...according to the WASHINGTON POST. The list doesn’t include Palin or Huckabee, not to mention Gingrich. I agree it probably shouldn’t, at least when looking toward 2012. I tend to think that Jindal, Thune, Daniels, and Romney are the leading lights at the moment, with all those mentioned having promise. With the exception, of Jindal, I’m not sure any of them bring something new, different, and better to the table, and that seems pretty important, of course, for a party that’s been thumped twice in a row. None of them might satisfy the fans of Palin, Huckabee, and Gingrich. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)
A day or two ago incoming WH COS Rahm Emanuel told a group of executives that we should "never let a serious crisis go to waste," which reminded me of a headline in the Washington Post from earlier in the week. While commercial real estate values and occupancy rates are plummeting nationwide, the Post headline said: "Bailout Raises Demand for Square Feet in DC."
Text: "Between 2 million and 4 million square feet of office space could be gobbled up over the next three years as new regulatory agencies take shape and as lobby shops, accounting firms, consultants and asset managers position themselves to take advantage of government intervention efforts."
This sounds like a "sell" signal for the American economy if I ever heard one. But nice that Washington will prosper.
the Messiah’s Pres-elect Obama’s good ideas is updating and expanding the nation’s electricity grid, which will make possible the practical use of wind power, concentrated solar, engineered geo-thermal, etc. It would be the energy equivalent of what the interstate highway system did for surface transportation, and requires, like Eisenhower’s push for the Interstates in the 1950s, a high level presidential commitment; a few lines in a state of the union speech won’t do.
Last month I was on a panel at the National Press Club on this subject, reflecting on Peter Huber’s proposal for how to do this. A representative from the Natural Resources Defense Council was on hand to pay lip service to the idea, but when I pressed him about the caveats of the environmental community, he admitted that they were "not yet on board" with the idea. Translation: Get ready for lots of lawsuits if the NRDC doesn’t get to plan the nation’s new energy grid. Great.
This morning’s New York Times has a splendid story of how red tape prevents the development of eco-friendly energy projects right now in NYC. An Episcopal Seminary (which means money is no object if the cause is the Green God) wants to drill some geothermal wells, which will reduce their annual carbon footprint by 1,400 tons. You’d think the government would encourage this. You’d be wrong:
“We had to answer to 10 agencies,” Ms. Burnley said. “It took three times as long as it should have. The left and the right hand did not know what the other was doing. . ." This is the future that virtually everyone in the city wants. But the people at the seminary are, in Ms. Burnley’s phrase, “institutionally exhausted” by the four-year siege of red tape, and after spending 50 percent more money than they had expected. “At a certain point we became angry, and determined, and wouldn’t give up,” she said. “But you can’t create public policy that depends on having obsessed, hardheaded people to get these projects done."
At one point, the seminary waited three months for the city Department of Transportation’s permission to drill into the sidewalk, Ms. Burnley said. “The conversation went like this: ‘What is the status?’ ‘It has no status.’ ‘Do you need more information?’ ‘No, we have what we need.’ ‘Then how can we get it moving?’ ‘You can’t get it moving.’
Now imagine the roadblocks that could be placed in the way of modernizing the nation’s electricity grid. Oh well, I guess we can just keep burning more coal.
I had lunch today with a smart young Intercollegiate Studies Institute staffer. As we talked about the mortgage credit crisis, he challenged me to go beyond identifying the problem and the threat it poses to "family values" and not just family home values.
I started thinking aloud. The talk has thus far all been about helping distressed homeowners...and using government money to do it. That, I take it, is the point of departure for any Democratic discussion of the subject. But why not adapt something churches, faith-based organizations, and other non-profits have been doing (with varying degrees of success) for years? I have in mind the Community Development Corporation, the mainstay of faith-based and non-profit urban neighborhood redevelopment efforts. Why can’t we take this model, tested in urban neighborhoods, into the suburbs where declining home values and job losses have threatened the capacity of families to stay in their homes? Successful CDCs find a pool of capital to purchase and rehabilitate distressed properties, rebuilding a neighborhood to the point that it becomes attractive to private investors and purchasers. They try to establish long-term relationships with the people they help, and often ask that they provide "sweat equity" (if nothing else) as their stake in a new house.
