The hallmark of genius and wisdom within postmodern conservatism is the intellectual subscriber's capacity to recognize, with Nietzsche-like accuracy, the degree of subtlety and depth of power that goes into our clever creations of reality itself. Made in the divine image, ours is the capacity to bring forth into the world things that are either real or aren't -- and we, during our brief time on Earth, are the most basic arbiters of what reality is. God has given us a set of instructions and guides, but the rationality we thought once might settle it all has come up a little short in the face of our bad modernist ability to make things seem, or even be, real and unreal at the same time. That is, we learned how to stipulate both that a thing is and isn't so, and then to use the oscillation between those two stipulations to generate mutually contradictory law-like propositions (if-then statements) from which we proceed to leverage attacks on other realities and phony realities.
I think we've had this tool in our human arsenal for some time, but the history of human psychology is in large the history of becoming conscious of how it works, and then becoming conscious of how we are conscious of it while in the process of making it worse. The consciousness would correlate with modernity (triggered in this respect by Machiavelli) and the meta-consciousness with postmodernity (in that respect by Nietzsche).
The good thing about the postmodern conservative is that he or she recognizes all this and repents of the meta-hijinks. The bad thing about Bill Kristol is that he has recognized all too well -- and not only refuses to repent, but intends to have a little fun in the high-stakes and blood-curdling game of getting Joe Lieberman elected Vice President of the United States. The audacity of his pomo mendaciousness is on full display at the start of his latest Times column.
The anguished cries of Hillary supporters pierced the midday calm here on Saturday, as Barack Obama confirmed that his vice presidential choice was not Clinton, who got about 18 million votes this year running against him, but rather Joe Biden, who gained the support of a few thousand caucusgoers in Iowa before dropping out of the race.
(OK, I didn’t personally hear any anguished cries from my work space near the Pepsi Center. But I’m an empathetic guy — I felt as if I could hear them.)
Har har, right? It's funny because it's Hillary who's the big pomo, even more than Obama, the one who's always been about the politics of meaning and theatrically elevating unreal and empty catharsis into something that feels, but still isn't, real through the vehicle of big-media politics.
Sure, but Kristol is not the man who can make this joke, because the joke is on him, too. In a parody post too falsely satirical to be really a parody, Kristol just penned these lines two days ago at The Weekly Standard Blog ("The Democrats' Glass Ceiling"):
A modest suggestion to my justifiably outraged Democratic friends: Hillary’s name should be placed in nomination not for the presidency (Obama won that more or less fair and square)--but for the vice presidency. It would be an interesting roll call vote.
So the outrage is real, and the anguish is fake? Or is the anguish also real, but since Kristol was too far to hear them, he also really felt them? Or is his power to feel anguish actually unreal, which it must be if the anguish/outrage is real but Kristol is joking?
It's impossible to say, which is just as Kristol seems to want it. Following the pattern I abstracted out above, he (1) stipulates that outrage or anguish among Clinton's supporters over Obama's rejection of Clinton is justified; if it is justified, it is therefore real; (2) stipulates that the politics of feelings practiced by Obama and, even more so, by Clinton is preposterously suitable for mockery, and therefore trades in the unreal; (3) rhetorically treats the unreal (2) as if it were real, ostensibly for the purpose of parodying it, but actually for the purpose of getting as much anti-Democrat leverage out of (2) without having to concede that it, and not (1), is true.
Acrobatics like these are essential to an argument in which Clinton and her supporters are pathetic fools except in relation to Obama and his supporters, who are in some inexplicable sense even more pathetic and foolish; and in which all these Democrats are suddenly simultaneously equally ridiculous and contemptible next to Joe Lieberman, a Democrat who is precisely as liberal, if not more so, than Clinton and Obama. But he is far more full of 'hawkishness', that pomoneocon word for 'life force' or 'precious bodily fluids' that ranks right up there in mystery and bad metaphysics with 'toughness'. I do not know what 'hawkishness' means, other than spoiling for a fight. This from someone who is embarrassingly soft, on paleo terms, anyway, on casual interventions and a moderately large defensive network of projected power around the world.
For Kristol to win the day, he must convince Republicans that Joe Lieberman both is and is not a Republican, or that he is not a Republican yet 'actually' is. Because it's impossible to convince anyone that Joe Lieberman is a Republican, period, unless he switches parties, at which point it will be impossible to convince anyone that he is, full stop, a conservative. In order to do this, Kristol must create an ontological crisis in the Republican identity. He's doing so with a bad postmodern application of what IR theorist scholars call 'representational' or 'rhetorical' force, or what I have called simply 'metaforce'.
