Brooks, Cohen, Nocera and Bruni

Bobo is dreaming of “A Second G.O.P.”  He says it’s time for a second Republican stream, one that shows a deep interest in reforming our bloated institutions and repairing our human capital.  One could almost feel sorry for him.  Almost, but not quite.  Watching Bobo squirm schadens my freuds.  Mr. Cohen, in “Sitting Down With Amos Oz,” says the Israeli novelist’s message to the incoming government is clear: Nothing is impossible — even peace.  Mr. Nocera gives us “And in Last Week’s Gun News…”  He says a small sampling of news articles from around the country gives a sense of the Second Amendment’s toll.  Mr. Bruni is being fatalistic about relationships.  In “Manti and the Mating Game” he whines that dead or not, courtship was never all it’s cracked up to be, and there’s no one playbook for pairing off.  Here’s Bobo (who should have read Prof. Krugman on the subject of Bobby Jindal):

On the surface, Republicans are already doing a good job of beginning to change their party. Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana gave a speech to the Republican National Committee calling on Republicans to stop being the stupid party, to stop insulting the intelligence of the American people.

Representative Paul Ryan gave a fine speech to the National Review Institute calling for prudence instead of spasmodic protest. The new senator for Texas, Ted Cruz, gave a speech to the same gathering saying the Republicans should be focusing on the least fortunate 47 percent of Americans.

But, so far, there have been more calls for change than actual evidence of change. In his speech, for example, Jindal spanked his party for its stale clichés but then repeated the same Republican themes that have earned his party its 33 percent approval ratings: Government bad. Entrepreneurs good.

In this reinvention process, Republicans seem to have spent no time talking to people who didn’t already vote for them.

Change is hard because people don’t only think on the surface level. Deep down people have mental maps of reality — embedded sets of assumptions, narratives and terms that organize thinking. Since Barry Goldwater, the central Republican narrative has been what you might call the Encroachment Story: the core problem of American life is that voracious government has been steadily encroaching upon individuals and local communities. The core American conflict, in this view, is between Big Government and Personal Freedom.

While losing the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, the flaws of this mentality have become apparent. First, if opposing government is your primary objective, it’s hard to have a positive governing program.

As Bill Kristol pointed out at the National Review event, the G.O.P. fiercely opposed the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law but never offered an alternative. The party opposed Obamacare but never offered a replacement. John Podhoretz of Commentary added that as soon as Republicans start talking about what kind of regulations and programs government should promote, they get accused by colleagues of being Big Government conservatives.

The next problem with this mentality is that it makes it hard for Republicans to analyze social and economic problems that don’t flow directly from big government. For example, we are now at the end of the era in which a rising tide lifts all boats. Republicans like Mitt Romney can talk about improving the overall business climate with lower taxes and lighter regulation, but regular voters sense that that won’t necessarily help them because wages no longer keep pace with productivity gains.

Americans are still skeptical of Washington. If you shove a big government program down their throats they will recoil. But many of their immediate problems flow from globalization, the turmoil of technological change and social decay, and they’re looking for a bit of help. Moreover, given all the antigovernment rhetoric, they will never trust these Republicans to reform cherished programs like Social Security and Medicare. You can’t be for entitlement reform and today’s G.O.P., because politically the two will never go together.

Can current Republicans change their underlying mentality to adapt to these realities? Intellectual history says no. People almost never change their underlying narratives or unconscious frameworks. Moreover, in the South and rural West, where most Republicans are from, the Encroachment Story has deep historic and psychological roots. Anti-Washington, anti-urban sentiment has characterized those cultures for decades.

It’s probably futile to try to change current Republicans. It’s smarter to build a new wing of the Republican Party, one that can compete in the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic states, in the upper Midwest and along the West Coast. It’s smarter to build a new division that is different the way the Westin is different than the Sheraton.

The second G.O.P. wouldn’t be based on the Encroachment Story. It would be based on the idea that America is being hit simultaneously by two crises, which you might call the Mancur Olson crisis and the Charles Murray crisis.

