Yes, I watched it. I came away impressed with both candidates, and, at least for tonight, have a vague feeling that I could live with either man as president. This is the anti-Bush/Kerry election -- instead of thinking both men to be unimpressive dolts, I have a minimal respect for each of them. (I write this having been disappointed with the campaign thus far.)
Andrew calls it a draw. Which is fair enough, but for me McCain exceeded expectations. He was sharper than I anticipated and did well in ways I didn't expect -- his answer on education, for instance, was quite good. Its really worthing pointing out, again, how non-insane the man is. Its interesting that for his answer on how he has parted ways with his own party, McCain noted his vote against sending troops to Beirut in the early 1980s, going against Reagan and many Republicans. Out of all the things McCain could have said -- and however horrible some might be, like campaign finance "reform" -- this seemed to me to send a distinct signal: I've been to war, I even went against the great Reagan when it came to putting our men and women in harm's way, and I'm not one to take this responsibility lightly. His answer about the situation with Georgia and Russia was mediocre, but not terribly irresponsible. A bit moralizing, but it seemed to me he went out of his way not to mention anything about a military response of any kind.
I cringed when McCain said he wanted to "defeat" evil, but its worth noting he immediately talked about hunting down bin Laden and winning the War on Terror. I think both formulations are wrong in their own way (I don't much care about bin Laden, and I think the phrase "War on Terror" is stupid), but he wasn't literally talking about the removal of evil from the world in a metaphysical sense. In fact, he was responding to Rick Warren's formulation of picking between "ignoring, negotiating with, containing, or defeating" evil -- I would have chosen "contain," but isn't nuance lost in most multiple choice settings?
Its also should be mentioned that McCain was well coached on how to talk to evangelicals. Its not that he never comes across as a bit stiff and uncomfortable discussing his faith -- he does, and I actually like that -- but his discussion of homeschooling when asked about education, as well as the story of he and his wife adopting a daughter, were home runs. I know some people are tired of the same old McCain anecdotes and jokes -- but I'm sure most of them follow politics for a living. If my parents were watching this tonight, they wouldn't think them tired or recycled. He'll have to be careful as the campaign moves forward, especially in the debates, but for now he's fine.
Lastly, I'm more than a little troubled that this event was held at a church and featured a conversation with "Pastor Rick." But Warren's main theme was civility, and the event also was a symbol of the changing nature of evangelicalism -- that, in fact, enough evangelical votes are undecided that they can be wooed, that a conversation even needs to be had. The more secular among us will be very disturbed by what happened tonight; but I also think we can view it as an important moment in the political maturity of evangelicals. The tone was relatively high-minded, the questions fairly serious, and real respect was shown to both candidates by the audience. If we're going to mix religion and politics, we could find worse ways of mixing them.
UPDATE: I meant to mention, too, that McCain's answer about the failure of his first marriage, when asked about his personal mistakes, was the right one.
Everyone should read Jim Ceaser's takedown of Thomas Frank's latest shrill missive about conservative perfidy. As always, Ceaser's a delight to read -- and his tone of derision is spot on. One good turn deserves another.
This paragraph in particular caught my attention:
The conservative movement in the past 30 years has defended ideas that
almost all other nations in the West are abandoning. Conservatives have
stood up for the concept of the nation itself in an age when more and
more are sliding vaguely into notions of "global" citizenship; they
have stressed the importance of Biblical religion as a background to
our culture when other nations have lauded pure secularism; and they
have reminded Americans of the truth of natural right positions at a
time when Western intellectuals celebrate relativism.
I say, two out of three isn't bad. Is there a middle ground between relativism and (the Straussian version of) natural right? I think so -- and believe that perhaps the most vital task for conservatives is to cultivate a public philosophy based on this third way. Call it, with Andrew Sullivan, a conservatism of doubt. Or an enlightened skepticism. Or the pursuit of intimations. Or, best of all, with St. Paul, that we see through a glass darkly -- and with R. Niebuhr, that what we call a "natural law" typically is just our rationalization and codification of the prejudices of an age.
UPDATE: Or call it postmodern conservatism.
UPDATE 2: I really didn't mean to place Sullivan in the company of St. Paul and Reinie. But you get the point.
