Meanwhile, some of those 37 percent who support Bush’s war in Iraq are becoming more strident in expressing their dislike of those who are protesting the war. They defend the war as one for “our freedom” and for"our rights,” yet they are viscerally angry at those who try to express their freedom and right to dissent. Many of the 300,000 who marched against the war on Saturday were met, for example, by a small knot of prowar counter-protesters gathered at the FBI building with signs reading “Hippies stink” and “kill the Hippies”—as though Hippies are still among us, as though Hippies stink, as though Hippies equate with citizens exercising their right of free speech against a war the sign-holders support, as though it’s all right to call for the killing of the “other.” Some counter-protesters demanded the “arrest of traitors.” Traitors?
Some of the prowar people associate their support for the war with “support for the troops” and accuse the antiwar movement of “betraying” the troops, even though those against the war want to save troops’ lives by bringing them home from a war their president lied them into—a war that has become a quagmire. Some supporters of the war carry signs or have bumper stickers on their cars and trucks that read, “Freedom Isn’t Free,’ or “Freedom Comes with a Price.” Except for those with family members in Iraq, few of these people appear to be making any tangible sacrifice or paying any tangible price. And regarding those who say that protests here will encourage the enemy there, isn’t it the case that the war had begun to fail long before dissent against the war was as visible as it was in recent polls and in the Saturday marches and vigils in DC and other cities? (The antiwar people see the war as one that was mistaken from the beginning, as one that was bound to fail.)
And then there are those whose terms of dislike consist in assigning other ad hominem labels, such as “left-wing” or “liberal” or “elitist,” to dissenters, as though these terms and others like them substitute for honest, reasoned debate about the merits or demerits of the war.
What engenders these terms of deep dislike against dissenters? Do parents whose sons and daughters have been killed, wounded, or psychologically scarred by the war feel that the continuance of a failing war will justify or honor the sacrifices of their children? Do parents of children in Iraq who have not yet been killed or wounded feel that way, too? Do they blame protesters for the war that endangers their family members? And what about those who don’t have children in Iraq? Is it that they really believe in the war or that they just dislike the people who are now more visibly and in greater numbers protesting the war? Is it that they dislike what they think they know the antiwar protesters stand for? Or is it that they can’t bring themselves to admit a mistake? Do those in the prowar crowd who accuse the antiwar crowd of “blaming America” really believe that “America” equates with the Bush administration’s policies? Is it that they equate patriotism with war? Are these attitudes a legacy of the Sixties and the Vietnam War? Is it part of the “culture war”?
I predict that in the end (that is, when Bush is forced to pull out of Iraq by the circumstances of the war itself and of democratic opinion at home) the prowar people, encouraged by Karl Rove, will blame the antiwar people for having lost the war. It will be stab-in-the-back scapegoating all over again, in which hawks will maintain that willpower alone could have snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat.
Let's hope that popular culture can influence popular attitudes on this remaining taboo in American politics. We should not underestimate the impact a popular show can have, especially in this era of "soft news," on how Americans think and feel about their government.
Given that we will most likely have a female candidate in 2008 (at least one that is), the show might turn out to be more important than some think (if it does well).
Now this week David Remnick in the New Yorker hasled off his Katrina account with the same story (but in much greater detail).
Williams's story appeared on 9-24-05, Remnick's on 9-26-05. Did Remnick pick it up from Williams? Or did Williams somehow get wind that Remnick had it and preempted him?
The story is based on the same source: LBJ's tapes. So it's not inconceiveable that both came to the story independently. Cases of coincidence like this, though rare, are not unknown.
But the question arises ... did some PR person put both of them up to the story? That's how duplicate stories usually end up in the media. A PR person peddles a story to multiple reporters and then, embarrassingly, two of the reporters bite at the same time.
Who might have been pedding the story? Well, it makes LBJ look good so maybe it was a PR person at the LBJ library--or an archivist there.
It's a minor mystery and of little consequence. But worth noting, no?
So what happened to the consensus over deficit reduction? The weakening of the economy is the most obvious culprit. The federal government, as well as the states, found themselves without as much money while their spending obligations of the previous decades remain in place. While the economy has rebounded and brought in more funds, we have not enjoyed the robust economic conditions of the 1990s.
