The Pasty Little Putz has a question in “Up From Greenwich:” Can the G.O.P. stop being the party of the rich? Once my cats stopped laughing they pointed out what “mancuroc” from Rochester, NY had to say in the comments: “ ‘the Republicans could finally — and deservedly — shake their identity as a party that cares only about the rich.’ And the sun could rise in the west.” In “Angell in the Outfield” MoDo tells us that from Babe to Jeter, Roger Angell has taken his readers out to the old ballgame. This is the kind of writing she’s capable of, and I wish she’d do more of it. The Moustache of Wisdom asks “What Is News?” He tells us that Madagascar, one of the world’s greatest ecosystems, is on the edge. Mr. Kristof tells us about “The World’s Coolest Places.” He says if we’re looking for a summer escape here are some suggestions for adventure way beyond a scintillating beach read. Here’s The Putz:
When Barack Obama won the White House in 2008, he did so in an unusual way for a Democrat: As the candidate of the rich. He raised more in large-dollar donations than any of his rivals and raked in more cash from Wall Street than John McCain. In November, he won the upper class’s votes: By 52 percent to 46 percent, according to exit polls, Americans making more than $200,000 cast their ballots for Obama.
There were several reasons for this shift, some specific to 2008 (elite exhaustion with the Bush presidency, the power of Obamamania) and some reflecting deeper trends: The Republican Party’s post-1970s gains among white working-class voters; the Democratic Party’s post-1980s attempts to shed its anti-business reputation; the increasing cultural liberalism of the affluent; and the rise of the so-called “liberal rich.”
In the wake of Obama’s ’08 victory, these trends confronted Republicans with an interesting dilemma: Should they seek to actively win back the Aspen-Greenwich vote, or embrace their increasingly populist coalition and try to rebuild from the middle out?
Across the first Obama term, they mostly tried the first approach. There was an incredibly strong populist mood on the right — hence the Tea Party’s anti-Washington fervor, the rumblings against Wall Street from figures like Glenn Beck. But the populists marched into blind alleys on policy and rallied round never-gonna-happen standard bearers, while the mainstream of the party mostly stuck to a more generic script — job creators good, class warfare bad, you built that and now the 47 percent are living off your hard work …
Sure enough, in 2012, Mitt Romney won back the over-$200,000 vote, mostly by regaining ground in the suburbs around New York City. But what he didn’t win was the actual election, mostly because voters outside Greenwich and New Canaan decided that a G.O.P. obsessed with heroic entrepreneurs didn’t have their interests close to heart.
So haltingly at first, and then with increasing seriousness, Republicans began to look for a different path back to power — one tailored to the party’s growing dependence on working-class votes, and one designed to deliver populist substance as well as style.
Thus far they have circled around two broad approaches. One, dubbed “reform conservatism,” seeks to make the welfare state and tax code more friendly to work and child-rearing and upward mobility — through larger wage subsidies, bigger child tax credits, and a substantial clearing-out of the insider-friendly subsidies and tax breaks and regulations that drive up costs in health care, real estate, energy and higher education.
The other, “libertarian populism,” is even more zealous about attacking rent-seeking and crony capitalism, while also looking for other places — criminal justice reform, notably — where a libertarian approach to public policy might benefit people lower on the economic ladder.
These two approaches substantially overlap (with the main difference being a skepticism among the libertarians about targeting tax cuts and subsidies specifically to parents and the poor). And together, they provide the foundation on which a number of prominent Republicans — Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul — have built policy proposals over the last year.
Now that list includes Paul Ryan, who last week released a blueprint that folds together many of the strongest reformist and libertarian ideas: There’s a larger earned-income tax credit, proposed cuts to corporate welfare, a call for sentencing reform for nonviolent offenses, a critique of “regressive regulations” like licensing requirements, and much more.
This kind of agenda has a long way to go before we can call it the official Republican program. It could face opposition in 2016 from donors who were pretty happy with the Romney approach, and from activists who regard anything save deep austerity as a sellout to the left.
But if the G.O.P. fully embraces the ideas its younger-generation leaders are pursuing, the Democrats could suddenly find themselves in a difficult spot. Liberals can theoretically outbid a limited-government populism, yes — but given the fiscal picture, they would need to raise taxes significantly to do so, alienating their own donors, the middle class or both. And the immediate liberal critique of Ryan’s new plan — that it’s too paternalistic, too focused on pushing welfare recipients to work — harkened back to debates that the Democratic Party used to lose.
