Friday, October 30, 2009

Matthew Hoh in the Land of the Free

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/30/09

The generals, the policy makers, the old men in suits, do not know if President Obama possesses the obstinacy that guided Lincoln and Churchill, and which must guide all war presidents to some degree. So writes David Brooks in his column today in the New York Times. He is referring to the attitudes of experts in think tanks and the Pentagon he talked to about Obama’s pending decision on Afghanistan. They are looking for that one good man. Brooks and Co. have been looking for him since long before 9/11 when they sat around the offices of the Weekly Standard trying to decide which countries to invade. The tin man, the cowardly lion, all of Dorothy’s children, seeking the wizard who will save them. But finding only golem, half way now to Jerusalem.

Lincoln. Churchill. Are we not men?

Matthew Hoh, much in the news this week for his decision to resign his Foreign Service post in protest over the Afghan war, talks about a situation that plagued him; a fire in a tumbling helicopter from which he escaped. A few friends could have been saved if it had gone differently. In hindsight it led him to a maelstrom of drinking introspection of the kind which many veterans are familiar. I’d a similar event. Long ago, exactly eight years after the incident in 1967, it returned. Many had the same situation. The details forgotten and ignored in the zen moment of unconscious action return to bring you down later. If in those days I had heard anyone passively, pedantically, philosophsing the ways of fire and death with the distance that Brooks does today, I might have grabbed him by the throat in a fury and demanded: Did you serve? But Hoh seems pretty steady. There is no edge of bitterness because he knows he has done the work expected and can speak for those who did. When the deaths are metabolized the drinking will stop. A steady and special kind of responsibility may set in those who survive this kind of visitation; a coming to terms; an advanced adulthood perhaps – possibly satori. Because everyone dies but not everyone kills.

The problem with this kind of reporting Brooks and his Pentagon pals bring us is that it romanticizes war by creating false analogy. It romanticizes victory and romanticizes strategy and duty and adult responsibility. In has been like this since before the invasion of Iraq. To go back to Lincoln, from what we have in the record, it is Ulysses S. Grant who states policy and strategy clearly. The war began with idealism but the idealists were soon killed off which should come as no surprise. The Confederates were winning and had marched into Pennsylvania. The North was growing tired of war. Grant had to default to using barbarians and strategies of outright slaughter, burning the earth from Atlanta to the sea. In his autobiography he tells you why directly. He had only a few months to win the war. The North was exhausted with the effort.

It is not that different with Churchill. Churchill did not run the war. Eisenhower did. And as victory in Europe approached, Stephen Ambrose reports, mothers and others began to demand the end of the killing of their sons and husbands. It was this that led Truman to the fateful decision to use nuclear weapons to end the war quickly.

Brooks advances the dreary conversation of American generals who have fought but never won a war. It is a romance of good old boy and girls that has led us again to quagmire. Technically, these people strive for a feeling. They are “feeling” types (McCain and Lindsey Graham) longing to be like the “thinking” types (Eisenhower and Grant) who successfully solve crises and who have saved our bacon at every critical turn. “Feeling” type military guys are the curse of the third post-war generation. In true crisis they would be ignored.

Eisenhower used the phrase “military industrial complex” in his last words to us; warning us about NATO, warning us about generals, warning us that young men like war and some never grow up. In the season of The X Files actor David Duchovney, educated at Yale and Princeton, artfully used the phrase the “military, industrial, entertainment complex.” This is the advanced dharma that suits our times. “Military, industrial, entertainment, information complex,” works even better.

Which came to mind last night watching the brilliant and brave Hoh talking to Judy Woodruff on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer. As the country rose to war it was common to see journalists and policy people smokin’ and jokin’ together on this show. A pleasant illusion of responsible power emerged as an entertainment venue. There was no distinction then between military, CIA, The Washington Post, the News Hour – it was all part of the military, industrial, entertainment, information complex with happy face commentary by Brooks and Shields.

But last night it was suddenly different. Judy Woodruff was slightly disarmed by the clarity of Hoh’s argument and the integrity of his service as a marine, as a man, as a Foreign Service official. At one point she said, why should anyone listen to you? And asked him how old he was. Hoh is 36.

We are a nation that has been listening to the old men for a long time now. Some of them were born old like Dick Cheney and David Brooks. Almost no one has had the courage to stand alone in opposition. What is striking about Hoh is his continence. He seems to be the authentic marine and soldier who reveals the artificiality and institutional thinking of the others. That could be problems because it only takes one brave man to bring it all down. One man brave and true can change everything. Like Joe Welch at the McCarthy hearings, like Bob Dylan at Newport, one real man standing alone who knows what he is doing can bring down the whole circus. And Matthew Hoh, man and marine standing alone, is not going anywhere.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Guns, Harleys, the Constitution, Oh My!

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/28/09

President Obama is lately being accused of “Nixifying”the White House. He’s also been compared to Jimmy Carter quite a lot lately – especially in my columns – and of course, to JFK, Roosevelt and Lincoln. So far, as far as I can see, no one has compared him to President Gerald Ford. Ford was bland. He was awkward. He was always bumping his head. But he was a great and noble man and a great President because as President he did the work that needed to be done. He ended the war in Vietnam. And that is what Obama needs to do in Iraq and Afghanistan. That may be his only legitimate duty.

One of the bravest moments in post WW II history was when Graham Martin, the ambassador to Vietnam, suffering from cancer and pneumonia in both lungs, infuriated President Ford by parking the U.S. Navy in the Sea of China after the fall of Saigon. For three sleepless days and nights he stood on deck and refused Ford’s order to leave the region. The Vietnamese who helped the Americans knew they would be slaughtered when the NVA headed south and they were moving fast. But Martin had promised them he would keep his ships nearby for three days and anyone who could reach him by whatever means would come back with him. He arrived back in America with a full ship and the lives of tens of thousands of Vietnamese with American families now into the third generation were saved by this heroic action.

