Do we need a manager rather than an ideologue?

Some Republicans, resigning themselves to what looks like an inevitable Mitt Romney nomination, are growing philosophical.  Yes, Romney falls short ideologically.  But maybe we don’t need an ideologue.  Maybe a management consultant as president is exactly what we need.  From Michael Gerson:

Maybe, at this moment, the Republican Party doesn’t need a clear decision on its identity (which might not be possible anyway). Romney has this advantage: In supporting him, no Republican is called upon to surrender his or her deepest ideological convictions. Romney is temperamentally conservative but not particularly ideological. He reserves his enthusiasm for quantitative analysis and organizational discipline. He seems to view the cultural and philosophic debates that drive others as distractions from the real task of governing — making systems work.

His competitors have attempted to portray Romney’s ideological inconsistency over time as a character failure. It hasn’t worked, mainly because Romney is a man of exemplary character — deeply loyal to his faith, his family and his country. But he clearly places political ideology in a different category of fidelity. Like Dwight Eisenhower, Romney is a man of vague ideology and deep values. In political matters, he is empirical and pragmatic. He studies problems, assesses risks, calculates likely outcomes. Those expecting Romney to be a philosophic leader will be disappointed. He is a management consultant, and a good one.

Has the moment of the management consultant arrived in American politics?

via Mitt Romney’s improbable achievement – The Washington Post.

I would just like to remind the public that pragmatism is an ideology.  And that just doing “what works” begs the question of “works to do what?”  The answer to the “what” question will be determined by another ideology that lies just below the surface.

Information’s dependence on advertising

Ezra Klein points out that in the 19th century the different newspapers were tied to and funded by political parties.  The news was slanted accordingly.  But then newspaper revenue switched to advertising. This led to a greater degree of objectivity–as well as blandness–since newspapers didn’t want to alienate any particular audience, the advertisers wanting to sell to everybody.

After that interesting discussion, Klein segues into a larger discussion based on this observation:

One of the most mind-bending facts of our information culture is that almost every major medium of information supports itself by advertising.

Radio? Advertisers. Magazines? Advertisers. Television? Advertisers. Google? Advertisers. Facebook? Advertisers. Twitter? Advertisers. Perhaps the only major exceptions to this rule are books, which are supported by sales, and Wikipedia, which is supported largely through donations.

From an economic standpoint, most information is simply a vehicle for advertising. We see the advertising as a distraction. But so far as the media company’s bottom line goes, the advertising is the point. Without the advertising, the information wouldn’t exist. So the history of information, in the United States at least, is the history of platforms that could support advertising.

via Human knowledge, brought to you by . . . – The Washington Post.

Thus free market capitalism shapes the online world and makes it available for nothing!  Of course, in exchange it gets information about us, so as to make marketing to us more effective.

Do you see anything nefarious or potentially nefarious in this?

Our new military era

At the Pentagon last week President Obama announced the new defense budget, which will include some cuts and will also herald a new military strategy.  Briefly, the president declared that the last decade’s wars against Islamic radicals are over.  And we will be pulling troops out of Europe and re-positioning them to face China.   David Ignatius gives details:

It was easy to miss the impact of Obama’s words: He was declaring that the era that began on Sept. 11, 2001, is over. Al-Qaeda’s top leader is dead, and most of its cadres are on the run; secret peace talks are under way with the Taliban. And across the Arab world, the United States is talking with Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist organizations that a few years ago might have been on terror lists. It’s a process that’s similar to the way Britain ended its long war with Irish terrorists, by engaging in negotiations with the IRA’s “political” wing.

What else will the shift mean? The Pacific focus inescapably means fewer resources for the traditional Atlantic partnership, symbolized by NATO. U.S. troops will be coming home from Europe, probably in larger numbers than expected. And given its recent economic jitters, Europe may feel abandoned. Will the Germans respond by drawing closer to Russia? Watch that space.

Obama’s pivot turns U.S. power toward China, and Beijing is understandably nervous. U.S. officials keep repeating that this won’t mean a policy of “containment” and that the United States accepts a rising China as a 21st-century inevitability. An Obama emissary was in Beijing last week, delivering that message of reassurance. But the Chinese aren’t stupid; they know that America is moving forces their way.

A period of rivalry and tension is ahead in the Pacific. One early test is whether the United States can expand on its recent opening to Burma. Another will be the delicate leadership transition in North Korea, which should be an area for Sino-American cooperation but might be the opposite. A third area will involve trade relations: Obama is pushing a ­“Trans-Pacific Partnership” that would create NAFTA-style links across the Pacific. But how realistic is this for an America that already has trade jitters?

