State of the Union

Herman Cain Speaks for Himself

Daniel Larison took excerpts from a Dave Weigel profile of prospective GOP Presidential candidate Herman Cain to argue that Tea Party aligned Presidential candidates won’t “bring anything new or remarkable to the substance of the primary debates for the next cycle.” This may be true as far as Herman Cain is concerned, but one hopes Cain’s words speak for his own views rather than those who do not share them–especially if they happen to be Tea Partiers.

Cain can refer to or style himself himself however he chooses, but I have a hard time believing to him be “very sharp and much, much more policy-oriented than Palin, or many of the other 2012 contenders for that matter” or that he will be able to “articulate and defend them more ably than most of the other candidates,” especially when he says things like this:

…we’re going to be in this war forever…The people of Iraq, they wanted to become a democracy. If they did not want to become a democracy, I do not think President Bush forced it upon them. Once it was clear that they wanted to become a democracy, President Bush pledged to help them do that. I know enough from the reports that I’ve read that this is something the Iraqi people wanted.

Sadly, Mr. Cain will take up valuable time in GOP debates spouting this childish nonsense, further draining the water out of the candidate pool as he dives toward arguments with John Bolton and Rick Santorum over who is more hawkish. But to say Tea Party aligned candidates (and in the 2012 field everyone is going to be Tea Party “aligned,” with praise coming as standard as hosannas to Ronald Reagan) will bring nothing new to the foreign policy debate within the 2012 campaign is not accurate. We don’t know the make-up of the entire field and if it’s true that politicians like Cain are taking their cues from the Tea Parties and will say anything outlandish in order to impress them, they may well be sending different signals in 2011-12 than they did in 2007-08. I give as my reason these hard facts about the government the Tea Partiers say they want to reduce, as provided by Andrew Bacevich:

The national-security state continues to grow in size, scope, and influence. In Ike’s day, for example, the CIA dominated the field of intelligence. Today, experts refer casually to an “intelligence community,” consisting of some 17 agencies. The cumulative size and payroll of this apparatus grew by leaps and bounds in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Last July, The Washington Post reported that it had “become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.” Since that report appeared, U.S. officials have parted the veil of secrecy enough to reveal that intelligence spending exceeds $80 billion per year, substantially more than the budget of either the Department of State ($49 billion) or the Department of Homeland Security ($43 billion).

The spending spree extends well beyond intelligence. The Pentagon’s budget has more than doubled in the past decade, to some $700 billion per year. All told, the ostensible imperatives of national security thereby consume roughly half of all federal discretionary dollars. Even more astonishing, annual U.S. military outlays now approximate those of all other nations, friends as well as foes, combined.

Tea Partiers cannot accomplish what they wish for unless they tackle the “military-industrial complex” that Eisenhower spoke about. A small federal government does not carry 17 intelligence agencies. If they mean what they say, then Tea Partiers will demand that defense expenditures be reduced, U.S. overseas commitments ended, bases closed, and foreign policy changed to reflect fiscal realities. If they don’t, Larison will have been proven right to be skeptical and I will be proven wrong for being naive. We shall see. But if I am right, then the politicians will follow along too–in order to get their money, support, and votes. Even Herman Cain. If he doesn’t, I’m certain the Alan Keyes-wing of the Republican Party will be happy to have a new spokesperson.

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Bill Kristol, Gold Bug?

Hu Jintao’s arrival on these shores has apparently convinced Bill Kristol that some kind of gold standard is the way forward for monetary policy:

And it’s worth further asking–as more and more people are beginning to ask–whether a modernized international gold standard, which anchors currencies to a standard outside government manipulation, wouldn’t better serve the interests of free and limited government both at home and abroad. After all, it’s the dollar’s status as a reserve currency that has allowed the U.S. government to amass huge debts, debts which the legislatively imposed debt ceiling has been unsuccessful in limiting. Fiat currency seems to be related to bloated and unlimited government, and to speculative bubbles, and to international instability. Do we just to have to live with this, or simply hope for better Fed chairmen?  …

And get ready for an interesting and important debate over the next months and years on international monetary policy–which, I predict, we’ll increasingly see as something that needs to be reformed in the direction of a modernized international gold standard, as part of the broader project of re-limiting government, re-establishing sound money and a sound international financial system, and restoring stable and strong economic growth.

Are Ron Paul and Bill Kristol now on the same side of an issue?  FrumForum points out that only last year Kristol’s assistants were predicting that “support for a return to the gold standard, among other things, will remain a marginal position.”

Meanwhile National Review says that the “great” Kristol has led us astray on this one.  Should we start taking bets on how long before NR senses the way the wind is blowing and makes a similar pivot?

