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Works and Days

Interesting Times

April 2nd, 2008 - 5:04 pm

What’s Real?

There is a mini-gold rush in California. Companies and individuals head to the old Mother Lode in the Sierra Nevada mountains to rework old sites in search for $1000 an once gold. There is a big oil rush to Western Canada and North Dakota where companies are busy discovering new oil and oil shale finds—in hopes of capitalizing on more $100 barrel oil. There is a land rush, as well, as corn and wheat prices have reached historic highs. Food prices are outpacing inflation. We could add booms in copper, steel, aluminum, and nuclear power.

Suddenly the 6-billion-person planet is realizing again that it is not hedge funds, currency trading, or even stocks that make the world run, but food, fuel, and metals. Suddenly the world needs more wildcatters, farmers, and miners and less investment bankers and stock traders. We can’t live in cyberspace, but apparently need to eat, keep warm, and find shelter for a bit longer. A trader and speculator at Bear Stearns won’t keep us fed and fueled, but more likely someone a bit more uncouth and tougher on a tractor or derrick.

The most ostensible reason for this rush for food, fiber, is usually cited as two billion Chinese and Indians, and another billion together in South America and Asia, wanting the same lifestyle as Westerners enjoy and they now are starting to have the money to bid for the resources to make it happen. I hope our children get the message as their high school test scores plummet, college remediation classes spread— and I-pods and DVD sales keep strong.

Lessons (So Far) From the Campaign

While this has been a particularly nasty, long campaign, we have also learned a lot about the current state of America, both bad and good. Let’s start with the Republicans.

We learned no one quite knew, ‘What’s a conservative?’ It was easy to grumble that John McCain—after his McCain-Feingold campaign legislation and McCain-Kennedy immigration reform package—was not. But who was? Gov. Romney had governed Massachusetts from the center. Mike Huckabee was more a populist than a tax-cutter. All evoked Ronald Reagan; none remembered that Reagan has signed amnesty for illegal aliens, increased the size of government, and at times raised taxes.

Is the Republican Party running against, for, or parallel to incumbent President George Bush? Government grew 30% under his watch. We embraced a neo-Wilsonian idealism abroad of fostering democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, and at home wanted to offer amnesty to illegal aliens. And yet he was tough on terrorism, cut taxes and opposed stem cell research, abortion, gay marriage, and liberal judges. Was he a centrist, moderate, or wayward conservative Republican?

Democrats? Plenty of lessons. Bill Clinton (even before the release of his tax returns) threw away his carefully reconstructed legacy. It took him nearly eight years to recover from impeachment, Monica, and the pardons, by smiling, holstering his pointy finger, suppressing tantrums, touring with George Bush, Sr. and becoming a “citizen of the world.” And now he is back as the old partisan hack, with infantile temper tantrums, trying everything from the race card to the loyal spouse of Hillary to “I suffered all this for you” complex. All and anything to get back in the limelight. Too late, it’s over.

Hillary was proven almost pathological in not being able to tell the truth—odd, since a cornerstone of her campaign was the supposed duplicity and mendacity surrounding Iraq. She has played hardball and so will end the Clintons, for a while at least. Her legacy? By running as she did, she turned all her leftist apologists into Clinton-haters and rewrote the history of the 1990s. But wait—is that fair? Rather her identity campaign was out-identied by race, which always trumps gender preference. Her erstwhile liberal constituents simply dropped her like a stone weight that she had become, an obstacle to their dreams of finally being liked at home and abroad.

There are no more lines anymore?

Obama is a complex figure. Few know anything about him. Michelle and Rev. Wright are now somewhere in the campaign gulag, missing or in limbo. Gone are the fiery, whiney speeches of both.

But the damage has been done. The standing ovation Wright now receives, and the angry defense offered for him by black intellectuals, has sent a chilling message that his speech is not eccentric, extreme, or even embarrassing, but spot-on and “get used to it!”

Obama’s rationalization and contextualization of Rev. Wright is little more than a vast IED that will soon explode on the national scene. Either the Wright corpus will leak out another hate-filled speech that Obama will tsk-tsk, or someone like an Imus or Michael Richards will blow up, and the nation will suddenly stare at Obama for his response. And if he condemns the one-time racist outburst unequivocally, the nation will brand him a hypocrite for not considering contexts—What was the occasion? Had he said this before? Do we understand the genre in which he navigates? Is he from a group that has historical grievances (woman, Asian, Hispanic, Muslim, gay, Native-American)? Don’t we all have such loose-cannons in our family, an uncle, rabbi, or pastor?

That is the racialist legacy of our first transracial candidate, and it’s only a matter of time before the proverbial chickens come home to roost.

His second bequest is the notion that he may be elected President without ever saying what he is for. He does not articulate or defend the policies that are written on his website; I doubt he even reads it. He says he is not a liberal, but outside adjudicators rank him the Senate’s most liberal. He ignores associations, and charges McCarthyism when other don’t—but he is intimate with gay-bashing reverends, racist preachers, and unapologetic 60s terrorists. When I see clips of Palestinians trying to raise money for him, there surely is a clear reason. “Hope and change”, the desire for racial atonement, eloquence and charisma–he hopes all that will be enough.

Recession?

We have not yet had one quarter of negative growth, much less two in succession. Inflation, unemployment and interest rates are low. It’s not yet like the 70s when inflation ran 12%, unemployment 7% and interest 18%, despite cheap gas and housing. I’ve gone to two restaurants this week to (very unscientifically) check consumer habits—they were packed with waiting lines., even though Fresno and Selma are not exactly Carmel and Westchester. Weekend traffic remains brisk. I got a bike part the other day, behind someone buying a $1500 bicycle. Hesitation there is, but it seems mostly psychological rather than a result of massive job losses and liquidity.

Calendar

I and severals others debate at Yale on Thursday and Friday, some of us defending what is known as “hoplite orthodoxy” (war was frequent in ancient Greece, there were rules in theory even if not always followed in hoplite battle, hoplite warfare and the phalanx emerged in the seventh century, there was a push or literal othismos, running to the clash, the breaking of spears, and limited pursuit, there were mesoi, or middle-class agrarians who made up the bulk of those in the phalanxes, etc.) against a new cohort of revisionists who argue: hoplites and phalanxes were late; there was no middle class or much connection with agriculture; no push, no run or collision, no breaking of spears, etc. Much of the revisionism rests on contextualizing the literary evidence we have.

In New York on Monday, I speak on “unclassical education” and what happened to traditional learning in the university. When Obama calls Wright “brilliant” and a “scholar”, you can see what we have wrought.

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