Monday, July 25, 2005

Young person, go Billmon

I have not yet found energy to figure out how to add links to the page as I have to insert them manually, it seems, in to the HTML code. In any case the Whiskey Bar confirms to my understanding of political debate: very sharp, but still analytical, dealing with structures and not with the surface foam, and on the side of the angels. Alarming is the only word to describe current US politics with this semi-criminal administration in charge of the only superpower still drunk with hubris in its moment of near monopoly on power politics. (On second thoughts, lose the "semi" from the previous sentence.) Strange how things change: we are all politicized now....


helsinkian said...

Thanks for the tip. I wasn't familiar with Whiskey Bar before. At least it seems good for useful trivia like I didn't know that Peter Galbraith (former US ambassador to Croatia) is the son of John Kenneth Galbraith (former US ambassador to India and a Canadian-born economist of Scottish ethnic origins). That tidbit was of specific interest to me because the elder Galbraith's writings influenced me a lot about ten years ago. Not that I agreed with everything in his books even then but J.K.G. stands for me as a gold standard of excellence in writing about economics and society when it comes to style.

I like to see analysis and news stories with Conservative, Libertarian, Liberal, Leftist perspectives and everything in between. I always like journalists and writers with style, no matter the message.

I also feel that with time I'm becoming all the more ethics-fixated. Liberal-bashing Conservatives and Conservative-bashing Liberals bore me. Sure I appreciate a good debate when issues are involved. When you see a weak point in someone's argument, use it. But the labels don't matter to me. I know illiberal people of my political persuasion and tolerant liberals with quite different economic and religious ideals.

US politics make it so easy to bash the people on the other side of the aisle. No-one is expecting the Republicans and Democrats to co-exist in coalition governments. Luckily, this hasn't stopped smart Democratic Presidents from picking talented Republicans for senior positions in their administrations.

I think I respect those US politicians the most who have been around long enough to realize that people of good and bad ethics exist in both camps and in third parties. Of course politics would be boring if every President was a moderate centrist. Still, I liked Bill Clinton as President because he could relate to people regardless of geography or at least people all over America could relate to him.

stockholm slender said...

I would have quite agreed only a couple of years ago - I suppose it depends whether you think we live in ordinary or extraordinary times. I personally have been truly radicalized and politicized during the last few years and I do strongly think that the present corruption and venality in Washington is beyond comparison since the WW2 (yes, including the Nixon administration). My political hero is George Orwell and my political standards largely the standards he set. (Politics and the English Language comes to mind.) To me we are experiencing a collapse of civilization in the US politics - and I fear this awful process is not only a crime but a punishment for a crime...

helsinkian said...

Richard Nixon was another great influence for me in the sense that I used to admire his stylish writing - memoir literature, stuff on international politics. His administration is to me one of the most fascinating ever because of the unbelievable internal contradictions. The corruption unveiled in the Watergate scandal is really scary.

I couldn't compare any other administration with Nixon's. Looking at the scandal and the cover-up I'd have to say he was the worst president after WWII. Still, as a writer after the Presidency few Presidents can be compared to him. Most Presidents simply aren't very literate people; you don't have to be a good writer to make it to the White House.

I once bought a John Ehrlichman novel from a Stockholm antiquarian bookstore. That Nixon aide could so brilliantly depict the Washington DC corruption in a fictionalized way in that book, I think it was The Whole Truth. To me that was absolutely revolting stuff. Yes it's pure fiction but so to the point. That's the kind of Orwellian literature that I sometimes enjoy. The spin machine described in the novel is so evil and you know, that kind of politics will always be there.

Dishonesty is the enduring legacy of the Nixon administration. I'm not sure they were straight about even the really good things they were doing. Still there were very capable people and I think many of them could have worked for a Democratic administration just as well. Power can corrupt all sorts of people.

In the Nixon legacy I see both words of wisdom and a political animal who was unable to admit that he wasn't up to the ethical standards of the Presidency. He was such a human character, personifying our human weaknesses. The Watergate scandal was really the mother of all tragedies and farces about Washington insiders. The irony of it all was that Nixon was anything but a traditional insider, his story was that of rags to riches. What was good about that time was that the scandal united all sorts of Americans in condemnation of bad government.

