As of today, David Rothkopf’s blog will be replaced by a weekly column. For the next few weeks, his column will also appear in this space.
While America's halting path toward accepting the world's new multipolar reality involves a step backward for every step forward, an exceptionalist violation of sovereignty for every bit of teamwork in places like Libya, other countries are actively working to establish new rules for all nations to follow in the new era.
Among those at the forefront of this effort are Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her highly regarded foreign minister, Antonio Patriota. He was in New York last week to advance this effort at the United Nations, and we sat down for lunch together.
The challenge facing Rousseff and Patriota as public servants is a daunting one. Each follows in the footsteps of a formidable predecessor. Admittedly, Rousseff's challenge is much greater and indeed, to many, seems almost insurmountable. She succeeds two presidents who were arguably the most important in her country's modern history, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who is credited with stabilizing the country's economy after years of volatility, and her immediate predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, not only her mentor but one of a tiny handful of the world's most important leaders of the past decade. But Patriota's predecessor, Celso Amorim, was also formidable, extremely influential, and a fixture on the Brazilian and international scenes. The bar was set high for her entire administration.
Nonetheless, after over a year in office, despite facing great domestic and international challenges, Rousseff has already earned a higher popularity rating than did Lula at a similar point in his tenure. And Patriota is quietly and, in the eyes of close observers, with great deftness, building on Amorim's groundbreaking work to establish Brazil as a leader among the world's major powers.
"We have a great advantage," notes Patriota. "We have no real enemies, no battles on our borders, no great historical or contemporary rivals among the ranks of the other important powers … and long-standing ties with many of the world's emerging and developed nations." This is a status enjoyed by none of the other BRICs -- China, India, and Russia -- nor, for that matter, by any of the world's traditional major powers.
This unusual position is strengthened further by the fact that Brazil is not investing as heavily as other rising powers in military capabilities. Indeed, as Tom Shannon, the U.S. ambassador to Brazil, has noted, the country is one of the few to effectively stake its future on the wise application of soft power -- diplomacy, economic leverage, common interests. It's surely no coincidence that, in areas from climate change to trade, from nonproliferation to development, Brazil under Lula and Amorim and under Rousseff and Patriota has been gaining strength by translating steady growth at home and active diplomacy abroad into effective international networks.
But Rousseff's administration is also breaking with the past. Whereas Cardoso and Lula achieved greatness by addressing and solving some of the most bedeviling problems of Brazil's past, from stabilizing the economy to addressing social inequality, Rousseff, while still cognizant of the work that remains to be done, has also turned her attention to creating opportunities and a clear path forward for Brazil's future. From her focus on education to her commitment to science and technology through innovative programs like "Science Without Borders," she is doing something that no Latin American leader has done before but that has been a proven formula in Asia. She is committed to moving Brazil from being a resource-based and thus dependent (which is to say vulnerable) economy to one that counts more for future growth on value-added industries, research and development, and educating more scientists and engineers.
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There seems to be a general consensus that the world is in lousy shape. There is also a pretty widespread belief that the U.S. is a mess. Also that Washington is a cesspool of corruption and incompetence. In fact, there is a prevailing view that times are pretty dire here in America. The president and the Republican candidates speak ominously of the threats we face and speak wistfully of the past or inspiringly of better tomorrows. It's no wonder that Midnight in Paris was one of the past year's signature films. Everyone is suffering from golden age-ism, yearning for anything but what we've got.
But what if the premise is wrong? What if these are actually the best of times? What if we are living in the best moment in U.S. history and we are not even enjoying it?
One of the few certain facts I have learned since I left the fine public schools of Union County, New Jersey is that into every life come good developments and bad developments, but that we seldom know the difference while they are unfolding. It is only years later that we can tell whether it was a good thing or a bad thing to get or lose a job or a date or make a move to a new city.
I wonder if it goes further and we just don't know a good thing when we see it.
