Archive for the ‘AWATT’ Category

Kristol, Cohen and Krugman

January 26, 2009

Bloody Billy Kristol, of PNAC infamy, has now turned his attention to the future of liberalism.  In “Will Obama Save Liberalism?” he says liberalism’s fate rests on our new president’s shoulders. If Mr. Obama governs successfully, we’re in a new political era. If not, the country will be open to new conservative alternatives.  Finally the Times seems to have seen the error of its ways, and has printed these welcome words:  “This is William Kristol’s last column.”  I don’t care if it’s Monday — it’s a great day!  Mr. Cohen is “Remembering Germany.”  He says America’s once strong alliance with Germany has soured. The new administration should rekindle this relationship, which is essential to turning the global economy around.  I’d say the odds are good that President Obama won’t get all creepy-touchy-feely with Chancellor Merkel, so that’s a step in the right direction already.  Mr. Krugman writes about “Bad Faith Economics.”  He says cheap shots don’t pose as much danger to the Obama administration’s efforts to get a stimulus plan through as fraudulent arguments that seem superficially plausible.  Here’s the last column we’ll have to suffer through from that human abscess Kristol:

All good things must come to an end. Jan. 20, 2009, marked the end of a conservative era.

Since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, conservatives of various sorts, and conservatisms of various stripes, have generally been in the ascendancy. And a good thing, too! Conservatives have been right more often than not — and more often than liberals — about most of the important issues of the day: about Communism and jihadism, crime and welfare, education and the family. Conservative policies have on the whole worked — insofar as any set of policies can be said to “work” in the real world. Conservatives of the Reagan-Bush-Gingrich-Bush years have a fair amount to be proud of.

They also have some regrets. They’ll have time to ponder those as liberals now take their chance to govern.

Lest conservatives be too proud, it’s worth recalling that conservatism’s rise was decisively enabled by liberalism’s weakness. That weakness was manifested by liberalism’s limp reaction to the challenge from the New Left in the 1960s, became more broadly evident during the 1970s, and culminated in the fecklessness of the Carter administration at the end of that decade.

In 1978, the Harvard political philosopher Harvey Mansfield diagnosed the malady: “From having been the aggressive doctrine of vigorous, spirited men, liberalism has become hardly more than a trembling in the presence of illiberalism. … Who today is called a liberal for strength and confidence in defense of liberty?”

Over the next three decades, it was modern conservatism, led at the crucial moment by Ronald Reagan, that assumed the task of defending liberty with strength and confidence. Can a revived liberalism, faced with a new set of challenges, now pick up that mantle?

The answer lies in the hands of one man: the 44th president. If Reagan’s policies had failed, or if he hadn’t been politically successful, the conservative ascendancy would have been nipped in the bud. So with President Obama today. Liberalism’s fate rests to an astonishing degree on his shoulders. If he governs successfully, we’re in a new political era. If not, the country will be open to new conservative alternatives.

We don’t really know how Barack Obama will govern. What we have so far, mainly, is an Inaugural Address, and it suggests that he may have learned more from Reagan than he has sometimes let on. Obama’s speech was unabashedly pro-American and implicitly conservative.

Obama appealed to the authority of “our forebears,” “our founding documents,” even — political correctness alert! — “our founding fathers.” He emphasized that “we will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense.” He spoke almost not at all about rights (he had one mention of “the rights of man,” paired with “the rule of law” in the context of a discussion of the Constitution). He called for “a new era of responsibility.”

And he appealed to “the father of our nation,” who, before leading his army across the Delaware on Christmas night, 1776, allegedly “ordered these words be read to the people: ‘Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it.’”

For some reason, Obama didn’t identify the author of “these timeless words” — the only words quoted in the entire speech. He’s Thomas Paine, and the passage comes from the first in his series of Revolutionary War tracts, “The Crisis.” Obama chose to cloak his quotation from the sometimes intemperate Paine in the authority of the respectable George Washington.

Sixty-seven years ago, a couple of months after Pearl Harbor, at the close of a long radio address on the difficult course of the struggle we had just entered upon, another liberal president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, also told the story of Washington ordering that “The Crisis” be read aloud, and also quoted Paine. But he turned to the more famous — and more stirring — passage with which Paine begins his essay:

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

That exhortation was appropriate for World War II. Today, the dangers are less stark, and the conflicts less hard. Still, there will be trying times during Obama’s presidency, and liberty will need staunch defenders. Can Obama reshape liberalism to be, as it was under F.D.R., a fighting faith, unapologetically patriotic and strong in the defense of liberty? That would be a service to our country.

Don’t let the door hit you on the butt on the way out, jackass.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

When my thoughts turn to wreckage, and there’s a lot of it about these days, I tend to think of Germany’s “Stunde null,” or zero hour, the moment in 1945 when a once powerful nation faced its utter moral and material bankruptcy, the rubble of its collective suicide.

No doubt that’s because I lived in Berlin in the 1990s, at the time when the capital returned there from Bonn and a reunited Germany felt confident enough to face the ghosts of its darkest hours. Berlin was still raw, its past present at every turn, and so the miracle of Germany’s post-war recovery was palpable.

A country in disgrace had fast-forwarded from ruin to peace and prosperity.

That miracle, of course, was in large measure a German-American achievement, from Marshall Plan reconstruction, through West Germany’s insertion into NATO, culminating with the astute U.S. diplomacy that allowed the country’s unification within the Western alliance.

It’s easy to forget these days that solving “the German question” took much of the 20th century. It’s also easy to forget that the U.S. embassy in Bonn was once America’s largest in the world, comparable, with its thousands of staff, to the Baghdad embassy today.

What a difference a couple of decades make. The U.S. alliance with Germany has soured. Donald Rumsfeld’s comparison of the country to Libya was a low point illustrating how differences over Iraq poisoned a relationship already complicated by the disappearance of its strategic imperative.

Things have looked up a bit since then, but not a lot. The Germans still feel a little like jilted lovers. Many Americans have a vague notion of an ungrateful nation that’s gone soft and smug. It’s safe to say President Obama, his campaign speech in Berlin notwithstanding, does not have Germany high on his “to do” list.

That’s a pity. Germany is important to the United States right now. It’s time to rekindle a dormant relationship. While America is not at “Stunde null,” it’s at a moment of disarray when it has to rethink the nature and exercise of its power. Germany knows all about reinvention. It can help in four important areas: Europe, the economy, Iran and Afghanistan.

A strong Europe is essential to America’s recovery. The United States is too stretched — militarily and economically — to do without the cohesion of its closest allies.

There are three major European powers: Britain, France and Germany. Britain is going through a meltdown so severe that the joke there is that the country’s the next Iceland. That aside, its European credentials are always a little suspect.

In France, the notion of the European Union as a “counterweight” to American power still lurks, although President Nicolas Sarkozy has done much to dispose of such Gallic intellectual baggage.

Only in Germany is a powerful commitment to the strength and effectiveness of the European Union matched by an equally powerful conviction that the trans-Atlantic relationship remains critical.

Through Germany, Obama should press the urgent need for the 27-nation E.U. to complete reforms that will give it a president and foreign minister with terms long enough to count. Germany, Europe’s largest economy and the world’s largest exporter, must also be a pivot of post-crash reforms.

The recession is severe in Germany, but the country still has a savings ratio of 11 percent (it’s negative in the United States), a strong manufacturing sector and, after spending a staggering $1.8 trillion to integrate the Communist East, it has managed to get its budget close to balance.

Hence its much-criticized hesitation to join the socialist bandwagon (the Chinese are now referring to the U.S. economy as “socialism with American characteristics”) and pump billions into salvage operations. But Germany has now come through with a $110 billion stimulus package.

It is an essential American ally in turning the global economy around; expanding the G-8 to reflect today’s realities by including at least Brazil, Mexico, India, China, South Africa and Indonesia; and pushing through global financial reforms to be discussed in London in April that should include minimum capital ratios for banks and measures to ensure risk and responsibility get enduringly reacquainted with each other.

In Iran, Germany has broad experience of negotiation in recent years, along with Britain and France. That experience has led to some important German convictions: that American leadership under Obama is essential; that no deal will work without a regional security arrangement that only the United States can underwrite and that must (at least tacitly) acknowledge the Israeli bomb; and that new avenues have to be found to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, because only he counts.

With 3,500 troops in Afghanistan, set to rise to 4,500 this year, Germany has the third-largest troop presence there. It has been a strong advocate of some measures — including treating Pakistan and Afghanistan as a single theater and concentrating on corruption-eliminating government reform — now finding favor in Washington. Another reason to think Berlin.

A good start would be naming a vigorous, German-speaking ambassador to Berlin. The post is vacant. It shouldn’t be for long.

And now here’s Mr. Krugman:

As the debate over President Obama’s economic stimulus plan gets under way, one thing is certain: many of the plan’s opponents aren’t arguing in good faith. Conservatives really, really don’t want to see a second New Deal, and they certainly don’t want to see government activism vindicated. So they are reaching for any stick they can find with which to beat proposals for increased government spending.

Some of these arguments are obvious cheap shots. John Boehner, the House minority leader, has already made headlines with one such shot: looking at an $825 billion plan to rebuild infrastructure, sustain essential services and more, he derided a minor provision that would expand Medicaid family-planning services — and called it a plan to “spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives.”

But the obvious cheap shots don’t pose as much danger to the Obama administration’s efforts to get a plan through as arguments and assertions that are equally fraudulent but can seem superficially plausible to those who don’t know their way around economic concepts and numbers. So as a public service, let me try to debunk some of the major antistimulus arguments that have already surfaced. Any time you hear someone reciting one of these arguments, write him or her off as a dishonest flack.

First, there’s the bogus talking point that the Obama plan will cost $275,000 per job created. Why is it bogus? Because it involves taking the cost of a plan that will extend over several years, creating millions of jobs each year, and dividing it by the jobs created in just one of those years.

It’s as if an opponent of the school lunch program were to take an estimate of the cost of that program over the next five years, then divide it by the number of lunches provided in just one of those years, and assert that the program was hugely wasteful, because it cost $13 per lunch. (The actual cost of a free school lunch, by the way, is $2.57.)

The true cost per job of the Obama plan will probably be closer to $100,000 than $275,000 — and the net cost will be as little as $60,000 once you take into account the fact that a stronger economy means higher tax receipts.

Next, write off anyone who asserts that it’s always better to cut taxes than to increase government spending because taxpayers, not bureaucrats, are the best judges of how to spend their money.

Here’s how to think about this argument: it implies that we should shut down the air traffic control system. After all, that system is paid for with fees on air tickets — and surely it would be better to let the flying public keep its money rather than hand it over to government bureaucrats. If that would mean lots of midair collisions, hey, stuff happens.

The point is that nobody really believes that a dollar of tax cuts is always better than a dollar of public spending. Meanwhile, it’s clear that when it comes to economic stimulus, public spending provides much more bang for the buck than tax cuts — and therefore costs less per job created (see the previous fraudulent argument) — because a large fraction of any tax cut will simply be saved.

This suggests that public spending rather than tax cuts should be the core of any stimulus plan. But rather than accept that implication, conservatives take refuge in a nonsensical argument against public spending in general.

Finally, ignore anyone who tries to make something of the fact that the new administration’s chief economic adviser has in the past favored monetary policy over fiscal policy as a response to recessions.

It’s true that the normal response to recessions is interest-rate cuts from the Fed, not government spending. And that might be the best option right now, if it were available. But it isn’t, because we’re in a situation not seen since the 1930s: the interest rates the Fed controls are already effectively at zero.

That’s why we’re talking about large-scale fiscal stimulus: it’s what’s left in the policy arsenal now that the Fed has shot its bolt. Anyone who cites old arguments against fiscal stimulus without mentioning that either doesn’t know much about the subject — and therefore has no business weighing in on the debate — or is being deliberately obtuse.

These are only some of the fundamentally fraudulent antistimulus arguments out there. Basically, conservatives are throwing any objection they can think of against the Obama plan, hoping that something will stick.

But here’s the thing: Most Americans aren’t listening. The most encouraging thing I’ve heard lately is Mr. Obama’s reported response to Republican objections to a spending-oriented economic plan: “I won.” Indeed he did — and he should disregard the huffing and puffing of those who lost.

Hear, hear!

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Kristol, Cohen and Krugman

January 19, 2009

That bloodthirsty festering boil on the ass of humanity Bloody Billy Kristol has excreted a thing called “The Next War President.”  He says like President Bush before him, Barack Obama knows he, too, will be a war president and that the decisions he makes as commander in chief will be his most consequential.  Bouncing rubble gives Bloody Billy a woody…  Mr. Cohen gives us “Start the Fire,” a tribute to President-elect Barack Obama, with apologies to Billy Joel.  Mr. Krugman discusses “Wall Street Voodoo,” and how many influential people in Washington seem to believe that by performing elaborate financial rituals we can keep dead banks walking.  Here’s that pilonidal cyst Kristol:

In synagogue on Saturday, before saying the customary prayer for our country, the rabbi asked us to reflect on the fact that a new president would be inaugurated on Tuesday, and urged us to focus a little more intently than usual on the prayer. The congregants did so, it seemed to me, as we read, “Our God and God of our ancestors: We ask your blessings for our country — for its government, for its leaders and advisers, and for all who exercise just and rightful authority …”

Barack Obama will assume that just and rightful authority at noon on Tuesday. After a dinner with him that I attended last week, as we said our goodbyes, I overheard one of my fellow conservatives say softly to the president-elect, “Sir, I’ll be praying for you.” Obama seemed to pause as they shook hands, and to thank him more earnestly than he did those of us who simply — and sincerely — wished him well.

The incoming president is the man of the moment. He deserves good wishes and sincere prayers. But I’ve found myself thinking these last few days more about the man who has shouldered the burdens of office for the past eight years, George W. Bush.

