Saturday, October 3, 2009

In Deep Dish

"Politico" on the President's Olympic debacle.


MK said...

The Chicago Tribune notes that Obama had not been sold on the idea of going but that boosters of Chicago’s bid told him that based on their sense of how things were going, a personal appearance might clinch it.
Of course, this wasn't a summit where a President expected to sign an arms control agreement.

I laughed at Politico’s headline (“Agony of Defeat”) when I first saw the article to which you linked. ABC Wide World of Sports. I predicted at TNN on Friday that Obama’s trip and the IOC’s decision would draw many more postings at The Corner than Peggy Noonan’s thoughtful observations in Thursday’s WSJ about Keeping America Safe from the Ranters.” Or David Brook’s Friday column about talk radio and cable tv. Of course, I was right.

I was able to predict the reaction because I’m interested in how men and women approach issues. They don’t always assess priorities the same way, including what constitutes a loss of face and what does not. I’m thinking of issues other than national security, diplomacy, etc. Some experts argue that women are less inclined to look at everything as a zero sum game. “’It’s not that women don’t fight,’ said Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and author of You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. 'It’s just that women fight when there’s something to fight about.' By contrast, men continually engage in ‘ritual combat’ — in sports, in arguments, even in friendly roughhousing.” (Washington Post, January 29, 1991)

I think of that every time I see a group of men in suits walking towards me four abreast on a sidewalk in Washington, with not one willing to step behind his colleagues even to let people walking in the other direction pass.

I know some men who don’t display what the article described. And we’ve all also seen women who are aggressive and combative and unwilling to yield an inch in discussing public policy. Tannen believes that unlike many women, men approach situations by calculating whether one is one up or one down. I’d be interested to know whether women voters view the President’s trip to Copenhagen differently than do men. (I was fascinated by John Derbyshire’s observation this week that the U.S. would be better off if women did not have the right to vote!!)

One of the Cornerites observed that people in the U.S. who are positively disposed towards Obama would view his effort as a positive, those negatively disposed as a negative. Yet Eugene Robinson believes that a POTUS by nature is a Bigfoot who cannot project the humility the IOC process requires. Joe Scarborough, a former Republican Congressman and TV host, posted at HuffPo Friday afternoon that “The President was right to fly to Copenhagen to try to land the games, not for the sake of his city, but for the good of his country. The fact President Obama failed makes me respect him more for taking the chance, and the fact many right-wing figures opposed the President's mission shows just how narrow-minded partisanship makes us all.”

Scarborough noted that partisanship is worse than ever (even worse than during Watergate, as Tom Brokaw observed to Pat Buchanan on Morning Joe.) He added that in his view, “Fortunately, there are a growing number of Americans who believe we cannot continue going on this way.”

Scarborough wrote that “what we saw from some conservative corners regarding the President's failed Olympics bid was just plain stupid.

I'm happy for Rio and think it is past time that South America got a chance to host the Olympic Games. But put me down as one conservative who is glad my president flew across the ocean to try to bring the 2016 Games to America.

Nice try, President Obama. And thanks for taking time away from your young girls for the sake of your hometown and your country, Michelle. I know that's never an easy thing to do.”

Clearly, there are many ways to look at what happened.

MK said...

The comment posted above came out choppier than I intended. I drafted it in Word in a version which was a bit longer than what I put up. It had some transitions I had to cut out when I tried to post it. (I hadn’t known what the character count was for posting comments. Something I need to keep in mind, given my tendency to post essayish comments, LOL.

Much of what I had to cut out was in the section about Deborah Tannen. Although I find Dr. Tannen uses somewhat sweeping generalizations in her books about how men and women talk, some of her points ring true, at least in some scenarios that I’ve observed. I’ve seen message boards and listservs where some of the men are very competitive, approaching discourse as combat. It’s the sort of thing Tannen refers to as ritual opposition. I’m much more inclined to look at some of those things as “you go your way, I’ll go mine,” instead of worrying about who prevailed, who won, who lot, or who ended up as King of the Hill.

I’ve been following these issues since the 1998, when Tannen wrote an op ed for the WaPo (“For Argument’s Sake”). She then observed “. . .perhaps the most dangerous harvest of the ethic of aggression and ritual fighting is . . . an atmosphere of animosity that spreads like a fever.” She noted that it may lead “to what is being decried everywhere as a lack of civility. It erodes our sense of human connection to those in public life -- and to the strangers who cross our paths and people our private lives.”

When I heard that Chicago lost out, I thought oh, ok, that’s that. It wasn't a big deal for me. But when I wandered over to The Corner (I was home on sick leave nursing an injured foot), I saw a flurry of comments about the matter. They continued throughout the day. I can’t say I was surprised. I had hoped to see some discussion at The Corner of Peggy Noonan’s piece (only one posting about it early on Friday) and David Brooks’s column (only two postings). The trip by POTUS drew much more attention. I’ve come to view The Corner almost as a frat house, with some smart people who might be quite open to an exchange of ideas one-on-one, out of sight and away from the pack, but who follow pretty predictable patterns in a group setting.

