Featured Post

Another New Book Available: States of the Union, The History of the United States through Presidential Addresses, 1789-2023

Mount Greylock Books LLC has published States of the Union: The History of the United States through Presidential Addresses, 1789-2023.   St...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The disappearance of public life

By the time this post appears I plan to be on vacation, but I can predict fairly confidently that Anthony Weiner will no longer be a member of Congress. The scandal surrounding his texts and photos marks a new low in American politics--a new stage in a long process that began, as I recall, in 1987, when Gary Hart was running for President--and which can only get worse as time goes on. And, not for the first time, I have not been able to find a single other commentator who seems willing to introduce some sanity into this particular discussion.

I was 40 in 1987 and I had already observed, and read about, a great deal about politics and sex. The behavior of Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy, and Warren Harding, to name only four, was already well known. More importantly, I had seen enough of political life first hand to know that politicians are not average people. They do a very difficult job--ministering to all our needs cheerfully, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week--and it inevitably puts a big strain on their family life. Until the 1970s a divorce was often (although not always) enough to ruin a political career. And politicians generally have large egos and radiate a certain charisma which, as Henry Kissinger mentioned to Mao Zedong, can be a strong aphrodisiac. Thus sexual escapades among politicians, I realized, could frequently be expected to occur--and history taught us that they said nothing, literally, about the politician's ability to govern.

So it was that I was genuinely shocked in 1987 when the press decided to take Gary Hart up on his challenge to "follow him around" and publish the story of him and Donna Rice, sinking his campaign. It was not that I thought Hart would be a great President or even that I planned to vote for him; I simply knew that our politics could not function if this kind of thing became a staple of front page news. And the last 24 years, I think, have vindicated my judgment in spades.

A good, if not great, President of the United States, Bill Clinton, had to spend many hundreds of hours and probably millions of dollars defending against various allegations of sexual misconduct. The law enforcement mechanism of the federal government was deployed to discover whether he had had sex with Monica Lewinsky. When Ken Starr released the "Lewinsky report" I was truly shocked to discover the not so awful truth: they had apparently not had sex, as it is normally defined. But that hardly mattered. A blow job became the basis, in effect, for the impeachment of a President. (I know technically he was impeached for lying when he said they didn't have sex, but he never should have been asked, or agreed to answer, a question like that, in the first place.) It turned out, curiously enough, that a majority of my fellow citizens evidently shared my view with regard to Clinton, and he survived, much to the frustration of the press corps that had lavished so many inches upon Whitewater and Lewinsky. But that was 12 years ago--now we have gone much further.

No one seems to care that Anthony Weiner, unlike Mark Sanford, Mark Foley, John Edwards, David Vitter, and all the rest, never actually did anything except flirt lasciviously on the internet, an exciting and usually harmless pursuit in which many millions of Americans have engaged. As a matter of fact, I think everyone should stop and think about this for a moment: such flirting, or "sexting," is almost a normal rite of passage for today's youth, and do we really want to ban a whole generation from public office on this basis? Has it occurred to anyone exactly how easy it would be for a hostile blogger like Andrew Breitbart to entrap a politician, whether liberal or conservative, into such an exchange? In one respect Weiner was noticeably indiscreet: he sent pictures. Clearly one rule we should all adopt forthwith is this: don't allow anyone, including a lover or spouse, to take fully or partially nude photos of you in the digital age. But I am not sure that the pictures were the critical variable this time, and I am quite sure that they will not be next time. We have reached an Orwellian Age: sexual thoughtcrime is enough to drive you out of office, if you have entered your thoughts as text.

Today [June 9 -- ed,], for the first time in three consecutive days, the New York Times decided that the Weiner story did not belong on p. 1, column 8. Matt Drudge of course continues to headline it. The Democratic leadership has totally abandoned Weiner, just as Agriculture Secretary Vilsack abandoned the black woman in the Agriculture Department whose speech Breitbart excerpted falsely. Weiner will not be the last politician to be destroyed in this way. The country may not miss him, but its political life has suffered enormously.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A kindred spirit

Like my first intellectual hero Orwell, I've been a relatively independent thinker all my life--going back, actually, to my childhood--and I have some scars to prove it. Yet while it can be very comfortable to be in the minority, it is extremely difficult, I think, to stick to one's opinions with no support whatever. Orwell obviously thought so too. That's the point of the climax of 1984, when O'Brien terrorizes Winston not only into giving up his political apostasy, but even to betraying Julia. In the end Winston winds up loving Big Brother because he has no one else to love. No one has ever explored the Freudian implications of all this effectively, to my knowledge, but that's a story for another time.