He wasn’t my favorite among Republicans in 2000. He has made mistakes as president, and has limitations as a leader. But he has exercised his just and rightful authority in a way — I believe — that deserves recognition and respect.

It will probably be a while before he gets much of either. In synagogue, right after the prayer for our country, there is a prayer for the state of Israel, asking the “rock and redeemer of the people Israel” to “spread over it the shelter of your peace.” As we recited this on Saturday, I couldn’t help but reflect that a distressingly small number of my fellow Jews seem to have given much thought at all to the fact that President Bush is one of the greatest friends the state of Israel — and, yes, the Jewish people — have had in quite a while. Bush stood with Israel when he had no political incentive to do so and received no political benefit from doing so. He was criticized by much of the world. He did it because he thought it the right thing to do.

He has been denounced for this, as Israel has been denounced for doing what it judged necessary to defend itself. The liberal sage Bill Moyers has been a harsh critic of Bush. On Jan. 9, on PBS, he also lambasted Israel for what he called its “state terrorism,” its “waging war on an entire population” in Gaza. He traced this Israeli policy back to the Bible, where “God-soaked violence became genetically coded,” apparently in both Arabs and Jews. I wouldn’t presume to say what is and isn’t “genetically coded” in Moyers’s respectable Protestant genes. But I’m glad it was George W. Bush calling the shots over the last eight years, not someone well-thought of by Moyers.

Many of Bush’s defenders have praised him for keeping the country safe since Sept. 11, 2001. He deserves that praise, and I’m perfectly happy to defend most of his surveillance, interrogation and counterterrorism policies against his critics.

But I don’t think keeping us safe has been Bush’s most impressive achievement. That was winning the war in Iraq, and in particular, his refusal to accept defeat when so many counseled him to do so in late 2006. His ordering the surge of troops to Iraq in January 2007 was an act of personal courage and of presidential leadership. The results have benefited both Iraq and the United States. And the outcome in Iraq is a remarkable gift to the incoming president, who now only has to sustain success, rather than trying to deal with the consequences in the region and around the world of a humiliating withdrawal and a devastating defeat.

The cost of the war in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, has been great. Last Wednesday afternoon, in the midst of all the other activities of the final week of an administration, Bush had 40 or so families of fallen soldiers to the White House. The staff had set aside up to two hours. Bush, a man who normally keeps to schedule, spent over four hours meeting in small groups with the family members of those who had fallen in battle.

This past weekend Barack Obama added to his itinerary a visit to Arlington National Cemetery. Obama knows that he, too, will be a war president. He knows the decisions he makes as commander in chief will be his most consequential. And so on Sunday morning, before going to church, he placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and stood silently as taps was sounded. The somber tableau provided quite a contrast to all the hubbub and talk of the last few days. Obama’s silent tribute captured a deeper truth, and — I dare say — a more fundamental hope, than could any speech.

Here’s Mr. Cohen, to get the the taste of Kristol out of our mouths:

With apologies to Billy Joel, who’s more of a chronologist, and in tribute to a president, Barack Hussein Obama, representing a new post-cold-war generation of 21st-century Americans.

We Didn’t Start the Fire (2)

Bill Clinton, Tina Fey, capitalist China, O.J.,

Asia rising, Facebook, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ugg boots, Seinfeld

West Bank, Gaza City, Tupac Amaru Shakur

Mohamed Atta, W.M.D., Harry Potter, Reality TV

Tom Cruise, American Beauty, MP3, Oprah Winfrey

Schwarzenegger, YouTube, America’s got organic food

Armstrong, blogosphere, Monica Lewinsky

We didn’t start the fire

It was always burning

Since the world’s been turning

We didn’t start the fire

No we didn’t light it

But we tried to fight it

Vlad Putin, Medvedev, Assad, Posh-and-Becks

The West Wing, Y2K, massacre in Falluja

Britney Spears, Spike Lee, Kurt Cobain, Sarkozy

Mia Hamm, Heath Ledger, Viagra, Napster

Lindsay Lohan, skinny jeans, Boston’s got a winning team

Lehman Brothers, A.I.G., subprime, Ponzi scheme

Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, and a billion poor,

Tehran, Hezbollah, trouble with the jihadis

We didn’t start the fire

It was always burning

Since the world’s been turning

We didn’t start the fire

No we didn’t light it

But we tried to fight it

New Orleans, Bolaño, Sarah Palin no-go

TiVo, Hu Jintao, and the vegan-eco crowd

Tony Blair, Paris Hilton, Princess Di, Bin Laden

Pyongyang, the renditions gang, Roger Clemens in a cloud

ACT UP, Infinite Jest, O.J. Part Two, Johnny Depp

iPhones, Federer, Who Let the Dogs Out?

Halle Berry, cloned Dolly, and another Kennedy

Jon Stewart, American Psycho, tsunami, Danger Mouse

We didn’t start the fire

It was always burning

Since the world’s been turning

We didn’t start the fire

No we didn’t light it

But we tried to fight it

Sedaris, Unabomber, Girls Gone Wild, Nasrallah

Jay-Z, Shanghai, shock and awe in Baghdad

Amy Winehouse, Imus, gases of the greenhouse

Kelly Ripa, Maureen Dowd, Ted Williams gone mad

Outsourcing, Mumbai, so many didn’t have to die

David Blaine, human rights, and Napoleon Dynamite

Mandela, Madonna’s ex, abstinence, safe sex

Rabin blown away, what else do I have to say?

We didn’t start the fire

It was always burning

Since the world’s been turning

We didn’t start the fire

No we didn’t light it

But we tried to fight it

BlackBerry, global mall, Hillary Clinton standing tall

Tiger Woods, Barry Bonds, MySpace, The Corrections

Rushdie, Starbucks, Channel Tunnel, Spurlock

American Idol, Black Hawk Down, Miracle on the Hudson

Sopranos, Cougars, Da Vinci Code, life on Mars

Saddam hung, Mugabe, traumatic stress, mission creep

Social networks, match.com, iChat, Amazon,

Terror cells, endless war, I can’t take it anymore

We didn’t start the fire

It was always burning

Since the world’s been turning

We didn’t start the fire

No we didn’t light it

But we tried to fight it

Hawaii, Kenya, Kansas and Jakarta

Harvard, finding God, social work, Axelrod

Red state, blue state, unity can no longer wait,

A time to reap, a time to sow, we will close Guantánamo

Iowa, Yes We Can, McCain was just an also-ran

I Have a Dream, Bush out, a black man in the White House

We didn’t start the fire

It was always burning

Since the world’s been turning

We didn’t start the fire

No we didn’t light it

But we tried to fight it

We didn’t start the fire

It was always burning

Since the world’s been turning

We didn’t start the fire …

(Sorry about the spacing, blame the NYT.)  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Old-fashioned voodoo economics — the belief in tax-cut magic — has been banished from civilized discourse. The supply-side cult has shrunk to the point that it contains only cranks, charlatans, and Republicans.

But recent news reports suggest that many influential people, including Federal Reserve officials, bank regulators, and, possibly, members of the incoming Obama administration, have become devotees of a new kind of voodoo: the belief that by performing elaborate financial rituals we can keep dead banks walking.

To explain the issue, let me describe the position of a hypothetical bank that I’ll call Gothamgroup, or Gotham for short.

On paper, Gotham has $2 trillion in assets and $1.9 trillion in liabilities, so that it has a net worth of $100 billion. But a substantial fraction of its assets — say, $400 billion worth — are mortgage-backed securities and other toxic waste. If the bank tried to sell these assets, it would get no more than $200 billion.

So Gotham is a zombie bank: it’s still operating, but the reality is that it has already gone bust. Its stock isn’t totally worthless — it still has a market capitalization of $20 billion — but that value is entirely based on the hope that shareholders will be rescued by a government bailout.

Why would the government bail Gotham out? Because it plays a central role in the financial system. When Lehman was allowed to fail, financial markets froze, and for a few weeks the world economy teetered on the edge of collapse. Since we don’t want a repeat performance, Gotham has to be kept functioning. But how can that be done?

Well, the government could simply give Gotham a couple of hundred billion dollars, enough to make it solvent again. But this would, of course, be a huge gift to Gotham’s current shareholders — and it would also encourage excessive risk-taking in the future. Still, the possibility of such a gift is what’s now supporting Gotham’s stock price.

A better approach would be to do what the government did with zombie savings and loans at the end of the 1980s: it seized the defunct banks, cleaning out the shareholders. Then it transferred their bad assets to a special institution, the Resolution Trust Corporation; paid off enough of the banks’ debts to make them solvent; and sold the fixed-up banks to new owners.

The current buzz suggests, however, that policy makers aren’t willing to take either of these approaches. Instead, they’re reportedly gravitating toward a compromise approach: moving toxic waste from private banks’ balance sheets to a publicly owned “bad bank” or “aggregator bank” that would resemble the Resolution Trust Corporation, but without seizing the banks first.

Sheila Bair, the chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, recently tried to describe how this would work: “The aggregator bank would buy the assets at fair value.” But what does “fair value” mean?

In my example, Gothamgroup is insolvent because the alleged $400 billion of toxic waste on its books is actually worth only $200 billion. The only way a government purchase of that toxic waste can make Gotham solvent again is if the government pays much more than private buyers are willing to offer.

Now, maybe private buyers aren’t willing to pay what toxic waste is really worth: “We don’t have really any rational pricing right now for some of these asset categories,” Ms. Bair says. But should the government be in the business of declaring that it knows better than the market what assets are worth? And is it really likely that paying “fair value,” whatever that means, would be enough to make Gotham solvent again?

What I suspect is that policy makers — possibly without realizing it — are gearing up to attempt a bait-and-switch: a policy that looks like the cleanup of the savings and loans, but in practice amounts to making huge gifts to bank shareholders at taxpayer expense, disguised as “fair value” purchases of toxic assets.

Why go through these contortions? The answer seems to be that Washington remains deathly afraid of the N-word — nationalization. The truth is that Gothamgroup and its sister institutions are already wards of the state, utterly dependent on taxpayer support; but nobody wants to recognize that fact and implement the obvious solution: an explicit, though temporary, government takeover. Hence the popularity of the new voodoo, which claims, as I said, that elaborate financial rituals can reanimate dead banks.

Unfortunately, the price of this retreat into superstition may be high. I hope I’m wrong, but I suspect that taxpayers are about to get another raw deal — and that we’re about to get another financial rescue plan that fails to do the job.


Kristol, Cohen and Krugman

December 22, 2008

Oh, sweet merciful baby Jesus in the manger, Billy “I’m a moron” Kristol has yakked up a particularly odious furball this morning.  He produced “Popularity Isn’t Everything,” in which he loftily opines that, in admiration of straight talkers, we should give credit to the nation’s most unpopular Republican, Dick Cheney, and the nation’s most unpopular Democrat, Rod Blagojevich.  You just can’t make this stuff up, you know…  Mr. Cohen, in “Two Shoes for Democracy,” says that the message behind an Iraqi journalist’s insulting gesture — which was in a sense a democratic act — is that the Green Zone should be eliminated.  Mr. Krugman, in “Life Without Bubbles,” says it may take a lot longer than many people think before the United States economy is ready to live without bubbles. And until then, the economy is going to need a lot of government help.  Here’s that drooling, gibbering moron Kristol:

You gotta love Dick Cheney.

O.K., O.K. … you don’t have to. But consider this exchange with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday”:

WALLACE: Did you really tell Senator Leahy, bleep yourself?

CHENEY: I did.

WALLACE: Any qualms, or second thoughts, or embarrassment?

CHENEY: No, I thought he merited it at the time. (Laughter.) And we’ve since, I think, patched over that wound and we’re civil to one another now.

No spin. No doubletalk. A cogent defense of his action — and one that shows a well-considered sense of justice. (“I thought he merited it.”) Indeed, if justice is seeking to give each his due, one might say that Dick Cheney aspires to being a just man. And a thoughtful one, because he knows that justice is sometimes too harsh, and should be tempered by civility.

Now Cheney isn’t, I’m afraid, always wise. For example, he’s still a defender of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He even told Wallace he disagreed with the decision to fire Rumsfeld: “I was a Rumsfeld man … I thought he did a good job for us.”

I couldn’t disagree more. But Cheney’s loyalty to Rumsfeld didn’t stop Cheney from being a key behind-the-scenes player in encouraging George Bush to order the surge of troops to Iraq at the end of 2006 — after Rumsfeld had resisted adding troops for years. I’m told by several key advocates of the surge that Cheney was crucial in helping the president come to what was a difficult and unpopular decision — one opposed at the time by the huge majority of foreign policy experts, pundits and pontificators. Most of them — and the man most of them are happy won the election, Barack Obama — now acknowledge the surge’s success. But don’t expect them to give much credit to Cheney.

But enough in defense of the nation’s most unpopular Republican. Let me turn to the nation’s most unpopular Democrat, Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois.

After all, how many of today’s politicians can claim to be a living embodiment of a great American tradition — in this case, the corrupt machine politicians? Their credo was laid down about a century ago by Tammany Hall’s George Washington Plunkitt: “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.”

Blagojevich is even more terse: “I want to make money.” And when an opportunity came along — a vacant Senate seat — he didn’t sit around studying polls and consulting focus groups. He got to work. He knows — as Americans have always known — that the good things in life aren’t free. As he put it eloquently in discussing the vacant Senate seat, “I’ve got this thing, and it’s [expletive] golden, and, uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing.”

It’s also nice, in this day and age, to see an example of family togetherness and marital harmony. Rod and his wife, Patti, seem to be in accord on so many things. For example, in a disinclination to turn the other cheek. During a Nov. 3 telephone conversation between Blagojevich and an aide about a hostile Chicago Tribune editorial, Patti was heard in the background urging a receptive Rod to punish the corporation that owns The Tribune and the Chicago Cubs: “Hold up that [expletive] Cubs [expletive] … [expletive] them.”

