I know us progressive bloggers are supposed to be boycotting The New Republic these days, but hell’s bells, I’ve always been a bit contrary by nature, and the magazine is, well, actually very good on a regular basis.Today’s TNR posts offer two very interesting takes on the way that the misuses of language can make politicians here and everywhere literally crazy.The estimable John Judis, after a whirlwind tour of modern epistemology (no kidding), suggests that the Bush administration is pursuing an insane foreign policy based on the assumption that America’s enemies are insane. It’s a fine piece, though I do think he should have acknowledged the odd psychopath in power (see Hitler, Adolph, and Stalin, Josef) who provides the exception to the rule of semi-rational statecraft.Meanwhile, the equally estimable Leon Wieseltier offers an assessment of Hamas’ bizarre denial of Israel’s formal existence, suggesting an unusually Orwellian use of language by some Palestinians about words like “exist.” At the height of Leon’s diatribe, he describes Hamas’ position towards Israel this way: “Israel is to be accepted as just another nasty fact of life, like toxic waste or Tom Cruise.”Selah.
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By Ed Kilgore
I’m certainly old enough to remember lots of these pre-election “agenda” documents, and couldn’t help but mock the latest one at New York:
In Thomas Pynchon’s 1965 cult novel The Crying of Lot 49, a character who has taken too much LSD decides that if everyone on earth repeats the marketing phrase “rich, chocolatey goodness,” it will represent the voice of God. With or without drugs, a lot of people in politics have a similar delusion that getting candidates to make the same noises like chirping cicadas will produce electoral victories. It’s a particularly strong belief among congressional Republicans, who share the dubious conviction that Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” is what flipped control of Congress in 1994.
With the assistance of Gingrich and former Donald Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, the House Republican Conference has released a new “agenda” document, entitled “Commitment to America.” The document, clearly designed for online consumption, has lots of bells and whistles and factoids about the hellish reign of Joe Biden and his “Democrat” Party. What it doesn’t have is a whole lot of specificity, unlike the unfortunate “agenda” that Republican Senate Campaign Committee chairman Rick Scott released earlier this year to the near-universal horror of his colleagues, who don’t want to be identified with the proposed sunsetting of Social Security and Medicare.
The relatively anodyne character of Kevin McCarthy’s pet project doesn’t mean it is entirely useless. Candidates mouthing the approved pieties will presumably not be expressing their pithy views on Jewish space lasers or repeating QAnon slogans.
Still, it’s hard to take seriously an agenda for the nation that does not mention climate change, Russia, or extremist threats to democracy — or one that suggests the sole cure for inflation is to cut “wasteful government spending” without explaining what that means (in the indictment of Democrats that accompanies the agenda, there is much criticism of direct stimulus payments, which Donald Trump preferred to virtually every other form of government spending).
Most interesting was how House Republicans handled a red-hot issue they dare not ignore completely, given the obsession it commands among a very big chunk of the GOP party base: abortion. You have to look pretty hard to find it, nestled as it is under the unlikely heading of “A Government That’s Accountable,” and the downright misleading subheading of “a plan to defend America’s rights under the Constitution.” And it simply says Republicans will “protect the lives of unborn children and their mothers.” So they checked off a box for anti-abortion activists in the manner least likely to draw curious or unfriendly attention to the extreme abortion views so many of them have expressed, which don’t poll well. Perhaps voters will be too mesmerized by the overall party message to notice. Repeat after me: rich, chocolatey goodness.