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George W. Bush is the Teddy Roosevelt of today

It’s almost too obvious to mention: The planes crashed into the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and fields of Pennsylvania, and George W. Bush’s foreign policy shifted drastically. As a presidential candidate in the 2000 election, Governor Bush held fast to the Republican line that America should take a realist approach to its foreign affairs. “The vice president and I have a disagreement about the use of troops,” candidate Bush intoned in the 2000 debates. “He believes in nation-building. I would be very careful about using our troops as nation-builders. I believe the role of the military is to fight and win war.” In this view, America does not go abroad, in the oft-cited words of John Quincy Adams, “in search of monsters to destroy.”

This realist line was in part a reaction to the actions of the Clinton administration. The immediacy of Clinton’s mistakes or perceived mistakes made it expedient to contrast Bush’s stand with his predecessor’s, but it should be remembered that the ascendance of realism in Republican circles predated the Clinton presidency. It had come about in the later years of Vietnam, when Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger sought a way to win the Cold War without getting America mired in small fights around the world. Even with the United States disgusted with foreign affairs because of the mess in Vietnam, the American people did not become pacifist, far from it. The Republicans needed a tough line; realism fit the bill.

Realism had the added benefit of being the apparent opposite of the Democrats’ favored foreign policy tradition: idealism. Modern American idealism (or liberalism or liberal internationalism), the story goes, was laid out by President Woodrow Wilson in the dark years of the First World War. Wilson offered a way out, a way to escape the utter devastation of modern war. The position reached its fullest exposition in Wilson’s ill-fated peace plan, the Fourteen Points. Most of the points dealt with the specifics of territories at play in the war, but the overall platform committed America to open markets, free seas, disarmament, decolonization, self-determination for all nations, and internationalism. This last point had special importance for the former professor. Point after point disappeared in the peace talks at Versailles, but Wilson held on with white knuckles to his ideal: “A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.” He got his League of Nations.

Unfortunately for him, he did not get the United States into the League. Isolationists at home blocked American entry. But a new worldview was born, and like so much else about these United States, the next war, America’s great war, brought forth its true importance. The lesson of World War II was that the United States could no longer afford to stand aloof while the rest of the world ate itself up. President Franklin Roosevelt looked to his Democratic predecessor for the answer, and espoused Wilsonian internationalism, idealism, as the foundation of America’s new foreign policy. The United Nations was born.

Republicans faced a serious problem: The American public, nearly all veterans or families of veterans, had learned the lessons of Munich and would no longer accept isolationism (read appeasement) as a viable aspect of American foreign policy. The specter of a new totalitarianism, the Soviet Union’s, made the retreat into isolation all the more impossible. Not that some Republicans didn’t try, led by the indefatigable Senator Robert A. Taft. But Taft-style isolationism clearly had lost its appeal, and the Republicans found themselves grasping for a response to the newfound aggressiveness of the Democrats. The result was internationalism with the claim that we can do it cheaper, and Republican luminaries essentially supported the foreign policies of Roosevelt and Truman. Wilsonianism triumphant.

Then came Vietnam, Nixon, Kissinger, and realism. The failure of internationalism in southeast Asia meant that it was time for Democrats to flounder for a viable foreign policy, leading them to flirt with the radical socialism of the New Left. The new problem was that both parties found themselves hemmed in by definitions. In true post-World War II fashion, when the United States believed science and technology could solve all of its problems, the social scientists set the terms. Foreign policy and diplomacy defined international relations. Idealism and realism became rigid theories. Flow charts, graphs, and rubrics forced positions into well-defined boxes: Democrats = idealists; Republicans = realists. Isolationists, socialists, and world government types existed on the extremes, while idealism and realism were the only acceptable and widely understood positions on foreign policy. Democrat Woodrow Wilson had provided the idealistic response to Republican Theodore Roosevelt’s realist pursuit of America’s imperial interests. Realist George H.W. Bush intervened when Iraq invaded Kuwait because the war threatened to destabilize the region. Wilsonian idealist Bill Clinton intervened in the former Yugoslavia to stop a human rights disaster.

