"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."
- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)
"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."
- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"
Saturday, 6 December 2003
"It's not just the left that's angry any longer..."
The Conservative Case Against George W. Bush
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. In the December 1, 2003 issue of The American Conservative he has a few things to say. In fact, he gets the cover story.
A word about the magazine. The American Conservative was started last year by Pat Buchanan. These guys want their conservative movement back, and they want their Republican Party back. And they're angry too. Very angry.
As Buchanan said last year, "The conservative movement has been hijacked and turned into a globalist, interventionist, open borders ideology, which is not the conservative movement I grew up with." (The New York Times, September 8, 2002)
Doug Bandow concludes:"George W. Bush enjoys neither royal nor religious status that would place him beyond criticism. Whether or not he is a real conservative, he is no friend of limited, constitutional government. And for that the American people should be very, very angry."
You can read the whole thing at the link, but here are some interesting excerpts:
Some liberals admit that they hate President George W. Bush. Many conservatives say they are appalled at this phenomenon. Indeed, some of them believe any criticism of the president to be akin to treason. So much for the political tone in Washington.
American politics have never been for the faint-hearted.
And to prove that point he reviews some history: George Washington taking abuse, the vitriolic John Adams and Thomas Jefferson campaigns, the Republicans excoriating Truman, the Democrats Goldwater - all that stuff. And he comments on how many Republicans were eager to claim Bill Clinton was in fact a drug-dealing murderer whose wife killed family friend Vincent Foster. I have a friend who argues that position to me repeatedly. And Bandow, of course, reviews the current "hatred" of Bush - Jonathan Chait in the New Republic saying, "You decide Bush is a dullard lacking any moral constraints in his pursuit of partisan gain, loyal to no principle save the comfort of the very rich, unburdened by any thoughtful consideration of the national interest, and a man who, on those occasions when he actually does make a correct decision, does so almost by accident."
And Bandow comments on the response from the right - screams that Bush is wonderful, liberals are irrational, and the whole thing is bad for America. He says these are rather hilarious arguments coming from conservatives. For instance, New York Times columnist David Brooks calls the phenomenon of the Bush haters a "core threat to democracy." Yet, as Brooks acknowledges, the Clinton years were also well-populated with haters. Brooks now regrets having not spoken out more clearly against the latter. Better late than never, perhaps...
I never understood why conservatives invested so much emotion in Clinton. He was a charming and bright but enormously flawed, highly ambitious man of few principles. That warranted criticism, not hatred. ... Similarly, though George W. Bush is very different from Bill Clinton, hatred makes no sense. But anger is appropriate.
Much of the liberal case against President Bush is barely short of silly. His election was not illegitimate. Whether or not the candidate with the most votes should win, that's not what the U.S. Constitution says. Blame the Founders, not George W. Bush.
Complaints about Bush's fabled inarticulateness and privileged background are superficial. More worrisome are his partisan focus, demand for personal loyalty, and tendency to keep score, but these are hardly characteristics warranting hatred.
The charge that he's a crazy right-winger is beyond silly. Other than tax cuts--which have benefited the rich only because the rich paid, and still pay, most of the taxes--virtually nothing of conservative substance has happened. Government is more expansive and expensive than ever before.
Indeed. So just what is the problem, Doug?
Here he lays it out (my emphases):
First, George W. Bush, despite laudable personal and family characteristics, is remarkably incurious and ill read. Gut instincts can carry even a gifted politician only so far. And a lack of knowledge leaves him vulnerable to simplistic remedies to complex problems, especially when it comes to turning America into the globe's governess.
Second, despite occasional exceptions, the Bush administration, backed by the Republican-controlled Congress, has been promoting larger government at almost every turn. Its spending policies have been irresponsible, and its trade strategies have been destructive. The president has been quite willing to sell out the national interest for perceived political gain, whether the votes sought are from seniors or farmers. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 encouraged the administration to push into law civil-liberties restrictions that should worry anyone, whether they are wielded by a Bush or a Clinton administration.
The president and his aides have given imperiousness new meaning. Officials are apparently incapable of acknowledging that their pre-war assertions about Iraq's WMD capabilities were incorrect; indeed, they resent that the president is being questioned about his administration's claims before the war. They are unwilling to accept a role for Congress in deciding how much aid money to spend.
Some of Bush's supporters have been even worse, charging critics with a lack of patriotism. Not to genuflect at the president's every decision is treason. In two decades of criticizing liberal politicians and positions, I have rarely endured the vitriol that was routinely spewed by conservatives when I argued against war with Iraq over the last year. Conservative papers stopped running my column; conservative Web sites removed it from their archives. That was their right, of course, but they demonstrated that it was not just the Clintons who were fair-weather friends.
