Liberal Critiques of GOP & Obama

Two unrelated but significant political issues warrant consideration as we round out the week. Yesterday, Senate Republicans upheld a filibuster on a jobs bill. Earlier in the week, the Obama administration, and the intellectual courtiers that surround it, received its sharpest, and finest, rebuke of its foreign policy.

"The bill is simply too expensive and I simply could not support it," said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, explaining her vote not to allow debate on a bill that would have extended unemployment benefits to those still looking for work and provided monies to states and localities facing their own budget nightmares. This is what is known as being penny-wise and pound-foolish.

The economic recovery is marked by two primary characteristics: It is halting and it has been accompanied by severe amnesia. The halting quality means that we seem to take two steps forward and one back, home sales go up one month, but then the unemployment rate stays flat, and at an alarmingly high rate. One day the Dow goes up, and the next day it plummets. This is frustrating, but the last thing we should want to do is see states and municipalities lay off policemen and social workers and teachers to meet their strained budgets. Apart from the harm to public safety, public welfare and public education that such cutbacks would entail, we would be increasing the unemployment rate, depriving these public servants of their livelihoods and, critically, of their purchasing power when we most need them to be out spending their money to get the economy moving again.

Sen. Collins is not entirely wrong to be worried about government debt, but in the midst of a recession, we want the government to be stimulating the economy and going into deeper deficit spending as needed. The Federal Reserve’s announcement this week that it is keeping interest rates at such historic lows was made possible because the worldwide anxiety about the economic future has driven investors across the globe to the most trustworthy of investments, U.S. government bonds. Why should foreigners be willing to trust the future of the U.S. government but Senate Republicans won’t? Shame on them.

Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, is one of the three smartest people in the world. And he has penned a damning critique of Obama’s foreign policy from a liberal perspective. I know that Leon’s and my concerns are similar, but I also think that my concern about Obama’s foreign policy, and indeed about his entire presidency is different from Leon’s. In two essays, one at TNR in response to Michael Kazin and one this morning in the Post in response to Fareed Zakaria, Wieseltier makes the case for a more robust support of democracy advocates in Iran and elsewhere. His most damning sentences are these: "The White House would like us to think that the alternatives before us are just a sermon or a war. Like Obama and many other liberals, Kazin has fallen for the Bush-Cheney idea of democratization, according to which it takes place at the barrel of a gun. It suits Obama’s reluctance to challenge Muslim societies in any seriously critical way, his multicultural preference for celebrating their otherness and addressing them religiously, his realism costumed as idealism, to have the policy of democratization represented in the American mind by the Iraq war."

It is the case that too many liberals have allowed George W. Bush to give internationalism a bad name. The Obama foreign policy looks more and more like that of Papa Bush and Brent Scowcroft in some kind of multicultural drag than the heir to the tradition of FDR, Truman and Kennedy. Of course, as Wieseltier should concede, there is a reason liberals stop with Kennedy. It is not only the legacy of Bush fils but the legacy of LBJ and Vietnam that still makes many liberals wince at the thought of intervention. Sarajevo was enough of a tonic for most of us, but not for all. A night of watching MSNBC would show Wieseltier how deep is the leftie aversion to the use of American force abroad, and he should give the President some credit for staring that part of his political base down.

One of Leon’s charges does not ring true. In discussing Afghanistan, he worries that the timetable for withdrawal may have less to do with the needs of democracy in Afghanistan than it does with the needs of the Democrats back home. In Jonathan Alter’s book about Obama, The Promise, of which I have a forthcoming review in the print edition of AMERICA, the most dominant theme is the President’s commitment to the belief that "good policy is good politics" and his near constant insistence that political discussions be kept distinct from policy discussions. Alter sees something noble in this, but I see a misunderstanding of democracy, especially when constructing a war strategy where it is the President’s unique contribution to build and maintain popular support for the effort. My worry is not that the Afghanistan timetable relates to domestic political needs, but that it doesn’t, that there is a side to Obama who thinks that if he devises the smartest policy, people will come to recognize that fact and embrace it, if not immediately, over time as the positive results become obvious.

This approach may work in Obama’s favor if the economy turns around before his re-election effort, but the struggles for freedom around the globe will not be completed by 2012 and the American people need more than a thoughtful strategy, they need a moral vision that explains and defends that strategy. He must learn how to appeal to more than our brains: The rationale for the promotion of democracy and justice is a moral rationale. Bush buried that important fact in hubris and wishful thinking. Obama may be burying it in rational analyses and expectations. There is nothing wrong with wishing, and Lord knows we want our leaders making rational analysis, but Obama must find a moral voice and vision to explain and defend his foreign policy.


