The NAU may be the quintessential conspiracy theory for our time, according to scholars studying what the historian Richard Hofstadter famously called the "paranoid style" in American politics. The theory elegantly weaves old fears and new realities into one coherent and all-encompassing plan, and gives a glimpse of where, politically, many Americans are right now: alarmed over immigration, worried about globalization, and - on both sides of the partisan divide - suspicious of the Bush administration's expansive understanding of executive power. The belief in an imminent North American Union, says Mark Fenster, a law professor at the University of Florida and author of a 2001 book on conspiracy theories, "reflects the particular ways in which Americans feel besieged economically, powerless politically, and alienated socially."Bennett is not the first writer to make this point with regard to the fictional NAU. And certainly, the hard-working staff here at danieldrezner.com is not above poking holes in conspiracy theories or relying on Hofstadter's "paranoid style" to explain a particularly absurd line of argumentation. Before concluding that America is awash in conspiracy theories, however, there are some paragraphs in Bennett's essay that makes me wonder whether the paranoia problem is less acute now than before:
As a social anxiety, the NAU's roots run deep. Global government and elites who secretly sell out their own citizenry have long been staples of conspiracy theories, thanks in part to the Book of Revelation's warning that world government will be an early indicator of the Apocalypse. Over the centuries, the world's puppeteers have been thought to be, in turn, the Bavarian Illuminati, the Freemasons, the pope, the Jews, international bankers, the League of Nations, the United Nations, the Rockefellers, and the Communist International. For most of the 20th century, American conspiracy theories tended to focus on communist infiltration of the upper echelons of the US government. The founder of the John Birch Society, a leading source of such imagined schemes, accused President Dwight Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, among many others, of being communist agents.Conspiracy theories have wreaked far more damage on past policies than present ones. One could plausibly argue that in the past, the paranoid style helped torpedo America's entry into the League of Nations and exacerbated the worst excesses of McCarthyism. The paranoias that exist today -- the NAU, the 9/11 conspiracies, Bush stole the 2004 election -- are certainly irksome to policymakers and candidates alike. That said, as political roadblocks I'm not sure they rise to the same level as previous waves of paranoia. [But the Internets, the Internets!! Surely this shows that conspiracies are omnipresent in a way that never existed before!!--ed. No, they just make them more visible than ever before. The Internet also makes it easier to puncture conspiracy theories earlier than ever before as well.] I'm not sure I'm right about this, so I'll put the question to readers -- are today's conspiracy theories more harmful than the conspiracy theories of the past? How could we test this assertion? UPDATE: Hmmm... this Scripps-Howard report suggests the prevalence -- but also the limits -- of the paranoid style (hat tip: Tom Maguire):
A national survey of 811 adult residents of the United States conducted by Scripps and Ohio University found that more than a third believe in a broad smorgasbord of conspiracy theories including the attacks, international plots to rig oil prices, the plot to assassinate President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and the government's knowledge of intelligent life from other worlds. The high percentage is a manifestation, some say, of an American public that increasingly distrusts the federal government. "You wouldn't have gotten these numbers a year or two after the attacks themselves," said University of Florida law professor Mark Fenster. "You've got an increasingly disaffected public that is unhappy with the administration.".... All the talk about oil and terror has distracted some of the believers in government cover-ups of UFOs. Thirty-seven percent of the respondents said they think it is "very likely" or "somewhat likely" flying saucers are real and the government is hiding the truth about them. In a 1995 Scripps survey, 50 percent of Americans responded the same way to the same question. "The kind of anxieties or mistrust of the government that might have been expressed as a belief in UFOs has shifted," said political science professor Jodi Dean. "Now people are worried about things that are much realer to them."The decline in the UFO response suggests two things: a) The X-Files has been off the air for some time now; and b) there is a residual belief in some conspiracy at any point in time -- but when the global political economy seem threatening, conspiracy theorists migrate towards those issues.
Two teams of scientists are reporting today that they turned human skin cells into what appear to be embryonic stem cells without having to make or destroy an embryo ? a feat that could quell the ethical debate troubling the field. All they had to do, the scientists said, was add four genes. The genes reprogrammed the chromosomes of the skin cells, making the cells into blank slates that should be able to turn into any of the 220 cell types of the human body, be it heart, brain, blood or bone. Until now, the only way to get such human universal cells was to pluck them from a human embryo several days after fertilization, destroying the embryo in the process. The reprogrammed skin cells may yet prove to have subtle differences from embryonic stem cells that come directly from human embryos, and the new method includes potentially risky steps, like introducing a cancer gene. But stem cell researchers say they are confident that it will not take long to perfect the method and that today?s drawbacks will prove to be temporary. Researchers and ethicists not involved in the findings say the work should reshape the stem cell field. At some time in the near future, they said, today?s debate over whether it is morally acceptable to create and destroy human embryos to obtain stem cells should be moot.
The recovering politician, environmental activist, and Nobel laureate is adding another title to his r?sum?: venture capitalist. After "a conversation that's gone on for a year and a half," according to Gore, he has decided to join his old pal John Doerr as an active, hands-on partner at Kleiner Perkins, Silicon Valley's preeminent venture firm. The move is more than another Colin Powell moment (the former Secretary of State signed on as a Kleiner "strategic limited partner" two years ago and has hardly been heard from since). Gore is joining the firm as Kleiner makes a risky move beyond information technology and health-care investing into the fast-growing and increasingly competitive arena of "clean technology." According to Doerr, by 2009 more than a third of Kleiner's latest fund, which was raised in 2006 and totals $600 million, will be invested in technologies that aim to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide. Already Kleiner has invested more than $270 million from various funds in 26 companies that make everything from microbes that scrub old oil wells to electric cars to noncorn ethanol. Twelve of Kleiner's 22 partners now spend some or all of their time on green investments.
