Commentary Magazine


Topic: Walter Russell Mead

Public Perceptions About Bush Matter

My colleague Peter Wehner picked up the rhetorical gauntlet flung in the face of George W. Bush by Walter Russell Mead and did much to vindicate the tarnished honor of the administration in which he served so honorably. Like Pete, I think the 43rd president has gotten a raw deal in most respects from the court of public opinion and will ultimately be vindicated by history, if not the mainstream media.

Pete went to some length to answer the charge that Bush’s eight years in office was “a political disaster for the president’s party” and that it generated a “headwind of well-merited public distrust” for Republicans. There is a strong case to make against Mead’s assertion that the public distrust he speaks of was “well merited.” But the idea that there is much point arguing about whether it was a “political disaster” in terms of the GOP’s current dilemma strikes me as a waste of time, if not utterly futile. The accumulated weight of a profligate GOP Congress, the bad optics of Katrina, the casualties in Iraq and the financial crisis that struck the country in the fall of 2008 created an image of the Bush administration that might be unfair but is nonetheless indelible. It may be never too early to correct the historical record on all of these issues, as Pete and the other writers he referenced have done, but the relevance of this exercise to the politics of 2013 or even 2016 is limited. It may be the duty of the historian to try and chip away at the narrative that Bush failed, but to argue that the perception of this record is not a heavy burden for Republicans to carry or that it can be undone by refighting the political battles of 2001 to 2008 is a mistake. Mead’s critics may be right about the history, but they can only be said to be correct about the politics if their argument is that deeply engrained public perceptions shouldn’t count. Unfortunately, they do.

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My colleague Peter Wehner picked up the rhetorical gauntlet flung in the face of George W. Bush by Walter Russell Mead and did much to vindicate the tarnished honor of the administration in which he served so honorably. Like Pete, I think the 43rd president has gotten a raw deal in most respects from the court of public opinion and will ultimately be vindicated by history, if not the mainstream media.

Pete went to some length to answer the charge that Bush’s eight years in office was “a political disaster for the president’s party” and that it generated a “headwind of well-merited public distrust” for Republicans. There is a strong case to make against Mead’s assertion that the public distrust he speaks of was “well merited.” But the idea that there is much point arguing about whether it was a “political disaster” in terms of the GOP’s current dilemma strikes me as a waste of time, if not utterly futile. The accumulated weight of a profligate GOP Congress, the bad optics of Katrina, the casualties in Iraq and the financial crisis that struck the country in the fall of 2008 created an image of the Bush administration that might be unfair but is nonetheless indelible. It may be never too early to correct the historical record on all of these issues, as Pete and the other writers he referenced have done, but the relevance of this exercise to the politics of 2013 or even 2016 is limited. It may be the duty of the historian to try and chip away at the narrative that Bush failed, but to argue that the perception of this record is not a heavy burden for Republicans to carry or that it can be undone by refighting the political battles of 2001 to 2008 is a mistake. Mead’s critics may be right about the history, but they can only be said to be correct about the politics if their argument is that deeply engrained public perceptions shouldn’t count. Unfortunately, they do.

Even if we concede that Pete is right about every single point he makes and I agree with just about all of them (the creation of the Medicare prescription drug plan is one point on which I think then-representative and now-Senator Pat Toomey’s principled conservative dissent from the administration’s idea was correct), the negative perceptions of Bush’s presidency is a fact. If far more Americans blamed Bush for the weak economy of 2012 than the man who had been running the country for four years then that is not the sort of thing that can be corrected with scholarly debate. Like the fallacious notions that Herbert Hoover and his Republican predecessors created the Great Depression and that Franklin Roosevelt’s policies solved the problem, it may take decades for the smears of Bush to fade from public consciousness. Yet even now I fear more Americans probably believe the depiction of the Depression and the New Deal found in the musical play “Annie” than the brilliant debunking of these myths in the books of Amity Shlaes.

Bush’s problem and those of his Republican successors remains that a liberal mainstream media and a popular culture dominated by the left tend to have more to say about the prevailing narrative about political issues than conservative thinkers. Complaining about this can be a satisfying occupation, but if Republicans want to win the 2014 midterms and take back the White House in 2016 they’d be well advised to avoid that trap.

My disagreement with Mead (who, to be fair, concedes that Bush has not been treated fairly and deserves more credit than he has received) is not so much with his evaluation of Bush as with his belief that Republicans need to spend much time critiquing the last GOP administration or defending it. They’d be well advised to avoid either of these endeavors except to point out that they represent a new generation of Republican leaders that shouldn’t be confused with the GOP-run Congress that was voted out in 2006 and facing different challenges than George W. Bush.

To argue in this fashion isn’t to claim the perception of Bush is correct, but to say that it is a fool’s errand for Republicans to go to the polls identifying themselves with him or nominating someone who cannot escape the association, such as his younger brother Jeb. The verdict of public opinion on Bush may not be accurate, but at this point it is not capable of being altered by further debate. If what Mead is really saying is that Republicans must move on from Bush and not repeat his political mistakes then even those who of us wish the 43rd president were given his due cannot really disagree.

The debate about the Bush administration belongs to the historians now and we can only hope that they will eventually get it right. But if Republicans are going to win elections anytime soon they need to move on and concentrate on defending their principles and pointing out Obama’s failures, rather than seek to vindicate their former leader.

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Dead Zone at the Core of American Life

In one of his typically remarkable posts at the American Interest, Walter Russell Mead reflects upon the story of Rajat K. Gupta, who was indicted yesterday on charges of insider trading. As head of the distinguished consulting group McKinsey & Co., Gupta was “privy to the most sensitive information in American corporate life,” Mead explains.

Gupta abused the trust of his clients in (allegedly) trading on the information to enrich himself. “If the government proves its case,” Mead says, “it will demonstrate that the American establishment has lost its ability to discern character and demand integrity”:

That a criminal could win the trust of so many of the “best and the brightest” in philanthropy and business chillingly demonstrates the moral and intellectual vacuum in the corporate world. Years of excessive payment for executives, okayed by go along to get along boards of directors, a culture of entitlement and a lack of personal character and strong moral codes have created a dead zone at the core of American life.

A haunting phrase — the dead zone at the core of American life. Success is now the measure of respectability throughout the culture; men and women of principle put themselves at a competitive disadvantage, and are roundly hooted at.

It is not merely “the corporate world” that is to blame, however. Where in American life is the living zone of personal character and strong moral codes? The churches? Perhaps in the more Evangelical ones (and in Mormon temples), but the mainline Protestant churches have abandoned their tradition of moral radicalism, according to the great novelist Marilynne Robinson:

     What are called now the mainline churches were very much in the vanguard of the anti-slavery movement. They truly were radical in the terms of the time, and ahead of their time. . . . And I think that they are radical institutions in their deepest impulses, but that they have been stereotyped as the archetypal conservative institutions. . . .
     They don’t like this characterization. They don’t think past it. And they’ve been very much intimidated by these kinds of things. I think that they would be very well positioned to assume an important place in contemporary culture. For them, the issue seems to be, “Should we imitate others?” and it never seems to be, “How can we be more fully ourselves?”

Kal v’homer, as the Jews say — how much more true of Reform and Conservative Judaism, which together account for 70 percent of American Jews. Much of the religious life in America is simply a lowered-voice rush to accommodate itself to the dead zone.

The universities? Don’t make me laugh. Even if the “best and brightest” in academe were not so keen to throw off the burden of the liberal arts — which were once the zone of strong moral codes in American life — the university has irretrievably lost its position as the training ground of personal character.

As a blogger at Ace of Spades HQ put it in asking whether education is the “root cause” of our current political dramas, “[A]n uber-expensive university system . . . encourages students to take on debts approaching a house mortgage yet leaves them ill-prepared to actually earn a living, much less pay back their loans.” Even the sharp-toothed Charles Krauthammer, liberally educated at McGill and Balliol College, Oxford, shares the same basic assumption about university education. In a recent column on Occupy Wall Street, he wrote:

These indignant indolents saddled with their $50,000 student loans and English degrees have decided that their lack of gainful employment is rooted in the malice of the millionaires on whose homes they are now marching —

and not in those worthless English degrees, I suppose, that left them ill-prepared to earn a living. The purpose of a university education, everyone now agrees, is to help you get ahead; not, as William James once said, underlining every word, to “help you to know a good man when you see him.”

That leaves literature. In preparing The Aspern Papers for a course on Henry James recently, I stumbled upon a 1995 article by Joseph Hynes in the South Atlantic Review. Now retired from the English department at the University of Oregon, Hynes is a scholar of postwar British fiction who wrote one book on Muriel Spark’s novels and edited another. He calls his essay “Morality and Fiction,” and he focuses largely upon James, because James reveals “something valuable about fiction” — in his own work and since then. James himself is a “highly sensitive moralist trying to find some roots for his conviction that responsible choices require attention to how we ought to live our lives,” Hynes writes.

