Right Man's Burden

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Speaking of the precocious Weekly Standard's 10-year anniversary, the in-flight magazine of Air Force Two has just come out with a special issue asking its contributors: "On what issue or issues (if any!) have you changed your mind in the last 10 years -- and why?" The results, which run from the triumphalist to the despairing, are an interesting window into the unique burdens of being on the winning political team. And I've read it, so you don't have to. A highly partial selection:

  • Christopher Caldwell: "My portfolio of political beliefs has changed little, aside from a major sell-off of libertarian absolutism, which this decade has exposed as overvalued."
  • Eric Cohen: "By dying for the freedom of others, Americans might recover an understanding of the public burdens of freedom as well as the private opportunities."
  • Robert Kagan: "We were asked what issues we've changed our minds about. My father recalled for me a line from Thucydides, which Pericles delivered to the Athenians in the difficult second year of the three-decade-long war with Sparta. 'I am the same man and do not alter, it is you who change, since in fact you took my advice while unhurt, and waited for misfortune to repent of it.'"
  • David Brooks: "Over the past decades, conservative thinking has evolved and its center of gravity has shifted. From a movement that once emphasized economic freedom, it is now a movement emphasizing that economic freedoms must be embedded in a strong society. From a movement that once lauded individual choice, it is now a movement preoccupied with family stability, civil society, and national cohesion."
  • Tod Limberg: "Yes, for our own sake, we do indeed need to face down those violently opposed to our liberal order. We must defend ourselves. But that's not enough. We need to attend also to the needs of those who do not have the advantage of living in societies like ours."
  • P.J. O'Rourke: "Politics is evil. Ten years ago I thought politics was misguided. But the events of the past decade--indeed, of the past 10 or a dozen decades--have proven me wrong."
  • Andrew Ferguson: "Most conservative books are pseudo-books: ghostwritten pastiches whose primary purpose seems to be the photo of the 'author' on the cover. What a tumble! From The Conservative Mind to Savage Nation; from Clifton White to Dick Morris; from Willmoore Kendall and Harry Jaffa to Sean Hannity and Mark Fuhrman--all in little more than a generation's time. Whatever this is, it isn't progress."
  • William Kristol: "Which ultimately speaks--if I may be forgiven a pseudo-Platonic moment--to the weekliness of weekly journalism. A weekly comes out every week. A weekly has to come out every week."

NEXT: The Day Information Changed

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  1. "Politics is evil. Ten years ago I thought politics was misguided. But the events of the past decade--indeed, of the past 10 or a dozen decades--have proven me wrong."

    First of all, is this proper English? Not to be a pedant, but a politic is something political, politics is the plural form. He should have said "Politics are evil. Ten years ago I thought politics were misguided."

    Now that I've wasted my time on nitpicking, on to content:

    "Which ultimately speaks--if I may be forgiven a pseudo-Platonic moment--to the weekliness of weekly journalism. A weekly comes out every week. A weekly has to come out every week."

    Wha? Is this my Moment of Zen for the week?

  2. Wha? Is this my Moment of Zen for the week? *

    (*And if it is indeed my Weekly Moment of Zen, does that mean it comes out every week? Does that mean it has to come out every week?)

  3. aside from a major sell-off of libertarian absolutism

    Oooh! Let's hear it for moral relatavism.

  4. smacky funny, weekly

  5. "politics is" vs. "politics are"

    I think certain terms ending in "s" -- especially those that end in "ics" -- that describe a field of study or a field of human endeavor can be considered singular.

    Example: "Physics is my major." vs. "Physics are my major."

    (I hope the foregoing didn't come off all William F. Buckley a-holish.)

    (Next up: A discussion of whether "a-holish" should have an "e" in it, and whether there should be an apostrophe in the plural of "ho.")

  6. So, ah, did any of those guys change their minds about anything or what?

  7. Independent Worm,

    Other than O'Rourke, none of them answered the question. The all gave observations, some of them like Fergeson's about the quality of conservative writing pretty astute, but no one said whether they had changed their mind about anything.

  8. indy -- David Frum changed his mind about the urgency of immigration enforcement, some of these guys realized that we need more wars & stuff, one person realized that the Democrats were even stupider than he/she thought.... Kristol realized that there isn't any organized conspiracy running the government, Kagan realized that he was right about everything, and David Gerlenter (sic) changed his mind about conservatives' ability to compete in the culture war.