Olson argued that nations decline because their aging institutions get bloated and sclerotic and retard national dynamism. Murray argues that America is coming apart, dividing into two nations — one with high education levels, stable families and good opportunities and the other with low education levels, unstable families and bad opportunities.

The second G.O.P. would tackle both problems at once. It would be filled with people who recoiled at President Obama’s second Inaugural Address because of its excessive faith in centralized power, but who don’t share the absolute antigovernment story of the current G.O.P.

Would a coastal and Midwestern G.O.P. sit easily with the Southern and Western one? No, but majority parties are usually coalitions of the incompatible. This is really the only chance Republicans have. The question is: Who’s going to build a second G.O.P.?

Well, Bobo, since the Teatards and folks like ZEGS have run off anyone who could possibly pull that off, it’s not going to happen.  Here’s Mr. Cohen, writing from Tel Aviv:

Amos Oz, the novelist whose stories and tales have probed the soul of Israel with an intimate insistence, greeted me to his book-lined apartment with a quick Hebrew lesson. I must understand that the key word, Yiddish really, is “fraiers” — or suckers.

“Most Israelis,” he suggested, “would wave goodbye to the West Bank but they don’t want to be suckers, they don’t want the Gaza scenario to repeat itself. First and foremost, these elections were about internal affairs, the middle class, state and synagogue, the draft, with a silent consensus that the occupied territories do not matter that much. Israelis are no longer interested. They vote with their feet. They don’t go there, except for the settlers and right-wing extremists. This means that if Israelis can be reassured that by renouncing the West Bank they are not going to get a lousy deal — not going to be ‘fraiers’ — they are quietly ready to do it.”

With religious-nationalist sentiment strong, even if the elections demonstrated an Israeli turn against extremism, I suggested Oz might be optimistic. But he insisted that at the end of the day some 70 percent on both sides — kicking and screaming and crying injustice — were ready for two states. “If I may use a metaphor,” Oz said, “I would say that the patient, Israeli and Palestinian, is unhappily ready for surgery, while the doctors are cowards.”

Among the cowards, would he include Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? “Yes I think Netanyahu is a coward,” he declared. But the victory of the center in the election could alter the equation. “It means,” Oz said, “that there will be more pressure on Netanyahu from the dovish side in Israel and from the outside world, so that his cowardice may work the other way.”

Israel — perched in a hostile neighborhood, its borders undefined, beset by internal rifts between the religious and secular, unsure what to make of the Arab upheaval around it — craves normality. Its citizens today are more concerned about violent crime than political violence. Not one Israeli was killed in 2012 in the West Bank. Its packed malls purr with affluence. Iran was a nonissue during the campaign. The Palestinian conflict, despite the odd spasm, has receded, enough anyway for people to vote en masse for a political novice, the telegenic Yair Lapid, a mystery wrapped in good looks at the head of a party with a reassuring-disquieting name: There Is a Future.

Oz, up in Tel Aviv for the weekend from his home in the desert town of Arad, has lived the entire past of the modern state of Israel. His credo as a novelist is that humankind is open-ended: People are capable of surprising not only others but themselves. He calls this “the single most promising phenomenon in history.” Lapid, in effect a political vessel awaiting content, is a character in search of meaning and, as such, of interest to Oz.

“He is a phenomenon, a manifestation of the desire of the middle class for normalization. Israelis want to be like Holland,” Oz told me. “It is a legitimate desire even if it tends to ignore fundamental issues, like the conflict with the Arabs. I don’t know if Lapid has ideas and I’m not sure he knows. What Lapid will do is a mystery not just to me — it is probably a mystery to him!”

At 73, Oz has been surprised often enough not to regard the worst as inevitable, even if war has been Israel’s leitmotif since 1948. He asks this question: “Who ever expected Churchill to dismantle the British Empire, or De Gaulle to take France out of Algeria, or Sadat to come to Jerusalem, or Begin to give back the whole of Sinai for peace, or Gorbachev to undo the whole Soviet bloc?”

