Latest from Tony Blankley
There is a particular media conceit that, in the garb of purported impeccable disclosure, is in fact a license for news sources to market talking points.
A hilarious example of the breed can be found in an article by Anne E. Kornblut in the Sunday Washington Post. The article is about the White House's intended use of the bin Laden event and is titled "Bin Laden raid fits into Obama's 'big things' message."
Last weekend, David Ignatius in his Washington Post column made a vital contribution to the debt and deficit debate: "Take the deficit pain now. It's a truth of economics and life that if you have bad news coming, take the hit early and get it behind you. You can't start building until the debris is out of the way."
Ignatius offers various examples from history (e.g., Fed Chairman Paul Volker's 1979 interest rate hikes that caused the recessions of the early '80s, but broke the inflation psychology and (I would add, with Ronald Reagan's policies) built the foundation for 25 years of prosperity.
If future historians look back on the ruins of the American economy after a U.S. bond crisis struck in the second decade of the 21st century, many causes will be noted. Obviously, it will be seen that for decades before the catastrophe, the U.S. was spending vastly more than it could afford on government health and retirement programs.
And, just as after the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11, 2011, blue-ribbon commissions will be incredulous that all the telltale signs of the coming disaster were in plain view, yet were ignored.
The great American engine of democracy is beginning to build up a head of steam, and it remains the finest device created by man to organize collective human action.
Two months ago, the conventional wisdom held that Washington would do nothing of consequence to start dealing with our fiscal crisis. Certainly, that was the political baseline for the president's Feb. 14 budget proposal for 2012, which, while roundly condemned as a call to inaction, was seen as politically "shrewd."
In 1427, a ship captain sailing for his Portuguese Prince, Henry the Navigator, discovered the Azores Islands. If the question of the significance of this event had been posed, at the time, to Sultan Murad Khan (the leader of the Ottoman Empire), or to Itzcoatl and Nezahualcoyotl (the co-leaders of the Aztecs) or to Rao Kanha (one of the princes of Jodhpur in India), it is unlikely that any of them would have responded that it is an early indication of a historic explosion of cultural energy in Europe that will lead to European exploration and conquest of most of the known world, and to a renaissance of European thought that will give rise to scientific, industrial and scholarly dominance of the planet by European culture for at least half a millennium.
Today, no European or American leaders with whom I am familiar have tied the Sept. 11, 2001 attack, the various Islamist bombing attacks around the world, the push for Sharia law in the West and the current disturbances in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Syria and Bahrain together as symptoms of one larger phenomenon.
Amid all the confusion of our new little war in Libya, one thing is clear: Notwithstanding the bravery and professionalism of our troops, in naming it Operation Odyssey Dawn, the Pentagon has invoked a haunting specter. The war's namesake — Homer's epic poem "The Odyssey" — is the tale of the hero, Odysseus, taking 10 years to get home from the Trojan War — which itself took 10 years to fight.
In fairness to the Pentagon, when the Germans started their ill-fated campaign in Tripoli in February 1941 (that was to be lost due to a too-long and thin logistics line), they, too, had difficulty, calling it Operation Sonnenblume (Sunflower). As the German historian Wolf Heckmann drolly noted of the Wehrmacht high command: "Unconsciously, someone had hit upon the perfect symbol: a huge and showy flower at the end of a long and rather fragile stem."
In about a month, the Republican majority on the House Budget Committee will present its concurrent budget resolution for fiscal year 2012, which by law will include their proposed 2012 annual budget and their projection of the budgets (spending, revenues and the resulting deficit, surplus or balance) for the following nine years.
It may not be overstatement to assert that this presentation may determine whether Republicans win or lose the 2012 elections and whether the United States government acts in time to save our economic future from ruin.
The media tend to be filled with many items that are either untrue or obvious. Last week — from Politico to cable television, from Karl Rove to Mike Huckabee — was a moment for the obvious to be stated and restated: "The GOP should not underestimate how hard it will be to defeat President Obama next November; indeed, he has to be considered the favorite to win the next presidential election." True.
Of course, the same thing could have been (and was) said about President Lyndon Johnson in the spring of 1967 and about Jimmy Carter in the spring of 1979. Every incumbent president is the most formidable political force in the country. Even a deeply wounded president must be seen as formidable — as Thomas Dewey learned to his regret in 1948 when President Harry Truman won the election even though the Democratic Party had been split three ways (both the pacifist left and the segregationist faction split off and ran their own candidates — Henry Wallace ran on the Progressive ticket, Strom Thurmond ran on the Dixiecrat ticket.)
At the risk of giddy over-optimism, I have the hunch that the American voting public is beginning to demand legislating that actually deals with the nation's problems. There is creeping — still ambiguous — evidence of this, starting with the national polling data.
I argued last December that President Barack Obama's support for the extension of the Bush tax cuts would not end up helping him once the 2011 legislating season started picking up steam, because by principle the president was toward the left side of the political spectrum — and the public was toward the right — particularly on the matter of public debt and deficit.
After the riots in Athens, the Greek authorities decided to enact new laws to deal with their obvious problems. The new laws, which treat rich and poor alike for the first time, have been seen has harsh. The name of the legislator who wrote the laws is a man called Draco. The date is believed to be 621 B.C. And more than 2,600 years later, the adjectival form of his name — draconian — is still tossed around here in Washington anytime someone proposes real budget cuts.