  9. Talk radio was already important then and is vastly more so now. Fox has made it safe to watch TV news again. Conservative blogs like Power Line and many others have knocked the news game sideways. Conservative think tanks like AEI, the Manhattan Institute, and many more (e.g., the Shalem Center in Israel) rank among the most important intellectual centers in the world.

    God damn, that's funny!

  10. Other than O'Rourke, none of them answered the question. The all gave observations, some of them like Fergeson's about the quality of conservative writing pretty astute, but no one said whether they had changed their mind about anything

    Yeah, i think that's a disease that that comes with being a hack. One's sense of "brand stewardship" doesn't permit a lot of free thinking, just a reflexive regurgitation of talking points.

    That the mere recitation of talking points has become equated with "intellectual achievement" (or some such) in the view of Gerstener and others is a sign of what might have changed since 10 years ago.

    Now, talking a good game of high culture has always been a lot fucking easier than actually achieving it, THAT hasn't changed.

  11. Eric Cohen: "By dying for the freedom of others, Americans might recover an understanding of the public burdens of freedom as well as the private opportunities."

    Only if that understanding comes in the afterlife.

  12. Matt,

    Is all that stuff in the link because I sure don't see it in the post you put up. Interesting changes of opinion though.

  13. Dang you to heck, Stevo! For being so insightful contrary to my observation, it's the paddle machine for you.

    Still, I think that my nitpicking isn't completely incorrect. You're right about the usage being allowable and proper, but I think that's because of convention over time (which is true of a lot of what can be considered "proper"). I'm sort of right because, well, it's still plural! (technically)

    e.g. "hysterics":

    "Hysterics are my specialty." versus "Hysterics is my specialty".

    Hey, they even used my counterexample in Oxford. Awesome!:

    http://www.askoxford.com/asktheexperts/faq/aboutwords/plurals

  14. John-

    Ferguson's remarks are far from "astute." I explain why here:

    http://rightreason.ektopos.com/archives/2005/09/ferguson_on_con.html#more

  15. I guess my question for Christopher Caldwell is, what are the great triumphs of government this past decade that have revealed libertarian absolutism as overvalued.

    There certainly haven't been any failures of libertarian absolutism this past decade, because nowhere is it implemented. So, if something changed his mind, it must have been a triumph of the state.

    I can't think of any.

  16. John -- Forgive me if the comments-server spits out two other versions of this response, but..... I used the phrase "a highly partial selection" for a reason, and that was to indicate that it *wasn't* "a representative sample of how they've changed their minds." I figured it'd be more interesting & useful to cherry-pick items of specific H&R interest, and let the still-curious follow the links if they so chose.

  17. Robert Kagan: "We were asked what issues we've changed our minds about. My father recalled for me a line from Thucydides, which Pericles delivered to the Athenians in the difficult second year of the three-decade-long war with Sparta. 'I am the same man and do not alter, it is you who change, since in fact you took my advice while unhurt, and waited for misfortune to repent of it.'"

    fantastic. how apropo of the warrior-zealot kagan to quote from the documenter of the athenian decline and destruction of the very moment when the athenian republic strode off to the hubristic and ill-advised war which bankrupted it and put it into shadow foreverafter.

  18. That's some creepy fascist shit Brooks and Cohen are selling there.

    At least we can scratch O'Rourke off our "up against the wall" lists. The rest of these creeps should be italicized.

    Kristol goes to the top for going "Platonic" without knowing what that means. (There's a Form of Weekliness now? I'll have to check that with the Wonder Twins.) My memory of his being on the Evil Genius team with Cheney and Fukuyama must be one of those Satanic Abuse retro-hallucinations. Apparently he's merely evil.

    ...

    And, yes, Kerry'd still be worse-because he'd be the same, but fewer would say so.

  19. The O'Rourke article is really good, worth clicking through.

    (I hope the foregoing didn't come off all William F. Buckley a-holish.)

    Nah, more like William Safire.
    Time for me to go eat two Whoppers Junior.

  20. On the off-chance anyone is interested: I've changed my mind on something; as a libertarian, I no longer believe Republicans are our friends.

  21. What is the in-flight magazine of AF One?

  22. I've wondered for a while now why O'Rourke is writing for the Weekly Standard. He doesn't seem like the type of guy who'd fit in there--as underscored by how much he stands out in the list of responses.

  23. At least we can scratch O'Rourke off our "up against the wall" lists.

    ?!

    How could he ever be on any libertarian's "up against the wall" list?

