What do you do when you’re presented with a short-list of eight or nine candidates
and none of them is particularly appealing? That seems to be the case, now,
with both the World Trade Center memorial and the Democratic presidential candidates.
I’m quite glad, now, that I was out of the country when the finalists
for the World Trade Center memorial were announced. I’d been looking forward
to blogging them for a long time, and was very disappointed when I found out
I couldn’t make it.
Now, however, that the initial flurry of attention is dying down, the consensus
opinion is loud and clear: none of the above. It’s not the "we hate them
all" that greeted the original
plans for the site as a whole: it’s more inchoate than that. Rather, there’s
a niggling feeling that none of these concepts is quite right, and that if we
rush ahead and build one of them now, we’ll probably regret it.
I certainly have no faith in the ability of any of these memorials to stand
the test of time. I remember, as a kid, being rather perturbed at war memorials
with eternal flames: it seemed to me axiomatic that whatever else the flame was, it obviously wasn’t eternal.
What I didn’t realise then is that eternal flames have a habit of sputtering
out wherever they are in the world: this is a known issue which still hasn’t
been resolved. But faced with an enormous acreage to convert into a memorial,
everybody seems to have resorted to some kind of technological wizardry vastly
more complex than a common-or-garden eternal flame.
Dual Memory is the worst
offender in this resepect, with its "evolving images [which] are reflected
as water flows down the walls that support the plane of water above". But
did Michael Arad stop
to think about what might happen if his water features had to be turned off
during a summer drought? And there are huge practical difficulties associated
with keeping 3000 votives
in suspension, or maintaing a crystalline
cloud. Remember, these things are meant to last for dozens, if not hundreds,
With hindsight, the "program guiding principles" were far too broad
and ambitious. The memorial had to, inter alia, "respect and enhance
the sacred quality of the overall site"; "evoke the historical significance
and worldwide impact of September 11, 2001"; "inspire and engage people
to learn more about the events and impact of September 11, 2001 and February
26, 1993"; and, for good measure, "create an original and powerful
statement of enduring and universal symbolism".
It seemed that the winning entrants didn’t take the guidelines all that literally,
but even so, original, enduring and universal symbolism is a tall order for
anybody. (Quite literally: many people, including LMDC bigwigs, seemed to think
that the memorial would include some kind of skyline-restoring structure which
would complement or even outdo the Childs/Libeskind Freedom Tower. It’s interesting
that none of the finalists go much above grade.) In the end, we’ve arrived at
a shortlist of plans which either ignore a number of the principles entirely,
or which fail to meet their high standards. Better to wait a while, now that
Plan A seems to have gone off-track somewhat, than to rush ahead with a proposal
which doesn’t have public support and which, in any case, has been designed
to complement a general site plan which could change significantly between now
and even its first built stages.
But at least, in the case of the memorial finalists, waiting is an option.
In the case of the Democratic
presidential candidates, the timetable is set, and we’re stuck with the
ones we’ve got. One of them, for better or for worse, is going to go up against
George W Bush in November 2004, and it’s up to the country’s registered Democrats
to pick the candidate with the best chance of success.
Once again, received wisdom has it that "none of the above" seems
like the best choice. That’s why Wes Clark joined the race so late: his advisors
were telling him that it was still wide open, and that none of the candidates
had caught the public imagination. In opinion polls, Bush has a narrower lead
against an unnamed "Democratic candidate" than he does against any
named individual: none of the choices, it would seem, has any appeal beyond
simply being not-Bush.
The front-runner, of course, is Howard Dean, who recently went on Hardball
to embarrass himself on
the key, I believe, to Iran is pressure through the Soviet Union. The Soviet
Union is supplying much of the equipment that Iran, I believe, most likely
is using to set itself along the path of developing nuclear weapons. We need
to use that leverage with the Soviet Union and it may require us to buying
the equipment the Soviet Union was ultimately going to sell to Iran to prevent
Iran from them developing nuclear weapons.
Yeah, that’s right, the Soviet Union. Four times in three sentences Dean proved
himself to be completely out of date, living in the past, and hardly the sort
of person you’d want putting in place a coherent statement on America’s position
in a unipolar world.
Dean is doing very well in galvanising the younger end of the Democratic party;
he’s raising lots of money, and none of the other candidates look like toppling
him in the near future. That said, however, I’ve never liked the guy, mainly
because he seems to have no policies. Push on something like gun control or
gay marriage, and all you’ll find is the federalist cop-out: that’s not a question
for the president, that’s a question for the individual states.
When I saw Dean at an event in New York, he certainly came over very pro-gay,
talking about his implementation of civil unions in Vermont. What he didn’t
say was that they were court-ordered (he didn’t really have a choice in the
matter); and that when he’s pressed, you get exchanges like this:
KING: So you would be opposed to a gay marriage?
DEAN: If other states want to do it, that’s their business. We didn’t choose
to do that in our state.
KING: And you personally would oppose it?
DEAN: I don’t know, I never thought about that very much.
The problem, or the reason that Dean is doing so well, is that none of the
rest of the field seem to be having any luck at all in getting Democrats to
care about them. Personally,
I’m a big fan of Edwards, but even I have to admit that he’s done an atrocious
job in getting his message out. Or rather, that’s been his problem: he’s been
concentrating on substance, and thereby losing out at the expense of Dean, who’s
nearly as good as Bush when it comes to showy rhetoric unencumbered by actual
There’s still a possibility that Kerry or even Clark might manage to get a
groundswell going, but I feel Edwards slipping away into the land of the once-likely,
along with Joe Lieberman.
Of course, the fact remains that it probably doesn’t make the slightest bit
of difference who wins the Democratic nomination. I wrote
last year that
The chances of a Democrat wresting the presidency from Bush in 2004 are slim
indeed: in order for that to happen, the economy will have to continue to
deteriorate, the housing-market bubble will have to burst, and the US will
have to fuck up in Iraq. Two out of three might just do it; one out of three
won’t be enough.
And just as the Democrats started seeing Iraq as good for them and not the
Republicans, we get this economic turnaround. Alan Greenspan is going to be
able to keep rates down for one more year, which means that even if Iraq is
an election-winner for the Democrats, the economy and real-estate wealth is
going to go for the GOP. They’ll have two out of three, and the election in
Against that sort of incumbency advantage, the present line-up of Democratic
candidates looks decidely sub-par. And no, there isn’t a white knight (Eliot
Spitzer, Hillary Clinton) waiting in the wings to gallop on stage at the Democratic
National Convention and ride into the election with a huge and unexpected mandate.
Unfortunately, unlike the WTC memorial, "do nothing" is not an option.
The Democrats are going to have to choose someone, rally behind him, and hope
for the best. All we can hope is for the best candidate to win – and for
some much-needed luck.