So here’s my thought for a suburban CDC: a big church or group of churches creates a CDC to raise capital from its members and from local foundations. It uses the capital to help community members restructure mortgages that imperil their homeownership. In exchange, those who are thus assisted give a certain number of hours of service to the CDC. (I’m sure that church members who were once or are still in the financial industry would also be willing to provide assistance.) Those who are assisted still have to repay a loan, but the terms are set by people who wish to save a neighborhood and its inhabitants, rather than by those who have a responsibility to shareholders--wherever they are--to make a profit. Since the CDC would have lower overhead and employment costs than a for-profit lender or a government agency, the terms of the loans it makes or facilitates could be more generous. Those who are assisted do not become dependent upon government but rather are integrated into a community.
If this can work in neighborhoods where "social capital" is relatively scarce, it ought to be very promising in neighborhoods where one might reasonably expect to find more people with stakes in the area, contacts in the community, and job (and other coping) skills. Rather than government handouts, we have communal self-help, orchestrated by churches, faith-based organizations, and other non-profits.
What doyou think?
It is being reported that Hillary Clinton will accept the offer to be Secretary of State, and Timothy J. Geithner is said to be Obamaï¿½s choice for Treasury, to be announced formally on Monday. Ret. Marine Gen. Jim Jones will become the national security advisor. Arguably, all three choices, are much better than some would have thought possible just a few weeks ago. Interesting.
From media accounts, you wouldn’t know that Barack Obama is not president quite yet. There’s another guy holding down the office until 20 January, 2009. I suggest here that the current president should continue to pursue victory against our adversaries until that date. I argue that President Bush can learn a lesson from Lincoln, who in the dark days of summer, 1864, believed he would not be re-elected but nonetheless continued to pursue his goal without concerning himself with "tying the hands" of his successor.
Of course the electoral landscape was changed with Sherman’s capture of Atlanta in September and Sheridan’s rout of Jubal Early at Cedar Creek in October.
I know folks are starting to talk (including here at NLT) about both the makeup of the new administration and how Obama is going about it and I am willing to note, along with Hayward, that the far left is getting antsy, but before anything else is said on the subject, this David Brooks column is a must-read. I started laughing at the end of the third paragraph and couldn’t stop.
Headline: Anti-War Groups Fear Barack Obama May Create Hawkish Cabinet. The lede:
Antiwar groups and other liberal activists are increasingly concerned at signs that Barack Obama’s national security team will be dominated by appointees who favored the Iraq invasion and hold hawkish views on other important foreign policy issues.
UPDATE: The honeymoon is over.
So, the semi-crazed Henry Waxman has ousted the legendary John Dingell as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee by the close vote of 137-122 in the Dem House caucus. It’s the House Class of 1974 all over again. This was partly a vote against the Detroit auto makers, who have few friends these days, and partly it reflects the leftward tilt of the new Democratic Congress. Waxman is an idiot socialist (I can tell my own Waxman story), and is an Old Man in a Hurry. I suspect he is going to turn out to be one of WH COS Rahm Emanuel’s chief headaches, because Waxman will not want to take marching orders from 1600 Penn. Ave. The close vote shows the Dems are divided already! Fun times!
My answer was to point to the article to which I linked above: the federal-level executive experience in the Democratic Party is all linked to the Clintons. No one with any "experience" in politics would have expected anything any different. This is of course compounded by the fact that, not having served in any sort of executive office, President-elect Obama doesn't have any trusted statehouse aides to bring with him. Our bridge to the future is built with ten-year old parts.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, as I pointed out to another class where we were discussing Bk I, ch. 3 of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, where Aristotle says that the young are inapt students of politics. They lack experience, he says, and tend to be ruled by their impulses (which actually characterizes most of us, including a very prominent ex-President, who spoke in Atlanta yeserday). The Obama campaign's emphasis on change--as against those who would say that "you can't do that" because "we've always done it this way" (a reflection either of tradition or nature or both)--was certainly pitched to the young. But, as I pointed out to my class--a mixture of what I've called politikids and what my politikids and I have dubbed apathetikids--Barack Obama and I are much closer in age than he is to them. Aside from a habit much less nasty than that of his Democratic predecessor, he doesn't seem to be a creature of impulse. And his choices so far seem to indicate an appropriate respect for experience. "He's one of us," I told them, pointing to myself, "not one of you."