The war in Vietnam was then over. Martin and Ford closed the book. We Americans were able then to go on to the next thing; happy days when the Americans beat the Russians in hockey and Jimmy Carter, followed by Ronald Reagan and a new generation of prosperity. But the prosperity and power which rose American wealth to its highest post-WW II peak in the Reagan, Bush and Clinton period would not have been possible without Jerry Ford. Things need to end before they can begin again. And if Obama passes these wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on to Romney, Palin, Huckabee, Rick Perry or anyone else, he will have misunderstood his duty. Prosperity will not return. The states will be in turmoil.

The Obama group and the Congress conspicuously doing his bidding seem to value nothing more than going to meetings. Both traditional parties – but not the new group rising in the NY 23 election – seem stuck in the past. Which is to say they seem detached. For a cluelessness test they might be stopped randomly by the press and asked, who are Bella and Edward and what’s up with Taylor and Taylor? If you don’t know, ask a kid.

And instead of heading out nightly to those big hair, dress-up lobbying dinners – Newt Gingrich once compared these gatherings to those of the Mandarins of the Empress Dowager Ci’an’s court before he joined them – they might turn on cable.

Linda Gray and Larry Hagman have been asked to reprise their Sue Ellen and J.R. Ewing characters for a remake of the Reagan-era soap, Dallas. Good for Rick Perry and suggests a George W. Bush revival. But to see what’s really going on in the amorphous, uncharted waters of the collective unconscious, plug into Sons of Anarchy, the FX production which recently beat Leno and the mainstream networks.

I don’t get those high stations but it looks pretty hot, like Kurt Cobain meets Hell Boy. It suggests the first days of the rising Sixties when Hell’s Angels and the Bay Area hippies were brother and sister. Days of love and thunder awakened by war across the Pacific. Which suggests a California revival.

Some quotes from the trailer: “Seems like the original idea of the MC was something simpler. You know, social rebellion . . . call it a Harley commune . . .” And a mother’s advise to younger woman: “You love the man . . . you learn to love the club.” (Harley is family.)

When the local cop stops Jax, the Kurt Cobain guy, and tells him, “I will not look the other way, Jax . . . a friendly warning.” Jax replies, “We’re all free men, protected by the Constitution. You look any way you want, Chief.”

Guns, Harleys, the Constitution. Oh my! That’s the rising theme here. This is the new generation and it is soon upon us. And David Letterman is afraid of Sarah Palin?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Optional Federalist Legislation? A Victory for Town Hallers

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/27/09

After discussing health care longer than it took the Founding Fathers to form the republic, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this week sanctioned an idea which could likewise have historic consequences: Optional federal legislation; a provision with details yet undisclosed that allows the states to opt out of the public plan. This brings first to mind the fateful days of 1832 when South Carolina likewise interpreted federal mandates to be optional. It was forbidden then by President Andrew Jackson who threatened to hang the offenders. But state sovereignty is apparently being welcomed back today by Reid. This is a first material victory for the so-called Tenth Amendment movement; those who have gathered at Tea Parties and Town Hall happenings since President Obama first proposed the vast and unprecedented deficit spending which threatens today the dollar and America’s health, wealth, welfare and prestige and position in the world.

And it occurs at a critical moment; a moment when Republicans are ready to stop playing in the sand and cross the river to the new century. The race in the New York special election brings a critical beginning. As The Hill reports: “Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty became the latest Republican to buck his own party Monday, wading into a New York special election to offer support for Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman instead of the GOP nominee.” Pawlenty, who expects to run for President in 2012, followed the initiative of former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin, the first major figure to cross over.

This is popping up now here, there and everywhere among the learned and well washed. The venerable Lamar Alexander, Senator from Tennessee, is rethinking his stance on fuel standards after listening to the feisty and innovative young firebrand Susan Lynn of the Tennessee General Assembly. And today, the influential conservative commentator William Kristol writes in the Washington Post, it is a good time to be a conservative but the party is changing fast.

“The center of gravity, I suspect, will instead lie with individuals such as Palin and Huckabee and Gingrich, media personalities like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, and activists at town halls and tea parties,” he writes. “Some will lament this -- but over the past year, as those voices have dominated, conservatism has done pretty well in the body politic, and Republicans have narrowed the gap with Democrats in test ballots.”

Wall Street Journal’s venerable Peggy Noonan saw it coming when she wrote in her column in June, 2006: “Something's happening. I have a feeling we're at some new beginning, that a big breakup's coming, and that though it isn't and will not be immediately apparent, we'll someday look back on this era as the time when a shift began.” She may not like it now as she was first to raise her voice against Sarah Palin and the new Jacksonian voices rising in the heartland, but she was right then.

There doesn’t necessarily need to be a change of party, but there does need to be a change in sensibility. That time of change could be now. The mid 1800s was a wild and rustic time in America; a time of creative change. Our time resembles that time in many ways and has since the 1960s. Nothing is so volatile as a new idea. We could be seeing a youthful, conservative party rise now to challenge what Jeb Bush the other day called a party of “old white guys.” Two parties of old white guys. And not to leave out Hillary, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank, “old white guys” of every sex, creed, color and sexual orientation.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Glenn Beck, Enemy of the People

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/25/09

I was once formally forbidden to talk to any student or professor at the college I worked at for helping a few students organize a conference about the killings taking place in Bosnia. When I was seen talking briefly to a student in passing on the campus later I was fired. This at a time when I had three children under the age of eight and my wife, on the farm with the kids, was eight months pregnant with our fourth. I worked then as a temp doing odd jobs including cleaning toilets at a local Sara Lee factory. When we finally sold our beautiful little farm in the hills of North Carolina we had lost $40,000 and were down to our last $25. But it remains the proudest moment of my working life. Writers like to be censored. It puts even the inconsequential in league with the greatest. So I know how Glenn Beck is feeling today; proud and honorable. Everyone at Fox should feel the same.