Meanwhile, Obama-era liberalism has grown dangerously comfortable with big business-big government partnerships. It’s a bad sign when even the tribune of left-wing populism, Elizabeth Warren, feels obliged to defend, against libertarian populist attacks, an icon of crony capitalism like the Export-Import Bank.
So there’s a scenario — still unlikely, but much more plausible than a year ago — in which the pattern of 2012 could be reversed: A deepening association with big money and big business could suddenly become an albatross for Democrats, and the Republicans could finally — and deservedly — shake their identity as a party that cares only about the rich.
Oh, don’t you just hope and pray that’ll happen, Putzy… Here’s MoDo:
Roger Angell takes off his brown J. Press sports coat and blue cap, yanks out his hearing aids, stashes his cane, and sits down for a shave and haircut at Delta barbershop at 72nd and Lex., the same spot he’s patronized for 40 years. “I don’t see Henry Kissinger doing any interviews in a barbershop,” he says dryly.
The 93-year-old New Yorker writer has come down from his house in Maine to get spruced up for the Baseball Hall of Fame ceremony this weekend. The old man who has lovingly described so many young men playing the game is getting the sport’s highest writing honor, the J. G. Taylor Spink Award, unprecedented recognition for “a drop-in writer,” as he calls himself, whose leisurely deadlines prevented him from becoming a member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
In 1962, he says, he took the advice of New Yorker editor William Shawn to try writing about something exotic, like baseball, describing Shawn’s red-cheeked excitement when Angell explained to him what a double play was.
Baseball writing was a part-time gig for Angell, who served for many years as the magazine’s fiction editor, following in the footsteps of his mother, Katharine Angell White, who left his father to marry her colleague E. B. White. When Angell moved into his mother’s old New Yorker office, he chuckles, his shrink called it the “biggest single act of sublimation in my experience.”
The lover of books and words — who else would use “venery” in a story and write the world’s longest palindrome? — crisply shepherded John Updike, Donald Barthelme and William Trevor, as he himself became so luminous that Sports Illustrated compared him to Willie Mays, the player Angell calls so thrilling he “took your breath away.” It’s refreshing that a sport that has become tarnished by the desire to amp itself up — on steroids, merchandise and video — should honor someone so unamped.
In person, the writer is less “Angellic” — the adjective coined to describe his beguiling writing — than astringent. He has spent most of a century, from Ruth to Jeter, passionately tracking the sport as a fan, but he also proclaims himself a “foe of goo.” He much prefers the sexy “Bull Durham” to the sentimental “Field of Dreams.” He sniffs at being called “the poet laureate of baseball” and winces at a recent reverential Sports Illustrated profile. “It made me sound like the Dalai Lama,” he says. “My God, I’m just a guy who happened to live on for a long time. I’d rather be younger and writing than all this stuff.”
When I ask him if the Jacques Barzun quote “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball” was outmoded, he scoffs: “I didn’t write about baseball because I was looking for the heart and soul of America. I don’t care if baseball is the national pastime or not. The thing about baseball is, it’s probably the hardest game to play. The greatest hitters are only succeeding a third of the time. If you take a great athlete who’s never played baseball and put him in the infield, he’s lost.”
Many in our A.D.D. nation may find baseball soporific now, but not Angell.
“Baseball is linear — it’s like writing,” he says. “In other sports, there’s a lot going on at the same time. You can’t quite take it all in.”
Could soccer ever take over as the national pastime? “I don’t know,” he replied. “I felt I was being waterboarded by The New York Times with the World Cup.”
Do American men focus as much on baseball? “Baseball used to be really attractive for men because the guys that played it were normal size, they had winter jobs as truck drivers or beer salesmen,” he said. “So it was easy to think with a little bit of luck that could have been me. Now the athletes are clearly so much bigger and stronger and vastly more talented.”
Should steroid-tainted players be in the Hall of Fame?
“Barry Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame,” he said, expressing sympathy for players who get worn down playing every day. “There’s been a lot of cheating, if you want to call it that, particularly about home runs,” he said. “If Ted Williams had had a short right field in Fenway Park, he would have been much better than Babe Ruth, probably.”
We drop by a Ralph Lauren store. He wants to buy a cotton sweater for Cooperstown but doesn’t see anything he likes. “It’s hard to be old and shop,” he says. “The sales staff is probably terrified that I’m changing the age demographic. And I’m no longer sure what I want.”
