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Thursday, December 29, 2011

A similar era?

At long last I have acted on my intention to investigate the Gilded Age, in order to find exactly how similar politics 140 years ago were to our own. My text has been a remarkable book, Twenty Years in Congress, 1861-1881, written by a distinguished participant, James G. Blaine of Maine, who came within an ace of becoming President himself in 1884 but lost by the votes of a few thousand New Yorkers and retired to write this most interesting history. There is no substitute, I have found, for investigating an era through the eyes of a participant, and Blaine combined an eye for character with a respect for primary sources, quoting the Congressional Globe and presidential addresses at great length. My read has tended to confirm that the similarities in the two eras are rather striking, largely because both are dominated by a mixture of partisanship and corruption.

I have skipped volume I for the moment and began in the wake of the Civil War, during the Presidency of Andrew Johnson, one which bears an uncomfortable similarity in some respects to the time we are passing through now. Johnson, a poor white from East Tennessee, was one of the greatest accidents in American history. A loyal union man and a "War Democrat," as they were known, he joined Abraham Lincoln on the "Unionist" (not Republican) ticket in 1864 to appeal to loyal Democrats and the border states. Like many upcountry southerners, he hated the planter class, but it turned out that he hated the newly freed slaves more. The large Republican majority in Congress was determined to preserve the results of the war by either reducing the representation of the Southern states, or by enfranchising the freedmen. The 14th amendment was written to do the first: it did not require Negro suffrage, as it was then called, but specifically promised to reduce the Congressional representation of states so as to reflect the number of voters they enfranchised. When the southern states, supported by President Johnson, refused to ratify the amendment, the Republican Congressional majority--which grew even larger in the 1866 elections--passed its own Reconstruction plan, putting the South under military rule and insisting that the southern states enfranchise Negroes in new Constitutions before they could send representatives to Congress again. Negro suffrage, sadly, was a measure well in advance of even northern opinion, and the radicals realized by 1867 that it had to be put into the Constitution in order to impose it upon the South. This the 15th Amendment did.

Johnson's dogged resistance to these measures was fully shared by the Democratic Party, northern as well as southern. In an odd echo of what we have been through for the last three years, not a single Democrat in Congress voted for either the 14th or 15th Amendments, nor did any Democratic-controlled legislatures ratify them. Meanwhile, the Republican Congress, with good reason, did not trust Johnson to use the executive branch's powers to carry out their policies, and in 1867 they passed the Tenure of Office Act, taking advantage of a Constitutional ambiguity to make the approval of the Senate mandatory to remove, as well as to appoint, federal officers. Utterly contrary to tradition and precedent, this measure was clearly unconstitutional, but the Republicans forced it through nonetheless, and it became the basis for Johnson's impeachment when he removed Secretary of War Stanton from office. The Republicans would have done much better to have impeached him for clearly attempting to subvert the laws that they had passed, but they preferred to rest their case on a technicality instead. Blaine by the time he wrote his book clearly recognized that the impeachment was a mistake, although he had voted for it as a member of the House at the time. In the end, thanks to some courageous Republicans, Johnson was acquitted by the Senate by the narrowest of margins. The Tenure of Office act controversy now parallels the battle over President Obama's recess appointments, which the Senate used parliamentary subterfuge to try to prevent.

Partisanship dominated nearly every major issue in this period. The Democrats, many of whom had never believed in the Civil War, wanted to pay off the enormous war debt in depreciated paper currency; this the Republicans refused to do, and they made impressive progress in paying it off even under Johnson. Even the admission of new western states was now pushed or rejected on partisan grounds, because they were thought to be likely to send more Republicans to the Senate and the House. Republicans often referred to "the Democracy," as it was then called, as the party of treason (another call they have taken up again), while Democrats referred to Republicans as the party of dictatorship and racial equality. It was probably fortunate that the nation had General Grant to turn to, since he could command some bipartisan support at least in the North. We have no such figure on the horizon today.

Yet I could not help noticing that despite the equally partisan divide, the Congress functioned infinitely more efficiently than it does now. The House routinely suspended its rules to rush through legislation (this required a 2/3 vote, which the Republicans could usually, but not always, get), and the filibuster seems to have been unknown even in the Senate. Committees worked quickly and efficiently--without any staff at all. The level of oratory was incomparably higher than it is today. And one senses, in speeches on all side, an acute sense that the United States was still a relatively young democratic experiment--many of the legislators, after all, would have known in their youth men and women old enough to remember the adoption of the Constitution--and an instinctive, continual resort to the first principles of Republican government. The average legislator today would find himself intellectually overmatched, should a time machine take him back 150 years.

The real issue in this period, as in the war itself, was the question of federal authority. Having strengthened it beyond imagination to win the war, the Republicans, led by Charles Sumner in the Senate, one of the few real heroes of the era, knew they must keep it strong to complete the work of the war. Only the continued occupation of the South by federal troops, even after states were re-admitted to the Union, gave the black citizenry and white Republicans (of which there were some!) any chance of exercising their franchise and securing their lives and property. The Ku Klux Klan was, very simply, a terrorist organization dedicated to re-imposing white rule by force, something it gradually managed to do. Meanwhile, Democrats North and South, and even some dissenting Republicans, argued that the Republican majority, and, after 1869, the Grant Administration, was maintaining a wartime despotism long after the time had come to restore peace. Grant won a big electoral victory in 1868, but Blaine points out that his margin was somewhat deceptive. Both New York and New Jersey voted for Horatio Seymour, the Democratic candidate, and Grant's margins in several other Democratic states were quite small. Although Grant remained personally committed to reconstruction, he was a much weaker President than he had been a general, and his Administration's corruption so undermined the confidence of many concerned citizens that he faced a liberal Republican revolt in 1872. The liberals nominated a titan of the Republican Party, the editor Horace Greeley, and the Democrats decided they had best support him. Greeley could not win their loyalty, however, and he went down to a much worse defeat than Seymour.

Turning back for a moment to the present day, the Republicans in the last four years have treated Barack Obama in the same way their ancestors treated Andrew Johnson--and, I would suggest, for the same two reasons. First, they see him as attempting to maintain an old order which they detest--the remnants of the New Deal and the Great Society. They prefer, of course, to argue that he is trying to impose a new order, socialism, but I suspect that in their hearts they know the truth. There is some truth in this, just as Andrew Johnson and the defeated white Southerners and their Northern Democratic allies meant to restore the supremacy both of the white race and the Democratic Party. But secondly, neither set of Republicans viewed, or views, the President as legitimate. Johnson they regarded as an apostate; Obama they regard as unfit, for various reasons, to sit in the White House. Having opposed everything he did for two years, and having been rewarded with control of the House of Representatives, they are now obstructing him at every turn, and doing their best, too, to deny the Presidential appointing power by refusing to confirm his nominees, regardless of their impact upon the ability of the federal government even to function. George Will, who evidently realizes that Obama has a good chance of being re-elected, calls for four more years of total obstructionism in his last column of the year.

It has now become clear to me that the United States has enjoyed only two eras of genuine political consensus in its history: from 1800 to 1824 (although in some respects that consensus persisted into the 1830s), and from about 1941 until about 1968 (although in some respects that consensus lasted at least until the 1980s.) The earlier consensus was built around white manhood suffrage, expansion into the Northwest, and attempts to keep slavery where it was. The second was based upon the New Deal and the United States' new world role. The Civil War and Reconstruction proved that the nation could pass through one of its periodic crises without creating a real consensus or even strengthening the federal government. The executive branch did not recover from the Presidency of Johnson until Teddy Roosevelt and Wilson. There is every reason to think that those of us in our sixties will not live to see a genuine consensus established again, and that the executive will continue to grow weaker for at least the next decade.

The issue of corruption at all levels of government, combined with serious economic inequality, eventually brought about the Progressive era, more than thirty years after the end of the Civil War. We too may have to wait for decades before we set about fixing government and, perhaps, restoring some of the role it played in the economy in the middle of the twentieth century. In any case, the trends of that era were clearly not fated to continue indefinitely. We have moved into a new era, one sadly reminiscent of the Gilded Age, few of whose politicians have gone down as heroic figures.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Iraq revisited

In 2002, the Bush Administration decided to attack Iraq. No one really knows why, but I suspect that the main reason was that in their foreign policy scheme, no medium-size state with significant regional conventional forces hostile to the United States should be allowed to survive in the post-Cold War world, whether it was building WMD or not. More specifically, they wanted to remove a long-time threat to Israel, and at least some of the leaders of the Bush Administration regarded the attack on Iraq as the prelude to an attack on Iran. (I heard from good sources that both Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton, the undersecretaries of State and Defense, talked freely about this.) President Bush, I think, sincerely thought that we could create a democratic Iraq that would become a model for the region. Donald Rumsfeld insisted that the whole job could be done in a matter of months, without any long-term occupation. It was no accident that the United States embarked upon this new adventure essentially at the moment when Vietnam veterans had become very rare in the senior ranks of the American military.

According to another excellent source, President Bush on the eve of the invasion had no idea of the division of Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims in Iraq. (Bill Kristol famously told Terri Gross that this would not pose a problem because "Iraq has always been pretty secular.") The neoconservatives, in one of the great self-deceptions of modern history, had not only talked themselves into the idea that a pro-American and pro-Israeli regime would automatically emerge when a dictator was toppled, but threw the power of the U.S. government behind anyone who promised to make it happen, like Ahmed Chalabi. As a noted here at the time, the very first election held after the invasion of Iraq exposed the reality of the situation: votes were cast almost entirely along religious lines. Civil war was already breaking out, and it became horribly violent in the middle of the decade, displacing four million mostly Sunni and Christian Iraqis, half of whom fled the country. Meanwhile the Sunnis and extreme Shi'ites mounted an insurgency against the American presence, eventually taking the lives of more than four thousand American soldiers.

By late 2006 the Pentagon was willing to give up, but George W. Bush was not. Showing sensible leadership, he not only insisted upon a new policy but found a man--General David Petraeus--who thought he could carry it out. Petraeus quieted the situation down by making an alliance with Sunni leaders in much of the country against Al Queda, while building up a mostly Shi'ite central government under Nouri Al-Maliki. Kurdistan, meanwhile, flourished under what amounted to independence. Not long before leaving office, the Bush Administration concluded an agreement that kept US troops in Iraq until 2012. The Obama Administration initially reduced our presence to 50,000 men, and then, after failing to extend that agreement further, withdrew them all.

