Saturday, November 3, 2012

Lack of Leadership

From a book review of The Generals by Thomas Rick in the Wall Street Journal, October 29, 2012

"It is Mr. Ricks's contention - this is a highly contentious book - that American postwar generalship has been severely sub standard not just in recent years but for much of the six decades separating Dwight Eisenhower from David Petraeus."

I agree with this contention, but extend it to the whole realm of American political leadership since, oh say, Dwight Eisenhower, who seemed to understand what the concept, president of all the people, was about. I can't say that about any subsequent president. The only one who could get things done in Washington was Lyndon Johnson, who was ridiculed, mocked and scorned, not only for his Texas rural affectations, but also for the entry into the Vietnamese civil war, which had erupted in 1946 and continued. Yet he didn't want to enter that war, documents now show. He found he could appease the Republican right wing with anything other than war. This same right wing savaged the Democratic Party in the early Fifties for "losing" China to the Communists. Lyndon Johnson, an able man. John F. Kennedy, a handsome popular leader who didn't get much done. Richard Nixon, he who was described as "complex", a euphemism for neurotic. Jimmy Carter, who tried to tell the truth many times, but the country laughed at him. In 1979 he warned about our dependence on foreign oil. Fast forward to 1012: our Middle East policy is little more than maintaining political stability in order to maintain the stable flow of oil. Ronald Reagan, the apostle of the Right, who did little except spend money without raising taxes. Our first trillion dollar budget occured on his watch along with the first negative balance of payments. George H.W. Bush, nothing need be said. Bill Clinton, articulate, glib, bright, but not a great leader. Then we have George W. Bush, a well-meaning but rather stupid man who started two wars and did not want to burden the electorate by paying for them.

These men have been our leaders since 1960. No one can claim that they were great, far-seeing, or particularly gifted. In fact the Bushes come across as less than mediocre.

Many historians, from Gregory of Tours to Edward Gibbon to Michael Grant, have speculated about why the Roman Empire, so powerful, so efficient, so rich, finally dissolved in the early fifth century. Its passing resembled the slow death of great animal, the outer parts first succumbing followed by the stopping of the heart. But a great nineteenth century German historian, Theodor Mommsen, claimed that the end of the empire came surely but slowly because of what he called the "Ausrottung des Besten", basically the extermination of the best of the Romans, those who could have provided leadership and guidance through difficult times. These sorts of leaders ceased to appear in Roman political life, and the Roman state began to be less able to handle the crises that befell it.

Perhaps this is happening in our time too.


"Listen to all American presidents on television say the words, "the American people", as in the sentence, "I say to the American people it is time to pray and to defend the rights of the American people and I ask the American people to trust their president in the action he is about to take on behalf of the American people." It's a scintillating stratagem ... The words "the American people" provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable."

Harold Pinter quoted in Rainbow Pie by Joe

Bageant. November 3, 2012

I copied this quote from Rainbow Pie by Joe Bageant. Pinter is right: politicians, presidents, and others use this incantation, for that is what it is, to justify whatever current madness or failed program they espouse. And yes, you don't need to think, the incantation is uttered to paralyse intelligence and intellection.

Secondly, I must say that for years now I've had the feeling that the U.S.A. is off course, that we careening through a deep darkness toward an unknown end, probably terrible. My question is ever: how did this come about? Joe Bageant in Deer Hunting with Jesus and Rainbow Pie has at least started to provide answers. First, the continuing erosion of American ideals such as craftmanship and hard work. Now I'm not talking about the 40-year-old guy on the next block who is getting Social Security, is still working, and has inherited his father's house and money. Yes, he is an example of the rot in our society, but where did he learn such behavior? It is clear that he only has to look at JP Morgan and Citigroup to learn the fine art of criminality, wrongdoing, and simple villainy. Has everyone already forgotten about "robosigning"? That's FRAUD. Transferring rotten mortgages from their account books to Fannie Mae, saying that the mortgagee had met all requirements? Managers simply filled in income blanks with whatever number was needed. When Fannie Mae had the mortgages, then the taxpayer, not Countrywide Financial or Wells Fargo, was responsible. That too is FRAUD. So far as I know only three or so people have been prosecuted for these offenses. But my government takes taxes from my every pay check to cover these criminal acts. So, where did the 40-year-old down the block learn to be deceitful, learn to use foul tricks, learn to manipulate? And no one has been punished. What a sweet game!