Category Archives: Inexplicable

The new FDR

According to the sycophantic Michael Gerson, Bush is the new FDR:

Usually, just the opposite is the case. A sitting president normally must accept the boring constraints of real-world choices. Campaigns can inhabit the utopia of their own ambitions.

But it is President Bush and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, by proposing the massive government purchase of bad debt, who have assumed the mantle of Franklin D. Roosevelt. It is John McCain and Barack Obama who are playing the role of Roosevelt's more timid, forgotten foils, "Martin, Barton and Fish." Having last week criticized the role of the Federal Reserve in bailouts — demonstrating a tin ear of elephantine proportions — McCain now calls for a bipartisan oversight board to review the government's rescue attempt.

Bush's idea may be bold and "new" (in the quantity of its generosity), but as of this writing, it seems enormously dumb and completely in line with his notion of the imperial presidency.  It invests unchecked and unregulated power in the hands of one person for the direct benefit of a handful of extremely wealthy and irresponsible people and the theoretical good of maybe the American people (not a guarantee).  It was thrown at Congress, painted as the only alternative that must be passed without study or examination. 

This argument is a very bad example of what one might call aestheticism, the tendency to confuse how an idea appears (new, bold, imaginative) with whether it is wise.  Bush has indeed in his eight years had a lot of new and bold ideas, some of them, like this one, quite awful.

This American life

Pundits rarely criticize each other by name.  So when they do, it's fun to point it out.  Here's Michael Kinsley on right wing sophistry  punditry re Sarah Palin, John McCain's pick for Vice President:

But that's so five minutes ago, before Sarah Palin. Already, conservative pundits have come up with creative explanations for McCain's choice of a vice presidential running mate with essentially no foreign policy experience. First prize (so far) goes to Michael Barone, who notes on the U.S. News and World Report blog that "Alaska is the only state with a border with Russia. And it is the only state with territory, in the Aleutian Islands, occupied by the enemy in World War II." I think we need to know what Sarah Palin has done, in her year and change as governor of Alaska, to protect the freedom of the Aleutian Islands before deciding how many foreign policy experience credits she deserves on their account. 

And here is the inexplicable David Brooks on the experience question:

So my worries about Palin are not (primarily) about her lack of experience. She seems like a marvelous person. She is a dazzling political performer. And she has experienced more of typical American life than either McCain or his opponent.

There's more to that but it brings up a family issue which no one should give a rats about.  I'm curious, however, how someone could experience more of a typical American life than someone else.  I suppose McCain's career in government and vast wealth and privilege would exclude him from the category of typical, but what about Obama?  Seems like his life–school on scholarship, etc.,–is fairly typical of a vast number Americans.  But besides, how would having an even more hyperbolically typical American life constitute a qualification for the most unique job in the country?

Update, I think this commenter on Crooked Timber aptly captures the issue (the comment regards Harriet Mier's nomination to the Supreme Court)–via Sadly, No!

L’etranger

After eight years of a President who, at the time he was elected, had barely held a full-time job, who not only knew little about anything but didn't care or didn't think his ignorance was a vice, who had not volunteered for anything (not to mention the war he supported), and whose greatest achievement at the time of his election was quitting drinking, Barack Obama, Democratic candidate for President of the United States and a person of myriad and well-documented achievements, cannot with a straight face be called an unknown or mysterious quantity.  But alas, Charles Krauthammer will say anything:

The oddity of this convention is that its central figure is the ultimate self-made man, a dazzling mysterious Gatsby. The palpable apprehension is that the anointed is a stranger — a deeply engaging, elegant, brilliant stranger with whom the Democrats had a torrid affair. Having slowly woken up, they see the ring and wonder who exactly they married last night.  

A quickie marriage after an 18-month courtship?  Not exactly.

 

I ask myself

When I write–as I did here–that one just doesn't find many "liberals" on op-ed pages who behave as their conservative counterparts do, I was thinking not only of E.J.Dionne, who does basic reporting (polls show. . . ) not arguing (people ought. . . ), I was also thinking of intellectual giants like Richard Cohen.  Last time we saw him, he was grousing about tattoos.  Now he's got a crush on McCain.  He admires that McCain branded maverickness that takes the opposite of everything (mostly).  In yet another example of the premise which begins with a personal anecdote, Cohen writes:

"Just tell me one thing Barack Obama has done that you admire," I asked a prominent Democrat. He paused and then said that he admired Obama's speech to the Democratic convention in 2004. I agreed. It was a hell of a speech, but it was just a speech.

A prominent Democrat ought to be named in the first place, if his or her view is representative. 

