Saturday, December 29, 2012

Predicting the budget outcome

I cannot say whether there will be a deal over the fiscal cliff between now and January 1. That depends largely on Speaker Boehner's position within the House, where at least a few right-wing members are thinking about removing him in the new Congress. He may have to wait until he is re-elected before making any concessions to President Obama and the Democrats at all. But I think the outlines of what is going to happen are now clear, and that they do not bode well either for our economic or political future. The eventual deal will leave us much closer to where we were under George W.Bush, who wrecked the economy, than under Bill Clinton, the last President actually to improve it. It will leave the government with a huge permanent deficit, and it will make government, which is already much too small, even smaller. And it will do virtually nothing about income inequality in this country.

President Obama had strong cards to play this time. He has just been re-elected rather handsomely in the electoral college, but more to the point, the failure of a deal before January 1, one could argue, would accrue vastly more benefit to him than to the Republicans, because it would mean the end of the Bush tax cuts across the board. I personally would favor that outcome, but there does not seem to be a single politician in Washington who does. (I have now discovered that I was mistaken here: this morning on C-Span I heard Senator Tom Harkin say that the Republicans had predicted disaster when the Clinton tax rates were passed, and tht he would be perfectly willing to have them back.) Some tax cuts would have to be undone, but that could only be done with new legislation which the President would have to sign, giving him enormous bargaining power should he choose to use it. He could either announce that he would veto any bill extending the cuts for incomes over $250,000, or demand critical changes in the tax code such as an end to the "carried interest" dodge that continually enriches Wall Street (another idea that no one in Washington seems actively to support), or insist upon giving up draconian cuts in the federal budget. He could even demand more stimulus money. But at this point, he does not seem to want to do any of those things. He wants an agreement, and that again is putting him largely in the hands of the Republicans.

The President has already raised the threshold for eliminating the Bush tax cuts from $250,000 to $400,000, and it may go higher. He apparently has no firm position on what to do about the estate tax. He wants to extend unemployment benefits and he has a proposal for a new stimulus but the Republicans will never agree to increase spending of any kind as part of a deal. The President yesterday handed the negotiating process off to Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, and any deal they make will be subject to review and amendment by the Republican-controlled House, which is certain to water it down if they accept it at all. All indications are that the House intends to use the debt ceiling as a lever to force further spending concessions a few months down the road. Meanwhile, the President seems open to some change in the cost-of-living formula for Social Security, which may indeed be a reasonable idea depending on exactly how it is done.

Our government has become a very dysfunctional family because the goal of the Republican Party is to destroy it--and it is well known that the most dysfunctional member of any family tends to dominate it. I collated a couple of quotes last week from different sources, including E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post, to the effect that the House Republicans had shown themselves "incapable" of governing. With all due respect to E. J., he's missing the point: the Republicans don't want to govern, because they don't want anyone to govern our society. They are trying to re-create the Social Darwinist paradise of the late 19th century, and they are getting closer to it every year.

We are running a rather frightening experiment in this country. Modern society grew in tandem with modern government. Institutions across our society became larger, richer, more complex, and better organized, and government had to do the same to be effective and make sure that society functioned on behalf of the average citizen. Thanks to the Republican Party and all it represents, we are now going to find out whether anything resembling modern society can function without a large and effective government, and I feel quite certain the answer is going to be no. The Republicans have already achieved so much that they would be much wiser to stop now, while society still has some stability, but that is not their intention.

One of the many dirty secrets no one wants to discuss in Washington these days is that enormous fortunes destroy democracy. I think that President Obama could make that argument resonate among the American people if he wanted to make it, but he doesn't. He wants slightly higher marginal rates for the highest earners simply to make them "pay their fair share," not because the confiscatory rates of the 1940s and 1950s were key to creating the world in which his grandparents made their lives. And he has ruled out returning to the Clinton tax rates that more than balanced the budget in the late 1990s, just as he ruled out returning to Glass-Steagall. (A recent New York Times business page article indicted that the Dodd-Frank Law will institutionalize derivatives trading, not cut it back. It is too big to fail.) Another issue off the table is the low pay scales of American workers, which continue to get lower. While it is perfectly moral for energy magnates to accumulate tens of billions of dollars, it seems that it is immoral for wage-earners to aspire to anything above the increasingly declining average.

A deal may indeed take two or three weeks to reach, but it will do no great violence to current Republican principles--and it will be whittled away still further in the months to come.

p.s. It is now Monday and we have no deal even in the Senate. Tomorrow we will be over the cliff. A chorus of Republicans, I predict, will immediately announce: "President Obama got just what he wanted: tax increases on everyone in America." I wish he HAD wanted it. Great crises in national life demand shared sacrifice from anyone with resources. But he didn't.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Is civilization in danger?

Once upon a time, modern states, defined by Max Weber as entities exercising a monopoly of legitimate force within specified territories, did not exist. The development of the modern state became the focus of the modern historical profession at least from the late nineteenth century onward, largely under the influence of Leopold von Ranke, the remarkable founder of modern history. I myself investigated this development in Europe fairly thoroughly during the 1980s, when I wrote Politics and War. The opening section of that book dealt with the period 1559-1569, a turbulent century in European history, and I argued that historians had tended to exaggerate the speed of the development of modernity, because I found the politics of every European nation dominated by powerful aristocrats, not states. It took an effort of imagination, I thought then, to picture a society in which the rich, rather than the poor, continually took the law in their own hands, riding around with armed retainers and frequently defying royal authority. Things began to change in the late 17th century, partly because of strong monarchs like Louis XIV and partly, perhaps, because the violence of the previous century had bred its own reaction. The 130 years or so between 1660 and 1790 were in many ways the most productive years of western civilization--not economically, perhaps, but culturally and intellectually.

From 1789 until 1945, the modern state became more and more powerful, both for good and for ill. Moving in tandem with industrialization and new means of transportation and communication, it achieved unprecedented feats of organization in fields ranging from education to public health to war. This process created the world in which I became a young adult, and it is difficult for anyone to realize that the world in which they reached maturity no longer exists. Yet I am beginning to wonder, as I listen to Wayne LaPierre of the NRA respond to the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, is whether that process, here in the United States at least, is in long-term, critical decline. Over the last thirty years a new coalition has emerged which denies most of the principles of the modern state--even, or perhaps I should say especially, the idea that the state should command a monopoly of force.

Now Wayne LaPierre is, ironically, calling for a vast expansion of federal power in response to the crisis: the stationing of professional security personnel in every single school in America. Even more astonishingly, he wants the federal government to pay for it. (I will be extremely interested to see if the House Republicans actually introduce and pass such a bill. I frankly doubt it very much.) What the NRA really stands for is anarchy. Over the last few decades--as Boomers took over its leadership--it has shifted from an organization focused upon the rights of hunters to an organization that believes every citizen should walk around armed, with the right and the power to settle any disputes that might arise with other citizens by force. They have also, in the last twenty years, poured their enormous political capital into allowing Americans to own assault rifles--semi-automatic weapons whose only useful purpose is to kill large numbers of people very quickly. And that is not all. As I learned on Terri Gross's program a few days go, the NRA's Congressional allies--whom it controls to a degree that only AIPAC can rival--have banned both the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Center for Disease Control from keeping statistics on the impact of any weapons. This is an attack on the foundation of modern government: the idea that research and analysis can discover problems and find solutions for them. They have also prevented President Obama from appointing a head of ATF for the whole of his Presidency, something which he has not even seen fit to mention, as yet, in the ongoing controversy.

As a child in the 1950s I read a couple of landmark books about the old West, including biographies of Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok. These books told how various lawmen had literally civilized the West by enforcing laws that made cowboys check their guns when they came into town to have a good time. Fortunately for those territories, the NRA did not yet exist. It is exactly that step which the NRA has fought, successfully, for many decades now--ever since gun control became a liberal priority 49 years ago after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Worse, gun ownership is increasingly a political issue. Exit polls in the last election showed that 50% of Republican households own guns, but only 22% of Democratic ones do. The rate of gun ownership (although not the number of guns owned) has fallen over the last few decades, but the decline is almost all among Democrats. Black Democrats, I was very surprised to learn, are less than 1/3 as likely to have a gun in their house as white Republicans--although black Republicans, the poll found, are twice as likely to own a gun as black Democrats.

It has now, a few days later, come to light that La Pierre's statement was riddled with hypocrisy as well. He blamed mass shootings largely on video games, but now the New York Times has reported that the most violent video games routinely show weapons readily available for purchase, and sometimes even provide links to the weapon manufacturers' catalogues. The NRA is not in fact an army of ideologues, so much as a subsidiary of the gun industry, which wants to sell assault rifles to make profits. The NRA and the gun manufacturers once again refused to comment for the Times.

A belief in gun ownership is one of the tenets of present-day Republicanism. So are a belief in the superiority of faith over reason, an almost sacred respect for the accumulation of private wealth, and a disdain for the role of government. The South began turning Republican and taking over the Republican party about four decades ago--sadly, in the wake of the triumph of the civil rights movement. Late in the era of segregation, under the New Deal, millions of white southerners became liberals on everything but race, but that trend did not survive the events of the 1960s. White southerners lost faith in government at all levels as soon as it had to look after all citizens equally. Southern friends of mine have assured me that this was not accidental.