Of course, most of the Washington hands who hurl the "draconian" charge around probably do not know that Draco's laws were considered "just" according to Aristotle. For the first time in Athenian law, the codes were written down so that even poor people could know what was legal and what was illegal — thus they could avoid inadvertently breaking the law.
Last Sunday, the media were reporting that the Muslim Brotherhood was sitting down with Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, in a completely unrelated story, the BBC reported that British Prime Minster David Cameron announced that "State multiculturalism has failed": "David Cameron has criticized 'state multiculturalism' in his first speech as prime minister on radicalization and the causes of terrorism.
"At a security conference in Munich, he argued the UK needed a stronger national identity to prevent people turning to all kinds of extremism. He also signaled a tougher stance on groups promoting Islamist extremism.
"... As Mr. Cameron outlined his vision, he suggested there would be greater scrutiny of some Muslim groups which get public money but do little to tackle extremism. "
Whatever may happen in the hours after I write this column, two things are certain: The next chapter in the magnificent and ancient civilization of the Nile will be yet to be known. And the role that America plays in Egypt's great, unfolding story remains also in doubt.
I well understand the Obama administration's uncertain message in the first week of the Egyptian tumult. We have always been conflicted in such moments. America's founding idea has pointed to our ultimate objective — domestic and foreign:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Last week, the president wrote in the Wall Street Journal an article titled "Toward a 21st-Century Regulatory System" in which he announced that he had issued an executive order to review all government regulations on a cost-benefit ratio basis. In itself, this is a good idea, although the president makes it explicit that the cost-benefit analysis must take account of — as benefits — intangible factors such as "equity, human dignity, fairness, and distributive impacts." Plenty of leeway there for career regulators and liberal political appointees to justify almost any oppressive regulation they may stumble over.
But what startles one is the that such a proposal could come from the same administration that has for the last two years been saddling the American economy and our personal lives with more new legislatively mandated regulations than we have ever experienced in such a short time.
What should the congressional GOP's policy objectives be for the next two years regarding federal deficits and prosperity?
Two very different strategies are being considered by authentic conservatives: 1) attempt to govern from their majority in the House and actually try to start the process of reducing the costs of entitlements (most conspicuously Social Security and Medicare) as a path back to prosperity and good jobs; or 2) recognize that the GOP cannot govern without holding the White House, and that, therefore, they should not touch entitlements but merely tinker with discretionary spending and frame the issues for 2012 when they may win the presidency and Senate, as well as hold the majority in the House.
In the aftermath of the tragic shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and others, it is predictable that some self-centered politicians and political commentators quickly assumed the killer must have been provoked by political comments.
Following on that conclusion, they naturally argue (notwithstanding their exposure last week in the House to the reading of the Constitution, including the First Amendment) that whatever political words may have provoked him to his irrational violence should be silenced.
But as news organizations have begun to flesh out the interests and activities of the alleged psychotic killer, I am struck by several non-political factors that may have both shaped his mind and provoked his action.
As we begin a new year, it may be useful to look back to one particular piece of advice that George Washington gave us in his farewell address. In paragraph 28, he reminded us that:
"It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who, that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?"
His point was that no matter how well designed our constitutional mechanisms may be, the healthy future of our nation would depend upon the maintenance of private virtue — that self-government is only possible if our national character, made up of each individual character, yearns and acts for a free country.
A few years ago, I was in China and, through the help of a friend, had the chance to spend a few hours with a senior editor of the People's Daily —the Communist Party's voice, and the most influential journal in China.
The highly intelligent editor — himself, of course, a senior party man — was cool and dispassionate until we came to a discussion of the causes of revolutions. On that topic, he displayed an almost scholarly knowledge and focused in — with great passion and concern — on the dominant role that rising expectations of the people plays in starting a revolution.
In the spirit of the Christmas season, let me highlight from last week's confusing Washington rhetoric a statement by the president that was shrewd — even wise. On behalf of the spirit of compromise, he pointed out that even though, under the original constitutional compromise, he (implicitly, as a black man) "could not have walked through the front door" — it was worth it because otherwise we would not have gained a union.
Of course, throughout history, calling for compromise may sometimes be a cover for sheer cynicism and lack of principle. Yet without the capacity to compromise at more or less the right moment, collective activity — such as self-government — is impossible.
I suppose it is to be expected that the Great Recession should be accompanied by a sweeping national pessimism in which our purported leaders and commentators express historic despair, while the people and corporations mope about, convinced that the sun will not come up tomorrow.
Such an intensity of self-loathing and lack of confidence has not been heard since the French contemplated their disgraced future in June 1940 when they annihilated their nation, and the great light that was France, by surrendering to the Germans.
"If only we had sold our stocks a few weeks ago." "If only I'd had the brakes checked before she drove up to the mountains."
There are few sadder words than those of regret at letting time pass until the catastrophe hits. Neither individuals, nor armies, nor nations are exempt from the human tendency to wait too long before acting — and paying a terrible price for the delay.
These thoughts, among others, crossed my mind as I have watched politicians across the ideological spectrum react to the deficit commission's report last week.