Third, President George W. Bush has made Woodrow Wilson the guiding spirit of Republican foreign policy. A candidate who criticized nation building is now pursuing global social engineering. The representative of a party that once criticized foreign aid is now pushing lavish U.S. social spending abroad, demanding that it be a gift rather than a loan.
And the administration has advanced a doctrine of pre-emption that encourages war for allegedly humanitarian ends. Attempting to justify the Iraqi war retrospectively by pointing to Saddam Hussein's manifold crimes, the president apparently believes he may attack any nation to advance human rights. Ironically, the Bush administration has adopted as its policy the question posed by then UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright to then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell: what's the use of having this fine military you keep talking about if we don't use it?
The negative practical consequences of this policy are all too evident. Ugly foreign governments from Iran to North Korea have an incentive to arm themselves, quickly, with WMD to deter a U.S. preventive assault. Iraq has become a magnet for terrorist attacks while becoming a long-term dependent under U.S. military occupation. Anger towards--indeed, hatred of--Washington is likely to continue growing, even in once friendly nations. It will be difficult to maintain an imperial foreign policy with a volunteer military.
David Brooks has some comments in the Saturday New York Times warning Republicans about the city, where the Republicans will have their convention next September. Amusing.
New York is not a place where Republicans can feel at home. New York has Central Park, which is a large pastoral area without a single putting green. It is a city with nearly eight million people, none of whom own riding mowers.
New Yorkers suffer from liberal anhedonia, which is the inability to derive pleasure from grossly oversized pieces of machinery. So when a Republican starts a perfectly normal conversation about the glories of his powerboat, snowmobile, combine or hemi, the liberal is likely to screech out something about the ozone layer.
New York is a city of strange rituals. The people live in these vertical gated communities they call apartment buildings, but they don't seem to have normal family structures. If a Martian landed in a Manhattan playground, he would conclude that human beings start out small and white, and grow up to become middle-aged Jamaican women. In Manhattan, when an oldest child turns 12, entire families disappear overnight.
His advice to the delegates:
They'll be subjected to long harangues that rely heavily on the words "multilateral," "Kyoto" and "John Ashcroft." They'll get condescending looks when they go into a deli and order a strawberry and chocolate chip bagel with pineapple cream cheese -- a perfectly acceptable bagel option in most suburbs. They will na?vely pick up The Village Voice, thinking it contains small-town news. When the Utah delegation pauses to say grace before dinner at Elaine's, the cultural dissonance will be so great it will be measurable on the Richter scale.
We need to tell prospective G.O.P. delegates what sort of clothing they cannot wear in New York: pastels, pleated pants, khakis, Docksiders and tassels. If a Republican was seen walking down Riverside Drive wearing his normal outfit -- tasseled loafers, no socks, green pants, a festive plaid sports jacket and a faded Hawaiian Tommy Bahama shirt -- some New Yorker would come up and ask him if he could bring Paris Hilton out to his home for a reality series.
We also need to tell them what they will need to blend in: dark, rumpled clothing, frayed shopping bags from the Strand, logo-less sweatshirts, Yasir Arafat-style facial hair and those black rectangular glasses that make everybody look like a Dutch architect.
We're going to have to give them phrases they can use in case they are called upon to make elevator small talk. We have to give them examples of sentiments they should avoid ("You're Jewish? Oh, I love your Ariel Sharon!"), and examples of phrases they should use ("Nice weather we're having. Too bad about the climate of McCarthyism settling over the land.")
The rest generally makes fun of liberals. I find it a little lame, but Brooks gets off a good phrase here and there.
For further comments on anhedonia - the inability to feel pleasure or happiness, a psychological condition characterized by inability to experience pleasure in acts which normally produce it - see The Albert Camus - Woody Allen connection...
You can read all of the Brooks thing here: Going Native for 2004 David Brooks, The New York Times, December 6, 2003
Notes from an indolent, or unlucky in some self-fulfilling way, victim of our country's economic fecundity...
A change of topic: Comments on Macroeconomics
David Ignatius in this morning's Washington Post writes about the economic news of the day - no, not that the job growth posted today was one third of what was expected. That's a bummer, yes. He writes about exchange rate changes.
Something ominous is happening when the United States reports its biggest surge in productivity in twenty years, as it did Wednesday, and yet the dollar plunges to an all-time low against the euro.
The dollar is sinking these days on good news and bad, and the explanation is pretty simple: Investors around the world are worried that the Bush administration's policies are eroding the value of the U.S. currency. So they're rushing to unload greenbacks, in what could soon become a full-blown financial crisis.