Which brings us to President George W. Bush, who, as a candidate, embraced this paradigm, and clearly aligned himself with the realist camp. Only in America’s interest, he said. No nation-building, he said.September 11, Afghanistan, Iraq, and nation-building followed. Aha! The leopard had changed his spots; the realist had become idealist. The experts came out in droves and described the president’s turn to Wilsonianism. Pick your criticism. To the isolationist right, the president was abandoning a time-honored tradition. The rabid left predictably called it a ruse to cover some sort of elaborate money-making scheme (pipelines from the Caucasus, contracts for Halliburton, etc.). The less charitable of those in between called the president a hypocrite, while others simply labeled him unprepared. And unprepared he certainly was, and in some very important ways still is, but not for the reasons his opponents or supporters usually maintain. The given in nearly all of the discussions of President Bush’s foreign policy is that he has embraced the idealism of the old Democratic party and become a Wilsonian. Even the president himself has in some sense accepted this idea. When questioned about the turn to nation-building after his campaign promises of 2000, he usually provides a bland response about the new realities of the post-9/11 world. There is no reason to doubt that the president changed after 9/11. That terrible day changed lots of things. But what it hasn’t changed, yet, is the way Americans understand their foreign policy.

And so a humble suggestion: Look a bit further back, past Wilson. There an individual can be found who better portended the foreign policy of the current administration and who had a better grasp on the motivations and goals of American policy as a burgeoning great power: Theodore Roosevelt. George W. Bush, in deed if not in word, is a Rooseveltian. Theodore Roosevelt, unlike the professorial Wilson, has become a caricature in American memory. He’s the wild blustering cowboy, climbing mountains and stick-fighting in the White House; known best as the guy for whom the Teddy Bear is named. At best he is treated as a proponent for progressive change at home who was a blowhard and a bully in foreign affairs. But there was much more to Roosevelt’s foreign policy than “speaking softly and carrying a big stick.” Roosevelt oversaw America’s entrance onto the world stage, and he did so with a well-defined conception of the importance and means of that entrance.

It was no mistake. From very early on, he believed that the United States had no choice but to become a world power. As he said in a speech in 1899, “We cannot sit huddled within our own borders and avow ourselves merely an assemblage of well-to-do hucksters who care nothing for what happens beyond. Such a policy would defeat even its own end; for as the nations grow to have ever wider and wider interests, and are brought into closer and closer contact, if we are to hold our own in the struggle for naval and commercial supremacy, we must build up our power without our own borders.” In a shrinking world filled with aggressive states, projecting power abroad became essential to survival.

But the duty to project power came from more than just economic and security interests. “Our wealth and power have given us a place of influence among the nations of the world,” he maintained in another speech. “But worldwide influence and power mean more than dollars or social, intellectual, or industrial supremacy. They involve a responsibility for the moral welfare of others which cannot be evaded.” Critics of TR, knowing racism and imperialism when they see them - and they see them everywhere - have dismissed such entreaties as Roosevelt’s own warmed-over White Man’s Burden. And no doubt he gave them plenty of material with which to work, repeatedly insisting, in the roughest of language, that the stronger races had the responsibility to take care of weaker races. What the critics too often miss is that not all imperialisms were created equal. The Spanish, Portuguese, Belgian, German, French, Italian, and British empires were all very different things. And though Roosevelt admired much about each, he also thought they all failed in one critical aspect: They weren’t American.

Above all things, Theodore Roosevelt was a nationalist. He made no apology for his nationalism, and gladly accepted the label jingo, because for him excessive Americanism was not a problem. For him ‘American’ was synonymous with ‘good.’ He wrote in 1890 that he could not stress enough to his countrymen “the necessity for a feeling of broad, radical, and intense Americanism, if good work is to be done in any direction. Above all, the one essential for success in every political movement which is to do lasting good, is that our citizens should act as Americans.” This broad mandate, of course, included foreign policy. Roosevelt was calling for a distinctly American projection of power - he rarely, if ever, used the word “empire” to describe the United States - one that strived for a higher ideal than any of the European powers. He believed that the expression of American ideals and the exporting of American institutions in foreign policy served a similar but higher purpose than merely acting in American economic and strategic interests. Protecting the weak from tyrannical predators, internal and external, and teaching them American-style liberal democracy would elevate them to what Roosevelt would call a higher level of civilization. It would make them part of the peaceful and prosperous international world.

