Archive - 2008
Night is a work by Elie Wiesel based on his experience as a young Orthodox Jew of being sent with his family to the German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald during the Second World War.
Wiesel was 16 years old when Buchenwald was liberated in April 1945. Having lost his faith in God and humanity, he vowed not to speak of his experiences for ten years, at the end of which he wrote his story in Yiddish, which was published in Buenos Aires in 1955. In May that year, the French novelist FranÃ§ois Mauriac persuaded him to write the story for a wider audience. Fifty years later, the 109-page volume, described as devastating in its simplicity, ranks alongside Primo Levi's If This Is a Man and Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl as one of the bedrocks of Holocaust literature.
Back in August Wiesel spoke at an event in honor of Rochester Collegeâ€™s 50th anniversary (link). We were hoping to attend, but it turned out we had a previously-scheduled camping trip that conflicted. It was a rather amazing book to readâ€¦so hard to imagine that it could have happened or what it would have been like to endure. One of the most amazing parts to me was the death march (again from Wikipedia):
In or around August 1944, Eliezer and Shlomo are transferred from Auschwitz II-Birkenau to Auschwitz III, the work camp at Buna-Monowitz, their lives reduced to the avoidance of violence and the constant search for food. "Bread, soup â€” these were my whole life. I was a body. Perhaps less than that even: a starved stomach." The only time they experience joy is when the Americans bomb the camp. "[W]e were no longer afraid of death; at any rate, not of that death. Every bomb that exploded filled us with joy and gave us new confidence in life."
In January 1945, with the Soviet army approaching, the Germans decide to flee the camp, taking around 60,000 inmates, mostly Jews, to camps in Germany, on what becomes known as the death marches, shooting anyone too weak to continue. Eliezer and Shlomo march to Gleiwitz to be put on a freight train to Buchenwald, near Weimar.
An icy wind blew in violent gusts. But we marched without faltering.
Pitch darkness. Every now and then, an explosion in the night. They had orders to fire on any who could not keep up. Their fingers on the triggers, they did not deprive themselves of this pleasure. If one of us had stopped for a second, a sharp shot finished off another filthy son of a bitch.
Near me, men were collapsing in the dirty snow. Shots.
I Am America (And So Can You!) is described as being a "pure extension" of The Colbert Report, delving into the views of Colbert's "well-intentioned, poorly informed high status idiot" character on what he considers to be the most pressing issues facing America. The book draws some influence from the literary endeavors of the character's pundit models, such as Bill O'Reilly's The O'Reilly Factor (2000) and Sean Hannity's Deliver Us From Evil (2004), which Colbert says he forced himself to read as a reference.
I love The Colbert Report, so I enjoyed the book too. I didnâ€™t like the red margin notes because it was too stressful to stay on the look-out for them and make sure I read them in context. I took the book with me on my trip to Germany last January (though I ended up not reading any of it on that trip) and remember noticing someone else (probably an American) reading it in the (Amsterdam?) airport. As I got up to board the plane, I showed him that I had my copy with me, and we shared a moment of solidarity.
That's the question many folks who strongly dislike Obama (to put it mildly) are asking these days in response to the fact that his appointments have been heavy on respected, experienced, centrist "insiders" rather than inexperienced "outsiders." I can't help but wonder if there is any appointment Obama could have made that they would have praised. I think Ta-Nehisi Coates is right on when he writes (link):
Am I the only one not surprised that, in the midst of economic calamity and two wars, Obama's going with some experienced hands? [if] Obama's early nominations had swung hard left, whatever that would be, there'd be a ton of stories with headlines like "Obama abandons bipartisanship" and ledes like "He ran on change and bipartisanship, but President-Elect Obama has veered sharply to the left..."
I think these folks are mistaken about what kind of change Obama has promised. The way I understood it (and I did follow the campaign fairly closely), Obama has promised a change in policy from the last 8 years and an end to the hyper-partisan politics of division, not that his administration would be filled with political newbies from outside the beltway (GWB was the one who ran as a Washington outsider before abandoning that rhetoric, link). I expected him to govern as a centrist (not the ultra-liberal caricature the right has painted) and to appoint smart, competent, experienced people.
