Yet ... aren’t we pleased, too, that the Israelis and Palestinians are restarting negotiations, that the U.S. seems seriously engaged, that the Arab League and Syria came to grant their imprimatur? And in the unlikely event that the jump-started peace process actually does produce a treaty a year from now, with credit going to this administration for making it happen, won’t we and even the Kos mob welcome it as a miraculous world-historical achievement? It’s arguable that such an outcome, if it were to affect the 2008 election, would help Democrats—by reducing the general geopolitical fear factor and reminding Americans that diplomacy can actually work. But even then … some celebrations of the news would be grudging. There are still those on the left, after all, whose pleasure over the end of the Cold War is tainted by the fact that Ronald Reagan helped make it happen.
The other big story right now is the economy. Last week, former Treasury secretary Larry Summers rocked his world with a Financial Times piece in which he wrote that “the odds now favor a U.S. recession,” and the New York Times’ front-page lead on Thursday warned of “intensifying worries that the economy may be headed for recession.” Total bummer, right?
Yes … um … unless you’d prefer that a Democrat be elected president next year. Since the Civil War, whenever the economy was in recession at election time, the opposition party has won the White House. An intriguing new academic formula for forecasting presidential election results is political economist Douglas Hibbs’s Bread and Peace model, which measures the combined electoral effects of personal income growth and U.S. war casualties. By my calculation, according to the formula, the Republican nominee is already on course to receive less than 50 percent of the vote next year, and the economy hasn’t even tanked yet.
And so for Democrats, every news story pointing to imminent economic ugliness is a gift. Such is our duplicitous American version of Leninism lite: The worse, the better—but don’t ever say so. Our cynical Bizarro selves must remain closeted.
Big good-news stories are alarming, big bad-news stories are heartening—and applying the template of one’s own agendas also makes small, lurid, inconsequential news stories fascinating. I’m talking about the book publisher Judith Regan’s lawsuit against News Corp., which fired her a year ago after Rupert Murdoch decided that the tsuris was no longer worth the profits she generated. For me the legal fight is Godzilla vs. Mothra—even though I think Regan was very badly treated, I’m not really rooting for either side to win. But I am desperate for the depositions and discovery and trial testimony.
You see, Regan had an affair with Bernie Kerik when he was Rudy Giuliani’s police commissioner; their trysting place was a Battery Park City apartment previously set aside for ground zero emergency workers. Her suit claims that “a senior executive in the News Corp. organization”—I’m betting it’s Roger Ailes, the founder of Fox News—“told Regan [in 2004] that he believed she had information about Kerik that, if disclosed, would harm Giuliani’s presidential campaign. This executive advised Regan to lie to, and to withhold information from, investigators concerning Kerik.” I want to see Giuliani’s presidential campaign harmed; don’t you? (And I’ll relish even more any exposure of Ailes, who—full disclosure—once threatened to send a camera crew to stalk my 3- and 5-year-old children in preemptive retaliation for a magazine story I was writing about his man Rush Limbaugh.)
Considered as a kind of intellectual disease, it’s chronic low-grade duplicity, suppressing our full human sympathies—for victims of misfortune, for beneficiaries of progress—for politics’ sake. There’s probably no cure. Considered as sin it’s venial, only rising to the level of serious moral affliction, I think, if we fail to cop to it. And although the biggest boon to the modern Democratic Party was the biggest domestic bad-news story of the twentieth century—the Great Depression—compulsive nega-vision isn’t just a problem for the left, of course. Republicans in the nineties were ambivalent about the Clinton administration’s successful military interventions in the Balkans, for instance. And plenty of Republicans are permanently invested in the failure of public schools, in order that popular support for voucher systems might grow. If Al Qaeda strikes in the U.S. during the next eleven months, that alone could tip the election to the Republicans—for the GOP, the silver lining to terrorism, as we’ve seen since 9/11.
But if the present consensus is right, and a Democrat is elected president next November, it will be, for people like me, a win-win—not just our political wishes realized but at least four years’ relief from much of the burden of this cognitive dissonance, of reflexively, furtively cringing at happy news and applauding trouble. It will be the Republicans’ turn to be exiled in Bizarro World.