Regardless, we're back after a blogging sabbatical. And so we offer our traditional years-in-transition feature, our reflection on the year gone by and estimate of the year to come, our SWNIDish judgments on the -ests of the once and future years, presented in no particular order . . . the SWNID Superlatives for 2006.
Cincinnati Public Figures Most on the Bubble: Mayor Mark Mallory and Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis. We continue to esteem these estimable gentlemen most highly. But the year-end performance of each raises for us a cloud of concern the size of a man's hand.
For Mallory, it's the city budget. City Manager Milton Dohoney presented a budget long on fiscal responsibility and crime-fighting and short on social-services featherbedding. Mallory, whose chief sin is a passion to please everybody, preferred to advocate so-called full funding of social services. What that meant was continuing to fund agencies that a committee appointed by City Council to study such things has consistently recommended be unfunded. Then the mayor gave support to the city's joining a class-action suit against paint manufacturers, ostensibly for the noble purpose of raise money to abate lead from paint.
Neither of these moves strike us as demonstrating the kind of principled leadership that the city needs. Funding civil improvements with class-action settlements benefits one group only: class-action lawyers. If one asks why the paint manufacturers, who profited from the sale of lead-based paints, are being sued and not the landlords who profit from lead-painted buildings, the answer has to do with the amount of blood available in a turnip or the relative depth of pockets, depending on which cliche one prefers. And preserving the funding (meaning the salaries) of nearly all of eighty-five social service agencies in the city budget simply because they can rally employees and sympathizers to show up in large numbers at public hearings is less than statesmanlike or purposeful.
As to Marvin, In Whom We Trust, the disappointment of the Bengals up-and-down season, by the end of which every play seemed to be yet another squandered opportunity, has raised significant questions as to whether he can take the team not just from embarrassment to respectability but from underachievement to championship contention. Our Fair City has demanded as much from its teams ever since it was spoiled in the glorious 1970s by the incomparable Big Red Machine.
So what will it take for the bubble to recede and not burst for Mark and Marvin? For the mayor, some progress on the awful record of violent crime for 2006 plus some movement on the Banks and Fountain Square. For Marvin, a playoff berth. If those eventualities don't eventuate, we anticipate some angry words flying their way.
Cincinnatian Most Missed but Still Most Enjoyed: Oscar Treadwell. The dean of jazzology passed from this life in 2006, but the tasty folks at WVXU continue to play his tapes, of which exists a massive archive, every Sunday night at 9 p.m.
Best Economic News for Cincinnati: The survival of Delta Airlines. If, as appears probable, Delta emerges from bankruptcy without a US Airways takeover, the Cincinnati hub is secure. And while that probably means higher-than-average fares for the near term, it means better access and so better prospects for economic development for the long term. Besides, cheapskates like SWNID can still take some extra time to drive to Dayton, Columbus, Indianapolis, Louisville and Lexington for some opportunistic fare-shopping.
Cincinnati Institution Most on the Ropes: Conservative talk radio. Yes, Air America is gone from local airwaves, as it soon will be nationwide. But so is Salem's incomparable lineup. Limbaugh is becoming a self-caricature, already the fate of windbag Sean Hannity. Bill Cunningham is officially public enemy number one for his ever rude, ever crude logorrhea. And the new entry in town at 96.5 FM (!) sounds like a bunch of morning-drive yuckmeisters trying to be cute about politics. We note, however, that Mike McConnell seems to be raising his tone and his game to achieve success with national syndication, and for that we wish him well.
Most Inconsequential Group of Retired Politicians: replacing the 9/11 Commission, the Iraq Study Group. Offering seventy-five points of action and then insisting that every one must be implemented for the plan to work has proved even to its most bitter detractors that the Bush Administration is certainly not the most inept assemblage in government.
Interestingly, both the 9/11 Commission and the ISG were co-led by retired Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton (D-Midwestern Solemnity). We therefore nominate him as Most Overrated Senior Statesman. Hamilton made his reputation as a quiet committee leader when the House was an unshakable Democrat haven. His performance on these commissions proves that compromising for legislation is nothing like formulating executive policy.
Event Most Likely to Reduce Voter Turnout in 2008: the performance of the Democrat majority in Congress in 2007-08. Voters came out in record numbers to get the Bad Guys out and the Good Guys in. The next two years will remind them that everyone is a Bad Guy. So many will despair of politics. We will insist that the scoundrel who has the more rational political philosophy is to be preferred over the rascal who has the less rational political philosophy.
Political Story That Ended With the Appropriate Whimper: Plamegate. Now that the truth is out that the leak came from a State-Department source unsympathetic to the Iraq invasion, the glamorous Joe Wilson and his royal consort Valerie Plame look more and more like a couple of overdone yuppies with a yen for the spotlight. Meanwhile, Scooter Libby remains under an indictment that serves only to enrich still more lawyers.
