Category: Farmer's Favorites
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The latest uncomfortable encounter between the media and Barney Frank (view here via RCP video) illustrates an ongoing challenge in American politics: how to speak civilly to one another.

This post (reissued below) from last November seems to me quite relevant still--maybe even more so today:

19 November 2008

I heard a fairly cantankerous interview with Barney Frank this morning.

In response to a request for clarification from the interviewer, Frank testily responded: "Right, I'm trying to explain to you how it works." Congressman Frank went on to chastise the reporter on several more occasions, continued to interrupt and talk over him incessantly, and then began his concluding statement by declaring: "you seem determined to kind of distort this."

Another encounter with Bill O'Reilly? No. This was an NPR segment with Steve Inskeep.

Barney Frank is a man so combative that he cannot even seem civil with NPR.

What are we going to do with this fellow now that he is in charge of overseeing our financial system?

The cranky exchange this morning concerned Frank's insistence that we bail out our struggling domestic automobile companies.

Frank is not bashful about telling you what he thinks:

--the car companies should be rescued to save workers and remedy the "white collar/blue collar divide,” fight against the rampant and systemic "anti-union activity," and attempt to address "income inequality in this country."

--we seem to be willing to spend "hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of billions for a war that we never should have been in [Iraq], but we don't save an important industry and protect workers from having gains that they fought hard for taken away."

--we live in "a wealthy country. If we spend things well, we can spend them."

With the fundamental problems with labor and health care costs, is any of this even spending on the Big Three likely to help?

--the x factor seems to be health care. "if they have to stay with health care the way it is now, yeah, that's bleak. But what I am hoping is that we will get a change in the health care system that will reduce the burden that we put not just on the American auto industry, where it's more expensive to build a car in America than in Canada because of health care."

The Frank Plan:

1. Save the UAW at taxpayer expense.

2. Ditch Iraq and spend the peace dividend on reducing inequities.

3. Universal healthcare.

The Okie Gardener asserted earlier today that Barney Frank presents a real obstacle to Barack Obama's success as president. Finding a way to keep Barney in his cage will be an ongoing problem for the new administration. I wish them well.

I agree with the Gardener, the way the Auto Bail Out shakes out will tell us a lot.

JUNE 2009 ADDENDUM: I no longer believe that this president actually has any substantive policy disagreements with Barney Frank; therefore, an Obama-Frank conflict does not actually present many problems for the administration.
Category: Farmer's Favorites
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
It is certainly no secret how much I admire David Petraeus. But I stumbled upon this post today from eighteen months ago. Read it and remember how bad things were when this fellow took command of Iraq.

January 6, 2007

For three years of war, the Bush administration deluded itself into thinking that they sat atop a generational political realignment. Karl Rove et al saw George Bush as a McKinley-like figure who had inaugurated a decades-long Republican dynasty.

What is wrong with dynasty? Dynasty lacks accountability.

No pressure in Iraq guys, we have a compliant Congress. Don't bother selling this to the American people, they understand GOP means patriotism, peace through strength, and a no-nonsense view of the world; we speak the same language; the electorate is in the bag.

Now George Bush is operating within a new model. The administration understands all too well today that the American people are fed up with where we are in Iraq, and we want to quit. This past election saw crushing defeats for the President and his policy, and the next election, if we are in the same position in Iraq, will be much worse.

An aside: At least one of two things is true: the President and his brain trust badly misjudged the obstacles in the Middle East, and/or the President failed miserably in articulating what was ahead of us and preparing us as a nation for the long siege against Islamism, history and fifty years of American foreign policy in the region that works against us.

What can Bush do? He can give up. He can pack up the troops and bring them home. He can say he made a huge mistake. He can ask forgiveness and reach across the aisle for help in shutting down military operations. He can say his heart was in the right place, but events overwhelmed him. We wish the people of Iraq the best, and we hope that the Middle East finds the right path on the long highway of life--but we are done.

Or he can say damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. I am certain that the President is going to give this project one more shot. The President must understand, finally, that he has used up all his “political capital.” For a very brief period, he can stand against an electoral mandate and a hostile Congress--but not for long. He must make decisive progress, and it must come quickly.

With the clock winding down, President Bush is putting the ball in the hands of Lt. Gen David H. Petraeus. Is victory still possible? Stranger things have happened. Generals Grant and Sherman turned the tide for President Lincoln during desperate times. Has President Bush found himself a fighting general? Perhaps more importantly, is George Bush ready to be a fighting president?

