HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

December 3, 2007
From the Editor

John Turner


The psychological effect of time zones is weird. In the Central Zone of the U.S. a sense of its being late at night comes on very early. By eight o'clock I begin to believe I can't stay awake another minute whereas when I'm at home in the Eastern Zone I can easily stay up till midnight and not feel it's late at all. In the Pacific Zone I've often been able to sense that time simply doesn't exist.

In the December Harper's Magazine I read Curtis White's essay titled "Hot Air Gods" about the functioning of belief in America. He says we've got it in our heads that anyone has the right to believe whatever he wishes no matter how goofy it might be. Just say you believe something and it's supposed to be automatically exempt from any critical attention whatever. I was reminded of the piece on Sunday morning while watching George Stephanopoulos interview Mike Huckabee. The former Arkansas governor was asked if Mitt Romney's Mormonism should be an issue in the campaign. Huckabee's answer implied that though religious faith is the most important thing in a person's life it should not affect how people vote. It was the standard political response and it makes no sense at all. If a candidate's religious beliefs are the most powerful determinant of how he acts, why should voters ignore them?  This bromide is one more example of an overweening American desire to have your cake and eat it too. Candidates are supposed to reap the benefits of being known as men of strong faith, but when it comes to what that faith actually is or how it influences behavior, looking into it is completely out of bounds.

Paul Krugman continues to warn that the financial crisis, sparked by the housing bubble, is worse than most analysts have imagined. Credit is rapidly drying up, and without credit economic activity declines rapidly. That's called a recession. The reason credit is going away is that lenders don't trust anyone any more. Why should they? We've had so many years of pure greed, touted as the working of the market, that investors now expect everyone to cheat them. Thus does economic Republicanism shower its blessings on us.

I'm not a big Hugo Chavez hater, like the standard American politician, but I'm glad the elections in Venezuela didn't give him increased power. His better instincts, to help the poor of his country, will be enhanced by democratic restraints rather than by overweening power. The latter will corrupt anybody, no matter how noble he may think his motives are.

The recent election in Australia is one more instance of the turn away from George Bush and the idea of a world ruled by the American empire. The new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, moved quickly to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, a sign that Bush's desire to place profit over a healthy environment is losing the thin respectability it has had until recently. All this is good for the people of the United States. Only a tiny percentage of us is benefitted by having an emperor as president.

Next Thursday, Mitt Romney will go to the George H.W. Bush Library and make a speech about his Mormonism. I'm not waiting for it with bated breath. But I wouldn't mind sitting in on the strategy sessions for crafting it.  Observing them would provide me with the essence of modern spin.

The route between Chicago and Vermont this time of year is one of the most treacherous in the country. It runs just south of the Great Lakes which provide the moisture for massive snowfalls. There seems to be a brief opportunity to make the drive today and tomorrow without running into disastrous conditions. So we're going to make a run for it. Wish me luck. If we're not swallowed up in white oblivion, I'll send this note next week from Vermont. And if it doesn't appear, you'll know the snow gods have got me.


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