    Ye gods, man. O'Rourke is one of the most brilliant spokesmen for freedom going!

  24. Time for me to go eat two Whoppers Junior.

    Since I'm on my grammar kick today: nice use of the postpositive adjective!

  25. R C Dean-

    I think it's fairly obvious why he's no longer so anti-state: His team now controls the federal government.

    I told you guys, divided government is worth trying!

  26. "By dying for the freedom of others, Americans might recover an understanding of the public burdens of freedom as well as the private opportunities."

    I'm sorry but when people write shit like this, the chickenhawk critique becomes completely legitimate.

  27. "Is all that stuff in the link because I sure don't see it in the post you put up."

    Maybe you should change your mind about clicking on the link, genius?

  28. surf:
    The film "Shattered Glass," set during the Clinton Administration, repeatedly referred to the New Republic as the in-flight magazine of Air Force One.
    smacky:
    As Steve Darkly points out, some seemingly plural terms do take a singular verb. (Besides
    "physics," another one is "mathematics.") "Politics" can go either way. "Is" is acceptable (e.g., Tip O Neil's "All politics is local."), but one sometimes hears "are."

  29. I wouldn't trust one of those pantloads to wash my car. Except maybe O'Rourke. Too bad they're running the country at the moment. (Well, them and Dobson).

  30. O'Rourke's piece is really good.

  31. As far as the plural/singlular debate, I believe the currently fashionable rule is that if the entities described by a plural noun act as a single collective entity, the verb should take a singular form ("is"). Thus, it would be ungrammatical to say "politics are evil," since this implies that each individual politic is evil individually.

    Also, if the entity described by a singular noun is really a group whose members act individually, the verb takes the plural form. It is then ungrammatical to say "the electorate votes on November 5," since each member of the electorate votes separately.

  32. Ferguson and O'Rourke had the best comments.

  33. What is the in-flight magazine of AF One?

    Highlights.

    Goofus wants to take "God" out of the pledge...

  34. R C Dean,

    I also wondered what Caldwell meant. I only skimmed the linked pages. Other than thoreau's sarcastic response, I didn't see anyone else here respond.

    For those who read the actually read the links, or those who comprehend what Caldwell means, please explain where "libertarian absolutism" is overvalued.

    For my sake, please use smallish words.

  35. "By dying for the freedom of others, Americans might recover an understanding of the public burdens of freedom as well as the private opportunities."

    I don't think he means to say that the actual Americans who died will recover this understanding. Of course not! The actual Americans who actually died won't recover any understanding of anything.

    ...They'll just molder in their graves.

    It's we--the living--all the dying that Americans did for others is supposed to teach us a lesson. ...and if you learn that lesson--the one about public burdens--it's almost as if those Americans all died for you.

    Have you learned the lesson about how our leaders sacrificed American lives for foreigners? Oh! ...and the lesson about burdens?

    "But many parents--Cindy Sheehan notwithstanding--are proud to see their sons and daughters abroad, bearing responsibilities that a great democracy like America still seems willing to shoulder. And that, at least, is reasonable grounds for optimism."

    Cindy Sheehan didn't think her son's life was worth the lesson we all learned from her son's death. ...the lesson being about dead Americans and public burdens.

    ...but many parents aren't like that, and that's supposed to be cause for optimism?

  36. From a movement that once lauded individual choice, it is now a movement preoccupied with family stability, civil society, and national cohesion.

    Goddamn - David Brooks continues to prove that he is truly incapable of writing anything that doesn't make me want to vomit.

  37. Thank God for O'Rourke! Though by writing about politics, I guess he is working for the other side.

  38. I guess my question for Christopher Caldwell is, what are the great triumphs of government this past decade that have revealed libertarian absolutism as overvalued.

    There certainly haven't been any failures of libertarian absolutism this past decade, because nowhere is it implemented. So, if something changed his mind, it must have been a triumph of the state.

    I can't think of any.

    Your making it too complicated. It's not about the glaring successes/failures to America. He learned that statism wins elections.

    By dying for the freedom of others, Americans might recover an understanding of the public burdens of freedom as well as the private opportunities.

    I volunteer Eric Cohen to be the first to test this radical new reeducation plan.

  39. Dang you to heck, Stevo! For being so insightful contrary to my observation, it's the paddle machine for you.

    What a lovely gift! I've always wanted a paddle machine for my apartment. I'm more of a paddler than a paddlee, though.

    However, if it makes you feel better, you may thump my noggin instead.