But I was only truly won over to Blagojevich on Friday, when he pledged: “I will fight this thing every step of the way. I will fight. I will fight. I will fight until I take my last breath.” He then quoted the opening lines of Rudyard Kipling’s “If.”

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating …

But Blagojevich carefully cut off his recitation before the stanza’s last line: “And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.”

Blagojevich must have known he’d violated this maxim. He’d tried to look too good, coiffing his hair with a special brush he keeps with him at all times. (According to The Washington Post, he “goes ballistic when he can’t put his hands on it.”) More important, he’d talked too wise — especially when being bugged by the F.B.I. But you’ve got to give Blagojevich credit for a kind of self-knowledge in omitting from his statement the damning last line of the stanza.

I’ve never heard Dick Cheney quote Kipling. But I suspect he might like Kipling, and that Kipling would admire him — a man who has never gone out of his way to look too good, nor talk too wise, but who has always, in four decades of public service, sought “to fill the unforgiving minute/With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.”

Billy, please go away.  And on your way out the door please Cheney yourself.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Of all the questions Barack Obama needs to ask right now, the most important should be addressed to the Secret Service: how the heck did Muntader al-Zaidi got his second shoe off?

Al-Zaidi, of course, is the Iraqi television journalist who expressed his rage at the U.S. occupation of his country by hurling first one shoe, then the other, at President George W. Bush in Baghdad. He’s now in detention.

As for his shoes, they’re not going to end up on some gilded stand in a dusty museum somewhere in the Arab world. They’ve apparently been destroyed at a laboratory during a search for explosives.

Yes, you read that right.

The shadow of Richard Reid, the would-be shoe-bomber of 2001 whom most regular air travelers would happily submit to protracted torture, extends even to Iraq. One thing’s for sure: al-Zaidi, now a hero in much of the Arab world, won’t be short of replacement footwear once he emerges from captivity.

When that will be is anyone’s guess. He’s apologized to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. Bush has urged the Iraqis “not to overreact.”

One theory is that time enough is needed for the journalist’s bruises to fade. One certainty is that the pummeling he got was as intense as the reaction to what he did was slow. A second shoe is one too many. Change the last letter in shoe and you have shot.

These, however, were mere shoes. The throwing of them was offensive — and harmless. Journalists should not throw shoes, even at inept American presidents. Still, with apologies to the late E. M. Forster, I’m tempted to call this incident: “Two Shoes for Democracy.”

Bush, when the shoes came his way, was in the Green Zone, the walled four-square-mile home to Western officialdom and the Iraqi government that has about as much in common with the rest of Iraq as Zurich has with Falluja.

For all it reflects of Iraqi life beyond its walls in what is sometimes called the Red Zone, the Green Zone might as well be in Baton Rouge.

This sprawling urban garrison, where U.S. forces moved into Saddam Hussein’s Mesopotamian Fascist Republican Palace right after the 2003 invasion, is a monument to failure. As long it exists in the center of Baghdad, Iraqi democracy will be hollow.

It is openness, accessibility and accountability that distinguish democracies from dictatorships. Or it should be. A country governed from a fortress inaccessible to 99 percent of its citizens may be many things, but is not yet a democracy.

Al-Zaidi’s gesture broke those barriers, penetrated the hermetic sealing, and brought Red-Zone anger to Green-Zone placidity. In this sense, his was a democratic act.

What it said was: “Tear down these walls.” What it summoned was the deaths, exile and arbitrary arrests that U.S. incompetence has inflicted on countless Iraqis — a toll on which al-Zaidi has reported. What it did was thrust Bush, for a moment, out of the comfort zone of his extravagant illusion. Perhaps, for a second, the other shoe dropped.

After the incident, I heard from a U.S. friend now serving in the joint security station in Sadr City, the teeming Shiite district of Baghdad from which al-Zaidi hailed. He wrote: “We did not get a fusillade of shoes thrown over the concrete barriers and razor wire. One college engineering student in Sadr basically said re the press conference incident: ‘Well that’s the democracy you brought us, right?’”

Or rather, it was a glimmering of such a democracy. Anyone throwing a shoe at Saddam Hussein would have been executed, along with numerous other members of his family, plus assorted friends, within hours of such an incident. Iraq is slowly learning the give-and-take of a system where differences are accommodated rather than quashed.

But the process is slow. Recovering from murderous despotism takes a minimum of a generation.

Al-Zaidi’s anger was that of a Shia — at the U.S. occupation and at all the loss. There is fury and fear, too, among Sunnis, whose “awakening” dealt a devastating blow to Al Qaeda in Iraq but whose mistrust of the now-dominant Shia is visceral. Another of Obama’s pressing questions should be: does my 16-month withdrawal timetable risk re-igniting sectarian war?

One thing is certain: before the United States pulls out its combat troops, the Green Zone must cease to exist. While it’s there, it’s a sign that Iraqis — all Iraqis — have not yet learned to live together. The district chairman in Sadr City said this to my U.S. friend last week: “The Green Zone needs to be deleted.”

That was the message in al-Zaidi’s gesture. He’s being held for insulting a foreign leader and could face long imprisonment. But the Green Zone is an insult to all Iraqis. Al-Zaidi should be released and an Iraqi-American commission on terminating the Green Zone established at once.

Bush dodged a shoe; he cannot dodge shame.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Whatever the new administration does, we’re in for months, perhaps even a year, of economic hell. After that, things should get better, as President Obama’s stimulus plan — O.K., I’m told that the politically correct term is now “economic recovery plan” — begins to gain traction. Late next year the economy should begin to stabilize, and I’m fairly optimistic about 2010.

But what comes after that? Right now everyone is talking about, say, two years of economic stimulus — which makes sense as a planning horizon. Too much of the economic commentary I’ve been reading seems to assume, however, that that’s really all we’ll need — that once a burst of deficit spending turns the economy around we can quickly go back to business as usual.

In fact, however, things can’t just go back to the way they were before the current crisis. And I hope the Obama people understand that.

The prosperity of a few years ago, such as it was — profits were terrific, wages not so much — depended on a huge bubble in housing, which replaced an earlier huge bubble in stocks. And since the housing bubble isn’t coming back, the spending that sustained the economy in the pre-crisis years isn’t coming back either.

To be more specific: the severe housing slump we’re experiencing now will end eventually, but the immense Bush-era housing boom won’t be repeated. Consumers will eventually regain some of their confidence, but they won’t spend the way they did in 2005-2007, when many people were using their houses as ATMs, and the savings rate dropped nearly to zero.

So what will support the economy if cautious consumers and humbled homebuilders aren’t up to the job?

A few months ago a headline in the satirical newspaper The Onion, on point as always, offered one possible answer: “Recession-Plagued Nation Demands New Bubble to Invest In.” Something new could come along to fuel private demand, perhaps by generating a boom in business investment.

But this boom would have to be enormous, raising business investment to a historically unprecedented percentage of G.D.P., to fill the hole left by the consumer and housing pullback. While that could happen, it doesn’t seem like something to count on.

A more plausible route to sustained recovery would be a drastic reduction in the U.S. trade deficit, which soared at the same time the housing bubble was inflating. By selling more to other countries and spending more of our own income on U.S.-produced goods, we could get to full employment without a boom in either consumption or investment spending.

But it will probably be a long time before the trade deficit comes down enough to make up for the bursting of the housing bubble. For one thing, export growth, after several good years, has stalled, partly because nervous international investors, rushing into assets they still consider safe, have driven the dollar up against other currencies — making U.S. production much less cost-competitive.

Furthermore, even if the dollar falls again, where will the capacity for a surge in exports and import-competing production come from? Despite rising trade in services, most world trade is still in goods, especially manufactured goods — and the U.S. manufacturing sector, after years of neglect in favor of real estate and the financial industry, has a lot of catching up to do.

Anyway, the rest of the world may not be ready to handle a drastically smaller U.S. trade deficit. As my colleague Tom Friedman recently pointed out, much of China’s economy in particular is built around exporting to America, and will have a hard time switching to other occupations.

In short, getting to the point where our economy can thrive without fiscal support may be a difficult, drawn-out process. And as I said, I hope the Obama team understands that.

Right now, with the economy in free fall and everyone terrified of Great Depression 2.0, opponents of a strong federal response are having a hard time finding support. John Boehner, the House Republican leader, has been reduced to using his Web site to seek “credentialed American economists” willing to add their names to a list of “stimulus spending skeptics.”

But once the economy has perked up a bit, there will be a lot of pressure on the new administration to pull back, to throw away the economy’s crutches. And if the administration gives in to that pressure too soon, the result could be a repeat of the mistake F.D.R. made in 1937 — the year he slashed spending, raised taxes and helped plunge the United States into a serious recession.

The point is that it may take a lot longer than many people think before the U.S. economy is ready to live without bubbles. And until then, the economy is going to need a lot of government help.

Kristol and Cohen

December 8, 2008

As if Monday weren’t bad enough on its own, Paul Krugman is off today.  This leaves us with that gibbering moron Kristol and Roger Cohen.  Wrong Way Billy has taken up his crayons and scribbled “Small Isn’t Beautiful.”  He loftily opines that given recent history, the right should think twice before charging into battle against Barack Obama under the banner of “small-government conservatism.”  His piece does have, however, one of the most unintentionally funny lines I’ve ever read.  He actually wrote “And Reagan’s record as governor and president wasn’t a particularly government-slashing one.”  I wonder if he’s doing a segue into comedy?  Mr. Cohen, on the other hand, waxes all Proustian in “Paris vs. Havana.”  He is writing from Paris and says what Havana has been able to preserve in its crumbling architecture, thanks to socialist economic disaster, is that very pungent texture Paris has lost to modernity.  Among the things he gets elegaic about are “the garlic whiff of the early-morning Metro,” “the bad teeth,” and “the seat-less toilets on the stairs.”  Whatever floats your boat, I guess…  Here’s that schmuck Kristol:

President-elect Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress are about to serve up a supersized helping of big-government liberalism. Conservatives will be inclined to oppose much of what Obama and his party cook up. And, I believe, rightly so.

But conservatives should think twice before charging into battle against Obama under the banner of “small-government conservatism.” It’s a banner many Republicans and conservatives have rediscovered since the election and have been waving around energetically. Jeb Bush, now considering a Senate run in 2010, even went so far as to tell Politico last month, “There should not be such a thing as a big-government Republican.”

Really? Jeb Bush was a successful and popular conservative governor of Florida, with tax cuts, policy reforms and privatizations of government services to show for his time in office. Still, in his two terms state spending increased over 50 percent — a rate faster than inflation plus population growth. It turns out, in the real world of Republican governance, that there aren’t a whole lot of small-government Republicans.

Five Republicans have won the presidency since 1932: Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes. Only Reagan was even close to being a small-government conservative. And he campaigned in 1980 more as a tax-cutter and national-defense-builder-upper, and less as a small-government enthusiast in the mold of the man he had supported — and who had lost — in 1964, Barry Goldwater. And Reagan’s record as governor and president wasn’t a particularly government-slashing one.

Even the G.O.P.’s 1994 Contract With America made only vague promises to eliminate the budget deficit, and proposed no specific cuts in government programs. It focused far more on crime, taxes, welfare reform and government reform. Indeed, the “Republican Revolution” of 1995 imploded primarily because of the Republican Congress’s one major small-government-type initiative — the attempt to “cut” (i.e., restrain the growth of) Medicare. George W. Bush seemed to learn the lesson. Prior to his re-election, he proposed and signed into law popular (and, it turned out, successful) legislation, opposed by small-government conservatives, adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.

So talk of small government may be music to conservative ears, but it’s not to the public as a whole. This isn’t to say the public is fond of big-government liberalism. It’s just that what’s politically vulnerable about big-government liberalism is more the liberalism than the big government. (Besides, the public knows that government’s not going to shrink much no matter who’s in power.)

Now it’s true that the size of the government and the modern liberal agenda are connected. It’s also true that modern conservatism has to include a strong commitment to limited (though energetic) government and to constitutional (though not necessarily small or weak) government. Still, there’s a difference between a conservatism that is concerned with limited and constitutional government and one that focuses on simply opposing big government.

So: If you’re a small-government conservative, you’ll tend to oppose the bailouts, period. If you more or less accept big government, you’ll be open to the government’s stepping in to save the financial system, or the auto industry. But you’ll tend to favor those policies — universal tax cuts, offering everyone a chance to refinance his mortgage, relieving auto makers of burdensome regulations — that, consistent with conservative principles, don’t reward irresponsible behavior and don’t politicize markets.

Similarly, if you’re against big government, you’ll oppose a huge public works stimulus package. If you think some government action is inevitable, you might instead point out that the most unambiguous public good is national defense. You might then suggest spending a good chunk of the stimulus on national security — directing dollars to much-needed and underfunded defense procurement rather than to fanciful green technologies, making sure funds are available for the needed expansion of the Army and Marines before rushing to create make-work civilian jobs. Obama wants to spend much of the stimulus on transportation infrastructure and schools. Fine, but lots of schools and airports seem to me to have been refurbished more recently and more generously than military bases I’ve visited.

I can’t help but admire some of my fellow conservatives’ loyalty to the small-government cause. It reminds me of the nobility of Tennyson’s Light Brigade, as it charges into battle: “Theirs but to do and die.” Maybe it would be better, though, first to reason why.

Nah, let the Republican Light Brigade saddle up.  I’ll even hold the stirrup for them…  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Since visiting Cuba a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about the visual assault on our lives. Climb in a New York taxi these days and a TV comes on with its bombardment of news and ads. It’s become passé to gaze out the window, watch the sunlight on a wall, a child’s smile, the city breathing.

In Havana, I’d spend long hours contemplating a single street. Nothing — not a brand, an advertisement or a neon sign — distracted me from the city’s sunlit surrender to time passing. At a colossal price, Fidel Castro’s pursuit of socialism has forged a unique aesthetic, freed from agitation, caught in a haunting equilibrium of stillness and decay.

