Monday, June 30, 2014

Hillary: rich but caring, so she's o.k.

The Clintons' Country (as opposed to Georgetown) Home
Peggy Noonan, the former Reagan-Bush 41 speechwriter,  only just noticed the story now is Hillary, "not the guy in the White House.” But Noonan is now on it. In a column titled, “Hillary Clinton, for Richer or Poorer,” Noonan writes that Hillary came from:
a solidly suburban upper-middle-class home, glided into elite schools, became a lawyer, married a politician who quickly rose, enjoyed all the many perks of a governor's mansion and then the White House, and then all the perks of a senator, secretary of state and former first lady. She's been driven in limousines and official cars almost all her adult life. For more than a quarter-century she has seen America through tinted windows.
Newly out of the Ivy League, she asked for political power instead of financial power. Many of her generation of liberal activists, with similar bona fides, chose the latter. She married and became a politician and accrued great power and fame.
But she still wanted the money. Through speeches, appearances, books and investments, she got it. Bill seems happy with it. She sees a disjunction between her acquisitive streak and her party's demonization of acquisitive streaks, and so she claims she was broke, at the mercy of forces, an orphan in the storm, instead of an operator of considerable hunger and skill.
All this has made her look silly and phony. One wonders what she thinks of the base of her party that she can't knock it off.
Noonan does supply Hillary’s defense, though without sympathy:
When an interviewer compared her to Mitt Romney in terms of wealth, she got a stony look. That is a "false equivalency," she said. You could see she feels she should not be compared to a wealthy Republican because she's liberal and therefore stands for the little guy. So she can be rich and should not be criticized, while rich people who have the wrong policies—that would be Republicans—are "the rich" and can be scorned and shamed.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Islamic Extremism Isn't Our Fault

This blog quoted Bernard Lewis, at 98 known as “the West’s greatest scholar of Islam,” on why the West’s struggle with Islam presents us such difficulties. Islam is determined to prevail, and in the struggle, Lewis posited in a 2007 lecture, Muslims:
have certain clear advantages. They have fervor and conviction, which in most Western countries are either weak or lacking. They are self-assured of the rightness of their cause, whereas we spend most of our time in self-denigration and self-abasement. They have loyalty and discipline, and perhaps most important of all, they have demography, the combination of natural increase and migration producing major population changes, which could lead within the foreseeable future to significant majorities in at least some European cities or even countries.
Lewis notes, however, that the West also has some advantages, especially knowledge and freedom.

Walter Russell Mead, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, sums up the West’s present day failure to counter Islamic extremism, a bleak picture he chastises the media for ignoring, possibly at our peril:
few in the mainstream press seem interested in tracing the full and ugly course of the six years of continual failure that dog the footsteps of the hapless Obama team in a region the White House claimed to understand. Nothing important has gone right for the small and tightly knit team that runs American Middle East policy. Most administrations have one failure in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking; this administration has two, both distinctly more ignominious and damaging than average. The opening to the Middle East, once heralded by this administration as transformative, has long vanished; no one even talks about the President’s speeches in Cairo and Istanbul anymore, unless regional cynics are looking for punch lines for bitter jokes. The support for the “transition to democracy” in Egypt ended on as humiliating a note as the “red line” kerfuffle in Syria. The spectacular example of advancing human rights by leading from behind in Libya led to an unmitigated disaster from which not only Libya but much of north and west Africa still suffers today.
I’m comfortable laying these problems at Obama’s feet, as conservative Mead suggests, but conservative George Will is not. Will recently diagnosed the U.S., not just Obama, as suffering from “Narcissistic Polity Disorder,” a problem identified, Will said, by political science professor Greg Weiner. In an article last year, Weiner linked America’s Narcissistic Polity Disorder directly to the Middle East:
Sectarian violence in the Middle East, an ancient and evidently incurable phenomenon, an American failure? That’s . . . a powerful fantasy, with roots in the same place. . . as narcissistic personality disorder, one of whose hallmarks is the proclivity to interpret foreign events in terms of oneself.  Any event, anywhere, anytime becomes a test of American leadership.
Islamic extremism is an American problem, because it will continue affecting us directly. We have to deal with it. But it’s not centered on us, and certainly not caused by us. It’s in fact larger and deeper than us, a force with which we must live--or die.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hillary’s “Choice” Not So Hard?