Now for some years now, and with increasing frequency, I've been talking about the decline of rationality in our civilization. I still haven't been able to bring myself to read the book I bought years ago detailing a similar process in the early Christian era, perhaps because I'm too afraid of what I might find, but I think about this almost every day. To paraphrase Orwell once again, the freedom to say that two plus two equals four is once again under threat. So it was very comforting to pick up the current New York Review of Books a few days ago and read a most interesting article by George Soros, "My Philanthropy," beating the same drum.

I have never met Soros, although I believe my father, a former Ambassador to Hungary, knew this most prominent Hungarian-American fairly well. He does not seem to be aware of generational theory but his life bears a most interesting relation to it. Born apparently in 1930, he belongs to a small minority who actually can live through at least parts of not one, but two great world crises. As he explains, he was 13 when the Nazis brought their form of irrational terror to Hungary, and only his father's ingenuity saved him and most of his family. He made it to the United States during the High, in the 1950s and 1960s, when the prestige of science and rationality was at its height. (These of course were the years of my own childhood.) But now, for the last forty years of his life, although his own insights into the world economy have made him one of the wealthiest men in the world, he has watched the steady erosion of rationality in public life, especially in his adopted nation the United States. And, not surprisingly, he is profoundly disturbed by it.

Soros explains that he has contributed $8 billion to a series of Open Society foundations around the world, designed to develop and publicize information useful to the public and hold governments accountable. Western societies have a good many such organizations already; many others do not. But Soros is also concerned about worldwide governance, especially in the financial realm. Like me, he worries about the problem of imposing order upon chaos. As he says:

"As I see it, mankind’s ability to understand and control the forces of nature greatly exceeds our ability to govern ourselves. Our economy has become global; our governance has not. Our future and, in some respects, our survival depend on our ability to develop the appropriate global governance. This applies to a variety of fields: global warming and nuclear proliferation are the most obvious, but the threats of terrorism and infectious diseases also qualify; so do global financial markets. In the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, it is not enough to stabilize and restart the financial markets; we must reinvent a global financial system that has broken down. Having reached this insight, I cannot afford not to address these issues."

Soros was among the minority of financiers who were not surprised by the financial crisis, and in rather chilling language he describes what he tried to do about it.

"I passionately disagreed with Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s plan to bail out the banks by using a public fund called the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to help banks take toxic assets off their balance sheets. I argued that it would be much better to put the money where the hole was and replenish the equity of the banks themselves. I worked closely with the Democratic leadership in Congress to modify the TARP act so as to allow the money to be used for the purchase of equity interests. I had many other ideas that I hoped would be put into practice when Obama became president, including a fundamental reform of the mortgage system, but that did not happen. I published a series of articles in the Financial Times but got little response from the Obama administration. I had many more discussions with Larry Summers before he became the President’s economic adviser than I did afterward. My greatest disappointment was that I was unable to establish any kind of personal contact with President Obama himself."

Exactly why Barack Obama put so much more faith in Larry Summers than in older men like Soros and Paul Volcker is a question I would very much like to understand. But I digress.

The three most critical paragraphs of the essay follow and I reproduce them in full (obviously for non-commercial use only.)

"The United States has been a democracy and open society since its founding. The idea that it will cease to be one seems preposterous; yet it is a very likely prospect. After September 11, the Bush administration exploited the very real fear generated by the terrorist attack, and by declaring 'war on terror' was able to unite the nation behind the commander-in-chief, lead it to invade Iraq on false pretenses, and violate established standards of human rights in pursuing and interrogating terrorists.

"The war on terror forced me to reconsider the concept of open society. My experiences in the former Soviet Union had already taught me that the collapse of a closed society does not automatically lead to an open one; the collapse may be seemingly bottomless, to be followed by the emergence of a new regime that has a greater resemblance to the regime that collapsed than to an open society. Now I had to probe deeper into the concept of open society that I had adopted from Karl Popper in my student days, and I discovered a flaw in it.

