1) Quote of the Day: “This wine is too good for toast-drinking, my dear. You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.” — Chapter 7, The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
2) Roissy in DC is a brilliant stylist — I know of no blog whose content is so deplorable that is as enjoyable to read — but even his writerly talent cannot prevent occasional glimpses at the self-evident absurdity of his ideas about modern relationships. The latest example is a post where he posits that men are either great boyfriends or great lovers but never both — specifically, take a look under the “sex” subhead to see what he regards as the characteristics of a “great lover” in bed.
3) Helen Rittelmeyer writes:
Apostasy pieces are never about delivering your former comrades from the grip of dreadful error. They’re about showing off how much more enlightened you are, using your misspent youth as a prop for credibility. I’ve read apostate tell-alls that I thought were true, but I’ve never read one that made me think I’d like, or trust, the author if I met him.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell what loyalty demands of you. Whether to turn your klepto brother into the police, whether to make a play for your best friend’s girl after they break up—these are tough questions. But if your old ideological compatriots ever did you a favor, ever took you into their circles or into their confidence, ever gave you a damn cake on your birthday, then you owe it to them not to write the hit piece. You owe them. That’s a no-brainer.
It is a strange kind of loyalty that allows turning on best friends and family members, but that prohibits breaks with former ideological compatriots whose ideas or methods one comes to regard as deeply mistaken. To cite one example of a writer whose allegiances shifted, what would Ms. Rittelmeyer have advised Christopher Hitchens after the September 11 terrorist attacks? To quit writing? To write things he didn’t believe for the sake of his former colleagues at The Nation? To refrain from making what he took to be true, compelling arguments about the best way to preserve Western civilization because to do so would’ve betrayed those who once bought him a cake?
In her post, Ms. Rittelmeyer is reaction to Charles Johnson’s “break with the right,” as described on Little Green Footballs. I found it a weird piece for all the reasons that James Joyner mentions. The incoherence of the post is due to an underlying mistake in the way that Little Green Footballs, and the whole corner of the blogosphere where he operates, understand ideology and political argument: they regard it as a team enterprise, where orthodoxies of thought are to be enforced, positions are taken out of loyalty as often as conviction, and honest disagreement is tantamount to betrayal.
Though I’ve written against loyalty as it is sometimes understood in Washington DC — see here and here — I met some exceptional people during my time in that city, close friends to whom I am incredibly loyal. I imagine they know they can turn to me for help at any time in life, and count on me to cheer their successes and rue their failures. As I think about those people, who are different from one another in many ways, I am aware of one similarity. Despite the fact that I’ve often talked politics with many of them, and that we’ve been on the same side of certain arguments, none of them would dream of being offended were I to honestly disagree with them in print on some matter, or forcefully argue that they are mistaken on some question, even if we formerly agreed about it and I changed my mind.
Nor would I consider them disloyal if they wrote about how I am dead wrong on some issue, or critiqued an argument that I made, or whatever. This is perhaps why my Washington DC friends were almost without exception people who have close friends and fond acquaintances of various ideologies and political inclinations — they haven’t mistaken the fraught virtue of loyalty as one that is properly applied to honestly held beliefs about the best way to govern society. I must say that I prefer that kind of social circle to one where acquaintances never break with one another on matters of ideological orthodoxy, but occasionally report one another to the police and steal one another’s girlfriends!
4) I’m pretty sure that Barack Obama didn’t project more confidence in his speech last night — disappointing Ross Douthat and many others — because he isn’t particularly thrilled by the policy he is implementing. As Kevin Drum put it, “There are two possible reasons for the speech being so unconvincing: either Obama doesn’t know how to deliver a good speech or else Obama isn’t really convinced himself. But we know the former isn’t true, don’t we? You can fill in the rest yourself.”
Unlike most other commentators on the right and left, I am sympathetic to President Obama on this one, and reassured by his doubts, because the fact is that there isn’t any option in Afghanistan that guarantees success, or even makes it likely, whereas every option has huge costs that will prove difficult for the country to bear. There is a school of thought that in such a situation, the Commander in Chief should project confidence, despite reality, because faking it gives success the greatest chance of occurring. Is that true sometimes? I don’t actually know.
But the struggle against terrorism is a lengthy one that transcends Afghanistan, and big shows of unjustified confidence by the president are very likely to undermine our long term ability to fight it, because when the rhetoric isn’t met by reality, the American people feel confirmed in their belief that they’re just being lied to in order to justify endless war. If we’re choosing the best among a bunch of crappy options, better President Obama’s enthusiasm level reflect that than that he unjustifiably inflate American hopes that victory in Afghanistan is just a surge away.