Archive for the ‘Wrong Way Billy’ 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!

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

January 12, 2009

Bloody Billy gives us “Continuity We Can Believe In,” in which he says it seems that we can expect more continuity than change from President-elect Barack Obama’s foreign policy.  He’s trying to make it sound as though soon-to-be-President Obama agrees with Dick Cheney…  Mr. Cohen, in “Mideast Dream Team? Not Quite,” says U.S. enlightenment about the Middle East will require a fresher, broader team than Barack Obama is contemplating.  Prof. Krugman has “Ideas for Obama.”  He says President-elect Barack Obama’s economic plan falls well short of what’s needed. To fix it, he needs to stop talking about “jump-starts” and focus on long-term investment.  Judging from all the above, to say nothing of what else is in the MSM, I don’t see much of a “honeymoon” for the new administration.  Here’s that disgusting creature Kristol:

Barack Obama made news Sunday on ABC’s “This Week”: The White House dog will likely be a Labradoodle or a Portuguese water dog.

I’ve got to say I’m a little disappointed. These are nice, friendly, generally obedient breeds (or in the case of the Labradoodle, a crossbreed). But what a missed opportunity! Obama could have made a bolder, edgier choice, like a mini-Australian shepherd. I happen to know one well. He’s very smart, a bit neurotic, devoted to his master (if sometimes confused about whether he or the master is the master), and always looking for people to herd. A mini-Aussie would have fit right into a White House populated by Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers, Joe Biden et al. Instead, Obama’s going with a no-drama canine alternative.

And he seems to be going for the no-dramatic-change-in-policy-in-the-White-House alternative as well. Consider Obama’s reaction when George Stephanopoulos played a clip of Dick Cheney counseling Obama not to implement his campaign rhetoric until he’s fully briefed on the details of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policy.

“I think that was pretty good advice, which is I should know what’s going on before we make judgments and that we shouldn’t be making judgments on the basis of incomplete information or campaign rhetoric. So I’ve got no quibble with that particular quote,” said Obama. Usually, presidents pretend their campaign positions are more than “campaign rhetoric.” Not Obama.

Obama did note that he differs with Cheney on “some things that we know happened,” including waterboarding. And he did reiterate his pledge to close Guantánamo. But he warned that it was “more difficult than I think a lot of people realize,” explaining that while he was committed to the rule of law, he wasn’t interested “in releasing people who are intent on blowing us up.”

And at one point he returned, unbidden, to the much-maligned vice president, commenting, “I thought that Dick Cheney’s advice was good.”

Perhaps the president-elect was just being polite. Or perhaps he just enjoys torturing (metaphorically!) some of his previously most ardent supporters who want Dick Cheney tried as a war criminal.

In fact, Stephanopoulos asked about that. He pointed to a popular question on Obama’s Web site about whether he’ll appoint a special prosecutor to investigate “the greatest crimes of the Bush administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping.” Obama stipulated that no one should be above the law. But he praised C.I.A. employees, and said he didn’t want them “looking over their shoulders and lawyering.” He took the general view “that when it comes to national security, what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past.”

With respect to the Middle East, Obama didn’t even say we’d gotten much wrong in the past. Asked by Stephanopoulos whether his policy would build on Bush’s or would be a clean break, Obama answered, “if you look not just at the Bush administration, but also what happened under the Clinton administration, you are seeing the general outlines of an approach.” So: No break.

Meanwhile, the Obama transition team’s chief national security spokeswoman, Brooke Anderson, was denying a press report that Obama’s advisers were urging him to initiate low-level or clandestine contacts with Hamas as a prelude to change in policy. Anderson told The Jerusalem Post that the story wasn’t accurate, and reminded one and all that Obama “has repeatedly stated that he believes that Hamas is a terrorist organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction, and that we should not deal with them until they recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by past agreements.”

On Iran, Obama did say he’d be taking “a new approach,” that “engagement is the place to start” with “a new emphasis on being willing to talk.” But he also reminded Stephanopoulos that the Iranian regime is exporting terrorism through Hamas and Hezbollah and is “pursuing a nuclear weapon that could potentially trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.” He said his willingness to talk would be combined with “clarity about what our bottom lines are” — one of them presumably being, as he’s said before, no Iranian nuclear weapons. And he demonstrated a sense of urgency — “we anticipate that we’re going to have to move swiftly in that area.”

So: After talks with Iran (if they happen) fail to curb Iran’s nuclear program, but (perhaps) impress other nations with our good faith, we’ll presumably get greater international support for sanctions. That will also (unfortunately) fail to deter Iran. “Engagement is the place to start,” Obama said, but it’s not likely to be the place Obama ends. He’ll end up where Bush is — with the choice of using force or acquiescing to the idea of a nuclear Iran.

And he’ll probably be calling Dick Cheney for advice.

Here’s Mr. Cohen:

The Obama team is tight with information, but I’ve got the scoop on the senior advisers he’s gathered to push a new Middle East policy as the Gaza war rages: Shibley Telhami, Vali Nasr, Fawaz Gerges, Fouad Moughrabi and James Zogby.

This group of distinguished Arab-American and Iranian-American scholars, with wide regional experience, is intended to signal a U.S. willingness to think anew about the Middle East, with greater cultural sensitivity to both sides, and a keen eye on whether uncritical support for Israel has been helpful.

O.K., forget the above, I’ve let my imagination run away with me. Barack Obama has no plans for this line-up on the Israeli-Palestinian problem and Iran.

In fact, the people likely to play significant roles on the Middle East in the Obama Administration read rather differently.

They include Dennis Ross (the veteran Clinton administration Mideast peace envoy who may now extend his brief to Iran); James Steinberg (as deputy secretary of state); Dan Kurtzer (the former U.S. ambassador to Israel); Dan Shapiro (a longtime aide to Obama); and Martin Indyk (another former ambassador to Israel who is close to the incoming secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.)