Some conservatives are going to be critical no matter what. Some liberals are upset that the appointments are more centrist than far left. However, for the most part, Obama's appointments have been praised by conservatives and liberals alike. Here is a sampling:
From Reuters (link):
In his first news conference since conceding defeat to Democrat Obama on election night three weeks ago [John McCain] applauded Obama's appointments to government, including the likelihood Democratic Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano would be named secretary of homeland security and the economic team being announced this week.
"I think frankly that Senator Obama has nominated some people to his economic team that we can work with, that are well respected, and ... I approve of many of them," McCain said.
"And so I think, my message is to all Americans, as I said on election night, respect this landmark election, respect the fact America faces great challenges and Americans expect us to work together," he said.
From right-wing blogger Hugh Hewitt (link):
The economics side of Team Obama is impressive, and the GOP should be worried that the president-elect intends to talk left and govern right.
From "Obama advisers get bipartisan high marks" by Richard Wolf in USA Today (link):
President-elect Barack Obama got high marks from the White House to Wall Street on Monday for choosing crafty economic policymakers to lead the nation through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
"Brilliant," "outstanding" and "exceptionally talented" were some of the words used to describe his two top choices Timothy Geithner, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, for Treasury secretary, and former Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers for National Economic Council director and that came from Republicans.
From Max Boot, contributing editor to The Weekly Standard (link):
As someone who was skeptical of Obama's moderate posturing during the campaign, I have to admit that I am gobsmacked by these appointments, most of which could just as easily have come from a President McCain. (Jim Jones is an old friend of McCain's, and McCain almost certainly would have asked Gates to stay on as well.) This all but puts an end to the 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, the unconditional summits with dictators, and other foolishness that once emanated from the Obama campaign. His appointments suggest that, if anything, his administration will have a Reapolitiker, rather than a liberal, bent, although Clinton and Steinberg at State should be powerful voices for "neo-liberalism" which is not so different in many respects from "neo-conservativism". Both, for instance, support humanitarian interventions in places like Darfur and Bosnia.
Combined with the moderation of the economic team that Obama has just named, I would say his administration already far exceeds expectations, and he hasn't even taken office yet.
From conservative columnist Larry Kudlow (link):
Stocks, for one, like what they're seeing from Obama's latest cabinet selections. On Friday, Obama announced Tim Geithner will be his Treasury man, and on Monday he made Larry Summers his White House economics tsar and named Christine Romer to the top spot in the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA). Stocks rallied 900 points across this stretch. That's not the end of the stock story. Markets also like the new super-TARP government plan to bailout Citigroup, which effectively guarantees the banking system with a massive insurance-like policy. But markets may also sense a little pro-growth good news in the Obama policy mix
Here's my thought on his team. Summers, Geithner, and Romer will all recommend no tax hikes in a recession. Maybe for Keynesian reasons; maybe a nod to supply-siders. Obama talked about a liberal-conservative consensus. But what's especially encouraging is the appointment of Ms. Romer, who easily could serve as CEA head in a Republican administration (just like Geithner could have been McCain's Treasury man)
That's what makes the Romer appointment so interesting. In fact, there is no question that Obama's economic team is right of center. All three are market-oriented. They're also pro-free-trade. Hopefully Summers and Geithner maintain the Robert Rubin King Dollar policy of the Clinton years. And if Ms. Romer can stop tax hikes, that will help the greenback even more.
At a minimum, both Romer and Geithner could have served under Gerald Ford or George H. W. Bush. But they may be more pro-growth than that. Romer's study of the damage of tax hikes on the economy and her emphasis on investment are right on target. In a New York Times story, a former Treasury colleague of Geithner's says, "he's no liberal." As for Summers, while he has been mau-maued by Democratic feminists and some of the unions, he is a tough, clear-headed thinker who has for years tried to merge Keynesian and supply-side policies. No mean feat.
From columnist Glenn Greenwald (link):
It goes without saying that there will be Obama policies, both in the foreign policy and domestic realms, that are vastly superior to what we've seen the last eight years and to what we would have seen had McCain/Palin won. And as the second-tier positions begin to fill out, there will probably be a handful of appointees who progressives consider to be one of their own. And as Digby points out, the magnitude of the financial crisis may compel him to embrace policies that are deemed to be quite progressive (from massive stimulus packages and government intervention in the economy to a diminution of our foreign adventurism).
But Barack Obama is a centrist, establishment politician. That is what he has been since he's been in the Senate, and more importantly, it's what he made clear -- both explicitly and through his actions -- that he intended to be as President. Even in the primary, he paid no price whatsoever for that in terms of progressive support. As is true for the national Democratic Party generally, he has no good reason to believe he needs to accommodate liberal objections to what he is doing. The Joe Lieberman fiasco should have made that as conclusively clear as it gets.