For example, I got an email today from a friend who lamented the state of Washington (not the one with Walla Walla in it, but the condition of our federal government). She earnestly offered up the conventional wisdom that things have never been worse. But read any history of Washington and there was just as much bickering and conniving and in-fighting and stupidity and sometimes there was much more. From the innuendo-driven personal scandal swirling around Alexander Hamilton to cane fights on the floor of the House in the 19th Century to machine politicians cutting sweet deals while ignoring the deplorable state of civil rights in America during the 20th, there has always been plenty to complain about. People wax on about the comity of the good old days, but for all the comity the good old days were periods in which women, blacks, Jews, Hispanics, and other minorities weren't given a seat at the table and during which powerful pols managed to coax reporters into looking the other way over scotch and soda at a Georgetown cocktail party.
Or look at U.S. history. Sure, we're going through a tough economic time now. The downturn is the worst since the Depression. But the Great Recession was not a depression, and it was a recession starting from a much much higher standard of living then in the 1930s, and people today live longer, healthier, happier lives with shorter work weeks, more conveniences, and more information at their fingertips than ever before. And then there's the history itself. This may well be the least precarious moment in U.S. history. The first decades of our existence were the fragile stuff of a start-up and there was no certainty we could make it. We were at war with Britain again within three decades or so of the revolution. The first half of the 19th Century the country was increasingly torn apart over slavery culminating in the bloodiest war the world had ever seen as we tried to work out the issues of what kind of a union if any we wanted to be. The years after the Civil War saw further wars with the people from whom we stole the continent, the rise of rapacious megacompanies, and the birth of the KKK and a new racial divide in the South. Think we're facing a tough economic transition? At the end of the 19th Century the vast majority of folks in the U.S. worked in agriculture. We had to change-over our entire economy to manufacturing, and in the 20th century, the percentages of agricultural jobs actually flipped in the course of 100 years.
Then came the rest of the 20th Century, marked by two world wars and then the Cold War's threat of oblivion. And then after that came the recklessness and risks associated with the delusion that we were the world's hyperpower, the one country that had to be active everywhere and could impose its will anywhere.
But that's passed. We're still the richest and most powerful nation on earth and we will be for the foreseeable future. No other nation comes close to matching our military or economic might. But there are no existential threats out there on the horizon. We are no longer tilting at the windmill of a global terror threat that actually turned out to be much less than we spun it up to be. We are resetting our priorities in a sensible, more inward-looking way. We are pulling in our oars a bit to restore things at home. We're debating how to do that but there is very little debate that it ought to be done. We're working better with others, more cognizant that we need multilateral solutions and thus better international relationships in order to succeed. The biggest rising power is also hugely dependant on its trade with us and does not pose any direct threat to us for many years to come. There are problems out there but they are nothing compared to the wars or threats of the past. We have challenges at home, but for most of our history we have faced much greater risks, much more precarious times. And then there's the Voltaire-ian icing on the cake: it could be that this is the best of all possible times and we might as well appreciate it for what it has to offer.
I suppose by the time Monday rolls around I may have a different view. (In fact, I'm sure of it.) But it's the weekend and you might as well roll this one around in your head for a while and have a good time.
For those of you who missed the president's State of the Union message, let me sum it up for you: Our enemies in the Middle East are dead or on the run. Our new enemies are Wall Street, big oil, and Congressional obstructionism. We can be the America of 1945 again if we restore fairness to our society.
Ok, that's a little cynical. But in short strokes, that's it. We want to be good old America, the place where the little guy has a chance and no one wants to mess with Uncle Sam. Oh and we love the military. Oh and Osama bin Laden is still dead.
That said, it was a pretty good speech as these things go, had a few interesting ideas in it, a few sound if retread notions masquerading as interesting ideas, and it was well delivered.
Grading it, we'd have to conclude the following:
So, there you go. Pick the grade you like the most, ignore the others, and move on. Because these things matter little, except in political terms and even then not much because no one is going to remember January come November.
Having said all that, let me add one more thing. You may have heard that I am graduating from blogging to being the CEO and Editor-at-Large of Foreign Policy. What this means among other things is that I will no longer be blogging daily. (Pause to allow you all to get a hanky and daub your eyes.) Instead, I'll be writing a Monday web-column (like a blog, only crunchy) and a regular back-page column in FP, the magazine. Oh sure, I'll also tweet…and I suppose when I can't help myself I'll throw in a blog every so often. So, I'll still be around, still spouting off -- but doing so slightly less frequently -- allowing you all the more time to read better writers and me a little more time to think about what I write (which wouldn't hurt.) Thanks for following the blog and please look out for the column, beginning week after next.
