One More On Board

Mike Kinsley endorses Obama:

My candidate, at least at the moment, is Obama. When I hear him discussing issues, I hear intelligence and reflection and almost a joy in thinking it through. (Okay, not all issues. He obviously gets no joy over driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.) That willingness, even eagerness, to figure things out seems to me more valuable than any amount of experience in allowing issues to wash over you as they do our incumbent president.

Kinsley’s easily my favorite op-ed columnist, and has been as long as I’ve read the Post and Slate, so this is pretty cool. And he makes a good point: as much credit as Hillary gets for being a wonk, Obama has a genuine curiosity about and interest in policy, something sorely lacking in the White House’s current resident.

His Dark Materials

Kevin Drum gets this about right:

I’m not in the habit of defending the Religious Right, but I have to say that [with regards to The Golden Compass] they have a point. I’m sure the movie itself will indeed be harmless, but the books are every conservative Christian’s nightmare of what the secular left’s real agenda is — assuming you get past the first two volumes, that is. Pullman’s attack on Christianity is foreshadowed in those books, but in the third it’s laid bare with no attempt at even unsubtle Narnia-esque analogies. The Amber Spyglass is the story of how God (yes, the God of Abraham, the one in the Bible) has ruled despotically and malevolently over the Earth for 30,000 years and the forces of good and decency are finally going to kill him. And they do.

I read the three His Dark Materials books when I was ten, and loved them. Not because of the fantasy – I hated the Narnia books, and the Harry Potter books, and Tolkein, and pretty much all other children’s fantasy books – but because they were overtly political, and their militant atheism was a large part of that. Compared to the other stuff I was reading as a fifth-grader, dramatic battle scenes pitting anti-theist armies against God were pretty potent. Reading about covert operatives swooping into Hell to free its denizens from God’s imperial grasp was pretty powerful. Where the themes of the early Harry Potter books and Lord of the Rings amounted to “evil bad!”, and the Narnia books read like Sunday school with swords, His Dark Materials was much more interesting. It was new. It was dangerous. And that’s why I liked it.
So Kevin’s right: the books should threaten the religious right, as kids reading them are likely to start questioning what they’ve been taught. And the religious right’s faith is sufficiently vulnerable that a handful of children’s books are enough to threaten it.

Matt Yglesias is Shrill

Anyone who cares about our relations with Iran owes it to themselves to read this Matt Yglesias post:

True, we’ve seen rational leadership even from vicious dictators like Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong, but the contemporary United States is led by religious fanatics, which introduces a new element into the equation. What’s more, the USA is the only country on earth to have ever actually deployed nuclear weapons. Indeed, current political elites are so war-crazed and bloodthirsty that they not only engineered the 2003 attack on Iraq — a country that tried to appease the Americans by eliminating its nuclear program and allowing IAEA inspectors to certify that it had done so — but they continue to deny regretting it to this day. And that includes not only radicals like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, but so-called “moderates” like Hillary Clinton as well.
Key religious leaders like John Hagee explicitly argue that the United States should attack Iran in order to hasten the coming of Armageddon, and Hagee gets not only a respectful hearing at the White House, but also works closely with AIPAC giving him important entrée with many Democrats. All of the incumbent faction’s candidates from office have said they’d contemplate a nuclear first strike against Iran, media sources generally lambaste anyone who criticizes American moves to ratchet up conflict with Iran, and in general any responsible Iranian leaders needs to wonder if the USA is really a country that one can risk doing business with.

He’s not just being cute here. If one seriously considers the perspective of the average Iranian statesman, or even the average Iranian citizen, not only do the same aspersions the US casts upon Iran’s leadership fit, they fit better than when leveled against Iran. The bipartisan, media-enabled “all options on the table” posture is really dangerous. It isn’t a useful bargaining chip for negotiations; it just unsettles Iranian civil society and lowers the chances that they’ll risk an agreement with us. That helps no one.

Expectations Game

The Clinton camp is really sounding desperate about Iowa:

“Our definition of success doesn’t necessarily mean coming in first,” explains Clinton spokesman Mark Daley. “As long as we have a strong showing on caucus night.”
And he said Obama has certain advantages. “We’re running against a guy from a neighboring state who shares media markets with the state.”

