Monday, November 19, 2007

Mr. Krautzhammer Flunks Psychopathology and Redundant Modifiers > Columns

The Real Hill-Bill Problem

By Charles Krauthammer

Friday, November 2, 2007; Page A21

Americans don't normally take much notice of Argentine elections. But they did notice when Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, wife of President Nestor Kirchner, was elected to succeed him on Sunday, ensuring not just a co-presidency but the prospect of alternating presidencies as far as the eye can see.

The redundant adverb “normally” defies Strunk & White and adds no élan to Krauthammer’s sentence. Neither does the passive verb. Edit: “When Argentineans elected Cristina Fernandez….”

Of course, spousal succession, while new to the United States, is hardly new to Argentina. Its tradition of wifely power begins with Eva, who, despite the absence of any constitutional title, had queenly powers. The real deal, however, was Isabel, Juan Peron's next (and third and last) wife, who succeeded him as president in 1974. She was a cabaret dancer whom Peron picked up in a Panamanian nightclub, the Peronist equivalent of winning the New Hampshire primary. Not surprisingly, her presidency was one of the most catastrophic in Argentine history.

The commas surrounding the restrictive adjective phrase “while...States” are redundant. Mr. K should jettison “not surprisingly.”

The Kirchners are Peronists as well, but Cristina is no Isabelita. She is a highly accomplished person -- student activist, lawyer, senator and, by some accounts, the more formidable figure in this two-person political partnership. Sound familiar? Like Hillary Clinton, she, too, met her husband in law school, was instrumental in his ascent to the presidency and had long planned with her husband an eventual alternation of power.

The redundant adverbs and adjective add clutter that etiolates style.

The Argentine example is a pretty vivid dramatization of the Clintons' intentions -- and of the cloud hovering over the current Clinton candidacy.

“Pretty” is worse than “very.” Mr. K has a weakness for redundant modifiers.

The problem is Bill. But not the way it is usually understood, i.e., the sex scandal waiting to happen. There is that, of course. But there are deeper, more subtle considerations that would arise even if the man -- do the thought experiment -- were as self-disciplined as Nestor Kirchner.

“The sex scandal’s waiting to happen” possessive before the gerund

First, for all of their worship of Diana and the Kennedys, Americans are instinctively republican and suspicious of dynastic politics. A vote for Hillary is a vote for the last entry of a Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton quarter-century.

Edit: “Americans are republicans suspicious of dynastic politics.”

We've had just two father-son presidencies in the 230 years of the republic, and the first (the Adams family) had the son taking office 24 years after the father, and just one year before the father's death. The Bush succession is more anomalous with only eight years separating the two presidencies, a proximity that launched a thousand Maureen Dowd ruminations on the hidden furies driving Oedipus Prez.

Omit redundant adverbs “just” and “and just.” “Son’s taking office”: possessive before gerund

But the father-son connection is nothing compared to husband-wife. The relationship between a father and an adult son is psychological and abstract; the connection between husband and wife, concrete and quotidian. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife. George Bush, pere, didn't move back into the White House in January 2001.

Le Krauthammer is out of his depth here. He has not read enough of “Dear Abbey” or sat in the beauty parlor long enough with a bunch of Freudian housewives who have stuff like psychological truths about father-son-husband-wife relationships down cold. They would tell Krauthammer that the Oedipal complex precedes and gives rise to marital difficulties. Marriages act out parent-child problems. The Oedipal complex is part of a man’s mental furniture lodged in the reptilian brain.

Besides being a babe in the woods on psychology, Krauthammer’s also wrong about commas around “pere.” It’s a restrictive appositive that identifies which Bush Le K refers to: no commas. I don’t know if those Bible guys put in the comma after “mother.” They get a pass but not Krauthammer: he must omit the comma because it splits a compound verb.

Which is why Hillary's problem goes beyond discomfort with dynastic succession. It's deep unease about a shared presidency. Forget about Bill, the bad boy. The problem is William Jefferson Clinton, former president of the United States, commander in chief of the armed forces, George Washington's representative on Earth.

The “which” pronoun presents a reference problem. To what does it refer? A writer should not expect a reader to plow up through a preceding paragraph to eke out an antecedent that is not there. Why doesn’t’ Krautzhammer make it easy on himself and the reader by deleting “Which is why”?

We have never had an ex-president move back into the White House. When in 1992 Bill Clinton promised "two for the price of one," it was taken as a slightly hyperbolic promotion of the role of first lady. This time we would literally be getting two presidents.

Dump passive verb: “people took it….” Dump redundant adverb “literally.”

Any ex-president is a presence in his own right. His stature, unlike, say, Hillary's during Bill's presidency, is independent of his spouse. From Day One of Hillary's inauguration, Bill will have had more experience than she at everything she touches. His influence on her presidency would necessarily be immeasurably greater than that of any father on any son.

The adverbs are redundant. Mr. Krauthammer’s conclusion about influence sinks in Oedipal murk to a pit of psychological mystery. He lacks the bona fides to plumb it.

Americans did not like the idea of a co-presidency when, at the 1980 Republican convention, Ronald Reagan briefly considered sharing the office with former president Gerald Ford. (Ford would have been vice president with independent powers.) And they won't like this co-presidency, particularly because the Clinton partnership involves two characters caught in the dynamic of a strained, strange marriage.

The modifiers “briefly,” “particularly,” and “strained” are redundant. The comma after “co-presidency is redundant: it cuts off a trailing restrictive adverbial clause.

The cloud hovering over a Hillary presidency is not Bill padding around the White House in robe and slippers flipping thongs. It's President Clinton, in suit and tie, simply present in the White House when any decision is made. The degree of his involvement in that decision will inevitably become an issue. Do Americans really want a historically unique two-headed presidency constantly buffeted by the dynamics of a highly dysfunctional marriage?

“Bill’s padding”: possessive before the gerund “Simply” is a redundant adverb. “Is made” is a passive verb that disguises the actor: “When Hillary makes a decision...” Using the redundant adverb “really” makes Mr. Krautzhammer sound like a California Valley Girl. “Historically” doesn’t help him either.” Nor does “constantly.” “Highly” deserves a coup de grace—both for the redundant adverb and for Mr. Krauthammer.

Only one solution comes to mind. Argentine-U.S. relations are quite rocky these days. The posting of a charming and dynamic ex-president to the Kirchner court in Buenos Aires might do those relations a world of good. The Romans had a fine appreciation for the art of exile. This might be an excellent occasion for us to start cultivating it.

Mr. Krautzhammer racks up a Parthian redundant adverb:”quite.” Nor can he leave us without another pronoun sans antecedent. Does “this” mean “This posting”?


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