Our new civil war is continuing, as shown by the new fight over the budget. There will be no deal before January 1, I feel quite sure, because John Boehner would evidently lose the speakership if he reached agreement with the President when the new Congress convened if there were. (I learned today, by the way, that "Morning Joe" Scarborough had spoken openly about the possibility that Boehner has a serious drinking problem. Based upon his appearance, demeanor, and frequent references to the "Merlot-sipping speaker" in news stories, I had wondered about this myself for some time.)

I'm sorry to celebrate the winter solstice with a post so lacking in holiday spirit, but these posts are driven by the news, and this is what it is. We are, as Strauss and Howe predicted metaphorically, in a political winter, and it seems that it is far from over. The election had no beneficial impact upon the Republican Party and they still control a house of Congress. Their troops are determined to continue waging dau tranh (see the post of May 19, 2012) by any means necessary. We are still at sea and our destination remains unknown.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Orwell, Dickens, and Us

In 1939 George Orwell, then in a state of political despair, wrote three long essays, "Charles Dickens," "Raffles and Miss Blandish," and "Inside the Whale," which he marketed to his publisher Victor Gollancz as a book. Gollancz gave him exactly 20 pounds sterling (then $80) for the rights to these masterpieces, and the sales seem to have fully justified the advance. The technique Orwell used in those essays is the one I have borrowed here on many occasions: to take a literary event, whether high- or low-brow, or even a classic writer, and ask what his work and its appeal says about the current state of the world. My borrowing is anything but accidental. I discovered these essays at the age of 15 thanks to a young embassy wife while living overseas and I wrote about them at length in my senior thesis. "Inside the Whale" was about Henry Miller's book Tropic of Cancer, then banned in Britain and the United States; "Raffles and Miss Blandish" compared a 19th-century British mystery with an American film noir; and "Charles Dickens" dealt with that author's whole body of work. which Orwell, then 36, had loved since childhood.

The Dickens essay is fascinating for many reasons, even to those like myself who have never been Dickens fans, but I'm going to focus today on its political argument. Orwell, a convinced socialist who distrusted many of his fellow leftists and who had become a convinced anti-Communist after his experiences in Spain, noted that because of Dickens' sympathy for the poor, many leftists claimed him as an ideological kin. Orwell typically saw the misunderstanding at the heart of this claim. He had no doubt that Dickens's sympathy for the poor was genuine and that the novelist wanted things to change, but he realized that Dickens was criticizing the existing order from a particular point of view. Contemporary leftists thought society's problems were structural and reflected certain key aspects of capitalism, a view Orwell had certainly endorsed four years earlier in The Road to Wigan Pier. Dickens, Orwell argued convincingly, did not see the world that way.

"The truth is that Dickens's criticism of society is almost exclusively moral. Hence the utter lack of any constructive suggestion anywhere in his work. He attacks the law, parliamentary government, the educational system and so forth, without ever clearly suggesting what he would put in their places. Of course it is not necessarily the business of a novelist, or a satirist, to make constructive suggestions, but the point is that Dickens's attitude is at bottom not even destructive. There is no clear sign that he wants the existing order to be overthrown, or that he believes it would make very much difference if it were overthrown. For in reality his target is not so much society as ‘human nature’. It would be difficult to point anywhere in his books to a passage suggesting that the economic system is wrong as a system. Nowhere, for instance, does he make any attack on private enterprise or private property. Even in a book like Our Mutual Friend, which turns on the power of corpses to interfere with living people by means of idiotic wills, it does not occur to him to suggest that individuals ought not to have this irresponsible power. Of course one can draw this inference for oneself, and one can draw it again from the remarks about Bounderby's will at the end of Hard Times, and indeed from the whole of Dickens's work one can infer the evil of laissez-faire capitalism; but Dickens makes no such inference himself. It is said that Macaulay refused to review Hard Times because he disapproved of its ‘sullen Socialism’. Obviously Macaulay is here using the word ‘Socialism’ in the same sense in which, twenty years ago, a vegetarian meal or a Cubist picture used to be referred to as ‘Bolshevism’. There is not a line in the book that can properly be called Socialistic; indeed, its tendency if anything is pro-capitalist, because its whole moral is that capitalists ought to be kind, not that workers ought to be rebellious. Bounder by is a bullying windbag and Gradgrind has been morally blinded, but if they were better men, the system would work well enough that, all through, is the implication. And so far as social criticism goes, one can never extract much more from Dickens than this, unless one deliberately reads meanings into him. His whole ‘message’ is one that at first glance looks like an enormous platitude: If men would behave decently the world would be decent."

Continuing, Orwell argues that Dickens recurrently creates "good rich men" to bring this fantasy to life, and occasionally converts a bad rich man (see Scrooge, Ebeneezer) to a good one to hold out hope. On the other hand, Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities portrayed the French Revolution in all its horror as an inevitable outcome of the repression of the many by the few. Orwell was too hard-headed and had seen too much exploitation first hand to put too much stock in such individual conversions, but re-reading Dickens after wading through years of Marxist tracts had gotten him thinking about how historical change occurs. And thus, a little later, he penned the following paragraph, the one whose memory moved me to begin this post.

"If that were all, he might be no more than a cheer-up writer, a reactionary humbug. A ‘change of heart’ is in fact the alibi of people who do not wish to endanger the status quo. But Dickens is not a humbug, except in minor matters, and the strongest single impression one carries away from his books is that of a hatred of tyranny. I said earlier that Dickens is not in the accepted sense a revolutionary writer. But it is not at all certain that a merely moral criticism of society may not be just as ‘revolutionary’ — and revolution, after all, means turning things upside down as the politico-economic criticism which is fashionable at this moment. Blake was not a politician, but there is more understanding of the nature of capitalist society in a poem like ‘I wander through each charted street’ than in three-quarters of Socialist literature. Progress is not an illusion, it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing. There is always a new tyrant waiting to take over from the old — generally not quite so bad, but still a tyrant. Consequently two viewpoints are always tenable. The one, how can you improve human nature until you have changed the system? The other, what is the use of changing the system before you have improved human nature? They appeal to different individuals, and they probably show a tendency to alternate in point of time. The moralist and the revolutionary are constantly undermining one another. Marx exploded a hundred tons of dynamite beneath the moralist position, and we are still living in the echo of that tremendous crash. But already, somewhere or other, the sappers are at work and fresh dynamite is being tamped in place to blow Marx at the moon. Then Marx, or somebody like him, will come back with yet more dynamite, and so the process continues, to an end we cannot yet foresee. The central problem — how to prevent power from being abused — remains unsolved. Dickens, who had not the vision to see that private property is an obstructive nuisance, had the vision to see that. ‘If men would behave decently the world would be decent’ is not such a platitude as it sounds."

Orwell was never very interested in the contemporary United States, and the New Deal seems to have barely crossed his field of vision, but from nearly 75 years' distance we can say that the New Deal had changed the system, albeit not as fundamentally as Marx would have liked or as Roosevelt's critics charged, so as to put significant limits upon the accumulation of wealth and put some kind of a floor under poverty. (It is interesting to note that, in an annual ritual at Hyde Park, Franklin Roosevelt read A Christmas Carol to this grandchildren.) Those reforms were in turn based upon a particular moral vision, one that held that greed was evil and destructive, as well as on the idea that prosperity and staggering inequality simply were not compatible. Orwell lived to see even more drastic changes in his own country under the Labour Government after the war. Now, as President Obama struggles to hold our society in roughly the unfortunate, far more unequal state that it is in today, it behooves us to ask once again what is more to blame: our system or our values?

While I have never shared Dickens's view that more benevolent businessmen would make the world a better place, I feel quite certain that our values are now the real problem. As historian Jill Lepore argued in a recent New Yorker article that unfortunately is not available to the public, business interests and Republicans have successfully sold the accumulation of private wealth as the greatest moral good during the last few decades, and redefined "citizens" as "taxpayers." In past eras, churches and universities have provided an alternative view, but for some time now our most powerful churches have been in an alliance with business interests against different forms of liberalism, and universities, as I have pointed out again and again, are no longer interested in the practical details of securing economic inequality, or indeed in government as it is really practiced at all. The President says again and again that the rich have to pay a bigger share, but neither he nor any other elected Democrat I know of will say that we are threatened by billionaires who simply have too much money for the good of the rest of us. The idea of a secure home and future by every American no longer seems to be compelling. Equally moribund is the idea of greater artistic value that could actually trump the profit motive in industries like films and book publishing. The only moral value the left seems to care about is opposition to discrimination based upon race, gender or sexual preference. That is an important moral value, but it is not enough to organize an economically just society around.

Forty years ago, in Nixon Agonistes, Gary Wills argued that Americans needed to realize that wealth was no index of virtue. Since then society has moved in the opposite direction--and the momentum has become self-sustaining thanks to tax cuts for the wealthy and the Citizens United decision, which allows the already superrich to buy more infuence and make even more money. Churches, as I have noted, have other concerns, and colleges and universities have fallen as far under the sway of the money gods as anyone else. Worse, a university education--the price of admission to the decision-making elite--has become so expensive that it is hard to emerge from college without serious economic ambitions. Ironically, the disappearance of Fascism and Communism has eased the pressure on free societies to provide a better life for their citizens--although Europe, which suffered so much more from them, has not given up that task. The Progressive Era, which the contemporary right now identifies as the root of all evil, was a reaction to the unbridled capitalism of the Gilded Age. We are due for such a reaction now, but it is not yet happening. History suggests that, eventually, it will, but it may take another twenty to thirty years.







Saturday, December 08, 2012

Are the lights going out?

