Friday, February 29, 2008

An Anti-Hillary Crusader Can't Be Bothered With Mere Facts

Fed up with Andrew Sullivan's anti-Hillary raving, I hadn't visited his blog for a while. Checked it out today and was immediately confronted with this little tidbit:

A Good Question

Gets to the nub of Clinton's privilege, and inability to actually persuade anyone of anything: Is there a single member of the U.S. Senate besides Hillary Clinton for whom it was the FIRST elected office?

Maybe Liddy Dole, another marital nepotist?
You might think that, before posting an item like this (which, though couched as a question, clearly and tendentiously implies a NO answer), Andrew might consider glancing at the list of current U.S. senators on Wikipedia. Links make it easy to check their bios. This exhausting ten-minute process reveals that those currently serving for whom the U.S. Senate was the first elected office include:
Mel Martinez (R-FL)
Susan Collins (R-ME)
Ted Kennedy (D-MA)
Chuck Hagel (R-NE)
Elizabeth Dole (R-NC)
Kent Conrad (D-ND)
Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Robert Bennett (R-UT)
John Warner (R-VA)
Jim Webb (D-VA)
I don't think all these senators got there because of their spouses. But I guess Andrew Sullivan considers any factoid that he can use to attack Hillary Clinton "too good to check."

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Call Us Back When You Hit The Century Mark, Johnnie

Updated below

This new poll from the New York Times and CBS News offers voters' opinions on the three major presidential candidates on a spectrum of issues--which will make the best commander-in-chief, which could best manage the economy, and so on. The group of voters I'm fascinated by is the twenty percent of respondents who said that John McCain "needs a few more years to prepare" before becoming president. How old are these people? And how many more years do they think it will take before McCain has had enough seasoning?


This, of course, explains what is going on with the voters who consider McCain too much of a youthful whippersnapper to be president:
The good news for Arizona Sen. John McCain, the likely Republican presidential nominee, is that most Americans don't think he's too old to be president.

The bad news is that most Americans don't realize how old he is.

In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Thursday through Sunday, nearly six in 10 underestimated his age, which is 71. More than a third lopped off six years or more when asked to name their "best guess."
Maybe if McCain can keep the rumor mills circulating about which blonde lobbyist he has currently boinking, he can keep people guessing about how old he really is. (And by the way, whoever does Hillary's hair and makeup is due for a bonus, since fully 42 percent of those polled guessed that she is between 35 and 55 years old, which is between five and twenty-five years too young. I could use a little of whatever pixie dust she's been wearing . . .)


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Friday, February 22, 2008

Always Opinionated, Sometimes Wrong, But Rarely Hackish

If, unlike me, you don't spend much time surfing the liberal blogosphere, you may have a general impression that it consists of highly partisan attack dogs whose primary interest is not the truth but rather finding weapons they can use against their enemies on the right.

Interestingly enough, this is actually not true--at least not when you consider the liberal bloggers I most often read (most of whom I link to in the blogroll on the left side of your screen). Case in point: reactions to the New York Times's recent story about McCain's relationship with a telecom lobbyist. If liberal bloggers were merely partisan operatives, you'd expect them to be hugging this story to their bosoms. After all, not only does it take a swipe at the man who is probably the most important conservative Republican of 2008, but it also puts a few dents in what is probably McCain's single most important political asset--his reputation as a straight-shooter above politics.

But no. Most of the liberal bloggers I read have spent the last two days criticizing the Times's reporting, questioning the story, and in many cases concluding that the piece should never have been published. Look, for example, at Kevin Drum, Glenn Greenwald, Matt Yglesias, Eric Alterman, Ezra Klein, and Greg Sargent, just to name a few.

Of course, all these liberal bloggers have continued to hit McCain himself--hard and fair--on issues where he deserves it, including those related to telecom lobbying. But they haven't hesitated to point out flaws in a story they would at least tacitly support if partisan hackery was their style.

And while this is a particularly striking example, it lines up with what I've usually observed in the liberal blogosphere. I'd go so far as to say that I recognize a higher degree of intellectual honesty in a typical day's offerings there than I do in an average op-ed page in the Times or the Washington Post. Which of course is one of the main reasons I invest time in reading blogs in the first place.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Times Business Section Channels The Wisdom Of Prof. Henry Higgins

Speaking of sexism--which we are doing a lot around the Weber household these days, as the Hillary-Obama competition lurches on, with the mainstream media trying its best to inflame hatred on both sides with its witless junior-high-school-level commentary--wasn't there anyone working the editor's desk at the New York Times Business section with enough intelligence to veto this ridiculous book review?