Such empty spaces, away from the assault of marketing, beyond every form of message (e-mail, text, twitter), erode in the modern world, to the point that silence provokes a why-am-I-not-in-demand anxiety. Technology induces ever more subtle forms of addiction, to products, but also to agitation itself. The global mall reproduces itself, its bright and air-conditioned sterility extinguishing every distinctive germ.

Paris, of course, has resisted homogenization. It’s still Paris, with its strong Haussmannian arteries, its parks of satisfying geometry, its islands pointing their prows toward the solemn bridges, its gilt and gravel, its zinc-roofed maids’ rooms arrayed atop the city as if deposited by some magician who stole in at night.

It’s still a place where temptation exists only to be yielded to and where time stops to guard forever an image in the heart. All young lovers should have a row in the Tuileries in order to make up on the Pont Neuf.

Yet, for all its enduring seductiveness, Paris has ceased to be the city that I knew. The modern world has sucked out some essence, leaving a film-set perfection hollowed out behind the five-story facades. The past has been anaesthetized. It has been packaged. It now seems less a part of the city’s fabric than it is a kitschy gimmick as easily reproduced as a Lautrec poster.

I know, in middle age the business of life is less about doing things for the first than for the last time. It is easy to feel a twinge of regret. Those briny oysters, the glistening mackerel on their bed of ice at the Rue Mouffetard, the drowsy emptied city in August, the unctuousness of a Beef Bourguignon: these things can be experienced for the first time only once.

So what I experience in Paris is less what is before me than the memory it provokes of the city in 1975. Memories, as Apollinaire noted, are like the sound of hunters’ horns fading in the wind. Still, they linger. The town looks much the same, if prettified. What has changed has changed from within.

At dinner with people I’d known back then, I was grappling with this elusive feeling when my friend lit a match. It was a Russian match acquired in Belgrade and so did not conform to current European Union nanny-state standards. The flame jumped. The sulfur whiff was pungent. A real match!

Then it came to me: what Paris had lost to modernity was its pungency. Gone was the acrid Gitane-Gauloise pall of any self-respecting café. Gone was the garlic whiff of the early-morning Metro to the Place d’Italie. Gone were the mineral mid-morning Sauvignons Blancs downed bar-side by red-eyed men.

Gone were the horse butchers and the tripe restaurants in the 12th arrondissement. Gone (replaced by bad English) was the laconic snarl of Parisian greeting. Gone were the bad teeth, the yellowing moustaches, the hammering of artisans, the middle-aged prostitutes in doorways, the seat-less toilets on the stairs, and an entire group of people called the working class.

Gone, in short, was Paris in the glory of its squalor, in the time before anyone thought a Frenchman would accept a sandwich for lunch, or decreed that the great unwashed should inhabit the distant suburbs. The city has been sanitized.

But squalor connects. When you clean, when you favor hermetic sealing in the name of safety, you also disconnect people from one another. When on top of that you add layers of solipsistic technology, the isolation intensifies. In its preserved Gallic disguise, Paris is today no less a globalized city than New York.

Havana has also preserved its architecture — the wrought-iron balconies, the caryatids, the baroque flourishes — even if it is crumbling. What has been preserved with it, thanks to socialist economic disaster, is that very pungent texture Paris has lost to modernity.

The slugs of Havana Club rum in bars lit by fluorescent light, the dominos banged on street tables, the raucous conversations in high doorways, the whiff of puros, the beat through bad speakers of drums and maracas, the idle sensuality of Blackberry-free days: Cuba took me back decades to an era when time did not always demand to be put to use.

I thought I’d always have Paris. But Havana helped me see, by the flare of a Russian match, that mine is gone.

I’ve got the feeling that he just re-read “Remembrance of Things Past.”  He should burn his copy.

Sigh. Kristol. Just Kristol…

November 24, 2008

Mr. Cohen and Prof. Krugman are off today, so Silly Billy gets to “shine” alone.  He says we should “Admit We Don’t Know,” and that the markets are spiraling down, and our leading experts don’t have much of a clue as to what to do.  Go ahead, read it if you want to…

“In my view it has to be between five and seven hundred billion dollars,” proclaimed Senator Charles Schumer Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” The “it” is the economic stimulus package the new Congress intends to send to the new president, Barack Obama, in January.

The truth is, Schumer hasn’t a well-grounded view, or even a well-informed clue, as to how large the stimulus package “has to be.” I’d be amazed if he could give a coherent explanation of why it should be $500 billion to $700 billion instead of, say, $300 billion or $900 billion. On TV, he simply invoked the authority of “most economists,” who, according to Schumer, “say, to make this work, you need about 5 percent of G.D.P., which would be $700 billion.” Nor do I think Schumer could begin to explain why a demand-side stimulus package oriented toward employment, infrastructure and consumer spending will “work” in dealing with an economic crisis whose origins seem to be in the collapse of a housing bubble and the deleveraging of overstretched financial institutions.

Now I hasten to add — wait a second, Senator Schumer, put down the phone, no need to call me at home this early in the morning! — that I don’t mean to pick in any way on Chuck Schumer, who is surely among the more economically literate members of Congress. It’s not as if his colleagues have a better understanding of what has happened, or of what should be done. And it’s not as if the rest of us do.

In his interview, Schumer appealed to the authority of economists. Economists still do have considerable sway in our public life — even though it doesn’t seem that a large number of them have been particularly prescient in warning about, or strikingly persuasive in explaining, the current economic situation.

In any case, the Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee also weighed in Sunday on television and said: “I don’t know what the number is going to be, but it’s going to be a big number. It has to be. The point is to, kind of, get people back on track and startle the thing into submission.”

So a key member of Obama’s economic team hopes a big federal spending number will “startle the thing into submission.” That’s reassuring. On the other hand, it’s not as if the analysis of many conservative economists is much more persuasive. At least the liberals, being more or less Keynesians, tend to agree on what should be done. The more idiosyncratic conservatives tend to be all over the lot. But, basically, it seems to me, we’re all flying blind. The markets are spiraling down, and our leading experts don’t have much of a clue as to what to do.

Given that, one has to welcome the expected appointment to senior positions in the Obama administration of economists like Lawrence Summers, Timothy Geithner, Jason Furman, Peter Orszag, and Goolsbee himself. They’re sober and competent people who know we face a real crisis — and who, importantly, may be more willing than many of their colleagues to adjust their thinking early and often.

Indeed, one hopes they’re not too invested in the findings of the economics profession of which they’re such distinguished products — because one suspects many of the conventional answers of that profession aren’t much applicable to the current situation. After all, wasn’t it excessive confidence in complex economic models and sophisticated financial instruments on the part of people well educated in modern economics that helped get us into the current mess?

So I hope the best and the brightest who will be joining the new president will at least entertain the possibility that a lot of what they think they know is wrong. I trust they’ll remember that successful economic policies in the past have pulled together elements from unlikely sources, and that they’re as likely to find wisdom from reading political economists like Friedrich Hayek or Joseph Schumpeter, or Keynes himself, as from poring over the latest academic paper in a peer-refereed economics journal.

During his two years on the campaign trail, Barack Obama has often cited Abraham Lincoln. Well, it turns out Obama could be taking over the presidency at something more closely resembling (though still far short of) a Lincolnian moment than one would have expected. And it was Lincoln who wrote, in his second annual message to Congress, in December 1862: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

I’ve worked in government. It’s hard to do much thinking there at all, let alone thinking anew. But Obama and his team will have to think anew, and those on the outside who wish to help will have to think anew too, if we’re to have a chance of rising to this daunting occasion.

One bright spot to think about is that this putz’s contract with the Times will be up soon…

Kristol, Cohen and Krugman

November 10, 2008

Someone has finally said it.  Thanks, Wee Billy Kristol!  He gives us “G.O.P. Dog Days?”  His premise is that Barack Obama will be formidable. But conservatives should welcome the challenge. It could even be good for conservatism.  I knew that somehow electing Obama would be good for Republicans…  Mr. Cohen writes about “Emptying Pandora’s Box,” and says that crisis demands statesmanship, which cannot be composed of calculation alone, but must reach for the unquenchable in the human spirit. Hope.  It looks to me like we’ve elected the right guy.  Mr. Krugman ponders “Franklin Delano Obama?”  He says that Barack Obama’s chances of leading a new New Deal depend largely on whether his short-run economic plans are bold enough. Progressives can only hope that he has the necessary audacity.  Here’s Silly Billy Kristol:

Just before midnight on Nov. 4, I wasn’t that worried.

Sure, the election results had been bad — but they weren’t devastating. Obama wasn’t winning the popular vote by double-digit margins, as some polls had suggested he might. Republican losses in the Senate and House were substantial but not catastrophic. Obama was ahead of John McCain by about the same margin with which Bill Clinton defeated George Bush in 1992, and he would be taking over in January with similar Congressional majorities to Clinton’s in 1993.

Well, Newt Gingrich was able to lead a Republican takeover of Congress only two years later. And after his victory in 1976, Jimmy Carter had even larger Democratic margins in Congress. Ronald Reagan trounced him four years later, bringing with him a G.O.P.-controlled Senate and an era of conservative governance.

What’s more, this year’s exit polls suggested a partisan shift but no ideological realignment. In 2008, self-described Democrats made up 39 percent of the electorate and Republicans 32 percent, in contrast with a 37-37 split in 2004.

But there was virtually no change in the voters’ ideological self-identification: in 2008, 22 percent called themselves liberal, up only marginally from 21 percent in 2004; 34 percent were conservative, unchanged from the last election; and 44 percent called themselves moderate, compared with 45 percent in 2004.

In other words, this was a good Democratic year, but it is still a center-right country. Conservatives and the Republican Party will have a real chance for a comeback — unless the skills of the new president turn what was primarily an anti-Bush vote into the basis for a new liberal governing era.

Those were my thoughts when, a few minutes into his victory speech, just after midnight, Obama told his daughters, “And you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the new White House.”

I gulped.

Not out of my deep affection for dogs, fond of them though I am. But because while we’ve all known that Obama is a very skillful politician, he hasn’t until now been a particularly empathetic one. Competence plus warmth is a pretty potent combination. Suddenly visions of the two great modern realigning presidents — Franklin Roosevelt (with his Scottish terrier Fala) and Ronald Reagan (with his Cavalier King Charles spaniel Rex) — flashed before my eyes. Maybe a realignment could be coming.

Obama was, naturally, asked about the promised-but-not-yet-purchased puppy at his press conference Friday. (If one were being churlish, one might say that it was typical of a liberal to promise the dog before delivering it. A results-oriented conservative would simply have shown up with the puppy without the advance hype.)

Obama commented wryly that the canine question had “generated more interest on our Web site than just about anything.” He continued:

“We have two criteria that have to be reconciled. One is that Malia is allergic, so it has to be hypoallergenic. There are a number of breeds that are hypoallergenic. On the other hand, our preference would be to get a shelter dog, but, obviously, a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me. So — so whether we’re going to be able to balance those two things, I think, is a pressing issue on the Obama household.”

Here, in a few sentences, Obama did the following: He deepened his bond with every dog lover in America. He identified with every household that’s tried to figure out what kind of dog to get. He touched every parent with a kid allergic to pets. He showed compassion by preferring a dog from a shelter. And he demonstrated a dry and slightly politically incorrect wit by commenting that “a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me.”

Not bad. It could be a tough four or eight years for conservatives.

It will be tougher yet if they underestimate Obama. His selection of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff suggests that Obama’s not going to be mindlessly leftist, and that he’s going to shape a legislative strategy that is attentive to Congressional realities while not deferring to a Congressional leadership whose interests may not be his own. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were both tripped up in their first two years by their Democratic Congresses. Obama intends for Emanuel to ensure that that doesn’t happen.

And Obama has the further advantage of inheriting a recession that will give him a very tough first year or two (for which he won’t be blamed), but that should be followed by a recovery well timed for his re-election bid.

So Obama will be formidable. But conservatives should welcome the challenge. It’s good for conservatism that conservatives will have to develop refreshed ideas and regenerated political skills to succeed in the age of Obama.

And it wouldn’t hurt for Governors Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels, Bobby Jindal and the other possible 2012 G.O.P. nominees to begin bringing some puppies home for their kids.

Yeah, Billy…  puppies…  that should save your wreck of a philosophy.  Good “thinking,” there.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

These are interesting times. Jobs are disappearing and General Motors is running out of cash. At the same time, America has assuaged some of its deepest wounds with the election of Barack Obama. We have less money in our pockets but more hope in our hearts.

Hope won’t feed an empty stomach. But it’s potent. In Greek myth, when Pandora opened her box, she let out all the evils except one: hope. The Greeks considered hope dangerous; its bedfellow can be delusion. Nietzsche later saw hope as the evil that prolongs human torment.

But in the end Pandora opened her box again and released hope because, without it, humanity was filled with despair.

At least that’s one version of the myth. What is certain is that there’s a lot of hope about these days. It would be an exaggeration to say people are happier now that we have less money, but accurate to say there’s a surfacing of shame about the extent of our spend-spend-spend excesses.

The check on this shopping spree stands at $2.6 trillion in American personal debt. That’s a staggering sum.

You can’t wish away debt with a magic wand. The toll for all those home-equity paid Disney vacations will be heavy. Yet I would resist the temptation to say that economic crisis defines our times. No, as Bill Clinton might have said, “It’s the culture, stupid.”

The culture that said the most patriotic act was to shop. The culture that sent the best and the brightest to Wall Street to concoct toxic securities. The culture that said there was no need to balance individual rights and community needs. The culture that replaced thrift with thrills and hope with hype. The culture that said a country at war is not a country that needs to pull together in sacrifice.

Goodbye to all that.

I’ve had countless uplifting e-mails in recent days that, in different ways, have been about a moral reorientation, a reaching out, the rediscovery of the ways in which we can be our brothers’ and our sisters’ keepers. Diana Strelow, 73, of Portsmouth, Va., put it this way:

“My vote for Obama was and is about my hope that an intelligent, self-respecting president will lead to a renewal of civility on the part of all of us — perhaps a renewal even of the love that Americans once had for each other.”

