Robert Caro came to give the Dennis and Brooks Holt Distinguished Lecture last night. That sponsored lecture allows USC to attract distinguished thinkers on politics and the media.
Caro was so charming in every way–an amazing story-teller, with a lovely New York boy accent–and I loved so much of what he said it’s hard to distill.
For one thing, I love how Caro manages to humanize Lyndon Johnson without romanticizing him. Caro has been able to demonstrate why LBJ is so important to the left–and how effective a political genius he was in accomplishing things for people–like rural Texans–that are normally not the beneficiaries of public policy. And just how ruthless he was in doing so.
The second thing I took away was his incredible patience. It doesn’t seem to bother him that, in his 80s now, he may or may not get to the end of his LBJ project before it’s time for him to exit. And he does seem to have another project in mind–but he refused to answer that question when asked because he’s superstitious. I love this–I really don’t like to discuss nascent work, either, which many people rather treat like a weakness. Well, if Robert Caro can do it, I can, too. I don’t like to talk away ideas before I write them.
In addition to his interest in new projects, he admitted last night that he reads Trollope, which made me squeal with delight. I love Trollope, but whenever I am reading these old, long meandering 19th century novels, there is a nagging person inside my head telling me that I am wasting my time, that nothing these novelists have to say matters to the world, and that, at middle-age, I only have so much reading time left. If a guy in his 80s can spend his free time reading Trollope, and his working time working for 8 years on a biography of roughly 3 months of a man’s life, then I can let time go lightly, too.
Unless you have been in a media blackout, you’ve no doubt seen the adverts for Netflix-produced House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey. I’m holding off on seeing it until I’ve subjected Andy to watching all of the original BBC series from the early 1990s. I shall, of course, watch it as a junkie of politics and television, and in part because I have been in love with Kevin Spacey since Glengarry Glen Ross. I also have high hopes that the series might help people actually understand what a “whip” is and does. Do you understand how sad it makes me to hold out hope that Americans will learn about their government from a remake of an English series?
Anyway, it does promise to be good. The original, with the incomparable Ian Richardson, is really wonderful, as is the novel upon which the original is based. Has anybody dipped into the US version yet?
The tagline for the US series is “Bad, for a greater good.” Perhaps the US version attempts to make the main character somewhat more sympathetic.The reviews keep referring to Spacey’s Underwood (Urquhart in the Beeb’s original) as “Machiavellian”, which get us to the point of today’s ramblings about Machiavelli and his largely misunderstood attempts at political philosophy.
My favorite book on Machiavelli is from the late Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield, called Machiavelli’s Virtue. I say my “favorite” in that I still don’t understand large portions of Mansfield’s thought here, nor Machiavelli’s. Mansfield’s is not an easy book, but Machiavelli is not an easy subject–certainly not along the lines of what people get from their “intro to political science” courses. Machiavelli wrote a good deal more than the Prince. Jeremy Wadron’s excellent review of Mansfield’s book in the London Review of Books (unfortunate paywall) gives us a great deal of food for thought, in particular highlighting how Mansfield’s read of Machiavelli as a modern political liberal.
That’s usually what washed-up pseudo-celebs do when they become unhappy with their (usually entirely deserved) relegation to oblivion.
It’s really hard to even write this post because there really is nothing about Ann Coulter that doesn’t disgust me–I like my conservative commentary with actual content in it, which is why I am a regular reader of material from Cato and NR.
She’s just a fame monger, and I’m not sure why anybody pays attention to her except that she’s blonde and says mean things, routinely, like somehow being snotty equals being hard-hitting and being common equals being populist. It was boring and predictable 10 years ago when Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore patented it.
Here is a response from Tim Shriver to Coulter’s mean-ass, petty Twitter: I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard. (during the debate)
Here is the money quote from Shriver:
I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.
And here I was just wondering if Coulter meant “retard” as “person who actually uses reason in debate instead of playground invective.”
I am heartbroken. My deep respect for my Dean and those faculty associated with Schwartenegger Institute prevents me from saying much more. I want them to have a chance to make something work. But I really, really don’t know what to think.
So here’s the @$!@$ book.
The former body-builder-turned-action-movie-star-turned-California-governor is still very much alive, having just started a new think tank at USC. And Americans have an endearing and frustrating habit of nostalgic reconsideration, especially when it comes to movie stars and politicians.
Please let her be right.
Among many noxious references to his wife are a buddy’s pre-wedding quip (“Oh boy, wait until she hits menopause”) and his way of commissioning an Andy Warhol portrait of her. “You know how you always do the paintings of stars?” he says he asked Mr. Warhol. “Well, when Maria marries me, she will be a star!” He does not appear to be joking
Functionally, I doubt talking to an empty chair is any different than simply giving a speech. But it strikes me as an alarming and unwitting metaphor for the state of political communication: One-sided, your reactions to what I say don’t matter, what I say is so important that I should be able to hold forth without treating you like an agent capable of response; your ideas are irrelevant. You are nonhuman.
There is absolutely nothing that the coastal publishers and their consumers enjoy more than reading snide, stereotype-laden essays about “middle America.” Stephen Bloom, Professor and Bessie Dutton Murray Professional Scholar at the University of Iowa, traded in David Brooks’ savvy “hey, lookit them yokels” brand of writing about The Rural Other with this piece in the Atlantic: 20 Years of Iowa Life. Oh, it’s not all Mayberry, Bloom tells us. Because all of us thought it was.
