Category Archives: politics

It’s the story, stupid


I tend not to link to the NY Times because I know smart people read it as a matter of routine, and you, gentle readers, are among the smartest in existence. But in the Sunday Times, Drew Westen offers a truly distinguished explanation of President Obama’s signal failure — the failure to tell the American people the story of the man-made disaster that has befallen them, and how they will transcend it. I have great admiration for the Times’ Week in Review (even if I find no benefit in it’s new name, Sunday Review), but Westin’s piece, “What Happened to Obama,” operates several levels above the average Review piece, melding history, psychology and practical politics (trained in the psychological sciences, Westen has of late been paying the rent as a “messaging consultant to nonprofit groups and Democratic leaders”) in a piercing and absolutely convincing argument that Obama has failed the first duty of leadership: storytellng. After explaining, in a historical/evolutionary context, why it is that subjects expect their leaders to explain the world in a narrative format, Westen offers this story that I (and I suspect a vast majority of Americans) have longed to hear from the presidential podium:

“I know you’re scared and angry. Many of you have lost your jobs, your homes, your hope. This was a disaster, but it was not a natural disaster. It was made by Wall Street gamblers who speculated with your lives and futures. It was made by conservative extremists who told us that if we just eliminated regulations and rewarded greed and recklessness, it would all work out. But it didn’t work out. And it didn’t work out 80 years ago, when the same people sold our grandparents the same bill of goods, with the same results. But we learned something from our grandparents about how to fix it, and we will draw on their wisdom. We will restore business confidence the old-fashioned way: by putting money back in the pockets of working Americans by putting them back to work, and by restoring integrity to our financial markets and demanding it of those who want to run them. I can’t promise that we won’t make mistakes along the way. But I can promise you that they will be honest mistakes, and that your government has your back again.”

Westen points out, rightly, one of Obama’s largest narrative failures — the failure to explain who the bad guys are, and how they are going to be brought to justice — and ends the piece with a brilliant series of hypotheses, each less flattering than the last, about why Obama “seems so compelled to take both sides of every issue.” I won’t explain them here; you really must read this whole piece to understand their full brilliance. But in an attempt to get you to go read this article, I will leave you with its kicker, which plays off the Rev. Martin Luther King’s assertion that the long arc of history bends toward justice, and which is thrilling in its denunciation of the deformed compromise that threatens to become the hallmark of the Obama era:

“But the arc of history does not bend toward justice through capitulation cast as compromise. It does not bend when 400 people control more of the wealth than 150 million of their fellow Americans. It does not bend when the average middle-class family has seen its income stagnate over the last 30 years while the richest 1 percent has seen its income rise astronomically. It does not bend when we cut the fixed incomes of our parents and grandparents so hedge fund managers can keep their 15 percent tax rates. It does not bend when only one side in negotiations between workers and their bosses is allowed representation. And it does not bend when, as political scientists have shown, it is not public opinion but the opinions of the wealthy that predict the votes of the Senate. The arc of history can bend only so far before it breaks. “

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Filed under 2012 election, politics, presidents

Is the president a damaged hostage?


In general, I think Barack Obama has done a remarkable job as president during a time of unprecedented economic, security and political challenges. That’s to say, I disagree with some specific policies he’s followed — chiefly, the decisions to send additional troops to Afghanistan and, post-bin Laden, not wind down the war there very quickly — but think him a steady, strategic thinker and doer. Most Republicans, of course, have an entirely different view, but I find many and even most of the policy objections coming from Obama’s right insincere, disingenuous. At base, it seems to me that Republicans do not differ with Obama’s policies, which are quite moderate on the whole and even a shade toward the right here and there; they object to his existence. They simply want a Republican president and, it seems, will go to almost any length to get one. There are also objections to Obama’s leadership that come from his left. Most of them I put in the Unicorn League folder — meaning they complain that Obama hasn’t done something that will be accomplished only when the huge and secret population of publically spirited unicorns comes out of hiding and parades in neat rows from the White House to Capitol Hill. But here’s a post sent along by a friend about the “Barackholm Syndrome,” making a clever point that deserves at least consideration. That is: Has the scope, unanimity and persistence of the Republican opposition to anything — anything! — the president wants affected his psyche and made him less willing or able to press his own agenda aggressively? Going this intellectual route, of course, risks descending into psychobabble. Still, I thought the post by Robert Hall fascinating and worth a read (h/t Terry O’Rourke).

