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You must read this letter.  It is the resignation letter of Jake DeSantis, courtesy of the New York Times Op-ed page today.  Mr. DeSantis is an executive vice president of AIG’s financial products unit.  It is powerful.  It shows the dangers of mob rule.

And mob rule was what happened last week in Washington.  The masses went wild and the politicians reacted, as did, apparently AIG’s chief executive officer.  As I’ve expressed before on this blog, while I understand the public’s anger over the AIG bonuses, I expect politicians to react more intelligently and in more measured fashion than the public.  I would also expect AIG’s CEO to have acted with some backbone.  Backbone is hard to come by these days, and while the politicians are stepping back a bit from their self righteous anger, much damage has been done and may yet be done.  We will have accomplished nothing positive and potentially a lot negative.

This is but another manifestation of our broken political system.  Our system as it has evolved makes it harder to elect statesmen–wise men–to public office.  They’ve been replaced in large measure by cowardly followers, not leaders.  And, with the election of so many cowardly followers, we should expect half-baked outcomes such as the one described in the above letter.  We are getting no more than we deserve.  

There was a great piece on Russia by Anne Applebaum in yesterday morning’s Washington Post.  She explains that the issues with Russia are far more complex than can be solved by the U.S. and Russia “pressing the reset button.”   Unless Russia climbs down off of its high horse (my words here, not hers), no amount of resetting the tone is going to change the Russian government’s fundamental arrogance and desire to play bully on the world stage.  The danger here is that the Obama adminstration play too nice with the bully.  Her conclusion is that the administration’s first Russia move has been a bad one and that it’s time to live in the real world, not a virtual one.  The piece is entitled For Russia, More Than A ‘Reset’.   Apologies for not getting this posted yesterday as promised.     

This is yet another post that takes President Obama to task, constructively, I hope, for trying to do too much, too fast, too soon.  It is a relevant because the fallout from “too much, too fast, too soon” is of consequence, both substantively and procedurally.  At the more benign end of the realm of possibilities, this approach to governing will but limit the potential of the Obama presidency to do good and significant things.  At the other end, this approach could destroy it.    

Over the past few days I’ve cited a number of columnists who believe that Obama isn’t taking the economic crisis seriously enough, with a subtext that he’s taking on too much additional.  Yesterday’s posting provides links to the relevant columns.  Today, Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post comes to the President’s defense (Multi-Front Mandate: Why Obama is Right to Pile His Plate High).  While I disagree with Mr. Robinson and think he’s both missing the point and burning straw men, I am including his alternate view to make clear that my sentiment and those of the columnists previously cited, is clearly not universal.  Robinson’s viewpoint also adds perspective. 

There are also two other columns of note in today’s Post that are relevant.  The first is Michael Gerson’s Party-Line President: A Post-Partisan Dawn Quickly Turns False and the second, Charles Krauthammer’s Obama’s Science Fiction

Let me start with the Gerson piece.  While I generally agree with the gist of what Mr. Gerson is saying today, I am not quite where he is yet, although I could get there.  I am still willing to cut the president some slack; it is after all quite a difficult challenge to do everything perfectly when you’re doing so much at one and the same time.  President Obama’s position on stem cells, noted in the Gerson piece, might be a case in point.  While the Bush policy needed to be changed, the decision Obama made could have been better.  An opportunity was missed.  It is on this point that I think the Charles Krauthammer piece is of merit.  Mr. Krauthammer is one who believed that the Bush policy on stem cells was overly restrictive.  Yet, he has grave misgivings about the policy announced by President Obama yesterday.  In my relatively uninformed opinion on this, it is clear that this a very complex issue that will demand a solution that is also very thoughtful and complex.  It would appear that Obama’s decision yesterday was far too simple.  It could have been much better.   