It's not necessarily fatal to assign two books of advice for aspiring female business executives to a male reviewer (Harry Hurt III). Hey, you might get some unexpected insights from this kind of counterintuitive choice--kind of like having Leona Helmsley review Nickel and Dimed, or Hulk Hogan review a collection of books on fashion, hairstyle, and makeup.

But you might realize it's a sign of trouble when the review begins with this quotation, evidently offered without irony:
In the 1964 film "My Fair Lady," Prof. Henry Higgins, played by Rex Harrison, famously asked, "Why can't a woman be more like a man?"
And you would think that the utter failure of the entire experiment is made blindingly obvious by this conclusion:
Frankly, I found the ways in which Mr. Flett and Ms. DiSesa [the authors of the two books under review] invoked persistent sexual stereotypes to be rather depressing. To my mind, the most illuminating comments in either book come from James Patterson, a former advertising mogul who now writes best-selling mystery fiction. Ms. DiSesa reports that Mr. Patterson urged her to think of life as a game in which we juggle five balls labeled Work, Family, Health, Friends and Integrity.

"One day you understand Work is a rubber ball. You drop it and it bounces back," Mr. Patterson is quoted as saying. "The other four balls are made of glass. Drop one of those, and it will be irrevocably marked, scuffed, nicked and maybe even shattered."

Both men and women might do well to remember those universal challenges, whether they are trying to seduce their way into so-called boys clubs or use tactics borrowed from the alpha-male playbook to gain advantage in the workplace.
How nice of Mr. Hurt to share with his female readers the wisdom of yet another man on how to juggle life and work! And to assure us that the problems they face are "universal challenges" that confront "both men and women," evidently in exactly the same ways! And that all we have to do is recognize the perishable fragility of Family, Health, Friends, and Integrity, and all our career problems will be solved--since Work, we are assured, is a "rubber ball," which will apparently take care of itself!

Why can't women (and men) just get over the problem of sexism, preferably by ignoring it? Then Harry Hurt III won't have to review any more books about this "depressing" topic, and the world will be such a better place . . .

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Clinton-Obama '08

In his latest column on the website of The Century Foundation, my friend Peter Osnos makes an observation that we've seen others make about the potential global impact of an Obama presidency:
Americans will not make their election choice based on what the rest of the world thinks. But here's a prediction: if Barack Obama prevails, one of the earliest and potentially most positive effects of his presidency will be in the way he and the United States, generally, are welcomed in all those places where the John Fitzgerald Kennedy photos were hanging so many years ago.
I strongly suspect that this is true, based not only on Obama's personal history, tone, and style, but also on the kinds of internationalist policies he would probably follow. (And Peter's connections with journalists and thought leaders around the world confirm this impression.)

Now it so happens that earlier today I caught a few minutes of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on the Brian Lehrer Show on New York's NPR outlet. She was talking about the enormously positive effect on America's world image that President Hillary Clinton could have. (Albright is a Clinton supporter.)

She spoke about how, during the Bill Clinton administration, Hillary not only traveled the world with Bill but made a point of visiting local communities, meeting with humanitarian organizations, women's groups, labor organizations, etc., as a result of which she is known and admired by ordinary people around the world. (As I've written, Mary-Jo and I certainly found that to be the case when we visited Bangladesh.) And Brian Lehrer noted that, when he interviews heads of immigrant organizations in the US and asks their opinions about the presidential race, most say they support Hillary because of the favorable impression of her shared by their countrymen and -women back home in Asia, Africa, or Latin America.

Here, then, are strong, positive, uplifting reasons to support both Obama and Clinton. And the longer the Democratic race goes on, the more reasons like these I find myself encountering--on both sides of the contest.

And so the longer the race goes on, the more I find myself drawn to the logic of a Clinton-Obama ticket.

I can actually see a case for such a ticket with either partner on top, although I suppose the conventional assumption is that Hillary would not accept a vice-presidential slot. And I further suppose that, in reality, neither of these two candidates is likely to pick the other as a running mate. The pressure to "balance" the ground-breaking presidential candidate with a familiar white male will be enormous.