Here is a New York Post column from Ralph Peters, who argues that Petraeus is capable but possibly not belligerent enough.

A profile of Petraeus from the Washington Post here.
Category: Farmer's Favorites
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
This week marks forty years since an assassin's bullet took the life of Martin Luther King. The highly symbolic anniversary, as well as the unforgettable metaphor of King's last speech, has tempted many to wonder aloud how close we are as a people to reaching a racial promised land.

I wrote the following a few months ago (October 2007). In the short time since, much has transpired concerning race in America. In light of this moment of commemoration, and the renewed call for conversation concerning who we are and how we come together, one day achieving the ancient American dream of E Pluribus Unum, I resubmit this candid declaration of sentiments:

Herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here at the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.
W.E.B. DuBois, 1903

More than a century later, the problem of race in America continues to present the most daunting, toxic, and seemingly intractable cultural dilemma of our age. I am convinced that we cannot go on as we are.

We are irreversibly pointed toward a re-evaluation of racial politics in America. In the simplest terms, our current cultural standard rests on according preferences to descendants of victims of past racial discrimination and abominations at the expense of other Americans increasingly less different from the protected class and more and more unconnected to the sins of the fathers. Such a system cannot survive the coming reconciliation with basic principles of American justice and equality.

In brief, here is what I believe:

1. There is no place for discrimination based on race.

Quoting John Roberts: "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

I do favor, however, discrimination based on merit, experience, potential, personality, character, previous personal history, commitment, fortitude, integrity, and attitude.

Having said all that, we are all imperfect and saved solely by grace. We do well to view our own actions and motivations with deep skepticism.

2. No person should face disproportionate punishment within the justice system based on race. No person should escape justice in America because of race.

We should accept that some black people actually commit criminal acts. Moreover, not all white sheriffs, district attorneys, and judges are racists. However, we should also accept that some members of the white power elite are racist (some overtly and some subconsciously), which leads to race-tainted injustices. We must approach individual cases with fair and open minds and then carefully weigh the facts to discern the truth in each particular situation.

Blunt assumptions and rushes to judgment are not constructive on either side of the racial divide.

3. No person should face public or personal harassment because of race. But racial slander is never a just provocation for violent reprisal.

There is no place in our culture for racially charged symbols designed to intimidate and/or humiliate. However, we are better served when we deal with hateful speech in a proportionate and reasoned manner. An "eye for an eye" is inarguably the "less excellent way"--but an “eye” for a harsh word is completely unacceptable.

4. We should not pre-judge people whom we do not know based on race. Having said that, sensitivity based on our knowledge and experience is a valuable component of our social skills set.

We should apply the Golden Rule and Christian charity in all our interactions.

5. We should not accept racial lunacy from our peers, friends, relatives and/or community leaders. Certainly, we can disagree without being disagreeable, but we should not allow destructive, erroneous, broadly crafted, conspiratorial rhetoric to go unchecked. We have the duty to stand up for truth, justice, and the American way.

Last thought:

Go out with that faith today. Go back to your homes in the Southland to that faith, with that faith today. Go back to Philadelphia, to New York, to Detroit and Chicago with that faith today: that the universe is on our side in the struggle. Stand up for justice.

Sometimes it gets hard, but it is always difficult to get out of Egypt, for the Red Sea always stands before you with discouraging dimensions. And even after you've crossed the Red Sea, you have to move through a wilderness with prodigious hilltops of evil and gigantic mountains of opposition. But I say to you this afternoon: Keep moving. Let nothing slow you up. Move on with dignity and honor and respectability.
Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957

With apologies to those of you who have heard me on this before:

The 1986 film, Hoosiers, opens on a dark and lonely road on the verge of dawn. Off in the distance, two headlights drive toward us in the night. Black is giving way to gray and soon the sun rises over a two-lane highway. As rays of sunlight break through the clouds, we watch a series of shots from various angles tracking the mid-century American sedan cruising purposefully by cornfields, barns, silos, country stores, gas pumps and boys playing basketball.

Driving down country roads lined with crossed-top telephone poles and decorated with bright-colored fall leaves, the car stops at a crossroads with a church prominent in the background. After a momentary pause, the driver proceeds. Has he found the right path?