That belief is at the very core of the Rooseveltian worldview. Because, most important of all, Roosevelt believed that the genius of American foreign policy was that its ideals and interests were inseparable. He would have rejected the distinction between Wilsonian idealism and realism in American foreign policy as foolish and misguided. American institutions, properly applied, were perfect. Theoretically, the rest of the world needed only to copy them or, when necessary, be given them to achieve the perfect balance of economic, security, and moral interests for everyone. Roosevelt was too realistic to expect such a utopian end anytime in the foreseeable future, but the essentials of Rooseveltianism were clear in the policies of his administration. The Roosevelt Corollary gave teeth to the Monroe Doctrine to protect weak Latin American republics, still copying the American system of government, from meddling European powers. He himself explained the intervention in Panama to build the canal as a result of a combination of factors:
The effort to build a canal by private capital had resulted in lamentable failure. .The United States had repeatedly announced that we would not permit it to be built or controlled by any old-world government. Colombia was utterly impotent to build it herself. . . . We were dealing with the government of an irresponsible alien dictator, and with a condition of affairs on the Isthmus itself which was marked by one uninterrupted series of outbreaks and revolutions. . . . We had assumed the position of guarantor of the canal, and of its peaceful use by all the world. The enterprise was recognized everywhere as responding to an international need. It was a mere travesty of justice to . . . close the gates of intercourse on one of the great highways of the world.
Of the Philippines, acquired in the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt repeatedly denied that the United States had any interest in maintaining permanent control of the islands. Rather, the goal was always to create a stable liberal democracy on the model of the United States. He declared in 1902, in language that ought to sound familiar, that “each inhabitant of the Philippines is now guaranteed his civil and religious rights, his rights to life, personal liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, subject only to not infringing the rights of others.” He continued, “It is worth noting that during these three or four years under us the Philippine people have attained to a greater degree of self-government, that they now have more to say as to how they shall be governed, than is the case with any people in the Orient, which is under European rule.” The same justifications applied to Cuba, Puerto Rico, and any other place where the U.S. projected military power during the Roosevelt administration.

Rooseveltianism carried on even into the Wilson administration. Oft-forgot is Wilson’s foreign policy prior to American entry into World War I. Until then, no president had initiated more overseas military interventions than Woodrow Wilson. (Remember, we are only talking about a few years: Wilson became president in 1913 and America entered the Great War in the spring of 1917.) These forays into places like Haiti, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic have been dubbed “Missionary Diplomacy” because of Wilson’s professed goals of converting the unwashed to American-style democracy — “to teach the South American republics to elect good men,” as he put it in 1913. That is, to teach them to behave like Americans, just like a good Rooseveltian.

The First World War changed all that. By then Wilson faced the horrors of modern war, the problems of international capitalism, and the threat posed by Vladimir Lenin’s Communist solution to the world’s ills. Maybe his more vain side wanted a Nobel Peace Prize to match Roosevelt’s (he got it). He needed to cajole old and proud European powers into joining his League of Nations, and heavy-handed Americanism would not serve that end. So he crafted his liberal internationalist perspective, he lauded self-determination, and he decried whole-cloth imperialism and projections of power that hinted of imperialism. Wilsonianism was born, and in the isolationist years of the 1920s and 1930s Rooseveltianism faded, and was not revived, even after World War II.

Until September 11. In the aftermath of that horrible day, George W. Bush found himself searching for a viable foreign policy amidst the idealist versus realist cacophony. The idealists asked him to turn to the international community for help in capturing the criminal terrorists and ameliorating the conditions that supposedly spawned such violent anti-Americanism. The realists, many of them luminaries from his father’s administration, called for a shutdown of American borders and a calculating policy to manipulate local rulers to create a semblance of stability and order in the unstable Middle East. President Bush found neither argument compelling.

Rather he chose to launch military attacks in the area that spawned the terrorists, on two of the countries that most clearly had regimes that were hostile to the United States. The success of the military phase of these operations was never really in doubt, but in Iraq in particular, the Bush administration apparently put little initial thought into the political aftermath of the war. In their defense, the conventional international relations wisdom offered little help. The idealist international world, besotted as it was in corruption, threw a temper tantrum about the United States defending its own interests and surrendered its desire to help in the reconstruction along with what little credibility it had left. The realists offered tired entreaties to appoint a warlord and get out - a policy proven to be immoral and ineffective.

So in the course of the operation the Bush administration took another tack. The United States would stay in Iraq, alone if necessary, and install a democratic government. The American military, along with a few key allies, would preserve some semblance of order until the Iraqis could do so themselves. The so-called neoconservatives in the Bush administration - individuals who have morphed from liberals who rejected the Great Society into nation-builders - supposedly led the way in selling these policies to the president. Therein lies a serious problem. The provenance is all wrong. There is nothing “neo” about President Bush’s efforts in Central Asia and the Middle East. He is a classic Rooseveltian, and no one seems to know it. This is not merely a semantic argument. Mired as he is in the realism-versus-idealism paradigm, President Bush has struggled to handle problems for which full-fledged Rooseveltianism offers clear solutions. For example, Roosevelt never would have assumed that the transition to democracy could come quickly for a people degraded so long by tyranny. He also would have realized from the beginning that the insurgents and their supporters were irredeemable, and could only be defeated by decisive, deadly, and horrifying force.