I had a different topic in mind for this morning, but a series of new stories has moved me in a different direction. The United States is threatened in the medium and long term by the betrayal of, literally, its oldest traditions. The Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution were products of the Enlightenment idea that human reason could combine logic and the study of mankind to make a better and fairer world. Huge numbers of Americans, including many of the richest and most powerful, now reject that assumption, and it is becoming harder and harder to base public policy upon it.

The immediate trigger of this thought was Charles Blow's New York Times column this morning, which discusses the prevalence--or dominance--of creationism among Republicans. Republican presidential candidates can no longer categorically deny that dinosaurs and human beings co-existed on the earth. (I wonder how the evangelicals who hold to this position explain the Bible's failure to mention dinosaurs; perhaps some one can, for want of a better word, enlighten me.) Bobby Jindhal, the governor of Louisiana, says Republicans have to come across as the "smart" party, but he signed a voucher law allowing Louisiana children to attend religious schools where they would learn, among other things, that the Loch Ness monster was real, with the help of state money. (This has been a long-standing dream of red state evangelicals, but thankfully, a Louisiana court has struck it down.) Meanwhile the Republican propaganda machine has convinced most of its followers that Christianity, rather than the Enlightenment, was the inspiration for the early Republic, a position that has no historical support whatever. The Founders lived in an Anglo-American society in which religion had been declining in importance for the better part of a century, and the founding generations were among the least religious in American history. That is why they produced a Declaration of Independence that refers only an an anonymous "Creator" and a Constitution that does not mention any higher power at all. They also had a very deep empirical bent, and designed the Constitution to reflect the lessons of the British experience, while trying to include safeguards against the tyranny which they believed the British Constitution had allowed the King to impose.

More serious at this moment is the Republican's denial of economic realities, which has become far more influential. Empirical evidence, as I pointed out not long ago, overwhelmingly indicates that higher economic growth is correlated with higher marginal tax rates on high incomes, not lower ones. In order to get out of the deep recession we are still in the government has to spend more money, not less. It does not serve the interests of society as a whole to allow certain favored individuals to accumulate unlimited fortunes. Securities markets need tight regulation to prevent recurrent financial crises. The economy can't prosper if wages are forced downward to levels that leave earners with nothing to spend. Yet the Republican Party and most of the supposed "bipartisan establishment" now denies all these clearly established facts, and the federal budget will indeed be cut over the next few weeks. The only issue is how much. Government spending, clearly the best cure for the recession, has been defined as bad--end of story. One reason the Republicans get away with this is that the press has decided that news reports are not supposed to reflect the views of reporters. The press, which is of course losing much of its circulation and influence, decided some time ago that its job is to report what both sides say. The press subsidizes a certain number of highly educated and intelligent men and women to write for the public--but does not allow them to use their own brains. We all suffer as a result.

Another indication of the decline of rationalism was the extraordinary news that Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, perhaps the leading reactionary in the whole Senate, is going to quit his seat and become the head of the Heritage Foundation. I still can't quite understand why he would do this, but it seems that he hopes to turn it into the Tea Party's propaganda ministry. The Heritage Foundation has always been conservative but it began with serious intellectual pretensions, and 23 years ago it came up with one rather interesting idea: an individual mandate that would require all Americans to buy health insurance. That, needless to say, is no longer part of its playbook.

But the problem is by no means all on the right. The other day I was perusing, on line, the tables of contents of recent issues of the American Historical Review. I discovered this summary of the lead article in the most recent issue:


In "Enlightenment in Global History: A Historiographical Critique," Sebastian Conrad notes that narratives of the Enlightenment, even those that place it in a global context, have remained deeply Eurocentric, assuming that Enlightenment was generated in Europe alone and then gradually diffused around the world. In this article, he argues for a thorough revision of this dominant view. Drawing on recent scholarship, Conrad recasts the history of Enlightenment as a history of global conjunctures. This perspective allows us to recognize the transnational generation of Enlightenment ideas in the late eighteenth century, when debates spanned the Atlantic and beyond and involved a multitude of authors and contributors. This was also true for the nineteenth century, when "Enlightenment" began to be invoked by social actors throughout Asia. Conrad insists that this long history of the Enlightenment should not be reduced to a history of European origins and subsequent dissemination. Instead, he argues that claims to Enlightenment were literally coproduced by historical actors from a variety of locations in their attempt to think globally and to come to terms with the challenges of an integrating world. By thus rethinking the spatiality and temporality of the global Enlightenment, he invites us to de-center debates about Enlightenment universalism.

Now the editors of that venerable journal are getting more and more protective of their content in direct proportion to the general interest that content offers the public, and the full text of the article is not available on line. Clearly, however, it is one of literally thousands of pieces of contemporary scholarship designed to undermine the idea that Europe (and its settler colonies in North America and elsewhere) created modern civilization, which the rest of the world then adopted. What has happened in university education as a result was detailed in a fascinating article by Ricardo Duchesne, "The World Without Us," which appeared three years ago in the iconoclastic journal Academic Questions and which can be downloaded here. Over the last thirty years western civilization has generally been replaced as the basic historical survey by world history, and world history is usually the story of the exploitation and destruction of other cultures by the West. I would suggest that a historical profession that focuses on the harm done by the Enlightenment, or on manufactured debates about where it originated, will not be able to tell its students very much about the principles of the Enlightenment and their application. Both the right and the left, in short, have been assaulting the Enlightenment for some time. Only in western Europe--its original home--does it apparently remain the basis of public policy.

I still have not finished a book I've mentioned here several times, Charles Freeman's The Closing of the Western Mind, which shows how the rationalism of Greece and Rome retreated into the background during the early Christian era, not to become intellectually dominant again for many centuries. It is beginning to look as though the period from the 17th through most of the 20th centuries marked a similar high tide of rationalism, one which produced far greater achievements. Yet it is not clear that that era will endure too much longer. What has happened before can happen again.


Saturday, December 01, 2012

Shifting sands

Nowhere is the 80-year historical cycle identified twenty years ago by William Strauss and Neil Howe making more of an impact in the world today than in the Middle East, where new independent regimes emerged about 65 years ago. Israel, which began as a fundamentally secular state based upon nationalism, has evolved into a theocracy that remains determined to expand beyond its original borders. In Egypt the secular military rule that began under Nasser in the early 1950s and endured for about sixty years is a thing of the past, and President Morsi of the Muslim brotherhood is trying to exert real control over the political process, which threatens to lead to civil war. Syria is being torn apart by the Sunni-Shi'ite split that the United States let loose when it invaded Iraq. Turkey has, remarkably, now preserved its post-First World War constitution largely intact for more than 90 years, but Muslim political parties have brought the Army's role as supreme arbiter to an end--a development very similar to what is happening in Egypt. The Shi'ite-Sunni split also threatens to overturn the pro-US government of Bahrain, home of our largest naval base in the region. The Jordanian government faces huge hostile demonstrations. Hamas has entered into a new relationship with both the Egyptian and Turkish governments, and last week the New York Times ran a piece discussing the emerging split between a coalition of Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and Hamas on one side, and Iran, the teetering Syrian regime, and Hezbollah on the other. The article did not mention that both are united in their hatred of Israel.

In the midst of all this, the United States lost control of the Israel-Palestine issue in the UN General Assembly--not for the first time-and the Palestinians won observer status by a wide margin. This may allow them to gain representation in the International Criminal Court and push for investigations of Israeli policies in the West Bank. It may also create pressure in the US Congress, always ready to follow the whims of the American-Israeli lobby, to defund those organizations, as it already did when the Palestinians joined UNESCO. (I just checked, and it seems that the Weekly Standard, one of the main organs of the pro-Israel lobby, has so far declined to comment on the UN move at all. It would not be impossible for a coalition of the Israeli lobby and nationalist Republicans to move for a cut in US funding for the UN itself in response.)

When Israel was founded, as was explained to me many years ago by an Israeli diplomat making the rounds of American cities, the government based its foreign policy in large part on good relations with the non-Arab states of the region, including Ethiopia, Turkey, and Iran. The relationship with Iran became particularly close after the US-UK backed coup in 1953 that overthrew the elected government and replaced it with the Shah, and the Mossad and Savak intelligence services cooperated closely. The Shah's fall in 1979 was therefore quite catastrophic for Israel, whose leaders tended to blame it upon the United States, just as they did two years ago at the time of the Arab spring. Now Turkey is also in the enemy camp, thanks in part to the insane Israeli decision to attack a Turkish ship carrying relief supplies to Gaza. Mohammed Morsi has stated that the continuance of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979 depends upon peace with Palestine, as called for by that agreement. Should the Jordanian government fall--a possibility that does not, to be fair, seem imminent just yet--it would probably give way to a Palestinian-led regime.

I do not expect that Turkey, Egypt, and perhaps a new Syrian government could mount the kind of conventional challenge to Israel's existence that the Israelis faced from the 1950s through the 1970s. On the other hand, I wonder whether, in an age of increasingly accurate rockets and drones, Israel can survive surrounded by nothing but hostile neighbors. Peace between Israel and Palestine now seems to me impossible on anything less than the 1967 borders yet the Israeli government is totally unwilling to entertain a return to them. We are fortunate that the United States remains the only great power with any really active interest in the region. Neither Russia nor China seems interested in affecting events there to any significant extent. But the United States now seems more closely tied to Israel than ever, another legacy of the George W. Bush Administration which Barack Obama has not reversed.

