State of the Union

Michael Goldfarb

Is this really how the McCain campaign wants to go down? Stunning.

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Fresh Content

Newly added on the main page:

“Epic Bail” — Sheldon Richman on the bailout and nationalization of the banks. “Paulson insists that his acquisition of equity, which smacks of 1920s Italian fascism, will involve no government influence over the banks. This is hard to believe…”

“Untied States” — John Schwenkler on secessionist movements old and new, and the impetus behind them. “The idea of political separatism is, as Middlebury Institute founder Kirkpatrick Sale puts it, ‘as American as America.'”

“The Right to Remain Silent” — Austin Bramwell on non-movement conservatives, including Joseph Schumpeter, Jane Jacobs, and … Noam Chomsky? “Hate Noam Chomsky as much as you please. It remains the case that Chomsky’s theory of a universal grammar not only revived the study of human nature but provided a model of how complex features of human society could be explained more generally.”

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Terror and The Duduk

Below (Via Andrew Sullivan) is the latest bad ad from the McCain campaign:

Leaving aside the ridiculous, wrong-headed message, what’s that spooky-cum-mystical Arabian sound whirring away in the background? I believe it’s a duduk.

It’s certainly a familiar noise to all of us today. In the Age On Terror, the duduk, a 3, 000-year-old Armenian woodwind instrument, is increasingly played and heard all over the place. It is an ever-present backing noise in the mass media’s ceaseless racket about the clash of civilizations. Off the top of my head, I recall hearing that same reedy whine in several movies, including “Kingdom of Heaven”, “Rendition”, “Babel”, “Syriana” and even (I think) “Iron Man”. The duduk has almost replaced the oh-so-80s-and-90s electric guitar as the cinematic sound-instrument of our time. And now, of course, it is used in Republican campaign ads.

The duduk is employed to evoke opposite feelings. It can be either scary–“Watch out! Terrorists!”–or soothing–“How enchantingly ethnic!”–depending on context and setting. (The latter mood is often enhanced by an eastern woman singing “hayhhayhahahayhayhay” for 15 minutes without taking breath.)

Yet isn’t the duduk really just annoying? It’s like the bagpipes, only worse. I wish Hollywood, and John McCain, would put their new favourite musical toy back in its box.

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Unipolar Power: Not any more

Robert Kagan in his monthly [thank the editor for small favors] column in The Washington Post today slams all those pundits who disagree with his central thesis that the U.S. is “Still No. 1” (the title of his op-ed) and subscribe to the notion that America is in decline.

In fact, none of the writers that he quotes in his piece, including Francis Fukuyama and Fareed Zakaria disagree with him that “American military power is unmatched.” What they do argue is that as a result of the policies advocated by Kagan and pursued by Bush, American military and economic power is overstretched, as the mess in the Broader Middle East and the financial crisis have demonstrated. In fact, it’s China, America’s future geo-strategic and geo-economic competitor that is financing (together with the Arab oil states) America’s current-account deficit.

But what is remarkable is the way Kagan has tried to change the subject of the post-Cold War debate. He begins with misleading historical examples:

Sober analysts such as Richard Haass acknowledge that the United States remains “the single most powerful entity in the world.” But he warns, “The United States cannot dominate, much less dictate, and expect that others will follow.” That is true. But when was it not? Was there ever a time when the United States could dominate, dictate and always have its way?
Many declinists imagine a mythical past when the world danced to America’s tune. Nostalgia swells for the wondrous American-dominated era after World War II, but between 1945 and 1965 the United States actually suffered one calamity after another. The “loss” of China to communism; the North Korean invasion of South Korea; the Soviet testing of a hydrogen bomb; the stirrings of postcolonial nationalism in Indochina — each proved a strategic setback of the first order. And each was beyond America’s power to control or even to manage successfully.

But there was never a “wondrous American-dominated era after World War II.” There was a bi-polar system in which the U.S. and the USSR were the two dominant powers. The debate after the collapse of the Soviet Union was not whether America was no. 1 based on its military power, but whether the U.S. has become the global hegemon, the Unipolar Power that would remain unchallenged and could impose its will on the rest of the world. 

American Unipolarism was the neoconservative axiom that has been advanced by Kagan and Company since 1991. It was tested in Iraq. And now in the aftermath (?) of that war, the eroding influence of America in the Middle East, the confrontation with North Korea, and the financial crisis, no one is seriously arguing that the U.S. is “Still a Unipolar Power.” Not even Kagan.