I am not particularly surprised that relations between the Shi'ites and Sunnis are now breaking down, but I am a bit shaken that Maliki could not even allow us a decent interval before issuing an arrest warrant for the leading Sunni politician in the country on very suspect charges of terrorism. That step was immediately answered by an outbreak of bombings in Baghdad. The Kurds may now be forced to choose between the Sunnis and Shi'ites. We have already had trouble between the Kurds and the Turkish government. Meanwhile, the Iranian influence among the Shi'ites has continued to grow.

As it turns out, the destruction of Saddam Hussein's regime was an important straw in the wind. While I do not think it caused the Arab spring, Iraq now looms as the first of a large and growing number of Arab countries--including Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya--whose long-time authoritarian regimes have now fallen. Yet in each case the leading political force isn't western-style democracy, but some more or less moderate form of extremism. The Syrian regime is at least as threatened, and its fall will probably lead to another civil war between Shi'ites and Sunnis. We are witnessing the second stage of a process that began around 1990: the collapse of regional orders created after the First World War and the end of the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. Peter Galbraith pointed out some years ago that three of the four multinational states created in the early 1920s--Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, and Czechoslovakia--had now disappeared. His prediction that Iraq would do the same may yet be vindicated.

In a sense these events are part of an even larger process. From the 17th century until quite recently, western civilization was on the march. The process climaxed after 1945, when two superpowers inspired by western ideas--the United States and the Soviet Union--extended their sway over most of the world, and when there was essentially no alternative to following one or the other of their models of political and economic development. That began to change in 1979, when an Islamist regime replaced an American client in Iran. Now there seems little hope of any Middle Eastern state following a genuinely western model. Western ideas are also under attack in Israel, where theocracy threatens the state on many fronts. And, of course, they are under attack in the United States, where Republicans are trying to dismantle the legacy of the Progressive Era, the New Deal, and even, in some key respects, the Enlightenment.

President Obama, whose own life has been a remarkable series of triumphs so far, made one characteristic mistake in connection with the withdrawal from Iraq, claiming that we had helped make it a democracy. So resentful were even our allies there of our presence that they could not wait a week before undermining him. The neoconservatives were already accusing him of losing Iraq by a precipitate withdrawal, ignoring, characteristically, that the government we created had simply refused to allow us to stay. These accusations will continue, but the President will do well to emulate the most underrated President of my lifetime, Gerald R. Ford, who in 1975 simply told the American people that our role in the Vietnamese drama was over as our ally fell apart. We live, as I have said many times here recently, in an era of declining governmental authority, largely because of the retreat of the Enlightenment model of a government designed to ensure its citizens' rights and improve their lot in life. That model may be preserved in certain parts of the world, but its relentless progress during the 19th and 20th centuries has been halted.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Crisis in the US

I have not had much to say about the Republican contest for President so far, in part because I find myself unable to watch more than about 15 minutes of a Republican debate. I was rather fascinated in the first one by the echoes of a Maoist party meeting. If anyone had ever said, or, worse, done anything halfway reasonable, such as Mitt Romney's introduction of universal health care, Newt Gingrich's welcoming noises towards immigrants, or Rick Perry's advocacy of mandatory HPV vaccination, they were immediately called to account for it, invited to confess their deviationism--and all did their best to take advantage of the opportunity to purge their sins and promise to do better in the future. To secure the Republican party nomination, it seems, one must now embrace numerous false propositions about our economy and society, not to mention a caricature of our President as an irresponsible socialist. The drama in the race relates to Mitt Romney's continuing inability to convince "the base" that he is their man--and the inability of any alternative candidate to sustain a boomlet. (Nate Silver now reports that Gingrich's numbers are beginning to slip.) This is one symptom of our political crisis.

A second, related one has shown up in Washington, where the Republicans in Congress can no longer think beyond political advantage and are doing their best to paralyze the government. They have stalled many presidential nominations of a quite unexceptionable character, and have even broken the much-ballyhooed agreement, reached I believe in 2007, not to filibuster nominees for federal judgeships. Now the House Republicans are trying to force the President to take a stand on the Keystone pipeline in return for extending his payroll tax cut. (On that one I have to admit that I hope they kill the deal: the payroll tax cut was a mistake and it needs to be restored as soon as possible.) I have also just noticed that the $1 trillion dollar spending bill to which they have agreed will carry the government through only until next September, the height of the election season--a recipe for further disaster. By refusing to confirm the President's choice as head of the new Consumer Protection Bureau or to fund regulatory agencies adequately, the Republicans are subverting the intentions both of the executive and of the last Congress to an unprecedented extent. Not since the last two years of the Presidency of Andrew Johnson (1867-8) has the nation seen anything similar--and that is food for more thought.

Andrew Johnson and the Radical Republicans differed over one of the great issues of American history: the shape of the postwar South and the fate of the freed slaves. Thad Stevens, Charles Sumner and the rest of the Radicals believed just as deeply as John Boehner and Jim DeMint that the President opposed true American values; indeed, they viewed him as ally of the recently defeated traitors. Yet they knew what they wanted: the enfranchisement of the Freedmen and a Republican-dominated South that would keep their party in office for a generation. Today's Republicans know only a mindless hatred of all government and of the bi-coastal elite that initially dominated postwar American politics. Their great plan for a new America begins and ends with lower taxes and no regulation, and they will do literally anything to advance it. An opinion piece in today's New York Times explains how the Republicans have emasculated the National Labor Relations Board and now threaten to cease its functioning altogether because they will not confirm President Obama's new nominees, leaving the board without a quorum. Like the SDS forty years ago, today's Republican legislators have no respect for existing law.

We are headed towards uncharted territory: a modern state and economy without effective government. The Obama Administration has slowed, not interrupted, the trend. Today's Times also reports that a new regulation will allow states to interpret the new health care law very flexibly, rather than requiring any particular coverage around the nation. This may be aimed at Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote on the Supreme Court--which may emerge as a key Republican ally in years to come as well. The Republican use of 9/11, while hardly altogether insincere, was from their standpoint brilliant: they used the mobilization of the country and the exhaustion of the resources of the federal government up in a largely futile enterprise, leaving too little left to cope with the worst economic crisis in 80 years. A different Democratic President might conceivably have rallied the country around a different position after 2009, but that will never be known. The great adventure of the Enlightenment, the design of a government to assure justice and meet the needs of the people, is for the moment at an end in the United States. We shall need a new and more flexible view of history to integrate this epochal fact into our world view.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Europe and the US

Some weeks ago, I translated, posted and praised Chancellor Merkel's latest speech to the Bundestag on the crisis in the EU and the Eurozone. Weeks have passed, Merkel and Sarkoczy and trying to impose more fiscal uniformity upon the Euro zone, and now I am having second thoughts. To be sure, the Europeans are behaving more responsibly than our own politicians, and they think that they are holding themselves to a commendably high standard. I am not however so sure. The US is seriously threatened by a lack of governmental authority to do anything; Europe is threatened by possible governmental overreach. The happy medium seems to be lacking.

Germany has demonstrated admirable self-discipline for the last half century or more. The reason is clear: both Germany and the world suffered enormously during the first half of the twentieth century from the exact opposite. Both before and after reunification in 1991, the free German leadership has shown an unequaled sense of national purpose, including both political parties, business, and unions. They have kept their own fiscal house in order while focusing on production for export, and when the Euro was created the new European central bank was lodged in Frankfurt. Now, however, Merkel is staking everything on the idea that the rest of the Eurozone must be more like Germany, and this may end disastrously.

It seems to me that Germany stands in a similar relationship to the rest of the Eurozone as China stands to the US: Europe is Germany's customer, just as we are China's. To keep their industries running they hold enormous amounts of the dollars we spend on their goods. If the Germans want to keep their customers, and thus their exports, they must be willing, it seems to me, to allow the weaker countries to run current account deficits and find some way to recycle the money, as the Chinese have. Otherwise it will be necessary, as Paul Krugman has argued, to allow the weaker southern European countries to drop out of the Eurozone and return to their own freely floating currencies. Under Merkel's new plan those countries will surrender a large chunk of their sovereignty to the European Court of Justice, which will determine whether their national budgets conform to treaties. I would sympathize with any people that refused to make that sacrifice. Merkel's initiative looks all too much like Germany's and the rest of Europe's response to the Great Depression (before Hitler) to me. Germany this time doesn't have to worry about trade restrictions of foreign capital withdrawals, as it did in 1928-32, but it does have to worry about aggregate demand.

Still, the European situation remains almost inspiring in comparison to our own. To find a parallel between the relations between Congress and the President today one would have to go back to the last two years of Andrew Johnson's administration. The Republicans in both the House and the Senate remain determined not only to block any presidential legislative initiative, but essentially to make it impossible for the executive branch to function. The Senate Republicans are now preventing more and more appointments from coming to a vote. (The presidential appointment power, which the Radical Republicans tried to limit by law under Johnson, was the issue that led to Johnson's impeachment.) They are trying to put crippling restrictions on the functioning of new agencies, and they apparently want the payroll tax cut to expire on the assumption that they can blame the President. (Rising above partisanship for a moment, may I say that I hope it will expire. I said a year ago when the President proposed it that it was a terrible idea, and I still think so. But the Republicans are blocking any effective action to create jobs as well.)

The President's electoral prospects are improving daily. No one who knows Newt Gingrich thinks he can possibly survive a full general election campaign. The more we learn about him--in my case, in a wonderful interview that Terri Gross did with reporter Karen Tumulty last week--the more the contradictions in his career become apparent. He has railed against Washington cronyism while almost obsessively finding new ways to take advantage of it. Romney may overcome him, but he may be deeply damaged. The President evidently hopes to win re-election by default, and he might. What he can then do with the victory is another question altogether.

Our current crisis, to repeat, will not lead to the emergence of new totalitarian regimes in advanced countries. The era that created them is long gone. We are threatened not with too much government but with much too little. Success either in Europe or in America would offer some hope.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Ten years after

Today a colleague of mine asked me whether we really can put Afghanistan in historical perspective yet. We have, he said, a new story on Iraq--it was a mistake to go in, we botched it up initially, but starting in 2007 we managed to make it work fairly well and now we're leaving--but Afghanistan is more confusing. What did I think? It set me thinking.