In one way or another Israel has been under fire for much of its existence. This is hardly the most dangerous moment they have faced, but hostility towards them seems to be increasing in the governments of the region and the UN vote suggests that nearly the entire world has lost patience with their continual expansion into Palestine. I just heard the Israeli ambassador Michael Oren (who was born in the United States) make on NPR argue in effect that new settlement activity is all the Palestinians can expect if they refuse to negotiate. This amounts to saying, surrender on our terms now, or face a worsening situation in the future. The interviewer mentioned that "many countries" see settlements as a violation of international law but couldn't bring himself to mention that that has been the official American position for many years too. Sunday's New York Times now reports plans to complete the Israeli settlement link between East Jerusalem and a large block of West Bank settlements, cutting the West Bank in two. It also refers to the roads under construction which will have separate lanes for Israelis and Palestinians, and off-ramps for much of their length for Israelis only. This is what is called apartheid. The reason the accusation of apartheid provokes more outrage among Israelis and many of their American supporters than holocaust denial is simple: because the accusation is true.

For three decades, from the early 1970s until about 2001, the United States government tried to reconcile Israel with its neighbors. That goal is now slipping away. With the US on its way to energy independence thanks to massive increases in domestic production, perhaps our leadership now believes that military supremacy alone will keep Israel secure. Some may even be counting on the Sunni-Shi'ite religious war to keep the Muslims focused upon one another, rather than Israel. One of the very real legacies of the Bush II presidency is that the United States, in the Middle East, no longer stands for peace--or for international law.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Truth about Taxes and Growth

It's Thanksgiving weekend, and some Americans have much more to be thankful for than others. This trend has been accelerating for the last thirty years, and last September, in a little-noticed study, an economist named Thomas Hungerford documented it carefully in a study for his employer, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. You can read the study here,, and it is relatively jargon-free and scrupulously honest in its findings. The real point of the study was to test the fundamental assumption of Republican public policy: that lower taxes on high incomes will increase savings and economic growth. The study drew upon data since the end of the Second World War, and its conclusions were unequivocal.

Hugerford provided some data that I had never seen. As I have mentioned many times, the top marginal tax rate on incomes fell from 95% at the end of the Second World War to 91% shortly thereafter, where it remained until 1964. The Kennedy-Johnson tax cut, timed to favor the GI generation as it entered its peak earning years, cut it to 65%, where it remained until Ronald Reagan, who cut it to the mid-40s in 1981 and below 30% in 1986. It rose again under Bush I and Clinton, to 40%, and then fell to 35%. Capital gains taxes have fallen a similar downward path, except in the 1970s, when they reached historic highs. They held steady at 25% all through the High (1945-65), went up apparently to about 35% in the 1970s, and have fallen in stages ever since until now they are at about 18%. But Hungerford went beyond the simple top marginal rate and provided data on the effective rate paid respectively by the top .1 % (one tenth of one percent) and the top .01% of households. These figures are equally striking. The top .1%'s effective federal income taxes fell steadily from about 55% to 35% between 1945 and 1965, while the top .01% fell from 60% to 40%. Both then rose during the 1970s, to 45% for the top .01% and about 41% fort he top .1%. Then came a pretty steady fall to 25% in 1990,a figure which applied to both groups, followed by a rise under Bush II and Clinton to 31% in 1995. Then, however, two things began to happen. Even under Clinton, the effective rate paid by both groups began to fall sharply. I don't know why this was--perhaps it was at that time that investment bankers developed the "carried interest" dodge that effectively exempts them from federal income tax rates. The second thing that happened was that the top .01% began paying an even lower percentage of effective income taxes than the top .1%. For reasons which, once again, I cannot explain, their effective taxes bottomed out in 2005 and have risen slightly since. The top 1% now pay an effective rate of 26% and the top .01% pay 24%.

It's unfortunate that Hungerford did not expand his tables to include the rest of the population, and that he did not provide additional tables that would have shown the impact of payroll taxes as well. We all know thanks to Mitt Romney that 47% of households pay no federal income taxes (although they do pay payroll taxes.) We don't know what the total tax burden is, both of those 47%, and of the additional 42% who comprise most of the upper half of our society. They may have the most reason to be angry of anyone.

Hugerford then presents tables correlating the change in top rate tax brackets with changes in private savings, private investments, productivity growth, and real per capita GDP growth. I shall begin by saying that Hungerford's regression analyses--the equations that determine correlations between factors--did not find his results to be statistically significant. However, the insignificant correlations that emerged from his data were, almost without exception, opposite to what Republican ideology holds to be true. Savings and investment tend to be higher when top marginal income tax rates and capital gains rates are higher, and vice versa. Productivity growth is also positively correlated (albeit insignificantly) with higher marginal income tax rates, although negatively correlated with higher capital gains rates. Increases in real per capita income are almost totally uncorrelated with changes in tax rates.

It's hard to know exactly what to make of these figures, because I'm not sure they represent the true picture. What is indisputable, as Hungerford acknowledges, is that economic growth, productivity growth, and per capita income rose much more quickly during the High (again, 1945-65), the era of the highest effective income tax rates on the very rich, than they have since, as the Silent and Boom generations took over the world. But since 1964 top tax rates and capital gains taxes have bounced up and down a good deal, while maintaining a secular downward trend. It is those frequent changes, I suspect, that resulted in such weak correlations.

Hungerford concludes with tables correlating income inequality with changes in top tax rates and capital gains rates, and those results, of course, are striking. The top .1% (again, the top one in a thousand) of households earned about 4% of national income in 1945 and that figure dropped to about 3% in the 1970s. Then their share began to rise, reaching 12% in 2006, falling to about 8% at the depths of the recession, but now on the way back up at 9%. The question we now face in connection with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts is whether we will allow the resumption of that trend to continue. (Incidentally, for the whole of the period under consideration, the top .01% has earned about half the total income of the top .1%.)

This is good a time as any to mention a very recent story in the New York Times floating a possible "compromise" that would allow Republicans to vote for higher taxes on the wealthy without offending their enforcer, Grover Norquist. This compromise would keep the top rate where it is, at 35%, but would apply that rate to the total income of households making approximately $300,000 or more. To some one making $300,000, that would mean a substantial tax increase. To some one making $3 million, $30 million, or $300 million, it would be completely trivial, even if they were counting most of their income as wages and salary instead of carried interest. The only way we will get a genuine increase in taxes on higher brackets will be to let the Bush tax cuts expire in toto and force the Republicans to accept a compromise involving higher rates for the wealthy.

John Kenneth Galbraith frequently remarked that the world became much easier to understand if one simply kept in mind that rich people believe they should be even richer. The story of our politics over the last 30 years is terrifyingly simple. Lower taxes on the wealthy have created gigantic and growing fortunes, which enable the wealthiest to buy more and more political power, which they use to make their fortunes even larger. The is the process that the entire Republican party is now dedicated to promote. It's sad but true to note that the last time that the nation had to confront this problem, in the Progressive era, both parties included office-holders who wanted to do something about it. The situation today is very different. Hugerford's report, which received surprisingly little media attention, genuinely threatened Mitt Romney's campaign. Congressional Republicans therefore somehow forced the Congressional Research Service to withdraw it. They didn't save Romney, but we still don't know whether they will save most of the tax policy of the last thirty years and its consequences.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Barackus Cunctator?

In 218 B.C., during the Second Punic War between Carthage and Rome, the Carthaginian Hannibal, having crossed the Alps, won the first of a series of victories against the Romans. As was their custom, the Romans appointed a dictator, Fabius Maximus, to deal with the emergency, and he decided to avoid battle and let Hannibal wear himself out in the Italian countryside. Rome grew weary of this strategy and removed him in time for the 216 campaign, and the Romans promptly suffered the most disastrous defeat yet, a double envelopment at Cannae. In desperation they recalled Fabius, and he resumed his strategy of keeping close to Hannibal while avoiding battle. Having learned their lesson, the Romans recalled Fabius and successfully pursued his strategy for over a decade. The Fabian strategy has become a military byword, a weapon of the weaker party based on the avoidance of battle until the balance of forces has changed or the enemy offers an unexpected opportunity. Its practitioners, at different times, have included Frederick the Great of Prussia, the Russian General Kutuzov in 1812, George Washington, and, at times, Mao Zedong. Fabius was known as Fabius Cunctator, or Fabius the delayer--originally a term of insult, but later a term of honor recognizing the success of his strategy.

Barack Obama, one might argue, has been pursuing a Fabian strategy for the last two years, and it has now been crowned with some success. He began his term confidently but failed to cope adequately with his own Carthaginian invasion, the Great Recession. Thus, despite an eventual victory on the health care front, he suffered his own Cannae in the elections of 2010. Those elections and the Republican-dominated redistricting that followed locked in a Republican majority in the House of Representatives for the foreseeable future. But like Hannibal, the Republicans became overconfident. They believed that the tide would continue to run in their favor, and that they could impose budget cuts on the President and sweep him out of office after one term. Obama, like Fabius, was remarkably non-confrontational and fruitlessly sought a deal. But after that failed, he sat back, essentially, while the Republicans flailed away at him and each other during the first half of 2012, alienating larger and larger fractions of the American public as they did so. By the time the general election campaign kicked off they had fatally weakened themselves. The popular vote remained fairly close, but Obama won the electoral college very handily and added seats in the Senate. Like an invading army, the Republicans now have to face an unpleasant fact: their strength, for demographic reasons, is bound to decline over time. Like Hannibal, they are still fighting wherever they can, but their prospect of decisive victory is gone forever.

