Barack Obama Conservativism Criticism Economics Financial Crisis Liberalism Political Philosophy The Opinionsphere

The intellectual deterioration of the conservative movement

Richard Posner has written one of those posts that gets talked about despite it’s lack of hyperventilation – it’s a thoughtful, reflective piece on what he calls the “intellectual deterioration of the once-vital conservative movement in the United States.” Posner summarizes the deteriotion:

[T]he policies of the new conservatism are powered largely by emotion and religion and have for the most part weak intellectual groundings [such that]the face of the Republican Party [has] become Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. Conservative intellectuals [have] no party.

Posner sees this decline as a symptom of the movement’s success. I think he’s half right.

Philip Bobbitt posited some time ago his theory of the evolution of the state – from princely city-states to kingly states to imperial states to the modern nation-state. The next step – according to Bobbitt – the one to which we are already evolving – is the market-state. And while a nation-state was legitimized in the eyes of it’s people by ensuring people were provided for (thus setting up the economic battle of the Cold War, as capitalism and Communism competed on this front), the market-state is legitimized by offering the maximum amount of opportunity for it’s citizens. Bobbitt’s theory is interesting – and if not entirely perfect, it is certainly useful. 

Given this structure, you can easily understand how the nation-state liberalism of Lyndon Johnson gave way over time to the market-state liberalism of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. By this reading, conservatism did not so much win any more than nation-state liberalism “won.” Both were appropriate responses to their times.

Unfortunately for it’s proponents, conservatism (like nation-state liberalism in the 1970s) did not evolve with the times, but remained staticly committed to the principles that worked so well three decades earlier. The innovative ideas of the 1980s have become the brittle orthodoxies of the present. As conservative historian Niall Ferguson explained – “only the left” has a credible response to the issues of our day. The Right is still fighting the battles they won decades ago.

Barack Obama Liberalism Political Philosophy Politics

Ten Principles of Liberalism

[digg-reddit-me]Barack Obama’s incipient presidency has set off a furious debate over what his administration’s principles are. George Will described Obama’s administration on this past Sunday morning as the Third Wave of government intervention and expansion (with FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society being the first two. Will, for some reason, declined to mention TR’s introduction of the regulatory state, as does almost everyone.) Right-wingers from Rush Limbaugh to Sarah Palin have described Barack Obama as a “socialist.” Meaghan McCain and Niall Ferguson deride what they characterize as a leftist agenda. On the other hand, supporters of Barack Obama’s candidacy have criticized him for betraying his progressive vision and defending the status quo. Others have defended him against charges of socialism and suggested he stands for good old-fashioned liberalism.

At this moment in history, as capitalism seems to have failed, as American international power is at an ebb, as globalization seems destined to continue, as the threat of terrorism continues to grow – evident both in our vulnerability and in the number of our enemies, as the nation-state which derives its legitimacy from providing for the needs of its citizens seems to be evolving into a market-state which is legitimated by the opportunities it offers its citizens – at this moment in history, Barack Obama has become president. The liberalism I am attempting to describe in this post is merely a sketch – but it is a sketch of what I see to be the right approach in this world – which as I have commented before, seems to have much in common with what I identified in the summer of 2007 as the Obama approach. As liberalism tends to be pragmatic rather than theoretical, many of these principles have regained prominence most specifically in response to recent problems in the world and with the Bush administration. I am focusing here on those aspects of principles which distinguish liberalism from other political philosophies – specifically, progressivism, various leftist movements, conservatives, libertarians, and extreme right-wingers. 

Here are the 10 principles of liberalism – whose three goals are to allow individuals liberty, opportunity, and community.