Red Fay, undersecretary of the navy under John F. Kennedy, was a charming bon vivant, a great pal of the president?s, and the uncle of my roommate at Berkeley in the 60s. So it was my great good luck, on my very first trip to the capital, in May 1964, just six months after Kennedy?s assassination, to have ?Uncle Red? invite me to dinner on the presidential yacht, the Sequoia. A few minutes after we arrived on board, I was amazed to see not only Jackie Kennedy but also Bobby and Ethel Kennedy and Jean Kennedy Smith and her husband, Steve Smith, walking up the gangplank. They were followed by George Stevens Jr., the youthful head of the U.S. Information Agency?s motion-picture division; the Peruvian ambassador and his wife; and my roommate?s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charles McGettigan, of San Francisco. This was one of Jackie?s first nights out since the tragedy, but she greeted everyone graciously. She was in ethereal white and spoke little during dinner, except to the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who was seated to her right. What I remember most vividly about that evening was an exchange I had with Bobby Kennedy, the attorney general. ?What are you going to be next, vice president or senator?,? I asked rather impudently, because I did not want him to think I was a brainless bimbo. The question of how the Kennedy dynasty would proceed was very much in the air, for Lyndon Johnson had not yet announced a running mate. ?What do you think I should be?,? Kennedy shot back, his steel-blue eyes boring into me. ?Well, I think you should be senator,? I said, ?because everyone remembers you trying to twist arms at the last convention, and I don?t think Lyndon Johnson will let you be vice president.? He then opened up a barrage of questions: ?Who are you? What does your father do?? In the middle of one of my answers, he turned away and waved to a group of tourists on a boat at least a hundred yards from us across the Potomac. I was highly insulted, for I had been planning to enlist in the Peace Corps, whose director was his brother-in-law Sargent Shriver, and suddenly Bobby Kennedy seemed to me like just another pol. (In those days he was still closer to J. Edgar Hoover than to C?sar Ch?vez or Martin Luther King Jr.) The dinner was great fun, however, with lots of jokes and toasts, and the next day Uncle Red took me out to Hickory Hill, Bobby and Ethel?s residence in McLean, Virginia. R.F.K., in cutoff jeans, was playing touch football on the front lawn. Ethel, wearing a two-piece bathing suit, was visibly pregnant. In the driveway, a limousine waiting to take the attorney general ?up to New York? was sure proof, I felt, that he must be going for the Senate. (Like Hillary Clinton, R.F.K. became an instant resident of the state, and he went on to defeat incumbent Ken Keating.) ?Bobby,? Red Fay said, ?I brought Maureen out here so you could give her some advice about her life.? Bobby smiled. ?Advise her?? he said. ?Hell, last night she told me what to do!?As you can imagine, a whole lotta of bloggers have gone to town on the piece -- and I really can't blame them. Beyond her personal reflections, the piece primarily consists of older DC doyennes bemoaning that people don't know what finger bowls are anymore, or socialities that lack old money, an illustrious family, or great wealth.. At one point Orth actually complains, "Washington is far more diverse today than it was when Wasps with pedigrees who went into journalism and government service constituted the Georgetown set." Mon dieu!! In the perverse joy of contrarianism, however, I will try to find two things that are useful in Orth's essay.....
[I]is there any subject among liberals that has the same totemic appeal as tax cutting does to conservatives? As near as I can tell, every single Republican running for president publicly says that cutting taxes always raises revenues ? even though the idea is as absurd as Ron Paul's gold standard crankiness. Ditto for the Heritage Foundation, AEI, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, etc. etc. Deviate from the party line, as Bruce Bartlett has, and you're quickly excommunicated. Liberals agree on lots of things, but I just can't think of anything that's enforced quite as ruthlessly as the conservative party line on tax cuts. Any ideas?OK, fair and balanced readers... have at it. [Your two cents?--ed. There's an easy and a hard answer. The easy answer is what's enforced ruthlessly right now vs. what's been enforced ruthlessly over the past two decades. I think I have at least one answer to the former question (don't touch Social Security). My only answer for the latter would be abortion rights.
Now it?s evident that if you want to understand the future of the Democratic Party you can learn almost nothing from the bloggers, billionaires and activists on the left who make up the ?netroots.? You can learn most of what you need to know by paying attention to two different groups ? high school educated women in the Midwest, and the old Clinton establishment in Washington. In the first place, the netroots candidates are losing. In the various polls on the Daily Kos Web site, John Edwards, Barack Obama and even Al Gore crush Hillary Clinton, who limps in with 2 percent to 10 percent of the vote. Moguls like David Geffen have fled for Obama. But the party as a whole is going the other way. Hillary Clinton has established a commanding lead. Second, Clinton is drawing her support from the other demographic end of the party. As the journalist Ron Brownstein and others have noted, Democratic primary contests follow a general pattern. There are a few candidates who represent the affluent, educated intelligentsia (Eugene McCarthy, Bill Bradley) and they usually end up getting beaten by the candidate of the less educated, lower middle class. That?s what?s happening again.Read the whole thing... definitely not crap. But I do have a few cavils. Are celebrities mobuls really shying away from Clinton? Wasn't Steven Spielberg's endorsement a signal to other members of the cultural elite to line up behind Hillary? Similarly, hasn't Hillary's supporters been more likely to max out their campaign contributions to date -- suggesting that Obama has done just as well in tapping support from low income households? And would the netroots really be upset by President Hillary? Wasn't there a fair amount of netroots enthusiasm about Hillary's health care plan? Readers are requested to link to the most hyperbolic netroot response they can find to this column.
