Tag Archives: Bill Clinton

Obama’s not-so-secret weapon

Bill Clinton is fully in his element as the star of the show:

If there has been one enduring lesson from his career, it is that the Big Dog is resilient. He can be disgraced, impeached, defeated — but he comes back. The full spectacle of this has been on riveting, if raspy, display in the closing days of the presidential campaign.

Mr. Clinton, 66, has jumped into a hopscotch of battleground states in what — depending on his wife’s future plans — may or may not be his last campaign tour as a Super Surrogate. He is scheduled to appear, if not be heard, at four stops across Pennsylvania on Monday.

He also includes a fair amount in his speeches about Bill Clinton: his enthusiasm (higher than four years ago), his legacy (“I am the only living former president that ever gave you a budget surplus”) and, yes, his wife, the mention of whom brings big applause and the occasional “We love you, Hillary!” cry from the crowd.

Whoever wins Tuesday, the 2012 campaign has solidified (or restored) Mr. Clinton’s status as the hardest-working man in a game he loves and plays like no one else. “The master, Bill Clinton,” Mr. Obama called him on Saturday, hailing his predecessor as “a great president and a great friend.”

Unsaid, at least here, is that Mr. Clinton has also been a salvation to Mr. Obama. He gave what was widely considered the best speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., rocking a strong endorsement of the president while arguably conveying the re-election rationale better than Mr. Obama or his campaign has.

And the debate post-mortem continues

The New Yorker‘s excellent editor, David Remnick, interviewed Obama’s old friends and mentors about his debate performance:

“The reason I hate campaigns,” Edley continued, “is that being right on the substance isn’t good enough. That’s why I’m an academic. Of course, Obama knows that, but it’s also a question of what he cares about. I admire him for caring more about the substance than the tactics even if it makes me grimace when I watch him. Why does he do it? Look, we all do things in the short term that are not consistent with a long-term goal, whether it’s failing to save for retirement or watching TV instead of doing your homework. It’s called being human rather than being the ideal client of your handlers. It makes it harder to achieve his goal, which is to get reëlected. But if you wanted authenticity you got it [on Wednesday] night. And, really, you got it in an unsurprising way. We know that Obama skews cerebral and that he has never liked debates as a way to engage issues. He has said that many times.”

I’m partially uncomfortable with this reading of the first presidential debate. Yes, Obama “skews cerebral” (whatever that means). And yes, it may be true that he dislikes debates. But part of the job of being President, or at least of running for reelection, is to confidently, assertively, and (if need be) aggressively point out the blatant lies and deceptions of your opponent — especially if that opponent swerved to the center just in time for the first debate after spending a year and a half saying something completely different.

Obama’s lack of the fighter instinct is worrying, and the implications extend beyond these presidential debates. We saw it in the healthcare fight in 2010, when he allowed Republicans to manhandle him and destroy his message because he simply didn’t have the will or the desire to hit back. We glimpsed it as well at the Democratic National Convention this year, when Bill Clinton provided an abler defense of the Obama administration than the president himself ever has. And we saw it in last Wednesday’s inaugural debate, when Mitt Romney lied and deceived his way to a startling victory — one free of facts and consistency, to be sure, but no less convincing as a piece of political theater. If Obama really intends to spend another four years in the White House, he may want to start by making sure he doesn’t let Romney run all over him with falsities and grand — but vague and mathematically impossible — budget plans.

Some people never change

Bill Clinton’s still in the hunt:

They — there are only two countries I’m eligible to run for the leadership position is if I move to Ireland and buy a house, I can — I can run for president of Ireland, because of my Irish heritage.

And because I was born in Arkansas, which is part of the Louisiana Purchase, any person anywhere in the world that was born in a place that ever was part of the French empire, if you move to — if you live in France for six months and speak French, you can run for president…

However, I once polled very well in a French presidential race. And I said, you know, this is great, but that’s the best I’d ever do because once they heard my broken French with a Southern accent, I would drop into single digits within a week and I’d be toast. I just don’t think — that’s what I think. I think the system we have may have some opportunity costs.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSKfOH7GOKY]

Bill Clinton’s worrisome economics

Note from Jay Pinho: Below is the second guest post (as well as the second guest contributor) on The First Casualty.

Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention nearly three weeks ago was hailed as one of the great speeches of our time. Chris Matthews was in rare form describing Mr Clinton’s speech as “one of the greatest in convention history.” Indeed, Mr. Matthews was so impressed by the former President’s rhetoric that he not only felt confident asserting 42’s ability to reproduce on Mars, but reproducing with actual Martians. (Unfortunately, it is not yet clear whether a speech evoking the possibility of Clintonian-Martian reproduction tops a speech resulting in thrills up one’s leg.)

Jon Stewart, arguably the most powerful man in American news, lauded the President for his “amazing display of actually saying stuff.”

And it was to Stewart’s Daily Show that Mr. Clinton–a frequent guest–returned on Thursday night, doubling down on the economic principles he had espoused in Charlotte. Paramount among his economic principles is the belief that government and business should partner and work together in determining economic policy.

Mr. Clinton’s argument, of course, is nothing new. In fact, it was on the same show just last year that he provided a concrete example of a good partnership between government and business, namely Germany’s government support for the solar energy industry. Mr. Clinton proudly asserted that a country where the sun hardly ever shines–on that he’s right!–was a global leader in the production of solar energy.

Yet it should come as no surprise that Mr. Clinton no longer uses that example when advocating for partnerships between the public and private sectors. Why? Since Mr. Clinton was on the Daily Show in November 2011, four German solar companies have filed for bankruptcy–in spite of government subsidies in the industry in excess of €100 billion.

In pursuing industrial policy, governments support particular goals they deem worthwhile. But therein lies the problem. For when domestic producers cannot compete with foreign competition–as is the case with Germany’s solar industry–or when there is too little demand for products from subsidized industries, the socialization of monetary losses is finalized.

Even when support for particular industries does not fail in the ordinary sense, however, government support for particular industries distorts the market. (The nature of the market, unfortunately, is too often poorly understood, as evidenced by Mr. Stewart’s mocking of the non-existent “market fairy.” The market does not have an independent mind or will in the way a fairy might; rather, the market is merely an aggregation of individuals’ valuations about goods in society. To attack the market is to attack individuals’ valuations.)

Following, government subsidies are meant to change consumer behavior by pretending to lower the cost of goods which are not valued highly enough by individuals to be self-sustaining. (They do not lower actual costs, however, as subsidies must be paid for through tax revenues.) Or subsidies are put in place to protect national industry from competition from abroad. It goes without saying that this alleged protection also “protects” consumers from cheaper imports.

Now, steadfast opposition to market interventions–i.e. to influencing prices–does not imply that government does not have a role in creating the market framework. In fact, a capitalist economy can only function with a proper economic constitution. On the one hand, this may imply government provision of public goods, i.e. goods wherein one’s consumption neither reduces another’s consumption, nor where it is possible to exclude individuals from consuming goods. On the other hand, this also includes a functioning legal system, antitrust laws, and even state regulation. As ordoliberals like to point out: government should set up the rules for the game, it should not actively play the game.

If this were what Mr. Clinton was talking about when he advocated on behalf of a partnership between the public and private sectors, all would be well. Unfortunately, his view of public-private partnership implies government actively playing the game of the market. Indeed, America would do well to reject 42’s economic philosophy.

Mark McAdam is a football guru. When he’s not writing about the Bundesliga, he advocates on behalf of free societies. He has a Master’s degree in “Politics, Economics & Philosophy” and studied at the University of Hamburg’s Institute for Economic Systems, the History of Economic Thought and the History of Ideas.

#8: Freefall

“As the United States entered the first Gulf War in 1990, General Colin Powell articulated what came to be called the Powell Doctrine, one element of which included attacking with decisive force. There should be something analogous in economics, perhaps the Krugman-Stiglitz doctrine.”