Each party has also embarked on a course that virtually guarantees the continuation, and exacerbation, of structural deficits. Republicans signed on to the massive tax reductions designed by President George W. Bush's administration, tax cuts that are depriving the Treasury of needed revenue. The reality is that conservative Republicans have embraced federal spending and pork-barrel politics as much as their liberal brethren. Serious budget reductions have not been an integral part of the movement except on rare occasion. With tax hikes off the table, higher spending means higher deficits.
At the same time, most Democrats have refused to address the looming Social Security and Medicare budgetary crises that will become worse as the Baby Boom generation retires. These are the two largest domestic programs in the country, constituting over fifty percent of the federal budget. Indeed, rather than promoting fiscal responsibility, Democrats have pushed primarily for expansion. With dwindling revenue resulting from the tax cuts and an increasingly large portion of the federal budget pre-committed to entitlement programs for the elderly, the federal government will have to run deficits to fund anything else.
Finally, deficits are unlikely to end because of the transformation of the politics of American defense. The need to continually increase defense spending is unlikely to abate. The destruction of the twin towers on September 11, 2001 moved this nation squarely into a new era of military conflict that centers on the type of civilian terrorism that the United States had thus far been fortunate to generally avoid. As a result, the country will find strong incentives to mount new civilian defense efforts and to engage in a greater number of overseas conflicts to undermine governments supporting these activities and terrorist cells. Since the battle is against civilian terrorism, the threat will continue indefinitely.
Therefore, during President Bush’s tenure, the age of Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin has come to an end. Even if the political will of that period returns and the economy rebounds, it is not likely that we can avoid deficits for very long. Any unexpected crisis, such as the disaster that recently took place with Katrina, send our budget into a further spiral. It looks like we will have to be Keynesians once again since we will all have to live with the budgetary challenges posed by new international realities, as well as political decisions made by both parties.
Much of my own time during the past three weeks has been spent tracking Katrina and Rita and assisting family members who have lost their homes and become refugees. In addition, these storms have also caused me to revise my thinking about getting out of the Iraq War.
What’s the connection between these storms and Iraq? In a nutshell, the connection between them is that the hurricanes have exposed the weaknesses of the federal and local governments—as they are presently led and constituted—in dealing with crises, the bankruptcy of our national finances, and the unwillingness or incapacity of the governing party to meet crisis and catastrophe with compassion and pragmatism in the service of the common good.
In my previous essays about getting out of Iraq, I tried to describe what history tells us about how deadlocked wars have been brought to an end. I concluded with these observations:
“What is more likely is that as in Vietnam, U.S. armed forces will fade away; that is, the Bush administration, like the Nixon administration, might begin a phased withdrawal next Spring—if there is a friendly Iraqi government in place, if Iraqification has made progress, if there is the reality or appearance of security and political stability, and if American citizens demand withdrawal. Once the process of withdrawal began, it would be politically difficult to halt. Of course, the withdrawal could also drag on for years, as it did in Vietnam.
In any event, the withdrawal and the war would have to end with some sort of negotiated agreement between the U.S., the Iraqi government, and the main insurgent factions—and perhaps Syria and Iran. Once the Bush administration or any American administration decides to begin a withdrawal, it would likely want to negotiate a cease-fire in order that it didn’t seem like a bug out and in order to ensure that the withdrawal could be completed 'honorably'. Thus, fade-away is just one more version of war-ending number two, a negotiated cease-fire during a militarily deadlocked war, in which one side more than the other decides it’s time to cut losses and get out.”
That was before Katrina. Now, after Katrina, I can no longer give the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt; that is, previously, my analysis of the American exit from Iraq was based on a leap of faith in the realism of the Bush White House. Not that it had shown much realistic thinking heretofore, but I was assuming that the worsening situation in Iraq and the erosion of public support for the war would force Bush to face reality. I was also realistically willing to consider exit options that would enable him and other policymakers to “save face.” I’ve changed my mind. I do not think they deserve such faith. I now join those who demand that the United States withdraw from Iraq with all deliberate speed; that is, in months, not years. If this should embarrass Bush or erode U.S. war-making credibility, so be it. But the troops, the American people, and the Iraqis will be the beneficiaries of a rapid evacuation.