So in some sense I see the Nixon presidency as a warning sign. The very failure of his administration brought hope of a more ethical politics. Yet there is something of Richard Nixon in every president and it is unthinkable to imagine an administration that wouldn't spin stories beyond recognition. I certainly can't identify with Nixon's politics because of the dishonesty but I sure liked reading his books.

stockholm slender said...

Certainly a larger than life character - I have been quite interested in political elites, and I do think that most politicians must be psychologically damaged trying to achieve acceptance through ambition and usually - if not always - failing. Nixon would be a some sort of arhcetype in this category most certainly. As flawed presidents go my slightly disreputable preference is JFK who probably did not see any rags in his life, but who is in many respects truly admirable: his sense of proportion, of irony, his genuine shock when confronting the awful reality of the nuclear era, all these are truly human characteristics, as of course are his many flaws. But there was true excellence there as well - I think in many ways he remains hated by the Right because he did personify a promise of better politics, of progress. A false promise for them but in my view that was not the case, at least not all the case.

helsinkian said...

Comparing JFK to Nixon certainly is interesting. There are certain similarities. They were both lawyers, very much into international politics, men of compromise, addictive personalities and I believe both were into changing the dynamic of their party. JFK was the first Democratic President of his generation, Nixon the first Republican President of that generation. I guess their two presidencies are specifically remembered for America intervening in other countries' internal affairs. Both are remembered for presidential campaigns that tended to cross the line. Nixon would not contest the bizarre 1960 election result because his team wasn't that clean, either.

JFK was a team player, Nixon an almost paranoid loner. JFK was born rich, Nixon poor.

I also tend to see the positive aspects in the JFK presidency. There is a certain youthful optimism, not quite the idealism of his brother's 1968 campaign but still the sense of the presidency that stood for progress. JFK at the Berlin Wall is such a Cold War classic. It will always be one of the great moments in history to me.

JFK's personal life set a bad example in the sense that so many politicians wanted to live the life of debauchery because JFK had lived it. Yet it is better that the failings JFK is most remembered for are in the personal sphere. So many other US celebrities had a similar lifestyle then and before him. Nixon's big failing will always be Watergate and it's hard for any President to do worse in the eyes of history. Watergate is simply synonymous with failed presidency.

stockholm slender said...

He did also live a life of pain and dedication. Unfortunately it was only a part of the story. To me it is quite a mystery, this reckless and arrogant irresponsibility that still somehow accompanied those other qualities. The same goes with Clinton of course - you need to have iron discipline to get the presidency, boundless ambition and ruthlessness - and you would risk all completely casually? Very strange. (Of course the affairs are not strange, the problematic attitude to sex and women is archetypal, but the presidency is exceedingly strange, a proof of obsession and compulsion - so it is very odd to see this combination of something highly ordinary and something quite extraordinary with the former threatening the latter.)

helsinkian said...

I think JFK's attitude toward sex probably was different from the clichés usually presented about him. I don't think he always was simply using women. His partners must have been aware of his reputation. I think there was lots of give and take.

But he was certainly raised in a culture where powerful men saw women as something to be used. JFK was this classic Casanova type with deep flaws and internal contradictions. The part about give and take and women finding pleasure in being with him I don't see as a negative. But the idea about using women and sleeping with prostitutes and other shady types who might have compromised his presidency, all that I see as clear negatives.

Anyway I think many of JFK's relations to women were about sex which was about relieving his constant pain. He was an exceptional individual - all of the ways in which he was exceptional were not positive. His life was dedicated to politics which also set great limitations to his sex life.

There are relationships of so many different kinds. When the young LBJ came to Washington, his mistress used to read poetry to him. That helped to accommodate the young Texan to Washington's social life. JFK came from a different background and probably most of his relationships with women were quite different. Not that we really know anything. Posterity seems to remember all the scandal rumors which can be far from accurate descriptions of what really happened.

stockholm slender said...

LBJ is quite a phenomenon! In many ways a sympathetic monster - he was left empty and bitter after his presidency which suggests to me that whatever he seeked it ultimately wasn't power. This might be true of most politicians... Curiously Nixon seemed to be much more at ease during his long recovery after Watergate. JFK is quite a mystery: how do his escapades relate to his character - in most cases it would be quite a self-evident connection, but it is hard to see it with Kennedy. I could easily understand a steady mistress but his behaviour seems to be much more compulsive and curiously unemotional. Well, maybe I just don't understand the context of the time being fairly post-patriarchal in my gender views.