Thursday, August 01, 2013
A failed Presidency already visible
Will history recall ANY positive accomplishments of the Obama regime?
Re-elected presidents always find it difficult to sustain first-term momentum for their agenda into a second four years. First terms are often capped by bruising re-election campaigns, making it tough to sustain political backing and public interest. Plus, significant turnover in the president's cabinet and among his senior advisors in the first year of a second term can create debilitating continuity of management challenges.
So the tendency is to stick with "what works," which is to say to keep talking about the same issues, programs and policies that prevailed in the first term. Put another way, presidents become prisoners of their own narratives. Thus, Obama's Galesburg address offered no genuinely new ideas, as indeed his advisers warned would be the case beforehand
One phrase captures the essence of Obama's second term domestic vision, "more of the same:" More stimulus spending, more green energy development boondoggles, more "investments" - i.e. federal spending and regulation - on student loans, mortgage refinance programs and Obamacare, and more tax "reforms" to make the top 1 percent of income earners pay "their fair share." Obama cannot deviate from this programmatic menu because doing so would be an admission of failure, one that is pointedly reflected in the declining number of Americans with jobs or still looking for jobs, the growing Food Stamp recipient rolls and a steady accumulation of evidence that the Obamacare train wreck is gathering speed.
Then there are the scandals. Obama suffered little damage in his first term when the headlines were about Solyndra, Fast and Furious and related matters. But it's different now because of Benghazi, NSA surveillance, and IRS harassment of the president's Tea Party critics. Virtually every president stumbles as a result of scandals, but they often become far more serious matters early in a second term (think Nixon's Watergate, Reagan's Iran-Contra and Clinton's Monica Lewinsky trials, all of which became major disruptions following their re-elections).
Second term scandals may intensify in part because presidents invariably dismiss them as unimportant, just as Obama yesterday referred to his troubles as "phony." But he likely won't be any more convincing with that line than Nixon was in calling Watergate "a second-rate burglary." Similarly, Obama's exasperated "I am here to say this needs to stop" recalled Clinton's finger-wagging order, "I want you to listen to me ... I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky ..."
But a presidential dalliance with an intern is a far cry from using the IRS to silence political opponents or covering up incompetence that killed four brave Americans in Libya, nor is there anything phony about the potential consequences for Obama.
How U.S. Steel Helped Break Down Racism
My economic historian friend, Jeff Hummel, has recommended for years that I read David M. Kennedy's Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945. Kennedy is a first-rate historian at Stanford. I'm enjoying the book as I'm working my way slowly through it. Jeff warned me that Kennedy is not an economist, but he is so careful with his facts that an economist can read it and sometimes substitute his own judgment, based on economics, for Kennedy's. Here's the first place in the book where I noticed that possible absence of economic knowledge. Although possibly not; maybe it's a tone thing. Judge for yourself.
"Fancying themselves as labor's aristocracy, craft unionists ignored the problems of their unskilled co-workers. Ethnic rivalries exacerbated the troubles in the house of labor. Skilled workers tended to be old-stock, native-born white Americans, while the unskilled were mostly recent urban immigrants from the hinterlands of Europe and rural America. The AFL [American Federation of Labor], in thus insulating itself from the men and women who were fast becoming the majority of industrial workers, handed management a potent antilabor weapon. Management knew how to use it. U.S. Steel cynically exploited the ethnic divisions that were the bane of American unionism when the AFL in 1919 hesitantly abandoned its traditionally elitist attitudes and led a strike to organize an industrial union in steel. The corporation sent agents into the steel districts around Chicago and Pittsburgh to spawn animosity between native and immigrant workers. They excited the strikers' darkest anxieties by recruiting some thirty thousand southern blacks, hungry to possess previously forbidden jobs, to cross the picket lines. On these rocks of racial and ethnic distrust, the great steel strike of 1919 foundered miserably."
From everything I know about that era, Kennedy gets it exactly right. U.S. unions were highly racist in those days, a fact that former President Jimmy Carter's Secretary of Labor, economist F. Ray Marshall, spent much of his academic career documenting. And certainly it would make sense for U.S. Steel to cynically exploit this racism by the white unions. Finally, it's true that those jobs were traditionally off-limits to black people, largely because of the white unions' actions, sometimes including murdering their black competitors. That's why two early 20th-century black leaders, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, although strongly at odds with each other about strategy, agreed that unions were anti-black. As DuBois put it, unions are "the greatest enemy of the black working man."
