The last chapter problem

Columnist Ezra Klein introduces a useful concept, the “last chapter problem”:

In March, the historian David Greenberg wrote an essay on “why last chapters disappoint.” He began by reviewing “Public Opinion,” Walter Lippmann’s 1922 treatise arguing that the longtime dream of a rational, enlightened democracy was being undercut by the complexity of policy issues and the irrationalities of the voting public.

The critics agreed: Lippmann’s book was brilliant. At least, until the final chapter, in which Lippmann offered gauzy and unpersuasive hopes that mankind’s better angels would rise up and banish “hatred, intolerance, suspicion, bigotry, secrecy, fear and lying” from the public square. The conclusion, H.L Mencken said, collapsed into “mystical gurgle.”

But Greenberg was sympathetic. “Lippmann’s experience will be familiar to almost anyone who has written a book aspiring to analyze a social or political problem. Practically every example of that genre, no matter how shrewd or rich its survey of the question at hand, finishes with an obligatory prescription that is utopian, banal, unhelpful or out of tune with the rest of the book.”

President Obama’s address from Osawatomie, Kan., also had a last-chapter problem.

Klein goes on to analyze (favorably) Obama’s Kansas speech, which, however, ended in unjustified optimism.  He then, gracefully, applies the concept to himself and his own column:

And the truth is, I’m left with a last-chapter problem, too. It’s all well and good to call for reforms to clean up and modernize the political system, but such things are easier said than done. The Supreme Court presents a significant challenge to all but the most modest of campaign-finance reforms, and though the wanton deployment of the filibuster has rendered both parties nearly incapable of governing, there’s little congressional support for reforms that would allow majorities to actually pass the policies they’ve promised voters. But to get to the right answers, you must first ask the right questions.

“In the end,” wrote Greenberg, “most authors have themselves to blame. Having immersed themselves in a subject, almost all succumb to the hubristic idea that they can find new and unique ideas for solving intractable problems. They rarely do, and even works that do usher in specific reforms or broad social transformations — from ‘The Jungle’ to ‘The Feminine Mystique’ — do so by raising awareness about an issue, not by providing ready-to-go blueprints.”

Can you think of other “last chapter” problems?

via Obama’s economic argument: A good premise meets a bad finish – The Washington Post.

Bringing down an empire with words

Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright who spent 5 years in prison for undermining the communist regime, has died.  After communism in Russia and eastern Europe was so discredited that it fell apart, Havel was elected president of his newly freed nation.

It was the writers who did more than anyone else–yes, more than Ronald Reagan and more than the Pope–to bring down the communist system.  It isn’t enough–though it’s very important–for outsiders to stand strong against an evil empire.  The key to bringing down an evil empire is to turn its own people, including those who run the empire, against it by awakening their conscience to its evil and their complicity in it.

Some words from Havel:

After being unanimously elected president of Czechoslovakia by the newly free country’s Parliament in December 1989, Mr. Havel set the tone of the new era in a speech Jan. 1, 1990, his first day in office. Communism, he said, was “a monstrous, ramshackle, stinking machine” whose worst legacy was not economic failure but a “spoiled moral environment.”

“We have become morally ill because we are used to saying one thing and thinking another,” he said. “We have learned not to believe in anything, not to care about each other. . . . Love, friendship, mercy, humility, or forgiveness have lost their depths and dimension. . . . They represent some sort of psychological curiosity, or they appear as long-lost wanderers from faraway times.”

Vaclav Havel, dissident playwright and former Czech president, dies – The Washington Post.

Does our free society now share that moral illness?  What dissidents do we need?

Why Ann Coulter supports Romney

There are all kinds of questions about whether Romney, or Gingrich, or Perry, or whoever, is a true conservative.  Surely Ann Coulter is a true conservative, yea, a bona fide right winger to a fault.  She is supporting Romney.  She says, “of the available candidates, Romney is by far the most conservative, tied with Michele Bachmann.”   Most importantly, she says, he is the only one who can beat Barack Obama.   Here is her case for Romney:

There may be better ways to stop Obamacare than Romney, but, unfortunately, they’re not available right now. (And, by the way, where were you conservative purists when Republicans were nominating Waterboarding-Is-Torture-Jerry-Falwell-Is-an-Agent-of-Intolerance-My-Good-Friend-Teddy-Kennedy-Amnesty-for-Illegals John McCain-Feingold for president?)

Among Romney’s positives is the fact that he has a demonstrated ability to trick liberals into voting for him. He was elected governor of Massachusetts — one of the most liberal states in the union — by appealing to Democrats, independents and suburban women.

He came close to stopping the greatest calamity to befall this nation since Pearl Harbor by nearly beating Teddy Kennedy in a Senate race. (That is when he said a lot of the things about which he’s since “changed his mind.”) If he had won, we’d be carving his image on Mount Rushmore.

He is not part of the Washington establishment, so he won’t be caught taking money from Freddie Mac or cutting commercials with Nancy Pelosi.

Also, Romney will be the first Republican presidential nominee since Ronald Reagan who can talk. Liberals are going to have to dust off their playbook from 30 years ago to figure out how to run against a Republican who isn’t a tongue-tied marble-mouth.