Political Story That Disappeared Most Unexpectedly: the uproar over so-called warrantless wiretapping. You'd think that as soon as the Ds took over the House and Senate, the rights of all mankind were permanently secured. The media nary a tickle on this issue since the first Tuesday of November.
Least Effective Political Stratagem: running as a Christian and a political leftist. True, the religious left made a big publicity splash in 2006. And true, the Ds are in control of Congress. But a quick census will show that the Ds elected in swing districts ran as conservatives, deliberately recruited and packaged as such by Clinton alum Rahm Emmanuel. We continue to insist that the left can't co-opt the religious identity of the right simply by claiming sole possession of compassion. Except for the social-Darwinist, libertarian conservatives, the political right is committed to its social and economic agenda in large part because evidence suggests that such policies benefit the weak and poor. So all that the religious left does when it hollers "compassion" is insult the very people it tries to win over. And as John Kerry proves repeatedly, insulting people is a tough way to win elections.
Second Least Effective Political Stratagem: Republicans trying to get more votes from African-American voters by running African-American candidates. It didn't work in Ohio, Pennsylvania or Maryland. Jack Kemp was right: to overcome the divisive legacy Nixonian "Southern Strategy" and recapture the initiative created by Lincoln and nurtured by TR, the GOP must make its case patiently with ideas, not by pandering.
Democrat the Democrats Would Most Like to Forget: John Murtha (D-Boodle). The one styled a valiant veteran with principled and realistic objections to the way Bush led the war has proved to be the opportunistic, publicity-seeking machine politician with a dirty past and an inability to make sense in public.
Most Aptly Memorialized Deaths: challenging the semantics of "superlative," we nominate three who died at year's end: Gerald Ford, James Brown, and Saddam Hussein.
The retired POTUS has this week been honored fondly and appropriately, with Presidential pomp seasoned with just the right amount of simplicity. We wonder why his California Episcopalian pastor used his National Cathedral funeral homily to invoke Ford's support for an Episcopal church that tolerates gay sex, except that we've known so many fellow preachers who think that church politics are all that anyone cares about. But the memorials were on the whole apt and even inspiring.
The Godfather of Soul got his Apollo Theater sendoff in fitting musical style. He also got his current "wife's" picture in all the papers, as his attorneys locked up his home to her because she was apparently not legally divorced from her previous husband and so not legally married to Mr. Brown. Brown's life, with multiple prison sentences and more multiple personal complications, was epitomized in this last complication of love and law.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi government wasted no time in executing Saddam, and Iraqis celebrated. We applaud nearly every aspect of this decisive action. No other outcome could represent the government's commitment, if indeed it has one, to ending tyranny in Mesopotamia than to put a period at the end of this tyrant's awful life. And no single act in the short term could do more to dampen the chaos that Iraq has become. Alive, Saddam remained a potent symbol to those who benefited from his Baathist terror. Dead, he could only spark some reprisals. And as the level of violence seems no worse after his execution than before, it actually exposes the apparent reality that the Baathist branch of the insurgency is pretty much at its limits.
Worst-Faring Politicians of 2006: No, it's not the Republicans, not even in Ohio. It's Muslim dictators. Saddam had a necktie party. Amadinejad's party lost big time in local elections in Iran, his spooks got exposed in Iraq, and the moderates and reformers look set to send the Holocaust-denying head-case to the dustbin of history. And the intrepid (or opportunistic? either way, they did the right thing) Ethiopians joined with the UN-endorsed government of Somalia to run the Islamist crazies out of Mogadishu. We'd rather be any Republican than any one of those guys.
Terrorists are right behind, by the way. Osama is in a cave. Al-Zarqawi died in an American assault. Allied forces continue to catch bad guys in Iraq and Afghanistan. There have been no successful terror strikes in the US, and in Europe we're doing pretty well too. Indonesia has been quieter of late, despite the release of the ideological spearhead of the Bali nightclub bombing. Iraq remains the flypaper.
Biggest Forgotten Development of 2006: Bush's rapprochement with India. The world's biggest economy is now in partnership with the world's biggest democracy. We absolutely love the idea that a billion people will in the next generation become healthier, better fed, better housed, better educated, and freer--and all to the benefit of the rest of the world, especially their partners. That's all that politics and diplomacy can hope to achieve.
Most Ill-Defined Term of 2006: "Civil War in Iraq." For much of the media, this term simply means that Iraqis are killing each other in wholesale numbers. We certainly stipulate the fact, but we dispute the definition. We think that "civil war" is apt only when one or more distinct groups is specifically waging war to overthrow the existing government and install their own. What we see in Iraq looks to us like "Gang War," a struggle to get more control over more swag. If this is Civil War, then it is even less so than what went on for thirty-plus years in Northern Ireland, and we don't recall the term being applied to that awful situation very often.