But James was one of the last American novelists with any such conviction. “[S]ince James’s time, fiction-writers have written more and more painstakingly about less and less,” Hynes observes. Which brings us to our own time, and to what Hynes calls “the determined refusal, on display in contemporary fiction, to enter into conscious moral debate. . . .”

Religious men and women, scholars, writers — the company once known as humanists — suffered a failure of nerve. Scorned by “the corporate world” for principles and codes that seemed fully to explain their own economic shortcomings, confined to a zone of culture without power or influence, they were quick to capitulate. They preferred to imitate the standards of success. But the zone they abandoned is now dead, and the institutions that once made it possible for the fugitives to earn a living — the mainline churches, the research universities, the publishing trade — are not much better off. If a new zone of personal character and strong moral codes is to be created in American life, it will have to be the work of a counterculture.

In one of his typically remarkable posts at the American Interest, Walter Russell Mead reflects upon the story of Rajat K. Gupta, who was indicted yesterday on charges of insider trading. As head of the distinguished consulting group McKinsey & Co., Gupta was “privy to the most sensitive information in American corporate life,” Mead explains.

Gupta abused the trust of his clients in (allegedly) trading on the information to enrich himself. “If the government proves its case,” Mead says, “it will demonstrate that the American establishment has lost its ability to discern character and demand integrity”:

That a criminal could win the trust of so many of the “best and the brightest” in philanthropy and business chillingly demonstrates the moral and intellectual vacuum in the corporate world. Years of excessive payment for executives, okayed by go along to get along boards of directors, a culture of entitlement and a lack of personal character and strong moral codes have created a dead zone at the core of American life.

A haunting phrase — the dead zone at the core of American life. Success is now the measure of respectability throughout the culture; men and women of principle put themselves at a competitive disadvantage, and are roundly hooted at.

It is not merely “the corporate world” that is to blame, however. Where in American life is the living zone of personal character and strong moral codes? The churches? Perhaps in the more Evangelical ones (and in Mormon temples), but the mainline Protestant churches have abandoned their tradition of moral radicalism, according to the great novelist Marilynne Robinson:

     What are called now the mainline churches were very much in the vanguard of the anti-slavery movement. They truly were radical in the terms of the time, and ahead of their time. . . . And I think that they are radical institutions in their deepest impulses, but that they have been stereotyped as the archetypal conservative institutions. . . .
     They don’t like this characterization. They don’t think past it. And they’ve been very much intimidated by these kinds of things. I think that they would be very well positioned to assume an important place in contemporary culture. For them, the issue seems to be, “Should we imitate others?” and it never seems to be, “How can we be more fully ourselves?”

Kal v’homer, as the Jews say — how much more true of Reform and Conservative Judaism, which together account for 70 percent of American Jews. Much of the religious life in America is simply a lowered-voice rush to accommodate itself to the dead zone.

The universities? Don’t make me laugh. Even if the “best and brightest” in academe were not so keen to throw off the burden of the liberal arts — which were once the zone of strong moral codes in American life — the university has irretrievably lost its position as the training ground of personal character.

As a blogger at Ace of Spades HQ put it in asking whether education is the “root cause” of our current political dramas, “[A]n uber-expensive university system . . . encourages students to take on debts approaching a house mortgage yet leaves them ill-prepared to actually earn a living, much less pay back their loans.” Even the sharp-toothed Charles Krauthammer, liberally educated at McGill and Balliol College, Oxford, shares the same basic assumption about university education. In a recent column on Occupy Wall Street, he wrote:

These indignant indolents saddled with their $50,000 student loans and English degrees have decided that their lack of gainful employment is rooted in the malice of the millionaires on whose homes they are now marching —

and not in those worthless English degrees, I suppose, that left them ill-prepared to earn a living. The purpose of a university education, everyone now agrees, is to help you get ahead; not, as William James once said, underlining every word, to “help you to know a good man when you see him.”

That leaves literature. In preparing The Aspern Papers for a course on Henry James recently, I stumbled upon a 1995 article by Joseph Hynes in the South Atlantic Review. Now retired from the English department at the University of Oregon, Hynes is a scholar of postwar British fiction who wrote one book on Muriel Spark’s novels and edited another. He calls his essay “Morality and Fiction,” and he focuses largely upon James, because James reveals “something valuable about fiction” — in his own work and since then. James himself is a “highly sensitive moralist trying to find some roots for his conviction that responsible choices require attention to how we ought to live our lives,” Hynes writes.

But James was one of the last American novelists with any such conviction. “[S]ince James’s time, fiction-writers have written more and more painstakingly about less and less,” Hynes observes. Which brings us to our own time, and to what Hynes calls “the determined refusal, on display in contemporary fiction, to enter into conscious moral debate. . . .”

Religious men and women, scholars, writers — the company once known as humanists — suffered a failure of nerve. Scorned by “the corporate world” for principles and codes that seemed fully to explain their own economic shortcomings, confined to a zone of culture without power or influence, they were quick to capitulate. They preferred to imitate the standards of success. But the zone they abandoned is now dead, and the institutions that once made it possible for the fugitives to earn a living — the mainline churches, the research universities, the publishing trade — are not much better off. If a new zone of personal character and strong moral codes is to be created in American life, it will have to be the work of a counterculture.

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Could an Unstable Egypt Bring Israel and the U.S. Closer?

At Politico, Walter Russell Mead analyzes what the possible outcome in Egypt could mean for the U.S.-Israel relationship. He writes that if an extremist government ends up replacing President Hosni Mubarak, this could lead to a renewed closeness between the U.S. and Israel:

[W]hile U.S. debate over the costs of our alliance with Israel could sharpen, the United States is likely to draw closer to Israel if the regional climate grows more polarized. Between 50 percent and two-thirds of the American people routinely tell pollsters they believe Israel is a close ally that the United States should support. Israel is one of a small number of countries that a majority of Americans say they are willing to defend with military force.

While Israel seems relatively secure, that majority argues about whether the best way to help Israel is to push it toward concessions to the Palestinians or to support it as it hangs tough.

But when Israel comes under threat, those arguments fade into the background.

Obviously it wouldn’t be good for Israel if an extremist government took over in Egypt. But it would also reaffirm the U.S.’s strategic reliance on the Jewish state, and highlight Israel’s position as the only U.S. ally in the region.

According to Mead, this intensified national support for Israel would likely lead to a closer relationship between the Obama administration and the Israeli government. At the same time, this development could also alienate parts of Obama’s left-wing base:

At the same time, a vocal American minority — ranging from the “truther” far left through parts of the respectable foreign policy establishment and extending out into the Buchananite far right — asserts that strong U.S. support for Israel endangers our vital interests throughout the Middle East.

If a radical government should emerge in Egypt, it could strengthen this conviction among the opponents of the U.S.-Israel relationship. They will likely redouble their efforts to distance Washington from Israel.

The situation in Egypt is so erratic that it’s hard to guess what will happen in a week, let alone six months from now. But supposing Mead’s calculation proves correct, here’s one prediction: the line between Israel’s supporters and enemies would be clearer. And phony friends of Israel who push anti-Israel policies — like a UN resolution condemning the Jewish state — will have a much harder time finding political support within the Obama administration or with members of Congress.

At Politico, Walter Russell Mead analyzes what the possible outcome in Egypt could mean for the U.S.-Israel relationship. He writes that if an extremist government ends up replacing President Hosni Mubarak, this could lead to a renewed closeness between the U.S. and Israel:

[W]hile U.S. debate over the costs of our alliance with Israel could sharpen, the United States is likely to draw closer to Israel if the regional climate grows more polarized. Between 50 percent and two-thirds of the American people routinely tell pollsters they believe Israel is a close ally that the United States should support. Israel is one of a small number of countries that a majority of Americans say they are willing to defend with military force.

While Israel seems relatively secure, that majority argues about whether the best way to help Israel is to push it toward concessions to the Palestinians or to support it as it hangs tough.

But when Israel comes under threat, those arguments fade into the background.

Obviously it wouldn’t be good for Israel if an extremist government took over in Egypt. But it would also reaffirm the U.S.’s strategic reliance on the Jewish state, and highlight Israel’s position as the only U.S. ally in the region.

According to Mead, this intensified national support for Israel would likely lead to a closer relationship between the Obama administration and the Israeli government. At the same time, this development could also alienate parts of Obama’s left-wing base:

At the same time, a vocal American minority — ranging from the “truther” far left through parts of the respectable foreign policy establishment and extending out into the Buchananite far right — asserts that strong U.S. support for Israel endangers our vital interests throughout the Middle East.

If a radical government should emerge in Egypt, it could strengthen this conviction among the opponents of the U.S.-Israel relationship. They will likely redouble their efforts to distance Washington from Israel.

