A Weekend at Bernie’s? Maybe we should hit the Jim, instead

Rarely am I one to read either Daily Kos or that most eminent economist of the Grey Lady’s, but a Facebook friend shared this, and I went for it like a bluegill for bacon fat.

Here’s the original Krugman column, which starts with a brilliant bit of humor from the author: “The 2016 campaign should be almost entirely about issues. The parties are far apart on everything…”

This post isn’t about Hillary Clinton directly, but it’s worth considering something risible noted by Krugman and echoed by DK:

The press, I’m sorry to say, tends to punish open-mindedness, because gotcha journalism is easier and safer than policy analysis. Hillary Clinton supported trade agreements in the 1990s, but now she’s critical. It’s a flip-flop! Or, possibly, a case of learning from experience, which is something we should praise, not deride.

(My emphasis. — TGFI)

Krugman, ever the good liberal, declines to convey the nuance of the cited article.

We looked into Clinton’s past remarks on NAFTA and concluded that she has changed her tune, from once speaking favorably about it to now saying the agreement needs “fixing.”

[…]

Today, Clinton’s campaign Web site says plainly, “NAFTA was negotiated more than 14 years ago, and Hillary believes it has not lived up to its promises.”

Semantics? Maybe. Clearly, though, Mrs. Clinton isn’t critical of NAFTA per se, but only to the extent that it has not delivered as promised — something about which wiser men, like Pat Buchanan, forewarned twenty-one years ago. That Mrs. Clinton has come out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership is heartening, but, pace Krugman, the cynic is compelled to question the political motivation for such opposition from the spouse of Bill “Free Trade” Clinton. It’s all about running to the left. Duh.

President Obama has proven himself to be a centrist — an actual liberal, in the mold of — Wait for it! — President Clinton, the “New Democrats”, and the DLC. As he has followed the same inclinations toward unnecessary and disastrous foreign engagements and capitalism-über-alles, he has brought the Evil Party closer to the Stupid Party, creating a gap that previously caught the eyes of Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, and now draws into the race Senators Bernie Sanders and Jim Webb — and, purportedly, the good First Lady/Senator/Secretary/Wal-Mart board member/Wall Street harlot.

Needless to say, I’m skeptical that Mrs. Clinton is any less a liberal than President Obama, her husband, or the right-wing liberals of the Grand Old Party. I am willing, however, to entertain the possibility, as displayed in Krugman’s column, and as hoped for by the more socially democratically inclined members of the Democratic Party and the American electorate, that, politics being the art of expedience, Lady Hillary will be forced to campaign further to the left, especially with the entrance of Senator Sanders into the race, and this is all the more reason for those (not voting Republican) to reject the Green Mountaineer in favor of the Hillbilly.

Okay, so, excessive prefatory remarks out of the way, I am compelled to add a few more. Anyone who knows me or has read NathanContraMundi in the past knows that I’m either a right-winger or a conservative (though not both; I’m not sure which is the more appropriate term, but I am certain that “right-wing conservative” suggests something that I ain’t). My ideal candidate is a softer version of Pat Buchanan meets a saner version of Ron Paul meets a milder version of Ralph Nader. Oh, hell, just give me Bill Kauffman, please — or Andrew Bacevich  In the meantime, I’m tepidly (more so than I was with his father) supportive of Rand Paul.

That said, being skeptical of both libertarian capitalism (I really ought to discourse on why I’m not a libertarianwhy I am, nonetheless, so sympathetic to the libertarian conservatism of the Doctors Paul; and where I draw the line.) and the Republican Party’s tendency to choose Bob Dole over Pat Buchanan, as well as, you know, thinking that it’d be swell were “both” of our part”ies” to offer some kind of big-tent variety, what happens in the Democratic primaries is of great interest and concern to me.

So, here we go, the meat of the article, which, in characteristically Nathan-ish fashion, likely will be far shorter than the preface. (I can’t say for certain because most of this is stream-of-consciousness, and I’ve not exactly outlined what’s to follow.) Also, it’ll likely be a pretty superficial analysis, because, well, it’s midnight, this is the first time that I’ve posted at NCM in more than four years, and, well, I’ve reached the point at which I’m even inserting this soliloquy. (I aver that, should I get back into the habit of updating this Weblog with any frequency, the writing and arguments will improve — presumably good rationale for not redoubling my efforts!)