It has been easy to criticize Barackus Cunctator for his caution, his concession to the deficit--essentially a phoney issue and a mainly Republican concern--and the excessively moderate policies he has pursued on the economy. Politically, however, his strategy had an extraordinary success, and he has for the moment regained the initiative. Yet he faces a problem. The Fabian strategy is a defensive one, and one cannot win a war with defense alone. Shortly before his death, Fabius lost a debate with another general, Scipio, who convinced the Romans to send him with an army to Carthage to force Hannibal to withdraw from Rome and, quite possibly, win the war. Scipio Africanus destroyed the Carthaginian Army at the Battle of Zama, and that was that.

Can Obama shift from being Fabius to being Scipio? It does not seem terribly likely, and he faces heavy odds in any event because of the House, but there are signs that he might. He is talking much more sharply to the Republicans than he ever has in the past. A signal of a new temper would be a serious Democratic attempt to change the filibuster rule, something that a couple of freshmen are talking about but which the leadership, to my knowledge, has not endorsed. Obama seems willing to risk a fight over the budget involving the lapse of all the Bush tax cuts, and that would be a game changer. The Republican threat to modern America is receding, but it is not yet clear how much of the New Deal can be restored. Perhaps, a regular reader suggests, if the Republicans continue to self-destruct, we can elect Scipio--or Scipia--in 2016. But upsetting our new balance of economic power will be much more difficult than simply defeating the GOP once more.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Pershing, Eisenhower and Petraeus

John J. Pershing, born in 1860, rose through the ranks of the tiny American Army around the turn of the century. In 1909, when he was almost 40, he married Frances Warren, the daughter of a powerful Senator, and they had several children. In 1915 she and three of the children died in a fire. In 1916 he led an expedition into Mexico chasing Pancho Villa. In 1917 President Wilson made him the commander of the American Expeditionary Force in France. Pershing built a large American Army at an extraordinary speed and helped the allies defeat Germany in the fall of 1918. Meanwhile, while in France, he carried on an affair with a wealthy married socialite named Louise Cromwell Brooks. According to at least one account, she wanted both to get a divorce and marry him, but he declined. "Marrying you," he reportedly said, "would be like buying a book for some one else to read." Brooks, who evidently liked men in uniform, got her divorce and retaliated a few years later by wedding the Army's youngest general, Douglas MacArthur. They separated after five years and eventually divorced. Pershing became the only six-star general in the history of the U.S. Military, a rank he was given to put him on the same level as European field marshals. He lived into the 1940s and his personal life was never allowed to stain his public reputation.

Dwight Eisenhower, born in 1890, appeared destined for an undistinguished military career after he graduated from West Point in 1915 and completely missed the First World War in France. He married Mamie Dowd, whom he met stationed in Texas, and whose family was in no position to help his career. He might well have remained obscure had not General George Marshall, the Chief of Staff from 1939 until the end of the Second World War, marked him down as a bright young officer suited to high command. Shortly after Pearl Harbor Eisenhower became chief of the War Plans Division, the nerve center of the Army, and within months he had been appointed commander of the planned landing in North Africa. During the war, by many accounts, he fell in love with his driver, an Australian woman named Kay Summersby. Some have claimed that Ike wanted to get a divorce and marry her when the war was over, but that in any event did not take place. The press never breathed a word of the matter, and Eisenhower became President of Columbia, the first commander of NATO, and a very effective President of the United States. After his death Summersby described their relationship in a memoir but discreetly claimed that it had remained chaste.

David Petraeus was born in 1952 in upstate New York and entered West Point in the same year that I enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves, 1970. At no time in American history has a military career been held in lower repute than at that moment, and Petraeus graduated in 1974 and entered a force plagued by indiscipline and drug use. He was both a star athlete and an academic standout at West Point and in his thirties the Army sent him to Princeton to earn a Ph.D. His thesis, which I have read, examined the Army's response to the Vietnam War, which consisted, he concluded, in a determination to avoid any similar counterinsurgency effort at all costs. He ended the thesis prophetically, however, arguing that sooner or later the Army would be drawn into a counterinsurgency--and he intended to be ready for that moment. Meanwhile, he, like Pershing, had married adantageously, to the daughter of the Superintendent of West Point while he was a cadet. They have been married ever since.

Petraeus, of course, became the commander in Iraq three years into the war there, when things were going very badly, and managed with a mix of political and military moves to quiet things down and establish the Maliki government securely. To be quite frank, while Petraeus was a very fine general who inspired those who worked with him, I never felt that he would rank with Grant, Marshall, Eisenhower or Ridgway, because he never came to grips with the fundamental long-term problem of counterinsurgency efforts. He proved that US forces could quiet things down in Iraq, but I don't believe that he ever faced up to the difficulty of leaving a stable political order behind--something which in fact we have not been able to do. He was confident that the Iraqis would want to keep American forces around because they needed us, but he turned out to be mistaken The same problem of achieving long-term stability is probably going to doom, in the medium and long term, the further efforts that he undertook in Afghanistan. After serving as CENTCOM commander, he accepted a demotion to take over Afghanistan again after General Stanley McChrystal was relieved of command. Then he became director of the CIA.

This week General Petraeus had to tell President Obama that he had been having an extramarital affair with a married woman with two children, Paula Broadwell, who has recently published a biography of him. She spent time in Kabul while doing so, suggesting that their affair, like Pershing's with Cromwell and Eisenhower's with Summersby, might well have begun in a combat zone. It is easy to see what drew them together: she is also a West Point graduate who has an Ivy League degree, and they are both fitness nuts. They are also human. These things happen.

I once wrote a long post here about the German Chancellor Bernhard von Bulow, who did so much to delay the First World War as chancellor from 1899 to 1909. He commented repeatedly that he thought he could see the world more clearly than most of his German contemporaries because he was a diplomat who had spent so much time overseas. I seem to see many things differently from my contemporaries because I've been reading history since I was seven years old, and comparing the present to the past. There is no difference--none--between Petraeus's indiscretion and that of Eisenhower and many other military and civilian leaders that I could name. There is no reason, in a sane world, why his behavior should have any more impact on his life, family and career than theirs did. But Petraeus is now ending his career in disgrace and his name will be forever tarnished--not because of what he did, but because in the last thirty years the media has arrogated itself the right to investigate the lives of public figures and ruin them for extramarital affairs. We have even had a President impeached for a sexual indiscretion (and please don't waste my time with comments that it was about lying, not sex-we all know better.) This is not a sign of increasing maturity, but of decreasing maturity. We will never again have effective leadership in this country if we can't accept that leaders are human beings, that they do jobs most of us would never have the courage even to attempt, and that their personal lives are their own business.

Official Washington, it seems, has now internalized the values propagated by the media. Some press reports suggest that the scandal broke after it accidentally came to the attention of the FBI. I know how this would have been handled fifty years ago, in the days of J. Edgar Hoover. The information would have gone right to him, and he would have passed it discreetly to Petraeus and the President. The General would have modified his behavior accordingly so as to avoid further embarrassment, the President might (or might not) have had a brief talk with him about it, and Hoover would put them both on his list of people he would be able to rely on for help and support in the future. I preferred living in that America to this one.

Let me conclude with a few words addressed to President Obama and then to General Petraeus himself, neither of whom I have ever met.

President Obama, may I say that I am sorry that you once again took the path of least resistance and decided, after a night's reflection, to accept the general's resignation. The American people--myself among them--had just voted to give you another chance. You did not see fit to do the same for a subordinate, one of the few inherited from the Bush Administration who had chosen to work for you as well. That, like your decisions not to break up the big banks, not to let the Bush tax cuts expire two years ago, and to keep Guantanamo open, was an example of your predilection for the obvious course of action.

General Petraeus, please accept my apology as a citizen of the United States for the penalty you have paid for serving our country at a high level in these troubled times. I am not self-righteous enough to hold your personal life against you. As far as I'm concerned, you were a fine man, general, and public servant yesterday, you still are today, and you still will be, or could be tomorrow. I didn't always agree with your decisions, but they were your responsibility, not mine, and you undoubtedly accomplished far more good than harm. You are now suffering from a national fit of self-righteousness that is unbecoming to our nation. I hope that it will pass and that in the long run you will retain the esteem you have earned from your fellow citizens. And for what it's worth, I would have been honored to advise your excellent thesis.

[The author served in the Army reserves from 1970 to 1976 and taught as a professor at the Naval War College from 1990 until 2012. He is currently a visiting professor at Williams College.]





Friday, November 09, 2012

What Tuesday means to me

I am very relieved that Barack Obama was re-elected on Tuesday, that demographic trends clearly are pointing away from the Republicans, and that I will not in the next four years have to watch the unraveling of all the national political achievements of the last 100 years. I am encouraged by the demographic trends that certainly favor the party I have supported all my life. On the morrow of this election it would be easy for any Democrat not only to gloat, but to look forward confidently to the future. But alas, that is how I am feeling and that is not what I am going to do today.

