As we tune in to the Brexit show, somehow, it is hard not to feel that there could be a little more maturity in evidence than at times there seems to be. At one level it is excellent and indeed very dignified – as we saw in Prime Minister May’s address to the British Parliament. It was again in evidence this morning in her address to the global audience at Davos.
But when it comes to the soundbites reaching us through the media’s reported comments from politicians across the continent of Europe – not to mention the media’s own comments – the dreaded infection of populism now seems to be at pandemic level.
Immaturity begets immaturity, it seems. Nowhere was this more in evidence than in the response of that rather funny man, Boris Johnson, to some of the reactions to Mrs. May’s House of Commons address. But Boris is not now addressing the Oxford Union. He is the successor of Lord Palmerston and should be playing that part rather than playing to the gallery.
Brexit is very serious business – for both Britain and Europe. The people of the United Kingdom, admittedly by a not very large majority, have indicated their will. Even though across the territories of that kingdom there are clear differences of opinion on the matter, the fact is that by the terms of the venerable and ancient constitution which political life is organised there, the decision to leave the EU is democratically valid.
This is where the immaturity and lack of respect of their European partners – as matters still stand – shows itself. For all parties what maturity and mutual respect would seem to demand would be an acceptance of the will of a people and then an agreement to get down to work to rearrange matters on questions of trade, movement of people, and anything else that is amiss in the apple cart after this “upset”. Apple carts do get upset from time to time.
But, in the popular press at any rate, that is not what we are getting. European press and some European politicians seem to be mainly preoccupied with saving their faces. To do that they seem to need to tell their public audience that Britons cannot be allowed to seem to do well as a result of their decision. On that cue Boris Johnson jumps up from his seat to talk about the silliness of thinking that Britons should be given “punishment beatings” for upsetting the apple cart.
The reality is that the European Union is not the be-all and the end-all of Western civilization. It is a political solution to real problems which Europe has had since the nation states of the continent evolved and which in the 20th century were partly – but only partly – responsible for two disastrous wars. There are many features of this political experiment which have brought their own problems and there have been turnings in its evolution in which many observers detect the seeds of self-destruction – or at least serious deficiencies.
British influence over the years of UK membership tried to correct what was perceived as faulty. It failed to do so and the end result is Brexit. There was in essence a clash of civilizations, or at least a clash of cultures. The basis of this clash might be seen in the observation of Tolstoy about 150 years ago.
Writing in War and Peace of one of the German generals in the Russian army, he summarized what he saw as the national characteristics of some Europeans:
Pfuel was one of those hopelessly and immutably self-confident men, self-confident to the point of martyrdom as only Germans are, because only Germans are self-confident on the basis of an abstract notion- science, that is, the supposed knowledge of absolute truth. A Frenchman is self-assured because he regards himself personally, both in mind and body, as irresistibly attractive to men and women. An Englishman is self-assured, as being a citizen of the best-organized state in the world, and therefore as an Englishman always knows what he should do and knows that all he does as an Englishman is undoubtedly correct. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and other people… The German’s self-assurance is worst of all, stronger and more repulsive than any other, because he imagines that he knows the truth- science- which he himself has invented but which is for him the absolute truth.
The European Union is not founded on absolute truth. Its constitution did not come from Mount Sinai.The tone of European reactions to Brexit seems to suggest that they believe it did. Until they adopt a little more of the characteristic pragmatism of the British they will continue to make the British nervous. They will also continue to look silly in their approach to sorting out the real difficulties that the British decision has created. Sorting out difficulties is what politics is all about. Get on with it people, and stop this silly posturing.
The American – sorry, the United States – electoral system has never looked so chaotic as it does in this election. If it were not for its relatively wise and sophisticated constitutional arrangement for balancing power within the overall political system, it might make the rest of us in the world very nervous indeed.
It has, of course shown its capacity for chaos before. Remember those dimpled chads of the Bush-Gore battle? The New York Times newsletter’s “Back Story” today reminds us that Donald Trump’s allegations of “rigging” the Republican Convention is not a new charge.