There’s poverty. Unlike in cities. And immigrants who are treated badly! (Imagine! Unlike the fabulous way we coastal denizens treat immigrants!) Outside the stuff that verges on really seeing (but doesn’t) the world of rural poverty outside of Iowa City, Bloom trades in all of the Coast’s most beloved hate-tropes about the midwest: there’s too much Jebus, too much fattening food for one’s ever-so-precious-and-sophisticated-palate, and guns, guns, guns! Everywhere! Why, a man can’t even walk his lab without people asking him about a-huntin’!
Empty-headed punditry with a professor label on it. This is the reason I stopped talking to the press. It’s too easy to get this type of nonsense out there, and it’s not constructive.
Here’s a measured response from fellow journalist Lynda Waddington. My favorite line:
No one has ever asked if my Iowa-born Shih Tzus hunt, although maybe that says more about my breed choice than my neighbors.
So here’s the policy problem that screeds like Bloom’s always come up against: If Iowa shouldn’t be the first primary/caucus event because it’s not representative of America, where should be first? Note that Bloom doesn’t have a constructive answer. His answer is just Not Iowa. Which leaves a rather biggish number of states left in the choice set.
Where could we pick that represents America? Ok, fine. Say we all agree. Iowa is a dumb place to start, with all its mind-controlled Jebus freaks eating creamy casseroles and listening to their corn grow and a-going to the tractor pulls. (Note to Bloom: you forgot to make fun of playing bingo. That’s something cocktail-guzzling, nightclub-hopping, dinner-party-attending Coastals would eat up with a spoon! Fodder for the next essay.) New Hampshire, btw, is also too white and underpopulated and non representative, though Coastals probably hate it less than any midwest state we might pick.
California? It’s got population, diversity, more cities over 1 million people than any other state. Florida? Texas? If we picked California, some journalist would hang out in Ojai for a bit and try to line his pockets with essays about how nut-eating, meditating, lotus-pose-taking flakes were picking out our presidents and ain’t that a shame? Texas produces its fair of share presidents already, and there’s no apparent shortage of guns and Jebus there (since all we need to do is base the decision on stereotypes). Florida? Ohio? I’m sure there’s probably very little rural decline there (snort).
Or perhaps we should just make sure rural states never see the candidates in person by requiring all the big states go first, on the same day?
This story on the use of the word treason from NPR really hit home with me because I was deeply offended at Rick Perry’s use of the word towards the Chairmen of the Fed–doing your job as Fed chairman in a way that somebody like Rick Perry doesn’t agree with does not make one a traitor. I was on board when people used the word to describe the actions of John Walker Lindh, the spoiled brat from Marin County who is better known as The American Taliban. But I’m getting rather tired of the incendiary language–as one of my blog posts in response to Roger Ailes claim that NPR “are like Nazis.”
Is it really that hard to say “NPR does not reflect my values or ideas, so I really don’t want public funding to go to its one-sided way of presenting ideas” or “I really think that loosening monetary supply would be a disaster, and Bernake would be responsible for terrible consequence for the US and the world if he did that.”
Apparently, it is hard, according to Brian Carso in the story:
Treason, says Brian Carso, is a word that “has always been used as a prominent shorthand to evoke the intellectual and emotional content surrounding issues of loyalty, allegiance and betrayal.”
So I suppose in Troglodyte Nation (what the US has turned into I gather), nuanced argument is simply gone:
“Until the average American citizen can talk about abstract ideas like political obligation — which will not be anytime soon, presumably,” Carso says, “then we will continue to hear ‘treason’ as a way to conjure people’s deep-seated feelings toward their sense of national identity.”
I guess, given that we’ve decided to be a nation of people who both takes our tremendous privileges for granted by being ignorant about them but still be “patriotic” at some knee-jerk level, we’re going to have to listen to political discourse that boils down to “You’re fat and dumb and bad leader” and “Me no like printing money. Me hit Fed Chairman with rock.” from both sides of the political spectrum.
The sustainability and urban design world is all abuzz about the results of a design competition sponsored by the French president. The charge to architects: remake Paris. You can see some of the entries here in a slideslow.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff here, from a scholarly point of view. This reminds me of the early days of model cities, where designers behave as though cities are as malleable as clay on a potters’ wheel. I’ve actually written about model cities: in particular, the Futurama and the Democracity from the 1939 World’s Fair, though it’s pretty far from what I work on now. The trouble for all of us with our models is in implementation–the difficulty associated with trying to manage incremental change into cohesive whole. It’s much easier to dispense with what’s here and start over. That would be keen. In my own efforts at self-reform, I would start over at age 24 and make myself a size 4. And then there’s the autocracy. There’s nothing wrong with making models, per se, but how many places are there where we could even think about cities entirely remaking themselves, or cropping up as a cohesive whole? There’s Paolo Solieri’s Arcosanti–which is out in the middle of the desert because he couldn’t derive it in the middle of a functioning metropolitan region. Then there are the cities of the UAE, like the carbon neutral city, driven via rigid power hierarchies and volumes of liquid cash.
Which brings me to the point about governance. Can you imagine President Obama sponsoring such an event for an American city? No. The fact that the French president is acting like the mayor of Paris in some regards here is an interesting note on the centrality of cities to federal politics elsewhere in the world. In some respects, this president has been very smart: in highlighting one of the jewels among world cities, he’s basically used the same strategy as leaders in Dubai–he’s trying to sponsor the eco-city of delight–and in so doing, he’s gotten himself a lot of international ink. He’d never get such ink pursuing new federal health care reforms in France.