By Jefferson Flanders

With a tip of the fedora to the late, great New York newspaper columnist Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…

BOB WOODWARD, or his editors at Simon & Schuster, deserve credit for a clever book title—State of Denial—with its multiple meanings. The title suggests that President George Bush and his Administration exist in a state of denial (with the word “denial” carrying some ten-step resonance), and, further, the U.S. government (the “State’), also refuses to face reality.

PROOF THAT THE AMISH practice what they preach: consider the news reports that many Amish mourners showed up at the Pennsylvania funeral of the deranged milkman who killed Amish five girls and wounded five others before taking his own life. It is one thing to talk of forgiveness, it is another to truly forgive.

THE KISS OF DEATH FOR THE 2006 YANKEES came once columnists and commentators began comparing New York’s current lineup to the Murderer’s Row team of 1927 that featured Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Not quite: just ask the 2006 Detroit Tigers.

DEVAL PATRICK, Democratic candidate for Governor in Massachusetts has a marvelous life story—a self-made African-American from the mean streets of Chicago who, after Milton Academy, Harvard College, Harvard Law and a successful career as a corporate lawyer, is the odds-on favorite to win in his first try at elective office. David Broder of the Washington Post touts Patrick as a future Democratic political star, a Northeastern Barack Obama.

But will Patrick’s Old School Liberalism play well outside the bluest of states? Patrick is a doctrinaire liberal (think Michael Dukakis), and his support of large government programs, his coziness with organized labor (especially the teachers union), and his positions on illegal immigration and crime will make him an unlikely national figure—unless the country veers sharply to the left. Patrick may have other problems.

While the Boston Globe has been cheerleading for Patrick on its editorial pages, columnist Brian McGrory has recently begun to question Patrick’s “straight-shooter” reputation (“Patrick’s Candor Gap,” and “Time for Honesty“). Patrick’s past support of parole for a convicted rapist (before DNA tests which confirmed the man’s guilt) has also raised eyebrows.

And the one Massachusetts politican Broder cites as supporting Patrick–former State Senate head William “Billy” Bulger—carries his own baggage, including charges that he shielded his brother, James “Whitey” Bulger, a reputed Boston Irish mafioso who stands accused of several murders, from arrest.

BEN STEIN, the actor and writer, has offered an interesting angle on the scandal surrounding former Republican Congressman Mark Foley, who made inappropriate advances on teenaged House pages. Stein’s take:

“I hope my readers and fellow humans will not hate me too much if I say that in a world where 3,000 women and children are raped and/or murdered every day in Congo, a member of the United Nations, in which a genuine genocide is going on in Sudan, a member of the United Nations, in which more than fifty men and women per day are being tortured with electric drills and murdered in Iraq, in which two of the world’s most dangerous and insane men, Kim Jong Il and Mohammed Ahmadinejad, are developing nuclear weapons, the e-mail of one deranged middle class white man does not really count to me as much as it might to some other people.”

Who can deny that the national media frenzy about Foley—and not the pressing issues of the day—furthers the trivialization of American politics? And to what end? and Higher prurience-driven ratings?

GET OUT THE VOTE (GOTV) isn’t the most exciting facet of American political campaigns. But if the Democrats have really closed the GOTV gap with the Republicans, (as they are claiming) then the November 2006 election could make Nancy Pelosi the next Speaker of the House.

UNTIL I READ HIS OBIT, I didn’t know that the actor James Earl Jones’ father, Robert Earl Jones (who died at 96 in September) had been a sharecropper, actor, prize fighter (he was Joe Louis’ sparring partner), McCarthy-era blacklistee and New York City marathon participant (in 1996, at the age of 86!). An amazing man.

FUTURE POLS BEWARE! Google’s Eric Schmidt predicts that within five years, “truth predictor” software would “hold politicians to account”, according to the Financial Times.

“Voters would be able to check the probability that apparently factual statements by politicians were actually correct, using programmes that automatically compared claims with historic data, he said. Politicians “don’t in general understand the implications” of the internet, Mr Schmidt argued. ‘One of my messages to them is to think about having every one of your voters online all the time, then inputting ‘is this true or false?’ We [at Google] are not in charge of truth but we might be able to give a probability.’ “

If only it were that simple. I would argue that in the future the key issue in both European and American politics will not be the question of false claims—but rather the interpretation of a given situation. For example, the answer to the question “Is Islamofacism a clear and present threat to Western democracies?” depends less on verification and more on judgement. Will the Google search engine of five years hence provide a “true/false” answer to that fundamental question? I don’t think so. Voters will have to think it through themselves—and many other complex political issues.

THE NEW REPUBLIC’S PETER BEINART is calling for a “closing of the ranks” by conservatives and liberals alike on threats to free speech. Beinart believes that liberals have not responded strongly enough to the decision by the Deutsche Oper, a Berlin opera house, to cancel the Mozart classic Idomeneo “because it feared Muslims would react violently to a scene featuring Mohammed’s severed head.” Beinart writes that “Idomeneo should be the last straw” and that American liberals “must make the cause of European free speech their own.”

Beinart rightly sees this as an issue that transcends ideology and partisanship, arguing that liberals don’t need to buy into the “clash of civilizations” meme to defend free expression from Islamic radicals (or from zealots of any religion).

THERE’S A MARVELOUS SPANISH PROVERB: “It’s not the same to talk of bulls as to be in the bullring.”

Reprinted from Neither Red nor Blue

Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

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