The New World

Shortly after Barack Obama won the election, rather handily, Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, the editor of MetropoleParis, left a comment at this site:

 

What are we going to do now that we’ve won? Who are we going to pick on? Maybe it will be Chinese – the times just got less “interesting.” Peace and goodwill to all. How boring!

 

Meanwhile, President Obama plastered on all front pages over here. The President! Sighs of relief all round. Congratulations America.

 

Yes – thank you. Sometimes things work out. But what are we going to do now?

 

The last eight years have been a long, strange ride, and as I have told Ric, for me that ride started in Paris – alone in the dead hours just before dawn on December 14, 2000, watching CNN International in my room at the hotel where Camus wrote L’Étranger (the Stranger), watching Al Gore concede to George Bush. Outside the window you could watch the old church across the street slowly emerge from the darkness – the tomb of René Descartes is in one of the church’s side chapels. The thinker was really dead now.

 

But dawn came along – a cold, bitter day at hand. It was off to the quite ordinary nearby Café Bonaparte to plow through the three morning papers – Figaro (right), Libération (left), and Le Monde (middle), smoking my pipe and doing too much coffee, and looking up now and then to see that the rest of the day would be heavy rain.

 

But even if it takes eight years, things change. See the front page of Libération this time around. Yes, the words are in English, not French. The French, and the rest of the world, seem to think we’ve come to our senses, and welcome us back. Descartes is resting easy now.

 

But maybe Ric is right. We’re in for a boring time – there’s no one to pick on at the moment, but for the Chinese, perhaps. Perhaps we’ll all obsess about something else – economic issues and the coming Great Depression 2.0 if that’s what it is. But it’s not for nothing they call economics the Dismal Science. Do you want do discuss deleveraging assets that were not really assets at all, and who the hell thought wheeling and dealing in credit default swaps – hypothetical insurance against real losses in hypothetical assets – was a good idea? Really, do you? You will of course obsess about such things, and much more, as millions more of us lose our jobs, and our homes, and as things shut down. When GM and maybe Ford go into bankruptcy there’ll be lots to obsess about – but not now. It’s too depressing. It can wait.

 

One of Andrew Sullivan’s readers is just relived by the promise of not having to be obsessed with politics:

 

It is unnatural, it seems to me, to have to care passionately every day about the workings of the central government: only in totalitarian societies, where a knock on the door may come at any time, or in authoritarian ones, where each sneeze of the King has to be analyzed for its potential consequence, does there exist a need to keep the government of the country forever in the forefront of your mind.

 

One of the blessings of liberal democracy, in theory, is that we delegate the common fate to the most able, intelligent and motivated people among us, and, though we keep an eye on them and make them subject to recall and revision, we can cede our trust to them to do a more or less decent and able job most of the time. We trust them.

 

For the first time in years, we can say now: the government is in the hands of skillful people with a sense of the real; we can live the lives in front of our eyes without worrying that some horror is happening behind our backs. It would be a mistake, I think, for us all to carry on past the election and into the New Year with the same level of obsessive attention that this year, and the years before, has forced on us. Good government gives us back our lives.

 

Sullivan adds this:

 

Another word for this is freedom. And as the constitution is quietly restored, and torture finally relinquished, it grows.

 

But such freedom can be boring. In New York Magazine, Dan Kois says Jon Stewart’s Daily Show may not survive:

 

…in one eventful day, the prototypical Daily Show viewer has been transformed: Once disaffected and angry at Washington’s power structure, he’s now delighted and hopeful about the new president and all that he symbolizes. And if you’re an Obama fan – eager to give Barack the benefit of the doubt, and proud and excited about the change you’ve helped bring the nation – do you really want Jon Stewart sitting on the sidelines, taking potshots at your hero?

 

Beyond the problem of audiences souring on Obama jokes is the question of whether Jon Stewart even wants to make Obama jokes.

 

Of course Stewart, and that Colbert fellow, will figure out how to play this now. They can still pick on the news folks and the pundits, and foolish politicians will not suddenly disappear from the face of the earth. You know the suddenly powerless Republicans will be foaming at the mouth, in outrage at this or that. And we’ll always have P. J. O’Rourke saying things like this:

 

Sensible adults are conservative in most aspects of their private lives. If this weren’t so, imagine driving on I-95: The majority of drivers are drunk, stoned, making out, or watching TV, while the rest are trying to calculate the size of their carbon footprints on the backs of Whole Foods receipts while negotiating lane changes.

 

People are even more conservative if they have children. Nobody with kids is a liberal, except maybe one pothead in Marin County. Everybody wants his or her children to respect freedom, exercise responsibility, be honest, get educated, have opportunities, and own a bunch of guns. (The last is optional and includes, but is not limited to, me, my friends in New Hampshire, and Sarah Palin.)

