Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Politics of Destruction

Tom Friedman actually thinks right wing vitriol against Obama is preparing the ground for another presidential assassination. He has to go to Israel (a right-wing fanatic killed Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995) for his example, however, since neither of the Kennedy brothers' assassins were right-wing, and no right-winger shot at Gerald Ford or Ronald Reagan.

Friedman though is correct about the intemperate hounding of every president since Bush 41—Clinton, Bush 43, and now Obama. Friedman blames the excess of money in politics; the gerrymandering of political districts, making them permanently Republican or Democratic and erasing the political middle; a 24/7 cable news cycle that means daily politics is about tactics, not strategy; a blogosphere that coarsens our debates to a whole new level, empowering anonymous slanderers and liars, and; most of all, a permanent presidential campaign giving us “all partisanship, all the time.”

Not surprisingly, New York Timesman Friedman completely ignores the media’s central role in going after Bush 43, as well as the degree to which media partisanship in favor of Clinton during the impeachment process and now with Obama triggers right-wing hostility. Conservatives were happier when the national media made some effort to be even-handed, even if after Watergate, that meant going after both parties. Since Clinton’s impeachment, the media's enemies are “all Republicans, all the time.”

Clinton and the media viewed the GOP’s use of the Monica Lewinsky scandal as an extra-constitutional, illegitimate effort to oust Clinton before his term was up. Clinton needed the united support of his party and the media’s strong backing to hang on. He moved his policy program leftward to keep every Democratic vote, and with the media’s cooperation, demonized Newt Gingrich and Kenneth Starr to provide Democrats the enemy to unite against. In 1996, Clinton worked with Gingrich and Republicans. From 1998 onward with the media’s help, Washington turned deeply partisan.

Bush 43 promised a different atmosphere, but since Gore received more popular votes that Bush in 2000, it was easy for Democrats and the media to view Bush as illegitimate. Then came Iraq, a war that cast aside the “lesson of Vietnam” so important in the lives of leading Democrats and media figures. The unchecked hostility Bush faced from Democrats and the media drove him into the arms of his extremists, the same way impeachment had pushed Clinton and the Democratic left together. Bush attempted, ever less successfully, to govern with a small Republican majority, tightly united against those trying to undermine his foreign policy.

Obama really had a chance for a fresh start. He could have been the bi-partisan, post-partisan president we need. But his “Chicago mafia” believe they are right, Republicans are wrong, they have the power, and if they don’t use their power to change America, they are fools. So Obama governs Bush’s way, working to hold his Democrats together, which means keeping his left wing happy, and uniting Democrats against media-demonized (hate filled) Republicans.

As Friedman says, “Our leaders, even the president, can no longer utter the word ‘we’ with a straight face. There is no more ‘we’ in American politics.” How unfortunate.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Wooing the World

Jennifer Rubin, in Commentary, reacts to Obama’s UN address:
Obama plainly embodies [the] mindset of liberal elites. America is flawed. America has no distinct message or values, and its interests are entitled to no more weight than Belgium’s or Cuba’s. It’s wrongheaded to assert our national interests. We should be seeking consensus and righting the great wrongs that America has done to other nations—both its stinginess in redistributing wealth and its failure to cater to other nations’ geopolitical and psychological concerns. Russia needs reassuring. The Arabs need validation. And it’s the president’s job to lower America’s profile so as to not incur the wrath of hostile powers.

Rubin, to me, provides a fair characterization of Obama’s views, but omits some perspective. Obama sees himself astride the divide between America and the rest of the world, 80% “of color.” He’s the U.S. president. He won the election. He doesn’t have to win Americans over. Furthermore, we are on top. It’s the others—Russians, Arabs, Iranians, Third Worlders—who need wooing. Fellow Americans, just let Obama do his wooing job. He knows what he’s up to.

Rubin misses the method to Obama’s madness. Obama will win friends alienated by Bush’s intervention in Iraq. But it is madness to think that thugs like Russia’s Putin, Iran’s Ahmadinejad, or the leaders of Hamas are going to be won over by Obama sweet talk. If anything, they are more responsive to signs that Obama has a spine of steel. You can speak softly if you are willing to use a big stick. Is Obama willing (see Afghanistan)?

Also, as Rubin says, Obama maybe should pay more attention to the millions of Americans alienated by the president’s pandering to foreign prejudices about our country. Obama did win 53% of the popular vote. But many of those who voted for Obama, especially independents, went for someone who promised economic change. They may not like seeing America bowing to foreign despots [picture; click to enlarge].

