The 2010 Quadriennial Defense Review is now available.
Few things are more entertaining to an academic than to watch two fellow academics go head to head over the meaning of “fellow academic.” Will one of those few things be the first episode of post-pilot Season One Caprica?. If you’re watching too an hour from now, leave your opinion below.
With all apologies to J.D. Salinger, I can’t resist reading Donald Douglas’s account of a Michele Bachmann event at Knott’s Berry Farm in Holden Caulfield’s terms. This is contemporary conservatism boiled to the bone: some morons convince a phony of their patriotism by speaking before a replica of an actual American institution. Douglas’s photo-essay captures what history signifies when you subscribe to Tea Party logic even more starkly than those fake patriots who demonstrate their solidarity with the Founding Fathers by showing up at rallies with tea-bags.
Did I say rallies? I meant “sparsely-attended speeches by purported conservative celebrities in the most conservative county in the country,” because as Douglas’s own photos attest, David Horowitz and Michele Bachmann have little drawing power within spitting distance of the birth place of Richard Nixon. Not that Douglas would care, mind you, because he can’t tear his authentic eyes away from all the ersatz history. Even his grammar becomes ambiguous in the presence of all this fakery:
As you can see, the park’s Independence Hall is an exact replica of the original historic landmark in Philadelphia, PA. Both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed there.
The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed in Knott’s Berry Farm’s Independence Hall? According to Knott’s Berry Farm, they most certainly were:
Douglas then produces:
[a] shot of the [Knott’s Berry Farm’s replica of the] bell’s famous crack.
The faked crack on the fake Liberty Bell is famous? All morons hate it when their grammar reveals that they’re morons.
Not that it’s just the grammar, as his caption to this picture demonstrates: “[t]he sweeties at the gift counter, in 18th century dress.” If you press your ear against the monitor, you can almost hear him declaiming: “That is too an authentic 18th century windbreaker!” But perhaps the best part of Douglas’s account is the definitive evidence that Tea Party patriots don’t know from English. He notes that Michele Bachmann
came to California straight from Washington and the last night’s SOTU. She reminded the crowd that this time last year the big talk was Joe Wilson’s “you lie,” while this week it’s Samuel Alito’s “not true,” and she turned that into a little chant to fire up the patriots in attendence.
If that chant sounds like Douglas suggests it does—”You lie! Not true! You lie! Not true!”—then those patriots sure told Joe Wilson a thing or two.
Update. If you’re going to pretend to be an academic, Donald Douglas, you shouldn’t link to something that says I’m a “Doctor of Philosophy of English,” then write that I claim to have “a Ph.D. in the ‘Philosophy of English.'” People who work in academia should, after all, know what the letters “Ph.D.” stand for. Moreover, survival in academia requires the actual refutation of points. It’s cute that you noticed I made two typographical errors, but neither error was material to my argument (the substance of which you’ve yet to refute).
Paul and I have compiled some examples of conservative academics arguing that Obama needs to be sent to Sally Quinn Reeducation Camp or something for disagreeing with an innovative constitutional doctrine just announced by a bare majority of the Court. At the time, though, I missed an even funnier argument, namely William Jacobson’s assertion that by criticizing the Court, Obama was threatening the rule of law itself:
The attack on the Supreme Court exposes the intolerance of this President. The politician who campaigned and allegedly champions the rule of law actually has very little use for the rule of law when it does not advance his political agenda.
This is an…interesting argument. Let’s examine some other examples of prominent public officials who, in disagreeing with decisions announced by the Supreme Court, therefore oppose the rule of law:
- “The 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade is a good time for us to pause and reflect. Our nationwide policy of abortion-on-demand through all nine months of pregnancy [sic] was neither voted for by our people nor enacted by our legislators — not a single state had such unrestricted abortion [sic] before the Supreme Court decreed it to be national policy in 1973. But the consequences of this judicial decision are now obvious: since 1973, more than 15 million unborn children have had their lives snuffed out by legalized abortions. That is over ten times the number of Americans lost in all our nation’s wars…Make no mistake, abortion-on-demand is not a right granted by the Constitution.” —Saint Ronald Reagan, 1983
- “After a day of consideration, the McCain Campaign has decided to come out hard against yesterday’s 5 to 4 decision to grant more rights to court review for enemy combatants held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. “The United States Supreme Court yesterday rendered a decision which I think is one of the worst decisions in the history of this country,” McCain said. He went on to quote from Justice Roberts dissent in the case, rail against “unaccountable judges,” and say that the courts are about to be clogged with cases from detainees.”