However much I’ve come to prioritize, at least short-term, concerns about foreign-policy recklessness and the concentration of economic power in the hands of relatively few, I am, undeniably, a cultural conservative who is typically politically “socially conservative” (though perhaps less so at the federal level than at the state and local).  This makes any contending Democrat less than appealing to me off the bat,  Senator Sanders more so than his Virginian counterpart, who, though certainly a “social” moderate-to-liberal, is arguably a cultural conservative. For me, though, this is as much a matter of practicality as it is a personal concern: there may be a certain attractiveness about Sen. Sanders to the fairly small cohort of Americans who embrace social democracy, and even to a number of more-liberal progressives, not to mention some of us despondent conservatives, but Jim Webb is likelier to have a broader appeal, while still drawing Her Majesty toward the left during primary season.

I truly believe that Sanders-ites are right to be excited that HRC will be compelled to campaign to the left as long as the soi-disant socialist of Vermont is in the race. I also believe that thinking that this sinister pull matters is rather deluded: expecting Mrs. Clinton, I fear, to live up to the faux-populism that she’s already been displaying on the campaign trail is akin, in retrospect, to expecting George W. Bush to keep his promise of a “humble foreign policy” (in the wake of the hawkish presidency of none other than Mr. Clinton!) or thinking that Barack Obama would really be delivering any substantive hope or change.

It’s nice to see a real progressive challenger compel HRC to do some work before her coronation, but, ultimately, it’s just a delay. With her gender, her name, her perversely embraced reputation, and her being a Wall Street harlot all in her favor, she has too good of an opportunity to grab the nomination as long as a kook (And I say this not to reflect my own opinion of Senator Sanders, but to suggest that this is what a social democrat from Vermont is going to be appear to be in the eyes of Joe Middle America.) is her leading opponent. That’s not to say that Jim Webb is going to perform any miracles, but he has a better chance both of playing the role of dark horse and of having any kind of impact on the party of Jefferson and Jackson (purportedly) than his further-left colleague. Why?

1. He’s a Hillbilly. Seriously, he comes from “real America”, born in Missouri, traveling across “real America” as his father was transferred from one base to another, ending up in swing-state Virginia, and proudly and publicly embracing his Scotch-Irish roots. The guy is, simply, more relatable to more Americans than a Jewish socialist who grew up in New York City.

2. He’s a veteran. This matters not merely because of the weird American fetishization of veterans that occurs even as our idea of “support[ing] the troops” constitutes, mainly, smearing anyone who criticizes the wars in which our service personnel fight or the civilian leaders who send them to God-knows-where unnecessarily, but because he is a veteran, like the aforementioned Bacevich, who has not been shy about his opposition to some of our stupider forays.

If someone’s going to challenge Mrs. Clinton on the foreign-policy front (and someone needs to), and if someone’s going to try to move the Democratic Party (which, we need to remember, has always been the war party, the GOP being something of a Johnny-come-lately in the Twentieth Century), Sanders may have the benefit of having opposed the Viet Nam conflict at the time (unlike Webb, who served in said conflagration and seems to be less opposed, retrospectively, than fellow veteran Bacevich), but Webb has the street cred afforded to someone who’s been there and knows from personal experience (Remember, not only is he a veteran, but he served as SecDef under the Republican Reagan. In 1990, out of office, he warned against escalation in Saudi Arabia and against a permanent presence in the Middle East (and he was insisting upon Congressional declarations of war before it was cool).)

Nine years ago, Scott McConnell reminded us, at The American Conservative, of Webb’s prescient words in the Washington Post at the outset of the Second Bush’s Mesopotamian Massacre:

Webb questioned whether an overthrow of Saddam would “actually increase our ability to win the war against international terrorism” and pointed out that the measure of military success can be preventing wars and well as fighting them. He charged, “those who are pushing for a unilateral war in Iraq know full well that there is no exit strategy if we invade.” He concluded, “the Iraqis are a multiethnic people filled with competing factions who in many cases would view a U.S. occupation as infidels invading the cradle of Islam. … In Japan, American occupation forces quickly became 50,000 friends. In Iraq, they would quickly become 50,000 terrorist targets.” If any major senators were thinking like this long before the invasion, not many Americans heard of it.

3. He’s not as “extreme”. In terms of both voting records and perceptions, Webb is the moderate, the guy who gets it wrong on X, but gets it right on Y — and even may have a decent reason for his wrong view on X. (I speak from the conservative perspective, of course, in using ‘wrong’ and ‘right’.) Bernie Sanders isn’t. And winning elections is about securing the strongest in-party base during the primaries without turning off independents and dissatisfied voters who generally support the other party. Jim Webb is likelier to attract, I think, progressives than Sanders is to get the attention of Blue Dogs (if any still remain); in November, Webb is absolutely likelier to attract Republicans than Sanders is.

