Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Shakespeare's Politics, 2008 edition

"Shakespeare's Politics" was the name of one of my more fascinating college courses -- an independent study with the Ven. Dr. Harry V. Jaffa that combed the deep political wisdom of the Shakespearian cannon. Not that Shakespeare was an explicitly political writer (though there's much interesting in analyzing his plays in light of contemporary Elizabethan/Jacobian politics; we ignored that), but that the insight into the human condition that made his plays so rich can't help but speak volumes about our political nature. Especially (but not exclusively) when he's tackling the great figures of Roman and British history.

And that got me thinking...

It's stuck me for some time that the current presidential race has a certain Shakespearian quality to it; if anything, it certainly has its fair share of potentially tragic heroes. There's McCain's Coriolanus-like "Straight Talk"; his ancient and noble warrior's disdain for the degree of pandering necessary (and appropriately so) in any democratic society. (Full disclosure: This is hyperbole -- I like McCain.)

Fred Thompson: The honorable Brutus-like senator poked and prodded into assuming a higher political role, only to be undone by his lack of ambition.

Ron Paul: Any number of crazy-like-a-fox fools.

Bill Clinton: Ever toeing that fine line between Prince Hal and King Lear.

Barack Obama: Come on, you were thinking the same thing.

But in all seriousness, it remains to be seen: MacDuff? Or Banquo?

As I see it, the only candidate Shakespeare wouldn't have any interest in is Mitt Romney. But I'm open to being proven wrong. Anyone?

NY Post endorses...

Barack Obama!

No, no one hacked our website; and yes, it's just for the primary.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Go Big Blue!

Just remember, Patriots fans: Lots of teams would kill to go 18-1.

UPDATE: I guess I just have an eye for obscure historical trivia. Turns out the last 4 NFC Championship games (04/05-07/08) comprise the first four-year stretch in NFC/old-NFL history -- going back to 1933 -- in which eight seperate teams have each played for a championship.

07-08: Giants-Packers
06-07: Bears-Saints
05-06: Seahawks-Panthers
04-05: Eagles-Falcons

See for yourself. Doesn't quite work for the AFC, though: It happened there in 98-99 through 01-02.

UPDATE 2: Okay, as it actually turns out, I'm too clever by half. The real historical occurance is that we've now gone seven years in the NFC with seven different champions:

07-08, Giants; 06-07, Bears; 05-06, Seahawks; 04-05, Eagles; 03-04, Panthers; 02-03, Bucs; 01-02, Rams.

Talk about parity. This has never happened in the history of pro football -- in either league.

Actually, I take that back. It happened once before: last year. Had the Packers won this year, the streak actually would have gone to eight, given that it's the Giants who won it in the 00-01 season. So... doesn't that kinda make the Giants the dynasty of the NFC, if only by default?

Just asking.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Romney in Michigan

A decisive victory for Mitt tonight -- makes the race a lot more interesting. Here's his speech. It still fascinates me how quickly Romney's transformed himself into the populist anti-Washington crusader. You can almost tell from the speech how new he is to it -- "but hey, it's working, and I kind of like it too." People who know and like Romney say he's got a solid core -- that he really believes what he says, even on the positions he's come to recently. I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

I'll still have to think this through some more, but I'd say the greater problem with Romney's slickness is that it indicates not a fundamental lack of conviction, but rather a lack of political shame. He repackages himself far too easily -- even if it's the same Mitt inside -- which makes me suspect that he's got a businessman's impatience for the emotional pathos necessary for true statesmanship, especially in a time of war (notice the lack of nearly any reference to terrorism in his speech). Rich Lowry -- presumably a Romney guy himself; his magazine certainly is -- gives evidence (not online) in the latest issue of National Review.

Along those lines, Romney's constant denunciations of "Washington" this and "Washington" rubbed me the wrong way. One wonders whether "Washington" would fare any better at the hands of a 15-part PowerPoint presentation than with some Obama-esqe incantations of "hope" and "unity."

And then there's this line, by far the most awkward of the speech:

"I take my inspiration from Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush, who took their inspiration from the American people."

George Herbert Walker Bush? Nothing against the guy, but that's the first time I've heard him mentioned as a source of conservative inspiration. Unless Romney's very obviously trying to leave someone out.