The 2008 election was contested between two candidates who oppose the rule of law — shocking! Anyway, I could go on, but since I assume that even Jacobson himself doesn’t believe in this ridiculous definition of the “rule of law” cataloging further examples would be redundant.
For further comedy, in attempting to claim that Obama’s public disagreement with 5 of the Court’s 9 members was “unprecedented,” Col. Mustard uncritically quotes someone asserting that “[e]ven President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had a lot of grievances with the Court, never mentioned it in any of his State of the Union messages.” This might strike you as implausible in the extreme. Well, I happen to have FDR’s 1937 State of the Union Address right here, and…
Could this be any good?
The original falls comfortably into the “hopelessly flawed yet endlessly entertaining” category. I suppose that the biggest problem I have with the trailer is the implication that Gordon Gecko could actually be broke upon leaving prison…
Learning that J.D. Salinger died a day after learning that Howard Zinn had qualifies as a sufficiently surreal experience for that type of person who very much resembles me. Catcher in the Rye taught me how to channel my anger into antisocial behaviors—reading books in my bedroom foremost among them—but as I read it with the same critical acumen that led me to wear out not one but two VHS copies of Pump Up the Volume, the less I say about the book the better. (That and it violates the Five Year Rule three times over.)
Within two years of reading Salinger, I’d affected all the trappings of The Young Punk Who Would Be Vegan and read A People’s History of the United States, but unlike Salinger’s novel, Zinn’s history resonated with me until my sophomore year of college, when I was disabused of its importance by the man himself. I had attended a lecture of his and somehow weaseled my way into a dinner that followed. I told him how significant A People’s History had been to my political and intellectual development and that I had read it four or five times and that I was about to start it again when he stopped me short:
“My little book has served its purpose,” he told me. “Perhaps it’s time you started on the bibliography.”
He smiled and was about to say something else when he was whisked away by some other sycophant eager to bend his ear, but after talking to other people who had very similar conversations with him, I think I know what he was going to say: namely, that his “little book” was meant more as a point of departure than a destination. Treating it the way Matt Damon’s Good Will Hunting character did (and every newly-minted hipster firebrand does) violates the spirit of its polemic, because the book isn’t meant to replace traditional histories so much as supplement them.
For example, if the significance of the Christian tradition is given short-shrift in the book, it isn’t because that tradition’s unimportant to the development of the nation, but because a robust canon addressing that issue already exists. Zinn never intended his book to be an education in itself, but many readers—especially non-serious ones involved in any of a variety of Zinn-friendly scenes—inflated its importance until it became the definitive source for the entirety of American history. The extensive bibliography in the back-pages indicates that it had no pretensions of being anything of the sort.
I could prattle on about its faults—foremost among them, Zinn’s subscription to a dualism so powerful and pervasive that his accounts of internecine conflicts on the left border on unintelligible—but it is impossible to deny the attraction the book has for young adults whose knowledge of American history comes from the skeletal outlines of a public education. The simplicity of its dualistic worldview appeals to the adolescent in the first throes of rebellion because that worldview is itself adolescent. That sounds like an insult, but I mean it in the same sense that Zinn meant what he said to me: A People’s History represents a stage in one’s intellectual development.
It was never intended to arrest it.
Dan Drezner is among those who today bemoaned the absence of foreign policy content in President Obama’s State of the Union Speech. He’s not the only one. Max Boot calls foreign policy “AWOL” from the speech. Eric Ostermeir at Smart Politics has quantified the foreign policy content at only 13.9%. Whether they were very worried or not about Obama’s foreign policy message, most commentators agreed it was a weak one relative to the domestic policy content in the speech.
