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.