At the Republican National Committee’s spring meeting, despite Mr. Trump’s advantage in delegates, his opponents are arguing that it is not too late to stop him. If they are able to do so it will be thanks to the complex system of rules for choosing convention representatives. Those rules are why Mr. Trump is calling it “a rigged” nominating process.
Party conventions have faced those accusations before, the Times tells us, with one of the most famous examples occurring in 1960.
Former President Harry Truman resigned as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, calling the event “a prearranged affair,” fixed to give the nomination to John F. Kennedy.
Although Mr. Kennedy arrived in Los Angeles as the front-runner, having won each of the seven primaries he entered, his selection was not a done deal.
He didn’t reach the necessary vote total for the nomination until Wyoming, the final state scheduled in the roll call, pushed him over the top.
The political jockeying continued to the very end, with the convention floor briefly taken over by nondelegates who had slipped into the hall to support Adlai Stevenson, the Democrats’ nominee in 1952 and 1956.
The top Democratic Party official said the protest was “the best answer to charges of rigging for Jack Kennedy.”
What the top Republican Party official will be saying after July 18–21, when the Convention concludes in Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, is anyone’s guess.
The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones. But in too many cases there is not even a modicum of good to accompany those bones. So, it seems, it was with Mao Zedong, the “father” of modern China.
Just last week we were again reminded of the evil influence of this man and how that evil still lives among us when, heroically, Katy Morgan-Davies, enslaved since birth in Britain by her Maoist-inspired cult leader father, said she forgave him after a judge condemned him to die in jail for his decades of abuse in which he had robbed her of “family, childhood, friends and love”.
Aravindan Balakrishnan was found guilty of horrific assaults against two female followers and false imprisonment and child cruelty against his daughter.
At Southwark Crown Court, Judge Deborah Taylor said: “You were ruthless in your exploitation of them. You engendered a climate of fear, jealousy and competition for your approval. The judge said Balakrishnan had treated his daughter like “a project”.
A project? Therein lies the pernicious influence of Mao Zedong, the man whose dedication to a utopian project was pursued at the cost of the lives of more than 45 million of his countrymen.
Yet this man, of whose ideology Balakrishnan is a micro representation, inspired some of Western Europe’s most famous intellectuals for some of the seminal decades of the last century, the 1960s and 1970s. In fact recent studies reveal that in its essence Mao’s legacy was as brutal and his personal life was as vicious as that of the man who was last week condemned to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Mao was not only the man who set China on her ruthless totalitarian path. He was also the man whose ideology has inspired his successors to continue to pursue social and population control policies which seem set to plunge China into a demographic catastrophe. Furthermore, in his personal life he was a voracious and utterly abusive predator of the women in his life – and there were multitudes of them. He would put Caligula to shame.
In the 1960s and 70s, a nation that saw itself as the most sophisticated on earth fell under the spell of the greatest mass murderer in history. Mao Zedong had admirers in many places, but only in France did his appeal stretch beyond small bands of revolutionaries. The cream of the progressive intelligentsia – from Jean-Paul Sartre to Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes and Jean-Luc Godard – as well as pillars of the conservative establishment enthused about him. André Malraux was Mao’s most fulsome eulogist. Alain Peyrefitte, another Gaullist grandee, published a bestseller in 1973 arguing that under Mao’s stewardship China was destined for greatness. President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing called Mao a “beacon” for humanity.
Pierre Boncenne, the author of the biography of this Belgian, Simon Leys, tells us that he should be remembered as one of the earliest voices to be raised against the adulation of this tyrant. He tells us of the moment when Leys was first alerted to the atrocities perpetrated by Mao. He was pursuing his day job, the study of Chinese art and literature in Hong Kong when a car bomb exploded outside his apartment and killed a famous critic of Mao. This was 1967 and this was just one atrocity of the many that made up Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
Within a year of that explosion students were on the streets in Paris, London, Dublin and other cities around the world, accompanied by some of the aforementioned intellectuals, acclaiming Mao Zedong as a hero for our times. It was too much for Leys. He wanted to put the record straight and began the first of the three books he published between 1971 and 1976 – Chairman Mao’s New Clothes. Then he followed with, Chinese Shadows and Broken Images. In these books he told the story of the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution as he saw them unfold, exposing the naivety of Mao’s Western acolytes.