"Popper had argued that free speech and critical thinking would lead to better laws and a better understanding of reality than any dogma. I came to realize that there was an unspoken assumption embedded in his argument, namely that the purpose of democratic discourse is to gain a better understanding of reality. It dawned on me that my own concept of reflexivity brings Popper’s hidden assumption into question. If thinking has a manipulative function as well as a cognitive one, then it may not be necessary to gain a better understanding of reality in order to obtain the laws one wants. There is a shortcut: “spinning” arguments and manipulating public opinion to get the desired results. Today our political discourse is primarily concerned with getting elected and staying in power. Popper’s hidden assumption that freedom of speech and thought will produce a better understanding of reality is valid only for the study of natural phenomena. Extending it to human affairs is part of what I have called the 'Enlightenment fallacy.'

"As it happened, the political operatives of the Bush administration became aware of the Enlightenment fallacy long before I did. People like me, misguided by that fallacy, believed that the propaganda methods described in George Orwell’s 1984 could prevail only in a dictatorship. They knew better. Frank Luntz, the well-known right-wing political consultant, proudly acknowledged that he used 1984 as his textbook in designing his catchy slogans. And Karl Rove reportedly claimed that he didn’t have to study reality; he could create it. The adoption of Orwellian techniques gave the Republican propaganda machine a competitive advantage in electoral politics. The other side has tried to catch up with them but has been hampered by a lingering attachment to the pursuit of truth."

Even though I have mixed feelings about this passage, I have no doubt that it states a very profound truth about our times. (It has never been confirmed, by the way, that Karl Rove was the Bush Administration official who talked about creating his own reality, but it was widely assumed from the beginning.) And I am increasingly convinced that the change is related to the eclipse of print media in favor first of television and then of other electronic media over the last half century. Images replaced sentences as marketing tools, first in the economy and then in politics. It is easier to excite the senses directly than to reach them through the rational part of the brain. Political consultants have understood this for a long time. The result is that, as Soros says, we now face a profound economic crisis without the capacity to carry on an intelligent public discussion about it.

What sticks in my craw in his passage is the phrase "Enlightenment fallacy." I don't know enough about the intellectual history of the 18th century to state this with any confidence, but I'm not sure that the great Enlightenment thinkers believed that reason was certain to become the predominant force in human affairs. They (like our own Founding Fathers, who came from that tradition) believed that reason could, and should, play a greater part in human affairs, but I think most of them knew that this would never be easy. It's ironic, but also very understandable, that the 1950s and early 1960s, when rationalism was at its peak, gave way so suddenly and dramatically to the emotional explosion of the Awakening, which ultimately led the humanities departments in academia to abandon the idea of the Enlightenment. I was appalled more than ten years ago when Cornel West and Henry Lewis Gates had the Boomer effrontery to criticize their Missionary counterpart, W. E. B. Dubois, for being "too seduced by the Englightenment project." On the contrary, Dubois understood that reason, however threatened by outbreaks of emotion, would always remain the only possible basis for a just society. Soros actually comes around to a position similar to this himself: "Karl Popper took it for granted that the primary purpose of political discourse is the pursuit of truth. That is not the case now; therefore we must make it so. What was a hidden assumption in Popper’s argument must be turned into an explicit requirement for open society to prevail." I actually doubt that that statement would have come as a surprise to the Englightenment figures themselves--certainly not to Rouusseau, Jefferson or Madison.

Soros has drawn the particular ire of the right because his life is a repudiation of their principles. Rich people like him are supposed to feel entitled to their wealth and not to be concerned with the broader public good. I suspect that is why he has been subjected to such scurrilous propaganda campaigns, as he mentions. Turning to the economic crisis, he argues that President Obama's non-confrontational approach and excessive optimism has given the Republicans the initiative, and that they have used Orwellian newspeak to convince the public that government caused the problem and that dismantling government is the solution.

"a What is surprising is the extent of their success. The explanation lies partly in the power of Orwell’s Newspeak and partly in the aversion of the public to facing harsh realities.

"On the one hand, Newspeak is extremely difficult to contradict because it incorporates and thereby preempts its own contradiction, as when Fox News calls itself fair and balanced. Another trick is to accuse your opponent of the behavior of which you are guilty, like Fox News accusing me of being the puppet master of a media empire. Skillful practitioners always attack the strongest point of their opponent, like the Swiftboat ads attacking John Kerry’s Vietnam War record. Facts do not provide any protection, and rejecting an accusation may serve to have it repeated; but ignoring it can be very costly, as John Kerry discovered in the 2004 election.