Glenn Beck has been officially declared the Enemy of the People by Big Brother. His firm, Fox News, has been virtually banned from Presidential press conferences. In an administration now well known for its lack of perspective, this is a sizeable public relations blunder. Last week Beck was just a folksy, funky and entertaining trickster on a second tier TV station. This week he is the government’s officially-sanctioned Enemy of the People. Last week he was just a chump. Now he’s a national hero.

Not since the Keystone Kops arrested screenwriter Dalton Trumbo for peeing in his neighbor’s yard in the big Hollywood Commie Crackdown of the McCarthy era have the federalies staged such a public farce.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Going Rouge: Hating the beautiful people

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/23/09

Being born beautiful is a condition of biological fate like being born black like Michelle Obama or Puerto Rican like Sonia Sotomayer. To hate someone for her skin it to hate her for her biological fate. It is the same as hating them for being born Irish with red hair – some consider them witches – or having an epicanthic fold on the eyes as many Chinese do.

This might be the purest form of nihilism. When nihilism awakened in Russia in the1830s, it was with Russian aristocrats who had taken on the plight of the poor. The poor were slaves; Tolstoy had 12 living in the living room under the stairs. It is perfectly understandable how hatred of the rich by other rich in these circumstances came about. It became nihilism when the cause of misfortune was resolved and the hatred continued as a generic condition and became institutionalized.

Hatred of the family extended from that and it is possible to see the roots of that as well if families conspired together to intentionally keep the poor poor as might be said about early tsarist Russia. When I was in college Jean Genet, a homosexual thief, had become the political fashion. His life and writing brought a thematic challenge to family and authority in general. During the student riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 he advised the students to have intercourse with goats. Stupid, but this was an age when getting stoned was considered enlightened engagement and stand-up comics – not ready for prime time – were considered philosopher kings. As they are again.

As the 20th century advanced, the specific initiatives which addressed family issues in particular became chronic conditions after the issues had been resolved and even healthy families were despised. Because nihilism is a virus; a religion of the Lost Boys and the broken circle. Every family was a criminal institution. Still you could see the systemic origins. But by then nihilism had become a theme of the suburbs; the well off and the cared for. Practicing nihilism was like a historic reenactment; like those Confederate battle reenactments they have today in Southern towns. And when I was in college people even wore Mao costumes pretending to themselves that they were wearing uniforms.

But it is difficult to see any human character or dignity in hating someone who by twist of fate doesn’t look like you, has red hair or blue eyes or black eyes or is better looking. It is just an inherent hatred. And I’m certain that that is the motivation of The Nation editors who are publishing a book titled Going Rouge, a mockery of Sarah Palin, scheduled to come out on the same day as Palin’s book, titled, Going Rogue: An American Life.

Today England slumps unexpectedly, the dollar is crashing, 20% are unemployed in New York and China suddenly appears on the verge of war with India. Issues are pressing. When you consider the kind of genius that came out of the left in New York in days gone by when you could have afternoon drinks with surviving soldiers from the Lincoln Brigade at the Lion’s Head and get drunk with Norman Mailer – Kenneth Burke, Alfred Kazin, Wilfred Burchett, friend of Henry Kissinger and Ho Chi Minh, might stop in from Mao’s China or Arthur Koestler after his death sentence in Spain had been lifted – it might be fair to ask, what is left of the left? What is left of New York?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Republican Head and Heart: Romney and Palin

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/21/09

Cited on a variety of internet shops like The AtlanticWire, Newser and Lara Ebke’s Red State Eclectic yesterday is a quote from Matt Lewis, writer, blogger and commentator from Alexandria, Virginia. He writes in Politics Daily: “If recent elections are any guide, the Republicans' heads will tell them to choose Mitt Romney. Their hearts whisper something else. Is ‘Sarah’ the name of this siren song?”

W. McCahill at Newser says: “No matter what kind of gains Republicans make in the midterm elections next year, it’s going to be tough to unseat President Obama—and that’s why the GOP is going to choose Sarah Palin, its heart’s preferred candidate, over Mitt Romney, its head’s favorite.”

Mike Huckabee, who leads the others in a recent poll by a wide margin, registers in these commentaries as neither head nor heart.

As has been widely reported, Sarah Palin will appear on the Oprah show on November 16, a day before the publication of her book, Going Rogue: An American Life. This is significant because Oprah is a threshold. Appearing on her show is a “rite of entry” for anyone and everything opening to the mainstream of American culture. And standing in line at the grocery store yesterday I couldn’t help but notice that David Letterman, looking plaintiff and adrift, had made the tabloids. This, a “rite of exit.” Mainstream is coming out of Palin Denial.

