In “Rules for Craftsmen” Bobo says it takes a complex cocktail of qualities to lead the country. Voters should be looking for the person who can most plausibly fix our political system. Of course, his opening statement is mind-boggling divorced from reality. Which makes it classic Bobo, I guess. Mr. Cohen has a question in “The New Egypt:” Do the violent clashes reflect the failure of Egypt’s revolution or the inevitable birth pangs of democracy? In “Pop Goes the President” Mr. Bruni gurgles that candidate now needs to be up on Snooki as well as Bibi, and an up-to-the-minute playlist doesn’t hurt. Yeah, Mr. Bruni, let’s make every effort to further trivialize the business of electing a president. Heck of an idea, Frankie. Here’s Bobo:
Voters have been astonishingly clear. In 2000, they elected George W. Bush after he promised to change the tone in Washington. In 2008, they elected Barack Obama after he promised to move the country beyond stale partisan debates. In this year’s first presidential debate, surveys show that viewers loved Mitt Romney’s talk of professionalism and bipartisanship.
In other words, primary campaigns are won by the candidate who can most convincingly champion the party’s agenda, but general election campaigns are won by the candidate who can most plausibly fix the political system. So let’s think carefully about what sort of leader it would take to break through the partisan dysfunction and make Washington work.
First, it doesn’t take moderation. It’s important to distinguish between moderation and pragmatism. Ted Kennedy was nobody’s definition of a moderate, yet he had the ability to craft large and effective compromises on issues ranging from immigration to education and health care.
Second, the governing craftsman has to have a dual consciousness. He has to be able to distinguish between a campaign consciousness and a governing consciousness. The campaign consciousness involves simplifying your own positions, exaggerating your opponent’s weaknesses and magnifying the differences between your relative positions. In governing mode, you have to do the reverse of all these things.
Third, it does require the ability to count. The governing craftsman has to be able to know how many votes each side possesses. He has to avoid the narcissistic question: What do I want? He has to ask instead: Given this correlation of forces, what is the landscape offering me?
Fourth, the craftsman has to avoid the trap of thinking that right makes right. He has to avoid saying to himself: My position is objectively the correct one. Therefore, all I have to do is get the facts out there, win the debate and then I’ll get everything I want.
The craftsman has to accept the hard reality that the other side also believes these things. It is extremely unlikely that one side will convince the other, or the country. The craftsman can hope for some final ideological victory, but he can’t realistically expect one.
Fifth, the craftsman has to distinguish between existential issues and business issues. Winston Churchill would have made a terrible mistake if he had compromised with the appeasers. On the other hand, Dan Rostenkowski and Robert Packwood were absolutely right to compromise to get the tax reform of 1986 passed.
The craftsman has to understand that in the middle of the fight almost every issue will feel like an existential issue, though, in reality, 98 percent of legislative conflicts are business issues.
Sixth, the craftsman has to be able to read a calendar. It is psychically painful to move away from your heartfelt position. It is easier to say to yourself: I can’t get what I want now, but, if I just wait, I’ll win the next election and get everything after that. Participants in the Middle East peace process do this: They postpone their dreams while maximizing their demands.
The craftsman has to understand that these distant fantasies almost never come true. It is usually better to make a small step next month than do nothing in hopes of a total victory next generation.
Seventh, the craftsman has to be socially promiscuous. Deal-making is about friendship. The craftsman has to work on relationships all day every day. It’s not enough to talk to your adversaries in negotiations. You have to talk to them when nothing is happening. You have to talk to them when they are up, when they are down. You have to celebrate their anniversaries and birthdays.
Eighth, the craftsman has to betray his side. It is relatively easy to cut a deal with the leader of the other party. It is really hard to sell that deal to the rigid people in your own party. Therefore, the craftsman has to enter into a conspiracy with the other party’s leader in order to manipulate the party bases. The leaders have to invent stories so that each base thinks it has won.
Ninth, the craftsman has to understand that stylistic pragmatism has to be accompanied by substance pragmatism. Barack Obama really wanted to move beyond stale battle lines. But he offered a conventional Democratic agenda. If you want to break the partisan stagnation, you have to come up with an unexpected policy agenda that will scramble the categories. You have to mix proposals from columns A and B.
Finally, a craftsman has to be tough inside and soft outside. It hurts to cede ground. The craftsman has to be gritty enough to endure the pain that always accompanies compromise, yet sensitive enough to recognize and sympathize with the other party’s pain.
Voters are right to demand craftsmanship, given the brutal trade-offs that loom ahead. But, boy, it’s hard.