So why am I highlighting this?
Over the years, I've taught myself to have two personae when reading: that of an economist and that of a normal, non-economically-literate person. The second of my personae reacted highly negatively to U.S. Steel. After all, U.S. Steel acted "cynically" and "exploited" ethnic divisions. Also, U.S. Steel was "antilabor." That's pretty damning, especially to one who picks up on emotive words.
But the economist in me thinks much differently. I'm perfectly willing to believe that U.S. Steel acted cynically and exploited ethnic divisions. But that doesn't mean U.S. Steel was anti-labor. It means that U.S. Steel was anti-union. U.S. Steel was profoundly pro a particular group of laborers, namely 30,000 black laborers who were "hungry to possess previously forbidden jobs."
It's possible that Kennedy knows all this. It's possible that he doesn't. I simply want to point out the bottom line that David Kennedy has shown: U.S. Steel helped break down racism.
Another lying Muslim
There is a bit of a hubbub in the interwebs about an interview conducted by Lauren Green, religion correspondent for Fox News Channel, with Reza Aslan, author of a new book on Jesus titled Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Our friend Joe Carter, over at GetReligion, has the basic story. Green launched the interview (available here in full) with a question about why a Muslim should want to write a book about Jesus. A reasonable question, and not a hostile one on its face–but by the end of the interview Green has returned to it in a somewhat more accusatory fashion. As Joe says, the interview is a mess. But as he also points out, Green’s critics are passing right by something far more interesting: that Aslan has misrepresented his scholarly credentials.
In fact, it is Aslan who immediately turns the interview into a cage match by reacting very defensively to Green’s first question. And here is where the misrepresentations begin. For roughly the first half of the interview Aslan dominates the exchange with assertions about himself that seem intended to delay the substance of the discussion:
I am a scholar of religions with four degrees including one in the New Testament . . . I am an expert with a Ph.D. in the history of religions . . . I am a professor of religions, including the New Testament–that’s what I do for a living, actually . . . To be clear, I want to emphasize one more time, I am a historian, I am a Ph.D. in the history of religions.
Later he complains that they are “debating the right of the scholar to write” the book rather than discussing the book. But the conversation took that turn thanks to Aslan, not Green! By the final minute he is saying of himself (and who really talks this way!?) that “I’m actually quite a prominent Muslim thinker in the United States.”
Aslan does have four degrees, as Joe Carter has noted: a 1995 B.A. in religion from Santa Clara University, where he was Phi Beta Kappa and wrote his senior thesis on “The Messianic Secret in the Gospel of Mark”; a 1999 Master of Theological Studies from Harvard; a 2002 Master of Fine Arts in Fiction from the University of Iowa; and a 2009 Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
None of these degrees is in history, so Aslan’s repeated claims that he has “a Ph.D. in the history of religions” and that he is “a historian” are false. Nor is “professor of religions” what he does “for a living.” He is an associate professor in the Creative Writing program at the University of California, Riverside, where his terminal MFA in fiction from Iowa is his relevant academic credential. It appears he has taught some courses on Islam in the past, and he may do so now, moonlighting from his creative writing duties at Riverside. Aslan has been a busy popular writer, and he is certainly a tireless self-promoter, but he is nowhere known in the academic world as a scholar of the history of religion. And a scholarly historian of early Christianity? Nope.
What about that Ph.D.? As already noted, it was in sociology. I have his dissertation in front of me. It is a 140-page work titled “Global Jihadism as a Transnational Social Movement: A Theoretical Framework.” If Aslan’s Ph.D. is the basis of a claim to scholarly credentials, he could plausibly claim to be an expert on social movements in twentieth-century Islam. He cannot plausibly claim, as he did to Lauren Green, that he is a “historian,” or is a “professor of religions” “for a living.”
It may be that Aslan sensed a tougher interview from Lauren Green than he is accustomed to. Hence he immediately went into high-dudgeon mode, and made the ten minutes all about her alleged disrespect of him and his alleged scholarly credentials. But in order to change the subject he told a string of gratuitous falsehoods about himself. Perhaps that master’s in fiction writing came in handy.
Is Aslan’s book worth reading? I have no idea. But he has earned enough distrust from me that I haven’t any interest in finding out.