The Bush Administration--as I think I pointed out in my very first post here in the fall of 2004--was never very interested in Afghanistan itself. Instead, it created the Bush dcotrine--that the Taliban, which had sheltered Al Queda, had to be brought down as well as Al Queda itself--to introduce a whole new foreign policy that would lead to the invasion and conquest of both Iraq and Iran, as well. Donald Rumsfeld also saw Afghanistan, which had no modern military forces, as a laboratory for new, capital-intensive forms of warfare. Within months, the Taliban had been swept away--but the Administration had bigger things on its mind. General Franks was already ordered to plan Iraq while the first Afghan war was in progress. And I am increasingly convinced that the Bush Administration hardly cared about Al Queda, except as an excuse, at all. They could not find and kill Osama Bin Laden in seven and a half years, while Barack Obama took only two and a half. As I understand it, Bin Laden had been in his last home for roughly the last half of the Bush Administration. I am not sure that I will live to read the full story of how we located him--it may take 30 years or more to come out.

The initial invasion of Afghanistan nonetheless drove the Taliban out, and by 2005 or so level-headed American observers, including one who used to share my office, were convinced that it was gone for good. But it was reconstituting itself in Pakistan. Barack Obama entered office while the situation was deteriorating, and he had already argued that we had neglected Afghanistan in favor of Iraq. So protecting the Karzai regime from the Taliban became his goal as well. We have cleared some key areas of Taliban for the moment--just as we cleared some areas of South Vietnam of Viet Cong in 1969-71--but whether the Afghans can build a lasting foundation there remains to be seen.

The Bush Administration was, in one sense, right: Afghanistan is a remote, poor country with almost no geopolitical significance. Perhaps after Bin Laden escaped we needed some bases there to find and kill him, but the Taliban has never had broader political ambitions. The real question at stake was the political future of the Muslim world. The Bush Administration was determined, first, to show that in the post cold war world there was no room for well-armed, medium size states that had shown a willingness to act against American interests by force. They eliminated Ba'athist Iraq but could never move on to Iran. Secondly, at least some of them, including Bush himself, thought they could start the Arab world down the path to democracy. That, now, has happened too--but with results very different from what Bush had in mind.

The Egyptian elections gave two Islamist parties, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists, well over half the votes. Something similar has happened in Tunisia. The Egyptian brotherhood has announced that it opposes, for now at least, a coalition with the Salafists. But the significance of these developments remains enormous. A clash of civilizations looms on the horizon, because the momentum of western civilization has been halted, and then reversed, in the last half century. One hundred years ago there seemed to be no alternative to copying the west, even in the Muslim world. Even the alternatives to liberal democracy such as Communism and Fascism were clearly offshoots of the western rationalist tradition. Now all that is changed, changed utterly. Turkey, the big outpost of westernization in the region, has become much more religious and its long-time alliance with Israel is in tatters. The Egyptian colonels' regime that ruled for about 55 years is giving way to Muslim democracy. Hezbollah has become enormously influential in Lebanon and Hamas is probably the true representative of the Palestinians. But we should not be surprised. Western civilization has been under attack from the left and the right here in the United States. And Israel, founded as a socialist democracy, is tending more towards theocracy every year. A clash of civilizations looms because the hegemony of western civilization is now a thing of the past.

Israel was created by secularists in the wake of the Second World War, when no one imagined what a role religion would play in the lives of those not yet born. It dreamed, apparently, of a relatively secular Middle East in which it could co-exist with its neighbors. The peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and the negotiations with the Palestinians in the 1990s seemed to offer hope that this was possible--but it looks much less likely now. As the New York Times courageously reported last weekend, the settler movement now has a new goal: the ethnic cleansing of Arab neighborhoods within Israel. If Egypt and even Turkey become avowed enemies again Israel will face very serious threats--and there is also the question of the Iranian nuclear program. As an American, I am concerned that renewed conflict could draw the US into a major regional war. In my opinion, it should not.

I think that in another 50 years Afghanistan will be something of a footnote to history, rather like the anarchist movements of the first half of the twentieth century, which faded into insignificance after the advent of Communism. The 21st century equivalent of the Communist challenge will be the advent of new Islamist regimes. It may be much less serious, it may require a completely different kind of response--but it is real. The events of 1979-81--the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, the Iranian revolution, and the assassination of Anwar Sadat--pointed in the direction things were going. They have a long way to go yet.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A note on the JFK assassination

Dozens of people are now arriving here thanks to Salon's reprint of Jefferson Morley's assassination piece the other day, which referred to my book, The Road to Dallas. I appreciate the mention but I think I should make it clear that what he said about the book was only 50% accurate.

The book, about which you can find more at the link at right, argued that Kennedy was assassinated by a conspiracy of organized crime figures. (Oswald did kill Kennedy, but he did so on their behalf.) It specifically said in the introduction, however, that the CIA had nothing to do with the assassination. The key organized crime figure in the assassination, who acknowledged his involvement, was a man named John Martino. Martino had in fact worked with CIA operatives on at least one major operation in Florida in the spring of 1963, as is detailed in The Road to Dallas, but I did not say, and do not believe, that any of his CIA contacts were involved in the assassination of JFK.

A post from yesterday appears below.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Liberty and Authority

About 34 years ago, as I recall, when I was a junior faculty member at Harvard, I attended a history department retreat to discuss the state of the department and the profession. There was some discussion of the specialization that had already taken over the historical profession. I was already revising my dissertation to become the first book at right, and it much broader than the average dissertation--and I apparently already disliked specialization. I raised my hand and commented that the purpose of specialized monographs, it seemed to me, should be to provide the raw material for better syntheses.

A senior professor named John Clive--never particularly noted for large-scale scholarly achievement--was not impressed. "But what are you going to do with synthesis?" he asked. "Stand up like Frisky Merriman at the end of History 1 (a western civilization course), take out your pocket watch, set it going back and forth on its chain like a pendulum, and explain that the two poles represented 'liberty' and 'authority?' The room broke up in hysterical laughter, and that brought that particular discussion to an end. Later, during the next break, I told a fellow assistant professor--who was destined to abandon scholarship for administration, that I thought specialized monographs should allow us to do what Merriman had done--only better. And I tried to do exactly that during the decade that followed, in the third book on the list at the right. It was a History Book Club selection, but Clive was right: it didn't make much of a professional splash. Yet, following up on last week's post, it seems to me now that Merriman is going to have the last laugh.

As I look back on those distant days against the background of everything I have learned since, I must conclude that nothing can give a people the same immense self-confidence as victory in a great war. The GIs (like Clive), Silents and Boomers at that retreat had rebelled against many aspects of the postwar consensus, but even after Vietnam, they trusted that the achievements of our parents and grandparents would naturally endure to the end of their lives and beyond. They thought, apparently, that the emotional outburst of the previous decade had simply enriched their lives by overthrowing social and intellectual restraints, without calling the structure of society into question. I shall always wonder if that might indeed have been what happened had it not been for the Vietnam War, but we will never know that. What we do know now is that not only the postwar world of the 1950s, but the entire enterprise of western political life since the late eighteenth century, were already being undermined from within, leading to a crisis of authority that is now reaching its peak and which my own generation, which has already passed the peak of its influence as I write, has utterly failed to solve.

Merriman, I now find with the help of google, laid down his burden as the History 1 instructor, prophetically enough, in 1941. A member of the Harvard class of 1896, he had evidently been born smack in the middle of the Missionary generation in 1875 or so. He died just a few days after the end of the Second World War. It turns out that Clive's own memory failed him: according to an account of his last lecture in the Christian Science Monitor published in May 1941, European society, he argued, oscillated between security and liberty. Taking a long view, he saw the religious wars of the 16th century leading to the stronger monarchies of the 18th--and the laissez-faire economics of the 19th century leading to the regulation the Progressive era and the New Deal. In that last lecture, he warned that Hitler's victory could end civilization that that the United States must enter the war as soon as possible. His audience might well have included John F. Kennedy, whom I believe was still in residence in Cambridge in the spring of 1941. But by the time he died five years later, George W. Bush, who perhaps did the most to consummate the collapse of modern authority during his eight years in office, was only weeks away from his conception in New Haven, Connecticut. Such is the way of history.

Merriman, in short, saw himself as an observer and in a way an actor in the great sweep of history, and specifically part of the rationalist experiment in western civilization dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. His whole generation was animated by the idea that reason, and law, could create a better society at home and a better world abroad. I would suggest that that idea no longer plays a significant part in our public life, and certainly not in our economic life, where the profit motive reigns supreme without any challenge. The Republican Party, largely in the ascendant for the last 40 years, has been dedicated since Reagan to the idea that government is the problem, not the solution. The economics profession lost interest in an even partially planned economy long ago. As a remarkable series of graphs in today's New York Times shows, we now have grown a new economic system in which corporate profits rise while employment and the income of the lower half of the population fall. No one is seriously discussing how this might be changed. My own historical profession has lost interest in the long-term movement of history: it is largely focused on the lives of women, minorities and gays within the society that Merriman's contemporaries and students managed to create. I strongly suspect within another 20 years those issues are going to seem a lot less important even to women, minorities and gays. We will be learning first hand about the need for effective public authority. And other generations will once again encounter the great and potentially rewarding challenge of restoring it.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Two Sides of the 1960s

Occupy Wall Street may never amount to much politically, but it has certainly set a lot of people thinking, including myself. It has been the source of a very heated and lengthy argument at fourthturning.com, and that has finally allowed me to break through some confusion and finally understand exactly what the Awakening, a.k.a. "the sixties," actually did, and why it has been so personally liberating and so politically disastrous. To understand this, we have to go back before the beginning, to the 1950s.

Let's take two movies that express the best and the worst of that decade: Twelve Angry Men, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. (The book upon which the latter was based was published in 1961 and the movie was set in 1963, but both are before the Awakening.) Twelve Angry Men is about a functioning institution, a jury in a murder case. 11 of the 12 jurors initially trust authority--the prosecution and the court--and vote for conviction and execution. One, played magnificently by Henry Fonda, disagrees. Calmly, without ever raising his voice, he manages to get a few of them thinking about some of the evidence and entertaining the possibility that the defendant might be innocent. His first few allies are equally controlled. The cast is composed entirely of white males, but racism, which plays a role in some of the guilty votes, is clearly defined as an evil. Because everyone is a white male, virtue and vice have nothing to do with race or gender in this movie. The virtuous are polite, restrained, take the job seriously, and are willing to listen. The wicked, including the last holdout, are emotional, at one point almost violent, insulting, or lazy. They also insist that their own feelings are more important than the evidence.