From Alex Knapp at Outside the Beltway (link):
I have to say, I'm frankly quite surprised that people are so surprised that a guy who ran for President on the grounds that he is a consensus building centrist is making cabinet picks that reflect his desire to be a consensus building centrist. The selection of Hillary to State and his other appointments, frankly, don't surprise me one bit. Obama is clearly choosing people with a history of actually getting things done while in office who generally share his political views.
From James Joyner at Outside the Beltway (link):
there's a Machiavellian shrewdness to all this. Obama can afford to alienate the Hard Left, especially this far from 2012, so cementing his reputation as a serious person and avoiding the youthful amateurism that many moderates fear is smart politics.
Sure enough, thus far at least, the Netroots are mostly keeping their powder dry.
From Kathleen Reardon (link):
...if Obama supporters ever thought he'd wipe the slate clean, they hadn't studied politics. Sure, confidence that things wouldn't be the same as the past eight years was realistic, but believing for a minute that even something vastly different could be accomplished without many in the old guard -- at least the Democratic one -- is the thinking of a political purist.
Highly political arenas like Washington D. C. are not suited to purists. The town teems with street fighters. Jimmy Carter learned that the hard way. And Barack Obama is too sharp and too avid a reader to not know that there are at least as many people wanting a new president to fail as there are hoping for his success. He chose Joe Biden for his running mate because he has high regard for experience. The line-up we're seeing now for the top spots validates that.
And I realize David Brooks has fallen out of favor with right-wingers, but he really lays it on thick in the NY Times (link):
I find myself tremendously impressed by the Obama transition.
The fact that they can already leak one big appointee per day is testimony to an awful lot of expert staff work. Unlike past Democratic administrations, they are not just handing out jobs to the hacks approved by the favored interest groups. They're thinking holistically there's a nice balance of policy wonks, governors and legislators. They're also thinking strategically. As Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute notes, it was smart to name Tom Daschle both the head of Health and Human Services and the health czar. Splitting those duties up, as Bill Clinton did, leads to all sorts of conflicts.
Most of all, they are picking Washington insiders. Or to be more precise, they are picking the best of the Washington insiders.
Obama seems to have dispensed with the romantic and failed notion that you need inexperienced "fresh faces" to change things. After all, it was L.B.J. who passed the Civil Rights Act. Moreover, because he is so young, Obama is not bringing along an insular coterie of lifelong aides who depend upon him for their well-being.
As a result, the team he has announced so far is more impressive than any other in recent memory. One may not agree with them on everything or even most things, but a few things are indisputably true.
First, these are open-minded individuals who are persuadable by evidence. Orszag, who will probably be budget director, is trusted by Republicans and Democrats for his honest presentation of the facts.
Second, they are admired professionals. Conservative legal experts have a high regard for the probable attorney general, Eric Holder, despite the business over the Marc Rich pardon.
Third, they are not excessively partisan. Obama signaled that he means to live up to his postpartisan rhetoric by letting Joe Lieberman keep his committee chairmanship.
Fourth, they are not ideological. The economic advisers, Furman and Goolsbee, are moderate and thoughtful Democrats. Hillary Clinton at State is problematic, mostly because nobody has a role for her husband. But, as she has demonstrated in the Senate, her foreign-policy views are hardheaded and pragmatic. (It would be great to see her set of interests complemented by Samantha Power's set of interests at the U.N.)
Finally, there are many people on this team with practical creativity. Any think tanker can come up with broad doctrines, but it is rare to find people who can give the president a list of concrete steps he can do day by day to advance American interests. Dennis Ross, who advised Obama during the campaign, is the best I've ever seen at this, but Rahm Emanuel also has this capacity, as does Craig and legislative liaison Phil Schiliro.
In contrast to the last president who ran as a uniter before taking a hard right yet fiscally undisciplined turn and running a highly partisan administration, I think a shrewd, disciplined, centrist (while remaining true to his generally liberal convictions) is exactly what our divided country needs right now so I too like what I'm seeing so far.
Update 28 Nov 08:
Karl Rove in the WSJ (link):
...overall, Monday's announcement of Mr. Obama's economic team was reassuring. He's generally surrounded himself with intelligent, mainstream advisers. Investors, workers and business owners can only hope that, over time, this new administration's economic policies bear more of their market-oriented imprint.
