Sunday, November 21, 2010

Obama: Whiner in Chief.

Recently Barack Obama shocked the commentariat when he went off script and whined "they talk about me like a dog". Barack Obama was elected with an affection unseen in a generation of Presidential elections. His inauguration, amidst a crippling recession, was historic. Millions watched his rise from obscurity, millions voted for him, the press drooled over him on inauguration day America felt its original sin, slavery, was cleansed. Coming for the inauguration Barack Obama came like Caesar. Rally after rally. Speech after speech inundated the airways. He rode into DC like a conquering hero. His political foes, some where veterans across generations, an ex-President were all left far behind in the dust licking their wounds. Republicans were in a state of stupor and were not even thinking about 2012. Obama's re-election looked an absolute certainty, completely inevitable. His electoral victory had redrawn the electoral map said pundits. Even Virginia, that hot bed of segregation politics, voted lustily for him. So did North Carolina. Republicans had nowhere to hide. What a difference two years makes.

Here is Barack Obama whining about how he is caricatured. In a comment that skated close to playing the race card, departing from prepared text, he thundered "they talk about me like a dog" (the comment is at 30th second mark). I came to US just before Bill Clinton got impeached and then I've been through the Bush years. Both Clinton and Bush, especially the latter, were treated no less harshly. Rallies with posters depicting Bush as Hitler are common. How many bumper stickers unkindly denied legitimacy to an elected President by saying "Selected NOT elected"? Bush's inauguration parade was cut short due to pelting of eggs. Bush was constant fodder for late night comedians and habitual haters of America. When I told a colleague that I bought Bush's book "Decision Points" the retort was "is it full of crayon drawings?".

When it comes to the parlous state of the economy Obama would repeat, even in sleep, "we inherited the worst recession since the great depression". At first the American public was kind to him and even indulged his "blame the previous regime" approach. After 2 years being tired and worn out they delivered an electoral "shellacking". When George Bush took office the country was sliding into a recession, the dot com bust, especially thanks to the loose monetary policies and deregulation of the Clinton era. I don't remember him whining in every speech about Clinton. Also what is pointedly different is that Obama was not hit by a surprise recession. The recession was well underway. Obama owes his re-election, in no small measure, to the weekend of September 15th 2008 when Lehman imploded. Bush and his economic team grappled with  an economic crises that had no precedent and practically rescued America from financial armageddon. Bush's conduct during the crises was absolutely non-partisan and above par. He had instructed his economic team to constantly communicate with both campaigns because one of them would inherit it.

Serious non-partisan economists agree that the seeds of the economic crises were sown with deregulations that started in the Clinton era, the refusal of Congress to reform Fannie and Freddie and finally recklessness at Wall Street. But Obama was only too happy to blame Bush. Bush later joked on Larry King "well he got more than a few votes thanks  to me".

In fact the most gut wrenching decisions to deal with the financial crises were all taken during Bush's tenure and HE paid the political price. Rescuing AIG, throwing a lifeline to the decrepit auto companies, moving Fannie and Freddie to conservatorship, designing TARP etc. Each cost Bush very politically, especially amongst conservatives.

9/11, the defining moment of Bush presidency was a complete surprise. Though much is made of the August CIA memo warning of an imminent attack, many in the center agree that any other President would have acted similar to George Bush. The prevailing laws of the country, the recession etc all played a role. Bush had no precedent to follow. He had to wrestle with the country's vaunted character that prized individual liberty with the demands of modern day terrorism. Compared to that, however flawed, today Homeland Security is a much better organization. After the election Bush had instructed his team to help Obama's transition team come up to speed on national security details and opened all access. Bush did not want Obama to come in blind like Bush came in after Clinton. Yet Obama would keep whining on that too.

Put in perspective Bush was delivered a surprise double whammy of recession and a terrorist attack. Barack Obama applied for a job knowing fully well what entails winning. At one point during the campaign (as per Bob Woodward) he said "I used to be afraid that I might lose this thing, now I am afraid I might win it". Look at corporate parallels. Whether its Vikram Pandit trying to turn around Citi or John Thain who averted a crisis by selling Merrill neither can go to their board of directors or stockholders, for 2 years and say "I inherited it".