He said the instructions for Cooperstown were “like D-Day,” but noted mordantly, “Anything I do is O.K. because they’ll say, ‘He’s old. What do you expect? He’s 93. He’s hopeless.’ ”
He wrote a swell New Yorker story about the vicissitudes of old age, talking about how he memorizes poems and writes blogs to stay sharp.
Most surprising, the widower — his beloved wife, Carol, died two years ago — extolled the virtues of sunset sexuality, ratifying Laurence Olivier’s line “Inside, we’re all 17, with red lips.”
He asked me to mention his “fiancée and closest companion, Peggy Moorman,” adding, “Everybody has been so weepy about me and Carol, but Peggy looks after me and is the center of my life.” As he wrote in “This Old Man,” “I believe that everyone in the world wants to be with someone else tonight, together in the dark, with the sweet warmth of a hip or a foot or a bare expanse of shoulder within reach.”
At least somebody around here knows how to play this game.
Next up we’re faced with The Moustache of Wisdom, writing from Fort-Dauphin, Madagascar:
With the world going crazy, I tried running away from the news. It didn’t work.
I’ve been doing an eco-survey of Madagascar, the island nation off the east coast of Africa that contains the highest percentage of plant and animal species found nowhere else on earth — all of them now endangered to one degree or another. My tour guide is Russ Mittermeier, the president of Conservation International and one of the world’s leading primatologists. We saw something the other day that even Mittermeier, who’s been coming here for 30 years, hadn’t seen before. We were trekking through the Berenty Reserve, one of the last remaining slices of Madagascar’s southern spiny desert, an ecosystem characterized by tall, thin, cactus-like plants exclusive to Madagascar. This forest is home to Sifaka lemurs: white, fluffy primates, with very long hind limbs that enable them to bound from tree to tree like forest kangaroos. How these lemurs are able to leap from one sharply spiked vertical tree to another without impaling themselves is a mystery.
After walking through the forest for hours, spotting a lemur here and there, we came upon a particularly dense grove and looked up. There, about 30 feet off the forest floor, were nine Sifaka lemurs huddling together for warmth in two groups — four on one limb, five on another — staring directly down at us. They looked as if they were drawn there by a Disney artist: too cute, too white, too fluffy to be other than the products of a toy factory. “I’ve seen two or three huddled together,” said Mittermeier later that night, “but I’ve never seen a whole group like that. I could have taken a whole chip full of pictures. I didn’t want to leave.”
None of us did. But it wasn’t just because we’d never seen such a thing before. It was because we knew we may never see such a thing again — that no one would, particularly our kids. Why? Just look at the trends: Madagascar has already lost more than 90 percent of its natural vegetation through deforestation, most of it over the last century, particularly the past few decades, said Mittermeier. “What remains is heavily fragmented and insufficiently protected, despite the fact that Madagascar has an essential national network of parks and reserves.”
And that brings me to the question: What is news?
I’ve visited and written a lot about Ukraine and the Middle East lately. The tragic events happening there are real news, worthy of world attention. But where we in the news media fall down is in covering the big trends — trends that on any given day don’t amount to much but over time could be vastly more significant than we can now imagine.
Too bad we’ll never see this news story: “The U.N. Security Council met today in emergency session to discuss the fact that Madagascar, one the world’s most biodiversity-rich nations, lost another percentage of its plant and animal species.” Or this: “Secretary of State John Kerry today broke off his vacation and rushed to Madagascar to try to negotiate a cease-fire between the loggers, poachers, miners and farmers threatening to devour the last fragments of Madagascar’s unique forests and the tiny group of dedicated local environmentalists trying to protect them.”
Because that won’t happen, we have to think about how this one-of-a-kind natural world can be protected with the limited resources here. We know the answer in theory — a well-managed national system of parks and reserves is vital because, given the current trends, anything outside such protected zones would be devoured by development and population growth. For Madagascar, this is particularly vital because, without its forests, neither its amazing plants nor animals will survive — which are a joy unto themselves and also attract critical tourist income for this incredibly poor country — and the people won’t survive either. These forests maintain the clean and sustainable water supplies and soils that Madagascar’s exploding population requires.
“We have to preserve this natural environment,” Hery Rajaonarimampianina, Madagascar’s president, told me in an interview. “One of my major policies is to develop eco-tourism. This can bring a lot of jobs. The problem is the poverty of the people that lead them to destroy the environment. That is very sad.”
