For Bush, the illogic seems to go like this –- after September 11, Bush’s popularity soared, even though the tragedy may have been preventable had Bush in his first eight months -– and Bill Clinton in his entire eight years -– been more vigilant on the terrorism question in general and the Osama Bin Laden file in particular. Now, with New Orleans devastated by what we used to call, in more believing times, an “act of God,” Bush seems to be bearing the brunt of the blame –- and may see his popularity plummet as a result!
It’s easy, during this trough in public confidence in Bush and his administration, to turn the New Orleans tragedy into a symbol of all that is wrong with Bush and the Republicans. This certainly seems to be the New York Times spin of the day, with Maureen Dowd blaming a combination of “limited government with incompetent government” (see, Dowd, “The United States of Shame,” which as of Saturday night was the “most emailed article” in the Times) and a news analysis speaking of a “massive administration failure.”
There certainly have been enough White House mistakes to feed these stories – and political scientists must be chomping at the bit, eager to trot out their “Second-term-lame-duck-failure,” theories. But a more honest, less partisan, and far more accurate analysis of what’s going on this week would invite discussion of various other factors including:
- the unprecedented magnitude of the disaster, which was indeed a “natural” disaster, if not an “act of God.”
- The deeper problem of a broader national unwillingness to think ahead, and budget ambitiously for infrastructure - the levees were no stronger during the Clinton administration, FEMA probably was no more competent – to blame Bush, partially, is legitimate, but he has many other “unindicted co-conspirators” then, including his predecessor(s) and his constituents.
- The assumption in the modern world that all problems are preventable and the tendency to exaggerate the roles of human agency, governmental ability, and presidential efficacy in approaching so many problems
- America’s fragile, even frayed, social fabric, reflected by the quick descent into looting and gang warfare, and the seeming passivity of so many in the Superdome to take charge and organize themselves…
- The American media’s addiction to the negative rather than the positive – we have heard all the horror stories – are there more positive stories of selflessness and self-sacrifice to balance them out? what, ultimately, is the accurate ledger – and who could possibly judge?
- The pathologies of racial politics – some African-American leaders have been quick to accuse the Administration – and the country -- of acting too slowly because the victims are black and poor. Aside from the fact that there are so many mitigating and contributing factors that this harsh claim reflects so much more about the accusers’ lack of faith in their government and their country (itself a worthy topic of analysis), than anything else, it’s also accompanied by the uncomfortable public silence regarding the racial identity of the looters – at least as seen on the media – and what that may show about the culture and subdivision of society from which the looters emerged.
In short, there are many ideological, anthropological, sociological, and epistemological dimensions to this “perfect storm,” but the most alluring logic for the media and partisans to follow will be a blame-the-White-House bums approach. If this spurs the Bush Administration to be more ever more effective in helping the unfortunate citizens of New Orleans, it’s all for the best. If, however, it simply distracts the Bushies from doing what they need to do during a tragic time for so many, we will have once again witnessed the triumph of spin over substance, with unfortunate results…
This president is criminally negligent, and he also seems to be an inveterate prevaricator. Should he be diagnosed by a professional psychologist, he would, I am sure, be judged moronic (as would be the sycophantic news-persons who laughed), as well as profoundly uncaring and insensitive. I do not know the technical psychological terms for these symptoms. Oh, I forgot to say, he is also incompetent.
For the folks out there who still like this person, for those who think he is of presidential caliber, please consider how he would respond if you -- facing a massive catastrophe -- would need your government to fulfill its responsibilities to you. Given the reality before you, do you continue to think he cares about fellow and sister Americans (not to mention people around the world)?
The world believes we are crazy to have this man as president? Wake up America.
From Gloucester, Massachusetts, there seems no better phrase than a perfect storm to describe the political weather brewing for President Bush. This morning’s New York Times has a damning editorial and a sobering front-page story by David Sanger about the difficulties facing the White House. That is only the beginning of what will now be an extended period of national soul-searching about how we tragically let down the people of New Orleans in August 2005.