With little other information available, the titles of Romney’s book and Palin’s are telling. Romney’s book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness will be available on March 2, 2010. It is not the best title. There is hubris and a kind of conspicuous arrogance to it which he asks us to wear with our chests out. Romney’s title suggests a full endorsement of the Bush II paradigm without a moment’s introspection. It looks to the past to continue the past. It would be what he is good at, but I think it is off the mark and most Americans are getting beyond it and ready for a new turning. Going Rogue, however, suggests a new direction, a new adventure, something just ahead there in the great unknown. It is a very good title and speaks in essence to the frontier spirit of those who venture beyond the Hudson River or the Beltway. Rugged individualism; going alone – Emerson and Goldwater – is suggested. It opens to the future. As was said here at the very first, Palin and family suggest a new era ahead; a new century which awakens the free spirit of the American heartland much as Andrew Jackson did in the mid-1800s.

In the most recent Rassmusen poll when asked who they would vote for in 2012, 29% of Republican voters nationwide say Huckabee, while 24% prefer Romney and 18% Palin.

The Huckabee figure may be good news for Palin. Who will Huckabee’s 29% vote for if Huckabee drops out? Huckabee’s following tends to be culturally conservative and regional. Two things they may not like about Romney: He was governor of Massachusetts and advanced a model of health insurance there similar to Obama’s. And he is a Mormon. Down the road this constituency could head toward Palin.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Obama needs a Junior Seau

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/20/09

Obama is lacking something. There is no one particularly likeable in his organization besides Obama himself. Any vital organization needs what historian W.J. Cash called “the man at the center.” The “man at the center” is not the man at the top. He is someone in the midst of things who brings a spirit to the group that transcends partisanship. Someone with whom most everyone in the organization and out of it can relate to. Colin Powell was a good example in the Reagan organization. Most people liked him. Most still do. But Obama has no such figure. Instead of a Powell he has given us Joe Biden, the white guy from central casting, Hillary, that Other Mother from the Sixties, and Rahm Emmanuel who frightens children and other living things.

The Man at the Center is kind of an annex for the Man at the Top. We are only half way there with the man at the top; Man at the Center is the heart, which should be listened to first. The Man at the Center defines the man at the top to a greater realm as Powell did with Reagan. If she or he is not there, the group will become partisan and oppositional as Bush II and Clinton were oppositional; possibly they were intentionally oppositional, possibly they just didn’t know what they were doing. It brews dissent and opposition. The country will eventually be poisoned in opposition and civil war could eventually erupt as oppositional politics defines via negatives. Or will become totalitarian, where one conquers all, like the current Chinese model which is drawing admirers now from the political fashionistas in New York and Moscow.

The Man at the Center can bring the dead to life as Tedy Bruschi did when he joined the New England Patriots in 1996. The age swirls around him as it swirled around John Lennon in 1967. He lives beyond his death as Lord Nelson did through the Victoria Age and continues to do today in novels and movies.

A great manager, like Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick, understands this in principle and in his heart. Throughout New England these past few weeks they have been wearing the number 54 to honor Bruschi. When he retired the team seemed to lose it heart. Belichick called in Junior Seau who would rather be surfing, rather be cutting oranges to bring to his daughter’s soccer game, rather be sunning in San Diego than tackling in the snow and chill of blustery New England. But he came back for Belichick and for us. And for a few games more we get our heart back. This week we won like in the old days when Junior played with Tedy and Mike Gravel. 59 to zero.

That’s what Obama needs; a Tedy Bruschi, a Junior Seau, a Colin Powell or a Lord Nelson. Without that, he doesn’t have a chance.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Working Class Hero: Palin Rising

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/19/09

A recent Gallup Poll indicates that Sarah Palin’s approval rating has dropped by two percent since the defeat of the Republican Party ticket last November. But despite the decline, Gallup said her ability to stay in the news may allow her to move from being a vice presidential candidate in one election to being a presidential candidate in the next.

Despite a torrent of criticism from the media, Democrats and even some in her own party, Sarah Palin remains the hottest brand name in politics Politico reports.

As part of an effort to gauge Palin's popularity with the rank and file beyond the Beltway, where the GOP establishment is lukewarm toward the charismatic former governor, POLITICO surveyed nearly 50 prominent Republican Party officials and politicians, representing every region of the country and ranging from statewide-elected officeholders to state legislators to state and county party chairs.

Some refused to talk about her at all. Others, mostly her critics, would do so only off the record. But taken as a whole, the body of interviews revealed that despite Palin's high negative ratings in recent national polls, Republicans at the grass-roots level and their leaders still hold a very favorable impression of the former Alaska governor. Westerners had a particular affinity for Palin, with many noting that she embodied the values of freedom and self-reliance.

"People saw her as one of them -- someone who could relate to an everyday person. She's not one of the political class," Heidi Gansert, the Nevada House minority leader told Politico. "I also believe that women appreciated her message and what she'd accomplished in her political career and family life. A woman who has a young family, who is able to become the governor of Alaska -- a lot of people, women who worked the everyday jobs with their families -- they know that she's experiencing the same things they are."

Charles M. Webster, the state GOP chairman in Maine, said Republicans there are very enthusiastic about Palin largely because they can see themselves in her.

"I see her as being somebody who the average, what I call 'working class guy,' relates to," Webster said. "Somebody who's plain-spoken, somebody who hunts and fishes. And this is Maine -- we're in the country up here."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mitt Romney, Sumitomo Mitsui’s Zen Man and the Preacher-in-Chief

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/16/09

Ted Sorensen, the great speech writer and advisor to Jack Kennedy, had some advice for President Obama at a recent forum at Harvard: “Stop campaigning.” But they’ve been saying that for months now. It was great at first; the nice and easy Sam and Dave tunes at the campaign rallies instead of the usual fascistic AC/DC that Democratic consultants favor. And those fantastic speeches about granny, mom and race. Then it got to be like listening to a preacher. Like those TV preachers. Like Dr. Phil.