Sometime late last night, stale coffee in one hand and Grand New Party in the other, I finished Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam's new book. What a marvel! Really -- this in many ways was the book I've been waiting for, a book that somehow combines respect, and concern for, the working class while never really slipping towards technocratic condescension. It contained a message of empowerment, not handouts, and thereby rightfully can be called conservative -- it seeks to perpetuate admirable elements of the American way of life, from the possibility of upward mobility to a kind of basic independence and therefore dignity for the common man.
The most refreshing part of the book was its careful account of the rise of modern conservatism and the way populist appeals figured into that rise. Put differently, Ross and Reihan's ability to see the complexity of various aspects of social conservatism was very insightful. Their understanding of the interplay between culture, politics, and economics was, in its basic contours, exactly right. And so, for them, concerns over crime rates, or illegitimacy, or marriage are not just code words for racism or religious intolerance, but indicators of the real instabilities and dangers that make working class life fraught with difficulties, and that ultimately have real economic consequences. It's not that some appeals to these issues aren't the product of intolerance; it's that seeing them merely as symbolic wedge issues that dupe workers into voting against their economic interests misses a great deal of what's going on. It's part of working class economic interests to have strong families, and low crime rates, and more. These things make economic success possible in the first place, or at least greatly contribute to it.
The authors never come out and say this explicitly (and perhaps this is an unwarranted extrapolation on my part), but to me the book really showed the fundamental weakness of a kind of purist libertarianism, especially when it comes to economics and social policy. It's not just that Ross and Reihan disagree with the libertarian Right (and for that matter, libertarian Left) -- that much is obvious. But the whole thrust of their argument points to how laughable some of the assumptions of libertarianism are. Grand New Party really shows just how fragile human life is, how necessary social stability is to our flourishing, and how the maintenance of this stability actually takes policies aimed at doing just that. In a sense, we are not born free and equal -- we are born utterly dependent on other people, and our lives are determined to a great degree by the circumstances into which we are born. A philosophy based on our fundamental autonomy, or even a narrow understanding of individualism, is deeply at odds with lived experience. To simply cry "freedom" at every turn can only seem like a real answer to our problems to the most privileged, those living in DC or New York or LA who simply are too lacking in self-awareness to realize that their success, in a number of ways, has very little to do with their own efforts. And unlike liberals, a libertarian feels no real sense of obligation, or better yet humility, when confronted with this fact. A libertarian takes their contingent circumstances -- their good fortune, their intelligence, and more -- and spins it into A General Theory of Man, Society, and Politics; they forge a policy agenda premised on the universality of what really is their winning of the demographic lottery. There can, in reality, be no "neutral" state, no ideal type of Oakeshottian civil association (as attractive as such an ideal may be in theory); as we actually experience the world, our economic and social policies require us to actually take sides and acknowledge that particular ways of life, particular ways of living together, are more conducive to prosperity, to social mobility, to a minimal type of decent life for most people. The great flaw of libertarianism is what you might call its anthropological naivety, the notion that people are fundamentally good, and if government just gets out of the way flourishing will result. The genius of Grand New Party, in part, is to realize this isn't so.
I could say a great deal more, and perhaps will, but for now I just want to commend the book to you as forcefully as I can. It is deeply humane without being sentimental, admirably attuned to the needs of the working class, and, again, authentically conservative in its aspirations. For all of us dreadfully tired of the same thoughtless claims that all conservatives need to do is double down and recall the Reagan orthodoxies, Grand New Party shows a way forward.
The European Union took the lead in diplomacy, with results approaching Neville Chamberlain’s moment in the spotlight at Munich: a ceasefire that failed to mention Georgia’s territorial integrity, and that all but gave Russia permission to continue its military operations as a “peacekeeping” force anywhere in Georgia. More troubling, over the long term, was that the EU saw its task as being mediator – its favourite role in the world – between Georgia and Russia, rather than an advocate for the victim of aggression.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. John Bolton.
No surprise there. What is a surprise, or at least beggars the imagination, is that no one in the anti-Russia lobby seems to care (though I am sure they secretly understand) that the status of the Sudetenland and the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia bore absolutely no resemblance that would merit a comparison of this long week's events to Munich.
Imagine that the independence of Czechoslovakia from Austria had been accompanied by brutal wars of secession along the Sudeten fringe which resulted in military and political autonomy -- sovereignty in all but name -- for the Germanic Sudetens, who then received German passports and one day received a snap Czech invasion for their trouble more than a decade after wresting away their autonomy. Then imagine that Munich happened. Different story, eh, Mr. Bolton? But Mr. Bolton does not want reckonings like these to Obscure Moral Clarity. That would be cowardly.