Norman Dale has driven through the night to get to the one-blinking-stop-light town of Hickory, Indiana, where he has anxiously agreed to coach a basketball team at a high school with an enrollment of 64 students. Standing in the tradition of a thousand small-town schools built all over the United States during the first half of the twentieth century, the campus fits perfectly within the period of the film; but to our modern eyes, the old school is an anachronism.

"You're not the new coach?" asks Myra Fleener. She is strikingly pretty in a mature teacherly way--but she is all business. "I was expecting someone younger." Her glance is all-knowing and unapproving.

Later, she observes accusingly: "A man your age comes to a place like this, either he's running away from something or he has nowhere else to go." She is spot-on.

She watches him warily as he moves on up the stairs to find his old friend, Cletus, the principal who has sent for him.

"Norman Dale? I hardly recognized you," Cletus says.

It's been a long time since their days at the teacher's college. "I appreciate the opportunity," Norman says. "You've got a clean slate here," Cletus assures him.

Early on, Norman Dale remains a mystery. Mostly, we know that he is here and eager for "one last chance." Eventually, we discover that Dale had led a college team to a national championship twelve years earlier before the NCAA barred him for life for misconduct.

His rival for the Hickory coaching job wonders: "I don't know why Cletus drug your tired old bones in here."

Why? This is a story about regeneration and forgiveness. The tag line for the film: They needed a second chance to finish first. Dale is merely the first in a series of characters who are in need of redemption.

Dale enlists the help of the town drunk, Wilbur "Shooter" Flatch, who lives in a cabin in the woods and is something of a basketball oracle. Shooter is also the father of one of Dale's players, who sees his dad as a hopeless embarrassment. "When is the last time someone gave him a chance?" Dale asks. Pushed to get clean and sober, Shooter mounts an unsteady journey back to respectability; like most of us in the real world, he remains a work in progress throughout the film.

Dale soon finds that the entire town (less Myra Fleener) believes that the key to the season will be enticing Jimmy Chitwood to play with the team. By most accounts, Chitwood is the best school-boy basketball player any of these rabid fans have ever seen. But in the aftermath of a series of personal tragedies, Jimmy has withdrawn from the community and has lost his love for game.

Dale does not push Jimmy, and he encourages the fans to be patient and appreciate the current team "for who they are--not who they are not."

But basketball is the civic religion in Hickory, and they are hungry to break out of their long history of mediocrity. Ironically, the community seems determined to resist any changes to its basketball orthodoxy. They are devout believers in the zone defense and shooting the basketball at every opportunity. They are skeptical and hostile to Dale, a peculiar and perplexing prophet of a new system.

Even his old friend Cletus has his doubts: "I'm trying hard to believe you know what you're doing."

After the rocky start on the court, and increasing consternation from the townspeople, the citizens call a town meeting to decide the fate of the embattled coach. The situation looks dire for Dale. Cletus has taken ill and can no longer offer him protection. Myra Fleener, now acting principal and starting to warm to Dale, calls for the crowd to give him another chance. But the throng clamors for his dismissal.

We are told that twelve legions of angels stood at the ready to rescue the Savior during his time of misery. In keeping with the divine plan, the suffering Christ never issued a call for celestial assistance. In the case of Norman Dale, Jimmy Chitwood intercedes of his own accord. Jimmy has had a change of heart. Dale has won him over with his style and sincerity. Jimmy will rejoin the team, if the town agrees to keep the coach; they are only too pleased to make Jimmy happy.

From there on, it is nothing but net. Success. Enthusiastic cheering crowds. Even the coach’s former tormentors come around.

Myra Fleener and Norman Dale, at a stage in life where they have reason to believe passion has passed them by, find one another and experience personal regeneration.

The team reaches its potential and makes a brilliant run into the playoffs, culminating with a come-from-behind win in the state championship game against a big-city powerhouse.

Most importantly, Coach Dale connects with his humanity, happily coming to understand that his love for his players is much greater than his prodigious desire to win.

More than anything else, Hoosiers is a story of hope and possibility. In the midst of our failure, there is hope for redemption, growth, love and meaning. No matter where we are in life, we are people with potential. We should take great comfort from the knowledge that we are people perpetually in the process of becoming.

Originally posted for Easter Sunday one year ago.
Category: Farmer's Favorites
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
I wrote this piece more than a year ago (New Year's Eve, 2006). Some of it I got right--some of it I missed. But I submit that the post is worth reconsidering on this near-anniversary of the surge, and in the midst of this hotly contested primary campaign, as the basic dynamic I describe below remains at work (at least partially) in 2008.