Yes, Joseph Stiglitz, the author of Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy, has a fan. This ardent devotee is not, as one might suspect, a fellow academic scrawling her mark of approval onto the book’s cover, nor a book reviewer writing for a newspaper or magazine. It’s not even Paul Krugman, although presumably he too has fallen victim to the spell of his fellow Nobel laureate.

No, the fan is Joseph Stiglitz himself, the author of both the book Freefall and the above quote, found in its second chapter. And as self-aggrandizing as he can tend to be — he joins the litany of economists, politicians, and pundits who vociferously trumpet their early predictions of the current financial crisis — his words are bolstered by an undeniably credible resumé. As the former chairman of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, the senior vice president and chief economist at the World Bank, and the 2001 Nobel Prize winner in economics, Stiglitz has combined his enviable pedigree as a top-notch economist with the political savvy gained through spending many years in the halls of power.

In the course of reading Freefall, it soon becomes abundantly clear that Stiglitz is not especially fond of deregulation. However, in a departure from the current American zeitgeist, he does not embrace populist rhetoric or condemn bankers unduly for their greed. (In writing this last sentence, I vacillated between enclosing greed in quotes or not; either choice seems equally prejudiced, so I arbitrarily chose not to.) “Bankers acted greedily because they had incentives and opportunities to do so, and that is what has to be changed,” Stiglitz writes. “Besides, the basis of capitalism is the pursuit of profit: should we blame the bankers for doing (perhaps a little better) what everyone in the market economy is supposed to be doing?”

This is an interesting question, and one that is not normally asked in today’s politically charged environment. And yet Stiglitz is just about the furthest thing from an apologist for the banking industry. Responding to central bankers’ claims that allowing inflation hurts those with low incomes, Stiglitz deadpans, “One should be suspicious when one hears bankers take up the cause of the poor.” Elsewhere, he states that “there is an obvious solution to the too-big-to-fail banks: break them up. If they are too big to fail, they are too big to exist.”

Obviously, large-scale problems in the financial sector led to the collapse of the markets and the economy at large, but Freefall is not content to stop at causes. The responses by both the Bush and Obama administrations come under heavy fire too: the former for not recognizing the severity of the crisis or forming a coherent rescue, and the latter for choosing the politically safest responses (tellingly, the author dubs this the “muddling through” approach). A key problem, if Stiglitz is to be believed, is the misalignment of private and social benefits. When banking executives’ compensation is based upon short-term stock price gains instead of long-term profitability, when regulators and top government officials at the Federal Reserve and the Treasury turn a blind eye to the mounting risks in the housing bubble to avoid slowing perceived economic growth, when financial innovations that produce high fees and low efficiency are encouraged instead of fined or prohibited, eventually there will be hell to pay, and we as taxpayers will be the ones paying it.

Indeed, this is exactly what we’re doing right now. Regardless of one’s feelings on Stiglitz’s policy prescriptions — some of which, not unlike those of his earlier book, Making Globalization Work, appear more grounded in political idealism than in reality — the fact remains that it has fallen to the taxpaying public to bear the risk created by the masterminds of Big Finance’s increasingly complex securities and other derivatives. To Stiglitz, this is ample reason to hit the reset button on the American financial industry — or perhaps more accurately, the reformat button. His vision is of a world of free markets, yes, but not completely unfettered and left to their own whimsies.

Instead, President Stiglitz would beef up the regulatory framework: ensuring that banks’ leverage ratios do not stray too high, that conflicts of interest (such as banks running their own real estate appraisal subdivisions) cannot occur, that predatory lending is prohibited (or at least heavily restricted), etc. Furthermore, Keynesian economics would experience a renaissance. (Stiglitz has little patience with the Chicago school, which he finds too theoretical and based on fallacious assumptions anyway. In one of the author’s weakest moments, he shamelessly deconstructs a straw man only vaguely resembling actual conservative ideology.) A global reserve currency would be created, similar (but not identical) to the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights (SDR), to prevent the contagion of a worldwide crisis started by one currency’s downward spiral.