 

Such folks are not going away, and they will do what they can to claim relevance, and succeed at that now and then. Sarah Palin, a joke to some and the woman most Republicans want to run as the party’s candidate in 2012, certainly isn’t going away.

 

As for Stewart and Colbert, Joe Carter offers an extraordinarily bad suggestion:

 

…why doesn’t Comedy Central replace them with a hip, young right-leaning audience who would love to spend the next few years laughing at the foibles of the Obama administration? They could turn the reins over to Dennis Miller and let the current host go back to The Jon Stewart Show.

 

Okay, those of us born and raised in Pittsburgh should stick up for others who were also born and raised there – but there are limits. Dennis Miller is a snide, intensely mean little prick – arrogant without being insightful, Don Rickles without the charm, and unlike Stewart and Colbert, without a charitable bone in his body. They tossed Miller off Monday Night Football years ago – his color commentary was both nasty and incomprehensible. He has his four minutes on Bill O’Reilly’s show two or three times a week – let him stay there. That’s a good fit. And as for a hip, young right-leaning audience – what? Young right-leaning folks hate hip – that’s the whole point.

 

But maybe Stewart and Colbert have run their course. To think about that in a conceptual way, see Patrick Lee Miller:

 

Try to imagine Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dancing to a song of infinite length. Their technique would remain as dazzling as the talent of the resurrected Lou Gehrig, and it is just as tempting to fantasize about them dancing forever as it is to imagine him playing his last game one more inning, and then another… but what was most valuable in their art, as in his play, would then be lost. Without a sense of the end, and thus of the shape of their movements, the beauty and drama they achieved in finite time would become the infinite and thus meaningless repetition of technique; or, if eternity be imagined as all moments gathered together, this finite beauty and drama would become the absurdity of every move executed at once, and so on for every activity we know. Life itself, as the activity of activities, requires the finitude imposed on it ultimately by death to preserve its meaning.

 

Whoa – that’s way too deep. Let’s just say that all things end, and should end.

 

Of course, key Republicans disagree:

 

The Republican brand is still alive and well, Rep. Mike Pence said on Fox News Sunday.

 

When asked by Chris Wallace what “conservative solutions” the GOP would bring to their current minority-party status, Pence said social issues like “the sanctity of marriage” will remain the backbone of the Republican platform.

 

“You build those conservative solutions, Chris, on the same time-honored principles of limited government, a belief in free markets, in the sanctity of life, the sanctity of marriage,” Pence said.

 

Pence is the number three Republican in the House – the idea is that all they need to do is keep hammering away at the idea that free markets work, they do, they really do. And life is scared, and gays should not be allowed to marry each other. If you hammer away at that, all will be well. Fred and Ginger dance on, and that Irving Berlin tune will never end. Why does that seem like a nightmare or something from a surrealist horror film?

 

What are they thinking? Something is amiss. But maybe they’re not thinking. In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof here says that Obama’s election, among other things, may just mark the end of “the anti-intellectualism that has long been a strain in American life.” Obama offers a way out of the rote, reflexive ideological claptrap – the music stops and the dancers can sit down and catch their breath.

 

Of course, in August, Paul Krugman had that piece identifying the Republican Party as “the party of stupid” – and he was clear enough:

 

What I mean … is that know-nothingism – the insistence that there are simple, brute-force, instant-gratification answers to every problem, and that there’s something effeminate and weak about anyone who suggests otherwise – has become the core of Republican policy and political strategy. The party’s de facto slogan has become: “Real men don’t think things through.”

 

Kevin Drum brings that back to Sarah Palin here:

 

Palin’s problem isn’t that she’s a social conservative, or that she’s an airhead, or that she’s inexperienced. Her big problem is that prior to August 29, 2008, she quite plainly didn’t have the slightest interest in national or international policy issues of any sort. And no matter how much prepping she gets over the next four years, no matter how much better she gets at dealing with the press, no matter how much she does or doesn’t smooth off the rough edges of her social views, conservatives have to ask themselves this question: do we really want our standard bearer to be someone who didn’t become seriously interested in either domestic policy or foreign affairs until the age of 44? What does that say about how seriously we ourselves take this stuff?

 

In the end, I don’t imagine many of them will ask that question. But they should.

 

And they won’t ask that question, even if things have changed, as Frank Rich explains;

 

For eight years, we’ve been told by those in power that we are small, bigoted and stupid – easily divided and easily frightened. This was the toxic catechism of Bush-Rove politics. It was the soiled banner picked up by the sad McCain campaign, and it was often abetted by an amen corner in the dominant news media. We heard this slander of America so often that we all started to believe it, liberals most certainly included. If I had a dollar for every Democrat who told me there was no way that Americans would ever turn against the war in Iraq or definitively reject Bush governance or elect a black man named Barack Hussein Obama president, I could almost start to recoup my 401(k). Few wanted to take yes for an answer.

