Although he had met too many famous people to name favorites, [Richard] Nixon was "one of the nicest men I have met," he said.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
I didn’t come here to do the same thing we’ve been doing or to take small steps forward, I came to provide the sweeping change that this country demanded when it went to the polls in November.
It's one thing to repudiate business as usual. It's another to ridicule incremental change so blithely. Cautiousness is often a virtue in a leader, even in a crisis -- especially in one. Just because everyone tells Obama he's FDR doesn't mean he is. Obviously every President has a tendency to think that God or fate put him in office to accomplish great things. But if there's a consensus among economists who are as smart as or smarter than Obama that a massive increase in the size and scope of the federal government is what the economy most needs right now, I haven't seen it. Instead, Obama appears to be using the economic crisis to accomplish his ideology-based agenda. Before the election, he gave no hints about the scope of his ambitions, so he can't really say he was elected to provide sweeping change. Instead, he was elected because Lehman Bros. tanked and people had grown disenchanted with George W. Bush's ineffectiveness.
Won't Obama's move to the left empower Republicans, in the same way Bill Clinton's attempt at nationalized health care and other leftward moves set up the GOP's 1994 landslide? Obama doesn't seem to be worried. As he denounces politics as usual, he gives every impression of beginning to think that he's immune to them.
I don't think a President should resort to incrementalist policies just to be reelected. But he should be attracted to them when no one is sure if more dramatic moves are the right thing to do. Even Obama's most consistent new-media supporter, Andrew Sullivan, says Obama's policies are radical and untested. We're not a radical country. Obama was smart enough to know that 2008 was the Democrats' year and that Hillary Clinton was vulnerable. He earned his win. But if he arrogantly overreaches and forces policies down our throats that blunt a recovery by muffling enterprise and economic growth, he deserves to lose.
The terrible thing to imagine is how bad off the United States would have to be for the President to be hobbled in 2010 and defeated in 2012. So I don't agree with opportunistic Republicans who admit they want him to fail. That's a grossly irresponsible position to take, tantamount to wanting to lose a war to achieve political gain. I want him to succeed. I'm just beginning to think he won't.
Friday, February 27, 2009
He won the stimulus debate long before the Republicans realized it (they were busy doing tap-dances of victory on talk radio, while he was building a new coalition without them). And now, after presenting such a centrist, bi-partisan, moderate and personally trustworthy front, he gets to unveil a radical long-term agenda that really will soak the very rich and invest in the poor. Given the crisis, he has seized this moment for more radicalism than might have seemed possible only a couple of months ago.As for whether these are the right policies -- whether the American people, no matter how economically anxious they are right now, really want the federal government to equalize wealth in addition to opportunity -- well, Sullivan's just not sure:
The risk is, at least, a transparent risk. If none of this works, he will have taken a massive gamble and failed. The country will be bankrupt and he will have one term. His gamble with the economy may come to seem like Bush's gamble in Iraq. But if any of it works, if the economy recovers, and if the GOP continues to be utterly deaf and blind to the new landscape we live in, then we're talking less Reagan than FDR in long-term impact.Yes, certainly, if you're in it for the sheer theater, which many in Sullivan's business are, especially the so-called old media, which often seem to want to turn politics and policy into sports. I hadn't thought it of Sullivan until now. As much as he admires Edmund Burke and Ronald Reagan, how can he be so blase? If I may state the bleeding obvious, people's lives, careers, businesses, and fortunes are at stake, not to mention the mighty engine of wealth on which so much of the world still stakes its hopes and dreams. As most conservatives know, or at least believe, a national government can grow and consume to a point where initiative and enterprise begin to die as systems fundamentally though not exclusively based on risk and reward are replaced by ones based on safety and equality.
It's going to be a riveting first year, isn't it?
