Damn damn damn

Ariel Sharon just had a major stroke. Power transferred to Vice Premier Olmert; what this means for the coming elections, I have no idea.

This scares me. Sharon had become the person with enough moral weight to push forward a real plan for the future. And he seemed to have one. I don’t believe that any of the other people in this party could hold it together enough to really make things work – to win a strong plurality and push forward an actual something that could lead to peace. I feel like it’s 1995 again, when Rabin was assassinated and we all suddenly realized that our hopes were in the hands of a single all-too-mortal person. I just never thought I would be thinking that about Sharon.

God help him, and help us all.

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Published in: on January 4, 2006 at 14:45  Comments (10)  
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10 Comments

  1. I thought of you when I read the story, wondering what you would think. Now, I know.

  2. I thought of you when I read the story, wondering what you would think. Now, I know.

  3. I felt exactly same when I heard the story.

  4. I felt exactly same when I heard the story.

  5. amen

  6. amen

  7. I really do not know too much about the relative situations to make any sort of informed commentary, but this news was making me think about the relative merits of a situation like the one in Israel (and probably most countries for that matter) versus something more like America: in many places groups come and go, shift form, fragment and rematerialize (particularly when they have a parliamentary system) and there are charismatic leaders that band people together. In America our politics have developed into a more (but not completely so) institutional based form: it is the Democrats versus the Republicans. A charismatic leader or two is important, but they rarely dramatically shift the field of possibilities, just tweak it this direction or that.
    Recently I have been not so happy with our two-party, nobody-else-can-break-in system, but it does have one thing going for it: stability. If someone assassinated Bush or he died of a heart-attack or something, I doubt much would ultimately change except the current administration getting a lot of support. The administration would probably follow mostly the policies, have mostly the same supporters, etc. I think this would have been true for Clinton and most past presidents too, at least within this century (I do not know enough to say, but I suspect Truman and Ford could be good examples of this, following Roosevelt and Nixon). But in this situation it seems that the loss of one man could throw the whole thrust of the power group off and possibly break it up. To a greater extent, I think, a man not an institution is the linch pin.
    Thoughts?

  8. I really do not know too much about the relative situations to make any sort of informed commentary, but this news was making me think about the relative merits of a situation like the one in Israel (and probably most countries for that matter) versus something more like America: in many places groups come and go, shift form, fragment and rematerialize (particularly when they have a parliamentary system) and there are charismatic leaders that band people together. In America our politics have developed into a more (but not completely so) institutional based form: it is the Democrats versus the Republicans. A charismatic leader or two is important, but they rarely dramatically shift the field of possibilities, just tweak it this direction or that.
    Recently I have been not so happy with our two-party, nobody-else-can-break-in system, but it does have one thing going for it: stability. If someone assassinated Bush or he died of a heart-attack or something, I doubt much would ultimately change except the current administration getting a lot of support. The administration would probably follow mostly the policies, have mostly the same supporters, etc. I think this would have been true for Clinton and most past presidents too, at least within this century (I do not know enough to say, but I suspect Truman and Ford could be good examples of this, following Roosevelt and Nixon). But in this situation it seems that the loss of one man could throw the whole thrust of the power group off and possibly break it up. To a greater extent, I think, a man not an institution is the linch pin.
    Thoughts?

  9. I tend to think of it in terms of thermal equilibria. The US is close to a stable equilibrium, like a ball at the bottom of a valley; small perturbations have small effects. Which means that no individual can make a large impact unless they can find a way to command large forces. Israel is close to an unstable equilibrium, like a ball at the top of a mountain; even a very small perturbation can easily amplify to a huge effect. It’s a situation that makes individual leaders much more important, and at the same time means that it’s nearly impossible to stay on one path for any length of time: something or other will screw you up.
    The political systems to some extent mirror this. The US’ two-party system is enforced by the nature of our election laws (winner-take-all voting, direct balloting for the President, etc) but the result is that both parties are effectively coalitions of often disparate forces. But the permanency of the coalitions gives us long-term stability, and (at least when races between the parties are contested) forces moderation, both of which I’d say are good in a country of this size. In Israel the laws lead to a multiparty Parliament, which means that the coalitions are a bit less stable over time; in practice, this means that the more extreme wings always have a bit more leverage (since just a few votes belonging to a party with no permanent coalition affiliation can make them dealmakers) except in cases (like the present) where there is enormous popular support for a moderate movement.
    So yes, I agree with you. These are two pretty different political configurations. I suspect that Israel would benefit in the long term from the stability of a two-party system, but until the country converges on a better political equilibrium something like that really won’t be possible. The emergence of a large moderate movement may change that, though.

  10. I tend to think of it in terms of thermal equilibria. The US is close to a stable equilibrium, like a ball at the bottom of a valley; small perturbations have small effects. Which means that no individual can make a large impact unless they can find a way to command large forces. Israel is close to an unstable equilibrium, like a ball at the top of a mountain; even a very small perturbation can easily amplify to a huge effect. It’s a situation that makes individual leaders much more important, and at the same time means that it’s nearly impossible to stay on one path for any length of time: something or other will screw you up.
    The political systems to some extent mirror this. The US’ two-party system is enforced by the nature of our election laws (winner-take-all voting, direct balloting for the President, etc) but the result is that both parties are effectively coalitions of often disparate forces. But the permanency of the coalitions gives us long-term stability, and (at least when races between the parties are contested) forces moderation, both of which I’d say are good in a country of this size. In Israel the laws lead to a multiparty Parliament, which means that the coalitions are a bit less stable over time; in practice, this means that the more extreme wings always have a bit more leverage (since just a few votes belonging to a party with no permanent coalition affiliation can make them dealmakers) except in cases (like the present) where there is enormous popular support for a moderate movement.
    So yes, I agree with you. These are two pretty different political configurations. I suspect that Israel would benefit in the long term from the stability of a two-party system, but until the country converges on a better political equilibrium something like that really won’t be possible. The emergence of a large moderate movement may change that, though.


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