Noted for Your Afternoon Procrastination for August 27, 2014
Liveblogging World War II: August 28, 1944: Eleanor Roosevelt

"A Committee of Eight, About Three of Whom Were Aware That What They Were Supporting Was Completely Insupportable": Hoisted from the Internet from Ten Years Ago: Another Keeper from Daniel Davies:

Brad DeLong: Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: A Weblog: A Committee of Eight, Three of Whom... Daniel Davies writes:

The Economist editorial on GWB was about as readable as a Socialist Workers' Party caucus statement, and presumably for exactly the same reason; it was drafted by a commitee of about eight, about three of whom were aware that what they were supporting was unsupportable. Clive Crook's response absolutely confirms me in this view...


Clive Crook's super-awkward response to me back then:

Clive Crook: Brad DeLong's Semi-Daily Journal: A Weblog: A Letter From the Editor As you know, Brad, I am the Deputy Editor of The Economist, but I am posting these comments in a personal capacity. I think it is disappointing that an economist of your calibre--and I have the highest regard for your scholarship--cannot rise to a higher standard of discussion than this. I find it a very depressing comment on the state of American politics.

You find the position we took in this week’s editorial on George Bush so inexplicable that you question our sanity. Is it really so odd? Closer to the election, as we always do, we will say which of the candidates we prefer. This week’s editorial was entirely concerned with an appraisal of the Bush administration. As you say, we found a great deal to criticise. Perhaps in due course we will endorse John Kerry. But we won’t endorse either candidate until nearer the time, and it will be in an editorial that looks at both men side by side, weighing good and bad in each case.

Your position, of course, and that of most of your correspondents, is that Bush is so inexpressibly bad that anybody else at all would be better. I would find that difficult to understand even if Bush were worse than he is. But, as you know, our editorial argued that Bush has got the big things right on foreign policy. The biggest thing of all, in my view, was his determination to confront America’s enemies even if not all of the allies whose support he needed to secure UN backing could be brought round. The accusation that Bush has been recklessly unilateralist, a chief rallying-cry of his opponents, is simply wrong (as the editorial pointed out in a crucial paragraph that you did not include in your extracts). He sought allies throughout for the war in Iraq, and built the biggest coalition he could. France and Germany withheld their support for the war, and undermined the effort to put pressure on Saddam Hussein, at a time when they too knew that the sanctions regime was collapsing and they too believed that Saddam had WMD. In those circumstances, Bush was right to deny them a veto. In similar circumstances, in my view, he would be right to do so again.

When it comes to domestic policy, I expect you and I would agree about many and perhaps most issues. I think the administration’s record there is poor. Our editorial said as much. But if one takes the view that the administration has been mostly right on foreign policy and mostly wrong on domestic policy, that is not a record which automatically disqualifies Bush from a second term, is it? Least of all in a post-9/11 world. And that is really all our editorial said. Right or wrong, what is so “insane”, or even mildly inconsistent, about taking such a position?

Of course, if Kerry’s foreign policy would be the same as Bush’s, then Bush’s domestic errors would count for more. Our editorial did note that Kerry has failed to say very clearly where his foreign policy would be different. But he does make much of the virtues of “multilateralism”. What one needs to know is what Kerry means by this. Would he be as robust in confronting America’s enemies without UN backing and without the support of countries such as France and Germany, if the need arose? (Would you and his other supporters even want him to be?)

At The Economist, we try to keep an open mind. We are still thinking. That is why, for instance, we agreed with Bush about the case for war with Iraq, then later deplored the way intelligence about WMD was presented to the public, and after that called for Donald Rumsfeld to resign, or be dismissed, over the Abu Ghraib affair. No doubt you regard this record as schizophrenic: For you, apparently, the administration is all bad, or else it must be all good. But that is not political analysis, Brad; that is brainless tribalism.

It read very badly at the time. It reads worse now. The world been waiting for the abject and complete public apology Clive Crook owes to the world for the editorial and for much of the rest of the work of the Economist of that era for a decade now: he really ought to have known better. And the world will no doubt continue to wait for at least another decade...

The editorial:

The Economist: The Bush presidency: Je ne regrette rien: "**After a tumultuous first term...

...George Bush has much to be proud of—and much to reconsider:** FOUR years ago, George Bush presented himself at the Republican convention in Philadelphia as a “compassionate conservative”. After the dramas and division of the Clinton years, the Texan dynast, backed by reliable old hands such as his running-mate, Dick Cheney, would provide a more modest, grown-up approach. Abroad, Mr Bush promised a humble but strong foreign policy. At home, there would be a big tax cut, affordable thanks to the large budget surplus—and, unusually for a Republican, Mr Bush talked a lot about social issues such as education. After two Republican conventions with the Christian right in full cry, he softened the party's stance on social issues at Philadelphia, and gave a hearing to homosexuals and minorities. This prospect of a moderate presidency was further advanced, or so it seemed, by the narrowness of his election victory: having won fewer votes overall than Al Gore, Mr Bush promised to be a president for all Americans.

Now Mr Bush approaches next week's convention in New York a very different figure. The “accidental presidency” has become a transformative one (see article). The divisions within America are much greater than they were under Bill Clinton. Our YouGov poll this week shows that, although 86% of Republicans approve of what their president is doing, a mere 8% of Democrats do. Abroad, the “polarisation” is less evident only because so few Europeans are prepared to take the side of the smirking “Toxic Texan”. Those “safe hands” advertised at Philadelphia four years ago—men such as Mr Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld—are now more often cast as ideological revolutionaries, often fiendish ones.

