Today the Times has opened the floodgates and we have 9 columnists, so I’m breaking them down into 2 sections. Judith Warner writes about “No Ordinary Woman,” and says Sarah Palin is a woman who is able to be promoted on the kinds of attributes that were once the exclusive province of unremarkable white men. I think by “unremarkable” she’s being polite and not saying “ignorant.” She does have lovely manners. Mr. Friedman ponders “If Larry and Sergey Asked for a Loan….” and suggests we can only grow our way out of this crisis — with more innovation and entrepreneurship, which create new businesses and better jobs. Mr. Egan writes about “The Party of Yesterday,” and says Republicans have been insinuating for years that some of the brightest, most productive communities in the United States are fake American. Mr. Kristof, in “The Endorsement From Hell,” says the endorsement of John McCain by a Web site linked to Al Qaeda isn’t a surprise. Four more years of blindness to nuance in the Muslim world is an excellent recruiting tool. Here’s Ms. Warner:
In 1977, Bella Abzug, the former congresswoman and outspoken feminist, said, “Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.”
In other words: women will truly have arrived when the most mediocre among us will be able to do just as well as the most mediocre of men.
By this standard, the watershed event for women this year was not Hillary Clinton’s near ascendancy to the top of the Democratic ticket, but Sarah Palin’s nomination as the Republicans’ No. 2.
For Clinton was a lifelong overachiever, a star in a generational vanguard who clearly took to heart the maxim that women “must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good,” and in so doing divorced herself from the world of the merely average. In that, she was not unlike Barack Obama — taxed by his race to be twice as reassuring, twice as un-angry, twice as presidential as any white candidate.
Mediocrity, after all, is the privilege of those who have arrived.
Palin is a woman who has risen to national prominence without, apparently, even remotely being twice as good as her male competitors. On the contrary, her claim to fame lies in her repudiation of Clinton-type exceptionalism.
She speaks no better — and no worse — than many of her crowd-pleasing male peers, dropping her g’s, banishing “who” in favor of “that,” issuing verbal blunders that linger just long enough to make their mark in the public mind before they’re winked away in staged apologies.
She is a woman who is able to not only get by but also be quickly promoted on the kinds of attributes that were once the exclusive province of unremarkable white men: rapport, the right looks or connections, an easy sort of familiarity.
In the days leading up to Palin’s pick as vice-presidential nominee, according to an article in The New York Times Magazine today, Rick Davis, who is John McCain’s campaign manager, said a friend had told him how best to choose a running mate: “You get a frame of Time magazine, and you put the pictures of the people in that frame. You look at who fits that frame best — that’s your V.P.”
Donny Deutsch, the ad executive turned talk show host, put it less elegantly on CNBC right after the Republican convention. “Women want to be her, men want to mate with her,” he said, describing Palin as a “new creation that the feminist movement has not figured out in 40 years.”
And this was the crux of the Palin Phenomenon: she was a breakthrough woman who threatened no one.
The McCain crowd would have you believe that Palin is the perfect representation of the post-feminist woman, a candidate whose very existence marks the end of feminism — of the old “liberal feminist agenda,” as McCain himself has put it — and the start of a more global kind of triumph for the great mass of women.
Just as some young women in recent years have argued that appearing topless on “Girls Gone Wild” is an act of sexual liberation, putting an untested Alaskan governor on the road to the White House was spun as a sign of the arrival of real, hot-blooded women into the mainstream of power.
But the finer points of what it takes for real women to make progress in seizing power don’t seem much to trouble Palin.
“Someone called me a ‘redneck woman’ once, and you know what I said back? ‘Why, thank you,’” she told the country singer Gretchen Wilson at a recent Republican rally.
I guess Palin has never seen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman” music video, which, in addition to images of an attractive Wilson driving a variety of fuel-inefficient vehicles, features a couple of stripper-styled babes dancing in cages, one of which is made of chains.
With her five children, successful political career, $1.2 million net worth and beauty pageant looks, Sarah Palin is really not an average woman, much less the worthy schlemiel envisioned by Abzug. She’s actually, as Colin Powell carefully said, quite “distinguished” — for her looks, her grace and charm, her ability to connect with an audience, her ambition and her drive. Those are admirable, even enviable qualities. But the American public, defecting from the McCain ticket in a slow bleed, is clearly not convinced that they amount to vice-presidential qualifications.