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Filed under politics, presidents

Perhaps the president could use a jar


When you have peanut butter that’s this robust, well, you just have to go with it.

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Should presidential candidates be given a psychopath test?


Psychopaths constitute only a tiny percentage of humans but disproportionately occupy positions of political and financial power. For that stunning and I’m sure hard-won insight, this book (“The Psychopath Test,” by Jon Ronson) wins the 2011 Statement of Obvious Banality award. But the book does raise an interesting question: Is there a way to require or pressure major federal and state political candidates — for president, Congress, governor, etc. — to take a personality inventory that would reveal psychopath/sociopath tendencies?  I realize the mere suggestion of such a requirement has all sorts of civil liberties implications, and the political hurdles may be all but insurmountable. (I’d love to see the congressional debate about such a bill on CSPAN, though.)  But those difficulties are part of the reason I find the question/suggestion interesting. Society has a clear interest in not electing a true psychopath president; presidential candidates, on the other hand, don’t lose all privacy rights, just for wanting the world’s most powerful position and 24/7 access to the football that could launch thermonuclear Armageddon. But do they retain the right to conceal psychopathy, an almost total lack of empathy manifested by the absence of what most people call a conscience, often hidden by high intelligence and a winning personality? This thought experiment is now in your court.

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Filed under politics, presidents, psycopathy

Vampire-film villainess or future senator? You make the call.


Whenever you have a very scary 1970ish video of Dianne Feinstein inveighing against pornography, you go with it. Yes, you do. (h/t to the SFist’s brilliant Brock Keeling.)

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Filed under absurdity, politics, sex noises

Praying for the GOP nomination


I just thought I’d horrify my friends on the East and West coasts with this inspiring little report from the “Third Coast,” in which Texas Gov. Rick “Good Hair” Perry has, as the Houston Chronicle‘s Austin bureau puts it, “invited the country’s other 49 governors and evangelical leaders for a ‘non-political’ event to pray for the nation.” Of course, the non-political event actually appears to be another step in Perry’s nascent campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Or, as the Chron puts it:

Such an event would allow Perry to build his profile with Christian conservatives, a group that play a key role in Republican primary politics, especially in the South and the Midwest. The playbill for the call to prayer hits all of the notes that a candidate seeking the GOP nomination would be expected to hit (see: debasement of society). And the venue selection— Reliant Stadium (a football stadium) —  indicates that organizers are aiming to make a splash with the event.

Beyond horrifying with words, this post hopes to cause widespread cursing at coastal computer screens via the  picture, provided courtesy of the Texas Tribune, of Gov. Perry, praying to the heavens. Good afternoon, elite thought leaders. And you’re welcome.

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Filed under absurdity, politics

How Warren powned* a congressman


There’s a California-ism that my 13-year-old son uses — powned* — that has something to do with beating someone so badly in a competition that you didn’t just own him, you poned him. I don’t know where the starting p came from, but being poned by your son in basketball is definitely worse than merely being owned. And if you want to see the definition of someone poning a member of Congress, watch what one of my heroes, Elizabeth Warren, does to Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry in this video. (h/t to Gawker.)

* as noted in a comment by the esteemed Shameless Pedant, I had no idea where “pown” came from or even how it was spelled when I wrote this post. As explained below, pown or pwn is an acceptable spelling, but “pone” is not. My apologies to the powning world.

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Filed under absurdity, politics