His message to the incoming Israeli government is clear: Peace is impossible without boldness; nothing is beyond the capacity of an open-ended, surprise-prone humanity.

There is wistfulness in his gaze on the Israel he loves. He marvels at what he calls “a cultural golden age” of literary and scientific achievement. He deplores — and abhors — what he sees as a creeping questioning of Israel’s existence in Europe and elsewhere, one that “goes way beyond legitimate criticism of Israeli policy” and in part reflects anti-Americanism because “if the United States is the devil then Israel must be Rosemary’s Baby.”

At the same time he does not hide his own disappointments. “Building settlements in occupied territories was the single most grave error and sin in the history of modern Zionism, because it was based on a refusal to accept the simple fact that we are not alone in this country,” he told me. “The Palestinians for decades also refused the fact that they are not alone in this country. Now, with clenched teeth, both sides have recognized this reality and that is a good basis.”

He went on: “Loss of contact may be healthy for a while after 100 years of bloody conflict; loss of contact may be a blessing. But loss of contact can be based on a fence built between my garden and my neighbor’s garden. It cannot be based on a fence built right in the middle of the neighbor’s garden. So a fence may not be a bad idea except that this fence is located in the wrong place.” Israel’s separation barrier, closing off the West Bank, is, in other words, an unacceptable land grab.

Israel was a dream. The only way, Oz notes, to keep a dream rosy and intact and unsullied is never to live it out. This is true of everything — traveling, writing a novel, a sexual fantasy. Israel is now a fulfilled dream, one that exceeds the wildest dreams of his parents. So, Oz concludes, “The disappointment is not in the nature of Israel, it is in the nature of dreams.”

Here is his political credo. There cannot be one state because Israelis and Palestinians cannot become one happy family (“they are not one and they are not happy.”) So “the only solution is turning the house into two smaller apartments.” Two states, absolutely, are the only answer. Palestinians and other Arabs once treated Israel like a passing infection: If they scratched themselves hard enough it would go away. Israel treated Palestine as no more than “the vicious invention of a pan-Arabic propaganda machine.” These illusions have passed. Reality now compels a compromise — “and compromises are unhappy, there is no such thing as a happy compromise.”

And what of Hamas? “At least what we can do is solve the conflict with the Palestine Liberation Organization and reduce the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an Israel-Gaza conflict. This will be a big step forward. Then we will see. Hamas may change as the P.L.O. did. The Palestinian Authority is ready for a state in the West Bank, unhappy about it, sure, but ready. They will go on dreaming of Haifa and Jaffa just as we will dream of Hebron and Nablus. There is no censorship on dreams.”

And the Palestinian right of return? “The right of return is a euphemism for the liquidation of Israel. Even for a dove like myself this is out of the question. Refugees must be resettled in the future state of Palestine, not Israel.”

Two final thoughts from Oz worth the consideration of Israeli politicians: On the nature of tragedy and the nature of time.

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a clash of right and right. Tragedies are resolved in one of two ways: The Shakespearian way or the Anton Chekhov way. In a tragedy by Shakespeare, the stage at the end is littered with dead bodies. In a tragedy by Chekhov everyone is unhappy, bitter, disillusioned and melancholy but they are alive. My colleagues in the peace movement and I are working for a Chekhovian not a Shakespearian conclusion.”

And this: “I live in the desert at Arad. Every morning at 5 a.m. I start my day by taking a walk before sunrise. I inhale the silence. I take in the breeze, the silhouettes of the hills. I walk for about 40 minutes. When I come back home I turn on the radio and sometimes I hear a politicians using words like ‘never’ or ‘forever’ or ‘for eternity’ — and I know that the stones out in the desert are laughing at him.”

Sit down with Oz. That is my advice to the next Israeli government — and to all the deluded absolutists, Arab and Jew, of this unnecessary conflict whose unhappy but peaceful ending is not beyond the scope of open-ended human imagination.

