HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

May 26, 2008
From the Editor

John Turner


In the New York Times today, Roger Cohen makes the argument that Barack Obama is winning the Democratic nomination and will probably win the presidency because he understands the emerging power of networking more completely than either Hillary Clinton or John McCain do. With respect to McCain, that's obviously true. He can't begin to comprehend how millions of small voices, having found a way to interact, can overwhelm the influence of the powerful few.

The serious question raised by Cohen's essay is whether networks which range around the world can deliver justice more effectively than the paraphernalia of national power does. It's a question I can't answer right now because I don't know what character networks will assume. There's a strong surge coming for rejecting nationalism as a means of human betterment, and I tend to be sympathetic to it. But whether a new, technology-based conversation among all mankind will result in a humane environment remains to be seen. There's little doubt, though, that it will be powerful.

Steven Reisner is challenging the leadership of the American Psychological Association by running for the presidency of the organization on a platform asserting that psychologists should view themselves as healers and not as agents of government policy. The particular issue is whether psychologists should assist in interrogating prisoners in attempts to break their wills. Many members of the profession feel strongly that they should not. Mary Pipher, for example, author of Reviving Ophelia, has returned her APA Presidential Citation award because she opposes the Association's refusal to denounce the participation of psychologists in assisting the officials at the Guantanamo prison.

George Will, in his review -- not altogether favorable -- of Rick Perlstein's Nixonland, assures us that whoever wins the presidency this fall will not be president of Nixonland. We have moved beyond that, Will says. We can hope he's right, but I don't think we can be sure.

Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly says Obama has been forced into affirming the nonsense that we should pretend Hamas doesn't exist. It's true that all candidates are required to mouth that sort of foolishness. But the question is, who believes it and who sees it simply as a campaign necessity. Drum says, further, that Obama is "an infuriatingly difficult politician to read." I suppose that's so, but I suspect that Obama knows that what candidates are made to say can't be the basis of government policy.

I was glad to see George Will refer to the "synthetic indignation" of the American people with respect to the big flap over Senator Clinton's mention that Bobby Kennedy was still running for the Democratic nomination in June of 1968 when he was murdered. I guess we have to accept these flare-ups, but I wish we didn't.

I went to see Iron Man last week. Its political implications struck me as being less prominent than I had been led to believe. But as a comic book thriller, I thought it was all right. Such films don't always feature the dramatic abilities of actors like Robert Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow. They make up for less than perfect plotting.

Being back in Vermont has been soothing after my recent sojourn in the nation's capital. People here on the street are less frantic. And, the weather, though cool, has been fairly good. The grass is growing and we have even been able to put in a little garden. Whether we'll recoup the expense of planting it is questionable, but the fun of watching it grow will be more than worth the money.

Send us your thoughts when you can.

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