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10 years 5 months ago
There are more ways to stimulate the economy that just temporary relieving the massive folly contracted for by state and local governments through government grants.  And that is what last years stimulus bill did and this years plans to do (by the way I believe most of last years stimulus bill is still unspent.)  It essentially says to local governments, all those bad decisions you made to sweep unpleasant conditions under the rug do not have to be dealt with.  They can stay under the rug.
Public employees are paid much better than the private sector with not only better salaries but with even better retirement benefits.  New York has added total teachers to its employment roles since 2000 while student population has decreased.  The average salary including benefits for New York City employees has risen nearly 70% under Bloomberg.  A New Jersey teacher is handed a package worth about 3.5 million dollars on retirement and has contributed next to nothing towards it during their work years.  I know of local teachers contracts that are demanding raises while positions are being cut for tenured teachers in their districts.  They are eating their own.  Is this the type of behavior we want to reward?  A reduction in pay or benefits is unheard of in the public sector while the private sectors pays for this largesse with layoffs, reduced salaries and incredible increases in debt.
Mr. Winters again uses rhetoric to refuse to face the reality of the world.  Business will not hire someone unless they believe that the person will add to their profits.  If the cost of adding someone is prohibitive then they will do what any normal person would do, find alternative ways to do the work or not do the work and cut back.  The uncertain cost of health care and other regulatory costs and restrictions has made business gun shy about taking on new workers.  And unfavorable tax and regulatory policies has made the starting of new businesses less profitable and thus less likely and thus has curtailed the real driver of growth in our economy. 
Beth Cioffoletti
10 years 5 months ago
dunno, MSW, but the photo of Obama and Dmitri Medvedev having burgers at Ray's Hell doesn't look like a sermon or the barrel of a gun (or even anything that GWB would do).
Methinks that there IS a moral vision behind Obama's foreign policy, he just hasn't articulated it yet.  THe fact that the man gets many different viewpoints before making a decision shows that he is aware of the danger of seeing your own view as absolute and right.  This humility is part of an overall moral vision that refuses to pretend to have the right to tell the world how it should be.
10 years 5 months ago
"THe fact that the man gets many different viewpoints before making a decision shows that he is aware of the danger of seeing your own view as absolute and right.  This humility is part of an overall moral vision that refuses to pretend to have the right to tell the world how it should be."
1. Isn't the whole point of a "moral vision" the idea that you have clear ideas about how the world works?  I mean that's how morality works, or at least Catholic morality which is based on natural law, which is, you know, based in a belief in how the world works?  Dunno, call me crazy.
2. I am glad that Pres. Obama & some Demoracts are ignoring their liberals re: the stimulus.  How much do we have to spend before we declare it a success/failure?  I believe it is the moderate view that the markets are not responding because they are uncertain about what the basic rules of the game will be or are.  Spending alone is no more the answer than cutting taxes at every turn.
10 years 5 months ago
I should clarify in point 1 in my above post, by "how the world works" I mean to say "how the world should be".  In other words, does a liberal "moral vision" preclude making such conclusions that female mutiliation, although deeply ingrained in various cultures, is an offense against the person and should be banned, or should the vaunted epistemic humility/relativism Ms. Cioffoletti advocates preclude such moralizing?
I'll leave aside the thornier issue of whether Israelis have a right to preempt the arming of terrorist groups not only opposed to the existence of the state of Israel, but the existence of Jews in general (cf. Helen Thomas, liberal hero for standing up to Dubya).
Beth Cioffoletti
10 years 5 months ago
Sorry, Jeff.  I never seem to get things down clearly the first time...
What I mean is that the destiny of nations lies in the hands of God.  If we trust and obey God, we will not attempt to direct that destiny according to our own needs for security.
Please, call me Beth.
10 years 5 months ago
"What I mean is that the destiny of nations lies in the hands of God.  If we trust and obey God, we will not attempt to direct that destiny according to our own needs for security."
Oh wow.  Do you realize just how scarily close this is to certain fundamentalist (Christian & Muslim) notions of God's work in the world?  So Israel should just "trust and obey God" to defend it from certain annihilation? And what of the Muslims who believe they "trust(ing) & obey(ing) God in working for the annihilation of Isreal, let alone of Western civilization?  
It always amuses me that liberals who screeched at W's policies actually advocate policies much more radical (at least in theory) than his.
Beth Cioffoletti
10 years 5 months ago
Yeah, I guess the gospel of peace does come across as radical.  But it's true, peace is a dare, the very opposite of security. Way more radical than anything that W pushed.
It means laying down your weapons.  Not fighting for security or safety, but trusting that God will take care of things (and you).
It's what Jesus taught, you know, the greatest venture of life.  And yeah, it does lead to the cross. 
James Lindsay
10 years 5 months ago
Any foreign policy that supposes either Iraq or Afghanistan can forge national unity governments is doomed to fail. They both seem to be the inertia of the Bush Administration.