As opposed to someone who was First Lady for eight years and who’s been in the national limelight for fifteen. No advantages there.
In any case, the fact that they’re trying to tamp down expectations more than a month before the caucus signals that they expect a loss. I hope they’re right.


There’s something slightly perverse about a holiday that celebrates the domination and massacre of the indigenous peoples of North America by ritualistically eating turkey; as a vegetarian, it’s never been a particularly appealing event. But there you go. I tried to find a video of the classic Ana Gasteyer/Sarah MacLachlan performance of “Basted in Blood” (lyrics here), but it seems to have not made its way to the Internets. It’s a shame, because any song that proclaims that there “ain’t no difference between Hitler, Stalin — and the folks at Butterball!” is a work of overwrought, preachy brilliance. Oh well; this will have to do:

If I had to make a list of things I’m thankful for, that video’s existence would be on it. Buckley’s accent is a national treasure.

Jeane Kirkpatrick Wrong; More at 11

Robert Kagan’s piece on Pakistan is pretty hilarious:

There always seems to be a good reason to support a dictator. In the late 1970s, Jeane Kirkpatrick argued that it was better to support a “right-wing” dictator lest he be replaced by communists. Right-wing dictatorship — today some call it “liberal autocracy” — was in any case a necessary way station on the road to democracy. Communist totalitarians would never give up power and stifled any hope for freedom, but our friendly dictators would eventually give way to liberal politics.
The Reagan administration, and history, actually repudiated both sides of this doctrine. It turned out that right-wing dictators such as Ferdinand Marcos and the South Korean military junta, as other dictators before them, would only leave power if forced. Ironically, a communist leader in the Soviet Union was actually willing to take the steps that ultimately proved his system’s undoing.

Apparently, in Kagan’s world, something qualifies as ironic if it goes against whatever crackpot theory Jeane Kirkpatrick is pushing. And as much as I admire Gorbachev, the implication that he actively tried to dismantle the Soviet Union seems a little much. More likely is that he considered himself a Soviet FDR; just as the New Deal was needed to save capitalism, perestroika and glasnost were needed to save Communism. Of course, things didn’t turn out that way, but I find it very unlikely that Gorbachev was an active fifth columnist.
Elsewhere in Pakistan news, it seems that the democracy agenda is officially dead:

President Bush yesterday offered his strongest support of embattled Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, saying the general “hasn’t crossed the line” and “truly is somebody who believes in democracy.”

As Matt Yglesias says, this is simply gratuitous. It’s one thing to maintain support for Musharraf as a least-bad option; it’s not the best policy, but it’s a respectable one. Saying that someone who placed one opposition leader under house arrest, deported another, and officially suspended his country’s Constitution is “somebody who believes in democracy” just makes you look ridiculous.

Paging Brad DeLong

Did Gail Collins really just write a column evaluating the presidential candidates on the basis of their exercise habits? I believe she did:

Ideally, you do want a president who has enough energy to climb the Capitol steps. Let’s just try to avoid another chief executive who can create utter chaos in the Middle East and still figure that it was a great week if he did 20 miles on his trail bike.

This year, Fred Thompson is a top contender for the title of Least Likely to Obsess Over His Running Time. But we may not want to go so far as to pick a guy who seems exhausted by a walk to the podium.
Hillary Clinton may be closer to the ideal. “Frankly, I don’t have a lot of details, but I’m sure she tries to exercise,” said a spokesman, with a tinge of defensiveness. Later, he e-mailed that Clinton has a walk “every day when she is home in Chappaqua and whenever she can when she’s on the road.” Add that all up and you get Not Very Often.
We know that Barack Obama asks his schedulers to give him an hour a day in the hotel gym, but we need more information on how he reacts when he doesn’t get it. Disappointed? Relieved? Suicidal?
John Edwards is a runner who never seemed too carried away with it. However, the way Edwards has been changing personalities recently, you never know. He could be demanding that Congress give every American worker a pair of Reeboks before the snow flies.

I’m not even going to quote the last five paragraphs, which focus entirely on why Mitt Romney is too fit to be president. There is no indication that she’s joking. Did I mention recently that I want to work for the NYT op-ed page? Because if it means that I can write things this dumb and still get paid the big bucks, I want in.