However well deserved, Time Magazine’s designation of the U. S. soldier as its “Person of the Year” somehow struck me as curious—a combination of intentional oversight and begrudging acknowledgement of George W. Bush’s dominance of the world stage in 2003. Not that I would detract from the honor and courage with which our young men and women have served and succeeded and have helped restore the tradition of the American warrior class, but their commander-in-chief was clearly the transcending personality, a fact which I suspect Time’s editors were loathe to admit.More than one editorialist, Tom Friedman most prominently, have compared Bush with Lincoln, at least in the degree to which he has had his greatness thrust upon him by circumstance and, more importantly, has responded by finding a higher moral purpose in the midst of war. In a seminar on the second anniversary of 9-11-01, Craig Stevens Wilder of Dartmouth College remarked that the attack on America that day was somewhat analogous to Lincoln’s assassination, a shocking reminder and restoration of the view of America with a special destiny and mission. And it has occurred to me many times since that day that America’s exceptionalism is manifest in many ways, but no more than in its valuation of human life and human freedom universally. This was a major area of political and moral conflict in Lincoln’s time and it is today at the core of the war on terror. George Bush knows this. Listen to him at Whitehall in London last November: “The United States and Great Britain share a mission in the world beyond the balance of power or the simple pursuit of interest” and “It is not realism to suppose that one-fifth of humanity is unsuited to liberty; it is pessimism and condescension, and we should have none of it.” Listen to him at the Coast Guard Academy last June: “The advance of freedom is more than an interest we pursue; it is a calling we follow. Our country was created in the name and cause of freedom, and if the self-evident truths of our founding are true for us, they are true for all…” And catch up with his speech on natural right at Goree Island in Senegal, the former collection point for African slaves on their way to the New World. It ranks with the truly historic. Do you hear an echo of Gettysburg here? Person of the Year? No contest.
In my last issue, I commented briefly on the misguided comments of Treasury Secretary Snow in “talking down” the dollar and blaming China’s trade and currency policies for the loss of U. S. manufacturing jobs. Since then, we have witnessed the domestic political payoff in the form of new U. S. quotas on Chinese textiles. Subsequently, in a wiser vein, I was pleased to read Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s remarks in a speech to the Dallas World Affairs Council, in which he notes the futility of singling out the Chinese exchange rate as a significant cause of American job loss. In fact, the issue is much more complex, and Greenspan notes that much of our manufacturing job instability is due to the dynamic nature of global competition, which is producing greatly accelerating turnover of employment and capital equipment in order to respond to market demand (my summary of his words). In short, it’s Schumpeter’s “creative destruction”, the lifeblood of capitalism, which, largely due to China’s entry into the world trading system, is being applied worldwide for the first time in history. It is a concept that is prone to demagoguery in an election year and, without appropriate discipline, lends itself to destructive protectionist policies. Further, as former President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo points out, China’s monetary policy seems more than fair to the U. S. in the sense that it is helping to finance the U. S. fiscal deficit through large investments in U. S. Treasury bonds, and that this new interdependence in trade and finance, whether we like it or not, is positive for global peace and prosperity. Make no mistake, creative destruction is a good thing, and, as David Henderson of the Hoover Institution notes, the loss of manufacturing jobs is a sign of economic health—“the history of economic growth is the history of people making more with less and shifting into new jobs that were unheard of in the previous generation”. When we talk of jobs, I worry more about our leadership in technology, innovation, and management, and the degree to which our long-term competitiveness there is directly tied to our world leadership in educating our youth. Now there is a scary thought.
The title of this essay is borrowed from the headline of a review of a book by Mark Palmer, Breaking the Real Axis of Evil, the main point of which is that, beyond terrorism as the primary threat to the world, it is dictatorship itself that must be recognized as a crime against humanity. It follows, now that Saddam Hussein is in captivity, that we should move on to other tyrants who are the real causes of most of the miseries that plague mankind. This is not a call for making war on every non-democratic regime, but rather a “how to” guide for adopting diplomatic, economic and other policies that place a high priority on displacing dictatorships with governments of consent. I can imagine that this attitude, not to mention this book, are anathema in many corners of the U. S. Department of State, which prize “stability” and “engagement” over revolution and confrontation.The capture of Saddam ranks with the capture of the world’s great tyrants (which could have included Hitler and should have included Stalin), and only a self-serving fool like Howard Dean could not consider it a positive development for American security. And is it surprising or coincidental that Moammar Gadhafi of Libya chose this moment to throw in the towel? Headlines and a couple of Democratic Presidential candidates proclaimed the success of “isolation”, “sanctions”, and other elements of multi-lateral diplomacy. Who do they think they are kidding? Certainly not Col. Gadhafi. This was purely a function of U. S. and British power and the demonstrated will to use it, and it is a vindication of the Bush Doctrine in the war on terrorism. Now let’s take a page from Palmer’s book, create the office of “Assistant Secretary for Ousting Dictators” in the State Department, and on to Syria, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, etc.