As we’ve known for years, his negatives are: Romneycare and Mormonism.

We look forward with cheery anticipation to an explosion of news stories on some of the stranger aspects of Mormonism. The articles have already been written, but they’re not scheduled for release until the day Romney wraps up the nomination. . . .

No one is worried Romney will double-cross us on repealing Obamacare. We worry that Romneycare will make it harder for him to get elected.

But, again, Romney is the articulate Republican. He’s already explained how mandating health insurance in one particular wealthy, liberal Northeastern state is different from inflicting it on the entire country. Our Constitution establishes a federalist system that allows experimentation with different ideas in the individual states. . . .

The Heritage Foundation, a leading conservative think tank, supported Romneycare at the time. The biggest warning sign should have been that Gingrich supported it, too.

Most important, Romney has said — forcefully and repeatedly — that his first day in office he will issue a 50-state waiver from Obamacare and will then seek a formal repeal.

Romney is not going to get to the White House and announce, “The first thing I’m going to do is implement that fantastic national health care plan signed by my pal, Barack!”. . . .

Obamacare is going to be repealed — provided only that a Republican wins the next presidential election.

If a Republican does not win, however, it will never be repealed. . . .

Instead of sitting on our thumbs, wishing Ronald Reagan were around, or chasing the latest mechanical rabbit flashed by the media, conservatives ought to start rallying around Romney as the only Republican who has a shot at beating Obama. We’ll attack him when he’s president.

via Ann Coulter – November 16, 2011 – IF NOT ROMNEY, WHO? IF NOT NOW, WHEN?.

What do you think of her analysis?

A bad year for dictators

The North Korean “dear leader” Kim Jong-Il is dead.  His son, twenty-something Kim Jong-Un, has been named his successor.  The military is running a missile-test, as if to warn the world to stay back.

2011:  A bad year for dictators.  Gaddafi overthrown and killed.  Mubarak thrown out.  Hassad and Putin facing unrest.  And now this.

What do you think will happen now?  Will North Korea take the chance to join with its prosperous relatives in the South, or keep the starvation and mass oppression of Communism going?

via Kim Jong-Il dies, North Korea rallies around son – Yahoo! News.

See also Mollie Hemingway’s account of the brutality of the Kim Jong-Il regime and how it especially targeted Christians.

The weekly holidays

What I don’t understand is why the militant secularists are expending so much energy to remove Christmas from the cultural calendar while ignoring Christianity’s more immediate influence on the patterns of everyday life:  the weekly calendar.

Government workers, students in public schools, and many other employees get Sunday off.   That is a direct influence of the Christian religion.  Observance of the “Lord’s Day” used to manifest itself in all kinds of so-called “blue laws” mandating the closing of businesses on Sundays, and though those have mostly faded away, Sunday is still a day off for lots of people, including federal workers!  In fact, Saturday has also become a day off for lots of people, including public school children and public employees.  That recognizes the Jewish sabbath.  You will notice that the Muslim holy day of Thursday is not similarly set apart.  Christianity and Judaism have a privileged place in Western civilization, as evidenced by our observance of their two weekly holy days.  If it’s bad to establish one religion, it’s surely even worse to establish two.

Or three.  The names of the days of the week are also religiously-laden.  In addition to days honoring the Sun (Sunday) and the Moon (Monday), we have days specifically named after Teutonic deities (Tiews’ Day, Woden’s Day, Thor’s Day, Freya’s Day), plus the Greco-Roman proto-god Saturn.

If secularists object to Christ’s name being in Christmas, shouldn’t they object to Thor’s name being in Thursday?  I suppose the difference is that lots of people still believe in Christ, who has pretty much displaced Thor worship.  But still, the secularists believe in one no more than the other.  And, I am told, there are certain pagans who are trying to bring back the old deities.

I hope I am not giving the secularist activists–or Christian activists worried about idolatry when they make weekly schedules–any ideas!  If we start to see lawsuits trying to keep schoolchildren and federal workers from getting to stay home on the weekends, blame me.

But my point is that religion and culture are intertwined to the point that it is very difficult to unravel them.  As has been said, the root of “culture” is “cult.”  Not in the sense of a splinter religious group, but in the sense of “worship.”

Ron Paul, uniter

American politics is polarized.   Our government is in a state of paralysis.  Conservatives, liberals, and moderates are at each other’s throats.  National unity is no more.   And yet, I see a presidential candidate who might be able to bring the country together:  Ron Paul.

He has the support of the Tea Party dissidents on the right who yearn for a more limited, more constitutional government.  But he also has significant support from the Occupy Wall Street dissidents on the left for his criticism of big corporations and the banking interests.   And yet he appeals to business folks as a free market purist.  He is pro-life, which is enough to satisfy lots of social conservatives (and he would certainly appoint “original intent” judges).  He is also anti-war, which attracts lots of liberals disillusioned with Obama’s war machine.  Above all, he has appeal to the vast internet subculture, which, as observers have noted, is essentially libertarian.

Whether or not you want him as president–and please don’t confuse my mental experiments on this blog for my own endorsements–could it be that Dr. Paul or someone with an ideology like his shows the way to bring this country together again?


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