Monday, September 28, 2009

Obama: the Policy President

David Broder, the conventionally liberal senior political commentator at the Washington Post, has a column offering real insight into how the Obama administration may work. Broder credits his conclusions to an article by William Schambra [picture], director of the Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal. According to Schambra, the "sheer ambition" of Obama's legislative agenda and his centralizing authority under a strong White House staff replete with "czars" are evidence "Obama is emphatically a 'policy approach' president.”

For Obama, governing means formulating comprehensive policies that give rational form to large social systems. Long-term, systemic problems such as health care, education, and the environment cannot be solved in small pieces. They must be swallowed whole.

Schambra says this approach began with late 19th-early 20th century progressives who were battling classic interest-group forces. Progressives believed they could apply the new social sciences wisdom to the art of government, and use facts to overcome the ideologies of narrow constituencies. There’s one true path, and the progressives would find it for us.

Obama—a highly intelligent elite university product—isn’t the first president to subscribe to this approach. Jimmy Carter, and especially Bill Clinton, attempted to govern this way. But Obama has made it even more explicit, regularly proclaiming his determination to rely on rational analysis, rather than narrow decisions.

"In one policy area after another," Schambra writes, "from transportation to science, urban policy to auto policy, Obama's formulation is virtually identical: Selfishness or ideological rigidity has led us to look at the problem in isolated pieces. [We must instead] take the long systemic view; and when we finally formulate a uniform national policy supported by empirical and objective data rather than shallow, insular opinion, we will arrive at solutions that are not only more effective but less costly as well."

Broder shows how Obama’s policy approach on energy and health care ran head-on into the politically motivated agendas of his congressional allies, causing Broder to conclude, “Democracy and representative government are a lot messier than the progressives and . . . Obama, want to admit. No wonder they are . . . frustrated.”

To me, it’s a joy to have Broder realize how the Obama group’s supposed monopoly of good planning, of facts, of the truth, might fall before the popular will, as expressed through their democratic representatives.

Government of the people.

Democratic Socialism versus Growth

Germany now has a center-right government. The pro-business Free Democratic Party headed by Guido Westerwelle gained real power; it won big in yesterday’s election and is Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition partner-to-be [click to enlarge Westerwelle-Merkel photo and tell us, “Why is this woman laughing?”].

The Socialists (SPD) drop to a historic low after leading or being in Germany’s ruling government for the past 11 years. Last year, Socialists lost in Italy, and two years ago, France’s Sarkozy defeated lionized Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal for president, thereby prolonging conservative rule over that country. Under David Cameron, Britain is expected to go Conservative next year, which will mean Socialists out of power in every major European social democracy. What’s happened?

It’s not as if we’ve reached, as Malte Lehming, an editor at Berlin’s Tagespiegel, suggests, “the end of socialism in Europe.” Western Europe is heavily invested in the welfare state—state supported industries, state housing, heavily subsidized public transit, nationalized health, generous unemployment benefits, nanny state restrictions—and none of Europe’s new governments will take these government blessings away. But Europe’s voters do long for economies that grow faster, and generate jobs. A very large public sector means high taxes, high unemployment, and low growth. Europe wants better.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The G-8 is dead. Long live the G-20.

We can no longer meet the challenges of the 21st century economy with 20th century approaches.

--Barack Obama

With those words, Obama helped bury the G-8 group of developed nations, which did increasingly look like a relic from an earlier era. (This transformation seemed underway when the G-20 had its last summit). The G-8 was seven (largely) white nations, plus Japan. The G-20 includes China, India, Brazil, and eight other non-European nations.

The G-20, not perfect, nevertheless provides a potential forum for real action on major foreign policy problems, at least until we get the UN Security Council right.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Monopoly on Wisdom

We have a country ruled by our wisest. For many, that’s a country right side up. In the 5th century B.C., Athens was a democracy, a polity offensive to the city’s oligarchy, including the philosopher Plato [see bust]. Plato instead favored minority rule, but not by the wealthy, rather by an educated elite that foreswore the pursuit of money. Much like the ideals of the current anti-business, pro-government, Democratic Party elite.

When people believe one class is more fit to rule than others, in my opinion they move us away from democracy and toward meritocracy, from democratic Athens to Plato’s republic. And today, the educated and articulate Obama reigns, the modern version of Plato’s philosopher king.

Janet Daley, writing in the Telegraph (U.K.), gets at why Obama has such a hold over our national elite:
Exceptionally articulate politicians begin with a great electoral advantage because the opinion-forming class is in love with words: to adapt WH Auden, it

worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives.