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Newt Gingrich called the U.S.-Israeli decision to put off joint military exercises scheduled for the Negev Desert "the greatest act of presidential weakness he has seen in his lifetime." He was implying that it was done to appease Iran. As it happens, according to the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, the exercises were put off not by the U.S. but at the request of the Israelis. Facts aside, as they often are, the only true weakness revealed by the statement is Gingrich's own. He's desperate. If current polls are to be believed, the remaining shelf-life of his campaign can be measured in hours. And that's a charitable assessment. More gimlet-eyed observers might conclude the campaign hasn't been viable since it collapsed from front runner status to also-ran in Iowa under the weight of the candidate's blustering intemperance.
Gingrich, despite his declining political relevance, does trigger a couple useful thoughts with this latest crudely inflammatory comment. The first is that he reminds us what old-fashioned war mongering is really like. War mongering, like cheese mongering and fish mongering, has a good old-fashioned sound to it. It makes one think of the tub-thumping pols of old, back in the days when war was glorious and generals watched battles from astride white steeds high atop a hillside far from the action. Of course, like all forms of mongering, it's a dirty business and even when it doesn't produce mayhem and tragedy it leaves behind a dirty, smelly residue.
Ron Paul calls Gingrich and the others seeking to tough-talk our way toward confrontation with Iran "chicken hawks." Not only does this have a satisfyingly sleazy allusion to a sexual subculture within it, it also correctly observes that it's no skin off Gingrich's expansive backside to urge America into war with Iran.
The problem is that while Paul's war-avoiding impulse is nobler than Gingrich's posturing, his approach to Iran suffers from a similar flaw. Both are the classic product of political campaigns: they are not so much policies as they are provocations, conceived as much to produce a reaction in the lizard brains of potential followers as they are to actually suggest a way to advance U.S. national interests. All the candidates are guilty of such statements. Romney and Perry have also made over-the-top statements about what they would do if they got their hands on Iran (not to mention over-the-top statements about their devotion to Israel, their anger with the Chinese, their contempt for Eurosocialism, and so on.)
The reason they overdo it is that nuance doesn't show up well even on large-screen HD TVs. In fact, people viewing the world 55 diagonal inches at a time want bright colors, action, drama, 3D foreign policy where all the bits and pieces seem to fly right off the screen and straight into your living room. It's one of the reasons that foreign policy often plays a secondary role in campaigns.
That said, 3D full-color, high-impact nuance is not impossible. And the irony is that nothing illustrates this as well as the Obama administration's smart, multi-layered, tough and often courageous Iran policy. You can tell it's nuanced because so few people are happy with it. Today, for example, on "Morning Joe," Zbigniew Brzezinski asserted that the covert attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists presumably undertaken by the Israelis perhaps with the tacit endorsement of the U.S. "debased" foreign policy. Now, there are few people in the U.S. foreign policy community for whom I have greater regard than Brzezinski. But this remark bemused and troubled me. On the one hand I find the notion that foreign policy can be debased laughable when it so often deals in death, lying, bribery, and other such practices. More importantly, I can't help but think that Brzezinski wouldn't have minded such actions against Soviet enemies during the Cold War. He just doesn't think the threat posed by Iran is comparable (it's not) nor does he, I believe, much like the U.S. working so closely with Israel (a more complicated issue than we can deal with here effectively.) But the boldness of these attacks -- like the Stuxnet cyberattack and the drone activity in that country -- has sent a message that has clearly been received by the Iranians as well as the critics. This president and his allies are not simply going to rely on "soft power" to contain the Iranian nuclear threat, especially when it seems clear that Tehran has such disregard for diplomacy and prescribed international processes. This makes threats to do more credible and the ability to achieve goals while doing less likely.
