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!