One other comment: Hillary did not make the choice for which I hoped--but, in retrospect, if she had, it is doubtful that she could have survived this long. I wildly underestimated how much her base wants George Bush and the United States to lose this war at any cost.

From December 31, 2006:

Clinton-44: Part III: Hillary's Choice

Hillary Clinton is still the most likely person to be elected the forty-fourth president of the United States in 2008 (see Part I). If she is elected, America will endure (see Part II); perhaps, we will even prosper.

Clinton-44: Part III. Why it might even be good:

1. We have reason to hope that Republicans will better inhabit the role of loyal opposition than the erstwhile players.

2. Most importantly, if Mrs. Clinton remains faithful to her record and rhetoric, her election will commit the Democratic Party en masse to the global war on terror. Just as Harry Truman and the Democrats owned the Cold War until Dwight Eisenhower came along and embraced the policy, the War on Terror at this moment is a unilateral Republican policy. It is vital for American survival that the Democrats have a partisan interest in our success in the larger war on terror.

A crucial time. Mrs. Clinton is at a crossroads right now. Does she stand pat on her Iraq position? Or should she hedge her bet? During the next few days, President Bush will reaffirm his commitment to winning in Iraq, and he will announce a "surge" in troops (very likely a number larger than many of us are prepared for). Will Mrs. Clinton support the President? Or will she join John Kerry and John Edwards, who have both repudiated their 2002 support and are vocally advocating for an expedited withdrawal? Hillary's choice will be the most important decision of her political career, and not merely vital for her personally; her determination goes a long way toward shaping our future as a nation.

Her political calculation: To win the general election, Mrs. Clinton must cast herself as a moderate Democrat, tough on terror, strong on defense, realistic on taxes and sane on the cultural issues. She has steadily constructed this political persona for almost a decade. For the most part, she has succeeded grandly. As a result, most of the other moderate Democrats are fleeing the field, leaving the canvass to Mrs. Clinton.

An aside: Most handicappers have this race down to Hillary and Barack Obama (the candidate who has burst onto the political scene from nowhere to become a viable choice with astonishing momentum). Not invested in the original decision to invade Iraq, Obama has made the safest bet: he opposes increased troop levels (his statement here ). This is clearly the best route for him, as it highlights his original opposition to what has become an incredibly unpopular military action. His compelling answer to the inevitable question of experience: "My opponent may have a few years on me, but I have enough common sense to avoid a debacle." Notwithstanding, there are weaknesses in this strategy (see below).

Back to Clinton: Although she wobbled a bit this week, significantly, Mrs. Clinton has not laid the predicate for supporting a precipitous exit from Iraq. Why has she remained firm thus far? She understands that success in Iraq is in her interest. Best case scenario for candidate Clinton in 2008? A passive Iraq quietly building strength below the media radar. In fairness to her, she also understands that wresting a stable Iraq from the current chaos is in America's vital national interests, comprehending the catastrophic consequences of a humiliating withdrawal.

The Politics: Mrs. Clinton is the frontrunner. She is a superstar; she sits atop the best organization in the contest; she has unlimited access to money, and she (in partnership with her husband) has spent a lifetime locking in endorsements, racking up favors, and collecting promises from all the key players in the upcoming primary battle. But she has a dilemma. If a volatile Iraq continues to deteriorate through January 2008, her opponents in the Democratic primary will inflict monumental damage depicting her as George Bush's enabler. Can she survive that? Impossible to say.

On the other hand, staying the course may be the wiser political move. She is not in a desperate position like John Edwards, who must publicly and repeatedly repent to resurrect his 2008 viability. She does not need to appeal to the most radical elements in her party, who detest the war. A degree of hawkishness and faith in American good intentions helps her in the heartland.

The McCain factor: More significantly, if she abandons ship, and the plan to increase troop levels succeeds, she is in real trouble in the general election. Surprisingly, John McCain seems now in position to secure the Republican nomination. Increased troop strength is John McCain's recipe for success. He has been sounding this call for three years. If this last gasp works, John McCain (with the willing aid of President Bush) takes full credit for the change in tactics. If Hillary deserts the cause at this late date, and the new plan works, she cedes the foreign policy high ground to her Republican opponent. On the other hand, if she stays true to her previous commitment, she fights McCain on even ground in November of 2008.