I have encountered many moving moments researching my new book on American entry into the Second World War, but none touched me more deeply than an exchange between a Republican Senator and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox in hearings on the Lend-Lease bill in January 1941. Knox, a Republican newspaper publisher from New Hampshire who had acquired the Chicago Sun-Times, had been the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate in 1936. Then and in subsequent editorials published as a book, he had attacked Franklin Roosevelt as a socialist, a Communist, a totalitarian, and a meddler in the economy whose policies were making it impossible for free enterprise to work. But somehow--I am not sure how--he and FDR had maintained a cordial relationship into the late 1930s, and in June 1940, after the fall of France, Roosevelt appointed him to the Navy Department and Henry M. Stimson, another Republican, to the War Department. During the hearings a Republican began quoting Knox's attacks on Roosevelt back to him. "Oh, you could find much worse than that," said Knox. But then he became serious. "Senator," he said, "I am not ashamed of having been a Republican all my life. I am not ashamed of being a Republican now. But I am not functioning as a Republican now."

I feel it incumbent upon me as a Democrat to face that while Obama's re-election was by far the superior outcome of the election, the country is left with gigantic problems that we show no signs of addressing. My own view of what those problems are is quite different from the mainstream one. The deficit and the national debt are far from the top of my list. The deficit is already falling and it is nowhere near the deficits incurred by Lincoln during the Civil War or FDR in the Second World War. The national debt, as I have pointed out here before, is effectively about half of its official figure, since the rest is held either by the Federal Reserve or by the Social Security Trust Fund. The latter portion need never be paid, as long as payments into Social Security are adequate to pay benefits, and when the foolish payroll tax reduction expires at the end of this year, they will be once again.

Our problems, instead, are unemployment and economic inequality--which in fact are closely related. We are learning the hard way what our grandparents learned 80 years ago. An economy in which a small number of people reap all the profit cannot prosper, because most of the purchasing power generated will go to waste. We have not only too few jobs, but too few well-paying jobs. (That problem went almost unmentioned during the campaign.) The whole upper half of the economy needs to pay more taxes and the government needs to use the money to put people back to work. The minimum wage needs to be substantially increased. Millions of people still need mortgage relief And evidently, we need more effective labor laws One or two Sundays ago, the New York Times. printed an extraordinary story about the effects of the computer age on the labor market. Computer programs tell grocery stores, department stores and restaurants exactly how many workers they need and when they need them. This is what an economist calls "rationalizing" the labor market--but the result is that increasing numbers of workers do not work enough hours every week to earn benefits or a living wage. This cannot go on--but no one is doing anything about it. Nor in the long run can the political system remain healthy if we allow people like the Koch brothers to accumulate fortunes in the billions. Their money was in fact wasted, from their point of view, in this year's election, but there is no guarantee that it will always be thus.

Nor is this all. The exit polls this year tell a frightening story of a divided nation. "It would mean the end of everything I worked for," the late Jackie Robinson once remarked, "if baseball were integrated and the political parties were segregated." But so they are, with huge majorities of black, Hispanic and Asian Americans voting Democratic while 59% of whites vote Republican. Incredibly, fifty years after Marin Luther King, race is a better predictor of voting than either education level or economic status. You don't have to be the son of a first-generation American Jewish father and a near-Mayflower descendant wasp mother like me to feel that this situation is a repudiation of everything the United States is supposed to stand for. The nation today is as divided regionally and ethnically as it was in the wake of the Civil War, and that situation did not create a healthy political environment.

Barack Obama should now regret, I think, that his campaign evidently wrote off the House of Representatives as a lost cause and didn't realize what was possible in the Senate. To the amazement of all--including Nate Silver, who called the presidential race exactly--Democrats won Senate races in North Dakota and Montana. They could easily have picked up a Nevada seat as well, it seems, had they known that they had a chance. The decision to write off the Congress was, like so many of this Administration's decisions, reminiscent of the Clinton Administration, which did the same thing in 1996. According to Paul Krugman, preliminary counts suggest that more voters chose Democrats than Republicans for Congress this year, but thanks to gerrymandering the Republicans maintained most of their majority. Despite media claims to the contrary, John Boehner showed no inclination to compromise on taxes. I don't think that he can, at least until January, because if he did, his career as speaker would almost surely come to an end and he would give way to Eric Cantor or Paul Ryan. He has a majority of rigid ideologues who hate government and don't care if they get re-elected or not.

There's a strong possibility that the country won't get back on the right track with respect to economic and financial policy in my lifetime (and I expect that to last another 25 years at least.) But if it is ever going to, the best hope by far would be for the President to refuse to make a deal and let the Bush tax cuts expire in toto, for everyone. The sequestration will take care of itself, I think, because every major institution in the country, public and private, is against it, for very good reasons, and a sufficient number of Republicans will have to agree to the change. But the President must show the country that "compromises" with the House Republicans will not determine the country's future if he is going to leave a substantial legacy behind. If a new series of cuts drives the economy back into recession, as it did in 1937 and as it has done in Britain today, the Republicans will gain seats again next time. Meanwhile, in the Senate, Harry Reed has been quoted to the effect that he wants to do something about the filibuster. That would involve a confrontational move as well--a ruling from the chair, Vice President Biden, that the Senate rules have expired and that they can be amended by majority vote. But it is desperately needed as well.

We have pulled back from a political cliff. We have not yet started in the right direction, and I'm afraid the odds that we will are less than 50-50.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The Nightmare Scenario

Since most readers probably rely on some kind of notification from google or feedblitz to learn that there is a new post here, most of you probably won't read this one until tomorrow morning, when the presidential election may well be clearly decided. But because it may not, I want to use history, once again, to share a possible scenario that could threaten the integrity of the republic as we know it, based on some of the events of the fall of 2000.

Nearly everyone remembers, of course, that controversies over the recounting of votes in Florida went on for over a month in that year, until the Supreme Court summarily halted the recounts in progress and handed the election to George W. Bush. (The most thorough post-election study suggested that a full recount of the state--which Gore had not demanded--would have shown Gore to be the winner and thus the new President.)But relatively few of you probably remember one episode in that controversy. As the issue of the state Supreme Court-ordered recount made its way towards the Supreme Court, the Republican-dominated Florida legislature called itself into special session to settle the matter themselves. A bill summarily to certify the Republican electors was halfway through that legislature when the Supreme Court ruled.

Florida, Virginia, and Ohio are three states where the vote is expected to be close, and which have solidly Republican legislatures. If the Republican Party can create enough controversy in the courts over the results so as to last until the deadline for certifying the vote on December 11, their legislatures could try to pull the same trick as the Florida legislature did, and certify Republican electors whether a fair count seems to show a Ryan-Romney victory or not. All three of those states also have Republican governors, and if he certifies the choices, there will be no prima facie basis for questioning these votes when the House and Senate meet to count them in early January. Debates may occur if both Senators and Representatives dispute some of the electors, but it's not at all clear that they could be resolved, and if no President or Vice-President had been chosen by January 20 then John Boehner (or another new Republican speaker, such as Paul Ryan) would become President.

I hope, obviously, that this does not happen, but I do not think at least some of this scenario can be ruled out. That, we learned in 2000, is the world we are living in.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Pundits and Polls

(This is my second post of tht weekend and I hope new visitors will check the one below as well.)

I was in Washington this weekend and I saw some interesting columns in and stories in the Washington Post. As my regular readers know, I rely mainly--indeed, almost totally--for electoral intelligence on Nate Silver at the New York Times's fivethirtyeight.com. Silver started his career writing on baseball at baseball-prospectus.com, and his reception among political pundits, most of whom must make at least ten times the money that he does, is similar to the great sabermetrician Bill James's reception among sportswriters, none of whom made nearly as much money as James did from his Baseball Abstracts in the 1980s. Both pundits and sportswriters cultivate their readers by claiming unique insights and inside knowledge. They instinctively seem to resent the idea that a patient, scientific observer could, simply by crunching numbers, reach sounder conclusions than they could. This remains the attitude of the Boston press towards James, even though he has clearly been a key figure in the Red Sox Renaissance over the last 10 years--a period which, sadly, seems to have come to an end despite his best efforts. They were livid a few years ago, for instance, when James once again demonstrated pretty clearly that Jim Rice didn't belong in the Hall of Fame. He was right, but the sportswriters elected him anyway on the grounds that he was "the most feared hitter" of his generation, the kind of quality they love precisely because it doesn't translate into superior statistics.

Silver has a data base consisting essentially of every state and national poll taken for at least the last 35 years, and perhaps more. This allows him to find out how many times the average of all available polls has been correct. It also allows him to adjust for systematic bias in particular polling outfits, and to estimate very accurately the chances that today's polls will in fact predict the winner, even if the election is very close. Karl Rove, who is a political professional but too obviously partisan, it seems to me, to be counted as a pundit, employed the opposite technique in his Wall Street Journal op-ed a few days ago to predict a Romney victory. He simply grabbed ever hopeful piece of data he could find, vastly exaggerated its significance, and concluded that Romney was going to win. This technique is common among political junkies. My late father, for instance, having noticed in one election that a Democratic candidate had overcome a three-point polling deficit to win his race, assumed for the rest of his life that any Democrat trailing by three points or less was going to win. Rush Limbaugh did this kind of statistical cherry-picking on Friday as well: "The only thing that you can say about these polls is that in none of them is Obama at 50. And that matters. When the incumbent is not at 50, I mean, that's a rule of thumb. So is the rule of thumb about he who wins independents wins the election. I don't care what the overall result is, in all the polls it's Romney up, for the most part, double digits. Not in all, but in many of them double digits in independents." Nice try, Rush.