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Don’t Contain China

Most discussion of China in the mainstream press, especially the left-liberal press, focuses on China’s “human rights” record, or freedom of press and speech, or labor issues, or family planning policies. One may argue endlessly about those matters. But they are China’s internal affairs, and for a genuine anti-interventionist, they are none of our government’s business and have no place in setting foreign policy. There is a world of difference between an anti-interventionist and an advocate for “humanitarian” imperialism, witting or not. How does an anti-interventionist look at China?

Let us begin with some stubborn, cold, hard facts about the U.S. and China. In very round numbers, the world’s annual GDP is about $60 trillion. The U.S. accounts for $15 trillion, the EU for $15 trillion, and China and Japan for about $5 trillion each, with China about to pull a bit ahead of Japan this year. The per capita GDP of the U.S. is about $46,000 and that of China is about $4,000. In sum, China is still a developing country, though one with a very large aggregate GDP. It is number two to the U.S. but not a close number two, and it trails the developed world considerably in its standard of living.

What about trade? Is China not the world’s largest exporter? Yes, it is, but until last year, it was number two; Germany was number one – and Germany has slipped now to number two. So Germany with its high wages and generous social benefits was able to outdo both the U.S. and China in exports until recently. How did Germany do this? By exporting high quality, high tech, well-branded goods. (Germany has not outsourced production to other countries as has the U.S.) In fact, as China came into the number one exporter spot, its leaders proclaimed that they were not really number one but number one only in quantity. They said China’s goal was to follow in Germany’s path to become an exporter of “high tech, high quality, well-branded goods.” Why can’t the U.S. do this instead of blaming China for its unemployment? Read More…

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Krautophobia, the Incurable Illness

Rich Lowry is beginning to remind me of Dickens’s Mr. Dick in David Copperfield. Dick couldn’t stay on a topic very long without blurting out “And they beheaded Charles I.” To his credit, the feeble-minded Dick could at least provide factual information. The Puritans did indeed execute their monarch by cutting off his head exactly 362 years ago.

Unlike Dick, Lowry is not even informative when he expresses his fixation, which is that the Germans long before Hitler were already planning to conquer the world in the name of “antiliberal” values. One encounters this view in Lowry’s columns with predictable regularity, and the latest appearance of it can be found in his commentary today about the Chinese danger. Although the Chinese, he assures us, are still “far from a global power,” their economic development may be a political danger to the democracies. China “considers American-style liberalism a threat to its government and perhaps its national existence.” I couldn’t imagine why the Chinese would consider whatever the U.S. calls itself, or whatever Lowry chooses to call it, “a threat to its national existence.” Right now China is making lots of money off of us and holding multiple IOUs over our heads.

But according to Lowry, China may become an even greater threat, by imitating long dead Germans. China’s sense of being threatened “makes it an ambitious bristling power with the disruptive potential of nineteenth-century Germany.” I suspect that the Germans have in the minicon mind a permanent identification with evil; and even if they didn’t, minicons might pretend that they did, in order to accommodate their neocon paymasters, who are angry at the Germans because of Nazi atrocities. But Lowry’s attempt to look for a pleasing Teutonic parallel for China’s economic expansion is not particularly instructive. Nineteenth-century Germany was certainly not the most aggressive power in Europe; nor did it have the most “antiliberal” government on the continent.

In terms of economic and intellectual freedom, low taxes, and decentralized government, Germany did not seem to European observers at the time to be the monster that Lowry and his neocon patrons want us to see. Even for the Anglophile, later World War I interventionist Woodrow Wilson, late nineteenth century Germany was a model of modern government that served its citizens well. Its working class enjoyed the highest standard of living in Europe and its population was the most literate in the world. Unlike China and politically correct European countries, Germans were free to argue and present a remarkably wide range of opinions on what today are regarded as painfully delicate subjects. Moreover, during World War I, Berlin newsstands continued to sell British and French newspapers. Read More…

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The New Chairman’s Lessons from Wisconsin

Live-blogging the vote for a new RNC Chairperson? Ballot-by-ballot coverage? Did Dave Weigel have nothing better to do last Friday or was this a desire to cover a political meeting which actually went more than one ballot in one’s lifetime? Either way it must have been a slow news day for the vote on the RNC’s new chairperson (which turned out to be Wisconsin GOP chair Reince Priebus) to gather so much attention. Indeed, one wonders if it’s the climax to an era when being a party chairperson was important.

After all, despite all his screw ups and the fact that the RNC is broke and millions and millions in the red; and despite the mismanagement of party affairs and public relations gaffes, Michael Steele’s tenure at the RNC was only a personal disaster that had no affect on the party’s electoral performance.