Above all, he would never have minimized or apologized for the efforts of America in this war. In 2003, President Bush said, “The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.” Poppycock, Roosevelt would say. The sentiment is fine, but why diminish the importance of America? Liberty is America’s gift to the world, and there is nothing wrong with saying so. The United States is trying to give Iraq American values and American institutions. That is the right and proper thing to do, and it should not be denied. Indeed, it should be celebrated. Similarly, Roosevelt would have been aghast at politically correct efforts to indulge native cultures. The point is to give them the best of America, not to coddle the intolerance and barbarity that are antithetical to everything for which America stands.

If George W. Bush wants to be a Rooseveltian, he should be a proper Rooseveltian. The stakes extend beyond Iraq and Afghanistan. Only a fool would argue that the world was not made a better place for America’s efforts over the past one hundred years, and, more than anyone, Theodore Roosevelt was the father of the American century. The old saw goes “those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.” A true Rooseveltian would reject the negativity of such a statement. For a true Rooseveltian, a true believer in America, those who do not know their history are doomed not to repeat it. The Bush administration does not yet know its history, and so it risks not repeating America’s successes of the past. It is time to embrace America’s Rooseveltian tradition.

Dit artikel van Thomas A. Bruscino Jr. verscheen ook in het magazine "DoubleThink" van de America's Future Foundation.

Meer over dit libertarisch magazine op www.aff-doublethink.com.

11 Reacties:

At 06:16 Vincent De Roeck said...

Een ander interessant artikel in "DoubleThink" was "A Union of Opposites, Yale and the Right-Wing" van James Kirchik