Now let's talk about One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It takes place in a mental institution, and incredibly, one million Americans lived in such institutions when the book was written. There isn't much wrong with the patients upon which the film focuses, including McMurphy, played by Jack Nicholson. He explains in the opening scene why he has spent so much time in prison: "I fight and fuck too much." And that is what the movie is about: the inability of a large part of the population to submit to the emotional restraint and repression upon which society insisted in those days. That was a heavy burden, and the generation after the war threw it off. They also made One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest the third-grossing movie of 1975.

So the Awakening focused on personal liberation and the end of emotional restraints. Women, suddenly, could complain about, and leave, their husbands, and millions did. Young adults adopted new dress, new music (very emotionally unrestrained), and new values. Therapists, critically, began to drop Freud's mechanistic model and pay attention to their patients' feelings and to how those feelings grew out of their patients' individual experiences. Families no longer deserved automatic respect. By the 1970s gay Americans demanded the right to act out and legitimize their sexual feelings. All this created a new America, and a personally freer America, and that was, for the most part, a good thing in the personal realm. Unfortunately, that was only half the story.

What has finally struck me this week is that those values--spontaneity, the exaltation of individual feeling and experience, and the rejection of institutional authority--were, inevitably, politically disastrous. For one thing, the rich and powerful (and the would-be rich and powerful) seized upon them as justifications for greater economic freedom, lower taxes, and less regulation. But for another, these values worked against the values of discipline, organization, and leadership, which have been critical to effective political action since the beginning of time. And the emphasis on what divides us--on race, gender, sexual preference, religion, and values--has now almost completely destroyed any national sense of common purpose and belief, which was critical in the 1930s and 1940s to the extraordinary things our grandparents and parents accomplished and remain equally critical today. In the second post that I ever made here, seven years ago,, I showed how these same problems had affected the right--and specifically George W. Bush--just as much as the Left. It was natural for him to believe that he could transform a whole region of the world, the Middle East, by dropping bombs, and lower taxes at the same time: it all felt good, so he did it, confident that the world would bend to his feelings. His left-wing counterparts have been equally delusional, and much less effective. The attack on authority became an attack on intellectual authority as well, and both left-wing academics and religious zealots freely reject the rationalist values of western civilization.

The Boom generation, sadly, taught Generation X to think only about itself. Boomers have shown very little feeling for the values of the institutions they have run, from universities to investment banks, and my friends in various walks of life report that Gen Xers are showing even less. The Millennials have been taught to value the group, but in the world their elders have made there is little outlet for those values.

And this is why, sadly, I cannot see that Occupy Wall Street is offering anything new. It belongs to the great (?) tradition founded by the SDS in the late 1960s, the tradition of the media event, designed to dramatize the evil of the existing regime without any real idea what to do about it. (The Civil Rights protests, at least through 1965, were of a completely different character: they were well planned, well organized, and had specific goals.) And for the most part, OWS seems to be opposed to organization and discipline as well--and the Boomers who have adopted it are still convinced, of course, that that is a good thing.

Writing in the 1990s, William Strauss and Neil Howe expected their Boomer contemporaries eventually to play the role of the Missionary generation, the post-civil war Prophets who, with FDR in the lead, had led us through the great national enterprises of the New Deal and the Second World War. (To their credit, they realized that the Transcendentals, the first post-Constitutional generation who gave us the civil war, had failed to leave behind nearly as big a legacy--but it didn't occur to them to compare the Boomers to the Transcendentals. Now the comparison is unavoidable.) The Boomers did not--could not--live up to those expectations. Now the peak of their power has passed and I do not think it will return. Mitt Romney is now the man most likely to become the third Boomer President, and he is not going to lead us on a great crusade.

The Boomer legacy of emotional freedom is an important one, and the counterattack upon it from the religious right seems destined to fail. But the price we have paid politically has been enormous and we will continue paying it for a long time. It is idle even to ask whether one was more important than the other. They came together, a tribute to the endless complexities and paradoxes of human experience, and future generations, apparently, will have to restore the balance.

P.S. I am delighted by the response to this post, below.

Meanwhile, I wouldn't want anyone to miss this brilliant piece of media criticism from Slate, which picked up on something that I had been noticing myself over the last few weeks.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Eastwood misses the mark

I had looked forward with considerable enthusiasm to J. Edgar, Clint Eastwood's new biopic starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Eastwood has made a couple of at least adequate historical films, including Invictus and especially Letters from Iwo Jima, which told the story of that battle from the Japanese point of view. I don't like to read reviews of movies I plan to see myself, and if you feel the same way and want to see it, you had better stop now. But it has huge problems. In particular, it shows how hard it is becoming to convey the world into which I was born in 1947--one that it some ways, sadly, seems to be lost beyond all recognition. I shall try to explain.

One would expect, of course, that the film would pay a good deal of attention to sexual issues. Hoover--the most powerful American ever who was actually born and grew up in Washington, D.C.--was indeed devoted to his mother and never married. Rumors about his sex life found their way into print even at the height of his power in the 1940s (just as they did, I have discovered, about Eleanor Roosevelt.) His long relationship with his assistant director Clyde Tolson was bound to play a big role in the movie, and so it did. (I personally thought, by the way, that the film's make-up artists did not put half as much work into the aging process of Tolson and Hoover's famous secretary Helen Gandy as they did into Hoover's own.) But Eastwood chose to make that relationship a real dramatic focus, complete with a violent lover's quarrel when Hoover announced that he was contemplating marriage--and there is no real basis for that, except his imagination. Hoover certainly does not seem to have been an active heterosexual and may well have been actively gay. That certainly brands him as a hypocrite, given that homosexuality was defined by Hoover and other security men in those days as a disqualification from government work. But for reasons that I hope to get across, I thought the emphasis on this was vastly disproportionate.

The movie is fairly accurate about the first ten or fifteen years of Hoover's directorate. He did, indeed, build up his reputation, and that of his agency, by focusing upon relatively small-time hoodlums like Baby Face Nelson and John Dillinger. He was a clever publicist who knew how to craft statistics to his advantage, and he was morbidly suspicious of any FBI agent, like Melvin Purvis, who made a name for himself. He was also a petty tyrant who once transferred an agent from Washington to Butte, Montana because he saw a photograph of him wearing something other than the FBI regulation white shirt. But that is only part of the story.

On the other hand, the movie does not remotely do justice to the historical role Hoover played--which was not all negative by any means. Here I must confess a personal prejudice: I fell in love with the FBI while writing my book, The Road to Dallas: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy. The reason was quite simple: thanks to the JFK Records Act, I and my assistants read thousands of FBI documents, and the organization was a historian's dream. It had, as the documents make clear, one main mission: the acquisition of data. Agents were diligent, wrote clearly, and followed every lead opened up by one interview right into the next one. The Bureau treated information like holy writ: everyone who should know about something, did. Information was also distributed to other agencies. The data developed on various organized crime figures, to cite only one example, was invaluable, fascinating, and could be the basis for many books besides mine. And the agents were very rarely tendentious or judgmental, even though Hoover often was in his marginal notes. They simply reported, and if they wanted to make clear that they didn't believe a certain witness they were quite clever at giving convincing reasons for not doing so, such as the opinions of the witnesses' friends and associates. The CIA, on the other hand, is a historian's nightmare. In that organization things were put on paper only when absolutely necessary, different parts of the agency kept secrets from each other, and what went on paper was often designed to conceal, rather than reveal, the truth.

The point is that Hoover must have had a great deal to do with creating that organization. The only hint one is given of that in the movie is his insistence, upon taking over in the 1920s, that agents be college graduates of good character and that they pay careful attention to their personal appearance and behavior. There is no hint of his heavy reliance on Jesuit schools as training grounds for his agents, a practice which paid off in spades. Hoover knew how easy it was for law enforcement agents to be corrupted, and he wanted the bureau to be different. That was one reason he stayed away from organized crime until the late 1950s. He feared that agents who began investigating it would be corrupted, and sadly, several amazing scandals in recent decades, most notably in Boston, have proven him right. Hoover certainly contributed to anti-Communist hysteria in the McCarthy years, and probably fed McCarthy a good deal of information, but his organization also uncovered quite a few genuine Communist spies. It also uncovered some massive white collar crimes, such as the GE-Westinghouse violations of antitrust laws in the 1950s. Hoover did not remain at his job for almost half a century merely because Presidents were afraid to remove him--although they surely were.

And indeed, Hoover's relations with Presidents--and especially the Kennedys, about which I know the most--were a great deal more complex than the film lets on. To begin with, Robert Kennedy liked to claim that it wasn't until he became Attorney General that Hoover got interested in organized crime at all--but that, I found, was not true. The famous Appalachin conclave of mobsters in late 1957 genuinely got Hoover's attention, and by 1960 he had a top hoodlum program and had transferred much of the FBI's intelligence capability, including wiretaps, to mobsters like Sam Giancana, whose romantic exploits were put on FBI tape several years' prior to those of Martin Luther King, Jr. Ample evidence indicates that Robert Kennedy was all in favor of such wiretaps--which could only be used for intelligence, not for evidence in court. More to the point, studies of RFK at Justice have shown that he was just as concerned as Hoover about Stanley Levison, Martin Luther King's friend and adviser with Communist ties, and that he clearly fully approved the tap on him. The memos of conversations between Hoover and RFK which I read having to do with organized crime suggested that they were working together enthusiastically on the problem. In the most notable, they shared their shock that the CIA had hired one of their targets, Sam Giancana, to assassinate Castro.

The Bureau under Hoover went wrong in the 1950s when it went beyond investigation to counterintelligence, specifically the COINTELPRO operation designed to disrupt and discredit organizations deemed hostile to the United States. Initially its targets were the Communist Party of the United States, the Socialist Workers' Party, and other front organizations--including, I discovered, the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. (I am convinced, as I wrote in The Road to Dallas, that Lee Harvey Oswald's fake New Orleans chapter of that organization was part of COINTELPRO, although, like much of that program, it was not run directly by the FBI, but by one of several private anti-Communist groups.) Then in the 1960s Hoover extended it to much of the Civil Rights movement and to the New Left. All of this could have opened up vast dramatic possibilities for Eastwood, all the more so since both Presidents Johnson and Nixon suspected the New Left just as much as Hoover did, but all we get from Eastwood is the impression that Hoover was running the campaign against King all by himself. In fact his assistant directors were all devoted acolytes--they could hardly have been otherwise--while some field agents had been quite skeptical about him.