The 2010 midterm election disproved the notion that a smoothly running party machine is necessary for electoral success. Republicans made big gains across the country in spite of the turmoil at party headquarters in Washington D.C.  Independent groups outside the party structure more than filled the void. Corporations, now more free to donate to political campaigns thanks to recent court rulings, poured in millions to candidates all across the country. And outside the Beltway, Tea Party organizations provided the grass roots muscle to work for their candidates and get their voters to the polls. The RNC could flounder with Steele as the butt of jokes and it didn’t matter. It was utterly irrelevant as far as the outcome was concerned.

Of course, RNC committee members don’t want to be irrelevant, which is why Steele was dumped and replaced by Priebus. I wrote last year that the former Racine, Wisconsin lawyer-turned-state-GOP-leader was going to become influential in national party circles–not just because he engineered a stunning turnaround in state party fortunes from 2008 to 2010. (The Wisconsin GOP won the governor’s office for the first time since 2002, won a U.S. Senate seat for the first time since 1986, and won back control of the state legislature. Plus Wisconsin Republicans gained two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives two short years after John McCain scored one of the lowest percentages for a Republican presidential nominee in the state since fellow Arizonan Barry Goldwater.) More important was the way Priebus was successful: taming the Tea Party activists by overwhelming them with well-funded, establishment-backed candidates who dominated the television and radio airwaves where Wisconsin campaigns are conducted. In voting for Priebus, committee members are basically saying they don’t want more Sharon Angles, Joe Millers, Christine O’Donnells or Ken Bucks, whose losing campaigns may have cost the party control of the U.S. Senate.

But what may work in Wisconsin may not work nationally. Independent groups have already shown they can raise money and the engage the grassroots without the RNC’s assistance. In fact it may well have helped their efforts to show such independence rather than be tied to a national party still not highly regarded.

Priebus can clean-up the mess Steele left at party headquarters–but he cannot change trends in election funding and grassroots organizing powered by technology. Howard Dean was seen as a successful DNC chairman only because he harnessed netroots organizing, which was already going on far away from party headquarters, and directed it toward individual candidates. Once upon a time in America only a centralized party structure could do such work and coordinate effectively with other interest groups. Not anymore–which means Priebus, while not a Steel-like FUBAR expert, may actually become more of a Mike Duncan footnote.

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Palin is the Republican Obama

When you ask Barack Obama’s admirers what they like most about him, you will typically hear of his personality traits before any specifics about policy. Obama’s fans say that he is so “smart… cool-headed… articulate…” To point out that in terms of policy, Obama isn’t that different from most other conventional Democrats–or even that different from George W. Bush–does little to dissuade the president’s most ardent champions, and any failure to live up to liberal ideals does little to change Obama’s current popular status as liberalism personified.

Sarah Palin is the Republican Obama. When you ask Palin’s admirers what they like most about her, you will typically hear of her personality traits before any specifics about policy. Palin’s fans say that she is “warm-hearted… down-to-earth… a good mom…” To point out that Palin’s actual politics aren’t that different from most other conventional Republicans, or in some ways, not much different from Obama’s, does not dissuade the former Alaska governor’s most ardent champions. And any failure to live up to conservative ideals fails to change Palin’s popular status as conservatism personified.

Obama and Palin represent opposing versions of the same identity politics. Based primarily on personality, love, or hatred for the other, it is politics driven primarily by emotion–not logic. If you don’t believe me, try telling an Obama-loving Democrat that he is no different from a Palin-loving Republican or vice versa. Even the soundest reasoning will do little to quell the forthcoming rage.

And it was precisely this sort of partisan rage that fueled the anti-Palin backlash in the wake of the recent Arizona shooting tragedy. In attacking Palin’s midterm election television commercials in which a bulls eye graphic was placed over vulnerable swing state districts–when has “targeting” politicians for electoral defeat been considered controversial or beyond the pale? Next to never. This is conventional political speech used by both parties for eons. But for the sake of argument, even if such speech was “irresponsible,” what evidence did we have that the alleged gunman even admired or was influenced in any way by Palin? Little to none. In fact, the New York Times reported Sunday of Jared Lee Loughner, that “his anger would well up at the sight of President George W. Bush,” making the gunman sound more like a liberal Democrat (if it’s even proper to label a mentally disturbed man using conventional political terminology). Read More…

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Who Lost the Middle East?

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, especially today in the Maghreb and Middle East.

For the ouster of Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has sent shock waves from Rabat to Riyadh. Autocrats, emirs and kings have to be asking themselves: If rioters can bring down Ben Ali with his ruthless security forces, what prevents this from happening here?

Millions of militant Muslim young who have never shared in the wealth produced by the oil and gas must be asking: If Tunisians can take down a detested regime, why cannot we?

America had no role in this uprising, and our diplomats had been appalled at the corruption. Yet Ben Ali was an ally in the war on terror, and what happened in Tunisia could trigger a series of devastating blows to the U.S. position in the Middle East.

