Monthly Archives: January 2009

My take on the Bush legacy and the Obama transition

The paradox of George W. Bush.

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Filed under Barack Obama, George W. Bush

Some pre-inaugural thoughts

No, I’m not suggesting that everyone has to join the Obama worship. Criticism, in a democracy, is a healthy thing (pardon the cliché). But some of the conservative sniping is silly or downright ridiculous (dear Lord, not the “Bill Ayers ghosted Obama’s memoir!” story again), and some seems rather premature (this piece assumes that Obama will be a big-government guy, but Larry Kudlow points out that 40% of his proposed stimulus package now consists of tax cuts). Conservative guru Richard Viguerie is quoted as saying that the inauguration is no big deal: “we can be happy that we’ve taken another step in the racial progress, but I just am not about race, quite frankly.” And he puts up this quote on the “news from the front” on his website. Way to win friends and influence people. Can you say “tone-deaf”?

But there’s some pretty silly Obamania out there, too. See, for instance, this letter posted by Andrew Sullivan on his blog:

I remember with Bill Clinton, he had way of making people feel they were “the only person in the room:” and that they “mattered to him” as many articles during his tenure claimed. But what Obama seems to have is the ability not to appear as if he is acting, faking it. … [H]e is not a faker, not a schmoozer, not a dolt, not a skirt-chaser, not a charlatan, etc. etc. Obama has the realness that comes from the hard psychological work that it takes to really get to know yourself and come out on the other side unafraid of whatever might come your way.

And how does the letter-writer know that? Intuition? So far, Obama has done a pretty oustanding job of being all things to most people. I would say he’s a pretty impressive schmoozer all right. I’m sure he has genuine convictions, but I think he’ll have to be tested much more before we can truly judge his sincerity. Sometimes, “the ability not to appear as if you’re acting” is the best acting of all.

With that, of course, I wish Obama well. And frankly, whether he has that “realness” or not and whether he has completed that fearless journey of self-knowledge is not my first concern. He’s been elected president, not spiritual leader; and while moral leadership is often a part of the president’s role, especially in troubled times, his actual policy-shaping decisions count for more.

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Filed under Barack Obama

Russia’s undead heroes

My take on the “Name of Russia” contest, in The Weekly Standard.

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Filed under articles, history, Russia

Speak of …

… I was going to say “the devil,” but then, I wouldn’t want the person in question to claim I had called him the devil.

The person in question is Eric Alterman, with whom I had an infamous spat nearly four years ago after I zinged him in my Boston Globe column for suggesting that it’s outrageous to expect Muslims and Arabs to pay tribute to the memory of Holocaust victims when so much of their suffering is caused by Jews. The occasion was the British Muslim Council’s decision to boycott the ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz because equal time was not given to Palestinian victims of Israeli “genocide.” Alterman and I had a caustic exchange on the Reason blog, Hit & Run, and Alterman also encouraged readers of his blog not only to pepper me with angry emails (about half of the ones I got were supportive), but also to call my then-editor at the Globe, Nick King. At some point, he also made the bizarre suggestion that I attacked him out of a personal vendetta because he had once defended my ex-boyfriend against unfair attacks (huh?); see more about it from John Tabin, who once greeted me at a party as “Eric Alterman’s Zionist white whale.” As I recall, Alterman continued to take gratuitous swipes at me and/or Nick King on his MSNBC blog for at least six months after this incident; here’s a particularly bizarre one.

Well, just the other day, I was recounting this saga to some people at dinner at the NAS conference and joked about how I felt neglected after the Alterman mentions finally stopped. And, lo and behold… here is Eric Alterman in the newest issue of The Nation, describing his suffering at the hands of the “Middle East Thought Police.” Continue reading

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Filed under anti-Semitism, Eric Alterman, Israel, Middle East

Feminist male-hatred and The Vagina Monologues

Over on Alas, a Blog, in a thread where the comments are limited to “feminists and feminist allies,” Barry Deutsch (Ampersand) deconstructs a speech by Christina Hoff Sommers, a leading critic of feminist orthodoxies (and a good friend of mine, though there are certainly times when we disagree). In particular, he takes her to task for saying that many feminists are anti-male.