Sanders may well be the “better” candidate — certainly for the real progressives, social democrats, and fellow-travelers, to say nothing of those of us communitarian conservatives troubled by the hyper-individualism guiding economic policy and practice today. Practically speaking, though, backing Bernie, however nicely principled, is an onanistic act of futility that will leave the Democratic Party securely in the hands of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Jim Webb’s chances may not be significantly better than Bernie Sanders’s, but they are better, and he’s the candidate likelier to have a measurable, propitious impact on the Democratic Party and, we can hope, American electoral politics.

Besides, Jim Webb vs. Rand Paul sounds like one helluva race, right?

WWGKD?

In a post for which I could claim authorship, over at The League, E.D. Kain, with bookend quotations from Chesterton, offers much food for thought, continuing on something that he and others at FPR, and I, have been discussing, on distributism, providing able, fair criticisms of both free-marketeers and economic-interventionists, and, wouldn’t you know, prescribing Distributism — with realistic caveats — as the cure for what ails us.

A delicious sample:

Imagine, if you will, an economy based on localism instead of globalism. Credit unions flourish instead of massive, international banks. The mortgage you purchased is still owned by the bank or credit union that sold it to you. You eat at a restaurant that can be found nowhere else in the world, and purchase groceries at a local grocer who buys his produce from local farmers. Could any thief ever cause so much harm in this scenario? A corrupt businessman or politician could certainly cause a great deal of pain to his fellow citizens in the town or region, but this harm would have a much more difficult time spilling over into adjacent communities. A subprime mortgage scandal confined to one town or county would hardly stop the national or global economy in its tracks.

This is one reason, but certainly not the only reason, that local control and small business and finance must be restored. Big business and big finance especially must find their way to the scrap heaps. As Philip Blond notes,

The final piece of the puzzle is for Conservatives to break with big business. We must end a model in which competition is reduced to a cartel of vast corporations maximising profits by discouraging competitors and minimising wages by joining with the liberal left to encourage mass immigration. A covert alliance between the liberal left and liberal right has destroyed incomes and identity at the bottom of the scale.

A society must be grounded on the basis of good order and social stability. This means that a balance must be struck. When government becomes too centralized, or when capital is so displaced that local communities are no longer self-sufficient then something has gone terribly wrong. The order of things has been replaced with the drive to gather wealth into the hands of the few in the name of economic liberty.

My only quibble lies not specifically with Kain, but with the generally accepted use of “economic liberty,” a term used, I think, to describe something more aptly dubbed “economic libertinism.” I regard liberty as virtue that exists as a mean, between libertinism and coercion; Distributism promotes economic liberty and, thereby, equality, where as capitalism promotes economic libertinism, or only “liberty,” and socialism, “equality.”

Kain concludes,

In short, a few things that might help check the sort of dangerous capitalism and growth of government could be:

1) The advent of guilds to supplant unions and limit corporate power and the spread of national corporations.

2) A return to local finance and procurement.

3) Protection of domestic industry.

4) Return of government functions to the local level and the end to “private” government at a national level.

5) Employee ownership of companies as opposed to a public, stock-based system. Limitations on the public sale of stocks would be necessary, and could be enforced, perhaps, through the guild system. Limitations on the growth of companies beyond agreed upon regions would also be necessary, though I admit such an effort would not be easy. Good, healthy competition must still be fostered.

Essentially, capitalism fails because it is too efficient, too perfect in its implementation, and too devoid of human qualities. Chesterton says it best:“Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.”

Indeed, and too many thieves.

[Emphasis in the original.]

AND HOW! Besides, Distributism means an America with better beer!

Republicans in the House have a spine!

At least for now.

For the first time in recent memory, I am less ashamed of my remaining a registered Republican. Suggests anything the complete impotence of a two-term president as clearly as his party’s two-to-one rejection of his “necessary” mega-policy? I think not.

Maybe I’m a terrible person for it, but I’m pretty excited to see that the Dow fell more than four hundred points after the House Republcans — and ninety-four courageous Democrats — stood up against corporate socialism.

House to vote on bailout today; please, God, let the Republicans show that they have a spine!

WASHINGTON — The House braced for a difficult vote set for Monday on a $700 billion rescue of the financial industry after a weekend of tense negotiations produced a plan that Congressional leaders portrayed as greatly strengthened by new taxpayer safeguards.

The 110-page bill, intended to ease a growing credit crisis, came after a frenzied week of political twists and turns that culminated in an agreement between the Bush administration and Congress early Sunday morning.

