HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

November 26, 2007
From the Editor

John Turner


I suppose one would have to be a political junky to care what Mark Halperin thinks about the qualities needed by a president of the United States. But if you do fall into the junky category, you must have been bemused yesterday by Halperin's op-ed piece in the New York Times. The creator of ABC's The Note and now the head of the political unit at Time Magazine has discovered that there is something more to presidential politics and government than simply campaigning. Halperin has been known for years now as a man who worshipped campaign effectiveness regardless of what it was used to promote. Nothing seemed to matter to him other than the ability to win, which in this age means the ability to manipulate the electorate. Karl Rove was his chief demigod. But now, he says, he has come to see that governing well and campaigning may require different talents and even different beliefs.

If Halperin's revelation could take hold among other pundits and talking heads on television we would have not just a revolution but a metamorphosis. Television news would become something completely other than what it has been. Reporters might start talking about what's good for the country, and the workings of history, and the evolution of political thought. I know it sounds crazy to imagine such subjects being addressed seriously by network news, but who knows? It might happen. Still, despite Halperin's epiphany, if I were you I wouldn't bet on it.

I was pleased on Thanksgiving to read Roger Cohen's piece titled "Turkey Tune-Out Time." It was an appeal to our humanity against e-mail, blackberries, and the notion that we must always be connected. He used interesting phrases like the "accumulation of interpersonal sludge," to argue against spreading colossal inanity through the entire world and all eternity. His piece would have been even more interesting if he had included suggestions about what we might do were we to cure ourselves of the electronic addiction.

Patricia Cohen reported in the New York Times that next spring The American Journal of Psychiatry will publish the results of a survey showing that the works of Sigmund Freud are widely taught in universities, but not very much in departments of psychology, where he is considered old-hat and nonscientific. Freud gets most of his attention now from literary critics, philosophers, and scholars of intellectual culture. I suppose there will be some heartburn over the piece, but if I were the ghost of Freud or any of his supporters, I would be pleased to learn that critics and philosophers care more about Freudian thought than psychologists do. There is, after all, the matter of significance to be considered, and anyone who thinks the theories of current psychologists are more important than general thought has cut himself off from history.

As I write this I am still in Chicago, but sometime before I write next week I'll drive the thousand miles back to Vermont and be home for the first time in more than a month. I said last week I would let you know how Chicago affected my thinking, but now I find myself a little confused about that. Though the big city has its charms it tends not to make me cheerful about the human condition. Exactly why that's the case, I'm not sure. It may be I've reached a stage of life where bigness itself is depressing -- still fascinating but all the same an inducer of pessimistic thoughts.

If you have thoughts to boost me up -- or to drive me deeper into the dumps -- please send them along.


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