Madagascar’s ecological challenge parallel’s the Middle East’s political challenge. The struggle here is all about preserving Madagascar’s natural diversity so its people will have the resilience, tools and options to ensure a decent future. A diverse system in nature is much more resilient and adaptable to change. Monocultures are enormously susceptible to disease. They can be wiped out by a single pest or weather event in a way that a poly-culture cannot.
In the Middle East today, though, the last remnants of poly-cultural nation states and communities are being wiped out. Christians are fleeing the Arab-Muslim world. Islamist jihadists in Syria and Iraq are beheading those who won’t convert to their puritanical Islam. Jews and Palestinians, Shiites and Sunnis keep forcing each other into tighter and tighter ghettos. So a human rain forest once rich with ethnic and religious diversity is becoming a collection of disconnected monocultures, enormously susceptible to disease — diseased ideas.
And now here’s Mr. Kristof:
Travel season is here, when so many Americans decamp to Cape Cod or the Jersey Shore. All of which is wonderful, and some day I plan to do a 10-part series on the world’s best beaches.
But travel can also be an education, a step toward empathy and international understanding. So for those with an adventurous streak who want to get beyond the madding crowd this summer, here are a few little-known travel spots that I recommend.
These just might be the world’s coolest places.
• Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands. This coral island in the Pacific Ocean was the site of American nuclear weapons tests in the 1940s and 1950s, but after decades left to itself it is now dazzlingly beautiful in a way that belies its history. Radiation has dissipated, and the deserted white-sand beaches are lined with coconut palms and scattered with seashells and an occasional giant sea turtle — which will hurriedly call to its friends: Look, there’s a rare sight, a human! The island is a reminder of the redemptive power of time and nature.
• Potosí, Bolivia. Perhaps no country in Latin America is more picturesque than Bolivia, and the most memorable Bolivian city may be Potosí. European explorers discovered a huge silver mountain here in the 1540s, and, in the 1600s, this was one of the major cities in the world. Tourists can descend the silver mines, and it is a searing and unforgettable experience. You go down hundreds of feet in tiny, sweltering tunnels thick with dust, talk to some of the miners, and get a glimpse of what life is like for the many Bolivians who work each day in the mines. After a couple of hours deep underground, sometimes struggling to breathe and fretting about cave-ins, you may have new empathy for the laborers responsible for silver bowls and cutlery.
• Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Maybe our best family trip started at Victoria Falls, which drenches you with spray and is so vast that it makes Niagara Falls seem like a backyard creek. Then we rented a car and made our way to Hwange National Park, which was empty of people but crowded with zebras, giraffes, elephants and more. Zimbabwe has far fewer tourists than South Africa or Kenya, and there’s less crime as well.
• Amritsar, India. The Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest shrine, is in northwestern India near the Pakistani border, and it is a delightful place to contemplate the draw of faith. A four-century-old temple set in a lake, it attracts Sikhs from around the world. It is much less visited by tourists than the Taj Mahal, yet it is just as serene, grand and unforgettable. You walk the circuit of the lake barefoot, with your head covered, and, for the full experience, you can sleep and eat in temple buildings.
• Tanna, Vanuatu. This remote island in the South Pacific is notable for its live volcano that you can climb at night. From the lip, you look down and see the fires and molten lava. It’s a natural fireworks display. The people of Tanna are also likely to invite you to drink kava, the local intoxicant, or perhaps join a village dance. The local faith tradition is a cargo cult. People believe in a god they call John Frum, perhaps based on an American military officer around the time of World War II who gave islanders their first glimpse of industrial products. One theory is that he introduced himself as “John from America,” but only the first two words survived and became his name.
• Cu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam. Follow a guide in wriggling on your stomach underground through these tunnels dug by Vietcong soldiers who used them and even lived in them during the Vietnam War. The tunnels are now widened to accommodate portly Americans, and they are still a tight fit. After a couple hundred feet of crawling in the tunnels, you’re desperate to come up again, and you understand that military victory is sometimes not about weaponry but about commitment.
There’s nothing wrong, of course, with a delicious week at the beach with a pile of books. But if you’re hankering to escape the crowds this summer, encounter new worlds and come back with a tale, think about some of these destinations. The tourism infrastructure may not be great, but the people (or elephants) will make up for it.
When I visited the Pacific island country of Kiribati years ago, I made a reservation by phone to make sure I would have a place to stay. The man at the hotel agreed to hold me a spot, but he skipped the details.
“I don’t need the name,” he said. “If there’s an American at the airport, I’ll recognize him.”