Boncennes’ biography,Le Parapluie de Simon Leys , tells us that while some acclaimed the books, they made little impact on the Western cult of Mao. The TLS review summarises the moment when the penny finally dropped:
Their public shaming did not come until Leys’s first television appearance in May 1983. Other guests on France’s prestigious cultural show Apostrophes that evening included Maria-Antonietta Macciocchi, who was promoting her unrepentant autobiography of a Mao fan. Leys took the opportunity to tell the Red Guards of the Left Bank to their faces what he had been thinking of them for so long. “I think idiots utter idiocies just as plum trees produce plums – it’s a normal, natural process. The problem is that some readers take them seriously”, he said. “The most charitable thing you can say about [Macciocchi’s book] On China is that it is utterly stupid; because if you did not accuse her of being stupid, you would have to say she’s a fraud.”
Sales of Macciocchi’s book plummeted after the show – which ironically she appeared on to promote.
The reviewer tells us that Leys’ writing on the subject still repays reading because of his power to tell simple truths. Forty years on, researchers have shed light on key episodes and updated the death toll – as high as 45 million for the Great Leap Forward of 1958–61 alone – but few, he says, have painted the overall picture with such limpidity and depth. “Leys brings not just factual but moral clarity to the story of Maoism. His notes on a hellish utopia and the fascination it can exert make him a significant figure of anti-totalitarian literature.”
True religion, G. K. Chesterton wrote, was a way of stopping the mind from spinning out of control and of anchoring it in reality. This appealed to Leys, who was a devotee of G.K. and also a devout Catholic. In his view the political monstrosities of the twentieth century were rooted in a failure to acknowledge reality and this was particularly true of Maoism, which stated the absolute supremacy of the leader’s will: if you followed Mao’s teachings, – and remember how many students in the 60s and 70s were intrigued by his “Little Red Book” – anything was possible. Imagine and design your project and pursue it to the death, the deaths of millions if necessary. For Leys the sophisticates of the West who refused to pay attention to real events, lost in their abstract thoughts, idiotically surrendered themselves to one of the greatest evils the world has ever seen.
For anyone worrying about the world falling into the hands of this man, courtesy of the United States of America’s electorate, the message in today’s New York Times is, don’t – yet.
There is no doubt but that Donald Trump’s run for the Republication nomination as a candidate in November’s election has made it – so far -one of the most bizarre in recent memory. It will also make it at least the subject of an important footnote in polling textbooks in the future.
The Times’s editorial observer helpfully explains, however, why we don’t need to worry about it at this early stage of the race. It has all to do with the vagaries of polling. In real terms Trump’s dramatic showing in the polls is about as good an indicator of what is likely to happen as are the leaves at the bottom of your tea cup.
Read her well sourced analysis here and don’t lose confidence in the reasonably good sense of American Republicans. What we can hope for from the totality of the US electorate in November is a more moot question.
It may be ‘realpolitik’ but let us be generous and read it as magnanimity and forgiveness. Benedict Brogan of the Daily Telegraph summed it up this morning as follows:
“Last night was a historic one. One sight summed up the importance of the occasion – Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister Martin McGuinness donning evening wear and sitting down to a white-tie dinner of halibut and beef at the table of Her Majesty the Queen in Windsor Castle. The former IRA member was there to mark the visit to Britain of the Irish President Michael Higgins – the first time a head of the Irish state has been officially welcomed to Britain since his country became independent.
“It’s the closure of the circle that started with Queen’s landmark visit to Ireland in 2011, and underscores how entwined Great Britain and Ireland are. But it’s also particularly poignant as one of the moments of Mr Higgins’s visit will be when Her Majesty shows him the colours of the disbanded Irish regiments which hang in Windsor castle, which will serve as a reminder that the Irish fought gallantly in the First World War, and that in this centenary year this is a discreet but potent way for the Irish to move closer to dealing with a past that for a long time was hidden, ignored and treated as something shameful. It is to the Republic’s credit that great steps have been taken to acknowledge the sacrifice of thousands of Irishmen in the Great War, and that we are moving steadily to the point when the Republic’s ambassador, who has only recently started attending the Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph, will be able to take part fully and lay a wreath.”