But of course our last successful candidate, Bill Clinton, defied convention by choosing a running mate who did not "balance" the ticket but seemingly replicated himself, picking another youthful moderate white male from a border state. Maybe 2008 is another moment when the conventional wisdom ought to be defied.

Why do we have to choose between the brainy policy wonk and the inspiring orator--between the respected Senatorial operative and the idealistic community organizer--between the ceiling-breaking woman and the unifying multiracial champion? Why not have both?

P.S. I see that Doris Kearns Goodwin has said that the idea of such a "team of rivals" would be "a bold move but a great one." I agree. Let's do it.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

The XX Factor Keeps Up The Anti-Hillary Barrage

Updated below

Meanwhile, back at The XX Factor--a few days after Emily Yoffe's bizarre attack on Chelsea and Hillary Clinton--another commentator, Hannah Rosin, offers her own weird take on the "pimping out" controversy:
[MSNBC commentator David] Shuster was totally wrong, but the more important point is the Clintons' reactions. Apparently Shuster has offered to apologize to all involved, the NBC president got down on his knees, but they won't have it, they are just too insulted and outraged.

I mean, come on. Hillary's the tough one, who knows how to fight the right wing machine, right? So why does she take it seriously? Why does she pay any attention to this nonsense. Are we supposed to believe Chelsea just crumpled when she heard the word "pimp" attached to her name and took to her bed? No. This is just the Clintons, at home and alive again, in their happy role as the Most Aggrieved.
Umm, maybe this is HOW you fight the right wing machine--by taking it seriously, attacking it publicly, expressing your outrage, and demanding apologies. After all, isn't this how the right responds to attacks from the left?--As when Congress dropped everything to pass a resolution of outrage over the MoveOn "Betray Us" ad.

Rosin seems to imply that the best way to "fight the right wing machine" is by ignoring it. That worked very well for John Kerry, didn't it?

And lest you have any doubts about Rosin's attitude toward Hillary and Chelsea, her post then shifts topics, inexplicably:
Who needs Chelsea, anyway, when we got Amy. Amy Winehouse, that is. I've seen that recent paparazzi shot of her wandering the streets in just her bra. . . .
Good grief. Only in the warped minds of the women of The XX Factor is there any conceivable connection between Chelsea Clinton and Amy Winehouse.

Get ahold of yourself, Hannah--at least try to maintain a facade of logic while throwing everything you can find at Hillary, including the kitchen sink.


And just to avoid suspicion that The XX Factor is going too easy on Hillary, today yet another commentator on the site, Emila Bazelon, turns over her real estate for a guest post by Daniel Gross, who says that David Shuster "has been one of my closest friends for 26 years" and then proceeds--what a surprise--to defend Shuster and trash the Clintons. Apparently it's not enough for the members of Slate's "women's forum" to be devoted to excoriating Hillary--they seem to feel the need to invite selected men onto their page to help out with the job.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

The "History" Of Democratic Assaults On Faith: There Is No There There

I've written quite often on this blog about the constantly-repeated statement that Democrats treat religion, especially Christianity, with disdain and contempt, and that this contempt has driven Christians into the arms of the Republicans. As I've pointed out, this assertion is virtually never accompanied by any evidence. In particular, no one ever cites examples of prominent Democrats saying something contemptuous about faith because, in fact, this really doesn't happen.

The reality is that Republicans encourage conservative Christians to imagine attacks everywhere as a way of strengthening the Republican grip on their votes. Hence notions like "The War on Christmas," in which saying "Happy Holidays" somehow becomes an "insult" to Christians.

In today's Times Book Review, in a review of two books about the Democrats and religion, R. Scott Appleby makes a valiant effort to lend substance to the old myth:
The leadership of the Democratic Party, to its misfortune, has tended to confuse the religious right with religion, period. As a result, they can now look back at a long campaign of successful efforts to alienate white Christians, who make up two-thirds of the American electorate.

At the 1972 national convention in Miami, for example, when party progressives banished the Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley and his 58 handpicked delegates, most of them ethnic Catholics, in order to lend greater gender and racial balance to the Illinois delegation. At the failure, during the Carter years, to prevent the loss of jobs by blue-collar Catholics in the Rust Belt. At the elevation of abortion rights to canonical status and the silencing of Democratic voices in opposition, like that of the Pennsylvania governor and pro-life Catholic Robert Casey, a convinced liberal on universal health care, poverty reduction, education and the like, who was denied the podium at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. (However, many alienated Democrats came home to vote for religiously literate Bill Clinton in 1992, whose pro-choice mantra promised that abortions during his administration would be "safe, legal and rare.")