As the United States changes its defense priorities, the wild cards are Pakistan and Iran, two countries powered by a seemingly inexhaustible supply of anti-Americanism. Pakistan, after years of chafing against U.S. tutelage, seems serious about reevaluating its ties, with its top general making a symbolic “we don’t need you” visit last week to the other superpower, China. For once, the United States wasn’t chasing after the Pakistanis trying to lecture and plead our way back to the status quo. That’s good, but Washington still needs a cooperative relationship with Islamabad, especially in settling the Afghanistan conflict.

As for the Iranians, they seem for the first time in years to be genuinely nervous — not because of U.S. or Israeli saber-rattling but because economic sanctions are causing a run on their currency and the beginnings of a financial panic in Tehran. And more sanctions are on the way this year. At some point, the Iranian regime will actually be in jeopardy — and it will punch back. That’s the scenario the White House must think through carefully with its allies. If the current course continues, a collision with Iran is ahead.

via Obama closes the book on the 9/11 era – The Washington Post.

On what grounds, I wonder, are we making China the enemy du jour?  Is this wise, this show of belligerence against the country to which we owe the most money?  Does this whole plan seem wise?

A new kind of environmentalism

Classic environmentalism wants to restore things to their pristine condition, untouched by man.  But a new kind of environmentalism thinks that man should actively take the lead in steering “spaceship earth.”

More and more environmentalists and scientists talk about the planet as a complex system, one that human beings must aggressively monitor, manage and sometimes reengineer. Kind of like a spaceship.

This is a sharp departure from traditional “green” philosophy. The more orthodox way of viewing nature is as something that must be protected from human beings — not managed by them. And many environmentalists have reservations about possible unintended consequences of well-meaning efforts. No one wants a world that requires constant intervention to fix problems caused by previous interventions.

At the same time, “we’re in a position where we have to take a more interventionist role and a more managerial role,” says Emma Marris, author of “Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World.” “The easy answer used to be to turn back time and make it look like it used to. Before was always better. Before is no longer an option.”

Although Marris is speaking about restoration ecology — how to manage forests and other natural systems — this interventionist approach can be applied to the planet more broadly. In his book “The God Species: Saving the Planet in the Age of Humans,” environmental activist Mark Lynas writes, “Nature no longer runs the Earth. We do. It is our choice what happens from here.”

via Spaceship Earth: A new view of environmentalism – The Washington Post.

Read the whole article for examples of this “ecopragmatism,” which depends on technology to give us a better environment.

How is this different from not being an environmentalist?  Doesn’t this describe the “dominion” over nature that the Bible describes and that human beings have been carrying out for millennia?  It seems different mainly in its utopian trust in human capabilities, which nature has been humbling for a long time.

The CIA, patron of modern art

Frances Saunders reports in the British newspaper The Independent that modern art, particularly abstract expressionism, was funded by the C.I.A. as part of its covert war on communism.

For decades in art circles it was either a rumour or a joke, but now it is confirmed as a fact. The Central Intelligence Agency used American modern art – including the works of such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko – as a weapon in the Cold War. In the manner of a Renaissance prince – except that it acted secretly – the CIA fostered and promoted American Abstract Expressionist painting around the world for more than 20 years. . . .

Why did the CIA support them? Because in the propaganda war with the Soviet Union, this new artistic movement could be held up as proof of the creativity, the intellectual freedom, and the cultural power of the US. Russian art, strapped into the communist ideological straitjacket, could not compete. . . .

The decision to include culture and art in the US Cold War arsenal was taken as soon as the CIA was founded in 1947. Dismayed at the appeal communism still had for many intellectuals and artists in the West, the new agency set up a division, the Propaganda Assets Inventory, which at its peak could influence more than 800 newspapers, magazines and public information organisations. . . .

The next key step came in 1950, when the International Organisations Division (IOD) was set up under Tom Braden. It was this office which subsidised the animated version of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which sponsored American jazz artists, opera recitals, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s international touring programme. Its agents were placed in the film industry, in publishing houses, even as travel writers for the celebrated Fodor guides. And, we now know, it promoted America’s anarchic avant-garde movement, Abstract Expressionism. . . .

Until now there has been no first-hand evidence to prove that this connection was made, but for the first time a former case officer, Donald Jameson, has broken the silence. Yes, he says, the agency saw Abstract Expressionism as an opportunity, and yes, it ran with it.

“Regarding Abstract Expressionism, I’d love to be able to say that the CIA invented it just to see what happens in New York and downtown SoHo tomorrow!” he joked. “But I think that what we did really was to recognise the difference. It was recognised that Abstract Expression- ism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism look even more stylised and more rigid and confined than it was. And that relationship was exploited in some of the exhibitions.

“In a way our understanding was helped because Moscow in those days was very vicious in its denunciation of any kind of non-conformity to its own very rigid patterns. And so one could quite adequately and accurately reason that anything they criticised that much and that heavy- handedly was worth support one way or another.” . . .