Now, I have nothing against smart, driven, liberal, Jewish (or half-Jewish) males; I’ve looked in the mirror. I know or have talked to all these guys, except Shapiro. They’re knowledgeable, broad-minded and determined. Still, on the diversity front they fall short. On the change-you-can-believe-in front, they also leave something to be desired.

In an adulatory piece in Newsweek, Michael Hirsh wrote: “Ross’s previous experience as the indefatigable point man during the failed Oslo process, as well as the main negotiator with Syria, make him uniquely suited for a major renewal of U.S. policy on nearly every front.”

Really? I wonder about the capacity for “major renewal” of someone who has failed for so long.

“Do people in the region take note when Arab-Americans are not represented? Sure they do,” said Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute in Washington. “A message gets sent.”

It’s important for Obama to get his message right from day one. With the Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya networks broadcasting 24-7 images of the carnage in Gaza, where there are more than 800 dead, mobilization in the Arab world is intense. Rage against Israel, and behind it America, bodes ill.

Change is needed, and not just in the intensity of U.S. diplomatic involvement with Israel-Palestine. Some fundamental questions must be asked.

Does regarding the Middle East almost exclusively through the prism of the war on terror make sense? Does turning a blind eye to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank that frustrate a two-state solution, and the Israeli blockade of Gaza that radicalizes its population, not undermine U.S. interest in bolstering moderate Palestinian sentiment?

Should policy not be directed toward reconciling a Palestinian movement now split between Fatah and Hamas, without which no final-status peace will be possible? Beyond their terrorist wings, in their broad grass-roots political movements, what elements of Hamas and Hezbollah can be coaxed toward the mainstream?

Do we understand the increasingly sophisticated Middle East of Al Jazeera where, as Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland, put it to me, “People are not dumb and our credibility is at a historic near-zero?”

Asking these questions does not alter America’s commitment to Israel’s security within its pre-1967 borders, which is and should be unwavering. It does not change the unacceptability of Hamas rockets or the fact the Hamas Charter is vile. But it would signal that the damaging Bush-era consensus that Israel can do no wrong is to be challenged.

I don’t feel encouraged — not by the putative Ross-redux team, nor by the nonbinding resolutions passed last week in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The former offered “unwavering commitment” to Israel. The latter recognized “Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks from Gaza.” Neither criticized Israel.

It seems that among liberal democracies, it is only in the U.S .Congress that a defense against terror that results in the slaying of hundreds of Palestinian children is not cause for agonized soul-searching. In my view, such Israeli “defense” has crossed the line.

“We are all opposed to terrorism,” Telhami said. “But how does that enlighten you about how to move forward?”

Enlightenment will require a fresher, broader Mideast team than Obama is contemplating. As noted in “Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East,” a fine evaluation of U.S. diplomacy by Kurtzer and Scott Lasensky, the lack of expertise on Islam and an Arab perspective was costly at Camp David. At one point, the State Department’s top Arabic translator had to be drafted because “the lack of cross-cultural negotiating skills was so acute.”

Obama should take note, name an Arab-American and an Iranian-American to prominent roles, and beware of a team that takes him — and the region — back to the future.

He said during the campaign that “an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel” can’t be “the measure of our friendship with Israel.” Those were words. Now, with Gaza blood flowing, come deeds.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Last week President-elect Barack Obama was asked to respond to critics who say that his stimulus plan won’t do enough to help the economy. Mr. Obama answered that he wants to hear ideas about “how to spend money efficiently and effectively to jump-start the economy.”

O.K., I’ll bite — although as I’ll explain shortly, the “jump-start” metaphor is part of the problem.

First, Mr. Obama should scrap his proposal for $150 billion in business tax cuts, which would do little to help the economy. Ideally he’d scrap the proposed $150 billion payroll tax cut as well, though I’m aware that it was a campaign promise.

Money not squandered on ineffective tax cuts could be used to provide further relief to Americans in distress — enhanced unemployment benefits, expanded Medicaid and more. And why not get an early start on the insurance subsidies — probably running at $100 billion or more per year — that will be essential if we’re going to achieve universal health care?

Mainly, though, Mr. Obama needs to make his plan bigger. To see why, consider a new report from his own economic team.

On Saturday, Christina Romer, the future head of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Jared Bernstein, who will be the vice president’s chief economist, released estimates of what the Obama economic plan would accomplish. Their report is reasonable and intellectually honest, which is a welcome change from the fuzzy math of the last eight years.

But the report also makes it clear that the plan falls well short of what the economy needs.

According to Ms. Romer and Mr. Bernstein, the Obama plan would have its maximum impact in the fourth quarter of 2010. Without the plan, they project, the unemployment rate in that quarter would be a disastrous 8.8 percent. Yet even with the plan, unemployment would be 7 percent — roughly as high as it is now.

After 2010, the report says, the effects of the economic plan would rapidly fade away. The job of promoting full recovery would, however, remain undone: the unemployment rate would still be a painful 6.3 percent in the last quarter of 2011.

Now, economic forecasting is an inexact science, to say the least, and things could turn out better than the report predicts. But they could also turn out worse. The report itself acknowledges that “some private forecasters anticipate unemployment rates as high as 11 percent in the absence of action.” And I’m with Lawrence Summers, another member of the Obama economic team, who recently declared, “In this crisis, doing too little poses a greater threat than doing too much.” Unfortunately, that principle isn’t reflected in the current plan.

So how can Mr. Obama do more? By including a lot more public investment in his plan — which will be possible if he takes a longer view.

The Romer-Bernstein report acknowledges that “a dollar of infrastructure spending is more effective in creating jobs than a dollar of tax cuts.” It argues, however, that “there is a limit on how much government investment can be carried out efficiently in a short time frame.” But why does the time frame have to be short?

