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Barack Jintao

From the Scrapbook.

Mar 21, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 26 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Barack Jintao

Buried at the end of an otherwise milquetoast New York Times article (“Obama Seeks a Course of Pragmatism in the Middle East,” which The Scrapbook supposes is a generous interpretation of the fact that there’s no outward sign the White House has any clue whatsoever) was this jarring nugget of reporting:

Mr. Obama has told people that it would be so much easier to be the president of China. As one official put it, “No one is scrutinizing Hu Jintao’s words in Tahrir Square.”

Indeed. When you’re president of China and you’re concerned that people in the hinterlands are bitterly clinging to their guns ’n’ religion, you can simply take those things away. When you’re president of China, all radio is National Public Radio. When you’re president of China, you don’t have to worry about annoying off-year elections. When you’re president of China .  .  . We could go on. 

No doubt some readers are stunned that a democratically elected president would empathize with the leader of the deadliest regime in human history. (In the wake of new archival evidence unearthed last year, one prominent University of Hong Kong professor now places the death toll of Mao’s Great Leap Forward at 45 million.) 

However, The Scrapbook can’t say it was astonished at Obama’s lament. Wistful affection for China’s authoritarian government has been à la mode among the punditocracy for so long now, that it was only a matter of time before this sentiment reached the top. The New York Times’s Thomas Friedman has made a cottage industry out of China-envy, churning out column after column on the topic. “Watching both the health care and climate/energy debates in Congress, it is hard not to draw the following conclusion: There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today,” he famously wrote in Walter Duranty’s newspaper. 

In particular, China’s high speed rail fetish and pronouncements about global warming have captivated American liberals​—​the reality of China’s horrific environmental and traffic problems notwithstanding. The Nation’s Washington editor Christopher Hayes, for instance, has observed, “Uncomfortable thought: If China were to become democratic, its climate policy would get much worse.” Unlike Friedman, Hayes at least acknowledges he’s conflicted.

But the Walter Duranty Prize for Useful Idiocy must be bestowed on Washington Post wunderkind Ezra Klein, who took a junket to China last year. After a guided tour of a government-planned condo development—an almost literal Potemkin village—Klein breathlessly reported: “A conversation with some residents revealed that they didn’t just get one free apartment in the new building. They got four free apartments, three of which they were now renting out. And medical coverage. And money for furnishings. And a food stipend. And—I’m not kidding, by the way—birthday cakes on their birthdays. Sweet deal.” 

Who among us, let alone the Leader of the Free World, is immune to the allure of free birthday cake?

David S. Broder, 1929-2011

The Scrapbook was not above poking occasional fun at David S. Broder, the longtime Washington Post reporter and columnist, as a fairly reliable bellwether of the received wisdom in political Washington. This was not meant as an insult. When he died last week at 81, Broder had been a Washington correspondent for nearly 60 years​—​for the Post through four decades, the old Washington Evening Star and, briefly, the New York Times​—​and was about as plugged-in as anyone could be with the bosses, the activists, the chattering classes, the movers and shakers, and elected officials who, through a sociopolitical osmosis, arrive at consensus in the nation’s capital about issues and personalities. To use one well-worn journalistic phrase, Broder had his finger on the pulse of political Washington, and (phrase number two) he knew which way the wind blew.

But there were two good reasons why Broder was almost universally liked and admired, by people of all parties and persuasions. First, he was a tireless reporter. On the weekend he might be seen on one of the political chat shows (he appeared on Meet the Press over 400 times) or at a White House dinner, but on Monday morning he would be just as reliably spotted at an obscure congressional hearing, think tank seminar, press conference in Iowa, or New Hampshire kaffeeklatsch.

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