 

So let’s be blunt. Almost every assumption about America that was taken as a given by our political culture on Tuesday morning was proved wrong by Tuesday night.

 

There’s a great deal of detail, but this is the gist of it:

 

Bill Ayers proved a lame villain, scaring no one. Americans do not want to revisit Vietnam (including in Iraq). For all the attention paid by the news media and McCain-Palin to rancorous remembrances of things past, I sometimes wondered whether most Americans thought the Weather Underground was a reunion band and the Hanoi Hilton a chain hotel. Socialism, the evil empire and even Ronald Reagan may be half-forgotten blurs too.

 

If there were any doubts the 1960s are over, they were put to rest Tuesday night when our new first family won the hearts of the world as it emerged on that vast blue stage to join the celebration in Chicago’s Grant Park. The bloody skirmishes that took place on that same spot during the Democratic convention 40 years ago – young vs. old, students vs. cops, white vs. black – seemed as remote as the moon. This is another America – hardly a perfect or prejudice-free America, but a union that can change and does, aspiring to perfection even if it can never achieve it.

 

You just have to get with the times.

 

Of course it is not only the Republicans who have a problem with that. In the Los Angeles Times see Greg Braxton with Black Comedians in the Age of Obama:

 

Does the election sweep aside discrimination as a staple target of black comedy? Not likely, but topical humor won’t be the same.

 

Black comedians have traditionally made fun of a system they feel has shut them out and treated them unfairly, said Darnell Hunt, head of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA.

 

“It’s been a way to relieve the pain, the tension,” said Hunt. “Now, there’s this self-made black man, and they don’t want to undermine the possibility of hope. The Obamas represent a transcendence that brings everyone into the tent, and comics are now grappling with that. They want to treat it gingerly.”

 

Many black comics, whose humor has sprung from the pain or anger of dealing with a discriminatory society, are now wrestling with hope, cautious optimism and celebration.

 

Times are tough all over:

 

One comic, who goes by one name, Godfrey, teased the predominantly white Laugh Factory audience: “I bet you were afraid we were going to line [you] up against the wall.”

 

And Melanie Camacho said, “This is the first time in history that a black man beat a white man and didn’t get locked up for it.”

 

Everything has changed.

 

And some things haven’t. Also in the Los Angeles Times see James Rainey:

 

You have to give Rush Limbaugh a perverse kind of credit. At least when he is demonizing Barack Obama, fabricating Obama policies, blaming Obama for single-handedly causing the recession and the stock market crash, he doesn’t pretend to be fair. Opening his first post-election rant against the president-elect, Limbaugh launched in with a certain relish. “The game,” he told his radio listeners, “has begun.”

 

And so it has:

 

“The Obama recession is in full swing, ladies and gentlemen,” Limbaugh told his radio audience of 15 million to 20 million on Thursday. “Stocks are dying, which is a precursor of things to come. This is an Obama recession. Might turn into a depression.”

 

Apparently the tanking of the real estate market, record losses in the auto industry, and massive failures in the banking and investment industry have very little to do with our problems. The economic system is collapsing, Rush wants us to know, because it anticipates the tax increases Obama has pledged on capital gains and for the highest income earners.

 

But maybe that shouldn’t be so surprising, because radio’s Biggest Big Man also assures us that the Democrat welcomes “economic chaos” because it gives him “greater opportunity for expanded government.” In a time when the nation calls out for cool leadership and rational discussion, Limbaugh stirs the caldron, a tendency he proved in a particularly grotesque way last week when he accused Obama’s party of plotting a government takeover of 401(k) retirement plans.

 

“They’re going to take your 401(k), put it in the Social Security trust fund, whatever the hell that is,” Limbaugh woofed. “Trust fund, my rear end.”

 

A slight problem with Limbaugh’s report: Obama and the Democrats have proposed no such thing.

 

Yeah – as if that matters. But there is this:

 

Perhaps Hannity, Limbaugh and the rest of those intent on poisoning the soil before bipartisanship can take root might recall words of wisdom from Brit Hume, a veteran newsman who is close to leaving the Fox anchor desk for semi-retirement.

 

The problem with the accusations of Obama being “dangerous” and “radical,” Hume said on election night, “was that it just didn’t fit with the man you saw before your eyes.”

 

Oh yeah, reality, that stuff.

 

The world has indeed changed – or it hasn’t. You know what the French say – the more things change, the more they remain the same. That would be Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (1908–1990) – Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (from Les Guêpes). But everyone is saying that now.