Disasters are nearly always bad for presidents, whether considered their fault or not. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 added to the sense that George H.W. Bush was distracted by foreign policy. The near-meltdown at Three Mile Island contributed in some intangible way to the malaise the United States felt under Jimmy Carter. And even before the full extent of Watergate corruption became known to the world, the fuel crisis of the early 70s added to the feeling that Richard Nixon’s America was running out of gas. All of these crises will pale before the disaster at hand, which combines elements of all three: complete destruction plus existential terror plus a sense that the energy we depend on will no longer be there in the future.
But on top of that, there is mounting evidence, both circumstantial and real, that this disaster can be laid at the doorstep of the Bush White House. A feeling hangs heavy in the air – like the quiet before a hurricane – that the catastrophe symbolizes a presidency profoundly out of touch with reality. It’s not just the basic fact, visible on all TV screens, that the victims of this tragedy are poor and black – the precise demographic that has fared the worst under George W. Bush, ever since its votes were undercounted in Florida. Or that President Bush was on one of his long vacations when the storm hit. Or that he did nothing the first full day of the tragedy.
It is more than that. The information is still coming in haphazardly, but it is becoming clear that New Orleans was the victim of extraordinary mismanagement by an administration more concerned about war in Iraq than desolation in Louisiana. A powerful Salon piece by Sidney Blumenthal, filed yesterday at 5 pm, lays out the case in black and white. The city’s flood control funding had been reduced by 44% since 2001. Weakening wetlands protections to favor developers also made the city far more vulnerable. Congress left town before dealing with any of New Orleans’s problems, even though a hurricane in Louisiana had been declared one of the three most significant possible disasters in 2001. The now submerged New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that “serious questions are being asked about the lack of preparation.”
The Salon piece doesn’t even go into a question that also seems to be on people’s minds – why has the federal government been so slow and ineffectual in its response? An obvious thought is that the National Guard and Army – exactly whom you would expect to save people and maintain order – are too busy in Iraq. The president’s close friend, Joseph M. Allbaugh (former head of FEMA) frantically denied that in this morning’s Times, and insisted that everything was fine – before his cell phone seemed to stop working. It was unclear whether it cut out or was wrested away by a machete-wielding looter. In fact, more than 60% of the Louisiana Guard are available, as Allbaugh argued. But that means that roughly 40% are unavailable.
The feeling of a perfect storm deepened when pondering the symmetry of the two major stories in today’s news, the hurricane and the riot in Baghdad that killed nearly a thousand people. Worlds apart, and yet the haunting image of huge crowds wandering across bridges in both cities left a feeling that there are refugees all over the world, simply trying to get back home to where we were a few months – a few years – a century ago, back in the 20th, when we were innocently trying to build a bridge to the 21st. Now that we’re here, I’m wondering what the big hurry was.
It is unfair to blame any president for all of the problems on his watch, especially those that come out of the sky with very little warning. But the dark new landscapes coming into focus – long gas lines, soaring heating bills, and plenty of hurricanes to come – do not bode well for President Bush.
There are so many articles to read about New Orleans that it is disorienting, but one stayed with me, posted on the Times’ website at 6:51 yesterday. It described President Bush’s eerie journey on Air Force One from Crawford to Washington, while swooping over the devastation at very low altitude, like a gigantic sea gull. The article began with a nervous non sequitur – as if anyone had even asked the question – stating that Bush’s long stay in Crawford had been a “working vacation.” An obvious quote followed from his press secretary, Scott McLellan: “It’s devastating. It’s got to be doubly devastating on the ground.” Twice as devastating as what? The cabin of Air Force One? Then it continued with McClellan’s grandiloquent announcement that the federal government, after a day and a half of dithering, had determined this to be an “incident of national significance.” One wonders what the thousands of people stranded without homes and loved ones thought as they saw the enormous presidential aircraft flying in circles, just over their heads, before accelerating away from the unpleasant view. Their voices, as usual, were silent.
Hot Topics: Katrina
Now we face a crisis of resources. The federal government does not have enough money to finance an adequate homeland defense program. The government does not have the money need to adequately pay for a war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, the government does not have the money to respond in vigorous fashion to a horrible disaster in New Orleans.
The nation lives in the in the shadow of the Bush tax cuts, and all the cuts that have been pursued since the 1970s as part of the conservative revolution in government. With a few exceptions (such as the 1990 and 1993 deficit reduction bills) Democrats have joined in this tax cutting frenzy, leaving politicians such as Walter Mondale hung out to dry when they questioned the agenda. In 2004, Democratic candidates proposed tax cuts for the middle and lower class rather than questioning whether we were starving the government of needed money.