At the same time, the administration's "soft power" tourniquet has also been applied effectively. Not only are have they maintained for many months tireless multichannel diplomatic efforts to nudge the Iranians to an agreement to stop its progress toward the development of nuclear weapons, they have engineered one of the most effective economic sanctions programs undertaken by the international community against any nation in the recent history of the world. "Soft" though this power may be, it is causing real pain and discomfort for Iran's leadership. In a region that has seen plenty of governments totter under economic stresses, the ayatollahs increasingly are seen as wanting a way out from the pressure. (The situation in Iran has reportedly gotten so bad that periodically Mahmoud Ahmadinejad bolts from Tehran to go to his home town far from his enemies in the high ranks of the government...and then must be escorted back to the capital at the emphatic insistence of his bosses in the top tiers of that country's religious hierarchy.)
The point is that the president takes the threat seriously and has for now at least, found a way to very forcefully deliver a message that Iran must cease and desist without actually going to war. Should he have to take that next step, he will be able to honestly say that thing every president should be able to assert prior to putting troops in harms way, that he has tried every other available option. He has also approached this problem in conjunction with the international community thus adding both legitimacy and effectiveness to the undertaking.
The GOP candidates will wave their arms and talk tougher than teen-aged boys in a locker room. Or, in the case of Paul, he will talk tough and wave off serious threats as someone else's problems. But they will all overstate because they think they must...even as the President admirably illustrates that there is another course, one that involves such a complete and energetic use of almost every tool short of open warfare in the national security tool box that I suspect someday if things turn out right (and no foreign policy initiative can guarantee an outcome because, of course, other players and many variables are involved) it will be studied as an example of how to do foreign policy right-big, bold, 3D and nuanced.
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Fifteen years ago, Susan Levine, then Senior Vice President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and I, recently having departed my not entirely un-senior post at the Commerce Department, circulated a memo to those who would read it that suggested the elimination of the Commerce Department and the consolidation of many of the important trade negotiating and financing agencies into a single department focused on trade issues. Today, President Barack Obama asked Congress for the authority to make this long-sought, common sense streamlining of the U.S. government a reality.
Obama has had a team, led by Jeffrey Zients, an extremely effective official who before he came to government was an innovative and successful business leader, working on this idea for a very long time now. Zients was methodical, reaching out to literally hundreds of current and former officials, business people, experts and others to understand what works, what doesn't and how things could be organized to better and more efficiently serve the American people. His proposals have been batted around at a senior level in the government, faced natural pressure from those whose turf was being threatened, faced equivalent pressure from those who just don't like change, and throughout it Zients & Co. have persevered. Several times they nearly made an announcement like that was made today. Several times the project seemed dead.
But in the end, the effort advanced to the point of the President's request today because its principle advocate and the one who understood its merits most intuitively from the get-go was not Zients but his boss' boss, President Barack Obama.
The request, which would undo the years of bureaucratic confusion that turned Commerce and much of the economic side of the U.S. government into the hodgepodge it is today, is first and foremost an effort to win from the Congress the power to do what Republicans on the Hill have long called for -- to start to reduce waste and inefficiency in the executive branch of the U.S. government. The broad re-organizational fast-track power sought by Obama is of a type no U.S. president has had since Ronald Reagan. But the request is balanced, allowing Obama to make broad proposals for change but requiring swift Congressional approval for those changes. In short, therefore, it is an area of potential bi-partisan agreement and effective collaboration, a fact that has already been noted in early press coverage of the announcement.
Commerce and the Small Business Administration would be merged into a new entity that would also incorporate the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Eximbank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the Trade Development Agency. Parts of Commerce that never belonged there in the first place, like NOAA, would move elsewhere -- with NOAA heading over to Interior where it has always belonged.
Not only does the move make logical sense -- bringing together all those agencies of the government that support the development of U.S. trade and the job creation associated with it -- but it also would save, according to initial White House estimates, over 1000 jobs and $3 billion over the next ten years.
I note that in one of the early stories on the announcement, former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, was quoted as saying that the plan will support U.S. competitiveness. This resonates with me both because he is right and because when we wrote that memo 15 years ago, it was Podesta who, despite the hue and cry from self-interested senior officials who wanted to preserve their fiefdoms, took it seriously and considered it. He, Jim Harmon, the then head of Eximbank, and just a couple of others were open to really considering the long-term benefits such a reorganization would bring.
