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Obama Practices Pragmatic Foreign Policy a la Eisenhower and GHW Bush

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Eisenhower and Obama - practioners of pragmatic foriegn policyThis week’s edition of The New Republic has two great articles explaining Obama’s policies, particularly in contrast with the sometimes hyperbolic rhetoric of Romney. The first article deals with how much businesses actually depend upon government, at all levels, to support and help them build and sustain their business. However, the second article, Love Classic Republican Foreign Policy? Vote For Obama by Jonathan Rauch, receives my attention today.

For me, this article deserves special attention because I grew up in the military and my ex-husband is a Vietnam vet. The first 25 years of my life were dominated by the military and national security, stretching back to Dwight D. Eisenhower. I was too young to remember Truman, but I do fondly remember Eisenhower.

As a result of being a military brat and wife, I hold a profoundly different view from Romney’s neo-con advisers, all of whom worked for GW Bush. Those neo-cons, none of whom served in the military or grew up in the military, express a hegemonic view of US foreign policy based on the US military war powers. Yet, that kind of militarism is fairly new in American foreign policy that only took effect after the end of the Vietnam War.

As Rauch writes, anyone who remembers and enjoyed the modesty and pragmatism of Eisenhower and GHW Bush should appreciate Obama’s foreign policy.

Two diplomatic officials, one current and one former, balk at calling Obama a realist; he is not coldly manipulative or indifferent to human rights. (For example: Obama has done more to stand up for gay rights internationally than any previous world leader.) But they concur that he is outcome-oriented, a pragmatist rather than an idealist or visionary. “He’s focused on the bottom line: what are our key equities and how do we protect them,” says the serving diplomat. At the Brookings Institution, Tamara Cofman Wittes, a former Obama State Department official, says Obama believes in bending the arc of history, but also believes you can’t bend it at right angles. “He’s playing a long game and doing it pretty well.”

The kind of realism Obama practices is founded not on Machiavellian amorality but on a theory about where peace comes from. For Republican hawks and neocons, peace comes from American strength and hegemony; for Democratic doves and internationalists, peace comes from international cooperation and transnational institutions. Obama’s realism, like that of Ike and Bush 41 holds that American strength and international cooperation both have their place, but that peace comes from equilibrium between contending forces. To realists, power may not be admirable, but it must always be dealt with; and, in dealing with it, conserving and effectively deploying America’s power, a scarce and precious commodity, is Priority One, for it is the commodity upon which human rights and U.S. hegemony alike ultimately depend.

A realist may choose to upset an equilibrium now and then, but never lightly. Power, like a floodtide surge, has its own hydraulics. Once equilibrium is gone, it can be very hard and costly to restore. For very different reasons, human rights activists and neocons deplore Obama’s slowness to jump into the fray when rotten and antagonistic old orders tremble in places like Iran, Libya, Egypt, and now Syria. Eisenhower and Bush, however, understood well the importance of looking before leaping, whether in Suez and eastern Europe in the 1950s or in Ukraine and the Balkans in the early 1990s. Obama is in their mold.

Obama’s quiet accomplishment, in foreign policy, has been to do just as he promised: take the best ideas from the other side, integrate them into his own party’s tradition, and put them to work to strengthen the country’s position. Being a dab hand at foreign affairs will not, it’s true, save him in 2012, any more than it saved Bush 41 from the soft economy 20 years ago. What it has done is kept him viable in a miserable environment, improved the Democrats’ credibility on national security, taken from the Republicans the foreign-policy real estate that they used to own—and left Mitt Romney standing in a puddle of his own shallow verbiage.

Nevertheless, I disagree about Rauch’s claim that Obama had little foreign policy experience or interest. After all, Obama spent several impressionable, youthful years in the Indonesia and as a young man hitch hiked his way from Indonesia to Pakistan.

In some ways, those experiences, living amongst and traveling with native residents, gave him more foreign policy experience than all those sitting in comfortable academic offices or discussing foreign affairs with high level diplomats. Moreover, Obama’s first Senate foreign policy mentor was the Senate dean of foreign policy, Senator Dick Lugar. Lugar said Obama peppered him with questions on their trips overseas and that Obama worked closely with him on the Soviet Arms Treaty. In fact, contrary to Rauch, Obama ran for the presidency on foreign policy. It wasn’t until the financial system crashed in 2008 that his primary focus had to change to domestic economic policy.