"On the other hand, the pursuit of truth has lost much of its appeal. When reality is unpleasant, illusions offer an attractive escape route. In difficult times unscrupulous manipulators enjoy a competitive advantage over those who seek to confront reality. Nazi propaganda prevailed in the Weimar Republic because the public had been humiliated by military defeat and disoriented by runaway inflation. In its own quite different way, the American public has been subjected to somewhat comparable experiences, first by the terrorist attacks of September 11, and then by the financial crisis, which not only caused material hardship but also seemed to seal the decline of the United States as the dominant power in the world. With the rise of China occurring concurrently, the shift in power and influence has been dramatic.

"The two trends taken together—the reluctance to face harsh reality coupled with the refinement in the techniques of deception—explain why America is failing to meet the requirements of an open society. Apparently, a society needs to be successful in order to remain open."

For the past three years I have been studying Franklin Roosevelt, and I am convinced that he understood that last point perfectly. He lived, and governed, in an age when bad political outcomes such as Stalinism and Nazism were not only possible, but seemed on their way to becoming the norm. And thus, he understood that he had to persuade the American people with both words and deeds that their system was working--and he did. And it is no coincidence, in my opinion, that Roosevelt, a born aristocrat, understood that the ordinary man had to be convinced we were on the right track, while Obama, a bright young man from a relatively modest background who was adopted, if you will, by the elite educational system, apparently does not.

Two days ago I was talking to a contemporary who remarked that she was glad to be as old as we are, and that she feared for today's youth. I have mixed feelings about that too. She is all too aware, as am I, of the decline in our political and social life that we have lived through, but I suppose I am more hopeful that the younger generations will be able at least to begin to reverse it. We can now say that the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century dream that reason could produce utopia was indeed a fallacy. Reason is simply one pole of human experience whose importance rises and falls over the centuries. It has been falling for the last forty years; it will someday stage a comeback. Recognizing that, it seems to me, holds the key to dealing with the remainder of our lives with some optimism, no matter how bad the news on the front pages seems to be.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

President Obama's Problems

The alternatives to a second Obama term are so frightening that one hesitates to find fault with him unduly, but this is becoming harder and harder. It became quite clear after the passage of the health care plan that Barack Obama's career as a transformational President was over and that he had no wish to resume it. I began suggesting around that time that he seemed at least as likely to become the Herbert Hoover of our present crisis as our FDR. He is clearly, I regret to say, a creature of the Establishment in a way that Roosevelt and even Kennedy were not. Academia treated him very well in his youth, and evidently earned his confidence. He has relied on conventional economic thinkers with results that are likely to be disastrous. But something else has emerged over the past few years, something which I am not nearly close enough to the situation fully to understand, but which emerges clearly from a growing body of data. In the midst of an economic crisis and an increasingly chaotic world, Barack Obama is not, it would seem, a very rewarding President to work for.

The contrast with other Presidents, and particularly with FDR, is noteworthy. Judge Samuel Rosenman was Roosevelt's principal speech drafter for the whole of this thirteen years in office. His cabinet members showed extraordinary loyalty. Secretary of State Hull, never a Roosevelt intimate, served for 11 years; Treasury Secretary Morgenthau served for the last 11; Interior Secretary Ickes and Labor Secretary Frances Perkins served for the full twelve. Harry Hopkins and Henry Wallace were close collaborators in several different capacities for the whole FDR Presidency. So did Admiral William Leahy. There were more changes within the White House, but staffers Steve Early and Pa Watson were also in attendance for a very long time. There were many reasons for this. Roosevelt spent time with all these men and women and encouraged them to compete for his favor; but more importantly, they knew they were part of a great crusade to remake America, and, then, the world. The private sector clearly offered no opportunities of comparable interest. Roosevelt's Administration included very few members of the GI (or "greatest") generation, as far as I can see, but it inspired many of them to behave similarly under Kennedy and Johnson. McNamara and Rusk stayed at their posts for seven and eight years; so did Orville Freeman at Agriculture and Stewart Udall at Interior. There were very few changes in either man's White House staff.