What is needed is the ability to talk turkey over boundaries, although it may take someone besides the United States to move such a discussion along - although the US should certainly apply pressure to Israel and Turkey in dealing with Palestine and Kurdistan.

A unified Pashtuni state created from Afghan and Pakistan regions would be both danergous and necessary for our disengagement - which we must do eventually. The only reason to be there is to decapitate - quite literally - al Queda and its leadership (which is hardly a Christian objective). That should be a covert, rather than a military operation, however. If no one has give us al Zawahiri's head, it may be because the price has been set too low. Indeed, it is far too low when compared with the cost in American and Pashtun lives and treasure by going after him through military means. We should take a clue from St. Thomas More's Utopia and pursue assassination as an alternative to war.
10 years 5 months ago
I just found this analysis of jobs.  Since January 2008, about when the recession first started, the US has lost 7.9 million jobs in the private sector but gained 590,000 jobs in government.  This is at a time when government at all levels cannot pay its bills.
Since the stimulus package was passed 16 months ago, the private sector lost 2.6 million jobs and government has gained 400,000 jobs.
The stimulus bill was never meant for job creation or stimulating the economy.  It was a pork bill for Democrat constituencies.  I remember an exchange between Robert Reich and Charlie Rangel discussing how to ensure that ''our'' people must get the money.  And now Obama and the Democrats are asking for more money for their voters because they are starting to hurt.  More social justice as defined by Democrats.
10 years 5 months ago
Those who take pacifists positions should read the following by Walter Russell Mead
If one is going to defend pacifist policies then one has to look at the nearly billion people who have been killed in cross border wars in the last 2500 years and decide if most of these deaths could have been prevented by having a strong military to defend them.  Back 2400 years ago Thucydides said that weakness is the greatest cause of war while writing the History of the Peloponnesian War.  So one could argue pretty convincingly that pacifism is the greatest killer in the history of mankind.
James Lindsay
10 years 5 months ago
The government pays all its bills, with borrowed money, the same way most people go out to eat and buy houses. Indeed, a study I heard about today shows that the housing boom was fueled with foreign cash (just like the national debt).

Note, JR, that the first year of your job loss period had a Republican president.
10 years 5 months ago
''Note, JR, that the first year of your job loss period had a Republican president.''
The discussion was over the efficacy of a stimulus bill and the creation of jobs and has been shown it has been a failure.  There was a minor stimulus bill in 2008 and that produced little effect too.  But that was under a Democrat Congress.  Here is what Harry Reid said about this failure. 
I'm very happy that the vast majority of the U.S. Senate agreed that we have to change the economic direction of this country, and we've done that'' 
I have yet to see anyone who could blame the economic turn down on Bush and make it stick  He had minor culpability but the major causes lie elsewhere.  Most in the country blame him but as I said I haven't seen anyone delineate why he was at fault.  You could just as easy blame the change in Congress as that was the major change from 2007 on.  But that is not that relevant either unless one is trying to assess budgets for which starting in 2007, they belong to the Democrats.  So current deficits definitely belong to the Democrats.  The last Republican budget had a $160 billion deficit and had been coming steadily down for three years.
Beth Cioffoletti
10 years 5 months ago
"So one could argue pretty convincingly that pacifism is the greatest killer in the history of mankind."
Yep, I'd agree.  Gandhi, Jesus, MLK, Romero, Franz Jaegerstaater.  None of them survived.  Yet Jesus says "follow me".
Tom Maher
10 years 5 months ago
Don't look now folks but Obama's foreign policy on Iran remains weak and ineffective. The Obama foreign policy has not had any effect on Iran's none-stop developing nuclear weapeons and the means of delivering these nuclear weapons by advance missle technology. Oh yes several of its top leaders have threatened to "wipe Israel off the map" once the weapons are ready. After long delay sanctions are only now being applied and they are very weak. China and Russia have finally approved of sanctions but the sanctions are watered down to allow China and Russia most trade interests with Iran to continue. The sactions are largely symbolic.