Does Christina paint with too broad a brush? Quite possibly. But a couple of things about Barry’s post:

(1) Barry says he hasn’t seen any male-hating attitudes from feminists except for a few people on the Ms. boards way, way back. I’m guessing the late Andrea Dworkin, famous for such aperçus as, “Under patriarchy, every woman’s son is her potential betrayer and also the inevitable rapist or exploiter of another woman,” or “Male sexuality, drunk on its intrinsic contempt for all life, but especially for women’s lives…”, does not qualify? Continue reading

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Filed under antifeminism, feminism, men

New Russian treason law opposed by Medvedev?

Last month, I wrote about a proposed law in Russia that would make the definition of “treason” disturbing broad and vague, and reminiscent of Soviet-era statutes that outlawed dissent. As I explained, Russian law currently defines treason as “hostile actions intended to damage the security of the Russian Federation from foreign threats.” The bill, proposed by the government (i.e. the cabinet headed by Vladimir Putin), amended that definition to include “rendering financial, material, consultative, or other assistance to a foreign state, a foreign or international organization, or representatives thereof in activities directed against the security of the Russian Federation, including its constitutional system, its sovereignty, its territorial integrity and statehood.” The definition of espionage was also broadened to include broad categories of passing potentially sensitive information to foreigners even with no intent to commit espionage, giving rise to concern that the new law would drastically inhibit scientific contacts between Russia and the West.

Well, according to a report in yesterday’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta (link to Russian-language article), the draft law has run into opposition from members of parliament who are close to President Dmitry Medvedev. Continue reading

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Filed under freedom, Medvedev, Putin, Russia

Now he tells us

National Review’s Rich Lowry on Bush’s Top 10 mistakes, and two items that drew my attention.

Not reading enough history. Bush has admirably applied himself to an extensive reading program as president, but if he had absorbed more history before taking office — particularly about military matters — he’d have had a better grounding to make important decisions.
….
Underestimating the power of explanation. By temperament and ability, Bush was more a “decider” than a “persuader.” He’s not naturally drawn to public argument, giving his administration its unfortunate (and not entirely fair) “my way or the highway” reputation at home and abroad.

I remember a different tune from Rich Lowry. Here’s my take on it in my own 2002 Reason column “Intellectual Warfare“:

“Maybe we don’t want a presidential candidate who can pronounce Kostunica or recite the constituent parts of Yugoslavia,” wrote National Review Editor Richard Lowry. … Sometimes, especially at National Review, the animus against braininess has overlapped with a crusade for traditional manliness — the idea being that book learning is for wimps.
Appearing on the Fox News show On the Record to discuss a recently released documentary about Bush on the campaign trail, Lowry hailed him as “a more traditional, red-blooded guy” than Al Gore: “He’s tough. He’s manly….He’s not very reflective.” To Lowry, it turns out, even familiarity with “hip” pop culture products such as Sex and the City — a familiarity that Bush, in the documentary, appears to lack — denotes excessive intellectualism and elitism. “Bush probably knows more about NASCAR, which is more tuned into what most Americans care about, than any of these reporters writing about him,” he commented.

And from another column:

In October 2000, at a Cato Institute symposium on the presidential election, National Review Editor Rich Lowry spoke of a “war on masculinity” in America and asserted that Bush appealed to the voters because he exemplified an action-oriented, nonintellectual manly resolve.

Oh yes, that Cato symposium; I remember it well, especially Lowry’s enthusiastic praise for Bush’s lack of bookishness.

Now it turns out book-learnin’ (and a little bit of reflectiveness) can be useful after all.

As Glenn Reynolds would put it: Heh.

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Filed under anti-intellectualism, conservatism, George W. Bush