Five Easy Pieces
I. “Bush did it!”
Sec. Clinton went abroad this week and immediately, and yes, gratuitously, blamed Bush. On her initial tour abroad, Sec. Clinton announced that she would follow an approach that “values what others have to say”: “Too often in the recent past, our government has acted reflexively before considering available facts and evidence or hearing the perspectives of others.” And then she promised a policy “neither impulsive nor ideological.”
Yet can’t Team Obama get a life? We are now into month two; and will it always be “Bush did it?” (I don’t recall Bush circa 2001 in a constant anti-Clinton mode); (1) Does Sec. Clinton realize she is sending a subtle message to our friends and enemies, “All our fault—not yours” . Germany won’t really participate fully in the martial sense in the NATO effort in Afghanistan due to George Bush? Iran spread terror due to Bush’s twang? (Do other foreign leaders do such things?); (2) Does she realize that soon, like her boss and his flips on FISA, the Patriotic Act, and rendition, she too will discover few good choices with Russia, Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela, and then often will follow Bush’s centrist policies—suffering the additional wage of hypocrisy, given the above rhetoric? (3) Cannot Hillary simply show us her own diplomatic brilliance rather than trashing by implication Condoleezza Rice’s performance? Far better to embarrass Bush by showing brilliant diplomacy and creating anew a safer world, not by trashing the past governance of your own country. We are back to the Obama al-Arabiya interview all over again. These thoughts are the legacies of the 1960s that reveal uncertainty about the US and the puerile campus notion that there is always “they” , the “man”, the “establishment,” the “government” that can assume responsibility for our perceptions of imperfections and unhappiness.
II. Better to owe than to save. I think we are seeing the most marked redistribution of wealth in our recent history. The erosion of home equity and, especially, the 20-30% decline in 401(k)s— followed by nearly $1 trillion in additional entitlement spending (“stimulus”)— mean essentially that much of the capital in the hands of those who owned property and had stocks and mutual funds was destroyed and will be recreated by transferring monies to others. How odd that the printing of billions of new paper dollars to spread he wealth is offset by the virtual destruction of billions of old paper dollars in savings and home equity. Maybe that will slow inflation (e.g., some of us figuratively had money burned up at about the same amount that more was printed afresh). In any case, we live in the age of the debtor—low interest, soon to be high inflation, all sorts of plans to alleviate debt, and government transfers favoring those who owe rather than those who saved.
III. To be or not to be. Obama’s problem is simple. At Columbia, Harvard Law, while Chicago organizing, amid the pews of Trinity Church, and the Democratic Senate caucus, and in the campaign mode, Obama embraced the adversarial mentality of us versus them. The country was illiberal and those in power culpable for various sins, past and present, as one would expect of Michelle’s reference to a “mean” country. But suddenly as President Obama, now he must do what? He owns the governance of the United States that suddenly must either morph under his leadership into something quite good or be defended as it is. Note the unease. So “they” “Bush” etc. are still evoked who did the damage to America here and abroad, as our own leaders triangulate with our enemies and allies against other past administrations. (NB: I have no idea whether Obama will confound and confuse our enemies or simply unduly enrage them by sending mixed signals—if he should prove tough with the Russians on missile defense or Iran or terrorism.)