Tuesday, May 02, 2006

April 27-May 1, 2006

Yo! Dems...
Who Are You
Why Are You Here?

We now know – beyond any reasonable doubt – what the Republican party stands for. After five years in complete and virtually unchallenged control they have shown us who they are, the kind of America they want and how capable they are.

In a nutshell:

* Budget busting tax cuts,
* Supply-side economics that result in record profits for corporations and lower wages for workers,
* Subjugating environmental protections to corporate profitability,
* Subjugating American's privacy rights under guise of national security,
* Subjugating international human rights conventions to US interests,
* The belief that mixing religion and government, while a bad idea for Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, is a good idea for America,
* Replacing hard science with soft phony – politicized/religionized - “science,
* Government has a right to tell people what they can do with their own bodies,
* Deficits “don't matter" because they won't have to pay them off.

We know all that now. Considering the accumulated wreckage of the past five years of failed GOP policies, there really can be no other explanation for those who still refuse to see that. They are either deep denial or even deeper stupidity.

But having said that, what do Democrats stand for? If you have no idea, you have plenty of company. Most voters feel Democrats stand for nothing in particular and everything in general. Throw a dart at a class photo of current Dems in Congress and the person you hit will rambling off a list of vague and often contradictory policy positions -- all carefully hedged in case someone might disagree.

At this point the only coherent Democrat position is, “We're not Republicans.”

Sorry kids, that's just not good enough. Next November - and certainly in November 2008 - I demand to know exactly what I'm voting for. No more pigs in a poke, please. The nation, the world and the world's physical environment each teeter on a razor's edge. The next batch of leaders we elect damn well better be a lot smarter, honest and statemans-like than the sub-par folks of both parties we've been saddled with.

So I have a reading assignment for Democrats this weekend. Since few Democrats in Congress read this blog, please forward it to your own elected representatives/candidates. Let them know you are paying close attention and you vote is not in the bag just because they're not Republicans.

If Democrats want to run things next time around we need to know who they are, and precisely how they plan to fix what the GOP has so supremely screwed up. Among the things we need know is how they plan to provide us with are plans for the following:

* A balanced budget AND universal health care.
* A robust economy AND a cleaner environment.
* Good jobs AND livable wages.
* Orderly immigration AND secure borders.
* Homeland security AND adherence to the Bill of Rights.
* National security AND adherence to international law.
* Freedom of religion AND separation of church and state.
* A simpler, fairer tax code.

We want to know... not vaguely, but precisely, how Democrats will get us there. Show us your plan -- and don't spare us the details.

Oh, and puleeezzzzeee.... don't sent out the usual triangulating, limp-wrist, mealy-mouth, Rahm Emmaul, Hillary Clinton, Harry Ried phonies to shine us on. We are quite done with the likes of them, thank you. We want the real people. with real beliefs and real plans this time around.

Now, here's that reading assignment I mentioned. Yes, I know, the first article is by a moderate conservative. So what. Stop that knee from jerking long enough to read what he has to offer. And while reading it, remember what Eisenhower knew about Republicans -- that they come in two flavors. There are: Mink Coat Republicans and Cloth Coat Republicans. The rich and powerful mink coaters took over the GOP. The cloth coaters were slow to get that and have since been royally screwed, along with the rest of us out here. Hopefully they understand that distinction better than they did the last election cycle.

The second article is by liberals -- the old fashioned variety. You might remember – that's when Democrats actually had coherent alternative policies and were not shy about articulating and defending them. Which is why today's Dem's won't much like what they have to say in this article. Whimps hate genuine leaders because they only make them look even whimper. Well too bad. Either suck it up and learn to lead again or get lost.

Democrat party leaders should curl up with these two articles this weekend – and they better be filled with yellow highlights when they're done. Because there will be a quiz -- the second Tuesday of November.

The Death of Multiculturalism


In 1994 multiculturalism was at its high-water mark, and Richard Bernstein wrote "Dictatorship of Virtue," describing its excesses: the campus speech codes, the forced sensitivity training, the purging of dead white males from curriculums, the people who had their careers ruined by dubious charges of racism, sexism and ethnocentrism.

Then two years later, the liberal writer Michael Tomasky published "Left for Dead," which argued that the progressive movement was being ruined by multicultural identity politics. Democrats have lost the ability to talk to Americans collectively, Tomasky wrote, and seem to be a collection of aggrieved out-groups: feminists, blacks, gays and so on.

