State of the Union


Over at Slate (discovered via RealClearPolitics), Jack Shafer has a good piece on my favorite memory of inauguration day – Chris Matthews’s noisy, mind-bendingly nonsensical rambling on MSNBC. Here’s a taste: Read More…

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Where Have We Heard This Before?

An article by Bill Roggio appeared in the curiously named The Long War Journal yesterday, “Bin Laden Son Coordinated Ops with Iran.”  It alleges that Iran has collaborated with al Qaeda to stage terrorist attacks, using bin Laden’s son as an intermediary.  Roggio is a leading figure at the Foundation in Defense of Democracy, currently the most in your face neocon think tank featuring Bill Kristol, Michael Ledeen, James Woolsey, Frank Gaffney, and Richard Perle.  Riggio’s article implies that outgoing Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell confirmed the terrorist connection, but if one goes to the original source of the information, McConnell’s farewell press conference last Friday, he says no such thing.  He merely stated that bin Laden’s son Sa’ad is no longer in Iran, where he was under house arrest, and is believed to be in Pakistan.  He says nothing about any Iranian-al Qaeda connection. 

The Roggio piece of disinformation is making the rounds of the usual places on the internet and is being presented as proof that Iran is involved with al Qaeda and planning terrorist attacks against the US.  Since Doug Feith successfully fabricated a case that Saddam and al Qaeda were linked, eventually leading to a catastrophic war, one presumes that the neocons have decided that what worked once will work twice. 

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Housing Starts . . .

Is there any better guide to sound policy than going with the opposite of Hugh Hewitt‘s instincts:

Housing construction drives a huge portion of the economy, and is an extraordinary multiplier of economic activity.  This isn’t debatable.  But the stimulus package unveiled in the House of Representatives last week does nothing for the housing sector.  Some had expected up to a $20,000 tax credit for the purchase of a home in the first two or three quarters of 2009, a huge kick in the pants to the buyers who are waiting for the bottom of the housing market to appear.

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Heckling the Coronation

During his first year in office, President Obama can be expected to unquestioningly acquiesce to the consensus demanding he oversee an increase in public debt twice as large, as a percentage of GDP, as any year in the Roosevelt administration. He will do this because, as any successful politician, he is congenitally incapable of recognizing, much less offering resistance to, the elite’s will to power (known to the benighted as bipartisan consensus). A fish cannot know it is wet, and a politician cannot be made aware of the recurring tendency of elite design to diverge too far from the common good, mostly because he cannot distinguish between the two.
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Rising To the Occasion, Then Sinking

“What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.” — President Barack Obama, Inaugural Address

My day on the National Mall today was likely no different than the rest of the million or so non-ticket holders who braved the cold and the crowds for a snatch of history. I was carried, several times, by the wave and wavelets of humanity, until I was deposited on a patch of meager real estate by a tree to the side of the Washington Monument, where I decided to stay put for the two hours leading up to the Big Event. I felt, more than a few times, like one of those lemmings in Sting’s Chinese Metal Boxes, and wondered, somewhat irritatingly, that if by just being there, I was contributing to what seemed at moments to be leading to a coronation.

But then there were the Good Vibes. Up until now I had never been to a mass political gathering in Washington that wasn’t vitriolic and ready to explode. Today even the police presence, at least where I was, seemed more mellowed. People were saying excuse me and I’m sorry as their bag snagged your coat or they cut in front of you to keep up with a friend in the crush. Just before the outgoing President Bush was announced, a hilarious black woman who had been cracking jokes nonstop paused to say, you know, he’s just going to get booed. It’ll be bad. They shouldn’t even announce his name — as though the anger had become a burden and was no fun anymore. At least today. She booed pretty loud when W came out anyway, but her point was taken.

There were reverent ears during Aretha Franklin and a polite hush for Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman, and even patience for Sen. Dianne Feinstein. By the time the Big Oath came, I really felt what I can only describe as mass optimism, a collective embrace of renewal or even redemption (which, as Daniel incisively points out, might have been too close to worship for comfort). But for a moment — it clicked.

But then, The Speech. The pressing crowd so rapt a few moments before, morphed into a river, with a sudden and steady current of supposed devotees of Hope and Change determined to split. Like now. The women behind me began to hiss, not now, the man is talking, stop and listen. I looked up, there was a ribbon of zombies, as though they had been deposited there on the knoll by forces greater then themselves and now were unsure where they were or why they were supposed to be there. Blank faces looking for an exit. Interspersed were mouthy, exercised people towing miserable children, elbowing their way through, their backs to the faithful Jumbotron and the speech, and the man they supposedly worked so hard and camped out so long to see. It were as though an inner secretary was telling them they were released from civic duty after the swearing-in, and anything after wouldn’t be clocked on the timecard anyway.