I graduated Yale this past May, and I am feeling rather wistful as a result. I have taken leave of friends from around the country, and abandoned my humble position at the feet of great professors. Even the research I was doing on my senior thesis gives me heart pangs when I think of it. I will also miss my days at the fabled Yale Daily News, the oldest college daily paper in the country. Still, not all is lost. I will keep in touch with most of my friends and certain professors, and (as the words you are reading possibly indicate) I will continue to write for publication. For as long as it is still respectable, I will attend the annual Yale-Harvard football game and, along with thousands of other alumni, make a drunken fool of myself. But there’s one loss that I am grieving for especially. I may sound like a nerd for saying this, but here it goes: What has been hardest for me is getting over my days as a member of the Yale Political Union.
In recent years, there has been a resurgence of media interest in the campus right. Numerous articles, reports, and polls have revealed a new generation of Alex P. Keatons, shaped particularly by the events of 9/11.
The last wave of conservative youth peaked in the 1980s. Many observers point to the founding of the Dartmouth Review in 1980 and the writers it spawned (Laura Ingraham, Dinesh D’Souza) as being a crucial part of the Reagan ’80s and Movement Conservatism.
Most campuses have a conspicuous conservative presence, and most campus conservatives fit into one of two stereotypes: the outspoken columnist on the school newspaper whom everyone loves to hate; and the visible, oft-quoted head of the Republican Club. These professional conservatives-in-training, molded by assiduous, off-campus right-wing foundations, tend to differ little from campus to campus. Yale certainly has these, but then it also has any number of other variations. As far as I know, no other college or university can claim as eccentric and balkanized a conservative subculture as Yale’s. A major reason has to do with the Yale Political Union (”YPU,” or, in political union parlance, simply “the PU”), and the legacy of William F. Buckley Jr., alumnus of the Yale class of 1950, who spawned the modern conservative movement with his book God and Man at Yale.
The YPU, founded in 1934, is like no other college organization in America. It bears a formal resemblance to the Oxford Union, after which it was modeled, and for that matter nearly every representative legislative body the world over. But as student organizations go, it is surely unique. The Yale Political Union boasts six parties, each a fiercely distinct clan with its own traditions and activities, that operate completely separate from the weekly Union-wide debates. As a member of the Yale Political Union, one is first and foremost a member of one of these parties. One can join the YPU as an unaffiliated member, but such cases are few and definitely frowned upon. In addition to internal party debates (which are open to all), the six parties come together each week for a union debate opened by a prominent speaker. Guests to the Union this semester, for instance, have included former Massachusetts governor and Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, First Things founder Father Richard Neuhaus, and former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum.
The parties span the political spectrum from left to right, beginning with the Liberal party. Characteristic of leftist intellectual organizations, the Liberals have undergone massive and frequent ideological shifts ever since the party was created along with the union itself in 1934. I was originally attracted to the Libs after learning that they had produced individuals like New Republic editor-at-large Peter Beinart, but was sorely disappointed when I discovered that the group has lately been composed of doctrinaire Democrats and, during my freshman year, led by a full-throated Marxist (whom I last heard had become an ardent Bush supporter after a year abroad — only in the YPU).
After the Libs come the Progressive party, or Progs, who bring drunkenness and debauchery, and not much else, to the Union. They care little for the health of the YPU and, as many on the right constantly gripe, are actuallytrying to destroy the body just for the fun of it. They show up to debates with beer cans (or, at a debate about smoking regulations keynoted by Reason writer Jacob Sullum, a working hookah) and ritually catcall speakers. For the summer “inquisition” (a twice-yearly, all-night long spectacle when parties circulate candidates for Union office) of 2005, when other parties were interviewing candidates in stoic, empty study rooms, the Progs held their candidate forums in the back of a moving U-Haul truck being driven around downtown New Haven for the entire night. The Prog inquisition prior to that was a completely naked affair in which the party’s chairman, surrounded by about a dozen other members in the buff, drunkenly interrogated bow-tied and heavily-perspiring conservatives while holding a stuffed Ram’s head by the horns over his genitalia.
Following the Progs is the Independent party, where I eventually decided to hang my hat. The IP is the largest party in the Union, currently boasting a ridiculous 150 members, (the other parties have no more than 40). Members of the IP are mainstream Democrats, mostly, with some conservatives and libertarians and political mavericks like me thrown in for good measure. Its debates are serious but fun, and its members do not take themselves too seriously.
The mood changes drastically among the union’s rightward parties. The YPU, no longer about fun times and fast friends, becomes a way of life. Though it is never spelled out to freshman recruits, the right-wing parties demand total allegiance and a full-time commitment. Anything less and you can find yourself on the outs. Three separate right-wing parties fight over a small constituency of students: thinking conservatives who are willing to devote a great deal of time to intellectual debate in the midst of an already hectic college schedule. The right-wing parties are enormously competitive with one another, and rivalries between them are often more fierce than any of their rivalries with the left side of the union.
The first of these is the Conservative party (aka the “Cons” or “CP”), which was founded in the early ’90s as a breakaway from the Independent party, which had originally formed itself as the Conservative party in 1934 but underwent some sort of ideological shift in the ’70s. Unlike more die-hard members of the Union, I found the history of the organization and its petty squabbles over party politics and ideology to be rather dull and never really acquainted myself with how the various parties formed and why some enmities have proven so durable. The Conservatives have always had a nasty reputation within the YPU for being mischievous opportunists. And for whatever reason, the Conservatives have attracted a noticeably corpulent membership in recent years, a trait that earned an entire expose in the campus tabloid Rumpus.
