Monthly Archives: May 2008

The decline of the west

Gideon Rachman comments on the slightly diverting Prospect/Foreign Policy poll to pick the world’s top public intellectuals. Others have correctly noted that the list is heavily skewed to the right of the political spectrum (Chomsky is a certain kind of left, but not my kind of left), and that it largely ignores blogs as a principal medium for today’s public intellectuals. Rachman’s colleague Martin Wolf – who’s rightly on the list of 100 – makes a more important point:

I popped next door to congratulate/tease Martin about his eminence. And he made rather a good point. (One would expect no less, of course.) Today’s intellectuals are a rather unimpressive bunch compared to a similar list of “public intellectuals” you could have compiled in 1850. Martin reeled off the names of Marx, Mill and de Tocqueville. To which I would add – Dickens, Tolstoy, Darwin, Balzac.

All of the above were already well known by 1850 and I think they stack up pretty well when compared with Chomsky, Fukuyama, Kagan – or even, dare I say it, Martin Wolf.

So are we living in some sort of intellectual dark age? Or have Prospect and Foreign Policy simply overlooked the great minds of our era?

The November landslide

Okay, I’m a complete Obama KAD (Kool-Aid Drinker, to borrow the term used on Peter Bodo’s non pareil tennis blog). But I’m going to extend my record for political forecasting to say that Obama will win by a huge margin in November.

I know I don’t spend my time with those hard-working white Americans that Hillary favors, but I’ll cite a few strands in evidence:

  • I keep meeting people who say something on the order of “I’ve voted Republican for years, but I’m supporting Obama”. People are desperate for change.
  • It’s always tough to fight a movement. As Hillary discovered.
  • “Losing his bearings” wasn’t about age. But part of the election will be. Every image of McCain and Obama will re-emphasize that one candidate is old and cranky, the other is young and vigorous. (To say nothing of one is tall and one is short.)
  • Third term of George W. Bush. Does anything more need to be said?
  • The economy stinks. The war is a disaster on truly historic scale. McCain is utterly wrong on both points and the Republicans stuck us with both. Voters want payback.
  • John McCain, November 2005: “I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated.”
  • 100 years in Iraq.
  • Obama will have an unlimited supply of money. McCain won’t. I wish that didn’t matter in politics, but it does.

I could go on and on. What about racism? Sure, there are people in the US who will never vote for the black candidate. But they are a diminishing number, and a lot of them don’t vote. Without wanting to trivialize the running sore of race in the country, the last few decades of popular culture have been as influential in changing perceptions as the heroic moments of the civil rights movement and the legislative accomplishments of the Great Society. Will Smith, Tiger Woods, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Denzell Washington, Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell and even Condi Rice have dramatically changed perceptions.

It’s a landslide.