  1. Doubt v. Action. These two competing impulses are at the heart of all the rest of these principles. A Hayekian doubt about the efficacy of centralized planning coupled with a Rooseveltian (TR or FDR) need to act – to conduct “bold, persistent experimentation” while acknowledging that our “grasp on the truth is always provisional.” This balance was best articulated by Reinhold Niebuhr who wrote that while “We must exercise our power,” we must be remain aware that power corrupts even ourselves. Hayek similarly explained that “we needed to think of the world more as gardeners tending a garden and less as architects trying to build some system.” Liberalism was never utopian, but today’s liberalism has been tempered by the failures of big-state liberalism – as well as the failures of anti-regulatory “free” market fetishism. Only conservatism, properly defined historically, attempts a similar balance.
  2. The Market & the Government. Contemporary liberals reject the doctrinaire distinction between the “market” and the government that animated so much of the conflict in the 20th century. The free market should not be treated as some theoretical utopian ideal or as a perpetually lost state of innocence. And the government is not some evil force which must be reduced until it is of a size that it “could be drowned in a bathtub.” Rather the government and the free market exist together – and in a capitalist republic such as ours, each is dependent on the other. The free market does not exist in a state of nature but must be created by and maintained by the society and the state which provide the values and the rules and other conditions without which a market cannot be free. In other words, a free market is a product of a just government.
  3. Empower individuals. One of the key roles of government then – in creating a free market – is to empower individuals to participate in market freely, as individuals. A market is less than free if employees can be held hostage by large corporations and health care burdens ((As Daniel Gross explained in Slate, “An affordable national health care policy, which could allow people to quit their jobs and launch businesses without worrying about the crippling costs of premiums or medical costs, might be a better spur to risk-taking than targeted small-business loans.”)). To empower individuals then, the government must ensure that there is sufficient technological and transportational infrastructure; the government must ensure that basic needs can be met by individuals – for example access to health care; and the government must ensure that every individual has the opportunity to get an education. At the same time, individuals must be empowered to shape and control government more directly. Liberalism in a market-state must exhibit a preference for the individual over the corporation and government and must empower individuals against bullying and coercive measures of these large institutions.
  4. Predictability & stability. Government in a market-state must be predictable and the economy and society must be stable. Neither of these is an absolute good – both are contingent goods – as without predictability and stability, economic growth is impeded and liberty is impossible. Related concepts are sustainability and resilience.
  5. Reform. (Not revolution.) Liberalism has embraced a policy of reform – presuming that the status quo is not perfect yet acknowledging that rapid change could lead to worse. Reform is the balance liberalism strikes between stability and progress. This distinguishes them from conservatives who embrace the status quo over any change (standing athwart history yelling stop!) and leftists and right-wingers who embrace revolutions of various types to overthrow the current order as fundamentally wrong. The focus on reform is informed by the balance between doubt and action. Perhaps the best understanding of what reform means for a liberal can be found in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s advocation of the word “tinkering.”
  6. Preventing destabilizing concentrations of power and encouraging fair processes of distribution. Liberalism acknowledges that power tends to become concentrated – sometimes in particular branches of the government (for example, in the presidency in the unitary executive theory); sometimes in corporations (as they become too big to fail); sometimes in a particular class of individuals (as they control more and more wealth.) Liberalism sees that such concentrations of power are incompatible with democracy and liberty – and that while such concentrations of power will empower certain individuals – they do so at the expense of most people. While socialists and communists and other utopians believe equality must be created – liberals merely seek to prevent extreme concentrations of power in the hands of any minority. At the same time, as Confucius said, “In a country well governed poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed wealth is something to be ashamed of.” Which is why liberals must ensure that power is distributed through a fair process. Political power has been distributed by a constitutional order that needs to be tweaked now and then – and sometimes shaken up, as with the abolition of slavery. Economic power similarly is distributed in a market that sometimes is entirely unjust – as pollution imposes costs on some that are paid by others; and of course with the issue of slavery again. Government must step in to ensure that such unfair practices are not allowed. The goal is not to prevent someone like Bill Gates from having so much wealth, as his wealth is small enough to pose little threat to stability no matter what he does (almost) – it is to prevent 75% of the power from being controlled by 5% of the population – which does pose such a threat.
  7. The Rule of Law. Liberals embrace the fact that our nation was founded “as a nation of laws, not men” and that laws, while sometimes inconvenient are the foundation of our social bargain. Our leaders swear to uphold the law and to remain subject to it. That means if say, a President authorizing wiretapping in direct contravention of federal law, then he must be prosecuted.
  8. Aid to the disadvantaged. Liberals believe in the moral principle that a society and a government cannot be judged without taking into account how it deals with the disadvantaged – especially those who are disadvantaged as a result of the inevitable flaws in the system we choose to embrace. Liberals subscribe to the idea that “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”
  9. First among equals. Liberals acknowledge that America has often been and remains a force for good in the world – but they believe that it detracts from this when it considers itself unrestrained by any law or treaty and unilaterally imposes its will. This creates instability and unpredictability – as well as encouraging other nations to form collectives against us and to obtain weapons of mass destruction to prevent an invasion and provoke a standoff. Instead, liberals see that America has been most effective and done the most good when it acted as “first among equals” in the community of nations. As technologicaland macro-economic forces have been rapidly decentralizing power, America remains the single most potent force in a non-polar world – but it detracts from it’s power when it acts alone and delegitimizes the trust the world has given it to act responsibly.
  10. Diversity and federalism. Liberals – embracing their fallibility as human beings, and acknowledging that their grasp of the truth is always provisional – embrace diversity and federalism. Diverse viewpoints, diverse cultural, cultural, economic, etc. backgrounds all should be welcome and protected so long as they do not attempt to impose their specific view on those not willing. This is why liberals must embrace federalism – which has traditionally been a conservative principle. Liberals seem to be embracing the idea of federalism – at least with regards to the issues of gay marriage and medical marijuana.
Barack Obama Conservativism Criticism Liberalism The Opinionsphere

Greenwald’s Rhetorical Tics

[digg-reddit-me]As a regular reader of Glenn Greenwald’s blog, I have come to admire his legal precision, his passion, and his indefatiguable interest in some of the most important issues of our day. I’m sure these account for his now significant blog readership. He is certainly one of the voices I would choose to listen to if I were in a position of power – and I hope those in power do choose to look to Greenwald for advice and counsel. But as a regular reader, I’ve noticed a few rhetorical tics which stand out. I bring this issue up not because Glenn Greenwald’s blog is itself important – although one can make the argument that it is rather influential – but because these rhetorical tics are illustrative of the broader problem of political rhetoric in general. 

See if you can identify the patters I’m talking about by reading these selections of some (mostly recent) posts – all bold emphases are my own:

Rhetorical tic #1

Regarding Marty Peretz:

Objections to the Israeli attack are just “whining.”  Those are the words of a psychopath.

On Right-Wing Bloggers:

There is a reason why those who seek to demonstrate the alleged extremism and hate-mongering in the anti-Bush blogosphere need to go digging for anonymous commenters. And the converse is also true: those who document the extremism and sociopathic mentality in the right-wing blogosphere do so by citing the twisted writings of leading right-wing pundits, not randomly chosen commenters with no connection to the content or theme of the blog.

On Tom Friedman:

One should be clear that this sociopathic indifference to (or even celebration over) the deaths of Palestinian civilians isn’t representative of all supporters of the Israeli attack on Gaza. 

With a picture of Norman Podhertz:

Face of a psychopath: Norman Podhoretz casually calls for the slaughter of countless Iranians, and suggests that they be bombed to “smithereens”.

On Charles Krauthammer:

It is difficult to find someone with a more psychopathic indifference to the slaughter of innocent people in pursuit of shadowy, unstated political goals than Charles Krauthammer – he who lectures today on the evils of associating with Terrorists as a reflection of a person’s character.

On the Bush movement:

It is hardly possible for us to lose that “war” more devastatingly than we are losing it, and the obvious cause is the twisted, bloodthirsty and sociopathic mentality – shared by Osama bin Laden and the Bush movement alike – which was laid out with such ugly nakedness by the Vice President yesterday.


Rhetorical tic #2

On Susan Estrich:

Few things are less relevant than Susan Estrich, but this is still worth examining because it is the dynamic that predominates in our political process…

On Eric Holder:

Everyone can decide for themselves how much weight to assign to that eight-year-old episode.  It doesn’t substantially alter my view of Holder’s nomination, which I still view as being, on balance, a positive step.  The reasons for that conclusion raise some points that are well worth examining – not so much about Eric Holder, but about the Washington establishment.

On Ruth Marcus:

I want to re-iterate, [Ruth Marcus’s logic] is worth examining only because it’s the predominant mentality in the Washington establishment.

On Tom Daschle:

Just to be clear:  I didn’t write about Tom Daschle’s sleazy history in order to initiate a crusade to defeat his nomination.  I wrote about Daschle because the ways in which he is sleazy are illustrative of how the Washington establishment generally works.  Daschle is noteworthy only because he’s marginally more tawdry and transparent than the average Beltway operative…

On Peggy Noonan:

What a stupid and vapid woman this is, but respected and admired by our media class because she fits right in with them – endlessly impressed by her own sophistication, maturity and insight while drooling out platitudes one never hears except in seventh-grade cafeterias and on our political talk shows. As always, this isn’t worth noting because the adolescent stupidity on display here is unique to Noonan, but precisely because it isn’t. This is how our national elections are decided: by people like her, spewing things like this. 