The Hill reports that Lindsey Graham is in a cage fight with Ron Paul. It is a representative fight for the times; the one a receding force, the other an advancing force. But both are ideologists. Which in my mind brings up Mitt Romney in importance as he is not. Watching him up here when he was governor of Massachusetts, he seemed fair minded, honest to a fault, project oriented, partisan yes, but at the same time remarkably non-ideological. He fired Billy Bulger, President of the University of Massachusetts, who had been awarded the job as a political plum by the Republican governor just before him.

In solving problems, Romney, who founded the investment firm Bain Capital, has shown the ability to do what Zen requests: See what is there and see nothing else. He could well be at the helm in 2012 and if not, he could still be in the same room as chief of staff to Sarah Palin. And the deeper the economy sinks and the more the deficits rise, the more eyes turn to Romney.

Alan Greenspan said this week that he has no worries about the falling dollar. Warren Buffett, one of Obama’s chief advisers, says it’s all good. But he lost half his fortune last year. And it was reported just this morning that Bank of America lost $2.24 B as loan losses continue to rise. So what does Zen Man say?

Daisuke Uno, chief strategist for Sumitomo Mitsui, a unit of Japan’s third biggest bank, says the dollar may drop to 50 yen next year and eventually lose its role as the global reserve currency.

“The U.S. economy will deteriorate into 2011 as the effects of excess consumption and the financial bubble linger,” he told Bloomberg’s Shigeki Nozawa. “The dollar’s fall won’t stop until there’s a change to the global currency system.”

The greenback is heading for the trough of a super-cycle that started in August 1971, Uno said, referring to the Elliot Wave theory, which holds that market swings follow a predictable five-stage pattern of three steps forward, two steps back.

Uno said after the dollar loses its reserve currency status, the U.S., Europe and Asia will form separate economic blocs.

The Elliot Wave converges with generational theories of post-war cycles. Power awakens at the beginning of the second post-war generation and begins its decline at the end of the third, which is now. In all cyclical theories, it has been pointed out, there is the claim toward the end of the cycle that it will be different this time. That is where Greenspan’s happy face prediction about the dollar comes in. It is part of the culture of the cycle.

Survival demands that we look forward, but by the end of the third generation, looking to the past has been fully institutionalized by three generations and every layer of government and business contributes. Even entertainment attempts to fortify the waning cycle (Tiny Fey, Vanity Fair, Letterman).

Japanese Zen, derived from Chinese Taoism, explains power as a convergence of equal and opposite counter forces. Things rise because they must, things fall because they must. There is a philosophy for rising: Confucianism. There is one for receding: Taoism.

In the West we have only a philosophy for rising. Our philosophy for receding is crash and burn. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Anglosphere Alternative to Chimerica and ‘One World Under Bill’

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/15/09

As the large and rising larger forces in the world gather in Shanghai alleys and other shadowy places conspiring to bounce the dollar out as a reserve currency, here is a thought. We might consider down the road an alternative currency of our own: An Anglosphere currency; a currency converging the U.S. dollar, the Australian dollar and the Canadian dollar. The Canadian dollar is at equity now with the American dollar ($1.03) and the Aussie ($1.09) is getting there. The Anglosphere is made up of English-speaking countries organically related through the tradition of the English-speaking people. Primarily the U.S., Canada, England, Australia and New Zealand.

It is an abstraction worth a suggestion as it leads to the question of who we are and what will become of us in this rapidly changing world. The best heads in public opinion today – historians Niall Ferguson and Zachary Karabell for example – follow the path of economic destiny to China and see the likely world ahead as one called Chimerica, a vast economic union of a sort made up of America and China. Of best practices, this would be perhaps the most fortuitous prospect. But I don’t see it happening.

I am a Buddhist and am one of those called to the East as if to a siren. But frankly, we are a breed apart. I do not see many Americans yielding sovereignty in any psychic or psychological sense to the East. We have converged before, then we defaulted back to our roots and traditions and I believe we will again.

There has been great interest in the things of the East here since the Sixties but the Sixties was in its first initiative an age of peace with utopian features. Its subsequent political manifestations including a kind of messianic capitalism which might be called One World Under Bill – today with Hillary as Secretary of State and James Carville hoping to run Afghanistan behind the puppet Ashraf Ghani – are flighty and partially delusional. At any time, utopian politics reflect an age in transition. And the illusions inherent in these movements, as any reader of Sun Tzu will vigorously nod, provide advantage to our economic competitors.

Obama is smarter and more competent and pragmatic but his world likewise has cult features; Mill High Stadium – the “new Roosevelt,” the “new Kennedy,” the “new Lincoln,” the “new Jesus.” And messianic features; a Nobel Prize for Hope. These come primarily from utopian instincts. The Sixties and Seventies was an age much like the 1820s and 1830s in America when Transcendentalism, which can be considered a kind of New England Taoism or Buddhism, Shakerism and much of evangelical thinking in America today took their awakening. But as Walt Whitman pointed out at the end of that era, those who travel across the Universe come back. The age passed when heartland America found its rustic Andrew Jackson and the northeast yielded back to Victorianism. Likewise, we will shortly leave the utopian dreams and schemes of the Sixties behind because they are primarily generational.

There is an organic cultural cohesion to the Anglosphere and its greatest intensity is on the edges; Australia, a wild child, born free in the desert under the Southern Cross and England, our old mother across the Atlantic. Their first friends in the world are here in North America and possibly we in time will be their only lasting friends.

