Thoughts from the Later Republic
Contrast recent media coverage:
The furor over Dick Cheney's past severed involvement with Halliburton—the meowing over Bush-critic, liberal icon, ex-diplomat Peter Galbraith's present, ongoing conflict-of-interest as profiteer and pundit/advisor involving a multimillion-dollar oil scam in Kurdistan.
The son of share-the-wealth John K. Galbraith, Galbraith Minor barnstormed the air waves in the dark days of Iraq, in solemn tones predicting the end of Iraq, why Iraq must be trisected (e.g., giving the Kurds an independent country), and in general (in two books) predicting the end of constitutional Iraq. He ritually was slamming Bush, predicting ruin—all at a time when the the U.S. was trying to reassure the Iraqis we supported the territorial integrity of their country and would not abandon them. Ok, fine, well and good, it’s a free country, and pessimism is sometimes warranted.
But now we learn that a possible pay-off for opposing US policy of Iraqi unity was a stake in a Kurdish oil field worth, according to some reports, a potential $100 million. (When did stone-faced diplomats and finger-in-the-wind pundits turn into Texas-style oil tycoons or Russian oilocrats?) Why did not Galbraith from the very beginning disclose his financial interests so that his readers, other diplomats, and those who consulted him might factor his profits into his prognoses?
(And what is it with these liberal utopians and money? Do they think their sniff/sniff, aristocratic disdain for a dirty coin allows them to pile them away in the basement—couldn’t Al Gore have made, to use a liberal trope, $10 million rather than a $100 million out of scaring the daylights out of Western suburban society? I think we are in the age of the solely symbolic: you buy the gas-guzzling Volvo SUV, but put an “Impeach Bush!” sticker on the back, or put a few solar panels on the roof tiles over the 10,000 square foot addition).
For all of Galbraith's sermonizing about the Bush disaster, the hopelessness in Iraq, etc., I think the only major politician to buy into his “divide Iraq into threes, give Kurdistan its autonomy, and me an interest in an oilfield” line was, yes, Joe Biden.
Remember, after Biden was swearing that we should trisect Iraq, Obama inexplicably sent the VP over there to reassure the Iraqis of our commitment to their unity, sovereignty, and future (sort of like having Timothy Geithner oversee tax policy at Treasury or a Charles Rangel at Ways and Means).
The furor over the inept federal response to Katrina—the quiet about the current mess with the federal government's current swine flu vaccine.
I don’t quite know to what degree, if at all, yet the federal government is culpable for the vaccine shortage, or why it was solely culpable for the Katrina mess, given that Mississippi’s local and state response averted the sort of social chaos we saw in New Orleans under its mayor and the Louisiana governor.
I do know that had Bush been President during the current vaccine furor, and had Obama presided during Katrina—well, you can again fill in the blanks. (I just talked to two doctors who said the inability to get swine flu vaccine for staff, pregnant women, etc. was quite astounding, given the promised delivery dates).
The hysteria over the decisive decision to surge in 2006-7—the "reasoned" debate over the dithering over the Afghan surge.
Where are the “General Betray Us” ads, offered at a reduced rate in the New York Times? Are we going to see an entire subculture—Michael Moore, novels, docu-dramas, comedians, etc.—slamming Obama on the war? Or, in contrast, an entire populist, in the streets, protest over Obama voting “present” while he goes to Copenhagen instead of meeting with Gen. McChrystal? Cannot the media see that the surge in Iraq—little public support, defections in Bush’s own party, a hostile media, demagoguery from the left, campaign distortions by the likes of Obama himself—was the far harder call than granting a troop request in Afghanistan? Why was Bush's tough call "doomed" in a "lost" war, while Obama's "present" vote is seen as sober and judicious?
The hype about the false story that Palin faked her pregnancy—the enforced quiet about the real story of John Edwards' illegitimate child.
Did Edwards’ get a pass for fathering a child while criss-crossing the country, relating his familial solidarity stories about his cancer-stricken wife, tugging on our heart-strings as the dutiful husband in crisis, while diverting campaign monies to a gold-digger?
Meanwhile, in that general media silence, the lunatic leftwing blogosphere trafficked in rumors that Palin faked her pregnancy; and today it has turned huckster and Playgirl pin-up Levi Johnson into some sort of unimpeachable Nostradamus, dispensing inside truth about the intimacies of the Palin family. How odd that the National Enquirer got the story right on Edwards, while the left turned into a poor imitation of the Enquirer on Palin’s pregnancy.
Silence about crudity?