For when autocrats fall, it is not always democracy that rises. And in the Middle East, democracy is not necessarily America’s ally.

The fall of King Farouk in 1952 led to Col. Nasser in Egypt. The ouster and murder of King Faisal in Iraq in 1958 led to Saddam. The fall of King Idris in Libya in 1969 led to Gadhafi. The fall of Emperor Haile Selassie in Ethiopia in 1974 led to the rise of the murderous Col. Mengistu. And the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979 led to the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Often the old saw applies: “Better the devil we know…”

And should a new wave of revolts sweep the region, we might see the final collapse of the neoconservative foreign policy of George W. Bush. Read More…

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I’ll be a guest (resident reactionary, I call it) this week at the blog of Seattle’s progressive free weekly The Stranger. I have no connection to the blog; the week was a Christmas gift, auctioned off for charity. Here’s my first post, excerpted below, which recycles my post last August on Omar Thornton as a resentment-driven lunatic appropriating the standard American race narrative. And on MLK day no less! If you do visit there, please be civil, regardless of the tone set by the readership. At the moment they are apoplectic, but mostly about my long-windedness and mere presence in their lair. This might get a little weird.

kinesis, n a movement that is a response to a stimulus but is not oriented with respect to the source of stimulation
[1913 Webster]
Ten days ago a madman, having legally acquired a handgun, killed six unsuspecting innocents. The Democratic Party, assisted by the braver elements of the national media, sprung into action, quickly wrestling the First Amendment to the ground and disarming it before it could do more damage. Alas, the culprit has escaped, spirited away by his longtime associates Hate and Intolerance, no doubt. Fear not; speech posses are combing the hinterlands even now in search of malicious metaphors and savage similes. Needless to say, these suspects should be considered armed and dangerous. In the event that you come into contact with one, make no attempt to engage it, avoid ear contact and back away slowly before fleeing to your nearest progressive cable news outlet or blog, where you can report the encounter. Don’t be a hero. That’s what we put Keith Olbermann in pancake make-up for.
But above all, just as Fox News and the DHS dutifully advise regarding the terrorist threat of such criminal masterminds as the Liberty Seven and donkey-borne Taliban in the Pashtun hinterlands: be afraid, be very afraid. Always. And trust in the government. Always. Just as in those heady days following 9-11, we are advised to “watch what we say”. The parallels between this and that panic make a handy and instructive analog for the confused citizen. Meanwhile, working with heroic speed, experts have already fashioned a new standard for acceptable public rhetoric–if it’s capable of provoking a raving lunatic it is illicit. Make a note of it.
This has been necessarily expanded from the original focus on white male Republicans, who nonetheless retain their place atop the hierarchy of hysteria. This all will take some getting used to, I know, but one can always observe Mom’s advice–if you don’t have anything nice to say, drown your hatemongering words and yourself in your acidic spittle, you fascist bigot. And if you’re incapable of recognizing what might set off a lunatic, you are the lunatic.

Above all remain calm; our enlightened betters are valiantly fighting to will into being this “new reality” that will have “changed everything”. They know what they’re talking about. Recall the media’s uncanny prophesy that AIDS “changed everything”, delivering us from our libertine sexual ways; that 9/11 “changed everything”, bringing the nation together finally; and of course the post-partisan transformation of Barack Obama’s presidency ushering in a new era of domestic tranquility and world peace. These are the people who saved you from Saddam Hussein’s killer drones and WMD labs, remember. Despar not of their wisdom and sobriety.

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It Takes Balz

As the ghoulish glee of the media exhausts itself, Dan Balz of the Washington Post finds that pony:  

[Senator John] McCain took a significant step toward reconciling with the president in a graceful op-ed in Sunday’s Washington Post. If that article marks a genuine fresh beginning, it would be one positive thing to come out of the horrific shooting spree in Tucson eight days ago.

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An Uncanny Recognition

From The Onion:

NEW YORK—According to media analysts, the nation’s TV commentators and political pundits have proved uncannily accurate when describing the deeply disturbed inner thoughts of accused Arizona gunman Jared Loughner. “It’s strange, but when it comes to getting inside the mind of this human being who seems to possess no empathy, sense of morality, or hold on reality, and who is motivated only by personal animus and self-glorification, the nation’s major political pundits have been amazingly adept,” said Horizon Media analyst Bob Cullen, who has studied extensive tape of commentators on all major TV news programs and found their remarks on “what the killer is thinking” to be consistently thorough and detailed across the board. “It’s almost as though they have some way of knowing, firsthand, exactly what this demented and highly dangerous individual with the eyes of millions upon him is going through.” Researchers at Horizon Media also reported that a number of prominent TV pundits appeared to be mimicking the exact same chilling gleam in Loughner’s eye for what they could only speculate was “dramatic effect.”

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