"The dollar crisis is the story," warns James Harmon, an investment banker who headed the Export-Import Bank during the Clinton administration. "A lot of smart money has moved out of the dollar in the last six months," he explains. "Now the latecomers are rushing to sell, and that's adding to the momentum."
Ignatius of course then goes on to explain all the awful things that would happen if folks in other countries stop buying US treasuries - it becomes really, really hard to finance our new multi-trillion dollar deficit when folks don't buy those things, interest rates rise in a desperate effort to convince investors to finance our economy, and that rise in the cost of money depresses all the markets and ends the current odd job-loss recovery. That stops it dead in its tracks. Investors think the dollar is less attractive and buy euro bonds, which offer a better return. Yeah, yeah.
And is this true?
The dollar's decline during the Bush presidency has been remarkable. It has tumbled about 44 percent from its October 2000 high of about 83 cents to the euro. Over the past year alone, the decline has been more than 15 percent. Investors who trusted in the dollar as a store of value have been clobbered, so it's not surprising that they want to sell, even at current depressed prices. They fear that worse is coming.
Perhaps so. A few years ago a euro would cost you eighty-five cents. Today you would pay about a buck twenty-two.
And it will get worse, perhaps...
If you haven't already gagged on your raisin bran, consider this nightmare scenario -- outlined by an investment banker who for many years headed his firm's currency-trading operations. This veteran trader contends that the markets have entered a cycle in which "overshooting" -- meaning a further sharp fall in the dollar's value -- "is a distinct possibility."
Yeah, but our productivity is growing by leaps and bounds! Isn't that good?
Well, Everett Ehrlich, who was an undersecretary of Commerce in the Clinton administration, now director of research of the Committee for Economic Development, a nonpartisan economic policy think tank, had some stuff to say about that in today's Los Angeles Times.
Ehrlich says it good, but not the answer to the problem:
Nothing so unites a gaggle of economists as their reverence for productivity growth. Higher productivity allows us to make more, earn more and consume more; it is the stuff of which our standard of living is made.
... To optimists, this news was the robin that heralds spring. To the pessimists, it foretold a rain of pink slips as firms eight years from now make the same stuff they always have but with a smaller labor force.
Well, the problem is simple. We can make more and more stuff with fewer and fewer workers. But as unemployment rises with massive gains in productivity, who is going to be able to buy all this stuff?
The problem is that productivity growth does not automatically turn itself into economic growth. Productivity tells us our potential to grow, but not the actual result. Consider an economy spilling out 9% more "stuff" -- haircuts, computers, insurance, fast food, all of it -- every year without any need for new hires. Who will consume the fruits of this abundance? Incomes would need to rise by a like amount (or prices fall like a son of a gun) in order to snarf this stuff up.
Yes, one should not use "snarf" as a verb. One should not use it at all, I suppose.
Be that as it may, he does tie this issue back to the weak dollar.
Still, two issues remain. The first is: What happens next? If the economy does grow substantially in the year ahead, business demands for funds may start to compete with burgeoning federal borrowing, and the low interest rates that have helped propel the economy may start to unravel. Or the Asian lenders who are financing our deficits by soaking up Treasury bills may think twice about doing so, with the same result.
And the second issue is the human one. If productivity is surging, then some jobs will be harder to find -- read manufacturing.
We are told to think of the jobless as indolent, or unlucky in some self-fulfilling way. In fact, they are the victims of our country's economic fecundity. The story of productivity is that economic growth and change are irrevocably intertwined. We need an economic policy that promotes adjustment in order to make productivity the productive force it is supposed to be.
Yes, but what adjustments?
That is a problem. I do not see a solution. As Ehrlich points out, the traditional economic stimulants have already been tried; the economy is already heavily tax-stimulated and money is already dirt-cheap. And we are producing more and more with less and less labor. Now what?
Anyway, this is something else to consider in addition to the issues with our occupation of Iraq, our standing in the world, and who will run against Bush.
Topic: World View "Americans have become dangerous to the world lately not because they are evil, but because ..." David Neiwert is a freelance journalist based in Seattle. His reporting for MSNBC.com on domestic terrorism won the National Press Club Award for Distinguished Online Journalism in 2000. He is the author of In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest (1999, WSU Press), as well as Death on the Fourth of July: Hate Crimes and the American Landscape (Palgrave/St. Martin's, summer 2004) and the forthcoming Strawberry Days: The Rise and Fall of the Bellevue Japanese-American Community (publisher pending). His freelance work can be found at salon.com, the Washington Post, MSNBC and various other publications.