    I honestly dunno whether using "-ics" words is singular has always been legit, or just a mistake that people got used to. Like saying, "The data's wrong" or, "The media is responsible."

    --------------

    PS: P.J. O'Rourke kicks ass ... even if he isn't always 100% correct like me. )

    ---------------

    What is the in-flight magazine of AF One?

    Highlights.

    That ... beautiful.

  40. "By dying for the freedom of others, Americans might recover an understanding of the public burdens of freedom as well as the private opportunities."

    I'm an old school conservative. To me, that means I want deep cuts in marginal tax rates and deep cuts in government spending, among other things. When I called myself a Republican, I despised "liberals", Democrats and anyone else that supported progressive tax codes, Medicare, Social Security, the welfare state, etc...

    ...but for Christ's sake, at least the liberals only wanted our money! This bloodthirsty bastard wants the lives of our youth!

  41. By dying for the freedom of others, Americans might recover an understanding of the public burdens of freedom as well as the private opportunities.

    Hey! I think I just recovered an understanding of .... cough! cough! hack! hack! ... of the public burdens ... oh, so cold, so very cold ... public burdens of freedom ... as well as ... the ... private .... agh! agh! ... urrrrrrrrrrrgh...

  42. Oops, not quite dead yet ... hack! hack! ... wait, here it comes ... arrrrrrrrrrrgh ....

  43. So Stevo prefers to be the smacker rather than the smackee. There appears to be a matchmaking opportunity somewhere on this forum.

  44. Christopher Caldwell:

    My portfolio of political beliefs has changed little, aside from a major sell-off of libertarian absolutism, which this decade has exposed as overvalued.

    To the contrary, the evidence of the last ten tears reveals that libertarianism is underused and, especially by the neocon crowd, under appreciated. And in the area of foreign policy, disasters have befallen this nation because our government has trod an interventionist neocon path, which is explicitly un-libertarian. Christopher Caldwell needs to read more P.J. O'Rourke.

  45. Eric Cohen:

    By dying for the freedom of others, Americans might recover an understanding of the public burdens of freedom as well as the private opportunities.

    An Islamic republic in Iraq that will be friendly to a neocon foreign policy agenda is certainly not "the freedom of others" but the balance of this sentence is just nonsensical posturing anyway.

  46. David Brooks:

    From a movement that once emphasized economic freedom, it is now a movement emphasizing that economic freedoms must be embedded in a strong society.

    I don't know what Brooks means by a "strong society", but a prosperous and free society, including economic freedoms, requires minimizing the power and activity of government.

    From a movement that once lauded individual choice, it is now a movement preoccupied with family stability, civil society, and national cohesion.

    Brooks pretends that the neo-conservatism is the same as conservatism, but this statement is revealing as to just how antithetical neo-conservatism actually is to conservatism. It's the lack of individual choice embedded in the welfare state that has taken a toll on family stability. Civil society is meaningless without individual choice (Brooks needs to read Hayek) and national cohesion without individual choice is authoritarianism.

  47. -ics is a suffix in its own right. It forms a word that is a mass noun, like "vodka", and can similarly be converted into a count noun by, for instance, distinguishing between varieties:

    How (much/*many) economics do you need to know to be President?
    How (much/*many) vodka do you need to drink to enjoy economics?

    The economics of Keynes and Mises are radically different.
    The vodkas made by Grey Goose and Skye were differently received by economists.

    The difference in the latter examples is that plurality is not expressed overtly in an -ics noun. Hence, the appropriateness of singular versus plural verbal agreement will vary, depending upon whether the particular instance of an -ics word is used to refer to an undifferentiated mass, or to refer to subparts plurally. Such -ics words in English are definitely not pluralizations of -ic nouns, the latter being younger, usually rarer, and usually rather different in meaning.

  48. Who needs Grey Goose or Skyy? Smirnoff is good enough for me.

  49. I recommend a little something by P.J. - Holidays in Hell

  50. smackee

    I sense a handle change coming on....

  51. Ahhh! It hurts! It hurts! Make it stop!@#!!%!

  52. Hence, the appropriateness of singular versus plural verbal agreement will vary, depending upon whether the particular instance of an -ics word is used to refer to an undifferentiated mass, or to refer to subparts plurally. Such -ics words in English are definitely not pluralizations of -ic nouns, the latter being younger, usually rarer, and usually rather different in meaning.