Next up is Mr. Nocera:

Monday, Jan. 21:

Eleaquin Temblador had plans. He was working to earn his high school diploma and wanted to join the U.S. Marine Corps and marry his girlfriend. … Instead, family members are planning Temblador’s funeral. For reasons no one can explain, gunmen in a light-colored, older-model vehicle gunned down the 18-year-old … as he rode his bicycle home from his girlfriend’s house., Los Angeles

Relatives of a teen who was shot while playing basketball at a local park said the 16-year-old is now paralyzed from the waist down. … Police said the shooter, a 17-year-old boy, had a gun stuck in his waistband. While he was playing basketball, someone bumped into him and the gun went off. …


Tuesday, Jan. 22:

A Baton Rouge man who authorities said was playing with a gun was booked … in the accidental shooting of his 2-year-old brother. … [The man’s uncle] said the teen had armed himself due to “environmental pressure” from neighborhood friends.

The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

The New Mexico teenager who used an assault rifle to kill his mother, father and younger siblings told police he hoped to shoot up a Walmart after the family rampage and cause “mass destruction.” … Nehemiah Griego, the 15-year-old son of an Albuquerque pastor … “stated he wanted to shoot people at random and eventually be killed while exchanging gunfire with law enforcement,” the [police] report said.

ABC News

Wednesday, Jan. 23:

Kansas City police arrested a 16-year-old Ruskin High School student accused of shooting at a school bus after the driver refused to allow him to board on Wednesday.

The Kansas City Star

A 4-year-old boy has died after being shot in the head Wednesday. … The deputy [sheriff] located the child’s body inside of a Ford Taurus. There was a bullet hole in the roof of the car. … “Jamarcus loved Batman, Spider-Man and football and was looking forward to starting kindergarten,” [his mother] said., Akron, Ohio

Thursday, Jan. 24:

The estranged husband of a woman found dead in her Madison apartment Thursday was found dead in his home … of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. … “We can’t really believe it; I mean, these things happen on TV, they don’t happen to us,” [her stepmother] said. “We’re middle class, normal Americans, and she was a nice girl.”

WISC-TV, Madison, Wis.

Police said an 11-year-old girl is in critical condition after being shot in the face by her father in a New Jersey home on Thursday night. Investigators said 27-year-old Byaer Johnson apparently entered the home to visit his young daughter. … He was asked to leave, then picked up a handgun and shot his daughter.

CBS News

Friday, Jan. 25:

An Oakland police officer was shot and wounded Friday evening, the second officer in the city to be injured by gunfire this week. … The shooting happened after a man in a car ran a stop sign, crashed into another car … and ran off. Shortly thereafter, an uncle and his nephew reported that they were shot a block away by a man who tried to steal the uncle’s bicycle.

A man has been charged with murder for fatally shooting his brother during a “domestic” dispute outside a South Side Englewood home Friday afternoon. …

Saturday, Jan. 26:

A party in Salem that spilled outdoors ended in drive-by gunfire that hit at least two people and riddled a car and nearby homes. …

KOINlocal6, Salem, Ore.

A 55-year-old man has been released from custody after allegedly shooting and killing his own dog. Police say Gordon Lagstrom was drunk Saturday night when he pulled a .38 caliber handgun and shot to death his 4-year-old Australian terrier, Lena.

The city broke a nine-day murder-free streak last night when a man was found dead in the basement of a Queens apartment complex, police said. The 20-year-old victim, whose name was not released, had been shot in the head.

New York Post

Among those killed Saturday was a 34-year-old man whose mother had already lost her three other children to shootings. Police say Ronnie Chambers, who was his mother’s youngest child, was shot in the head while sitting in a car. Police say two separate double-homicide shootings also occurred Saturday about 12 hours apart. … Chicago’s homicide count eclipsed 500 last year for the first time since 2008.

