Archive for December, 2008

Quote of the Day

Posted on December 31st, 2008 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

“I would ask you to not hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer.”

—Chicago congressman Bobby Rush on the appointment of Roland Burris to the United States Senate.

Nope, not playing the race card there.

Caroline Kennedy and the Eloquence Issue

Posted on December 31st, 2008 in Uncategorized | 9 Comments »

The New York Post reports that New York mayor Michael Bloomberg defended Caroline Kennedy from criticism of her stumbling speech patterns.

(A great Post headline, by the way: Mayor Takes “Um”-Brage at Kennedy Critics.”)

“Caroline Kennedy isn’t just your average person, so people may be a little more critical,” said Bloomberg, who has repeatedly praised Kennedy since she threw her name into the hat to replace Hillary Rodham, Clinton in the Senate.

Two problems with this argument.

One, you can’t say that Kennedy isn’t “your average person,” and then not expect her to be held to higher standards than, say, your average person. That’s the whole point of not being average.

And two, it doesn’t much help Kennedy to suggest that she’s a celebrity, or a member of an elite, or whatever.

Finally—okay, three problems—Bloomberg’s defense of Kennedy only reinforces the [accurate] perception that he is backing her. But as a commenter below noted, there is so much hostility towards Bloomberg in New York right now that having him in your corner is like being endorsed by OJ Simpson.

The Post also throws in this wicked little gem:

During a 40-minute interview with The Post on Saturday, [Kennedy] uttered “you know” more than 200 times.

This is a tough town sometimes. But when you think about it, it’s a fair point. These verbal hesitations manifest a larger character question. Does Caroline Kennedy, you know, really want the job?

This Is Going To Be Interesting

Posted on December 30th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Washington lobbyist Vicki Iseman is suing the New York Times over an article which implied (but did not state) that she and John McCain had an affair.

Here’s the lady in question (Newsday photo). We will say nothing about how her style sense is perfectly suited for Washington.

Given how unpleasant all this legal stuff can be, would she sue if she’d really slept with John McCain? And if you remember, the article was a little odd: It really did imply an affair without coming out and saying so, which is, no pun intended, kind of hitting below the belt.

On the other hand, why bother suing? Nobody remembers the article anyway, and it’s a sure thing that whether or not she did sleep with McCain, she’s not going to come out of the process looking good. (She’s a DC lobbyist hired with minimal qualifications with a rep for getting close to male pols….)

Either way, McCain must be mortified.

Edward Glaeser on the Big Apple

Posted on December 30th, 2008 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

In his Times blog, Harvard economist Edward Glaeser discusses the question of why New York housing prices have fallen relatively little recently compared to other cities around the country.

The statistics are pretty interesting.

Today’s Case-Shiller housing price figures indicate that New York City’s prices dropped 7.5 percent in the last year, while prices in Los Angeles declined 27.9 percent. Nationwide prices dropped 18 percent. New York is the only major metropolitan area with prices that are still 90 percent above prices in January 2000. According to National Association of Realtors data, New York is the only city in the continental United States, outside of San Francisco Bay, where median sales prices remain north of $500,000.

Why is New York doing better than other cities? Glaeser’s answer is that the very nature of New York makes it resilient.

The secret of New York’s post-1970 reinvention was that smart people, who knew each other and learned from each, innovated in ways that made billions in financial services. The same density that once served to get hogsheads onto clipper ships served to spread ideas.

New York still has an amazing concentration of talent. That talent is more effective because all those smart people are connected because of the city’s extreme population density levels. Historically, human capital — the education and skills of a work force — predicts which cities are able to reinvent themselves and which ones are not. Those people who are continuing to pay high prices for Manhattan real estate are implicitly betting that New York’s human capital will continue to come up with new ways of reinventing the city.

This is interesting enough, and optimistic as well. But is it convincing? Certainly many New Yorkers would not feel so bullish about the city’s financial services industry, which may have paid for much of the city’s recent boom but is now responsible for many if not most of its current problems.

I’m sure it’s true that the concentration of people in New York is a great asset for the city. Manhattan in particular is an incredibly competitive place, and as a result the people who succed here tend to be the best in their fields.

But does all this explain why housing prices haven’t dropped? Glaeser says that buyers remain optimistic about the future of the city, and so they are propping up prices. Maybe. I tend to think of more mundane explanations: People who can’t believe that their apartments have plunged so much in value that they’re simply refusing to sell, for example, or simply a general decline in buying and selling—in hard times, people don’t move as much.

