Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Entering the New Millennium

By Bernie Quigley

Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night? – Jack Kerouac

I’m feeling at the moment that we are entering a new phase . . . the Iraq business will end up much like the Mexican War – as Ulysses S. Grant said, it was an egregious war of the Strong against the Weak, but only those who participated would go forward thereafter into the future. Incompetent though he may be, Bush has turned a corner. And the Shill Voice from the New York Senator rising again today and more so lately will send his numbers higher.

It must be said that action was always the first initiative after 9/11 and Bush took action. Wesley Clark calls that action in clear and exacting declarative sentences: The war in Iraq was a strategic blunder from the very beginning. And the Administration's handling of the war has only gone downhill from there.

Like all things from this President, the war on Iraq is (was?) a Heart-driven initiative and the Heart acts at the expense of the Head. But under the circumstances of 9/11, even with the apparent secret agenda of the Evil Dwarves Who Live Under the Stairs at the Pentagon, quite obvious from the first, the presence of Heart was more important to that moment than Competence. For the first two years of the Civil War, Lincoln brought Heart as well, and an equal measure of incompetence.

These days, Competence, like Intelligence, can be purchased by the pound (much as muscle was purchased 100 years ago). That is Bush’s weakness. Primarily it is the weakness of a purchasing agent. But in the end, it is a secondary weakness. Inaction would have been the greater sin. Had he hesitated to act, had he demurred as a Gore or Kerry might have, he would have been thrown out of office the second time around. America now will take his path and so will the West.

Two years ago, on the morning John Kerry announced his choice of Vice President, I met with a small group of volunteers who had worked for Wesley Clark in the primary. He urged us to support the party’s choice. “The President’s agenda in Iraq is not the country’s agenda,” he said. “But it will be in five years if he is reelected.”

It was a brilliant call, and comes in about two years ahead of the prediction.

With the inauguration of Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany has signed on to a new agenda. And this week Canada will sign on with the election of the Conservative Stephen Harper, who is 8 to 13 points ahead of the Liberals in the polls. The West is in the wake of these actions now and frightened because of Iran. We face a turning in our moment, and all past is past now and all new is new.

The Republicans are going in both directions – deeper into corruption with torture issues, disgracing the integrity of the Land of the Free, but at the same time initiating reform as well. Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham, pushing forward with 90 Senators behind them on the anti-torture bill, save the day for the Republicans and for America and for the West.

It is virtually impossible for Democrats who endorsed Bush’s war to criticize his strategies. Rove knows it. (It is the oldest trick in the book – when you hire a new College President, give him the free membership to the Country Club which doesn’t allow Blacks and Jews. If he takes the free dinner, you have him by the short hairs and he belongs to you.)

For myself I see the Democrats cursed by the Magic Mountain. They have sent themselves deeper and deeper into irrelevance by oppositionist policies without offering any viable alternatives. But worse than that, they have lost themselves in fanciful issues. Canada’s current race is a Petri dish experiment for the Democrats here in the immediate future. Three liberal issues have dominated in Canada for the last three years: gay marriage, health care entitlement geared to an already wealthy middle class and the legalization of marijuana. These issues will drive the Canadian Liberals into oblivion and the same could happen here very shortly. It is now conceivable that the Democratic Party completely disintegrate in the United States as did its old ancestor, the Whigs, 150 years ago. The same dynamic between exist today between populist Jacksonian Republicans and effete Whig Democrats.

I would like the see the world begin again with Wes, but apart from the daily Kos and a few New Hampshire red necks like myself, I find few takers. So I see only Mark Warner among the Democrats, but he is considered by many in Virginia to be in fact a Moderate Republican. Why would the country chose a Democratic version of a Moderate Republican when there are actual Moderate Republicans coming up initiating reform and allied in spirit with our American folk hero and Gray Champion, John McCain? People like my own worthy Senator John E. Sununu, who just recently came to office. Others who come to mind are Mitt Romney, George Pataki, and did somebody say Arnold? Would Warner succeed in this new realm? Perhaps. But whenever I’m watching a football game and the TV ad of the three dweebs dancing to a Boom Box in a corporate office between cell phone calls comes on, I get a kick out of it but I also get a small pain near the back of my head on the left.

Warner came into the world big time and made millions as a cell phone entrepreneur in the 1980s. The entrepreneur was the man of the hour as the Age of Leadership and Excellence rose into the Ronald Reagan years. But that was then and this is now. Is the Democratic Party once again on the cutting-edge of a trend which has long passed? Here in New Hampshire we have already had our overnight-millionaire cable guy entrepreneur as governor. He washed out in one term, a rare political event in New Hampshire. There will always be a need for entrepreneurs, but we face a different economy today and different global circumstances. Warner is a good manager and he did a great job managing a state with a great life force and a bad bureaucracy. But he seems alone in his party with his skills and attitudes.