Significant as economic anxieties were, she said, they paled beside this deeper yearning.

Another message came from a U.S. official who, in January 2007, was serving in Fallujah, Iraq, alongside the 1st and 2nd Marine Expeditionary Forces.

He forwarded a letter he had sent to Obama on Jan. 27, 2007, on the eve of the senator’s announcement of his candidacy in Springfield, Ill.

“Those of us still serving in these dangerous Iraqi deserts need your voice and message in the Iraq debate back home,” he wrote. “More than that, we want a new politics that speaks again to the great traditions of not just one party but of one country, ours. You capture that theme, genuinely, like no one else.

“Throughout my time in this tough assignment (best and worst job I will ever have), I have looked to Washington for the kind of leadership traits that I see among our Marine captains, colonels and corporals in the mean streets of Anbar. It has been dispiriting. Another Greatest Generation — whose apolitical patriotic steel is being forged here among tens of thousands of Americans — deserves better.”

The official, who asked not to be named because of the rules of his government agency, continued: “I am leaving Iraq before long and have decided to go basically straight from Fallujah to Springfield in order to hear your formal announcement in person. I just want to be there. Anonymous. Part of the energy.” And he concluded: “With you in the presidential picture, I am more hopeful about endings in Iraq and beginnings at home, in our country we miss so much and remain honored to represent.”

Yes, hundreds of thousands of Americans have been engaged in prolonged forms of service and sacrifice that have deserved better.

Better not just of a president, George W. Bush, too insecure to inspire, but of all of us for whom easy credit became synonymous with easy amnesia. Perhaps the new frugality can also be the new humanity.

America’s moment of reckoning is global. Economic anxiety has spread far and wide, as far and as wide as the hopes vested in Obama. This moment of moral opportunity is not confined to the United States.

Anti-Bushism, straying often into anti-Americanism, has been the defining ideological current of recent times. Its disappearance with Obama, or at least its retreat, leaves a gaping intellectual void needing to be filled.

For inspiration on how to do that I suggest this image: hope fluttering out of Pandora’s box. Crisis demands statesmanship, which cannot be composed of calculation alone, but must reach for the unquenchable in the human spirit.

Yes. We. Did.  Here’s Mr. Krugman:

Suddenly, everything old is New Deal again. Reagan is out; F.D.R. is in. Still, how much guidance does the Roosevelt era really offer for today’s world?

The answer is, a lot. But Barack Obama should learn from F.D.R.’s failures as well as from his achievements: the truth is that the New Deal wasn’t as successful in the short run as it was in the long run. And the reason for F.D.R.’s limited short-run success, which almost undid his whole program, was the fact that his economic policies were too cautious.

About the New Deal’s long-run achievements: the institutions F.D.R. built have proved both durable and essential. Indeed, those institutions remain the bedrock of our nation’s economic stability. Imagine how much worse the financial crisis would be if the New Deal hadn’t insured most bank deposits. Imagine how insecure older Americans would feel right now if Republicans had managed to dismantle Social Security.

Can Mr. Obama achieve something comparable? Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama’s new chief of staff, has declared that “you don’t ever want a crisis to go to waste.” Progressives hope that the Obama administration, like the New Deal, will respond to the current economic and financial crisis by creating institutions, especially a universal health care system, that will change the shape of American society for generations to come.

But the new administration should try not to emulate a less successful aspect of the New Deal: its inadequate response to the Great Depression itself.

Now, there’s a whole intellectual industry, mainly operating out of right-wing think tanks, devoted to propagating the idea that F.D.R. actually made the Depression worse. So it’s important to know that most of what you hear along those lines is based on deliberate misrepresentation of the facts. The New Deal brought real relief to most Americans.

That said, F.D.R. did not, in fact, manage to engineer a full economic recovery during his first two terms. This failure is often cited as evidence against Keynesian economics, which says that increased public spending can get a stalled economy moving. But the definitive study of fiscal policy in the ’30s, by the M.I.T. economist E. Cary Brown, reached a very different conclusion: fiscal stimulus was unsuccessful “not because it does not work, but because it was not tried.”

This may seem hard to believe. The New Deal famously placed millions of Americans on the public payroll via the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. To this day we drive on W.P.A.-built roads and send our children to W.P.A.-built schools. Didn’t all these public works amount to a major fiscal stimulus?

Well, it wasn’t as major as you might think. The effects of federal public works spending were largely offset by other factors, notably a large tax increase, enacted by Herbert Hoover, whose full effects weren’t felt until his successor took office. Also, expansionary policy at the federal level was undercut by spending cuts and tax increases at the state and local level.

And F.D.R. wasn’t just reluctant to pursue an all-out fiscal expansion — he was eager to return to conservative budget principles. That eagerness almost destroyed his legacy. After winning a smashing election victory in 1936, the Roosevelt administration cut spending and raised taxes, precipitating an economic relapse that drove the unemployment rate back into double digits and led to a major defeat in the 1938 midterm elections.

What saved the economy, and the New Deal, was the enormous public works project known as World War II, which finally provided a fiscal stimulus adequate to the economy’s needs.

This history offers important lessons for the incoming administration.

The political lesson is that economic missteps can quickly undermine an electoral mandate. Democrats won big last week — but they won even bigger in 1936, only to see their gains evaporate after the recession of 1937-38. Americans don’t expect instant economic results from the incoming administration, but they do expect results, and Democrats’ euphoria will be short-lived if they don’t deliver an economic recovery.

The economic lesson is the importance of doing enough. F.D.R. thought he was being prudent by reining in his spending plans; in reality, he was taking big risks with the economy and with his legacy. My advice to the Obama people is to figure out how much help they think the economy needs, then add 50 percent. It’s much better, in a depressed economy, to err on the side of too much stimulus than on the side of too little.

In short, Mr. Obama’s chances of leading a new New Deal depend largely on whether his short-run economic plans are sufficiently bold. Progressives can only hope that he has the necessary audacity.

From your lips to God’s ear, Prof. Krugman…

Kristol, Cohen and Krugman

November 3, 2008

That delusional neocon legacy Wrong Way Billy says “Hey Liberals, Don’t Worry.”  He excreted a little turd in which he says the bad news for liberals is that John McCain could still win the election. The good news? That wouldn’t be so terrible for them.  It’s beneath comment.  Mr. Cohen, a more rational columnist, writes about the “Republican Blues,” and says Republicans are hard-headed but not to the point they want hope banished from the national vocabulary.  Mr. Krugman, in “The Republican Rump,” says the Republicans’ long transformation into the party of the unreasonable right seems likely to accelerate as a result of the impending defeat.  Here’s that buffoon Kristol:

Barack Obama will probably win the 2008 presidential election. If he does, we conservatives will greet the news with our usual resolute stoicism or cheerful fatalism. Being conservative means never being too surprised by disappointment.

But what if John McCain pulls off an upset?

I’m worried about my compatriots on the left. Michael Powell reports in Saturday’s New York Times that even the possibility of an Obama defeat has driven many liberals into in a state of high anxiety. And then there’s a young woman from Denver who “told her boyfriend that their love life was on hold while she sweated out Mr. Obama’s performance in Colorado.” Well, what if Obama loses Colorado? Or the presidency? As a compassionate conservative, I’m concerned about the well-being of that boyfriend — and of others who might be similarly situated. I feel an obligation to help.

So let me tell liberals why they should be cheerful if McCain happens to win.

1. It would be a victory for an underdog. Liberals are supposed to like underdogs. McCain is a lonely guy standing up against an unprecedentedly well-financed, superorganized, ExxonMobil-like Obama juggernaut. A McCain upset victory would be a classic liberal happy ending.

2. It would be a defeat for the establishment. Obama’s most recent high-profile Republican endorser was D.C. insider Kenneth Duberstein. Liberals should be on the side of hard-working plumbers, not big-shot lobbyists — oops, sorry, big-shot strategic advisers and consultants. And Duberstein said that Colin Powell’s endorsement was “the Good Housekeeping seal of approval on Barack Obama.” Doesn’t that comment embody everything that liberals (and many conservatives, including me) find creepy about smug establishment back-scratching and gatekeeping in America?

3. It would be a victory for the future. With President Bush’s approval rating at about 25 percent, a McCain triumph would mean Americans were making a judgment on two future alternatives, not merely voting on the basis of their resentment at the past performance of George W. Bush. It would mean voters were looking ahead, not back. Liberals should therefore welcome a McCain win as a triumph of hope over fear, of the future over the past.

4. It would be a victory for freedom. Obama supporter Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic writes that “tyrants and génocidaires would sleep less soundly during a McCain presidency.” Liberals should be opposed to tyranny and genocide. Wieseltier also acknowledges that McCain “was splendidly right about the surge, which is not a small thing; and the grudging way Obama treats the reversal in Iraq, when he treats it at all, is disgraceful.” The surge advanced not only our national security but the cause of freedom in the world. Liberals should be votaries of freedom.

5. A McCain victory would be good for liberalism. Look at recent history. Jimmy Carter and a Democratic Congress begat Ronald Reagan. Bill Clinton and a Democratic Congress produced Newt Gingrich. Who knows what would follow a President Obama and a Democratic Congress? Here’s one possibility: President Sarah Palin.

So liberals shouldn’t be too upset at the idea of McCain winning. Could it happen?

It’s possible. What if the polls, for various reasons, are overstating Obama’s support by a couple points? And what if the late deciders break overwhelmingly against Obama, as they did in the Democratic primaries? McCain could then thread the Electoral College needle.

McCain would have to win every state where he now leads or is effectively even in the polls (including North Carolina, Indiana and Missouri). He’d have to take Florida and Ohio, where he’s about four points down but where operatives on the ground give him a pretty good shot. That gets him to 247 of the 270 votes needed.

McCain’s path to victory is then to snatch Pennsylvania (which gets him to 268), and win either Virginia, Colorado, Nevada or New Mexico (states where he trails by about four to seven points) — or New Hampshire, where he’s 10 points behind but twice won dramatic primary victories.

As for Pennsylvania, two recent polls have McCain closing to within four points. Pennsylvania is the state whose small-town residents were famously patronized by Obama as “bitter.” One of Pennsylvania’s Democratic congressmen, John Murtha, recently accused many of his western Pennsylvania constituents of being racist. Perhaps Pennsylvanians will want to send a little message to the Democratic Party. And that could tip the election to McCain.

It’s an inside straight. But I’ve seen gamblers draw them.

If McCain wins, think of this column as a modest contribution to cheering up distraught liberals. If Obama prevails, I’m confident there are some compassionate liberals out there who will do the same for hapless conservatives as they hobble out to the wilderness.

It’s time for someone to adjust his medication…  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Fazal Fazlin has an American story. Raised in Karachi, Pakistan, he came to the United States in 1969 with an engineering degree and little else. Now he lives on a five-acre estate in the waterfront mansion that once belonged to Nelson Poynter, luminary of the newspaper business.

Poynter, who died in 1978, was the owner of The St. Petersburg Times, a bastion of journalistic excellence and liberal tradition.

Liberalism was never Fazlin’s thing. For most of his rags-to-riches American life, he was a Nixon Republican.

“I felt Nixon was a great President,” Fazlin, a dapper 58, told me. “He opened relations with China, and that’s what kept inflation down. He had a really good command of the world.”

So perhaps it’s surprising to see “Obama for President” signs outside the Poynter-Fazlin mansion and learn that Fazlin, joining long lines of early-voting Florida residents, has already cast his ballot for the Democratic candidate after twice voting for Bush.

But I’m not surprised. Lifelong Republicans turning to Obama has been one of the themes I’ve picked up in this campaign, ever since, back in January, I ran into Bryant Jones, an Idaho-raised Republican who’d volunteered for Obama in South Carolina.

For Jones, it was disenchantment with “my-way-or-the-highway politics and the same old faces.” For Fazlin, the Republican Party has “forgotten itself.”

That phrase resonated. This election has also been about the ideological exhaustion of a party. What was John McCain’s vice-presidential pick but a Hail Sarah pass reflecting the desperation of a Republican trying to succeed Bush?

Fazlin’s Republican Party, he told me over lunch, “was for less government and it was fiscally conservative. But look at the spending under Bush. We are trillions in debt. My granddaughter will pay for that.”

His Republican Party believed in a link between hard work and reward rather than between securitized toxic mortgage loans and instant fortunes. His Republican Party believed in transactions based on reality. “I had to jump through hoops for my first mortgage,” Fazlin said.

The party’s cultural shift also troubles him. In the party he joined, the Christian Right was insignificant. He sees a link between its rise and “an attitude toward Muslims that I really don’t like. Muslim cannot mean terrorist, but some of the emails I get suggest Republicans don’t see the difference.”

A Muslim himself, Fazlin was pleased to hear another Republican-to-Obama convert, Gen. Colin Powell, say: “Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing he or she could be president?”

American openness allowed Fazlin to make his way. He worked for Zenith in Chicago, then Control Data in Minneapolis, where he came up with “a process to change the surface energy of Teflon.”

I associate Teflon with easy-to-flip eggs, but apparently I missed something, which is probably why I’m a hack and he’s rich.

Fazlin’s breakthrough was important for circuit boards of high-speed computers. He moved on to plasma technology, founding Advanced Plasma in St. Petersburg in 1980.

Nineteen years later, he sold the company “for a few bucks,” enough to buy the Poynter estate. It was here that his far-flung family (from Pakistan, Canada and Australia) gathered for his birthday in June — and gave him the decisive prod into the Obama camp.

They asked: What’s happened to America? Why is it so heavy-handed? Why won’t it sit down, eyeball to eyeball, with its enemies and try to work things out? Fazlin considered those good questions.

