Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Brits Are Doing What?

This subject deserves much more discussion than I can provide here and now, but I have to call the reader’s attention to what the new British government is doing.

It’s outrageous! They are cutting public spending and laying off government workers!

This, as I have been suggesting for years, is what is going to happen, and what must happen, here. I do realize that many government employees are very competent and hard-working, sincerely trying to do their best for the public they serve. But, in recent, years, the rolls of bureaucratic jobs, especially in Washington, DC, and many state governments, have become bloated, while at the same time salaries and benefits (especially pensions) for these employees have often greatly exceeded what they could be justified to be.

Politicians who enabled this exaggerated growth and bloating have been notoriously cowardly, and this includes politicians in both major parties, about reigning in this unnecessary and destructive growth. In Europe, this trend has been going on longer and to a greater degree. But the current economic crisis, there and around the world, has brought the self-delusion of the welfare state into immediate view, and with all its consequences. Not just Greece, but Great Britain, France, Germany, Scandinavia, Benelux, Portugal, and other European Union members now must pay their piper.

So must we in the United States. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, an upset winner in last year’s election, has been showing the way. Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota has tried to do so, against an entrenched liberal legislature. Former Congressman Tim Penny and a number of his centrist allies have warned us about deficits. Newt Gingrich and many other conservatives have been warning us about the price of delay in dealing with Medicare, Social Security, public and private pension funds, and unchecked deficit spending.

There used to be more choices, but delay has reduced this flexibility. I predict the imminent raising of the Social Security retirement age, introduction of at least some private investment in Social Security accounts, dramatic new market choices in Medicare, the loss of more than one million public sector bureaucratic jobs, and a transformation of the unfunded liabilitiy pensions funds now in effect.

For years, I and many others have said, “Do something now before it becomes more expensive and more disruptive.” But the politicians of both parties put off their responsibility, doing little or nothing. Now the piper has showed up at the American door, too.

It’s not going to be pretty. There will be a lot of yelling and shouting, threats of strikes and actual strikes, emotional appeals, court cases, and so on. It does not matter. It’s time to pay.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Have You Noticed?…..Newt Rising!

Little noted recently, with so much else in the political news of late, is the fact that Newt Gingrich’s standing in virtually all public opinion polls has risen somewhat dramatically.

This has to be taken with numerous grains of sea salt, of course, but I think it does tell us something about the incipient 2012 presidential campaign. (It is only two years until the nominating conventions). [A word of full disclosure: I have known Gingrich since 1984, and although I have not worked for him, I did work with him in creating and presenting the 2007 dialogue with him and Mario Cuomo at the Cooper Union in New York City.]

Gingrich’s potential candidacy is full of contradictions and assaults on conventional wisdom. He is over 60 years old. (I noted an op ed this week entitled “Don’t trust any politician over 50.”) He has numerous political warts and blemishes from his marital past. He did not leave his term as speaker of the House of Representatives on a positive note. And finally, he still has impetuous moments such as his intrusion in the special NY-23 congressional race last year. In a phrase, to many voters, and particularly to many political activists, Gingrich is “old hat” and “a man of the past.”

But is he? How can we explain, in an already large field of GOP potential candidates, his rise from lower single digits in the polls to poll numbers in the 20’s matching frontrunner Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin?

The answer is simple and complicated. First of all, Gingrich would like to be president, notwithstanding his stated willingness to be “realistic” and pass on the opportunity

if he can see he doesn’t have a chance. Second, he feels (and it difficult to refute) that he is uniquely qualified to be president. His experience in the legislative branch is unarguable, but his background as an historian, expert on military strategy, the depth of his knowledge of health policy, education, immigration issues and fiscal policy probably can’t be matched by any other GOP candidate. Third, Gingrich is the modern phoenix of U.S. politics, having departed from power in 1999 mostly in disgrace. Fourth, he is the only visibly potential Churchillian figure in American politics at a time when that may be exactly what the voters want. (In 1939, Churchill was old, discredited, controversial and “washed up.”)

Lest the reader conclude that Mr Gingrich is my choice for president at this point, I should point out that at least two other and younger/newer candidates have my attention. First, as I first pointed out a year ago, Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana is one of the most successful governors of any state today, has a terrific resume of executive and legislative experience, and by all accounts is a first class political act (although he lacks so far any notable charisma). Second, my own governor Tim Pawlenty started off weakly in 2003, having only won a plurality and facing a liberal Democratic legislature and a hostile press in the state. But since then, and especially in the past two years, he has masterfully defended a no-new-taxes and lower spending agenda against all odds. He is also, along with Gingrich, the best communicator in the GOP field, having a special knack for explaining the complicated issues facing the nation in easy to understand terms. However, Pawlenty has always been weak on organization, and this presents a serious problem for him as 2011-2012 approaches.

