biracial black people, but not so much of publicly biracial white people.