Perhaps Sullivan is one of those who believe that the pendulum always swings between progressivism and conservatism. You can't get back to one without a corrective rooted in the other. The difficulty is that the point over which the pendulum swings seems only to move leftward. Under Reagan, for instance, the rich may have gotten richer, but the government didn't get smaller. As anyone who's worked with big government will tell you, its denizens have infinite means at their disposal of protecting their interests. Big government doesn't shrink. Ever.
As one who argued that Obama would move to the center, I find his profoundly ideological budget, which seems to seek to exploit class anger for the sake of arrogating more power to the federal government, to be deeply disappointing. Knowing (or reading) Sullivan, he may think that the GOP will now have to grow up and talk about its own mature vision (if it has one) of the state vs. individual freedom. Let's hope so.
Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning.
Frederick Douglass, from his speech celebrating West India Emancipation Day (August, 1857)
Ease our suffering in this, our moment of great despair
Yea, admit this good and decent woman into thine arms in the flock in thine heavenly area up there
And Moab, he laidest down in the land of the Canaanites
And yea, though the Hindus speak of Karma, I implore you
Give her a break.
Baruch Ata, Hallelujah!
It’s worth mentioning that at one point Morris remarks that the Cambodian invasion of 1970 was “what a later era might call a ’surge.’” That may be more telling than he knows. The “surge,” widely denounced by Democrats (and some Republicans) at the time, was the key to gaining the degree of peace Iraq enjoys now. The Cambodian incursion, hated though it was by antiwar activists, did neutralize the supply lines and gave a breathing space to American and South Vietnamese forces at a time when it was needed.
Wednesday morning on the CBS Early Show, Vice President Joe Biden asked, "But what I don't understand from Governor Jindal is what would he do? In Louisiana, there's 400 people a day losing their jobs. What's he doing?"
But that claim is wrong if you look at the numbers from the Louisiana Workforce Commission.
"In December, Louisiana was the only state in the nation besides the District of Columbia, according to the national press release, that added employment over the month," said Patty Granier with the Louisiana Workforce Commission."The state gained 3,700 jobs for the seasonally adjusted employment," Granier said of the most recent figures.
A mysterious thing happened in that speech Tuesday night. By the end of it Barack Obama had become president. Every president has a moment when suddenly he becomes what he meant to be, or knows what he is, and those moments aren't always public.
Bill Safire thought he saw it with Richard Nixon one day in the new president's private study. Nixon always put a hand towel on the hassock where he put his feet, to protect the fabric, but this time he didn't use the towel, he just put up his feet. As if it were his hassock. And his house.
So with Mr. Obama, about four-fifths of the way through the speech. He was looking from the prompters to the congressmen and senators, and suddenly he was engaging on what seemed a deeper level. His voice took on inflection. He wasn't detached, as if he was wondering how he was doing. He seemed equal to the moment and then, in some new way, in command of it.
Budget experts were still sorting through the details on Thursday, but it appeared that various tax cuts and credits aimed at the middle class and the poor would increase the take-home pay of the median household by roughly $800.
The tax increases on the top 1 percent, meanwhile, will most likely cost them $100,000 a year.
“The tax code will become more progressive, with relatively higher rates on the rich and relatively lower rates on the middle class and poor,” said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center in Washington. “This is reversing the effects of the Bush policies,” he added, and then going even further.And just as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s tax increases on the wealthy followed a stock market crash, which had already depressed their incomes, Mr. Obama’s proposals — if they become law — would too. The combination has the potential to reverse a significant portion of the inequality trends of the last few decades.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Mr. Perle is one of the best-known neoconservative foreign-policy intellectuals in Washington. He was an assistant secretary of Defense under President Ronald Reagan and the chairman of the Defense Policy Board in the early years of the Bush administration.
Unfortunately, a neoconservative foreign-policy guru is not exactly a respected calling these days. As early and influential cheerleaders for the Iraq war, neocons occupy a level on par with investment bankers and eviction specialists.
But in a remarkable bit of blame evasion, Mr. Perle steps forward to tell us why neocons like him can in no way be held responsible for the Bush administration's failures. In fact, they had nothing to do with it. He, he writes, has "been widely but wrongly depicted as deeply involved in the making of administration policy."