Let me not return to my central thesis today that President Obama is taking on too much, too fast, too soon.  As I see it quantity and speed have appeared to have been more important to the administration than quality, with fallout that is both substantive and procedural.  The less-than-perfect stem cell policy is an example of substantive fallout.  Procedurally, what’s been sacrificed is “post-partisanship”, which the country so desperately needs.  The system is badly broken and the public has lost faith in it–and rightfully so.  It is important and it’s getting lost.  It is here that I think Michael Gerson in his column makes his best points today.  Having sat in President Bush’s White House, Gerson knows the challenges that face an administration, yet in Barack Obama he expected more, as did so many of us.  This is because Obama so insightfully and eloquently articulated on the campaign trail that something was amiss, that something needed to change.  Yet, we aren’t seeing that change, either substantively or procedurally.  It is, regretfully, business as usual or, as Gerson puts it,  “exactly the way things have always been done.”  

In the closing sentence of his column, Gerson seems to conclude that all hope of a post-partisan presidency has already been lost.  It is here that I disagree.  It is never too late.   

There’s little question in my mind that American agricultural policy is a mess.  It has run amok and needs radical alteration.  It is essential that we abandon many of the practices, such as the routine use of antibiotics in animal feed, immediately.  This will require a different method of farming that will undoubtedly result in higher food costs.   Count me in as believing that a safer and healthier food supply will be well worth the extra money.

What’s raised my ire today is Nicholas D. Kristof’s column in today’s New York Times.  It’s entitled Our Pigs, Our Food, Our Health.  Let the alarm he sounds today ring loudly.  This is information we need to know and act upon.  It’s yet another reason to support sustainable agriculture and the local food movement.

There is a theme developing among Op-ed writers this week.  It is that Washington, led by our President, is not taking our economic crisis seriously enough.  I alluded to it in a posting yesterday in which I cited and quoted from a David Brook’s column entitled Taking A Depression Seriously.  Today appear three more columns devoted to the subject.  There is Thomas L. Friedman’s This Is Not A Test.  This Is Not A Test in the New York Times.  It is joined by Andrew S. Grove’s Mr. President, Time to Rein In The Chaos and Steven Pearlstein’s It’ll Take More Than Money to Fix This Crisis, both in the Washington Post.

All three of the pieces today are well worth reading.  The Friedman piece takes the administration to task for failing to act as if this is the crisis it is.  In particular he notes the administration’s failure to fill appointments faster and to tackle some difficult political issues.  Republicans aren’t left out of his criticism, and rightfully not. 

The Pearlstein piece argues that “[t]here is still way too much business as usual going on in Washington, on Wall Street and in the media.”  He is especially critical of Congress for its three-day workweeks and earmark-filled spending bills.  Republicans, with “their stubborn opposition to any increase in government spending in the face of a severe downturn”, are not spared.  He calls the irresponsible Republican stance “the economic equivalent of bloodletting”.

The final piece, however, is the most interesting of all.  The author, Andrew S. Grove, is the former chief executive of Intel Corporation and currently both continues to advise the corporation and teach strategy at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.  He confesses to having found himself “wringing my hands, not over the goals President Obama has set but over the ineffectual ways the administration has pursued them.”  Here’s an excerpt wherein he explains a lesson he’s learned from the business world:

I have found that to succeed, an organization must travel through two phases: first, a period of chaotic experimentation in which intense discussion is allowed, even encouraged, by those in charge. In time, when the chaos becomes unbearable, the leadership reins in chaos with a firm hand. The first phase serves to expose the needs and options, the potential and pitfalls. The organization and its leaders learn a lot going through this phase. But frustration also builds, and eventually the cry is heard: Make a decision — any decision — but make it now. The time comes for the leadership to end the chaos and commit to a path.    

Grove goes on to argue that this time has come for the administration in dealing with the economy.  “Until the administration does this, we should not embark on attempting to fix another major part of the economy.”  I could not agree more.  I’ve been arguing for weeks that President Obama is doing too much, too soon, too fast.  There is no issue facing the country more serious than the present economic crisis.  It must be solved.  Nothing matters more.  Yet we are launching into a set of initiatives on almost everything.  I am in agreement with Mr. Grove and the other commentators: fix the economy and then move on to other things.