As Wall Street Journal columnist William McGurn writes,
liberal[s assume] they have a monopoly on brain power. . . anyone who dissents, almost by definition, has to be stupid . . . Obama inadvertently encourages [this view] when he [tells] his town halls. . . he's received a letter from a woman upset with his plans for health care. "She said, 'I don't want government-run health care. I don't want you meddling in the private market place. And keep your hands off my Medicare.'" Get it? The applause tells us the audience does: How dumb can this woman be?

Fouad Ajami, the committed Johns Hopkins supporter of Middle East democracy, has seen in the health care debate the same elite arrogance that drew McGurn’s attention:
So we are to have a French health-care system without a French tradition of political protest. It is odd that American liberalism, in a veritable state of insurrection during the Bush presidency, now seeks political quiescence. . .A political class, and a media elite, that glamorized the protest against the Iraq war, that branded the Bush presidency as a reign of usurpation, now wishes to be done with the tumult of political debate. President Barack Obama himself, the community organizer par excellence, is full of lament that the "loudest voices" are running away with the national debate. Liberalism in righteous opposition, liberalism in power: The rules have changed.

Going back over three decades, we have, from liberal Stanford economist Victor Fuchs’ 1976 article "From Bismarck to Woodcock: The 'Irrational' Pursuit of National Health Insurance," an indication of why health care may be so central to those who believe in government control of our country’s life:

one of the most effective ways of increasing allegiance to the state is through national health insurance. We live at a time when many of the traditional symbols and institutions that held a nation together have been weakened and fallen into disrepute. A more sophisticated public requires more sophisticated symbols, and national health insurance may fit that role particularly well.

The health industry isn’t the whole economy, but it’s one-sixth, an important beginning.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Obama’s UN Speech

I have some comments, in italics, on President Obama’s UN speech yesterday. My comments immediately follow Obama’s direct quotes.

I am well aware of the expectations that accompany my presidency around the world. These expectations are not about me. . .

But in truth, he believes it’s all about him.

I took office at a time when many around the world had come to view America with skepticism and distrust. . .America has acted unilaterally, without regard for the interests of others. . .

After the Bush darkness, the Obama light.

more than at any point in human history - the interests of nations and peoples are shared.

“We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

I have carried this message from London to Ankara; from Port of Spain to Moscow; from Accra to Cairo. . . Speeches alone will not solve our problems - . . .

But my speeches really do help solve problems.

The people of the world want change. They will not long tolerate those who are on the wrong side of history.

The people move governments, and I move people.

No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold. The traditional division between nations of the south and north makes no sense in an interconnected world. Nor do alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long gone Cold War.

We are now beyond alliances, beyond the “balance of power” politics that generates alliances, and have reached toward “one world.”

Together, we must build new coalitions that bridge old divides - coalitions of different faiths and creeds; of north and south, east and west; black, white, and brown.

(Paraphrasing Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech,) we will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro civil rights song, “Black and white together! Black and white together!”

Today, I put forward four pillars that are fundamental to the future that we want for our children: non-proliferation and disarmament; the promotion of peace and security; the preservation of our planet; and a global economy that advances opportunity for all people.

Yet again, Obama’s “pillars”.

determined to act boldly and collectively on behalf of justice . . .

we will support honest police and independent judges. . .

transformative change can be forged by those who choose the side of justice.

Though “justice” wasn’t one of his “four pillars,” it remains a key concern of former law professor Obama, who also believes terrorism is a police problem good courts could handle.

democracy and human rights are essential to achieving each of the goals that I have discussed today. Because governments of the people and by the people are more likely to act in the broader interests of their own people, rather than the narrow interest of those in power

no individual should be forced to accept the tyranny of their own government.

A ringing endorsement of democracy, except that. . .

Democracy cannot be imposed on any nation from the outside.

One of the “Panchsheel”, the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” is “non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.” Given Obama’s post-alliance, one world views, it seems as if Obama wants to bring back and put in place the 1950s-1970s nonaligned movement foreign policy, essentially folding the First and Second World into the Third, or now dominant “One World”. The “Second World,” that of Communism, has disappeared, and Obama, as U.S. President, leads the old “First World.” So Obama may believe he can make “One World” happen.

we can be a generation that . . . finally gives meaning to the promise embedded in the name given to this institution: the United Nations.

We have ... re-engaged the United Nations. We have paid our bills. We have joined the Human Rights Council. . . And we address our priorities here, in this institution . . . through the Security Council meeting that I will chair tomorrow

imperfections are not a reason to walk away from this institution . . . The United Nations . . . can be indispensable in advancing the interests of the people we serve.