It’s early for the 2016 presidential election. We haven’t really even gotten into the 2014 midterms. But Hillary is on a book tour, she’s made a couple of slips, and the media can’t stay away from any Clinton heading for the White House. Is she or isn’t she? If anything, the speculation should make for book sales. (Apparently, however, it doesn’t--early sales of Hard Choices are well below expectations).

Hillary told People magazine just before the tour:
I'm certainly in the camp that says we need to break down that highest, hardest glass ceiling in American politics. To have a woman president is something I would love to see happen, but I'll just have to make my own decision about what I think is right for me.
Later, she said, “One thing that has never been a hard choice for me is serving our country,” an even stronger sign she’s running.

Tom Bevan, a conservative who runs the popular poll-centered political website “RealClearPolitics,” has given “5 Reasons Hillary Won’t Run.” Perhaps engaging in wishful thinking, Bevan argues:  

1. She's just not that good at campaigning.

But: Hillary’s tough, extremely bright, the head of an alpha women army believing, as does Hillary herself, that a woman president is long past due. Plus, her spouse loves to campaign (especially to get himself back inside the White House), and at campaigning, there is none better.  

2. The “fire in the belly”question.

But: It-is-unfinished-business, and she’s fitter, brighter, and, at 69 by 2016, just as driven as another 69-year old was driven in 1980 to reverse his previous just-missed primary election defeat--Ronald Reagen.  

3. It ain’t gonna be a coronation.

But: Running in 2016 gives her a big advantage over her last run--no primary. She can plan, raise money, and conserve her energy for the general while Republicans duke it out, exactly as Obama did in 2012.

4. Obama is leaving a mess.

But: Except for foreign policy, it’s not her mess. As we have seen, she will run against Obama as much as she will run against the Republican (triangulation).  

5. The country wants real change.

Not sure about this. “Change,” for sure. But real change, as in a government that shrinks and does less for our hurting majority? The cosmetic change Hillary offers--a female in charge--will be real enough for tens of millions.

I watched Hillary yesterday afternoon stand up to two Fox News interviewers: Bret Baier and Greta Van Susteren. She seemed well-prepared for the conservative slant the questions took, and responded in a relaxed, friendly manner, in marked contrast to Obama’s guarded, somewhat combative approach to Fox News journalists. I believe in earlier interviews with ABC’s Diane Sawyer and NPR’s Terry Gross, she stumbled because she expected soft balls from her liberal sisters, and ran into actual reporters instead. In any case, Hillary’s appearance on Fox helps her.

Here’s the danger Hillary may face. Obama’s already so yesterday that Hillary is already today’s and tomorrow’s news. Therefore, we truly may tire of her by November 2016.

Tommy Vietor is an Obama campaign veteran who, according to Toby Harnden of the conservative Sunday Times (U.K.), was among the group of Democrats who gathered at the Third Way think tank to hear Philippe Reines, Hillary’s longtime spokesman, brief about Banghazi. Harnden reported Vietor telling the group that his new job with Clinton was "another reminder that aren't Clinton camps and Obama camps any more. We’re all on the same team.” Naturally, Vietor expects it’s the next president’s team.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Obama’s “all in” bet against Islamic militancy.

Refugees fleeing ISIS forces' Tuesday capture of Mosul, Iraq's second city.
“Iraq, Pakistan, Ukraine, Russia, Nigeria, Kenya, Syria.” The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger writes. “These foreign wildfires, with more surely to come.” Yes, given our worsening position in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, Israel.

I just noticed that Henninger titles his weekly column, “Wonder Land.” A light touch, except that nothing about our disintegrating foreign policy seems funny.

Henninger goes on:
Let us repeat the most quoted passage in former Defense Secretary Robert Gates's memoir, Duty. It describes the March 2011 meeting with Mr. Obama about Afghanistan in the situation room. "As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn't trust his commander, can't stand Karzai, doesn't believe in his own strategy and doesn't consider the war to be his," Mr. Gates wrote. "For him, it's all about getting out."
Obama's foreign policy is a river boat gamble. As Henninger says, “The big Obama bet is that Americans' opinion-polled 'fatigue' with the world frees him to create a progressive domestic legacy.”

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tonys Reflect Boring Monoculture

“A Raisin in the Sun,” 2014 (7th production)
Life was bad in China during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). And when things weren’t bad, they were boring. Mao’s wife Zhiang Qing oversaw culture, permitting people to watch only eight dramas, repeated over and over, both on stage and in the movies ("eight hundred million people watched eight shows").