Perhaps I am being too harsh, but I wondered then about what the new President was saying, about the new era of responsibility, investing personally — and not grudgingly — in the nation’s problems so that we all might benefit from the solutions; approaching this as a patriotic duty, and above all, knowing it won’t come easy. I looked at the annoyed expressions of those absolutely determined to leave, and the dispassionate, incurious stares of those following behind obediently. And I think, are we really up for the task? Do enough of us comprehend or even care for what goes on beyond our own real estate? Maybe instead of placing all of our Hope in one man, we make rising to the occasion a mission, and a priority, because if we don’t, and we continue to become a nation of zombies, we are truly finished.

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What hath violence wrought?

I’ve never heard of a military operation being timed on the basis of a presidential Inauguration but that seems to have been the clock Israel used with their attack on Gaza. Obviously they didn’t want to rain on the new President’s parade by raining bombs on civilian targets.

So what hath violence wrought in this “splendid little war?”

Gaza is destroyed, Israel’s FATAH allies look like pathetic Quislings in the eyes of its populace, threatening their position on the West Bank, billions were spent, innocent people were slaughtered and yet Hamas still has control of the Palestinians in Gaza, and now that control may be more wedded than ever after this military onslaught by a foreign invader. Amazing how some people never quite figure this out. 

And Israel’s long-term problem strategic and demographic problems still remain and all the bombs, all the jets and all the tanks in the word cannot change this. Now the potential of Israel giving up its status as the only real democracy in region because of these issues has reared its ugly head. If Israel’s political situation continues to deteriorate, it will lose its support of its only ally and then it becomes truly endangered.

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The Emperor’s Coronation

The new president’s inaugural remarks were underwhelming, but that’s for the best — if he had struck soaring rhetorical notes there’s no telling what the adulating crowd would have done. They might have proclaimed Obama president for life on the spot. Obama did make some gaseous promises about saving the world, but nothing much more than what any president, Republican or Democrat, might have been expected to say.

Two things about the inaugural address did catch my attention, however. One was Obama’s scapegoating of “cynics,” presumably anyone who dares say “no” to bailouts, inflation, and more reheated Keynesianism. Obama is in a vulnerable position, inheriting as he does the worst economy since the Great Depression and two ongoing wars. He and his party will need to find someone to blame when things keep getting worse. Franklin Roosevelt successfully directed the country’s discontent in the 1930s against those he slandered as “malefactors of great wealth.”“economic royalists.” Obama, I predict, will do likewise. His attack on “cynics” sets the stage.

Obama’s foreign-policy remarks were, on the whole, not bad. His emphasis on multilateralism and alliances could suggest entanglements to come, perhaps a foreign policy just as aggressive as Bush’s but with more allies in tow. As much of a “cynic” as I may be, though, I think it’s notable that Obama did not rattle any sabers, beyond vaguely saying that the terrorists will not win. That’s kind of remarkable: this president didn’t threaten any foreign countries in his inaugural address. I suspect it won’t be long before he walks the same path of militarism that Bush and Clinton followed, but his remarks today did not include the kind of bluster I expected. So who knows? But again, I’m a pessimist — one of those dreaded “cynics.”

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Endangered Elephant

As President Barack Obama delivers his inaugural address to a nation filled with anticipation and hope, the vital signs of the loyal opposition appear worse than worrisome.

The new majority of 49 states and 60 percent of the nation Nixon cobbled together in 1972, that became the Reagan coalition of 49 states and 60 percent of the nation in 1984, is a faded memory. Demographically, philosophically, and culturally, the party base has been shrinking since Bush I won his 40-state triumph over Michael Dukakis. Indeed, the Republican base is rapidly becoming a redoubt, a Fort Apache in Indian country.

In the National Journal, Ron Brownstein renders a grim prognosis of the party’s chances of recapturing the White House. Consider: Read More…

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Recommended Reading

The Washington Monthly has a short feature on what books a newly inaugurated President Obama ought to read. Notable suggestions come from Andrew Bacevich (The Irony of American History, by Reinhold Niebuhr), Jacques Barzun (Santayana’s Character and Opinion in the United States and William James’s The Will to Believe), John Judis (Avi Shlaim’s The Iron Wall), and Jim Pinkerton (Hayek’s The Pretense of Knowledge).

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What Conservatives Think About the Draft

Tony Blankley wants to bring back conscription — he imagines that the U.S. would have suffered virtually no casualties if we had sent 300,000 troops to Iraq. (H/t to Eric Garris.) Blankley may be held up as a conservative spokesman by Fox News, but I’ve lately been looking at back issues of the New Guard, the old publication of Young Americans for Freedom, including the famous May 1967 special issue on the draft in which Barry Goldwater, Russell Kirk, and Milton Friedman all called for its abolition. Here’s what Goldwater had to say about the liberal and conservative views of compulsory military (or civil) service:

There should no longer be any confusion about the liberal, radical and conservative positions on the draft.

Liberals favor it, but either want to make it random in its selection or extend it to social as well as military service.

Radicals want to end it or turn it to social service. They are not against compulsion. They are just against the fact, it seems to me, that the compulsion in this case is being used as part of an effort against their current heroes, the Viet Cong.

Conservatives want to end the draft–period. They do not want to extend it to any other form of service. … Read More…

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