Some misguided analysts, objectively or not, are comparing the currently active ”occupy Wall Street” crowd to the Tea Party activists. Well, if you have paid any attention at all to this rabble and their temperament and overall articulation of mission, that’s a pretty big stretch. Despite some fringe loonies, the Tea Party is a credible political force with valid policy notions . Previously, I compared the Tea Party to the mobs protesting government austerity in Greece, which is somewhat more of a valid comparison, although as I indicated, the former is absolutely in opposition to the core philosophy of the failed government welfare state policies that are the life blood of the latter. Throughout both the Greek mobs and those currently protesting whatever evils they feel are represented by Wall Street is the usual mix of anarchy and genuine radical revolutionary zeal. Sure, there are many otherwise rational people out there who are hurting, seeking scapegoats, and who sympathize with the anti-capitalist message in the street, but I sense that the current American mob scene is more about entitlement generally and the perceived threat of the loss of it that many of the participants feel. It is as though it has just dawned on them that the “hope and change” narrative of 2008 was just a pipe dream or maybe a con job and that they have been duped. Welcome to the real world.
What you see is what you get. The Republican field for the nomination for President is set and it’s on to the main event, so quit looking for the knight on a white horse–he or she isn’t coming. Can one of the candidates measure up to the challenge? We’ll see, and one of them will obviously be nominated, but so far I don’t see any one of them rising to the occasion in a way that is convincing to the electorate. And what is the occasion? I can’t put it any better than the Wall Street Journal: “America’s problems reflect a philosophical gulf far more than they do technocratic policy differences. The country is sharply divided over the role of government as a driver of economic investment and redistributor of wealth.” The one who can articulate that divide and boldly suggest both practical and moral solutions will rise above the others. Again, as I have said a number of times, this isn’t a math problem, it’s about the deepest values that we hold dear, and the current regime has failed miserably in addressing this challenge.
But that failure is not enough to ensure its removal from power. And recent polling provides a sense of the battle ahead. As reported by Henry Olsen of The Hill, the Pew Research Center identified eight distinct voting blocs beyond party membership that help to define voting preferences. The critical one for Republicans is “Disaffecteds”, made up primarily of whites without a college degree who are political independents, a bloc without a majority of which the Republicans likely cannot win the Presidential election. And here is the problem: This bloc is significantly at odds with the mainstream Republican priority on the importance of reducing the budget deficit, on major cuts in government programs, and on tax increases. They are significantly more likely to want to cut defense spending and are adamantly opposed to altering entitlements, including majorities among them who oppose Congressman Paul Ryan’s entitlement reform plan.
For conservatives, this is a real problem. If the Obama administration continues to slide in popularity, there is a slight chance that he can be beaten without resolving these differences, but one thing is certain: the country cannot be repaired or even governed without a resolution of these core issues going forward, regardless of who is in the White House. And aside from Ryan’s efforts I don’t see the kind of messaging and boldness from the loyal opposition that will carry the day for these “disaffecteds”; certainly I am not seeing it on the campaign trail, and if what we see now is all we get, it won’t get the job done.
Mario Loyola of the Texas Public Policy Foundation has written of the 21st century version of “a tale of two cities”, featuring the dramatic differences in the fates of Detroit and Houston in the period since World War II and the difference made by public policy. Michael Barone has written similarly about “The Fall of the Midwest Economic Model” and how, in 1970, the future seemed to belong to Michigan’s example of big companies and big unions. Not anymore. Both now seem to agree that, in Loyola’s words, “In the degree of collusion between business and government, in the power of labor unions, in the method of economic development, in the burden of taxation and regulation, in the tolerance of diversity–in all these ways and more, the two cities (Detroit and Houston) stand as diametric opposites in the choices a society can make.”
Stark differences in models, no doubt. But back to the “disaffecteds” and we find that, as David Brooks notes about this class, voters in the region described by Loyola and Barone “face structural problems, not cyclical ones………..Intensely suspicious of government, they are nonetheless casting about for somebody, anybody, who can revive their towns and neighborhoods. Disillusioned by big government and big debt, they at least want to see their government reflect their values of discipline, order, and responsibility………..American politics are volatile because nobody has an answer for these people. They will remain volatile until somebody finds one.”
What will it take to find this answer and to break out of a cycle wherein conservatives are periodically able to roll back the excesses of the left, but have apparently lost support of the core of middle and working class independents, who obviously feel threatened, in significantly reversing the entitlement regime? This is the major challenge of the 21st century and a subject for another essay, but suffice to say that it cannot be accomplished without significant improvement in elementary, secondary, and higher education leadership and productivity.