Nor were the party elites terribly distraught when their 2004 presidential nominee, John Kerry, a serious Catholic who mumbled and stumbled around that potentially appealing fact early in the campaign, landed in hot water with a handful of ultra-aggressive Catholic bishops. Although this minority's heavy-handed threats to deny Communion to a pro-choice Catholic candidate were met with quiet disdain--episcopal omerta--by a majority of their fellow bishops, who hate abortion but resist politicizing the Eucharist, the Kerry campaign mounted no effective response.
Wow--so this is Appleby's list of "successful efforts to alienate white Christians" by the Democratic party:

(1) The party insisted on seating a multiracial delegation from Illinois at their convention back in 1972, rather than Boss Daley's hand-picked cronies. This apparently constituted a religious insult to Daley's Polish and Irish buddies.

(2) They didn't do enough to fend off economic problems for the auto industry in the 1970s--which, again, somehow has a religious significance. (I never realized Toyota was out to victimize the guys in Flint, Michigan, because they were Roman Catholics.)

(3) They supposedly prevented an anti-abortion politician from speaking at their 1992 convention. (Actually the story behind this event is more complicated than the simplistic version used ever since to beat Democrats over the head. But one would think that the idea that the Democrats are intolerant toward pro-lifers is undermined, to say the least, by the fact that their Senate leader Harry Reid is pro-life.)

(4) They didn't effectively rebut a religiously-based attack against their candidate John Kerry in 2004.

Is that it? Two events that obviously had absolutely nothing to do with religion; one that has been overblown by propagandists; and one in which Democrats were victims of religious bias rather than pepetrators. That constitutes the Democrats' supposedly horrific record of "efforts to alienate white Christians."

If this is the best evidence that prosecutor Appleby can cite to demonstrate the Democratic party's disrespect for religion, I don't think there's much need for me or anyone else to mount a defense.

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Obama And "Substance"--A Bum Rap?

Updated below

Lately I've begun hearing some Hillary supporters complaining that the Obama campaign has "no substance"--that he is just "a pretty face" with a kumbaya message of uplift that the media swoons for. For example, several members of my editorial group made comments to this effect during our last meeting.

Actually, I think this is probably a bit of a bum rap. During their Los Angeles debate, for example, I thought that both candidates responded to questions with equal amounts of "substance," by which I mean policy details that appear well thought out and fact-based. And if you visit the "Issues" pages of the two candidates' websites (Obama's is here, Hillary's here), I think the amount of meaningful content is very comparable.

Of course, you might disagree with one or the other candidate on a specific issue (as Paul Krugman and others have disgreed with Obama on health care), but that is not the same as saying that either candidate has no substance. In fact, if there were no substance, there would be nothing to disagree with, which I don't think is the case with either Obama or Hillary.

It's easy to see why people feel the Obama campaign lacks substance. It's an understandable impression based on TV news soundbites and the candidate's own commercials, which are indeed long on inspirational rhetoric and short on policy details. But I think this is a stylistic and "marketing" choice rather than a reflection of the vapidity of the candidate. Obama and his team believe that most voters respond more to atmospherics than they do to policy details, and so they are trying to sell Obama on that basis.

And is there any evidence they are wrong? Would Obama really be more appealing to a large number of voters if his speeches and ads emphasized lists of ten-point plans and statistical breakdowns rather than uplifting rhetoric? I doubt it. We might prefer it if most voters made their choices based on rational, factual analyses rather than how they feel about the candidates, but it sure doesn't look as if that's true.

The old story about Adlai Stevenson still contains a lot of truth. During one of his presidential campaigns, a fan supposedly told him, "Every thinking American will support you!" Stevenson replied, "That's no good, I need a majority."

Dig a bit, and I think you'll conclude that both Hillary and Obama are candidates of substance. However, Obama is choosing not to lead with substance but instead to lead with atmospherics, believing this is his route to the White House. We'll see whether he is right or wrong. But in the meantime, I think it's a bit unfair for Democrats to accuse him of offering nothing but hot air.


Matt Yglesias offers his own take on this topic from a slightly different angle.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Is Hillary a Pimp? No, Just a Mafioso!

