Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Chauncey in the White House

Maureen Dowd wondered last Sunday in the New York Times who, exactly, the president is and what, exactly, he believes. No one, at least among the public, seems to know. Writes Dowd:
Our president likes to be on both sides at once.

In Afghanistan, he wants to go but he wants to stay. He’s surging and withdrawing simultaneously. He’s leaving fewer troops than are needed for a counterinsurgency strategy and more troops than are needed for a counterterrorism strategy — and he seems to want both strategies at the same time. Our work is done but we have to still be there. Our work isn’t done but we can go.

On Libya, President Obama wants to lead from behind. He’s engaging in hostilities against Qaddafi while telling Congress he’s not engaging in hostilities against Qaddafi.

On the budget, he wants to cut spending and increase spending. On the environment, he wants to increase energy production but is reluctant to drill.. On health care, he wants to get everybody covered but will not press for a universal system. On Wall Street, he assails fat cats, but at cocktail parties, he wants to collect some of their fat for his campaign.

On politics, he likes to be friends with the other side but bash ’em at the same time. For others, bipartisanship means transcending their own prior political identities. For President Obama, it means that he participates in all political identities. He does not seem deeply affiliated with any side except his own.

He was elected on the idea of bold change, but now — except for the capture of Osama and his drone campaign in Pakistan and Yemen — he plays it safe. He shirks politics as usual but gets all twisted up in politics.

[H]e has tried to explain his reluctance on gay marriage as an expression of his Christianity, even though he rarely goes to church and is the picture of a secular humanist.

The man who was able to beat the Clintons in 2008 because the country wanted a break from Clintonian euphemism and casuistry is now breaking creative new ground in euphemism and casuistry.
Here's my take on Obama. He's a progressive leftist in the sense that many undergrads are progressive leftists. The socialist dream sounds good to them in the abstract and in general, but they don't really understand the history, the details of what collectivism entails, or the best arguments against it.

Thus, Mr. Obama rode the wave to election in 2008 in the hope of being able to change the country, not by leading it to a new socialist paradise, but by appointing people who themselves had the competence to articulate the principles and the power to impose them.

Despite the image of confidence that he projects, Mr. Obama, I suspect, realizes that he's largely ignorant of economics, history, and world affairs and is thus reluctant to get out front on any issue that bears on these matters. Nothing in his background, after all, has prepared him to wrestle with complex economic issues. I imagine that he came to office knowing that he wanted to have government pay for everyone's health care, for instance, but what the economic implications of this would be he had no idea and little concern. Those were for others to worry about while he gave speeches written by others, played golf, and flew off to exotic vacation spots.

Mr. Obama, in other words, is a symbol, a figurehead, like the Queen of England. Calls for him to show up at the debt-ceiling negotiations will be resisted because he fears being exposed as knowing little about the questions being debated and having nothing helpful to contribute. He fears being exposed as a real life Chauncey Gardiner.

But this is only my opinion. I could, of course, be completely mistaken.

Bellow, Jr.

Adam Bellow, son of Nobel Prize-winning author Saul Bellow, is a former editor at Doubleday and is currently in senior management at HarperCollins. He's also a former liberal who began to wander rightward when he realized that the myth of the open-minded tolerant liberal is all too often not the reality.

World magazine has an interview with him in which he says some interesting things about his journey from left to right and about the emergence of conservative media. Some excerpts (questions are in boldface):
What did you learn there [at an early job at the New York Daily News]? My time at the News got me out of my liberal cocoon. I grew up going to school with the New York City elite. Everyone had the same political opinions: anti-war movement, hatred of Nixon. At Princeton, I was among people of the same background. It wasn't until I went to the News that I met people outside of my background.

A lot of these guys had never gone to college, and in many cases, their fathers had worked at the paper as well, and their sons worked there. I saw a strong core of decency, of patriotism, of willingness to go out of their way for someone who was considered part of the family. Once I had gone through the hazing, I was embraced.

When you went to graduate school at the University of Chicago and Columbia, which professor most influenced you? I studied with Alan Bloom before he wrote his best-selling book, The Closing of the American Mind, a book of inestimable value. The next blow to my liberalism was that liberal intellectuals were too dishonest to read the book, and instead joined the chorus of Orwellian hate for having broached a wall they had thought unbroachable. They merely branded him a thought criminal.. This offended me personally and I got into a number of discussions and debates about the book with people. I would ask people if they had read the book, and if they said no, I told them that I didn't think that they should have an opinion on the book until they had read it. It took my opinion of the Columbia faculty down several notches.

While liberalism is still dominant in academia and media, don't we now have a conservative media establishment? What do you think of it? It's possible now to make known books by conservatives without the help of the liberals. In my humble opinion, the Becks, the Hannitys, and the O'Reillys are all a bunch of inflated egos, like balloons at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, bumping into each other. I shouldn't be saying this, but part of what you're thinking as an editor is "How can I make this more interesting to Glenn Beck?" You really don't want to be doing that, but it's like in the solar system, certain planets affect the gravitational fields.
In my own opinion Bellow might have substituted Rush Limbaugh for Glenn Beck and he'd have been more accurate. Beck seems to me to be the most humble guy of all the major talkers on radio or television. He's certainly the one most able to criticize and laugh at himself. It's a big part, I think, of why people like him and why he's so effective.

Limbaugh, Hannity, and O'Reilly do indeed have the most inflated egos among radio/television talkers, at least on the conservative side, but in my opinion only Limbaugh's ego is justified by his ability. O'Reilly too often comes across as arrogant, rude, and pompous, and Hannity often sounds like a narcissistic mediocrity with no particular qualifications, other than good looks, for doing what he's doing - sort of a conservative mirror image of ... well, never mind.

Anyway, Bellow finishes with this:
Many publications in the late 19th and early 20th centuries began by being sensational, as Glenn Beck tends to be. Then, to become more respectable, they became serious. Eventually they became solemn, and then lost the fun of it and became a snooze. That lost them their audience, and the cycle would begin again, with people who were having fun as they published. Having fun in business is important. When you're watching TV, you can tell when the actors are having fun.

When I was young and Saturday Night Live debuted, it was clear that they were having a blast. It's clear that they're having a blast at 30 Rock, at the Daily Show, and at Glenn Beck, whereas at 60 Minutes, I don't think they're having fun. I think part of why they're not having as much fun is that they've realized that they don't have as much clout as they once did. At one time, they sat at the top of the media pyramid, and now that's not the case, and I think it takes away from some of the enjoyment of what they do.
There's something to this. When people are no longer having fun doing their jobs they appear to be just going through the motions, and, as anyone who has ever sat in a classroom or stood at the front of one can tell you, it's hard to keep people interested when they suspect that the speaker himself doesn't really love and enjoy what he's doing.