Brooding, dark and far too sincere for its own good (note extended voiceovers about heroism and loneliness, not to mention a whole counterfactual element in which the U.S. wins Vietnam and Richard Nixon is elected to five terms), what could have been a moral fable in superhero clothes (ie, the Dark Knight) is instead a sloppy stew of vigilante justice, techno-musings and pop social philosophy.
It is the mid-1980s and Richard Nixon has been elected for a third term as US president.If we'd managed to engineer that, it would've gotten him no further than January 1981.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
President Barack Obama, the toast of the world before he took the oath of office, is off to a better start than either his detractors or his supporters seem to realize. He’s getting a particularly bad rap on his commitment to bipartisanship — while 74 percent of respondents to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll said he was “trying to work with Republicans,” only 37 percent felt bipartisanship was the right approach, while 56 percent said he should “stick to the policies” he promised in the campaign.However, it was President Obama’s efforts to reach out to Republican moderates that enabled him to win a crucial victory in the Senate on the most gigantic financial stimulus in the nation’s history. In fact, in terms of what he has accomplished in a short time, Mr. Obama is ahead of two other presidential over-achievers: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.
A theme that permeated the [SOTU] speech was rapidly rising national debt, following the budget-busting $787 billion stimulus that Mr Obama just signed. “Everyone in this chamber—Democrats and Republicans—will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars. And that includes me,” Mr Obama said. But he has yet to say what he is prepared to sacrifice. He still plans to expand publicly financed health care, make permanent tax credits to the majority of workers, expand college assistance and invest in alternative energy.
How can the solidarity we feel – our faith’s call to emulate the Lord’s compassion toward those engulfed in darkness on the labyrinth of life – become concrete in our Ash Wednesday fasting? Consider spending $2 or less on the meager meal you will eat, remembering how much of the world lives on $2 per day or less. Take the time to place a glass of water on the table, remembering millions that suffer disease, poverty and conflict, for they have no glass of water to drink. May the water remind us of our baptism, which calls us to be Christians not just in name, but by the actions we undertake for justice and peace.
Let your daily walk, used to dispel a sedentary lifestyle, become a fast from consumerism. Place in a grocery bag items you would take if you were going to be homeless, and carry them while you walk. Feel the solidarity by remembering those without shelter — what it is like to place all your belongings in one bag — and think about the earthly treasures we reverence.
Some Christian denominations crease their unobscured brows at the mention of the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, pointing to a passage in Matthew's gospel in which Jesus cautions his friends against "practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them" (6:1). We read that verse in the Bible, these faithful skeptics ask us, and nonetheless walk around one winter's day with a big black cross on our foreheads?
Deepening the paradox is that most ash-imposing Christians will hear that very passage in church today. Each year a different solution to the puzzle comes to mind. It seems to me that the cross on the forehead should be an outward symbol of Lenten resolves which we commit to keep in the forefront of our hearts and minds. In addition to the carbon scoring on the forehead, do we have something new cooking in our frontal lobes?
My first Lenten resolve (as my family mourns the death yesterday of my stepfather, Dr. Richard J. Lescoe, after a long struggle against Parkinson's Disease) is to be especially mindful and less fearful of the cycle of death, life, and rebirth (and also of fear and peace, sadness and joy, love and alienation) we experience in our lives and our Christian walk.
Second, did you see the way official Washington couldn't keep its hands off the President last night as he made his way down the aisle before the SOTU? The man was poked and stroked, grasped and grabbed. Lousy with pride and ambition, fear and anxiety though our politics may be, they're fundamentally rooted in relationships. Christians would say politics are incarnational. Our religion should be as well. Off the e-mail and text-messaging, people of God, and back to Starbucks and, at the very least, the telephone. May our wonderful St. John's preschoolers, shown learning about Ash Wednesday from chaplain Patti Peebles, be masters of the modern communications at their disposal rather than their slaves, as we too often seem to be. Intertwined digits are better than digital any day.
