The phrase that dominates this post's title is one that gets used frequently when we discuss historical periods. What's it's meaning? What does it have to do with us today? Here's a video I made today posing those and other questions. Hope you enjoy it. Please let me know what you think.
You get arch-Conservative Weekly Standard founder and Editor William Kristol writing an op-ed piece in this morning's New York Times that begins with this line: "It's time for John McCain to fire his campaign." He then goes on to say the following:
He has nothing to lose. His campaign is totally overmatched by Obama’s. The Obama team is well organized, flush with resources, and the candidate and the campaign are in sync. The McCain campaign, once merely problematic, is now close to being out-and-out dysfunctional. Its combination of strategic incoherence and operational incompetence has become toxic.
I'll only make this point. Presidential campaigns are headed up by people who aspire to become the nation's chief executive. Often the manner in which those campaigns are strategized, organized and executed is the only glimpse of the person's executive ability that voters have. In the case of these two senators, it is the only example. Suggesting that the problem lies with "the campaign" instead of with its leader is a little like suggesting the board should have fired every H-P employee instead of realizing Carly Fiorina was not the right executive to make the company profitable.
As for Mr. Kristol, can you imagine what his column would have sounded like if the two candidates' "campaigns" were in opposite straits?
Unlike other predominantly progressive newspapers, the New York Times has a conservative columnist, David Brooks, as one of its op-ed writers. Brooks is a thoughtful writer with whose opinions I very frequently agree.
So, it was interesting to read this piece the other day. In the column, Brooks argues that there has always been a deep tension in America between what he calls "elitists" and "populists," a tension that shows up most starkly in the definition of "leadership."
Elitists, Brooks says, favor leaders who have a "classical education" (studying the history of civilizations and cultures), knowledge, experience and prudence. Populists, by contrast, are suspicious of universities and value simplicity, practical knowledge and "common sense." The differences can be boiled down to trusting sophistication or instinct.
No doubt about it: that conflict is playing itself out once again this year, with Barack Obama and Sarah Palin carrying the standards for their respective supporters.
It's fascinating to me that America continually plays out these big themes. Freud's great insight was that the present is a symbolic reliving of the past. I'm sure he's wryly puffing on a cigar and chuckling at the moment.
Take a look at Brooks' piece and share your thoughts.