Politics postsFriday July 25, 2008
That New York Times Front Page
That said, allow me to be enthusiastic again. Here's part of Obama's speech, as reported in the New York Times, before an estimated crowd of 200,000 in Berlin yesterday:
“Will we acknowledge that there is no more powerful example than the one each of our nations projects to the world?” Mr. Obama asked in his speech, then added pointedly, “Will we reject torture and stand for the rule of law?” The huge crowd applauded and waved American flags.
Waved American flags. Wow. It's been a while since I've seen a U.S. politician address crowds that large and enthusiastic. Have I ever seen it? In my lifetime? Here's the accompanying picture, which made the front page, too:
Fox News: Anti-Semitic or merely vindictive?
One of my favorite New York Times writers, David Carr, has a great piece on news organizations dealing with Fox News' organization — particularly its PR apparatus — and the “fair and balanced” network comes off fairly paranoid and vindictive. Nixon's dirty tricks come to mind. Roger Ailes, Nixon's advisor and Fox's chief executive, comes to mind.
You write something they don't like, they won't talk to you for 15 months. You report the facts, they photoshop your face so it looks weathered, haggard, or, in the case of NY Times reporter Jacques Steinberg, virtually unrecognizable — or recognizable only to a Joseph Goebbels. Carr writes, “In a technique familiar to students of vintage German propaganda, [Steinberg's] ears were pulled out, his teeth splayed apart, his forehead lowered and his nose was widened and enlarged in a way that made him look more like Fagin than the guy I work with.”
See their photoshop handiwork here.
See the video from “Fox & Friends” here.
Throw up here.
This made me laugh out loud. A take-off of the will.i.am video for Obama...but using the inspiring words of John McCain instead:
It's Sunday and I love George Packer
If you don't get The New Yorker — and you should: it's the best general interest magazine in a world where general interest magazines are dying — you should at least check out George Packer's article on the death of modern conservatism. Or possible death. To me, conservatives are like Jason in the "Friday the 13th" movies: I never truly believe they're dead; they always seem to come back in the next reel. Both also seem to feed off of fright. A highlight:
Buchanan gave me a copy of a seven-page confidential memorandum—“A little raw for today,” he warned—that he had written for Nixon in 1971, under the heading “Dividing the Democrats.” Drawn up with an acute understanding of the fragilities and fault lines in “the Old Roosevelt Coalition,” it recommended that the White House “exacerbate the ideological division” between the Old and New Left by praising Democrats who supported any of Nixon’s policies; highlight “the elitism and quasi-anti-Americanism of the National Democratic Party”; nominate for the Supreme Court a Southern strict constructionist who would divide Democrats regionally; use abortion and parochial-school aid to deepen the split between Catholics and social liberals; elicit white working-class support with tax relief and denunciations of welfare. Finally, the memo recommended exploiting racial tensions among Democrats. “Bumper stickers calling for black Presidential and especially Vice-Presidential candidates should be spread out in the ghettoes of the country,” Buchanan wrote. “We should do what is within our power to have a black nominated for Number Two, at least at the Democratic National Convention.” Such gambits, he added, could “cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half.”
The Nixon White House didn’t enact all of these recommendations, but it would be hard to find a more succinct and unapologetic blueprint for Republican success in the conservative era.
I also like this synopsis:
The fact that the least conservative, least divisive Republican in the 2008 race is the last one standing—despite being despised by significant voices on the right—shows how little life is left in the movement that Goldwater began, Nixon brought into power, Ronald Reagan gave mass appeal, Newt Gingrich radicalized, Tom DeLay criminalized, and Bush allowed to break into pieces.
But for all the talk, back and forth, about the death of this and that, I still believe the success of modern conservatism is the direct result of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That's it. "We just lost the south for a generation," LBJ supposedly said upon signing the former, and he may have been optimistic. With the state of the economy, the state of the world, this should be the Democrats' year for the White House, but they are offering the unprecedented. Hell, not just the unprecedented. They are offering in direct form what the Republicans have been using for a generation, via code ("law and order") or symbol (Willie Horton), to beat the Democrats. What delicious irony if Barack Obama is what the Democrats need to finally beat the Republicans.