At the time, Bernstein and Tomasky were lonely voices on the left, and the multiculturalists struck back. For example, Martin Duberman slammed Tomasky's book in The Nation, and defended multiculturalism:

"The radical redefinitions of gender and sexuality that are under discussion in feminist and queer circles contain a potentially transformative challenge to all 'regimes of the normal.' The work of theorists like Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Jeffrey Weeks, Marjorie Garber and Judith Butler represents a deliberate systemic affront to fixed modes of being and patterns of power. They offer brilliant (if not incontrovertible) postulates about such universal matters as the historicity and fluidity of sexual desire, the performative nature of gender, and the multiplicity of impulses, narratives and loyalties that lie within us all."

Duberman insisted that postmodern multicultural theorizing would transform politics, but today his gaseous review reads as if it came from a different era, like an embarrassing glimpse of leisure suits in an old home movie.

That's because over the past few years, multiculturalism has faded away. A different sort of liberalism is taking over the Democratic Party.

Multiculturalism is in decline for a number of reasons. First, the identity groups have ossified. The feminist organizations were hypocritical during the Clinton impeachment scandal, and both fevered and weak during the Roberts and Alito hearings.

Meanwhile, the civil rights groups have become stale and uninteresting.
Second, the Democrats have come to understand that they need to pay less attention to minorities and more to the white working class if they ever want to become the majority party again. Third, the intellectual energy on the left is now with the economists. People who write about inequality are more vibrant than people who write about discrimination.

Fourth and most important, 9/11 happened. The attacks aroused feelings of national solidarity, or a longing for national solidarity, that discredited the multiculturalists' tribalism.

Tomasky is now back with an essay in The American Prospect in which he argues that it is time Democrats cohered around a big idea — not diversity, and not individual rights, but the idea of the common good. The Democrats' central themes, Tomasky advises, should be that we're all in this together; we are all part of a larger national project; we all need to make some shared sacrifices and look beyond our narrow self-interest. Tomasky is hoping for a candidate who will ignore the demands of the single-issue groups and argue that all Americans have a stake in reducing economic fragmentation and social division.

Coincidentally, two other liberal writers, John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira, have just finished a long study that comes out in exactly the same place. Surveying mountains of polling data, they conclude that the Democrats' chief problem is that people don't think they stand for anything. Halpin and Teixeira argue that the message voters respond to best is the notion of shared sacrifice for the common good. After years of individualism from right and left, they observe, people are ready for an appeal to citizenship.

Naturally, this approach has weaknesses. Unlike in 1964, most Americans no longer trust government to be the altruistic champion of the common good, even if they wish it could. And while writers and voters talk about the common good, politicians are wired to think about their team. Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer will never ask their people to make sacrifices, but until they do, the higher talk of common good will sound like bilge.

Nonetheless, the decline of multiculturalism and the rebirth of liberal American nationalism is a significant event. Democrats are purging the last vestiges of the New Left and returning to the older civic liberalism of the 1950's and early 1960's.

Goodbye, Jesse Jackson. Goodbye, Gloria Steinem. Hello, Harry Truman.

The Rehabilitation of the Cold-War Liberal

(By Peter Beinart is editor at large of The New Republic. This essay is adapted from "The Good Fight: Why Liberals, and Only Liberals, Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again," which will be published in late May by HarperCollins. Published: April 30, 2006)

This fall, for the third time since 9/11, American voters will choose between Democrats and Republicans while knowing what only one party believes about national security. In 2002, Democratic candidates tried to change the subject, focusing on Social Security and health care instead. In 2004, John Kerry substituted biography for ideology, largely ignoring his own extensive foreign-policy record and stressing his service in Vietnam. In this year's Senate and House races, the party looks set to reprise Michael Dukakis's old theme: competence. Rather than tell Americans what their vision is, Democrats will assure them that they can execute it better than George W. Bush.

Democrats have no shortage of talented foreign-policy practitioners. Indeed, they have no shortage of worthwhile foreign-policy proposals. Even so, they cannot tell a coherent story about the post-9/11 world. And they cannot do so, in large part, because they have not found their usable past. Such stories, after all, are not born in focus groups; they are less invented than inherited. Before Democrats can conquer their ideological weakness, they must first conquer their ideological amnesia.
Consider George W. Bush's story: America represents good in an epic struggle against evil. Liberals, this story goes, try to undermine that moral clarity, reining in American power and sapping our faith in ourselves. But a visionary president will not be constrained, and he wields American might with relentless force, until the walls of oppression crumble and the darkest region on earth is set free.