Mr. Greenspan writes that when President Bush chose Dick Cheney as vice president and Paul O'Neill as treasury secretary -- both colleagues from the Gerald Ford administration, during which Mr. Greenspan was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers -- he "indulged in a bit of fantasy" that this would be the government that would have resulted if Mr. Ford hadn't lost to Jimmy Carter in 1976. But Mr. Greenspan discovered that in the Bush White House, the "political operation was far more dominant" than in Mr. Ford's. "Little value was placed on rigorous economic policy debate or the weighing of long-term consequences," he writes.As strange as it seems today, Greenspan's expectations about the incoming administration were not completely out of whack. There was a time when people thought Paul O'Neill would make a great Treasury Secretary. Norwas this expectation limited to fiscal policy. On foreign policy, for example, Colin Powell, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice all had good to excellent track records in previous administrations. At this stage of the game, however, there are clearly four categories of legacies that come with working for George W. Bush:
1) Those lucky few who will emerge with their reputation intact somehow. Examples: Bob Zoellick, Rob Portman, Ben Bernanke. 2) Those whose reputations acquired a stain that will be difficult to erase. Examples: Colin Powell (and his speech to the U.N.), Alan Greenspan (and his endorsement of the Bush tax cuts). 3) Those whose actions have led journalists to engage in psychoanalysis to figure out what the heck went wrong: Examples: Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld. 4) Those who have committed career suicide through repeated screw-ups. Examples: Paul Wolfowitz, Alberto Gonzales.(1) and (4) do not interest me as much as (2) and (3). How is it possible for so many distinguished policymakers to have been brought so low by one administration? UPDATE: Some commenters have pointed out that Greenspan's endorsement of the tax cuts do not fall into the same category as what other officials did, since he certainly did not endorse the massive spending increases that followed the tax cuts. I think this is a fair point, and can be summed up in an exchange Greenspan had with Bob Rubin about his testimony regarding the tax cuts:
Bob Rubin phoned.... With a big tax cut, said Bob, "the risk is, you lose the fiscal discipline."... "Bob, where in my testimony do you disagree?" There was silence. Finally he replied, "The issue isn't so much what you're saying. It's how it's going to be perceived." "I cant be in charge of people's perceptions," I responded wearily. "I don't function that way. I can't function that way." It turned out that Conrad and Rubin were right....Let me put it this way. I think Greenspan can erase his stain with less effort than others in category (2). However, he's going to have to deal with people very eager to keep refreshing that stain.
BLS Chairman Bernard Schwartz and New America Foundation Senior Fellow Sherle Schwenninger posit that in an age of decaying infrastructure and failing schools, we can - and must - eschew our obsession with balanced budgets and find ways to make smart public-works investments. (emphasis added)Um.... how do I put this.... was I in a coma when this obsession gripped the country? President Bush and most of the Republican members of Congress haven't cared much about balanced budgets for some time. As for the Democrats, in this century,* the only griping about fiscal rectitude came during the first term of the Bush administration, mostly as a way to attack Bush's fiscal policy. During the second term, I keep reading folks like Paul Krugman articulate the exact same set of talking points as Schwartz and Schwenninger. What does someone like Hillary Clinton -- whome one would assume to be closest in spirit to her husband's legacy -- think about this? Let's go to her economic speech from last year:
We can return to fiscal discipline. We can invest in infrastructure, research and education, jump start a smarter energy future, promote manufacturing, rein in healthcare costs. And we can do it in ways that renew the basic bargain with America's middle class.There's certainly a nod to fiscal discipline -- but she seems way more keen on those infrastructure investments to me. Seriously, has anyone out there been obsessed about reducing the deficit in recent years? *It's certainly true that, way, way back in the nineties, key parts of Clinton's team were fiscal hawks. Even then, however, folks like Bob Reich were hell-bent on infrastructure investments. UPDATE: Ah, I see the problem now -- I'm "too knowledgeable". Truly an unusual problem for your humble blogger.
A Giuliani presidency would be an unmitigated disaster for the United States.That is all. UPDATE: Commenters have reasonably asked the "why?" question. For some answers from New Yorkers, click here and here.
The personnel failures make it very hard for Bush fans to defend the president because they so deeply undermine the tenets of his management style as he articulates it. Bush has often talked in almost mystical terms about his ability to take the measure of people by looking them in the eye. His most infamous snap judgment, early in his first term, was peeking into the soul of Vladimir Putin and finding goodness. But even with years of presidential experience, he continues to make terrible judgments about the aptitudes of his own staffers. Harriet Miers and Alberto Gonzales may be very nice people, but they were never competent for the jobs Bush wanted them to have. In talking about the skills necessary for any president, Bush has almost always focused on personnel first. "If I were interviewing a guy for the job of president," he said when I interviewed him for Time in August 2004, "I'd ask, How do you make decisions? How would you get unfiltered information? Would you surround yourself with hacks? Are you scared of smart people? I've seen the effect of the Oval Office on people. People are prepared to come in and speak their minds, and then they get in there, and the place overwhelms them, and they say, 'Gee, Mr. President, you're looking good.' I need people who can walk in and say, 'Hey, you're not looking so great today.' " This kind of talk thrilled Bush supporters, but the president has never exercised the kind of emotion-free decision-making he bragged about. When it came to personnel decisions, his personal sense of loyalty, his hostility to the Beltway establishment, and his stubbornness all clouded his judgment. Tolerating incompetence has harmed Bush in any number of ways. The worst of these is locking in the idea that he's oblivious to reality.This has undoubtedly been a key failing of Bush's managerial style. But it's hardly the only one.
Game Theory: Candidates compete in a game of Diplomacy. I would also include several ringers - say Robin Hanson, Bryan Caplan and Salma Hayek. Why these three? Robin is cold, calculating and merciless - make a logical mistake and he will make you pay. Bryan is crafty and experienced. And Salma? I couldn't refuse her anything but presidents should be made of stronger stuff so we need a test.Diplomacy and Salma. Oh, that's hot.
Karl Rove may be leaving his roles as hard-nosed strategist and bookish policy expert in the Bush White House, but that doesn't mean Democrats can rest easy. "Karl outside the White House is more dangerous to Democrats than Karl inside the White House," said Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, who was Al Gore's campaign manager. Her view: He'll have lots more free time now to dream up ways to boost President Bush's standing, "rebrand" the GOP and conquer the 2008 electoral map.My view: Any Democrat who hands Brazile the keys to his/her campaign doesn't really want to win. Seriously, what kind of analysis is this? Readers are requested to offer suggestions for how the GOP get "rebranded".