But there is at least one reason to continue to have one's doubts about Barack Obama's judgment. The cabinet choices he has actually announced have been pretty good--though he has set Hillary Clinton up for a major embarrassment if in the end he doesn't or can't offer her the State Department portfolio--but why, in the face of this pressing economic crisis, hasn't he named a Treasury Secretary yet? Shouldn't that announcement have been among the first ones made, certainly before naming Tom Daschle Secretary of Health and Human Services? And shouldn't the Treasury Secretary in waiting be involved in all the allegedly pressing conversations that are now going on? What's going on here?
Is the problem we see today the collapse of the New Deal and its successors?
The real story is the frightening extent to which Detroit is just the New Deal U.S. in microcosm...the Big 3 became essentially private versions of the middle class welfare state...social agencies for providing non-market validated income, health and retirement benefits, with a sideline of making cars....and now the model is unsustainable. In part it is because of the burden of the retired UAW workforce, which now vastly outnumbers the actual working members. As of 2007, the UAW represented 180,681 members at Chrysler, Ford and General Motors; it also represented 419,621 retired members and 120,723 surviving spouses.
This is not dissimilar to Social Security and Medicare for the U.S. economy as a whole. Both of these entitlement programs are unfunded liabilities of the U.S. government, politically, if not legally, and, on a current basis, consume almost 50% of the $3 trillion federal budget. They were viable on a pay-as-you-go basis only at inception and as long as the ratio of workers to beneficiaries is high. Neither condition obtains today. So it becomes an interesting question and rather soon I think: when the U.S. government becomes like Detroit...who does the bailing out?
Describing her as a "scappy Midwesterner" at heart and soul, Noemie Emery has almost got me feeling some sympathy for the old girl. But, even Ms. Emery concedes that we’re not really sure who or what this woman is. She’s been so many things at so many different seasons, it’s hard (as it was with her husband) to tell. Is there really any core to this chameleon other than ambition and self-interest? Well . . . she is a Clinton. Even so, I believe that, in her way, she must be a great lover of America. She loves whatever it is that she thinks America is and, even if she differs in this with me and other conservatives, she would not want to see the America she loves harmed--least of all by outsiders. So characteristics that make her less than attractive as a human being (or as a domestic policy leader) might make her precisely the sort of person who would serve our interests well (or, at least, better than the other options on the table) as Sec. of State.
UPDATE: Paul Mirengoff at Powerline thinks Obama will go more with his Machiavellian instincts in this case and NOT choose an untrustworthy rival for such a key position in his cabinet. This gets back to my earlier post about the relative manliness of Obama in this pick. If he were to reject her now--after such prolonged and public foreplay (now even to the point of getting Bill to grovel a bit)--it would be something very interesting to contemplate and behold. Scott Johnson comments as well. Your thought?
Frustration and political passion can be a dangerous combination. It leads otherwise good and spirited people to do and say things that are not only imprudent but, sometimes, even contrary to their own considered judgment. Throw in a smidgen of female jealousy directed against a comely and well-appreciated governor of Alaska . . . and kaboom! You get hysterical columns like this one from Kathleen Parker. This is the kind of thing one writes, talks over with close friends, and then deletes. It is not the kind of thing a pro would publish. Perhaps it is the subject of an email sent to a wiser (or at least less irritated) friend who will instruct one about where she dangles too close to the edge and then, graciously, pull her back a bit. Whatever of truth there is in such a column is now forever obscured by its bile and pettiness ("Miss Alaska?").
Jonah answers it pretty fairly at the Corner. I’d add that the worst thing about this piece is that Parker attempts to take on the role of instructor to the GOP about political prudence! She’s giving counsel on how to approach the argument for the purpose of persuasion!? Great. Now we know who to call whenever we need a ready and grating insult for our friends. Thanks, Kathleen.
Last night, I spoke to the Yale Political Union on "Is Biotechnology a Threat to Our Humanity?" After a couple of hours of smart and lively debate, the experts from all the Yale parties decided, by a narrow margin, it wasn’t.
Today, I’m taking the train down to DC for what may well be the historic last meeting of THE PRESIDENT’S COUNCIL ON BIOETHICS. It’s at the Hotel Palomar in Roslyn, VA. Come by and be a part of history.