There’s another great piece by David Brooks in the New York Times today.  It’s entitled Taking a Depression Seriously.  He makes a number of dynamite points.  I will note two.  The first is that the Republican approach to the economy has been completely wrong and as a result has amounted to a mere “no” when so much more is needed.  The other is that Democrats, facing the biggest economic crisis in decades, appear to be doing too much else.  Here’s how Brooks puts this latter point:

Democrats apparently think that dealing with the crisis is a part-time job, which leaves the afternoons free to work on long-range plans to reform education, health care, energy and a dozen smaller things.

I agree as I most often do with Brooks.  It is further evidence to me of a broken political system.  On one hand we have Republicans that are so tied into an ideology where’s there is but one solution to everything economic–lowering taxes–that they can’t mount an effective and rational opposition to the Democratic plan.  On the other hand, we have a Democratic Party that has bungled the stimulus by reducing its effectiveness with an liberal Democratic wish list and doesn’t seem to understand that our country has one very major problem–the economy–that needs solving before anything else is tackled.   

We need something in this country to move us off of our present deadlocked course.  I believe what we need is a viable third party or at least a third force, of independents, who could advocate for the rational without concern for party identification or special interests.  I have concluded that it’s the only path forward.  For now, we will muddle along.  Muddling along, however, might just fail us this time.

There are two opinion columns that I put in the must-read category today.  One is Eugene Robinson’s Bending the Trajectory Left in the Washington Post.  The other is David Brooks’ A Moderate Manifesto in the New York Times. 

I am recommending the Eugene Robinson piece as evidence that Barack Obama is not a centrist but a true liberal.  I don’t agree with Mr. Robinson on much of what he says and I certainly don’t share in his all-too-apparent joy in Obama’s liberal trajectory, but I find it a useful articulation of the left of center path this president has chosen to follow.  In light of my previous posting today, which I began before I read either the Robinson or Brooks pieces, it is interesting to read of Obama’s comparison of himself to Ronald Reagan.

I am recommending the Brooks piece because, how do I put this …. because Brooks is absolutely, completely and totally correct.  We do indeed need moderates to step into this fray.  It is moderates that can “tamp down” the extremism that could make Obama’s presidency fail.  And, it could be moderates, if they’re successful, that ultimately make Obama, ala Ronald Reagan, wildly successful.  Moderates, we have reason for being after all.  We can help save Barack Obama from himself.  More importantly, we can help save the country.     

David S. Broder’s column in today’s Washington Post adds an adjective to the ones I’ve seen most often attached to President Obama’s speech on Tuesday night.  In addition to ambitious and audacious Mr. Broder would have us add “risky”.  I’d go one step further and say “dangerous” as well.  Here’s an excerpt from the column entitled Obama Rolls the Dice:

The size of the gambles that President Obama is taking every day is simply staggering. What came through in his speech to a joint session of Congress and a national television audience Tuesday night was a dramatic reminder of the unbelievable stakes he has placed on the table in his first month in office, putting at risk the future well-being of the country and the Democratic Party’s control of Washington.

The country has come out of a rough 8 years of a presidency that did little of merit other than “keep us safe”.  I would add that I’m not even certain of the “keep of safe” yet.  It remains to be seen if seeds sown by the methods and tactics employed to keep us safe sprout and grow into even greater threats and dangers to the nation.  The point is that Bush left the country a much weaker one than the one he inherited.  It is into this scene that Barack Obama steps onto the national stage with a clear mandate to change direction – to address our ills and get us back on our feet.  And this he is telling us he intends to do, but much more as well.