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Four GOP Presidential Icons on Tax Fairness and Values

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Three Republican Presidential Icons Who Advocated Tax Fairness

Bruce Bartlett, in the Fiscal Times, makes a really good argument for raising taxes on the wealthy, especially on those who receive capital gains, dividend, and inheritance tax breaks.

What is novel about Bartlett’s argument is that he uses four Republican Presidential icons to make his case.

At least through the 1980s, special tax breaks, such as those for dividends and capital gains, were viewed as unfair and unjustified. Indeed, Ronald Reagan was among those who decried the capital gains break because it meant that rich people, who get most of their income from capital, paid less taxes than the average working man. Consequently, as part of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, he agreed that income from capital gains and wages ought to be taxed at the same rate.

Reagan was building on long tradition by Republicans of demanding fairness in the tax code, which, among other things, meant making sure that capital and labor were treated equally. For example, in his first State of the Union Address in 1861, Abraham Lincoln said, “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

In 1910, Theodore Roosevelt excoriated big corporations and wealthy men for rigging the system in their favor and not paying their fair share of taxes.

    The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who insists that the creature of man’s making shall be the servant and not the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being….

    We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community. This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary.

    No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned. Every dollar received should represent a dollar’s worth of service rendered – not gambling in stocks, but service rendered. The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and in another tax which is far more easily collected and far more effective – a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.

In 1954, Dwight Eisenhower said that everybody should pay their fair share and denounced unjustified tax cuts. “An unwise tax cutter, my fellow citizens, is no real friend of the taxpayer,” he said.

In short, the real debate on the Buffett rule is about fairness. Its particulars are less important – especially since it has no chance of passage at this time – than the debate that will accompany it. If Republicans are successful in conveying the message that it’s okay for rich people to pay less than working people then this will frame the forthcoming budget debate in a particular way….

If history proved any answers, the one answered by these four Republican presidents is that labor should be taxed at the same or lesser rate than capital gains and inheritance because labor is inherently worth more to society.

Something to think about as discussions on taxes and tax rates continue throughout the year.

Related:

Have the Rich Ever Paid a Fair Share of Taxes? (Part 1)

Have the Rich Ever Paid a Fair Share of Taxes? (Part 2)

Written by Valerie Curl

April 20, 2012 at 10:35 AM

GOP hates Republican moderates

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For the life of me, I cannot understand why the GOP wants to lose the support of middle Americans by shooting their own feet. According to reports, the GOP plans to oppose the re-election of the three moderate Republicans who voted for the Stimulus package. The GOP will support any Republican opponent who opposes these three brave Republican Senators.

Maybe it’s time for the suffering middle America to tell the GOP to take a hike!

Middle America has been screwed long enough. We deserve something better than trickle down economic policies that left so many of us out in the cold with no jobs, no credit, our homes values shot to heck, our retirement accounts emptied, and our kids without the wherewithal for a decent education.

Obama’s plan may not solve all our problems, but it’s better than the nothing at all. Japan waited years before taking action. They lost a decade. Should we do the same, taking the chance of losing a decade of growth and productivity…or should we jump right in quickly to save the world’s largest economy? We now have the highest job losses in 34 years. How many more middle Americans need to lose their jobs before the GOP gets reality? How many more small and mid sized businesses have to shut down before the GOP understands the reality forced on us today?

We all deserve better than the GOP has delivered to us middle Americans.

After WWII when millions of US Vets were unemployed, Pres. Eisenhower pushed through a stimulus bill that built the interstate highway system, making the US the leader in transportation systems, and created huge numbers of jobs. We can create the systems of the future again, putting the US on the leading edge of technology, transportation, and education, if only we repudiate the GOP do-nothing, give it all to the rich ideologues.

The three moderate GOP senators extraordinary bravery in defying their party should be hailed and supported. I applaud them.

Written by Valerie Curl

February 11, 2009 at 12:33 AM

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