Here I was thinking how unmanly a Hillary Clinton appointment as Secretary of State would be . . . how mean and low and scraping it would seem . . . and then I go and read this. The appointment not only gets her out of his political way, it clears him of all obligation to help her out with her campaign debt. Hmmm. Not bad. A Hillary bailout that requires no work from a man with better fish to fry.
The UAW and its minions are claiming that Caterpillar is a UAW company and it is competing successfully against foreign competition. Hence, they argue, it is the management, not the UAW, that is the trouble at GM, Ford, and Chrysler.
But Caterpillar had its crisis 20 years ago, and took on the Unions then.
Cat began spreading its manufacturing base into nonunion regions of the southern U.S., building 20 smaller, more specialized factories, with lower wage rates, to feed components into the larger assembly plants. The United Auto Workers objected to Caterpillar’s demand to break the contract pattern set by the automakers in Detroit. Caterpillar dug in. "We said, ‘Well, we might as well get it over with now,’" recalled Owens, who was chief financial officer at the time.
The confrontation triggered seven years of labor unrest during the 1990s and two strikes while salaried managers and temporary employees did the work. Owens recalls: "In the 1990s we had two choices: We could either close all of our midwestern plants and gradually move out of this country. Or we could move some of our facilities out of harm’s way and into more competitive parts of the country. We chose to try to preserve our manufacturing base in the U.S."
The choice of Holder for AG is encouraging--far better than Deval Patrick or other names that were floated. Holder is a liberal, but with one conspicuous exception that almost no one is aware of--he is not friendly to the trial bar, thinks that trials lawyers have been a baleful influence on the Democratic Party, and has lent his support to some tort reform efforts. Perhaps he will keep the Justice Department from becoming an adjunct of the trial bar.
If President Obama nominates Senator Clinton to serve as Secretary of State, it presents an interesting problem for the Republicans. Unless I’m mistaken, this will be the first time they have had a chance to gather her testimony under oath. Some Republicans will probably suggest that they should let bygones be bygones. That might be wise, but it might also make sense to pull out the entire Clinton file and ask Mrs. Clinton about the Rose Law firm billing records, her insight into the cattle futures market, etc.? After all, Senator Obama promised to change the tone in Washington. That promise implied getting away from the Clintonian way. If the leaks about his cabinet and White House staff are correct, that’s not what he’s doing. In the case of Mrs. Clinton, the Republican party might be able to bring that up in a way they can’t in other cases. An interesting question, in my book.
Newsweek reports that Eric Holder, another Clintonista, will be Obama’s attorney general.
If it is true that we are "at Obama’s mercy," as Peter Lawler suggests in passing along the report that a famous teacher of political philosophy made this claim to him, then perhaps there is a bright side to dwelling in that "mercy." Bret Stephens suggests that after about a year’s time, American liberals will have no more excuses for their failures. Perhaps. But politics is always more complicated than either scenario--the mercy or the "no excuses"--suggests. So there certainly will be more to Obama’s "mercy" than good-natured good will and there will also be more to it than mere Machiavellian maneuvering. I do not believe that he can play pure offense for very long--though I suspect that he knows this. I expect, at some point, to see a serious push back from conservatives and also to see some bristling stemming from the dissatisfaction of liberals who believe to their core that this is "their time."
The danger for Obama will not be that these true believers could become disenchanted with their liberalism and grow ripe for conservative picking. They will find more excuses--even where there are none. But given the vast numbers of tangential Obama supporters, recent converts, sentimental hangers-on, and socially pressured supporters I think there is plenty of raw material within the Obama ranks with which clever conservatives can begin to build a case using the "no excuses" meme as a starting point. The bright side--if we can really call it a bright side (because there will be consequences to this that are far from bright)--is that Liberalism unbound will fail. The open question is whether Obama is smart enough to know this (I think he is) and then clever enough to be able to bind it up without seeming to do so. One year probably will tell.
David Brooks suggests that the moral effects of a recession are generally not good and that we might expect an angry political response from the formerly middle class folks who are losing their homes, not to mention from people in other parts of the world who will suffer substantial setbacks as a result of our current economic upheaval.
