Wednesday, July 11, 2007


"Time" For Annoying Columnists

For those who actually still pay attention to newsmagazines -- Time manages to run two irritating essays in its current issue.

1) Bill Kristol dismisses the American public's current
state of mind as "moody" and "adolescent" and urges everyone to be happy about current conditions. He likens it to a similar depressed mood during George H.W. Bush's re-election campaign.

Well, he might have had a point about 1992 (the recession actually ended nearly a year before election day). But, today? Oh, right. The country is locked in a war that seems in no quick end of resolution; was started on, shall we say, "questionable" (to use as neutral a word as possible) intelligence -- but was urged on by Kristol for six years before it actually began; and has caused the U.S. to be universally derided in ways it never has before. Oh, and the country is being led by a president who seems unable to articulate a way going forward.

But, the public is "moody" and "adolescent" because it is actually noticing these things? (As Andrew
notes, this must be Kristol's week for putting everybody on the couch: Wanting to withdraw from Iraq now is "insane" and "irrational".)

Physician, heal thyself.

2) Michael Kinsley, almost as contemptuous in chastising the public -- primarily Democrats, this time -- for what he calls the "pat-on-the-back" factor of supporting a female or black candidates as being dominant
in the presidential race.

Why that assumption of how voters assess their electoral options? Since when has it been about the quote-objective best-unquote candidate? And why is it deemed a "problem" just because the candidates under discussion this time happen to be black and female?

How about George W. Bush as a "legacy" president? Was he not elected partly because he was the son of a former president? His promise to "restore honor and dignity to the White House" was certainly an implicit criticism of Bill Clinton's behavior, but it carried with it a hint of a "restoration" of the values embodied by the first Bush White House.

Meanwhile, if it's only "pat on the back" to which voters are being attracted, why is the Latino candidate -- who this non-Democrat actually likes best among the Democrats -- back in the pack with "generic" white guys?

Is it not possible that Clinton and Obama are the two "best" candidates in the Democratic field -- judged by the always shifting standards of pure politics? Maybe Clinton and Obama have managed to make themselves stand out in a crowded field based on more than just their gender and race. Have those attributes helped them in their primary race? Absolutely (Obama more than Hillary). But, Obama has still managed to thrive even with a rather odd name. Consider how much better he might be doing if his name was, oh, "Harold Ford" (without the family baggage).

But Obama is a better-than-average rhetoritician. As Andrew Ferguson has noted, he's a better than average politician-as-writer too. He's also not the first politician to become considered presidential material from one major speech: Consider Mario Cuomo (following the 1984 Democratic convention -- though he eventually never jumped in) or Ronald Reagan (during the Goldwater campaign).

Hillary got to where she is by being married to Bill Clinton. But, despite all of her baggage, she's managed to convince a lot of Democrats that she is the most experienced individual in the race.

The point is that there are innumerable factors that voters look at in assessing a candidate, a combination of personality, intelligence, experience, charisma and certain "x" elements. Of course, it's much easier for Kinsley to just chalk up Obama and Clinton's success to them being the black guy and the woman.

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