Mr. Rove's political influence has been historic, notwithstanding the rout of 2006. His crucial insight in 2000 was recognizing that Mr. Bush had to be both an alternative to Bill Clinton's scandalous behavior and "a different kind of Republican." In 2002, the president's party gained seats in both the House and Senate in a first midterm election for the first time since 1934. And in 2004, for only the second time in history, a president won re-election while helping his party gain seats in both houses of Congress; the other time was 1936. Much has been made of John Kerry's ineptitude, but the senator won some eight million more votes than Al Gore did in 2000, and Mr. Rove claims Democrats outspent Republicans by $148 million thanks to billionaire donations to "527" committees. Yet amid a difficult war, Mr. Bush won by increasing his own vote by nearly 25% over 2000, winning 81% of U.S. counties. The Rove-Ken Mehlman turnout effort was a spectacular achievement. If it did nothing else, that 2004 victory put John Roberts and Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court. A big debate among Republicans these days is who bears more blame for 2006 -- Messrs. Bush and Rove, or the behavior of the GOP Congress. Mr. Rove has no doubt. "The sense of entitlement was there" among Republicans, he says, "and people smelled it." Yet even with a unified Democratic Party and the war, he argues, it was "a really close election." The GOP lost the Senate by its 3,562 vote margin of defeat in Montana, and in the House the combined margin in the 15 seats that cost control was 85,000 votes. A prominent non-Beltway Republican recently gave me a different analysis, arguing that the White House made a disastrous decision to "nationalize" the election last autumn; this played into Democratic hands and cost numerous seats. "I disagree," Mr. Rove replies. "The election was nationalized. It was always going to be about Iraq and the conduct of Republicans." He says Republican Chris Shays and Independent-Democrat Joe Lieberman survived in Connecticut despite supporting the war, while Republicans who were linked to corruption or were complacent lost. His biggest error, Mr. Rove says, was in not working soon enough to replace Republicans tainted by scandal. What about that new GOP William McKinley-style majority he hoped to build -- isn't that now in tatters, as the country tilts leftward on security, economics and the culture? Again, Mr. Rove disagrees. He says young people are if anything more pro-life and free-market than older Americans, and that, despite the difficulties in Iraq, the country doesn't want to be defeated there or in the fight against Islamic terror. He recalls how Democrats thought driving the U.S. out of Vietnam would also help them politically. "Instead, Democrats have suffered ever since on national security," he says. Mr. Rove also makes a spirited defense of this president's policy legacy, sometimes more convincingly than others. On foreign affairs, he predicts that at least two parts of the Bush Doctrine will live on: The policy that if you harbor a terrorist, you are as culpable as the terrorist; and pre-emption. "There may be a debate about degree," he says, "but it's going to be hard for any president to reverse that."I have a different take: Karl Rove did maximize Bush's short-run political influence. The long-term costs, however, will not be experienced until well after 2009. And my hunch is that those costs are far greater than Rove acknowledges. In many ways, this boils down to just mow much power one places in the tyranny of the status quo in politics. It is far more difficult to change policy from its current equilibrium thanb most commentators realize. The question is whether Rove's actions will lead to equal counter-reactions. My hunch is yes, but Karl Rovbe does this for a living... whereas I just teach it. [Whoa.... earth-shattering analysis here!!--ed. Hey, sometimes the mainstream analysis is correct!] So, who's more deluded -- Rove or me? You be the judge! UPDATE: Oliver Willis makes a fair point:
The presidency is failing because of the president. As he has said, he is "the decider", Rove is the adviser. Karl Rove has zero constitutional power or responsibility, while the president has truckloads. Bill Clinton's presidency excelled not because of folks like Begala, Carville, Dick Morris, etc. but because of Bill Clinton's decisions - and similarly Bill Clinton's catastrophic failings were not the doings of his advisers, but himself. We need to quit elevating these guys to the level of Gods - and the mainstream media, especially people like The Politico's John Harris - are the most guilty of this. Karl Rove is, historically, some freaking guy who worked in the White House. President Bush is the one who history should record as the ultimate "architect" of his own darn failure.ANOTHER UPDATE: The New York Times has a transcipt of Rove's gaggle with the press on Air Force One.
[T]his conference does not feel as grassroots or exciting as last year's. It feels like a cross between the annual Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet conference in Washington (which draws a who's who in political technology circles), a Bloggingheads.tv marathon viewing session, and a bunch of National Press Club press conferences by liberal interest groups.Run, Garance, run!!! Seriously, this is simply another data point confirming that the co-optation phenomenon Henry and I predicted oh so many years ago (it's coming out in a real political science journal very soon! We swear!!) is coming to pass. UPDATE: More confirming evidence from Matthew Yglesias:
[I]t really was striking to get the visual of yesterday's gate crashers quite literally mingling with the dread establishment at a cocktail party. The question that nobody seems to know the answer to, though, is whether the revolution ended because the revolutionaries won, or because they sold out? The boring, but probably boring-because-accurate, answer is that it's a little of both.