If this sounds familiar, it should. It was Ronald Reagan's story as well. To a remarkable degree, the right's post-9/11 vision relies on a grand analogy: Bush is Reagan, Tony Blair is Margaret Thatcher, the "axis of evil" is the "evil empire," the truculent French are the truculent French. The most influential conservative foreign-policy essay of the 1990's, written by the Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment, was titled "Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy." And since 9/11, most conservatives have seen Bush as Reaganesque. His adherence to a script conservatives know by heart helps explain their devotion, which held fast through the 2004 election, and has only recently begun to flag, as that script veers more and more disastrously from the real world.

Liberals don't have a script because they don't have a Reagan. Since Vietnam, they've produced two presidents: Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Carter's foreign policy is widely considered a failure. Clinton's foreign policy is not widely considered at all, because he governed at a time when foreign policy was for the most part peripheral to American politics. Ask liberals to describe a Carteresque foreign policy, and they tend to wince. Ask them to describe a Clintonesque one, and you'll most likely get a blank stare.

But before Vietnam, and the disappointment and confusion it spawned, liberals did have a clear story of their own. In the late 1940's and 1950's, intellectuals like Reinhold Niebuhr and policymakers like George F. Kennan described America's cold-war struggle differently from their conservative counterparts: as a struggle not merely for democracy but for economic opportunity as well, in the belief that the former required the latter to survive. Even more important, they described America itself differently. Americans may fight evil, they argued, but that does not make us inherently good. And paradoxically, that very recognition makes national greatness possible. Knowing that we, too, can be corrupted by power, we seek the constraints that empires refuse. And knowing that democracy is something we pursue rather than something we embody, we advance it not merely by exhorting others but by battling the evil in ourselves. The irony of American exceptionalism is that by acknowledging our common fallibility, we inspire the world.

To understand this liberal story, it helps to understand the origins of the conservative one that we hear all around us today. George W. Bush's foreign policy is often attributed to neoconservatives, the ex-liberals and radicals who began moving right in the 1960's. But in fact, the vision Bush inherited from Reagan dates back a generation earlier, to the birth of the modern conservative movement itself. Since the mid-1950's, when William F. Buckley's new journal, National Review, created the ideological synthesis that still defines the American right, one overriding fear has haunted conservative foreign policy: the fear that Americans cannot distinguish good from evil.

Over and over during the last half-century, conservatives have looked at America and seen a society enfeebled by moral relativism. In the 1950's, they saw America's enemies on the march — with China, half of Europe and half of Korea newly in Communist hands. The culprit, they argued, was liberalism. The New Deal, with its collectivist principles, had blurred the distinction between Soviet Communism and American freedom. And modern culture was undermining old certainties, above all the belief in God.

As a result, Americans lacked the ideological confidence of their fanatical totalitarian foes. And that self-doubt was making them weak. Whittaker Chambers, the communist turned conservative whose 1952 conversion tale, "Witness," strongly influenced the early cold-war right, said Americans would suffer defeat after defeat until their "faith in God and the freedom He enjoins is as great as Communism's faith in Man." The West, added James Burnham, the most influential foreign-policy thinker in the National Review circle, was losing "the will to survive."

After Vietnam, conservatives saw the disease of self-doubt growing even more acute. Many on the American right hailed "How Democracies Perish," by the French author Jean-François Revel, which declared, "Democratic civilization is the first in history to blame itself because another power is working to destroy it." Into this dark, dispirited landscape came Ronald Reagan, saying the things conservatives had been waiting three decades to hear. "The era of self-doubt," he announced, "is over." And in perhaps the most famous speech of his presidency, Reagan in 1983 invoked Chambers to denounce the right's old scourge: moral relativism. Calling the Soviet Union an "evil empire," he admonished listeners to resist the temptation to "label both sides equally at fault, to. . .remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil."

When the Soviet empire fell, it became an article of conservative faith that it was Reagan's policies, and in particular the moral clarity that underlay them, that had turned the tide. In this way, the old story was transmitted to a new conservative generation, which made it their guide to the post-9/11 world.

The liberal story also finds its roots in the early cold war. If cold-war conservatism began with the founding of National Review, cold-war liberalism emerged slightly earlier, in 1947, when Niebuhr, along with Eleanor Roosevelt, Hubert Humphrey and the United Auto Workers' chief Walter Reuther, established Americans for Democratic Action. The A.D.A. was born amid a civil war on the American left, which pitted anti-Communists like Humphrey against Henry Wallace and those liberals who saw communism less as an enemy than as an ally. But by 1949, Wallace was vanquished, and the A.D.A. increasingly defined itself against the right.