Am I right in thinking that one truth which gets completely lost when nationalism dominates – or even influences – our consciousness is that there are no bad peoples, there are only bad, half-good or good people? There are cultural influences among people which can create good or bad tendencies within groups of people, but ultimately changes for the better or otherwise only take place when they take root in people as invividuals.
What now challenges all of us living in these islands off the northwest coast of the continent of Europe is to live in our shared inheritance. This is an inheritance which has been forged over centuries in which our ancestors acted at times gloriously, at times wisely, at times shamefully. It was all there, and what we are today has been influenced by all that. But we do have a choice. While we cannot forget any of those things, and should not deny them, we can choose which of them is going to influence us more in the present and therefore in the future.
Does it not seem that the most important thing about the forthcoming event being organised by Ireland’s new political movement, the Reform Alliance (RA), in the Royal Dublin Society’s conference centre on 25 January is first and foremost the challenge it throws down to us to free our imagination?
Ostensibly “policy” is on the agenda. But unless we break free of the bondage which ties us to habits of thought about ourselves and our society, which have become second nature to us over the past few decades, then we will be wasting our time.
Philip Blond, an English philosopher and political thinker with an Irish lineage, is addressing the conference. This gives us reason to hope that it is all on the right track. Blond has written about the condition of Western society in his paradoxically entitled book, Red Tory. In it he looks at the generally sorry state we have allowed ourselves to get into and how we have enslaved ourselves in all sorts of practical ways.
However, he writes, even our minds are not free. In order to be truly liberated we have to be able to imagine an alternative to the prevailing order. This we manifestly cannot do at present. So colonised have we become by consumption, fantasies of glamour, and cynicism about the public good that we cannot envisage anything different from that which we currently experience. In order to create such an alternative one has to look both backwards and forwards. Backwards, because history tells us that things were different once and that what has happened need not have occurred. Forwards because with knowledge of an alternative past in a manner that isn’t simply naive or idealistic, it is possible to envisage a better future that we all might inhabit.
That must surely be the starting point and basis for any creative political life which will offer us a way out of the mess we are now in. Our thinking about education, health, social and economic policy has to engage in a truly Promethean struggle and to break itself free from the ideological bonds of selfish individualism and once again see the common good as the only foundation stone on which a just and equitable society can be built.
It is hard to know why we lost the plot so badly. Were we so scared of Communism and Socialism that we overcompensated by elevating the individual to the centre of the universe? Did we then surrender ourselves to selfishness and narcissism – which is the inevitable consequence of setting the individual up as master of all he surveys? Whatever the reason for us getting there, we must now find a way out of this prison.
Blond in his book offers an analysis of why this happened in Britain over the past half century, and what the dire consequences were. It does not take a huge leap of the imagination to see how what he describes applies to the island of Ireland in almost equal measure – or to see that the pace of our pursuit of our neighbour’s folly has increased to breakneck speed. Blond is addressing the RA conference and hopefully he will underline all this in the stark detail which he provides in his book.
He traces a good deal of the rot back to the 1960s when what he describes as “fragments of the middle classes”, some of them associated with the ‘new left – the ultra fashionable intellectual left of that era – “preached personal pleasure as a means of public salvation.” They had little idea what they were doing, he says.
While toxic to civilised middle-class life, this mixture was lethal to the working class. Some measure of sexual liberation was necessary, and could have led to a deepening of loyal relationships between men and women. But, in reality, it was contaminated by narcissism from the outset. For the working class this narcissism meant the dissolving of the social bonds that had kept the poorest together during the worst times of the 1930s – illegitimacy increased and family breakdown began in earnest.
He then goes on to describe how the “new left”, contaminated by this self-centred ideology became disengaged from the politics and needs of working-class people, “as a politics of desire overwhelmed whatever was good and decent in its prior ethic. This license to express the self allowed the advocates of liberation in the late 1960s to embrace drugs and hedonism as if personal emancipation for bohemians would lead to the liberation of all.” The consequences of this were disastrous for the working class as the cancer seeped into the building blocks of society – the family and the communities which families constituted. This corrosive culture of self-indulgence continues to flourish.
