Why a promise doesn't have to be a suicide pact.

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June 23 2008 10:58 AM

Who Is the Donna Reed of This Election?

Why a promise doesn't have to be a suicide pact.

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Morty Causa wanted to distinguish among different kinds of promises—"This was not a death-bed promise. … A promise doesn't have to be a suicide pact"—and had a rather splendid line about "moral tinhorns [who] insist on playing one-upmanship."

We don't think Thrasymachus is the first person to come up with "Barackiavellian"—plenty of chances to look for it here in Slate's new book of Obamamania!—but he did a great job on it:

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Adj. Displaying or implying any willingness, on the part of Senator Obama, to engage in the kind of ruthless, unscrupulous, deceptive political conduct that we expect from almost everyone else seeking national office, but which Obama is ostensibly supposed to be running against.

Then he discussed Machiavelli at some length with artandsoul—an argument that may be unique in bulletin board history because both posters actually seem to have read and even studied The Prince. Arguing from facts and knowledge? Whatever next?—MR ...4 p.m. GMT

Wednesday, June 18,  2008

Where do Slate readers stand on obituaries? As of today, in two camps, snarling across the Potomac at each other about Tim Russert. One tendency dislikes the way the magazine's admittedly irreverent tone will not be toned down for a death, and the fact that Slate will highlight—in "Recycled"—older and often deeply uncomplimentary articles on the dead person. Recently this happened with Sydney Pollack—an archived and rather grumpy "Assessment" was paired with a more respectful "Obit," and some readers were unimpressed. When the inventor of Dungeons & Dragons, Gary Gygax, died, and Slate published an unfavorable commentary, we had to devote a whole "Fraywatch," to reader reaction ("don't mess with the game people" we concluded). But then, there's another whole army of readers who say that that's what they come to Slate for—a contrarian view, a refreshing and unsentimental look at what's happening. That's not how the other side describes it, of course.

So, to Tim Russert. First there was a "Recycled" item linking to past articles on him: Several readers said how inappropriate they found that. Then, Jack Shafer wrote a "Press Box" about the eulogies on Tim Russert. Too much, he said. Readers responded—boy did they respond.  More than 200 posts on the topic, proving at the very least that Russert's death touched a nerve—though also proving the second rule of Fray responses: Get featured on the MSN home page and a lot of non-Slate regulars will read the article, and comment.

A few careful readers appreciated the observation made by Right By Choice: "I didn't see an unkind word in the whole article about Russert himself"—but for most people this was neither noticed nor relevant. More to the point was Lucabrasi's phrase "Canonization, backlash, backlash-backlash," which summed up the situation so well that we're using it to define the responses.

Canonization: An outside observer (like your foreign Fray Editor) might be surprised by the number of readers saying how much they identified with Russert—"My entire family reacted to Tim's death as though we had lost a member of our family" as JoAnn put it, a thought repeated by many others. He was "someone of blue collar roots who used his position as the moderator of Meet the Press to engage in a dialog with prominent politicians and get straight answers for mainstream America" according to Slate1234.

There were tributes from those likeRithorn, who admits to "Potomac fever" and says "We out here in the hinterland came to look forward to his observations and commentary." JTully was firm: "I am the common man ... [the coverage] was for all of us, I frankly, didn't miss a minute of it … Tim Russert was fair … brilliant, and yet a common man from a common background." Many, like AberdeenJessica, wanted to mention their own working-class roots while praising "his ability to keep a foot proudly in two worlds."