In moments of anxiety and emotional chaos, in transition and illness, in mourning, or in anger over the way loved ones are being treated, our relationship with God often comes in second. Leaving one job and immersing myself full time in another, which proved more complicated than I'd expected, I noticed I was talking to myself more than Jesus. So my third Lenten resolve is to pray more. At St. John's, in the corner of the Chrysostom Chapel, we've just installed votive candles. I'll be spending plenty of time there this sacred season. I promise the Altar Guild not to get ashes onto the purple fabric of the beautiful prie-deu today, but I do look forward to the day that it looks a little less new and a lot more prayed-with.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Tuesday night's speech was the most comprehensive manifesto [Obama] has offered yet for his new rendezvous with America's progressive tradition. "We will rebuild," he declared, "we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before." If he is right, he will also have rebuilt American liberalism.
And if you come out for a pancake supper on the evening before Ash Wednesday, you're participating in Shrove Tuesday (or if you're in New Orleans during Mardis Gras, Fat Tuesday). Anglicans and Episcopalians sometimes call it Pancake Tuesday. People used to cook up all the fatty foods and eggs in the larder, since they didn't eat them during Lent.
These days, while we're less concerned with denying ourselves during Lent, we definitely still go for the pancakes. At St. John's, the men's group makes plenty of the blueberry and chocolate chip variety, while Chef Gene Guazzo of the St. John's School kitchen cooks up a mess of succulent sausage and bacon. Before supper, Nancy Constable, on behalf of the Altar Guild, burned last year's Palm Sunday crosses for use during imposition of ashes at four services tomorrow. Remember that you are dust, the minister intones, and to dust you shall return. Christians have been doing it since the 10th century, going out into the proud, death-denying world with a rough, cross-shaped smudge on their foreheads denoting repentance and proclaiming their mortality.
But that's tomorrow. Today Bob Hayden, Tom Woodruff (shown in his red apron), and others in the men's group set the tables, cooked, and cleaned up afterward. Choir members offered two rousing folk numbers, we said some ancient evening prayers, and the children marched into the church and hit the "Alleluia" (since our liturgies won't include that Resurrection word until the Great Vigil of Easter on Holy Saturday). As we conducted our joyful business, the southern California sky glowed like a Lenten purple banner behind the mountains that hug the neighborhood around our church.
[Sullivan] is a hero-worshipper, but all his heroes do not go together. He reveres Reagan and he reveres Obama. That is to say, he admires conceptions of government that contradict each other. I do not see how Reagan's views of the national government can be pressed into the service of Obama's plans for the national government. Perhaps Sullivan, who lazily prefers paradoxes to contradictions, can find a way. I leave it to him to sort out the consequences of his serial idolatries.
Having previous winners laud nominees in specific categories got good reviews.
We found the approach touching in the actress categories. It didn't work quite as well for the men.
Especially when Michael Douglas repeatedly praised Frank Langella's Oscar-nominated performance as Richard Nixon in "Frost/Nixon" as having rendered all others obsolete. Anthony Hopkins, who played Nixon in Oliver Stone's 1995 bio-pic, was standing practically right next to him onstage.
The writing of history is about locating, sorting, and explicating information. There are cultural assumptions built into this process, so history can change through the decades as society changes.
A glance at the historiography of the causes of the Civil War will show this. Because historians bring their own preconceptions and cultural background to their work, each will emphasize some information differently from others. If historians did not do this, there would be little to the profession of history: Parson Weems would still be the authority on George Washington.
It is the constant re-evaluation of information that provides new insights. But, if all the information is not available, as the 1973 Nixon tapes are not (except for those few characterized by the National Archives as relating to Watergate), then it's a bit too soon to talk about establishing a canon. Perhaps the historical community should now put aside its differences as to the accuracy of the Kutler transcripts (a dying, if not dead, horse) and focus on why it has taken so long for NARA to release the tapes.
