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Barack Obama, not out of commissions

Today, Senator Obama said: "Senator McCain offered up the oldest Washington stunt in the book: you pass the buck to a commission to study the problem. But here's the thing: this isn't 9-11. We know how we got into this mess. What we need now is leadership that gets us out."

Apparently, then, we can dismiss Senator Obama's call for commissions on Social Security (11/2007), torture (9/2007), war crimes (8/2008), and financial oversight for Wall Street (4/2008) as four separate instances of the senator pulling "the oldest Washington stunt in the book." Perhaps the person who ghost writes his teleprompter can first do a Google search on the senator's behalf to see whether he had opined on prior occasions on the matter of commissions. It took me about 40 minutes to track all these down.


Comments (23)

Nicely done.

Perhaps fewer of us would be so brain-dead if every such post was properly sourced and linked to reputable sites.


Hmm. That's certainly not a very clear statement from Obama. He calls appointing a commission a "stunt," but then seems to be fine with the 9/11 commission. But I'd say it's pretty clear from just the quotation you give that Obama isn't coming out generally against commissions -- Again, he seems to think the 9-11 commission was fine. Well, then, under what conditions is he anti-commission? That's pretty clear from the quotation you give, too, isn't it? He's against appointing commissions when it's already clear what should be done. And he did go to some length yesterday explaining what he thought should be done. Presumably, then, he thought it wasn't immediately clear what should be done in the cases you cite where he backed commissions. One can disagree with Obama's recommendations in the present case, and with his implicit claim that it is clear what to do to stop such messes from recurring. And/or one might think, against what he apparently thought, that it really was clear what to do in those other cases where he thought a commission was in order. But once we realize (what is *pretty* clear from the quotation) that he isn't against commissions generally, but only against using them when it's already clear what should be done, there isn't any readily apparent inconsistency that's uncovered when one finds other commissions (beyond the 9/11 commission that he's already indicating he was fine with) that he was in favor of.


You're treating Obama's quotation as if he was trying to paint a coherent picture of his worldview. No politician does that and gets elected. At this point, a "take charge" persona is what he needed. Calling for a commission would have reinforced the view of him held by many people that he not that sort of guy. I don't blame the campaign for doing this. It was a good move. My problem is that to call the calling of commissions "the oldest stunt in the Washington book" is just as bad as saying "pretending to `take charge' when no one is in control" is the second oldest trick in the Washington book, ala Alexander Haig after the Reagan assassination attempt.

On an issue like this--the financial markets--none of us knows enough to make a judgment as to what is to be done. Convening a commission is a wise move, and shows a degree of humility and self-understanding that is just as much a sign of leadership as "taking charge."

Remember, one of the criticisms of Bush is that he's pigheaded and shoots from the hip--e.g., he's a take charge kind of guy. That sometimes served him well, but in other cases it was his achilles heal.


Frank: I actually agree that a commission would be wise here. Still, it's a good idea for candidates to give their current thinking about what would be good to do on such a timely issue (in addition to perhaps getting a commission going) -- if they can without getting themselves into trouble. And I think that McCain is headed for trouble here, and I suspect that to a signficant extent, McCain is using the commission idea to try to get out of saying much in terms of substance. Here's his trouble, at least as I see it: It's pretty clear already that a big part of the problem has been caused by deregulation, but McCain can't say anything along these lines without appearing to be going against his earlier very strong characterizations of himself as a deregulator.

"On an issue like this--the financial markets--none of us knows enough to make a judgment as to what is to be done. Convening a commission is a wise move, and shows a degree of humility and self-understanding that is just as much a sign of leadership as "taking charge.""

There is no mystery here and no commissions are needed as the problems are obvious. We learned in the 1920s that unregulated financial markets are a disaster waiting to happen. Instead of instituting regulations that kept up with market innovations we deregulated and, surprise, surprise things blew up.

Robert Kuttner at The American Prospect lays it out:


McCain wants a commission because he hasn't a clue, will be unable to lie his way out of this one, and wants to change the subject back to culture war nonsense.

Obama, like most of us on the left, gets things like this and stands to gain from the discussion going to matters of substance.

"We learned in the 1920s that unregulated financial markets are a disaster waiting to happen. Instead of instituting regulations that kept up with market innovations we deregulated and, surprise, surprise things blew up."

