Archive for February, 2008

Signs of the Electoral Times

Posted on February 29th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

As some regular readers may know, I’ve long been arguing that it doesn’t matter who the GOP and Democratic presidential nominees are, and that the press has been paying too much attention to the personalities of this campaign and not enough to underlying electoral, demographic, psychographic and economic trends which strongly suggest a Democratic victory.

(Partly because it’s in the media’s economic self-interest to highlight the horse race aspect of the campaign—it’s good for business.)

Two recent events strengthen my feelings.

One, in a New York state assembly special election, a Democrat just beat a Republican in a district that is “overwhelmingly Republican.”

Now the state GOP is in danger of losing control of the assembly for the first time in decades.

I think you can consider that defeated assemblyman the canary in the coalmine of the fall elections.

Event number two is George Bush’s statement yesterday that the country isn’t in a recession. I understand that there’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t quality to any statement the president makes about the economy. But this statement is going to kill the Republicans. It will make Bush look even more out of touch with the country than he actually is, and they will be forced either to reject the president or defend him, both unfortunate options.

I’m not saying the Democrats should be overconfident; I am saying that the forces underlying the electoral mood have been building for eight years, and I don’t think the press is explaining them well……

Sullivan on Buckley

Posted on February 29th, 2008 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Andrew Sullivan joins me in feeling cautionary about Bill Buckley:

I know we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead – but am I the only person who found Buckley close to unreadable a lot of the time? I never read his fiction, but his nonfiction was packed the endless sentences, ridiculously long words, and meaning that sometimes took several reads to excavate. I don’t know how many times I finished a Buckley column with the thought: what on earth was he trying to say? But then, my gold standard for prose style is Orwell. Never use a long word when a short one will do is not exactly advice Buckley followed.

Orwell is a high standard, but Andrew’s right: When Orwell wrote, one got the feeling that his words were used in the service of something greater than himself; when Buckley wrote, one got the feeling that he wasn’t sure there was anything greater than himself.

If an economy of words reflects a humility of self, then what is the suggestion of sesquipedalianism?

Ball Games

Posted on February 29th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

In Slate, Emma Span has an interesting piece on why so many Yankees fans and some Red Sox fans are delighted that their teams didn’t sign Johan Santana, to whom the Mets just gave 700 kajillion dollars.

Five years ago, the Red Sox probably would have been all in. The Yankees certainly would have. But the war between Boston and New York has entered a new phase.

That phase has to do with greater cultivation of minor league talent and savvier statistical analysis.

Meanwhile, Red Sox fans have undergone an identity crisis after the team’s two World Series wins. The Sox spent $51 million last year on Daisuke Matsuzaka’s negotiating rights alone and $70 million on desultory outfielder J.D. Drew. During the 2007 World Series, just after Alex Rodriguez opted out of his New York deal, Boston fans—who would have welcomed the third baseman before the 2004 season, when a trade with the Rangers fell apart at the last minute—desperately chanted, “Don’t sign A-Rod!” In other words: We don’t want to be any more like the Yankees than we already are.

No offense, Sox fans, but in some ways your team already is the new Yankees. Dubious signings like J.D. Drew, sky-high ticket prices (the highest in baseball), fans for whom anything but a Series victory is untenable—that small-town charm of the BoSox is gone, baby, gone.

And maybe that’s all right; maybe winning a couple World Series after all those decades is worth some subtle and probably not so great changes in the team’s character.

But Sox fans still like to posit that the Yankees are the “Evil Empire,” and these days, that just ain’t so—at the very least, there are now two such dominions.

Chelsea on My Mind

Posted on February 28th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

What would we say about an aspiring politician, born into privilege, who works at a hedge fund, hangs out with celebrities, and refuses to talk to the press?

Well, first of all, she sounds like a Republican, right? And second, we’d be skeptical of someone whose every act seems to manifest contempt for the more democratic aspects of American democracy.

Nonetheless, this week in New York magazine, Lloyd Grove suggests that Chelsea Clinton would make a great politician.