"We wring our hands while sitting on them as the Jewish state continues to seize ever more Arab land for its colonists," he said. "This has convinced most Palestinians that Israel cannot be appeased and is persuading increasing numbers of them that a two-state solution is infeasible ... [K]illing, incarcerating, or otherwise humiliating Arabs and other Muslims who sympathize with Al Qaeda does not defeat the enemy; it aids him."
Monday, February 23, 2009
For weeks, Obama has described the economy in grim terms. "This is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill recession," he said at his Feb. 9 press conference. It's "the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression." Given these dire warnings, you'd expect the stimulus package to focus exclusively on reviving the economy. It doesn't, and for that, Obama bears much of the blame.
There is every indirect indication that a dog is conscious—its anatomy and its nervous system organization are very similar to ours. It sleeps and its eyelids flutter during REM sleep. It acts as if it’s conscious, right? But there are two states of consciousness, and the one I call primary consciousness is what animals have. It’s the experience of a unitary scene in a period of seconds, at most, which I call the remembered present. If you have primary consciousness right now, your butt is feeling the seat, you’re hearing my voice, you’re smelling the air. Yet there’s no consciousness of consciousness, nor any narrative history of the past or projected future plans.
David Greenberg, a Rutgers historian and the author of “Nixon’s Shadow,” argued that the tale did not involve a significant dispute and was more like the Watergate version of global warming, with most historians long ago coming to a consensus and only a few outliers arguing against it. “Professional scholarly consensus is not sacrosanct, but it should count for a lot,” he said.Hoyt's article may need a review of its own. The positioning of the Greenberg quotation suggests the historian was saying that there's a nearly sacrosanct scholarly consensus about Stanley Kutler's Watergate transcripts as published in his book Abuse Of Power. There's obviously no such thing. Kutler freely admits that he prepared his transcripts quickly and that they contain errors. Several scholars have pointed some of them out, and another is evidently poised to do so. What was at issue in the original Times story was whether Kutler edited the transcripts deceptively, with an eye to telling the story he wanted to tell. If there's a consensus about anything in this controversy, it's that having careful, authoritative transcripts of Watergate conversations would be a boon to historians and history.
My guess is that Greenberg was talking to Hoyt not about the transcripts controversy but about writers such as Len Colodny, James Hougan, Russ Baker, Joan Hoff, Jonathan Aitken, and James Rosen, all of whom look at Watergate differently than most. Several claim that White House counsel John Dean was not only more involved in the cover-up than commonly thought but also an originator of the Watergate break-ins themselves. Are these the writers whom Hoyt, and by implication Greenberg, call outliers, the moral equivalent of global warning deniers? If so, Hoyt should have made that more clear, especially since the upshot of his critique is that his colleague Cohen was careless about such nuances in her original article.
As for Greenberg and others in the Hoyt article who evidently are now to be understood as defenders of the one true faith of Watergate, few are entirely blameless themselves. Without evidence, Greenberg accused the authors of the now-removed Watergate gallery at the private Nixon Library of being liars, either for saying the 18.5-minute gap might have been accidental or for pointing out that some Democratic members of the House hoped to maneuver Speaker Carl Albert into the Presidency. In his book Nixonland, Rick Perlstein, whom Hoyt also quotes as denouncing Kutler's critics, misconstrued a secondary source to make it appear as though President Nixon had authorized the September 1971 Lewis Fielding burglary in advance. And Kutler has yet to explain why he edited his transcript of a July 1972 conversation to obscure its true subject matter and later incorrectly claimed to an Orange County Register reporter that the tape proved that Nixon had known about the Fielding job earlier than he'd always claimed.
That's two historians trying to pin a crime on the late President that he didn't commit and another unfairly attacking the former administrators of his library because they had the gall to present inconvenient nuances to museumgoers. With these supposedly dispassionate professionals trying so hard to prove their points even when the record says otherwise, perhaps we may conclude that the Watergate canon isn't quite as fixed as Hoyt and others would have us believe.