The measure still faced stiff resistance from Republican and Democratic lawmakers who portrayed it as a rush to economic judgment and an undeserved aid package for high-flying financiers who chased big profits through reckless investments.

The New York Times offers, albeit unintentionally, one more reason why Congress should not permit the tax-payers to provide support to the powers of economic centralization:

“Citigroup Buys Banking Operations of Wachovia”

Citigroup will acquire the banking operations of the Wachovia Corporation, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation said Monday morning, the latest bank to fall victim to the distressed mortgage market.

[. . .]

The sale would further concentrate Americans’ bank deposits in the hands of just three banks: Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup. Together, those three would be so large that they would dominate the industry, with unrivaled power to set prices for their loans and services. Given their size and reach, the institutions would probably come under greater scrutiny from federal regulators. Some small and midsize banks, already under pressure, might have little choice but to seek suitors.

[All emphasis mine. – Nathancontramundi]

Three banks absolutely dominate the banking industry and the sprawling Federal government finds (Constitutional t)reason to exercise even more power. Ladies and gentlemen, sharpen your pitchforks: The troops will be positioning themselves on native soil and our fearless leaders commit acts that may incite uprising, which the troop shall, doubtless, be prepared to defeat. God. Bless. America.

Update: President Bush admonishes Congress to support the bailout, as “difficult” as the vote may be.

Bush acknowledged that the vote will be “difficult” in the face of opposition from taxpayers and voters but necessary to protect the economy.

“A vote for this bill is a vote to prevent economic damage to you and your community” by stabilizing financial markets and renewing the flow of credit, Bush said, attempting to undercut arguments that the proposed legislation bolsters Wall Street at taxpayers’ expense. “This is a bold bill that will keep the crisis in our financial system from spreading through our economy.”

My own two cents: Part of the fundamental problem is that we incline, all too easily, to think in macroeconomic terms, of “the economy”, rather than of our myriad local and regional economies. Daniel noted, a few days ago, that “[s]mall banks are functioning and even thriving as deposits have started flooding into them, and credit from these banks does not seem as if it will be drying up.” I suspect that the owners of First Farmers Bank and Trust and the First National Bank of Monterey, back in North Judson, even if the woes of “the economy” have hit home (actually, at least as of May, they had, for the better), probably have much less to fear than the shareholders of Wachovia had. These small banks, which serve the people who know the owners and employees of the bank, which serve as an important life-blood for countless small businesses across the country, help to drive our economies; the “too big to fail” banks drive — or wreck, as it were –“the economy”. Our purportedly conservative president wishes to “secure the economy” (to employ the present defensive jargon), rather than to allow our economies to function naturally, without fear (Yes, I apologize, I’ve anthropomorphized things as abstract as the economies.) of disaster caused by intervention. This, Mr Bush, is decidedly un-conservative, as has been most of your presidency.

(Hat tip, on the internal occupation: John Schwenkler)

Congressional Republicans do something (seemingly) sensible, Nathancontramundi asks if sky has fallen

From the New York Times:

But once the doors closed, the smooth-talking House Republican leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, surprised many in the room by declaring that his caucus could not support the plan to allow the government to buy distressed mortgage assets from ailing financial companies.

Mr. Boehner pressed an alternative that involved a smaller role for the government, and Mr. McCain, whose support of the deal is critical if fellow Republicans are to sign on, declined to take a stand.

[. . . ]

“I didn’t know I was going to be the referee for an internal G.O.P. ideological civil war,” Mr. Frank said, according to The A.P.Thursday, in the Roosevelt Room after the session, the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., literally bent down on one knee as he pleaded with Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, not to “blow it up” by withdrawing her party’s support for the package over what Ms. Pelosi derided as a Republican betrayal.

“I didn’t know you were Catholic,” Ms. Pelosi said, a wry reference to Mr. Paulson’s kneeling, according to someone who observed the exchange. She went on: “It’s not me blowing this up, it’s the Republicans.”

Mr. Paulson sighed. “I know. I know.”

[My emphasis. – Nathancontramundi.]

Funny, Ms. Pelosi, we didn’t know that you’re Catholic, either!

Seriously, though, all doubts about the intellectuality of Speaker Pelosi’s alleged Catholicism aside, how can she possibly suggest that the [Congressional] Republicans’ “blowing this up” is bad? President Bush, Mr. Paulson, and the Democrats wish further to make obsolete the Constitution, authorizing Mr. Paulson, an appointed member of the executive branch, to have virtually limitless control over SEVEN HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS. Presently, it is they, and not the GOP (hardly, on the whole, any better in this situation, I willingly concede), who commit a heinous act of betrayal. (Go figure that Senator McCain refused to take a stand!)