Not that there's anything wrong with criticizing Dubya, either, but it strikes me that there's something deeply unserious about the way Romney does it. Bush isn't optimistic enough? Please.


To be fair, if Romney lacks pathos, McCain's fault probably lies at the other extreme, as John Podhoretz contends:

"Romney may not have won in Michigan so much as McCain lost it. And he lost it because of a characteristic tendency that makes him Romney’s opposite — political rigidity based on a sense of his own personal rectitude. Having said jobs in Michigan were not coming back, he went to Michigan and praised efforts to mandate an increase in fuel-mileage standards, which auto executives claim will raise the price of a car fully $6,000 — a job killer, in other words. And he spoke against drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, which is the only realistic way for the United States to increase its own domestic oil supply.

"McCain’s line is that he is a straight talker. But there are moments he seems to make a fetish of his own honesty, and asks others to support him solely because of it."

Hmm... Pathos plus Prudence -- anyone? I'm starting to think that Shakespeare would have a field day with the tragic flaws of the current field.


Only caught the final half-hour of the Democratic debate tonight, but was instantly impressed by how boring it seemed. The nice thing about still having a diverse jumbled Republican field is that it leaves room for serious and contentious policy debates -- many of which the current candidates still need to have. Clinton and Obama, by contrast, don't seem to have much more of anything to say. All the policies are on the table, with widespread similarities. All that remains is a contest of likability and tactics (i.e., hope v. experience). And as we're already seeing, that kind of race can get ugly real fast.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Liberal Fascism: the review

Another year, another byline: The Post's Sunday books section published my review of Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism" yesterday. As you can tell, I liked the book a lot. Goldberg has a brief and appreciative response on his new book-blog.

As I wrote, my central quibble with the book is in its lack of foreign-policy nuance. An explanation: Goldberg talks a lot about the Progressive echoes of fascist militarism, with various "crises" serving as convenient sparks for charismatic leaders to rally the country to some higher national purpose (and bigger government). But unfortunately missing is any discussion of how aspiring non-fascists should respond to real crises -- moments that may often require bold leadership and/or national unity.

It's a question both deeply philosophical and immediately pressing that Goldberg could have really given some ink to. Goldberg certainly has a sense of the difference between genuine statesmanship and neo-fascist blustering, but he gives precious little account for it.

As I wrote, an unfortunate ommission. Then again, as my brief forrays into professional idea-communication have already taught me, there's never room for everything.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

CNN = Math?

There's an old Onion article from back in 2004, I believe, that "covered" Republican efforts to turn out the vote in black neighborhoods. Teams of GOP operatives would canvas these areas, handing out literature reminding minority voters to turn up at the polls for "Big Wednesday."

If CNN is trying something similar with Times Square tourists (God knows why), they're doing a pretty crappy job of it. I'm just shocked no one's noticed yet.

I took the above photo this morning. It's the CNN news-ticker billboard at the intersection of 47th Street and Broadway in Times Square, which I pass every morning on my way to work. Notice the "countdown to election day on CNN" feature. Now notice the number. You may have realized by now that today is January 9, 2008, which puts 360 days hence somewhere in the neighborhood of January 3, 2009. Which is very much not election day.

And the strange thing is that that ticker, the face of an international media empire at the most traveled intersection on earth, has been consistently wrong for months now, if not longer. Go figure.

Life imitates The Simpsons Movie

It's Spider-Pig!

(Courtesy: 20th Century Fox)*
*(Someone please tell me if this doesn't cover me as far as the copyright laws go.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

New journalism blog

My colleague Eric Fettmann, a newspaperman's newspaperman if there ever was one, has an interesting new blog devoted to the journalism history. It looks to be a motley assortment of thoughts and annecdotes culled from his extensive collection of historic newspapers, magazines and journalism memorabilia, with who-knows-what-else to come. Do check it out.

McCain and Obama

A none-too-daring prediction, and a pre-primary appetizer. Here's a really smart David Brooks piece on the pair. Brooks makes the important point that despite their common appeal to independent voters (and reputations for positiveness and honesty), they're really very different men in the kind of vision they offer -- and not just policy-wise.

My hope for an Obama-McCain general election (though that's still far to early to call; given this primary season, we could just as easily see Edwards-Thompson) would be that this precise dynamic -- similar general appeal, vastly different ideas -- could elevate the debate to a level we've been conditioned not to expect.