Whatever Hoover's sexual preference, the great dramas of his life were not personal: they were bureaucratic. He hated anything that threatened to impinge upon his authority and feuded with the CIA, local police forces, and, when it tried to reduce his authority, the White House. He carefully cultivated the Congress. He was devoted to his job, and I know of no evidence that he ever agonized about anything he did in the way that Eastwood and DiCaprio repeatedly showing him doing. He was not an introspective man. And this leads me, finally, to my biggest point.

I have now been studying some of Hoover's contemporaries, including FDR and his main lieutenants, for several years. Yes, some of them, including FDR, had active and interesting personal lives--but all of them were devoted to their jobs in ways that few senior officials, today, seem to be. They did extraordinary things, for good or ill, and they deserve to be known for those things. Our own politics and government are now so dominated by spin, and the whole process of government has come under such ceaseless attack for 40 years now, that even a filmmaker like Eastwood, who is more than ten years older than I am, can't even imagine what public servants in those days were like--or perhaps knows that he couldn't get a true portrait onto the screen. The men of that era knew how to project self-confidence and authority, and no one did that better than Hoover. DiCaprio doesn't really even try.

Eastwood and his team were lazy. When Dallas calls Hoover to tell him that the President has been shot, Special Agent Shanklin claims that no one knows about it. In actual fact the shooting was on the AP wire in less than a minute. It then shows him calling Robert Kennedy, but it shows RFK taking the call alone in his office, when he was actually in the midst of a day-long meeting of his organized crime team at his home, Hickory Hill. The movie, in short, suffers not only from historical inaccuracy and from poorly drawn portraits, but from the great disease of our time. It doesn't take government seriously.

p.s. This morning's column by Maureen Dowd makes it clear that these aspects were mainly the responsibility of Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter, a Gen Xer who also wrote Milk. Black struggled with his own sexuality in his youth--he was the kind of boy we see calling Milk for emotional support during that excellent movie. Black was a lot younger than Milk, but he could understand Milk's world. He couldn't understand Hoover's.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Older and younger generations

I do not really enjoy being a wet blanket with respect of Occupy Wall Street. The country is in a very bad way, and the protesters are trying to call attention to very real problems. To the extent that they can prove that a constituency for economic reform exists, they might shift the political process somewhat, although I suspect the White House feels sure it has that constituency in its pocket already and need not worry too much about it. Yet I continue to feel that the rhetoric of many protesters has an all-too familiar ring, and that the state of the nation has led them into the same dead end that too many of my contemporaries encountered more than forty years ago: a belief that nothing less than a complete transformation of a hopelessly evil society will suffice. Since such a transformation is neither possible nor really desirable, I worry that the results of OWS, like those of the "student revolution" of my youth, will be largely negative.

Let my illustrate my point with a couple of texts. I'll begin with excerpts from an interview by Chris Hedges, a popular liberal blogger, with a Millennial protester in Zucotti Park.

Jon Friesen, 27, tall and lanky with a long, dirty-blond ponytail, a purple scarf and an old green fleece, is sitting on concrete at the edge of Zuccotti Park leading a coordination meeting, a gathering that takes place every morning with representatives of each of Occupy Wall Street’s roughly 40 working groups.

“Our conversation is about what it means to be a movement and what it means to be an organization,” he says to the circle. A heated discussion follows, including a debate over whether the movement should make specific demands.

I find him afterward on a low stone wall surrounding a flowerbed in the park. He decided to come to New York City, he said, from the West Coast for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. He found a ride on Craig’s List while staying at his brother’s home in Champaign, Ill.

“It was a television event when I was 17,” he says of the 2001 attacks. “I came here for the 10-year anniversary. I wanted to make it real to myself. I’d never been to New York. I’d never been to the East Coast.”

Once he reached New York City he connected with local street people to find “assets.” He slept in the parks and on the street. He arrived on the first day of the occupation in Zuccotti Park. He found other “traveler types” whose survival skills and political consciousness were as developed as his own.

In those first few days, he says, “it was the radicals and the self-identifying anarchists” who set up the encampment. Those who would come later, usually people with little experience in dumpster diving, sleeping on concrete or depending on a McDonald’s restroom, would turn to revolutionists like Friesen for survival. Zuccotti Park, like most Occupied sites, schooled the uninitiated.

“The structure and process carried out by those initial radicals,” he says with delight of the first days in the park, now have “a wide appeal.”

The Occupy movements that have swept across the country fuse the elements vital for revolt. They draw groups of veteran revolutionists whose isolated struggles, whether in the form of squatter communities or acts of defiance such as the tree-sit in Berkeley to save an oak grove on the University of California campus that ran from Dec. 2, 2006, to Sept. 9, 2008, are often unheeded by the wider culture. The Occupy movements were nurtured in small, dissident enclaves in New York, Oakland, Chicago, Denver, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Atlanta. Bands of revolutionists in these cities severed themselves from the mainstream, joined with other marginalized communities and mastered the physical techniques of surviving on the streets and in jails.

“It’s about paying attention to exactly what you need, and figuring out where I can get food and water, what time do the parks close, where I can get a shower,” Friesen says.

Friesen grew up in an apolitical middle-class home in Fullerton in Southern California’s Orange County, where systems of power were obeyed and rarely questioned. His window into political consciousness began inauspiciously enough as a teenager, with the Beatles, The Doors, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. He found in the older music “a creative energy” and “authenticity” that he did not hear often in contemporary culture. He finished high school and got a job in a LensCrafter lab and “experienced what it’s like to slave away trying to make glasses in an hour.” He worked at a few other 9-to-5 jobs but found them “restrictive and unfulfilling.” And then he started to drift, working his way up to Berkeley, where he lived in a squatter encampment behind the UC Berkeley football stadium. He used the campus gym to take showers. By the time he reached Berkeley he had left mainstream society. He has lived outside the formal economy since 2005, the last year he filed income taxes. He was involved in the tree-sit protest and took part in the occupations of university buildings and demonstration outside the Berkeley chancellor’s campus residence to protest fee hikes and budget cuts, activities that saw him arrested and jailed. He spent time with the Navajos on Black Mesa in Arizona and two months with the Zapatistas in Mexico.*

“What I saw in the Zapatistas was a people pushed to the brink of extinction and forgetting,” he says. “Their phrases ring true: Liberty! Dignity! Democracy! Everything for Everyone! Nothing for Ourselves! The masks the Zapatistas wear check egos. People should be united in their facelessness. This prevents cults of personality.”

“I have no interest in participating in the traditional political process,” he says. “It’s bureaucratic. It’s vertical. It’s exclusive. It’s ruled by money. It’s cumbersome. This is cumbersome too, what we’re doing here, but the principles that I’m pushing and that many people are pushing to uphold here are in direct opposition to the existing structure. This is a counterpoint. This is an acknowledgment of all those things that we hate, or that I hate, which are closed and exclusive. It is about defying status and power, certification and legitimacy, institutional validation to participate. This process has infected our consciousness as far as people being allowed [to participate] or even being given credibility. The wider society creates a situation where people are excluded, people feel like they’re not worth anything. They’re not accepted. The principles here are horizontal in terms of decision-making, transparency, openness, inclusiveness, accessibility. There are people doing sign language at the general assembly now. There are clusters of deaf people that come together and do sign language together. This is an example of the inclusive nature that we want to create here. And as far as redefining participation and the democratic process, my understanding of American history is that it was a bunch of white males in power, mostly. This is radically different. If you’re a homeless person, if you’re a street person, you can be here. There’s a radical inclusion that’s going on. And if it’s not that, then I’m not going to participate.”

The park, especially at night, is a magnet for the city’s street population. The movement provides food along with basic security, overseen by designated “peacekeepers” and a “de-escalation team” that defuses conflicts. Those like Friesen who span the two cultures serve as the interlocutors.

“It draws everyone, except maybe the superrich,” he says of the park. “You’re dealing with everyone’s conditioning, everyone’s fucked-up conditioning, the kind of I’m-out-for-me-and-myself, that kind of instinct. People are unruly. People are violent. People make threats.”

“We are trying to sort this out, how to work together in a more holistic approach versus just security-checking someone—you know like tackling them,” he says. “Where else do these people have to go, these street people? They’re going to come to a place where they feel cared for, especially in immediate needs like food and shelter. We have a comfort committee. I’ve never been to a place where there’s a comfort committee. This is where you can get a blanket and a sleeping bag, if we have them. We don’t always have the resources. But everyone is being taken care of here. As long as you’re nonviolent, you’re taken care of. And when you do that you draw all sorts of people, including those people who have problematic behavior. If we scale up big enough we might be able to take care of the whole street population of Manhattan.”

Now let's go back about 42 years, to an address by an exact contemporary of mine to a mixed audience of young and old. (I don't want to give away too much, even though, google being what it is, there's no point in trying to keep it a secret and I will identify the speaker before the end of the post. Perhaps it won't take you that long.)

Many of the issues that I've mentioned -- those of sharing power and responsibility, those of assuming power and responsibility have been general concerns on campuses throughout the world. But underlying those concerns there is a theme, a theme which is so trite and so old because the words are so familiar. It talks about integrity and trust and respect. Words have a funny way of trapping our minds on the way to our tongues but there are necessary means even in this multi-media age for attempting to come to grasps with some of the inarticulate maybe even inarticulable things that we're feeling. We are, all of us, exploring a world that none of us even understands and attempting to create within that uncertainty. But there are some things we feel, feelings that our prevailing, acquisitive, and competitive corporate life, including tragically the universities, is not the way of life for us. We're searching for more immediate, ecstatic and penetrating modes of living. And so our questions, our questions about our institutions, about our colleges, about our churches, about our government continue. The questions about those institutions are familiar to all of us. We have seen heralded across the newspapers. Senator ______ has suggested some of them this morning. But along with using these words -- integrity, trust, and respect -- in regard to institutions and leaders we're perhaps harshest with them in regard to ourselves.