The situation in Egypt is so erratic that it’s hard to guess what will happen in a week, let alone six months from now. But supposing Mead’s calculation proves correct, here’s one prediction: the line between Israel’s supporters and enemies would be clearer. And phony friends of Israel who push anti-Israel policies — like a UN resolution condemning the Jewish state — will have a much harder time finding political support within the Obama administration or with members of Congress.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

What happens when the Democratic majority ends: “President Obama on Monday proposed a two-year freeze on federal pay, saying federal workers must sacrifice to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. … Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) had called for a freeze on federal pay this month and also had said the average federal worker makes twice the pay of the average private sector worker.”

Jackson Diehl reminds us to stop holding out hope that small-bore covert actions will defang the mullahs. “Covert action, in short, is not likely to be the silver bullet that stops Iran’s nuclear program. That’s true of 21st-century devices like Stuxnet — and it will likely apply to the old-fashioned and ruthless attacks on Iranian scientists.” Still, it helps slow the clock.

Obama’s foreign policy aura is over. Walter Russell Mead writes: “Our propensity to elect charismatic but inexperienced leaders repeatedly lands us in trouble. We remain steadfastly blind to the deterioration of our long-term fiscal position as we pile unfunded entitlements on top of each other in a surefire recipe for national disaster. We lurch from one ineffective foreign policy to another, while the public consensus that has underwritten America’s world role since the 1940s continues to decay. Our elite seems at times literally hellbent on throwing away the cultural capital and that has kept this nation great and free for so many generations.” Ouch.

Is the era of slam-dunk Democratic victories coming to a close in New Jersey? “With one more national election behind him, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez now faces one ahead — his own. And according to the most recent statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, 31% of his New Jersey constituency have a favorable opinion of him and 25% have an unfavorable opinion. Another 44% either are unsure (29%) or haven’t heard of him at all (15%). ‘Those are fairly anemic numbers for an energetic guy who has already served five years,’ said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll.”

Michael Steele’s finished as Republican National Committee chair — the only issue is which of the competent, low-key contenders will win it.

Are the Dems kaput in the South? “After suffering a historic rout — in which nearly every white Deep South Democrat in the U.S. House was defeated and Republicans took over or gained seats in legislatures across the region — the party’s ranks in Dixie have thinned even further.” I’d be cautious — the GOP was “dead” in New England and the Midwest two years ago.

Rep. Mike Pence is going to halt the speculation as to whether he’ll run for president. Speeches like this tell us he certainly is: “I choose the West. I choose limited government and freedom. I choose the free market, personal responsibility and equality of opportunity. I choose fiscal restraint, sound money, a flat tax, regulatory reform, American energy, expanded trade and a return to traditional values. In a word, I choose a boundless American future built on the timeless ideals of the American people. I believe the American people are ready for this choice and await men and women who will lead us back to that future, back to the West, back to American exceptionalism. Here’s to that future. Our best days are yet to come.” That’s a presidential candidate talking.

Bret Stephens suggests that the WikiLeak documents may bring down the curtain on silly leftist foreign policy ideas. “Are Israeli Likudniks and their neocon friends (present company included) the dark matter pushing the U.S. toward war with Iran? Well, no: Arab Likudniks turn out to be even more vocal on that score. Can Syria be detached from Iran’s orbit? ‘I think not,’ says Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. … Has the administration succeeded in pressing the reset button with Russia? Hard to credit, given Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s description of the Putin-Medvedev regime as one from which ‘there has been little real change.’ Is the threat of an Iranian missile strike—and therefore of the need for missile defense—exaggerated? Not since we learned that North Korea had shipped missiles to Tehran that can carry nuclear warheads as far as Western Europe and Moscow.” But the administration knew all this — the only difference is now we do.

What happens when the Democratic majority ends: “President Obama on Monday proposed a two-year freeze on federal pay, saying federal workers must sacrifice to reduce the nation’s budget deficit. … Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) had called for a freeze on federal pay this month and also had said the average federal worker makes twice the pay of the average private sector worker.”

Jackson Diehl reminds us to stop holding out hope that small-bore covert actions will defang the mullahs. “Covert action, in short, is not likely to be the silver bullet that stops Iran’s nuclear program. That’s true of 21st-century devices like Stuxnet — and it will likely apply to the old-fashioned and ruthless attacks on Iranian scientists.” Still, it helps slow the clock.

Obama’s foreign policy aura is over. Walter Russell Mead writes: “Our propensity to elect charismatic but inexperienced leaders repeatedly lands us in trouble. We remain steadfastly blind to the deterioration of our long-term fiscal position as we pile unfunded entitlements on top of each other in a surefire recipe for national disaster. We lurch from one ineffective foreign policy to another, while the public consensus that has underwritten America’s world role since the 1940s continues to decay. Our elite seems at times literally hellbent on throwing away the cultural capital and that has kept this nation great and free for so many generations.” Ouch.

Is the era of slam-dunk Democratic victories coming to a close in New Jersey? “With one more national election behind him, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez now faces one ahead — his own. And according to the most recent statewide poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, 31% of his New Jersey constituency have a favorable opinion of him and 25% have an unfavorable opinion. Another 44% either are unsure (29%) or haven’t heard of him at all (15%). ‘Those are fairly anemic numbers for an energetic guy who has already served five years,’ said Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the poll.”

Michael Steele’s finished as Republican National Committee chair — the only issue is which of the competent, low-key contenders will win it.

Are the Dems kaput in the South? “After suffering a historic rout — in which nearly every white Deep South Democrat in the U.S. House was defeated and Republicans took over or gained seats in legislatures across the region — the party’s ranks in Dixie have thinned even further.” I’d be cautious — the GOP was “dead” in New England and the Midwest two years ago.

Rep. Mike Pence is going to halt the speculation as to whether he’ll run for president. Speeches like this tell us he certainly is: “I choose the West. I choose limited government and freedom. I choose the free market, personal responsibility and equality of opportunity. I choose fiscal restraint, sound money, a flat tax, regulatory reform, American energy, expanded trade and a return to traditional values. In a word, I choose a boundless American future built on the timeless ideals of the American people. I believe the American people are ready for this choice and await men and women who will lead us back to that future, back to the West, back to American exceptionalism. Here’s to that future. Our best days are yet to come.” That’s a presidential candidate talking.

Bret Stephens suggests that the WikiLeak documents may bring down the curtain on silly leftist foreign policy ideas. “Are Israeli Likudniks and their neocon friends (present company included) the dark matter pushing the U.S. toward war with Iran? Well, no: Arab Likudniks turn out to be even more vocal on that score. Can Syria be detached from Iran’s orbit? ‘I think not,’ says Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. … Has the administration succeeded in pressing the reset button with Russia? Hard to credit, given Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s description of the Putin-Medvedev regime as one from which ‘there has been little real change.’ Is the threat of an Iranian missile strike—and therefore of the need for missile defense—exaggerated? Not since we learned that North Korea had shipped missiles to Tehran that can carry nuclear warheads as far as Western Europe and Moscow.” But the administration knew all this — the only difference is now we do.

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It’s the Everything, Stupid

A few weeks ago, we learned that the Obama administration granted get-out-of-ObamaCare waivers to 30 big-time employers. Now we find out that the number of organizations and businesses that have broken free of the job killing policy is at 111 and growing. The president who came to office proudly signing executive orders condemning his predecessor’s policies is now quietly signing hall passes exempting Americans from his own.

For the first 20 months of the Obama presidency, the world watched to see if the ambitious, progressive superstar who talked loftily about real change would actually confer some magical metamorphosis upon the country. Even those of us who doubted his superhuman abilities harbored a small fear that he had the talent and the polish to pull it off.  His campaign performance was brilliant and his election, by the time it happened, felt like a matter of national fate. But after he was sworn in, we watched his ideology and his increasingly evident incompetence duke it out for pride of place. We hoped that where he wanted to apply extreme liberal ideas, his ineptitude would trip him up. Read More

A few weeks ago, we learned that the Obama administration granted get-out-of-ObamaCare waivers to 30 big-time employers. Now we find out that the number of organizations and businesses that have broken free of the job killing policy is at 111 and growing. The president who came to office proudly signing executive orders condemning his predecessor’s policies is now quietly signing hall passes exempting Americans from his own.

For the first 20 months of the Obama presidency, the world watched to see if the ambitious, progressive superstar who talked loftily about real change would actually confer some magical metamorphosis upon the country. Even those of us who doubted his superhuman abilities harbored a small fear that he had the talent and the polish to pull it off.  His campaign performance was brilliant and his election, by the time it happened, felt like a matter of national fate. But after he was sworn in, we watched his ideology and his increasingly evident incompetence duke it out for pride of place. We hoped that where he wanted to apply extreme liberal ideas, his ineptitude would trip him up.