IR theorists have so far typically studied representational or rhetorical force as an attack which frames a target's identity in terms that contradict so painfully-yet-believably with the target's social and individual identity that the target, rather than risking the 'death' of their identity, shifts it to conform more closely with the attacker's framed or stipulated identity, seeking (although this is undertheroized) so settle along a point at the Pareto horizon where the pain of further conformance is neither greater nor less than the pain of maintaining the adjusted identity position. At this point, I theorize, a second-wave attack of metaforce, often used to seed the first wave, occurs: the target is therapeutically/rhetorically assured and reassured that the pain of change "IS" not nearly as bad as it "SEEMS". The ontological fantasy -- that is, the unreal post hoc identity position desired by the attacker -- is transformed by metaforce into something which is not, yet is, MORE REAL than the ontological reality -- that is, the real propter hoc identity position maintained by the defender prior to attack.
If you’re conscientiously pro-life, you will have reservations about a pro-abortion-rights V.P. If you’re a proud conservative, Lieberman hasn’t been one. If you’re a loyal Republican, you’d much prefer someone from within the ranks.
But if you’re pro-life, conservative and/or Republican, you certainly don’t want Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid running the country. If a McCain-Lieberman ticket is the best way to thwart that prospect, you could probably learn to live with it — even perhaps to like it.
That's my bold -- a letter-perfect case study of the use of what I have called the logic of therapeutics to apply metaforce in the pursuit of mass identity change as a means toward political power. Lots of people on the academic left do this -- and indeed they are the ones responsible for my direct interest in applying Rieffian social theory to constructivism. But Kristol is by far the prize pig if you want to see my most highfalutin theorization concretized in real-world practice.
A bit late to the game, I know, but a few unsorted thoughts:
1. It's hard to disagree with the CW: this was a good pick, and almost certainly the best one Obama had available to him once Jim Webb took his name out of the running. Biden's tough, and loud, and knows stuff, and he and Obama will be able to play a nice little good cop-bad cop routine with McCain and whatever poor sucker has to share the stage with Talky Joe.
2. Then again, Biden's a thug, and he won't shut up, and he's a know-it-all, and depending on McCain's veep pick the junior circuit debates could end up looking like an LAPD interrogation session gone wrong. He also has a penchant for saying stupidstuff that sometimes comes back to haunt him. Hopefully -- or not, depending -- whoever taught Obama to speechify will be able to put a little polish on ol' Joe, and teach him when to hold his tongue.
3. Now the ball's in J-Mac's court. Where to turn? Perhaps better to opt away from an unpolished noob, though a Palin pick -- which could play up Biden's thuggish tendencies and serve as a reminder of the choice Obama didn't make -- would be intriguing to say the least. (But is she still in the running? Does she have the necessary knowledge and composure? Don't ask me - I'm the guy who didn't know the difference between the real Orson Swindle and the fake one.) In any case, someone smart and quick-thinking enough to resist and dodge, and with enough class and charm to show up Biden's -- ahem -- occasional lack thereof. And if it's Romney ... well, then I really might end up finishing that dissertation.
David Brooks came at Crazy Joe from a slightly different direction than I longhave, but our bottom lines are the same: Joe Biden is the right Vice Presidential pick for Barack Obama. And now that our nation's most esteemed commentators, from Ron Fournier to Ed Morrisey to McCain spokesman Ben Porritt, have begun a manure dump of insult and ridicule calibrated to reveal how the Biden pick reveals Obama's basic frailty and foolishness, the fun may start in earnest.
There are three main things you want out of a Veep.
(1) The ability to appear in public 24 hours a day, uttering incessant and high-profile attacks on the opposition, without overshadowing the Presidential candidate.
(2) The ability to shape the office of the Vice Presidency, post-Cheney, into something more than useless but less than monstrous.
(3) The ability to square dispositionally with the Presidential candidate without disappearing into his aura or echoing his every instinct.
This is why Cheney was an exceptional (1 and 3) but not perfect (2!) veep, whereas Biden is an extraordinary, almost perfect choice. If Ben Porritt thinks he's got Obama behind the 8-Ball with charges like these, McCain had better lock Romney in a refrigerator and throw him into the sea:
No sooner had word spread of his selection than McCain's campaign unleashed its first attack. Spokesman Ben Porritt said in a statement that Biden had "denounced Barack Obama's poor foreign policy judgment and has strongly argued in his own words what Americans are quickly realizing—that Barack Obama is not ready to be president."
