This was written as a part of my application for TNR‘s once sought-after reporter-researcher position while I was wrapping up my web internship at The Nation. In the past, the year-long position has been an important career springboard for many accomplished journalists. Now I’ve heard TNR, the venerable Washington institution, can only afford to pay some $5,000 a year to whomever is selected. In 2009, I didn’t even score an interview. In 2010, I wasn’t even interested in applying. Oh, the sorry state of journalism…
As far as the actual analysis goes, I think it’s held up pretty well. Maybe I wrote a bad cover letter. Who knows? Any critiques are welcome in the comments section below.
The most important argument against nationalization raised in the lead editorial is that “absent clear conditions… nationalization could easily provoke a panicked sell-off.” The news that has come out of the Treasury since the editorial was published has been anything but “clear.” Geithner’s widely derided speech outlining the disbursement of the second round of Trouble Asset Relief Program funds lost the confidence of the markets, which will likely limit his ability to take any action more bold than simply handing out money to banks. This timid approach that TNR editorial rightly suggested would be the “worst course of action” appears to be the direction in which the Obama economic team is leading the US.
The first act of the “Geithner-Summers psychodrama” was especially interesting to read in light of these disappointing developments. The next scene is no doubt well into production. The muddled TARP II (re-branded as the Financial Stability Plan) speech did not clear up how the administration plans to dispose of the toxic assets eating away at banks’ balance sheets or who is really directing the financial clean up. The combination of Geithner’s tax-tarnished confirmation and now his expectation management failure have made him appear as anything but an “Obama-like perma-cool” leader, as Scheiber put it. Scheiber also missed the opening salvos of the State/Treasury border skirmishes: Geithner foolishly accused China of “manipulating” its currency in his written responses to the Senate Finance Committee’s confirmation questionnaire.
The financial troubles that Geithner, et al., are struggling to resolve will present a serious challenge to health care reform that was not discussed in Cohn’s otherwise excellent feature. The hopeful confluence of public opinion in favor of reform with the rise of broad-based interest groups like “Divided We Fail” was thoroughly examined, as was the argument against health care reform (which he had previously identified as “the best case against universal health care”). However, Cohn did not address what will likely be the loudest case Republicans make in their inevitable opposition to comprehensive reform: the ballooning budget deficit. The right used their recent conversion to fiscal discipline as justification for trimming the much-needed stimulus program. They are likely to use the same shrill scare tactics to minimize change to the broken health care system.
Russia too is suffering from the worldwide recession. While I found the exposé of the Kremlin’s p.r. ploys fascinating, I couldn’t help but wonder whether they have the attention and budget necessary to continue with pricey consultants, “self-laudatory” summits, and Russia Today propaganda broadcasts given the collapse in the price of oil and, with it, the living standards of the formerly docile Russian people. The p.r. offensive may be too costly a distraction for an increasingly embattled Russian government.
FRUM, COLEMAN, AND CONSERVATISM
The cover story on the history and future of conservatism provides a useful lens through which to view the divergent paths of David Frum and Norm Coleman. After reading Tanenhaus’s examination of how far the conservative movement has branched out from its intellectual roots, one realizes that Frum is not so much an iconoclast as a believer in classical conservatism. He realizes that Republicans’ divisive “cultural-populist swagger” is “scaring off the educated middle class,” the same demographic that helped propel both Nixon and Reagan into the White House after periods of social instability. Unlike revolutionary Republicans such as George W. Bush or Newt Gingrich, who both sought to remake society, Frum advocates for the GOP to “de-emphasizing social issues” and use its power and platform to be a force for moderation in addressing the pressing issues that currently threaten the social order.
Tanenhaus writes “Disraeli advocated ‘just, necessary, expedient’ policies.” In our new era dominated by a television “culture of continual novelty,” the Republican Party has been ignoring the first two tenants of Disraeli’s governing advice and formulating policy stances based on short-sighted electoral expediency. As a former Democrat who changed parties to ride Dubya’s coattails into the Senate, where he advanced his narrow interests in expensive tailoring, Coleman embodies a party full of empty suits, devoid of ideas or ideals. I disagree with Tanenhaus’s assertion that “our politics demand… the renunciation of ideology.” Coleman is a politician without ideology or principle—some measure of both is necessary to be an effective leader.
Finally, I have nothing but praise for the “Purple Heart” and “¡Viva Chai!” stories. When I pitched a write-up of the scene I encountered in the Purple Tunnel of Doom to The Nation, I was told that there was no interest in my “bourgeois” experience. I am pleased to see that this story experienced by thousands still has legs. And I look forward to visiting Busboys and Poets on my next trip to the Capital.