Another major battlefield success for America in the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a major Al Qaeda leader, and yet we endure another round of dismay from the usual suspects plus Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul about the questionable constitutionality of the event. What don’t we understand about the fact that we are a country at war and have been since at least 1979, one with many battlefields and many non-traditional belligerents with and without flags and uniforms, but otherwise no different from those conflicts we have prosecuted many times in our history. Presidential authority under our Constitution is pretty clear on this and has been since at least the era of Lincoln, or don’t we believe that he was on constitutional grounds in pursuing war against Confederate forces (American citizens, incidentally) without a grand jury indictment? And the Congressional authority given the President shortly after 9/11 was pretty clear about the pursuit of international terrorism aimed at the U. S., irrespective of national borders. There is no question about the qualifications of al-Awlaki as an enemy combatant who planned, aided, abetted, and executed initiatives that killed Americans, and his status as a U. S. citizen does not immunize him from lethal force. The drone that killed him is part of a military campaign that is legal and very successful. We need more of this American success, not less. The ultimate hypocrisy of this episode is that the Obama administration has consistently allied with its political base in railing against the Bush administration’s ”enhanced interrogation” procedures used on captured high value enemy combatants, yet sees no conflict with killing a large number of them on the battlefield.
Congressman Barney Frank has another flawed idea–somehow he thinks that the Federal Reserve has too much independence from political guidance, so he has a plan to reduce the representation of the regional Fed bank presidents on the central bank policy board and replace them with political appointees. We have enough problems with monetary policy as it is currently being managed without further politicizing it.
Congressman Ron Paul may be a borderline kook on many issues, but one he understands very well is the role of a sound reserve currency in the maintenance of growth and stability around the world and the importance of such a mission to American prosperity. Earlier this year, Paul asked Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, “what is your definition of a dollar?’ The answer, not surprisingly, was “My definition of the dollar is what it can buy”, in other words, its purchasing power, which conforms to the currently popular understanding, but bears no relationship to the traditional definition or to the Constitutional intent of the role of the Congress in maintaining the value of our currency.
Seth Lipsky, Editor of The New York Sun, has written a masterful essay in the Summer 2011 edition of National Affairs entitled “What is a Dollar?”, in which he describes how we came to this point in defining the dollar in these terms, the damage it has done to our economy and order in world trade, and what we should do about it. In brief, we should start by restoring some semblance of the Bretton Woods accord that provided the foundation for stability in the dollar as the world’s reserve currency from 1944 until Richard Nixon dismantled the system in 1971.
In Forbes Magazine, Charles Kadlec catalogues where we have been since that dismantling in terms of economic growth, inflation, and unemployment. I won’t bore you with all the numbers, except to pass along one startling point he makes that is clear from the the data–that “the whole notion of an energy crisis since 1973 becomes a grand illusion created by the fall in the value of the paper dollar against gold!”
Needless to say, our purchasing power valuation policy has been a disaster for growth and prosperity and has been possible to sustain only because we have somehow maintained the dollar’s position as the world’s reserve currency, a luxury that may not last much longer if we remain tied to current monetary policy, and much less so if we buy into the further politicization of it with loony ideas like Barney Frank’s latest.
I don’t pretend to know exactly what to do about it, but we have plenty of evidence of acts of war committed against America by our “ally” Pakistan, now brought into the open by retiring Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen. Defending Americans is Job One for a Commander in Chief, and I don’t know what other Presidents would have or could do here, nor do I know what this one has done so far, but it’s not nearly enough. We have already embarrassed the Pakistani military with our successful raid on Bin Laden and I know we are in a difficult spot with the current dynamics in Afghanistan, India, the United Nations, etc., but embarrassment is mild compared to the tougher stance we need to take with the Pakistanis right away. To paraphrase Jefferson: millions for defense, but not a penny for tribute.
Comes now word that Einstein’s theory of relativity is under review. This theory in turn depends on the “bedrock” theory of physics that nothing in the universe can travel faster than light. But the latest experiments in Europe indicate that a fired beam of neutrinos (whatever those are) has exceeded the speed of light. Of course, further validation will be necessary, and obviously this would be a stop-the-presses moment if ultimately validated. But for now it simply validates another fact, which is that no theory is carved in stone. So the theory of our universe developed by Copernicus succeeded that of Ptolemy, Einstein’s theory updated Newton’s mechanics, etc. And as science mercilessly pursues its truths through repeated experimentation, can it be surprising that Darwin’s theory of macro evolution and the theory of man-made global warming, among others, are still open and subject to this process? There are no sacred cows, but, as I indicated in a previous esssay, we need to be mindful that science depends on philosophy for the validity of its terms and procedures and the determination of the uses or ends to which scientific knowledge will be put.