    (bolding mine)

    Correct me if I'm wrong:

    polemic
    politic
    endemic
    graphic
    acoustic
    cynic
    optic
    tactic

    are singular. While these can be adjectives, they are also singular nouns. Moreover, isn't the following equivalency true:

    to refer to subparts plurally == pluralizations of -ic nouns

    Well?? I think you are wrong about that point. And - what do you mean by "younger and rarer"? All of these nouns are formed from Ancient Greek roots. None of them strike me as particularly "fresh".

    More info on -ics words .

    The above link says the following about words ending in -ic:

    " The roots of some of these words, though now nouns, were originally adjectives ("music" - of the Muses, "cleric" - of the clergy). "

    (bolding mine) So, it says "some", not all.

    I do, however, agree that "politics" can use a singular verb, since, as you said, it is referring to an undifferentiated mass. I guess it still just sounds wrong to me, though.

  53. I am so incredibly turned on right now.

  54. Smacky,

    Yes, there are some nouns with -ic, usually as a part-of-speech shift from an adjective, as with "comic", "graphic", or "academic", and of course these can be pluralized with -s. But these are not the same as words formed with the -ics suffix, referring to fields of knowledge or habitual activities. "Academ+ic+s" refers to a countable group of professors/grad students/etc, whereas "academ+ics" refers to intellectual pursuit as a mass, hence:

    There are too (*much/many) academics at this party.
    There is too (much/*many) academics in my day, and not enough wild partying.

    So in the case where an -ic noun exists and gets pluralized, it's simply a different word from the -ics form. "Academic" does not mean "an act of engaging in academic behavior" such that you add them up to get "academics". And the same goes for the sense of "politic" that you propose in your original response to P.J.O'R.: " a politic is something political, politics is the plural form." Consulting dictionaries and the first few pages of google results, I only see "politic" used as an adjective meaning something like "tactful", or as an archaic after-the-noun adjective in expressions like "body politic" and "art politic". What your analysis would require is not only that it be used as a noun, but that it refer to some measure of behavior such that, summed up, one gets "politics". You would need to produce citations like, e.g., "The governor's threatening to veto, before the final version of the bill was even drafted, was the cleverest politic I've witnessed all year. Most of his politics are not nearly so shrewd as that one." That sounds pretty ungrammatical to me, but I'm not one to go in much for Chomskian speaker intuitions, so if anyone has natural examples of a singular noun "politic", I'd like to see them.

  55. J. Goard,

    Well, I tried to post a timely response to you, but apparently I am now on the threadnannies' watch list, so I now need approval before my comments will be posted. Maybe I'll try posting my answer another day, long after everyone stops checking this thread.

  56. J. Goard,

    Fuck it. If you have a valid email address, I can send you the rest of my rebuttal there. Apparently, correcting someone's proper use of words is frowned upon here. It must displease the threadnannies greatly. Anyway, I guess I'm not allowed to discuss the subject anymore, so I lose the arguement by the sheer brute force of web censorship.

  57. I did have another point to make, though.

    [tapping foot]

  58. smacky -- Were there links in your response? Because sometimes (like to me, today) the machine thread-nannies comments containing links....

  59. Free smacky!

  60. But many parents--Cindy Sheehan notwithstanding--are proud to see their sons and daughters abroad, bearing responsibilities that a great democracy like America still seems willing to shoulder. And that, at least, is reasonable grounds for optimism.

    Why do I get the feeling that this particular asswipe has neither a son nor a daughter anywhere close to the front lines?

  61. J. Goard,

    example:

    "Letter to a Young Politic":

    http://www.votenader.org/sfn/index.php?cid=137

    Politic, although describing the type of person the letter is to, is still a noun. It is an adjectival noun.

    Also:

    http://www.seattleweekly.com/features/0534/050824_arts_vizpick.php

    Also:

    http://www.akpress.org/2000/items/feminismisforeverybody

    There are 3 examples for you. Just because dictionaries don't include the usage as a noun does not mean that it cannot make sense as a noun. A politic is a political statement; a politic can also be a political person; I'm sure I could define it other ways if I felt like thinking more.

    Anyway, if you read my last comment carefully, I agreed with you that 'politics' can take a singular verb. But I still think it sounds wrong, if not because it aesthetically sounds wrong, then because it philisophically sounds wrong. How can an inanimate object or idea be evil or bad? Isn't it the person who comes up with the thought/idea/action the bad one? Therefore, how can an area of study be inherently evil? I'm just nitpicking.

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