Still catching up this week, here’s a quick look at the notable articles from The Weekly Standard and National Review.
In The Weekly Standard, William Kristol turns his attention and derision on Obama’s recent contact with the leaders of Iran. Kristol clearly thinks Obama’s lost the plot, arguing that with the communication he “bends over backwards to reassure the mullahs that our government wishes them well”, and accusing the president of “kowtowing to a regime that is anything but republican, implicitly foreswearing any plan – any hope – of regime change to free the Iranian people.” The letter is “vague enough to be nonthreatening”, and Obama appears to believe “that we should speak nicely to our enemies, but carry no stick.”
P.J. O’Rourke, in “Special Envoy to the Taliban”, continues to provide evidence that he’s losing his edge. After a very good article about liberal excesses (in a nanny-state-type setting, rather than spending – a nice change for a conservative paper), which could have been written by Stephen Colbert (I’m still sure the joke was on Republicans, but others aren’t sure), he’s starting to lose it. His ‘humour’ is becoming more patronising, rather than clever. I think the main problem is that it’s all so over-written. Like Terry Pratchett’s first Discworld novel, Colour of Magic, it’s as if there’s not enough space for all the ‘jokes’ or ‘gags’, which makes it groan under the weight of bad timing. I didn’t finish the article, though – maybe it improved later.
Cathy Young profiles and goes after Naomi Klein in “Basking in the Financial Crisis” (different title online, for some reason). What’s interesting is that, as the author points out, profiles of Naomi Klein often have the air of the impressed but also skeptical. This might be because many recognise Klein’s positions and arguments as oversimplified (disappointing, given the length of The Shock Doctrine) Young explains Klein’s basic message, in a fair assessment, as
“Capitalism is evil, countless crimes have been committed in its name, and much of the foreign policy of the United States and its allies in recent decades has been driven by the twin forces of greed and free-market fanaticism.”
Stephen F Hayes has a good article about Christopher Hill’s “rogue diplomacy” (“The Insubordinate Ambassador”), how he seems to always do what he’s expressly told not to do. Hayes does have a point:
“[Hill’s] rank insubordination and cavalier disregard for presidential prerogatives were surely grounds for dismissal. Instead, Bush kept him in place, and now Barack Obama is rewarding him with what is arguably the most sensitive and important U.S. ambassadorship [in Iraq].”
Another good issue from National Review – I always end up reading most of each issue; the writing’s consistently good and it lacks the occasional frothing tone of The Weekly Standard.
John Bolton takes issue with Obama’s letter to the Russians (“Diplomacy by Bumper Sticker”), arguing that offering withdrawal of missile defense as payment for delivery (or helping to deliver) a nuclear-free Iran is a terrible idea, outlining three specific failings (e.g. sets wrong precedent, wrongly narrows NMD scope to just Iran, Russia might not even try very hard). Equally, Bolton takes issue with the apparent belief in the Obama administration that the simple act of changing administrations will help solve the problems created by the Bush administration.
For a magazine whose roster is populated by university graduates and intelligent people, this issue has another article taking issue at Obama’s desire to make college more affordable and accessible for the masses. But, John Hood, in “University Aid”, does have a couple of very good points that point out problems with Obama’s rhetoric. Specifically, that the US could never have the highest number of college graduates in the world because if simple demographics (there’s no way the US is going to have more than China or India); and also that throwing money at universities in the form of tax credits and grants won’t improve graduation levels, only attendance levels. While this is a rather dour outlook, Hood does have a point. The same happened in the UK – Blair and New Labour pushed for something like 50% university graduation level. Fine, so we’ve all learned some more, but there was no comparable boost in the number of graduate jobs – this is why we have people with law degrees working in T-Mobile call-centres (a reality – I just renewed my contract with someone today, and we had a short chat about university). Therefore, Hood has a point about rather focusing on reducing high school drop-out levels. His point about retention of students not equipped for university well: “many will either drop out… or further depress academic standards as the faculty inflates grades to keep them enrolled and happily filling out laudatory course reviews.” As a teaching assistant at Durham University, I know where he’s coming from: there’s nothing preventing my students from just coasting, doing the bare minimum and still passing (with 40%).
Gordon Chang says that the economic downturn will be much worse for China than it will for the US, in “Eastern Exposure”, arguing against the “dominant narrative” about the crisis which is that it “will hasten American decline and accelerate Chinese ascendancy”. Chang explains how China is once again plagued by strikes and protests as millions are left jobless because of factory closures in costal regions, effectively putting into reverse the greatest mass migration in history.
Two articles address the media. James DeLong writes about the decline of newspapers and what this means for conservatives:
“conservatives, frustrated by the dirigiste liberal bias of the mainstream media, should approach print journalism’s disintegration in the spirit of Rahm Emanuel – ‘You never want a serious crisis to go to waste’ – focusing on how to fashion a vibrant, open and diverse news business out of the wreckage of the old newspaper business.”
There are two interesting things about this passage (that sprung to mind without too much thought going into them):
- First, for a magazine (not to mention political movement) that often pokes fun at or vilifies the ‘elitist’ habits and mannerisms of Democrats… “dirigiste”? Really?
- Also, about the “liberal bias” – for a group that supports non-intervention by government in business, and free markets, surely the strength of any liberal bias is because more people watch liberal news? In other words, people are exercising their own right to watch what they wish. Adam Smith would approve of this, no? (Correct me if I’m wrong.)
DeLong writes plenty that is good in the rest of the article, and he’s right to characterise much of the news business as “McNews”.
The second article, “Media Realism”, is by Edward Gillespie. I’m sure Mr. Gillespie would have a lot to offer on the state of journalism today, but after a self-involved page that could easily have been replaced with just the word “ME” in really big letters, I got bored and stopped reading. (The personal pronoun “I” appears 27 times in two pages – 21 times on the first page!) John Derbyshire and Mark Steyn, writing opinion pieces, have 15 between them (not counting reported speech/quotations). This is not what we’re looking for, and I’m sure my journalism professors would have failed him, or at least made him re-write the whole thing. Steyn’s and Derbyshire’s pieces are both good.
I’m sure I’ll get around to the monthlies soon, but I think I might just start doing this for articles that happen to catch my eye. This is taking way too much of my time.