The story line almost writes itself: Democratic president candidates snub centrists but plan to court liberal bloggers. Another sign of the party's leftward drift? That's the easy and partially correct interpretation of what is happening this week. But not the whole story. In the past two years, the Democratic Leadership Council's (DLC's) annual summer meeting has been a Mecca for would-be candidates. Two years ago, Hillary Clinton was there along with three Democrats who have since fallen by the wayside: Evan Bayh, Mark Warner and Tom Vilsack. Last year in Denver, Clinton among others was there again. Today, none of the presidential candidates will be in Nashville to address the group that helped redefine the Democratic Party in the late '80s and early '90s -- but the man who did most to put the DLC on the map and who used it as a springboard to the presidency, Bill Clinton, will be. The candidates cite scheduling conflicts for their absence in Nashville, but a number of them have found time later this week to address the second Yearly Kos convention in Chicago--a clear sign of the ascendance of the blogosphere's influence on politics generally and the Democratic Party in particular.So what's the whole story? I'm not entirely sure. Balz implies that the DLC is simply less relevant now because of, "the collective desire to put aside what differences remain and focus on winning the White House in 2008." Um, OK, but didn't that collective desire also exist in 2004? Isn't the primary difference between then and now is that the netroots are better organized? Then Balz closes with:
The Democratic Party has moved to the left since Bill Clinton left office and many independents have moved toward the Democrats because of the Iraq war. But DLC officials predict the party's nominee almost certainly will be at next summer's gathering.Again, that's actually a sign of waning DLC influence. What matters now is whether the DLC-types can influence who the nominee will be. They have little choice but to provide a platform for whoever the Dems pick. The fact that YearlyKos matters more than the DLC seems like pretty
The real difference is that the average Kossack is obsessed with Democrats having the stones to stand up to the modern Republican machine. Presidential candidates get trashed in the Kos diaries not so much when they take disfavored policy positions (though of course that happens too), but when they're viewed as backing down from a fight. The median Kossack may indeed be to the left of the median Democrat ? it would be shocking if an activist group weren't ? but mainly they just want their candidates to show some backbone. I suppose in some sense this is a distinction without a difference. A median Democrat who stands up to the GOP and refuses to budge is, willy nilly, going to end up to the left of a median Democrat who looks for bipartisan compromise. But let's face it: if YearlyKos were genuinely more substantively powerful than the DLC, you'd see the big three candidates taking public positions considerably to the left of the party's positions ten years ago. If that's the case, though, I've missed it. No one's talking about rolling back welfare reform. No one's proposed a healthcare initiative even half as comprehensive as the 1994 Clinton plan. All three candidates continue to claim they're personally opposed to gay marriage. Their rhetoric on guns and abortion is much more muted than in the past. They mostly agree that some of the Bush tax cuts should be allowed to expire, but not much more. They want to get out of Iraq, but that's a thoroughly mainstream position, and none of them are willing to commit to a complete withdrawal in any case.
Sen. Barack Obama accused Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of taking the same closed-door approach as President Bush in handling rogue states. "You'll have to ask Senator Clinton, what differentiates her position from theirs?" Obama challenged reporters in a conference call on Thursday. Clinton waited a few hours, then fired back. "What ever happened to the politics of hope?" she said in a CNN interview, tweaking the optimistic Obama campaign theme. Their tussle -- the first real verbal engagement of the Democratic primary between the top two candidates -- began during Monday night's debate in South Carolina. Asked whether they would agree to meet leaders from hostile countries such as North Korea and Iran in their first year in office, without preconditions, Obama had said he would. Clinton said she would not. Clinton advisers quickly cast Obama's answer as a rookie mistake, and in an interview on Tuesday, Clinton referred to him as "irresponsible and na?ve." Obama, who has promised to run a "different kind of campaign" free of acrimony, did not shy away from quarreling with Clinton over the substantive policy question at hand. "The Bush administration's policy is to say that we will not talk to these countries unless they meet various preconditions. That's their explicit policy," Obama said. But he did qualify his earlier answer about meeting with rogue leaders without preparation. "Nobody expects that you would suddenly just sit down with them for coffee without having done the appropriate groundwork. But the question was, would you meet them without preconditions, and part of the Bush doctrine has been to say no," he said. By late Thursday, officials from the Clinton and Obama campaigns were squabbling on a split-screen on CNN over the matter.Now campaign reporters love this sort of thing, for obvious reasons. For the rest of us, it's still too damn early. However, this particular tiff provides a great way to divine whether there's a real difference in their foreign policy approaches. Campaign reporters, please steal the following question from this blog and pose it to both the Clinton and Obama camps:
Yesterday Cuban leader Raul Castro signaled his willingness to negotiate with the person who succeeds George W. Bush as president. This is the third time Castro has stated this desire since assuming power a year ago. If elected, would your administration be willing to negotiate directly with the communist regime in Havana? Would you be willing to meet with Castro personally? Would you attach any preconditions to such a meeting?
Miers' testimony emerged as the battleground for a broader scuffle between the White House and Congress over the limits of executive privilege. Presidents since the nation's founding have sought to protect from the prying eyes of Congress the advice given them by advisers, while Congress has argued that it is charged by the U.S. Constitution with conducting oversight of the executive branch. The dispute extended to Congress' request for information on other matters, including the FBI's abuses of civil liberties under the USA Patriot Act and Bush's secretive wiretapping program. But it is a pair of congressional subpoenas for two women who once were Bush's top aides that has moved the disagreement to the brink of legal sanctions and perhaps a court battle. Former White House political director Sara Taylor appeared Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee and in a tentative performance sought to answer some lawmakers' questions and remain mum on others, citing Bush's claim of privilege. Senators didn't seem eager to cite her with contempt, but Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, said he had not yet made that decision. Miers, in contrast, chose to skip the House hearing Thursday, citing White House Counsel Fred Fielding's letter to her lawyer conveying Bush's order not to show up. In letters sent the night before to Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers and Sanchez, Bush and Fielding cited several legal opinions that they said indicated that the president's immediate advisers had absolute immunity from congressional subpoenas.Miers and Bolten now face possible contempt of Congress charges. Now we turn to Eliot Spitzer. Danny Hakim summarizes the state of play in the New York Times:
Gov. Eliot Spitzer vowed on Wednesday to fight any State Senate inquiry into his administration?s internal operations, even as Republican senators were laying the groundwork for an investigation that could lead to subpoenas of top officials. The administration?s stance sets the stage for a potential showdown with the Senate, and it came amid rising concerns even among Mr. Spitzer?s fellow Democrats about whether the governor and his staff had been candid about their office?s effort to discredit a political rival. A scathing report issued on Monday by Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo concluded that the governor?s staff had broken no laws but had misused the State Police to gather information about Joseph L. Bruno, the Senate majority leader, in an effort to plant a negative story about him. The governor has maintained that he was misled by his staff and knew nothing about the effort to discredit Mr. Bruno. But two of his closest aides refused to be interviewed by the attorney general?s investigators, intensifying suspicion, especially among the governor?s critics, that Mr. Spitzer and his staff had not been forthright. At a fiery press conference in Saratoga Springs, Mr. Bruno, the state?s top Republican, lashed out at the governor and signaled that the Senate fully intended to examine the matter further.... [W]ith the decision to fight a Senate inquiry, Mr. Spitzer appeared to be shifting from quiet contrition to a more confrontational stand. The move not only sets up a potential constitutional clash over executive privilege, but could also create a major distraction in the Capitol. Senator George H. Winner Jr., the chairman of the Senate Committee on Investigations and Government Operations, wrote to Mr. Cuomo on Wednesday, seeking copies of depositions, statements and e-mail traffic he had obtained. Mr. Bruno, asked if a Senate committee had the power to subpoena the governor, said ?I am told by counsel that we have subpoena powers and that we can subpoena the governor, anybody.? But Christine Anderson, the governor?s press secretary, said in a statement, ?The State Senate lacks the constitutional authority to conduct investigatory hearings into the internal operations of the governor?s office.?Assignment to blog readers: is there anyone in the blogosphere partisan enough to defend one of these claims of executive privilege but attacked the other?