By now, you may have heard about commentator David Shuster's repulsive comments about Chelsea Clinton on MSNBC. Speaking of Chelsea's phone calls to talk show hosts and superdelegates on behalf of her mom's campaign, Shuster remarked, "Doesn't it seem like Chelsea's sort of being pimped out in some weird sort of way?" The Clinton campaign protested vociferously, and MSNBC has temporarily suspended Shuster.

To me--despite some of the comments on the website I linked to above, which defend Shuster--his words were patently offensive, implying that Chelsea is being turned into a whore for the sake of votes. (And I am not impressed by the scholarly chops of some of Shuster's blogospheric defenders, who quote from The Urban Dictionary to claim other, non-offensive interpretations of the phrase. Since when do Emmy-winning white journalists who grew up in Bloomington, IN, and went to the University of Michigan get their vocabulary from the 'hood?)

On the other hand, I must say I am even more appalled by some of the postings at The XX Factor, Slate's weird right-leaning version of Salon's "women's forum," The Broadsheet. Here in its entirety is what Emily Yoffe had to say about this controversy (responding to an earlier posting by Emily Brazelton, which defended Shuster):
Emily B, I'm with you that I'm left feeling very uneasy about Chelsea's emergence on the campaign trail. She makes me think of Michael Corleone in Godfather III: "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!" How many times can one person be First Child? She's waved goodbye to her Secret Service agents and the press hordes, grown up, started a career, and now the poor thing has been pulled back in. All these months, as she's stood there silently behind her mother, I've wondered about their dynamic. Did Chelsea say, "Mom, I want to do anything to help you win, but please don't make me speak"? Or did Hillary say, "Baby, I need you out there to prove that I'm a human being. All you have to do is stand there and smile; you don't even have to speak"? Now Chelsea is calling talk-show hosts begging them to vote for her mother and forwarding unhinged rants about sexism. Yes, she's now an adult able to make her own decisions, but I feel sorry for her. What must it have been like to grow up in the Clinton White House?
So Chelsea Clinton is like Michael Corleone, repeatedly being "pulled back in" to the Clintons' criminal enterprise? (We've seen this Mafioso comparison before.) How horrific! And how many times has it now been that she has been "pulled back in" to a race for the White House? Er--once.

Notice how, typically of the anti-Clinton screeds popping up everywhere, there is absolutely no evidence offered to demonstrate anything asserted here--that Chelsea was reluctant to campaign for her mother; that her mother forced her to do so; that it is hell for Chelsea to have Bill and Hillary as her parents. It's like a Maureen Dowd column--a novelistic fantasy in which the writer imagines what might be going on in someone's mind (in this case, Chelsea) and puts that down as fact. The whole point, of course, being to reinforce the Chris Matthews meme, that Hillary is a bitch.

Sadly, this stuff is not atypical for The XX Factor. Pretty strange to find a web page set aside for women commentators being turned into a repository for subtle (and occasionally not-so-subtle) sexism.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

I Pulled The Lever For Obama

Forced by the calendar to make a choice between Hillary and Obama (today of course is primary day here in New York), I broke with certain members of my family whose opinions I deeply respect and cast my ballot for Obama. I would certainly be happy to vote for either Hillary or Obama in November--not just as a superior alternative to any likely Republican, but as a genuinely talented leader with smarts and good instincts that I think would make a fine president.

I voted for Obama partly on the (admittedly weak) grounds that he is probably the underdog in the nominating race. I wouldn't have wanted Hillary to cruise to an easy nomination, which is what many pundits were predicting six months ago; I have enough concerns about her hawkish foreign policy leanings and her apparent accommodation to corporatist interests that I want her to suffer a bit (figuratively speaking) before being nominated. (A vote for Edwards would have been even more effective in lodging this sort of "protest.")

If Obama had a big lead, I would probably have voted for Hillary. I wouldn't want him to cruise to an easy nomination, either.

On a more logical plane, I find that James Fallows does a fine job of summarizing the way I see the pros and cons of both candidates. I'll quote him at some length:
--On domestic and economic and environmental policy, it's a wash. The Clinton and Obama positions are similar to each other and different from any Republican's. Some people think there is a huge difference in their health-care proposals. Having seen administrations come and go, I am absolutely certain that the difference between Clinton's and Obama's stated objectives in 2008 matters much, much less than what either of them will be able to get through the Congress in 2009 and afterward. Thus: an important distinction in domestic policy is which candidate will bring in a larger bloc in Congress to work with.