After watching the Tony Awards Sunday, I believe Broadway is headed for monocultural boredom similar to that pioneered by Madame Mao. The top thirteen awards went to seven musicals or plays connected to one, constantly reworked theme: diversity is queen. For much of America, apparently Broadway in particular, we live under a culture that glorifies the modern state and our progressive-led coalition of minorities (especially blacks), unmarried females, and the creative LGBT community.

It’s of course ironic that Broadway’s “diversity,” in its uniformity, threatens boredom. Boring, you question, when a play like "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder" wins the coveted “Best Musical” award? What can be more the-opposite-of-boring, you say, than a comedy about a mass murderer? As New York Times critic Charles Isherwood writes, “Bloodlust hasn’t sung so sweetly, or provided so much theatrical fun, since ‘Sweeney Todd’ first wielded his razor.”

“Sweeney Todd” blessed us in 1979. It was perhaps the worst musical I ever paid to suffer through. What culture laughs off mass murder?

Answer: a revolutionary culture; a culture that bludgeons the audience into overturning in its entirety the previous culture built upon hypocritically pious, state-backed Christianity. Revolution calls for total rejection of the past. That holds whether it's an American past that honored the Christian virtues, or, under Madame Mao, a Chinese past that honored Confucian virtues.

As Isherwood tells us about "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder":
A gentleman indeed, whose only wish is to secure his fortune by bumping off a few inconvenient relatives in Edwardian England. Since these spoiled sprigs on the family tree are mostly stuffed shirts or stuffed skirts — and are all played by the dazzling Jefferson Mays — you’ll be laughing too hard to shed a tear for any of them. . . Mays sings, dances, ice-skates, bicycles and generally romps through some eight roles — flipping among personas male, female and somewhere in between.
"Don’t cry!" we are told, just have fun laughing about the deaths of THEM--“spoiled sprigs on the family tree are mostly stuffed shirts or stuffed skirts.” And enjoy Jefferson Mays’ wild cross dressing from male to female to in between. Broadway, 2014.

For the rest of the Tony winners, understanding what’s happening today on Broadway begins with Mad Men, Season 1, set in March 1960. Republicans in the White House. Housewives in the kitchen. Negroes in their place (Mad Men’s maid Clara). Gays in the closet (Mad Men’s Sal Romano). And hard-drinking, misogynistic ad men running wild, clueless about their time coming to an end.  

Mad Men, winner of 15 Emmys beginning in 2007, was a defining cultural event of this century’s first decade--so well done, so crisply reminding us how far we have come, but most of all, entertaining us while nailing how bad the “good old days” were, why everything we’ve done since was so worth it. Revolutionary opera in China similarly dwelt on how harsh life was in the pre-Mao years, helping audiences appreciate that things were better under Mao.

The Mad Men era, focused on a progressive state liberating blacks, women, the LGBT community--the American cultural revolution’s winners--has engulfed Broadway. Victory yes, but is the message getting old, as pre-American cultural revolution memories fade?  Don't let it die.

Do you doubt Broadway is drenched in 1960s nostalgia? By reference only for gays, since the 1960s triple revolution of sex, civil rights, and equal rights for women didn’t liberate the LGBT community until later. Even the Stonewall Riots weren’t until 1969. Yet there’s little doubt gay liberation descends from our 1960s cultural revolution. It all began in the Mad Men era.

So take a look at the Tony winners:

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical Neil Patrick Harris, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (LGBT, set in 1970s; 1960s revolution by reference)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical Jesse Mueller, "Beautiful -- The Carole King Musical" (begins, like Mad Men, in 1960)

Best Play "All the Way" (1964)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play Audra McDonald, "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" (black suffering, 1959)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play Bryan Cranston, "All the Way" (1964)

Best Revival of a Musical "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (LGBT; 1960s revolution by reference)

Best Revival of a Play "A Raisin in the Sun" (1959 play, 1961 movie)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play Mark Rylance, "Twelfth Night" (LGBT; 1960s revolution by reference: “All the actors are being transformed. . . for some of them this means transforming into women. . . plot already depends heavily on cross-dressing”)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical Lena Hall, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (LGBT, 1960s revolution by reference)

Best Book of a Musical Robert L. Friedman, "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder"

Best Direction of a Musical Darko Tresnjak, "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder"

Best Direction of a Play Kenny Leon, "A Raisin in the Sun" (1959, 1961)

State Dept. Spokeswoman Knows Circumstances of Bergdahl's Capture Better Than Squad Mates

I find State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf to be the most irritating voice out of Washington D.C. today. Harf, 32, a graduate of Indiana University with a University of Virginia masters, worked as a CIA analyst in 2006-08 before becoming a CIA spokesperson in the Obama administration's first term, then a foreign affairs spokesperson for the Obama campaign.

