Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Opinionator

August 21, 2007, 4:40 pm
Michelle Obama: Did She or Didn’t She?
By Tobin Harshaw
Tags: ,

“If you can’t run your own house, you can’t run the White House.” The words are from Michelle Obama, wife of Barack. Will they ignite this campaign’s version of a “baking cookies” or “never had a real job” moment?

Jennifer Hunter of the Chicago Sun Times reports that Ms. Obama “didn’t elaborate, but it could be interpreted as a swipe at the Clintons.” An Obama spokesman, Bill Burton, quickly told Greg Sargent at TPM Cafe that “”The only family Mrs. Obama was referring to was the Obama family.”

Here’s a choice: You can take a look at the transcript Sargent provides and decide for yourself, or you can let bloggers do it for you.

Lawhawk, one of the anonymous posters at A Blog For All, feels that it was intentional, and a cheap shot: “Michelle Obama taking on the Clintons over Hillary’s inability to deal with Bill’s indiscretions strikes me as being just wrong. Some people might think that such attacks are fair game considering that we should know as much about candidates, their personal backgrounds, and missteps as possible. However, who exactly are we electing?”

“I don’t appreciate Obama (or his wife’s) personal snipes at fellow Democrats,” agrees Jeralyn Merritt, the liberal defense lawyer who founded TalkLeft. “It’s one thing to criticize policies or positions on issues. It’s another to launch personal attacks. To use your spouse as the messenger is even lower.”

However, most others, including a few conservatives, see this as a case of mountains and molehills. “As fun as a ‘don’t call my man naïve’ catfight might be, I think Michelle Obama has seen how well wife-as-attacker has worked for the Edwards campaign,” writes Kathryn Jean Lopez at The Corner.

“The transcript does to pretty clearly show that she wasn’t hitting Hillary. She was talking about the importance of family — something that I think the Obamas feel a special responsibility to do for obvious reasons.”

“If it’s a knock on Hillary for not spending enough time with her own daughter then it’s stupid,” writes Allahpundit at Hot Air.

“Chelsea’s grown and no one’s ever seriously accused Hillary of giving her short shrift. If it’s a knock on her for not being able to keep her man from straying or whatever, then it’s both stupid and exceptionally nasty — the rhetorical equivalent of those Australian lowlifes taunting her at a campaign stop with a cigar. Besides, it’s not going to work: the left’s line on Clinton unto eternity is that private foibles have no bearing whatsoever on managerial competence.”

“I guess it could be seen as an anti-Clinton swipe in a pinch, but it’s pretty subtle if it is,” writes Andrew Sullivan.

“But whatever it may mean, don’t jump into the gotcha politics with this. Notice what she’s really saying. Notice what matters. Michelle Obama is giving the core message of her husband’s candidacy: the case against fear. You know: Arianna is right about this. The one overwhelming fact about Hillary Clinton is that she reeks of fear. Obama doesn’t.”

Well, if the case for his wife’s toughness as made in the Sun-Times article is true, I guess we can understand why “fear” is not one of Barack Obama’s main concerns.


August 21, 2007, 10:53 am
Death to the SAT
By Tobin Harshaw

The controversial social scholar Charles Murray, writing at The American magazine’s site, feels it’s time to abandon the SAT test. His complaints aren’t totally new: “The image of the SAT has done a 180-degree turn. No longer seen as a compensating resource for the unprivileged, it has become a corrosive symbol of privilege. ‘Back when kids just got a good night’s sleep and took the SAT, it was a leveler that helped you find the diamond in the rough,’ Lawrence University’s dean of admissions told The New York Times recently. ‘Now that most of the great scores are affluent kids with lots of preparation, it just increases the gap between the haves and the have-nots.’”

More interestingly, Murray sees the test as being about more than just getting into a good college:

The final benefit of getting rid of the SAT is the hardest to describe but is probably the most important. By getting rid of the SAT, we would be getting rid of a totem for members of the cognitive elite. People forget achievement test scores. They do not forget cognitive test scores. The only cognitive test score that millions of people know about themselves is the SAT score. If the score is high, it is seen as proof that one is smart. If the score is not high, it is evidence of intellectual mediocrity or worse. Furthermore, it is evidence that cannot be explained away as a bad grade can be explained away. All who enter an SAT testing hall feel judged by their scores.

Worse yet, there are few other kinds of scores to counterbalance the SAT. Of the many talents and virtues that people possess, we have good measures for quantifying few besides athletic and intellectual ability. Falling short in athletic ability can be painful, especially for boys, but the domain of sports is confined. Intellectual ability has no such limits, and the implications of the SAT score spill far too widely. The 17-year-old who is at the 40th percentile on the SAT has no other score that lets him say to himself, “Yes, but I’m at the 99th percentile in working with my hands,” or “Yes, but I’m at the 99th percentile for courage in the face of adversity.”

Conversely, it seems to make no difference that high intellectual ability is a gift for which its recipients should be humbly grateful. Far too many students see a high score on the SAT as an expression of their own merit, not an achievement underwritten by the dumb luck of birth.

Hence the final reason for getting rid of the SAT: knowing those scores is too dispiriting for those who do poorly and too inspiriting for those who do well. In an age when intellectual talent is increasingly concentrated among young people who are also privileged economically and socially, the last thing we need are numbers that give these very, very lucky kids a sense of entitlement.


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