Chelsea Clinton turns 28 in a few days—around the same age her father was when he ventured into electoral politics for the first time, in 1974, waging an unsuccessful campaign for a congressional seat in Arkansas—and she is, at long last, plunging into the family business, moving from prop to propagandist.

Maybe. But would she make a great public servant?

You’ll laugh, but the presidential daughter I’d prefer to go into politics is Jenna Bush. She teaches at a charter school in Washington, she wrote a book about teenagers and HIV, and instead of hanging out with poncy Brits at Oxford, or attending fashion shows with Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna, she’s getting married.

So how come the media doesn’t portray her as a rising star?

More Bill Buckley Nostalgia

Posted on February 28th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

In the Crimson, David L. Golding argues that Bill Buckley was “one of the last truly charismatic public intellectuals”…

and in this sense his passing should be lamented by anyone nostalgic for those days when ideas and the “life-of-the-mind” still mattered.

Oh, I don’t know about that.

For a couple of reasons. While Buckley certainly gets credit for resuscitating American conservatism, can we think of any particular idea that is associated with him? A single book, other than God and Man at Yale?

And if, truly, one goes back and picks that book up, its immaturity is striking, and it is difficult to imagine that such a poorly edited book could have acquired such a reputation. (One suspects that its reputation depends upon the many, many more people who have read about it than have actually read it.)

Buckley wrote dozens of books after GAMAY. Without checking Wikipedia, can you name one?

In fact, when you get right down to it, would one really even call Buckley an intellectual?

A wordsmith, certainly. A provocateur. A partisan.

But isn’t it lowering the bar to call him an intellectual?

Intellectual life these days, Golding says, has been degraded “by such loutish mediocrities as Christopher Hitchens and Ann Coulter,” which strikes me as unfair to Hitchens, who, whatever one may think of him, operates on a significantly higher level of thought and rhetoric than does Coulter.

But as Golding acknowledges, Buckley himself wasn’t immune to loutish behavior, as in this remark to Gore Vidal (who is, in fact, far more of an intellectual than Buckley).

He famously lost his temper on national television and blustered, in his droll blue-blood Connecticut brogue, “Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.”

This from the man who would subsequently suggest that gays be tattoed to stop the spread of AIDS….

For many people, Buckley had a seductive WASP persona (despite the fact of his Catholicism). He had family money! He sailed! He’d been in the CIA! He had lockjaw!

Harvardian conservative Ross Douthat was seduced—not literally, I hasten to add—after skinny-dipping with Buckley off the side of his yacht.

As Douthat points out today, Buckley loved that boat.

Sailing, he wrote, can have so many rapturous moments.

In fact, if Buckley had been a liberal, conservatives would have ridiculed him for exactly these rich-boy sentimentalities, and they wouldn’t have been entirely wrong in doing so.

Imagine if John Kerry waxed so rhapsodically about yachting…..

The truth is that Buckley was someone who was born into privilege and seems to have impressed people simply by how comfortably he settled into that life. The sight of a man so utterly at home in his own identity is powerful, especially to young people seeking to find an identity of their own. Nothing seduces the young like self-confidence.

But as someone who knows some small part of that world—like BB, my father attended Millbrook School, and he was roommates with Reid Buckley, Bill’s brother, at Yale; it’s also fair to say that I had, in some measure, a WASPy upbringing—I have a somewhat different, if less romantic take.

I’m more impressed by WASPs who challenged their culture, their background, who reached out to those less fortunate than they.

(For a fascinating consideration of an intellectual who has struggled with the idea of WASP culture throughout his entire life, take a look at Larissa MacFarqhar’s profile of Louis Auchincloss in last week’s New Yorker.)

There are lots of erudite, learned WASPY types; my father and his Yale friends weren’t as prolific or accomplished as Buckley, and certainly not as self-promoting, but stylistically they were similar enough. It was a generational thing—Yale men in the post-war era.

And there are lots of WASPs, from FDR to John Kerry, whose definition of helping others went beyond inviting people to join them on their sailboats.

Perhaps I am missing something, but such efforts do not leap out from the narratives of William F. Buckley’s life that we are now reading…..

In Iraq, the Sunnis aren’t Shining

Posted on February 28th, 2008 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Washington Post reports that Sunni volunteer forces—the one’s we’re arming in preparation for and promotion of a future civil war—are abandoning their posts.