As far as I can tell, Mr. Obama’s planners have focused on investment projects that will deliver their main jobs boost over the next two years. But since unemployment is likely to remain high well beyond that two-year window, the plan should also include longer-term investment projects.

And bear in mind that even a project that delivers its main punch in, say, 2011 can provide significant economic support in earlier years. If Mr. Obama drops the “jump-start” metaphor, if he accepts the reality that we need a multi-year program rather than a short burst of activity, he can create a lot more jobs through government investment, even in the near term.

Still, shouldn’t Mr. Obama wait for proof that a bigger, longer-term plan is needed? No. Right now the investment portion of the Obama plan is limited by a shortage of “shovel ready” projects, projects ready to go on short notice. A lot more investment can be under way by late 2010 or 2011 if Mr. Obama gives the go-ahead now — but if he waits too long before deciding, that window of opportunity will be gone.

One more thing: even with the Obama plan, the Romer-Bernstein report predicts an average unemployment rate of 7.3 percent over the next three years. That’s a scary number, big enough to pose a real risk that the U.S. economy will get stuck in a Japan-type deflationary trap.

So my advice to the Obama team is to scrap the business tax cuts, and, more important, to deal with the threat of doing too little by doing more. And the way to do more is to stop talking about jump-starts and look more broadly at the possibilities for government investment.

I wonder if Obama will ever do anything right?

Kristol, Cohen and Krugman

January 5, 2009

I was so hoping that the new year would see the end of Kristol…  Today Bloody Billy is beating his chest over “Why Israel Fights.”  He declares that an Israeli success in Gaza would be a victory in the war on terror — and in the broader struggle for the future of the Middle East.  If there is blood to be spilled, Billy’s the guy who wants to spill it…  He’s unspeakable.  Mr. Cohen gives us the “Dangers of the Penn.”  He says Sean Penn’s journalistic trip to Cuba shows that a certain part of the Euro-American left cannot free itself of Castro worship.  Prof. Krugman writes about “Fighting Off Depression,” and says we shouldn’t mince words: This looks an awful lot like the beginning of a second Great Depression. Will we “act swiftly and boldly” enough to stop that from happening?  Here’s that disgrace for a human being Kristol:

The Israeli assault on Hamas in Gaza is going to be a replay, we’re told, of the attempt to subdue Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in the summer of 2006. And the outcome, it’s asserted, will be the same: lots of death and destruction, no strategic victory for Israel and a setback for all who seek peace and progress in the Middle East.

Obviously, war is an unpredictable business, so I say this with some trepidation: I think the conventional wisdom will be proved wrong. Israel could well succeed in Gaza.

For one thing, southern Lebanon is a substantial and hilly area, bordered by northern Lebanon and Syria, through which Hezbollah could be re-supplied, both by Syria itself and by Iran. Gaza is a flat, narrow strip, bordered by Israel, as well as by the sea and by Egypt, no friend to Hamas. By cutting off the northern part of Gaza from the southern, Israel has basically surrounded northern Gaza, creating a military situation very different from that in Lebanon in 2006.

What’s more, the Israeli leadership seems aware of the mistakes — political, strategic and military — it made in Lebanon. That doesn’t mean it won’t make them all over again. The same prime minister, Ehud Olmert, is in charge, after all. But, today’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, is very different from his predecessor, the weak and unqualified Amir Peretz. So far as one can tell, the Gaza operation seems to have been well-planned and is being methodically executed, in sharp contrast to the Lebanon incursion. Barak has also warned that the operation could be long and difficult, lowering expectations by contrast with the Israeli rhetoric of July 2006.

In addition, in Lebanon, Israel proclaimed war goals that it couldn’t achieve — such as retrieving its two kidnapped soldiers and disarming Hezbollah. Now the Israeli government says that it seeks to weaken Hamas, lessen its ability to fire rockets from Gaza and secure new arrangements along the Egyptian-Gaza border to prevent Hamas from re-arming. These may well be achievable goals.

And, of course, not all military efforts against terror fail. Recall Israel’s incursion into the West Bank in the spring of 2002, when, under the leadership of Ariel Sharon, Israel succeeded in ripping up established terror networks and began the defeat of the second intifada. Israel also was able to avoid a long-term re-occupation, while retaining the ability to go back in on anti-terror missions. What’s more, the 2002 bloodshed didn’t seem to do lasting damage to hopes for progress or moderation on the West Bank. After all, it’s Gaza, from which Israel withdrew in 2005, not the West Bank, that became a Hamas stronghold.

An Israeli success in Gaza would be a victory in the war on terror — and in the broader struggle for the future of the Middle East. Hamas is only one manifestation of the rise, over the past few decades, of a terror-friendly and almost death-cult-like form of Islamic extremism. The combination of such terror movements with a terror-sponsoring and nuclear-weapons-seeking Iranian state (aided by its sidekick Syria) has produced a new kind of threat to Israel.

But not just to Israel. To everyone in the Middle East — very much including Muslims — who aren’t interested in living under the sway of extremist regimes. And to any nation, like the United States, that is a target of Islamic terror. So there are sound reasons why the United States — whether led by George W. Bush or Barack Obama — will stand with Israel as it fights.

But Israel — assuming it succeeds — is doing the United States a favor by taking on Hamas now.

The huge challenge for the Obama administration is going to be Iran. If Israel had yielded to Hamas and refrained from using force to stop terror attacks, it would have been a victory for Iran. If Israel were now to withdraw under pressure without accomplishing the objectives of severely weakening Hamas and preventing the reconstitution of a terror-exporting state in Gaza, it would be a triumph for Iran. In either case, the Iranian regime would be emboldened, and less susceptible to the pressure from the Obama administration to stop its nuclear program.

