Towards A Good Samaritan World

Monday, February 27, 2006


This Fred Barnes piece is a reminder of why I still love Bush: the issues on which he defies the conservative base are so beautifully right. Allowing the ports deal to go through is a wonderful defiance of economic-protectionism-under-the-guise-of-national-security. Maybe it's even better than that: a signal that economic openness is valuable enough that it might even be worth sacrificing a bit of national security for its sake. Which is true, and it's a great signal to send. But then, it will be just as good if it sends the opposite signal: that by allowing a close Arab ally to invest and make money in the United States, we are improving national security by strengthening an important alliance. In short, economic openness is such a good thing that it would be worth pursuing even if it compromises national security a little bit, BUT it can also be an important tool of national foreign policy (and if we try to close our economy, national security will suffer, and we'll be unworthy to enjoy it). As policy, who knows whether it's a good idea to let Dubai run six US ports. But as symbolism, it is beautiful.

But immigration is much more important. It's great to have a Republican president saying things like this:

Bush invited members of Congress and his cabinet, plus leaders of Hispanic groups, to his speech at the White House in January 2004 calling for more immigration into the United States. "The citizenship line . . . is too long and our current limits on legal immigration are too low," he said. But he devoted most of his address to illegal immigrants.

"Out of common sense and fairness, our laws should allow willing workers to enter our country and fill jobs that Americans are not filling," he declared. "We must make our immigration laws more rational and more humane. And I believe we can do so without jeopardizing the livelihoods of American citizens." His plan would "offer legal status, as temporary workers, to the millions of undocumented men and women now employed in the United States and to those in foreign countries who seek to participate in the program and have been offered employment here."

Now, one rhetorical tactic that politicians like to use is to quote people from the other side who agree with you-- the "reluctant expert." If we ever again have a genuinely progressive Democratic party in this country, they'll be able to use quotes like this against future nativist Republicans. Look what even a Republican president said about immigration! they'll say. These immigration-bashers are just an extremist fringe-- to the right of George Bush!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

John Dickerson complains that:

Bush was harsher and more partisan than last year, when he was hoping to persuade some Democrats to support his signature proposal...

Tonight he framed the choices in more starkly political terms, as he did during his 2004 election year State of the Union speech: "We will choose to act confidently in pursuing the enemies of freedom—or retreat from our duties in the hope of an easier life. We will choose to build our prosperity by leading the world economy—or shut ourselves off from trade and opportunity. In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting—yet it ends in danger and decline."

In 2005, Bush cast himself as groping for solutions to national problems together with Democrats. Tonight, he depicted those who oppose him as lazy, retreating, and negative. "There is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure," he said later in the speech. "Hindsight alone is not wisdom. And second-guessing is not a strategy." He welcomes criticism in theory. But in practice, he sees it all as defeatism, second-guessing, and 20-20 hindsight.

If Bush became harsher and more partisan this year, there's a reason. The Democrats had a chance to cooperate, to tackle a major issue in a responsible way together with him. He was willing to make the overall tax-and-transfer system embodied in Social Security considerably more progressive. The Democrats refused to cooperate, choosing instead to keep in place a system that uses the proceeds of America's most regressive tax to pay benefits mostly to the middle class and the rich. Social Security is a deeply perverse program, undermining the national savings rate and thus the investment that will fuel future growth, impoverishing people in the years when they should be raising families, transferring massive amounts of money to people who didn't really earn it and who, in many cases, don't really need it... It's headed for insolvency, which is entirely demonstrable on the basis of reasonable economic objections.

Bush tried to say a bunch of nice things about the Democrats. He gave them some credit, for example, for the culture of "personal responsibility" that has been gaining strength. But the Democrats are just not a respectable political party anymore.

Come to think of it, I wish he had been more partisan.