He switched allegiance, helping to organize a fundraiser for Obama in Orlando. There, he met Obama and liked “the way he looked me in the eye, the way he wasn’t on a pedestal, but one of us.” He also liked Obama’s efficiency (and believes it could save the government money). They talked politics and Pakistani cuisine.

The Fazlin conversion is significant. Among Republicans flipping to Obama I’ve detected three core feelings: we have to do something different; we cannot be the party of fiscal irresponsibility; we cannot be the angry party of an “America-first” jingoism that alienates the world.

There’s something more, something unspoken. Reagan’s line was, “It’s morning again in America.” Bush has been about American dusk. Republicans are hard-headed but not to the point they want hope banished from the national vocabulary.

Enter Obama.

In Miami, I found more of the Fazlin phenomenon. Andy Gomez, an assistant professor at the University of Miami and a Cuban-American, told me his immediate family is made up of five registered Republicans and one Democrat.

Of that heavily Republican band, five, including Gomez himself, are voting Obama.

“Cuba’s not the issue,” he said. “It’s education, health care, the economy.”

Florida’s still a toss-up, but there’s Obama movement.

As Fazlin swept his Mercedes up the drive, I suggested the colonnaded mansion with its cascading bougainvillea was a Spanish colonial.

“What? I just think of it as Fazal style,” he said.

This is a great country. Hispano-Pakistani is fine. The past is prelude. Only the future counts. It looms tomorrow.

And now here’s Mr. Krugman:

Maybe the polls are wrong, and John McCain is about to pull off the biggest election upset in American history. But right now the Democrats seem poised both to win the White House and to greatly expand their majorities in both houses of Congress.

Most of the post-election discussion will presumably be about what the Democrats should and will do with their mandate. But let me ask a different question that will also be important for the nation’s future: What will defeat do to the Republicans?

You might think, perhaps hope, that Republicans will engage in some soul-searching, that they’ll ask themselves whether and how they lost touch with the national mainstream. But my prediction is that this won’t happen any time soon.

Instead, the Republican rump, the party that’s left after the election, will be the party that attends Sarah Palin’s rallies, where crowds chant “Vote McCain, not Hussein!” It will be the party of Saxby Chambliss, the senator from Georgia, who, observing large-scale early voting by African-Americans, warns his supporters that “the other folks are voting.” It will be the party that harbors menacing fantasies about Barack Obama’s Marxist — or was that Islamic? — roots.

Why will the G.O.P. become more, not less, extreme? For one thing, projections suggest that this election will drive many of the remaining Republican moderates out of Congress, while leaving the hard right in place.

For example, Larry Sabato, the election forecaster, predicts that seven Senate seats currently held by Republicans will go Democratic on Tuesday. According to the liberal-conservative rankings of the political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, five of the soon-to-be-gone senators are more moderate than the median Republican senator — so the rump, the G.O.P. caucus that remains, will have shifted further to the right. The same thing seems set to happen in the House.

Also, the Republican base already seems to be gearing up to regard defeat not as a verdict on conservative policies, but as the result of an evil conspiracy. A recent Democracy Corps poll found that Republicans, by a margin of more than two to one, believe that Mr. McCain is losing “because the mainstream media is biased” rather than “because Americans are tired of George Bush.”

And Mr. McCain has laid the groundwork for feverish claims that the election was stolen, declaring that the community activist group Acorn — which, as Factcheck.org points out, has never “been found guilty of, or even charged with” causing fraudulent votes to be cast — “is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” Needless to say, the potential voters Acorn tries to register are disproportionately “other folks,” as Mr. Chambliss might put it.

Anyway, the Republican base, egged on by the McCain-Palin campaign, thinks that elections should reflect the views of “real Americans” — and most of the people reading this column probably don’t qualify.

Thus, in the face of polls suggesting that Mr. Obama will win Virginia, a top McCain aide declared that the “real Virginia” — the southern part of the state, excluding the Washington, D.C., suburbs — favors Mr. McCain. A majority of Americans now live in big metropolitan areas, but while visiting a small town in North Carolina, Ms. Palin described it as “what I call the real America,” one of the “pro-America” parts of the nation. The real America, it seems, is small-town, mainly southern and, above all, white.

I’m not saying that the G.O.P. is about to become irrelevant. Republicans will still be in a position to block some Democratic initiatives, especially if the Democrats fail to achieve a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

And that blocking ability will ensure that the G.O.P. continues to receive plenty of corporate dollars: this year the U.S. Chamber of Congress has poured money into the campaigns of Senate Republicans like Minnesota’s Norm Coleman, precisely in the hope of denying Democrats a majority large enough to pass pro-labor legislation.

But the G.O.P.’s long transformation into the party of the unreasonable right, a haven for racists and reactionaries, seems likely to accelerate as a result of the impending defeat.

This will pose a dilemma for moderate conservatives. Many of them spent the Bush years in denial, closing their eyes to the administration’s dishonesty and contempt for the rule of law. Some of them have tried to maintain that denial through this year’s election season, even as the McCain-Palin campaign’s tactics have grown ever uglier. But one of these days they’re going to have to realize that the G.O.P. has become the party of intolerance.

Kristol, Cohen and Krugman

October 20, 2008

That disgusting insult to humanity Billy “Wrong Way” Kristol says “Here the People Rule.”  He has a question:  Are we really seeing a vulgarization in our politics? Politics in a democracy are always “vulgar” since democracy is rule by the “vulgus,” the common people, the crowd.  What can you say about this tripe?  He calls Peggy Noonan “silver penned,” and says Joe the Not Really a Tax-Paying Plumber is a sensible man.  Oh — and he still thinks Caribou Barbie is HAWT!  Moron.  Mr. Cohen cries “Vive la Dépression!”  He says with plumbers figuring in French and American votes, getting back to basics is in vogue. A relief from sophistication is overdue. It’s time to look forward to the Depression.  Mr. Krugman talks about “The Real Plumbers of Ohio,” and says John McCain’s strategy, in this final stretch, is based on the belief that Republicans can still pursue plutocratic policies while claiming to be the party of regular guys.  Here’s that waste of oxygen Kristol:

According to the silver-penned Peggy Noonan, writing in The Wall Street Journal over the weekend, “In the end the Palin candidacy is a symptom and expression of a new vulgarization in American politics.”

Leave aside Noonan’s negative judgment on Sarah Palin’s candidacy, a judgment I don’t share. Are we really seeing “a new vulgarization in American politics”? As opposed to the good old non-vulgar days?

Politics in a democracy are always “vulgar” — since democracy is rule by the “vulgus,” the common people, the crowd. Many conservatives have never been entirely comfortable with this rather important characteristic of democracy. Conservatives’ hearts have always beaten a little faster when they read Horace’s famous line: “Odi profanum vulgus et arceo.” “I hate the ignorant crowd and I keep them at a distance.”

But is the ignorant crowd really our problem today? Are populism and anti-intellectualism rampant in the land? Does the common man too thoroughly dominate our national life? I don’t think so.

Last week, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released its latest national survey, taken from Oct. 9 to 12. Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country and of course concerned about the economy. But, as Pew summarized, “there is little indication that the nation’s financial crisis has triggered public panic or despair.”

In fact, “There is a broad public consensus regarding the causes of the current problems with financial institutions and markets: 79 percent say people taking on too much debt has contributed a lot to the crisis, while 72 percent say the same about banks making risky loans.”

This seems sensible. Indeed, as Sept. 11 did not result in a much-feared (by intellectuals) wave of popular Islamophobia or xenophobia, so the market crash has resulted in remarkably little popular hysteria or scapegoating.

And considering what has happened, the vulgar public on Main Street has been surprisingly forgiving of those well-educated types on Wall Street — the ones who devised and marketed the sophisticated financial instruments that have brought the financial system to the brink of collapse.

Most of the recent mistakes of American public policy, and most of the contemporary delusions of American public life, haven’t come from an ignorant and excitable public. They’ve been produced by highly educated and sophisticated elites.

Needless to say, the public’s not always right, and public opinion’s not always responsible. But as publics go, the American public has a pretty good track record.

In the 1930s, the American people didn’t fall — unlike so many of their supposed intellectual betters — for either fascism or Communism. Since World War II, the American people have resisted the temptations of isolationism and protectionism, and have turned their backs on a history of bigotry.

Now, the Pew poll I cited earlier also showed Barack Obama holding a 50 percent to 40 percent lead over John McCain in the race for the White House. You might think this data point poses a challenge to my encomium to the good sense of the American people.

It does. But it’s hard to blame the public for preferring Obama at this stage — given the understandable desire to kick the Republicans out of the White House, and given the failure of the McCain campaign to make its case effectively. And some number of the public may change their minds in the final two weeks of the campaign, and may decide McCain-Palin offers a better kind of change — perhaps enough to give McCain-Palin a victory.

The media elites really hate that idea. Not just because so many of them prefer Obama. But because they like telling us what’s going to happen. They’re always annoyed when the people cross them up. Pundits spent all spring telling Hillary Clinton to give up in her contest against Obama — and the public kept on ignoring them and keeping her hopes alive.

Why do elites like to proclaim premature closure — not just in elections, but also in wars and in social struggles? Because it makes them the imperial arbiters, or at least the perspicacious announcers, of what history is going to bring. This puts the elite prognosticators ahead of the curve, ahead of the simple-minded people who might entertain the delusion that they still have a choice.

But as Gerald Ford said after assuming the presidency on Aug. 9, 1974, ”Here the people rule.”

One of those people is Joe Wurzelbacher, a k a Joe the Plumber. He’s the latest ordinary American to do a star turn in our vulgar democratic circus. He seems like a sensible man to me.

And to Peggy Noonan, who wrote that Joe “in an extended cable interview Thursday made a better case for the Republican ticket than the Republican ticket has made.” At least McCain and Palin have had the good sense to embrace him. I join them in taking my stand with Joe the Plumber — in defiance of Horace the Poet.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be legacy neocons…  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

What is it with plumbers, anyway?

Before Joe the Plumber, the latest celebrity of the U.S. presidential campaign, we had the Polish plumber, star of the 2005 French referendum that sent a much-heralded European Union constitution into the toilet.

Jozef the Plumber — actually he never got a name — was the mythical Polish worker who was going to exploit European integration by moving to France and stealing jobs. Mais non! The French nixed that by a 55 percent majority.

I’m not sure what effect Joe Wurzelbacher of Holland, Ohio, is going to have on the American vote, but one thing’s now certain: you don’t need a plumber’s license to gain national fame.

In time, sociology departments at the Sorbonne and Stanford will complete studies on this Gallo-American plumbing thing. Meanwhile, it’s clearly time for everyone to start searching for his inner plumber.

Mine is repressed. But a faint gurgling from deep in my psyche tells me that with making money from pieces of paper now out of fashion, and making money from doing things (like fixing a pipe) enjoying a comeback, the plumbing vogue reflects a move back to basics.

A relief from sophistication is overdue. Derivatives and credit-default swaps are a downer.

So I’ve decided to look forward to the Depression.

You might actually be able to go to a New York dinner party and not have someone tell you how much her property has gone up in value. Blackberry fever, another obstacle to enjoying a meal, should subside.

Interesting tidbits, like how to use a teabag a second time, or where to buy a cheap safe, or how to raise chickens in the bedroom, will be all the rage.

Courtesy could even make a comeback as we discover the shared humanity of standing in food lines: nobody will take up three seats on the subway anymore. A new “homeless look” will gain traction. With time on their hands, people may return to reading newspapers. There’ll be more room on planes and fewer snooty looks from Platinum frequent-flyers as you board them.

Let’s face it, nightmares — war, totalitarianism, even vanishing 401(k)’s — are a tonic for conversation.

When Communism fell in Europe, hundreds of millions of people loved the liberty but lamented the demise of interesting discourse. Deciding between a vacation in Marbella or Marrakesh, or how to take your mojito, doesn’t quite do it when resistance or silence before the K.G.B. has been the choice over cabbage soup.

Wit loves hardship. We’ll have more laughs, more good music, and less of Sarah Palin’s “verbage” — but don’t get me started. Peggy Noonan said it all on Palin in The Wall Street Journal: “She doesn’t think aloud. She just … says things.”

Speaking out is the American way — even if some Republicans think words are suspect because they just might lead to eloquence.

In the U.S.S.R. — and remember state monopoly capitalism of the kind Henry Paulson now favors is Marx’s last stage on the road to the workers’ paradise — people joked about the difference between the American and Soviet Constitutions.

Answer: both guarantee freedom of speech, but the U.S. constitution also guarantees freedom after speech.

Or it used to before Dick Cheney re-jigged it for the post-9/11 age. But I digress.

I asked an actor friend, Jy Murphy, about possible upsides to a Depression. He sent me this:

“People can stop worrying about their portfolios, and spend more time starving with their families. It’s bound to put a dent in the national obesity rate. More people will use mass transportation, like railroad freight cars. We’ll have authentic stories of hardship to guilt-trip our spoiled grandchildren. And once the Depression is over, we’ll be ready to win a world war again!”

Yep, there’s a lot to be said for plumbing the depths.

Which brings us back to Joe the Plumber. John McCain thought Joe had something to teach Barack Obama. But I think his lesson was directed at the Republican ticket. The faux-plumber has already held a press conference, more than Palin has done in the seven weeks since she was nominated.

“I’m kind of like Britney Spears having a headache,” Bald Joe said, a possible allusion to the moment she got her head shaved. “Everyone wants to know about it.”

Can you blame them? With the Bonfire-of-the-Vanities end to the Bush administration, the travails of an Ohio plumber are a fine distraction, even if Joe’s really no Britney look-alike.

My suggestion is that Joe and Jozef meet for a Paris presser after the election. That would be a nice way of flushing away differences and getting the next presidency going in a spirit of rediscovered cooperation between Depression-hit allies.

Then they can co-author a book: “Plumb Deep, Fly High.”