It might help to first realistically analyze the Iranian problem and then develope some realistic and effective solutions on Iran . Wishing that the radical Iranian theocracy of the last thirty years can suddenly become friendly toward the United States has been shown to be the audacity of presumption and not of hope. We are on the verge of a possible nuclear confontation between Isreal and Iran due to the ineffective and delusional Obama policy toward Iran. Foriegn policy must be based on reaity not wishful-thinking or self-delusion.
Gabriel Marcella
10 years 5 months ago
Question on your comment number 9. I checked the website you indicated and indeed your citation is correct. I wonder if the 590,000 jobs gained in government include census workers and increase in military personnel, which would account for some it. What explains such a large increase? The website does not say.
10 years 5 months ago
I do not know the answer of the exact end point.  I searched in the bureau of labor statistics but couldn't find the basis for the data.  I wasn't aware that there was a military buildup and I do not know if Census jobs would be included or if the time period is relevant for Census workers.
Beth Cioffoletti
10 years 5 months ago
"He must learn how to appeal to more than our brains: The rationale for the promotion of democracy and justice is a moral rationale."
MLK got it right.  He also was a preacher to begin with, and he was able to bring religous insight to the political arena.
Obama's dilemma is different.  He's starting with political position and needs to undergird that perspective with the morality of a sound religious imperative.
Stanley Kopacz
10 years 5 months ago
Personally, I'm not a pacifist.  I can't believe that there aren't circumstances when pacifists aren't pacifists.  However, I have to respect people who don't think like me, on the assumption that people who don't think like me might know regions of solution space that are unavailable to me.
Yeah, we all know Hitler should have been confronted earlier.  But, on the other hand, maybe Hitler might not have happened if the Versailles Treaty hadn't tightened the screws on the Germans so tightly, but the French and English wanted their revenge.  There was also a little Asian gentleman who wanted an audience with Woodrow WIson after the war concerning French occupation of his country.  His name was Ho Chi Minh, but , of course, the thoroughly racist Woodrow wouldn't meet him.
What goes around comes around.  We, or at least, our government replaced a democratically elected leader in Iran with the Shah, a nasty piece of work.  Then we were amazed when the Iranians overthrew the Shah and hated our guts.
A little pacifism or at least alternative-to-war thinking at the right time can probably prevent getting into war situations later.  That's why the blathering about billions lost to pacifism is what it is.  Poland wasn't pacifist before it was invaded by the Nazis and the Soviets.  They weren't slaughterized because they were pacifists.  They simply didn't have the resources and industrial capabiity to oppose these two powers. People get killed because one group has the power to crush the other, not because there were pacifists involved. 
The Iranians are following the war philosophy proposed here to the hilt.  Get a nuclear bomb or two, and the US may not invade.  It's logical.  It's apparently the only language we respect.
If you're so worried about us being militarily weak, get the manufacturing back in the country.  That's the basis of military power.  Otherwise, expect to be militarily weak.  And thank the capitalist whores for selling out our manufacturing capabilities to the Chinese.
Tom Maher
10 years 5 months ago
Apparently nobody is payuing attention to world nuclear politics. In 2003 The U.S. and its allies went to war with Iraq with the United Nations blessing based on the beleive that Iraq had nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

Everyone in the world had a problem with Iraq having nuclear weapons and did not want to wait for ultimate confirmation of whether or not Iraq had finaaly gotten the nuclear technology it tried to aqcuire or develope for decades. The potential for Iraq to use nuclear weapons was unacceotable and a war resulted. We are talking war here.

Nothing has changed since 2003. Iran is imminently about complete the development on weapons wghich is an unacceptable threat to world peace. Iran having nuclear weapons is a certain cause of war. If Iraq was not allowed to even conceal nuclear weapons why would anyone think that Iran would go unchallenged in openly deploying nuclear weapons as they are about to do?

Iran's nuclear weapons development is another war in the making.
Stanley Kopacz
10 years 5 months ago
You're standing behind thousands of nuclear weapons, Tom, with the hardware to deliver them anywhere in the world anytime we want.  We managed to hold back the Soviet Union with them.  Why are Americans such scairdy cats?  Nobody's scarier than us.  We're the only country that ever nuked another.  The last ten years have proven we can be as nuts as anyone else.
If we're going to declare a crusade against the Muslims, we better stop dancing around and bring back the draft.  We're going to need all the manpower we can get.  And the old farts like me can drive the trucks full of ordnance.   That'll take care of some of the social security and medicare gaps.  When democracies declare war, service should be democratic.
ed gleason
10 years 5 months ago
"  When democracies declare war, service should be democratic." I agree with Stanley, and as for his 'And the old farts like me can drive the trucks full of ordnance.   That'll take care of some of the social security and medicare gaps.' i agree and would join him  if the trucks were leaving Afghanistan.The most dangerous job in modern war is not storming beaches al la Normandy, it's driving a supply trucks down an IED littered road. I assume that all posters here who are calling for more war,  have driving experience. I also assume all posters here are way above the 18-20 year old age  ...those who will do the 'heavy lifting'. Another point,  non-violence is different than pacifism... look it up. 
Tom Maher
10 years 5 months ago
The most immediate "flashpoint" with Iran developing nuclear weapons is not the United States but Israel whom two Iranian presidents in the past ten yers have openly threatened to destroy. Iran has antagonism against the state of Israel not seen since Nazi Germany antagonism agaist the Jews of Europe. The aim of this atagoism is the same - the extermination of Jews.