Seems like “real America” wants something more than a wife, mother or girlfriend in a female political leader.
Maybe we’ve come a long way after all.
But, but, but Wee Billy Kristol thinks she’s da bomb… Here’s Mr. Friedman:
The hardest thing about analyzing the Bush administration is this: Some things are true even if George Bush believes them.
Therefore, sifting through all his steps and missteps, at home and abroad, and trying to sort out what is crazy and what might actually be true — even though George Bush believes it — presents an enormous challenge, particularly amid this economic crisis.
I felt that very strongly when listening to President Bush and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson announce that the government was going to become a significant shareholder in the country’s major banks. Both Bush and Paulson were visibly reluctant to be taking this step. It would be easy to scoff at them and say: “What do you expect from a couple of capitalists who hate any kind of government intervention in the market?”
But we should reflect on their reluctance. There may be an important message in their grimaces. The government had to step in and shore up the balance sheets of our major banks. But the question I am asking myself, and I think Paulson and Bush were asking themselves, is this: “What will this government intervention do to the risk-taking that is at the heart of capitalism?”
There is a fine line between risk-taking and recklessness. Risk-taking drives innovation; recklessness drives over a cliff. In recent years, we had way too much of the latter. We are paying a huge price for that, and we need a correction. But how do we do that without becoming so risk-averse that start-ups and emerging economies can’t get capital because banks with the government as a shareholder become exceedingly cautious.
Let’s imagine this scene: You are the president of one of these banks in which the government has taken a position. One day two young Stanford grads walk in your door. One is named Larry, and the other is named Sergey. They each are wearing jeans and a T-shirt. They tell you that they have this thing called a “search engine,” and they are naming it — get this — “Google.” They tell you to type in any word in this box on a computer screen and — get this — hit a button labeled “I’m Feeling Lucky.” Up comes a bunch of Web sites related to that word. Their start-up, which they are operating out of their dorm room, has exhausted its venture capital. They need a loan.
What are you going to say to Larry and Sergey as the president of the bank? “Boys, this is very interesting. But I have the U.S. Treasury as my biggest shareholder today, and if you think I’m going to put money into something called ‘Google,’ with a key called ‘I’m Feeling Lucky,’ you’re fresh outta luck. Can you imagine me explaining that to a Congressional committee if you guys go bust?”
And then what happens if the next day the congressman from Palo Alto, who happens to be on the House banking committee, calls you, the bank president, and says: “I understand you turned down my boys, Larry and Sergey. Maybe you haven’t been told, but I am one of your shareholders — and right now, I’m not feeling very lucky. You get my drift?”
Maybe nothing like this will ever happen. Maybe it’s just my imagination. But maybe not …
“Government bailouts and guarantees, while at times needed, always come with unintended consequences,” notes the financial strategist David Smick. “The winners: the strong, the big, the established, the domestic and the safe — the folks who, relatively speaking, don’t need the money. The losers: the new, the small, the foreign and the risky — emerging markets, entrepreneurs and small businesses not politically connected. After all, what banker in a Capitol Hill hearing now would want to defend a loan to an emerging market? Yet emerging economies are the big markets for American exports.”
Don’t get me wrong. I am not criticizing the decision to shore up the banks. And we must prevent a repeat of the reckless bundling and securitizing of mortgages, and excessive leveraging, that started this mess. We need better regulation. But most of all, we need better management.
The banks that are surviving the best today, the ones that are buying others and not being bought — like JPMorgan Chase or Banco Santander, based in Spain — are not surviving because they were better regulated than the banks across the street but because they were better run. Their leaders were more vigilant about their risk exposure than any regulator required them to be.
Bottom line: We must not overshoot in regulating the markets just because they overshot in their risk-taking. That’s what markets do. We need to fix capitalism, not install socialism. Because, ultimately, we can’t bail our way out of this crisis. We can only grow our way out — with more innovation and entrepreneurship, which create new businesses and better jobs.