In this recent exchange carried in the conservative Washington Free Beacon, Harf had the nerve to proclaim she had a better understanding of whether returned POW Bowe Bergdahl deserted his combat post than did his squad mates:
When Fox News reporter Lucas Tomlinson asked, “Does the State Department consider Sergeant Bergdahl to be a deserter?” Harf replied, “The State Department — no, Lucas. Look, what we’ve said is we are going to learn the facts about what happened here.”
“He’s been in captivity, Lucas. I think he’s probably the person who knows best what happened on that night,” Harf said.
Tomlinson shot back, “Well, I think his squad mates have the best indication what happened that night.”
“I don’t think that that’s the case,” Harf responded.
Here's the video:

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The Tiananmen Massacre: Lest We Forget

The Tiananmen massacre occurred 25 years ago today. Sad to recall how close China then was to becoming a working Asian-style democracy.

The years since have been about using economic prosperity to keep the Chinese Communist Party firmly in control of all political power. No wonder, as the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Mozur writes, Tiananmen “is a memory the Communist Party works hard to suppress in the public sphere,” as on the 25th anniversary, it insures that dozens of activists are "detained, disappeared or summoned."

China is additionally limiting access to key foreign websites based outside the country.  Mozur reports that Google’s services are currently only intermittently accessible in China, and quotes a Google spokesman saying, "We've checked extensively and there are no technical problems on our side."

Mozur adds that Google’s troubles in China coincide with a similar block of Mozur’s own Wall Street Journal English and Chinese websites. A Dow Jones spokeswoman (Dow publishes the Journal) confirmed the Chinese site had been blocked since Saturday and the English-language site since Monday, but “declined to elaborate.”

According to Mozur, China’s:
Internet censors have taken a more aggressive approach since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012. Over the past year, the government has cracked down on online commentators, formed a high-level committee to address Internet security, and [revoked] online-publication and distribution licenses.
So where are the prospects for Chinese democracy headed? American conservative political analyst Michael Barone was intrigued to learn that
In 2013, leading members of the Politburo recommended that underlings read Alexis de Tocqueville's The Old Regime and the Revolution. It's an intriguing choice. Tocqueville, reflecting on the Revolution that killed his fellow [French] aristocrats and family members, argued that the revolution came only when the old regime began reform and conditions improved -- the revolution of rising expectations. And he argued that the Revolution was largely destructive, increasing the centralization of the royalist regime. "The old order provided the Revolution with many of its methods; all the Revolution added to these was a savagery peculiar to itself."
As Barone pointed out, the relevance of Tocqueville's book to China seems obvious. The Chinese leadership, like the French aristocrats before them,
no longer believe in their own ideology, but cling to power. The Chinese people have come to expect rapidly rising living standards, and may abandon the regime if it doesn't produce. But rising living standards may also undermine the regime. Regime elites must be careful, like Deng [was after Tiananmen] in 1989, or the rulers will lose everything and chaos will be unleashed on China.
Barone also found that China's rulers are
circulating a six-part TV documentary blaming the collapse of the Soviet Union on Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms and softness. Message: avoid democracy or political freedom. All this, writes the Wall Street Journal's Jeremy Page, is "part of an ideological campaign launched by [President] Xi Jinping, to reenergize the party and enforce discipline among its members."
The fear that secondary reforms will trigger an end to one-party rule is pervasive in China reporting today. Martin Wolf, writing in the Financial Times (U.K.), tells us:
The instinct of the People’s Bank [of China] that capital account liberalisation could be a battering ram for reform is correct. Moreover, such a reform would not be merely financial and economic. It would also be political. If China’s capital account were to be fully liberalised, the government would lose its grip on the most effective of all its economic levers.
Wolf evidently wants the Chinese regime to retain its grip on power, because he cautions, “Whatever the attractions of speed, this process has to be carefully managed. For China and the world, the risks are too big to approach this in any other way.”

