Sublime and Beautiful

Potential not Realized: The Fall of Rice and Powell

Posted in Uncategorized by chaoren on March 29, 2009

According to the online slang dictionary Urban Dictionary, “jump the shark” is

a term to describe a moment when somethin[g] that was once great has reached a point where it will now decline in quality and popularity

or

[t]he precise moment when you know a program, band, actor, politician, or other public figure has taken a turn for the worse, gone downhill, become irreversibly bad, is unredeemable [sic], etc.[…]

In 2003, two political dynamos, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, jumped the shark. Prior to that fateful year, which saw the beginning of what former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called “the greatest disaster in American foreign policy” (i.e. the Iraq War), it appeared that both Rice and Powell were bound for higher offices. Powell had had an impressive military career. He had risen through the ranks of the U.S. Army to become a four-star general. Powell’s resume also included stints as senior military assistant to Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, National Security Adviser, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Then-National Security Adviser Rice had been a wunderkind of academia having become the first female, first minority, and youngest Provost at Stanford University. In addition, Rice had served more than two years in President George H.W. Bush’s Administration as Director, and later Senior Director, of Soviet and East European Affairs in the National Security Council. Since 2003, it has become more and more apparent that the political careers of these two extraordinary people are so indelibly stained by their respective parts in committing the tragedy that is the Iraq War it may be impossible for them to ever hold high office again.

Time passes, memories fade, forgive and…forget? Hardly. This isn’t Richard Nixon circa 1961 that we are talking about–more like Richard Nixon circa 1975. Just as the names Johnson and McNamara are inextricably linked to the Vietnam War, decades from now the names Rice and Powell will evoke images of rubble strewn across a desert landscapes in the minds of Americans who lived through the gloomy Iraq War years. The video of Colin Powell giving his infamous U.N. speech still plays in our national conscience and will probably continue to play on Youtube for many years to come.

It’s been half a decade since the invasion of Iraq and a lot has changed. Powell left the scene of the crime A.S.A.P. and has done just about everything to repair his image except admit that he was wrong to support the invasion of Iraq. He has spoken out against certain policies of the Bush Administration including its unwillingness to talk to with Iran. Powell even went so far as to endorse Barack Obama during Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Rice, after sticking out four more years in the Bush Administration in her new position as Secretary of State, has not tried as hard as Powell to clean her hands. Appearing on The View shortly after leaving office, Rice defended the Administration’s decision to invade Iraq and invoked “history” as the great judge of deeds done by her and her former colleagues in the Administration. Both Rice and Powell are now doing work out West. Powell has joined a Silicon Valley venture capital firm and Rice has returned to Stanford to teach. A quiet and almost cliche ending for two statesmen who seem to have had limitless potential.

It would be a sad ending if it were not for the fact that both Rice and Powell are responsible for their fates. Either one could have spoken out as American foreign policy was being hijacked by neoconservatives and special interest groups. Either one could have resigned rather than lend their support to the invasion. At the very least, Powell and Rice could denounce the decision to go to war now. That option still remains but pride stands in their way. Maybe Rice and Powell tell themselves that they are remaining silent out of a sense of loyalty to President Bush and their former collegues. Or, perhaps they convince themselves that they are remaining silent because it is best for the country. But these are lies they delude themselves with so as to forget the roles they played in a gruesome drama. What the country really needs after years of lies is the plain, unqualified truth. Nobel Laureate economist Paul Krugman recently said that we need a truth and reconciliation commission to deal with the damage that has been inflicted on this country over the past eight years. If Rice and Powell do not speak out there is a good chance the Iraq War will remain a cancer on our national spirit much like the Vietnam War. The issue must be resolved. Rice’s and Powell’s political prospects may be bleak, they may not have the opportunity to hold high office again. But they can still serve their country by acting as conscientious citizens.

The Need to Call a Keynesian a Keynesian

Posted in Uncategorized by chaoren on March 27, 2009

Despite all of its efforts to maintain a high level of communication with the American public, the Obama Administration has failed to convey the core principles behind its economic stimulus plan. This failure has left the Administration vulnerable to critics who decry it as incompetent, while at the same time refusing to offer any plausible alternatives of their own. The truth of the matter is that the Administration’s plan is based on a logic that holds support among top economists such as Nobel Laureates George Akerlof, Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Solow, and Paul Krugman.  But, while President Obama’s recent public addresses might have helped his popularity ratings, they have done little to persuade Americans of the sound reasoning behind the stimulus plan. Thus, surprisingly, communication has been Obama’s greatest weakness in terms of dealing with the financial crisis so far.

In an admirable attempt to return political debate in America to an intelligent level it seems the Obama Administration has neglected the importance of the old K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) stratagem. The President and his staff have conducted an intensive PR campaign to build support for the stimulus plan but the focus has been far too diffuse. One day officials are educating the public about the intricacies of moral hazard and systemic risk and the next day they are railing against AIG bonuses. Why spend so much time speaking to such peripheral issues when the fundamentals of the stimulus plan are not widely understood?

It would be much better if Obama and his crew would simply pause, acknowledge that there is an elephant in the living room, and explain what it is doing there, meaning: someone in the Administration should finally recognize and make the case for the Keynesian principles that so obviously underlie the stimulus plan. Ideally Obama himself would undertake this task in one of his Presidential Addresses. The matter could be dealt with by leveling with the American people and making a few basic points.

Firstly, the President should explain that the stimulus plan is aimed at combating a multiplicity of economic problems which require different kinds of approaches but that the plan, as a whole, is based on the premise that government is part of the solution. It is imperative that the President make this first point. He must proudly affirm that government serves a purpose. He must make this point so as to draw a line in the sand for the sniping politicians and pundits who, to this day, still harangue the public about the evils of government intervention and the infallibility of anarcho-capitalism. Only after the Administration proudly takes a stand will it be able to deal with critics from a position of strength because, until it does so, the presumed flexibility the Administration gains by not affirming a greater underlying philosophy will be perceived as chronic indecisiveness or, worse yet, incompetence. Democrats may have disliked George W. Bush’s obstinate demeanor. However, as the 2004 Presidential Election proved, Americans want a President who lets them know where he stands.

Secondly, the President ought to explain how the government is vital to creating jobs and keeping people employed as private sector jobs fall by the wayside. Government played an enormous role in getting people back to work after the onset of the Great Depression, government succeed in the same respect in Japan during the country’s “Lost Decade” and it could do the same during these troubled times.

Finally, something needs to be said about the importance of government spending in maintaining liquidity in the economy. Critics of government spending gripe about the massive deficit that we are wracking up (oddly enough, many of these same critics stayed silent our previous president added more than $4 trillion to our national debt) but the need to keep cash flowing is indisputable and when banks are loathe to lend and private businesses are cutting back on their spending who is left but the government to keep money moving?

Addressing the aforementioned issues will not free Obama and his staff from criticism. On the contrary, most critics of the stimulus plan would probably react vehemently to such a bold stance. The benefit of taking such clear, decisive action would be that it would help the President align those who are not reflexively opposed to government involvement in the economy behind his economic stimulus plan. The days when government involvement in the economy was taboo are over. It is time now for the President of the United States to communicate that to the American people.

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