After the Conservatives come the Tories, who as their name implies, claim to bear the mantle of “traditional conservatism” at Yale. They are known for their tweed and bowties and good manners, though not their soft-heartedness. The Tories’ whip sheets, the weekly newsletter that all parties distribute to current and prospective members, come off as trying very hard to sound like Evelyn Waugh. While I was at Yale, the group spent several years struggling just to qualify for party status (a party needs at least 10 different individuals to sign in at 3 debates) and rumors circulated — spread, of course, by their right-wing rivals — that members were bribing random people with pizza and beer (powerful commodities at Yale) to show up at Union debates and sign in as Tories. At their debates, the Tories hang a Union Jack behind their chairman’s seat and ask guests to tell jokes “fit for the Queen’s ears.”
Last comes the Party of the Right, or, in Union parlance, the “POR.” If Yale is known as a breeding ground for intellectual conservatives, it is due to the influence of this cult-like organization. POR alumni have come to pepper conservative and libertarian think tanks and publications in New York and Washington, earning this obscure, undergraduate organization a reputation amongst the nation’s political elite. On its website, the POR boasts, “Many Party members have gone on to positions of power and importance in the Greater American Conservative Movement” (capitalization in the original). POR graduates include National Review senior editor Richard Brookhiser and Manhattan Institute fellow and litigation expert Walter Olson.
The POR is reputed to have bizarre rituals about which Union members love to speculate (and some are out in the open: at every week’s Union-wide debate, the POR collectively nurses a bottle of port). There is certainly a tradition of religious conversion in the party; several members during my time at Yale, including some Jewish ones, converted to Catholicism by their graduation.
In short, the Yale Political Union is like a zoo, and its debates can have the feel of a sociological safari. There is a half-serious ruthlessness to the proceedings, with different parties at times almost warring with each other. Other times, however, peace reigns. One recent meeting ended when the guest speaker, a colorful, geriatric antiwar activist from Berkeley named Anne Fagan Ginger, leapt down from the podium and led the whole PU in a round of “We Shall Overcome” while holding hands with the chairman of the POR.
The right side of the PU has produced its fair share of eccentrics. For a time, the Conservatives boasted a female member who knitted at their debates. She is now a speechwriter for Laura Bush. A lesbian member of the POR became such a committed Catholic that she swore a vow of celibacy and has now committed herself to the fight against legalizing gay marriage. And there are of course a number of male closet cases on the right, who involve themselves heavily in their party activities, perhaps, in a bizarre way, to dull the pain of reconciling their sexual inclinations with their conservative politics. As a homosexual who came out three weeks into my freshman year, I found that whole aspect of the YPU’s right wing a major turnoff, no pun intended.
Left-leaning journalist Doug Henwood, writing some years ago in the Nation, referred to his college conservatism, particularly his POR membership, as a “youthful indiscretion.” He called the POR “the only party that achieves serious levels of weirdness.” But even his remembrance, meant to portray college conservatism as a nefarious movement training future fascists, captured the POR’s tongue-in-cheek pompousness: Though Henwood had quit the POR not long into his Yale career, he remained on their mailing list because membership in the party is “for life at least.” The POR chairman wears a medal around his neck at all YPU and party events, and POR members always refer to him as “The Chairman,” never by actual name and irrespective of the officeholder’s gender. POR members view the term “chairwoman” with active disgust, as yet another example of the leftist feminization of our culture. POR members debate philosophy and politics (and maybe, Dungeons and Dragons) every weekday night at their regular table in the Commons Dining Hall, underneath an oil painting of George H.W. Bush. The Conservatives, too, have a nightly dinner, which was recently moved in protest after their dining hall adopted an entirely organic food menu.
So bound to tradition is the POR that in his brief address to the Union, which each party chairman delivers at the beginning of debates, the chairman of the POR tells those assembled that his party will retire to Mory’s (a legendary restaurant on the Yale campus) at the end of the debate, and that “all are welcome.” This, even though for as long as anyone can remember, Mory’s closes its doors for the evening long before Union debates end.
Most indicative of the POR’s “serious levels of weirdness” is the annual “Charles the Martyr debate.” Every January, around the anniversary of his death, the POR attempts to pass a resolution calling for a minute’s silence to honor the death of this man who chose execution over renouncing his High Anglican faith. What a moment’s silence for some English king killed four centuries ago has to do with an American college extracurricular activity is a good question, and one that aggravates the other parties every year. Weeks before the actual debate takes place, party chairmen covertly conspire to stymie the POR’s attempt to shove through their motion. But by parliamentary chicanery, and by roping in as many “friends”as possible to attend the meeting, the POR manages to extend debate on the issue sometimes for over an hour, much to the embarrassment of Union officers who believe that the spectacle makes a mockery out of the Union in front of potential members, who attend the January meeting in larger numbers as it is the first debate of the new semester.
The POR is also the party that has the most visible presence outside the Union. The party puts out Yale’s only regular conservative publication, the Yale Free Press (to which I contributed articles), which happens to be as funny as it is rigorous, especially compared with the insulting tripe and DNC talking points (not mutually exclusive) that regularly fill the pages of the Yale Daily News and the Yale Herald, the campus alternative weekly. The Free Press’s media criticism, in which the paper’s staff mocks the most egregious quotes from the campus press, is too clever by half.
The POR also has front groups like the “Committee for Freedom,” which stages counter-protests in response to the frequent strikes and demonstrations put on by Yale’s unions. Even though I never considered joining the POR, its members were always happy to have me join them in chanting such ditties as “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, GESO thugs have go to go.” (GESO is Yale’s supremely obnoxious graduate student union, funded entirely by UNITE-HERE.) The POR members are so dedicated to their principles that they spend the entire evening before major strike demonstrations putting up