Every protest, every dissent, whether it's an individual academic paper, Founder's parking lot demonstration, is unabashedly an attempt to forge an identity in this particular age. That attempt at forging for many of us over the past four years has meant coming to terms with our humanness. Within the context of a society that we perceive -- now we can talk about reality, and I would like to talk about reality sometime, authentic reality, inauthentic reality, and what we have to accept of what we see -- but our perception of it is that it hovers often between the possibility of disaster and the potentiality for imaginatively responding to men's needs. There's a very strange conservative strain that goes through a lot of New Left, collegiate protests that I find very intriguing because it harkens back to a lot of the old virtues, to the fulfillment of original ideas. And it's also a very unique American experience. It's such a great adventure. If the experiment in human living doesn't work in this country, in this age, it's not going to work anywhere.

But we also know that to be educated, the goal of it must be human liberation. A liberation enabling each of us to fulfill our capacity so as to be free to create within and around ourselves. To be educated to freedom must be evidenced in action, and here again is where we ask ourselves, as we have asked our parents and our teachers, questions about integrity, trust, and respect. Those three words mean different things to all of us. Some of the things they can mean, for instance: Integrity, the courage to be whole, to try to mold an entire person in this particular context, living in relation to one another in the full poetry of existence. If the only tool we have ultimately to use is our lives, so we use it in the way we can by choosing a way to live that will demonstrate the way we feel and the way we know. Integrity -- a man like Paul Santmire. Trust. This is one word that when I asked the class at our rehearsal what it was they wanted me to say for them, everyone came up to me and said "Talk about trust, talk about the lack of trust both for us and the way we feel about others. Talk about the trust bust." What can you say about it? What can you say about a feeling that permeates a generation and that perhaps is not even understood by those who are distrusted? All they can do is keep trying again and again and again. There's that wonderful line in East Coker by Eliot about there's only the trying, again and again and again; to win again what we've lost before.

And then respect. There's that mutuality of respect between people where you don't see people as percentage points. Where you don't manipulate people. Where you're not interested in social engineering for people. The struggle for an integrated life existing in an atmosphere of communal trust and respect is one with desperately important political and social consequences. And the word "consequences" of course catapults us into the future. One of the most tragic things that happened yesterday, a beautiful day, was that I was talking to woman who said that she wouldn't want to be me for anything in the world. She wouldn't want to live today and look ahead to what it is she sees because she's afraid. Fear is always with us but we just don't have time for it. Not now.

Now I'm intrigued that John Friesen was so affected by 1960s music, because that brings up the fundamental, fatal confusion that did so much harm in those days--a confusion that might be summed up in that memorable phrase, "the personal is the political." Rock 'n Roll was a response to the emotional sterility of an age--a sterility, I now think, born of trauma, the incredible worldwide trauma of the Depression and the Second World War. It allowed a new generation to discover a depth of feeling that their parents had not bee able to teach them, because they had suppressed it. Leonard Bernstein understood this perfectly in a 1967 show he did about rock on CBS, now available on youtube. For our generation, he said, music was background--but not for these kids. Of course, emotionally sterile or crippled families still exist all around us, and maybe Friesen came from one. But the problem, then and now, was to think that the same intensity of feeling, of pure emotion, could also rule the political world. Modern political systems like our own are based upon rationality, not emotion. That is their strength. Because human beings are not, indeed, completely rational creatures, it's a struggle to hold our system up to its original rational ideals. Lately we have been failing that test. It's not the first time, and it won't be the last. But that system remains our only hope. The longing of the two young people quoted above to escape the whole thing is a fantasy, a natural fantasy to be sure, but one that leads nowhere. That is why, I think, both Friesen and Hillary Rodham in 1969--yup--both fall into inarticulate rambling when they try to describe what they are after.

And there is another link between the two, one very close to my heart. Hillary Rodham went into law and into politics. (She certainly allowed passion--falling in love with Bill Clinton--to rule her life: it took her away from everything she had ever known and sentenced her to 20 years in Arkansas, an ordeal conveyed quite well in Primary Colors.) But her contemporaries who went into academia did not have to abandon their rejection of the norms of western civilization. They could spend their careers propagating it, and they did. And now, two generations of undergraduates have passed through college without learning anything, unless they are very lucky, about what the American system is actually capable of. You will never convince me that that has not contributed, massively, to the collapse of our political life. You cannot rebuild the New Deal if you have no idea what it was or what it did.

It's natural enough, when young, to rebel against the routine and regimentation of modern life. It is, to some extent, unnatural, although it also offers its own rewards, and it's the only kind of civilization that allows people to live in such numbers as they do today. And yes, it can be improved. We could, like the Europeans, start our working lives with four weeks' vacation a year, for example, and we could have single-payer health care, a national system of day care centers, and a great deal more to make life more relaxed and rewarding. Nor can we blame the mess we are in, obviously, on the younger generation. The Millennials (b. 1982-2000?) have grown up every bit as obedient to authority as they GI grandparents were, and every bit as ready to enlist in a great crusade. The older generations have failed them by failing to offer one. They will have to undertake their own, smaller local crusades--but to have a long-term impact they will have to be within the framework of modern life, not outside it.

We are moving into a new Gilded Age. The first Gilded age had its own malcontents, many of whom fired by revolutionary enthusiasm, including Coxey's Army, Greenbackers and Grangers, the IWW, the anarchists, and many more. They have left very little behind. But the young people of the Gilded Age included W. E. B. Dubois, the founder of the NAACP; John L. Lewis, probably the most influential labor leader of the twentieth century; Henry Ford, who transformed production; Harold Ickes, Roosevelt's Interior Secretary and head of the Public Works Administration, who began life as a social worker and built dams across America; and the other titans of my current work in progress, Henry Stimson, George C. Marshall, Cordell Hull, and, of course, Franklin Roosevelt himself. They did not reject the system: they built it. Having grown up amidst chaos, they tried, with extraordinary success, to create order. The experience of the Boom generation, sadly, was the reverse. Had it not been for the Vietnam War, we might have revived America emotionally without crippling it politically. But that, we will never know.

Some years ago I did a post here about Bernhard von Bulow, the German chancellor of a century ago, who managed to avoid the danger of a new war until his fall in 1909. Reflecting on the differences between him and his successors after the catastrophe of the First World War, he remarked that he had the advantage of having lived in foreign countries that allowed him to see his country in better perspective. I lived abroad only once, but I have spent much of my adult life living in past eras and foreign countries through my work, and perhaps that has similarly distinguished me from my contemporaries. (Within universities, sadly, my fellow historians are now pretty much convinced that no one ever had a worthwhile idea before 1970 or so.) This hasn't stopped me from believing in progress. It has stopped me from believing that an outburst of enthusiasm can lead us, quickly and almost painlessly, into a new world.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

What the Chancellor said

[N.B.: Those who visited yesterday may wish to scrol down and go through the Chancellor's speech again. I was extremely tired when I worked on the translation yesterday morning, and I did not realize how sloppy it was. I have now smoothed it out considerably.

Chancellor Merkel's speech, in my opinion, reflects great credit on her, but far greater credit on the political culture of Germany and Europe. I do not in fact agree with the thrust of some of the policies it lays out: they emphasize austerity in Greece and elsewhere, rather than economic growth (although, as she points out, her own country at this moment has a very impressive and enviable employment record of which to boast.) But the speech promises, directly and repeatedly, to make a sustained attack upon some deep-seated problems within the EU and the Eurozone in a continuing effort to preserve the achievements of her parents' generation. And in particular, at the end of the speech, she, like Lincoln and FDR in their time, puts the current crisis in the context of previous ones. While she does not name Bismarck or Adenauer or de Gaulle, she promises that her generation shall not fail the comparable test that it faces. It is symptomatic of the wretched mess in which the United States finds itself that neither President Obama nor any Republican ever wants to make such an appeal to the past. The Boom generation of historians seems successfully to have persuaded public opinion and our elites that history began in the late 1960s.

Europe does face critical, possibly insurmountable problems. In an effort to preserve the Euro the Greeks have made genuine sacrifices of their sovereignty. This may indeed crack the Eurozone, though not the EU itself, but if it does not, it will be a critical precedent that may move European political life into a new phase. The Europeans, in any case, are still engaged in an extraordinary attempt to widen and deepen their political order. The contrast with the United States could not be clearer: we are engaged, not in saving our grandparents' and parents' achievements, but in tearing them down. And it is no accident, clearly, that Republicans now cite Europe's regulated capitalism, complete with single-payer health care and truly modern infrastructure, as some sort of catastrophe that the United States has to avoid. Europe is still the continent of the Enlightenment. Paradoxically, the United States--the first political child of the Enlightenment--is now the advanced country where its spirit is under the heaviest attack.

The transcript of Merkl's speech shows that the applause came mainly, though not exclusively, from her own coalition. Yet she did not speak as a party leader several of her most important pronouncements drew unanimous applause. This has become unheard of when the President addresses the Congress. My old friend Stanley Hoffmann, in his review of Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum's new book This Used to Be Us, suggested that European parliamentary systems are simply more effective than our own separation of powers, but I think this was an oversimplification. Presidents such as Truman and Eisenhower have accomplished great things with the help of Congresses at least partially controlled by the opposition party. We are in trouble now not because of our constitution, but because of our almost complete lack of any common civic spirit. No European leader faces an opposition determined to ensure that anything he or she does fails, but that is the situation we have been living with for three years, and it will get worse before it gets better.

Having suffered the worst of modern western civilization during the last crisis, the Europeans remain committed to a relatively strong government and a welfare state. No major European nation has de-industrialized to the same extent as the United States, either. Chancellor Merkel's positions on the regulation of financial markets--including hedge funds!--were far in advance of President Obama's. The Europeans face big problems--but their governments are addressing them. If they can succeed, they seem very likely to regain the leadership of the western world which, half a century ago, they seemed to have lost forever. That would not disturb me. The Atlantic world is a family, and one one family member goes crazy, others must step forward. That was our role 70 years ago; now it seems once again to be theirs. We are all, in any event, in this together.

Leadership lives

From time to time over these last seven years I have written and posted speeches that I would like to hear an American President make. In composing them I drew upon speeches I have read from past eras. In 2006 I also posted a guest contribution, a mythical speech by John F. Kennedy showing how he might have addressed the state of our nation. Meanwhile I have become increasingly convinced that the United States is no longer capable of effective crisis leadership.