This week both President Obama (according to sources from his pep talks to congressional leaders) and Bill Clinton (publicly) invoked the slur “tea-bagger” to deprecate the Town-haller/tea-party protestors. But given that the smear started on liberal cable television to conflate a graphic sex practice with a legitimate protest, why would a President and ex-President keep playing along with the crude pun. (I know—the same reason a President would make fun of the Special Olympics, or do a ‘yell out’ (confusing the Medal of Honor with the Medal of Freedom) as a prelude to “serious” initial statement on Fort Hood.) My question is this—does Obama inadvertently conflate tea-party and tea-bagger, or is this slur a reminder of his past sort of stealthy middle finger rub on his nose, to the cheers of the crowd?
Cato vs. Nero
I visited the Reagan ranch yesterday—for the first time. In my 20s and 30s I remember the media mantra about the ex-governor’s getaway: Reagan’s wealthy cronies had supposedly secretly bought him in a sweet-heart-deal a Hearst Castle-like estate where he looked down at hoi polloi below and did photo-ops chopping wood. I half expected "the ranch" to be comparable to Oprah’s nearby estate.
But I was struck by the array of simple farm tools in the garage, the do-it-yourself trails and fences, the unadorned home of about 1700 sq. ft of rustic simplicity and ad-ons with basic old GE appliances, no insulation, wiring conduited onto the whitewashed walls, low ceilings, basic, unevenly settled tile floors. In terms of comfort or frills, the Western White House “ranch” was probably not comparable to “John’s room” inside the Edwards’ “Two Americas” estate, or the garage at one of John Kerry’s mansions, or Al Gore’s boathouse.
How odd that the supposed plutocratic Reagan lived like the proverbial Philemon and Baucis, while today’s populists—Gore, Kerry, Kennedy, Edwards, Rev. Wright, etc., fill in the blanks—seek to emulate Nero’s Golden House.
The Great Disconnect
One of the oddest things is President Obama’s continuing surprise at the rising unemployment rate. Indeed, we now have a new Orwellianism of “jobs saved”: as jobs are lost, we are told that some of those who do have them were “saved” by President Obama (note the logic: you ignore the stats that quantify reality, but hype fantasy).
If you were a contractor, a car dealer, a dentist, or an accountant, and if you heard that we may/will/sorta raise federal income taxes, lift the tax caps off FICA, think about a VAT tax, impose a health care surcharge on the "wealthy," have new mandatory fees for forced medical plans and green energy, and had you just got hit with new raised sales and state income taxes, why would you feel secure about the future and gamble on it by hiring more employees?
And if you were to read daily that gold is rising, the dollar crashing, the debt and deficit exploding, the trade imbalance surging, and if you collated all that depression with cheap slurs about doctors, the Chamber of Commerce, the insurance industry, etc. as grasping and greedy, and if you were caricatured as a Nazi, astro-turfer, tea-bagger, or racist if you protested, and if you saw the federal government taking over banks and car companies, and shutting down some dealerships, but mysteriously not others, and if you heard of vast new entitlements and programs to come, from a take-over of the student loan program to cap and trade, would you then conclude—“Wow, we have a serious sober President who supports the business climate, and will lead us out of recession, so by golly, I am going to go out and hire 2-3 more people to ride the coming wave of increased business!”?
Or would you instead conclude, “Hmm, our commander in chief likes neither me nor what I represent. He will take much of my profits and divert them to his own favored constituencies. So I better slow down, retrench, cut back, squirrel away some money to pay for new fees on power and health insurance, and find a smart accountant to advise on curbing my income so I don’t end up giving 70% to the state and federal governments”?
At some point, Obama may conclude that the vast presidential jet, the opulence of the Presidency, the power and influence at his fingertips, all that national wealth and more were not created by Acorn, community organizing, Michelle’s legal brilliance, Axelrod’s savvy advice, or Emanuel’s crassness, or by claiming that doctors needlessly take out tonsils and amputate limbs, or in general by sonorous tones promising to give someone vast amounts of someone else’s money, but rather through preserving a climate of freedom, respect for continuity and tradition, and government non-intrusion into the market place that encourage people to try to go into business and retain some of their profits—as recompense for getting up on Saturday morning at 6AM to get down to open the dry cleaning store, or borrowing one’s net worth to open a new stationary outlet, or staying late till 7PM to do a crown, or gambling that the new $500,000 crane will pay for itself in 5 years, or going under someone’s house on a Sunday to unclog the toilet when the employee doesn’t show up.
I expect him soon either to continue as is and face a historic rebuke in 2010, or to begin scrambling to talk about the debt, fiscal sobriety, and American exceptionalism—his Carter or Clinton call.
These are the most interesting of times: we are witnessing nothing less than an attempt in just 10 months to reinvent the United States at home and abroad into something it never was, led by someone who, the more soothing, comforting, and melodic his speech-making, the more bruising, cut-throat, and ruthless the act that follows.
So it's like we're living in the late Roman Republic…