This week, the effects of these choices have been clear. Today in the Washington Post, Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker have an important story that includes examples of the impact, such as Bush’s decision to support a fraction of the requests made by the Army Corps of Engineers to improve the levees that are at the heart of this week’s disaster.
The nation faces amazing challenges right now. Our leaders, in both parties, would do well to look back to the 1940s, when the government responded to international crisis by asking the nation to sacrifice, including through its pocketbooks, in difficult and trying times.
To help history students & faculty get in touch HNN has set up a blog where they can do so.
No registration is required to post an entry.
Perhaps the days might return when Time and Newsweek felt some obligation to report on the same books covered in The New York Review of Books. They did, you know, once upon a time.
Well, no such luck. If the editors of Time and Newsweek do have a model for their cultural coverage, it seems to be People magazine.
So Scott McLemee is going to do his part to fix book coverage, one Thursday column at a time, at Inside Higher Ed. Good for him. If there's one endangered cultural phenomenon the blogosphere could revive, it's reasonably serious bookchat. An excellent example is Crooked Timber on Freakonomics.
The true hero [of war] ... is force. Force employed by man.... To define force -- it is that x that turns anybody who is subjected to it into a thing. Exercised to the limit, it turns man into a thing in the most literal sense: it makes a corpse out of him. Somebody was here, and the next minute there is nobody here at all....
Simone Weil,"The Iliad, or the Poem of Force," 1945.
Suppose war is about force, and force is that power to reduce the subject to an object. We could then measure force and also the ability to wage war; similarly, we could as historians retrospectively measure the force exerted in war. We might then fruitfully compare wars on a common, definite basis.
For example, the U.S. had a military of about 12.1 million at peak mobilization for World War II, in 1945. We could consider this number as a crude measure of the ability to apply force. If we consider it that, then we see that the U.S. had slightly less military force at its disposal than the Soviet Union (12.5 million) and about twice as much as the next-largest military, which was Japan (6.1 million).
This measure of force on the field tells us a lot about who we might expect to win a war. It doesn't tell us much about how hard it is for a given society to field that force. But we can, however crudely, measure that too.
The Soviet military in 1945 represented 7% of the population; the U.S. military represented 9% of the population. It represented a larger proportionate sacrifice for the Americans to put that many men in the field. (The Japanese military, half the size of the American, represented about 8% of the population; the British, 10%.)
On this basis, we can compare the intensity of war mobilization across wars, too. The U.S. has never mobilized as high a share of its population for war as it did in 1945, nor even close. In 1865 the U.S. had about 3% of its population in uniform, and 1918 was about the same. Mobilization for Korea in 1952 was about 2.3% of Americans in uniform. For Vietnam, in 1968 when the U.S. had 3.6 million military personnel, it represented about 1.8% of the population.
For most of the peacetime cold war, the military represented between about 1 and 1.5% of the population.
The U.S. fought the Spanish-American War and the Mexican War with militaries amounting to about .3% of the population.
If at present the U.S. military is about 1.5 million strong (which makes it the second-largest in the world, after only China) it represents about .5% of the population.
In terms of relative mobilization, then, the demands of the present war look much more like those of the Spanish-American or Mexican Wars than like World War II.
As I said at the outset, this exercise provides you only with a basis for comparison. It does not tell you what conclusions to draw. I can imagine an argument that runs, we are not devoting sufficient resources to the present war, given the stakes. But that is probably not the only argument one could make.
At any rate it is probably a useful exercise to try thinking in fairly stringent terms when constructing historical analogies and drawing lessons. Anyone wishing to engage in such an exercise might consult the Correlates of War databases, as I did for this post.
Further note: Numbers of men mobilized is only, as I say, a crude measure. One might also look at the cost per soldier, or percent of GDP spent. It might be possible to calculate relative cost of war as percentage of GDP if we could be sure what the cost of this war is, but it is notoriously difficult to pin down the amount being spent at the moment. Moreover the cost of wars in economic terms have long-term ramifications. The well-known exercise by Claudia Goldin and Frank D. Lewis on"The Economic Cost of the American Civil War" is a good example of how difficult this can be to calculate. (JSTOR link)
The quotation from Weil comes from the translation by Mary McCarthy as printed in War and the Iliad by Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff (New York Review Books, 2005), 3.