What struck me after reading this piece is what she wasn't advocating. She wasn't saying that Bush has messed up because his aides tried to stop him from doing what he really wanted to do. There's no hint in her piece of the old cry of Reaganauts, to Let Bush Be Bush.
This is interesting.
After 5 years with Bush even his supporters now acknowledge his many flaws. None dare argue that his mistakes are owing to errors by subordinates.
The trouble is with the King.
The implication of the story is that modern presidents use natural disasters to help themselves politically, which is true enough. But Williams, perhaps slyly, hints at one big difference between LBJ and Bush. LBJ, Williams notes at the opening of his piece, not only kept up on the news of the storm by watching his three famous TV sets, he also monitored the"news service wires clacking away inside the soundproof cabinet next to his desk."
Bush, in contrast, had to be given a video by his aides to find out what was happening after Katrina struck.
LBJ and Bush. Both Texans. Both stuck with unpopular wars (though one inherited his war and the other started it). But one man was curious about the world and the other isn't.
Utilizing the theological concept of original sin, Niebuhr saw human nature as a problematic mixture of good and evil. He suggested that utopian projects for the perfection of humankind all too easily adopted a means-justifies-the-means ethic that resulted in horrible dystopias. Schlesinger admired him enormously. So did C. Vann Woodward. Schlesinger quotes the philosopher and historian Morton White speaking “satirically” of an Atheists for Niebuhr club. So did Perry Miller, who was quite taken by him. The appeal went far beyond the historical profession. Niebuhr was among the leading founders of Americans for Democratic Action in 1947. One of the collaborators in that enterprise, Joseph L. Rauh, once told me that no other thinker had so influenced him—not even Justice Cardozo, for whom Rauh had clerked. Schlesinger’s own foray into political thought, The Vital Center (1949) is best understood as a popularization of Niebuhr’s philosophy.
What happened? Vietnam, for one thing. The so-called New Left for another—so-called because it was mostly composed of the children of the Old Left, affecting a different style than their parents but pursuing the same delusions. The war seemed to discredit the Vital Center liberalism that Niebuhr and Schlesinger had done so much to develop. Niebuhr himself turned against the war (correctly in my opinion) in his final years. Schlesinger, profoundly affected by the upheavals of the sixties and especially by the three terrible assassinations of the decade, staked out a position on the liberal left at a considerable distance from the Vital Center he once had promoted.
In this essay, Schlesinger tells us much about Niebuhr that we need to know, but with a profoundly different spin than we would have been given fifty years ago. He gives us the basic narrative of Niebuhr’s career, but adopting the mode of so many of today’s commentators, he emphasizes the Niebuhr who wrote The Irony of American History (1952), a critique of the hubristic and messianic aspects of America’s view of itself. Irony was an important book with much truth to its argument. We need to remember, however, that it was written by a thinker acutely aware of the difference between the foibles of American democracy and the malevolence of its enemies. The man who reminded America of its own flaws was also the man who supported US development of the hydrogen bomb as a tragic necessity, resigned as a contributing editor of The Nation in protest against its continuing affinity for Stalinism, and had nothing but scorn for the subterfuge of the Popular Front. My own sense is that Niebuhr’s contributions to the fighting faith of Cold War liberalism are his claim to greatness as a political thinker.
I hate to disagree with Arthur Schlesinger. He is a great historian. I don’t accept the major contentions of The Age of Jackson these days, but in its time it was a superb book that opened a serious discussion about early nineteenth century American politics. His three-volume The Age of Roosevelt remains a masterful work after nearly a half-century. As a student, I found it an inspirational experience. When I leave this life, someone may have to pry one of those volumes from my cold, dead hands.
All men are mortal.
So, Socrates is mortal.
All but misologists and relativists believe that this classic, textbook example of a syllogism is a true argument. It is not only logical but also empirical. I am not a professional logician, but I want to propose an analogous syllogism:
Government services cost money.
Money comes from taxes.
So, government services run on taxes.
Let me add this: Self-styled “fiscal conservatives” (e.g., Sen. John McCain and cohorts) want to cut taxes (for the wealthy) — and they have. So, fiscal conservatives want to cut government services (for the poor and middle class) — and they have. They want to cut these government services because they need to pay for war-making, pork-barrel projects, and corporate subsidies — not to mention Gulf Coast recovery — without, as I’ve said, having to raise taxes on the wealthy.