The family is the first and the most intimate social institution that human beings have, Blond reminds us, – it might vary by extension but nothing can challenge its decisive importance. But just look at what has happened to the British family: in 1964, 63,300 births were recorded outside marriage, only 7.3% of all births. In 2003 it was 257,225, over 41% of all those born.
If present trends continue, soon the majority of UK children will be born out of wedlock, with all the pejorative consequences for the young that both sociology and statistics have amply elucidated. For example, each child born to unmarried parents has only a 38% chance of seeing out their childhood with both parents present. Marriage is clearly better for children: 70% of children of married parents can expect their mother and father to stay together during their childhood. But marriage is failing too: the number of divorces rose in 2008 to 167,000; in 1961 there were only 27,000 divorces granted.
Do the Irish think they are immune from this contagion? From the way all Irish political leaders are charging ahead with every piece of permissive legislation the Irish liberal left shouts for, you would think they do.
Last year the Iona Institute surveyed the situation in the Republic of Ireland and revealed the following:
<p style=”padding-left:30px;”>■ There are now 200,000 adults who have suffered a broken marriage. This is five times more than in 1986 (divorce was put on the statute books in the Republic in 1996).
■ There has been an increase of 80 per cent in the number of lone parent families since 1986
and the total now stands at almost 190,000.
■ There are 121,000 cohabiting couples, up nearly fourfold in just ten years.
■ The number of children being raised in non-marital families is now one in four, which is
drawing close to American and British levels.
As Blond says, “The picture isn’t pretty” – neither in Britain nor in Ireland. With family breakdown affecting so many – and continuing to increase, – “the fundamental bedrock of civic life has been destroyed.” He points the finger without apology – and Ireland knows that the finger is pointing in the same direction there:
It was some of the very people who thought themselves left-wing – the pleasure-seeking, mind-altering drug takers and sexual pioneers of the 1960s who instigated the fragmentation of the working-class family and sold the poor the poisonous idea of liberation through chemical and sexual experimentation.
And they haven’t gone away, you know.
The whole problem has been compounded by the disastrous corrosion of political life and political institutions. In both Britain and Ireland huge segments of the electorate have been disenfranchised by the merging of all established political forces, left and right, into one amorphous mass of politically correct puppets pandering to that other increasingly arrogant force in the public life of a country – the mass media.
As the influence of this force grew, public representatives needed to take account of it at all times. To do this more effectively they had to enlist the help of professionals from within the media and the “spin doctor” came into existence. The term itself denotes deceitfulness. All this further enhanced the media’s influence to the point where it can only now be described as power. The unelected tribunes within the media now effectively lead the elected representatives along the path of least resistance to goals which they identify as “progress”, manipulating the politicians who live in fear and dread of being pilloried by this new bardic class. This is the trend in every country but true with far more dire consequences in Ireland where a monolithically liberal-left clique dominates the country’s print and broadcast media. Meanwhile increasing numbers of the electorate look on in helpless dismay.
Blond sums it up like this:
The real outcome of the last thirty years of the left-right legacy is a state of disempowerment. Nowadays we have the worst of the left and the right combined in one philosophy: an authoritarian, illiberal, bureaucratic state coupled with an extreme ideology of markets and the unlimited sway of capital. Little wonder then that most Britons feel they cannot influence their locality let alone their region or nation. Passive and compliant, all we can do is shop – and after a while that doesn’t make us particularly happy either.
Many in Ireland – it is estimated that between 40 and 50 percent are disillusioned with all the political options presented to them by the current political establishment – are living in hope. Their hope is that what is now stirring in the public square will emerge as a political force to challenge this essentially corrupted status quo. They hope that it will restore integrity to the system, that it will offer them something in which they can again place their trust, their aspirations for the future, the future of their children and their country.
 Blond, Philip, Red Tory. How the Left and Right Have Broken Britain and How We Can Fix It. Faber and Faber, London. 2010.
This is from a very interesting article by the ever-astute Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in today’ Daily Telegraph: “Let us all agree that top bankers behaved very badly. Let us agree too with Vince Cable that the fraternity operated like a cartel, rewarded far beyond ability or worth to society.
That said, the global crisis would have occurred even if bankers had been saints. The roots lie in the “China effect”, the world “savings glut”, and the whole way that globalisation has worked for 20 years.