And now here’s Mr. Krugman:

Forty years ago, Richard Nixon made a remarkable marketing discovery. By exploiting America’s divisions — divisions over Vietnam, divisions over cultural change and, above all, racial divisions — he was able to reinvent the Republican brand. The party of plutocrats was repackaged as the party of the “silent majority,” the regular guys — white guys, it went without saying — who didn’t like the social changes taking place.

It was a winning formula. And the great thing was that the new packaging didn’t require any change in the product’s actual contents — in fact, the G.O.P. was able to keep winning elections even as its actual policies became more pro-plutocrat, and less favorable to working Americans, than ever.

John McCain’s strategy, in this final stretch, is based on the belief that the old formula still has life in it.

Thus we have Sarah Palin expressing her joy at visiting the “pro-America” parts of the country — yep, we’re all traitors here in central New Jersey. Meanwhile we’ve got Mr. McCain making Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, a k a Joe the Plumber — who had confronted Barack Obama on the campaign trail, alleging that the Democratic candidate would raise his taxes — the centerpiece of his attack on Mr. Obama’s economic proposals.

And when it turned out that the right’s new icon had a few issues, like not being licensed and comparing Mr. Obama to Sammy Davis Jr., conservatives played victim: see how much those snooty elitists hate the common man?

But what’s really happening to the plumbers of Ohio, and to working Americans in general?

First of all, they aren’t making a lot of money. You may recall that in one of the early Democratic debates Charles Gibson of ABC suggested that $200,000 a year was a middle-class income. Tell that to Ohio plumbers: according to the May 2007 occupational earnings report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income of “plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters” in Ohio was $47,930.

Second, their real incomes have stagnated or fallen, even in supposedly good years. The Bush administration assured us that the economy was booming in 2007 — but the average Ohio plumber’s income in that 2007 report was only 15.5 percent higher than in the 2000 report, not enough to keep up with the 17.7 percent rise in consumer prices in the Midwest. As Ohio plumbers went, so went the nation: median household income, adjusted for inflation, was lower in 2007 than it had been in 2000.

Third, Ohio plumbers have been having growing trouble getting health insurance, especially if, like many craftsmen, they work for small firms. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2007 only 45 percent of companies with fewer than 10 employees offered health benefits, down from 57 percent in 2000.

And bear in mind that all these data pertain to 2007 — which was as good as it got in recent years. Now that the “Bush boom,” such as it was, is over, we can see that it achieved a dismal distinction: for the first time on record, an economic expansion failed to raise most Americans’ incomes above their previous peak.

Since then, of course, things have gone rapidly downhill, as millions of working Americans have lost their jobs and their homes. And all indicators suggest that things will get much worse in the months and years ahead.

So what does all this say about the candidates? Who’s really standing up for Ohio’s plumbers?

Mr. McCain claims that Mr. Obama’s policies would lead to economic disaster. But President Bush’s policies have already led to disaster — and whatever he may say, Mr. McCain proposes continuing Mr. Bush’s policies in all essential respects, and he shares Mr. Bush’s anti-government, anti-regulation philosophy.

What about the claim, based on Joe the Plumber’s complaint, that ordinary working Americans would face higher taxes under Mr. Obama? Well, Mr. Obama proposes raising rates on only the top two income tax brackets — and the second-highest bracket for a head of household starts at an income, after deductions, of $182,400 a year.

Maybe there are plumbers out there who earn that much, or who would end up suffering from Mr. Obama’s proposed modest increases in taxes on dividends and capital gains — America is a big country, and there’s probably a high-income plumber with a huge stock market portfolio out there somewhere. But the typical plumber would pay lower, not higher, taxes under an Obama administration, and would have a much better chance of getting health insurance.

I don’t want to suggest that everyone would be better off under the Obama tax plan. Joe the plumber would almost certainly be better off, but Richie the hedge fund manager would take a serious hit.

But that’s the point. Whatever today’s G.O.P. is, it isn’t the party of working Americans.

Kristol, Cohen and Krugman

October 13, 2008

Oh, Jeez!  McCain is officially toast.  Wrong Way Billy has noted that it’s not all roses and sunshine and happy thoughts.  He excreted a thing called “Fire the Campaign,” in which he says it’s time for John McCain to fire his campaign. He says McCain needs to reposition himself as a serious but cheerful candidate for times that need a serious but upbeat leader.  Billy, with 3 weeks to go this will be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.  Mr. Cohen gives us “History and the Really Very Weird,” in which he says this is no ordinary moment. And it’s not a time, in history’s great sweep, for Dan Quayle’s “very weird” people to run the world.  I agree.  Going from the very stupid to the very weird is not a good move.  Mr. Krugman notes that “Gordon Does Good.”  He says that with stunning speed, the British government defined the character of the worldwide rescue effort. Now other wealthy nations have to catch-up.  Here’s poor panicked Wrong Way Billy:

It’s time for John McCain to fire his campaign.

He has nothing to lose. His campaign is totally overmatched by Obama’s. The Obama team is well organized, flush with resources, and the candidate and the campaign are in sync. The McCain campaign, once merely problematic, is now close to being out-and-out dysfunctional. Its combination of strategic incoherence and operational incompetence has become toxic. If the race continues over the next three weeks to be a conventional one, McCain is doomed.

He may be anyway. Bush is unpopular. The media is hostile. The financial meltdown has made things tougher. Maybe the situation is hopeless — and if it is, then nothing McCain or his campaign does matters.

But I’m not convinced by such claims of inevitability. McCain isn’t Bush. The media isn’t all-powerful. And the economic crisis still presents an opportunity to show leadership.

The 2008 campaign is now about something very big — both our future prosperity and our national security. Yet the McCain campaign has become smaller.

What McCain needs to do is junk the whole thing and start over. Shut down the rapid responses, end the frantic e-mails, bench the spinning surrogates, stop putting up new TV and Internet ads every minute. In fact, pull all the ads — they’re doing no good anyway. Use that money for televised town halls and half-hour addresses in prime time.

And let McCain go back to what he’s been good at in the past — running as a cheerful, open and accessible candidate. Palin should follow suit. The two of them are attractive and competent politicians. They’re happy warriors and good campaigners. Set them free.

Provide total media accessibility on their campaign planes and buses. Kick most of the aides off and send them out to swing states to work for the state coordinators on getting voters to the polls. Keep just a minimal staff to help organize the press conferences McCain and Palin should have at every stop and the TV interviews they should do at every location. Do town halls, do the Sunday TV shows, do talk radio — and invite Obama and Biden to join them in some of these venues, on the ground that more joint appearances might restore civility and substance to the contest.

The hope for McCain and Palin is that they still have pretty good favorable ratings from the voters. The American people have by no means turned decisively against them.

The bad news, of course, is that right now Obama’s approval/disapproval rating is better than McCain’s. Indeed, Obama’s is a bit higher than it was a month ago. That suggests the failure of the McCain campaign’s attacks on Obama.

So drop them.

Not because they’re illegitimate. I think many of them are reasonable. Obama’s relationship to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is, I believe, a legitimate issue. But McCain ruled it out of bounds, and he’s sticking to that. And for whatever reason — the public mood, campaign ineptness, McCain’s alternation between hesitancy and harshness, which reflects the fact that he’s uncomfortable in the attack role — the other attacks on Obama just aren’t working. There’s no reason to think they’re suddenly going to.

There are still enough doubts about Obama to allow McCain to win. But McCain needs to make his case, and do so as a serious but cheerful candidate for times that need a serious but upbeat leader.

McCain should stop unveiling gimmicky proposals every couple of days that pretend to deal with the financial crisis. He should tell the truth — we’re in uncharted waters, no one is certain what to do, and no one knows what the situation will be on Jan. 20, 2009. But what we do know is that we could use someone as president who’s shown in his career the kind of sound judgment and strong leadership we’ll need to make it through the crisis.

McCain can make the substantive case for his broadly centrist conservatism. He can explain that our enemies won’t take a vacation because the markets are down, and that it’s not unimportant that he’s ready to be commander in chief. He can remind voters that even in a recession, the president appoints federal judges — and that his judges won’t legislate from the bench.

And he can point out that there’s going to be a Democratic Congress. He can suggest that surely we’d prefer a president who would check that Congress where necessary and work with it where possible, instead of having an inexperienced Democratic president joined at the hip with an all-too-experienced Democratic Congress, leading us, unfettered and unchecked, back to 1970s-style liberalism.

At Wednesday night’s debate at Hofstra, McCain might want to volunteer a mild mea culpa about the extent to which the presidential race has degenerated into a shouting match. And then he can pledge to the voters that the last three weeks will feature a contest worthy of this moment in our history.

He’d enjoy it. And he might even win it.

Great idea, Billy.  Let’s have a guy who can’t manage his own campaign try to manage the country…  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Back when he was vice president, Dan Quayle noted that: “People that are really very weird can get into sensitive positions and have a tremendous impact on history.”

He was right, as the Germans know, even if his own impact was limited by the fact the president he was understudying for stayed alive.

Quayle’s words came back to me because, like a lot Americans, I’ve come down with Palinitis: the acute fear that Sarah Palin might get into one of those “sensitive positions.”

This is no ordinary moment. More than two trillion dollars have disappeared from Americans’ retirement accounts. The hedge-fund high priests of the universe have suspended their Warhol purchases. Iceland, de-banked, has gone back to fishing (if there are any fish left). On the next president will hinge the choice between recession, with a small “r,” and Depression, with a big “D.”

It’s not a time, in history’s great sweep, for Quayle’s very weird people to run the world. Tremendous might prove an inadequate description of their impact. What we need is a safe pair of hands. Or we’ll all be fishing.

Then I pulled into Peculiar.

I’d decided to go for a spin around Missouri because this bellwether, battleground state has voted for the winner in every election since 1904, with the sole exception of 1956. In many respects, it is America miniaturized.

Of its more than 100 rural counties, all but one voted Republican in 2004. But its big cities, St. Louis and Kansas City, are another story, trending heavily Democrat. Rural, Bible-belt, America-first Missouri tends to views St. Louis as the fallen East Coast.

The growing number of conservative, Evangelical voters led John Kerry to abandon campaigning here four years ago; he lost heavily to President Bush. In Peculiar (motto “Where the ‘Odds’ are with you”), Democrats are rare. Cass County, where it’s located, voted 61.6 percent Bush.

There’s not a lot to Peculiar, a smattering of low-slung buildings off Highway 71 in western Missouri. At a general store, I asked about the name and a woman told me: “When they incorporated the town, they tried a few names, but those already existed, and somebody wrote back saying we should try something more ‘peculiar.’ And, son, we did.”

End of story.

Or not quite: America’s become a place where Peculiar folks think the city folks have lost the plot and city folks think the rural folks are peculiar.

In this culture war, where Palin’s hockey moms and Joe Sixpacks are supposed to be the only patriots left standing, believing in a woman’s right to choose gets cast as unpatriotic. (Remember: belief in regulating markets used to be unpatriotic too.)

I pulled out of Peculiar, passed a sign saying “Nothing’s hard for God,” cranked up the radio and got the Eagles:

“And I wanna sleep with you
In the desert tonight
With a billion stars all around
Cause I got a peaceful easy feeling
And I know you won’t let me down …”

Man, that felt good: a peaceful easy feeling is not something I’ve had about the U.S. in a while. But around Humansville (I didn’t ask), a country music station brought me this:

“I’m just a common man
Drive a common van
And my dog ain’t got no pedigree
I’m just happy to be free
Way I wanna be
Because highbrow people lose their saniteeee …”

That did it. Not wishing to lose mine, I asked Kenneth Warren, a professor of political science at St. Louis University, how Missouri’s battle of the Republican common man and the Democratic highbrow crowd was going since the Dow dived and the Bush presidency began its final descent into flames.

“There’s strong movement in Obama’s direction,” he said. “He was trailing by 10 points in August, and now two polls show him ahead. You’ve got a perfect storm for him. With the financial collapse, the Republican White House gets blamed. McCain’s looking rattled and disconnected on the economy. And Palin’s become a liability because she doesn’t look qualified for a crisis.”

In Branson, in southern Missouri, I met Gail Hinshaw, a business executive. He told me he’s an independent who’s “leaned Republican.” But, he said, “I’m an orthodox Republican, not big on big government, and who’s spent more or grown government more than this president?”

Hinshaw said no person has all the answers. So he’s looking for someone who can pull people together. It’s time, he said, to paint or get off the ladder. He senses movement toward Obama as independents like him decide. “We got to do something different.”

Missouri’s still a toss-up. But if the Hinshaw drift continues in Republican areas and Obama wins the state, he’ll likely be elected president by a landslide. Compared to Missouri, most other battleground states look more comfortable for him.

I’m starting to believe in a Republican bloodbath. You can’t fool all the people all the time. As Quayle noted, “The future will be better tomorrow.”

Here’s Mr. Krugman:

Has Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, saved the world financial system?

O.K., the question is premature — we still don’t know the exact shape of the planned financial rescues in Europe or for that matter the United States, let alone whether they’ll really work. What we do know, however, is that Mr. Brown and Alistair Darling, the chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent to our Treasury secretary), have defined the character of the worldwide rescue effort, with other wealthy nations playing catch-up.

This is an unexpected turn of events. The British government is, after all, very much a junior partner when it comes to world economic affairs. It’s true that London is one of the world’s great financial centers, but the British economy is far smaller than the U.S. economy, and the Bank of England doesn’t have anything like the influence either of the Federal Reserve or of the European Central Bank. So you don’t expect to see Britain playing a leadership role.

But the Brown government has shown itself willing to think clearly about the financial crisis, and act quickly on its conclusions. And this combination of clarity and decisiveness hasn’t been matched by any other Western government, least of all our own.

What is the nature of the crisis? The details can be insanely complex, but the basics are fairly simple. The bursting of the housing bubble has led to large losses for anyone who bought assets backed by mortgage payments; these losses have left many financial institutions with too much debt and too little capital to provide the credit the economy needs; troubled financial institutions have tried to meet their debts and increase their capital by selling assets, but this has driven asset prices down, reducing their capital even further.