But a defeat of Hamas in Gaza — following on the heels of our success in Iraq — would be a real setback for Iran. It would make it easier to assemble regional and international coalitions to pressure Iran. It might positively affect the Iranian elections in June. It might make the Iranian regime more amenable to dealing.

With respect to Iran, Obama may well face — as the Israeli government did with Hamas — a moment when the use of force seems to be the only responsible option. But Israel’s willingness to fight makes it more possible that the United States may not have to.

He should have his medications adjusted.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

I thought I’d begin 2009 with a movie, so on its first freezing afternoon I went to see Gus Van Sant’s “Milk,” starring Sean Penn in a breathtaking performance as a smart, wry gay-rights politician whose whimsical effectiveness arouses murderous ire.

Playing Harvey Milk, slain in 1978 after becoming the first openly gay man elected to public office in California, Penn demonstrates why he’s the finest character actor around. He inhabits Milk’s vulnerability as completely as Gielgud inhabited Lear’s folly.

Even as he stands before a San Francisco gay community incensed by proposals to bar them from teaching in Californian public schools, Penn imbues Milk less with a bully-pulpit rage than a quivering indignation that speaks of the hurt of closeted sexuality.

He quotes the Declaration of Independence to refute anti-gay bigotry: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights … . ”

It’s a powerful moment, one that brought my current obsession with Penn to breaking-point.

Was this really the same Sean Penn who’d just penned a fawning tribute to the grim Cuban president, Raúl Castro, a dictator presiding over a 50-year-old revolution that once dispatched gays to labor camps to correct their “counterrevolutionary tendencies?”

Yes, it was, despite the fact that “Milk” is precisely about the sort of grass-roots political movement that would be impossible in the Cuba of the Castro brothers, despite the fact that the “inalienable rights” of hundreds of Cuban political prisoners are trampled daily and despite the fact that the pursuit of happiness for most Cubans has been reduced to eking out an existence on $20 a month.

(Yes, I know about Cuba’s achievements in education and health care, and gays no longer face outright persecution. But even basic liberties, like the freedom to leave, are denied Cubans in the name of a socialism that allowed an ailing Fidel to hand power to the 77-year-old Raúl — the Castro dynasty’s geriatric version of revolutionary politics.)

Penn is a poor writer, as rambling as a journalist as he is disciplined as an actor. A gift for detachment is as important to the journalist as a gift for empathy is to the actor. Penn has only the latter.

His awful December cover story in The Nation has been elaborated in still more interminable form this month at HuffingtonPost.com, where Penn accuses the “mainstream media” of being “conscious manufacturers of deception,” before allowing Raúl Castro to ramble on for seven hours without a meaningful question about Cuba’s disastrous economic situation or stifling political system.

When I read the piece, I’d just returned from Cuba, where among the more prominent of Raúl’s reforms has been allowing Cubans into hotels for the first time (seriously!) and granting them access to cellphones costing six times their monthly salary.

Yet here’s Penn waxing lyrical (and delusional) about how “Raúlism was on the rise” and allowing the president to proclaim, without any comeback from our actor-journalist, that:

“I am the longest standing minister of armed forces in history. Forty-eight-and-a-half years until last October. That’s why I’m in this uniform.”

Yes, Mr. President, and that’s precisely why you should take it off and go home.

Penn, by the way, traveled to Cuba from Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela on a plane loaned by the Venezuelan Ministry of Energy and Petroleum. But, says Penn, that’s like a “journalist flying on Air Force One.” He’s apparently unaware that journalists on the U.S. presidential plane pay commercial rates.

But I don’t want to quibble. Penn’s not the first leftist star seduced by revolution despite dictatorship: Simone Signoret and Yves Montand touring Eastern Europe after the Soviet bludgeoning of Hungary in 1956 comes to mind. The French left had a very hard time getting Stalin in focus, just as part of the Euro-American left cannot free itself of Castro worship. Lenin’s “useful idiots” still abound.

They are dangerous. Penn as Milk gets it. Penn the foreign correspondent flails. Certain rights are indeed inalienable, first among them freedom. No Wall Street excess or U.S. failing changes that.

I asked Christopher Hitchens, who accompanied Penn but was snubbed by Castro, why the actor was in the thrall of Castroism. “A lot of people cannot believe there is no alternative to free-market, bourgeois democracy,” Hitchens said. “It would be too bitter a pill for them to swallow if the Cuban Revolution were nothing but a cruel joke on the Cubans. Sometimes David just has to triumph over the American Goliath.”

Romance is treacherous in politics. I couldn’t reach Penn, but if I had, I would have said this: “Sean, truth is as elusive for a journalist as it is for an actor. It takes work. You should never have written that this was Raúl’s ‘first ever interview to a foreign journalist’ in 50 years. You’re no journalist.

“The Bush years have taught us the dangers of amateurism and the preciousness of freedom. Your journalism flouts those lessons even as your brilliant acting illuminates them.”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

“If we don’t act swiftly and boldly,” declared President-elect Barack Obama in his latest weekly address, “we could see a much deeper economic downturn that could lead to double-digit unemployment.” If you ask me, he was understating the case.

The fact is that recent economic numbers have been terrifying, not just in the United States but around the world. Manufacturing, in particular, is plunging everywhere. Banks aren’t lending; businesses and consumers aren’t spending. Let’s not mince words: This looks an awful lot like the beginning of a second Great Depression.

So will we “act swiftly and boldly” enough to stop that from happening? We’ll soon find out.

We weren’t supposed to find ourselves in this situation. For many years most economists believed that preventing another Great Depression would be easy. In 2003, Robert Lucas of the University of Chicago, in his presidential address to the American Economic Association, declared that the “central problem of depression-prevention has been solved, for all practical purposes, and has in fact been solved for many decades.”