This is an extremely vexing political decision. But it is momentous. If she holds firm, the Democratic Senate leadership in the Senate will back her. With the support of Mrs. Clinton, Joe Biden, and Joe Lieberman, the United States gets one more chance to snatch victory from the awful struggle in Iraq.

Dick Morris wrote an insightful piece a few weeks ago (read it here courtesy of Jewish World Review).

He begs us not to elect Hillary Clinton and enumerates a long list of reasons why she would be a disaster. Undoubtedly, he has a lot of this right. I agree with much of his unflattering character profile. Morris is a canny operator and an insightful observer with expert knowledge of the Clintons. Having said that, Morris's analysis is always flavored by his hatred for them (especially intense for Hillary), which clouds his judgment.

Even so, Morris points out that Hillary, in contradistinction to Bill, is rigid and stubborn, inclined to make up her mind and "charge ahead and do what she thinks needs to be done, the torpedoes be damned." Morris sees this as a horrendous flaw, and I would agree with him in ordinary circumstances; however, in this case it may work to our national benefit. We need stubborn more than practical right now.
Category: Farmer's Favorites
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
This is actually the very first Bosque Boys post, which appeared on March 9, 2006; it also appeared in the Waco Tribune, March 3, 2006.

Benjamin Franklin purportedly cautioned: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Although the provenance of that statement is not without questions, the quote accurately reflected the spirit of the Imperial Crisis and the American Revolution. When Franklin and his compatriots finally “pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor” to a War for Independence, they perceived themselves fighting to maintain their rights against a renegade government illegitimately accumulating power and threatening liberty.

Once liberty was defended and independence won, however, Americans found governing more problematic than many of the revolutionary slogans had implied. Motivated by the conviction that “power was the enemy of liberty, but too much liberty was also the enemy of liberty,” the convention in Philadelphia in 1787 yielded the Constitution, which created a more centralized government and traded some liberty for stability.

The framers created a federal system in which the national government shared sovereignty with the states, at the same time asserting the supremacy of the new consolidated government. Although the Constitution backed away from the rhetoric of 1776, the framers showed respect for their revolutionary experience and bowed to their political reality. They placed limits on the new government, and they divided power into three branches, charging each component with oversight of the other two in order to provide “proper checks and balances.”

The framers would be struck by the current form of their handiwork as it has evolved over the course of two centuries. Notwithstanding, the problem that they identified as the central dilemma of Republican government, the tension between power and liberty, has remained constant in American history. And the antidote that they prescribed, competing sources of power, “counteracting ambition with ambition,” creating institutional interests and pitting them against rival interests, has served remarkably well to protect liberty from power over time.

The ancient problem and the eighteenth-century curative speak to an important current question: how much power shall we allow the President to exercise in exchange for security in a hostile world? How much power is too much? When does the power of the presidency pose an unacceptable threat to our liberty? These questions are not unprecedented. Much of our present dilemma is systemic and historical. There is no place on Mount Rushmore for presidents who remained satisfied with the scope of their power. Generally, presidents attempt to enlarge the power of the presidency; it is an institutional instinct.

Having said that, no practiced student of American history would trust ruling presidents to determine wisely the limits of their own power. That role falls to the other branches. In addition to those provided in the founding document, extraconstitutional interests have emerged in contemporary America as powerful players in the oversight of presidential authority. These agents include the opposition party in our two-party system, the free press and the giant federal bureaucracy, all of whom have contributed to the current examination of presidential power. As a result of this healthy debate, the legislative and judicial branches, which remain potent and jealous interests, ultimately and rightly, will determine the extent of presidential authority in this latest chapter concerning power and liberty.

Of course, all of these institutions serve merely as surrogates for the people. The power undergirding all these branches (constitutional and otherwise) is rooted in popular sovereignty. Benjamin Franklin, commenting at the close of the Constitutional Convention, optimistically predicted that a well-administered Republican government could last indefinitely. But the pragmatic Franklin also worried that self rule could easily “end in despotism…when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.” The gravest threat to liberty comes when the people abdicate their crucial role in the process. May an enlightened debate with regard to the balance between liberty and power continue to flourish.
I wrote the following in July--but little has changed since then:

If someone had come to me ten years ago and told me that there were some excess human embryos laying around in a freezer somewhere, the waste product of a completed in vitro fertilization procedure, and we could use those terminal embryos in an experiment that might lead to advances toward curing diseases, I am almost certain that I would have said (without hesitation): "Go for it!"