What can be done to stem the crisis? Aid to homeowners, though desirable, can’t prevent large losses on bad loans, and in any case will take effect too slowly to help in the current panic. The natural thing to do, then — and the solution adopted in many previous financial crises — is to deal with the problem of inadequate financial capital by having governments provide financial institutions with more capital in return for a share of ownership.

This sort of temporary part-nationalization, which is often referred to as an “equity injection,” is the crisis solution advocated by many economists — and sources told The Times that it was also the solution privately favored by Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman.

But when Henry Paulson, the U.S. Treasury secretary, announced his plan for a $700 billion financial bailout, he rejected this obvious path, saying, “That’s what you do when you have failure.” Instead, he called for government purchases of toxic mortgage-backed securities, based on the theory that … actually, it never was clear what his theory was.

Meanwhile, the British government went straight to the heart of the problem — and moved to address it with stunning speed. On Wednesday, Mr. Brown’s officials announced a plan for major equity injections into British banks, backed up by guarantees on bank debt that should get lending among banks, a crucial part of the financial mechanism, running again. And the first major commitment of funds will come on Monday — five days after the plan’s announcement.

At a special European summit meeting on Sunday, the major economies of continental Europe in effect declared themselves ready to follow Britain’s lead, injecting hundreds of billions of dollars into banks while guaranteeing their debts. And whaddya know, Mr. Paulson — after arguably wasting several precious weeks — has also reversed course, and now plans to buy equity stakes rather than bad mortgage securities (although he still seems to be moving with painful slowness).

As I said, we still don’t know whether these moves will work. But policy is, finally, being driven by a clear view of what needs to be done. Which raises the question, why did that clear view have to come from London rather than Washington?

It’s hard to avoid the sense that Mr. Paulson’s initial response was distorted by ideology. Remember, he works for an administration whose philosophy of government can be summed up as “private good, public bad,” which must have made it hard to face up to the need for partial government ownership of the financial sector.

I also wonder how much the Femafication of government under President Bush contributed to Mr. Paulson’s fumble. All across the executive branch, knowledgeable professionals have been driven out; there may not have been anyone left at Treasury with the stature and background to tell Mr. Paulson that he wasn’t making sense.

Luckily for the world economy, however, Gordon Brown and his officials are making sense. And they may have shown us the way through this crisis.

Kristol, Cohen and Krugman

October 6, 2008

That waste of perfectly good oxygen Wrong Way Billy yakked up a fur ball he calls “The Wright Stuff.”  He says he spoke to Gov. Sarah Palin recently. She said a few things that were politically provocative and offered advice to John McCain for the next debate: “Have fun.” Then added, “Take the gloves off.”  Yeah, that’s the ticket…  Get even nastier than you’ve already gotten…  Mr. Cohen gives us “Kiplin’ vs. Palin,” and says some truths seem self-evident. But let’s face it, the whole Wall Street debacle was based on the fathomless human ability to disregard facts and believe in cloud-cuckoo-land.  Mr. Krugman writes about “Health Care Destruction,” and says Republicans still hate Medicare and have not been able to kill it. Since that is out, John McCain is going after insurance of nonelderly Americans instead.  Here’s that horse’s ass Kristol:

I spoke on the phone Sunday with Sarah Palin, who was in Long Beach, Calif., preparing to take off on her next campaign trip. It was the first time I’d talked with her since I met her in far more relaxed circumstances in Alaska over a year ago. But even though she’s presumably now under some strain and stress, she seemed, as far as I could tell, confident and upbeat.

In terms of substance, some of what she had to say was unsurprising: She doesn’t have a very high opinion of the mainstream media, and she believes an Obama administration would kill jobs by raising taxes. But she said a couple of things that were, I thought, either personally touching or politically provocative.

At one point, noting that Palin had remarked ruefully almost a week ago that her son Track had been, since his recent deployment to Iraq, in touch with his girlfriend but not his mother, I asked whether she had subsequently heard from him.

Palin told me she had. “He called the day of the debate, and it was so wonderful because it was the first call since they were deployed over there, and it was like a burden lifted even when I heard his voice.” Palin said that she told him that she had a debate that night. “And he says, ‘Yeah, I heard, Mom,’ and he says, ‘Have you been studying?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I have,’ and he goes, ‘O.K., well I’ll be praying.’ I’m like — total role reversal here, that’s what I’ve been telling him for 19 years.”

That was Palin the hockey mom — or rather the military mom.

As for the campaign, Palin made clear — without being willing to flat out say so — that she regretted allowing herself to be overly handled and constrained after the Republican convention. She described the debate on Thursday night as “liberating,” and she emphasized how much she now looked forward to being out there, “getting to speak directly to the folks.”

Since she seemed to have enjoyed the debate, I asked her whether she’d like to take this opportunity to challenge Joe Biden to another one.

There was a pause, and I thought I heard some staff murmuring in the background (we were on speaker phones). She passed on the notion of a challenge. But she did say she was more than willing to accept an invitation to debate with Biden again, and even expressed a preference for a town hall meeting-type format.

Since their debate drew more than 70 million television viewers — some 20 million more than watched John McCain and Barack Obama the week before — I trust that various civic associations, universities and media organizations will have invitations in the mail to Biden and Palin pronto.

And, really, shouldn’t the public get the benefit of another Biden-Palin debate, or even two? If there’s difficulty finding a moderator, I’ll be glad to volunteer.

Palin also made clear that she was eager for the McCain-Palin campaign to be more aggressive in helping the American people understand “who the real Barack Obama is.” Part of who Obama is, she said, has to do with his past associations, such as with the former bomber Bill Ayers. Palin had raised the topic of Ayers Saturday on the campaign trail, and she maintained to me that Obama, who’s minimized his relationship with Ayers, “hasn’t been wholly truthful” about this.

I pointed out that Obama surely had a closer connection to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright than to Ayers — and so, I asked, if Ayers is a legitimate issue, what about Reverend Wright?

She didn’t hesitate: “To tell you the truth, Bill, I don’t know why that association isn’t discussed more, because those were appalling things that that pastor had said about our great country, and to have sat in the pews for 20 years and listened to that — with, I don’t know, a sense of condoning it, I guess, because he didn’t get up and leave — to me, that does say something about character. But, you know, I guess that would be a John McCain call on whether he wants to bring that up.”

I guess so. And I guess we’ll soon know McCain’s call on whether he wants to bring Wright up — perhaps at his debate with Obama Tuesday night.

I asked at the end of our conversation whether Palin, fresh off her own debate, had any advice for McCain. “I’m going to tell him the same thing he told me. I talked to him just a few minutes before I walked out there on stage. And he just said: ‘Have fun. Be yourself, and have fun.’ And Senator McCain can do the same.” She paused, and I was about to thank her for the interview, but she had one more thing to say. “Only maybe I’d add just a couple more words, and that would be: ‘Take the gloves off.’ ”

And maybe I’d add, Hockey Mom knows best.

Words fail me…  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Repeat after me: pigs can’t fly. Repeat after me: if you don’t work you die. Repeat after me: fire will certainly burn.

Perhaps these truths seem self-evident. But let’s face it, the whole Wall Street debacle, with its cost of some $700 billion to generations of Americans, was based on the fathomless human ability to disregard facts and believe in cloud-cuckoo-land.

Risk no longer existed. The penniless could afford a $200,000 house. Real estate prices could only rise. Securities full of toxic loans would prove benign. Debt was desirable, leverage lovely, greed great. Two and two made five. The moon was a balloon and streets were lined with gold.

How could it happen? That outraged question springs now to everyone’s lips. But from Dutch tulips to Californian dotcoms, great heists have happened and will again. No flight from reality is as sweet as the illusion that money grows on trees.

A friend wrote suggesting I take a look at Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “The Gods of the Copybook Headings,” in the light of current events. Written in 1919, when Kipling was 53, in an England drained by the Great War, which had taken the life of his teenage son, the poem makes sobering reading.

A copybook was a school exercise book used to practice handwriting. At the tops of pages, proverbs and sayings (like “Stick to the Devil You Know”) appeared in exemplary script to be copied down the page by pupils. The truisms were called “copybook headings.”

The poem begins:

As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,

I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.

Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

And what are the qualities of these “Gods of the Copybook Headings?” The fourth verse sets them out.

With the hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,

They denied that the moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;

They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;

So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

The seventh verse reads:

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,

By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul:

But though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

Truth, in short, confronts delusion and utopia.

Kipling is not much in fashion these days, other than for his children’s books. For a politically correct age, he speaks too bluntly of the world’s — and empire’s — cruel ironies. But his vivid evocation of war’s horror, man’s hypocrisy, illusion’s price and power’s passing make him important in this pivotal American moment.

As it happens — life’s ironies — I was reading Kipling after watching the vice-presidential debate, or more precisely Sarah Palin, the winking “Main-Streeter” from Wasilla. And the words of hers that rang in my ears were:

“One thing that Americans do at this time, also, though, is let’s commit ourselves just everyday American people, Joe Six Pack, hockey moms across the nation, I think we need to band together and say ‘Never Again.’ Never will we be exploited and taken advantage of again by those managing our money and loaning us these dollars.”

Huh?

I’m sorry, Governor Palin, words matter. Life has its solemn lessons. “Never Again” is a hallowed phrase. It’s applicable not to the loss of a mortgage, but to the Holocaust and genocide.

According verbal equivalency to a $60,000 loan and six million murdered Jews, or 800,000 slaughtered Rwandans, is grotesque. Perhaps Palin didn’t mean it, but that’s no less serious. The world’s gravity escapes her.

Not Kipling, who wrote in “Epitaphs of the War” (1914-1918):

If any question why we died,

Tell them, because our fathers lied.

I wonder, after the lying and the dead of the Bush Administration, in the midst of the wars, in the face of 760,000 lost jobs, is Palin’s offer of a “little bit of reality from Wasilla Main Street” enough?

“The Gods of the Copybook Headings” ends:

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man —

There are only four things certain since Social Progress began:

That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,

And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins

When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,

As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,

The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Palin, Mainstreeter that she is, loves to drop her g’s, so she’d no doubt call the poet Kiplin’. She might have asked, with that wink, to call him “Rud.”

That’s cutesy politics. But pigs still don’t have wings. The world’s still a dangerous place. It’s time for copybook realists in the White House.

And now here’s Mr. Krugman:

Sarah Palin ended her debate performance last Thursday with a slightly garbled quote from Ronald Reagan about how, if we aren’t vigilant, we’ll end up “telling our children and our children’s children” about the days when America was free. It was a revealing choice.

You see, when Reagan said this he wasn’t warning about Soviet aggression. He was warning against legislation that would guarantee health care for older Americans — the program now known as Medicare.

Conservative Republicans still hate Medicare, and would kill it if they could — in fact, they tried to gut it during the Clinton years (that’s what the 1995 shutdown of the government was all about). But so far they haven’t been able to pull that off.

So John McCain wants to destroy the health insurance of nonelderly Americans instead.

Most Americans under 65 currently get health insurance through their employers. That’s largely because the tax code favors such insurance: your employer’s contribution to insurance premiums isn’t considered taxable income, as long as the employer’s health plan follows certain rules. In particular, the same plan has to be available to all employees, regardless of the size of their paycheck or the state of their health.

This system does a fairly effective job of protecting those it reaches, but it leaves many Americans out in the cold. Workers whose employers don’t offer coverage are forced to seek individual health insurance, often in vain. For one thing, insurance companies offering “nongroup” coverage generally refuse to cover anyone with a pre-existing medical condition. And individual insurance is very expensive, because insurers spend large sums weeding out “high-risk” applicants — that is, anyone who seems likely to actually need the insurance.

So what should be done? Barack Obama offers incremental reform: regulation of insurers to prevent discrimination against the less healthy, subsidies to help lower-income families buy insurance, and public insurance plans that compete with the private sector. His plan falls short of universal coverage, but it would sharply reduce the number of uninsured.

Mr. McCain, on the other hand, wants to blow up the current system, by eliminating the tax break for employer-provided insurance. And he doesn’t offer a workable alternative.

Without the tax break, many employers would drop their current health plans. Several recent nonpartisan studies estimate that under the McCain plan around 20 million Americans currently covered by their employers would lose their health insurance.

As compensation, the McCain plan would give people a tax credit — $2,500 for an individual, $5,000 for a family — that could be used to buy health insurance in the individual market. At the same time, Mr. McCain would deregulate insurance, leaving insurance companies free to deny coverage to those with health problems — and his proposal for a “high-risk pool” for hard cases would provide little help.

So what would happen?

The good news, such as it is, is that more people would buy individual insurance. Indeed, the total number of uninsured Americans might decline marginally under the McCain plan — although many more Americans would be without insurance than under the Obama plan.

But the people gaining insurance would be those who need it least: relatively healthy Americans with high incomes. Why? Because insurance companies want to cover only healthy people, and even among the healthy only those able to pay a lot in addition to their tax credit would be able to afford coverage (remember, it’s a $5,000 credit, but the average family policy actually costs more than $12,000).

Meanwhile, the people losing insurance would be those who need it most: lower-income workers who wouldn’t be able to afford individual insurance even with the tax credit, and Americans with health problems whom insurance companies won’t cover.

And in the process of comforting the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted, the McCain plan would also lead to a huge, expensive increase in bureaucracy: insurers selling individual health plans spend 29 percent of the premiums they receive on administration, largely because they employ so many people to screen applicants. This compares with costs of 12 percent for group plans and just 3 percent for Medicare.

In short, the McCain plan makes no sense at all, unless you have faith that the magic of the marketplace can solve all problems. And Mr. McCain does: a much-quoted article published under his name declares that “Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.”

I agree: the McCain plan would do for health care what deregulation has done for banking. And I’m terrified.

Folks, when Paul Krugman is terrified it’s time for the rest of us to be huddled under the desk, gibbering with fear.  And coming out only to vote for Obama.