Last Build Date: Wed, 26 Jul 2006 10:46:54 -0600Copyright: Copyright 2007
Wed, 26 Jul 2006 10:46:54 -0600
My friend in Baghdad writes:
"This may be good politics for some, but it is very bad policy and detrimental to our efforts in Iraq. There is nothing Maliki could say other than things against Israel and stay in office. Even Jalal Talibani, the Iraqi President who is a secular Kurd, and who is almost certainly very fearful of radical Islamic movements and who is definitely pro-America and would all but certainly like to see Hezb'Allah destroyed, has denounced Israel. The #1 thing Maliki has to do in the US is convince the US public and Congress to support Iraq for another couple of years. If a sizable number of Dems boycott the speech, they may do substantial harm to what all recognize as our National interests of helping Iraq succeed."
This strikes me as just about right. It doesn't compromise our friendship with Israel to support al-Maliki, even if domestic politics requires him to engage in rhetoric that we might find unpleasant. It is America's -- and Israel's -- interest to see al-Maliki succeed. And that is true whether or not you thought the Iraq invasion was justified to begin with.
Wed, 10 May 2006 07:50:00 -0600But there is, indeed, something missing in the Democrats' message: a larger philosophical scheme to explain what the myriad smaller proposals add up to. Even in an age suspicious of grand narratives, this debilitating problem has not gone unnoticed, of course, and a whole intellectual industry has developed to provide this missing master plan. George Lakoff's recent book, "Don't Think Of An Elephant!," received a lot of attention in this category. Lakoff argued the problem was fundamentally rhetorical. Success would be had if only better linguistic frames - Broader Prosperity!, for example, or A Stronger America! - would be utilized by progressives. Now, Michael Tomasky, editor of The American Prospect, has weighed in, offering his own solution to the Democrats' dilemma in a much-noticed piece entitled "Party In Search Of A Notion." Tomasky adopts a more substantive and contrarian approach than Lakoff. But Tomasky founders on the same shoals that wrecked Lakoff. Criticizing the last forty years of progressive politics, Tomasky asserts that "the common good" is the answer to the Democrat's intellectual woes. "The common good," he says, was the animating spirit of all the great achievements of the 20th century. Tomasky goes on to say that the common good is the "moral basis of liberal governance - not justice, not equality, not rights, not diversity, not government, and not even prosperity or opportunity." But, sadly, he concludes, the common good - civic republicanism, more formally -- has lost flavor among Democrats inebriated by, well, diversity and rights and justice and equality and even prosperity and opportunity. Much of what Tomasky says in "Party In Search Of A Notion" is accurate and even useful. Interest group politics has gotten completely out of hand, and who can doubt that the cult of the unfettered individual could use a little salutary persecution? But, Tomasky, in the end, fails to pull the sword from the philosophical anvil in which the Democratic Party is stuck. A hint of this failure can be found in the fact that, as Tomasky notes, Republicans also like to invoke the "common interest." An idea broad enough to serve Reagan and LBJ just may not be deep enough to serve as a border between the two political parties. A deeper flaw in Tomasky's paean to civic republicanism can be found in his passing reference to Michael Sandel, the influential Harvard professor and small-r republican thinker, who has demonstrated that the great era of civic republicanism was ended by the New Deal and Great Society, the very historical eras most admired by Tomasky. The "common interest" is fine as a rhetorical ploy. Tomasky's "common good" won't be the Democrats' grand narrative, though. Because, its linguistic utility notwithstanding, the "common good" lacks any real substance and is incapable of doing the important work of prioritizing among (and adjudicating between) competing ideas. In the first 100 days of a new Democratic president, does the "common interest" dictate that we should first do universal health care, welfare reform, or gays in the military? We've been down that road before, and we know the baleful destination already. The failure of Tomasky is that, like Lakoff, he seems to believe that the problems facing Democrats can be fixed with only a rhetorical shift. "If only we progressive had a Frank Luntz to wordsmith for us," they would seem to say. But the Democrats' problem is far deeper; it is not that they fumble for words, but rather that they have lost their voice. A coherent political philosophy implies a certain understanding of human nature, of the proper ends of human life. Progressive politics across the world - from Britain's Labour to Germany's SDP to America's Democrats -- has no vision of a better world because these deeply philosophical foundations of left-wing politics have eroded over the last thirty years. Events like stagflation and the fall of the Soviet Union played a role in this, but, so, too, did a line of brilliant thinkers[...]
Tue, 02 May 2006 06:31:54 -0600Reflecting on that evening, I was struck by the fact that no one at the party brought up illegal immigration, which is of course one form of globalization, and its lamentable effect on income distribution. After all, most economists - even redoubtable liberals like Paul Krugman -- have concluded that the vast increase in low-skilled immigration over the last forty years has depressed the wages of low-skilled citizens. There is some debate about the magnitude of immigration's effects on the labor market, but not much about the direction of that effect. But then again, I really shouldn't have been so surprised, as nearly everyone at the party was part of what the writer Michael Lind calls the overclass, educated at the best universities and earning hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Their children attended private schools. Everyone had a fine retirement package and subsidized health care, and each was immune to the vicissitudes of middle-class economic life. From their cloistered positions, the solution to nearly all perceived problems - from globalization to crime -- is education, which was their own personal visa into the merit-obsessed overclass. For this group of people, immigration is not about inequality in America, but instead all about a cheap nanny, inexpensive lawn care, or proof of multicultural bona fides. Even to bring up the subject of immigration is to seem impolite, if not crass. This is a shame, for the most important domestic policy challenge in the 21st century is found in the labor market. Alone among industrialized nations, the United States has a massive class of unskilled workers. This unskilled workforce is being buffeted by globalization-enabled labor arbitrage, the automation of blue-collar jobs, and, yes, the arrival of millions of low-skilled laborers through illegal immigration. Tragically, this class of workers is only going to grow in the future, just as the returns to schooling will become higher than ever. Let me offer an underreported but rather shocking fact: the number of young people who graduate from high school, as opposed to receiving a GED, is declining. And, as James Heckman of the University of Chicago has shown, workers with a GED have the same economic prospects as workers who drop out of high school and never get an equivalency degree. In sum, a greater proportion of American young people are low-skilled dropouts than thirty years ago. Close to 50% of these dropouts are immigrants. Now there's a problem for the overclass to consider. America tolerates an immigration policy that adds millions of very low-skilled workers every decade, who come to this country at the expense of low-skilled native workers. Why? There is no good explanation, especially for Democrats, who like to believe that their core constituencies are the middle and lower classes of America. To be fair, there are some Democrats who acknowledge the harmful effects of illegal immigration on the incomes of native workers - workers who are already stressed by structural changes in the economy. But few Democrats clamor to limit the supply of low-skilled foreign workers. Instead, many Democrats are pushing an increased minimum wage or card-check unionization or - again - more funding for education. They argue that these policies would have a more direct effect on the incomes of lower-skilled workers. And these policies might, in fact, be sufficient to resist the effect of illegal immigration, and, in any event, all are desirable policy and should be enacted at once. But there is no political consensus for such policies, and it is difficult to imagine that the Republican-dominated Congress would even consider them. It is irresponsible to hold on to the illusion of their possibility. Immigration reform may be a second-best solution, but the first-best is out of reach, and worse outcomes are likely if we hold on to misplaced fantasies of egalitarian social policies. Besides, the growing number of low-skilled workers, sw[...]