Actually, Al, it was just the opposite. It was the Hoover administration's over-regulation that was the problem, as my late colleague Murray Rothbard persuasively argued in his landmark book on the subject:

http://mises.org/rothbard/agd.pdf Here's some of Murray' comments from pages 188-189 (including footnotes):

When Hoover returned to the United States after the war and
a long stay abroad, he came armed with a suggested “Reconstruction
Program.” Such programs are familiar to the present generation,
but they were new to the United States in that more innocent
age. Like all such programs, it was heavy on government planning,
which was envisaged as “voluntary” cooperative action under “central
direction.”3 The government was supposed to correct “our
marginal faults”—including undeveloped health and education,
industrial “waste,” the failure to conserve resources, the nasty habit
of resisting unionization, and seasonal unemployment. Featured in
Hoover’s plan were increased inheritance taxes, public dams, and,
significantly, government regulation of the stock market to eliminate
“vicious speculation.” Here was an early display of Hoover’s
hostility toward the stock market, a hostility that was to form one
of the leitmotifs of his administration.4 Hoover, who to his credit has
never pretended to be the stalwart of laissez-faire that most
people now consider him, notes that some denounced his program
as “radical”—as well they might have.

So “forward-looking” was Hoover and his program that Louis
Brandeis, Herbert Croly of the New Republic, Colonel Edward M.
House, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and other prominent Democrats
for a while boomed Hoover for the presidency.5
Hoover continued to expound interventionism in many areas
during 1920. Most relevant to our concerns was the conference on
labor–management relations that Hoover directed from 1919 to
1920, on appointment by President Wilson and in association with
Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson, a former official of the
United Mine Workers of America. The conference—which included
“forward-looking” industrialists like Julius Rosenwald, Oscar Straus,
and Owen D. Young, labor leaders, and economists like Frank W.
Taussig—recommended wider collective bargaining, criticized
“company unions,” urged the abolition of child labor, and called for
national old-age insurance, fewer working hours, “better housing,”
health insurance, and government arbitration boards for labor disputes.
These recommendations reflected Hoover’s views.6
3 See Joseph Dorfman, The Economic Mind in American Civilization (New York:
Viking Press, 1959), vol. 14, p. 27.

4 Hoover, Memoirs, vol. 2, p. 29. Hoover’s evasive rhetoric is typical: “I insisted
that these improvements could be effected without government control, but
the government should cooperate by research, intellectual leadership [sic], and
prohibitions upon the abuse of power.”

5 Cf. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Crisis of the Old Order, 1919–1933 (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1957), pp. 81ff.; Harris Gaylord Warren, Herbert Hoover and
the Great Depression (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959), pp. 24ff.

6 Hoover records that the “extreme right” was hostile to these proposals—
and understandably so—and notably the Boston Chamber of Commerce. Also
see Eugene Lyons, Our Unknown Ex-President (New York: Doubleday, 1948),
pp. 213–14.

"Obama, like most of us on the left,..."

Why is your personal identity so dependent on ideology? It really is unhealthy. If the pursuit of truth were genuinely important to you, you wouldn't settle for partisan platitudes.

Both parties are as guilty as sin in this financial debacle and neither is capable of "fixing" it. Instead, each will continue to drain the Treasury, nationalize segments of the economy, sell-off depreciated American assets to foreign powers, wage the occasional resource war, steal from future generations and hope the full impact hits farther down the road. Under someone else's watch.

As the American people grasp the rough contours of this crisis, their collective shock should benefit Obama's short-term ambitions. Nothing he does the next 4 years though, will be beneficial to either your self-esteem, or material well-being. Nothing.

"Why is your personal identity so dependent on ideology?"

It's not but it is apt when addressing this topic and others but particularity this one. Conservatives are at sea here because they, in general, fail to understand the nature of markets and the necessity for regulation.

-Your laundry list is simply paralyzing; it would help if you broke it down and dealt with things separately. We are, of course, quite capable of fixing this. We simply need the political will.

Reregulate the financial industry and, as Obama has pointed out, regulate by function not identity. Take taxes back to Clinton era levels and make them a bit more progressive. Get out of Iraq and stop the bleeding.

As for the parties; Democrats need to behave like Democrats (stop listening to the DLC types) and the Republican Party needs to go the way of the Whigs.