Perhaps on a micro level, Glaeser is right that people are optimistic about New York’s future; we’re certainly no Detroit. But I don’t think his piece truly satisfies the question of why housing prices here haven’t fallen further than they have.

Caroline Speaks. Kinda-Sorta.

Posted on December 30th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 27 Comments »

The Times publishes a transcript of its interview with Caroline Kennedy. Not pretty.

NYT: why should [Governor Paterson] pick you over any of these other ones, what makes you the best candidate?

CK: Well, it obviously depends what the governor is looking for. I can tell you what I think I’d bring to this, which is, you know, I’m not a conventional choice, I haven’t followed the traditional path, but I do think I’d bring a kind of a lifetime of experience that is relevant to this job. I think that what we’ve seen over the last year, and particularly and even up to the last — is that there’s a lot of different ways that people are coming to public life now, and it’s not only the traditional path. Even in the New York delegation, you know, some of our great senators — Hillary Clinton, Pat Moynihan — came from, you know, other walks of life. We’ve got Carolyn McCarthy, John Hall, both of them have an unconventional background, so I don’t think that that is, uh — so I think in many ways, you know, we want to have all kinds of different voices, you know, representing us, and I think what I bring to it is, you know, my experience as a mother, as a woman, as a lawyer, you know, I’ve been an education activist for the last six years here, and, you know, I’ve written seven books — two on the Constitution, two on American politics. So obviously, you know, we have different strengths and weaknesses. And I think I also bring kind of a lifetime commitment to public service, a knowledge of these issues, and I’ve spent a lot of time encouraging people, and younger people, to go into public service, through a lot of the, you know, nonprofit work I’ve done. So I think it’s a whole, it’s different, it’s completely different, and it really is up to the governor to decide who would do the best job.

Got that?

The obvious point to make here is that Caroline isn’t eloquent. Perhaps it would be unfair to ask that of her; she is new at this business, after all. (Though one would think that she’d have done some public speaking…because, of course, she has.)

But what is more interesting to me is that this linguistic confusion reflects a search for a voice, which is something you often see in an individual in a state of transition. Caroline Kennedy is not ready for this job. She may be at some point; she might make a great senator. (I doubt it, but sure, it’s possible.)

And her voice reflects that state of transition, gives it away absolutely.

Depending on your taste, this may be a good or bad thing. Sometimes it’s refreshing to have a pol who doesn’t speak in canned soundbites. At the same time, the level of Kennedy’s verbal fumbling is pretty extreme; the quote above borders on incoherence, which is traditionally considered a liability in a politician.

From a journalistic standpoint, rather than a personal one, I’m fascinated—people in a state of change are always the most interesting to watch.

Now, a small but significant point: Kennedy says in that quote above that she was written seven books.

A look on Amazon shows that this is not quite true. In fact, it’s a pretty egregious exaggeration that, coming from someone else, we might actually call a lie.

Kennedy has co-written two books examining famous Supreme Court cases. She has also compiled a book of her mother’s favorite poems, a book of poems and songs and stuff celebrating America, an anthology about winners of the Profiles in Courage award, “a potpourri of her favorite stories” [etc] about Christmas, and another book of poems for children.

So, if you actually want to get all literal about it, Caroline Kennedy hasn’t really written any books. [And that’s not even considering how much hired help she had putting those books together—do you think she really went out and found those songs celebrating America all by her lonesome?]

It’s one thing to stumble answering questions you’ve never had to answer before. It’s another to exaggerate your resume in a way that borders on falsehood.

A Football Trifecta

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

It’s almost too good to be true.

On the last day of football’s regular season, the Jets lost to the Dolphins, who are quarterbacked by Chad Pennington, the guy they dumped to get Brett Favre, who threw something like 395 interceptions this season.

Which means that not only do the Jets not make the playoffs, but because Miami had to lose for the Patriots to make the playoffs, the Pats are also out. Hooray!

But wait..there’s more. The Jets have just fired their head coach!

She Speaks

Posted on December 28th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The Times landed a sitdown with Caroline Kennedy at a New York diner, a site chosen to suggest that Kennedy has a populist streak.

After weeks of criticism that she had not opened up to the public or the press, Kennedy has embarked on a series of print and television interviews. But in an extensive sit-down discussion yesterday morning with The New York Times, she still seemed less like a candidate than an idea of one: eloquent but vague, largely undefined and seemingly determined to remain that way.