On the other hand, I continued, I could cite four or five actions — not speeches — that John McCain has taken that elicit my admiration, even my awe. First, of course, is his decision as a Vietnam prisoner of war to refuse freedom out of concern that he would be exploited for propaganda purposes. To paraphrase what Kipling said about Gunga Din, John McCain is a better man than most.

But I would not stop there. I would include campaign finance reform, which infuriated so many in his own party; opposition to earmarks, which won him no friends; his politically imprudent opposition to the Medicare prescription drug bill (Medicare has about $35 trillion in unfunded obligations); and, last but not least, his very early call for additional troops in Iraq. His was a lonely position — virtually suicidal for an all-but-certain presidential candidate and no help when his campaign nearly expired last summer. In all these cases, McCain stuck to his guns.

So Cohen asks some unnamed person what he or she admires about Obama, then by way of comparison, he asks himself what he admires about McCain.  Why didn't he ask that same Democrat what he admires about McCain?  Or why didn't he ask himself what he admires about Obama–who knows what his response might have been.

Teneo vestri vox*

One can certainly trust the Post to select op-eds on the important issues of the day.  Richard Cohen edifies his readers with this gem:

Tattoos are the emblems of our age. They bristle from the biceps of men in summer shirts, from the lower backs of women as they ascend stairs, from the shoulders of basketball players as they drive toward the basket, and from every inch of certain celebrities. The tattoo is the battle flag of today in its war with tomorrow. It is carried by sure losers. 

Losers: Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, etc.

It gets better:

I asked a college professor what she thought of tattoos, and she said that for young people, they represent permanence in an ever-changing world. But how is that possible? Anyone old enough and smart enough to get into college knows that only impermanence is permanent. Everything changes — including, sweetie, that tight tummy with its "look at me!" tattoo. Time will turn it into false advertising. 

It gets better still, for the grumpy old man tattoo diatribe was merely a set-up:

The permanence of the moment — the conviction that now is forever — explains what has happened to the American economy. We are, as a people, deeply in debt. We are, as a nation, deeply in debt. The average American household owes more than its yearly income. We save almost nothing (0.4 percent of disposable income) and spend almost everything (99.6 percent of disposable income) in the hope that tomorrow will be a lot like today. We bought homes we could not afford and took out mortgages we could not pay and whipped out the plastic on everything else. Debts would be due in the future, but, with any luck, the future would remain in the future. 

I would say that getting a tattoo may be something remotely like what happened to certain people in debt, but I think it strains credulity to say that it "explains" the economy.  (For more on that topic, there's the almost–almost I say–equally shallow economic/social/political analysis of David Brooks in today's Times). Back to tattoos:

But the tattoos of today are not minor affairs or miniatures placed on the body where only an intimate or an internist would see them. Today's are gargantuan, inevitably tacky, gauche and ugly. They bear little relationship to the skin that they're on. They don't represent an indelible experience or membership in some sort of group but an assertion that today's whim will be tomorrow's joy. After all, a tattoo cannot be easily removed. It takes a laser — and some cash.

Finally:

I have decades' worth of photos of me wearing clothes that now look like costumes. My hair has been long and then longer and then short. My lapels have been wide, then wider, then narrow. I have written awful columns I once thought were brilliant and embraced ideas I now think are foolish. Nothing is forever.

Seize the day — laser tomorrow.

What about your columns, Richard?  You can't undo those.

*Teneo vestri vox doesn't mean anything, but it appears as a tattoo on Angelina Jolie in a recent movie.  See here for more.  But in the meantime, since so many have asked, here's why it means nothing.  Latin words get their grammatical significance from their endings (not, as is often the case, from their position in the sentence).  So teneo means "I hold," vestri (a possessive adjective without an antecedant) means "of yours [all])," and "vox" means "voice" or "the voice" (in the nominative case).  Put them together this way and you have nonsense: there's no grammatical object for the transitive verb, vox is nominative but is not the subject, and the possessive adjective doesn't modify anything.  You might as well string any three words together–dog yours telephone–and tattoo that on your body, that's about how much sense it makes.

 

 

The truth will set you free

What conclusion would you think would follow from the following (courtesy of Sadly, No!)?

Dark deeds have been conducted in the name of the United States government in recent years: the gruesome, late-night circus at Abu Ghraib, the beating to death of captives in Afghanistan, and the officially sanctioned waterboarding and brutalization of high-value Qaeda prisoners. Now demands are growing for senior administration officials to be held accountable and punished. Congressional liberals, human-rights groups and other activists are urging a criminal investigation into high-level "war crimes," including the Bush administration's approval of interrogation methods considered by many to be torture.