Monday, August 20, 2007

In dim eclipse, disastrous twilight sheds
On half the nations, and with fear of change
Perplexes monarchs.

Professor Stanley Fish blogs occasionally for the New York Times: it is apparently available on-line only through the "Select" subscription service (for which Malcolm has temporary access for services rendered).

His latest thought is:
It’s time to start thinking seriously about Hillary Clinton’s running mate. I know that the first primary is six months away (although the date keeps creeping backwards) and the conventions more than a year away, but this one is over before it’s over.
From there he considers the options:
John Edwards isn’t going to catch fire, and Barack Obama has already caught all the fire he is able to ignite. With every day, the small possibility that Al Gore will join the race gets smaller.
Essentially, Fish is looking for the balanced ticket:
Hillary Clinton is a middle-aged, white woman Protestant senator from the Northeast. Every identifying mark in this long list of personal attributes bears a significance for her choice. First of all, her running mate can’t be a woman. But, on the other hand, he does have to be white, or at least kind of white. The pundits keep wondering whether the country is ready for a woman president or a black president; it sure isn’t ready for a woman and a black on the same ticket.
The swim-suit round

Fish assumes that also eliminates a Jewish running-mate, such as Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania. He also narrows the field further by removing Senators, on the grounds "they belong to a debating society and haven’t had much experience administering things", and Representatives, who "have the same liability as do senators, and in addition they usually have little national name recognition".

The other element in the need for balance is geography:
Senator Clinton was brought up in Illinois and lived for a long time in Arkansas, but she has to stick with her New York identification, if only because she had to do so much to secure it. Therefore no other Northeasterner need apply ...
So that ticks off Joe Biden and Chris Dodd.

Heading out of the megalopolis, then, "and it is here that we get to the electoral college." So Fish does the math:
Start by giving her New York and California, then add all of New England plus Delaware, Maryland and D.C. Throw in one or two states in the Northwest (Oregon or Washington), and either Colorado or New Mexico in the Southwest. She loses the South, except for Louisiana where the Bush administration is in bad odor, and, perhaps, Arkansas, if her husband does a lot of work. She wins Hawaii, loses Alaska.

This leaves us where we are always left on election day – watching Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the Midwestern states, and Florida. Clinton probably takes Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and loses Kansas and Indiana. Illinois is a lock. Michigan and Wisconsin lean in her direction. Missouri probably goes Republican. Minnesota, Iowa and Ohio are up for grabs, with Ohio the prize. Florida is Florida.
That is probably less contentious than what has gone before, but it makes an unreasonable assumption: that 2008 will be as before. And therein lies reason for serious doubt. However, Malcolm will go with Fish, if only because the Professor should know his country better than a mere alien: we shall see, but more on this below

Governing mansions and their inhabitants

At this point in his discursion Fish starts to run through the gubernatorial possibilities: Strickland of Ohio (too recently arrived?), Warner of Virginia (needing a PR re-tread?), Easley of North Carolina (short on wider recognition?), Doyle of Wisconsin (past sell-by date?), Bayh of Indiana and Richardson of New Mexico (naivety, based on a Melissa Etheridge moment). Fish's bottom line seems to be a rank order:
So there’s the list – Warner, Bayh, Easley, Richardson, maybe Doyle. No one who sets the pulses racing, but no one, at least on the evidence so far, who would be a total mistake. The mistake would be if Senator Clinton decided to get creative and adventurous, but on the record there seems to be little danger of that.
Malcolm leaves the issue open there: the decision will not become significant for another ten months, by which time the earth and all on it will have moved on. Anyone, reading Fish or not, will form different views on personal feelings. So far this is little more than a summer-vacation poolside reverie.

A Herbert Hoover legacy?

However, there are conclusions to be drawn already.

Fish's major premiss, that the Democratic nomination is done-and-dusted, is surely beyond serious refute. Furthermore, unless the Republican Party starts putting its house in order, it seems that Hillary has a walk-over to 20th January 2009. That lesser assumption will undoubtedly change; but the only achievement of the Bush-Cheney administration over the last few months has been to convert approval ratings in the low 30% area to the high 20%s.

The damage may be even worse than that. Indeed, it begins to look as though a credible Republican candidate would have to run against his own Party and its record, which is not a recommended tactic in the Primaries.

A thick darkness over the land...

Barely a year out from the Labor Day 2008 starting gun, the United States seems to be inflicted with a recital of horrors not experienced since the Book of Exodus, chapters 7 to 11.

A failed public education system was water turning to blood. The frogs 0f a $5trillion federal deficit will croak for years to come. The unresolved Social Security and Medicare crisis, as the Baby Boomers enter retirement, amounts to more than gnat-bites. Collapsing highway bridges suggest a fly-ridden infra-structure. Lax environmental protection presages murrains on the cattle. Housing finance is a festering mass of boils. The looming energy crisis will be more than a passing thunderstorm. The locusts of foreign investors are getting out from under. All that's left is the death of the firstborn ( for which see Iraq).

To save th' Athenian Walls from ruine bare

Stanley Fish is one of the great authorities on Milton, so Malcolm recalls of Sonnet 8, which borrows from Xenophon describing the fall of Athens in 404BC.

The grossness, the disaster, the brash crudity, the unmitigated hubris of Bush-Cheney have willed a nemesis upon the World’s only Superpower. In domestic affairs, the same approach has been as partisan, deceitful, bullying and conniving as anything from Tricky Dicky.

The reconstruction needed puts all Americans into unexplored territory. In any future, under whatever new Administration, a necessarily-chastened America needs a radically-different philosophy and world-view, which, in turn, implies an extended re-education, especially outside the Beltway and in the more gung-ho reaches of the mood-makers, such as Fox News.

At some point, it will need a daring soul to recall Dean Acheson's wise words on losing an empire, but not yet finding a rĂ´le.

And, in passing, Malcolm notes that such new-found humility, the willingness to observe, to think, to learn is what has made Al Gore so attractive to so many.

The title of this piece is from Paradise Lost, I 597-9. Sphere: Related Content

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