The current economic crisis is a test. Different countries are getting different marks. China is doing great. The U.S. not so good. But Canada is doing great as well. In banking, the highest scores are going to Canada, vastest realm of the Anglosphere. Of all the people in the world Canadians are most like us. We might learn their methods and get to know them better. Because pretty soon the world is going to have to redraw its circles and it will be time again for some original thinking.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Going Bust: The End of an Age

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/14/09

Marc Faber, the legendary economist of the Gloom, Doom and Boom Report told Bloomberg’s Bernard Lo this morning that over the next few years the United States will have to borrow two trillion dollars per year to stay afloat. In the last few years we have seen the financial crisis of private sector enterprises like AIG and government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie May and Freddie going bust, he said. But at the next station the U.S. Government goes bust.

Part of the problem here may be one of perception. Possibly it is not so much a financial crisis, like the ones in the 1830s and the 1930s, as it is a historic and cultural shift of massive proportions. An article in The Wall Street Journal this week by Zachary Karabell, author of Superfusion: How China and America Became One Economy and Why the World’s Prosperity Depends on It may offer some stepping stones across the river.

Most people are now aware that China is the largest creditor to a heavily indebted U.S. government. It holds close to a trillion dollars of U.S. Treasurys and has invested hundreds of billions more in private enterprises in America. Even though these facts are plainly acknowledged, policy makers and experts continue to underestimate the full ramifications of this relationship.

Our situation facing China is not unlike cash-strapped England’s at the end of WW II, he writes.

As one British official, Evelyn Shuckburgh, remarked in the late 1940s, "it was impossible not to be conscious that we were playing second fiddle." And that was precisely what the U.S. desired. Having supported the British for decades and become its banker and manufacturer during two wars, at the end of World War II the U.S. fully intended to supplant the British Empire.

China is likely this time around to surpass the U.S. in the size of its economy in the next 20 years and the recent implosion of the American financial system has only accelerated China’s rise.

Given the lesson of the British Empire's demise, it would be foolish to base current policy on the assumption that China will hit a fatal speed-bump before it is able to supplant the U.S. And while the level of current indebtedness is manageable for the U.S.—and in fact tethers the Chinese closely to the U.S. economy in ways that are arguably beneficial for both countries—the fact that these economies are currently bound together does not mean that their interests will always be in sync.

The fact is that we have reached the end of an age and that is why the past age’s cheerleaders and letter men – like Letterman – are failing. And the aging generation’s idols like Bill Clinton seem strangely odd and out of time as the big hair get coiffed and silvered. While Hillary, in discussion with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavron, looks ready for her nap.

But we might begin to ask ourselves as Americans where do we want to go? Does the flow of economic history demand that we walk in China’s footsteps? Are there models of economy which might be better suited to our future prospects?

We might consider thinking about the benefits of regionalization because if the U.S. economy is to contract and consolidate, it might contract within a matrix which makes for better packaging than the internal world-without-walls we have now. Does northern New England really need four farm colleges? One might work better. We might begin to think about tax spending and tax breaks to encourage naturally occurring regional cultures and regional community tier economies. We might feature farming where there are farms and factories where there are or have been factories. Because life in the city is different than the hills and prairies and one size does not fit all in temperament, personality, culture and economics.

And we might begin to ask ourselves how did we get to where we are? What do we want to be? What have we become?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Who is General McChrystal?

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/12/09

Is General McChrystal a believer in the Christian Apocalypse in Jerusalem like Preacher John Hargee and the 700 Clubs’ Pat Robertson? At the beginning of the war on Iraq a few New York rabbis tried to warn us about this but few listened. Today the web site Jews on First is a useful watchdog on this issue. But we know almost nothing about McChrystal and our fate, fortunes and American lives are suddenly in his hands.

Is he from New York? Arkansas? Because that tells you something. Was he raised on army bases? Because that tells you something too as people reared without a sense of place can be more prone to abstraction and ideology. His official bios call him a “warrior scholar,” a phase I think I made up myself a few years ago about Wesley Clark who is one. The Pentagon got hold of it and uses it now for anyone who jogs to work.

Before Obama heads off into Pakistan, Indonesia and Thailand, where by some credible estimates 10 civilians will die for every one enemy fighter, he might ask about his road partner. Because it is oddly hard to find out about McChrystal’s early life, his religious beliefs or anything else pertinent to the formation of the man and adult prior to West Point.

As Obama wanders the halls now waiting for someone to order up the playing of the La Marseillais and all in Monsieur Rick’s global Café Americain to leap up and cheer, the beginnings of this continuing conflict should be recalled. When I first lobbied British House of Commons members including the former actress Glenda Jackson, our European allies had no idea how long millennial fever had been brewing in the hills and hollows of Appalachia where I lived in the 1990s, where every folk and free mountain radio preacher was talking about the Second Coming. Armageddon was coming to the Middle East, there would be war to the end times in Jerusalem and Saddam was the great Satan, the Anti-Christ; the anti-American.

When the Hale-Bopp comet appeared just before the millennium, you could almost hear the Blue Ridge murmur prophecy, vindicating the intuitive, unlettered preachers and prophets in the hills and hollows; some touched by the Lord and some by that witch spirit unique to the Appalachians. In was all just as it was written by John, in Revelations 8:10-11 The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water – the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.

Has General McChrystal read Revelations? What are his feelings?

The Left Behind books, which called up this millennial fever in the 1990s sold in the 100s of millions and contributed a vast, subliminal regional culture to where we have got today. They were penned by Tim LaHaye, who worked for Jack Kemp, who played a significant role in getting the religious right to support George W. Bush in 2000. Mike Huckabee finds these books, which in the heat of Armageddon suggest the destruction of Jews who don’t convert, to be a compelling story. This is important and necessary to know because of the influence of the Christian millennialist’s influence on the army and on actual government and foreign policy at the beginning of this war. Does McChrystal share this persuasion? We need to know.