Because Abstract Expressionism was expensive to move around and exhibit, millionaires and museums were called into play. Pre-eminent among these was Nelson Rockefeller, whose mother had co-founded the Museum of Modern Art in New York. As president of what he called “Mummy’s museum”, Rockefeller was one of the biggest backers of Abstract Expressionism (which he called “free enterprise painting”). His museum was contracted to the Congress for Cultural Freedom [a CIA front] to organise and curate most of its important art shows.

The museum was also linked to the CIA by several other bridges. William Paley, the president of CBS broadcasting and a founding father of the CIA, sat on the members’ board of the museum’s International Programme. John Hay Whitney, who had served in the agency’s wartime predecessor, the OSS, was its chairman. And Tom Braden, first chief of the CIA’s International Organisations Division, was executive secretary of the museum in 1949.

Now in his eighties, Mr Braden lives in Woodbridge, Virginia, in a house packed with Abstract Expressionist works and guarded by enormous Alsatians. He explained the purpose of the IOD.

“We wanted to unite all the people who were writers, who were musicians, who were artists, to demonstrate that the West and the United States was devoted to freedom of expression and to intellectual achievement, without any rigid barriers as to what you must write, and what you must say, and what you must do, and what you must paint, which was what was going on in the Soviet Union. I think it was the most important division that the agency had, and I think that it played an enormous role in the Cold War.”

via Modern art was CIA weapon – World – News – The Independent.

I look forward to the reaction of the art world to these revelations.  But the West really did stand for the freedom of expression over against Communism with its collectivist “socialist realist” art that had to depict stereotyped images of the class struggle.   And, as I keep pointing out, it was the artists behind the Iron Curtain, chafing under the Soviet restrictions and looking to the West for alternatives, who played a major role in the fall of communism.  So I would say that this is a good example of government funding for the arts!

HT:  tODD

Santorum’s philosophy of government

Michael Gerson on Rick Santorum’s brand of conservatism:

Perhaps the most surprising result of the Iowa caucuses was the return of compassionate conservatism from the margins of the Republican stage to its center. Rick Santorum is not just an outspoken social conservative; he is the Republican candidate who addresses the struggles of blue-collar workers and the need for greater economic mobility. He talks not only of the rights of the individual but also of the health of social institutions, particularly the family. He draws out the public consequences of a belief in human dignity — a pro-life view applied to the unborn and to victims of AIDS in Africa.

Electability Republicans can live with Santorum’s populism and moralism. Anti-government activists cannot and have begun their assault. Santorum is referred to as a “pro-life statist.” David Boaz of the Cato Institute cites evidence implicating him in shocking ideological crimes, such as “promotion of prison ministries” and wanting to “expand colon cancer screenings for Medicare beneficiaries.”

But Santorum is not engaged in heresy; he represents an alternative tradition of conservative political philosophy. Libertarians may wish to claim exclusive marketing rights, but there are two healthy, intellectual movements in American conservatism: libertarianism and religious (particularly Catholic) social thought.

Libertarianism is an extreme form of individualism, in which personal rights trump every other social goal and institution. It is actually a species of classical liberalism, not conservatism — more directly traceable to John Stuart Mill than Edmund Burke or Alexis de Tocqueville. The Catholic (and increasingly Protestant) approach to social ethics asserts that liberty is made possible by strong social institutions — families, communities, congregations — that prepare human beings for the exercise of liberty by teaching self-restraint, compassion and concern for the public good. Oppressive, overreaching government undermines these value-shaping institutions. Responsible government can empower them — say, with a child tax credit or a deduction for charitable giving — as well as defend them against the aggressions of extreme poverty or against “free markets” in drugs or obscenity.

This is not statism; it is called subsidiarity. In this view, needs are best served by institutions closest to individuals. But when those institutions require help or protection, higher-order institutions should intervene. So when state governments imposed Jim Crow laws, the federal government had a duty to overturn them. When a community is caught in endless economic depression and drained of social capital, government should find creative ways to empower individuals and charities — maybe even prison ministries that change lives from the inside out.

via Rick Santorum and the return of compassionate conservatism – The Washington Post.

Santorum has been dismissed in some of our comments as a “big government conservative.”  But isn’t his political philosophy, if Gerson is right, more Burkean in its attention to other social institutions?  (For example, he blames poverty in part on the breakup of the family.)

Do you see anything distinctly Roman Catholic about this version–”subsidiarity”–or can it fit just as well with Protestant theologies?  Does it assume the church’s earthly authority (which both Catholics and some Reformed could agree with)?  Does it work with the Lutheran doctrine of the Two Kingdoms?


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