Monday, February 16, 2004
...is Paul Johnson's survey of the Twentieth Century, Modern Times: The World From the Twenties to the Eighties. Although not as ambitious in scope as, say, William H. McNeill's 1961 masterwork, The Rise of the West, Modern Times remains one of the great critical studies of the most violent century in human history. When the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Empire collapsed, the Paul Johnson was compelled to revise his history in the wake of happy tidings. But not by much. As the Twenty-first Century unfolded, old Tory suspicions about the unchanging nature of man would be reinforced. Johnson's work was, in part, a view of the Age of Ideology and Science by a skeptical Tory.
Johnson's work was a product of its time. When it was first released in 1985, the world had passed through the collectivist nightmare that was the 1970's. Ever since the last American helicopter had lifted off from Saigon in 1975, the United States and the West had been in retreat before the advancing Soviet Empire. Prior to the ascent of Margaret Thatcher in late 1978, the West appeared to have turned in on itself in the wake of America's defeat in Indochina. As a culture, it appeared that we had forgotten Churchill's prescient words of warning in the wake of Neville Chamberlain's return from Munich in October of 1938:
"And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time."
Only rearmament and reassertion of Western (mainly British and American) power had halted the Soviet conquest, giving Johnson reason to title the last chapter of his book, "Palimpsets of Freedom". He had been witness to the will of two free peoples, the Britons and the Americans, to defend their lands and liberties against the ambitions of Soviet Power. It was tempting to conclude that history had ended and the Whig Theory of History had been reaffirmed.
The morning of September 11th, 2001, brought a ferocious assertion that history as we knew it was still with us, and so it seemed, always would be.
It is with this introduction that I commend the reader to Paul Johnson's latest observations of the American political season that is upon us. Writing in Forbes Magazine's online edition, Johnson begins with a conclusion about George W. Bush that is not widely shared by the chattering classes: that Bush is an uncommonly gifted leader who deserves to be ranked with Reagan, Eisenhower, and DeGaulle. Johnson's thesis is that Bush's greatness is guaranteed by Bush's own habit of focus on a few, great ideas: unrelenting offensive war on Islamic fascism abroad and tax relief at home. This is an appreciation of Bush's leadership qualities that I had figured out for myself in the wake of Bush's 2001 tax-relief triumph. In a further display of focused war-leadership, Bush relentlessly applied American military force to the dislocation of the Taliban regime, the pursuit of Al Qaeda, and the destruction of the Middle East's prime example of bloody-minded Stalinism, the Hussein Regime in Baghdad.
Johnson's piece has given me a personal insight into the present goings-on in the early stages of the campaign. Challengers always look like worldbeaters because they are the "something new" on the block. The probable Democratic nominee, Senator John Forbes Kerry (D-MA), has dominated the news ever since his come-from-behind victory in the Iowa Caucuses in January. Kerry has drawn even in electoral popularity with Bush, and has drawn ahead in some polls. Bush's people anticipated this
as early as November of last year. Matthew Dowd, one of the Bush campaign's staff officers, had sent an email out to all the Team Leaders across the country warning of a Kerry lead in the polls and a huge push from a friendly media. Dowd was correct on both counts. This did nothing to stem the panic of some Republican leaders in the wake of the bogus AWOL story that by this writing had been roundly discounted by numerous sources and a White House document dump.
Yet to me, these past weeks have shown me Bush at his best. The President has remained focused on the twin issues of war and economy, betting that solid strategy will pay off at the polls in November. Notice that Bush emphasizes either tax relief, a growing economy, or the War on Terror, while Kerry is trying to get his positions together as a coherent whole for the fall campaign.
Bush has a few Big Ideas. Kerry has a lot of Little Ideas. Therein lies the difference. Take a look at a snippet from Kerry's webpage:
"We will put jobs back at the top of the national agenda, and return prosperity to America. I will fight for manufacturing jobs by giving real incentives to keep jobs in the United States, making sure manufacturers can compete by making health care more affordable and assuring that these companies can compete on a level playing field."
Aside from the campaign boilerplate at the beginning of the paragraph, just how the hell is Senator Kerry supposed to:
1. give manufacturers more incentives to stay onshore?
2. make health care more affordable?
3. assure that American manufacturers?
Well, just to prove that there is a chicken in every pot, the good Senator gives us the meat of his proposal after jumping ugly on GW:
ÂWhen I am president, we will put jobs back on the top of the national agenda, and return prosperity to America.Â I will start by repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and instead invest in education and affordable healthcare for all.Â I will fight for manufacturing jobs by giving real incentives to keep jobs in the United States, making sure manufacturers can compete by making health care more affordable and assuring that these companies can compete on a level playing field. Unlike the Bush Administration, I want to repeal every tax break and loophole that rewards any Benedict Arnold CEO or corporation for shipping American jobs overseas.Â
This from a guy who never turned down a contribution from a CEO in his life, Benedict Arnold or no Benedict Arnold.
Notice the two bolded sections? Whenever a liberal promises to increase taxes only on the "wealthiest" Americans, I can guarandamteeya that taxes will increase across the board. Bill Clinton promised a middle class tax cut in 1992. Instead, there was a tax increase in 1993. And there was no reduction in taxes for the Middle Class. However, that is somewhat beside the point. Notice the paragraph seems to hit a lot of buttons at once:
-tax increases for the wealthy
-tax incentives for businesses
-health care affordability (this comes out of left field, but they throw it in the stump speech, anyway)
-unfair competition from zillions of little Chinese Mens.
Now this is one paragraph from a speech given in Wisconsin on Monday. There's a lot in that speech, a lot in that paragraph, as if Kerry believes he has to hit all the interest groups at once. Two weeks from now, the speech will probably be significantly different, depending on which interest groups appear to be weakening for Kerry in the polls.
George W. Bush doesn't do this thing. Bush hits on a few themes in each speech, over and over again. Which brings me back to the title of Johnson's piece in Forbes online, Strong, Silent Men make Good Presidents. Bush is a few Big Ideas, relentlessly applied and relentlessly repeated. He doesn't panic, he doesn't waver; he makes a decision and sticks with it come hell or high water. That is his strength, and I suspect that as a result of Bush's personality, this will be another Fox and Hedgehog election.
The Fox knows many things and runs very fast. While he knows many things and tries many different things at once, he doesn't always finish what he sets out to do. The Hedgehog knows very few things, but the few things he does know, he knows better than anyone else, especially the Fox. He does those things that he knows how to do over and over again. He always finishes what he starts.
Bet on the Hedgehog.