In his speech, Obama says, “I am not naïve.” But as we have said at length in this blog, the UN in its current format doesn’t work. The General Assembly is just a hall for speeches, and the Security Council doesn’t have the membership needed to take action. One hopes Obama is merely paying lip service to the idea of using the UN to achieve peace. The G-20 will work better.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

You Saw It Here, First

August 30:

Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune, wrote:
amid talk of a second Great Depression, Obama was often compared to Franklin D. Roosevelt. But by the time FDR took office, the economy had been in free fall for more than three years, creating mass desperation.

July 11:

I wrote that while Bush was in danger of becoming Herbert Hoover to Obama’s FDR,
Here’s the big factual difference. . . The Great Depression clobbered Hoover in his 7th month in office (October 1929), and he lived with it for the next 41.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Obama Struggles with Afghanistan

the American left since the Vietnam years has not wanted to see America victorious in war. They think it makes us look chauvinistic and proud about our nation when we should be, as Obama often has been, apologetic for its sins.

--Michael Barone

I think the left is unambiguously anti-military. But most of all, the left doesn’t want Afghanistan to be Obama’s Vietnam, and bring him down the way Vietnam brought down the last great Democratic domestic policy reformer, Lyndon Johnson. The left wants out now, before things in Afghanistan get any worse.

Les Gelb’s piece in the Wall Street Journal tells us how serious the Afghanistan war issue has become within Obama’s administration. Gelb, the former head of the Council on Foreign Relations, is the ultimate foreign policy insider. What he writes is what people, probably especially Richard Holbrooke, the frustrated Secretary of State wannabe [picture, click to enlarge] in charge of Obama’s Afghanistan policy, are telling the President. Read Gelb with interest.

Here’s what Gelb (Holbrooke) says:

➢ I'm lost on . . . Obama's Afghanistan policy. . . eight months ago, Mr. Obama pledged to "defeat" al Qaeda in Afghanistan by transforming that country's political and economic infrastructure, training Afghan forces and adding 21,000 U.S. forces for starters. He proclaimed Afghanistan's strategic centrality to prevent Muslim extremism from taking over Pakistan. . .And a mere three weeks ago, he punctuated his commitments by proclaiming that Afghanistan is a "war of necessity," not one of choice.

➢ [Yet now] Obama [says,] "I'm going to take a very deliberate process . . . one of the things that I'm absolutely clear about is you have to get the strategy right and then make a determination about resources." . . Are we now to understand that he made all those previous declarations and decisions without a strategy he was committed to?

➢ Obama can't simply walk away from the war. A lot of Democrats don't seem to fathom this. At a minimum, the president has got to give Afghan allies a fighting chance to hold their own and prepare the ground to blunt the Taliban and al Qaeda. That will take time.

➢ The U.S. now faces many very serious troubles abroad. These were all born before the Obama presidency. The president's failure in Afghanistan would be America's failure, and we cannot allow this to happen. Defeat for America in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be avoided only if Democrats acknowledge that the Afghans need major help . . .

As I have written, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are central to American foreign policy today. Afghanistan is least important of the three. But Afghanistan sits between the two nuclear/near-nuclear Islamic powder kegs, we are there, and we need to stay, help, and do well. Republicans should support centerist Democrat efforts to help Afghanistan, and combat the left's push to get out.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Hating Half America

The Emmys were on last night. John Stewart, the fake news broadcaster, won one for writing. They also had a clip of Stewart saying,

[Michelle Obama] must prove she loves America, as opposed to Republicans, who everyone knows love America. They just hate half the people living in it
Stewart said this sometime ago, but CBS repeating the words last night updates the comment to today. I think most of Stewart’s audience shares his perspective—Republicans hate half America. And if Republicans hate me, well, I can hate back. And I darn well better hate back!

Look at this Gallup Poll chart on Obama’s job approval (above). Draw a line below “conservative Democrat,” and notice how that line divides America. The nation is two-thirds non-Hispanic white. Add white Democrats to the non-white, Hispanic portion of our population showing at the top of chart, and you have the “half” Stewart probably believes Republicans “hate.” It’s an oversimplification, but so is much of politics.

Of course, as a group, Republicans don’t hate non-whites. White independents and Republicans, in fact, are troubled by the mostly white national elite. This elite thinks that because Republicans are racist, their Democrats are the only party able to represent non-whites. This elite thinking works, because non-whites see only limited evidence Republicans and conservatives care about them.

So Stewart gets away with preaching race-based hatred. And he will continue to do so, as long as Republicans fail to compete effectively for Hispanic and Asian-American votes.