Hello Everyone,

As the world now knows, the U.S. Congress has passed health insurance reform legislation. Ninety-eight years after Republican President Theodore Roosevelt first proposed expanding health coverage, this bill was signed into law by President Obama. So much for the ridiculously-premature proclamations of a “failed presidency.” Perhaps a presidency with a legacy is more like it. A communitarian cornerstone in the new foundation he is seeking to lay.

As I’ve written before, this is health insurance reform, not sweeping health care reform. In media coverage, we are already starting to see calm, factual explanations of the law’s provisions replacing misrepresentation, obfuscation and fear. Clarity instead of caricature.

Appropriately, during much of this battle’s denouncement, Penny and I were on a two-week “study mission” to South East Asia. We visited Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam with about two dozen members of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, led by Lester Crown, its chairman. Our grueling 50-session schedule included meetings with presidents, prime ministers, fund managers, academics, and NGO leaders. Like a short graduate-level course. We go on trips like this to learn about other countries, and, in turn, to learn about our own.

All of these Asian countries are rabidly pursing economic growth with the active help of their governments, while those governments are liberalizing to varying degrees. With a few obvious exceptions, the remaining communist countries in Asia are that in name only.

From half way around the globe, America’s two principal exports – capitalism and democracy – look a little tarnished. Many knowledgeable people complained about how the excesses in our economic system caused problems in their own economies. They worried that we couldn’t reignite our growth and regain our global economic leadership, while avoiding the temptation to erect protectionist barriers.

Similarly, they worried that our democracy was becoming increasingly dysfunctional. Our stop in Indonesia – the world’s third largest democracy with about 230 million people and the home of President Obama for a few years during his childhood – offered some insights in that regard. It has only been a democracy for 12 years – messy, noisy, multi-party and young. But from that vantage point, America’s 230-year-old democracy looked like it had fallen prey to spoiled leaders acting like 12-year olds.

To illustrate the point, upon our return there was an incisive piece in the New York Times about Senate Minority Leader Mitchell McConnell’s strategy for his party:

Before the health care fight, before the economic stimulus package, before President Obama even took office, Senator Mitch McConnell…had a strategy for his party: use his extensive knowledge of Senate procedure to slow things down, take advantage of the difficulties Democrats would have in governing and deny Democrats any Republican support on big legislation.

In the process, Mr. McConnell…more at home plotting tactics…than writing legislation…has come to embody a kind of oppositional politics that critics say has left voters cynical about Washington, the Senate all but dysfunctional and the Republican Party without a positive agenda or message.

…Mr. McConnell’s strategy has left Republicans at risk of being tagged as pure obstructionists and a party without a positive agenda.

The strategy that has brought Senate Republicans where they are today began when they gathered, beaten and dispirited, at the Library of Congress two weeks before Mr. Obama’s inauguration. They had lost seven seats… [and] were about to go up against an extraordinarily popular new president and an emboldened Democratic Congress.

“We came in shellshocked,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “There was sort of a feeling of ‘every man for himself.’ Mitch early on in this session came up with a game plan to make us relevant with 40 people. He said if we didn’t stick together on big things, we wouldn’t be relevant.”…Before long, Republicans in both houses had become a monolith of opposition.

“Throwing grenades is easier than catching them,” acknowledged Senator John Thune of South Dakota, a fellow member of the Republican leadership. [Or to say, it is easier to oppose than propose.]

This article was followed three days later by yet another thoughtful column by David Brooks entitled “The Broken Society” (see attachment). He cites work by the conservative British writer Phillip Blond (most notably in a Feb. 28, 2009 article in the Prospect magazine entitled, “Rise of the Red Tories,” which is also attached). Brooks observes in his column:

The United States is becoming a broken society. The public has contempt for the political class. Public debt is piling up at an astonishing and unrelenting pace. Middle-class wages have lagged. Unemployment will remain high. It will take years to fully recover from the
financial crisis [one I contend that had bipartisan roots and was decades in the making].

This confluence of crises has produced a surge in vehement libertarianism…But, there is another way to respond to these problems that is more communitarian and less libertarian.

Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions [first from the left, then from the right], both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations…The two revolutions talked the language of individual freedom, but they
perversely ended up creating greater centralization. They created an atomized, segmented society and then the state had to come in and attempt to repair the damage.

The [left’s] effort to liberate individuals from repressive social constraints didn’t produce a flowering of freedom; it weakened families, increased out-of-wedlock births and turned neighbors into strangers.

The [right’s] free-market revolution didn’t create [a] pluralistic decentralized economy. It created a centralized financial monoculture, which requires a gigantic government to audit its activities.

[According to Blond] “The welfare state and the market state are now two defunct and mutually supporting failures”…The task today, [Blond] argued in a recent speech, is to revive the sector that the two revolutions have mutually decimated: “The project of radical transformative conservatism is nothing less than the restoration and creation of human association, and the elevation of society and the people who form it to their proper central and sovereign station.”

Economically, Blond lays out three big areas of reform: remoralize the market, relocalize the economy and recapitalize the poor [emphasis added]…Essentially, Blond would take a political culture that has been oriented around individual choice and replace it with one oriented around relationships and associations…[America], too, needs a fresh political wind. [It] is suffering a devastating crisis of authority. The only way to restore trust is from the local community on up.

Remoralize the markets, relocalize the economy and recapitalize the poor. Once we’ve done that, perhaps we will once again be ready to export American capitalism and democracy, with a more communitarian flavor, to formerly communist countries in Asia and elsewhere.

Please, as always, pass it on.

Chuck

adobe pdf file Click here to download this article in PDF format.

 

adobe pdf file Attachment: The Broken Society

 

adobe pdf file Attachment: Prospect – P Blond

 

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