These tics are rather prominent. One of the great strengths of blogging is that the reader gets a sense of what exists beyond the public face of an individual, as the sheer volume and relative lack of editing that define the medium make it hard to hold back one’s deeper feelings. When reading Greenwald’s more polished works or when seeing him speak in public, these tics are not as prominent or as repetitious as they are here, for example. 

I am not going to argue that Greenwald is wrong when he states that any of these individuals are sociopaths or pyschopaths – or that this or that individual person deserves to be castigated because their ideas are representative of a broader trend which is abhorrent. He very well may be right in his judgments – I do not know these people well enough to judge. What I want to respond to though is the pattern which I think reveals a less than objective view of those he is criticizing. 

Politics is essentially visceral and personal. Greenwald clearly is passionate about politics – and these tics reveal two things about his passion: that it leads even a nuanced and rational political thinker such as Greenwald to demonize his opponents; and that it leads him to realize this to some extent, thus his repeated need to qualify his personal attacks by rationalizing them as part of a broader problem. 

I have a theory about politics and history – and though I am sure it is not unique, I am not aware of which thinker I should credit it to – that we determine our political affiliation almost entirely based on who we empathize with in historical settings. Post World War II, for example, the dominant struggle of the time saw almost all Americans serving as or rooting for our soldiers fighting in an existential struggle. Thus, as long as their war remained the most prominent national memory, America remained largely united. After the struggles of the sixties became the dominant national memory, America fractured – as some who empathized with the police took a certain view; others empathized with hippies, etcetera. The hodge-podge of policies that make up the so-called “liberal” and “conservative” parties in America can be better explained by historical sympathies than any ideological underpinning. Our reaction to these national memories though are – in a large part – visceral – at least after we have been introduced to them as children.

It is due to this baseness of emotion that so much political debate seems to involve individuals speaking past one another. Obama’s solution to this has been civility and the avoidance of stereotypes (or perhaps the conflation of stereotypes). Obama sought to deflate the escalating moral outrage of his supporters rather than to stoke it, sometimes even scolding his supporters saying, “You don’t need to boo: you just need to vote.”

Reading Glenn Greenwald, one can clearly see the dynamic of escalating moral outrage at work. While one can make the case that any particular individual is a psychopath, it seems conventient when so many of the people you are disagreeing with turn out to be psychopaths. Greenwald demonstrates a clear contempt for these individuals – which they are often times deserving – but which nevertheless clouds his judgment. 

Seeing this at work in an intelligent and eminently rational writer such as Greenwald helps one to appreciate the serendipitous nature of Obama’s rise at this moment – with his unflagging civility and his desire to deflate the escalating outrage of his supporters as well as oppionents.

Barack Obama Law Liberalism Politics

The Last Thing We Need Is A Liberal Scalia

Dahlia Lithwick, who I rarely fail to mention, is one of my favorite writers, had a piece a few days ago on what she wants. In a Supreme Court justice that is. And I lightly paraphrase:

Wonky liberal lawyer seeking a hero, a bomb-throwing, passionate, visionary, liberal Scalia for a seat on the Supreme Court!

One of the main facts revealed in all those recent scholarship of the Rehnquist (O’Connor) court, though, was that Scalia’s brash personality and insulting style actually pushed the moderates to the left – or drove them to be less susceptible to being wooed to Scalia’s side in an argument. Though the Court has indisputably moved far to the right since Scalia entered it, seven of the past nine Supreme Court justices have been appointed by Republican presidents. The two appointed by Clinton were moderates chosen to be confirmed by a Republican Congress. Yet, the Court has only moved slowly towards conservative positions. There are many explanations of this, but for anyone who considers the social dynamics of the Court to be significant – and from her article Dahlia seems to be one who does – then Scalia’s antagonistic approach to O’Connor’s sloppy reasoning and Kennedy’s pomposity certainly must be one factor. A brash, bomb-throwing liberal then is exactly what the Court doesn’t need. 

What I think it does need is a libertarian-minded liberal who can forge an alliance with Scalia on certain issues – and perhaps Thomas as well. Both Alito and Roberts seem to be enamored of executive power – and perhaps that was why it was they who were chosen. I consider them lost causes. But Scalia and Thomas are conservatives of an older school – one which a contemporary liberal – such as Lawrence Lessig or even Cass Sunstein – has much in common with.

I think Dahlia would be happy with that though – a Lessig, a Sunstein, and a Lawrence Tribe. Perhaps a Harold Koh and an Elena Kagan. Instead of a bomb-thrower, I think Dahlia just wants a liberal with a vision instead of an incrementalist. On that, I agree.

Barack Obama Criticism Economics Financial Crisis Liberalism Libertarianism Politics The Opinionsphere

What’s Wrong With the Stimulus Plan

[digg-reddit-me]Aside from the partisan power play that seems to be motivating most of the Republican opposition to the stimulus plan, there are a number of fair-minded criticisms.

First, the plan lacks the Obama touch – the deft promise to cut those programs that don’t work and to make sure the ones that are around still do work, the libertarian paternalistic designs of Cass Sunstein, the nimble government program that does not coerce but merely offers opportunity. Of course, there is a sensible reason for this. The stimulus is needed right now – and it will take time to design new programs with this balancing between libertarian principles and liberal ends in mind. So, Obama has decided that this stimulus package must work within existing programs – which Republicans have used as an excuse to attack those programs.

Second, there is not a clear exit strategy. Many of these spending measures and tax breaks are supposed to be emergency measures that the government will only maintain during this crisis – but new spending and cuts in taxes both are hard to roll back. The idea that taxes are hard to raise is, of course, the basis of the “Starve the Beast” strategy that conservatives adopted (as described by George Will):

For years, many conservatives advocated a “starve the beast” approach to limiting government. They supported any tax cut, of any size, at any time, for any purpose, assuming that, deprived of revenue, government spending would stop growing.

But they found out that spending was also hard to cut:

But spending continued, and government borrowing encouraged government’s growth by making big government cheap: People were given $1 worth of government but were charged less than that, the balance being shifted, through debt, to future generations.

Obama’s stimulus plan involves both increasing spending and cutting taxes. The question is – can we then raise taxes and cut spending after this is over? Obama has clearly indicated he intends to – and to shore up America’s long-term fiscal solvency by dealing with entitlement spending too. If he is able to pull off this Grand Bargain, then he will belong in the rank of the best presidents. If he is not, then this temporary increase could have disasterous effects.

