Sunday, October 5, 2008

The VP Debate Fallout, and A Window of Opportunity

The MSM yak has been deliriously self-conscious of late. In an immediately post-Rovean political theatre, commercial opinions have perhaps never before been so restrained in both method and content. Besides the classic and obvious visual pairings offered by television time-eating commenteers--both philosophically and physically sitting to the right and left of the Main Source, on hand, and equally timed, even long-time columnists in semi-successfully sidelined news venues measure their words with a paranoid sense of restraint. Like the more reassuringly present Chinese censorship machine, the market-driven self-censorship of American Political Opinionators is a murky and opaque thing to grapple with. The possibility of losing that one's intractable sense of 'balance and fairness', and thus witnessing one's readership die off in Malthusian droves puts The Fear into writers, even at such supposed bulwarks of what-to-thinkedness such as the Times or WSJ's editorial pages.

My case and point resides in the ridiculous G-Rated Disney movie that VP race has become. Though it is tempting to side-track on the hilarity of watching Americans vote for the starry-eyed protagonist to win a happy ending, I will focus on the point of this article, in that Sarah Palin's Debate performance is in fact a slowly exploding time bomb of her own making.

As had been widely reported, Ol'Mooseskin had had a rough week prior to the debates. Revelations that she could not name any newspapers, or that she had absolutely no fluency in international political dealings, or that she thought drilling for natural gas in Alaska would bring an end to imports of Saudi oil, or that she was otherwise completely incompetent for the presidency (the chief qualification of a Vice President), had been circulating quietly among people who had any interest in knowing. Among those with an interest in knowing were the paid political opinions around the country, and they had had the last straw. Kathleen Parker, had "exhausted her cringe reflex," which was telling, considering how long it had been working, and how sturdy and thriving it must have originally been.

But this defection was not in any sense sea-changing. In fact, the sea of bobbing heads and talking faces on the tube had merely changed tack--going into the debate, Palin should not be expected to do so well. 'After all, she's an outsider.' The only thing notable about this season's round of pre-debate expectation-lowerings was the shameless both-sides-of-the-fencery perpetrated by the media in both assisting each campaign's self-abasement and following it up with extensive coverage of 'how campaigns seek to lower expectations.' This kind of schizophrenic behaviour should be a warning sign to the cable-news's friends and family of deeper psychological issues. But alas, will probably be ignored because of the far more interesting gorp being served up by David Blaine.

Moving on to what I was originally trying to say, The expectation-lowering worked. And then Palin managed to not look like an idiot. At this point I really cant decide which outcome would have served her better, the passable performance she turned in, or a complete flub including several run on sentences with dangling prepositions. The fact is, her ability to form complete sentences has cemented her eventual doom. With the Couric interviews, Americans could hide behind excuses; "they were edited!" and "cheap-shot questions!" But the most important failure in the interviews, her lack of substantive answers, was disguised by her unintelligible appearance. Instead of looking unqualified, she looked like a babbling moron. And instead of feeling contempt, Americans felt sympathy.

But that was yesterday. Today, We can take perfectly intelligible Palin sentences like ". . . there are real changes going on in our climate. And I don't want to argue about the causes. What I want to argue about is, how are we going to get there to positively affect the impacts?" and go straight for the meat: She's wrong. And not just subjectively, or in popular opinion. She is dead, dead wrong. It is easy to point out how Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, knows almost nothing about global warming, and how to prevent its worst impacts than Joe Six-Pack, without mocking her.

And this is exactly what showed up in editorials following the debate. By turning in a performance that was only mostly flawed, she has opened herself to criticism for those flaws. Or more to the point, she has demonstrated herself as someone of appropriate size to be picked on, and editorialists can feel free to pick away without being accused of 'beating up the cripple.'

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Notes on reading J.A.G. Roberts' Complete History of China

Since no one will ever read this, and because I have no more useful place to record my thoughts:

The following occurs to me on reading the chapter on the Latter Han Dynasty. Roberts frequently mentions what he calls the "downward signs of the dynastic cycle." For the Zhou, Former and Later Han dynasties, this began with troubles in succession to the throne. Children or invalids are chosen for the throne, and power is shifted to either a regent or the empress dowager. The puppet emperors serve the interests of the great families at court (Zhou and Former Han), or the Eunuchs (Latter Han). This begs for comparison to the Election of President Bush, and to the current primary races.
In the last two elections, 'special interest groups' have blocked voters into reliable, single-issue units. The self-serving tendencies of these groups seek to place like minded rulers on the throne. Their success, however, emboldens them, and the most successful politicians become essentially powerless infant emperors while factions at court grow more and more divisive. In the Han dynasties this process occurred until a usurper restored power to an individual.
There are complexities here which I would like to point out. The first is the difference between a democracy and a tyranny. The second is the importance of an individual will. The argument I have just made may sound narrowly fascist. To be sure, I am not advocating totalitarian rule. Just as much as an autocracy is not a democracy, so is not an oligarchy. A democracy must be predicated on the equivalence of every opinion, and ability of everyone to opine. The grouping of individuals into 'single-issue voters' unbalances the essential uniqueness of the individual and produces excesses and voids of power in the democratic landscape. So too does a family acting as a unit to secure its own power fail to serve the society as a whole. On the second issue, leadership is practically and best executed by an individual. In democratic theory, the individual is that whose personal philosophical orientations best estimate the aggregation of the citizenry. Therefore, this individual is practically tyrant until the citizenry changes its orientation enough that the individual tyrant becomes obsolete (interesting research question: what is the margin of error?). When a politician forfeits their will to dynamically track the population, they are serving their own ambitions to power, and failing in their capacity as tyrant. My theory is that this is Bush.
An interesting cultural comparison can be made between the 'blocks' that I have been rambling about. In the east, and in the past in the west, these blocks have been family units (or clans). Post enlightenment, they are ideological bodies. Identity groups, what have you.

Another idea I would like to remember is the conflicting nature of two quotes. One Jeffersonian, the other Hu Jintao. Jefferson wanted us to remember that the tree of liberty must be replenished from time to time with the blood of patriots. Revolutionaries. Etc.
Mr. Hu has professed that he would like China's ascendancy into the global community, and indeed to the top of the global community, to be a 'peaceful rise'. Perhaps I have been wrong in my love for peace. In my reflection on world history, there really has not been much progress in human political philosophy since the very earliest ages of empire. There is indeed a driving force of constant human nature which cycles its way through history. The only major development I can think on right now is the enlightenment, and development of humanism. Individual liberty is not a foregone conclusion in any sense. Historically, it is unique, and perhaps precious. But if this is the case, how does our freedom jive with our nature? Or are we at experiencing, as a brother of mine recently said "western civilization going insane"?