It is my belief that neither Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin will be presidential candidates in 2012. Obviously, each has a notable constituency and would be formidable in the nomination process. Frontrunner Mitt Romney has much going for him, including his formidable executive experience in private and public life, his quality run and gracious withdrawal in 2008, and his articulate manner. In spite of obvious public relations problem with his “Romneycare” legislation when he was governor of Masachusetts, all things being equal and normal, he is the “man to beat” in 2012.

But circumstances in America and the world are not “normal’ during this summer of 2010 and the foreseeable beyond. We not only face grievous natural and man-made disasters piling one on the other; a new and vicious terrorism is loosed in the world, explicitly threatening Western civilization; economic crisis assaulting the very fundamental fiscal institutions both at home and abroad, but we also face the demoralization of our culture and of our government institutions.

I am making no predictions here. The nomination of Newt Gingrich for president in 2012 remains a long shot. A year or so from now, my little essay may seem hopelessly dated and far-fetched.

Gingrich has remarkably kept himself in the public eye through his many “speculative” history novels, his non-fiction books (the latest is “To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine”), frequent speeches across the country and his public policy foundation American Solutions (with an e-mail list of millions in all 50 states). But all of that, unprecedented as it is, won’t make Newt Gingrich either the nominee of his party or president in 2012. Only a much larger and uncontrollable force could do that, that is, his favorite subject, history.

Implacable history.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Taking Over And Succeeding

One by one, the old figures of the U.S. senate are being replaced this year. Ted Kennedy died. Chris Dodd has decided not to run again, as have Jim Bunning, Kit Bond, Byron Dorgan, George Voinovich and Roland Burris. Robert Bennett was denied renomination by his own party. Arlen Specter is likely to lose the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, after he switched parties. Nonagenerian Robert Byrd is still in office, but barely, probably sleeping much more than he is awake, and has to be wheeled into the senate chambers when there is a close vote. Majority leader Harry Reid seems headed for certain loss in November. Barbara Boxer may lose her seat.

All of them will be replaced by younger men and women, and the country will be the better for it. Conventional arguments about seniority and experience, once seemingly sensible arguments for keeping old senators in office, now are pathetically empty rationales. Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond were political parodies at the end, no matter how one felt about their earlier careers. Outstanding senators now past their prime are not immune from this self-indulgence. Richard Lugar, Barbara Mikulski, Daniel Inuoye, Jay Rockefeller are among these. Others such as Daniel Akaka, Frank Lautenberg, Jeff Bingaman and Herb Kohl, did not ever make much difference in the senate, and hopefully will be retired soon.

The list above includes Republican and Democrats, and those who have held on too long in the past is also bipartisan. This is not about politics; it is about judgment and able public service.

A few older senators still have lots of impact and political energy. These include Joe Lieberman, Lamar Alexander, John McCain, Orrin Hatch and Diane Feinstein. Chuck Grassley, Thad Cochran and Richard Shelby still make some difference. They are the exceptions that prove the rule. My point is not that age and experience are in any way bad, but that in terms of service in the U.S. senate, they can become an obstacle to that body working well. I don’t know about specific term limits, but I don’t think anyone should serve in the same elective office too long.

As a relatively senior person myself, who expects and wants to be active as long as possible, and long past any conventional dates, I wish for all of the above senators to continue to have long and productive lives. But the U.S. senate is a vital American institution, and needs, especially in this dangerous economic and political time, new blood, fresh thinking and youthful imagination.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The British Election Aftermath

The results are in for 649 seats in the British Parliament (one seat, very likely to be won by the Conservatives will be decided in a special election later this month), and the Conservatives (Tories) clearly have replaced Labour as the British voters’s favorite political party. With an expected final total of 307 seats, however, Tory leader David Cameron is 19 votes short of an absolute majority. The unwritten British constitution and precedent now allow for several resolutions of who will govern the United Kingdom and serve as prime minister.

The most likely outcome is that Mr. Cameron will become prime minster and that the Tories will govern. They have two main choices, if the queen invites Mr. Cameron to form a government, i.e., the Tories can form an alliance with the Liberal Democrats and run a coalition majority government, or they can govern without a majority and make no alliances. There is another possibility which is that the Liberal Democrats could form a coalition with Labour, but there two very large problems with that. First, the total of all the Labour members and all the Liberal Democrats is short of an absolute majority, and second, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats LOST members in the election (while the Tories made huge gains), so that a Labour-Lib Dem coalition would repudiate the voters. Without claiming to be an expert on British politics, I would predict that a Labour-Liberal Democrat government would be short-lived, unpopular, and a new election called relatively soon.

Gordon Brown has been repudiated by the voters. Nick Clegg’s popularity lasted about a week after he “won” the first TV debate in the election, and his party did much worse than expected, even losing seats in the new parliament. Only Mr. Cameron may fairly make a claim to lead at this point.

