Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"...all this stuff twirling around in my head."

Arthur Silber:
The great majority of people remain resolutely focused on the trivia of the day, and the latest "controversy" of the moment. Developments over a period of years and even decades bore them, and they have no interest in understanding them. Our politicians specialize in such ignorance, and most bloggers indulge their stupidity, and imitate it to varying degrees.

(update below)

That's what Silber wrote in 2007, in "The Worsening Nightmare" and he quotes himself Monday, in "I Care for Myself Too Much to Write About Iran." If you are familiar with Silber's writings you already know he does this a lot, although the newer posts generally have a lot of new content too. He can be a "heavy" writer and seem humorless at times, but if you don't haven't read Silber before you probably should. It's good to see him posting again.

Arthur's comments have a sort of serendipity about them, he posting the above on the same day as the now famous Herman Cain Libya flub. Maybe in a society that places a premium on being too cool and too innocent to know terribly much about the big world outside our borders, Herman Cain is the kind of candidate we deserve.

In a way, his foreign policy misstep was a kind of treat for establishment reporters, they getting to self-indulgently point a finger at him for his ignorance, while gliding past the fact that the marquee reporters and commentators themselves conspire to keep the electorate ignorant much of the time.

And then there's the fact that this "zinger" came via reporters at a small-market newspaper just doing their job who were not even trying to stump him, but just asking him boring old-fashioned questions about his stands on sundry issues. You know, as opposed to demonstrating their rarefied cleverness in endless, postmodern speculation on how the candidate's behavior will be perceived and so forth. In fact the vacuousness of much national-level news coverage may have contributed to Cain feeling it probably wasn't that important that he have considered opinions about Obama's foreign policy.

I suppose his impromptu concern that we not leave a post Qadaffi Libya in ruins should be touching, once he got his bearings straight and realized he needed to have a comprehensible opinion or two about the whole thing. In fact if he meant it, it would be both a sensible and decent thing for him to say. But you'd think if he meant it he'd have less difficulty remembering that he felt that way.

In a way the "gotcha" narrative the national level reporters apply to this story reflects badly not only on themselves and Cain, but people who buy into it, as it is more than a reflection of how insular the national media is, but how actively pernicious their influence is. It suggests that a presidential candidate has to demonstrate knowledge of US foreign policy just as a formality, and we will judge him mostly on his polish and poise in response, and actually taking tedious questions about how the US behaves towards other countries seriously is just being fussy. Come to think of it, this view is probably why we have a president like Obama.

The full Milkwaukee Journal-Sentinel interview is below. And yes, Herman's just another ambitious empty suit. But the conduct of non-marquee, non-beltway political reporters(the unfortunate sound quality notwithstanding) is actually more interesting, serving as a reminder of how journalism was done 30 plus years ago. (Follow up questions? What are those?)

update: I changed the 1st clip to a slightly longer version which may give you a better sense of the context.

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