My off-the-cuff reaction to the speech echoed this concern as well. But then I began thinking about the assignment I have my World Politics students doing right now, which is to write about their lives using a global perspective. Lots of them are struggling with it as they always do: if they haven’t traveled abroad, served in the military, supported a global social movement, or watched BBC regularly, they don’t feel like they are really participants in world politics. I challenge this thinking by asking them to reflect on the ways in which their everyday lives are impacted by, and in turn impact, the world beyond our borders.
The purpose of the assignment is to get them thinking past their identity as Americans and situate themselves globally. However the assignment – and the era of globalization we live in – begs the question about the entire notion of the domestic politics / international politics divide. One way to look at the distinction we draw between domestic and foreign policy is as a boundary-maintenance project that is part of the practice of sovereignty. If we make the choice to suspend this practice for a moment, we might realize that Obama’s speech had more foreign policy in it that we may have recognized.
For example Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin, whom I linked to earlier describes the Obama’s foreign policy talking points as consisting of “trade, export controls, Afghanistan, Iraq, nukes, North Korea and Iran” and says he touched on all of this for only “a couple of minutes at the end.” Rogin categorizes energy policy, jobs and financial reform as domestic issues. So do those who have tallied the foreign policy content of the speech and found it wanting.
Yet what could be more global – in their impetus and impact – than a turn toward clean energy and alternative transportation in the US, which until recently led the world in global carbon emissions per capita? Given the global impact of the US banking crisis, is not financial reform a global issue? And is not a policy of “ending subsidies for firms that ship jobs overseas” a foreign policy as well as a domestic one? Certainly it will impact individuals abroad who rely on manufacturing jobs with US companies as a stepping stone out of poverty. This in turn will affect those individuals’ abilities to consume the products Obama also wants to export in greater volume. I’m not saying this is good or bad, just that these things are interconnected.
And actually, Obama said as much. Consider his rationale for financial, education and energy reform:
China is not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany is not waiting. India is not waiting. These nations — they’re not standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place. They’re putting more emphasis on math and science. They’re rebuilding their infrastructure. They’re making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs. Well, I do not accept second place for the United States of America.
We think of foreign policy as that subset of policy that is directed at relations with other countries. But since so much of what happens here affects (and can be affected by) what is happening elsewhere whether we intend it or not, perhaps this perspective is behind the times. Drezner concludes his post by saying:
“I would have liked to have seen a more robust effort to link foreign policy priorities to domestic priorities – because the two are more linked than is commonly acknowledged.”
What would it mean to our practices of citizenship if our policymakers and pundits routinely thought past that distinction entirely? As Drezner himself once said, in today’s world “all politics is global.”
Or maybe this is all bunk. But it sure is a useful teaching tool. Thoughts?
[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]
J.D. Salinger’s son has announced that his father has died.
I’m not familiar with most of Salinger’s work, but I recently had a striking experience with The Catcher in the Rye. I read it in college and hadn’t looked at it in 25 years when I picked up while browsing in a bookstore. I read the first two chapters while standing there, and I had the distinct and rather unnerving impression that I could remember having read every sentence practically word for word. It was sort of like being transformed into the Rainman character or Borges’ Funes the Memorious. (link is to original; can’t find an English translation on the web).
added by davenoon:
I’m not sure what the Farley twins are reading these days, but Audrey and Imogen are clearly preparing to take on regular blogging duties in the near future…
Sorry for the lack of SOTU coverage on my end; because a seemingly endless series of random January illnesses culminated in mysterious but excruciating foot pain, I just caught random snatches while waiting for x-ray results, going to the pharmacy, etc. What I was thinking about was how fortunate it was that I had decent insurance so I could get the problem diagnosed and also afford what turns out to be relatively simple pharmaceutical treatment. And so even more I was thinking about the many Americans who could have lost their jobs or had to live with debilitating pain that would be easiy treatable for months because they don’t have access to basic medical care. In short, the House needs to pass the Senate bill, a simple majority of the Senate needs to pass the best reconciliation fix possible, and once the policy is in place progressives have to fight to make the policy better. Because the bottom line is that the number of uninsured people in this country is a disgrace.