Amflora potatoes, likely to become the first genetically modified crop in the last decade to be approved for growth in Europe, have become the unlikely lightning rod in the angry debate over such products on the Continent. The European Commission now says it will approve the potato ?probably this fall,? even though European ministers have twice been deadlocked on approval over the last eight months, with only a minority voting in favor. According to European Union procedures, ?the ministers have not been able to take a decision, so we will have to reaffirm our earlier opinion to recommend it,? said Barbara Helferrich, spokeswoman for the European Commission?s Environment Directorate. But European environmental groups are critical of Amflora potatoes, saying they could release dangerous genes into the environment. Approving Amflora would make ?a mockery of E.U. law,? said Marco Contiero, an expert on genetically modified organisms at Greenpeace in Brussels. Still, perhaps the biggest hurdle for Amflora is the visceral popular reaction against genetically modified crops on a continent whose food culture is ancient and treasured. ?I just don?t like the idea,? said Monika Stahl, 31, waiting for a bus with a sack of fresh vegetables in Mannheim, just 12 miles from the Amflora field. ?I worry about safe food and about the environment. I have children and worry about them.? In one sense, the irony is that Amflora is not a food at all. Although it looks, feels and smells like any other potato, each one is actually a genetically engineered factory for amylopectin, a starch used to make glossy paper coatings, clothing finishes and adhesive cement.A few questions to readers:
1) Is massive public hostility to GMOs a sufficient reason to ban their use? 2) As I discuss in All Politics Is Global, here is a strong scientific consensus that GMOs are as safe as conventionally cultivated crops. If this scientific consensus, in and of itself, is insufficient to change public attitudes, can anything change public opinion on this point? 3) The scientific consensus on GMOs cannot refute concerns about possible losses in biodiversity. Is this unknown still a sufficient reason to ban their use? In other words, when is the precautionary principle sufficient to warrant regulatory action?
There is something rather amusing (and self-indulgent) about ?coffee-cup liberalism,? but at the end of the day, I kind of like it. Let?s export it. Oh yea, we?re already doing that. If you weren?t aware, Starbucks is in the process of colonizing Egypt. I can?t say that this is a bad thing, particularly as there is a new theory emerging in the political science literature called the ?Starbucks peace theory" ? i.e. countries with Starbucks don?t go to war with each other. So, instead of invading the Iranians, why don?t we force a Starbucks store in Tehran down their throats? That can be our stick, until we think of a carrot (or is it the other way around?). Back to the original point. Your local Starbucks store is a fun place to spend time in with your laptop. If you spend enough time there, you begin to form a community of people endlessly peering with quizzical stares at their laptop screen while indulging in an exceedingly expensive coffee concoction of some sort, and you make lifelong friends (on one of those big six-person tables with the two blue lamps?yeah, you know what I?m talking about). This is liberalism at its best, and I?d very much like to see us impose it on other people. Why not?UPDATE: I'm glad too see that others are confused by Starbucks.
Whoever wins their party?s presidential nomination, the Democrats are preparing to fight the next election on a platform of left-leaning populism. The contrast with Bill Clinton is evident. He was a centrist, pro-trade, pro-enterprise president ? an avowed ?New Democrat?. The next Democratic occupant of the White House, if the candidates? campaigns are to be believed, will be old-school. Mr Clinton campaigned against the odds to secure passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Today the party is against such deals. Mr Clinton worked hard to get China into the World Trade Organisation. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are Senate co-sponsors of a new China-bashing law. And the move to the populist left is not confined to trade. All the Democratic contenders are turning up the volume on stagnating middle-class wages, soaring profits, swindling bosses, dwindling union membership (Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama back the abolition of secret ballots on union representation), tax loopholes for the super-rich, oil company gouging, insurance company gouging, drug company gouging and every other kind of gouging.... Mr Clinton?s conviction that globalisation was good for America owed a lot to the experts ? including economists of the highest professional standing ? who surrounded him. Recently, eminent economists such as Alan Blinder, Paul Krugman, Larry Summers (who served as Mr Clinton?s Treasury secretary) and Brad DeLong have all expressed new doubts about the benefits of globalisation for the US. It is all more complicated than we thought, they say. It was hard enough for Mr Clinton to fight for freer trade when every highly regarded economist in the country said it was good for the US. Now that their message has changed to ?We might have been wrong about this. We?ll get back to you?, the prospects for liberal trade have dimmed. Economic populism traditionally marries scepticism on trade with fear of big business: ?It?s all about profit.? A striking feature of many Democratic proposals is the belief that cheaper petrol, cheaper drugs, universal health insurance, higher wages, more generous employment benefits, almost any good thing you can think of, can be achieved by demanding them, in one way or another, from companies, or else by raising taxes on the super-rich. The perverse results of the tax-subsidised healthcare mandate on American businesses show where this approach leads. In the end, the burden falls back on workers and consumers as lower wages and higher prices. The dispiriting wedge between growth in productivity and growth in earnings, the organising principle of the Democratic party?s current economic thinking, gets even bigger. There is no question that the Democratic contenders are talking about the issues that concern most Americans. There is an excellent centrist case to be made for tax reform, to lift the burden of income and payroll taxes from the low-paid and to increase the burden on the better-off. Universal healthcare is long overdue, a shameful state of affairs in so rich a country. Americans pay more than they should for their medicines. More generous and more imaginative assistance for Americans who lose their jobs because of trade ? or because of changing tastes and technology ? is needed. The present administration has little to offer on any of these questions. But the costs of reform cannot be confined to foreigners and plutocrats.