Milton Friedman, in particular, persuaded many economists that the Federal Reserve could have stopped the Depression in its tracks simply by providing banks with more liquidity, which would have prevented a sharp fall in the money supply. Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, famously apologized to Friedman on his institution’s behalf: “You’re right. We did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.”

It turns out, however, that preventing depressions isn’t that easy after all. Under Mr. Bernanke’s leadership, the Fed has been supplying liquidity like an engine crew trying to put out a five-alarm fire, and the money supply has been rising rapidly. Yet credit remains scarce, and the economy is still in free fall.

Friedman’s claim that monetary policy could have prevented the Great Depression was an attempt to refute the analysis of John Maynard Keynes, who argued that monetary policy is ineffective under depression conditions and that fiscal policy — large-scale deficit spending by the government — is needed to fight mass unemployment. The failure of monetary policy in the current crisis shows that Keynes had it right the first time. And Keynesian thinking lies behind Mr. Obama’s plans to rescue the economy.

But these plans may turn out to be a hard sell.

News reports say that Democrats hope to pass an economic plan with broad bipartisan support. Good luck with that.

In reality, the political posturing has already started, with Republican leaders setting up roadblocks to stimulus legislation while posing as the champions of careful Congressional deliberation — which is pretty rich considering their party’s behavior over the past eight years.

More broadly, after decades of declaring that government is the problem, not the solution, not to mention reviling both Keynesian economics and the New Deal, most Republicans aren’t going to accept the need for a big-spending, F.D.R.-type solution to the economic crisis.

The biggest problem facing the Obama plan, however, is likely to be the demand of many politicians for proof that the benefits of the proposed public spending justify its costs — a burden of proof never imposed on proposals for tax cuts.

This is a problem with which Keynes was familiar: giving money away, he pointed out, tends to be met with fewer objections than plans for public investment “which, because they are not wholly wasteful, tend to be judged on strict ‘business’ principles.” What gets lost in such discussions is the key argument for economic stimulus — namely, that under current conditions, a surge in public spending would employ Americans who would otherwise be unemployed and money that would otherwise be sitting idle, and put both to work producing something useful.

All of this leaves me concerned about the prospects for the Obama plan. I’m sure that Congress will pass a stimulus plan, but I worry that the plan may be delayed and/or downsized. And Mr. Obama is right: We really do need swift, bold action.

Here’s my nightmare scenario: It takes Congress months to pass a stimulus plan, and the legislation that actually emerges is too cautious. As a result, the economy plunges for most of 2009, and when the plan finally starts to kick in, it’s only enough to slow the descent, not stop it. Meanwhile, deflation is setting in, while businesses and consumers start to base their spending plans on the expectation of a permanently depressed economy — well, you can see where this is going.

So this is our moment of truth. Will we in fact do what’s necessary to prevent Great Depression II?

Probably not.  Fasten your seat belts…

Kristol and Krugman

December 29, 2008

That wretched excuse for a human being has vomited up something called “George, Abe, Rick and Barack,” in which he says he looks forward to Barack Obama’s inauguration with a surprising degree of hope and good cheer.  So do I, you asshole, so do I…  Prof. Krugman is concerned about “Fifty Herbert Hoovers,” and says that even as Washington tries to rescue the economy, the nation will be reeling from the actions of 50 Herbert Hoovers — state governors who are slashing spending in a time of recession.  Here’s that waste of oxygen:

I’m leaving the country the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration.

It’s nothing personal. Nor, I hasten to add — lest some people get too excited — is it anything permanent. It’s just that I happen to have a speech to give in Canada.

And with millions of people expected to descend on Washington for the inauguration, with the Metro overloaded, and roads and bridges closing, with the Portable Sanitation Association guidelines suggesting that there should be more than 12,000 porta-potties on the Mall — I have to admit that getting out of town seems like a pretty good idea.

But I also have to admit that I look forward to Obama’s inauguration with a surprising degree of hope and good cheer.

For one thing, there will be the invocation, delivered by Rick Warren. I suspect he’ll be careful to say nothing pro-life or pro-traditional-marriage — but we conservatives have already gotten more than enough pleasure from the hysterical reaction to his selection by the tribunes of the intolerant left. And having Warren there will, in fact, be a welcome reminder of the strides the evangelical movement and religious conservatives (broadly speaking) have made in recent decades.

Obama has selected Yale’s Elizabeth Alexander to compose and read a poem. I still remember watching Maya Angelou read “On the Pulse of Morning” at Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993 — and thinking that American culture really was in a state of irreversible decline, as she indulged in that multicultural cataloguing of “the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew,/ The African and Native American, the Sioux, / The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek,/ The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,/ The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,/ The privileged, the homeless, the teacher.”

I’ve looked at some of Alexander’s poetry, and am confident she’ll be a big improvement on Angelou. It makes me think our culture isn’t necessarily getting worse. It may even be getting better.

Obama, it’s been announced, will be the first president to take the oath of office using the Lincoln Bible, held by President Lincoln at his first inauguration, since … Lincoln.

Some commentators have poked fun at Obama’s presumption. And it might be a good idea if, when he takes the oath, Obama makes sure that the Good Book is open to Proverbs 16:18, and its reminder that “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

But my (generous) interpretation of Obama’s choice of the Lincoln Bible is this: It’s an homage to Lincoln, not a claim to be like him. Obama intends to look back to Lincoln for guidance and to look up to him as a model. Lincoln, our greatest president and statesman, had a deep understanding of American exceptionalism. He thought long and hard about the relationship of American founding principles to political practice, and in his actions exemplified the prudent and skillful pursuit of a principled end. He was also a great war president. Obama could do a lot worse than study Lincoln and learn from him.