U.S.-backed Sunni volunteer forces, which have played a vital role in reducing violence in Iraq, are increasingly frustrated with the American military and the Iraqi government over what they see as a lack of recognition of their growing political clout and insufficient U.S. support.

The problem is that we’ve armed them to help maintain order…and now they’re feeling their oats.

“They should make me stronger. They should not weaken me,” said Kassim, a former commander in the Islamic Army, an insurgent group.

…The predominantly Sunni Awakening forces, referred to by the U.S. military as the Sons of Iraq or Concerned Local Citizens, are made up mostly of former insurgents who have turned against extremists because of their harsh tactics and interpretation of Islam. The U.S. military pays many fighters roughly $10 a day to guard and patrol their areas. Thousands more unpaid volunteers have joined out of tribal and regional fealties. U.S. efforts to manage this fast-growing movement of about 80,000 armed men are still largely effective, but in some key areas the control is fraying.

Consider that: We are propping up a mostly Shiite government…at the same time that we are arming 80,000 Sunni soldiers, many of whom are former insurgents/terrorists.

U.S. commanders and 20 Awakening leaders across Iraq. Some U.S. military officials say they are growing concerned that the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq has infiltrated Awakening forces in some areas.

Capture Osama bin Laden? Hell, we’re giving his soldiers weapons…..

Quote for the Day

Posted on February 28th, 2008 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

“We both have trouble answering questions in English.”

—President Bush, speaking of Daisuke Matsuzaka, at the White House yesterday

Jason Giambi Makes His Play

Posted on February 28th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

My favorite underdog Yankee, 37-year-old Jason Giambi, is having a great spring. I couldn’t be happier. Giambi, an eminently likeable guy who is still the only person to have voluntarily apologized for using steroids, is a great hitter and a better first baseman, IMHO, than he gets credit for. I love watching Giambi at the plate; he has one of the great eyes for the strike zone in all of baseball, and almost never swings at a bad pitch. For a power hitter, that’s rare indeed. When Giambi takes a pitch and the umpire calls a strike, the ump is almost always wrong.

He has, as we know, gone through hard times.

“I’ve been in heaven here, and I’ve been in the gutter,” Giambi said.

This sentiment reminds me of (wince) the Pretenders’ lyrics I quoted on my high school yearbook senior page.

Now look at the people
In the streets, in the bars
We are all of us in the gutter
Some of us are looking at the stars

(From “Message of Love,” on Pretenders II, which was underrated when it came out but in fact rocks.)

Coincidence? I think not. Either Jason Giambi is a Pretenders fan, or we both relate to people who have made mistakes, struggled, and tried to come back and live good lives…..

Although if you look at the facial hair…

Pretenders II cover

…perhaps Jason Giambi is, in fact, long-dead Pretenders guitarist James Honeyman-Scott!

Bill Buckley

Posted on February 28th, 2008 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Dead. Which is fine.

Anyone else find this line from the Times obit just a little flip?

Mr. Buckley irrevocably proved that his brand of candor did not lend itself to public life when an Op-Ed article he wrote for The New York Times offered a partial cure for the AIDS epidemic: “Everyone detected with AIDS should be tattooed in the upper forearm to prevent common needle users, and on the buttocks, to prevent the victimization of homosexuals,” he wrote.

Let’s just play with that, shall we?

Public safety commissioner Theophilus “Bull” Connor irrevocably proved that his brand of candor did not lend itself to public life when…..

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher John Rocker irrevocably proved that his brand of candor did not lend itself to public life when.….

Please. Bill Buckley might have endeared himself to the intelligentsia with his swashbuckling lifestyle (the result of inherited money), his prolific writing, and his extensive vocabulary.

But is there a civil rights issue in the last sixty years—McCarthy, segregation, anti-gay discrimination—on which he did not first take the wrong stand?

Stop the Presses!

Posted on February 28th, 2008 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Days after you watched it here, the Times writes up Jimmy Kimmel’s “I’m F***ing Ben Affleck” video. Apparently it’s very popular.

Darn kids….