CBS News

But the NRA has so terrified our politicians and inflamed the low information knuckle-walkers that nothing will change.  Here’s poor, depressed Mr. Bruni:

As we wring our hands over the impulsive hookups and Internet hoaxes of modern romance, let us pause a moment and travel back to the days long before text messages, Photoshop and all other manner of digital bedlam. Let us return to a halcyon world of agrarian ways and contemplate the unflustered situation of a fertile lass on the cusp of womanhood centuries ago.

What options she had! They were culled from the burg she lived in and maybe from the next village over, so that her total population of potential suitors — men in an acceptable age range, with discernible pulses and a majority of their limbs — was five if she was lucky, three if the burg had just emerged from a period of savage smallpox. And while her eye might be drawn to the lad with the least rotted teeth, Ma and Pa knew better, not so much nudging as commanding her toward the one whose family had the most livestock. They understood that meat, not mirth, would sustain her and her brood over the harsh winters to come, and that love meant never having to say you’re hungry.

Are we really worse off now? In the annals of mating, are the straits we’re in so dire?

From the commentary about Manti Te’o and from the angst vented in news reports and on blogs, you certainly get that sense. “The End of Courtship?” lamented a recent headline in The Times; the story with it traced the waning of wining and dining, the triumph of Facebook updates over face-to-face heart-to-hearts. Apparently the avenues by which lusty millennials come to grope and perchance know one another are brusque, confused and rife with deception, and probably aren’t reliable precursors to unions of enduring bliss.

Which is to say: they’re as imperfect as they’ve always been. While we Homo sapiens have paired off in diverse methods across disparate epochs, we’ve seldom done it with ample information or any particular finesse. There was no saner, better yesteryear: just a different set of customs, a different brand of clumsiness.

And where there’s sex, there’s subterfuge, a truism that runs from “Cyrano de Bergerac” through “The Crying Game.” It’s what the makers of Spanx depend on and the peddlers of Botox profit from. All is fair in love and the eradication of unwanted bulges and creases.

True, cyberspace and smartphones have ushered in such present-day distinctions as the fully fictional avatar, the wholly disembodied relationship and the instantaneously arranged mashing of genitals. But illusion, assumption and haste have had starring roles in our amorous escapades before.

Think about war brides and wartime romances, about couples from the greatest generation who met just before D-Day or traded glances at the U.S.O. and then did their tortured wooing almost entirely by post. What they took wasn’t an accurate measure of each other but a leap of faith.

And as vessels of self-revelation, were letters much more trustworthy than tweets? Couldn’t their authors labor mightily over the flaunting of an invented wisdom, the flashing of a borrowed wit? Beth Bailey, a historian at Temple University, told me that during the 19th century, when such missives were considered “an essential way to get to know people,” there were how-to books that provided not only letter-writing templates but also “phrases for how to communicate your true self.”

Until the dawn of cars and greater mobility, there wasn’t dating as we came to understand it; there were visits on porches and in parlors, often under the intrusive gazes of nattering relatives. “It was very limiting,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University.

And there weren’t all that many visits, either. Cherlin said that a person back then might meet his or her spouse just 10 times before marrying, and that this minimal contact enabled you to “present yourself much differently than you will later on.”

In the 1950s, with its drive-in diners and back-seat fumbling, teenagers in lust finally had quality time away from meddlesome parents, going off to sock hops and going steady. But the choreographed roles they played and the chauvinistic rituals they obeyed didn’t necessarily tease out someone’s real personality and definitely didn’t give young women anything approaching full autonomy.

There’s no ideal stratagem for figuring out whom any one of us should be with and how to chart a course to that person, no fail-safe process for determining whether a twosome will endure. The act of getting together, whether brokered by yenta or Yahoo, is one of willed credulousness and wishful thinking as much as anything else, the triumph of optimism over morning breath.

And it’s a wager, because people have hidden layers, hidden intentions. Your beloved could switch political parties. Your hookup could insist on a soundtrack of Celine Dion. Not knowing what’s in store is the very soul of romance: what makes it so scary, and what makes it so thrilling.

Man…  It sounds to me like he had a dreadful time in high school and college…


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