It is the “much more” that’s concerning people.  Wouldn’t it be enough to simply right our economic boat?  Wouldn’t he be a great President if he just accomplished that well while he begins to lay the foundation for most of the “other” in a second term?    

I am concerned that the agenda is so expansive that it and therefore the President can’t help but fail.  The first and most likely failure is political.  Too ambitious and bold and Obama risks not getting the critical 2-3 Republican votes he needs in the Senate, let alone carrying all Democrats.  Political failure is dangerous.  It has the potential to weaken our government and diminish our standing in the world.  I am also concerned that with so much on the table that deliberation will be rushed.  We will not be able to address issues as carefully and as rationally as they need to be addressed.  They will be imperfect, if not deeply flawed, just as the stimulus was rushed and deeply flawed.  That risks another failure–failure of the policy to accomplish its desired objectives.  The verdict will be out for a while on whether the stimulus bill is going to work.  Are we ready to rush into so much else as well.

I conflicted in the sense that I agree there is much that needs to be addressed.  It is just that I’m uncomfortable in moving so fast.  I’m also uncomfortable with the Democratic Party having sole control of this process.  I’ll be frank in admitting that I do not see the liberal experiments of the New Deal or Great Society as being resounding successes.  Yet this is that and more.  Yes, we need to address a host of issues but we need to take great care before we create new government programs to address them.  We can’t afford new entitlements when the ones we have are out of control. 

Read the David Broder column in its entirety.  He ends by noting the dangers of the world in which we live.  Taking risks at home may leave us less able to address those risks in the world at large.  There is indeed danger in the President’s expansive call to action. 

Another useful perspective on this is offered today by William Kristol, now of the Washington Post.  His piece is entitled Republican’s Day of Reckoning.  I agree with him that what Republicans need to do is “[s]low down the policy train.  Insist on a real and lengthy debate.”  For me this is important, not to increase the Republicans’ political standing or the party’s chances of winning the next election, but to save the country from foolish, dangerous and ill-conceived public policy.  I don’t care if Republicans ever win the presidency or control of Congress again, so long as their opposition is able to accomplish two things:  First, check the excesses of the Democratic party and its liberal ideologues.  Second, slow down the process and allow a rational debate that increases the chances of solutions that can work.  That’s a tall order, I know, especially as both parties are most often less interested in solutions that work than in winning the next election.  

Coming to the defense of bipartisanship in his column in the Washington Post this morning is David S. Broder in a piece entitled Betting on Bipartisanship.  It is well worth reading.  I agree with Mr. Broder. 

Clearly bipartisanship is no panacea–it will rarely lead us to the best public policy option, which is probably rarely attainable anyway given the system these days.  It is, however, important and necessary.  One must also acknowledge that there’s a lot working against it, chiefly our two-party system that puts both parties in constant competition to win the next election.  But without it, we have one-party rule which will also rarely result in the best thing being done and will often result in the public doing a 180 degree turn in the next election; the swinging pendulum isn’t good either.  Better steady and even, which is a more likely result with bipartisan majorities passing legislation. 

Give the piece a read.  It provides an excellent follow-on to my posting entitled Bipartisanship–Is it Possible?  and the Op-eds referenced therein.  Broder in particular refutes some of the assertions of James Morone, which I cited in my posting.  

There’s a great column by Thomas L. Friedman in the New York Times today.  It’s topic is leadership in the Muslim community and the worldwide community’s apparent toleration of terrorism by “martyrs”.  He applauds one community’s leadership, the Indian community, for its refusal to allow “murderers” to be buried in the Muslim cemetery in Mumbai.  The Indian Muslim community refuses to consider the Pakistani Muslim terrorists killed during their rampage in Mumbai last November to be Muslim let alone martyrs.  Friedman calls upon the world Muslim community to come together to put an end to the suicide-martyr/murderer.  As Friedman puts it, “The only effective way to stop this trend is for ‘the village’–the Muslim community itself–to say ‘no more.'”  Yes. 

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