But it is not ten years ago. Unfortunately, I have listened long and hard to nearly a decade of debate, and now I am unflinchingly ambivalent.

I grew up believing that "life began in the womb." "Life begins in the Petri dish" takes some getting used to. After almost a decade, I still wonder: if the embryos are human life, why are we allowing so many to be created and then frozen and eventually destroyed? Isn't that a much bigger problem than experimentation?

But I also hear the voices who are troubled by the larger issues in this debate. I believe in the sanctity of human life. I agree that there are dangerous precedents in what we do here. And I wonder about the long-range implications of the genetic engineering aspect of this process.

In this debate, I have been most swayed by my negative reaction to what the proponents have said. Today on C-SPAN [July 18, 2006] Tom Harkin was trying to explain how "potential human life" was not as valuable as "real human life." Listen to a politician for a while, and you start to realize how fraught with future peril this process (how slippery this slope) really is.

On the other hand, Orrin Hatch and Gordon Smith (two GOP stalwarts of conservatism) are set to vote for the Harkin-Specter bill today.

A few things worth considering:

1. There is no "federal ban" on embryonic stem cell research. This is a debate about funding. Shall we as a community spend our common funds in this particular way?

2. There is too much hype and politicization. Our sick friends and relatives are not being held hostage by this policy decision. No one is going to "get up and walk" in the foreseeable future, if this bill passes and the President signs it into law.

3. Many researchers and entities are working on embryonic stem cells. Big states and other nations are coming up with big dollars to move this along. The federal money is mostly symbolic (and political).

4. It is true, according to reputable opinion polls, that a large majority of Americans favor federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. But that does not mean that a presidential veto circumvents the "political process." A presidential veto is the political process. All the people elect the president, and we expect him to execute the duties of his office to the best of his ability and, as Lincoln said, "with firmness in the right as God gives [him] to see the right."

5. There is precedent for localizing troubling national moral issues. The federal government has often punted on intractable moral questions (e.g., slavery, temperance, sex). A decision not to fund embryonic stem cell research with federal money because of the lack of moral clarity is a compromise not at odds with our history.

More on the politics of stem cell from last November (late October actually) here.
Category: Farmer's Favorites
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The blog is lazily celebrating its first full year of existence as a full-time political blog. Our official first post was on March 9, 2006. As a belated commemorative note, I am reissuing some of my favorites.

Something from last July:

"Cynicism About Democracy"

It strikes me that many of my recent comments in re "democracy" and American foreign policy carried a certain scornful dismissiveness. While I stand by my substantive analysis, I probably offered them in a misleading tone. Perhaps a few caveats and some nuance would be helpful.

What of democracy?

One problem: we are generally imprecise in our language. What we enjoy today in the United States (and often call "democracy") is a hybrid of republicanism (self determination through representative government) and democracy (popular sovereignty, rule by the people). In our system, power is invested in all the citizens--but generally exercised by a professional and learned political class. More importantly, for us, "democracy" has also become shorthand for a national culture of market-oriented economics, individual rights and equality of opportunity.

An aside: James Madison et al viewed raw democracy as "mob rule" and a recipe for disorder. While the framers of our constitution adamantly believed in government of the people and for the people, they were quite cautious concerning government by the people. The founders would not be surprised by the current tumult in the Middle East. They would have seen clearly the potential calamitous problem with democracy in that region: radical elements might use elections to take control of government and install themselves as dangerous but "legitimate" states.

For Americans, the Age of Jackson brought the beginning of a change in attitude, and within a generation, all elements of the American political system embraced the rhetoric of "democratic" government. Republican virtue, which idealized an elite class of statesman divested of their own self interest (disinterested), gave way to the "Democracy," which seized on an increasingly broadly distributed franchise and advocated, in the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, "self interest rightly understood."

In the decades that followed the War of 1812, the American democracy became inextricably coupled with the Market Revolution and forever linked with self improvement and free labor as a means of social mobility. In essence, the American Dream became not just political freedom, as defined in the Declaration of Independence or Bill or Rights, but economic opportunity as well.

Our calls for "democracy" in the Middle East are not necessarily demanding one-person-one-vote government. We are actually endorsing a broader, loosely defined idea of self-determination, which includes individual empowerment and a personal investment in stability among the people of the region. In our shorthand, democracy means a modern, educated, connected society in which the citizenry rightly understand their self interest--and act accordingly.