The liberal story began with a different fear about America. If cold-war conservatives worried that Americans no longer saw their own virtue, cold-war liberals worried that Americans saw only their virtue. The A.D.A.'s most important intellectual — its equivalent of James Burnham — was the tall, German-American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr was a dedicated opponent of communism, but he was concerned that in pursuing a just cause, Americans would lose sight of their own capacity for injustice. "We must take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization," he wrote. "We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect disinterestedness in its exercise nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized."

Americans, Niebuhr argued, should not emulate the absolute self-confidence of their enemies. They should not pretend that a country that countenanced McCarthyism and segregation was morally pure. Rather, they should cultivate enough self-doubt to ensure that unlike the Communists', their idealism never degenerated into fanaticism. Open-mindedness, he argued, is not "a virtue of people who don't believe anything. It is a virtue of people who know. . .that their beliefs are not absolutely true."

George Kennan, architect of the Truman administration's early policies toward the Soviet Union, called Niebuhr the "father of us all." And in the first years of the cold war, Niebuhr's emphasis on moral fallibility underlay America's remarkable willingness to restrain its power. In the aftermath of World War II, the United States represented half of the world's G.D.P., and the nations of Western Europe lay militarily and economically prostrate. Yet the Truman administration self-consciously bound America within institutions like NATO, which gave those weaker nations influence over American conduct. "We all have to recognize, no matter how great our strength," Truman declared, "that we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please." As the historian John Lewis Gaddis has written: "It was not that the Americans lacked the capacity to force their allies into line.. . .What is surprising is how rarely this happened; how much effort the United States put into persuading — quite often even deferring to — its NATO partners."

Kennan believed America's great advantage in the cold war was that the Soviet Union constituted an empire, which held its alliances together by force. By contrast, he argued, if the United States resisted the imperial temptation and built alliances that respected foreign nationalism, those alliances would endure. In 1947, when the Truman administration announced the Marshall Plan to help rebuild postwar Western Europe, he resisted using the aid to recast European economies in America's image. Indeed, his administration assisted socialist parties, recognizing that while they might not always prove ideologically pliant, they represented home-grown bulwarks against Soviet power. As one Truman State Department official put it, America should seek European allies "strong enough to say no both to the Soviet Union and the United States, if our actions should seem so to require."

For conservatives, this willingness to indulge governments that would not bend fully to American principles and American wishes was yet another sign that Americans did not truly believe in the righteousness of their cause. While Kennan saw the Soviet empire as brittle, Burnham envied its lockstep unity and urged America to build its own equivalent. "The reality," he wrote, "is that the only alternative to the communist World Empire is an American Empire, which will be, if not literally worldwide in formal boundaries, capable of exercising decisive world control."

If different views about moral clarity produced different views about American restraint, they also produced different views on how best to defend democracy, at home and abroad. The Marshall Plan's premise was that the survival of European democracy depended on its ability to deliver economic opportunity. In "The Vital Center," his famed 1949 statement of cold-war liberalism, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. compared communism to an intruder trying to enter a house. The American military could keep it from knocking down the door. But if the people inside were sufficiently desperate, they might unlock it from the inside.

To conservatives, this talk of communism's root causes looked like an effort to rationalize evil, to suggest America's real foe was not communism itself, but the forces that produced it. "The fact that some poor, illiterate people have 'gone Communist' does not prove that poverty caused them to do so," insisted Barry Goldwater, the first National Review-style conservative to win a Republican presidential nomination.
On domestic policy, the argument was similar. For liberals, the New Deal had tempered capitalism's instability and inequality, thus preserving Americans' belief in democracy when people were losing it around the world. America's ongoing task, Niebuhr argued, was to "make our political and economic life more worthy of our faith and therefore more impregnable." But for conservatives, the liberal push for equality at home did not strengthen America in its cold-war struggle; it undermined the very ideological clarity upon which that struggle relied. Viewed from the right, Franklin Roosevelt had already moved America perilously far along what the Austrian émigré economist Friedrich von Hayek famously called the "road to serfdom." And the more the United States aped communism, the less it would recognize its evil. "The liberal's arm cannot strike with consistent firmness against communism," Burnham wrote, "because the liberal dimly feels that in doing so he would be somehow wounding himself."

In the years since 9/11 restored foreign policy to the heart of American politics, these cold-war debates have returned in another form, with the critical difference that only one side knows its lines. Even before the attacks, many conservatives feared America was emasculating itself yet again. In a one-superpower world, they argued, America no longer had to tailor its foreign policy to the wishes of others. And yet, in the conservative view, the Clinton administration had permitted constraints on American power, playing Gulliver to foreign Lilliputians intent on binding it in a web of international institutions and international law. Predictably, conservatives attributed this submission to America's lack of faith in itself. The "religion of nonjudgmentalism," wrote William Bennett in the book "Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism," "has permeated our culture, encouraging a paralysis of the moral faculty."

