As someone who has worked on online political, advocacy and journalistic projects since the early 1990s and closely studied the medium's impact in creating "electronic democracy," it's good to see the Internet finally come of age. Republican consultants assert they won Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, and off-year governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey by mobilizing the national GOP base online, and their candidates' supporters down to the precinct level. There is little doubt that the Internet won Barack Obama the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, if not the election, and that 2008 was the fated "Internet election." But if the political parties now (or by the fall 2010 elections) have effectively achieved parity in technological sophistication, which one has the advantage? The party that can energize its base and get out the vote, probably. Or maybe the party that embraces some new cutting edge technology that the other one does not. Who would have thought in 2006 that Youtube.com would decide the Virginia Senate race, and therefore give Democrats control of the U.S. Senate?
Political freedom and faith in democracy have been in decline around the world since 2004, says Freedom House in a study. The Economist, in its analysis
of the report, says more countries are interested in the Chinese model
of economic growth while stifling dissent and maintaining one-party
In the Middle East and North Africa, only Israel is free, while Morocco, Kuwait,
and Lebanon are classified as "partly free," according to the study. Turkey is classified as "partly free." In sub-Saharan Africa, only South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Benin, Ghana, and Mali are free. In North and South America,
the biggest countries are free, but Cuba is "not free," and Haiti,
Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Bolivia,
and Paraguay are "partly free." In Western, Central and Eastern Europe, most countries are classified as free, but the former Soviet Union has shifted from "partially free" to "not free." In Central Asia,
Mongolia, India, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand
and Taiwan are classified as free, while Pakistan, Thailand, Kashmir,
Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines, and New Guinea are partially free.Overview.
Hope for health care reform is not lost: 47 health care policy experts, including Jonathan Oberlander of the University of North Carolina, Paul Starr of Princeton University, James Tulsky of Duke University, and Henry Aaron of Brookings petition the House of Representatives to accept the Senate version of the bill and then work to improve the legislation through the Budget Reconciliation process (which doesn't require 60 votes in the Senate, which revising the legislation in the Senate does require). And some leaders of the health insurance industry, noting that rising premiums are too costly for many consumers, now realize their companies would be more profitable if Congress passes reform. Legislation requiring everyone to have insurance and subsidizing consumers who can't afford it would actually be a boon to the private health care industry.
Jeff Goldsmith on The Health Care Blog offers a cogent analysis of the mistakes and progress made in 2009, and proposes a scaled-back bill: "Unlike Clinton, Obama does not seem driven by the compulsive drive to
have everyone love him. Some cold calculations about who you can afford
to piss off is the key to making the right choices," he writes.
The loss of Ted Kennedy's Senate seat to Republican Scott Brown leads me to recall a couple of blog posts I wrote way back in 2004 when the shoe was on the other foot. I quoted "Sam Rayburn's Law of Presidential Governance," which he declared after Franklin Roosevelt's landslide victory in 1936: "When you get too big a majority, you're immediately in trouble." I wrote then:
That rule certainly applied to 1964 and 1972, when Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon let their election victories go to their heads, leading to arrogance of power, a Vietnam quagmire and coverup of mistakes by Johnson and Watergate scandal coverup by Nixon and ultimately, his resignation. Arguably, it also happened after the 1984 election, when Ronald Reagan inspired Oliver North and crew to break federal law to aid the Nicaraguan contras.
I warned then that the Republicans, who had just elected George W. Bush to a second term and given him a 55-45 GOP majority in the Senate, were in danger of over-reaching. And indeed they did. The Democrats came roaring back in 2006 and 2008. Now the question is whether the Democrats have over-reached, with their (until now) 60-vote filibuster-proof majority, on issues like health care and overall government spending, while unemployment has not yet started to drop.
Back in 2004, I wrote that "over-reaching is typical pattern by the political party that controls both the White House and Congress." It's an instructive piece well-worth reading.
The jury is still out on the question of whether the Democrats have over-reached. We won't know the public's verdict until results from the 2010 mid-term elections come in. If history is a judge, they won't be able to sustain their 60-vote Senate majority. But they ought to be able to keep their majorities (now huge) in both houses of Congress. Omens from the special election in true blue Massachusetts are a warning sign of a potentially harsher verdict from the voters to come in November.
Today, Turkey seeks to emerge from the shadow of America and the West in general, to become a regional if not world power in its own right. Some observers of Turkey think the nation dreams of re-establishing the glory days of the Ottoman Empire, which at its peak spanned from the gates of the Balkans to the Indian Ocean and "claimed the spiritual leadership of the Muslim world."