This morning Dana Millbank, in my opinion, embarrassed himself pretty badly by reviewing Silver's projection, which currently gives Obama an 85.1% chance of winning the election and expects him to win with about 307 electoral votes. Millbank started his column well by showing that we could discount Rove based upon his track record--he has consistently exaggerated the Repubicans' chances in every election since 2000 except 2010, it seems--but he then turned Silver and declared that he, Millbank, gave Silver "a 50-50 likelihood of being correct. The truth is anybody who claims to know what is going to happen on Election Day is making it up and counting on being lucky." That statement is ludicrous. Silver is the first to admit that Romney could win the election, but the chances of him doing so are, according to the best model we have--Silver's--15%, not 50%. (In fact, Silver's probability of Obama's victory has gone up 10 points since Millbank wrote his column). I've never met Millbank and I don't know why he can't see this. It's not as if Silver doesn't have a track record: he called the last Congressional elections almost perfectly, a much more difficult feat, it seems to me, with 435 separate elections to deal with instead of 51. (I'm very disappointed that the Times editors allowed him to ignore the House completely this year.) But Millbank didn't embarrass himself nearly as badly as George Will, for whom the results are likely to be a huge disappointment. Will lists a series of possible events Tuesday and assigns them certain significance. If Romney wins Wisconsin, he says, that will prove how popular Governor Walker's union-busting strategy was. It might, indeed, prove that, but Silver's analysis of the polls shows that Obama has a 94.6% chance of carrying Wisconsin. Will adds that if Romney wins Pennsylvania, "or even comes close," it will show Republicans to be more popular than expected among the elderly, since Pennsylvania has one of the oldest populations in the nation. In fact Will must know that Republicans are already more popular than Democrats among the elderly and will almost surely carry the over-50 vote and the over-70 vote by an even greater margin--and he should know that according to Silver, Obama's chances in Pennsylvania are 97.3%.

There is another far more important political lesson to learn from James and Silver: the truth is out there, on a lot of subjects, if you're willing to gather data and analyze it dispassionately. We could do for health care and taxes and yes, maybe even for global warming, what they have done for baseball and elections if we wanted to--but those are areas where there's too much money at stake for reasoned analysis to prevail, certainly at times like these. Rove, Will and Millbank are all part of the power elite. Nowadays, it isn't very interested in the facts.

Friday, November 02, 2012

What is at stake on Tuesday

Last night I attended a panel discussion of the election featuring three political scientists. Two of them argued that this was a very important election, a point with which I thoroughly agree. What was at stake, they said, was the preservation of the New Deal. I was reminded of another discussion 32 years ago, immediately after the election of Ronald Reagan and a Republican Senate, when a colleague remarked that he hoped we could save the New Deal, even if we lost the Great Society. In recent months I have realized how wrong he was, and I spoke up at question time last night because I could not agree.

To say that we are still fighting for the New Deal completely misunderstands what the New Deal was and what it accomplished. The metaphor itself had a meaning now lost: it treated the national economy as a card game in which a tiny number of players held all the high cards, and promised to redistribute them. And this was not just a moral issue, even though Roosevelt struck moral chords in his first inaugural address. The New Deal economists saw inequality and rampant market freedom as the source of economic misery and they were determined to do something about it. They did so, almost at once.

In practical terms, the New Deal meant a drastic reorganization of the financial industry separating commercial banking from investment banking, as codified in the Glass-Steagall Act. It meant creating the SEC to regulate the stock market. It meant recognizing the right of unions to organize and bargain collectively, a new right of which literally millions of workers took advantage from the mid-1930s onward. It meant effective limitations on hours and a minimum wage. Eventually it meant vigorous enforcement of the anti-trust laws. The New Deal gave the government a role in providing energy--public power was its watchword. And it made the government an employer of last resort in hard times, using manpower to build a new infrastructure for the country. Last but hardly least, it eventually pushed top marginal tax rates--already at around 60% thanks to the Hoover Administration--up to 91%, where they remained until 1964. That made it impossible for people like the Koch brothers to accumulate fortunes big enough to buy the American political system. The New Deal did these things, to repeat, because New Dealers from FDR on down saw them as essential to a healthy economy and society--and they were right.

Today, all of those reforms and policies are either dead, or moribund, and Barack Obama has done very little to reverse that trend. He could have nationalized the big banks in 2009, sold them off as separate units, and called for a new Glass-Stegall Act, but he didn't. He has done nothing for labor. The minimum wage remains well below what it was half a century ago in real terms, and hours, as a brilliant New York Times piece showed last weekend, are now much too short, not too long--too short to allow jobholders to live. Obama could not even summon the courage to let all the Bush tax cuts expire and let the top bracket go back up to 39%. He has not even proposed doing away with the "carried interest" scam that allows Romney to pay 14% on his millions. Labor has been retreating steadily for decades. And with the Republican majority dug in in the House, none of this would change in a second Obama term even if he wanted it to.

What we are fighting for now are the most important legacies of the Great Society and its aftermath under Richard Nixon. These include Social Security payments that retirees can actually live on (a Nixon legacy); Medicare, Johnson's signature achievement after civil rights; and Medicaid, which passed along with it. Roosevelt did start Social Security, but it remained too modest to keep recipients out of poverty for its first three decades. Two other threatened legacies from LBJ are the Voting Rights Act, which now seems more needed than it has been for thirty years, and spending on education. That is the legacy that Obama is trying not only to preserve, but to build on with Obamacare. But because of that, we face an ironic prospect. While we may still take care of people when they are old or sick, working adults and their families get worse off every year.

The difference between the Roosevelt and Obama Administrations is reflected in the political trends of the last four years. FDR, to be sure, was luckier in certain respects. Not only did he come into office at a moment of much worse misery, but he also came in when the Depression was finally bottoming out. But his vigorous measures, as well as his crusading spirit, made an enormous difference in the lives of millions of Americans during his first four years in office. That is why the Democrats gained seats in both houses in the Congressional elections of 1934, and why Roosevelt won the biggest electoral majority in modern history in 1936. Curiously enough, Barack Obama's auto bailout has made a difference--a huge difference--in the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of families in Michigan and Ohio, and that may ensure his re-election. But those are the only families who feel that way, and that is why the Democrats lost more than 60 seats two years ago and why Obama is now poised to be re-elected by a razor-thin margin along with a largely hostile Congress.

Mitt Romney's victory remains possible, if less likely, and we are all wondering which Romney would be sworn in on January 20 if he won. Looking realistically at his life, he has gone with the flow at every turn. As a young man he jumped on the private equity bandwagon without caring in the slightest what the impact of leveraged buyouts would be. When he went into electoral politics in Massachusetts he took the positions necessary to appeal to the electorate, and as Governor he worked with a Democratic legislature to pass impressive liberal reforms because that was the only way he could make a record. He obviously has no interest in making the country more like Massachusetts (which, by the way, has one of the lower unemployment rates in the nation even now.) I am not hopeful that he would arrest the Republican tide, and I doubt very much that even a small Democratic Senate majority would do much to stand in its way.

For the sake of the next decades it is important that we at least preserve the government that we have now. We may not, partly because the Republicans and the media have persuaded many voters--including well-educated younger voters, as I have found--that there really isn't much difference between the two parties and that they are equally partisan. But if we do, future generations will have more to build on when our intellectual and moral tide turns, and we begin once again to realize the promise of prosperity and equality which the Founders bequeathed to us.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Where do we stand?

With ten days to go, it seems pretty certain that the election will be decided by a very narrow margin--one very comparable, indeed, to George W. Bush's re-election in 2004, when the state of Ohio provided the margin of victory. That is the better case scenario: the worse case scenario is an election similar to 2000, complete with recounts, court fights, and a Republican legislature or two deciding pass laws awarding their electoral vote to Mitt Romney in defiance of the will of the electorate. Obama is more likely to win, but only to the extent that a favorite is more likely to win the World Series or the Super Bowl or the Wimbledon final. What the election will settle, however, no one has any idea.

Barack Obama won a stunning victory four years ago because so many of us believed he might put the United States on a different path. He is in danger of losing now because he has not been able to do so. The stimulus moderated the recession somewhat, but it ran out some time ago. The bailouts saved, but did not revive or transform, the auto and financial industries. Income disparities are getting worse, not better, and the rich are paying the same low taxes they were paying then. Worse, the Democratic House Obama carried into office is gone. Obama, in sharp contrast to Harry Truman, has neither made attacks on the Republican Congress--the most irresponsible in history--a centerpiece of his campaign, nor even asked the American people to elect a Democratic one. In that as in so many other respects, he has followed in the footsteps of Bill Clinton, who never seemed to care, after 1994, whether he regained control of the Congress, and who in fact never did. It only just occurred to me, oddly, that Bill Clinton was in many ways the President that Barack Obama wanted to be, and it's not surprising that he appointed so many veterans of his Administration.

The United States was ripe for a great change in 2008, but only the Republican Party was committed to bringing it about, by cutting taxes, cutting back government,2 and increasing corporate power still further. Their only real setback on those fronts has been the health care law, which is not yet in effect. They have also single-mindedly focused on their possible return to power without regard to the welfare of the electorate. Of all the appalling, pathetic things we have heard in this campaign, nothing quite compares to Mitt Romney's complaints that Barack Obama has not been able to work with legislators on the other side of the aisle. This indeed is typical of Republicans, who have been eviscerating government and simultaneously complaining about its performance for years. Romney did work well with the Democratic Massachusetts legislature because they, as Democrats, believed in government and wanted to accomplish things. Ted Kennedy blessed Romneycare because he hoped--rightly as it turned out--that it might become a model for national legislation. Romney viewed it as his ticket to national prominence. Now he is committed to its repeal.