But wait. There's more. As it happens, the Germans who wound up under Czech domination in the wake of the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire actually did try to join Germany in 1918. And they actually were denied this opportunity, and here, as has so often been the case in Europe, fundamental instability was hardwired into the 'territorial integrity' of the sovereign state system for no better reason than to punish the Germans. Once again, in Europe, the efforts of ethnonationalists and counterethnonationalists to climb the greasy pole of advantage and protection wound up proving viciously counterproductive and inimical to any sane concept of sovereignty and independence.
Throwing the Czechs to Hitler was obviously bad; pretending that Europe has not been perpetually hamstrung by deep structural problems within almost every nation-state on the Continent is bad in a different but no lighter way, and the bottom line narrative in European history is that often only wars of ethnic sorting and suppression have been able, until very recently, and perhaps even not then, to close the chapter on unsolved questions of sovereign borders.
Yes, for a time some multiethnic nations have been able to live quite at internal peace, and often it's bad leaders who engineer wars that are ginned up to seem like the products of 'age-old hatreds.' But there is simply no denying that the most likely claim Georgia has to being a part of Europe is in fact its preponderance of intractable ethnonationalist fracture lines. This sort of recognition militates conclusively against the kind of rhetoric of denial practiced above by Bolton and all over the mainstream press by other charter members of the anti-Russia lobby, hung up as they are on a series of convenient phantoms -- the 'integrity' of a Georgian state that never corresponded to reality; the 'innocence' of a Georgian regime that flagrantly flouted the plainest warnings our own government deigned to provide. Enough!
Has porn gone mainstream? Maybe, but I'm (a) not sure exactly what that means and (b) isn't the real concern not that it's gone mainstream but that it's become the go-to casual frame of reference for the tastemaking class? And I mean that the way Ross and Reihan mean the upper class -- as it is with the mass upper class, so it is with the mass tastemaking class. In a referential world, why not sex as the ultimate referent?
Or so one asks if one is in the business of making public pictures. The charming image to the left raises a number of interesting questions -- why bother with the dude among them -- but the main one flutters around a question raised most recently by Adbusters: how long can Fiona Apple's "Criminal" video be reenacted before the world moves on? and when they do, where will they go?
There is something extra creepy in the way the nonwhite world represents an opportunity to vibrate the bored universe that makes a Venn vagina of overlap between the poor/hipster world of Silver Lake, Echo Park, and Williamsburg and the rich/popster world of West Hollywood and Manhattan. Japan has long been a place white rock stars can go to rape the help and slap around the locals; if you really want to geek out about it, refer yourself to "El Scorcho" and see where the trail of breadcrumbs leads. The American Apparel plan -- giving Mexicans and Guatemalans one of the best work environments in the world, and having them make clothes for scrawny pervbags that have swingers parties at the Standard when they aren't being defamed on Craigslist -- has an obvious option for taking its shiz to the next level: get Jose in on the act...
Hipster/popster/OMG culture is keyed to metastasize, appropriating otherness on a level never contemplated by the comparatively incurious '90s-era European Semester Abroad. There are only so many flights to Iceland, Sweden, and Estonia to go around, and the third-world flavor of those Other Continents, seeping, in a working-underclass way, into the production centers of debauched hipness is a sitting duck for commercial, artistic, and psychological exploitation. It is freighted with disparities of power, culture, physiognomy, and economics that would make Foucault's lip curl in the kind of mix of disgust and delight.
Reading this it occurs to me that I believe the Bush administration has handled the Russo-Georgian War and its aftermath about as well as could have possibly been asked for.
This is an extraordinarily delicate and complex situation that would bedevil anyone at State or the White House. After so many cheap episodes of bungling and recrimination, which will tarnish this administration with the funk of 40,000 years, getting from Friday last to this Friday in the condition we appear to be in seems like almost a miracle. And it seems that Condi Rice bears most of the responsibility for it.
The humanitarian intervention, to me, seems like exactly the right thing to do -- complete without any guarantees of defense or protection. Georgia must understand that war with Russia is so unacceptably catastrophic that it will not be risked, especially after the fact of the main combat...and Russia must understand, as I suspect it does, that the US is bending over backwards to give them a big pass on an ugly business, because at bottom this is a structural problem with Georgian sovereignty that couldn't be resolved by peaceful means.