In his first eight months in office, President Bush aggressively reasserted American freedom of action, repudiating no fewer than six international agreements or institutions. And after 9/11, he began depicting this freedom to act alone as a means not merely of safeguarding American interests but also of liberating American virtue so it could remake the world. In 2002, the conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer noted that "people are now coming out of the closet on the word 'empire.' " And that discussion had an idealistic cast. For its proponents, "empire" was usually preceded by the adjective "benign" or "liberal." In other words, the United States would rid itself of external impediments but nonetheless act in the global good, uncorrupted by the temptations of unrestrained power.

It has not turned out that way. On global warming, an America liberated from international restraint has acted irresponsibly; in our antiterrorist prisons, we have acted inhumanely. And from the moment the United States invaded Iraq, the Bush administration's complacent certainty of its own benevolence has blinded it to the dangers of colonial rule. While the authors of the Marshall Plan avoided remaking Europe's economy, for fear of sparking nationalist resentment, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, L. Paul Bremer III, unilaterally rescinded Iraq's import tariffs on foreign goods. Bremer may have thought he was acting on Iraq's behalf, even without its people's consent. But that is only because he lacked the self-consciousness and humility to see that he was not. As Larry Diamond, a more reflective C.P.A. official, noted: "American political leaders need to take a cold shower of humility: we do not always know what is best for other people, even when we think it is their interests we have in mind. And as I saw during my time in Iraq, it was frequently our interests that were driving decisions we were trying to impose." Niebuhr couldn't have said it better himself.

But for all their practical failures, conservatives have at least told a coherent political story, with deep historical roots, about what keeps America safe and what makes it great. Liberals, by contrast, have offered adjectives drawn from focus groups and policy proposals linked by no larger theme. In his 2004 convention acceptance speech, John Kerry used variations of the word "strong" 17 times. For the 2006 campaign, Congressional Democrats have unveiled a national-security vision they call "tough and smart." It calls for more spending on homeland security, energy independence and Special Forces. But these disparate, worthy proposals are not grounded in an account of the world America faces, or the sources of American strength.

In fact, present conditions make liberalism's forgotten story especially compelling. The unprecedented post-cold-war gap between America's military power and every other nation's does not make international institutions unnecessary, as the right argues; it makes them even more essential. The liberals of the early cold war, who had seen depression and war cross the oceans and imperil the United States, believed America could guarantee neither its prosperity nor its security alone. And globalization makes that even truer today. The world's increased integration has left the United States more vulnerable to pathologies bred in other nations. So more than ever before, American security requires economic, political and even military interventions in the internal affairs of other nations: to stop bird flu from spreading in rural China, corruption from sparking a banking collapse in Thailand or jihadists from plotting in Pakistan.
Yet if America pursues those interventions itself they will spark exactly the nationalist backlash that Niebuhr and Kennan feared. As Princeton's G. John Ikenberry has put it, a one-superpower world is like a town where there is only one policeman and the houses have no locks. In such a world, America's challenge isn't proving that it can wield unrestrained power; it is proving that it won't become a predator.

Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were reaching this conclusion near the end of Clinton's second term. In Kosovo, NATO waged war so Slobodan Milosevic's domestic terror would not again destabilize his neighbors. As the bombs fell, Blair linked that intervention to the world's efforts to stabilize East Asian economies, so that their financial crisis would not spread. "We are witnessing," Blair argued, "the beginnings of a new doctrine of international community." In other words, the more aggressively America and Britain wanted to intervene in the internal affairs of other states, the more they needed the legitimacy that powerful international institutions bestow.

With Clinton crippled by scandal, Blair's vision was stillborn. But it offers an intellectual foundation upon which liberals can build. In recent years, new evidence about global warming and potential pandemics has forcefully illustrated the need for coordinated action on the environment and public health. And of course, 9/11 has showed that distant countries can incubate fanaticism that can strike America without warning. Unfortunately, liberals themselves have turned away from Blair's vision. Alienated by the war in Iraq, many have grown suspicious of intervening in other countries' affairs. A recent Gallup survey shows Democrats twice as likely as Republicans to say that America should mind its own business internationally. And a 2005 poll by the Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress found self-described liberals far less interested than conservatives in promoting democracy. Indeed, in their recent manifesto, Congressional Democrats barely mentioned it as a foreign-policy goal.