Here's the quote:
Sixty years ago this Friday, General Douglas MacArthur accepted the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. With Japan's surrender, the last of our enemies in World War II was defeated, and a World War that began for America in the Pacific came to an end in the Pacific. As we mark this anniversary, we are again a nation at war. Once again, war came to our shores with a surprise attack that killed thousands in cold blood. Once again, we face determined enemies who follow a ruthless ideology that despises everything America stands for. Once again, America and our allies are waging a global campaign with forces deployed on virtually every continent. And once again, we will not rest until victory is America's and our freedom is secure.What do our war and WW II have in common?
THEN: On Dec. 7, 1941 we were attacked.
NOW: On 9-11 we were attacked.
THEN: By the 4th anniversary of Pearl Harbor we had mobilized a military of some 12 million men and women.
NOW: Today on the eve of the 4th anniversary of 9-11 we have mobilized an army of some 1.5 million men and women. (These numbers were corrected on 9-1-05 after reading Eric Rauchway's blog here)
THEN: Enemy leaders included Hitler, Tojo, Mussolini.
NOW: Enemy leaders include Zarkowi, bin Laden, Saddam.
THEN: Hitler's scientists were working to develop nuclear weapons and missiles.
NOW: bin Laden is trying to steal or buy nuclear weapons and missiles.
THEN: War deaths tallied more than 400,000 at the end of four years.
NOW: War deaths are just shy of 2,000 at the end of four years.
THEN: The president called on Americans to make great sacrifices.
NOW: The president tells Americans to go about their business.
THEN: Our enemies adhered to a monster ideology of death, nihilism, racism and anti-Semitism.
NOW: Our enemies adhere to a monster ideology of death, nihilism, racism and anti-Semitism.
To be sure, there are similarities and I have strived to include any parallels I could think of. But are the differences not greater than the similarities? Is it not insulting to the memory of the veterans the president claimed to be honoring yesterday to compare their war with this one? (And I am giving Bush the benefit of the doubt by not drawing the obvious distinction between a war we had to fight (WW II) and a war we chose to fight (Iraq).)
I know we here use Teaching American History funds to bring university and high-school history teachers together to (what looks to me like) good effect: we discuss recent historiography and research on a historical topic and consider how it affects teaching of the state history standards at the 8th and 11th grade level.
The authors of the AHR article make a case for"the AHA's [historical] leadership in promoting evidence-based reflection about the condition and future course of history education in the United States," and argue that"only the discipline can bring substantive depth and a spirit of critical inquiry to conversations about the direction of school history."
The AHR will hold a forum on this proposition on History Cooperative during the first two weeks of September.
It's a fascinating story about marriage, changing mores, and our law-centered culture.
Reading the story I couldn't help but think about James Madison.
Madison tried to marry a 15 year old girl. Fortunately for both of them the girl turned him down. She became interested in someone her own age. James went on to marry Dolley, who was nearly 2 decades his senior.
Mores have changed so much that in two centuries what has landed a young man in court today was acceptable behavior then for a future president. (Madison did not have relations with the girl, but presumably if they married he would have, subjecting him to the charge of statutory rape if he were alive today and living in Nebraska--which may be the most far-fetched part of my What If story.)
I will await further information to make a final decision about Bush’s response, but my first impressions—as a New Orleans native who has gone through hurricanes and flooding in the past—is this: why hasn’t Bush taken all necessary steps, as he promised?
Yes, before the storm struck, he declared the region a disaster area, which triggered FEMA mobilization. But that was not enough. This is a massive catastrophe, and it was clear before the storm came onshore that it would be. Now, at this moment, there are thousands trapped in homes and generally in the New Orleans metropolitan area from rising waters. Thousands of others down river, across the lake, and east along the Gulf coast are in desperate need. Where are the helicopters and boats and personnel to rescue people, or to find and identify the dead, or to establish shelters?
The Coast Guard has been active today, but there are too few National Guardsmen and military personnel to assist local police and first responders in searching for those stranded, evacuating people, protecting property, and so on. Water is still pouring into New Orleans and environs from Lake Pontchartrain through two breaches in the levee system, which, given the conditions and their limited resources, the Corps of Engineers has failed to close. The power grid is out. The potable water system is broken. The sewage system is not working. This for a whole city and the metro area from Biloxi to the east to the far western and southern suburbs of New Orleans.