Reframing the War on Terror with Milan Kundera
Add my voice to the chorus of people who think it’s time to reframe “The War on Terror.”
Its current frame has been problematic from the start. How do you fight a tactic? Why not just a war on al-Qaeda? But we called it “The War on Terror” and it’s partly why we are where we are. The War on al-Qaeda wouldn’t have led us into Iraq.
I know: old topic. But I started thinking about it again while reading, of all things, Milan Kundera’s The Curtain, particularly “Part Two: Die Weltliteratur,” in which the author makes an impassioned plea for world literature — for literature studied in the large context (aesthetically, as part of one world literature) rather than in the small context (geographically, as part of one’s country’s literature).
The main reason literature isn’t studied aesthetically, according to Kundera, is provincialism, which he defines as “...the inability (or the refusal) to see one’s own culture in the large context.”
He then gives us two kinds of provincialism: that of large nations and that of small nations.
Large nations feel their literature is rich enough and central enough that they needn’t bother with literature from other, smaller countries.
Small nations feel the opposite. They are overwhelmed by world literature. Kundera writes that they see it as “something alien, a sky above their heads, distant, inaccessible, an ideal reality with little connection to their national literature. The small nation inculcates in its writer the conviction that he belongs to that place alone. To set his gaze beyond the boundary of the homeland, to join his colleagues in the supranational territory of art, is considered pretentious, disdainful of his own people.”
Like all good definitions, Kundera’s definitions resonate beyond the borders of his immediate discussion. The provincialism of large nations, for example, is reminiscent of the provincialism of major cities like New York. A friend of mine, a Seattleite, once visited her sister in Manhattan and the sister brought up a popular film seen all over the country and asked, “Do you get that where you are?” Where you are. Because we don’t know and don’t need to know. It’s the attitude Saul Steinberg lampooned in his famous New Yorker cover — in which 9th and 10th Avenues predominate and the rest of the country is merely a truncated square, with dots for Texas and Chicago.
The provincialism of small nations, meanwhile, reminds me of Minneapolis, where I grew up, and where any artist who builds a following in the smaller context of the Twin Cities and then dares to succeed in the larger context of the nation is immediately set upon by locals as a sell-out. You belong to us. To think you belong “out there” is pretentious. Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning former City Pages columnist, is the latest to experience this phenomenon.
But more than anything, Kundera’s talk of provincialism reminded me, even reframed for me, The War on Terror.
Al-Qaeda demonstrates the provincialism of small nations. They may not see western culture as “an ideal reality” but it’s definitely an alien sky that covers all, and so they’ve declared war on it. They are as likely to win this war as they would a war against the sky.
The U.S., unfortunately, keeps helping by demonstrating the provincialism of large nations. Kundera writes that artists in such nations “need take no interest in what people write elsewhere,” and that’s the U.S. attitude since 9/11. Hell, the attacks made us more provincial. The U.N.? The Geneva Conventions? We invaded the wrong country and most of the U.S. was fine with it. Once Baghdad fell, we filled important positions with functionaries who had no Mid-East background, who spoke no Arabic. Doesn’t everyone want state-owned enterprises privatized under foreign occupation? Don’t they want their constitution written under foreign occupation?
Isn’t this going to be easy?
The War on Terror, in other words, is simply a battle between two provincial groups who refuse to see their culture in the large context; who refuse to see themselves as part of the world.
At one point in The Curtain, Kundera takes great, almost humorous exception to a French honor panel’s list of the 100 greatest works in French literature — De Gaulle’s War Memories ahead of Rabelais and Flaubert? — and scolds the honor panel thus: “France is not merely the land where the French live, it is also the country other people watch and draw inspiration from.”
As are we. Something to keep in mind anyway as we head towards November.
Twitter: @ErikLundegaardTweets by @ErikLundegaard