Quickest-Disappearing Political Term: "Neo-conservative." As the pacification of Iraq failed to materialize, the Evil Neo-Cons became the villains. We always preferred "muscular Wilsonianism" anyway: it's catchier.
Most Missed Point of 2006: That the Duke lacrosse story was about not just the now-apparent overzealous prosecution of rich white kids but the intoxicated sexuality and violence that pervades many varsity and club athletic teams on university campuses.
Most Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing: attempts by gay-rights advocates to embarrass evangelical Christians into approving of gay sex. The nostalgic Soulforce Equality Ride changed zero policies on Christian college campuses. John Rumple's post facto accusations against Johnson Bible College were forgotten as quickly as his highly competent replacement was hired. And attempts to capitalize on the Ted Haggard debacle were ignored even by the MSM. Whatever happens to the issue of gay marriage and civil unions in the body politic, evangelicals realize that they have an overwhelming case in both biblical and natural theology to affirm the moral rightness of sexual activity in permanent, monogamous, heterosexual marriage and its moral wrongness in every other context.
Biggest Change in MSM's Coverage of Christianity: media controversy on Jesus and the Gospels is mostly focused now on Gnostic Gospels (Gospel of Judas) and their spawn (The Da Vinci Code) instead of revisionist views of Jesus grounded in the form critical tradition (The Jesus Seminar). As this year's Christmas coverage demonstrates, other formulae for "news" stories on Christianity remain utterly unchanged. Insider Note: this may provoke a change in a time-honored SWNID syllabus at CCU: time in Intro to Gospels formerly spent on the Jesus Seminar may now be devoted to the Gnostic Revival.
Still the Most Embarrassing Christian Ever: The Reverend Pat Robertson. He told us that Sharon's stroke was the stroke of God for withdrawing from Gaza. He told us that a tsunami would hit the Pacific Northwest. As the year turns, he prophesies a major terrorist strike in 2007. It's high time the media invoked Deuteronomy 18 on this guy and started ignoring him. Maybe Christians could set the example by ridiculing him, a sort of a metaphorical stoning of the one who speaks for God presumptuously.
Still the Most Embarrassing Ex-President Ever: Jimmy Carter. The Moralist in Chief (wait! that's SWNID's job!) has, it is alleged, written a book with fudged maps, stats and sources to throw gasoline on the flames of Israel's never-ending war with the Palestinian militants. And he takes umbrage against all who call him to account. The world has perhaps not seen such hubris in the West since De Gaulle uttered the infamous, Le republique? C'est moi. And this was Carter's second book of the year, the first offering only slightly less smugness in its title and contents. A burning question: who has the lack of self respect to ghostwrite these dungpiles?
Most Welcome Political Outcomes of 2006: the resounding defeat taken by Big Tobacco and Big Gambling in Ohio. Now, what would it take to shut down the Ohio Lottery? Or to outlaw men without shirts in public?
Most Hoped-For Political Outcome of 2007: That like Lyndon Johnson and Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirkson did on the Civil Rights Act, Bush and Harry Reid can make common cause on immigration reform that will make hardworking guest laborers legal, to the benefit of people on both sides of our borders.
Best Professional Columnists of 2006: We lack the decisiveness to choose among the following, our Superlative Triumvirate of Opinion-Writing:
- for moral courage despite his rampantly atheistic, leftist worldview: Christopher Hitchens
- for statistical empiricism and historical perspective on the horserace of politics: Michael Barone
- for contrarian brilliance on all matters of current events, arts and letters: Stanley Crouch
Blog Topic of 2006 Least Expected to Garner Attention That Did Garner Attention: using laptops in class, which got us linked on Slate. For the record, we believe now more than ever that classroom laptops are largely unhelpful, providing too many easy distractions, distorting the most apt forms of notetaking, and focusing the mind on transcription instead of analysis.
Most Welcome New Trend on This Blog: The absence in the comments of moralizing complaints about tone and fairness. Apparently all gentle readers have caught on that we employ sarcasm here (italics as a reminder to those who still don't get it). Perhaps this is a consequence of our policy, enacted during the year, of not arguing back with commenters. At any rate, we aren't getting nearly the quantity of scorn at first received from gentle readers who fancy themselves gentler than our SWNIDish self.
*ANSWERS: (1) End-of-semester fatigue, the holidays, rare lack of opinions, temporary boredom with blogging, Mrs. SWNID's heavy use of the home computer for business purposes; (2) Yes; (3) Yes; (4) No, Mt. Airy; (5) They wish! (6) Impossible!