What’s more, in a radio address this past week, Obama cited George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776, as a lesson for us today. Obama’s academic supporters must be rolling their eyes, or assuming he’s just playing to the simple-minded patriots in the peanut gallery. But what if Obama’s own understanding of the founders is more in line with the admiring spirit of many recent popular biographies than the belittling efforts of post-1960s tenured radicals?

One more heartening tidbit — from my point of view — about the president-elect: he’s been in the past an intermittent smoker, and is now a nicotine gum chewer who admits that he’s occasionally fallen off the wagon this past year to indulge in a cigarette. He’s been chastised for this by some scolds. The editors of The Mercury News told him recently he needed to make “a very public show of quitting” to set a good example for young people.

Bah, humbug. Those of us who dislike finger-wagging nanny-state-nagging liberalism relish the prospect of President Barack Obama sneaking a cigarette on the second floor of the White House while rereading Harry V. Jaffa’s great work on Lincoln, “Crisis of the House Divided,” then taking a break to stroll over to take a look at the White House’s copy of Emanuel Leutze’s painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” then going back to the family quarters to tell his kids to get back to memorizing some patriotic poetry, all of this interrupted occasionally by calls from Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Ray Odierno — his Ulysses Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman — to discuss progress in the wars we’re fighting, or from Rick Warren to discuss their joint efforts to fight AIDS in Africa and to reduce the number of abortions in the U.S.

Now that’s a presidency I can believe in.

[Spit]  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

No modern American president would repeat the fiscal mistake of 1932, in which the federal government tried to balance its budget in the face of a severe recession. The Obama administration will put deficit concerns on hold while it fights the economic crisis.

But even as Washington tries to rescue the economy, the nation will be reeling from the actions of 50 Herbert Hoovers — state governors who are slashing spending in a time of recession, often at the expense both of their most vulnerable constituents and of the nation’s economic future.

These state-level cutbacks range from small acts of cruelty to giant acts of panic — from cuts in South Carolina’s juvenile justice program, which will force young offenders out of group homes and into prison, to the decision by a committee that manages California state spending to halt all construction outlays for six months.

Now, state governors aren’t stupid (not all of them, anyway). They’re cutting back because they have to — because they’re caught in a fiscal trap. But let’s step back for a moment and contemplate just how crazy it is, from a national point of view, to be cutting public services and public investment right now.

Think about it: is America — not state governments, but the nation as a whole — less able to afford help to troubled teens, medical care for families, or repairs to decaying roads and bridges than it was one or two years ago? Of course not. Our capacity hasn’t been diminished; our workers haven’t lost their skills; our technological know-how is intact. Why can’t we keep doing good things?

It’s true that the economy is currently shrinking. But that’s the result of a slump in private spending. It makes no sense to add to the problem by cutting public spending, too.

In fact, the true cost of government programs, especially public investment, is much lower now than in more prosperous times. When the economy is booming, public investment competes with the private sector for scarce resources — for skilled construction workers, for capital. But right now many of the workers employed on infrastructure projects would otherwise be unemployed, and the money borrowed to pay for these projects would otherwise sit idle.

And shredding the social safety net at a moment when many more Americans need help isn’t just cruel. It adds to the sense of insecurity that is one important factor driving the economy down.

So why are we doing this to ourselves?

The answer, of course, is that state and local government revenues are plunging along with the economy — and unlike the federal government, lower-level governments can’t borrow their way through the crisis. Partly that’s because these governments, unlike the feds, are subject to balanced-budget rules. But even if they weren’t, running temporary deficits would be difficult. Investors, driven by fear, are refusing to buy anything except federal debt, and those states that can borrow at all are being forced to pay punitive interest rates.

Are governors responsible for their own predicament? To some extent. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in particular, deserves some jeers. He became governor in the first place because voters were outraged over his predecessor’s budget problems, but he did nothing to secure the state’s fiscal future — and he now faces a projected budget deficit bigger than the one that did in Gray Davis.

But even the best-run states are in deep trouble. Anyway, we shouldn’t punish our fellow citizens and our economy to spite a few local politicians.

What can be done? Ted Strickland, the governor of Ohio, is pushing for federal aid to the states on three fronts: help for the neediest, in the form of funding for food stamps and Medicaid; federal funding of state- and local-level infrastructure projects; and federal aid to education. That sounds right — and if the numbers Mr. Strickland proposes are huge, so is the crisis.

And once the crisis is behind us, we should rethink the way we pay for key public services.

As a nation, we don’t believe that our fellow citizens should go without essential health care. Why, then, does a large share of funding for Medicaid come from state governments, which are forced to cut the program precisely when it’s needed most?

An educated population is a national resource. Why, then, is basic education mainly paid for by local governments, which are forced to neglect the next generation every time the economy hits a rough patch?

And why should investments in infrastructure, which will serve the nation for decades, be at the mercy of short-run fluctuations in local budgets?

That’s for later. The priority right now is to fight off the attack of the 50 Herbert Hoovers, and make sure that the fiscal problems of the states don’t make the economic crisis even worse.

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.

Kristol, Cohen and Krugman

December 1, 2008

That horse’s ass Wrong Way Billy thinks he can tell us about “Jihad’s True Face.”  He squawks that if terror groups are to be defeated, in countries like India and the United States, governments will have to call on the patriotism of citizens.  (Billy seems to have forgotten that the “terror groups” in the United States tend to be wild-eyed right wing lunatics who consider themselves “patriots.”)  How much longer does his contract have to run?  Mr. Cohen says “Try Tough Love, Hillary.”  He believes U.S. policy toward Israel has been ineffective. It’s time to think again.  Or just think at all, for that matter.  Prof. Krugman discusses “Deficits and the Future.”  He says conomists worry that large budget deficits will burden future generations. But strong fiscal expansion would actually enhance the economy’s long-run prospects.  Here’s that gibbering idiot Kristol:

Much of the reporting from Mumbai the last few days has been informative, gripping and often moving. Some of the commentary, on the other hand, has been not just uninformative but counterinformative — if that’s a term, and if it’s not, I say it should be.