On his site Orcinus he has published a letter from a fellow in Brazil that is quite good.
As to the whole matter of liberals vs. conservatives, or whatever you may call it, I would like to point out that this whole discussion is just one more endogenous American game which makes no sense whatsoever to the rest of the world. No matter who wins next year or which trend prevails in the long run, Americans will continue to be Americans -- a race of mostly benign aliens who conquered the Earth with their superior technology but are still unable to understand what makes the rest of us tick. It is precisely this American alienness, previously a source of discreet and slightly envious amusement, which has become scary in recent times.
To us un-Americans, an American conservative is a guy who doesn't give a damn about you because you are a foreigner, whereas a liberal is a guy who makes an earnest effort to give a damn about you even though you are inferior. The first are offensive, the second are offensively condescending. Of course, it is very difficult to notice this when you are immersed in the culture, but it does happen all the time. Take, for instance, Mr Bush's visit to Iraq -- an apparently harmless stunt -- and try to look at it from the other side of the fence: this guy secretly flies into my country to celebrate an American national holiday at the time of the Eid, a very important Muslim date; he speaks of Thanksgiving as if we knew what it is about; he makes no mention whatsoever to Ramadan, which obviously means nothing to him; he issues advice and stern warnings to Iraqis; and he has the gall to call the Iraqis present at the dinner "our guests" in their own country.
What I am trying to drive at here is that underneath all this American meddling with world affairs there is never a premise of equality. The whole American debate, even at its most liberal -- just read the blogs -- is totally self-referential and usually takes for granted that everybody else ultimately just wants to become American (or else destroy "our freedoms" out of spite). In their innocence and single-mindedness, Americans are either blind to diversity or view it as threatening. I, a Brazilian, could walk on the streets of Baghdad and have a cup of coffee with an Iraqi; we could, in spite of our profound differences, exchange views and share our experiences. The average American can't, because for an American the ultimate experience is being American; all the rest is irrelevant. It is very hard to breach this wall. This would be inconsequential if we were able to just ignore the Americans and leave them to themselves, but can become quite worrisome when they aggressively try to shape the world to their own image.
Unfortunately, this is not a political issue that can be solved replacing Republicans with Democrats; it is rather a cultural matter which requires a great shift of perception. Americans have become dangerous to the world lately not because they are evil, but because they don't understand others and, therefore, fail to understand themselves or the way they are seen by others. It is my impression that what was particularly shocking for Americans on 9/11 was not the attack itself, but the realization that people could harbor such a murderous hatred of the United States. (Unfortunately, instead of increasing awareness, this led to greater denial, which is why the same mistakes are being repeated in Iraq.) There is a great book by Graham Greene, "The Quiet American," in which an American consul in Saigon (pre-Vietnam war), full of noble intentions, makes a great deal of damage without ever realizing it. That's precisely what is happening today.
Please forgive me for such a long rant. I am writing to you because I have been feeling quite worried lately with the way things are going. I have a young daughter and I want her to live a long and peaceful life. I do believe the United States run the risk of becoming a "soft" media-controlled totalitarian state or worse. On the other hand, I feel -- for the first time -- that there is a great deal of perplexity around, which is a positive sign. In my opinion, the only way to effect a lasting change is to take a step back from the self-centered inter-American debate and accept the fact that we're all in this together. Power feels good, but happiness is better.
You might want to read more via the link above. Scroll down to America: The global view.
PARIS, Dec 04, 2003 (Kyodo via COMTEX) -- One thousand and seven hundred U.S. soldiers have deserted their posts in Iraq, with many of them failing to return to military duty after getting permission to go back to the United States, according to the French weekly magazine Le Canard Enchaine.
The magazine, known for its satires and exposes, said the French intelligence agency obtained the information from what it described an "American colleague."
Citing a senior French official posted in Washington, the magazine also said that 7,000 U.S. soldiers have left Iraq allegedly due to psychological troubles and other illnesses.
Some 2,200 others sustained serious injuries including the loss of limbs, it said.
2003 Kyodo News (c)
The source? Guess you have to buy a copy. Nothing is on the web, as their site is "under construction."
LE CANARD ENCHAINE SITE OFFICIEL en cours d'installation
LE CANARD ENCHAINE www.lecanardenchaine.fr 173 rue St-Honor? 75051 Paris Cedex 01 r?daction tel 01.42.60.31.36 abonnements tel 01.42.60.75.16
They carry this at the bookstore down on Sunset - Book Soup. My French neighbor across the courtyard, the woman from Toulouse, often has the latest copy. I'll check this out.