Patients are being evacuated from hospitals because of flooding. The city’s access by road east and north has been closed off because of damage to bridges. We don’t have good reports of damage and flooding neighborhood by neighborhood. Many of the military who could help, many of them from Louisiana and Mississippi, are in Iraq, listening to or watching the news about their homes being under water or their families missing. Hundreds of thousands who evacuated are unable to return to New Orleans or the coast. They are homeless. Why didn’t Bush fly over the area today to survey the damage? To kick butt?
Well, at least Bush is returning from his holiday two days earlier and asking for your contributions to the Red Cross (which can’t get into the problem areas). We can be grateful for that.
In a conversation on Wednesday night, Bush spoke at length to Hakim from Nampa, Idaho, where he had just delivered a fierce defence of the Iraq war. The call was prompted by news that Shia leaders were poised to end negotiations and put the document to a referendum, in the face of Sunni opposition. Bush held that such a move would be a disaster, isolating even further the Sunni communities who are at the heart of the anti-American insurgency.
A Sunni member of the constitutional committee, Mahmoud al-Mashadani, said, "We have reached a point where this constitution contains the seeds of the division of Iraq."
In the face of those developments, President Bush, at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., praised the constitution as a milestone in Iraqi history, congratulating Iraqi leaders for "completing the next step in their transition from dictatorship to democracy."
In other words ... What was a disasterous prospect on Wednesaday became a triumph on Sunday when the president failed to persuade the Shiites to accomodate the Sunnis. If this isn't spin, what is?
At home, antiwar sentiment is widespread—whether it takes the form of plain foreboding or active protest. It is compounded by concerns about the economy, jobs, oil prices, corruption in government and corporate America, and the apparent malaise of policy and leadership. Even though President Bush’s approval rating has plummeted, he continues to be unwilling to level with the public, to explain his intentions, and to discuss the difficult and limited options before us. He continues to invoke September 11, describe the war as one against terrorism, and talk of progress in Iraq. In his own words: “In my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.”
Doubly troubling is the administration’s encouragement of vicious stab-in-the-back thinking, which Rove and his propagandists spread through the right-wing media, and which finds fertile ground among Americans who are emotionally or intellectually unable to concede that their president lied us into this quicksand war. They believe that “supporting the troops” means supporting continued war and President Bush, as though willpower alone will see us through to victory, thereby honoring those who have sacrificed or fallen. It has happened before during and after other wars, especially during and after the Vietnam War, when the hawks who led us into war, both Democrats and Republicans, blamed the defeat on the antiwar movement, the press, liberals, and critics in general. One does not have to be a soothsayer to predict that when Bush is forced by circumstances in Iraq and public opinion at home and in Congress to get out of Iraq, his attack on his critics will intensify, absolving him and hawks of responsibility for an ill-conceived war.
Is this because of Iraq or the economy?
Ask Americans and they'll tell you Iraq is the biggest issue facing the country, not the economy.
But is it bad news from Iraq that's driving down Bush's numbers? I doubt it.
It's just a hunch, but I bet it's the spike in gas prices that has triggered the decline. Red state Americans love their cars. Red state Americans love Bush. But given a choice between their cars and Bush they prefer their cars. Result: Bush's spell has been broken.
Bush fever reached its high point in November (lucky timing for him!). Today it's hard to find anyone still in thrall except in a couple of die-hard Red states like Utah and Idaho. (Is it any coincidence that when he ventured out of his Crawford bunker he went to these states? There aren't too many others where he could be assured a rousing crowd.)
But it's no longer enough that he look like a leader and sound like a leader (confession: he never did to me except briefly after 9-11 but I'm not a red stater kind of guy). Voters want results. And Bush isn't delivering.
Americans don't follow the news much. But gas prices they see every day. And they don't like what they're seeing. Bush--the first oil man president--has succeeded in giving oil companies fat profits at the expense of the consumers of oil. And people don't like it one bit.
The breaking of the Bush spell--which took hold after 9-11 when people came down with a strong case of Patriotic Fever--has cleared Americans' heads. They are finally ready to see reality again.
