Political Animal


NOSTALGIC FOR THE 50s?….Just a quick comment on history and foreign relations. How often recently have we seen a statement something like this:

What distinguishes the North Korean crisis from any other is the nature of North Korea. The U.S. isn’t dealing with a rational adversary as with the Soviet Union in the Cuban missile crisis.

This nostalgia for the good ‘ol days of nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union is charming in its own way, I suppose, and is surely proof that we really did win the Cold War. But we’ve also lost our collective memory about it and this occasionally makes me miss graying pundits like David Broder, who were actually alive back then and know what it was like.

So, a quick history lesson: back in the 50s and 60s, when all this stuff was actually happening, nobody thought the Soviet Union was just a big, furry ? and rational ? teddy bear. Krushchev was the guy who banged his shoe on the lectern at the UN while promising to bury us, and risked global annihilation by sending nuclear missiles to Cuba. The Soviets invaded Hungary, they invaded Czechoslovakia, and they had two million troops massed behind the Iron Curtain. Schoolkids were taught to duck and cover because an ICBM from Kamchatka might be headed our way any minute. Sputnik was a terrifying example of Soviet superiority in science, raising the spectre of Russian space platforms stocked with nuclear missiles staring implacably down on us 24 hours a day. Lyndon Johnson ran television ads suggesting that nuclear war was right around the corner if you voted for Barry Goldwater. People were scared.

For some reason, every generation loses the ability to appreciate the emotional impact of events from the previous generation. They become merely words in history books, and the players seem somehow like misguided little children making silly mistakes that, really, are sort of obvious in hindsight, aren’t they?

Don’t fall for it. North Korea and Iraq are not the first dangerous countries we have encountered, 2003 is not the first year we have had to worry about nuclear weapons in dangerous hands, and Kim Jong-il and Saddam Hussein are not the first thuggish dictators we have had to face.

In fact, when you get right down to it I’ll take Kim Jong-il over Joseph Stalin any day. Anyone who thinks different is invited to read a biography of Uncle Joe ? pretty much any one should do ? and then report back. 2003 will suddenly seem a lot brighter.

NOSTALGIC FOR THE 80s?….Atrios today

NOSTALGIC FOR THE 80s?….Atrios today recommends that you read Haynes Johnson’s Sleepwalking Through History, an “often ignored” history of the Reagan years. Well, it’s a good book, but good books are often ignored because, well, for starters they’re books, and for finishers they might be just a tad on the bland and dull side

So instead here’s my recommendation for all you fast-paced, attention deficit disordered, video-game-playing, image-oriented, media savvy consumers out there: Paul Slansky’s The Clothes Have No Emperor: A Chronicle of the American 80s. Technically, it’s a book, but it’s a big, colorful book with lots of pictures, a fun quizzes after every chapter, and chunks of text that are never longer than a hundred words each. Sort of the Classics Illustrated version of the 80s. You’ll get stuff like this:

  • 10/11/82: “You can’t drink yourself sober, you can’t spend yourself rich, and you can’t pump the prime without priming the pump. You know something? I said that backwards….You can’t prime the pump without pumping the prime…”

  • 10/5/84: Larry Speakes is asked if President Reagan has read the House report on the latest Beirut truck bombing. “I don’t think he’s read the report in detail,” he says. “It’s five-and-a-half pages, double spaced.”

  • 1/20/87: Robert “Bud” McFarlane goes on Nightline to separate himself from the decison to bring the Iranians a cake. “Simply put, there was a cake on the mission,” he says. “I didn’t buy it, bake it, cook it, eat it, present it or otherwise get involved with it….The cake was the product of a spontaneous idea of Col. North….I didn’t get involved with it.”

Ah, doesn’t this make you wistful for reruns of Cosby and Gary Hart? Doesn’t it make you want to jump up out of your seat and make a contribution to the “Let’s Put Ronald Reagan on Mount Rushmore” campaign? You know it does.

Unfortunately, Slansky’s book is out of print, so unless you like to prowl around used bookstores maybe you ought to read Sleepwalking Through History after all. Sorry about that.

Oh, and The 50s is a good book too. A very underrated decade, that.

UPDATE: Zizka points out that if you don’t feel like slogging through local used bookstores you can buy Slansky’s book online. It’s available from both BookFinder and Abebooks for a few bucks.


STIMULATING THE ECONOMY….I needed a good laugh this morning, so I decided to go ahead and read the lead story in today’s LA Times: Bush Stimulus Plan Calls for More Tax Cuts. I was rewarded with this:

Sources said the plan will include a larger-than-expected cut in the tax on corporate dividends, $100 billion or more over 10 years in state aid, a generous extension of unemployment benefits, and probably a speedup of tax rate cuts for all but the very highest earners.

….”I’m concerned about all the people,” the president said. “I understand the politics of economic stimulus — that some would like to turn this into class warfare. That’s not how I think.”

Now, I’m all in favor of a “generous” extension of unemployment benefits, and state aid is a good idea too ? although spreading it over ten years is a little mysterious unless Bush thinks the economy is still going to be in the tank in 2013. But still, it’s pretty obvious that this is all just a bribe in order to get the dividend tax cut passed, something that Republicans have been drooling over for decades now.

But here’s the problem: cutting the dividend tax won’t do a thing to stimulate the economy. The fact is that tax cuts ? of any kind ? simply take too long to have an effect, and since they tend to be permanent they are lousy at countercyclical stimulus.

No, the only way to stimulate an economy that’s already feeling sluggish is to spend more money now. How? Who cares. Just spend it. In fact, since conservatives are so fond of flat taxes, I propose a flat anti-tax as the CalPundit Economic Stimulus Plan of 2003?:

Over the course of the year, write checks totalling $1000 to every adult in America. No means testing, no strings, no nothing. Just write the checks.

Tax cuts and pork barrel spending take too long to have an effect. But if you simply give the money back, it allows people to spend it however they please, and spend it they will. Quickly.

If Bush were serious about stimulating the economy, he would do something like this (dressing it up in suitable policy language, of course). But of course he’s not, and instead is simply using other people’s misery as an excuse to do a $300 billion favor for his rich friends who fund the Republican party. And if anyone calls him on it?

Why, they’re engaging in class warfare, of course. Winston Smith would have understood.

SOCIOLOGY WARS….Daniel Drezner asks, “Why

SOCIOLOGY WARS….Daniel Drezner asks, “Why is the left more sensitive than the right?”

Kieran Healy replies, “Why is the right more prone to tendentious dichotomies than the left?” And then answers his own question.

I almost busted a gut. In honor of Kieran, tomorrow I will spend all day pretending to be Irish.

UPDATE: I should probably make clear that I have nothing against Dan Drezner. In fact, I enjoy his blog, and what’s more, I think that blogs are an ideal medium for idle speculation. Still, Kieran wins on points….