Barack Obama has now been President for two and a half years. He has already had two Chiefs of Staff; two press secretaries; and two National Security Advisers. In the midst of the worst long-term economic crisis in eighty years, one chairman of his Economic Council (Larry Summers) and two heads of the Council of Economic Advisers (Christina Romer and Austen Goolsbee) have left their posts. Having already changed National Security Advisers, he has now changed both the head of the CIA and the Secretary of Defense, losing Robert Gates, whose appointment was nearly the only bipartisan gesture that he managed to make work. And now rumors have surfaced that Hillary Clinton may follow in the footsteps of Robert McNamara and Paul Wolfowitz and go to the World Bank.

What this means, among other things, is that with the possible exception of Treasury Secretary Geithner (who is emerging as a major policy and public relations liability), no one has been allowed to emerge as a political force and a popular figure in his own right. Roosevelt in particular did not make that mistake. Ickes, Hopkins, Wallace, and, during the war, Secretary of War Stimson were massive public presences in their own right, inspirations to New Deal voters and lightning rods for opposition. Rumsfeld and Cheney played similar roles under Bush II. Hillary Clinton certainly might have played a similar role, but the Administration's foreign policy has been so lacking in innovation or initiative that she really has not had a chance to.

Why has all this happened, or not happened? To begin with, the President has made it clear that he would rather preside over the Eisenhower Administration than the Roosevelt one. One major reform--Health Care--and one anti-depression initiative, the stimulus, was enough for him--even though it hasn't worked. Roosevelt gave his subordinates responsibility and new worlds to conquer; Obama is fighting a largely unsuccessful battle simply to keep a federal government in place at all. Yet that cannot be the whole story. The President has always seemed to be a man of intelligence and charm, and he is legendary for never losing his temper; but sadly, he seems to lack Roosevelt's and Kennedy's knack for inspiring loyalty. Interestingly enough, while most of the men and women I mentioned above entered the national government for the first time under FDR, Obama has recruited an astonishing number of veterans of the Clinton Administration. While no adviser has betrayed, they have found it all to easy to end their relationship. There must be some reason for this, and eventually we will find out what it is.

Our crisis may be about to become much worse. Natural economic forces are not coming to our assistance, and the Republicans, it seems, may actually want to bring about a government default in the belief that any ensuing chaos will rebound to their benefit. The President has about six months to get on top of events. It is not clear that he has the necessary men and women around him to help him do so.

p.s. I of course had no idea when I did this post that the President, just a few days later, would tell the American people that he sometimes feels as if one term in office would be enough One reason people enjoyed working with FDR and JFK so much was that they couldn't wait to get to work every day. In any organization, the man or woman at the top sets the tone.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Right-wingers, then and now

Yesterday a friend for whom I have a great deal of respect wrote ma an email suggesting that today's Republicans and the early Nazis have a good deal in common. The remark immediately set me thinking, because I think that at this point, it is a half truth--and it's very important for anyone with any hope for America to understand both what is true, and what is false, about that analogy. While the Tea Partiers may show many psychological parallels to early enthusiasts for National Socialism, they are, in many ways, inferior to them--and nowhere more so than among their leadership. Thus, while they may indeed have dreadful consequences for the United States, the consequences, it seems to me, will be of a very different character.
In the long scheme of history, the period from roughly the 1790s until the 1960s will be known as a great age of organization and mass human endeavor. All over the western world, and in a few nations such as Japan and China that adopted various western models, huge institutions, economic and political, sprang out of nowhere. In the late nineteenth century the largest institutions were corporate; in first two-thirds of the twentieth, they were political. Communism in Russia industrialized a backward nation and created a whole new society. In China it did something similar, before managing to mutate into something quite different. The Japanese built up an empire covering much of Asia, before their disastrous defeat by smaller powers. Germany mobilized, conquered all of Europe, and put millions of people to death. The United States rebuilt its infrastructure, put millions to work, and helped win a huge war on both sides of the globe. Britain nationalized its basic industries (although it also gave up its empire.) The defeated nations of Western Europe built the Common Market, which became the European Union.