The teenage birth rate in 2005, the report said, was 21 per 1,000 young women ages 15 to 17 ? an all-time low. The rate in 1991 was 39 births per 1,000 teenagers.Is it just me, or is that both a stunning and unambiguously positive change? Actually, Ezra Klein manages to provide just a smidgen of ambiguity (though I suspect even he would approve of this outcome).
[A]t best libertarianism exists as a diffuse, inchoate set of impulses that operate, not as an independent force, but as tendencies within the left and right and a check on how far each can stray in illiberal directions. Second, as I conceded in an earlier essay for Cato Unbound, American public opinion is noticeably unlibertarian in many important respects. In particular, economic illiteracy is rife; much of government spending ? especially the budget-busting middle-class entitlement programs ? remains highly popular; and the weakness for moralistic crusades, long an unfortunate feature of the American character, remains glaring (though today?s temperance movements direct their obsessive zeal toward advancing health and safety rather than virtue).At which point we flip over to Robin Toner's lead story in today's New York Times:
On Capitol Hill and on the presidential campaign trail, Democrats are increasingly moving toward a full-throated populist critique of the current economy. Clearly influenced by some of their most successful candidates in last year?s Congressional elections, Democrats are talking more and more about the anemic growth in American wages and the negative effects of trade and a globalized economy on American jobs and communities. They deplore what they call a growing gap between the middle class, which is struggling to adjust to a changing job market, and the affluent elites who have prospered in the new economy.... Even as Mrs. Clinton has sought to associate herself with the economic growth of her husband?s administration, she, like other Democratic presidential candidates, has been expressing a sharp skepticism toward trade and globalization under President Bush. In recent weeks she has announced her opposition to the proposed South Korean Free Trade Agreement and denounced globalization that ?is working only for a few of us.? She accepted the endorsement of former Representative Richard A. Gephardt, who spent much of his political career fighting what he asserted were unfair trade agreements. And Mrs. Clinton has increasingly focused on ?rising inequality and rising pessimism in our work force,? and suggested that another progressive era is ? and ought to be ? at hand. Former Senator John Edwards, another Democratic candidate, staked out similar positions months ago and regularly notes that in the last 20 years, ?about half of America?s economic growth has gone to the top 1 percent.? Mr. Edwards praises recent efforts to raise taxes on private equity and hedge funds. His campaign manager, former Representative David E. Bonior, notes that Mr. Edwards has been sounding these themes since his first presidential campaign in 2004. ?John Edwards was there at the beginning of this,? Mr. Bonior said. While campaigning in Iowa last week, Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, suggested that even those who followed the standard advice for coping with a globalized economy ? get more education for higher-skilled jobs ? were losing out. ?People were told, you?ve got to be trained for high-tech jobs,? Mr. Obama said, ?and then it turned out that some of those high-tech jobs were being outsourced. And people were told, now you need to train for service jobs. And then it turned out the call centers were moving overseas.?.... Representative George Miller, the California Democrat who is chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor, said, ?Trade may not be the reason, or the number one reason, they?re losing their jobs, but they think it is.? (emphasis added)Kudos to Miller for at least being honest that much of the Democrats ire is wildly misplaced. The Democrats are right to focus on stagnant wages and health care concerns -- those are their bread-and-butter issues. Conjuring up a trade bogeyman as the primary source of all of this.... well, let's just say it fuels Dani Rodrik's barbarians quite nicely. UPDATE: Kevin Drum asks some questions about this post -- and I provide some answers.
Bush has the good fortune of having finally found his Ulysses S. Grant, or his Creighton Abrams, in Gen. David H. Petraeus. If the president stands with Petraeus and progress continues on the ground, Bush will be able to prevent a sellout in Washington. And then he could leave office with the nation on course to a successful (though painful and difficult) outcome in Iraq. With that, the rest of the Middle East, where so much hangs in the balance, could start to tip in the direction of our friends and away from the jihadists, the mullahs and the dictators.... What it comes down to is this: If Petraeus succeeds in Iraq, and a Republican wins in 2008, Bush will be viewed as a successful president.Thomas E. Ricks, "Bush Leans On Petraeus as War Dissent Deepens," Washington Post, July 15, 2007:
Some of Petraeus's military comrades worry that the general is being set up by the Bush administration as a scapegoat if conditions in Iraq fail to improve. "The danger is that Petraeus will now be painted as failing to live up to expectations and become the fall guy for the administration," one retired four-star officer said. Bush has mentioned Petraeus at least 150 times this year in his speeches, interviews and news conferences, often setting him up in opposition to members of Congress. "It seems to me almost an act of desperation, the administration turning to the one most prominent official who cannot act politically and whose credibility is so far unsullied, someone who is or should be purely driven by the facts of the situation," said Richard Kohn, a specialist in U.S. military history at the University of North Carolina. "What it tells me, given the hemorrhaging of support in Congress, is that we're entering some new phase of the end game." In his public comments, Bush has not leaned nearly as heavily on the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, Petraeus's political counterpart in Baghdad. At his news conference Thursday, the president mentioned Petraeus 12 times but Crocker only twice, both times in his prepared statement.This is not a "same planet, different worlds" kind of comparison. If the Iraq war ends well, then Kristol's scenario is correct; if the status quo persists or worsens, then the Ricks scenario is correct. Unfortunately for Petraeus, I suspect most experts would give Kristol's scenario less than a 10% chance of coming true.