He may be onto something, but he seems to have forgotten that the Depression also was the time when our "Greatest Generation" came of age. He is of course correct that we’ve suffered a decline in social capital since then (some of it the product of our easy prosperity, not to mention a culture that elevates "choice" above almost every other consideration). And the admirable sacrifices that characterized that generation were called forth by an existential threat, not by the New Deal.
President-elect Obama likes to conjure visions of Lincoln, but Lincoln’s America also faced an existential threat. And Lincoln is much more subtle and thoughtful than Obama has yet proven himself to be.
On the other hand, Richard Cohen wants Obama to emulate FDR, though he confesses that he has no idea what the basis of his optimism should be. Perhaps there’s a clue in the other book Obama says he’s bringing with him to the White House. (I’ll note also that, whatever he actually believed, FDR was very willing to use religious language in public.)
I’ll leave it at that for now.
1. A very famous professor of political philosophy wrote me that "we’re at Obama’s mercy." Well, that’s true enough, which makes politics less than fascinating until he shows us what he’s going to do. That’s why there’s not so much for me to say right now. I will say that Mac Owens is right below. Most of Obama’s appointments seem serious and responsible so far, and that means he really does mean to hit the ground running. He remains brainy and self-disciplined.
In today’s LA Times Brian Gray, a law Professor in San Francisco, argues that the Supreme Court should overturn California’s ban on gay marriage. Gray argues that the prohibition unconstitutionally singles out a class of people and denies them a right.
But where does this right come from? Clearly, this right is not an ancient right, as marriage in just about every place in history, including throughout the US until very recently, required that marriages include at least one man and one women, and, quite often, only one man and one woman. That being the case, the argument for constitutionally mandating gay marriage must rest on the idea that the Constitution is a living document which ought to follow the evolving understanding idea of rights in our society. In recent years, prohibitions on gay marriage have passed repeatedly, often by large margins. Hence it is rather hard to argue that there is a new social consensus in favor of gay marriage. And such new consensus is the only thing that can justify the discovery of such rights. Or do the supporters of the living constitution think that the law ought to reflect the beliefs of law Professors?
The President recognized familiar names such as NR’s Rick Brookhiser, Lincoln scholars Gabor Borritt and Harold Holzer, Manhattan Institute’s Myron Magnet, the John Templeton Foundation, and cartoonist (and Spiderman creator) Stan Lee. The day will come when we can look forward to our colleagues Steven Hayward and Peter Lawler receiving such recognition, but that will require a conservative President (besides more books of theirs). Good health (with or without the aid of science), guys! In any event, as the instance of Harry Jaffa shows, the omissions are often more instructive and telling than the awardees.
As part of my gig as editor of Orbis, I am one of several FPRI fellows asked to contribute op-eds to the Philadelphia Bulletin. Here is something that appeared yesterday. In my piece I suggest that foreign and defense policy under Obama may not turn out as badly as conservative believe. The reason is that there are limits to what even the president can do. This doesn’t mean that an Obama administration can’t screw the pooch. Time will tell.
Of course, I may be completely wrong, but so far, with the exception of Chuck Hagel, the names I have beem hearing as possibilities for defense and foreign affairs cabinet positions seem reasonable. And I know a great many of likely lower level appointments in an Obama Pentagon and they are serious people.
Last week, I posted my tribute to John Ripley, a genuine American hero and Marine Corps legend. Here is a moving account of his recent funeral at the US Naval Academy.
If the effervescence of American euphoria at the election of Barack Obama has not been enough to cause you to question the chemistry of the water on our side of the Atlantic (or, I guess, this side of the Pacific), remind yourself of the reaction to it from overseas. Even an otherwise electorally satisfied Froma Harrop finds much to question in such overdone displays of madness and wonders aloud how much it really matters whether we are loved by those on foreign shores. Welcome to the conservative club of the skeptical, Ms. Harrop! The water here is fine. Come on in.