In other words, some conservatives want to slash funds for government services, even though logic and empiricism tells us that the recent Gulf Coast catastrophe was made worse and recovery more costly because of the inadequacy of government services in the first place. Can we, therefore, conclude that self-styled fiscal conservatives are selfish hypocrites? Maybe not. Maybe they’re operating within another logical system, such as that found in Elchin Huseinbeyli’s fable, “Letters of a Gray Donkey”:
"Gulamali's donkey . . . says . . . [that] in the past we, donkeys, could swim in the sea and fly in the sky. . . . And he keeps saying everyday that if we want, we can fly. Sometimes, he points to Mollali Mountain and says that he has been training for a long time, and that when the time comes, he will jump off the mountain and fly.”
Now if Gulamali’s donkey jumps off that mountain, we can watch and weep as he falls to his death. But if our current, one-party government continues on its present surreal course, we will all fall off the mountain, donkeys and elephants alike. Who will weep for us?
Despite crucial differences in geography, climate, history, culture, ethnicity, religion, politics, and international context; there remain disturbing parallels between the United States’ interventions in Vietnam and in Iraq. Some of these parallels are listed below.
1. Both wars seen as noble causes and each justified as part of a much broader war
2. Misleading statements about the reasons for intervention
3. Understatement of costs and avoidance of budgetary transparency
4. Indigenous opposition views U.S. intervention as a legacy of their colonial past
5. Initial U.S. lack of appreciation of the effectiveness and tenacity of the enemy.
6. Initial U.S. misperception of the nature of the war: counterinsurgency
7. Once U.S. troops are committed, U.S. international credibility said to be at stake
8. Official U.S. optimism about the outcome despite deteriorating situation on the ground
9. Lack of a sufficiently legitimate indigenous government
10. Lack of credible indigenous military capacity
11. Broad international condemnation of U.S. actions
Most important difference:
The Vietnamese just wanted the U.S. to leave.
Radical Muslims want to use Iraq to fuel and legitimate a holy war against the U.S.
Cutting through all the humbug and sophistry, I want to say, first, that even if local officials bear some responsibility for inadequate preparedness and response, this doesn’t absolve the Bush administration of its massive burden of responsibility. I’ve argued this point previously.
I agree with Representative Nancy Pelosi, who said of Bush, “He is oblivious and dangerous.” Finger-pointing is necessary because (a) Bush deserves it and should be made to take responsibility; (b) it might force Bush to assist appropriately in recovery; (c) it might prevent his administration from squandering recovery money in contracts for his crony capitalists (as he did in Iraq); and (d) it will prevent him and the far-right from scapegoating local officials and residents.
But what I really want to comment upon in this blog is that most of the “sinners” in New Orleans over the years were tourists from God-fearing states who let loose in New Orleans during their vacation visit. Now, you tourists who are reading this, don’t misunderstand. I don’t believe tourists as a group were sinners any more than New Orleanians were – or any other population in this nation for that matter. Nor do I believe that a merciful God would visit such a catastrophe on any city.
What I do mean to say is that we must live and think in a reality-based world. Virtually all of the inhabitants of New Orleans, Metairie, Chalmette, and other suburbs and xburbs on an average day were busy working at their jobs (unless they were unemployed). On Saturday or Sunday they went to their synagogue, church, or mosque. (Secular humanists stayed home to read the New York Times or the Times-Picayune or went out to have brunch at a café.) New Orleans was a working city of Mediterranean and Caribbean culture. Elements of that culture may have seemed sinful to the religious right, but I’d bet that per capita there were far fewer natives of New Orleans who binged on beer or wine or bourbon, for example, than those like George W. Bush, who saw the Big Easy as a place to escape their own repressive city or state in order to party – only to repent or to be born again later.
I may be wrong, but let’s say for the sake of argument that New Orleans was sinful. Nonetheless, I have this question of the religious right: Do you really want to believe in and trust a God who is capriciously wrathful, and also One who punishes the innocent with the sinner? I thought that Jesus came down to change the equation, to move from the Old Testament value-system of vengeance to one of love and compassion. For those who believe in God, may it not be that He or She will take vengeance on you for lack of love and compassion and a decent understanding of reality?