“HOLD ‘EM, YALE” posters across campus. During Inquisition, a POR member will hold a sword to the gullets of candidates from other parties and say things like, “Give me one reason why I should not slit your throat.” This is to illustrate the Socratic maxim that the “unexamined life is not worth living,” cited by every POR chairman during the YPU organizational meeting that kicks off each semester.
My first encounter with the YPU right-wing subculture was on my very first day at Yale. Three upperclassman entered my room as I was unpacking. “Are you interested in politics, philosophy, or debate?” they wanted to know — a question that I soon discovered had been asked of nearly every single one of my 1,200 peers in the incoming freshman class.
“Why, yes,” I responded. Ever the enthusiastic Yalie, I added, “I was president of my high school debate team.”
They quickly copied down my name and email, gave me a flyer advertising their next debate (in typical POR fashion, it was some ridiculous resolution like, “Resolved: Eat the Apple” or “Resolved: Who sheddeth the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed”), and scrambled off to the next room. Though there was never a chance of me joining them, the right-wing parties always treated me with the respect and hospitality and were generally interested in my views. The exact opposite was true of the campus left.
Local wisdom has it that the YPU is composed almost entirely of two types of individuals, “hacks” and “tools.” It is much better to be a “hack,” because that is the natural state in politicking. The campaign process of meeting with the heads of other parties in order to get them to support you for Union office is commonly referred to as “hacking.” “Tools,” on the other hand, are just jerks to begin with. Though much of Union activity is carried out in jest, Union politics is serious business and has over the years damaged many a friendship and reputation.
I was not a Union ladder-climber; the only instance in which I became intimately involved in Union politics was during the second semester of my senior year when I flirted with the idea of launching a campaign for vice president, the position responsible for booking debate guests. I thought I would put the connections I had made during my time at Yale to good use and “give something back.” But I was gently talked out of this foolish idea by underclassmen explaining that I should be spending this part of my college career having fun rather than sorting out hotel and airline receipts. Moreover it would have been out of character for me to assume administrative duties. In the YPU, my role alternated between that of the earnest debater, known primarily for my spirited defenses of Israel, and the court jester. A budding comedian (I had been a writer and performer in a sketch comedy group and taken to the stage in a production of Noises Off, for example), I saw the YPU as a stage as much as a political debating club.
And that is what is so great about the YPU, and in particular its right-wingers: their sense of humor. The PU floor welcomes humorous speeches alongside those of ambitious freshmen trying to impress their elders. It is the PU’s right wing that encourages and keeps the wit and whimsy of the organization alive, as opposed to the humorless Libs or the obnoxious Progs. Indeed, one of the most painful moments during my years in the YPU was during the debate following a speech by the Prohibition party presidential candidate, in which this poor fellow described why he had committed himself to such a quixotic mission: He had known a woman, a mother of several young children, who was beaten to death by her inebriated husband. Liberal party members, in their response, poured themselves a series of cocktails and proceeded to get drunk before the entire Union. There was surely much to ridicule in a speech by such a fringe political figure, but open contempt for an invited guest who had flown all the way from Colorado to speak before the Union would have been unfathomable coming from any of the right-wing parties. The POR quietly, and respectfully, consumed their port.
Fellow Yalies are wont to paint the PU’s conservatives as bigots. Actually, these right-wingers happen to be some of the most tolerant people at Yale, especially when it comes to engaging ideas that they find disagreeable. What most sets them apart is identity politics. On a campus where racial, sexual, and religious identities seems to trump all other considerations, PU conservatives care about ideas more than anything else. That is why the right has dominated the political union on this generally liberal campus: The student left has abandoned the battlefield of ideas for the realm of activism and protest. Left-wingers deride the YPU as an irrelevant repository of a bizarre and reactionary fringe. This is a self-comforting caricature, a tonic for the left’s own lack of serious intellectual engagement.
It is also for this reason that I think the right-wing parties are so derided by “mainstream” Yale. It’s easy for the average student to poke fun at the bow-tied, intellectual conservative. The conservatives have fewer (though closer) friends; they are not members of the once-vaunted secret societies (with few exceptions, visible campus conservatives have been unofficially barred from Yale’s secret societies); they are not characters on the campus party scene, opting instead for “game nights” with their fellow party members. But, I suspect, many Yale students know, deep down, that they are missing out on something by avoiding the political union and its misfits. Amidst all of the average Yalie’s resume-whoring extra-curricular activities, hard-partying, and frantic searching for top internships and jobs, the intellectual life they had hoped to find at Yale, indeed, that they assumed would just appear the minute they walked through its ivy gates, proves ever elusive. Having become pre-professional training colleges, the modern liberal arts university is simply not what it appears to be in the movies and novels of old. Meanwhile the right-wing subculture at Yale has become the bastion of intellectual life on campus. At the PU, I always knew that getting into a debate with a Tory, Con, or a member of the POR would be more challenging than any classroom discussion. Yale students suspect that this is more or less the truth of the matter. They just wish it weren’t so.
As the POR chairman said in a recent YPU organizational meeting speech, “Getting drunk and hungover at every opportunity may be intense, but without something more, you’ll wake up one day and find yourself as empty as the keg by your head. You may find something intense in varsity sports, musical organizations, secret societies, and debating clubs, but make sure that your college experience informs your life. You need authenticity.”
I will forever remember my days in the Yale Political Union with great fondness. There really is no body like it in the world. I know that new characters will replace the old ones, but the PU will remain its lively, irascible old self. And while I will not soon be joining any secretive conservative organizations, I will, at the very least, have a greater appreciation for Charles the Martyr.

