Peter Beinart wants to reclaim “reform”

In this TNR piece (not sure if subscription required), Peter Beinart laments the Republican (mis)appropriation of the word “reform”, saying

“Reform,” in today’s Washington, has come to mean “change I like.” Which is to say, it means almost nothing at all.

However, he doesn’t really make it clear what alternative definition he proposes, and concedes, later on “today’s conservatives are reformers of the most fundamental kind”.

In fact, the whole set of ideas surrounding the terms “reform” and “progressive” are bound up with historicist assumptions that can no longer be sustained, namely that history is moving in a particular (liberal/social democratic/socialist) direction, and that any deviation from this path is bound to be short-lived and self-defeating. Reform is change that is consistent with this direction. But once you have, as Beinart notes, a decade or more of “reforms” that consist mainly of the repeal of earlier reforms, none of these assumptions works.

I’ve tried all sorts of devices, such as the use of scare quotes and phrases like “so-called reform�, before concluding that the best thing is just to define reform as “any program of systematic change in policies or institutions� and make it clear that there is no necessary implication of approval or disapproval, or of consistency with any particular political direction.
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Bush: A uniter after all ?

George W. Bush’s promise to be “a uniter not a divider” has always seemed like a bad joke. He’s been one of the most polarising Presidents in US history, and this was reflected in opinion polls. As recently as February 2006, Bush managed to score 82 per cent approval among Republicans, while getting nearly 80 per cent disapproval (and mostly strong disapproval) from Democrats.

But the latest Harris poll suggests that Bush might finally be bringing Americans together. His suppport among Republicans has fallen to 67 per cent, and the decline seems to be continuing. A majority (53 per cent) of those who regard themselves as conservative think he is doing a bad job. So maybe Bush can unite us all in agreement on at least one point.

Flying ducks

From Rachel Aspden’s New Statesman review of Alain de Botton’s latest (which I saw republished in the ReView section of the Fin)

None of this [pretentiousess] would matter so much were de Botton not selling the promise of taste. The Architecture of Happiness is being advertised on the Tube with a poster of flying-duck plaques – middle-class shorthand for “naff” – asking: “Is this your idea of good taste?” … If this is happiness, I’ll take the flying ducks any time.

Reading this in the kitchen, I naturally glanced up at the wall, which is adorned by a classic flight of flying ducks. I acquired them in my youth in a spirit of irony, but that has long since transmuted into genuine affection (if indeed, the irony was ever genuine). They used to be accompanied by a koala, masked and caped as a flying supermarsupial, but the wall wasn’t a safe place for such a unique item, and we’ve never found another.

So is it OK to like flying ducks? Or is this the crime against the holy spirit of Good Taste that can never be forgiven?

Weekend reflections

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.