A leading businessman in Kayseri confirmed for me this Turkish ambition. "Give us five years," he said. "Modern Turkey can match the economic power of the Ottoman Empire."
(Another Turk laughs and asks "The Ottoman Empire at what historical period? It's end? Yes, we can match that! At its peak? I'm not so sure.")
Turkey doesn't aspire to imperialism, to politically dictate or dominate the nations of the former Ottoman Empire in the way that the Ottomans did, my students assure me. But modern Turkey, by its comparative wealth, military might, political stability and religious influence relative to other countries in the region, it will be nation to be reckoned with on the world stage.
Turkey's economy is booming, even in the midst of a global downturn. It sustained an average of 6% growth from 2002-2006, an average growth rate of nearly 4% per year 2007-10, and projects at least 3.5% growth rate per year from 2011-20 (source), one of the highest sustained rates of growth in the world. If current trends continue, by 2050, Turkey's GDP will be greater than that of Germany, Japan and France, according to a Goldman Sachs analysis. Earnings from exports are rising, especially in the former Ottoman colonies of North Africa. Turkey's job growth is expanding so rapidly that by 2015, it expects to be importing workers to fill jobs within Turkey.
Europe doesn't yet understand how it needs Turkey in the EU as much or more than Turkey needs the EU. Turkey provides Europe with much of its oil and natural gas through the Caspian basin, Russia, and eventually, from the Turkic Republics of Central Asia.
Turkey's neighbors -- in particular, Syria, Iraq, and Iran -- depend on it for economic stability.
It is kind of awesome to look at a map of the Ottoman Empire at its peak, from the gates of Vienna to the Persian Gulf and where the Red Sea runs into the Gulf of Aden and meets the Indian Ocean:
"Since the concept of neo-Ottomanism may evoke an imperial agenda, one
important point needs clarification," writes Biomiast: "Turkey, in this neo-Ottoman
paradigm, does not pursue a neo-imperialist policy aimed at
resurrecting the Ottoman Empire. Instead of imperial nostalgia,
neo-Ottomanism is essentially about projecting Turkey’s “soft power” -
a bridge between East and West, a Muslim nation, a secular state, a
democratic political system, and a capitalistic economic force."
George Friedman, founder of the global intelligence firm Stratfor, predicts in The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century that a new Turkish empire will arise from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Noting that Turkey currently has the seventeenth largest economy in the world, is growing by leaps and bounds and modernizing rapidly, Friedman predicts that it will become the unchallenged leader of the Muslim world. Indeed, Turkey has already become an influential regional power. Friedman goes so far as to predict war between Turkey and Japan on one side against the U.S. and its Western allies on the other side, in 2050. (He also predicts war between the U.S. and Mexico.) Such predictions are outlandish -- no more reliable than science fiction -- but it is a tribute to Turkey's up-and-coming position in global politics.
Ibrahim Kalin in Today's Zaman asserts that "empire" is defined by five factors. A country is an empire if it has 1) amassed land; 2) built a huge army; 3) exploited cheap labor; 4) has political and economic colonies; and 5) engages in cultural influence or imperialism. By those definitions, America comes pretty close to achieving empire. Turkey has a ways to go.
Turkey does have one of the largest standing armies in the world, and mandatory conscription. Every young man must spend a year or two in military service to his country.
Kalin wonders whether we've reached the "End of Western Ascendancy" and the burdens of empire may be too great for America, or any one nation, in the future. But world power abhors a vacuum, and if America doesn't fill it, other countries could try to step in. As one of my students point out, "if the American empire declines and falls, other empires will rise up and take its place, because that has always happened in world history." Turkey may seek to step into the Middle East as a moderate, secular Muslim democracy, a model for Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other nations, especially if U.S. influence in the region declines.
In much of its history since becoming a republic in 1923, Turkey has been isolationist, anchoring itself to the "civilized" West and untangling it from the "backward" lands to the East, as Forbes reports. During the Cold War, Turkey was pretty much a satellite of America, going so far as to store and point U.S. nuclear weapons at the Soviet Union out of fear that without them, the Soviets would attack Turkey or that communists would try to take control of Turkey from within. The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis began when Soviets sought to set up missiles in Cuba directed at the U.S. to offset the U.S. missiles in Turkey. Fortunately for the U.S., the Soviets blinked and withdrew the missiles from Cuba, and President Kennedy secretly agreed to withdraw Jupiter missiles from Turkey.