Now this was not a smooth process. The western civilization that emerged from the 1870s was badly shaken by the First World War, especially among the losers such as Germany, and then given another huge shock by the depression. Meanwhile, by 1930, the Prophet generation born in the 1870s and 1880s was, in some areas at least, passing the peak of its influence. The Nomad generation that followed them was largely a generation of bitter cynics. All over Europe, they had made huge sacrifices in the First World War for which they received no reward. They had no commitment whatever to the achievements of their parents and grandparents, and they became the troops of the Fascist parties, first in Italy and then in Germany. A similar emotional dynamic is at work today.

Generation X, born 1961-81, did not have to lose millions of its members in the trenches, but millions of its members suffered a different kind of trauma in their childhoods--the break-up of their families. While Boomers remember watching Alan Shephard and John Glenn blast off in their classrooms, Gen X watched the Challenger explosion. Ronald Reagan seduced a good many of them with his optimistic rhetoric, but they are too young ever to have seen government accomplish great things. Their lives have taught them to look after themselves and their families--within which they tend to be actually over-protective--and to expect others to do the same. And in the last two elections they have made a dramatic debut on the highest levels of the political stage, and the consequences are now evident for all to see.

In 2008 two Xers made it on to the national ticket for the first time: Barack Obama and Sarah Palin. Although President Obama is from the very leading edge of his generation, his childhood completely fit its pattern, and he is very proud not only of not being a Boomer but of believing that Boomer concerns are not his own. (He reportedly chafed when Richard Holbrooke told him during the Afghanistan strategy review that the discussions reminded him of discussions in the LBJ White House about Vietnam.) The President however is not my main focus today.

Thanks largely to last fall's elections there are now 119 Generation Xers in the Congress. 83 of them are Republicans and 36 are Democrats. The Democrats are the party claiming to stand for the achievements of the last eighty years of American life, and they are correspondingly much older. Indeed, most of the leadership of the Democrats in Congress, including Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank, and their committee chairmen in the Senate are from the Slent generation, whose youngest members will turn 69 this year. John Boehner is a Boomer, but most important lieutenants, Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor, are Xers. We can't understand them if do not keep in mind that they feel no commitment or any allegiance to anything this country did before 1980 or so. Their attitude was summed up by one of their number after a Thursday meeting with Treasure Secretary Tim Geithner: "We didn't start this mess."

In fact, the techniques that have given the House Republicans their majority have a good deal in common with the ones that gave the Nazis a third (far fewer, let it be noted) of the Reichstag deputies between 1930 and 1932. They include the endless repetition of many slogans bearing no relation to the facts; the exploitation of resentment towards certain groups, now defined by class, education and ideology more than by religion or race; constant assertions of moral superiority; and a hatred of the political establishment. Conspiracy theories have fueled the Tea Party's rise, just as they did the Nazis. And the Tea Party, which now rules the lower house of our legislature, has gone much further much faster than the Nazis did, partly, of course, because Limbaugh and the rest have been preparing the way for decades.

But what is it that they want to do? This is where the comparison breaks down completely.

Although Hitler used more or less mindless resentment to get into power, he had no intention of returning to some imaginary paradise modeled on the distant past. The Tea Partiers revere 1890s America but he did not revere 1890s Germany. He saw himself in the forefront of modernity, he and his collaborators had great plans, and they wasted no time putting them into effect. The built superhighways and new public buildings, just as the New Deal was doing in the West. They controlled the economy and foreign currency purchases, borrowed billions, and but millions back to work. And they built a new military machine with the goal of conquering eastern Europe and emerging as a world power capable of competing with the British Empire and the United States. Fortunately for the world, Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States beat them at their own game.

The Tea Party leadership have no such ambitions. They oppose new infrastructure projects. They want to dismantle a welfare state, not create one. They want Americans (in theory at least) to provide their own retirement income, their own health insurance in old age, and their own protection by carrying firearms around in public. It is not impossible that certain states, within a few years, will begin talking about doing away with public education. (Some southern states have in effect been moving that way ever since integration back in the early 1970s.)

Only a party, and a generation, with no commitment to existing institutions can blithely talk about unleashing a worldwide financial crisis by defaulting on the obligations of the United States because "we didn't start this mess." Such a party poses a great danger to the Republic and the world. Modern civilization depends on well-organized, functioning institutions. But the threat they pose is not authoritarianism, but anarchy. The Xer in Chief in the White House has to make a forthright stand for effective authority. So far he has not--but that is a subject for another day.