Update 29 Nov 08:
I think folks are defining "bringing change to Washington" in a way that Obama didn't define it and then accusing him of breaking his word. I'd like to see some documentation of Obama promising to fill his administration with Washington outsiders or promising not to include people associated with Clinton. I think it's not fair to (effectively) claim that he promised to do that and is now breaking that promise. The explicit "Washington outsider" theme was only a MINOR one that he referred to during the primary campaign to contrast HIMSELF with Clinton (e.g. link). The MAJOR "change to Washington" themes that he emphasized throughout were change from the policy direction of Bush and a change from the politics of division. That is what he explicitly said regarding bringing change to Washington, not anything (correct me if I'm wrong) about filling his administration with outsiders. In the contest with McCain, he contrasted "change" with "more of the same" where "more of the same" was the Bush policies that he claimed McCain would continue. He did not define "more of the same" as people associated with Clinton, the only Democratic president we've had during the last 30 years. He's not yet implementing policy, so we can't judge him yet on that. On the second, the chorus of praise for his appointments so far is an indication that he is at least off to a good start.
Update 29 Nov 08:
The Economist (link):
Mr Obama's policies may not be any more successful at combating the financial crisis and recession than those of George Bush. But it does seem safe to say that economics will play a bigger part in the formation of those policies. Three of the first four members of the team to be named are well-regarded PhD-holding economists and the fourth, Tim Geithner, the new treasury secretary, is a respected central banker (he heads the Federal Reserve Bank of New York). Only one of the four people they will replace shares a comparable background...
It is a striking contrast with the outgoing administration, in which economists never had much clout. Consider the Office of Management and Budget director, who as overseer of $3 trillion in federal spending plays a pivotal role in setting economic priorities. Mr Bush has had four: one was a pharmaceuticals executive, one did government relations for an investment bank, and two were congressmen. All four trained as lawyers. Mr Obama's nominee, Peter Orszag, the outgoing director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, is a professional economist known for such page-turners as "Saving Social Security", a 300-page tome boasting 37 pages of footnotes and eight appendices. Whether Mr Orszag will be tough enough with the red pencil, however, is something that his track-record does not tell us. The team's other striking feature is its centrism.
Update 30 Nov 08:
Former Bush adviser: Obama's cabinet is much less ideological than George Bush's cabinet.' (link)
On ABC's This Week today, former Bush strategist Matthew Dowd marveled at President-elect Barack Obama's cabinet choices, saying that Obama will have "one of the most pragmatic, least ideological cabinets that we've seen in a long time." Dowd noted that this contrasted with how his former boss picked his staff when he first entered office:
DOWD: Much less ideological than George Bush's cabinet when he appointed it, when he first came into office. People that have disagreements. He has disagreements with his potential Secretary of State. He has disagreements with the person that's going to run his Pentagon. It's an amazing thing he has done that.
Update 01 Dec 08:
John Warner, Republican Senator and former Navy Secretary and Armed Services Chairman (link):
"The triumvirate of Gates, Clinton and Jones to lead Obama's national security team instills great confidence at home and abroad and further strengthens the growing respect for the president-elect's courage and ability to exercise sound judgment," Warner said in a statement.
Henry Kissinger (link):
Kissinger said it would show "great courage on the part of the President-elect to appoint a very strong personality, who has an independent constituency, into a cabinet position."
Bobby Jindal, Republican governor of Louisiana (link):
"I think the American people are tired of campaigns and politics," Jindal said. "We need to get behind our new president and our new Congress, support them, and stop being Democrats and Republicans."
I'm not talking about whether or not it's Sarah Palin. I'm talking about the direction it (and the Republican party) will take in the wake of the Bush administration and the recent election results. From a recent article by Philip Klein from The American Spectator titled "The Future of the Right" (link):
About two-dozen conservative leaders met today at the Stanley, Virginia home of Media Research Center President Brent Bozell in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains to discuss conservatism's future in the wake of Tuesday's election results.
TAS Publisher Al Regnery and editor in chief R. Emmett Tyrrell were on hand, along with leaders from policy groups and grassroots organizations representing each pillar of the conservative coalition, from Christian conservatives to libertarians, and everybody in between.