Whatever turn the economy takes, it’s obvious that 25 years later, Chinese leaders are still “riding the tiger.”

Monday, June 02, 2014

Are Youth Slipping Away from Democrats?

We just discussed the strength of the Democratic coalition under Obama--a liberal national elite and government workers at the top, government needy minorities, unmarried women, and youth at the bottom. Except that youth may be having second thoughts about backing Obama.

Conservative Washington Post columnist George Will, who does these statistical summaries well, wraps together several reasons why young people may be disenchanted with Washington’s current Democrats. Will writes:
The more than $1.1 trillion of student loan debt is restraining consumption. . . More than 40% of recent college graduates are either unemployed or in jobs that do not require a college degree. This is understandable, given that 44% of the job growth since the recession ended has been in food services, retail clerking or other low-wage jobs. . . The Pew Research Center reports that Americans 25 to 32 — “millennials” — constitute the first age cohort since World War II with higher unemployment or a greater portion living in poverty than their parents at [the same] age.

But if because of these facts, you expect youth to abandon Democrats, just remember Gallup estimates that 45% of Americans 18-29 are nonwhite. And for them and for the 55% white majority, there are the social issues.

In the decade-old What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, author Thomas Frank documented how social issues caused the working class to vote against their pocketbooks. A similar, polar opposite phenomenon has taken hold among American youth, as the liberal Washington Post’s Chris Cillizzia has noted:
When millennial independents are asked which party they lean toward, 50% say they identify as Democratic or lean toward the Democratic Party. Just 34% identify as Republican or lean that way. . . “Millennials stand out for voting heavily Democratic and for liberal views on many political and social issues, ranging from a belief in an activist government to support for same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization,” according to a Pew overview of the data.
Nearly seven in 10 millennials (68%) support same-sex marriage, a marked increase even from a decade ago, when 44% backed it. 55% of millennials say illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the United States and have a chance to apply for citizenship. 56% of millennials say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. . . And, on the right role for government to play in people’s lives, a majority of millennials (53%) favor a bigger government that provides more services, while 38% find a smaller government with fewer services more appealing.
In the immortal Winston Churchill’s words, “Show me a young Conservative and I'll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I'll show you someone with no brains.”

And of course, when it comes to Republicans winning over youth, there is the “coolness” factor.

Vietnam plus the triple revolution of sex, civil rights, and equal rights for women peaked in the seminal year of 1968, the year of the Vietcong’s confidence-shattering Tet offensive, youth revolution in Europe, Lyndon Johnson’s decision not to seek re-election, the assassination of Martin Luther King and subsequent urban riots, the Prague (Czechoslovakia) Spring crushed by Soviet troops in August, Robert Kennedy’s winning the California primary only to be assassinated, and an anti-youth backlash that carried Richard Nixon to the White House in November.

One major event that year most clearly focused American youth against everything going wrong in their country: the “police riot” against young people battling the old white guys running the 1968 Chicago Democratic convention. These youth were the first generation raised by television, the “cool” medium, in television sage Marshall McLuhan’s own words.

Haskell Wexler’s 1968 docudrama Medium Cool, with actual footage from the Chicago riots, nailed down this seminal event of a seminal year--cool youth, raised on television, first losing, eventually, inevitably winning the political war against their “hot,” radio-reared elders. Youth in 1968, the dominant baby boomer generation in the vanguard, pushing sex, civil rights, and equal rights for women, forcing an end to war in Vietnam, changing American culture forever, cementing the connection between youth and “coolness.”

And still today, 46 years on, putting conservatives in a bad place with young people. How bad? Conservative baby boomer Greg Gutfeld, 49, tries so hard on Fox News to be the right wing’s version of the popular, cool Jon Stewart, 51, Comedy Central's master of fake news. Gutfeld is forced to face reality and in his latest book, defend being Not Cool:
Pick a political, cultural or moral universe, and in each one it's the cool who seek to punish, mock or thwart the uncool. They do this freely and without much resistance, for exacting cool revenge is so common that the uncool let it happen without a fight -- a sort of cultural Stockholm syndrome.
To return to the top of this piece, youth truly suffer in 2014 America. Youth traditionally rebel against the established order. So it soon may be cool to be uncool.