I thought, as I have said, that if Obama won handily and even changed the balance of power in Congress, the Republicans might have to rethink their attitude. Now that that possibility looks very unlikely, I'm afraid we have nothing to look forward to but more of the gridlock of the last two years--or worse. The Republicans in the House might well decide not to raise the debt ceiling sufficiently now--what have they got to lose? They surely will continue obstructing every Obama appointment that they can, and I wouldn't be surprised if they filibustered his next Supreme Court choice. There will be no chance of the campaign finance reform that is desperately needed. The new system is already, it would seem, self-sustaining.

And if Romney wins?

I saw about an hour last night of the Frontline episode tracing the two candidates' lives in parallel. The segment on Romney's tenure as Governor was enough to bring tears to my eyes. He was a genuine moderate Republican who, for whatever reason, worked for the public good. The possibility that he might rediscover his inner moderate can't be ruled out, but I can't believe in it. Romney as governor was appealing to his constituency. Now his constituency is the Republican Party, and so it shall remain. He could be Andrew Johnson in reverse, reaching across the aisle to make reasonable compromises on various issues, but I would be amazed if that happened. Grover Norquist has already defined his role as signing the legislation that the Tea Party house has already passed, and I wouldn't expect him to deviate from it. Today's Washington Post, meanwhile, reports that the Republicans have so effectively gerrymandered the districts of their new members in so many states that the Democrats have no chance of regaining the House, even though they need less than 30 seats to do so and they are leading, if I am not mistaken, in generic ballot polls for the House. There is no parallel to the take-no-prisoners style of Republican politics in the Karl Rove era in the rest of American history.

The Democrats at this point are far more certain of holding on to the Senate than Obama is of holding the White House, but a Democratic Senate would not, in my opinion, block very much of what Romney and a Republican House would do. It isn't in them. We live in a country of increasing corporate power, centered in the energy, health insurance, and financial sectors. The public faces a choice between a little regulation and none at all. The economy has deep long-term structural problems which no one has any idea how to address. The foreign scene is really quite amazingly quiet, nothing at all like the situation that was emerging four years into the Great Depression in 1932. There is no emerging Hitler, but sadly, there is no emerging FDR either. In the coming weeks I will try to say more about the nature of our new country and our new world, including both its strengths--which do exist--and its weaknesses.

Monday, October 22, 2012

George McGovern, 1922-2012

The obituaries for George McGovern, who died on Sunday, are generally leading with his catastrophic defeat at the hands of Richard Nixon in 1972. This is unfortunate, not only because McGovern was a genuinely great man, but because not only that defeat, but also his entire career, say so much about what the United States has gone through in the last fifty years--little of it very good. McGovern was in fact a product of the New Deal and one of the best exemplars of the GI generation in politics. Horrible events--specifically, the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and the Watergate scandal--turned him into a national figure and presidential candidate. Meanwhile, a combination of a new style of Republican politics and the Boom generation's disastrous emergence as a political force ended his national political career in 1972. The Reagan electoral revolution then removed him, along with a number of others like him, from the Senate in 1980, and American politics have not been the same since.

McGovern piloted a bomber in the Second World War and earned a doctorate in history, but became a Democratic political activist and a Congressman in South Dakota in the 1950s. The New York Times obit says this morning that he was soundly beaten in his first run for the Senate against long-time Republican leader Karl Mundt in 1960, but this is not true. McGovern was beaten by a margin of 52%-48%, while John F. Kennedy lost the state to Richard Nixon by almost four times as much, 58%-42%. Anti-Catholicism undoubtedly played a role, and when Kennedy called McGovern the next day, he said, "George, I feel terrible about what happened in South Dakota yesterday. I think I cost you the election." Kennedy appointed him director of the Food for Peace program, a typical example of the ethos of the time. Two years later McGovern won another Senate race by less than 1000 votes.. Within six months of taking office he had made a courageous speech on the dangers of nuclear overkill, helping to pave the way for the ratification of the Test Ban Treaty.

I met McGovern late in the summer of 1966, at a dinner party my parents had brought me to in the Georgetown home of Averell Harriman. When the men and women separated after dinner my eyes were opened by an extraordinarily frank discussion of the Vietnam War, which both Harriman and McGovern strongly opposed. McGovern never raised his voice, and spoke more in sorrow than in anger, but he was deeply concerned. Harriman was obviously deeply disturbed by the escalation of the war. Also in attendance was Scoop Jackson of Washington State, a hawk, but the conversation among them all was perfectly cordial, and they shared their concern over the coming midterms, in which the Administration took a terrible beating.

McGovern, like Wayne Morse of Oregon, Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, Frank Church of Idaho, and Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, came from an upper midwest tradition that combined domestic progressivism with skepticism about involvement in foreign lands. All of them opposed Lyndon Johnson's war in Vietnam from the beginning of the conflict, and all were canvassed by leftist activists in late 1967 about a possible primary run. McCarthy answered the call partly because he, unlike Nelson, Morse and McGovern, did not have to run for re-election that year. When McCarthy nearly won the New Hampshire primary, Robert Kennedy entered the race, and had he not been assassinated that June he would have remained the leading liberal standard bearer in the Democratic Party for a long time, and pretty surely the Democratic presidential candidate, if not in 1968 (when I do not think he would have been nominated), then in 1972 or 1976, depending upon his own preference. McGovern's breakthrough into national prominence occurred because the Kennedy people drafted him, in essence, to speak for their delegates in Chicago. Hubert Humphrey was nominated, of course, and McGovern, unlike Eugene McCarthy, immediately endorsed him and then won re-election. McCarthy's erratic behavior during 1968 pretty much ruled him out as a future national candidate, and two Democrats emerged from that turbulent year with a future in national politics: Ed Muskie of Maine, Humphrey's vice-presidential choice, and McGovern, who got the key assignment of reforming the delegate selection rules for the Democratic party in order to make the more responsive to popular opinion.

McGovern, sad to say, may well have won the 1972 nomination because Richard Nixon wanted him to. The dirty tricks campaign that functioned alongside Watergate was designed to bring down Muskie, whom Nixon regarded as the most dangerous candidate, and it may have done just that. White House aid Ken Clawson told a Washington Post reporter that he had written the anonymous letter accusing Muskie's wife of an anti-Canadian slur to the Manchester Union Leader. The accusation found its away into an editorial,. and Muskie was filmed in tears as he tried to defend his wife. His poll numbers began dropping, and McGovern, the candidate of young and enthusiasitc liberals, picked up the slack. Humbert Humphrey could not overcome his association with Lyndon Johnson and his establishment taint, and McGovern emerged as the clear favorite after winning the winner-take-all California primary. So desperate was Humphrey that he tried to overturn the winner-take-all formula at the convention, but clever McGovern strategists foiled his ploy. Then came the selection of Thomas Eagleton as his vice president, the revelation of Eagleton's history of mental illness, McGovern's embarrassing hesitation before dropping him from the ticket, and a horribly embarrassing week in which McGovern desperately sought a replacement, enduring several rejections before settling on Sargent Shriver. Meanwhile, his Boomer volunteers, who had done well in primary states, were showing themselves hopelessly unable to handle a national campaign. Nixon meanwhile had carried off succcessful summits in Beijing and Moscow and won Middle America's (and his own generation's) confidence. McGovern was, of course, swamped, although his percentage of the vote was only 2-3% less than Humphrey's in 1968. The George Wallace vote had now defected to the Republican Party, it has stayed for most of the next 40 years.

I volunteered for the McGovern campaign in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Canvassing the working-class precincts of East Cambridge on several Saturdays, I was encouraged and overjoyed by the outpouring of support for McGovern that I found. Some of them, it turned out, were faking it. The canvass showed a 3-1 victory in prospect for McGovern, and he carried those precincts by a somewhat less impressive margin. Still, Massachusetts voted for him, and I was proud to have been part of the successful segment of his campaign. Had his campaign not imploded and had he managed a respectable showing in defeat, Watergate would undoubtedly have turned him into the favorite in 1976, but that was not to be the case. As it was, he took advantage of Watergate to secure his re-election in 1974 in the midst of a Democratic sweep. But in 1980 he was one of nine Democratic incumbents to lose their seats, including Frank Church of Idaho, Birch E. Bayh of Indiana, Warren Magnuson of Washington, and Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin--all veterans of at least three terms. This was the first national Republican campaign run largely on social issues, and I remember seeing a calm McGovern on election night call for an "antidote" to the new "poison" of Republican propaganda that had put the New Deal and Great Society to bed. We will find out in two weeks whether one has in fact been found.

In 2007, during my first year as a visiting professor here at Williams, I arranged for McGovern to visit the campus. He was fully alert and very much the same man I remembered from decades ago. When I told him that I could not forgive Humphrey for what he had tried to do to him in 1972, he replied, "Well, Hubert wanted to be President more than anything else, and that was his last chance." He compared Iraq and Vietnam and dealt very well with questions, including an abusive one from a gentleman who blamed him for the loss of South Vietnam. I am sure he had faced that accusation many times.

Once upon a time, there was a United States where young men from all sections and yes, all nations, fought in the same war, became well-educated in college, and entered politics to make the world a better place. They didn't always agree, but they worked together and bequeathed a remarkably just society, especially economically, to their chldren--who, as children do, proceeded to squander it. George McGovern was one of the last of those men, and I'm going to miss him.