Saturday, December 05, 2009

Analysis of a News Week

By now, we have a good idea what to expect from Jon Meacham's Newsweek. The young and dynamic editor, surely a rising star who we can expect will have a long, productive career--in journalism, and as an author--has led a reformatting of the weekly book that seems to work, and Newsweek's issues mix serious news pieces, both domestic and international, with trend-watching of popular culture, religion (way too much, for my taste), science, and the arts.

Political Provocations

Meacham is not above stooping to conquer a few extra newsstand sales (with the differential between the per issue costs and the subscription rates, it only makes sense) with overwrought cover headlines and photos. He ran a cheesecake photo of Sarah Palin in athletic garb with bare legs (her fault for posing, if you ask me), then when some Palinists complained, dipped again with a photo of Obama in swimming garb to demonstrate his willingness to offend the other side, as well.

In this week's model(Dec.7 issue), the headliner is a scare piece by respected economic historian Niall Ferguson of Harvard. His argument is that the US will fall as other great empires have done, with the sequence being uncontrolled deficit spending, leading to excessive debt, followed by reduced military spending. This sounds right except the part about the military cutback being a problem: our long-term goal should not be eternal dominance and empire (hint: not going to happen) but to preserve and enhance our legacy to humanity, which includes self-governance, innovation, and liberty. If we can bequeath our successors a secure, prosperous, free world, why do we have to rule it with coercive military force? Just asking.

Meacham's editorial note is more provocation: he plugs Dick Cheney to make a bid for the Republican nomination in 2012. He actually seems serious: it's true that Cheney could present a powerful challenge on national security issues, though proposing the least popular major politician would seem an unlikely direction for the party to choose. If he did run, he would face big issues of Bushite favoritism (no-bid contracts for Halliburton, for example, or his engineering of environmental degradation as policy), disastrous decisions (in Iraq, which he'd defend, unconvincingly), authorization of torture (same), and, most of all, his heavy missing hand and lying testimony in the case of the outing of covert agent Valerie Plame. If the choice were Palin or Cheney, his candidacy would be a better service to the country but an equal electoral disaster. I think Meacham's being disingenuous--"What, me sly?" he might ask, slyly.

Along a similar line is Jonathan Alter's column on "faux populists" Palin, Dobbs, and Beck, and their expected future bids to run for high-profile public office. I have to acknowledge that the double pun in the phrase (on "vox populi"--Latin for "voice of the people" and "Fox" Tv populism) would have been irresistible to me, too. His argument that these guys are somehow not real populists ("faux", or false) didn't really convince me, though. The line between populism and demagoguery (what he's accusing the "faux" guys of, though he doesn't use the word) is fuzzy: both are about giving the public what they think they want, the difference being whether the manipulation is sincere or merely self-serving. I just think that the "real" populists of the past that he cites (William Jennings Bryan, Huey Long, Father Coghlan) were better able to hide their insincerity from others and maybe themselves than the new ones in today's spotlight. He cites one other, America's first (and last) populist President, Andrew Jackson (Meacham's biographical subject, probably a sop to his editor), a wholly different animal from a completely different political era.

Cleveland Rocks Health Care

I recommend reading the piece on the Cleveland Clinic ("The Hospital that Could Cure Health Care") for several valuable lessons the vaunted facility provides for us when considering health care reform (better record-keeping, salaries for physicians, strong advocacy for healthy behaviors). My strongest take from it, though, is that health care reform can not succeed in its task of reducing expenditures, beacuse it can not--at this time--take on the greatest source of waste: armies of paper-pushers on the private insurers' side (which must be matched by similar forces from the health care providers' side). At the bottom of this economy's Great Crater, we can't give up the jobs. Maybe we can take another whack at health care reform's cost in a few years, if the economy recovers sufficiently.

Turkish Triumph
For this reader, the Fareed Zakaria pieces are worth the price of the subscription, and the rest is bonus (or not). This week, hard-working Zakaria, the magazine's international editor, has nothing, but to compensate there is an outstanding piece of analysis called "The Triumph of the Turks". The argument is that Turkey has taken advantage of its unique role--NATO member in good standing, democratic, secular, but led by a popular Islamic party--to score several major successes in the international arena. Turkey is positioned to have great success in this century, and it was astute of Newsweek's Owen Matthews and Christopher Dickey to capture it.

Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan is meeting with President Obama this week--look for some progress with regard to Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq, as well as coordination of policies toward Russia and the European Union (particularly on Turkey's aspiration for membership in the EU). On the other hand, don't look to Erdogan to take on the Palestinian impasse: he has given up in disgust on Israel, with which there was once a detente, since Netanyahu's election and the incursion into Gaza.

The final piece from that issue I wished to discuss was Ruth Marcus' one on the abortion issue and how it's entered into the healthcare legislation debate. Her position is that, despite the Stupak amendment's being passed in the House bill, the final legislation will not unduly hamper women's access to abortions, nor will pro-choice people bring the health care bill down because of the amendment. This topic, and the new developments on the health care front, deserve a separate posting of their own.

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