Third, by trying to act so quickly, there will inevitably be unintended consequences. To avoid as many of these as possible, the bill should be cleaner and its provisions should work faster.

Fourth, as Robert Samuelson wrote in the Washington Post:

As it turns out, President Obama didn’t make the tough choices on the stimulus package. He could have either used the program mainly (a) to bolster the economy or (b) to advance a larger political agenda, from energy efficiency to school renovation…There were tough choices to be made – and Obama ducked them.

This bill is something of a muddle so far, in part because of the need for speed, and in part because Obama has let the House and Senate Democrats craft the bill, waiting to give his input until the conference in which the bills passed by the House and Senate will be reconciled.

Fifth, the bill offers both short term stimulus measures and downpayments on longer term (and worthy) projects. A stimulus bill should only include spending in the short term. The 75% goal Obama has set is too low. Every dime in the stimulus package should be out by the end of 2010. Kay Bailey Hutchinson ably stuck to this point in her Meet the Press appearance this past Sunday. Her confident demeanor and obvious grasp of policy made me wonder what had led John McCain to bypass her in choosing his Vice Presidential nominee. 

In short, most of the bills problems seem to come from the speed with which it is being forced out. This is a tradeoff Obama seems to be willing to make – as this bill is intended primarily to demonstrate that stimulus is coming and the problem is being taken seriously.

Barack Obama History Law Liberalism National Security Politics The Bush Legacy The Opinionsphere The War on Terrorism

Why It Should Be A ‘War’ Against Terrorism

[digg-reddit-me]One of the big issues many kossacks had in responding to my post was that they objected to the term, “war” being used in describing efforts to combat terrorism.

Peter Feaver over at Foreign Policy nicely parries at least one of the points made – what he labels the “specious claims like the idea that calling it a war narrow options down to only military tools.” Feaver’s response:

On the contrary, of course, calling it a war actually has the opposite effect of expanding options: It admits the use of military and other war-like tools, but it also encompasses the rest of the non military tools in the toolbox, as I’ve argued here. Those who want to label it as something other than a war are the ones who want to limit the tools available.

What Feaver seems to support is what he calls a popular straddle that unites the semantic warriors:

Obama intends to say that we are really at war, but we will voluntarily not use all of the tools of war because we do not need to.

Although at the present, this is fine – it seems to offer the worst of all worlds should another attack occur. Politically, Obama will have boxed himself in by admitting that we are at war and at the same time, by saying that we do not need to use every tool at our disposal to win that war, a kind of anti-Powell doctrine.

The approach that I think bears the most promise – both as a solid grounding for understanding the struggle against terrorism and for creating a politically defensible position – is what I’m calling the Philip Bobitt approach. More on that in a moment.

I think it’s obvious to see why the Feaver approach ((It’s unfair to label it the Feaver approach as he actually attributes it to Obama, but for the moment, this is the least confusing way to go about explaining.)) would probably cause political damage to any candidate that embraced it if there is another attack. (Think of the mothers of the victims of an attack saying, ‘You said we didn’t need to do this, but my son died!’) At the same time, the policy of holding back would be discredited by a spectacular attack – or perhaps even a minor one. There would be a backlash. The delicate balance that would need to be struck between the war we are fighting and what we are holding back “because it is unnecessary” would necessarily come undone at the first loss of life.

Alternately, some claim we are not at war and that the struggle against terrorism is a law enforcement matter, and that politicians should embrace this view publicly. If there are no future attacks, then this position will work out fine. If there are only a small number of minor attacks, this also might work out fine. If there are a series of minor attacks, it’s possible that this position might get us through – both politically and substantially. But this doesn’t seem a smart bet to me. I’m not sure that anyone would deny that our society is vulnerable to catastrophic attacks – and that with technological improvements, increased travel, the increasing density of our urban areas, the spread of information, the worldwide and instantaneous nature of the media, and the growing importance and fluidity of markets – non-state actors are more empowered today, to do good or harm, that at any time in the history of the world. I’m not sure anyone would deny that there are significant numbers of individuals who seriously wish harm to America. Terrorism then – terrorism more serious than before – is inevitable.

Ron Suskind, whose critical books on the Bush administration earned him the ire of the former president, reported that an Al Qaeda agent accomplished a technological breakthrough and was prepared to launch a chemical attack on the New York subway system several years ago. The operation was within 45 days of being launched when it was called off by Ayman Zawahiri. Although we have no definite intelligence as to why this attack was called off, the most plausible explanation based on other statements Bin Laden and Zawihiri have made is that Bin Laden feared this attack would not surpass September 11. Societies throughout history have shown that they can acclimate themselves to a constant low-level of violence – even terrorist-created violence. Which is perhaps why Al Qaeda seeks spectacular attacks on their primary target, or none at all – because a spectacular attack is more likely to generate an overreaction.

If history is to be a guide, we can bet that if a terrorist group does enough damage, people will care little for triviliaties such as freedom – such is the effect of the fear of death. (At the same time, history must also inform us that a society’s fear of death can be manipulated by the state as well as by the terrorists.) It seems to me that the law enforcement approach is not especially suited to combatting the terrorism we now face because:

  • the consequences of letting an ordinary criminal go are far less serious than letting a terrorist go;
  • punitive measures that are supposed to deter crime don’t work regarding strategic terrorism (The death penalty, for example, doesn’t deter someone who wants to be a martyr like Khalid Sheikh Muhammad.);
  • law enforcement focuses on prosecution and punishment rather than prevention, when counterterrorism measures must do the reverse;
  • military engagement may at times be called for – as it was in Afghanistan after September 11;

The efforts to combat terrorism then don’t seem to fit into our traditional ideas of law enforcement. Neither of course, do they fit into our modern definition of war – as a military engagement between states (or within states) that ends with a treaty. The efforts to combat terrorism don’t fit into any of these preexisting categories neatly. We could invent a new term – but if we did, that would suggest that if this threat escalates, then war would be the next step. In other words, I don’t see any approach to terrorism short of “war” to be sustainable – because I believe it is likely that regardless of what steps we will not be able to prevent another attack.

So I suggest we adopt the term “war” and couple it with the main aim of this war – a preclusive victory against strategic terrorism. This victory would be the protection of the ability of citizens to consent freely to their government. ((I believe we must aim as a society for more than mere consent to government action – to actively shape it, etcetera – but that’s not the goal of this war.)) Any time the government violated the rule of law, it would be violating the war aim – it would be, as I described it in a post long ago, a “preemptive surrender of American values.”