But George W. Bush is not wrong to think that America's security depends on how other countries, particularly in the Islamic world, govern themselves. In the long run, more accountable government can help drain the fury upon which jihadism feeds. Where Bush — like Burnham before him — goes wrong is in believing that America can unilaterally declare a moral standard while exempting itself. For President Bush, freedom is a one-way conversation. The United States calls on other countries to embrace liberty; we even aid them in the task. But if they call back, proposing some higher standard that might require us to modify our actions, we trot out John Bolton. For the rest of the world, freedom requires infringements upon national sovereignty. But for the United States, sovereignty trumps all.

Most Muslims, according to polls, do not consider democracy an alien notion; in fact, they hunger for it. They simply do not believe that it is America's real goal. And that is largely because they do not feel that America abides by the principles it preaches. As the Jordanian journalist Rami Khouri has noted: "George Bush talks in terms of the U.S. having a national mission to promote freedom in the world. . .everybody in the world looks at the U.S. and asks, Where is the moral and the legal and the political authority for you to do this? The authority has to come out of some kind of reference point, some legitimate reference point — treaties, international law, international conventions, U.N. Security Council resolutions, General Assembly consensus, some mechanism that has credibility."

What Khouri is talking about — and what international law and international institutions imply — is reciprocity. To be sure, such institutions must acknowledge the realities of power, as did NATO, the U.N. and the other international bodies born at the end of World War II. But by mildly redistributing power — by conceding that even the mightiest country must sometimes modify its behavior in pursuit of a higher good — they build international norms that seem legitimate rather than hypocritical. In the liberal story, America's power to intervene effectively overseas depends on its power to persuade and not merely coerce. The power to persuade depends on a willingness to be persuaded. And that willingness depends, ultimately, on America's willingness to entertain the prospect that it is wrong.

If liberals have lost faith in promoting democracy abroad, they have also lost faith in the connection between democracy and economic opportunity. From Franklin Roosevelt's global New Deal to the Marshall Plan (and Truman's efforts to extend aid to the third world) to John F. Kennedy's Alliance for Progress, which promoted land reform and economic development in Latin America, liberals have traditionally distinguished themselves from conservatives by insisting that to promote liberty, America must promote opportunity as well. Today, however, in a historic shift, polls show liberals no more inclined to prioritize foreign aid than conservatives. And this shift, combined with the perception that Iraq has drained Americans of their willingness to spend money trying to solve other countries' problems, has left Democratic politicians virtually mute on the subject of economic assistance.

This is particularly unfortunate, because leading voices in the Muslim world — for instance, the scholars who wrote the U.N.'s Arab Human Development Reports — have themselves highlighted the old link between political freedom and economic despair. In recent years, exploding populations and stagnating economies have left governments from North Africa to South Asia unable to provide decent schools, free medical clinics, even clean water. And with states failing, Islamist groups — some violent and theocratic — have filled the void. As Omar Encarnación of Bard College puts it, the Middle East has experienced a "general 'Islamization' and radicalization of society ensuing from the rigid religious and often intolerant character of the civil society organizations now performing functions previously in the hands of state authorities."

It is true that jihadists are often middle class. But that's because terrorist groups are like other employers: they accept the best candidates who apply. After examining data on terrorists and would-be terrorists, Ethan Bueno de Mesquita of Washington University in St. Louis concluded that "individuals with low ability or little education are most likely to volunteer to join the terrorist organization. However, the terrorist organization screens the volunteers," accepting only the best recruits.

But without a sympathetic population, this murderous elite finds it far harder to operate. Like all insurgents, jihadists rely on those around them for encouragement, legitimacy and protection. When terrorists lack popular support — think of Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City — they cannot survive for long. But when they do, they can menace the world.

Fostering economic opportunity in the Islamic world will require substantially reducing the Middle East's illiteracy rate among women, which is twice East Asia's, and promoting economic reform so more of the world's 57 Islamic countries — which today receive only slightly more foreign investment than Sweden — can compete in the global economy. And that will require a major commitment from the United States and its rich allies, along with Islamic nations themselves.

But while the United States can propose an Islamic Marshall Plan, it cannot dictate it. To have any chance of success, its specific features must come from the region. And if they do, they will partly diverge from American preferences, as did the Marshall Plan itself. A serious reform effort, for instance, will most likely involve those Islamists who have embraced democracy and oppose violent jihad, but otherwise offend Americans at least as much as did the socialists whom the United States aided after World II.