My prediction today is that we in our country will soon leave the old century behind like an old skin, with its old irrelevant issues and novelty candidates, and begin at last to address the new century. I was startled to read a prediction in the leftist journal The Nation recently. As one of its ten “bold new ideas” for the new century, here at the very end was this: “Numerous thinkers--from historian Frederick Jackson Turner to the late George Kennan--have suggested regional change as a desirable long-term goal. One plausible scenario would begin with California asserting more independent powers of self-determination. Groups of states like New England or the Northwest might demand similar changes. Regional decentralization is fast becoming a fact of life throughout the world. If a future US regionalism is to protect and enhance democracy, self-determination and ecological sustainability without sacrificing federal civil rights protections, progressives will have to take the lead.”

Progressives? How about Libertarians? I’ve been outlining regional possibilities for the last year in this journal as the natural path for Libertarians who favor small and unobtrusive government interference. Progressives? How about Conservatives. Regionalism is essentially an ascending application of traditional states rights issues. I’d say The Federalist Society has been ahead on this for a decade or so. And to my mind regionalism brings neither a Progressive or Conservative state, but a natural state, able to grow at its own speed with its own needs. My guess is, the federalist Yanks at The Nation, have finally figures out that they can no longer dominate the states rights South and will now take this strategy to back away from them, just as the South did to the North in 1835.

Nevertheless, regionalism can save billions in wasted funds. New England, for instance, does not need one, two, three, four, five state-supported schools of agriculture. It needs only one. (And the best farmers I know up here go to Virginia Tech anyway.)

We have seen the failure of federalism bring terrible human despair in this past year, particularly on the Gulf Coast. As mentioned here months back, if the poor and injured states of the Gulf Coast formed a regional lobby group they should be able to curry at least as much influence in Washington as Israel or Taiwan.

But I don’t see Progressives leading the way here. (I’m not even sure what a Progressive is. Ida Tarbell comes to mind but it doesn’t ring a bell.) Or Conservatives. Destiny and necessity will lead the way. In his recent State of the State speech, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said he wanted to rebuild the state’s infrastructure. This is a great idea, and by all means it is work that needs to be done.

When a Reformist Republican like President Mitt Romney takes the helm, or an Entrepreneurial Democrat like President Mark Warner, the one or the other should advance Schwarzenegger’s vision as national policy across the country. Beneath the grunge and grime, America has some of the world’s most beautiful cities. Two of my favorites are Philadelphia and Detroit, both of which have been abandoned to the forces of chaos. These cities are absolute jewels underneath and there are many others, large and small, throughout the country.

The old industrial cities are irreplaceable national treasures. Most, like Detroit, need to be rebuilt from scratch. Rebuilding in Katrina has boosted regional economy in the Gulf States. But all the cities need to be rebuilt with comprehensive, long-term master plans which take environmental issues in mind, issues of historical and regional significance, labor force, employment, welfare and security. It should be considered a specific crime to destroy a neighborhood and to cause beautiful, historic family neighborhoods of affordable town houses like the lovely stone and brink houses of old Richmond, West Philadelphia or South Boston to be territorialized and controlled by drug and crime lords. This kind of rebuilding creates meaningful jobs – carpenters, electricians, architects – family and neighborhood building skills that translate into other areas and can be handed down generationally. They are jobs that cannot be exported and this is a kind of economy that cannot be exported to India or China. In this venture regions should teach their own trades in community colleges appropriate to their regions, follow the example of St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York City which started its own stone-carving school. It now sends stone carvers from Harlem to Europe to restore and repair ancient architecture.

After the Second World War, it almost seemed that the federal government was intent on establishing dominance over the states and regions and demonstrating it by driving a major highway through the very heart of local cities, killing most of them off in the process. Boston – my old neighborhood – was virtually ruined by such a highway and just this week finally succeeded, at the cost of over 14 billion dollars, in burying the monster. It seemed to have almost a subliminal psychological intention and my objection to the kind of federalism we have in the United States today and since 1865 is primarily psychological. In Hamilton’s vision of federalism, a citizen belongs to a vast abstraction – an idea - and finds no identity in a specific place in the world to nurture and develop in. It is good for jobs as they come and go, booming and busting across the world but it is detrimental to family, neighborhood and local custom and religion. The regional approach builds identity and gives citizens a place in the world. A regional approach would work for the Gulf States in rebuilding after Katrina, and it would work in rebuilding New England just as well.

A regional strategy for federalism – a federation of free and independent peoples - was Thomas Jefferson’s view from the first. It is said that people go home when they have no other place to go. Maybe it is time now for America to go home.