Biden and Obama make sense together at the gut level, in a way Bush/Quayle or Gore/Lieberman never did. Biden is old but not too old (whereas Bayh, for example, was too old to be young and too young to be old); and his name looks right on that new run of bumper stickers headed our way. ("Obama/Sebelius? Whut's that, some kinda Arab Ocktypus?") Biden makes a great VP pick for the same reason his Presidential campaigns never soared: he is the best second-rate career politician the Democrats have, and he will never chafe in office with the same celebrity ambitions of a Clinton or a Gore. Indeed, Obama's 'throwback' move executes a conscious break with the Democratic past, a past which has been, in every way but Clinton's weird and almost superficial two terms, a near-total failure. The Fournier/Morrisey line is simply ridiculous:
Obama, who supposedly represents a new brand of politics, has instead hitched his wagon to an old-time pol who has trouble coming up with his own words when he campaigns. That’s desperation, and what’s more, it’s obvious desperation. And in politics, just as in dating, desperation is not an aphrodisiac.
That's Morrisey. Fournier:
In picking Sen. Joe Biden to be his running mate, Barack Obama sought to shore up his weakness — inexperience in office and on foreign policy — rather than underscore his strength as a new-generation candidate defying political conventions.
He picked a 35-year veteran of the Senate — the ultimate insider — rather than a candidate from outside Washington, such as Govs. Tim Kaine of Virginia or Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas; or from outside his party, such as Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska; or from outside the mostly white male club of vice presidential candidates. Hillary Rodham Clinton didn’t even make his short list.
Ah, Hillary -- the ultimate outsider! Chuck Hagel is the whitest man in America. Tim Kaine is the second whitest. Ron Fournier simply does not know what he is talking about, perhaps not even what he is smoking. When you are desperate, you double down on what isn't working; you take your most prominent features and you make a caricature of them. The proof is in Hillary Clinton's pudding -- not to mention Bill Clinton's, George W. Bush's, the Al Gore of 2000's, Bob Dole's, Elizabeth Dole's ("I will use the bully pulpit!!!" Remember that?), and on and on and on. Ed Morrisey has it completely backwards. Obama's desperation pick would have been his very own Geraldine Ferraro, some New Math/Glamor Change candidate as fresh out of the gate as he is. And oh, how they would have laughed. Two unprepared and underqualified bobos for the price of one!
No, Biden is not a sign of desperation but its opposite: calm. Recall that picking Biden is a giant kiss-off to the Democratic party since Clinton -- and a reminder that Biden would have made, by championship long jumps, a better Presidential nominee than a hapless knob like Dukakis or a professional chump like Walter Mondale. These guys are Losers, and Biden has only lost repeatedly at one thing in his life: running for President. Good thing then that this time he is finally being permitted to win at something he can do and do well: run for Vice President. And good thing that Obama recognizes that everything the Democratic Party has grown since Bubba seeded the garden needs to be left to seed, with no mercy and no ceremony, and certainly no press coverage. Biden is at once the pick of a man who recognizes that transformationally changing the Vice Presidency with a message of hope and healing is one hopefully healing transformation too many...and the pick of a man who knows how elevating Biden at this critical point in the history of the Democratic Party really does make possible a healing of the breach between the years, the voters, and the ethos of life before Clintonism and after.
David Brooks, Peter Lawler, and I are all right about Joe Biden, and if you disagree with any of us, you are not.
"Our job in this election is not just 'win,' although I'm a big believer in winning," Obama said during the rally. "I don't intend to lose this election. John McCain doesn't know what he's up against."
"He can talk all he wants about Britney [Spears] and Paris [Hilton], but I don't have time for that [hot] mess," Obama said. -- AP
This is easy. Tim Kaine is a young lightweight. You do not want to share the stage with a paler shade of Obama. You do not want people asking where's the beef. You do not want your own Dan Quayle.
Evan Bayh is an old lightweight. He looks young, but something haunts his resume like the forced part in John Edwards' hair. Evan Bayh is the John Edwards for people who have been disillusioned by John Edwards. Evan Bayh is the Bob Taft of the Democratic Party. His name is too hard to spell and pronounce, and looks like it was selected by lottery or committee at the Indianapolis Country Club Charity Invitational.
Joe Biden is a friggin' warhorse. He can crush wimps and poseurs with his two pinky fingers, and his cufflinks alone are more important than Pervez Musharraf. He is the Pat Buchanan of his generation, except without the Hitler book, or like Gary Hart without Perot Face and the crummy background. And there is nothing more post-racial, or full of hope and healing, than the eternal, prime-time redemption of this.
A few years ago I was doing some work on the Progressive Era and needed to read a biography of Teddy Roosevelt. I bought Edmund Morris' Theodore Rex and Kathleen Dalton's Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life, and for some reason never got around to the latter, even though I've subsequently learned that Dalton's book is considered the best one-volume biography of Roosevelt and the one taken most seriously by academic historians.
So last night I decided to pull Dalton's biography off the shelf on which it had sat collecting dust and start reading it, chiefly because of John McCain's professed idolization of TR. Now, my line of thought went, would be a good time to brush up on what I know about Roosevelt as various references may be made to him as the campaign proceeds. And it might provide me with blog fodder.