It is admittedly hard to imagine leaders in today's Washington who are modest enough to choose the pursuit of local legitimacy over the exercise of American fiat — or ambitious enough to generously finance such an effort. But as conservatives understand better than liberals, that is the value of a usable past: it frees you from the intellectual confines of the moment. In 1947, Secretary of Defense James Forrestal declared: "At the present time we are keeping our military expenditures below the. . .minimum which would in themselves ensure national security. By so doing we are able to increase our expenditures to assist in European recovery." It is that spirit — alien today, but not alien to the liberal tradition — that liberals must recover to tell a post-9/11 story of their own.

But generosity abroad also requires generosity at home. At the start of the cold war, when the United States was helping rebuild Western Europe, it was also building an economic order that provided tremendous opportunity for Americans. Between 1947 and 1973, family income roughly doubled, and significantly, it grew even faster for the poor and working class than for the rich.

Since the 1970's, blue-collar families have seen their incomes stagnate. And the only reason it hasn't dropped outright is that women have entered the work force in droves; today the average two-parent family works a full 12 weeks more per year than it did in 1969. Facing harsher international competition, employers have reduced health benefits and eliminated defined-benefit pensions. And rather than fill the gap, the federal government has retreated as well. Unemployment insurance and food stamps have become less generous, and taxes have become markedly less progressive.

Such issues may seem distant from foreign policy. But for the liberals of the early cold war, the security of average Americans was essential to America's security in the world. "Every courageous and incisive measure to solve internal problems of our own society," Kennan wrote, "to improve self-confidence, discipline, morale and community spirit of our own people, is a diplomatic victory over Moscow worth a thousand diplomatic notes and joint communiqués."

A government that leaves its people to fend for themselves in the face of rising economic insecurity will face grave difficulty asking them to support enlightened policies aimed at helping people in other corners of the globe. That is the hidden backdrop to the great popular revolt against the Dubai ports deal earlier this year — an isolationist, nationalist spasm by a public that feels the government is more concerned with the interests of foreigners than with its own.

Since 9/11, President Bush has often been criticized for not asking Americans to sacrifice. But government cannot just tell Americans we are all in it together; it must show them. And in recent decades it has been doing the opposite. One result has been a rise in public cynicism and a retreat from political participation, which leaves government easy prey for the forces of private interest and concentrated wealth, which — in a vicious cycle — further erodes the trust that government needs to call its citizens to action.

In America, no less than in the Islamic world, the struggle for democracy relies on economic opportunity. To contemporary ears, the phrase "struggle for American democracy" sounds odd. In George W. Bush's Washington, such struggles are for lesser nations. But in the liberal tradition, it is not odd at all. Almost six decades ago, Americans for Democratic Action was born, in the words of its first national director, to wage a "two-front fight for democracy, both at home and abroad," recognizing that the two were ultimately indivisible. That remains true today. America is not a fixed model for a benighted world. It is the democratic struggle here at home, against the evil in our society, that offers a beacon to people in other nations struggling against the evil in theirs. "The fact of the matter," Kennan declared, "is that there is a little bit of the totalitarian buried somewhere, way down deep, in each and every one of us." America can be the greatest nation on earth, as long as Americans remember that they are inherently no better than anyone else.

April 26, 2006

Pizzo's Simple Solutions
to Complicated Problems
(No. 3 in an occasional series.)

Maybe you forgot about campaign finance and lobbying reform. The folks on The Hill certainly hope you have. Listening to the occasional talk out Congress about how they are going to finally reform how they finance their campaigns reminds me of a bunch of inebriated bar-flies pledging to kick the juice – someday. Not today, because well... you know. But someday.

Forget about it. It's never going to happen.

So I have a solution. Politicians should be treated like NASCSAR drivers. I call my idea the NASCONG reform. It's simple, cheap as hell and could be implemented today.

Here's how it works. NASCAR drivers make no bones about who pays their way. They plaster the names and logos of their top contributors all over themselves and their cars. So, when fans hear a driver talk about how great Goodyear tires are, and there's the Goodyear logo emblazoned on his jacket, they can judge for themselves just how objective or subjective his respect for those tires might actually be.

So, I ask, why should we treat our national politicians any different? After all, they too have sponsors, and the things those sponsors want are a hell of a lot more serious than tires, batteries and 10W-5W0 oil.

So here's my idea. When quoting or covering a member of congress print, broadcast and Internet media should not only tell us what state and party the pol represents, but also his/her top five contributors.