Last week it was widely but briefly reported that Chancellor Angela Merkel had given an important speech on the Eurozone crisis to the German Bundestag. Coincidentally, last weekend I had speculated once again that Europe, not the United States, would have to provide real leadership and keep the best of western values alive during the current crisis. I was thus sufficiently curious to find the complete text of Chancellor Merkel's speech. I found it in German, on the Bundestag's official web site. After a pass through the google translator program, I have worked all morning on providing the translation below, the first, it would appear, to be publicly available. (That in itself is an interesting fact that I will address tomorrow.) I am sure it is not perfectly clean but I think it will do.

I have not been a particular fan of Chancellor Merkel, and were I German, I suspect I would vote with the SPD. (I have known for 40 years, however, that the Christian Democratic party to which she belongs has consistently been to the left of our own Democratic Party, even though it represents the right there.) I am now inclined to revise my opinion. She has seized the moment in exactly the way that President Obama has failed to do. Below I reproduce the text of her speech in full, and I hope you will take the time to read it. Tomorrow I will provide my own commentary. My admiration for her has enormously increased because of something that happened since the speech: the news that she and Nicolas Sarkoczy forced the bankers to write off 50% of their Greek debt to help solve the crisis. Meanwhile I thank Chancellor Merkel for showing me that I have not been living in a completely delusional world.

Dr. Angela Merkel, Federal Chancellor
Mr. President! Ladies and gentlemen, Three years ago, the bankruptcy of investment bank Lehman Brothers triggered the biggest stock market crash of the postwar period. What began as an American real estate crisis quickly developed into a global financial crisis. Joint efforts by the Federal Government and the Bundestag had time to prevent Germany from falling into a deep recession. The crisis has demanded much of our citizenry: economic losses, but also patience and trust.

Today we can say that our joint efforts have paid off, because Germany has emerged stronger from the global financial crisis than it went into it. We can look forward to impressive economic growth. And above all, unemployment has reached a 20-year low.
It is also clear that Germany cannot do well in the long run if Europe does badly. Therefore, the main concern of the Federal Government is that Europe emerge stronger from the crisis stronger than it entered into it. The European Union must be a stabilizing union. What does that mean?

It means, firstly, that we must address the immediate crisis. We need to find viable solutions for the countries that have an excessive debt, and thus correct the mistakes of the past. At the same time we must prevent the crisis from spreading to other countries.

Secondly and equally importantly, we must take precautions for the future. We need to tackle the causes of this crisis to resolve it at its root. This is the excessive debt, but also the lack of competitiveness of some euro-member states. This means than that we need to strengthen the foundations of economic and monetary union .

Each of these two challenges is quite large in itself. But we must nonetheless find convincing answers to these challenges if the economic and currency union is to survive this test and emerge ever stronger from it.. I think we all agree: This is the greatest test of the Economic and Monetary Union that the world has ever seen.

(Voice from the Left: Probably not the last)

The deliberations of finance ministers and heads of government made a good deal of progress towards finding the answers this past weekend, and I declare this evening that we shall find workable answers. Some of the the problems that we must solve had their origins well before the onset of the current crisis. They were unfortunately ignored both by the markets and by political leaders for much too long.

The truth is this: For years it was possible to go into debt without incurring the market sanctions of increased interest or penalties which the Stability and Growth Pact called for. For years it was possible to avoid necessary reforms and fall behind in competitiveness. For the truth is also that the Structural Fund and the Cohesion fund provided by the EU to increase competitiveness led in part to unintended consequences and failed to achieve the desired result. After many years of stalled reforms, we now must struggle . It would be totally irresponsible to say that the problems could disappear overnight.

But there is also good news. Above all, Ireland is back on track, Portugal is firmly determined to implement its adjustment program, and the Greek government has begun much-need reforms in recent months. We must also note that much is demanded of the people of Greece. They deserve our respect, and they deserve above all a viable future in the euro-zone.

(Applause from the CDU / CSU, SPD, FDP and Alliance 90/The Greens)

Nevertheless, there is still much to be done to bring the problems in Greece under control. The so-called troika comprising representatives of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund is monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the program, designed to allow Greece to carry its burden of debt. We must now draw the right conclusions from their latest report. The report draws on the experience of one and a half years a realistic picture of the situation in Greece. This is particularly thanks to the IMF and its new director, Christine Lagarde, to whom I would like to express my gratitude at this point.

(Applause from the CDU / CSU and FDP)

The Troika report shows that Greece is only at the beginning of a long and difficult journey. It also makes clear that the private sector must make a significant contribution to improve Greece's long term debt sustainability. This means that the measures that we decided upon on 21 July 2011 at the European Council are no longer viable. Our goal is that today's deliberations must design debt sustainability for Greece such that Greece in 2020 has a debt of 120 percent debt of gross domestic product. We cannot achieve this without the private sector assuming a much greater share of the burden than on 21 July 2011 was provided.

(Dr. Ilja Seifert [The Left]: That was already clear!)

Debt relief alone - let me be very clear here - no matter how it is configured, will not solve the problems of Greece. Painful and necessary structural reforms must be implemented effectively. Otherwise, in spite of debt relief we shall in a short time back to where we are today. This must always be clear.
(Applause from the CDU / CSU and FDP)

Thus, the principle which we applied from the beginning is right: there can only be help if the recipient accepts responsibility. Aid must always be tied to strict conditions.

Ladies and gentlemen, in this way we must provide Greece with security for quite some time. I believe - and we'll talk about it today - it's not enough that every three months a troika comes in and then leaves. Permanent supervision in Greece is desirable.
(Voice from the Left: Just like us!)

Similarly, we are obliged to do everything possible to ensure that Greece will have the opportunity to grow again. This means investments under clearly improved conditions. For this reason there is an EU mission led by the German Horst Reichenbach. For this reason, there was the trip of the Federal Economics Minister to Greece – carrying with him a variety of potential investment by German companies.

(Juergen Trittin [Alliance 90/The Greens]: As if the Greeks are dependent!)

And for this reason there will be a meeting of representatives of German and Greek cities next week. They will discuss how they can help each other.
I stress - I think I say this on your behalf - We want Greece quickly on its feet. We will do everything we can, within the framework of a German-Greek partnership.

(Applause from the CDU / CSU and the FDP and SPD deputies)

A reduced debt for Greece, including the participation of private creditors, means that we must also find a solution that avoids systemic risk, that is, that other countries from being infected due to this process . Therefore we have to do two things.

We need to ensure , first, that the banks do not lose confidence in one another. Therefore, this past weekend the Finance Ministers have decided upon a stronger recapitalization of on the basis of proposals of the European Banking Supervisors. This is an absolutely necessary and very important element to prevent such infection. We must carry out this recapitalization of the banks in the following sequence. First, banks must attempt to recapitalize on their own, and only in the second place can nation-states help, and only if the stability of the Euro itself is in danger, because a nation state can not allow the EFSF to get used to its help. This is the sequence.
A second important element to prevent the risk of infection is the so-called protective barrier over which we have been talking a lot. You can also call firewall if you have mastered English.

(Laughter from CDU / CSU and FDP)

I wanted to use only German, which I thought would help. (Applause from the CDU / CSU and FDP)

For this we need to - this is the second step - shield all the other countries from the risk of contagion that may emanate from Greece. To which I add: it is absolutely essential that before we erect such shields, any country that might be affected puts its house in order and takes additional measures to try to prove its own soundness. This must be the first subject of discussion.

Now we come to the form the shield will take; it has been much discussed. The EFSF now has an effective capacity of 440 billion euros, which we agreed to here. Germany takes on guarantees in the amount of 211 billion euros. Those will remain the total volume of the EFSF and the upper limit of the German guarantees.

In today's meeting we agreed that the EFSF must achieve with this capacity the maximum impact in the prevention of contagion. The effect of this shield must be large enough. There has been a full public debate on it. I say again - this is very important in this context: - All models that assume the participation of the European Central Bank are now off the table and not the subject of discussion.

(Applause from the CDU / CSU and FDP)

Such ideas contradict the European treaties. I have made clear that for the Federal German government such solutions do not come into question.

(Voice from the Left: The biggest nonsense!)

Now, two options without the participation of the European Central Bank are: firstly, the partial insurance of new government securities of the affected Eurostate and second, the possible participation of private and public investors in the financing steps taken by the EFSF. Both options can only be used within the agreed framework for EFSF action. This also ensures that existing clear EFSF principles are always applied. The Member State shall submit an application for assistance,a Memorandum of Understanding will be negotiated, and a strictly conditional aid agreed.

The German Bundestag and the Federal government must consent to the grants of aid in individual cases and agree to the application of the two options, and do so in a way that allows for parliamentary action. Today the Bundestag will decide upon the two options in principle, we will discuss them this evening at the meeting of Heads of State or Government in principle and decide upon them. . Of course, any guidelines will go through the parliamentary process here in the German Bundestag.

(Applause from the CDU / CSU and FDP MPs)

Furthermore, Europe has a consensus to hold talks with the International Monetary Fund on how the IMF can contribute further to the stabilization of the Euro-zone, drawing both on its expertise and as appropriate on its financial instruments.

I want to repeat , because it is important for today’s decision: Whoever wants private creditors to contribute to the debt sustainability of Greece, must also take care that a shield, a protection against contagion is established. Anything else is grossly irresponsible.

(Applause from the CDU / CSU and FDP)

I have said: The federal government wants the Economic and Monetary Union to become a union of stability. Therefore we must both deal with the acute crisis and provide for the future, namely by having the European member states undertake greater common responsibilities. We have already taken the first steps, for example, with the euro-plus pact with the leaders of the Euro-zone voluntarily committing to implement structural reforms. This means that competitiveness is now a top priority in the European Union. With the newly effected procedures for preventing and correcting macroeconomic imbalances, competitive weaknesses can be detected earlier and corrected. Also, the Structural and Cohesion funds must be used more this in the future, that they truly improve competitiveness.

But I also say – looking at matters from another perspective-- economic imbalances are not bad in themselves. If a surplus arises because a country is more competitive than another, it should clearly not be called into question and leveled, just as different interest rates reflect different strengths. (Applause from the CDU / CSU and the FDP and the Abg. Zöllmer Manfred [SPD])

We have tightened the Stability and Growth Pact. Sanctions come into play earlier. They are more effective. The pact now hs a lot more bite. In this respect, we have initiated a new trend.