Apologies for the overlong list, but I use it to make a point. I cannot think of an OAH or AHA meeting for many years in which I could have complied a tally half as long of panels I actually attended. At the last, disastrous, OAH in San Jose, I think I only got to one?an evaluation of David Kennedy's Over Here after twenty-five years. Probably many who read this blog will agree with me that the AHA and OAH are useful venues for meeting old friends, talking with publishers, and engaging in a little tourism, but not much for panels on political history and almost never for diplomatic history. What are the political scientists doing right?
Well, for openers, their establishment has a much more pluralistic view of its profession than ours. The annual programs of the OAH and AHA tell us a lot about our profession. Typically, the program committees seem to be dominated by factions convinced that their history is the only type worth doing; other approaches are given only token space. The APSA seems to have adopted the attitude that all types of political science are worth doing. That is inclusive when one considers the enormous diversity of the profession, which stretches from classical political theory to the analysis of modern politics all over the globe, from (to give two actual paper titles) "Voegelin, Heidegger, and the Configuration of Historical Ontology" to "Homogeneity, Heterogeneity, and Political Cascades: An Agent-Based Modeling Test of Kuran's Theory of Preference Falsification." OK, most of us probably would go for something between those two extremes, but it seems to be generally accepted that both are legitimate types of political science.
The APSA has something in excess of sixty interest sections, each with its own dues-paying membership. The program committee puts together a core program. The sections each get an allotted number of panels in ratio to their memberships. It is a good system. It works. The panels draw interested audiences.
One of those sections is History and Politics. Another is on the presidency. It is not hard to name political scientists who have affected the way we think and do history. For openers, how about Stephen Skowronek, Theda Skocpol, Fred Greenstein, Sidney Milkis, and Marc Landy? And let's give a nod to James MacGregor Burns, Richard Neustadt, and James David Barber. Once the line between history and political science was all but invisible. It is pretty distinct today. Too much so. We can learn from each other and need more collaborative programs like the one at Virginia's Miller Center. If you belong to the AHA, you can get a cut-rate membership in the APSA. Try it. You'll like it.
Today, he is no longer in the news and with the crisis in New Orleans and Iraq, the story is likely to continue receding. The trials continue, and the scandal could certainly surface again, but the saga thus far seems to be a remarkable story about how to survive a scandal. In some ways, DeLay and President Clinton ironically have something in common. In contrast to the climactic years of the ethics wars between 1987 and 1998, which saw the downfall of such giants as James Wright, Newt Gingrich, Dan Rostenkowski, Trent Lott, Bob Packwood and others, De Lay has been able to avoid any political fallout by moving forward aggressively and refusing to engage the scandal frenzy altogether. Frankly, I am not sure what accounts for his resilience or the inability of anyone in either party to take action, but the current non-story is worth thinking about.
Would not be surprised if the Democrats try to reignite interest for the 2006 elections to do what Republicans accomplished in 1992 with the banking scandal.
Those of us who have researched in presidential libraries and other archives recognize the feeling. After long, tedious hours of searching, you find memos and letters capturing your subject in a private moment, flogging an obsession, telling a joke, needling a colleague, tackling an issue that seems relevant today. When you write your magnum opus, the temptation is to do a document dump, unload your notes, and string together all these apparently revealing glimpses. But well-trained historians know that context is crucial. The illuminating anecdotes must be sifted through a framework assessing just who the subject was at the time, what he or she was doing, and what is the relevance of a document at one point in a person’s career to that person’s overall philosophy or record. Such nuance is missing from too much of the Roberts coverage and debate.
“Young White House lawyers,” as Roberts is often described, rarely have the discretion these articles attribute to them. Sometimes, aides tell their bosses what the bosses want to hear, what others want the bosses to hear, or what the aides think their bosses wanted to hear. Only occasionally do they speak their own minds. Careful historians, mature biographers, learn to recognize the differences, and inform their readers. Headline-driven journalists or angry partisans prefer, however, to exaggerate their targets’ autonomy, making the statements sound more personal and authoritative.