The days of Turkey taking orders from Washington are gone. It has recently asserted its independence from Israel, and offers itself as mediator and power-broker amongst the countries of the Middle East as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan. "In doing so, it certainly has become more enmeshed in the Muslim world, sometimes even positioning itself as the spokesman for the Islamic world," Forbes notes.
The Misnomer of Neo-Ottomanism, by Dr. Soner Cagaptay. He takes exception to the notion that Turkish foreign policy is 'neo-Ottoman,' and instead describes it as Islamist, moving away from the West.
Turkey's official diplomatic position is that it is neither "neo-Ottoman" nor Islamist, but simply pragmatically seizing opportunities with neighbors. "Neo-Ottoman" insults former Ottoman colonies, and wrongly implies imperialist intentions, while "Islamist" makes the West nervous, and implies alliance with militants like Iran. Here's a link to articles on Turkey's foreign policy.
Historian Sam Huntington, writing in "Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity" points out the importance of studying history as a way of knowing who we are. How much we owe to the decisions of early explorers, colonists and settlers, particularly from the British Isles, and to the intellectuals in the British Enlightenment. If America had started as a colony of France, it would essentially be Quebec today. If America had started as a colony of Spain, then it would essentially be Mexico today. If America had started as a colony of Portugal, then it would essentially be Brazil today. (Hat tip: TGGP at Marginal Revolution)
"The strongest part of the book is its premise: that nationality matters -- and that, despite the universalism central to our values, America is different from other countries. In Huntington's view, this distinctiveness is based in "culture," by which he means neither Walt Whitman nor MTV, but rather a shared sense of community and common mores, including the premium we put on individualism, the work ethic, the gospel of success and an often crusading moralism. One can quarrel with some of the elements he thinks are central -- most important, a single, shared religion -- but plainly Huntington is on to something. Hard as it may be for us to define what it means to be American, people the world over know it when they see it, and we lose touch with it at our peril...Huntington argues convincingly -- and who can doubt? -- that the soil in which America's distinctive culture first took root was both English and dissenting. The earliest settlers' values still do much to color ours, and the "American Creed" that unites us politically -- our belief in freedom, tolerance, equal opportunity, the rule of law and the like -- is plainly a product of the British Enlightenment. But to say that our national character is Anglo-Protestant is to mistake origins for essence." - Tamar Jacoby, Washington Post review.
Skimming this book as I am living in Turkey, I wonder what a book titled, "Who Are We? The Challenges to Turkey's National Identity" would look like. Some say that Turkey does not know who it is as a nation -- whether it is European or Asian or Middle Eastern. I think that's a strength, not a weakness. It is all three.
So The New York Times will start charging for content in 2011, for "frequent access to its website." I salute them for giving this another try after the demise of "Times Select" in 2007. The media industry needs to assert the principle that readers who come to a web site day after day after day, who depend on it and obviously gain significant value from it, ought to be willing to pay something for it. A healthy future for the publishing industry depends on this principle.
Public attitudes might be changing since "Times Select" failed. Readers, perhaps, are beginning to realize that the publications they depend on can't survive without financial support.
The Times is also smart to delay the requirement to pay until the recession is fully over and the economy is expanding again. By 2011, the convergence of computer, television, telephone and print technologies will be further along. Consumers might reap a significant windfall from this convergence, and might therefore be willing to pass on some of their savings to their favorite websites.
If consumers slash their annual costs for cable or satellite TV, Internet, land lines and cell phones, books, magazines and newspapers, that could free up money for paid online content. What do you think?
I at least want to scan some of the new books offering
"behind-the-scenes" accounts of the 2008 presidential campaign, what was probably one of the most
fascinating campaigns in American history. "Game Change," by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, looks to be well-written and well-reported, at least based on the excerpt in New York magazine and the review in The New York Times.
Update: A reader and several sources question the accuracy of "Game Change." See below.
Called "St. Elizabeth and the Ego Monster," the excerpt pieces
together, for the first time in print, what aides to the Edwards' were
thinking and observing, including "a wife (Elizabeth Edwards) whose
virtuous image was a mirage." Edwards’s story is "lastingly resonant: an archetypal political
tragedy in which the very same qualities that fuel any presidential
bid—ego, hubris, vanity, neediness, a kind of delusion—became
all-consuming and self-destructive. And in which the gap between public façade and private reality simply grew too vast to bridge."
