Posted by: mutantpoodle | October 2, 2009

My Entry

Walter WinchellThe Washington Post, apparently looking for fresh opinion-y blood to liven up a page that has recently distinguished itself by hosting a full-blown Roman Polanski apologist – is having an America’s Next Great Pundit contest. The prize?

The one (1) Contest winner will be given the opportunity to enter into an independent contractor agreement with Sponsor to write a weekly column for Sponsor at a rate of $200 per column for a duration of 13 weeks beginning January 4, 2010 and continuing through April 2, 2010. Total compensation (i.e., value of prize): $2,600. Sponsor shall have no obligation to publish any such column in any form or use it for any specific purpose. However, such column could appear online, in print, on a mobile application and/or elsewhere as determined in Sponsor’s sole discretion. To receive a prize and be confirmed as the “winner”, the winner must sign an independent contractor agreement with Sponsor, complete a W-9 form and file monthly invoices. As set forth in the independent contractor agreement, winner will be an independent contractor, and not an employee, of Sponsor. Nothing in such agreement will be construed as creating an employer-employee relationship, as a guarantee of future employment or engagement, or as a limitation upon Sponsor’s sole discretion to terminate such agreement at any time for any reason with or without cause.

Not all that warm and fuzzy, sure, but hell, times are tough.

Still, do I have what it takes?  Can I muster that special pundit cocktail of pompousness, false equivalence, hackish cluelessness, and willful inaccuracy that has been the hallmark of so many WaPo opiners over the years?

Let’s give it a shot.

Sylvester the 2nd’s nearly 1500 days as Pope at the turn of the first millenia was considered anti-climactic to his previous career as a teacher and scientist.  After all, who among us who are not scholars of Roman Catholic arcana even know of the man also known as Gerbert of Aurillac and his Presidential-length four year term?

One wonders if Sylvester the 2nd’s anticlimactic career capstone is an early parallel to Barack Obama’s presidency. To wit: will the results of Obama’s tenure in the Oval Office – whatever they may be – be judged less critical by history than the mere fact of his electrifying Presidential campaign and victory?

Let’s say, for example, that Obama succeeds in passing health reform legislation that meets most of his goals.  Lets say, further, that over time, these reforms are refined and amended so as to provide all Americans with health security, making today’s health insurance horror stories seem quaint and barely believable – much as we regard the forced child labor alleged to have occurred in this country a hundred years ago.  Will that reform – no matter how important it SEEMS today, be the focus of the historian or the student in 2109?  Or will it be his transformational election the year before?

It is, of course, too soon to tell.  I don’t wish to minimize the lasting impact of meaningful health reform on this country, should it get passed.  But once it is in place, and on a clear day in the future where economic security isn’t held hostage by the premier members of Hartford’s toniest country clubs – I believe people will let go of the concrete accomplishments of Barack Obama and return to the symbolic.

After all, when people evaluate Franklin Roosevelt’s Presidency, they  focus not on Social Security, but on the election of a man with Polio to the highest office in the land.

That said, my preference is for Jim Henley’s genius entry, on the difference between counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency strategies:

In a counterinsurgency strategy, America hangs around a foreign country for years and years, occasionally killing people who live there, while pretending it’s for their own good. This takes a lot of people because the military, and the civilian parts of the government that control the military, are very specialized. You need people to do the hanging around, people to do the occasional killing of people that live there, and even more people to do the pretending. As you might imagine, pretending to foreigners that killing them is for their own good is hard! Not just anyone can pull that off with a straight face, and you need a lot of people who can. Remember how upset people got at those town halls over the summer? That was for “death panels” that didn’t even exist. Now imagine that you actually are occasionally killing people’s neighbors! Basically, you have to hold an awful lot of town halls.

In a counterterrorism strategy, America hangs around a foreign country for years and years, occasionally killing people who live there, but doesn’t bother to pretend it’s for the sake of the foreigners themselves. So you need people for hanging around and occasionally killing people, but you don’t need nearly as many people “in theater” for pretending. You need a few to pretend that you know so much about the foreign country that all the people you occasionally kill had it coming. But that’s it.

Under counterterrorism, most of the pretending happens right here at home, and consists of pretending that your counterterrorism strategy is awesome! Also that having to engage in counterterrorism for years on end is perfectly ordinary and isn’t a sign that something went really wrong back there somewhere.

Here’s the thing, though. Even under a counterinsurgency strategy, you have to do at least as much pretending at home. (The counterinsurgency strategy is awesome! etc.) So the pretending at home part of counterterrorism doesn’t constitute what policy experts call an “incremental impact.” And we have plenty of people to do it anyway, including politicians and major newspapers.

I gotta say, that one is going to be hard to beat. For me, it’s an honor just to be considered.

Meanwhile, Kevin Drum thinks it would be more fun if the Post made their current stable of opinion page pontificators enter the fray:

…with the loser getting a final 13 columns before being booted off the op-ed page for good.  I’d certainly pay to watch the championship round, where Richard Cohen and Robert Samuelson battle each other desperately to avoid the title of America’s Next Laid Off Journalist.

Do we have to choose?

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