What happened could not have been predicted: the campus progressivism and the incompetence fused. Obama pushed through an enormous fiscal stimulus and a calamitous healthcare policy, both of which were not only unapologetically redistributive but structurally unsound as well. As Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron said of the stimulus, “even the components with a plausible justification were designed in the least productive and most redistributionist way possible.”  A labyrinthine bureaucratic architecture and a tangle of regulatory loose ends similarly doomed ObamaCare.

On foreign policy, the same thing happened. President Obama not only approached foreign provocateurs with harmful progressive notions of Western guilt and omni-directional empathy; his green foreign policy team bungled overtures and gambits, so that world leaders ceased to take America seriously, even as an apology nation.  While antagonists forged greater alliances, friends complained about the un-seriousness of American policy. The world took the measure of the commander in chief and pronounced him a lightweight.

Now, with the waiting game over and with the midterm elections having hemmed in the administration, we have a president who is, halfway into his term, ineffective. At this point, he’s likely to pivot to foreign affairs where he’s less constrained by the conservative realignment in Congress. But look at how that’s going. During a 10-day tour of Asia, Obama failed to secure a key trade agreement with South Korea and got nowhere with China on its harmful currency devaluation. At the same time, Obama’s ill-conceived personal request that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani step aside and allow Iyad Allawi to become Iraq’s new president was immediately rebuffed. Even as our troops make progress in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai tells the Washington Post, “The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan… to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life.” A burst of military success is not enough in Afghanistan. The U.S. needs to be in for the long haul, so that our allies don’t cut survival deals with our enemies. If we’re not staying long enough to keep Afghanistan on course, Karzai wants his waiver too. Many pundits are misinterpreting Obama’s foreign policy headaches. It’s not that world leaders are responding to Americans’ midterm disapproval; it’s that they too are unimpressed.

No American should be pleased about any of this. Those who were initially afraid of Obama’s power and his ideological designs now have a new concern of equal importance: his powerlessness.  Recently, Walter Russell Mead wrote at his American Interest blog, “No president in my lifetime has fallen from heaven to earth as rapidly as President Obama.” If he keeps falling, he takes us with him. Waivers are a start, but the enormous work of reversal and restoration has not yet properly begun. We’d all do well to hope for a little of that early executive determination and sense of purpose.

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Why Obama Just Might Fight Iran

Walter Russell Mead argues in the American Interest that President Barack Obama is more likely to go to war with Iran than many conventional observers believe. “In my view,” he wrote, “Iran and this president are headed toward a confrontation in which President Obama will either have to give up all hope on the issues he cares most about, or risk the use of force to stop Iran.”

The president is not likely to go to war with Iran for Israel’s sake. He’s even less likely to go to war with Iran on behalf of the Middle East’s Sunni Arabs. He’s not even all that likely to go to war with Iran to protect American interests in the Levant and the Persian Gulf. He just might, though, as Mead says, go to war to protect what he values most and hopes to accomplish as president.

Obama is often described as a cold-blooded “realist,” but in some ways he’s a Wilsonian. He’s a different kind of Wilsonian from President George W. Bush, but he is one nonetheless. “In many ways a classic example of the Wilsonian school of American foreign policy,” Mead writes, “President Obama believes that American security can best be safeguarded by the construction of a liberal and orderly world,” like a loose and less centralized European Union on a planet-wide scale. And yet, as Mead points out, “Iran’s success means the complete, utter and historic destruction of everything President Obama wants to build.”

He’s right. If Iran emerges as a nuclear-armed terrorist-sponsoring hegemon over the world’s primary energy fields, Obama’s neo-Wilsonian project — which is already a long-shot, at best, as it is — will stand no chance at all for the duration of his tenure and most likely beyond. His domestic American agenda will go sideways, as well, if he loses a re-election bid in 2012 for sending the Middle East and the stability of the world’s energy economy into a tailspin.

Surely, Obama knows he is often compared to former President Jimmy Carter by his domestic opponents — and not in a good way. Carter’s presidency was cut short for a number of reasons, the most memorable being his inability to rescue or negotiate the release of 52 hostages seized from the American Embassy in Tehran by Ayatollah Khomeini’s radical Islamists during Iran’s post-revolutionary struggle for power. That very same regime now threatens Obama’s presidency and place in history, too. As much as he fears and loathes the thought of going to war with Iran, he can’t relish the possibility of becoming Jimmy Carter Redux and losing everything.

American presidents, like all leaders everywhere, are forced to choose between bad and worse options. And it’s not always clear which option is which. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s likely Obama will use the military power at his disposal to prevent Iran from going nuclear, but it’s not unthinkable that he’ll surprise everyone — for good or for ill — if he feels those who destroyed Carter are on the verge of scalping him, too.

Walter Russell Mead argues in the American Interest that President Barack Obama is more likely to go to war with Iran than many conventional observers believe. “In my view,” he wrote, “Iran and this president are headed toward a confrontation in which President Obama will either have to give up all hope on the issues he cares most about, or risk the use of force to stop Iran.”

The president is not likely to go to war with Iran for Israel’s sake. He’s even less likely to go to war with Iran on behalf of the Middle East’s Sunni Arabs. He’s not even all that likely to go to war with Iran to protect American interests in the Levant and the Persian Gulf. He just might, though, as Mead says, go to war to protect what he values most and hopes to accomplish as president.

Obama is often described as a cold-blooded “realist,” but in some ways he’s a Wilsonian. He’s a different kind of Wilsonian from President George W. Bush, but he is one nonetheless. “In many ways a classic example of the Wilsonian school of American foreign policy,” Mead writes, “President Obama believes that American security can best be safeguarded by the construction of a liberal and orderly world,” like a loose and less centralized European Union on a planet-wide scale. And yet, as Mead points out, “Iran’s success means the complete, utter and historic destruction of everything President Obama wants to build.”

He’s right. If Iran emerges as a nuclear-armed terrorist-sponsoring hegemon over the world’s primary energy fields, Obama’s neo-Wilsonian project — which is already a long-shot, at best, as it is — will stand no chance at all for the duration of his tenure and most likely beyond. His domestic American agenda will go sideways, as well, if he loses a re-election bid in 2012 for sending the Middle East and the stability of the world’s energy economy into a tailspin.

Surely, Obama knows he is often compared to former President Jimmy Carter by his domestic opponents — and not in a good way. Carter’s presidency was cut short for a number of reasons, the most memorable being his inability to rescue or negotiate the release of 52 hostages seized from the American Embassy in Tehran by Ayatollah Khomeini’s radical Islamists during Iran’s post-revolutionary struggle for power. That very same regime now threatens Obama’s presidency and place in history, too. As much as he fears and loathes the thought of going to war with Iran, he can’t relish the possibility of becoming Jimmy Carter Redux and losing everything.

American presidents, like all leaders everywhere, are forced to choose between bad and worse options. And it’s not always clear which option is which. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s likely Obama will use the military power at his disposal to prevent Iran from going nuclear, but it’s not unthinkable that he’ll surprise everyone — for good or for ill — if he feels those who destroyed Carter are on the verge of scalping him, too.

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What the World Must Do for Middle East Peace?

Walter Russell Mead has written an interesting article about the Middle East conflict for the American Interest that attempts to rise above Arab-Israeli partisanship. But rather than, as is usual with such pieces, blaming both sides, Mead rightly seeks to distribute some of the responsibility for the continuance of the conflict to other sources.

While dismissing both the Israeli and Arab narratives as too narrow in perspective, he rightly blames Britain for setting the conflict in motion early in the 20th century and the failure of the international community to separate or protect Jews and Arabs from each other in the months and years prior to Israel’s War of Independence. He thinks it’s time for the world to make amends for that and to take the steps necessary to end the conflict now.

To that end, he proposes that well-meaning foreign observers who are not shy about giving opinions about Israel or the Palestinians pitch in with the wherewithal to actually help things rather than merely make them worse. What does he want them to do? To stop sending advice to the Palestinians and to replace it with “visas, jobs and money.” Since there is, according to him, no room in the West Bank and Gaza for the millions of descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees who oppose any two-state solution that will not give them the right to “return” to what is now Israel, what must happen is that “self-righteous Europeans will have to interrupt their Israel-bashing to make room for some new Palestinian immigrants who will have the full right to become citizens.”

These refugees and their descendants should be compensated for their losses and allowed to emigrate to the West from an Arab world that has kept them in squalid camps to be used as props in the ongoing war against Israel. To his credit, he adds that the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries who came to Israel and the West in the 1940s and 1950s (and whose fate has never interested Israel’s critics) should be similarly compensated, both for the sake of justice and to ensure Israel’s support for the project.

This all makes a lot of sense. Which is why it will never happen.