It is the queen, it must remembered, who makes the final determination about whether Mr. Cameron or Mr. Brown will be invited to form the next government. She has reigned for more than 50 years, has chosen more than a dozen prime ministers, and has come to represent the long-term stability of the United Kingdom, so a “radical” solution to the resolution of the election in the next few days is unlikely.

Mr. Cameron did close the election strongly, rightly employing the strategy of explaining to the voters that the only true choice was between the Conservatives and Labour, but he allowed an earlier commanding lead to narrow. All great British prime ministers were bold men or women, and if anything is needed on that side of the Pond right now (or on our side of the Pond, for that matter), it is boldness and a return to conservative principles. Mr. Cameron, during the election season did succeed in making himself the better choice for voters. Now he needs to demonstrate that he can govern boldly. This dangerous and extraordinary moment in time requires that the men and women in government rise to an historic set of occasions. This is not happening now in Great Britain, nor in its hitherto very successful former colony the United States of America. The citizens and electorate of both these nations, especially the young and new voters, yearn for boldness, not just in rhetoric but most importantly in action that will transform the present crisis.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Curious Note About 2012?

It is very, very early in the 2012 presidential election cycle, and not useful to make, prognostications, but the rapid re-polarization of the electorate (it is only 15 months since Barack Obama was sworn in as president) enables some provisional observations possibly worth remembering at a later date.

We all know the conventional rules of American politics, and how rapidly reversals of public opinion often take place, usually provoked by two main causes: 1. Dramatic change of domestic economic conditions, either for the better or worse; and 2. Sudden international events or developments which directly affect the United States.

In mid-2010 America we have the following condition: a first-term president who is pursuing a radical agenda in both domestic and foreign policy. When I say “radical,” I do not mean automatically that it is bad or wrong. Sometimes, I think, “radical” changes fit the need of the times. But if a radical agenda is enacted, it must be perceived as successful and rally popular support, especially in the more independent political center of the electorate. President Obama entered office facing an economic crisis of significant dimensions. Instead of employing the successful strategies of lowering or stabilizing taxes and reducing government deficits of his recent Democratic predecessors, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, Mr. Obama has chosen to raise taxes and increase deficits. This is not only a “radical” strategy, it has not ever worked in U.S. before, except briefly in wartime. This is the European model which centralizes the economy, raises taxes, but provides a wide range of welfare services to the general population. Ironically, in most European nations where this model originated and was developed over decades, the strategy has been notably modified or abandoned as it, long-term, inhibited growth, entrepreneurship and innovation; and has failed economically.

Of course, “growth, entrepreneurship and innovation” are not deep-seeded Europeanprinciples. That continent has not enjoyed continual democratic governments foralmost 250 years, and it has been the site for persistent and brutal warfare, as well as economic upheaval until almost recently. In short, most Europeans have become used to being told what to do or think by their leaders over the past 1000 years. To be sure, the European Union has seemed to be a step to avoid the worst problems of the past, but the EU creators are attempting to take the potentially positive idea of an economic union to the point of political union, something that simply is not going to happen in a continent of so many different languages, religions and cultural traditions. To complicate everything, Europe has now opened its doors to waves of immigrants who are hostile to the various religious and cultural identities of its member states, and these immigrants are now so numerous, and growing so fast, they threaten, in a relatively short time, the demographic and social integrity of what
has been built over a millenium.

European intellectual elite thinking (most of it advocating socialist or far left views),however, has dominated the U.S. educational establishment, especially at the university level, for decades. This is the environment from which President Obama comes, and where his “radical strategy” originates.

In spite of the reality that Europe has lived off U.S. military protection for 60 years, as well as America’s superpower economy, its entrepreneurship and innovation, much of Europe has a chronic self-image (and delusion) that it remains the center of the world, and this image is unfortunately swallowed whole and perpetuated by American university faculty elites who, in turn, imperiously have tried to impose their ideas on their students.

It unfortunately has followed that Europe, twice rescued from depravity and disaster by the U.S. in the 20th century, grew to resent its benefactor and that nation’s real power. As the world economy has evolved, and the super-populated nations of China and India adopted the American model of capitalism, it has become more and more clear that U.S. global economic dominance, as known in the 20th century, was gradually coming to an end. The United States of America and its global polices became unpopular even among its allies and beneficiaries.

It is this “unpopularity” which President Obama and his supporters are now responding to in U.S. foreign policy. Our major allies (Great Britain, Israel and new democratic nations everywhere) are being “re-evaluated,” and our enemies are being courted. The problem with this courtship is that our enemies have no intention of “marrying” us. In fact, they want to, figuratively and literally, kill us.

These are not political strategies with good prospects for President Obama. He is fighting economic reality and human nature at its most basic level. Anything can happen, but it would seem that after this coming November, he will have to decide on new strategies. If he does not, the main question of the 2012 presidential election would not be who will be the Republican nominee, but who might be, after his party rejects their own incumbent, the Democratic nominee.