Think about it. What's the first thing you look for when you see a politician quoted in an article or on the news? You look to see if his/her name is followed by a "D" or and "R." Why? Because that little piece of information speaks volumes about where that pol is "coming from." The next thing I look for is the part of the country they come from, for the same reason. Two pieces of critical information that no paper or TV station would dream of omitting. If so, why then don't they also include the names of the top contributors who paid their way into office in the first place? Is that information less important to voters than his/her party or state? No. In fact it is probably more important than either.

Here's how simple it is:

This one simple act would virtually overnight, change how everyone involved in the democratic process reacts, behaves and vote.

Voters could listen to a member's stated position (or lack thereof) on a given issue, glance down at the caption below the photo or screen graphic below him/her then balance their views with the contributors to whom he/she is most beholding. Informed voters are always smarter voters.

Contributors: Company's and trade associations like good publicity, but they hate bad publicity or controversy. By giving so much to a candidate they run the risk of being included in the dreaded Top Five, thereby having their company brand virtually tattooed on that politician's forehead for the next two or six years. What if the guy pulls a Randy Cunningham/ Alan Mollohan on them? Buying political clout is one thing, but being tied to a crooked pol is not what companies have in mind. Therefore, under my plan, companies would would throttle back on their giving in an effort NOT to become one of the top five contributors to anyone's campaign. Since they wouldn't know until too late what other companies contributed, they would contribute much less than they would have otherwise in the hope of avoiding that kind of risky exposure. Fear is the change factor here.

Politicians: The good news is that, contrary to popular opinion, most politicians are not entirely shameless. They rationalize what they have to do for the money, telling themselves that they really can take the big bucks and still vote against the interests of top contributors. But that rational frays badly when voters know who paid for his/her trip to Congress. If pols knew that that information was going to appear right under their puss every time they made it on the news, they could no longer be quite so sanguine about pimping for a big contributor. Shame is the motivator in this case. If a pol REALLY believes in a bill that would also benefit one of his/her top contributors, they will have to come to voters with facts... verifiable facts.. that support his position. Good politicians are good educators and good leaders. This idea would force them to become both.

This is an idea thats time has come. And it's easy. The hard work has already been done for the media. All they have to do before putting a member of congress's puss in their publication or on the screen is go to www.opensecrets.org and copy down the top five contributors to that member's last campaign.

That's all there is too it. Campaign finance reform, just that easy.

Republicans won't be able to complain about it because their (phony) position has always been that limits on contributions are unconstitutional and that the best way to reform the system is “full disclosure.” Of course this would be a whole lot more “full disclosure” than they had in mind.

Democrats decided in the 1980's that if they couldn't beat Republican corporate whores they might as well join them. But Dems still like to talk about how corporate money corrupts the system. So they too would have a tough time objecting to this "who's your daddy?" openness.

If they did object – and some will – the media's response would be simple to defend:

“Well Senator, if the information wrong we'll correct it immediately.

“No, it's not wrong, it's just, well... unnecessary. I mean, what are you trying to imply putting those company names next to mine, anyway?

“Senator, we're not trying to imply anything. We are just doing what we've always done by noting your party affiliation and state -- orient the reader. You got a problem with that?”

Bam! There is no (sane/non-sleazy) rebuttal to that logic. And any member who bellyaches too loudly about it would open himself or herself to even closer scrutiny. And believe me, there are not many on The Hill who would want to invite that kind of scrutiny. Because just behind the top five contributors are the top ten, top twenty, top fifty, and so on.

But never mind whether they like it or not. The real beauty of my NASCONG idea is that we don't need a single vote or Presidential signature to implement this reform. All we have to do is – just start doing it.

So, beginning today any time I mention a member of congress I will include not only the state they represent and the party to which they belong, but the top five contributors to their last campaign.

Imagine if we could get CNN, MSNBC, FOX CBS, ABC and the rest of the media to do the same.

Of course we may have problem getting many of the MSM on board with this idea:

“ Six huge corporations now control the major U.S. media: Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation (FOX, HarperCollins, New York Post, Weekly Standard, TV Guide, DirecTV and 35 TV stations), General Electric (NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, Telemundo, Bravo, Universal Pictures and 28 TV stations), Time Warner (AOL, CNN, Warner Bros., Time and its 130-plus magazines), Disney (ABC, Disney Channel, ESPN, 10 TV and 72 radio stations), Viacom (CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount Pictures, Simon & Schuster and 183 U.S. radio stations), and Bertelsmann (Random House and its more than 120 imprints worldwide, and Gruner + Jahr and its more than 110 magazines in 10 countries).” (Full Story) (More on corporate media ownership.)

Quote of the Day
– “George Bush has become something of an embarrassment.”
New White House Press Sec. Tony Snow on 11/11/05