This promiscuous and sloppy use of the presidential library records should make us wince, no matter where we stand on the Roberts nomination. Roberts is a conservative nominee nominated by a conservative president who has held positions as a conservative aide in other conservative administrations. It is fair to judge him on those terms and analyze his opinions to understand his judicial and political philosophy. But combing through his memos from the 1980s to build the case to “Reject Roberts” appears disproportionate and misleading.
Moreover, this records review will inhibit future aides. Back in the 1980s, when Judge Robert Bork was so scrutinized that even his video rental record was assessed (turns out he liked, shock of all shocks, Fred Astaire), I heard a group of Bork aides fret about their “paper trails.” A couple of years later, when running a freshman seminar at Harvard, I noticed that many students assumed their collegiate behavior would affect their future professional reputations. By the time private diaries were being subpoenaed during the Clinton Administration, and the 28-year-old Treasury aide Josh Steiner wished his own diary had “been more accurate” -- the message was clear: Big Brother is not just watching you, no matter how lowly an official you may be, he is eager to pounce and publicize your most embarrassing and private thoughts if you dare commit them to paper.
Ethicists, philosophers, and theologians, may approve – many of our ancestors acted morally because they always felt God was watching; today’s more secular careerists may hew to the straight and narrow to avoid being “Borked.” But overly cautious and careerist aides, ever fearful about how their advice will be misread decades later, could become ever more circumspect, especially when writing memos. This restraint risks depriving their bosses of bold, even peppery advice, and denuding the historical record of the rich give and take which shapes governmental policy.
There should be a vigorous, substantive debate about John Roberts’ qualifications for the Supreme Court. But the focus should remain on what he has done and stood for when operating as an independent agent, most notably as a judge in recent years, rather than quoting memos he wrote decades ago, without taking into account the power dynamics, office politics, and hierarchical context which affected young Mister Roberts as he climbed the Washington career ladder.
... is just one of the fine illustrations Alan Lessoff and his editorial staff picked to accompany an article on historians' reassessments of William McKinley's presidency in the current Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (History Cooperative link). Credit for such choices goes to them. Credit goes to JGAPE's anonymous referees for making the article readable.
The spirit of full disclosure prompts me to mention that I wrote the article. Anyway, if you like this sort of thing, you might like this thing.
Note: The illustration shows allegorical figures of"North" and"South" leading McKinley between busts of Lincoln and Garfield into the Hall of Martyrs. A waiting angel, partially visible, stretches out one hand to greet McKinley while preparing to crown him with a laurel wreath (update: actually, I think it's a crown of thorns) held high in the other hand. The illustration, properly titled"At the Threshold", is by William A. Rogers and it appeared in Harper's Weekly. Clicking on the picture above or on this link will let you read about it.
I accepted primarily because I saw this assignment as an opportunity to comment on matters of immediate interest to most visitors to this site--the state of the historical profession. It would be a bit much to say the profession is "in crisis," but it seems to me directionless and poorly led.
So perhaps a couple of times a month, I want to check in with some thoughts about where we are headed, both intellectually and organizationally. I'll read whatever comments they draw with interest and perhaps even occasionally respond to them. I hope you all will understand that this is going to be a very part-time job for me.
I am just back from attending the American Political Science Association meeting in Washington. In a couple of days, I'll try to have some thoughts on what we have to learn from the political scientists. Quite a bit, I think.
A story of interest about conditions on the ground in the region appeared in the New York Times yesterday. Among other revealing pieces of information in the story was that the Royal Canadian Mounties got into Chalmette before the Feds. The local officials were there as well, doing their jobs.
Also, check out Paul Krugman's op-ed for today on the issue of presidential non-response, since POTUS is a site about presidential history.
These are all representative snapshots, which confirm reports I am hearing from NOLA family members and friends of all political persuasions.
Because, we are now being told, the Arkansas Air National Guard feared riots.
"Airdropping supplies could actually worsen the situation, said Army National Guard Lt. Kevin Cowan, with the state Office of Emergency Preparedness. 'Just like Afghanistan, you drop food, it creates chaos.'" (Click here.)
This is as lame as it gets. Underneath this policy is a racist assumption that black people can't be trusted to behave themselves.
It is sickening.
Would the Guard have adopted the same policy if those faces on top of the highways of New Orleans had been white?
I usually hesitate to holler racism. But this seems as clear a case as there is.