The first thing I noticed (in Dalton's introduction) was how many of Roosevelt's critics were sure he was a crazed warmonger. Mark Twain said of TR that he was "clearly insane...and insanest upon war and its supreme glories." William Jennings Bryan said TR was "a man who loves war." Historian Thomas Bailey believed Roosevelt was possessed of an "almost pathological bellicosity." Of course, we know TR, whatever his enthusiasms and personal escapades, behaved rather honorably as president and won the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering a peace between Russia and Japan. His critics seriously misjudged him. Indeed, from what I can tell so far, Dalton's biography admirably corrects both the caricatures of TR purveyed by his detractors as, in her felicitous phrase summarizing the slurs, an "unstable jingo" and the Roosevelt hero worship of his admirers.
Funny, then, that just today Andrew Sullivan writes, "McCain's trigger-happy temperament, shallow understanding of the
complexities and passion for military force as the answer to everything
is the bigger risk. He is a recipe for more, wider and far more destructive warfare." Well, it seems like McCain has more in common with TR than we might have suspected, including reckless accusations of warmongering being hurled at him. McCain certainly is a fallible candidate, and I do not mind robust criticisms of his actual policy proposals. But I'd like to see Sullivan defend the point that McCain has a "passion for military force as the answer to everything..." Everything? Really?
is much stronger. Americans love their celebrities...but we hate celebrities who put our money where their mouths are. This has always been a most effective slam against wealthy liberals -- in absolute terms, they redistribute away more of their wealth, and more of their guilt, too; but in relative terms, nonwealthy nonliberals bear the greater burden. If Obama cannot shake the impression that he is an even more golden version of post-Presidential golden boy Bill Clinton -- riding around the world in luxury telling the masses that he feels their pain and raises it his hope, while what he really means is raising money from You and Me -- he's going to be in for a tough go.
But if he keeps taxes low, McCain is toothless again.
And this can only be crap news for McCain, as well as a sour personal disappointment.
Ambinder, trying to carve an exit door into the hazy daze of summer:
There are two main criticisms of the McCain campaign right now. They both follow the premise that McCain will win only if uses the next 98 days to espouse a unified, coherent message that simultaneously lifts McCain above Obama while highlighting Obama's profound inexperience. One line holds that McCain is too reactive and angry, that his campaign's contempt for Obama manfiests itself too obviously, and that McCain seems small. The other is that there is nothing in McCain's portfolio right now that reminds voters of the guy who capitivated millions in 2000. [...] Put Obama aside. Why is McCain running? What are his first principles? And why can't he articulate them?
As smart as this is, there's a bit of slippage. Or there are a few assumptions at work that may be at cross-purposes. Must a unified message be coherent? (No.) Must a coherent message be unified? (Probably.) What is a unified message? Is a unified message different than a comprehensive one? How is a unified and coherent/comprehensive (UCC) message different from a comprehensive political doctrine, i.e. an ideology? Can McCain issue a UCC Republican message, or a conservative one? Should he do both? Can he?
And how do all these questions relate to the mystical unicorn of First Principles? How can McCain himself have first principles? Shouldn't he be articulating principles that operate at a superpolonian level? More than simply to his own self being true? Patton was awesome, but he was leading men in the field, not leading a party, a movement, and a country.
Aha: cognitive dissonance, stacking up. This is part of why McCain can't articulate whatever it is we think he should be articulating, and why Obama is doing a kind of multilayered shuffle that oscillates between brow-furrowed focus and the politics of yearning. McCain's problem is both more obvious and more acute, but his ability to fudge through is much greater than Obama's -- both because of his own personal style and history and the persistent reticence of Average Americans to flock toward Obama.
Which suggests to me at least that McCain may do himself far more harm than good -- and ditto his campaign -- getting hung up on the chimerical need for some Grand Vision. McCain is no Grand Vizier. This isn't Bush Sr.'s problem -- McCain gets the vision thing okay. He's just stymied by the apparent need -- exacerbated by Obama, yes, but by trouble on the right all the more -- to trot out and hammer home some kind of comprehensive neo-Republican program of consistent, coherent, interlocking policy proposals all traced by thick, bold pedigree lines back to the all-unifying nut of a comprehensive doctrine manifested itself by First Principles.
Ain't gonna happen, folks. Asking this of any Republican this year would be unfair and cruel, and asking it now of McCain is tantamount to shaking a baby. It's not even clear on a general level that the Republican Party needs the kind of sweeping/UCC message that seems to be crippling McCain, or that having one wouldn't actually work affirmative harm to the McCain campaign, the generic Republican Congressional brand, or the GOP period. For now, anyway... and at this rate, now could last a very long time.