From ‘Anti-Communist’ to ‘Counterjihadist’
Remember when “anti-Communist” was a preferred leftist term of abuse? “Oh, you’re an anti-Communist” — translation: you’re not one of the trendy people and, moreover, you probably harbor “McCarthyite” tendencies and think Ronald Reagan (the American cowboy) is more of a hero than Mikhail Gorbachev, the glamorous prophet of perestroika.
Think back to the 1980s. Was there any cool person you knew who didn’t glamorize Gorbachev? Every academic (near enough) did, and of course the media slobbered all over the guy. Was he a Communist to the very end? Yes, but for Dan-Diane Sawyer-Rather, for the battalions of scribes who scribbled about such things in the pages of the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington Post and other approved outlets, Gorbachev was the hero, Reagan the crazy, trigger-happy anti-Communist.
“Star Wars”: Oh, with what contempt they uttered that dismissive phrase. “Evil Empire,” forsooth. What a dangerous clown he was. Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, his plan to deploy a missile defense system (which, incidentally, he offered to share with the Soviet Union): what a joke, what a stupidity! It was ruinously expensive and [deep breath] would never work and destabilizing and why-would-we-need-to-protect-ourselves-from-a-cuddly-sophisticate-like-Mikhail-Gorbachev-with-his-chic-wife?
Then, quite suddenly, the Soviet Union was no more. It just, you know, vanished. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.” Reagan said that one day in Berlin and, presto-change-o, down came the wall. Star Wars, SDI, had helped expose the empty, burnt-out shell that was the fag-end of the lumbering, senile Communist redoubt. And then at last all the beautiful, right-thinking (i.e., left-leaning) folk who had ridiculed Reagan and Star Wars and his repulsive talk of the Soviet Union being an “Evil Empire” — suddenly, they woke up and realized what fools they had been and thanked Reagan and those who had supported him for helping to end one of the most monstrous tyrannies in history …
Except, of course, they did no such thing. Reagan was still, must always be to blame, though enough water has passed under the bridge by now that he is no longer scary because he has receded into the impotence of history.
No one talks about anti-Communists now because that threat — under that name, anyway — has more or less passed. Today’s anti-Communists are the Islamophobes, those folks (like me) who think that the Islamic effort to spread Sharia (i.e., Islamic law) is fundamentally incompatible with liberal democracy with its principles of free speech, freedom of religion, and political equality of men and women.
“Islamophobia”: what sort of beast is that? A phobia, as I have been at pains to point out in this space and elsewhere, is an irrational fear or hatred. Is it irrational to fear and hate an ideology that denies the equality of the sexes, murders apostates and homosexuals, wishes to subjugate the non-Islamic world, and has consigned Jews and Christians to the perilous second-class citizenship of dhimmitude? (“First the Saturday People,” runs an Islamic slogan, “then the Sunday People”: first we’ll deal with the Jews, then move on to the Christians.)
Who rules the language, rules the world. Orwell knew that. And so does the Left. “Islamophobia” is a mendacious neologism designed to obscure the reality of Islamic ideology. Major Nidal Hasan shouts “Allahu Akbar” and murders 13 people at Fort Hood. What do you call that? I call it “Islamic terrorism.” The Obama administration insists it’s “workplace violence.” In 2007, some young Muslim packs a Jeep Cherokee full of propane canisters and detonates it at the Glasgow airport. What do you call that? I call it “Islamic terrorism.” Jacqui Smith, then the British home secretary, insists that we call it “anti-Islamic activity.” (How’s that for an example of the “no-true-Scotsman” fallacy?)
In a brilliant, no-to-be-missed column for Frontpage.com, the Scandinavian-based Bruce Bawer reports on the Left’s latest piece of linguistic mendacity: “counterjihad.” Yesterday it was the anti-Communists who were the bad guys. Today, it’s the counterjihadists:
"The “counterjihadists” are the villains — the hysterics, the fools, who see a Muslim under every bed, with a bomb in his turban. Meanwhile the good guys are the counter-counterjihadists — the journalists, activists, and others who make a career of slamming Islam’s critics, whom they frequently represent (especially over here in Scandinavia) as “conspiracy theorists.” For just as the anti-Communists of yesteryear were viewed not as sober, well-informed students of life behind the Iron Curtain but as obsessive, ignorant haters, we counterjihadists are viewed not as people who’ve read the Koran and studied Islamic societies and subcultures but as semi-literate morons and bigots."
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Posted by JR at 12:47 AM