In the main, then, I hew pretty closely to Ross's position, though -- and I really don't mean this just to be idiosyncratic -- I think the downside of having Georgia in NATO diminishes vastly if that Georgia is pruned of its rebel provinces and at permanent peace with Russia. That doesn't mean I'm going to be a booster and advocate of Georgian NATO membership at some future date, but it won't appall me on principle like it wound up doing this past time around. It may be inevitable now that, long term, the security guarantee will drop out of the NATO equation. That's unattractive in some fundamental way, yet it may be necessary to plugging the weird and destabilizing gaps between the Western alliance and Russia...and an intimation of a certainty, which I keep in a cool, dark place, that Russia, one day, ought to be a member, too.
If the basic original framework and purpose of NATO has already been abandoned, which it has for some time, and if it's now unrecoverable, which looks certain, and if NATO will not die or dissolve itself, a third virtual certainty, then we've got to start thinking about ways to take it on a new trajectory without dooming us all by trying to carry on useless vestiges of the old operation. This may result in some loopy ideas, but it also strikes me as a main requisite of a 21st-century foreign policy that seeks to lay claim to any prudence and foresight at all.
It's one thing to see Obama and McCain grow closer and closer together on Iraq. It's another to see them do the same on global human solidarity. This exchange is too good to quote in anything but full:
Common sense indicates that, no, I am not a Georgian. But John McCain says “today we are all Georgians.” But does he mean it? Suppose Russia was bombing Atlanta and threatening to advance to Savannah. In solidarity with Georgia (the state) Americans from all fifty states would band together and fight the Russians off. Now I don’t think we should go to war with Russia. And I hope John McCain doesn’t think we should go to war with Russia. But insofar as he doesn’t mean that we should go to war with Russia on Georgia’s behalf, what’s the meaning of the claim that “we are all Georgians”?
Does he really not understand this? The point is that we can't physically defend Georgia from Russian agression, but we can make a symbolic stand of unity with a democratic, pro-Western state that has been attacked by an autocratic aggressor. Is Yglesias trying to argue that, since we don't have the capacity to intervene militarily, we can't make basic moral judgments?
No, Mr. Chait, he is trying to argue that we do not need to pronounce ridiculously empty and dangerously grandiose symbolic lies in order to make basic moral judgments. I can strongly oppose military aggression against innocent civilians, strongly condemn Saakashvili's utter recklessness and disregard for those civilians, and criticize Russia for its disproportionately calibrated invasion of Georgia proper all without reference to being a citizen of the world or a Cosmic Georgian or anything else nonsensical and wrong.
These rhetorical zeppelins explode into bits at first contact with reality, and they do affirmative harm to anyone trying to make a good case for regular ordinary prudence and a decent respect for the civilized distances between individuals and groups that make living our own lives, singly and together, possible. If you want to hear this without an ounce of snark (yet are equally disposed to criticize snarkless commentary as unbearably pious and self-congratulatory), then Yglesias is not your guy, but it's bald-faced obvious what he's saying as far as I'm concerned, and in my judgment that's because he's right.
If we can't cast our moral judgment on the side of innocent Georgian civilians without phonily transubstantiating ourselves in our fake imaginations into pretend innocent Georgian civilians, we have really lost our minds, and McCain's jingo reflexes are the least of our problems.
This is an important piece of the Russo-Georgian puzzle:
During a private dinner on July 9, Ms. Rice’s aides say, she warned President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia not to get into a military conflict with Russia that Georgia could not win. “She told him, in no uncertain terms, that he had to put a non-use of force pledge on the table,” according to a senior administration official who accompanied Ms. Rice to the Georgian capital.
Mixed messages, maybe, but that one can't be diluted by mere rhetoric, and Saakashvili should have known. It is much more likely that the US was a better judge of Georgian national interests than Saakashvili was of America's.
And again, as far as Randy Scheunemann's double play is concerned, what matters is whether McCain would have been inclined to take the same aggressively anti-Russian line whether Scheunemann was a trusted advisor or a figment of his imagination. By all indications, the answer is yes. What would McCain have told Saakashvili if he were at that dinner instead of Rice?
McCain: ready -- to start a war -- on Day 1! Probably not true, really, but too close for comfort. Sane Republicans and conservatives must push pack firmly against the idea that 'toughness' is foreign policy experience. Which is exactly the narrative McCain's trying to sell.