Mead writes, “Palestinians will reject any peace agreement that ignores their rights and needs.” That’s true. But the problem here is that the Palestinians don’t have the same view of “their rights and needs” as Mead or any other objective observer. Palestinian nationalism didn’t come into being as a movement to better the lives of ordinary Palestinians or to secure reasonable redress for their wrongs. It came into existence to oppose Zionism. The dynamic of Palestinian political culture is such that any agreement — whether for two states or three, or for refugee compensation — that legitimizes the existence of a Jewish state within any borders, be they of 1967, 1949 or any other date, is a betrayal.

As Mead says, if peace were “just a question of the West Bank, we could probably fudge a solution.” But giving the refugees a degree of justice isn’t what the Palestinians want. They want there to be no Israel, and that is why, contrary to common sense and to the frustration of the rest of the world, they have “never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity” to make peace. If it were just a matter of the West coming up with the cash and the visas to resettle the refugees, there would have been peace 60 years ago. The Arab refugees won’t be resettled (as the Jews have been without international assistance), because doing so means that Israel is here to stay. While Mead comes closer than most observers to understanding what is at the core of the conflict, he ignores the basic fact that his elegant solution, even if it were taken up by the Obama administration as he hopes, would never satisfy the Palestinians.

Walter Russell Mead has written an interesting article about the Middle East conflict for the American Interest that attempts to rise above Arab-Israeli partisanship. But rather than, as is usual with such pieces, blaming both sides, Mead rightly seeks to distribute some of the responsibility for the continuance of the conflict to other sources.

While dismissing both the Israeli and Arab narratives as too narrow in perspective, he rightly blames Britain for setting the conflict in motion early in the 20th century and the failure of the international community to separate or protect Jews and Arabs from each other in the months and years prior to Israel’s War of Independence. He thinks it’s time for the world to make amends for that and to take the steps necessary to end the conflict now.

To that end, he proposes that well-meaning foreign observers who are not shy about giving opinions about Israel or the Palestinians pitch in with the wherewithal to actually help things rather than merely make them worse. What does he want them to do? To stop sending advice to the Palestinians and to replace it with “visas, jobs and money.” Since there is, according to him, no room in the West Bank and Gaza for the millions of descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees who oppose any two-state solution that will not give them the right to “return” to what is now Israel, what must happen is that “self-righteous Europeans will have to interrupt their Israel-bashing to make room for some new Palestinian immigrants who will have the full right to become citizens.”

These refugees and their descendants should be compensated for their losses and allowed to emigrate to the West from an Arab world that has kept them in squalid camps to be used as props in the ongoing war against Israel. To his credit, he adds that the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries who came to Israel and the West in the 1940s and 1950s (and whose fate has never interested Israel’s critics) should be similarly compensated, both for the sake of justice and to ensure Israel’s support for the project.

This all makes a lot of sense. Which is why it will never happen.

Mead writes, “Palestinians will reject any peace agreement that ignores their rights and needs.” That’s true. But the problem here is that the Palestinians don’t have the same view of “their rights and needs” as Mead or any other objective observer. Palestinian nationalism didn’t come into being as a movement to better the lives of ordinary Palestinians or to secure reasonable redress for their wrongs. It came into existence to oppose Zionism. The dynamic of Palestinian political culture is such that any agreement — whether for two states or three, or for refugee compensation — that legitimizes the existence of a Jewish state within any borders, be they of 1967, 1949 or any other date, is a betrayal.

As Mead says, if peace were “just a question of the West Bank, we could probably fudge a solution.” But giving the refugees a degree of justice isn’t what the Palestinians want. They want there to be no Israel, and that is why, contrary to common sense and to the frustration of the rest of the world, they have “never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity” to make peace. If it were just a matter of the West coming up with the cash and the visas to resettle the refugees, there would have been peace 60 years ago. The Arab refugees won’t be resettled (as the Jews have been without international assistance), because doing so means that Israel is here to stay. While Mead comes closer than most observers to understanding what is at the core of the conflict, he ignores the basic fact that his elegant solution, even if it were taken up by the Obama administration as he hopes, would never satisfy the Palestinians.

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Two Articles Worth Reading

The indispensable Walter Russell Mead over at the American Interest has a perceptive essay on the changing politics of climate change.

I’d suggest pairing it with an article in the Telegraph about a new report by the International Monetary Fund called “Navigating the Fiscal Challenges Ahead” (h/t Powerline). If you’re marooned on a desert island this weekend with time on your hands, here’s the complete report.

Both the ordinary people and the markets have woken up to the fact that many of the world’s biggest economies have, courtesy of their politicians, dug themselves into a deep hole and the next few years will have to be spent on climbing out of it or face fiscal disaster. That means no money for saving the planet from a global-warming catastrophe that fewer and fewer people believe in anyway. Al Gore will just have to cry his eyes out in his new 10,000-square-foot house (with nine bathrooms) overlooking the Pacific.

As Edmund Conway, the economics editor of the Telegraph, explains,

the idea behind the [IMF] document is to set out how much different countries around the world need to cut their deficits by in the next few years, and the bottom line is it’s going to be big and hard (ie 8.7pc of GDP in deficit cuts around the world, which works out at, gulp, about $4 trillion).

But the really interesting stuff is the detail, and what leaps out again and again is how much of a hill the U.S. has to climb. Exhibit A is the fact that under the Obama administration’s current fiscal plans, the national debt in the U.S. (on a gross basis) will climb to above 100 percent of GDP by 2015 — a far steeper increase than almost any other country.

Not the least of the problems for the United States is that the average maturity of federal securities is only 4.4 years. In Britain it’s 12.8 years and in Greece, 7.4 years. That means that half of all federal securities will need to be rolled over by mid-2014. If the market begins to lose faith in the U.S., the interest rates demanded by the market will soar and debt service will begin to crowd out other federal expenses. The IMF calculates that the United States will have to cut its structural debt by 12 percent of GDP over the next ten years to get back on track. That’s higher than any other country (Greece: 9 percent) except Japan.

No wonder the voters are in an unforgiving mood.

The indispensable Walter Russell Mead over at the American Interest has a perceptive essay on the changing politics of climate change.

I’d suggest pairing it with an article in the Telegraph about a new report by the International Monetary Fund called “Navigating the Fiscal Challenges Ahead” (h/t Powerline). If you’re marooned on a desert island this weekend with time on your hands, here’s the complete report.

Both the ordinary people and the markets have woken up to the fact that many of the world’s biggest economies have, courtesy of their politicians, dug themselves into a deep hole and the next few years will have to be spent on climbing out of it or face fiscal disaster. That means no money for saving the planet from a global-warming catastrophe that fewer and fewer people believe in anyway. Al Gore will just have to cry his eyes out in his new 10,000-square-foot house (with nine bathrooms) overlooking the Pacific.

As Edmund Conway, the economics editor of the Telegraph, explains,

the idea behind the [IMF] document is to set out how much different countries around the world need to cut their deficits by in the next few years, and the bottom line is it’s going to be big and hard (ie 8.7pc of GDP in deficit cuts around the world, which works out at, gulp, about $4 trillion).

But the really interesting stuff is the detail, and what leaps out again and again is how much of a hill the U.S. has to climb. Exhibit A is the fact that under the Obama administration’s current fiscal plans, the national debt in the U.S. (on a gross basis) will climb to above 100 percent of GDP by 2015 — a far steeper increase than almost any other country.

Not the least of the problems for the United States is that the average maturity of federal securities is only 4.4 years. In Britain it’s 12.8 years and in Greece, 7.4 years. That means that half of all federal securities will need to be rolled over by mid-2014. If the market begins to lose faith in the U.S., the interest rates demanded by the market will soar and debt service will begin to crowd out other federal expenses. The IMF calculates that the United States will have to cut its structural debt by 12 percent of GDP over the next ten years to get back on track. That’s higher than any other country (Greece: 9 percent) except Japan.

No wonder the voters are in an unforgiving mood.

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Annals of a 91-Year-Old Peace Process

Yesterday, the White House posted a “readout” of President Obama’s call to Palestinian “President” Mahmoud Abbas, who is beginning the 65th month of his 48-month term. Obama congratulated him on the start of the proximity talks, urged him to do “everything he can” to prevent incitement or delegitimization of Israel, and said he “looks forward to receiving President Abbas at the White House soon.”

There is an obvious disparity between the treatment of Abbas and that of the leader of Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu was kept waiting until the last moment before receiving a presidential audience; the meeting was held after business hours and with a side-door entrance and exit; he was blindsided at the meeting and left alone while Obama had dinner with his family; there was no meeting with the media before or after; and there was not even a picture. The only thing missing was a parting gift of an iPod loaded with Obama’s Cairo speech. Abbas will get the opposite treatment on every count, starting with a news release announcing that the president looks forward to meeting him.

