If you want to witness the clash of two worldviews on trade, check out the online debate I’m having with Ian Fletcher of the U.S. Business and Industry Council. A self-described protectionist, Fletcher has written a new book with the unambiguous title, Free Trade Doesn’t Work: What Should Replace it and Why. In the opposite corner, I argue for eliminating barriers to trade, drawing on my own recent book, Mad about Trade: Why Main Street America Should Embrace Globalization.
The debate is being hosted by the International Economic Law and Policy Blog. We’ve already filed two 600-word posts each, with a third to come at the end of this week and concluding arguments early next week.
Today, President Obama began to fulfill the promise that health care legislation would be hashed out on C-SPAN. His discussion with congressional leaders was broadcast on that cable channel and streamed live on the Internet. The nearly six-and-a-half hour-long meeting began to touch on many of the issues at stake in the health care area.
I'll leave observations about the merits to our experts, who live-blogged the morning session. I found a few things interesting from a transparency perspective:
The format was far more conducive to productive discussion than procedures for "debate" in Congress. What generally happens in the House and Senate is display of members' and senators' well-settled views. So today interested Americans could get a real sense of the issues and how their representatives think about them.
There seemed to be a division between representatives who knew the technical subject matter and those who---for lack of a better phrase---knew the emotional subject matter. Surprisingly astute commentaries on fiscal realities were met with appeals to the story of one constituent or another---or of members' own families' health predicaments.
Though there was much talking past one another, these are all good things to see. It will inform the public, and a better informed public will make better decisions about health care legislation, about individual representatives, and about the proper role of government.
I know how I feel about these things. (I'm soft-pedaling my views here as hard as I can...) My opinions didn't change, though I adopted new nuances to my thinking.
It's doubtful that many people's opinions will change. But I'm confident that a more open process will lead to better results in many senses: specific policy results; electoral activity; and people's overall sense of the role of government.
Today's meeting only scratched the surface, of course. Sessions like this in the days and weeks to come will do more to improve the transparency of the lawmaking process, in this issue and hopefully others. Today's transparency precedent is something that the president and federal lawmakers should not retreat from.
Closing statements are posted at the Economist debate, "This house believes that Barack Obama is failing." Currently, Obama leads in the voting by a bit less than the margin by which American voters oppose his health care plan. But there's still time for a rally! So vote now.
I conclude my closing statement this way:
Has Mr Obama failed? Of course it's too early to say that. But is he headed that way? Let's go to the tape: His policies are bad for the country; they expand government, reduce freedom and slow the economic recovery. The policies that he cannot implement by executive order have become bogged down in Congress as public opposition mounts. Since he was elected, his party has lost three elections for governor and senator. Public opinion has shifted so sharply against him that last week pundits began speculating that the Republican Party might take back the Senate. Mere months after an outpouring of articles hailing the end of Reaganism and the return of activist government, he has caused the resurgence of small-government attitudes. He aspired to be a transformational president who would "remake this nation". He may well be doing so in two ways: giving us a substantially larger government, and simultaneously reviving free-market, limited-government ideology among a broader public.
That doesn't sound like success.
Since I wrote the statement, a few more items relating to Obama's political decline: The Marist poll now finds that 57 percent of independents disapprove of his performance, sharply down even from December and a sign of his continuing decline among swing voters. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows voters trust Obama over congressional Republicans by 47 to 42 percent. Not so bad. Better to be five points ahead than five points behind the opposition. But as Byron York notes, "In November, in the same poll, Obama led by 15 points. Last July, he led by 23 points. And last February, he his lead was 55 points. So in the course of a single year, Obama's lead over Republicans has shrunk from 55 points to five.
Vote here. Vote now. (Click on "Vote now or add your view," and a voting box should appear. You'll have to register, though.)
At the Economist website, I'm debating the question, "This house believes that Barack Obama is failing." I'm taking the affirmative. Readers are allowed to vote, and the Economist's typically left-leaning readers are voting for Obama by about the same margin that Americans are rejecting his health care plan. So feel free to mosey on over there, read both sides of the argument, and cast your vote. My bottom line:
When your policies aren't working, the voters have noticed and your transformative ideological agenda is moving broad public opinion in the other direction, it's safe to say you're failing.
