Is It Wrong to Celebrate Margaret Thatcher’s Death?
They say you can judge a person best from how their children turned out. Harry Truman wanted his son to be “just like Jimmy Stewart.” He ended up having a girl instead. And she ended up writing a novel that was eventually turned into a Wesley Snipes movie. Not bad, Harry. Not bad. As for Ronald Reagan, he tallied up human rights abuses during his administration, but managed to raise a nice liberal boy who spends his time fighting for stem cell research and gay marriage.
Margaret Thatcher always had a bit more of an edge to her. It shows in her seed—like her son, Mark Thatcher, a convicted loan shark who hired mercenaries to launch a coup in a war-torn African nation. Thatcher’s own record in the “dark continent” wasn’t too good either. She called Nelson Mandela a terrorist and lent her support to the apartheid regime. Nor was the whole “armed overthrow of a government” thing a problem. Thatcher embraced Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who overthrew Salvador Allende in a particularly bloody coup in 1973, as a friend and ally.
That said, the outpouring of left-wing celebration over the death of the women who gave the British working-class a brutal spanking and wrecked her country’s social safety net strikes the wrong note. Not because Thatcher deserves more deference. And definitely not because the dead deserve the respect we so often deny the living. But because all the personalized anger gives her too much credit for riding social forces that were beyond her control. Thatcher wasn’t a mastermind, she was a second-rate politician who came into the scene at just the right time. “Global neoliberalism” is only synonymous with “global Thatcherism,” because she seemed to enjoy its destructive success more than everyone else.
CHAVEZ: DESPOT OR SAINT? - By Bhaskar Sunkara
Everyone else seems to be either mourning at or dancing on Hugo Chavez’s grave, but I’m feeling decidedly unmoved. And not out of some deep apathy. It’s just that the Chavez being invoked by both supporters and enemies can’t be dead, because that man never existed.
One dead Chavez was a despot. Democratically elected over and over again, popularly reinstated after a 2002 coup, but still some sort of Stalin or mini-Pol Pot. (They both had that irresistible smile.) The other dead Chavez was a saint. Some demi-god sent from above to massage away our earthly suffering and sing us tender bedtime songs afterward. He could do no wrong.
These narratives are utterly incompatible, setting the showdown for a month’s worth of heated Twitter sparring and inane web-comment dueling. Now, there’s nothing I like more than a good fight, but I’m not picking a side. Or I guess I’m picking both.
In its 14 years in power, Chavez’s administration was at once authoritarian and democratic, crudely demagogic and genuinely participatory. History is messy like that.
PAUL RYAN: WHAT STUPID PEOPLE THINK A SMART GUY SOUNDS LIKE
At its core, Paul Ryan’s appeal is simple: He’s what stupid people think smart people sound like.
MSNBC’s commentary after the vice presidential debate in October captured the narrative pretty well: “It was Scranton Joe vs. Think Tank Ryan. Heart vs. head.” And that reputation has helped Ryan hustle his way from unimpressive legislative aide to brains of the Republican Party in a decade’s time.
His popularity among voters isn’t much of a surprise. Ryan’s good-looking and articulate. Most importantly, he can convince people there’s intellectual gravitas behind his words. It’s sort of like the Ross Perot phenomenon, a man for whom 20 million people voted in 1992. Since Perot talked like a dweeb, people assumed he had crafty, intelligent plans for the country. Plus he whipped out bar graphs from time-to-time.
And who doesn’t love a good bar graph?
Ryan likes bar graphs, too. Nevermind that his are upside down and backward and layered in shit, like his gross overstating of Medicare’s crisis and his quest to privatize the program. Whatever problems that system has can be solved by expanding the subscriber pool to include the healthy and unhealthy—not by allowing private companies to run the program for profit, which is essentially Ryan’s plan. A plan that, it should be said, isn’t based in the realities of the program, but in Ryan’s rigid adherence to free-market economic dogma.
But what’s more bizarre is Ryan’s popularity among the liberal commentariat, who have helped develop his reputation as a serious thinker worthy of sustained engagement.
The Olympics Will Stop Being Boring If Everyone Does This
The Olympics features the world’s best athletes competing against each other with billions of people watching. Why is it so terrible? Most boil the Olympics’ problems down to commercialization ruining the game’s original idealism. There’s something to this, but until 1972, the International Olympic Committee pretty much resisted money from corporate sponsors, and before that the games weren’t all that good then either.
Too many critiques that come from the left are like that anyway. Progressives, at least the food co-op and urban garden-variety, always ask what messages and signifiers the games are communicating, rather than the crass aesthetic question, “Are they fun to watch?”
That’s stupid, since the focus on how the Olympics reinforce consumer culture or bring out the worst in human nature misses what’s good about sports—the spectacle. The problem with the games isn’t that they’re too big; it’s that they’re too small. And in the process of making them more entertaining to watch, we’ll make them more egalitarian.
For starters, a point from Mark Perryman: We should be using the biggest possible venues to maximize the number of spectators and to lower ticket prices. Wembley has a capacity of 92,000, Twickenham and the Emirates are huge stadiums, too. Why the fuck did London need an Olympic Stadium? Why not just go down the road?