The slight to Israel is obvious, but there is an additional reason for the ostentatious treatment of Abbas. The dirty little secret of the “peace process” is that the U.S. wants a Palestinian state more than the Palestinians do, for reasons discussed in Walter Russell Mead’s perceptive post, “The Middle East Peace Industry” — worth reading in its entirety (but only with Nadine’s important comment on it). Mead notes that the “Middle East peace process is the longest running piece of diplomatic theater on the world stage,” dating from 1919 (with a two-state solution proposed by the Jews and rejected by the Arabs), with repeated failures caused by the continuing Arab goal of one state rather than two.

The Palestinian lack of interest in the latest version of the “peace process” is palpable. A year ago, Israel announced that it wanted immediate negotiations without preconditions; formally affirmed a two-state solution as the goal of the negotiations; and took an unprecedented step to help them start. The Palestinians refused to commence negotiations intended to give them a state, still refuse to attend them in person, and are willing only to let the Obama administration negotiate for them. They have discovered that saying “no we can’t” produces not criticism of them but pressure on Israel to make more concessions, followed by congratulations to the Palestinians.

Yesterday, the White House posted a “readout” of President Obama’s call to Palestinian “President” Mahmoud Abbas, who is beginning the 65th month of his 48-month term. Obama congratulated him on the start of the proximity talks, urged him to do “everything he can” to prevent incitement or delegitimization of Israel, and said he “looks forward to receiving President Abbas at the White House soon.”

There is an obvious disparity between the treatment of Abbas and that of the leader of Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu was kept waiting until the last moment before receiving a presidential audience; the meeting was held after business hours and with a side-door entrance and exit; he was blindsided at the meeting and left alone while Obama had dinner with his family; there was no meeting with the media before or after; and there was not even a picture. The only thing missing was a parting gift of an iPod loaded with Obama’s Cairo speech. Abbas will get the opposite treatment on every count, starting with a news release announcing that the president looks forward to meeting him.

The slight to Israel is obvious, but there is an additional reason for the ostentatious treatment of Abbas. The dirty little secret of the “peace process” is that the U.S. wants a Palestinian state more than the Palestinians do, for reasons discussed in Walter Russell Mead’s perceptive post, “The Middle East Peace Industry” — worth reading in its entirety (but only with Nadine’s important comment on it). Mead notes that the “Middle East peace process is the longest running piece of diplomatic theater on the world stage,” dating from 1919 (with a two-state solution proposed by the Jews and rejected by the Arabs), with repeated failures caused by the continuing Arab goal of one state rather than two.

The Palestinian lack of interest in the latest version of the “peace process” is palpable. A year ago, Israel announced that it wanted immediate negotiations without preconditions; formally affirmed a two-state solution as the goal of the negotiations; and took an unprecedented step to help them start. The Palestinians refused to commence negotiations intended to give them a state, still refuse to attend them in person, and are willing only to let the Obama administration negotiate for them. They have discovered that saying “no we can’t” produces not criticism of them but pressure on Israel to make more concessions, followed by congratulations to the Palestinians.

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A Blog Post I Wish I’d Written

On hearing a bon mot from someone, Oscar Wilde responded, “I wish I’d said that.”

“You will, Oscar, you will,” replied his friend James McNeill Whistler.

I know what he meant. I’ve just finished reading Walter Russell Mead’s blog post over at the American Interest on the Tea Party movement. It’s a brilliant piece of work and, indeed, “I wish I’d said that.”

Mead puts the movement firmly in the context of American history, demonstrating the similarity of this movement with previous populist movements in the Jacksonian, Progressive, and New Deal eras. All those movements changed the country profoundly and were anti-elitist in nature. As Mead explains,

The Tea Party movement is the latest upsurge of an American populism that has sometimes sided with the left and sometimes with the right, but which over and over again has upended American elites, restructured our society and forced through the deep political, cultural and institutional changes that from time to time the country needs and which the ruling elites cannot or will not deliver.

While it is way too early to tell how powerful the Tea Party movement will prove to be, it is certainly anti-elitist to the core. But this time, unlike in Jackson’s and Roosevelt’s days, the elite doesn’t really recognize itself as being an elite. They think they are doing the people’s work, even if the people are too stupid to know what’s good for them. Like Mead, I think those elites are soon to find out what the word democracy really means.

As Mead points out, the movement does not yet have its Jackson, Roosevelt, or Reagan to lead and personify it, making it still somewhat inchoate. But great movements make great leaders at least as often as the other way around.

If you want a beautiful example of the power of history to explicate the present, I recommend this brief and profound essay by Walter Russell Mead.

On hearing a bon mot from someone, Oscar Wilde responded, “I wish I’d said that.”

“You will, Oscar, you will,” replied his friend James McNeill Whistler.

I know what he meant. I’ve just finished reading Walter Russell Mead’s blog post over at the American Interest on the Tea Party movement. It’s a brilliant piece of work and, indeed, “I wish I’d said that.”

Mead puts the movement firmly in the context of American history, demonstrating the similarity of this movement with previous populist movements in the Jacksonian, Progressive, and New Deal eras. All those movements changed the country profoundly and were anti-elitist in nature. As Mead explains,

The Tea Party movement is the latest upsurge of an American populism that has sometimes sided with the left and sometimes with the right, but which over and over again has upended American elites, restructured our society and forced through the deep political, cultural and institutional changes that from time to time the country needs and which the ruling elites cannot or will not deliver.

While it is way too early to tell how powerful the Tea Party movement will prove to be, it is certainly anti-elitist to the core. But this time, unlike in Jackson’s and Roosevelt’s days, the elite doesn’t really recognize itself as being an elite. They think they are doing the people’s work, even if the people are too stupid to know what’s good for them. Like Mead, I think those elites are soon to find out what the word democracy really means.

As Mead points out, the movement does not yet have its Jackson, Roosevelt, or Reagan to lead and personify it, making it still somewhat inchoate. But great movements make great leaders at least as often as the other way around.

If you want a beautiful example of the power of history to explicate the present, I recommend this brief and profound essay by Walter Russell Mead.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Ellen Bork goes after the Obami on their pathetic human-rights record regarding China: “President Obama rejects the ‘purity of indignation’ in response to repression. But the approach he favors–‘bearing witness’–is too passive. If there is a new direction for the administration’s human rights policy, it needs to respond effectively to the persecution of a Chinese dissident who represents the most significant movement for political reform in a decade.”

Might it have something to do with ObamaCare? “Republican candidates have bounced back to a seven-point lead over Democrats in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 44% would vote for their district’s Republican congressional candidate while 37% would opt for his or her Democratic opponent.”

Stuart Rothenberg on the 2010 Senate outlook, which looks dramatically different than it did 11 months ago: “As 2009 draws to a close, Democrats now could lose seats, a dramatic change from January that could end the party’s 60-seat majority in less than two years. And GOP gains could be large enough to sink any major Democratic initiatives not passed before Congress adjourns for the midterm elections.”

Howard Dean stumbles onto a great idea: kill ObamaCare. Now, before you get excited, he wants to use reconciliation to jam through a more liberal bill. But still.

AARP endorses ObamaCare and hundreds of millions in Medicare-funding cuts. Their members, who like their Medicare Advantage and already have problems finding doctors who take Medicare patients, may not be pleased.

Another poll, another batch of bad news for Obama: “A double punch of persistent economic discontent and growing skepticism on health care reform has knocked Barack Obama’s key approval ratings to new lows, clouding his administration’s prospects at least until the jobless rate eases. Fifty percent of Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll approve of the president’s work overall, down 6 points in the last month; nearly as many, 46 percent, now disapprove. On the economy, 52 percent disapprove, a majority for the first time. On the deficit, his worst score, 56 percent disapprove.” And by a 51 to 44 percent margin, they oppose ObamaCare.

After being called a murderer and a double-crosser by the Left, who can blame him? “In an interview today with CNN’s Dana Bash, Sen. Joe Lieberman said it’s possible he will run as a Republican when he campaigns for re-election to his Senate seat in 2012. Although he said it’s most likely he’ll run as an Independent, he’s keeping all his options open.”

The “audacity of debt“: “At least someone in America isn’t feeling a credit squeeze: Uncle Sam. This week Congress will vote to raise the national debt ceiling by nearly $2 trillion, to a total of $14 trillion. In this economy, everyone de-leverages except government. It’s a sign of how deep the fiscal pathologies run in this Congress that $2 trillion will buy the federal government only one year before it has to seek another debt hike—conveniently timed to come after the midterm elections. Since Democrats began running Congress again in 2007, the federal debt limit has climbed by 39%. The new hike will lift the borrowing cap by another 15%.”

Michael Gerson on ObamaCare: “Democratic health reform legislation promises everything to everyone while imposing a series of hidden burdens to make a massive new entitlement affordable, at least on paper. So its authors are in a game of beat the clock: Pass the legislation before those burdens are fully disclosed to the public. … How long before the young and the old, union workers and the millions in desperate need of Botox realize that the health-care free lunch is to be provided at their expense?” I think they’ve figured it out, but senators are voting for it anyway.