Periodically during the intervening decade and a half, I would talk to a reporter who was doing a story on the bowl-of-spaghetti like organizational chart of the international economic side of the U.S. government and would hear of another cluster of folks who were supporting some similarly sensible slimming down of a confusing, bloated, bureaucracy. But those groundswells would recede and the issue would go back into hibernation.
Of course, things are very different now and the time is suddenly right to make such a move. The U.S. needs to tighten its belt. This kind of modest reform is, as some Republicans have already noted, just a first step. Much more can and should be done. But this is a logical, painless first step that is highly unlikely to be objected to by any major constituency being served by the agencies in questions -- because in all likelihood, even with the cuts, the efficiency and enhanced coordination that would result from the consolidation would likely actually lead to much better service for U.S. companies, consumers and others with a stake in our ability to tap into the global economy.
As the President accurately said referring to the multiple agencies he intended to fold together, "In this case, six isn't better than one."
Another reason the timing works for this is that substantial constituencies in both parties should and will actively support the move. Finally, the President has gained special credibility in this area due to the remarkable, if under-appreciated, success of his export initiative. Once dismissed as mere window dressing, the President's push to double exports over five years has seen a string of big successes: two years of export growth averaging over 16 percent thus keeping the U.S. on track for his goal, record lending by a much more aggressive and creative team at the U.S. Eximbank led by Fred Hochberg, the approval of three long-delayed trade deals, enhanced trade enforcement, and most importantly, exports contributing in a major way to wealth and job creation nationwide.
From its absurdly muddled mission statement to the sad little aquarium in its basement (which resembles nothing so much as a slightly expanded version of the kind of fish tank you would find in a downscale Italian restaurant in Plainfield, New Jersey), the Commerce Department is the Frankenstein monster of the federal bureaucracy. It's all bits and pieces that belong in other places that have been sewed together by seemingly distracted or perhaps slightly inebriated Congressional committees. Meanwhile, U.S. trade is increasingly vital to our future and U.S. workers, consumers and exporters all deserve better support -- and we could all do with eliminating wasteful spending. As a consequence, the President's move is welcome on its merits and as an excellent initial step toward more sweeping reforms.
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My younger daughter was in Edinburgh earlier this week and visited the grave of Adam Smith. That's a little weird, right? For a 20-year-old?
Anyway, I learned more from this experience than just that my daughter is a little weird, which, to be honest, I already knew. I also learned that Adam Smith is still dead -- which wouldn't be noteworthy except that here in the United States we seem to be on the verge of having a national referendum on the future of capitalism.
The Republican's presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney, last night offered a victory speech following the New Hampshire primary in which he essentially made the differences in his views on capitalism and those of the president the dividing-line issue in the upcoming presidential campaign. Romney asserted that President Obama seeks "to put free enterprise on trial."
On Sunday, President Obama's chief campaign guru, David Axelrod, said that Mitt Romney was a "corporate raider, not a job creator." In so doing, he helped sketch out the different approaches to this central issue. Romney will try to position himself as a "turnaround artist" who understands what makes American business great and can restore vitality. Obama will try to position the former Bain Capital boss as representative of the greedy, indulgent 1 percent who blew up the economy in 2008 and will do so again if unchecked by wise government.
The intensity of this debate has been heightened recently by the attacks of some of Romney's Republican competitors like Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry who, reeking of sour grapes, are going after Romney as being a representative of "bad" capitalism, the rapacious kind practiced by private-equity bandits, or "vultures" as Perry characterized them. There are manifold ironies and hypocrisies here, given that both are members of the U.S. political party most closely associated with big business views and that, for example, Gingrich's anti-Romney onslaught is being funded by a fat cat named Sheldon Adelson who made his millions in the gaming business. So Gingrich is attacking Romney for playing in the Wall Street casino with dollars made from actual casinos and attacking Romney for hurting workers by seeking profits that were too big (that actually often went to fund the pensions of average Americans), with dollars that came from praying on those poor suckers whose understanding of arithmetic was so lousy that they actually thought they could profit from gambling.