Consider first an op-ed article in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times by Martha Nussbaum, a well-known professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago. The article was headlined “Terrorism in India has many faces.” But one face that Nussbaum fails to mention specifically is that of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Islamic terror group originating in Pakistan that seems to have been centrally involved in the attack on Mumbai.

This is because Nussbaum’s main concern is not explaining or curbing Islamic terror. Rather, she writes that “if, as now seems likely, last week’s terrible events in Mumbai were the work of Islamic terrorists, that’s more bad news for India’s minority Muslim population.” She deplores past acts of Hindu terror against India’s Muslims. She worries about Muslim youths being rounded up on suspicion of terrorism with little or no evidence. And she notes that this is “an analogue to the current ugly phenomenon of racial profiling in the United States.”

So jihadists kill innocents in Mumbai — and Nussbaum ends up decrying racial profiling here. Is it just that liberal academics are required to include some alleged ugly American phenomenon in everything they write?

Jim Leach is also a professor, at Princeton, but he’s better known as a former moderate Republican congressman from Iowa who supported Barack Obama this year. His contribution over the weekend was to point out on Politico.com that “the Mumbai catastrophe underscores the importance of vocabulary.” This wouldn’t have been my first thought. But Leach believes it’s very important that we consider the Mumbai attack not as an act of “war” but as an act of “barbarism.”

Why? “The former implies a cause: a national or tribal or ethnic rationale that infuses a sacrificial action with some group’s view of heroism; the latter is an assault on civilized values, everyone’s. … To the degree barbarism is a part of the human condition, Mumbai must be understood not just as an act related to a particular group but as an outbreak of pent-up irrationality that can occur anywhere, anytime. … It may be true that the perpetrators viewed themselves as somehow justified in attacking Indians and visiting foreigners, particularly perhaps Americans, British and Israeli nationals. But a response that is the least nationalistic is likely to be the most effective.”

If, as Leach says, “it may be true” the perpetrators viewed themselves as justified in their attacks, doesn’t this mean that they did in fact have a “rationale” that “infused” their action?

But Leach doesn’t want to discuss that rationale — even though it’s not hard to find. Ten minutes of Googling will bring you to a fine article, “The Ideologies of South Asian Jihadi Groups,” from the April 2005 issue of Current Trends in Islamist Ideology. It’s by the respected journalist and diplomat Husain Haqqani, who, as it happens, is now Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States.

Lashkar-e-Taiba, Haqqani explains, is a jihadi group of Wahhabi persuasion, “backed by Saudi money and protected by Pakistani intelligence services.” He notes that “Lashkar-e-Taiba has adopted a maximalist agenda for global jihad.” Indeed, the political arm of the group has conveniently published a pamphlet, “Why Are We Waging Jihad?,” that lays out all kinds of reasons why the United States, Israel and India are “existential enemies of Islam.”

So much for Leach’s notion that the Mumbai terrorists had no “cause” or “rationale.” But Leach’s refusal to see this is in the service of persuading India not to respond in a “nationalistic” way — and of persuading the United States not to see itself primarily as standing with India against our common enemies.

But if terror groups are to be defeated, it is national governments that will have to do so. In nations like India (and the United States), governments will have to call on the patriotism of citizens to fight the terrorists. In a nation like Pakistan, the government will have to be persuaded to deal with those in their midst who are complicit. This can happen if those nations’ citizens decide they don’t want their own country to be dishonored by allegiances with terror groups. Otherwise, other nations may have to act.

Patriotism is an indispensable weapon in the defense of civilization against barbarism. That was brought home over the weekend in an article in The Times of India on Sandeep Unnikrishnan, a major in India’s National Security Guards who died fighting the terrorists at the Taj hotel. The reporter spoke with the young man’s parents as they mourned their son: “His father, dignified in the face of such a personal tragedy, was stoic, saying he was proud of his son who sacrificed his life for the country: ‘He died for the nation.’ ”

Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Imagine Ehud Olmert, the outgoing Israeli prime minister, saying this to Barack Obama:

“The United States has been wrong to write Israel a blank check every year; wrong to turn a blind eye to the settlements in the West Bank; wrong not to be more explicit about the need to divide Jerusalem; wrong to equip us with weaponry so sophisticated we now believe military might is the answer to all our problems; and wrong in not helping us reach out to Syria. Your chosen secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said during the campaign that ‘the United States stands with Israel, now and forever.’ Well, that’s not good enough. You need to stand against us sometimes so we can avoid the curse of eternal militarism.”

Perhaps that seems unimaginable. But Olmert has already said something close to this. In a frank September interview with the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, reprinted this month by The New York Review of Books, the Israeli leader chose to exit with a mea culpa for his country’s policies.

Those policies have been encouraged by the Bush administration, whose war on terror was embraced by the Israeli government as a means to frame Israel’s confrontation with the Palestinians as part of the same struggle. No matter that Al Qaeda and the Palestinian national movement are distinct. The facile conflation got Bush in lock step with whatever Israel did.

So, by saying Israel has been wrong, Olmert was also saying the United States has been wrong, even if he never mentioned America.

What Olmert, who appears on the verge of indictment for fraud, did say in his “soul searching on behalf of the nation of Israel” was that he had made “mistakes” as a former right-wing hard-liner and that military power will not deliver his 60-year-old country from existential anguish.

“We could contend with any of our enemies or against all our enemies combined and win,” Olmert said. “The question that I ask myself is, what happens when we win? First of all, we’d have to pay a painful price. And after we paid the price, what would we say to them? ‘Let’s talk.’ ”

Olmert is now convinced of the need to settle with the Palestinians and Syria through giving up parts of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The fact such views come from a former Likudnik is a measure of how the political ground has shifted in Israel ahead of elections early next year.