Especially on Iraq. If this election is going to be some kind of referendum on where we should go from here (it probably should be, though I'm far from convinced it actually will), what better two candidates than the guy who opposed the war from the beginning, and the guy who supported the surge three years before Bush did? Serious debate between likable guys, all at a distance from the visceral passions conjured by names like Clinton and Bush.

But we'll see. Pronouncements like this one still seem scandalously premature.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Caucus night with the Dems

One of the nice things about a one-party city like New York is the political class's jolly bipartisanship. Basically, I've learned, because there are so few of us Republicans around, the Democrats see little problem in occasionally letting us crash their social happenings.

So that's where I was for caucus night: the 2nd floor of a crowded midtown Irish pub full of rowdy Democrats.

Some thoughts:

--Very few Biden or Dodd supporters (although I did meet one girl who liked Richardson). Which made a fun game of cheering loudly whenever their vote counts ticked up -- or in Dodd's case, when he got his one. Sad day.

--The Democrats' victory/concession speeches say droves about where they're headed. (Here's Obama, Edwards & Clinton.) Obama's was masterful on so many levels. Uplifting, even as if he was already running in the general (a friend pointed out), yet still with plenty to rally his volunteers into New Hampshire. Contrast that with Clinton, who could only gush about how happy she was that everyone voted for a Democrat. A guy at the party put it well: "Say I'm a volunteer in Iowa, working my ass off for the Clinton campaign. And I get that in return?" I've never been too much a fan of Obama's squishy "hope" message, but it looks a lot better coming against a Clinton campaign that doesn't even want to fight. Also compare Obama's seemless personal touches with Edwards' heavy-handed "example-example-example" of people suffering from evil corporate greed. If I hadn't sworn off predicting anything this election cycle, I'd say Obama wins the nomination.

--Obama and Huckabee. I think it'd make an interesting general election. Obama, the candidate of "hope," and Huckabee, the candidate of "faith." Throw in Ron Paul as a third-party candidate of "love," and you've got all your theological virtues covered. Now pick one.

--Still had a bit of a black eye, which prompted a fun guessing game. When someone asked about it, whose campaign do I say beat me up. Edwards was typically a safe bet.

--A good night for McCain, who I've been known to have leanings toward. But as it's important to recognize, he's not without risks. Rich Lowry sums them up forcefully. And Victor Davis Hanson doesn't care.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

N Train, 1; John, 0

I've been walking around with a black eye for the past few days, which has given me ample time to process what must be one of New York's most important lessons: Subway trains are big and hard -- don't pick fights with them.

Some background:

1. The N/W subway line in Astoria, Queens runs on an elevated track, which means that as I approach my customary stop (30th Ave and 31st St), I can typically see whether a train is coming with just enough lead time to sprint to the station and catch it.

2. I do this is willfull disregard of numerous helpful public service announcements placed around the station, warning that running for a train may result in dire consequences like tripping and falling.

Well, I didn't trip...

The N train did, however, have an unusually large jump on me Sunday afternoon as I was on my way into the city for church. Already late, and mindful of the N's often-spotty weekend service, I broke into a mad dash down the last remaining block to the station and made it to the platform just in time.

Unfortunately, the speed at which I bounded up the stairs greatly widened my turning radius as I attempted to dash through the still-open train doors, causing me to miss the doors entirely and instead bash my face on the side of the car.

That is, I ran face-first at full speed into the side of a motionless train. Which hurt.

I was a cause of general concern as I staggered, bleeding and increasingly dizzy, into the car, which I rode for four more stops before the conductor escorted me off and stayed with me on the platform until the medics came.

As did everyone else. For some reason, my medical "emergency" was grounds enough to clear the entire train and send it away empty. Someone actually announced over the intercom that all Manhattan-bound service was indefinitely suspended (this turned out not to be true). Fortunately, my throbbing headache helped numb the creeping social horror -- and gave me an excuse to keep my head down.

In actuality, though, something about my gaping head wound brought out the best in people. Two seperate people on the train offered me first a wad of paper towels for the bleeding, then a seat. When we all got off, a first-aid practitioner named Walter was there to make sure I didn't die, then ran to get me a bottle of water. The train conducter, meanwhile, regailed me with subway stories that put my adventure in proper perspective.

Good people, New Yorkers. Who says they aren't the salt of the earth?