Some of Game Change is no doubt sour grapes from former staffers who invested their lives in losing candidates, and may be speculative and less than accurate, but the excerpts have the ring of truth.
As someone who had several positive encounters with Elizabeth, and a skeptical encounter with John Edwards, it's sad to see this story. She clearly had boundary issues. She didn't know where she began and ended, where John's campaigns and career and obligations to his family and to his North Carolina constituents began and ended. What business did she have as the candidate's wife ordering staff around with 1 AM emails? None. Since she was not part of the official structure of the campaign, she was unaccountable. One can certainly understand how her interference drove staff nuts.
She "over-shared" with strangers, offered an illusion of intimacy that brought new people into the campaign but ultimately proved dysfunctional. Quite humanly, she publicly portrayed her marriage as the way she wished it to be, not as it was.
Affairs don't usually happen in a vacuum, and not just from yielding to lust. They frequently result from a lack of intimacy in marriage -- political marriages are notorious for a lack of intimacy -- and from important emotions neglected or repressed or dealt with passive-aggressively for months or years. Game Changereveals problems in the McCain marriage, and the Clinton marriage (as if anyone needed more evidence that the Clintons' marriage is strange but nevertheless enduring).
I'm a believer in marriage and family systems, and relationship systems at work. Frenetically busy political campaigns, many of them start-ups, where people share political passion, are ripe for creating dysfunctional relationship systems; ripe for aides, candidates and spouses to lose their best selves, their best values, and to lose connections with the people in their life who matter most. Obviously that's what happened to John Edwards. "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?"
What makes the story of the Edwards so compelling is the contrast between public image and private reality. In the excerpt from Game Change, watching the destruction of a marriage and a meteoric career is compelling reading. It's kind of like watching a car crash.
But the delight that some people take in the story -- "a fraud and a huckster and a pretty-boy shyster exposed" -- should not obscure the fact that many if not most people regardless of political party or ideology are vulnerable to one emotional or moral deficiency or another. Presidential politics, for nearly all who run, is an all-encompassing high-wire act in which it is no doubt difficult to keep one's head fully together.
Edwards was hardly alone in his narcissism and hubris. You have to have a lot of it to run for president. But in the excerpt from Game Change, the Edwards come off not too differently from another notorious North Carolina couple, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.
After my own positive impressions of Elizabeth Edwards, I don't buy the harsh portrayal as the whole story. I prefer former aide Jennifer Palmieri's account of the warm and friendly survivor, "utterly without pretense" who scoffs at any notion that she is "Saint Elizabeth."
John Edwards let himself believe he was a super star. I've seen this happen
to people I know. They do very well at something and become very
successful. They become a "star" in their small galaxy. Soon they are
surrounded by people who are always telling them how brilliant their
every idea is. After awhile the star begins to believe that EVERY idea
they have IS a great idea. (Hey, I should have a mistress travel with
me on the campaign trail!) They quit challenging their own thought
process and stop questioning themselves because it has become obvious
that if it comes out of their head it MUST be a good thing. And the
star usually is smart enough to rationalize a lot of bad behavior.
Each individual I saw go from reasonable, successful person to arrogant
super star did trip themselves up and had a hard fall. Some of them
went back to being their better selves.
Having to fall as far
as Edwards did and in the national spotlight must be awful. And, of
course, Elizabeth had a role in all this. I do love her book "Saving
Graces". I hate that they did this to themselves and to their family.
One thing Game Change does do for sure: of all the candidates in the field, Barack Obama was, certainly in comparison, the best man for the moment.
Update: The authors of Game Change state that they promised all of their sources complete anonymity. Ambinder questions the vagueness of the ground rules, and how Senator Reid's staff feels burned by the "no Negro dialect" quote regarding Obama attributed to him. As a journalist I know that this lack of accountability can lead to sloppiness or embellishment by either the sources or the writers. A reader writes:
"It makes for "interesting reading" but low credibility. Readers who don't know who supplied them with the alleged information or misinformation have no means of 1) evaluating the credibility of the source, or 2) going to the sources for confirmation or denial of the alleged information.
"Jim - and you never interviewed me for a paper! - but my experiences with newspaper interviewers almost invariably included serious misquotes, a circumstance that in time led me to avoid interviews unless I was given the opportunity to review what was written for accuracy. I would think most savvy readers willl take this book with a pitcher of salt."