This seems to me to be a sturdier construction for the protection of American values than either the law enforcement approach, the Feaver approach, or (and especially) the Bush approach.

Barack Obama Liberalism National Security Politics The Opinionsphere The War on Terrorism

Why Liberals Must Embrace the Wars Against Terrorism (cont.)

[digg-reddit-me]Yesterday, I posed this blog entry on my Daily Kos account.

After my disastrous entry into the kosphere in which I was attacked as a “Republican in disguise”  a freeper and a troll back in 2004, my posts in the past year have been very well received. Markos Moulisantos, the founder of the Daily Kos, has linked to this site approvingly twice in his entries. One of my diary entries at the Daily Kos adapted from a blog post was linked to by a main poster there as an unheralded but interesting story generating a lot of traffic. My piece on “How the War on Drugs War Making America Less Safe from Terrorism” was well-accepted as well, even if it received little attention. Various other pieces have been positively received.

Which only made me more frustrated at the response my latest piece received: “Why Liberals Must Embrace the Wars Against Terrorism,” only loosely adapted from a blog post of the same name from yesterday. It was evident that many of the commentors did not find the time to actually read the article before commenting. The title itself was enough to set them off. Quite a number of the commentors went on to “criticize” my piece by reciting some of the very points I emphasized – for example how the Bush administration had done a poor job in it’s ‘War on Terror’. Others made great presumptions about what I meant – for example, presuming I was attacking Obama’s recent actions which I actually think are essential and which a close or even sympathetic reading of the piece would reveal.  Then there were the more substantial disagreements: Some commentors condemned war entirely. Some belittled the threat from terrorism. Some made the case that terrorism was blowback for America’s sins. A number of responses centered around calling the struggle against terrorism a war – asking when this war would be over; who would sign the peace treaty to end the war; how one can have war against a method.

Some of these responses raise points I intended to discuss in the piece, but instead shorthanded due to it’s length – specifically, the facts dealing with the seriousness of the threat of terrorism and the questions about the nature of this war, should it be called a war. This lead one commentor to say that the piece wasn’t thought out – when in fact they meant that it did not fully convey an entire worldview in a manner that could not be misconstrued. To that I plead guilty.

To give an idea though of what I think a liberal approach to the Wars Against Terrorism would be, where my thinking leads me to end up, here’s a partial list of some things Obama should do:

  • Close Guantanamo. Which Obama has already started on.
  • Stop torturing prisoners. Which Obama has already ordered.
  • Reach out to our allies. Which Obama seems to be doing.
  • Reach out to the publics of the Middle East. In which this is a good first step.
  • Kill or capture bin Laden. This is one of those, “Of course” things. But imagine the symbolism of Barack Hussein Obama finally bringing Osama bin Laden to justice.
  • Flip Iran. After September 11 and the invasion of Iraq, Iran sent America a detailed proposal for comprehensive negotiations to resolve bilateral differences. In an act of stupendous stupidity, the Bush administration ignored it. Since then despite growing rancor between American and Iran, Iran exercised it’s influence in Iraq to assist the Surge by tamping down Shia violence. Iran’s and America’s interests in the region can complement one another once an overall agreement has been reached. Obama has indicated he is willing to meet with the Iranian leadership within his first year in office – but elections are coming up in June of this year. Whether Obama should send an emissary to influence who the Guardian Council allows to run in the elections or whether he makes some sort of appeal to the Iranian people, he should work to flip Iran. It would be the biggest foreign policy coup since Nixon went to China.
  • Keep up the pressure on “the nexus” – or the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and Pakistan more generally. Pakistan now seems to be home to the resurgent Al Qaeda. Pakistan was also at the center of the international market in nuclear technology that A. Q. Khan ran until after September 11. Greater minds than mine will need to figure out exactly what needs to be done here – but it must be the focus of our international efforts to combat terrorism.
  • Engage in public and transparent debate about strategy in the struggle against terrorism – while maintaining secrecy about tactics when necessary.
  • Establish a new legal framework that acknowledges the unique threat posed by strategic terrorism, the vulnerability of our society, and weapons of mass destruction. Some things to take into account: The consequences of letting an ordinary criminal go are far less serious than letting a terrorist go; punitive measures that are supposed to deter crime (The death penalty, for example, doesn’t deter someone who wants to be a martyr like Khalid Sheikh Muhammad.); law enforcement focuses on prosecution and punishment rather than prevention, when counterterrorism measures must do the reverse.)
  • And finally, there must be a reckoning for the illegal activities and the attacks on the rule of law of the Bush administration. An independent prosecutor would be fine. (I like the suggestion of Patrick Fitzgerald.) A truth commission would be better than nothing. But in some way, these people must be brough to account – not out of a desire for revenge, but as the only way to preserve our way of life come another emergency situation like September 11.

This isn’t a complete strategy. This only a list of steps – and some of them are still vague. The overarching idea though must be to take seriously what I believe is the existential threat of terrorism to our way of life – to a system of open borders, open markets, free exchange of technology and information, civil liberties, and unprecedented opportunity. This war must be a war to protect a free state and a free system – which means that counterrorism measures can be as contrary to the war aim as much as terrorism itself.

Barack Obama Domestic issues Economics Election 2008 Liberalism McCain Obama Political Philosophy Politics

Obama & Trade

I’ve heard from a few people that there is a growing concern that Obama is anti-free-trade.

This concern has a basis in Obama’s record – mainly from his rhetoric in Ohio during the primary fight with Hillary Clinton and to some extent the fact that he is a Democrat and needed the support of the labor unions. But to a large degree the exaggerated fears of many businessmen comes from comments made by the Republicans during the campaign – as John McCain’s campaign was first (ridiculously) calling Obama “the most protectionist candidate that the Democratic Party has ever fielded” before his campaign went on to call Obama a supporter of comprehensive sex education for kindergartner, a Marxist, a socialist, and a friend to terrorists.

This has led to a series of conflicting impressions of Obama and his position on trade – from statements during the Ohio campaign that “we can’t keep passing unfair trade deals like NAFTA that put special interests over workers’ interests” to his later point – when asked about his rhetoric about NAFTA during the Ohio campaign that, “Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified.” Indeed – despite the appeal of populist protectionist rhetoric (some 60% of Americans think free trade and NAFTA have been bad for people like them), Obama chose to attack protectionism in the general campaign: “[n]ot only is it impossible to turn back the tide of globalization, but efforts to do so can make us worse off.” At least in part, Obama’s friendlier stance towards free trade has to be understood as a tactical move on his part as he was certain to be to the left of McCain on this issue. McCain has never even made an issue out of any labor or environmental protections relating to the issue and would have had serious problems with economic conservatives if he moved to the left on this issue as they never trusted him to begin with.