 

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Anti-Intellectualism, Changing the Subject, Colbert, Conservative Anti-Intellectualism, Dennis Miller, Financial Meltdown, Frank Rich, GOP In Tatters, History Being Made, Jon Stewart, MetropoleParis, New Political World, Obama, Obama Wins!, Palin Unqualified, Paris, Pittsburgh, Republicans in the Wilderness, Ric Erickson, The French, The more things change.... Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The New World

  1. Rick (from Atlanta) says:

    From James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times:

    “‘The Obama recession is in full swing, ladies and gentlemen,’ Limbaugh told his radio audience of 15 million to 20 million on Thursday. ‘Stocks are dying, which is a precursor of things to come. This is an Obama recession. Might turn into a depression.’ … The economic system is collapsing, Rush wants us to know, because it anticipates the tax increases Obama has pledged on capital gains and for the highest income earners.”

    Okay, let’s take a look at this.

    Conservative radio talkers have been suggesting for eight years (I know Neal Boortz has, and I bet Limbaugh has also pushed it, although I don’t really know, since I don’t ever hear him anymore) that, despite any appearances of Clinton-era prosperity to the contrary, George W. Bush inherited Bill Clinton’s rotten economy.

    The idea, at least according to Boortz as recently as this past week, is that the economy, and specifically the budget surplus, would have been much better than it appeared, were it not masked by the phony prosperity of the dot-com boom, and, the argument then continues, the mess we’re going through right now is the delayed result of bad policies of the Democrats in pre-Bush days.

    I personally used to argue, tongue in cheek, that the market headed for the door at the end of Clinton’s second term because it was anticipating the election of Bush — or maybe any other Republican, since markets realize that our economy historically does better when a Democrat is in the White House.

    But that was just me and one of my lame attempts at humor. Except that now, Limbaugh seems to be trying that same trick in reverse, although he doesn’t seem to be kidding!

    So can both of their arguments be right? That is, could the economy we have today be the joint result of (a) policies of the Democrats, rather than the markets anticipating Bush, and (b) the markets anticipating Obama, rather than any policies of the Republicans?

    (My answer? Yeah, sure, you bet!)

    This recent election saw lots of conservatives with a political agenda attempting to over-emphasize — at least in my opinion — the role Fannie and Freddie played in creating the mess we’re in, but also some who suggested — I’d say, falsely — that “Community Reinvestment Act” loans (C.R.A. loans are government-backed guarantees that helped qualified poor people get home loans they might not otherwise have gotten; an attempt to counter rampant “red-lining”) are at the base of all our troubles.

    In truth, preliminary studies seem to show that C.R.A. loans, being more tightly regulated than most, had a lower than average default rate.

    Now, it may be my own politics driving me to predict this, but I ‘d argue the Bush tax cuts for the rich will someday be found to have had much to do with all of this.

    The argument for those cuts was based on “trickle-down” supply-side theories — that if, through tax cuts, you can get more money into the hands of rich people, they will use that money to build factories and hire middle-class workers to make things to sell to their fellow middle-classers. The problem with that idea, it seems to me, is that no smart rich person would spend a dime building a factory to manufacture something to sell to someone who doesn’t have any money to spend.

    Which is to say, they didn’t do what folks thought they would do, which is why, if tax cuts for rich people did improve the economy, as Bush claimed, the economy only improved for rich people.

    So if they didn’t create factories, what did those rich people do with all that tax-break money? I’m guessing they did the same thing they do with almost all their money (including “incentive package” money) — they invested it!

    And what did they invest in? Any damn thing they could find! After all, you’ve got to keep all that money working for you somehow, don’t you?

    Of course, with so much money chasing so few investment “products,” Wall Street ran out of “products” and had to create new ones, out of thin air — including some that were given funny names like “credit default swaps” to disguise the fact that they were really represented nothing but … well, thin air.

    These thin-air things were very confusing and hard to explain, neatly disguising the fact that all that money being made was, in the words of the song, “money for nothing.”

    Couple that with finding new ways to “package” mortgages into securities, some of which might have been considered a bit risky if it weren’t for the fact that real estate prices never seem to go down, they only go up — and then that, all of a sudden, they started to go down, and …

    Pop!

    But anyway, let’s get back to Rush Limbaugh.

    Remember the day after the Democratic sweep in 2006, when Limbaugh famously said on-air how “liberated” he felt that it was all over, since he was “no longer going to have to carry the water for people who I don’t think deserve having their water carried”?

    I always wondered what would become of that, but now we know. Rather than carrying other people’s water, he now seems to be making his own.

    (If you catch my meaning.)

    Rick

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