Focused on Italy and then the geothermal project, I’ve avoided following my usual websites for news and current events. This is a rare luxury for me. It’s not that I don’t enjoy following world affairs — I very much do, and feel privileged to have as my profession the task of helping students understand all this — but that it’s sometimes nice to change focus.
Much of what I have been hearing about seems silly. Rep. Anthony Wiener sexting to young women? Well, having worked in Washington DC my first reaction is a yawn — I don’t think most people realize the extent of the cheating and dishonesty that goes into DC family life (with neither party more pure than the other). Then I think that it’s also symbolic of our modern information society. He gets lured into social media, feels safe because apparently he’s not actually hooking up with these people, but ultimately gets caught. Then he plays the usual “cornered politician” game — deny, lie, misdirect and when that fails (and only when that fails) offer a “heartfelt” apology, claim he needs to “heal” himself and hope for sympathy.
OK. But that’s a pretty minor story in the grand scheme of things, what with wars in the Mideast, an economy still struggling and all.
But the political entertainment doesn’t end there. Sarah Palin botches the Paul Revere story, and her fans try to change Wikipedia. Yikes – a bit Stalinesque isn’t it — if history doesn’t fit what the leader says, then change history! After all, it’s already past, no one can actually visit it again, so truth is what gets allowed in the history books. But it doesn’t really hurt her, she’s reached Biden saturation point. After so many gaffes, it ceases to be real news.
Then Newt Gingrich, whose treatment of his ex wives is far worse in real terms than anything Wiener did, has his campaign implode because, well, I guess he was just being himself. Selfishness and arrogance can take you a long way in politics, but unless you learn to fake sincerity, they’ll do you in.
On top of that one of the GOP candidates, Herman Cain, vows never to sign a bill more than three pages long if elected. There has never been any more convincing way for a candidate to say “I’m clueless about what the legislative process is really all about” than to say something like that. He’s trying to get the populist “they don’t read the bills!” folk on his side, but it just sounds gimicky and silly. But at least it’s not a scandal.
Meanwhile the 2012 match up looks likely to be Obama and Romney. Obama should be able to defeat him if the economy recovers some; if not, Romney is well positioned to bring a lot of independent voters to the GOP. His problem is the extremes of the Republican party, the so called tea partiers. They vow to fight against Romney because he supported a Massachusetts health care plan and *gasp* he’s a Mormon! Of course, they’ve also turned on Scott Brown, who they supported in his Senate run back in 2009. Northeast Republicans and tea partiers generally don’t mix.
Yet Romney is the most electable Republican, and while the right wing of the party hated McCain back in 2007-08, he ultimately got the nod. Contrary to some critics on the left, the far right doesn’t control the GOP yet. Other solid contenders are John Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty. For the caterwauling on the right about the poor GOP field, Romney, Huntsman and Pawlenty could be very strong candidates.
Team Obama is already on the ground planning the war of 2012. Anyone who counts Obama out needs to take a look at the scope of the campaign. This is political marketing at its highest level, with tactics and funds that dwarf anything that came before. It won’t be enough if the economy is tanking by mid 2012, but if there is even a slight recovery, you can’t underestimate the Obama campaign.
In Libya NATO has apparently decided to give up the pretense of pretending to defend civilians and focus on regime change. They may have lost the moral high ground, but they might be nearing an end game — and ultimately that’s going to help them most. While Arab rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt have continued to go as good if not better than expected, Syria and Yemen face on going strife. Syria’s army could be splitting, while Yemen’s President Saleh waits in Saudi Arabia, recovering from injuries. He vows to return, says that al qaeda will take over if he doesn’t, but the situation in fluid.
It seems a bit surreal. Silly scandals trump momentous stories of transformation in the Arab world. The US campaign looks less like a serious discussion of issues and more like a grand marketing battle (Coke vs. Pepsi!), punctuated by ideological posturing. Innocent people are killed by law enforcement officers routinely around the country, our prison systems are dysfunctional, and yet peoples’ ire is raised over alleged “groping” at airports.
It all seems so silly. Yet I recall another time I thought the news had become extremely silly. It was the “summer of the shark,” and despite reports that shark attacks are rare, the few that did happen were screamed across the headlines creating a kind of panic. Meanwhile the murder of Chandra Levy caused a media frenzy around her boss, Gary Condit. The US and China were in a stand off over a spy plane incident, with the Chinese demanding an apology for an air space violation and the US refusing. It got solved by the US “expressing regret,” and the Chinese translating that as “the US apologizes.” Both sides realized the incident wasn’t worth harming trade relations.
Such silly news in the summer of 2001. But given the news that came later that year, I shouldn’t complain. The news is sillier when the world is realtively boring. And that’s a good thing.