Rebuttals and closing statements will follow in a few days. But don't delay! Visit today!
- Health care insurance mandates: Why it is unconstitutional for the government to force you to purchase a product you don't want to buy.
- Should malpractice reform be included in the pending health care bill?
- The end of globalization? Cato's trade policy expert Daniel Griswold debates.
- Doug Bandow on the minaret ban in Switzerland: "Swiss voters underestimated the impact on religious liberty when they voted to ban minaret construction. But Muslims whose nations persecute Christians, Jews, and other religious minorities have no standing to complain. The Islamic world needs to respect religious liberty at home before lecturing the West about intolerance, racism, hatred and Islamophobia."
- More debate over Hayek and spontaneous order at Cato Unbound.
- Podcast: "Obama's nation-building in Afghanistan"
Cato director of health policy studies Michael F. Cannon will participate in a live online chat today at the New Haven Register. The event starts at 2pm EST and will last for an hour.
We encourage you to submit questions once the event has started. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) will participate in the chat alongside Cannon.
Item: The Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, a group of concerned scholars and authors who work on international security and U.S. foreign policy, have issued an open letter to President Obama warning him not to expand U.S. involvement in that country. (Full disclosure: I was a signatory.) The list of signatories includes many of the scholars who urged President Bush not to invade Iraq. Politico was the first to run the story: see here.
Item: Via Michael Cohen, former CIA counterterrorism honcho Paul Pillar takes to the pages of the Washington Post to think through the concept of "safe havens" in Afghanistan. His conclusion?
Among the many parallels being offered between Afghanistan and the Vietnam War, one of the most disturbing concerns inadequate examination of core assumptions. The Johnson administration was just as meticulous as the Obama administration is being in examining counterinsurgent strategies and the forces required to execute them. But most American discourse about Vietnam in the early and mid-1960s took for granted the key -- and flawed -- assumptions underlying the whole effort: that a loss of Vietnam would mean that other Asian countries would fall like dominoes to communism, and that a retreat from the commitment to Vietnam would gravely harm U.S. credibility.
The Obama administration and other participants in the debate about expanding the counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan can still avoid comparable error. But this would require not merely invoking Sept. 11 and taking for granted that a haven in Afghanistan would mean the difference between repeating and not repeating that horror. It would instead mean presenting a convincing case about how such a haven would significantly increase the terrorist danger to the United States. That case has not yet been made.
Item: Michael Crowley offers a piece in the New Republic that strongly implies but doesn't quite come out and say that President Obama should ignore the skeptics and the political risks and wade deeper into Afghanistan. The piece swallows whole the conventional wisdom narrative on Iraq--that the Surge amounted not to a combination of defining down "victory" and appeasement of Sunni tribes but rather a borderline miracle whereby Gen. Petraeus loosed his wonder-working COIN doctrine on the maelstrom of violence in that country and produced a strategic victory. Crowley then uses this narrative to frame the decision before President Obama. Still, he writes
[I]f the definition of success isn't clear to the Obama team, the definition of defeat may be. Bush argued unabashedly that Iraq had become "the central front in the war on terror" and that withdrawing before the country had stabilized would hand Al Qaeda not only a strategic but a moral victory. Current administration officials don't publicly articulate the same rationale when discussing Afghanistan. But former CIA official Bruce Riedel, a regional expert who led the White House's Afghanistan-Pakistan review earlier this year, cited it at the Brookings panel held in August. "The triumph of jihadism or the jihadism of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in driving NATO out of Afghanistan would resonate throughout the Islamic World. This would be a victory on par with the destruction of the Soviet Union in the 1990s," Riedel said. "[T]he stakes are enormous."
Obama may have one last thing in common with Bush: personal pride. Bush was determined to prevail in Iraq because he had invaded it. And, while Obama, of course, had nothing to do with the invasion of Afghanistan, he has long supported the campaign there--including during the presidential campaign as a foil for his opposition to the Iraq war. Speaking before a group of veterans last month, Obama called Afghanistan a "war of necessity"--a phrase which politically invests him deeper in the fight. "The president has boxed himself in," says one person who has advised the administration on military strategy. "The worst possible place to be is that our justification for being in a war is that we're in a war."
Lots to chew on.