Obama's success will depend on electing enough Democrats to make the Blue Dogs fly left and the remaining Republicans irrelevant.

No answer to Rothbard's definitive study?

"We are, of course, quite capable of fixing this..."

First, tell us the genesis of this debacle. Then propose a solution, beyond sound bites.

"Reregulate the financial industry and, as Obama has pointed out..."

His benefactors at Freddie Mac & Fannie Mae were regulated. I need more specifics.

"Take taxes back to Clinton era levels and make them a bit more progressive."

Charles Schumer has no desire to take on his party's donor base of private equity managers, and high-tech "entrepreneurs". Their interests are vastly different than those of blue-collar workers. And its been a real long time since I saw a leading Democrat side with the latter on issues like free-trade, immigration or taxes. The Tech Bubble came under Clinton, when that burst we move on to housing. Also Clinton pushed the sub-prime racket as a solution for minorities seeking mortgages. How did that work-out?

As for military interventions, Clinton gave us Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo, Operation Desert Fox, the bombing of Sudanese aspirin factories and Bosnia.
Which one of these did Obama criticize? And why should we think a guy surrounded by Clintonites will suddenly become restrained and creative in his statecraft?

Which definitive study?

Kevin, all your position seems to add up to is "all is lost".

Though it's not the easiest thing to decipher, it at least seems that Palin is basically with Al on this bit of Great Depression history. (Maybe she wasn't convinced by the definitive study last time she studied it?) This from her interview with Sean Hannity, on how to fix the economic problems:

"Through reform, absolutely. Look at the oversight that has been lack, I believe, here at the 1930s type of regulatory regime overseeing some of these corporations. And we’ve got to get a more coordinated and a much more stringent oversight regime...Government can play a very, very appropriate role in the oversight as people are trusting these companies with their life savings, with their investments, with their insurance policies, and construction bonds, and everything else."

Whatever one wants to say about the causes of the Great Depression, I think it's clear enough that a big part of what's needed to fix our *current* problems -- or at least fix things so similar problems won't happen again -- is better regulation of markets and financial institutions. It's probably safe to say that "more" regulation is needed, but certainly at least "better" regulation, which will include new regulations to prevent certain problems (even if it might also allow striking some existing regulations). Happily (since they still might win), given what they're saying very recently, McCain and Palin are on-board with that basic idea -- which is probably politically wise (as well as actually wise), given how hard & foolish it would be to try to make the case for deregulation in the current climate. That gives rise to McCain's big problem: His history of being a deregulator, and his stronger history of talking a big deregulation game. It's gotta be extremely uncomfortable to defend what he pretty much has to say now (which, if it's at all substantive, has to include new regulation as a major part if it's going to be at all credible) with what he's said (and, to a somewhat lesser extent, what's he's done) in the past. Trying the tactic of acknowledging the problem, while avoiding being substantive about solutions while saying *something* positive by talking about setting up a commission was probably a wise political attempt to escape a nasty problem. And Obama calling McCain on this attempt to avoid his problem was a wise political counter-move. We naturally tend to focus on the candidates', and their campaigns', blunders. It's easy to forget that these guys (and/or their people) do know pretty well how to play this game. They wouldn't be where they are now if they didn't.

"It's easy to forget that these guys (and/or their people) do know pretty well how to play this game. They wouldn't be where they are now if they didn't."

And we wouldn't be where we are now if they didn't know how to play us.

The above quote shows yet again why Palin is becoming a joke. I will outsource this to one of her constituents, Dave Noon, over at "Lawyers, Guns, and Money"

"... Sarah Palin, apparently, does not realize that modern American conservatives did not object to the regulatory innovations of the New Deal because they were antiquated, but rather because they existed in the first place. And modern conservatives -- like the erstwhile economic adviser to John McCain, to say nothing of John McCain himself -- rectified the problem by sending those regulations into the spindler."

Keith makes a good point; why would an electorate that wishes to survive economically place its trust a person, who from the Keating affair on has shown poor judgment and a complete lack of understanding of the economy and its basic institutions.

This isn't just about the horse race and temporary advantage. Obama/Biden actually get this stuff and McCain/Palin haven't a clue.

"Kevin, all your position seems to add up to is "all is lost"."