The rising powers of Asia and the oil bloc accumulated $10 trillion of reserves, flooding bond markets with money. Japan put $1 trillion into play through the carry trade. Central banks in the West played their part by running negative real interest rates. They set the price of credit too low, especially in Club Med and Ireland.
All this combined into one colossal bubble. Bankers were the agents, not the cause. The witchhunt against them gathering force in this country has a nasty edge, and it has the character of a pogrom in much of Europe. We should be careful.
It is hard to see how this crisis can be defused. Germany’s Wolfgang Schauble has belatedly realised that the EU is playing with fire by pushing the UK too far. British exit would be “catastrophic”, he said, asking how the EU could convince anybody in Asia that it has a future if a key member is walking out.
This olive branch comes late in the day. Euroland leaders cannot exempt Britain from the Tobin tax because they know that their own finance will migrate en masse to London if they do, yet they are too committed to this suicidal enterprise to retreat altogether. So we must fight.”
Ten years after the invasion of Iraq by the American led coalition the air is still full of condemnation and recrimination. Much of it is far too simplistic. A piece in today’s Washington Post, combining as it does both heart and head, is much more nuanced than any of the other assessments, for or against, which I have read. This article, by a participant and undoubted victim of the war and its aftermath, reflects the perplexity which must assail anyone trying to unravel the complex tragedy that is Iraq, past and present.
When people ask me, he wrote, “Was the war worth it?,” I am often unsure how to respond. The world is a better place without a tyrant like Saddam Hussein. But poor U.S. post-invasion planning helped unleash sectarian furies that will plague not just Iraq but the broader Middle East for decades. I think a better question is “What should the United States do now?” My answer is that the venture into Iraq must not result in American detachment from the region. American ideals and aims are too noble for isolationism. The United States must learn from its errors and use its unequaled power to positively shape the world, helping to prevent future conflicts rather than sparking them.
Was it worth it to me? I can’t deny that my wife and child are healthy or that there is limitless opportunity for me in the United States. But is that worth losing my friends, family and country? Never.
Is it not true to say that the turmoil of this entire region, stretching from the borders of India and Pakistan to the Mediterranean coast, presents a problem for mankind which is well beyond the limits of what the powers of the rest of the world can either understand or cope with by either war or diplomacy? Leave them to their own devices is the explicit or implicit consensus which now prevails.
Is this a just consensus? As the Syrian conflagration inexorably climbs towards the sum total – and perhaps greater – of human misery and suffering endured by Iraq following the West’s intervention to remove its dictator, can we say “better that way”? We say, “we do not know how to solve their problem. Let us not even think of trying”.
The ingredients of the Syrian conflict bear many similarities to those which prevailed in Iraq. They were not adequately understood before the Iraq intervention took place and the consequences of that lack of understanding made that venture into a truly horrendous misadventure. Now they are better understood and the consequence of our better understanding is moral paralysis and “a plague on both your houses”.
No one can yet dare say how Iraq will turn out. But is there not at least a hope that some foundations have been laid on which an eventual peaceful coexistence may be established – a coexistence held in place by the free choice of a free people and not by a tyranny as heretofore? Furthermore, does it not seem that if the fall of Sadam had not come in the manner in which it did, it would inevitably have come in the way that the fall of the Baathist regime in Syria will surely come – after who knows how much bloodshed? Had this been the fate of Iraq then, with its more clearly defined historic enmities, its body count would have far exceeded that which it suffered when it had an external force holding the the factions at bay in however flawed a manner.
The mystery of the evils with which this region of the world presents us tests us to what appear to be the limits of our imaginative powers. But can we therefore, without guilt, succumb to the “bystander” effect and just walk on by? Or do we, all else failing, make a practical judgment on the principles of justice and take up arms to vindicate those suffering injustice? Can it be that there is no escape from condemnation? Here, surely, is a formula for true tragedy.
What a breath of fresh air this sober analysis is after the rantings of Paul Krugman and utterly blinkered wishful thinking of Lara Marlow in the Irish Times and her other platforms.