Debating the future of American capitalism is a good idea. The past several years have clearly shown the system is broken. Inequality is skyrocketing. Social mobility is plummeting. Median incomes have been hammered. Too-big-to-fail financial institutions have gotten a free ride while Main Street Americans continue to drown in underwater mortgages. Whether or not we should have bailed those banks out or whether we should have helped the auto industry or how much regulation is the right amount or whether we should have an active industrial policy to support key U.S. industries are all legitimate questions to debate. The fact is that while we once were the example for capitalists the world over to follow, there are now a variety of brands of capitalism emerging that use different formulas and are gaining legitimacy due to their own successes and/or the obvious defects in the "leave it to the markets" approach of Anglo-U.S. capitalism. There is the more state-centric "capitalism with Chinese characteristics" being practiced in the world's fastest-growing major economy. There is the "democratic development capitalism" of Brazil or India. There is the "small-state entrepreneurial capitalism" of countries like Singapore, the UAE, Israel, or Chile. And there is Eurocapitalism which, despite the problems in Europe that are so frequently (far too frequently) cited by Romney, has produced some of the nations (mostly in Northern Europe) that have the best balance between fiscal responsibility, growth, and quality-of-life measures anywhere in the world.
We've gone from celebrating the end of history in which America's free market theology triumphed over godless communism to realizing that our victory dance was premature and that we've entered a new world of competing capitalisms. Further, given our problems, others are gaining sway as the world votes for alternative models with the policies they adopt. It's also worth noting that all the other alternatives gaining traction worldwide have a much bigger role for government in their public-private sector mix than does the U.S. model -- Republican attacks on "big government" aside.
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In an event that will undoubtedly be as interesting to mental health professionals as it is to foreign policy wonks, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has flown directly from his Tehran cuckoo's nest to the padded cell of his partner in derangement, Hugo Chavez, for the 2012 Summit of the Nonaligned and Vaguely Unhinged. Despite Chavez' increasing irrelevance this was an act of considerable courage on Mahmoud's part both because you never know what's going to happen when you're dealing with El Loco but also because whenever a despot leaves a country as screwed up as Iran is at the moment, he can't be sure he's going to have a job when he gets back.
At the moment, given the parlous state of the Iranian economy, the likelihood of its further decline later this year, the upcoming parliamentary elections in March that could be another trigger for restiveness in that country, the increasing global pressure of every type regarding Iran's rogue nuclear program, and Ahmadinejad's profusion of enemies among Tehran's empowered classes, he can't be too comfortable, even when he is at home. The statement over the weekend by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that America simply will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons and our tough response to Iran's saber rattling in the Gulf of Hormuz can't make things any easier.
So, what's a would-be world leader -- who is increasingly isolated -- to do? Well, turn to someone who understands his problems. Other than Kim Jong-un and Ron Paul, there are few people on the world stage who understand better than Chavez the plight of being seen as a member of the lunatic fringe of the global elite. (Sorry, Ron, you're a member of the global elite whether your tin-foil hat wearing contingent of conspiracy theorist supporters are willing to accept it or not.) Indeed, like Chavez and Kim, Ahmadinejad's claim on world attention is based as much or more on his potential for irrationality as it is on any particular resource or capability of the country he represents. Oh sure, Iran and Venezuela have oil, and North Korea and perhaps soon Iran may have nukes. But the point is these are otherwise marginal countries with the capability of being little more than regional trouble makers, who have tried like recalcitrant sixth graders to get more attention than they deserve through acting up.
The only difference between Ahmadinejad -- whose Venezuela stop is the first on a trip through Latin America in search of Sofia Vergara, er, that famous Latin warmth and hospitality -- and Chavez and Kim is that if anything, his grip on power is more tenuous. Which is saying something, given that Chavez is battling cancer and faces what may be his first real electoral challenge in years, and Kim is an untested newcomer, the neophyte Pillsbury doughboy of rogue nations. Come to think of it, the one thing that all three of these guys have in common is that all three must worry that the day may soon come when their grip on power is actually weaker than their grasp of reality.
For the rest of us, we can only hope that day comes soon.