So let’s keep our eyes on the prize. Save the system, install smart regulations and get the government out of the banking business as soon as possible so that the surviving banks can freely and unabashedly get back into their business: risk-taking without recklessness.
Here’s Mr. Egan, writing from Seattle:
Two years ago, a list of the nation’s brainiest cities was put together from Census Bureau reports — that is, cities with the highest percentage of college graduates, which is not the same as smart, of course.
These are vibrant, prosperous places where a knowledge economy and cool things to do after hours attract people from all over the country. Among the top 10, only two of those metro areas — Raleigh, N.C., and Lexington, Ky. — voted Republican in the 2004 presidential election.
This year, all 10 are likely to go Democratic. What’s more, with Colorado, New Hampshire and Virginia now trending blue, Republicans stand to lose the nation’s 10 best-educated states as well.
It would be easy to say these places are not the real America, in the peculiar us-and-them parlance of Sarah Palin. It’s easy to say because Republicans have been insinuating for years now that some of the brightest, most productive communities in the United States are fake American — a tactic that dates to Newt Gingrich’s reign in the capitol.
Brainy cities have low divorce rates, low crime, high job creation, ethnic diversity and creative capitalism. They’re places like Pittsburgh, with its top-notch universities; Albuquerque, with its surging Latino middle class; and Denver, with its outdoor-loving young people. They grow good people in the smart cities.
But in the politically suicidal greenhouse that Republicans have constructed for themselves, these cities are not welcome. They are disparaged as nests of latte-sipping weenies, alt-lifestyle types and “other” Americans, somehow inauthentic.
If that’s what Republicans want, they are doomed to be the party of yesterday.
Not only are we becoming more urban as a nation, but we’re headed for an ethnic muddle that could further shrink the party of small-mindedness. By 2023, more than half of all American children will be minority, the Census Bureau projects.
Ronald Reagan was lashed by liberals for running a “Morning in America” campaign, but he knew this country, at heart, was always tomorrow-looking — and he fared very well in educated cities as well as small towns. “Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone,” said Reagan, “I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears.” Barack Obama, who brings that music to the stage, leads by 30 points on the “hope and optimism” question in polls.
Spurning the Reagan lesson, John McCain made a fatal error in turning his campaign over to the audience of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. In so doing, he chose the unbearable lightness of being Sarah Palin, trotted out Paris Hilton and labeled Obama a socialist who associates with terrorists.
At a recent Palin rally, the crowd started chanting, “We want Fox!” McCain has given them just that. But how isolated and out-of-touch is this audience? At the end of each debate, a sure-fire way to decide who won was to look at the Fox viewers poll — typically showing a landslide for McCain. Within a day, scientific surveys found big wins for Obama.
Whether Americans are real or fake, they can see through Palin, a woman who couldn’t correctly answer a third grader a few days ago when asked to explain the duties of vice president. Somewhere, between the shuffling to costume and accessorize Palin with a $150,000 wardrobe, her handlers never handed her a copy of the Constitution.
Republicans blow off the smart cities with the counterargument that they win the exurbs — the frontier of new homes, young families and the fresh middle class. And it’s true, in 2004, George Bush won 97 of the 100 fastest-growing counties in America.
That will not happen this year. Polls show McCain is losing 20 percent of self-described moderate Republicans. And new registration figures and other polls indicate that Obama will likely win such iconic exurban centers as Washoe County, Nev., Loudoun County, Va., and Wake County, N.C.
But in the kind of pattern that has held true since McCain went over to the stupid side, his brother recently referred to suburban northern Virginia as “communist country” and a top adviser, Nancy Pfotenhauer, said it was not “real Virginia.”
Here in Seattle, it’s become a one-party city, with a congressman for life and nodding-head liberals who seldom challenge a tax-loving city government. It would be nice, just to keep the philosophical debate sharp, if there were a few thoughtful Republicans around.
That won’t happen so long as Republicans continue to be the party of yesterday. They’ve written the cities off. Fake Americans don’t count, but this Election Day, for once, they will not feel left out.