But Harrop cannot quite reject her philosophical and intellectual roots. In addition to taking a hard look at the bulk of obsequious pining for foreign approval that lives on the left, she also has to give us a cartoon characterization of conservative disregard for foreign opinion. We "carpet-bomb" because we’re "super-patriots," don’tcha know? She rejects both the bulk of left opinion and her straw-man of conservative opinion and in this believes that she has discovered a sensible middle ground. In a sense, she has, and I welcome her "discovery"--even if it is unoriginal. Harrop ends her sober reflections on the meaning of Obama to the world on this note:
The objective of multiracial, multi-ethnic societies shouldn’t be electing people of color, gender or ethnicity in proportion to their numbers in the general population. It should be fostering a civic culture in which someone of talent and discipline and good ideas can be elected regardless of those DNA.Again . . . the water is fine. Welcome. The more agreement about the essential things (like this) the better. The better for our country and the better for the advancement of the remaining points of contention between us.
. . .are always other women and Amanda Fortini of New York Magazine does not disappoint. To her mind, Hillary Clinton ran the campaign as a "*itch" and Sarah Palin, of course, was a ditz. This sets the cause of women back generations. But she reserves the harshest (though fewest) words for Michelle Obama:
Michelle Obama began the campaign as a bold, outspoken woman with a career of her own, and she was called a hard-ass. Now, as she prepares to move into the White House, she appears poised to recede into a fifties-era role of “mom-in-chief.” It will be heartbreaking if, in an effort to avoid the kind of criticism that followed Hillary Clinton, the First Lady is reduced to a lightweight.It looks to me like Ms. Fontini is fulfilling yet another of the negative female stereotypes: she’s never satisfied.
First, the Christian Science Monitor abandoned its print publication for web-only, followed by U.S. News and World Report. And the latest to drop the dead-tree version: Playgirl. Sure to be missed.
Howard Kurtz writes a decidedly sober article chronicling the madness surrounding much of the breathless reporting on the Obama transition. I mean, if you woke up from a Rip Van Winkle-style four-year slumber and were only going by the media coverage, you’d have to imagine that Americans had not just had an election but, rather, a Revelation from the Mothership and had been taken to the leader.
It is amusing to see how easily we slip into our own version of myth-making after all of these years of tearing down the myths of Americana. And interesting to see how some old myths will be resuscitated, altered, and used for different purposes.
We are informed that Obama is the best of FDR, Kennedy and, of course, Lincoln (he read that Doris Kearns Goodwin book, you know . . . and, like, he’s from Illinois and . . . well, tall). He is a man of ideas and of books and wondrous words. He is stylish, hip, cool, collected, determined, ambitious (but humble, of course), a great and kind dad, a perfect modern husband, a powerful speaker, and an elegant writer. I’m sure he has other powers too . . . but I’m only a mortal so my memory fails. If Obama were a woman, I guess he’d be a Barbie (post-feminism, of course). All of which is to say that this myth cannot be real and that the reporting is getting beyond giddy and partisan and is now little more than precious. Everyone on the Obama trail has got a tingle going up his leg these days. Enjoy the honeymoon, boys. I think the marriage is going to be just a bit more rocky than rockin’.
This review of Roy Blount’s Alphabet Juice is good, but it pales next to the book. Blount likes letters. He says that as long as he remembers he has made them "with my fingers and felt them in my bones." In the midst of a bunch of letters he feels like "a pig in mud." All language at some level is body language. Don’t minimize the connection between high-fiber words (squelch, wobble, sniffle) "and the bodily maneuvers from which they emanate and those they evoke." Keep baby talk in mind. Mmmm, yummy. Mama, mother, mammal, mammary gland. Pay attention to what your lips do when you say those words. Blount is looking for traction. Alphabet juice. While Blount doesn’t think that the sounds of our letters are thoroughly explicable ("Did you know that Hells Angels refer to themselves as ’AJ’ because it sounds so much like ’HA’?"). A tongue is what language is, and the sound is a wonder on the tongue. Under "Kinesthesia":
"From the Greek for ’to move’ and ’to feel.’ A dancer’s kinesthesia is a heightened and cultivated sense of his or her limbs and joints, motivated by a need for expression. A writer’s kinesthesia is an appreciation that words, spoken or written, catch and carry meaning most effectively when they capture the feeling of physical movement.
Sphincter is tight; goulash is lusciously hodgepodgy. Swoon emerged from the Old English swogan, to suffocate, because the mind and the mouth conspired to replace og with oo in order to register a different motion-feeling...." He is looking for sprachgeful and mouth-feel. That’s why movie works better than cinema.
Blount advises writers: "Don’t murder your darlings."