Hardly. I'm just rejecting the thoughtless boilerplate that passes as political debate in the Cirque du Soulless. I do think the American "way of life" as it became known, is colliding with reality and we're just now feeling the first of many waves of pain. The illusion that we could build a social order on the stoking and sating of endless appetites, while a steady stream of financial and technological innovations kept us safe and warm, is over. The language of limits, sacrifice, prudence, humility, personal responsibility, accountability and community is, out of sheer necessity, about to return. For your part, you might want to expand your reading list beyond ad-copy and the juvenile postings at dubious blogs.

Al, I don't mean to imply those on the Left have nothing to offer. On the contrary, reading Gore Vidal, Chalmers Johnson, Nat Hentoff and some parts of The Nation can be challenging, stimulating and profitable. My point is please stop imbibing from the shallow wells of political propagandists and then ascribing some form of virtue to yourself for doing so. Sorry if I have an edge to my comments, but in the words of Bill Kaufman; "modern politics has become a prison-house from which no original thought can escape." The phenomenon is choking our country to death and I'm overreacting to your unconscious complicity with it.

I noticed that too. You cited the late Murray Rothbard, perhaps the 20th century's leading authority on this economic issue, and even though the passage you posted is admirably brief, wonderfully clear, and properly documented, it produced no noticeable effect on the discussion. Much less does it seem that anyone went to the book itself and read it through, even though the book from which your quotation comes is a monument to careful research and rigorously argued economic and historical analysis.

Clinching arguments have no impact upon those armed with the potent weapons of blithe dismissal and unreachable elevation.

"My point is please stop imbibing from the shallow wells of political propagandists and then ascribing some form of virtue to yourself for doing so."

You presume far too much about my political views. Comments are going to be highly compressed.

Michael, I missed Dr. Beckwith's post but now that I have read it, I don't get it. What Hoover proposed in 1919 has to do with what actually was the status quo in 1929 has to be explained.

Had his proposals been taken seriously we wouldn't have needed things like the Social Security act, the Wagner Act, and the Securities Exchange Act. I hope he doesn't believe we had the SEC, Social Security, and federal laws friendly to labor in the 1920s.

"You presume far too much about my political views. Comments are going to be highly compressed."

Are you now saying your comments are so compressed that they prevent "the discussion going to matters of substance." Which is odd as you claimed a familiarity with, and an affinity for policy details are the special virtue of those on the Left.

Glad nonetheless, you were able to muster some form a rebuttal to Michael, even though it came at the expense of exploring the role liberal interference in the mortgage markets played in this disaster.

Now, you Michael will trudge out all the irrelevant bromides from your respective ideological arsenals and bludgeon the truth, so as to spare yourselves the pain of questioning your prejudices and blinkered premises.

Game on. Or, whatever they say in the political hothouses on Cable T.V.

From The Gospel According to The Wall Street Journal:

A Mortgage Fable

Once upon a time, in the land that FDR built, there was the rule of "regulation" and all was right on Wall and Main Streets. Wise 27-year-old bank examiners looked down upon the banks and saw that they were sound. America's Hobbits lived happily in homes financed by 30-year-mortgages that never left their local banker's balance sheet, and nary a crisis did we have.

Then, lo, came the evil Reagan marching from Mordor with his horde of Orcs, short for "market fundamentalists." Reagan's apprentice, Gramm of Texas and later of McCain, unleashed the scourge of "deregulation," and thus were "greed," short-selling, securitization, McMansions, liar loans and other horrors loosed upon the world of men.

Now, however, comes Obama of Illinois, Schumer of New York and others in the fellowship of the Beltway to slay the Orcs and restore the rule of the regulator. So once more will the Hobbits be able to sleep peacefully in the shire.

SOURCE: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122204078161261183.html

THE LESSON: "Beware politicians who peddle fables that cast themselves as the heroes."

Ari, The Wall Street Journal has been creating fables for decades. One of my favorites; the GOP is the party of fiscal responsibility and free enterprise. New bedtime reading will be in demand once the full effect of this disaster is felt. The false dichotomy each party purveyed to their gullible partisans is about to vanish is a puff of financial ruin.


As true as that may be, I am still not sold on what can only be herald as the children's fable of The Modern Welfare State that's supposedly going to solve all the problems of the average American -- never mind the fact that such pursuit has oftentimes placed undue burden on the shoulders of such folks rather than alleviate it.

Ari, The Servile State is, as Belloc warned, the off-spring of 2 wretched ideologies.

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