By the time one has finished this book, it seems that there is not much to look forward to in Joseph Stiglitz’s version of world events. He sees a financial market in disarray, being slowly rebuilt by the same hands that led to its destruction and leading inevitably to another instance of the same shortsightedness followed by more devastation. This is a hard pill to swallow, but it sheds light on why Joseph Stiglitz chose to write this book so soon after the financial earthquake. An undesirable future can be prevented, and we’re in the ideal scenario to start again from the rubble. By the time the economy begins showing serious signs of recovery, all resolve to change course will have evaporated. And so the gods of irony may be leaving us a silver lining after all in this prolonged economic massacre: the longer we suffer from the effects of past miscalculations and neglect, the more time we have to formulate a new, healthy, and safe framework to avoid a recurrence.

#7: Me Talk Pretty One Day

Without much in the way of proof, I submit that Me Talk Pretty One Day is best enjoyed under the influence of serious narcotics. This is an admittedly uncertain proposal and one I have failed to test firsthand, but really not so harebrained upon deeper reflection. David Sedaris, the “author” of this “book,” appeared to be in just such a state for the entirety of its writing. (I enclose “author” and “book” in quotes because I’m not convinced either moniker really describes its respective object.)

Where do I get this idea? Perhaps from his track record. “After a few months in my parents’ basement, I took an apartment near the state university, where I discovered both crystal methamphetamine and conceptual art,” Sedaris muses. “Either one of these things is dangerous, but in combination they have the potential to destroy entire civilizations.” Later, a chapter begins with the simple declaration, “I’m thinking of making a little jacket for my clock radio.” In the chapter entitled “I Almost Saw This Girl Get Killed” (situated toward the end of Part Deux, directly succeeding Part One), a bemused Sedaris living in France grapples with the idiocy of an event organizer coordinating a show in which young men taunt an enraged cow. “I’m willing to bet that he had some outstanding drug connections,” the author deadpans. “How else could a person come up with this stuff?” Twenty bucks says readers will speak similarly of David Sedaris.

In fact, it is hard to say with any certainty which parts of this book are true and which are figments of Sedaris’ hyperactive imagination. To this end, clues may be found in the chapter “The Late Show,” which consists of various autobiographical fantasies involving saving the world from cancer and bestowing youthful features upon everyone but the ruthless editors of fashion magazines. (“Here are people who have spent their lives promoting youthful beauty, making everyone over the age of thirty feel like an open sore. Now, too late, they’ll attempt to promote liver spots as the season’s most sophisticated accessory. ‘Old is the new young,’ they’ll say, but nobody will listen to them.”) But Me Talk Pretty One Day is as concerned with its own veracity as Animal Farm is with mutinous livestock. To debate its accuracy is meaningless; the point lies decidedly elsewhere.

This memoir, if the genre can stomach this latest addition to its ranks, embraces black humor with a strange ease, as Sedaris channels Robert Downey, Jr.’s Harry Lockhart in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. In short, Me Talk Pretty One Day is clearly more style than substance. Or is it? The author’s sardonic send-ups of everything from Americans traveling abroad to the laughable pretension at art exhibitions are riddled with jolting allusions to a less comic reality. After concluding his lengthy digression into juvenile daydreams of worldly super-stardom while living in Paris, Sedaris quietly notes that all of his fantasies revolve around impressing only fellow Americans. “…It doesn’t interest me to manipulate the French. I’m not keyed into their value system. Because they are not my people, their imagined praise or condemnation means nothing to me. Paris, it seems, is where I’ve come to dream about America.” Such words arrive unexpectedly, sandwiched as they are between a longing for an affair with President Clinton and a story of the author’s father ingesting a hat.

It is in these similarly contrasting tones of irony and sobriety that Sedaris tackles his first spells with drugs and the displacement he felt as he coped with his sexual identity in a traditional childhood. Self-pity is never considered, and self-deprecation never remitted. His writing prompts sudden, inappropriate laughter as well as eyebrows scrunched together in perplexity. Both reactions feel natural, given the text. In the strange and beautiful world of David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day probably makes some sense. Fortunately for the rest of us to whom it does not, he doesn’t seem to mind much either way.