Israel of course regards Iran as a definite threat to its survival. And well it should. The United States has long decalred Iran as a state sponsor of terorism. Iran threat to peace is about to graduate in a major way with Iran's development of nuclear weapons. But Amerian foreign policy is ineffectual in checking this threat to Israel and world peace.

So like world events in 1939, American pacifism, isolationism, and non-violence practitioners had no effect on preventing or controling the spread of warefare worldwide. Iran's developemnt of nuclear weapons is an event with worldwide impact that is out of control.

One of the many horrors of World War II not prevented by pacifism or non-violence practiioneers was the extermination of six million Jews. This epic event directly lead to the establishment of the state of Israel. Now another militaristic state this time under narrow theocratic control wants to continue to do what the Nazi started as a religious duty. How likely is it for nations to passively allow the possibility of a second holocaust?

A second holocaust? How utterly rediculous and immoral to even allow the remote possiblility of another mass slaughter of innocent people to for the second time. It should be apparent to all that Israel right to exist will be vigorously defended by force of arms despite hugh impact on world peace any outbreak of warfare will have.

So the point is that U.S. foreign policy is failing to stop Iran's nuclear development is a failure to actively defend world peace and the interests of the United States in peace and world order. Like 1939 where the United States wishfully hoped to remain neutal and isolationist as war was clearly spreading all over the world, demonstrated that the United States and many other nations could not avoid be apart of the worldwide breakdown of peace. Failure to stop Iran's military nuclear program will result in an unavoidable world catastrophe with severe impact on the United States.
Stephen O'Brien
10 years 5 months ago
''Men nowadays are becoming more and more convinced that any disputes which may arise between nations must be resolved by negotiation and agreement, and not by recourse to arms.
''We acknowledge that this conviction owes its origin chiefly to the terrifying destructive force of modern weapons.  It arises from fear of the ghastly and catastrophic consequences of their use.  Thus, in this age which boasts of its atomic power, it no longer makes sense to maintain that war is a fit instrument with which to repair the violation of justice'' (Blessed Pope John XXIII, encyclical Pacem in terris 126-127).
Beth Cioffoletti
10 years 5 months ago
That's good enough for me, David.  Heck of an improvement over what has passed for morality with previous administrations.
Beth Cioffoletti
10 years 5 months ago
"One of the many horrors of World War II not prevented by pacifism or non-violence practiioneers was the extermination of six million Jews. This epic event directly lead to the establishment of the state of Israel."
This is a pretty complex subject, Tom, and I'm not sure that I understand it well enough to comment, but I do have some thoughts.  I'm presently reading the biography of Deitrich Bonhoeffer (the one recommended on this blog), and getting a better feel for the political and religious climate in Germany that led up to the Holocaust.
From what I understand, the people were not adequately informed or guided by their religious leaders as to how to respond to what was going on in their government.  Look at Franz Jaegarstaater, the ONE and ONLY Catholic to refuse to fight for Hitler.  His bishops told him that his conscience was wrong.  I'm only half way through the book now, but Bonhoeffer was fighting a pretty lonely battle himself, in his attempts to awaken his fellow pastors to what was happening.
You cannot say that WW2 was not prevented by nonviolence.   Nonviolence was never tried or even seriously considered.
The main problem that the Arab world has with Israel, I think, is Palestine.  I admit that it is most impressive the way the Jewish people, with all of their gifts, have settled into this small piece of land and made it into a cultural and beautiful treasure.  But their treatment of the Palestinian people is appalling.  As they were once oppressed, the Jews have now become the oppressor. 
The Palestinian people need their own Gandhi now.
Tom Maher
10 years 5 months ago
Let's not be diverted from Iran as s present danger to world peasce ny getting into a revisionist history of Warld War Two and other historic events.

The point is still Obama's foreign policy is not being efective in stopping Iran's development of nuclear weapons.
failing to stop this nuclear development will lead to war.

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