So the voters were “astonishingly clear” in 2000? So that whole no-stare-decisis “Bush v. Gore” thing was a bit of theater? What must it take to write shit like Bobo comes up with? Here’s Mr. Cohen, who’s in Cairo:
The fighting began in mid-afternoon on Talaat Harb Street, close to Tahrir Square. I watched as young men, their faces bloodied, were rushed away. The crowd eddied back and forth beneath volleys of stones and rocks. Young men heaved sacks of rubble, never in short supply in Cairo, toward the front. Cheers erupted when the protesters advanced only to die away in headlong retreat.
There was no trace of the Egyptian state — not the police, not the military — as liberal and socialist opponents of President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood backers battled over several hours in the bloodiest clash between the nation’s secular and Islamist currents since the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak 20 months ago. More than 100 people were injured.
The demonstrators on Talaat Harb, their passage into the iconic square blocked by a phalanx of stone-throwing Brotherhood supporters, were incensed. They had long planned this demonstration in anger at Morsi’s first 100 days as president and in protest at what they see as a flawed, over-hasty procedure for drafting a new constitution. Now the dominant Brotherhood had hijacked proceedings.
“We called this protest three weeks ago to dissolve the constitutional assembly, and they decided yesterday to come to the square and confront us,” Karima el Hefnawy, a prominent socialist activist, told me. She was pale and shaking with rage. “The Brotherhood does not work for the people but its own interests. Now the Egyptian people can see their fanaticism.”
George Ishaq, a leading liberal, had a lapidary verdict: “This is a black day in the history of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
I had stood among the jubilant crowd in Tahrir Square in February, 2011, as the very forces hurling rocks at each other last Friday — the Brotherhood and the young more secular Egyptians who ignited the uprising — embraced and celebrated the toppling of Egypt’s 30-year dictatorship.
So has that glorious dream of liberty, democracy and the rule of law crumbled, as most things do, into the enveloping Cairo dust?
Revolutions give way to their aftermaths. Unity cedes to disunity as binding adrenalin fades. A shared enemy is supplanted by competing interests. The groceries must still be bought. Egypt is no exception to an old rule. I spoke to several disappointed friends in the liberal camp who now say they favor enlightened despotism.
These liberals are too bitter too soon. They are too dismissive of the road traveled these past 20 months through more than a half-dozen national votes and a bitter confrontation between the military and civilians — events that might have upended Egypt but have seen civilians prevail, U.S.-trained generals salute an Islamic president, and a tenuous stability hold.
But do the enduring troubles in the largest Arab state betoken looming collapse or the inevitable churn of liberty being birthed? And can Morsi, emerging from the conservative Brotherhood wing and elected with 51.7 percent of the vote, convince the 48.3 percent that they, too, have a place in the new Egypt?
These questions in turn pose another to the United States and the West: Should they pour much-needed funds and support into Morsi’s historic experiment in reconciling Islam and an open society, or conclude that any such attempt is stillborn and side again with some secular despot, uniformed or not?
The events Friday were troubling. The Brotherhood has a hard time accepting dissent. Its avowed reason for occupying Tahrir — the acquittal last week of Mubarak-era officials accused of involvement in the deadly camel charge on protesters in the square last year — looked like righteous camouflage for suppressing an anti-Morsi demonstration. Islamists cannot rule and form the opposition at once.
Morsi has made mistakes. He fired the chief prosecutor last week over that camel-case acquittal and attempted to dispatch him as Vatican ambassador. Then — yes, Mr. President, the judiciary is independent — he had to reinstate him.
He made ridiculous claims this month in a big speech to a Brotherhood-dominated crowd: “We have achieved 70 percent progress in national security, 60 percent in the traffic, 40 percent in the garbage, 80 percent in bread and 85 percent with gas.”
Many Egyptians, stuck for hours in the 40 percent of traffic officially remaining, mired in the 60 percent of garbage outstanding, and struck by the 30-percent absent police, laughed. (Egyptians have a gift for laughter, one cause for optimism.)
Morsi is given to long perorations heavy on Koranic quotations. But he also has shown a deft hand in outflanking the military, courage in standing up in Tehran and denouncing Assad’s murderous Syrian regime, and — to the Western officials who deal with him — a strong sense of the need for inclusiveness. That instinct faces its most decisive test in the critical debate over a new constitution.
Freedom is not the subordinate clause some Egyptian liberals now turn it into. Democracy is precious precisely because it is fragile and unpredictable. The West — after Algeria and Gaza and decades of the hypocrisy that condoned the likes of Assad — must back Morsi to be better than Friday’s violence suggested.
On the constitution he must prove he is — or the Tahrir battle will presage worse.