I have indicated that the subtext of this plan for "democracy" in the Middle East includes introducing Muslims to the pleasures of consumerism. Economic self interest, "rightly understood," is a key component within peaceful societies based on government by the people in the modern world.

This is not a new idea. In the midst of WWII, the Allies (USA, Great Britain & USSR) all agreed on "pastoralization" for post-war Germany. That is, the German nation was to be dismantled and de-industrialized and remade into an agrarian state, deprived of its status as a world power and forever defanged as a war-making threat.

But by the end of the war, the United States backed out of the gentleman's agreement. The United States opted for rebuilding and re-industrializing the defeated German nation in order to create a powerful democratic partner and strategic ally in a crucial part of the world. A few years later, after the "loss of China," the United States pursued the same policy in re Japan. As we know, these gambits paid handsome dividends.

Were these initiatives altruistic (giving the gift of freedom to our vanquished foes)? Or opportunistic (creating a lucrative economic partnership)? Or strategic? The answer is most likely "Yes." None of those explanations are mutually exclusive.

When we speak of "spreading democracy," generally, we are not cynically covering our ugly American imperial bent. Most of us genuinely believe in the superiority of our system of government and our way of life. We sincerely believe in the "greatness" of our system, and we want to share it with the "less fortunate." Would we like to make a buck and achieve our own security in the process? Absolutely.

Nevertheless, the initiative to remake the Middle East, however wrong-headed it may prove to be, is based on good intentions, national pride and a specific set of successes in our not-too-distant past.

For the record, I am not completely cynical about the power of democracy.
Category: Farmer's Favorites
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The blog is lazily celebrating its first full year of existence as a full-time political blog. Our official first post was on March 9, 2006. As a belated commemorative note, I am reissuing some of my favorites. By the way, my favorites are usually the ones in which I proved most prescient.

Something from last summer that still plays pretty well:

What Happens "When our Patience Wears Thin"?

Last Thursday (July 20, 2006), Real Clear Politics ran a Victor Davis Hanson essay entitled, "Patience is Wearing Thin," in which VDH argued that the West was running out of civilized choices in the Middle East and hinted that we might soon resort to massive retaliation against terrorists and their benefactors.

VDH reasons that despite the "conventional wisdom" against an additional American military mission aimed at Iran or Syria, the United States (and the West) may come to realize that "diplomacy, aid, support for democracy, multiculturalism, and [partial] withdrawal" does not satisfy the troublesome Islamists. At which point, once our patience is exhausted, we will "opt for hard and quick retaliation" and eschew our historic concerns for humanity, local sensibilities and world opinion.

I could not disagree more.

An aside: This VDH essay reflects the rapidly accumulating frustration and mounting dejection even among stout-hearted, intelligent, patriotic Americans.

The ugly truth: the conventional wisdom that our hands are tied, unfortunately, is absolutely right. If you are Iran (or North Korea), there is very little peril in disdaining the United States right now. Syria is a bit more vulnerable, because of internal uncertainty and weakness, but they might ask as well: what is the United States going to do?

There is no military option.

There is one insurmountable obstacle to another military expedition in the region: American public opinion.

Presently, the American people are in no mood to support any unprovoked aggressive military action anywhere in the world. Americans are no longer convinced that our invasion of Iraq was necessary. Much worse, they are thoroughly unimpressed with our government's administration of Iraq and increasingly pessimistic about our ability to remake the Middle East.

Because the President has lost the American people, he has lost the "loyal" opposition in Congress and is beginning to lose politicians on the periphery of his own party. In addition, the President's inner circle of advisors is in the midst of extended acrimonious hostilities with large parts of the executive bureaucracy. And the media and academia, also at odds with this President from the outset, now emboldened by his weakness, bombards him with derision and destabilizing accusations continuously. The President cannot go on the offensive in the Middle East because he cannot get off the defensive at home. This president does not have the time or the standing to prepare the nation for a greater war in the Middle East. We are stuck.

In the end, I agree with VDH's concluding statement, if not with his reasoning that undergirds the sentiment:

"So in the meantime, let us hope that democracy prevails in Iraq, that our massive aid is actually appreciated by the Middle East, that diplomacy ultimately works with Iran, that Syria quits supporting terrorists, and that Hamas and Hezbollah cease their rocket attacks against Israel -- more for all their sakes than ours."

What happens when our patience wears thin? We go home. We leave rather meekly (see Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia), and we are unlikely to blow up the place on the way out.