Why Walter Russell Mead gives Obama a D and not an F on the Middle East: “This was a complete screw up. The only reason it isn’t an F is that there’s still time to do better.”

Ellen Bork goes after the Obami on their pathetic human-rights record regarding China: “President Obama rejects the ‘purity of indignation’ in response to repression. But the approach he favors–‘bearing witness’–is too passive. If there is a new direction for the administration’s human rights policy, it needs to respond effectively to the persecution of a Chinese dissident who represents the most significant movement for political reform in a decade.”

Might it have something to do with ObamaCare? “Republican candidates have bounced back to a seven-point lead over Democrats in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 44% would vote for their district’s Republican congressional candidate while 37% would opt for his or her Democratic opponent.”

Stuart Rothenberg on the 2010 Senate outlook, which looks dramatically different than it did 11 months ago: “As 2009 draws to a close, Democrats now could lose seats, a dramatic change from January that could end the party’s 60-seat majority in less than two years. And GOP gains could be large enough to sink any major Democratic initiatives not passed before Congress adjourns for the midterm elections.”

Howard Dean stumbles onto a great idea: kill ObamaCare. Now, before you get excited, he wants to use reconciliation to jam through a more liberal bill. But still.

AARP endorses ObamaCare and hundreds of millions in Medicare-funding cuts. Their members, who like their Medicare Advantage and already have problems finding doctors who take Medicare patients, may not be pleased.

Another poll, another batch of bad news for Obama: “A double punch of persistent economic discontent and growing skepticism on health care reform has knocked Barack Obama’s key approval ratings to new lows, clouding his administration’s prospects at least until the jobless rate eases. Fifty percent of Americans in this ABC News/Washington Post poll approve of the president’s work overall, down 6 points in the last month; nearly as many, 46 percent, now disapprove. On the economy, 52 percent disapprove, a majority for the first time. On the deficit, his worst score, 56 percent disapprove.” And by a 51 to 44 percent margin, they oppose ObamaCare.

After being called a murderer and a double-crosser by the Left, who can blame him? “In an interview today with CNN’s Dana Bash, Sen. Joe Lieberman said it’s possible he will run as a Republican when he campaigns for re-election to his Senate seat in 2012. Although he said it’s most likely he’ll run as an Independent, he’s keeping all his options open.”

The “audacity of debt“: “At least someone in America isn’t feeling a credit squeeze: Uncle Sam. This week Congress will vote to raise the national debt ceiling by nearly $2 trillion, to a total of $14 trillion. In this economy, everyone de-leverages except government. It’s a sign of how deep the fiscal pathologies run in this Congress that $2 trillion will buy the federal government only one year before it has to seek another debt hike—conveniently timed to come after the midterm elections. Since Democrats began running Congress again in 2007, the federal debt limit has climbed by 39%. The new hike will lift the borrowing cap by another 15%.”

Michael Gerson on ObamaCare: “Democratic health reform legislation promises everything to everyone while imposing a series of hidden burdens to make a massive new entitlement affordable, at least on paper. So its authors are in a game of beat the clock: Pass the legislation before those burdens are fully disclosed to the public. … How long before the young and the old, union workers and the millions in desperate need of Botox realize that the health-care free lunch is to be provided at their expense?” I think they’ve figured it out, but senators are voting for it anyway.

Why Walter Russell Mead gives Obama a D and not an F on the Middle East: “This was a complete screw up. The only reason it isn’t an F is that there’s still time to do better.”

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And the Oscar for Biggest Hypocrite Goes to. . .

The most interesting thing the French actress and new Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard said in a recent interview is not that she believes 9/11 was an inside job. There are plenty of big names in American entertainment who’ve said the same. Willie Nelson, Charlie Sheen, and Mos Def, for example, have brought their extensive political and engineering backgrounds to bear on the “question” and have determined that the perceived attack was really a flawlessly executed succession of high-tech tricks in a global Rube Goldberg scheme intended to . . .who knows? Something about insurance, gold, Israel, PNAC, and Iraq, I think.

No, the most interesting thing this successful, famous and wealthy Academy Awards winner said is that she’s not interested in prestige or riches, more specifically that she has no “Anglo-Saxon ambition.” Presumably, she was forced into a profession in which all that cumbersome money and adoration gets heaped upon those who make it. Furthermore, she must have been dragged kicking and screaming to the Academy Awards and forced, when her name was called, to cry and gasp and swoon as she did (or perhaps she was genuinely distraught to be the beneficiary of so much Anglo-Saxon recognition.)

Ms. Cotillard’s anti-Anglo-Saxonism and her painful paradox made me think instantly of the following passage from Walter Russell Mead’s book, God and Gold:

The true Waspophobe hates America because it is an insolent sea of vulgarity in which a triumphant and unrestrained rabble heedlessly treads underfoot the complex and subtle achievements that only the cultivated minority can support; he also hates America because it is a land of hideous inequality where the all-powerful plutocrats trample the silently suffering and impoverished masses into dust . . .The American must be hated because he is indifferent to the world, wrapped up in his own concerns to the exclusion of all else; he must be resisted because he is inflexibly and permanently determined to impose his values on the rest of the world. One despises America as a contemptible, exhausted, decadent society; one resists it because it is voraciously dynamic and expansive.

The weeping Oscar-winner hates America because it is the culmination of everything she wishes she did not desire.

On a related note, it’s worth commending a particular American actress who has come to an unpopular conclusion after surveying a much-criticized theater of “Anglo-Saxon ambition.” After visiting Iraq, Angelina Jolie wrote in a Washington Post op-ed:

As for the question of whether the surge is working, I can only state what I witnessed: U.N. staff and those of non-governmental organizations seem to feel they have the right set of circumstances to attempt to scale up their programs. And when I asked the troops if they wanted to go home as soon as possible, they said that they miss home but feel invested in Iraq. They have lost many friends and want to be a part of the humanitarian progress they now feel is possible.

It seems to me that now is the moment to address the humanitarian side of this situation. Without the right support, we could miss an opportunity to do some of the good we always stated we intended to do.

I wonder: Does Marion Cotillard think Angelina is in on it, too?

The most interesting thing the French actress and new Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard said in a recent interview is not that she believes 9/11 was an inside job. There are plenty of big names in American entertainment who’ve said the same. Willie Nelson, Charlie Sheen, and Mos Def, for example, have brought their extensive political and engineering backgrounds to bear on the “question” and have determined that the perceived attack was really a flawlessly executed succession of high-tech tricks in a global Rube Goldberg scheme intended to . . .who knows? Something about insurance, gold, Israel, PNAC, and Iraq, I think.

No, the most interesting thing this successful, famous and wealthy Academy Awards winner said is that she’s not interested in prestige or riches, more specifically that she has no “Anglo-Saxon ambition.” Presumably, she was forced into a profession in which all that cumbersome money and adoration gets heaped upon those who make it. Furthermore, she must have been dragged kicking and screaming to the Academy Awards and forced, when her name was called, to cry and gasp and swoon as she did (or perhaps she was genuinely distraught to be the beneficiary of so much Anglo-Saxon recognition.)

Ms. Cotillard’s anti-Anglo-Saxonism and her painful paradox made me think instantly of the following passage from Walter Russell Mead’s book, God and Gold:

The true Waspophobe hates America because it is an insolent sea of vulgarity in which a triumphant and unrestrained rabble heedlessly treads underfoot the complex and subtle achievements that only the cultivated minority can support; he also hates America because it is a land of hideous inequality where the all-powerful plutocrats trample the silently suffering and impoverished masses into dust . . .The American must be hated because he is indifferent to the world, wrapped up in his own concerns to the exclusion of all else; he must be resisted because he is inflexibly and permanently determined to impose his values on the rest of the world. One despises America as a contemptible, exhausted, decadent society; one resists it because it is voraciously dynamic and expansive.

The weeping Oscar-winner hates America because it is the culmination of everything she wishes she did not desire.

On a related note, it’s worth commending a particular American actress who has come to an unpopular conclusion after surveying a much-criticized theater of “Anglo-Saxon ambition.” After visiting Iraq, Angelina Jolie wrote in a Washington Post op-ed:

As for the question of whether the surge is working, I can only state what I witnessed: U.N. staff and those of non-governmental organizations seem to feel they have the right set of circumstances to attempt to scale up their programs. And when I asked the troops if they wanted to go home as soon as possible, they said that they miss home but feel invested in Iraq. They have lost many friends and want to be a part of the humanitarian progress they now feel is possible.

It seems to me that now is the moment to address the humanitarian side of this situation. Without the right support, we could miss an opportunity to do some of the good we always stated we intended to do.

I wonder: Does Marion Cotillard think Angelina is in on it, too?

