Category Archives: politicians

The complacency-panic dialectic

Only after the epidemic is over, writes Dalrymple,

can a proper assessment of whether too much or too little was done to halt it be made. Since life is lived forwards rather than backwards, it is only with hindsight that what would have been the right response becomes clear; but if the epidemic has killed a large number of people, recrimination is almost inevitable.

Politicians,

who have never given a moment’s thought to epidemiology, are thrust into the rôle of expert and prophet, while having to keep an eye on the opinion polls. If they admit their ignorance, they are accused of lack of foresight and leadership; if they make definite pronouncements, they are soon to be contradicted by their opponents, if not by the facts.

Dalrymple notes that much is still unknown about the virus and its mode of spread.

Even its fatality rate is unknown because many infections may have been without symptoms and not come to the attention of the health authorities. If this is the case, the fatality rate would be considerably lower than the 2% estimated, though it would indicate that the spread is more difficult to control. The old are more at risk than the young, as are those with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. If a vaccine were developed but were initially in short supply, it is they who should be immunised first; but it is unlikely that one will be developed quickly enough to affect the course of the epidemic.

As in the Cold War,

we talk of containment rather than of eradication. Early hopes that the USA might be spared the epidemic have proved what they always were, illusory. It is not only goods that are globalised.

We are told to wash our hands often and not to touch our eyes or mouths. It is hardly surprising, says Dalrymple,

that such advice—no doubt good—should lead to panic buying. Staying home as much as possible is the best way of avoiding contracting the disease even if one knows no one who has it, and more people than ever can continue to work from home. But staying at home requires stocking-up of food and other necessities. Stocks of goods in supermarkets without re-supply are sufficient only for a few days even in times of normal buying. At the first sign of panic, it was obvious that the shelves would empty, which could only increase the panic. In Australia, 33 confirmed cases of the disease (of which only one was contracted in Australia)—that is to say one in every three-quarters-of-a-million of the population—has been enough to cause panic buying. There has been panic buying in the USA, where there has been one case for every 3.3m inhabitants.

Why politicians want to lower the voting age further

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Mila

Dalrymple notes that

the widening and lengthening of education has gone hand in hand with a decline in the civility of discourse.

Adolescence

is the age neither of good taste nor of wisdom, which no doubt is why some politicians want to lower the voting age even further. After all, what many politicians most value in voters is gullibility.

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The non-entity in Number 10

A politician who excites only contempt

Dalrymple notes that Theresa May, the British prime minister,

has only one clear policy: to remain prime minister.

To be sure, he says,

every politician aims to stay in office as long as possible. Nevertheless, one would still hope that those who attained it had some idea what to do with it. A politician with only ideas is dangerous, no doubt, but one entirely without them is contemptible.

A stranger to strategy and tactics

May, writes Dalrymple,

pins her hope of remaining in office on not offending anyone too deeply, neither to the right nor to the left of her. At a dinner party, this might be a good principle, but politics is not a dinner party. Those who try to offend no one also please no one, and in times of crisis give the impression not of compromise and flexibility but of lack of principle and pusillanimity.

Faced by the challenge of Brexit, May,

who seems like a stranger to strategy and tactics, has opted for an evasive immobility, perhaps in the hope that something will turn up and prevent her from having to make any painful decisions.

Politics is not a dinner party

Life is far too short

Dalrymple writes:

The life of Man being but three score years and ten, nothing on earth would induce me to read Hillary Clinton’s memoir of her electoral defeat.

If he had two millennia rather than only two years to go, he would not read it. In fact, he says,

no memoir by any modern politician would tempt me to read it, since the main characteristic of such politicians is mediocrity tempered by unbridled ambition and lust for power. Better to reread Macbeth. Hillary Clinton, after all, is Lady Macbeth to Bill Clinton’s Felix Krull, the confidence trickster.

The nature of politicians

The doctor-writer picks up a copy of S.L. Sutton’s 1972 volume in the series ‘Invertebrate Types‘, which Dalrymple says does not in point of fact refer to current British politicians such as David Cameron (‘morals of a jackal and backbone of a mollusc’) or Theresa May (‘Machiavelli minus the cunning’).

A Machiavellian minus the cunning

The British prime minister chose her battleground with the perfect eye for defeat

Theresa May, writes Dalrymple,

proved an apt pupil of the David Cameron school of political incompetence. Lacking principle, she was not even good at being unprincipled.

She had

the charisma of a carrot and the sparkle of a spade. As she presented herself to the public, no one would have wanted her as a dinner guest, except under the deepest social obligation.

Consequence of having a pusillanimous, do-nothing approach to a society resting in the stagnant pool of its own mediocrity

Her disastrous campaign

included repeated genuflections in the direction of social democracy. Even after her defeat, moral if not quite literal, she burbled about a society in which no one was left behind — never mind that it would entail a society in which no one would be out in front.

Theresa May: the charisma of a carrot

But egalitarianism

is like Islam: just as a moderate Muslim can always be outflanked by someone more Islamic, so an egalitarian can be outflanked by someone more egalitarian: and no one will ever believe that the Conservatives are more devoted to equality of outcome than Labour.

Theresa May: the sparkle of a spade

So incompetent, she could be humiliatingly outflanked by a man such as this

The cultural triumph of psychobabble

Theresa May: the little ones shall experience distress no more

The British prime minister, Dalrymple reports, has

spotted an opportunity to demonstrate to her sentimental electorate how much she cares for even the least of them by announcing that she wants to put a mental health professional, i.e. form-filler, in every school.

There is, says Dalrymple, a new social contract:

I will listen to your shallow clichés about yourself if you will listen to mine.

Her

compassion by proxy, at taxpayers’ expense, is typical of the behaviour of modern politicians, who need to show their electorates that they are not the heartless or ruthless ambitious nonentities that they might otherwise appear to be. An uncritically sentimental population is a perfect flock to be fleeced in this way, sheep for the shearing.

May’s project, Dalrymple points out,

is also typical of the process of simultaneous work creation and work avoidance that marks the modern state, a process that turns it into a trough from which many may feed.

Latrine-cleaners and politicians

Dalrymple writes:

Someone has to do politics, just as people have to do other unpleasant jobs, such as cleaning lavatories.

How Trump lets the side down

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Can you forgive him?

This compulsion to keep election pledges

The leader of the free world, Dalrymple notes,

seems to be doing what is unforgivable in a democratic politician, for it will make life difficult for all the others who come after him: he is keeping, or trying to keep, his election promises.

Could anything, asks Dalrymple,

better prove his complete lack of probity?

The blue pencil

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‘Just as real meaning sometimes creeps inadvertently into politicians’ speeches, so some words escape the blue pencil,’ says Dalrymple.