Moreover, the French president, and I proposed - and we'll pursue it further – that national parliaments will commit themselves, if the European Commission criticizes their budgets, voluntarily to take account of the criticism, and that all euro Member States undertake to include a debt brake in their constitution.

(Applause from the CDU / CSU and FDP)

These discussions are in full swing. I find it absolutely remarkable that a country like Spain has changed its constitution to include such a debt brake shortly before elections.

(Applause from the CDU / CSU and the FDP - Dr. Barbara Hendricks [SPD]: There are Social Democrats in power there!)

Thus we tighten and improve European procedures. We complement and reinforce them by obligating ourselves, as I have just said. We thus extend the framework of existing European treaties. The problems we face today must and can be solved within this framework. But I also say this: We need more. It is my firm conviction that we must go beyond this approach.

Moreover, it is also thus: If the international community looks at us in Europe, it also wants to know where the development of the European Union will go in the medium term, because it need assurances that the euro zone stands together, improves its competitiveness and strengthens its culture of stability.

Therefore, we will need to alter the European treaties.

(Voice from the Left: Aha)
The Foreign Minister on Saturday, and I on Sunday, have begun work on this, and we gave decided that we shall ask the President of the Council to make proposals in December proposals on how the culture of stability can be better anchored. This is not a comprehensive reform of the Treaty of Lisbon – that would be too much – not is it a pooling of larger parts of our economic and financial policies,

(Juergen Trittin [Alliance 90/The Greens]: Too bad!)

but in the next step is to, first of all with regard to countries that violate continuously and repeatedly the Stability and Growth Pact, to create an opportunity to have a real sanction for their violations of the Stability and Growth Pact.

(Applause from the CDU / CSU and the FDP -
Unrest in the LEFT)

Because - because as people are muttering again - it is this: We cannot allow, as has happened over 50 times , that agreed targets in the Stability and Growth Pact are not met. We now know that a failure in one of the 17 Member States - Greece is not the largest - may jeopardize the stability of the euro overall.

(Voice from the Left: Of course!)

Therefore, these violations of the culture of stability must be more sharply sanctioned, for example, by a complaint before the European Court of Justice, if a country does not permanently adhere to the guidelines.

(Applause from the CDU / CSU and FDP)

I am very sure that the citizens in Germany, rightly burdened with many concerns, understand one thing very well. They do not merely want more Europe, they want more security for the culture of stability in Europe.

I think only when we create more of a Europe in this sense, if we continue to develop Europe further, then, we will have understood the political dimension of this crisis. Then we will have also understood that we will eliminate the weaknesses and flaws in the design of economic and monetary union now or not at all. If we eliminate them now, then we use the opportunity of this crisis. Otherwise we would fail.

(Applause from the CDU / CSU and FDP)

I am well aware of: A treaty modification always involves risks. It is a painstaking process. All 27 member states must agree. Nevertheless, it is necessary and the best way to prevent a split between the European Union's euro and non-euro countries. If we do not succeed, the euro-zone countries will have to conclude binding contracts with each other. I do not want that. I would not find it reasonable, because many countries still want to join the euro. Therefore, we must be ready to go this route.

Since we are in such an existential crisis in Europe, I ask: Where is it actually written that a treaty amendment must always take a decade? Who in the world will think we are capable of action, if we stand up and way : "After the Lisbon Treaty, there must never again be a change"? The whole world changes, and Europe must also be willing to change.

(Applause from the CDU / CSU and the FDP - Thomas Oppermann [SPD]: One year too late!)

Just as we managed in the question of German unification to conclude a two-plus-Four Treaty in six months, so will it also be be possible - the Euro should be worth enough to us – to look at amendments to the treaty.

(Applause from the CDU / CSU and FDP)

Given the dimensions of the struggle against the crisis, we must not forget: It was created largely by too little regulation. Therefore, the regulation of financial markets remains a major task, which is still far from done.

(Applause from deputies of the CDU / CSU and Alliance 90/The Greens)

Therefore, the European Council on Sunday once again took up the matter and stressed that important proposals for the regulation of derivatives, deposit insurance and capital requirements for banks now have to be adopted quickly. In this context, I want to reiterate that the federal government is committed to the introduction of a financial transaction tax, and indeed
(Call from Mr. Alexander Ulrich [The Left])
in the next few days at the G-20 summit in Cannes. We are also grateful that the European Commission presented a proposal for it. The finance ministers will discuss this proposal in early November, and Germany will do everything to make this proposal by the European Commission a success.

(Applause from the CDU / CSU and the FDP and from members of the SPD and Alliance 90/The Greens - Alexander Ulrich [The Left]: Just like here!)

It is also true: Many questions require not only a national or European response but a global response. Thus the G 20 is the appropriate forum. The G-20 represents at least two-thirds of world population and 80 percent of world economic power. Therefore, the starting point of the G-20 discussions in the rest was a better global regulation of financial markets.

One can say: We did a lot. An important step will now betaken in Cannes: Megabanks will no longer be dealt with as they were in the crisis, forcing the taxpayer to play a role. . "Too big to fail" is no more, and we shall have an international agreement on the restructuring of megabanks such as we have already carried out in Germany with the proposed restructuring law for banks.
(Juergen Trittin [Alliance 90/The Greens]: Then do it finally! Switzerland is further along than we!)

It was a long time coming, but it is good that we can now decide in Cannes.

(Applause from the CDU / CSU and FDP)

At the same time we shall take on the task of making clear, that what applies to banks, including the "shadow banks" must apply, for example, to hedge funds, because they too present as much a systemic risk to financial markets. The so-called Financial Stability Board will be addressed next.

(Applause from the CDU / CSU and FDP MPs)

In Europe we have already regulated the hedge fund. But the world has not done so sufficiently. Therefore, the topic of tax havens is n the table again, because we had planned in the G 20 at the beginning, that every instrument, every place and every player would be subject to regulation. Since we cannot do enough nationally or in Europe, that must happen worldwide. However, I also say this: With Individual measures in Germany, for example the ban on short selling, we have had good experience, because now the whole subject is discussed at least in Europe. Now we have to bring it forward even worldwide.
(Applause from the CDU / CSU and FDP MPs)

What is very important: G-20 will only work, if new resolutions are not passed every year. We committed ourselves to halve our 2013 state deficit. Germany will do it, but not all industrial countries in the G 20. I do not believe we can decide every year exactly what fits the economic situation. Rather, I believe that the G-20 has the obligation to hold itself on a long-term path to remove the cause of many difficulties. There is debt not only in Europe but also in other parts of the world such as Japan or the United States of America. Therefore, I think: It's not enough, when we exhort one another only, it's especially important that we act together.

Who is on the road these days in various countries speaking with citizens, whoever follows the demonstrations in New York, Brussels, Frankfurt or Berlin, who knows how much the debt crisis moves the people. I say that I have great sympathy. The situation is very serious. To cope with the crisis, requires persistence. We all break new ground. I have laid out the causes of the crisis. They are complex. Simple solutions, the one magic bullet, will not emerge. The issues will occupy us for years.

The documents on maximizing the lending capacity of the EFSF, the best which knowledge and conscience can now produce, now lie before you. In the public debate on this maximization we hear much of a major failure and liability risk that Germany will assume. Whether that will be, no one can ultimately assess conclusively. But I say explicitly: we can not exclude it.
(Thomas Oppermann [SPD]: the last week still sounded different!)
Therefore it is right and good that we have this enshrined in our resolution .
(Applause from the SPD and Alliance 90/The Greens)
I want to talk about it because here we are at a point where all bear who political responsibility, have to answer a simple political question. It reads: As we go into a situation like this, how do we deal with risks? Put another way: What do we consider to be acceptable risks? Can we specifically regard risk that we take with the maximization of the EFSF acceptable or not? Today this is the specific question. When I consider the risk unacceptable, then I cannot run it. If after weighing all the pros and cons I consider it reasonable, then I have to take the risk. This is exactly what distinguishes political action from other kinds of action.
(Applause from the CDU / CSU and FDP)

Regarding the maximization of the EFSF we know:

First. The German share will remain at 211 billion euros.

Second. Contracts are not broken.

Third. We are the economically strongest nation. But - and I say it- we are not the center of the world. The world looks to Europe and Germany. She looks to see whether we are willing and able to take responsibility in the hour of Europe's worst crisis since the end of World War II.

Fourth. The potential loss and liability risk is offset by the economic profit that Germany like no other country has taken from the Euro.

Fifthly. My conclusion is therefore: the risk that is associated with the maximization of the EFSF now proposed is acceptable.

(Voice from the Left: for whom?)
I go even one step further: It would not be reasonable and not responsible, not to take the risk. A better alternative, a more sensible alternative is for me, considering all the options. not available.

Dear colleagues, thank you for your past support and critical support in our efforts to protect and strengthen the euro. It is my personal goal, in close cooperation with the German Bundestag - to find solutions for the benefit of our country - with government and opposition factions.

I am convinced that the comprehensive approach that I have laid out to address the acute crisis on the one hand and take wise precautions for the future on the other, will enable us to make the Economic and Monetary Union again a union of stability. To our citizens, I say: It remains true: What is good for Europe, is also good for Germany. This is what half a century of peace and prosperity in Germany and in Europe proves.

Allow me given the situation - not only the economic situation of the debt crisis, but also the political situation in individual European countries - to end with a personal word. No one should believe that another half century of peace and prosperity in Europe is inevitable. It is not. Therefore I say: If the euro fails, then Europe fails. This must not happen.

(Applause from the CDU / CSU and the FDP and from members of the SPD and Alliance 90/The Greens)

We have an historic commitment to defend and protect, with all available means, the unification of Europe, which our forefathers put under way 50 years ago after centuries of hatred and bloodshed. None of us can foresee the consequences if it does not succeed. It must not happen—that is my deep belief—that one day it shall be said, that the generation of political leaders who bore responsibility in Europe in the second decade of the 21st century failed before history.

I find all the more valuable the political message that the German Bundestag sends today a joint request by the CDU / CSU, the SPD, the FDP and Alliance 90/The Greens, by the people of Germany, to Europe and the world. It is sending a message that goes far beyond financial policy statements . It sends the message that Germany regardless of party lines protects the European project and stands together for this goal. For that I thank all those who contributed to it. You can be sure that I will take this message with me today for the complex negotiations in Brussels.

Thank you.
(Prolonged applause from the CDU / CSU and the FDP - Applause from the SPD and Alliance 90/The Greens)