I’m late to commenting on this, but MLB Hall of Famer-turned-junior senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) offered, before the proposed super-mega-colossal bailout, but in the wake of the AIG bailout, in John Schwenkler’s terms, “first-rate” stuff:

Instead of celebrating the Fourth of July next year Americans will be celebrating Bastille Day; the free market for all intents and purposes is dead in America. The action proposed today by the Treasury Department will take away the free market and institute socialism in America. The American taxpayer has been mislead throughout this economic crisis. The government on all fronts has failed the American people miserably.

My great grandchildren will be saddled with the estimated $1 trillion debt left in the wake of this proposal. We have gotten to this point because nobody has been minding the store. Both Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke should be held accountable for their inaction – and now because of that inaction – the American taxpayer is left with bill.

We must take care of Main Street. Small businesses in Ashland, Bowling Green, and Paducah are hurting because of high taxes, and energy costs. Those small businesses are the economic engines that fuel our economy. I hope in the closing days of this Congress we can pass legislation to help those good people on Main Street rather than helping the power brokers on Wall Street.

Will, of Dispatches, astutely points out, commenting in reply to John’s post on Bunning’s wisdom, that the senator fails to offer his own proposed alternative. It’s a fair point, but Bunning’s words are no less apt. And, now, Mr. Boehner has offered something. Will offers, at his site, this, “House Republicans Discover the Constitution”:

The only good thing to come out of this mess is Republicans’ renewed appreciation for legislative oversight.

I doubt that this newfound respect for the Constitution will last with a party that has backed its president’s super-Constitutional exercises of power, but it’s nice to see even this slight glimmer. After eight years in power under George “”It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!” Bush, perhaps an internal ideological civil war is just what the Republican Party needs; America, too! However, Ron Paul would be a far better referee than Frank, whose remissness in his duty, doubtless, helped to bring forth the crumbling, and eventually buy-out, of Fannie and Freddie.

Save the banks, screw the people!

WASHINGTON – Struggling to stave off financial catastrophe, the Bush administration on Friday laid out a radical bailout plan with a jawdropping price tag — a takeover of a half-trillion dollars or more in worthless mortgages and other bad debt held by tottering institutions.

A grim-faced President Bush acknowledged risks to taxpayers in what would be the most sweeping government intervention to rescue failing financial institutions since the Great Depression. But he declared, “The risk of not acting would be far higher.”

The administration is asking Congress for far-reaching new powers to take over troubled mortgages from banks and other companies, including purchasing sour mortgage-backed securities. Administration officials and congressional leaders are to work out details over the weekend.

I wonder if I’m the only one who believes that some sort of substantial financial crisis but serve us well, reminding us that living beyond our means is responsible irresponsible, not to mention not a particularly conservative value.

Shall we see yet more national socialism?: When market intervention isn’t just unwise, but morally reprehensilble

A headline from the New York Times‘s Deal Book web-log:

“A.I.G. Seeks $40 Billion in Fed Aid to Survive”

The American International Group is seeking a $40 billion bridge loan from the Federal Reserve, as it faces a potential downgrade from credit ratings agencies that could spell its doom, a person briefed on the matter said Sunday night.

Ratings agencies threatened to downgrade the insurance giant’s credit rating by Monday morning, allowing counterparties to withdraw capital from their contracts with the company. One person close to the firm said that if such an event occurred, A.I.G. may survive for only 48 hours to 72 hours.

[ . . . ]

A.I.G.’s extraordinary move of reaching out to the Fed for help may spur other non-investment banks to try a similar move. Companies ranging from General Electric to GMAC have been hurting badly and would desperately love the liquidity that the Fed would provide.

Yet it isn’t clear whether the Fed would acquiesce to A.I.G.’s request.

Why am I pessimistically convinced that the Fed will bail out yet another Wall Street Brobdingnagian, leaving the languishing tax-payer to foot the bill for yet another struggling financial company. It almost compels one to reject his liberal-conservative, Distributist leanings for all-out, get-the-government-the-hell-out-of-here libertarianism. Almost.

Update: New York State steps in to aid A.I.G.:

New York State officials stepped in Monday to try and help the world’s largest insurance company, A.I.G., as it sought financial assistance in the face of a potential downgrade from credit ratings agencies.

Gov. David A. Paterson said the state would allow A.I.G. to borrow $20 billion from its subsidiaries to bolster its capital as it faces potentially disastrous credit downgrades.

Paterson reveals that his blindness extends beyond physical vision.