Even aside from the change in rhetoric, there is considerable evidence that has led numerous reasonable observers to believe Obama is, in fact, in favor of trade even as he is concerned with some of free trade’s side effects on American workers and the economy. Obama, for one, described himself as a “pro-growth, free-market guy.” Even the arch-conservative Weekly Standard was forced to concede in the midst of the general election campaign that Obama’s two main economic advisors Jason Furman and Austan Goolsbee, while liberals, were “centrist, pro-free traders.” George F. Will, my favorite columnist and a paleo-conservative – described Goolsbee as the best sort of liberal economist his conservative leanings could imagine:

Goolsbee no doubt has lots of dubious ideas – he is, after all, a Democrat – about how government can creatively fiddle with the market’s allocation of wealth and opportunity. But he seems to be the sort of person – amiable, empirical and reasonable – you would want at the elbow of a Democratic president, if such there must be.

Naomi Klein attacked these two herself as ideologically impure in a piece in The Nation magazine – and while I find Klein to be provactive, I think a pro-free trader could hardly have a better endorsement than an attack by Klein.

Obama’s official position on trade has remained consistent – even as his focus has changed over the course of the campaign. What has struck me about all of Obama’s positions is the extent to which they begin with an appreciation of conservative ideas – as his health care plan works within the market rather than by goverment fiat; as his stance on affirmative action reflects traditional concerns about whether we are trying to ensure the equality of oppurtunity or equality of the ends. His views on trade seem similar – as he embraces free markets and free trade – but wants to mitigate the negative side effects.

The Council on Foreign Relations, a group with a considerable interest in free trade, vouched for Obama’s support:

Sen. Obama (D-IL) generally supports free trade policies, though he has expressed concern about free trade agreements that do not include labor and environmental protections.

Tim Hanson and Nate Weisshaar of the Motley Fool probably best described the most reasonable concerns about Obama’s record on trade in their piece asking “Will Obama End Global Trade?” (the answer was, “Nope.”):

While Obama’s campaign literature will tell you that his goals are fairer trade, more assistance for displaced American workers, and greater global environmental protections, there is some global worry that an Obama administration might impose and sustain protectionist policies in order to reward labor union support for his campaign and get our economy back on its feet.

As private sector labor unions have been decimated in the global economy, and as Obama and the liberal consensus views them as part of the solution rather than a major problem, it’s hard to see exactly what steps Obama can take to rejuvenate unions.

In the end, the best way to understand and predict Obama’s trade policies is as part of his view of economics in general. Obama’s economic positions are consistent with a broad Democratic consensus that has emerged in the past decade – bringing together the two warring sides of the Clintonian era, short-handed as Robert Rubin versus Robert Reich for Clinton’s Labor and Treasury Secretaries. The Rubin school believed in expanding free trade, reducing deficits, encouraging overall growth without regard to it’s distribution, and deregulation. The Reich school believed in protecting labor unions, mitigating the effects of globalization through an expanded safety net and job-retraining programs, environmentalism, and was concerned with inequality. Over the past decade, many figures on both sides of this ideological divide have found worth in the ideas of their one-time competitors – as David Leonhardt’s New York Times Magazine piece called “Obamanomics” explained.

This Democratic consensus views free trade as a positive force in the world – but one that has numerous side effects that are negative. The role of government in this picture is to try to mitigate the negative effects of free trade – especially those temporary effects of the transition to a more globalized economy. Most of Obama’s domestic agenda is designed to accomplish these purposes – from the investment in a green energy industry to investment in infrastructure to health care reform to financial reforms. His nuanced position on trade reflects this same desire – to mitigate the destabilizing effects of globalization while acknowledging it’s benefits.

Domestic issues Election 2008 Foreign Policy Liberalism Libertarianism Obama Political Philosophy Politics Reflections

Why I Support Obama

[digg-reddit-me]A few months ago, on the Long Island Railroad in the evening on my way home after work, a young black woman asked me if she could sit on the inside seat. (I always sit on the outside, and this was a three person seat.) After she sat down, she noticed the Barack Obama button I had on my bag at the time and pointed to it and said: “Thank you.”

We went on to have a conversation about the campaign and the Broadway play she had just been to – but that, “Thank you” bothered me. She was not a member of the campaign or a relative of Obama’s. I, in fact, have raised over $3,000 for the Senator, donated a good deal myself, and have tried through this blog as well as other activities to support his campaign. Although I do not know this for certain – based on the tone, the way she said it, and the rest of our conversation, I think that she was thanking me, as a white person, for supporting Barack, “her” candidate.

What I felt, but did not say, was that I was supporting Obama not because he was black or because any of my friends are black or because I wanted to make up for persecution of blacks in American history – but because … well, I’ll get to that in a minute.

One more story. A co-worker of mine described Obama to me as an empty suit, a typical, spineless, academic, elitist, whose only redeeming and unique quality is his race. ((Although I attempt to converse with my co-worker about this, our conversations always end up in some nether world of side topics – debating evolution or global warming or whether Congress has any power to intervene in foreign policy.)) He never believes me when I deny that my support of Obama is because of his race.

I have explained several times on this blog my gradual evolution from a McCain supporter in 2000 to an Edwards then Hillary than Obama supporter in 2007, including most recently here. By the summer of 2007, I had decided to support Obama – and had started talking about trying to work for the campaign. ((Unfortunately, a relative of mine persuaded me otherwise, saying that the wise thing to do was to wait it out.))

Since then, my opinion has been reinforced by events more often than it was challenged.

My decision to support Obama did not hinge on any single issue or position, but was a reflection of my attempt to gather as much information as possible about all of the candidates. I assumed that the direction the country needed to go in was rather obvious – as most Democrats and many moderate Republicans agreed, from Secretary of Defense Gates to Secretary of Treasury Paulson to Secretary of State Rice to Senator Clinton to Senator Obama to (I thought) Senator McCain. The real question is what specific policies, what methods, what means could be used to get there.

I did not support Obama because he was black, liberal, progressive, young, charismatic, or an idealist.

What did lead me to support Obama first was his character and judgment: he is a liberal pragmatist, with a conservative temperament, who seeks to understand the world as it is, to identify our long-term challenges, and to push (to nudge it) in a positive direction by tinkering with processes and institutions and creating tools to get people more involved in the government.