There is exaggeration in this, and often crass anti-Americanism (more on that later). But the vitriol and adoration that Mr Bush inspires both stem in part from the policies he has chosen. It is not just a matter of waging the most controversial war since Vietnam and dramatically increasing the size of government. Name your subject, from education and health care to missile defence, AIDS policy, gay marriage, stem cells and civil rights, and this presidency has sought radical change.

Promises, promises: Radicalism can be good—but Mr Bush's brand has turned a compassionate conservative into a contradictory one. What is conservative about allowing government to grow faster than under Mr Clinton? What is humble about announcing that you are trying to introduce democracy to the Middle East? Where is the compassion in his support for a federal ban on gay marriage, the limitations on stem-cell research or his other moves to accommodate the zealots of the Christian right?

In a race where Mr Kerry now seems to be the narrow favourite, the president is going to Madison Square Garden promising, in large part, more of the same. Yes, there will be an attempt to reach out to independent voters: moderates such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani have been given prominent speaking slots. But Mr Bush is undaunted. His message is that America should stick with a man who faced hard choices and took the right decisions. Il ne regrette rien.

For this newspaper, that verdict looks mostly right for Mr Bush's foreign policy. The charge that he set off in a needlessly unilateralist direction on taking office is vastly overdone; he sought allies throughout; and in many ways his forthright style was a breath of fresh air after the muddle and evasions of the Clinton era. Yes, he dropped out of the Kyoto Protocol in a tactless way; but that was a bad treaty which America was never going to accept in any case (the Senate voted against it by a margin of 95-0). Mr Bush upset many people by ripping apart the outdated anti-ballistic-missile defence treaty with Russia—then baffled his critics by getting both Russia and (more hesitantly) China to go along with him.

But it was the thunderbolt of September 11th that counted most. Those atrocities set the course for the remainder of his presidency. Since then, we continue to think that Mr Bush has got the big foreign-policy decisions right. He understood the nature of the war that had been declared against America and the western world. He made it clear that it is not a war between civilisations, let alone religions; but he has also served notice to Arab regimes of the need to change. He rightly decided to destroy al-Qaeda's home in Afghanistan—and, yes, on the evidence that presented itself at the time, he rightly decided to invade Iraq.

Could France be mistaken?: Many of these decisions were bound to be unpopular with his allies. That does not make them wrong. Nor does it justify the anti-Americanism that many politicians have recklessly tried to stir up, particularly over Iraq. Some Bush-bashing foreign governments seem to hope that Mr Kerry will adopt a different set of priorities. Tellingly, he has stuck pretty close to Mr Bush.

To be sure, the president has got some things wrong in foreign policy. He did not outright lie about Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction, but he misled the country about what was known and not known. His administration exaggerated the case for invading Iraq in another way too, by falsely linking Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda. Elsewhere, his failures have mainly been errors of execution.

He called for the establishment of a Palestinian state, but did little to support it. In Iraq, he destroyed a dangerous and odious tyrant, but lamentably failed to prepare for rebuilding the country after fighting what was, whatever Mr Bush says, a war of choice. And, in a conflict where hearts and minds count for so much and where America's reputation has been so badly wounded, the president was unwilling to acknowledge the gravity of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. That calamity warranted the resignation of Mr Rumsfeld. (The fact that a commission this week cleared him of direct responsibility for the torture is beside the point. He was the man in charge.)

The “accidental presidency” has become a transformative one: Effective execution is partly a matter of experience. There are signs, including in Iraq, that the Bush administration has learned from its mistakes. The Economist's bigger disagreements with Mr Bush lie beyond the war on terror, in areas where Mr Bush's very aims are questionable or worse.

This president, despite impassioned avowals to the contrary, has been no champion of open international markets. He caved in to protectionist pressures and imposed tariffs on steel; he also signed an absurdly bad farm bill. His fiscal policy is nothing to boast about either. Here Mr Bush can plead with some justification that, as with foreign policy, he was ambushed by events: yes, he inherited a Clintonian budget surplus, but he also had to deal with the burst Clintonian bubble. A big swing into deficit was needed, he would argue, to avoid a much worse recession. Up to a point, Mr President.

Unfortunately, the Bush deficits are not temporary. They stretch into the distance: the ten-year deficit is projected at $2.7 trillion, even after a lot of dodgy accounting. He cut taxes in the best conservative tradition, but spent vastly more as well. Mr Bush is a conservative who believes in big government.

This failure to curb public spending is all the more alarming because the next president will have to prepare America for the retirement of the huge baby-boomer generation. Four years ago, Mr Bush talked, albeit tentatively, about partly privatising the pensions system; almost nothing has been done. And he has made the fiscal burden of entitlement worse by increasing the prescription-drug benefit in the Medicare system—again without undertaking meaningful reform.

The other problem is social policy. The American conservative movement has always been a marriage between “western” anti-governmentalism and “southern” moralism. Four years ago, Mr Bush made no secret of his own religious beliefs, but he gave the impression he would hold the often intolerant religious right in check. Instead, he has given it a big role in his administration on a host of issues. No doubt Mr Bush's convictions are sincere; but they were not to the fore in 2000 and they are not shared by many of those who supported him then, nor by this newspaper.

Tumultuous though it has been, and despite the passions it arouses, Mr Bush's first term should in the end be judged in the same measured way as most previous ones. It is a mixed bag: successes and failures must be set beside each other. And deciding whether Mr Bush deserves a second term calls for more than an appraisal of his own record: the American people will have to judge whether Mr Kerry, another mixture of good and bad, represents a better choice. At his convention in Boston, Mr Kerry made an effort to cast the Democratic Party in a new light. Mr Bush needs to attempt something similar in New York. More of the same just will not do.