And now here’s the ever-more-trivial Mr. Bruni (who maybe should go back to being a food critic):
To the clamor for administration records concerning embassy security, I’d like to add my own request. I hereby subpoena President Obama’s iPod.
Nicki Minaj? For real? On Friday the president claimed that her voice was one of those occasionally streaming through his ear buds. I don’t buy it. For starters, she once rapped, facetiously or not, that she was voting for Mitt Romney and that Obama was a “lazy” noun-that-I-can’t-print-in-this-newspaper. On top of which, the president strikes me as more of an Adele guy, rolling in the deep of a post-debate funk.
But he’d been asked to weigh in on Minaj’s feud with Mariah Carey, and after praising Carey for fund-raising help, he hastened to throw some love in her foe’s direction. While Mitt Romney is on multiple sides of a single issue, Obama is on all sides of iTunes.
Right about now you’re probably wondering which journalistic titan assigned Obama the role of diva diplomat, daring him to effect a diva détente. David Gregory? Diane Sawyer?
Close! It was Michael Yo Simmons, a disc jockey who calls himself the “half-black brother with a Korean mother,” moonlights as a correspondent for E! News, and was quizzing Obama for the Y100 radio station in Miami. You’d think Obama would be wary of such unorthodox terrain. You’d be forgetting that he’s braved the wilds of “Letterman” seven times and “The View” five times and has the distinction of being the first sitting president to appear on a daytime TV talk show.
You’d also be overlooking the much-noted stretch last summer when he did interviews with People, Glamour and “Entertainment Tonight” while harder-edged media went hungry. On the Web site Mediaite, Jon Bershad teased: “As we speak, I imagine one of the President’s top aides is running into the room excitedly. ‘Mr. President!’ the aide yells. ‘Good news! We booked that interview with Mad!’ ”
This presidential election will go down as the one in which the pop-culture pander reached its ludicrous apotheosis and we were asked to believe things even more fantastical than a revenue-neutral 20-percent cut in marginal tax rates.
Things like Romney’s swoon for Snooki, whose “spark-plug personality” he praised when he manned up for a grilling from 2012’s heir to David Frost and Tim Russert. I speak, naturally, of Kelly Ripa.
Politicians once labored to affirm their seriousness, ticking off the tomes they’d read. Now they’re as likely to assert their silliness, tallying up the stars they ogle.
Being a pointy head is risky, unless you’re also a headbanger. So Paul Ryan balances his pie charts with his playlist: AC/DC, Twisted Sister, Rage Against the Machine. You look at those bands’ names and think: the man has either a wicked sense of humor or a subconscious in florid rebellion.
I blame Bill Clinton, who toted his saxophone onto “The Arsenio Hall Show,” an exhibitionist about his embouchure. But at least he had the courage of his pop-culture squareness, mooning over Judy Collins and “Chelsea Morning” rather than Courtney Love and “Doll Parts.”
His successor, George W. Bush, had the courage of his pop-culture ignorance. During his 2000 campaign, he conceded that he’d never seen the 1997 blockbuster “Titanic,” couldn’t place Leonardo DiCaprio and thought “Friends” was a movie.
When Bush sat down for his own Glamour interview and his interrogator mentioned “Sex and the City,” his face “blistered in a purple fury,” according to the article. He thought those words augured an inquiry into his erotic and geographic whereabouts.
These days, I get the sense that candidates are prepped as fully on the Billboard Hot 100 and the Nielsen Top 20 as on trade pacts.
Stuart Stevens to Romney: “Favorite Lady Gaga song?”
Romney: “ ‘Poker Face,’ because it’s what a commander in chief needs to negotiate with world leaders!”
Stevens: “Favorite TV show?”
Romney: “ ‘The Voice,’ because 53 percent of Americans have a unique one, which can realize its potential if freed from federal regulations and the whining of the other 47 percent.”
Obama has Romney beat on the television front, having already laid claim to “Homeland,” with its theme of cunning in the war on terror. And while Ann Romney recently telegraphed a modern sensibility by raving about “Modern Family,” she’s pop-culture miles behind Michelle Obama, who made a guest appearance on “The Biggest Loser” and did push-ups on “Ellen.”
The way things are going, I wouldn’t be shocked to look up in 2016 and see Ryan on “Survivor” and Hillary Clinton chatting with Ricki Lake about her secret passion for the “Rush Hour” movies and crush on Jackie Chan.
That’s the sort of thing that pols believe will get through to — and reassure — a distracted electorate. I’m not sure if that says more about them or about us.
Well, bucko, you’re not adding any gravitas to the discussion now are you? Asshole.