In addition, there are three extremely positive movements that are associated with Obama’s candidacy:

The intellectual ferment around Obama’s campaign – with Lawrence Lessig, Cass Sunstein, Richard Thaler, Samantha Power, and many others, all reflective thinkers who have influenced his campaign policy and would play a role in an Obama administration – is tremendously exciting. Added to this ferment is a sense of humility that is a bit odd. Samantha Power, who traveled to war zones around the world in 1990s, and learned the lessons of Rwanda and Sarejevo and Kirkuk deeply, does not believe unilateral American force must be used to stop genocide. Rather she places the blame on a flawed international system. Lawrence Lessig describes our political system as inherently corrupt – yet his Change Congress movement is not a radical call to arms but a series of modest proposals designed to catalyze serious changes. Cass Sunstein’s and Richard Thaler’s libertarian paternalism probably best encapsulates the pragmatic steps that can taken to greatly improve the lives of most Americans.

The grassroots movement supporting Obama also reveals the hidden side of this past four years – as George W. Bush created a liberal majority. This movement represents a new force in American politics.

The international support for Obama demonstrates that, like many Americans, people around the world want a new face to represent America – a re-branding, and hopefully a reevaluation of America’s priorities around the world.

By the time John McCain abandoned sensible policies in his quest to win over the Republican base – and emphasized his least attractive quality, a preference for the use of military force – I had already decided Obama was the best candidate.

Domestic issues Election 2008 Foreign Policy Iran Iraq Law Liberalism Libertarianism National Security Obama Pakistan Political Philosophy Politics The Opinionsphere The War on Terrorism

A Liberal Defends George W. Bush’s Legacy

Or, how George W. Bush has been just awful enough

[Photo by schani licensed under the Creative Commons and found here.]

[digg-reddit-me]Many liberals argue that George W. Bush’s presidency has been an unmitigated disaster; most libertarians see George W. Bush as the worst thing to happen to America since our government interned hundreds of thousands of Americans purely based on race and expanded government involvement in the economy at the same time. Even many conservatives now see George Bush’s tenure as a series of betrayals. The past eight years have been a dark time – with the specter of terrorism hanging over our lives – with an economy that has only benefited the elites – with America’s standing and influence in the world dropping precipitously – and with a government flailing about in attempts to prevent the next attack, attempts that have primarily succeeded in undermining our inherent liberties.

There is clearly a broad consensus that the Bush presidency has been a failure. A recent poll of historians recently ranked George W. Bush’s presidency as the worst in history; late last year, The Atlantic ran a cover story asking what lessons we can learn from Bush’s failed presidency; the American people have given George W. Bush the lowest approval ratings for a president since polls have been taken; and recent news reports have shown that over three quarters of Americans believe our country is on the wrong track. The consensus clearly is that Bush’s presidency has failed. It’s true that a number of conservatives have tried to defend Bush – Ross Douthat for example pointed out that Bush’s disasters do not rival the catastrophes of Civil War or Great Depression yet. But even the group considered the architect of many of Bush’s policies – the neo-conservatives, have begun to argue – as have failed ideologues again and again throughout history – that it was not that their ideas that failed – rather their ideas were never truly tried. Bush must know he is in trouble when even the neoconservatives are attacking him as weak and ineffective – or to use the term they use, “liberal”.

Having a somewhat contrary nature, I’m not so sure this almost universal consensus is true.

While I do see Bush’s presidency as a disaster, I believe a kind of redemption can be found in this disaster because Bush’s presidency: (a) could have been much worse; and (b) has created a unique historical opportunity.

My postulate is that George W. Bush’s presidency has been just bad enough to avoid destroying the core institutions that form the backbone of our society while creating a virtuous backlash that will strengthen these institutions in the long term. Bush has abused his power just enough, and aggravated festering issues just enough, and presided over a decline that was so sudden that he has created near ideal conditions to move the country in a positive direction.

Throughout history, the price of radicalism has been steep and the chances of reversing deep-seated trends has been long. Conservatives who opposed the social welfare programs of the New Deal tried and failed for a generation to rollback the programs that Franklin Delano Rooselvelt instituted in the wake of a Republican-abetted disaster. Unsuccessful and marginalized, these conservatives finally settled on a strategy of indirection. They called this strategy “starve-the-beast.” Seeing that they could not win by attacking the institutions of the New Deal directly, they decided to deliberately increase government spending to irresponsible levels while cutting taxes – which would leave no choice for a hypothetical future administration but to raise taxes massively or to reduce the size of government. ((What else but this strategy could explain Ronald Reagan’s and George W. Bush’s massive deficit spending?)) These conservatives realized that the only way to achieve the ends they sought was to create a set of circumstances that proved their opponents wrong, to discredit, through their actions, the basis of liberalism and create a virtuous backlash against excessive governance. They had seen that effective change throughout history had only occurred when the reigning ideology was proved bankrupt by circumstances. These conservatives believed that if they could undermine the credibility of government enough, their ideology would be the only alternative.

Unfortunately for these conservatives, whatever George W. Bush’s intentions were, his administration has been the most effective proponent of liberalism in modern times – as it demonstrated the bankruptcy of contemporary conservatism, undermined the credibility of the Republican Party, and created precisely opposite virtuous backlash than which they intended.

Bush’s effectiveness in advancing the goals he stood against comes has taken several interrelated forms:

  • Theoretical extremism: Although Bush has asserted virtually unlimited power – to torture, to detain anyone without charges, to engage in military action and wiretap without congressional approval – he has been relatively modest in his use of what he asserts are near unlimited powers. This has allowed significant forces to grow in opposition to this power grab without the widespread societal chaos that would have arisen out of a president fully exerting the powers he has claimed. (If Bush used the powers he asserts are his on a greater scale in America, our society would clearly be a totalitarian one. Instead, we remain a fragile liberal democracy until either Bush’s assertions of power are repudiated or are fully asserted.)
  • Overuse of a single method: Karl Rove directed three national campaigns – using national security, patriotism, and September 11 as partisan tools to bludgeon the Democrats. In each successive election dominated by these themes though, they lost effectiveness until 2006 when finally, they ceased being the controlling factor as the people – fooled for some of the time – handed an historic loss to the Republican Party. (If Karl Rove hadn’t used these themes so promiscously and shamelessly, more people might have put stock in the current smear campaign and fear-mongering being used against Obama and the Democrats.)
  • Exacerbating existing conditions: Bush has accelerated a number of longstanding trends: towards domestic inequality and the stratification of Americans into a class-like system; towards the decline in America’s power in the world; towards the government’s fiscal insolvency; towards the expansion of executive power; and towards the increase in the price of oil. This acceleration has exacerbated these issues so as to make them more noticeable.
    A lobster will not realize it is being cooked if it placed in a pot of water at room temperature and gradually boiled to death. In the same way, many Americans did not realize the dangers and the extent of the changes to American society that have been ongoing since at least the 1970s. The Bush administration – in a number of areas – raised the temperature fast enough and carelessly enough that many people have begun to notice. (If the price of oil had increased more regularly, people would be less worried about how it would be affecting them – and less attention would be paid to the largest transfer of wealth in human history that is currently taking place. If Iraq hadn’t demonstrated the limits to American power, it might have taken much longer for policy-makers to realize that we no longer live in a unipolar world.)
  • Suddenness: The suddenness of America’s decline in relevancy has led to a widespread desire for America to re-assume some leadership role with the next president – a desire reflected most significantly in the worldwide and domestic support for Barack Obama.