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Book Review: God and Gold

In God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World, Walter Russell Mead coyly claims that the originality of his interpretation of the roots of Anglo-Saxon primacy rests in its focus on the meaning, as opposed to the mere dimensions, of American power. This is too modest: Mead’s achievement is larger than that. His real accomplishment is to restore religion to its rightful place in the history of Great Britain and the United States, and their roles in the world. This no small feat. It’s hard enough to explain why Britain—a small island in the North Sea lacking all natural resources except coal, potatoes, and herring—rose to be the first of the great powers by 1815, and equally hard to explain how the United States inherited and adapted the British system in the 20th century. Factoring the influence of religion into this dynamic is vastly more difficult, but Mead does an admirable job of it.

The historic grand strategy of Great Britain and the United States, as Mead understands it, is simply told: Britain was the world’s first enduringly liberal modern society, and the first practitioner of an open and dynamic economic system that traded throughout the world, relying on its navy to defend its trade routes. This system provided Britain the resources to fight and win its wars, and the power and self-confidence to promote liberal values and institutions. In the 20th century, the United States, shaped by its British inheritance, took over the role of protector of this maritime order from the totalitarian empires and enemies of modernity that continued to threaten it, of whom al Qaeda is merely the latest example. But the rise of Britain as a liberal capitalist power is only the better known half of the story. While capitalism generates resources and tax revenues on a scale unimaginable to early modern empires, it poses a big problem: the vast expansion of state power. Once the revenues begin to flow, in other words, the challenge becomes limiting the power of the state.

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In God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World, Walter Russell Mead coyly claims that the originality of his interpretation of the roots of Anglo-Saxon primacy rests in its focus on the meaning, as opposed to the mere dimensions, of American power. This is too modest: Mead’s achievement is larger than that. His real accomplishment is to restore religion to its rightful place in the history of Great Britain and the United States, and their roles in the world. This no small feat. It’s hard enough to explain why Britain—a small island in the North Sea lacking all natural resources except coal, potatoes, and herring—rose to be the first of the great powers by 1815, and equally hard to explain how the United States inherited and adapted the British system in the 20th century. Factoring the influence of religion into this dynamic is vastly more difficult, but Mead does an admirable job of it.

The historic grand strategy of Great Britain and the United States, as Mead understands it, is simply told: Britain was the world’s first enduringly liberal modern society, and the first practitioner of an open and dynamic economic system that traded throughout the world, relying on its navy to defend its trade routes. This system provided Britain the resources to fight and win its wars, and the power and self-confidence to promote liberal values and institutions. In the 20th century, the United States, shaped by its British inheritance, took over the role of protector of this maritime order from the totalitarian empires and enemies of modernity that continued to threaten it, of whom al Qaeda is merely the latest example. But the rise of Britain as a liberal capitalist power is only the better known half of the story. While capitalism generates resources and tax revenues on a scale unimaginable to early modern empires, it poses a big problem: the vast expansion of state power. Once the revenues begin to flow, in other words, the challenge becomes limiting the power of the state.

The Anglo-Saxon societies surmounted this challenge because of their dynamic religious faith, which provided both a spiritual compass and assurance in the middle of rapid social and economic change and which, as a result of the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution of 1689, limited the ability of the monarchy to raise money without the consent of Parliament. The result was that British and American state power left room for both faith in God and the use of human reason, striking a balance between the two. This balancing continues today: the “cultural and political rebalancing the United States is currently witnessing,” writes Mead, is “part of the process by which American society adjust[s] to the rapid pace of change.”

In his book, Mead channels both Adam Smith’s understanding of the role of faith in the making of Anglo-Saxon society, and Alexis de Tocqueville’s convictions that democratic, open, and liberal institutions could not exist unless rooted in a society of believers. The failure of the declared enemies of the Anglo-Saxon order—Mead calls them Waspophobes—to understand the strengths of this order derives precisely from their focus on materialism, and on their failure to arrive at de Tocqueville’s realization that British and American society have, in their faith and their broader civil society, a cultural and intellectual life that is far from simply materialist. (Contemporary liberalism, I would say, suffers in a more mild way from the same deficiency.) Mead’s work, taken as a whole, offers a compelling vision of the roots of American power that is liberal in the truest sense of the word: that is, a study in the importance of human freedom and responsibility.

It is regrettable, therefore, that having run so well, Mead stumbles at the last gate. Throughout his book, Mead’s view is very much the view from 30,000 feet: events like the American Revolution, the U.S. Civil War, or the Suez Crisis fly by in paragraphs, or even in phrases. The emphasis throughout is on the essential unity of Anglo-Saxon culture, and on the grand strategy that resulted from it. There is much to be said for this vision, unpopular though it will be in some quarters, but by limiting himself to it, Mead misses the essential contribution of Britain and, especially, the United States to the modern world order. It is one thing to claim that the United States was influenced profoundly by British culture and faith. But while there may be an Anglo-Saxon culture, or even an Anglo-Saxon grand strategy, there is no Anglo-Saxon state: 1776 saw to that. The Anglo-Saxons did not invent the state or the diplomatic institutions by which states relate to one another. Nor, as Mead notes, is the Anglo-Saxon form of the state dominant in the world today: the French or Soviet models have a far better claim to that title. The uniqueness of Anglo-Saxon grand strategy is that it emphasized resisting empires and establishing rules of secession and state legitimacy; it was only within the nation-state order that the liberal values with which Britain and the United States identified could be defended.

In this context, the final chapters of Mead’s work are truly perplexing. Indeed, they are so out of tune that they raise the suspicion that Mead included them solely to cover himself on the Left. For, after three hundred pages of praise for the Anglo-Saxon order, he about-faces to argue that the mission of the United States now is to carry out a “diplomacy of civilizations” to assuage the grievances of the Islamic world, grievances that began with the Crusades. The United States now must turn to remedying the “centuries of inequality and oppression” by assuring that Muslims have “due recognition” for their “just and legitimate aspirations”—which Mead recognizes may not be compatible with the existing framework of the liberal maritime order.

Coming at the close of a book dedicated to sympathetic explanation of that order, this is a remarkable claim. It is only proper to note that Mead proposes to make the United States responsible for the resolution of grievances that arose long before it came into existence. Burdening the United States with the responsibility for Arab grievances is bad enough, but to view “the Arab world” as a unified entity is to make the same fundamental error that Mead makes when he writes of the Anglo-Saxons: it is to assume political unity where there are merely cultural commonalities. More concretely, it is to agree with the Islamists that the fall of the Caliphate was an immense tragedy.

Through his advocacy of the “diplomacy of civilizations,” Mead turns his back on the nation-state system and on the international organizations that Britain and the United States have, above all other nations, been responsible for creating. Mead, in fact, places the burden of satisfying the Muslim peoples entirely on the United States. He argues that “pious Muslims of unimpeachable orthodoxy, conspicuous virtue, conservative principles, and great passion for their faith,” not liberal reformers, must bring the Muslim peoples into a dynamic, capitalist, and liberal world.

To make things worse, Mead’s precise policy recommendations for the United States are conspicuous by their absence. His “diplomacy of civilizations” revolves, in the end, around listening more closely to the grievances of the Muslim world. Mead cites the liberal theologian Reinhold Niebuhr as this philosophy’s guiding light. Niebuhr’s role in Mead’s work, as it was in Peter Beinart’s The Good Fight: Why Liberals—and Only Liberals—Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again (2006), is to serve as a tough-minded but sensitive liberal who was fully aware of the reality of original sin, and, hence, of the need for the United States to be more understanding of its enemies and more aware of its own potential for evil. From all points of view, this is a most implausible picture. Developing a sympathetic understanding of declared enemies of the system is entirely foreign to Anglo-Saxon grand strategy and its values. Elizabeth I, Pitt the Younger, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Reagan had no time for this approach. Neither, in fact, did Niebuhr. His role in history was, in the era of Hitler and Stalin, to tell American liberals to get in the game, to remind them that a relentless focus on their own capacity for evil was demoralizing and destructive, and that there really were worse things in the world than the United States.

Niebuhr is indeed the philosopher that we, and the democratic world, need today. Mead’s work illustrates why. By casting his lot with the Muslim conservatives and accepting their right to set the international agenda of grievances, and by abandoning the Muslim liberals and reformers whom Niebuhr would have celebrated, Mead undermines, rather than reinforces, the order he wisely, if only partially, explains. A true history of the Anglo-Saxon contribution to the making of the modern world would emphasize not only religion and capitalism, but also the transformation of the world of empires into the international state system. Mead’s failure to find this third leg of the triad leads him into historical errors and contemporary fallacies that reveal the pervasive weakness in our understanding of the system that we ourselves have been the leading force in creating. But, by restoring religion to the story, he has already done a very great deal to correct the prevailing vision.

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