I think Olmert’s words should be emblazoned on the wall of Hillary Clinton’s eighth-floor State Department office: “We must reach an agreement with the Palestinians, meaning a withdrawal from nearly all, if not all, of the territories. Some percentage of these territories would remain in our hands, but we must give the Palestinians the same percentage elsewhere — without this, there will be no peace.”

Asked if this included a compromise on Jerusalem, Olmert said, “Including Jerusalem.”

He also declared, “I’d like to know if there’s a serious person in the state of Israel who believe that we can make peace with the Syrians without, in the end, giving up the Golan Heights.” Those words should go up on Clinton’s wall, too.

For Olmert, “holding this or that hill” is “worthless” and Israeli generals are deluded in clinging to them.

These ideas will sit uneasily with the pro-Israel constituency that Clinton has dealt with as a Democratic senator for the state of New York. Nobody’s been more solidly pro-Israel than she. But to be effective, she must become a tough taskmaster in the name of Olmert’s compromises. That is in the best long-term interest of Israel.

Clinton noted during the campaign that the United States could “obliterate” Iran if it launched a nuclear attack on Israel. Olmert chose different language. He noted “a megalomania and a loss of proportion in the things said here about Iran.” Once again, his words are instructive.

I am fiercely attached to Israel’s security. Everything depends, however, on how that security is viewed. Israel can continue humiliating the Palestinians, flaunting its power with a bully’s braggadocio. It will survive that way — and be desperately corroded from within. Neither domination nor demography favors Israel over time.

Its moral authority is already compromised by a 40-year occupation. The Diaspora Jew did not go to Zion to build the Jew among nations.

This is the reality behind Olmert’s warning that “we have a window of opportunity — a short amount of time.” This is the reality behind his appeal to “designate a final and exact borderline between us and the Palestinians.”

For that, Palestinians must also compromise, especially on the right of return, and they must renounce terrorism. Return must essentially mean return to a new and viable Palestinian state.

Getting to such a two-state deal at, or close to, the 1967 borders will require concerted U.S. involvement from day one of the Obama administration. Its tone should be one of tough love, with the emphasis on tough.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Right now there’s intense debate about how aggressive the United States government should be in its attempts to turn the economy around. Many economists, myself included, are calling for a very large fiscal expansion to keep the economy from going into free fall. Others, however, worry about the burden that large budget deficits will place on future generations.

But the deficit worriers have it all wrong. Under current conditions, there’s no trade-off between what’s good in the short run and what’s good for the long run; strong fiscal expansion would actually enhance the economy’s long-run prospects.

The claim that budget deficits make the economy poorer in the long run is based on the belief that government borrowing “crowds out” private investment — that the government, by issuing lots of debt, drives up interest rates, which makes businesses unwilling to spend on new plant and equipment, and that this in turn reduces the economy’s long-run rate of growth. Under normal circumstances there’s a lot to this argument.

But circumstances right now are anything but normal. Consider what would happen next year if the Obama administration gave in to the deficit hawks and scaled back its fiscal plans.

Would this lead to lower interest rates? It certainly wouldn’t lead to a reduction in short-term interest rates, which are more or less controlled by the Federal Reserve. The Fed is already keeping those rates as low as it can — virtually at zero — and won’t change that policy unless it sees signs that the economy is threatening to overheat. And that doesn’t seem like a realistic prospect any time soon.

What about longer-term rates? These rates, which are already at a half-century low, mainly reflect expected future short-term rates. Fiscal austerity could push them even lower — but only by creating expectations that the economy would remain deeply depressed for a long time, which would reduce, not increase, private investment.

The idea that tight fiscal policy when the economy is depressed actually reduces private investment isn’t just a hypothetical argument: it’s exactly what happened in two important episodes in history.

The first took place in 1937, when Franklin Roosevelt mistakenly heeded the advice of his own era’s deficit worriers. He sharply reduced government spending, among other things cutting the Works Progress Administration in half, and also raised taxes. The result was a severe recession, and a steep fall in private investment.

The second episode took place 60 years later, in Japan. In 1996-97 the Japanese government tried to balance its budget, cutting spending and raising taxes. And again the recession that followed led to a steep fall in private investment.

Just to be clear, I’m not arguing that trying to reduce the budget deficit is always bad for private investment. You can make a reasonable case that Bill Clinton’s fiscal restraint in the 1990s helped fuel the great U.S. investment boom of that decade, which in turn helped cause a resurgence in productivity growth.

What made fiscal austerity such a bad idea both in Roosevelt’s America and in 1990s Japan were special circumstances: in both cases the government pulled back in the face of a liquidity trap, a situation in which the monetary authority had cut interest rates as far as it could, yet the economy was still operating far below capacity.

And we’re in the same kind of trap today — which is why deficit worries are misplaced.

One more thing: Fiscal expansion will be even better for America’s future if a large part of the expansion takes the form of public investment — of building roads, repairing bridges and developing new technologies, all of which make the nation richer in the long run.

Should the government have a permanent policy of running large budget deficits? Of course not. Although public debt isn’t as bad a thing as many people believe — it’s basically money we owe to ourselves — in the long run the government, like private individuals, has to match its spending to its income.

But right now we have a fundamental shortfall in private spending: consumers are rediscovering the virtues of saving at the same moment that businesses, burned by past excesses and hamstrung by the troubles of the financial system, are cutting back on investment. That gap will eventually close, but until it does, government spending must take up the slack. Otherwise, private investment, and the economy as a whole, will plunge even more.

The bottom line, then, is that people who think that fiscal expansion today is bad for future generations have got it exactly wrong. The best course of action, both for today’s workers and for their children, is to do whatever it takes to get this economy on the road to recovery.

50 days to go, until the grownups are in charge.

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.