Bush has – in almost every respect – pointed America in the direction it needs to go. He has demonstrated what not to do. It is hard to imagine the libertarian or the progressive movements achieving their widespread support and strength if not for Bush’s presidency.

This election cycle has already demonstrated the strength of two responses to the Bush administration’s legacy – the libertarian response as embodied in the unlikely success of Ron Paul and the progressive response as embodied in the progressive netroots which powered Obama’s campaign. As a card-carrying civil libertarian and a lifelong progressive, Barack Obama has an opportunity to synthesize these two competing movements – to create a rough political consensus of the next steps we need to take. (I’ve written before both about how the libertarian movement and liberalism seem to be converging and about how Obama represents some part of this.) However, Obama’s vote for the FISA Amendments Act was a poor start to the creation of this alliance – as he took a position in defiance of both of these movements.

In a very real sense George W. Bush’s legacy depends on how well the next president is able to capitalize on the opportunity given to him – in this campaign and in his potential presidency. The final judgment on Bush will not be knowable when he leaves office. Rather, some years later we will be able to make a definitive judgment – after we see how intractable the problems he leaves for his successor are and when we see what precedents the next president will reject and which he will build upon. Bush may be forgiven for his disrespect for the Constitution if the next president repudiates these precedents. (After all, Washington was forgiven for Hamilton’s army; Lincoln was forgiven for becoming a tyrant for several weeks; and FDR was forgiven for trying to pack the Supreme Court.)

But while I argue that Bush’s primary legacy is that of a uniter-not-a-divider whose presidency set America on a better path, this rosy evaluation of Bush’s legacy still leaves three areas uncovered – areas in which Bush created unique problems rather than exacerbating existing ones: Iraq, the War on Terror, and global climate change.



It is hard to imagine another president invading Iraq under the circumstances that George W. Bush did. The many American and the far more Iraqi dead that resulted from this foolish gamble, this dumb war, will surely burden his soul and must undermine any positive legacy he leaves behind. Even assuming the best of intentions, the Iraq war has proved to be a strategic blunder that has empowered Iran, destabilized the region, inspired more extremism, degraded our military, and only achieved the removal of minor antagonist. Making this strategic error worse was the hubris and idiocy that dogged every step of the occupation. Although our alliance of convenience with the Sunni extremists who were fighting us just a few months ago has helped to stabilize Iraq and even given the recent show of independence by the Iraqi president in his call for us to set a firm date of withdrawl, Iraq still has a long way to go before we can get out of this quagmire. Until we get out, the Iraq war will continue to eat our resources, undermine our global position, and strengthen our enemies.

The War on Terror

Domestically, the Bush administration has done virtually nothing to harden potential targets of terrorism – allowing the use of the funds appropriated for this purpose to be pissed away on pork barrel spending. The main steps it has taken within America seem designed primarily to expand executive power rather than to achieve any particular goals related to terrorism – asserting the power to crush the testicles of a potential terrorist’s child, to detain individuals without charges for indefinite periods of time, to torture, and to ignore any laws that limit the president’s power. Abroad, the Bush administration squandered our best opportunity to destroy Al Qaeda when it began to shift resources to Iraq and away from those who attacked us. The nexus of world terrorism shifted as a result of the War on Terror from the center of Afghanistan to the lawless areas of the Afghani-Pakistani border – where Chechnyan islamists, the remants of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, veterans of the Zaraqawi’s Iraqi campaign, and other terrorists from around the world are now working together and with greater freedom than at any time since the attacks on September 11. The successes we have had in the War on Terror seem largely to be the fruits of our failures – as the islamist ideology has proven to be an unattractive one once it begins to rule any territory.

Global Climate Change

It is hard to imagine another president ignoring the growing signs and consensus of global climate change so steadfastly. The eight years the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases has wasted ignoring the problem – despite the near universal consensus of the scientific community – have made more drastic steps necessary to correct the problem before it is too late. What other president – with a legacy on climate change such as this – would have bragged at a recent G8 summit about being the “world’s biggest polluter“?


Lincoln Chafee, the Republican Senator from Rhode Island, observed upon first meeting Bush that Bush did not seem up to the job of being president. The past several years have proved this observation prescient. I cannot argue that Bush’s actions have been wise, although I do generally think that they have been well-intentioned. ((I know there are many who disagree.)) But while George W. Bush and his administration have committed petty crimes, war crimes, and constitutional violations, attacked liberties, advocated the preemptive surrender of American values, usurped independent branches of the government for partisan ends, and caused the injury and death of thousands of Americans citizens and citizens of the world – it is Bush who created this moment – this moment for renewal that has traditionally been what sets America apart.

While Ron Paul believed we needed a revoliution to begin to reverse the growing encroachment of government (even if that required the exploitation of poisonous racial resentments) – all we really needed was George W. Bush.

If America truly is a great nation – and in order to redeem the vision of the Constitution of the Founding Fathers, of that great address of Abraham Lincoln, of the square deal of Teddy Roosevelt and the four freedoms of his cousin, of the city on the hill that an old Hollywood actor once invoked – we must take advantage of this opportunity. The American moment is now – as all of us, feeling the fierce urgency of now, must work to restore the America that we grew up believing in – to restore the ideal and to form a more perfect union. Throughout the dark times in American history, Americans have believed and fought for this idea of America – to make this idea a reality and to protect this idea from the encroachments of tyranny and totalitarianism.

Change doesn’t come easy – but the greatest legacy of George W. Bush is that he has made it easier – and given us this opportunity to create a more perfect union. There will be obstacles and compomises in the days ahead – but (yes) we can achieve real change. Bush, more than anyone, deserves responsibility for that.