Liberalism’s Glass Jaw by ROSS DOUTHAT in today’s New York Times calmly and coolly exposes the bubbly substance of everything that Obama stands for and shows us that the real problem with all this is not Obama himself but the fragile ideology he stands on. We can only hope that while he has been able to fool a majority of the people to get one term in office he will not be able to fool enough of them to get a second.
As Doubthat reads it, all of Obama’s signature accomplishments have tended to have the same weakness in common: They have been weighed down by interest-group payoffs and compromised by concessions to powerful insiders, from big pharma (which stands to profit handsomely from the health care bill) to the biggest banks (which were mostly protected by the Dodd-Frank financial reform).
It may have been an empty rhetorical gesture, but the fact that Romney could actually out-populist the president on “too big to fail” during the last debate speaks to the Obama-era tendency for liberalism to blur into a kind of corporatism, in which big government intertwines with big business rather than restraining it.
Doubthat does not mention his social policy “evolutions” and the concessions he has risked making to the gay lobby on marriage, the ease with which he has slipped into assuming that Christian consciences on sexual morality issues can be tossed around the ring like so many rag dolls. But he might have done. These were the cotton wool compassionate gestures which Obama has allowed to distract him from really grappling with the more difficult challenges of getting the country back on its feet.
One hopes that the American electorate will get well beyond the preoccupation which some in the media have tried to focus on – whether it is Romney as a “cold fish”, or Obama as a “wet fish” – and look at the real issues of substance which Doubthat summarizes here.
The “silly season” seemed to start early this summer – not even waiting for our revered political assemblies to take their well –earned breaks. A month ago the newspapers were already scraping the bottoms of their troughs of choice. Time spent on them in the morning got shorter and shorter as the weeks moved on. America excepted. While the political battle being engaged in there over the next few months is not promising to be very inspiring, it is, however, offering some food for the politically curious among us.
This, from an interesting piece in today’s Washington Post by Anne Applebaum, makes an astute but somewhat dark observation on the prospect ahead of us there – and like it or not, it is a prospect in which we all have a stake.
“You know the stereotypes already. Both Obamas come from what might loosely be called the intellectual/academic meritocracy, the “liberal elite,” the post-WASP Ivy League, easily caricatured as the world of free-trade coffee, organic arugula, smug opinions and Martha’s Vineyard. The Romneys, by contrast, belong to the financial oligarchy, the “global elite,” the post-financial-deregulation world that is just as easily caricatured as one of iced champagne, offshore bank accounts, dressage trainers and private islands.
“The two groups have some important overlaps. Although Romney got some attention for holding a fundraiser in the Hamptons last week, Obama has raised more money in the Hamptons overall (the president scored particularly well in Sagaponack, by one account, where the median home price is $4.4 million)….
“They also have some important differences. The financial oligarchy, as we learned from the Barclays scandal in London last week, is happiest when it operates in deep secrecy, where it can manipulate interest rates, package derivatives, hide its profits and shelter its taxes as it sees fit. The liberal meritocracy prefers to operate in the glare of publicity, where it can give lectures, write books, make documentaries and generally promulgate its own views as loudly as possible. Aged 34, Obama wrote his autobiography. Aged 37, Romney founded Bain Capital.
“But while you might think one or the other group more preferable or more offensive for reasons of politics, culture or taste, you certainly cannot argue that either of them is in close touch with “average” or “ordinary” or even “middle-class” people, however those terms might be defined. And although they and their supporters may shout about “radical left-wing professors” on the one hand or “Gordon Gekko” on the other, neither Obama nor Romney can plausibly claim to leading a populist revolution against the “elites” who are allegedly destroying America.
“Which is just as well, because the political success of both Obama and Romney proves that radical populism in the United States has failed spectacularly. For all of the attention they got, neither Occupy Wall Street nor the tea party has a candidate in this race. Neither found a way to channel inchoate, ill-defined public anger — at the deficit, at the banks — into electoral politics or clear alternatives. Whoever wins in November, we’ll therefore get the elite we deserve.”
Did the Irish electorate deserve the “elite” it has been landed with for the next several years – with not another prospect in sight for at least a decade? One wonders what cataclysm we will have endure before we can escape from the politically correct mediocrity we are now crippled with.