One cannot cover in one blog post everything important that happened during a six-month hiatus brought on in part by unemployment and illness, both of which redirect energies in predictable and unpredictable ways; other kinds of writing, for instance. Such an attempt at comprehensiveness would read like a premature end-of-year overview.
One can, however, do the political-energy equivalent of an MRI and ask, bluntly, what gives. Parochialism hardly counts as a neophyte in politics, foreign and domestic, but it seems to have taken anabolic steroids of late, and at overdose levels.
How else to explain the isolationism of the Tea Party and its courting nabobs of Republican intestinal bankruptcy, from Ron Paul to Mitt Romney and Rick Perry in between them? The nauseating rhetoric of American exceptionalism aside, we have behaved most exceptionally in civil rights and foreign leadership, screwups galore notwithstanding. If inevitable failure in the primaries shuts up Mr.Paul, so much the better for all of us.
The Tea Party obsession with eliminating budget deficits, in all its pathological ugliness, occupies the other side of the same coin. Whoever cares more about budgets than FEMA’s responsibilities, eliminating or radically overhauling entitlement programs—and I mean radical with a capital R for Republican right wing—more than creating jobs via infrastructure repair, and so forth, needs to have their humanity examined. That means Messrs. McConnell, Boehner, Cantor, Ryan, Walsh, and a helluva lot of company. We may say of them that some seem decent as people; as politicians, they have become something else.
The flavor of this past week, of course, went on display at the U.N. in a particularly unseemly display of chicanery. Right now I find it very difficult to sympathize with either side in the Palestine issue. Netanyahu ranks as the villain in the piece, as he should for sheer intransigence. His minions such as Mr. Ayallon match him for the credulity of their defense of indefensible Israeli positions on sttlements, and on borders always assumed but never spoken till Obama did the unthinkable and named them: 1967 or bust.
The Palestinians, however, blew another chance—one loses count of these blunders over time—to look like the adults in the room. Dr. Aswari and others on the Palestinian side do not seem to realize that their real complaints sound more like petulance the more we hear them repeated. One feels like a fan of Mohammad Ali booing his rope-a-dope tactics against Frazier et al. in the ‘70s. Arafat left them a legacy of encroaching irrelevance in his inability to understand the compromises required in diplomacy, a brown paper bag of futility out of which the Palestinians now seem frantic to punch themselves when only talking will work.
We even need to watch the Arab Spring, that it not devolve into less of a movement and more of a regionalized morass. Egypt wobbles, Libya has yet to walk, and we hear little from Tunisia, though that may betoken real progress. Syria bleeds, Yemen lines up for civil war, Bahrain suffocates, Jordan prevaricates, Turkey expectorates, and spring turns into fall and the heralds of winter. Parochialism in regional form, in other words.
A bleak assessment of our moment? Maybe. Because we have heroes, too, from the three hikers recently released by Teheran to the kids of Tahrir Square to the TNC guerillas of Libya to the martyrs of Syria to too many others to count. If governments cannot or will not do the right thing, individuals have to do it. Amazingly, they do. Witness CNN’s heroes. We abdicate, though, if we let government off the hook of responsibility, comparisons to European state paternalism (I can only wish…) be damned.
Chapel Hill, NC
September 25, 2001