--On foreign policy, Clinton and Obama actually do differ, and I agree with him more than with her. He (like Al Gore) was against invading Iraq before it happened; she was for it. He (like Jim Webb) opposed the infamous Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which at the time was undeniably an attempt to legitimize military action against Iran; she voted for it. (Obama, to his discredit, failed to show up to cast his No vote, but his position was not in doubt.) He has criticized the current flat-earth idiotic US policy toward Cuba; she has defended it (as Fareed Zakaria has pointed out in a strong recent essay). I understand the argument that Sen. Clinton has to take these positions to maintain her "credibility" and appearance of strength. To me that matters less than that she keeps voting in what I consider the wrong way. Thus: the positions and "mindsets" differ, and and I like his better.

--On style and governing philosophy, she is for incremental policies and incremental politics--"experience" and "competence"--based on the underlying belief that Republican obstructionism makes nothing else possible. Not even for a dreamer like Obama. He obviously is trying for something more--as Bill Clinton was in 1992, when I preferred him to an incomparably more experienced and time-tested President.

--On straight electability, just unknowable. Given that everyone in the country already knows her and a large minority say they don't like her, a narrow victory seems the most that is within Hillary Clinton's grasp. People can argue that Obama would be capable of much more--or, on the contrary, even less, and that not even a narrow win would be possible once the smear machine got through with him. There is simply no way to be sure now, when it's time to vote. Thus: also a wash.

--On diversity and opportunity, a breakthrough either way. But on a deeper level of "diversity," we have the prospect of returning a husband-and-wife team--Bill Clinton's emergence has made this unignorable--already in the White House for eight years, versus fresh blood.

Any vote for anybody is a gamble. Who imagined that the George Bush of 2000, with his "compassionate conservatism" and critiques of "nation building," would become the man we've known in office? We have no idea what surprises will confront a President Obama, or Hillary Clinton, or Romney, or McCain, or how they might respond. We have to place bets--roll the dice, if you will--based on what we do know, which for me is the elements above.
Like Fallows, I think "electability" is a chimera. And like Fallows, I don't place a lot of importance on the details of the candidates' respective health care programs, although here I part company with my aforementioned family members as well as other people I respect, such as Paul Krugman.

Note that, in his column, Fallows never actually tells us whom he would vote for--he just lists these as the main elements he would consider in making a choice. But to me, the combined logic of these points adds up, though narrowly, to a vote for Obama.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Things People Say--Correctly, It Turns Out

Like Mets fans everywhere, I am on tenterhooks waiting to learn whether their blockbuster deal for John Santana, reputedly the best pitcher in baseball, will be finalized or not. (Picture above shows him hoisting one of his two Cy Young awards.)

To make it official, the Mets must reach agreement with Santana on a contract extension. Rumor has it that the deal will end up being for somewhere between five and seven years and will cost the Mets upwards of $142 million. (Once again I mentally kick myself for not having insisted that our son Matt spend less time studying and more time working on his curve ball.)

When these sorts of massive deals are discussed, you can count on some sportswriter or commentator to trot out a familiar comparison:
. . . the Mets will emerge with the best left-handed pitcher in the game on their roster and in their plans for the next six, perhaps seven, seasons. And Santana will have a guaranteed income comparable to the GNP product of a Third World nation.
Let's ignore the two solecisms here ("GNP," which is technically different from GDP, is used rather rarely as a measure of national income; and, of course, the word "product" in the sentence above is redundant, since that is what the initial P stands for). The big question is: Is it true? For once I decided to check. And it turns out that it is true--though just barely.

According to 2006 data from the World Bank, the country will the smallest GDP in the world is Kiribati, an island nation in the South Pacific with a GDP of around $71 million, well below the contract Johan Santana will probably sign. The second smallest is Sao Tome and Principe (an island nation off the coast of Guinea), with a GDP of $123 million, which Santana will probably also eclipse.

However, Santana may not match the next two contenders, the Marshall Islands ($155 million) and Palau ($157 million), and he will surely fall short of Tonga ($223 million). And all the other "Third World" nations on Earth (depending on how you define them) have GDPs way exceeding any baseball contract. In most cases, it's not even close: Togo ($2.2 billion), Chad ($6.5 billion), Yemen ($19 billion). By the time you get up to my favorite developing nation, Bangladesh, we're talking about serious money--almost $62 billion.

You could sign quite a ball club with that kind of payroll.

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