Does anyone really believe that the American Association of Retired Persons would have supported the Medicare/Prescription Drug bill if it represented true market-based reform? The only reason for their support is that they know it is inevitable that the originally projected $400 billion cost will be greatly expanded, and they will be back with Tom Daschle and Ted Kennedy working on “fixing it” as soon as Congress reconvenes. The Democrats and their allied protection racket are adamantly opposed to any reform that introduces the dynamic of competition to the delivery of public goods, which is precisely the dynamic that will ultimately necessary to insure quality and control health care costs. As Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute points out, there are only two industries in America today that suffer from rampant inflation, health care and education, and in both cases the government plays the dominant role, either in delivery or finance or both. This is not coincidental. The only saving grace in this bill is the provision for Health Savings Accounts, which will afford individuals the same tax treatment for their deposits to these accounts as are now only available to employer-paid health insurance premiums. This is an empowering idea that could be revolutionary. Let’s hope it gets off the ground in a big way before the “non-compete” crowd “fixes” it.
As much as he deserves credit for his bold foreign policy, the President deserves criticism for a total lack of restraint in domestic spending, and, as much as they wish, administration apologists cannot lay it off on wartime spending as the culprit. As the Heritage Foundation reports, since 9-11-01, 55% of the total federal spending increase of $296 billion has been in areas totally unrelated to defense and homeland security, discretionary in the sense that lawmakers have control over them. And this is before any impact of the prescription drug benefit bill. Some Republican leaders have responded that this, as the Wall Street Journal calls it, is “the price of governance” as the majority party in order to be responsive to voter concerns and “getting things done”. But overall spending grew by 21% over the past two years, under a government whose legislative and executive branches were both under Republican control for the first time in fifty years, and George W. Bush is the first President since John Quincy Adams not to have vetoed a bill at this point in his term. Is this the party of Reagan and the party of the Gingrich Revolution of 1994 and the Contract with America? Maybe divided government isn’t so bad—let’s hear it for gridlock!
“Properly speaking, there is no such thing as education. Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to the next.”—G. K. ChestertonI am reminded of the above quote, which is among those taped to my desk, by numerous articles and commentary highlighting the debate over civic education in America’s public schools, to wit: what is the proper role, if any, of the teaching of civic virtue in our system of public education? Lately, the answer to this question has essentially boiled down to a tug of war between the political right and left, not about whether to teach civic virtue, but which values to teach. In spite of the claims of partisans on both sides, most professional educators seem to subscribe to the view that, since there is much broader consensus on the so-called intellectual virtues than the civic and moral virtues, public education should confine itself to the former while the latter should be left to the home and religious institutions. A corollary to this view is that the schools should focus more on training the mind toward the pursuit of knowledge than on the transmission of a specific body of knowledge. To me, this is a constructivist cop-out. Public education cannot be value-neutral and, to paraphrase Rabbi Daniel Lapin, depriving children of grounding in America’s civic virtue and belief may be a form of child abuse. Of all forms of government, a liberal democratic republic is most vulnerable to failure when it cannot, or will not, transmit its founding values from one generation to the next.
“Congress shall make no law…….abridging the freedom of speech.” What part of this passage is so difficult to understand? In a continuing dismantling of the founding principles underlying the First Amendment, the U. S. Supreme Court confirmed a direct hit on free speech in upholding the Campaign Reform Act of 2002. Much as the Court has emasculated the concept of the establishment and free exercise clauses as they pertain to religious practice in this country, it has now completely transformed the original meaning of free speech as envisioned by the Founders. And in so doing, it constrains and targets for regulation the specific type of speech that the Founders deemed most important to protect—the type that is political, partisan, and is used during the heat of election campaigns. This, of course, is consistent with the “John Rawls approach” to public policy deliberations, which, in terms of the right to free speech, is to “protect” the less affluent from the views of those who can afford to broadcast their opinions. As Thomas G. West sadly notes, the prevailing progressive mindset is that, if you publish or broadcast “too much”, government has the duty to silence you, and free speech in effect becomes a right dispensed by government only when it meets certain standards of fairness and justice. Of course, in the end, the intent of the law will not be realized, and the political class has already begun to devise ways to circumvent the new restrictions. And I must add that President Bush was AWOL on this issue by not vetoing this legislation that he clearly opposed, hoping that the Court would bail him out. Surely by now he should realize that the majority on this Court cannot be considered reliable in defending the Constitution.
