Friday, August 16, 2002

An article in today's New York Times describes Republican opposition against Dubya's headlong rush towards war with Iraq. To which Republican hawk Richard Perle responds:

The failure to take on Saddam after what the president said would produce such a collapse in confidence in the president that it would set back the war on terrorism.

This is a marvelous turn of logic. Some might say that if we need bad policy to back up Dubya's ill-considered, bellicose rhetoric, that would be a sign that the wrong guy is in the Oval Office. But to Perle, it's failure to follow up the ill-considered, bellicose rhetoric --- no matter what the consequences --- that makes for bad policy.

Those with long memories may hear echoes of the end of the Vietnam war, which was delayed for years while Henry Kissinger looked for some kind of diplomatic fig leaf to cover the naked fact that the North had won, and the US and its puppets had lost. Acknowledging the truth, he said, would leave the United States reduced to the status of a "pitiful, helpless giant". In the event, the truth became manifest to all as (if not before) the tanks of the North rolled into the newly rechristened Ho Chi Minh City --- and the United States now has to deal with the consequences of that, as the world's sole superpower and the most fearsome military force in the history of the planet.

(There are differences of course --- like the stakes: the honor of tens of thousands of Americans who gave their lives to keep the Johnson and Nixon administrations from having to 'fess up to their mistakes, as opposed to the honor of one feckless national guard flyboy named Bush who kept the skies of Texas free of all invaders for a year or so, and then mysteriously disappears from his squadron's records with his term not yet up. But the logic in both cases is the same).

By the way, one of the leading members of the loose coalition trying to muffle Dubya's war drums is Henry Kissinger...

(By the way, Perle likes it made clear that he is not an administration official, but rather an independant voice which is choosing, after careful, considered judgment, to endorse administration policy. The mere fact that he regularly briefs officials formulating policy, and prepares those briefings from his office is in the Pentagon, shouldn't change that picture in the least).

It looks like another high-profile economist is slowly drifting towards apostasy. Paul Krugman recently mused out loud about how many developing countries with orthodox "Washington Consensus" economic policies seem to have wound up as economic basket cases. His current column on how the United States economy may be joining Japan's in the no-longer-theoretical liquidity trap...

Monday, August 12, 2002

More on pseudonymity: Steven den Beste is suspicious of people who post under pseudonyms, such as Demosthenes or Publius. He particularly suspects that pseudonymous pundits may be too cowardly to take an unpopular stand, and take the rap for it, and may even be advocating views and policies which they don't wholly believe in themselves. As seems to have been true in the latter case, once the mask slipped off --- the primary Publius had deep reservations about what he was pseudonymously advocating (at one point saying "no man's ideas were more remote from the plan than [mine] were known to be"), but as Publius, he spoke for it nonetheless.

Den Beste also doesn't believe that a pseudonymous voice shouting into the wind is likely to have any meaningful influence on public debate.

Jim Henley has been challenging liberals for a while now to acknowledge Dick Armey's late work in defense of civil liberties. For what it's worth, I had a response up for a few hours a while back, quoting my namesake's famous defense of the virtues of stopped clocks, before deleting it as, well, too snarky. But the truth is, I just didn't know what to make of it.

That contrasts with, say, my view of the generally odious Grover Norquist's yeoman's work towards the same end. In fact, I seem to recall last fall that Norquist was publicly frustrated at the diffidence of Democratic civil libertarians a while back, stopping barely short of calling them cowards.

The interesting question here, is what are these people thinking? Not the Democrats. That's easy; they're thinking that there are no campaign donations in defense of unpopular principles --- the same sort of thinking that led to solid, bipartisan support for the Communications Decency Act, Sen. James Exon's attempt to impose a G-rated, "safe" internet on the public, which was nearly laughed out of the Supreme Court. But rather, Norquist and Armey.

First, Norquist. Welcome as Norquist's help may be, it's still a bit disturbing to note how much Norquist's sudden sensitivity towards civil rights in the wake of September 11 has to do with the strange new friends he's been making in the radical Islamic community, with the apparent long-term goal of building some kind of alliance between wild-eyed Muslim fundamentalists and their wild-eyed Christian counterparts. Norquist, in fact, had built a coalition involving Arab-Americans and his more usual conservative forces in opposition to the more extreme provisions Clinton-era anti-terrorist legislation.

Which brings us back to Armey, the novel exception to my rule that politicians don't vote on principle when they can't find some boodle in it. It turns out that he's announced his retirement, which means that he suddenly has a lot less need for campaign donations, or patronage in any form. And that, in turn, has led him in all sorts of strange directions, like this:

In a vivid sign of waning support for the economic embargo on Cuba, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Flower Mound, said he believes the United States should open trade with the Communist regime. He added that he has backed the restrictions on travel and trade only out of loyalty to two Cuban-American members of the House.

Having decided to leave office, he finally feels free to let go the pandering, and speak his mind. But if he couldn't before, why was the office worth having in the first place?

Which returns me to another mystery, one I mentioned last week. Many libertarians vote Republican under the mistaken belief that the party stands for reducing the size of government, and government power. Republicans talk like that, but they now have a twenty-year record that says otherwise --- while they cut taxes, they don't cut spending. Instead, they just steer it to their own districts. "To the victor go the spoils", says the libertarians' friend, Dick Armey. And before that, we have the Nixon administration, and its mandatory wage and price controls (and its enemies lists and other assaults on civil liberties).

A politician with a real record of reducing the size of government is a rare thing in either party. But we had one running for president in the last election --- Al Gore, the point man for the Clinton administration's cost reductions, which led to the first federal budget surpluses in decades. Why were so many libertarians voting for the other guy?

(For those who tuned in late, the usual Republican response to those embarrassing Reagan deficits is to try to blame them on the Democrats in Congress. That's a lie. If Congress had passed Reagan's proposed budgets unaltered, the deficits would have differed from their actual values by well under one percent).