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This Joker is Getting Old

John McCain, insistent as ever:

I can’t wait for this to be over.

h/t to Dave Weigel at Reason

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Hart Break

Jeffrey Hart’s association with National Review dates back to 1962, but as Dan notes in an earlier post, the senior editor turned Obamacon was recently sent packing. This morning, he forwarded this anecdote from Harper’s. As it was with Reagan and the Democratic Party, Hart didn’t leave NR, it left him. The same apparently applied to the publication’s own founder:

The National Review is worth examining regularly these days—it has turned into something of a circular firing squad. I used to read and love it back in the heyday of William F. Buckley, Jr.’s editorship. It was home base for a certain rigorous, philosophically based conservatism that valued the classics. I search in vain through National Review today for any trace of the erudition and intellectual integrity that Buckley brought to the publication. And I suspect that Buckley himself was unhappy with the magazine’s course in his final years. Two years ago, I spoke at a conservative, religiously affiliated college in the South and discovered that my predecessor at the lectern, just the night before, had been Buckley. When I asked how his talk had gone, my faculty handler told me it had been a surprising experience. Buckley spoke at some length about the mistakes that the Bush Administration had made, starting with the Iraq War. When one student observed that his comments were rather at odds with the views that appeared in National Review, Buckley replied, ‘Yes. We have grown distant.’

Bonus feature: See Hart’s recent interview with the Dartmouth Review. Expect to disagree on several points, but appreciate that this is a complex conservative, far more thoughtful than the magazine that discarded him.

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Thou Bright Defiler

Thanks Dan, Rothbard’s analysis is astonishingly prophetic. It should indeed be compulsory reading for all masters of the sub-prime universe. Perhaps the Wall Street slickers should also be taken to a performance of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. The other day, as the stocks were tumbling, my father emailed me with the following extract from a scene in which Timon, scratching for roots in the woods, digs up gold:

Read More…

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Making the World Safe for J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs

Read Murray Rothbard’s classic essay “Wall Street, Banks, and American Foreign Policy.” Among other vital points, Rothbard very concisely describes why U.S. banks have little to do with actual economic freedom:

Commercial bankers, engaged as they are in unsound fractional reserve credit, are, in the free market, always teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Hence they are always reaching for government aid and bailout.

Investment bankers do much of their business underwriting government bonds, in the United States and abroad. Therefore, they have a vested interest in promoting deficits and in forcing taxpayers to redeem government debt. Both sets of bankers, then, tend to be tied in with government policy, and try to influence and control government actions in domestic and foreign affairs.

Read on.

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Talking Barack

The Cunning Realist, one of our go-to guys for smart, non-ideological economic analysis—check out his TAC stuff under the pseudonym “Wilson Burman”—is the latest conservative to endorse Obama. If we followed the lead of our friendly competition and began purging heretics, our stable would be a lonely place. (Supporting McCain is actually the deviant move in these parts.)

CR calls this a “risqué fling,” but true to form, he is a cautious convert, primed for buyer’s remorse. He’s too wily to be won by hope talk—expectations hung on empty promises are almost certain to be dashed. But therein he spies an opening for a regenerated conservatism:

[A] broad swath of this country has been turned off to conservatism and the Republican Party, perhaps permanently. If Obama wins and four years from now the economy hasn’t improved and his approval rating is at 30%, where will those people turn—politically, socially, and culturally?

I dispute his notion that Democratic one-party rule would “reverse and repudiate the current administration’s most disastrous policies.” More than half of the Democratic senators voted to invade Iraq, and Pelosi and Reid won’t be using their ironclad majority to defund No Child Left Behind or roll back the prescription drug entitlement. Expect them to pile on programs that a spread-the-wealth president will be all too eager to sign. After a couple of Supreme Court picks, a handful of humanitarian interventions, universal healthcare, and the first trillion-dollar deficit, we’ll talk.

In the meantime, far from being shows of disloyalty, these high-level defections are a manifestation of health. Those who continue to assume that conservatism is whatever the Republican Party decides on any given day have lost all hold on reality.

UPDATE: An astute commenter points out that I misinterpreted a key point. In the CR narrative, Republicans’ wilderness years will not reform them, and when the Obama administration fails to sprinkle the world in pixie dust as promised, the public may indeed swing back–to an unrepentant, “opportunist” Right. I apologize for my audacious hope. The night grows darker still.

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When Conservatives Vote Left

We didn’t have any Ralph Nader endorsements in our election symposium. But if you’re looking for a conservative case for him, you could hardly do better than to consult the Northern Agrarian (former TAC intern Patrick Ford) and the Left Conservative (Dylan Hales, who has a forthcoming TAC piece on William Appleman Williams and Gabriel Kolko).

I was also interested to see that an old friend of mine from college — we co-founded a conservative publication at Washington University in St. Louis — is supporting Obama. He relays a wise election recommendation from a mutual friend:

The best advice I have received concerning choosing a candidate or a party was from a good friend and colleague of mine. He once said that he couldn’t see himself voting for someone if he couldn’t see himself associating with his supporters. For me, I couldn’t see myself hanging out with the zealous halfwits that supported Vice President Al Gore in 2000 or Kerry in 2004. Now, thanks to the xenophobic frenzy that the McCain-Palin campaign has stirred up – I wouldn’t be caught dead in a GOP rally.

That’s something that has made Obamacons out of many right-leaning Americans. And speaking of Obamacons, I notice that Christopher Buckley is not the only dissenter from the party line to be purged from National Review. Jeffrey Hart, who has been an NR senior editor for longer than most of NR‘s editors have been alive, is for Obama and so, like Buckley, he has been shown the door.

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