In the interview, Caroline comes across pretty much as I remember her: Intelligent, wary, slightly skeptical of the whole process, a little edgier than you’d expect given her rather anodyne public persona, and ultimately controlling.

Ms. Kennedy came to the interview with two aides, who had reserved the back room of the Lenox Hill Diner, on Lexington Avenue near 78th Street, for several interviews scheduled on Saturday.

[Blogger: a nice detail by the Times reporter there, the reserving bit, to suggest that this gesture is not authentically populist.]

As things wrapped up, a reporter tried to pose another question, but she interrupted him.

“I think we’re done,” she said.

Gawker has a little fun with the audio the Times posted, noting that in one snippet, Kennedy uttered the phrase “you know” 12 times in 49 seconds.

(Funnily enough, John used to do the same thing—a verbal tic the two siblings shared.) 

Obama’s Cautionary Note

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

Harvard’s Tim McCarthy, about whom I wrote in Harvard Rules, is quoted in today’s Frank Rich column, the subject of which is Obama’s invitation to homophobic pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inaugural.

After noting that Warren’s role at the inauguration is, in the end, symbolic, McCarthy concluded that “it’s now time to move from symbol to substance.” This means Warren should “recant his previous statements about gays and lesbians, and start acting like a Christian.”

McCarthy added that it’s also time “for President-elect Obama to start acting on the promises he made to the LGBT community during his campaign so that he doesn’t go down in history as another Bill Clinton, a sweet-talking swindler who would throw us under the bus for the sake of political expediency.” And “for LGBT folks to choose their battles wisely, to judge Obama on the content of his policy-making, not on the character of his ministers.”

Tim is a friend of mine, and I agree with his comment almost entirely. I think it’s a little harsh on Bill Clinton, though. If it refers to the gays-in-the-military controversy, well, Clinton did try on that. Unfortunately, he did so clumsily, and got hammered on it very early in his first term. He was lucky to salvage what he could with the maddening don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy.

Anyone remember who was perhaps the most effective opponent of allowing gays to serve their country? 

Colin Powell, of course…..

But perhaps Tim had other complaints with Clinton on the issue of gay rights.

(Also: Tim had been writing a terrific blog, which seems to have fallen into disrepair.)

The Clash of Mortality

Posted on December 28th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington has died at age 81.

One of the nation’s preeminent political scientists, a longstanding professor at Harvard University, and founder of the influential journal Foreign Policy, Dr. Huntington died Wednesday at an Oak Bluffs nursing home. He was 81.

“He was a man of enormous influence,” said his longtime friend and colleague, Henry Rosovsky. “I think he was one of the really great figures in the field.”

The Globe has a nice piece on Huntington, linked to above. The Times’ rather less satisfying obit is here.

Neither obituary mentions the unfortunate end to an otherwise remarkable career, Huntington’s 2004 book, Who Are We?, in which Huntington argued for a resurgence of white Protestant culture in America and faulted the culture of Latino immigrants, criticizing them as lazy and anti-intellectual. (Writing in the New Yorker, Harvard’s Luke Menand described a “weird emptiness of heart” that permeated the book.)

Huntington was, of course, fundamentally wrong about Latino culture and immigration, which has been one of the great success stories and truly revitalizing forces in American life of the past quarter-century, and we are an enormously more diverse, interesting, and healthier country for it. But let me be fair: For seven-plus decades of his life, as far as the reader can tell, Who are We? was not who Samuel Huntington was. His contributions were many and significant, and we should remember these more than his late-life mistake.


What a Year!

Posted on December 24th, 2008 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

I’ve been so caught up in the news, I haven’t had much time to reflect on the year past. It hasn’t been an easy one, really. For me the year was dominated professionally by a new book and a major and exciting job change, but personally by the loss of my father, whom I think about quite a bit. I spent the last holiday with him in Florida, and my memories of that time are vivid if bittersweet.  I’m grateful for them—but it will be hard not to have him here this Christmas.

For the  country, this was an exhausting year, one in which economic calamity was intertwined with political hope. On balance, it’s hard not to say that I’m glad it’s over. These are not easy times. Let us hope that 2009 brings better news. 

As always, thanks to all of you who read and participate in this blog. You make it worthwhile. Have a wonderful holiday, whichever one you celebrate. And come back soon.