"As the afternoon went on, it didn't take long for attendees to become resolute in their resistance to moderates and to the opinion that the conservative movement will become the opposition to Obama," Tyrrell said.
One attendee said, "We're no longer going to support Republicans who want to 'improve' a bad bill. We're going to oppose all bad bills."
Looking back at the campaign, they felt that John McCain wasn't really a conservative, and that Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber were the two best things that happened because of the way they connected with people.
In an article in the LA Times titled "The GOP looking glass", Jonah Goldberg frames the soul searching this way (link):
In one corner, there are a large number of bright, mostly younger, self-styled reformers with a diverse -- and often contradictory -- set of proposals to win back middle-class voters and restore the GOP's status as "the party of ideas" (as the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it).
In another corner are self-proclaimed traditional conservatives and Reaganites, led most notably by Rush Limbaugh, who believe that the party desperately needs to get back to the basics: limited government, low taxes and strong defense.
What is fascinating is that both camps seem implicitly to agree that the real challenge lurks in how to account for the Bush years. For the young Turks and their older allies -- my National Review colleagues Ramesh Ponnuru, Yuval Levin and David Frum, the Atlantic's Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, New York Times columnist David Brooks et al -- the problem is that Bush botched the GOP's shot at real reform. For the Limbaugh crowd, the issue seems to be that we've already tried this reform stuff -- from both Bush and McCain -- and look where it's gotten us.
The irony is that both camps agree on a lot more than they disagree. The reformers are committed to market principles and reducing the size and role of government, and so are the back-to-basics crowd. The problem is that an elephant named George in the room is blocking each side from seeing what the other is all about. But hopefully not for much longer.
It seems to me that the realities of electoral demographics will be critical for charting electoral success for conservatives in the coming decades. In another LA Times article titled "Democrats set sights on Texas" (link), Peter Wallsten writes:
As they review the results of Tuesday's election victories and begin looking toward future campaigns, some Democrats have settled on a rallying cry: Texas is next.
It sounds improbable for the Republican bastion that produced President Bush and served as an early laboratory for Karl Rove's hard-nosed tactics. But Texas is one of several reliably red states that are now in Democrats' sights as party strategists begin to analyze a victorious 2008 campaign that they believe showed the contours of a new movement that could grow and prove long-lasting.
A multiethnic bloc of Latinos, blacks, young people and suburban whites helped to broaden the party's reach Tuesday well beyond its traditional base in the Northeast and the West Coast -- carrying Barack Obama into the White House and expanding the party's majorities in Congress.
That new formula was evident in state exit polls and county-level election results showing that Democrats scored gains from a voting base that is growing progressively less white than the population that helped forge Republican advantages in past elections. In state after state, from GOP strongholds like North Carolina, Indiana and Colorado, minorities made up a larger share of the vote than in the past, and in each case they helped turn states from red to blue.
Latinos made up a greater share of the electorate than in the past in every Southwestern state, according to exit polls compiled by CNN. And in each Southwestern state, as well as Florida, the Democrat pulled a bigger percentage of the Latino vote -- a turnaround from 2004, when President Bush cut deeply into Democrats' hold on Latinos and won that bloc in Florida, where many Cuban Americans remain loyal to the GOP.
Projections from the US Census Bureau (link) indicate that by 2042 non-Hispanic whites will no longer represent a majority of the US population.
Here is a summary of the projections comparing 2008 to 2050:
If those projections turn out to be anywhere close to reality, itâ€™s obvious that the Republican party's prospects will continue to decline over the next few decades if it is fairly or unfairly stereotyped as as "anti-immigrant" or the party of white people. Those aren't fair descriptions of the Republican party or conservative political movement as a whole, but those tendencies are there and could be exacerbated depending on the direction conservatives take in response to their recent defeats. The nearly uniform whiteness seen among the party leaders and the crowds at the party convention illustrate the danger that it could be perceived as not a party for all of us. This is one of the reasons that it is important that people like Bobby Jindal and Michael Steele become significant faces of the party. Regardless, it seems that issues of changing demographics have to be given weight as the conservatives chart their course forward.
From a NY Times editorial of the same title (link):
The United States once had the world's top high-school graduation rate. It has now fallen to 13th place behind countries like South Korea, the Czech Republic and Slovenia. Worse still, a new study from the Education Trust, a nonpartisan foundation, finds that this is the only country in the industrial world where young people are less likely than their parents to graduate high school.
h/t: The Week