A few days back James Carville, the raging Cajun who never minced words, gave a colorful advice on how Hillary can help Barack Obama find strength " "

By the way it used to be a trope that people hated America because of Bush. Tariq Ali, a supposed muslim scholar, was refused visa during the Bush years. Now that we have this miracle healer in White House Tariq Ali was given visa. How does Tariq repay Obama? By publishing a book that has a photo of Obama that depicts his face as a mask for Bush, the subtitle says "surrender at home, wars abroad". The blurb on the back flap rips into Obama as nothing but a purveyor of fatuous platitudes. Like I say we could have a poodle in the White House and there are millions who would hate it for being the POTUS.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Genius of Ayn Rand.

Last November I had written Today I started to write another blog and I had a sense of deja-vu. Only after typing a few sentences I went back looking for that blog. I was stunned to find that my choice of sentiments had not changed a bit. However in this blog I want to draw a contrast between Ayn Rand and George Orwell.

Orwell's 'Animal Farm' and '1984' are cult favorites of anti-communist literature. When it comes to making the case against political totalitarianism I'd any day concede that Orwell's masterful slim satire "Animal Farm' is literature at its best. Recently I was browsing Orwell's essays and was completely shocked to read his views on socialism and capitalism. The guy who was a genius is foretelling the horrors of how Stalinism is the CONSEQUENCE of communist philosophy utterly fails to see the connection between political liberty and capitalism. In an article in New Yorker by Louis Menand (Pulitzer winning author of 'Metaphysical mind')

"...Orwell had concluded long before that capitalism had failed unambiguously, and he never changed his opinion. He thought that Hitler's military success on the Continent proved once and for all the superiority of a planned economy. "It is not certain that Socialism is in all ways superior to capitalism, but it is certain that, unlike capitalism, it can solve the problems of production and consumption," he wrote. "The State simply calculates what goods will be needed and does its best to produce them."

A Socialist England, as Orwell described it, would be a classless society with virtually no private property. The State would own everything, and would require "that nobody shall live without working." Orwell thought that perhaps fifteen acres of land, "at the very most," might be permitted, presumably to allow subsistence farming, but that there would be no ownership of land in town areas. Incomes would be equalized, so that the highest income would never be greater than ten times the lowest. Above that, the tax rate should be a hundred per cent..."

WOW. Income tax should be 100%. I am sure even Karl Marx, who never earned a penny on his own, would have some sympathy for the rich. One can imagine how Hank Rearden would react. That passage of Orwell completely flies in the face of what we think of him as author of anti-totalitarian books. Not even Keynes would agree to one word of this chicanery. Nehru would agree though, whole heartedly. In his Glimpses of World History, Nehru writes to an impressionable Indira "modern economists agree that private property is an anachronism" ( think Bank Nationalization).

The only excuse I would offer for Orwell is that living in Britain he could not help it. Menand points out that Orwell thought that the British were hypocritical to speak of liberty and freedom while oppressing India. Unlike America which forged Ayn Rand Britain had no meritocracy of a similar scale, 'making money' was anathema to the landed gentry. 

The more and more I reflect deeply on what Ayn Rand gave to capitalism I realize that here was one intellectual who made us understand what it is to "earn money". Through her character Francisco she thunders "Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil?" (  She worshipped "the Dollar' and had it as insignia. "Dollar" was just a placeholder for a symbol that denoted money. 

Ayn Rand made us understand what it is to "produce", what is "profit", how capitalism is a pre-requisite for political liberty, how one without the other would degenerate into chaos. Men who choose what they buy with freedom cannot be subdued politically for long. Economic freedom circumscribed by political slavery is the chinese conundrum that has historians watching that country very curiously. Soviet Russia, from which Ayn Rand had emigrated as child, tried to control both and 'inevitably' imploded.

By the way what about Orwell's dream, everyone is entitled to his or her own utopia. A society of "from each according to his ability to each according to his need" was indeed formed by an Englishman Robert Owens (who coined the word 'socialism') in America. He wanted to try his idea in the 'New World'. It ended in sheer chaos and was, needless to say, a failure. Joshua Muravchik's masterful "Heaven on Earth" details how nations have experimented with variation of communism and how they all ended as failure without exception.

When Narasimha Rao rolled out his economic reforms the catchphrase in India was "reforms with a human face" Nobody had bothered that the socialist model, labeled 'progressive', was the cause of so much untold misery for millions over decades yet its always Capitalism that is need of a 'human face'. It is this hypocrisy that Ayn Rand tore asunder and for that she will remain our darling.