Hat tip to Maarja Krusten
At a January stimulus meeting with Hill Republicans, the president sanguinely assured those assembled that he knew many of them would beat him up over the bill: "I understand that, and I will watch you on Fox News and feel bad about myself." With that bit of low-key sarcasm, Obama let everyone in the room--and beyond--know that he wouldn't feel bad about himself for one minute. Whatever partisan barbs fly his way, the president intends to remain cool.
It's funny to hear Michael Douglas say that Frank Langella makes all other interpretations of Richard Nixon fall away ... when Anthony Hopkins, the star of Oliver Stone's Nixon (1995), is standing right there on the stage with him.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
If [our two peoples] can find common ground to work together, the chance for world peace is immeasurably increased.Secretary of State Clinton, Beijing, February 22, 2009:
[B]y continuing to support American Treasury instruments, the Chinese are recognizing our interconnection. We are truly going to rise or fall together. We are in the same boat.
[T]he funds needed to bring these banks fully back to life would greatly exceed what they’re currently worth. Citi and BofA have a combined market value of less than $30 billion, and even that value is mainly if not entirely based on the hope that stockholders will get a piece of a government handout. And if it’s basically putting up all the money, the government should get ownership in return.
Barack Obama defeated Ambassador Alan Keyes for the Senate four years ago. During that race, Keyes called Vice President Cheney's gay daughter a "sexual hedonist." Keyes' harsh commentary continues:
Obama is a radical communist, and I think it's becoming clear. That's what I told people in Illinois, and now everybody realizes it's true. He's going to destroy this country, and we're either going to stop him, or the United States of America is going to cease to exist.Keyes goes on to say that Obama may not legitimately be President and suggests that troops under his command should defy him. The LA Times focuses on the charges about Obama's constitutional qualifications for the Presidency, but for me the scary part of this video is the way Keyes looks at the camera when he says "stop him." In view of what he takes to be the stakes -- the survival of our way of life -- his comment feels almost like an incitement to violence.
When Keyes visited the Nixon Library about 12 years ago, I don't know what was scarier: His humorless, articulate zealotry or the cold look in the eyes of some of his supporters. When they jostled him outside the library after his talk, hungry to get instructions about fighting abortion, and I tried to hold them back so he wouldn't stumble, I remember one man lifting his fists and looking at me with hatred. He was on the verge of slugging me for keeping him from touching the prophet.
We can laugh at tirades such as Keyes' all we want. But during sustained hard times, the quixotic, angry weirdness on the fringes of our political culture (left as well as right) could go mainstream.
Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan
Quite simply, presidential libraries are undemocratic and unnecessary (the National Archives and Records Administration already has fine facilities, thank you very much).That may well be, but it has no room for a new Presidential collection every four to eight years, either at its main facility on Pennsylvania Ave. or at Archives II in College Park, where NARA probably can't wait to get the massive Nixon Project on its way to Yorba Linda in 2010 so it can use the space for other purposes.
If the President's rich friends don't provide a building for Obama's records, I guess his successor can pass an archival stimulus bill. But once it's paid for, where do we put his 120,000-square-foot warehouse? Where do we put the 140,000-square-foot one after that? How about in facility in a community associated with the President in some way, built with private funds and envisioned as a museum and public programming center as well as an archives? Make sense? It does, hence the logic of the Presidential library system. (Here's an historical review by NARA's Nancy Kegan Smith.)
What could alter the paradigm is an administration, with the advice of NARA records experts, figuring out how to conduct a post-paper Presidency, which could dramatically decrease the number of shelf-feet needed for those rows and rows of grey Hollinger boxes (though the government would still need to find room for tens of thousands of gifts and other artifacts for each President). The main difficulty would be to figure how how to make sure we can always read the digital media that would contain our nation's precious history. Anybody got a 5.25-inch disc drive handy?
Feeney does like the Nixon Library's little white house, RN's restored birthplace.
Hat tip to Jack Nesbitt