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As was explained in part one of this post, following what is said or written about American politics is often difficult for Americans who are actually used to all the dissembling, spinning, deliberate misconstruing, hyperbole and other nonsense that is to spin facts and lies into glittering campaign finery.
But if you are not from the U.S., it's next two impossible to know what's important or what's not. Given the central role America still plays in the world -- G-zeroists notwithstanding -- cutting through the headlines and the soundbites to get to the core truths about what's happening in the world's highest-priced democracy is essential.
That's why I've tried to pick out a few terms and explain what each party means by them. Earlier this week, I visited the Republican lexicon. Today, we'll take a look at a handful of key illustrations of the quirks and curiosities that comprise the Dem dialect, with a special focus on a few that pertain to foreign policy.
The 1 Percent -- This is a perjorative term of art for every rich, spoiled, corrupt, indolent, exploitative millionaire in America who is not a donor to the Obama reelection effort or the Democratic National Committee. Donors are referred to as hard-working, job-creating illustrations of the enduring power of the American dream. (Also understood to refer to those who should be shouldering burden for balancing U.S. budget by paying "their fair share" of taxes.)
The 99 Percent -- This refers to the disenfranchised, struggling victims of Wall Street and corporatist exploitation. All these people deserve tax cuts, to be funded by the 1 percent. The fact that there is no way to address the deficit without a bigger burden falling on most of the members of the 99 percent, too, is just not something that should be discussed in public until we are in the midst of robust recovery lest the truth and arithmetic derail everything.
Bush Tax Cuts -- Source of all problems in the U.S. economy, even though President Obama celebrated extending them as a canny political victory in the middle of his first term. (Also known as the biggest political issue of December 2012.)
Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security -- The Holy Trinity of American politics. They are sacrosanct and must never be touched -- even if major surgery is the only way to actually save their lives.
Financial Services Reform -- A political mirage allowing the president to seemingly take a tough stand against the 1 percent while not alienating too much the fat cats who are needed to pump money into Dem coffers. Advocate it, sign it, but don't really overdo the enforcement side of it.
Campaign Finance Reform -- Something that is absolutely essential for restoring democracy in America, and which should be implemented just as soon as every currently serving Dem leaves office.
The President's Healthcare Victory -- Shhhh. Please don't mention this. Despite the fact that it actually benefitted millions, it is the Voldemort of Dem politics, "the policy whose name must not be spoken."
Romneycare -- Shhh. Please don't mention this either. Because as Dems, we'll be forced to admit we kinda like it.
The Unemployment Rate -- The president's true running mate (sorry, Joe.) If it dips to around 8 percent or below, the president wins re-election. Interesting fact: the president has almost no ability to impact this outcome and bares only a very limited responsibility for fluctuations in U.S. employment one way or another.
Europe -- Dem heaven. An ability to balance the love of good cuisine with the love for a well-constructed government bureaucracy. Topless beaches. The fact that the eurocrisis probably will have more to do with whether Obama wins reelection than anything he or anyone in the U.S. might do compromises this love affair somewhat.
China -- Growing up, most Dem policy wonks wanted to be European, today they want to be Chinese. And we hate them for that.
India -- China with democracy … really fractious democracy at that, and crazy, over-the-top, outspoken media chaos. A fast growing developing country with an important strategic role and a historical past that gave us Ben Kingsley. In other words, for visionary Dem foreign policy types, even better than Europe or China. The ultimate destination/partner for the Dem wonkocracy.
The Middle East -- Er, nice to know ya, time to go, "yay, democracy," "boo, Iran," "love ya, Israel" ... we're out of here.
"Barack Obama has a good working relationship with Bibi Netanyahu" -- Ha.
"It would be wrong to politicize the successful results of the Bin Laden raid" -- Let's play up this big success at every opportunity that arises. Wanna bet the story of the Navy SEAL who pulled the trigger leaks closer to election day? Best illustration of Dem cojones since Madeleine Albright first raised the possibility they might exist.
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David Rothkopf is the CEO and Editor-at-Large of Foreign Policy. His new book, "Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government and the Reckoning that Lies Ahead" is due out from Farrar, Straus & Giroux on March 1.