More Brexit Melodrama from Janan Ganesh. Political Reporter comments

When he ran to be US president in 1968, Robert Kennedy questioned whether gross national product could measure American greatness while it counted napalm, cigarette advertisements, environmental ruin, “special locks for our doors and the jails for people who break them”. He sensed the loftier needs of a rich but troubled nation. Within a decade, slow growth and extreme inflation put paid to such high-mindedness and gifted the west to free-marketers until, well, now.

Mr. Ganesh should not show so readily his ignorance of American Politics, as practiced by Robert Kennedy in 1968. Poor Bobby was number three in the Kennedy household, after Joe Jr. and Jack. He was once an operative for Joe McCarthy and an legal antagonist  of the Mob, and its putative creature Jimmy Hoffa, when he was Attorney General. Jack joked that he waited till very late to announce his appointment as Attorney General, ‘its Bobby’, in a whisper out the Whitehouse door! One of the saving graces of Jack was that he had a sense of humor and a quick wit, by all accounts. Bobby  lacked those gifts!

Bobby came late to the 1968 campaign, Eugene McCarthy was the leader of the Democratic dissidents. Bobby was an ‘pragmatist’ like his older brother,  like Obama ‘he evolved politically’ in his usual one step forward three steps back, in sum Bobby was politically timid. Ganesh’s quotation is from Bobby late in the Presidential Game, as he grew into the role of the martyred  brother’s heir apparent. Aided by the Kennedy Clique and the propagandists like Sorensen, Schlesinger, and the myriad chatterers in the Press, about the legend of Camelot. Ganesh’s use of the quotation makes Bobby appear ‘Liberal’ when in fact he was a Centrist in Economic and Cold War terms. Historical carelessness puts the usually adroit Ganesh in a very bad light. But he doesn’t stop there:

A post-economic world, where voters look past the material to nobler priorities, is always in the offing. A smart politician should assume that the offing is where it will stay. The thought occurs because traces of that Kennedy-Cameron naivete — is it a trust-fund thing? — survives in Britain’s general election campaign.

Call the very notion of a ‘Kennedy-Cameron naivete’ about ‘a post economic world’ as beyond naivete, into the territory dominated by deliberate misapprehension fueled by ideology. But facing the charge of ‘a trust-fund thing’ sounding, just for a moment, like one of the dread Populists. Call it a rhetorical feint to elide from the conversation the collapse of the Free Market, a subject to be avoided at all costs in the pages of the august Financial Times.

Then the appearance of ‘Economic Imperatives’ enters from Stage Right as something that both May and Corbyn ignore. In this portion our dramaturge assign May the role of Disraeli’s One Nation Conservatism and Corbyn as Romantic Socialist, or just suffering from a case of destructive political nostalgia.

Again from Stage Right enters ‘Industrial Strategy’ as the Tory wrong answer to the looming catastrophe of Brexit: too little,too late the Ganesh verdict. There is a great deal more back and forth on the shortcomings of both Tory and Labour, until the reader reaches the last paragraph which echos the rhetoric of the dread ‘Populist Menace’ that haunts both the waking and sleeping life of all Virtuous Capitalists.

Mrs May and Mr Corbyn will deny indifference to growth and claim what they want is a fairer version of it. But the British will not happily weather a rough period on the way, especially if it is attributable to government policies. Any post-material consciousness is still confined to a sect. It is the politics of the retired asset owner and the too-rich-to-care bohemian. Everyone else — the average-earner, the welfare claimant, the millionaire investor — is hair-trigger sensitive to fluctuations in GDP and the way prices relate to wages. The poorer-but-happier thesis has it the wrong way around. If anything, public anger stems from the crash and a recovery of historic slowness — from growth that is too weak rather than a will to transcend growth altogether.

Any post-material consciousness is still confined to a sect.’ The ghost of the ‘Liberalism’ of Bobby Kennedy reappears as an aphoristic mist. And even the 2008 Economic Crash gets a mention, in lower case letters, to ensure its position as trivial. The reader recognizes the cast of characters except for one: ‘the too-rich-to-care bohemian’ should the reader consider it a reference to Bloomsbury Group?


John Maynard Keynes arises at noon, his breakfast tray arrives, with the morning papers. He sips his Irish Breakfast tea and sets to work. After some diligent reading of the stocks and bond markets pages he telephones his broker. It’s now four o’clock and he rings for his butler and asks him to bring in the afternoon papers as soon as they arrive.

Political Reporter

Mr. Dickinson,

Thank you for your comment. I took my lead from Mr. Ganesh’s long and rambling essay. That is my only defense to your ‘Comments are generally more effective when they are precisely aimed.’

To so totally misread the political career of Bobby Kennedy, deliberate or feigned, as Mr. Ganesh has done, more than probably a function of his ideological position. Not to speak of his penchant to scold both May and Corbyn for their ‘deviationism’ from his political ideal: a idiosyncratic interpretation of Thatcherism in all its rampant mean-spiritedness.
Such was the power of the person and the Bobby Kennedy Myth, that in actuality, he attracted such a diverse range of voters, from across the American political spectrum, that after his murder many of his followers voted for George Wallace in that ’68 election.

Wallace’s “outsider” status was once again popular with voters, particularly in the rural South. He won 9,901,118 popular votes (out of a total of 73,199,998)—that is, 13.53% of votes cast nationally—carried five Southern states – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi – won 45 electoral votes plus one vote from a faithless elector, and came fairly close to receiving enough votes to throw the election to the House of Representatives.,_1968






About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.'
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