And now here’s Mr. Kristof:
John McCain isn’t boasting about a new endorsement, one of the very, very few he has received from overseas. It came a few days ago:
“Al Qaeda will have to support McCain in the coming election,” read a commentary on a password-protected Islamist Web site that is closely linked to Al Qaeda and often disseminates the group’s propaganda.
The endorsement left the McCain campaign sputtering, and noting helplessly that Hamas appears to prefer Barack Obama. Al Qaeda’s apparent enthusiasm for Mr. McCain is manifestly not reciprocated.
“The transcendent challenge of our time [is] the threat of radical Islamic terrorism,” Senator McCain said in a major foreign policy speech this year, adding, “Any president who does not regard this threat as transcending all others does not deserve to sit in the White House.”
That’s a widespread conservative belief. Mitt Romney compared the threat of militant Islam to that from Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. Some conservative groups even marked “Islamofascism Awareness Week” earlier this month.
Yet the endorsement of Mr. McCain by a Qaeda-affiliated Web site isn’t a surprise to security specialists. Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism director, and Joseph Nye, the former chairman of the National Intelligence Council, have both suggested that Al Qaeda prefers Mr. McCain and might even try to use terror attacks in the coming days to tip the election to him.
“From their perspective, a continuation of Bush policies is best for recruiting,” said Professor Nye, adding that Mr. McCain is far more likely to continue those policies.
An American president who keeps troops in Iraq indefinitely, fulminates about Islamic terrorism, inclines toward military solutions and antagonizes other nations is an excellent recruiting tool. In contrast, an African-American president with a Muslim grandfather and a penchant for building bridges rather than blowing them up would give Al Qaeda recruiters fits.
During the cold war, the American ideological fear of communism led us to mistake every muddle-headed leftist for a Soviet pawn. Our myopia helped lead to catastrophe in Vietnam.
In the same way today, an exaggerated fear of “Islamofascism” elides a complex reality and leads us to overreact and damage our own interests. Perhaps the best example is one of the least-known failures in Bush administration foreign policy: Somalia.
Today, Somalia is the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster, worse even than Darfur or Congo. The crisis has complex roots, and Somali warlords bear primary blame. But Bush administration paranoia about Islamic radicals contributed to the disaster.
Somalia has been in chaos for many years, but in 2006 an umbrella movement called the Islamic Courts Union seemed close to uniting the country. The movement included both moderates and extremists, but it constituted the best hope for putting Somalia together again. Somalis were ecstatic at the prospect of having a functional government again.
Bush administration officials, however, were aghast at the rise of an Islamist movement that they feared would be uncooperative in the war on terror. So they gave Ethiopia, a longtime rival in the region, the green light to invade, and Somalia’s best hope for peace collapsed.
“A movement that looked as if it might end this long national nightmare was derailed, in part because of American and Ethiopian actions,” said Ken Menkhaus, a Somalia expert at Davidson College. As a result, Islamic militancy and anti-Americanism have surged, partly because Somalis blame Washington for the brutality of the Ethiopian occupiers.
“There’s a level of anti-Americanism in Somalia today like nothing I’ve seen over the last 20 years,” Professor Menkhaus said. “Somalis are furious with us for backing the Ethiopian intervention and occupation, provoking this huge humanitarian crisis.”
Patrick Duplat, an expert on Somalia at Refugees International, the Washington-based advocacy group, says that during his last visit to Somalia, earlier this year, a local mosque was calling for jihad against America — something he had never heard when he lived peacefully in Somalia during the rise of the Islamic Courts Union.
“The situation has dramatically taken a turn for the worse,” he said. “The U.S. chose a very confrontational route early on. Who knows what would have happened if the U.S. had reached out to moderates? But that might have averted the disaster we’re in today.”
The greatest catastrophe is the one endured by ordinary Somalis who now must watch their children starve. But America’s own strategic interests have also been gravely damaged.
The only winner has been Islamic militancy. That’s probably the core reason why Al Qaeda militants prefer a McCain presidency: four more years of blindness to nuance in the Muslim world would be a tragedy for Americans and virtually everyone else, but a boon for radical groups trying to recruit suicide bombers.
Here endeth Part I of the day’s columnists.