Peggy Noonan said in her Thursday column in the WSJ of “Safire and Cronkite and Novak and the rest” that “They knew where the line was. They were tough guys who got in big fights, but they had a sense of responsibility towards the country, and towards its culture. They, actually, were protective toward it. They made mistakes, but they were solid. Now the new Elders must do the job they once did.”

She didn’t identify who, if anyone, is coming up to replace the Elders of the previous generation who have been dying off in the last year or two. But after discussing Safire, she observed of the people who are around now “And they’ll have obits someday too. Their careers will be captured in eulogies, leaving their children proud, or not. In a way you’re writing your own obit every day. You’re making the lead paragraph positive and constructive, or not. Someone’s going to sum you up one day. You want to live your professional life in a way that they can write good things.”

Wise words!

Fr. John said...

What a privilege to read these posts. I don't look in at the Corner. I probably should, although your description makes it sound as though there's not much dialog going on.

At dinner tonight, my younger daughter, a student at Long Beach State, and I were talking about the right way to deal with someone who appears on campus with a signing containing anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish, anti-everyone slurs (everyone's going to hell, he says, if they're not Christian). My daughter feels as though he wins if no one confronts him, whereas I feel he wins if someone does. And yet should hate speech ever go unchallenged? Whether and why to debate those who are beyond suasion is an interesting dilemma -- sort of like the Corner, it sounds like.

It was hard for me to get worked up about the Copenhagen trip. I posted the "Politico" link just to have something. It does seem that a President has to conserve a limited amount of precious capital, and Obama wasted some on the Olympics. No matter what his motives (and good for Scarborough for writing as he did), Obama doesn't want the impression to take hold that he's incompetent, small, or weak. Evidently SNL went to work on him last night. It happened to Carter and especially Ford. Bad news.

MK said...

You make an excellent point about the difficulty of deciding who wins in certain situations. Is it better to engage with certain people or not? That applies both to hate speech and to innocuous cases of plain old ideological disagreement. On sites such as HNN and TNN, I pick and choose, depending on a number of factors, including the author.

My problem with The Corner lies in the fact that the site does not have a comments feature. Bloggers occasionally quote from emails they receive but they select the ones from which they quote. While individual posters do not always view everything exactly the same way, the general tone is that there are good guys and bad guys in U.S. politics. And somehow the same side tends to be painted as the good guys. There also is a curious sense of insularity. One of the bloggers there recently admitted he had never heard of Monica Goodling, the aide to Alberto Gonzalez who testified in the DOJ hearings in 2007 and some of whose actions figured later in an internal reports issued by the Department.

I have no idea if any of the individual bloggers at The Corner privately hold more nuanced views than they express on the site. I could be wrong but I just pick up on a frat house vibe where nuance is not valued particularly. Since I see ambiguity in some issues and am an Independent, most of the people at The Corner just don't seem to be speaking to me.

I see your point about Ford and Carter. There is a difference, however. Ronald Reagan was emerging then as an appealing, attractive force. Right now, the opposition is in a different position. I don't know if you saw what Sullivan quoted from Ezra Klein this past Saturday:

"Politics is generally viewed as a zero-sum game: When one party gains, the other loses. But Republicans have pursued a strategy turning politics into a negative-sum game: Both parties lose. They have effectively harmed the Democrats' agenda but done so at great cost to their own favorability numbers." The accompanying chart showed D favorability going down but R favorability going down, as well.

Fr. John said...

Thanks, MK. Andrew Sullivan (my favorite blogger, notwithstanding his obsession with Trig Palin) takes the same approach on comments. While I'm sure people attack him all the time (this being the world it is), he only quotes from substantive e-mails.

I frankly don't know what's going on in the GOP. I'm going to hang out for the time being on the assumption that sanity prevails. As with Reagan, as you suggest, apt candidacies frequently emerge in response to vulnerabilities on the other side. On the the hand, the right probably will insist on one more operatic death scene such as a hopeless Palin bid in 2012. So Obama may well be thinking, "If that's all I have to worry about, I can spend some capital." His greater risk is losing the Senate in '10, which would be a function not of the GOP's choice of a poor national candidate but 32 elections in which the classic dynamics ("it's the economy, stupid") will apply. Congress-watchers (including you) probably know better than I whether he could lose that many seats. And yet even a slightly worse-than-usual mid-term result would weaken Obama substantially going into '12.

We've probably spent more time here thinking about the perils of Copenhagen than Obama did. It looked like, "Hey, the Mayor tells me we're in; we've got a plane. Let's go for it." Falls into the Clinton's haircut category of issue.