As the Bush presidency implodes, some of its worst policies mercifully will go, too -- including, we can hope, the torture and unregulated detention of alleged enemy fighters that have so discredited the country throughout the world. But valuable strands of policy also may end up strewn in the wreckage, victims (in varying combinations) of President Bush's ineptitude, inconstancy and unpopularity. Among these are what Bush called compassionate conservatism, now moribund; American promotion of democracy abroad, now flailing; and accountability in elementary and high school education, losing ground as it approaches a major test in Congress.This prompts the following from Yglesias:
There's just no story here. The Bush administration has almost no positive legacy, and on those areas where good things have happened (NCLB and AIDS funding are the two I can think of) Democrats show every sign of wanting to continue the positive and perhaps make some improvements around the margin.DeLong goes even further, however:
The policies that were Bush's weren't valuable. The policies that were valuable weren't Bushes--they were either implemented by others or they never got implemented, being for the Bushies at most boob bait for the bubbas who populate the Washington Post editorial board.Look, let's stipulate that on many dimensions, the Bush administration has implemented policies that border on catastrophic. On other dimensions, there's simply been either benign or malign neglect. I'm not claiming here that George W. Bush has done anything close to a great job. On foreign policy, the issue I care about, the only two president who come close to matching Bush's negatives in the past 50 years are Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson. With all of this so stipulated, DeLong's statement is simply false. Here are ten policies that team Bush implemented that I would qualify as a) important; b) constructive; c) not simply a continuation of prior policies; and d) not guaranteed to persist in their current form or at current funding levels past 2009:
1) The Millennium Challenge Corporation 2) The Strategic Economic Dialogue with China 3) The Proliferation Security Initiative 4) Our bilateral policy towards India (general warming trend + civilian nuclear deal) 5) Applying the post-Enron brakes on corporate governance regulations (Remember, when it was passed, Sarbanes-Oxley was thought to be milquetoast reform; now it's though to be too onerous) 6) Appointing Ben Bernanke to replace Alan Greenspan as Federal Reserve chairman. 7) The Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (I'm being optimistic about Senate passage here). 8) Trying to cut China and India into existing global institutions. 9) Creating the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization in the State Department. 10) Creating the Security and Prosperity Partnership Of North America (I confess that this one's in here mostly to annoy Lou Dobbs).None of this outweighs the screw-ups in Iraq or New Orleans. But they are policies that suggest Hiatt has a small point. Reflexively rejecting a Bush policy only because Bush proposed it is as stupid as... as.... rejecting Bill Clinton's policies because Clinton favored them (which is pretty much what the Bushies did when they took office in 2001). Question to readers: what other Bush policies do you want to see maintained?
I've spent a great deal of time thinking about Churchill while working on my book "Troublesome Young Men," a history of the small group of Conservative members of Parliament who defied British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasing Adolf Hitler, forced Chamberlain to resign in May 1940 and helped make Churchill his successor. I thought my audience would be largely limited to World War II buffs, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the president has been reading my book. He hasn't let me know what he thinks about it, but it's a safe bet that he's identifying with the book's portrayal of Churchill, not Chamberlain. But I think Bush's hero would be bemused, to say the least, by the president's wrapping himself in the Churchillian cloak. Indeed, the more you understand the historical record, the more the parallels leap out -- but they're between Bush and Chamberlain, not Bush and Churchill.Read the rest of Olson's essay to see the comparisons. For someone who was not terribly familiar with Chamberlain's leadership style, the parallels are quite surprising. UPDATE: Meanwhile, in Slate, US Weekly editor Janice Min compares Bush to someone else entirely. ANOTHER UPDATE: Peter Baker has a front-pager in the Washington Post today that discusses Bush's frame of mind. Olsen's book is mentioned explicitly -- Olson's analogy is implicit but shot through the piece.
I'm afraid that what he had to say was utterly platitudinous. The US is "an inspiration for all those who seek freedom"; Tony Blair is a "gallant friend" of America; the uncoupling of the Atlantic alliance would be a bad thing. Winston Churchill was a great man; Neville Chamberlain was not so great. We should worry about Iran because - "If we know anything from modern history, it is that when fanatical tyrants pledge to wipe out an entire nation, we should listen." He even had the nerve to quote that Harold Macmillan line about the biggest problem in politics being "events, dear boy, events." Haven't heard that one before. Admittedly, he was marginally more interesting in the q&a. He thinks it would be a good idea to blockade Iran, which he describes as a "very, very serious threat." He still thinks it was right to invade Iraq and that there is some evidence that the surge is working. But he is clearly worried that American politicians are going to pull the plug prematurely - "We have a multi-year plan, which the political process might give only weeks or months." As for the goal in Iraq - "We need to do everything possible to avoid the appearance of utter weakness." And America needs to strive to leave the country in something "better than terrible conditions." That, at least, struck me as a fairly realistic assessment of what is achievable. I find it hard - or perhaps just alarming - to imagine Fred Thompson as president. He seemed to me to be not terribly bright.Click here to read Thompson's speech and judge for yourself. After reading it, I'd say two things:
1) His sense of humor is better developed than his policy recommendations for the Middle East. 2) You ain't gonna find a lot of difference between this speech and Mitt Romney's Foreign Affairs article.What do you think?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.