December 28, 2007

Reasons to Believe
12:00 AM

Cass Sunstein honorably comes to the defense of his friend and former colleague, Barack Obama. His doing so reminds me of why I am among Sunstein’s many admirers. Unfortunately, his loyal reply has nothing to do with what I wrote.  My essay was not about Obama, and certainly did not “smear” him. The subject was the way Obama’s devotees in the press have made their case for him on the basis of emotional appeals about “intuition” and “identity”--a kind of delusional political journalism we have seen before.

High Stakes
12:00 AM

Des Moines, Iowa--The assassination of Benazir Bhutto came as a brutal reminder of the gravity of the decision Iowa's voters will be rendering in their caucuses next Thursday night. Its impact may be felt most powerfully by Democrats who have been thinking less about issues than about the style and quality of leadership they are seeking from their next president. All of a sudden, the politicians' endless loop of television advertisements took on a new and somber significance.

The Wizard of Iowa
12:00 AM

“It’s an exciting time to be alive,” Bill Clinton exclaims. No seven words would sound more banal in the hands of a lesser politician. Clinton says them with the wonderment of a toddler who just learned to walk--at least if that toddler could speak in complete paragraphs and had a sponge-like memory for detail. “When I ran for president the average cell phone weighed five pounds,” he muses. “Go figure. You know how many sites there were on the Internet? The whole shebang? Fifty.

December 27, 2007

A Mere Smear
12:00 AM

The Compact Oxford Dictionary of Current English offers several definitions of the word "smear." One is "coat or mark with a greasy or sticky substance." Another is "damage the reputation of [someone] by false accusations." Neither of these definitions perfectly fits Sean Wilentz' discussion of Barack Obama and his supporters, published on The New Republic's website last week. But Wilentz has certainly produced a smear. Wilentz does deserve considerable credit--this is one impressive smear.

At the Precipice
12:00 AM

The killing today of Benazir Bhutto was tragic for many reasons. Most obviously, it was another senseless death, adding to the spiraling extremist violence that has spread in recent years from Pakistan’s remote regions into the heart of its major cities, including the capital, Islamabad and the nearby military garrison, Rawalpindi, where Bhutto was murdered. But the killing also may push the country even farther from a return to real democracy, already a shaky prospect in a country with a checkered history of electoral politics.

The Land of a Thousand Bad Newspaper Articles
12:00 AM

Shashi Tharoor, the Indian author and former candidate for the post of United Nations Secretary-General, has given his most recent collection of clichés a hybrid cliché of a title: The Elephant, the Tiger, and the Cell Phone. The elephant and the tiger are the most stereotyped symbols of India, flogged by writers for centuries before Tharoor ever took up the whip. But the cell phone is a freshly minted cliché, still winking brightly in the spotlight under which India has begun to find itself.

December 26, 2007

Don't Cry For Her, Argentina
12:00 AM

WASHINGTON — Cristina Fernandez recently took office as Argentina’s president. Until a few weeks ago, she was the country’s first lady. The big difference, of course, does not reside so much in the fact that her former status was ceremonial and dependent on her husband, Nestor Kirchner, as in the fact that she will need to reverse most of his populist policies if she wants to succeed. She is unlikely to do so. A recent scandal has reminded everyone in Argentina that the Kirchner couple is a firm political partnership. Assistant U.S.

Ladies' Choice
12:00 AM

For Barack Obama, it has all come down to the mommies. Hillary Clinton’s commanding lead among Democratic women--as high as 20 points in some nationwide polls--has long been cited as a strength Obama can’t overcome. A November Zogby poll found that nationwide, Clinton’s 11 percent advantage over Obama was due entirely to her 18 percent lead among women. But in recent weeks, Obama brought female voters into his column as he pulled even with Clinton in the early primary states.

Hillary And Rwanda
12:00 AM

Today's NYT look at Hillary's White House foreign-policy role by Pat Healy is interesting in various ways, not least for Hillary's conspicuous paranoia of saying anything noteworthy about her influence on Bill's decision making. Also conspicuous is her apparent omission of any hint that she supported bombing in Bosnia and Kosovo. But I was most struck to see that when asked about the Rwandan genocide, "Mrs.

December 25, 2007

The Radical Meaning of Christmas
12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- Hope is an overused word and an underrated virtue. We "hope" for all kinds of things, from the trivial to the profound. But hope is both a habit and a discipline. It is an orientation toward the future based on the conviction that we live in an ultimately trustworthy universe. Hope is the virtue on which faith and love depend. Even more than faith and love, I think, hope is closest to the heart of the Christmas story. In an anthropological sense, Christmas celebrates new life and birth, a theme that crosses cultures and traditions.