With President Bush’s State of the Union speech and the Iowa and New Hampshire Democratic primaries behind us, the election year is underway, and the choice could not be starker. The Democrats are obviously eliminating all moderates and anyone who espouses support for the campaign in Iraq, and Bush, for his part, is openly defiant. I believe that we have not significantly advanced from the stalemate of 2000, and that, at the end of the day, the election will split along cultural/religious lines and the polarization of worldviews. In foreign policy, this boils down to whether one believes that the war on terror is a major confrontation between good and evil and that America’s role is to liberate large parts of the world from the forces of tyranny, or that it is a matter of law and order to be pursued by police action under the supervision of international institutions. In domestic policy, it turns on the electorate’s choice between America as “the opportunity society” within a moral order versus the “paternal state” protecting the “have-nots” from the fundamental unfairness of a regime driven by the special interests of the “haves”.At this point, the Democrats have not settled their nomination, although it seems to be John Kerry’s to lose. Contrary to some, I believe a Kerry-Bush race would be the most distinctive choice of all possible match-ups, and Republicans should welcome it, at least those with the courage of their conservative convictions, because Kerry more than any Democrat represents the legacy of the paternal state and the antithesis of the opportunity society in domestic policy and the legacy of liberal internationalism abroad. It will not be easy, however, and Bush will need to solidify his base early, primarily by doing two things—convincing fiscal conservatives that he has reversed his profligate spending habits and convincing social conservatives that he will make the wedge cultural issues central to his campaign as well as his governance and take them back from the activist judiciary. Let the games begin.
I have previously commented on the fact that the war on terror will be a major transforming event for the Arab Middle East, and I was reminded of the degree to which this is well underway by the report of a recent interfaith conference in which the father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl conferred with leading Arab scholars about the necessity of communication and reconciliation across religious barriers. A key point in the dialogue was that, despite the regret expressed for Pearl’s death, not a single Islamic imam has publicly denounced his murder as a sin under religious law. I mention this anecdote because it is instructive of the oft-mentioned need for an Islamic Reformation, which I believe will be necessary to resolve the split-mindedness in the Muslim world. Frankly, we cannot hope to live in long-term peace in an environment with one-sixth of the world’s population suffering from an intellectual/philosophical/theological schizophrenia—in which none of the mainstream religious leaders of Islam can bring themselves to condemn such an act in religious terms. Some will say that this is evidence of a clash of imperialist religions that has been looming for 1,400 years, but I believe it has been brewing for only about 100 years, or since the radical elements of Islam were hijacked by thugs and the ideologies of national socialism, and more recently fueled by even more radical totalitarian Islamist theology. Regardless of its lineage and the desirability that the coming reformation be conducted on theological and philosophical grounds, it, as with the Reformation in Western Christianity, probably will not be completely resolved without a civil war (or wars) to be waged within Islam, and we are already seeing some portents of this in the Palestinian and Saudi Arabian societies. Needless to say, the U. S. will not be able to remain a completely idle spectator, if for no other reason than that the Bush Doctrine will probably have been the catalyst.
There will be much more to say later as it plays out in Congressional deliberation and the election campaigns, but for now President Bush deserves credit for putting into play the thorny problem of illegal immigration. There is much not to like about his proposal, but what better time to debate it than during an election year? It seems to me that this issue as much as any presents a convergence of often conflicting American passions—our compassion for the underdog, our heritage as an immigrant nation, our free market idealism, and our commitment to the rule of law. I would like to believe that we will resolve it with due respect for all these instincts, but I know that some parts of all of them will suffer. I am not a “restrictionist” as that term has been defined, but I come down on the side of those who believe that we will not solve this problem without first committing to a policy of restoring the value of citizenship and strictly controlling our borders, while requiring assimilation to this culture by those we choose to admit.