And the biggest reality staring them in the face is the mess in Iraq.
Iraq is worrying. No easy solution seems in sight. Bush's bromides no longer seem appealing. And so Americans are turning against him.
Bush bet his presidency on Iraq. He's learning now that this may have been a wager not even his daddy's rich friends could cover.
Sadly, it is not just Bush who is suffering.
During the Vietnam War, for example, U.S. government planners identified fade-away as one of the alternative ways in which the war might end; that is, the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army might fade away as the result of lack of success, sheer exhaustion, or attrition. It never happened, as we know, but is it likely that the Iraqi insurgents might fade away?
Anything is possible, I suppose, and no one can predict what will actually happen. But it seems wishful thinking that the insurgency will just go away—considering the number of insurgent factions, the issues dividing Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, the stakes at risk for them, the nationalistic anger of Iraqis against the American occupation, the apparent involvement of outsiders, and so on.
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.
The Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq, recognizing that the United States will have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months, according to U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad.
Come to find out--surprise--the book story wasn't even true. On a marathon bicycle trip the other day--it was a long, hard slog, 18 miles through Texas back country--Bush told reporters invited along that he is reading an Elmore Leonard book.
Leonard is a crime fiction writer. Perfectly respectable. It's not like Bush confessed to reading Lynne Cheney's racy 1981 novel about a lesbian love affair. But Leonard's books aren't serous reading. And they don't fit the line the White House was putting out about Bush's seriousness of purpose. Once again the facts have gotten in the way of White House spin.
Of course, it may be that the president is actually reading Leonard plus the other three books on the list. Maybe Laura left the Leonard book on the nightstand next to his bed and he got caught up in it. But it's unlikely. The funny thing is Americans wouldn't begrudge their leader taking some time to read a diverting and fun book. The rest of us get to do so during the summer, why shouldn't the president? (Ike loved reading crime fiction. Intellectuals mocked him, but the reading didn't seem to hinder his running the country; as most historians now acknowledge, he was one of our better presidents.) But this vacation is such a disaster that for President Bush to admit he's using the time to read anything but SERIOUS books is to reinforce the impression that he is frittering away his time while soldiers are dying.
I am sure that Karl Rove bit his lip when he heard that Bush had stepped on his own administration's official line about his bedside reading material. But Bush likes to show his independence from the White House handlers from time to time just to prove, as presidents often try to, that everything they do isn't completely scripted.
Alas, Bush finds himself cast in a bad movie with a bad script. And no amount of improvising will help turn this bomb of a vacation into a blockbuster. It's time to close the show, return home to Washington, and start over with a fresh script.
With the familiar lament over declining participation in American politics, it is always remarkable to me how little attention anyone pays to the issue between presidential elections. Once presidential elections are over, the media, politicians, and interested citizens quickly turn their attention to policy (to some extent), scandal, and character issues.
Trying to tackle the question of how to boost voter turnout (even though there are obviously some increases such as what occurred in 2004) is absolutely central to the health of our democracy. This was one of the great messages of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, which not only struggled to win the right for African-Americans to vote but also focused on how to get newly enfranchised citizens into the voting booth.
While I don’t agree that we should hold the nineteenth century up as a standard for voting participation, there must be an ongoing effort to increase the number of people who turn out to the polls for presidential and congressional elections.
This is an issue that transcends party lines. Republicans and Democrats share equal blame. All kinds of proposals are occasionally floated, such as changing the day when Americans vote or easing registration rules. Yet in “normal times” most concern about this issue vanishes. There is minimal public discussion on the issue. Most politicians don’t care. Few Washington-based or grass roots organizations devote themselves to engaging disinterested citizens. Indeed, if active citizens and politicians devoted as much energy and passion to this issue as they do to problems such as Iraq, Tom DeLay’s ethics, or regulating popular culture, we might end up with a much larger and more vibrant electorate when the next election comes around.
This came as news to me and I am sure would come as news to most people. I asked Professor Bilmes if she knew if anyone had conducted similar analyses of the financial cost of past American wars. She said she didn't. If anybody knows of such a study please contact me by clicking on the CONTACT button at the top of this page.
If no one has undertaken such a study before this would be a great opportunity for either an MA thesis or dissertation.