In the Left Behind books the true Christians – that would be Hargee and Robertson - are beamed up after Armageddon and everything else is destroyed. But in real life you can’t plan a future after a war. You have to just try to make something out of what’s left and who can still stand up. Sometimes it is only burned earth and a few women and children. After the Union soldiers burned, killed and ate everything from Atlanta to Savannah there was not one Tunis sheep left in all of the South. There was nothing left. Worth recalling because at the beginning, northern people were advised by Frederick Law Olmstead, who had sojourned briefly in the Cotton Kingdom, that war on the South would be like a walk in Central Park. Language much like we heard on the way into Iraq and heard again on the way into Afghanistan.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Nobel Committee Through a Glass Darkly

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 9/9/09

The choices of President Barack Obama to win the 2009 Nobel Prize for peace and Herta Mueller to win the 2009 Nobel Prize for literature make perfect sense, but only to a Swede or a German. Too other Euros too, but it must be said, now that Sarko has become Angela’s bitch, that every European east to the English Channel and west of the Urals is a kind of German or German to a degree. And Swedes most of all as they are to Germany much as Canadians are to us Americans. Harder working, better educated, smarter maybe, better looking, more sophisticated, better hockey players and certainly more polite, but still beholden to us vulgarians down below.

It has nothing to do with literature. It has nothing to do with peace. It never has. It never does. But the Nobel Committee’s selections this year form a perfect picture through a glass darkly of who the Swedes and Germans are and who they are not. But it is their world, not ours, and we should first only be bemused. Because we, as Americans, can never be Swedes or Germans and should not want to be.

Giving the peace prize to Obama – I think he does not want it yet but Bill wants it badly and he will never get it now – should not raise irony although the Nobel Committee cherishes irony. True, Obama has vindicated Cheney and Bush in Afghanistan and trumped Reagan with his new upgraded stars wars system. But this is not about America’s Obama. This is about Sweden’s Obama and they are different. Obama is to the Swedes and the Germans the kind of American they want outsiders (feringhee, foreigner, foreign devils, Americans) to be. They want them (us) to be nice light blue types like Desmond Tutu, Al Gore and Jimmy Carter.

Obama got this early, way too early, because they want to force him to be like that as well. But Obama is not a preacher. He may not be a president. It is too early to tell. But to be a real president requires more structure, character and substance than Tutu and Carter and most of the others and Obama has more. It would be a heroic moment for Obama to gracefully turn it down with the claim that he has not yet earned it. Obama still has potential for true grit and natural nobility – Eisenhower, Kennedy - but he will be held back by being bunched in with these guys.

The Nobels don’t like to be lobbied or anticipated. Bill – he of the 50 gold watches - probably overreached in his heavy lobbying for the peace prize. Hey, this is not suburban soccer when everyone gets a trophy. Not to the Swedes. But wait till they give one to Hillary in a few years. That will really piss him off.

And what they always say about literature, “If you are European it is easier to relate to European literature,” is true, even if it annoys the English department. Much as it is easier to relate to classical ballet if you happen to be a white Russian. The day has passed. It passed when John Ford, Buster Keaton, Hedy Lamarr and Sam Fuller superseded the masterful Willa Cather. And it was not an issue of taste or sophistication but one of simple demographics.

But this one thing should be cleared up. The Swedes, in choosing another European for the literature prize were not thinking about Philip Roth, Joan Didion, Maya Angelou, Lee Smith (my choice), Charles Frazier or Bob Dylan when they passed them by. They were thinking of one person: Stephanie Meyers, author of the Twilight series, whose novels have sold tens, probably 100s of millions of copies this past year, most to kids under 16. Because if the first image of the Goth Herta Mueller from Transylvania who’s “ . . . frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed . . .” doesn’t bring vampires to mind you are in denial. It is the core archetype of Europe’s post-Christendom age which the remarkable Angela Merkel has inherited – the myth of the “empty crypt” – the Christ unconjured and unconjurable. They will not turn this over to American vampires from Kurt Cobain’s Seattle, shining in the sun and with a work and family ethic as stringent as Mormons. Forget about that. Europe owns vampires. They will not give this to us. We are vulgar.

The most fundamental illusion of globalization is that America is not first in the world because of military conquest, but we are. Europeans, Germans especially, know that in their hearts and so do we. Asking Europeans who first conquered the world then had it taken from them by us is in one aspect like asking Richmond, Austin or Chapel Hill to provide their vision of us and them after the Southern conquest. You would get Faulkner and C. Vann Woodward. You would get John Hope Franklin, W.J Cash and Maya Angelou. You would get literature, obsession and guilt from the conquered but not from the conqueror. Because the conqueror is free and passes on in curiosity to Jimmy Cagney, 2 Pac, the Baghwan and Kurt Cobain or as Henry James wrote of New England, yields to decay. But the conquered, Germany and the South, are changed forever.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Mad Men and the Second Age of Carter

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 9/06/09

The definitive detail might be the scene in Charade where Audrey Hepburn snaps the filter off her cigarette with disgust. Only the weak or inauthentic smoked filters. That day has made a comeback with Mad Men. Everyone smokes, but real men smoke Luckies. Some have reported that it is the best TV show ever, at a time when TV writing – The Sopranos, House, Lost – transcends movies in skill and imagination.

I made the point in the first essay I had published, an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer back in 1977 when the anti-smoking crusade had taken on all of the umbrage of a Gandhi hunger strike – that smoking was bad for you but quitting was worse as it formed self-righteousness and pretension and the sense that you were doing something when you weren’t doing anything. That may be why there is such freshness to a story about the hard working and hard playing in the days when drinking started at four in the afternoon. Earlier for top executives. Soon after it passed they – Jimmy Carter – would tax the lunch-time martinis.

People drank then. They drank like Russians. But they drank better and some – some of the very best – drank all of the time. Possibly thinking was more subtle and complex. Certainly the writing was better.

Mad Men’s main character Don Draper looks a little like Mitt Romney, although Romney would have been doing his mission in Paris at the time and has likely never smoked a cigarette. I take it that it is not entirely by accident. I noticed because during the 2008 race when I wrote about Romney I’d receive letters in the chronic commenter/stalker range that complained about his looks; the devo way he dressed, the way he combed his hair. Now it is all the rage.

“I love to go to work and put on that suit,” said Don Draper’s man, Jon Hamm, in a TV interview. “I makes you feel like a million bucks.”

It was a day of warrior individualism – Truman Capote, Jackson Pollock, Audrey Hepburn, Miles Davis, Jackie Kennedy. Of intensely focused zen with D.T. Suzuki and depth psychology with C.G. Jung. A day in Brooklyn as Pete Hamill once phrased it (before he quit drinking) when Jewish girls read Dostoyevsky in their lit rooms at night and Irish boys coming home from the celibacy of the Irish bars, longed for them without luck.

Mad Men brings a change from the Seventies redux of the last year or so – the Second Age of Jimmy Carter – Saturday Night Live yet again but not funny this time, the easy irony and titters in the night scornful of genius as being subtle, insidious and unfair. The post-Woodstock venue yet again, where the big questions asked are not about the banality of evil as Hannah Arendt, cigarette in hand, posed it but, “will Letterman apologize?”

The first Age of Carter was a time of reprieve and rest. A human need perhaps, to fall fallow for a season. But the public spell broke back then with the rise of the TV show Dallas which not by coincidence accompanied a new cycle of power, prestige, good will and prosperity in our country and brought the post-war period to its peak. Maybe we are at the edge of that again. Maybe Mad Men is the new Dallas.

Monday, October 05, 2009

We Need a New Political Party with True Federalist Features

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 9/5/09

Anyone who has had the experience of wandering in the vicinity as I had during the Tet Offensive would have by now fully gotten that Yogi Berra feeling of déjà vu all over again. The generals, the men in suits, so fully self assured and autonomous and the top political leadership oh so coy and reassuring. But they have no clue as to where they are going and how they will get there. There is one difference between this and Vietnam. Jim Webb, the Virginia senator who served heroically in Vietnam, said recently that he saw positive exit possibilities in Vietnam. He sees none in Afghanistan.

It has gone on this long without firming up any principled opposition here in the hills of New Hampshire and throughout the heartland possibly because we have become, as John Kenneth Galbraith called us back in 1992, a culture of contentment. When the threat of difficulty occurs we wind up like a dervish and surround the Pentagon, then it passes in the night. Those who wish for war have always depended on the expediency of opposition. It is their most valuable tool.

At the beginning of the war in Iraq it was proposed up here in northern New England that the war was illegal and the use of the National Guard to fight it was illegal. Today, as New Hampshire prepares for its biggest deployment ever, 1,100 troops, it still is. They have adopted this approach in Wisconsin. The Bring the Guard Home movement is a national movement of state campaigns to end the unlawful overseas deployment of the National Guard. Our New England governors should sign on with them. But clearly they won’t.

More than half of the country opposes this war. According to a recent poll more than 40% no longer consider themselves Democrats or Republicans. Perhaps it is time for a new political party. An Independent party or a Federalist party or a New England party to emphasis our rights as states and regions under the Constitution, under natural law and common sense. A party to institutionalize our own collective determination on vital moral issues and our responsibility to do what is right on issues of life and death whether it is constitutionally defined or not. Because one woman or man as governor with the courage to refuse deployment would change more than the war. It would change everything.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

China at Sixty

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 10/1/09

In the early 1920s, the French writer Andre Malraux wrote that the question of the century will be how will the Chinese adapt to individualism? That question may still be unanswered as China reaches the 60th birthday of Mao’s revolutionary turning.

That was long ago; before Jet Li and Ziyi Zhang, before Nixon and Kissinger. But the symbols and images chosen for the celebration, including 5,000 goose-stepping soldiers who rehearsed for five months, recall the Soviet style in the age of Stalin.

“I wonder what Chinese leaders are thinking?” Said Minxin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California said to Charles Hutzler of the Associated Press. “For more than 15 years they have been denouncing those who call China’s rise a threat. Now they put on this display of military hardware, with goose-stepping soldiers to match. Aren’t they confirming the China Threat?”

Sixty is an auspicious number that plays well with Chinese. It traditionally represents the full life of a person. To the sage Tao tradition of 5,000 plus years, 60 also brings the end of a civilization’s full life cycle; three generations – 20 years apiece, after which comes decline, death and hopefully rebirth. The three generations can clearly be delineated on this occasion: The Mao Revolution and the Long March, followed by the Cultural Revolution and then the Deng Xiaoping transition to command capitalism and “Socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

My own hunch is that after it settles some historic business, China will begin to look inward if it can inculcate growth internally through infrastructure spending. But the Generalissimo Franco-ish posture of militant nostalgia will also advance.

Because China can see ahead in strength. She can see that she has conquered the Barbarian. But she still has one problem: She has not conquered herself. That is why a singular, quiet and joyful monk living peacefully in exile in Dharamsala, India, can drive the Chinese leadership to seizures.