 
At 02:09 Vincent De Roeck said...

http://www.youtube.com/v/aAcql1DOi8Y&hl=en&fs=1

Dit filmpje uit de oude doos (de presidentscampagne van John Kerry in 2004) omvat nog steeds de beste argumenten voor vrij wapenbezit in de Verenigde Staten. De NRA haalde onlangs haar slag thuis voor het Amerikaanse Hooggerechtshof (daarover later op deze weblog meer) en dat is niet eens zo verwonderlijk.

Zolang hun "Vote Freedom First" rallies op de steun van zowat alle GOP-congresleden en -senatoren, en op die van artiesten zoals Lee Greenwood (met zijn meesterlijke ballade "God Bless the USA"), kunnen rekenen, hebben we het einde van hun invloed nog niet gezien. Hopelijk nekken ze na Al Gore en John Kerry ook de campagne van Barack Obama. In naam van de vrijheid.

 
At 06:00 Danish Dynamite said...

Verdacht positief artikel voor de Party of the Right! En dat geschreven in een libertarisch magazine?? Vreemd. Ik dacht (en doe dat nog steeds!) dat de POR een onderonsje was van neo-nazi's, neo-cons en alles wat té rechts was om elders onderdak te vinden.

 
At 13:28 Anoniem said...

@Danish Dynamite

Ik dacht (en doe dat nog steeds!) dat als je geen ander argument hebt dan: het zijn neo-nazi's,je dan eigenlijk wel zielig bent

 
At 22:22 Anoniem said...

De Amerikaanse staatsschuld bedraagt momenteel :9.502.642.978.992,86 $. Over goed beleid gesproken.Moeten wij Europeanen daar een voorbeeld aannemen?En onder de regering Bush is het procentueel nog erger geworden.Kom nu, lachen toch....

Korneel

 
At 22:22 Marc Huybrechts said...

@ Korneel

Als je een grote (omvangrijke) economie hebt, dan worden alle cijfers natuurlijk groot, ook degene die betrekking hebben op allerlei vormen van 'schuld'. Iemand die jaarlijks 5 miljoen euro als inkomen heeft, die kan meer schulden maken dan iemand die een jaarinkomen heeft van 50.000 euro. Hetzelfde geldt voor ganse economieen.

Staatschuld moet dus gerelateerd worden aan de staatstinkomsten en, nog beter, aan het nationaal inkomen of nationaal product (BNP) want daar 'komen' de belastingen van. Voor zover ik weet, ligt de VS overheidsschuld nog steeds beneden de Belgische in relatie tot de respectieve BNP's.

Dat neemt niet weg dat dat lange cijfer, dat je daar met veel plezier hebt neergepend of getokkeld, toch veel te hoog ligt. En het neemt ook niet weg, dat er nog vele andere criteria zijn (naast overheidsschuld) die belangrijk zijn om de kwaliteit van overheidsbeleid te kunnen beoordelen (naast rekening houden met 'tijdelijke omstandigheden'). Persoonlijk hecht ik meer belang aan de onderliggende termijngroei van de economie en aan de bereikte graad van arbeidsparticipatie in de economie. Maar, uw schuldratio mag zeker niet verwaarloosd worden.

Dus, toch niet te vlug lachen...beter proberen serieus te blijven, als je zou willen serieus genomen worden door serieuse mensen. En waarom u veel aantrekken van de anderen...? Ge zijt toch geen kieken of papagaai, maar waarschijnlijk wel een trouwe lezer van DS of DM.

 
At 22:23 Anoniem said...

neen huybrechts,ik lees 't pallieterke, en die cijfers haal ik uit het boek van Stiglitz 'de oorlog van 3 biljoen', ook een kieken zeker?

Korneel

 
At 22:24 Anoniem said...

Het wordt teveel voor Korneel.

 
At 22:24 Marc Huybrechts said...

@ Korneel

Zou ik uw "cijfers" (eigenlijk cijfer) in twijfel hebben getrokken? Nee, dat heb ik niet gedaan. Ik heb het wel in een gepaste kontekst geplaatst. Wat u niet deed.

En nee, Stiglitz is geen "kieken". Hij is veel intelligenter dan u en ik. Dat maakt hem niet noodzakelijk altijd 'wijzer'. Ik kan het weten, want ik heb nog voor hem - of onder hem - moeten werken voor een tijd als econoom. Gelukkig niet 'direct'. Want Stiglitz is ook maar een mens, en een mens die ook politieke doelstellingen heeft, en soms zelfs dingen verkondigt omdat hij nog steeds bepaalde vetes met bepaalde andere grote economisten onderhoudt.

Leer allereerst voor uzelf denken, en.....niet al te vlug lachen. Ook al is dit laatste goed voor de gezondheid, het is niet altijd 'verdient'.

 
At 03:34 Sagunto said...

Zijn hier nog altijd luidjes die neo-conservatism voor "rechts" verslijten?
Wilsonianism lijkt me meer op z'n plaats, i.e. old school protestant leftist met een ingrijpende wijziging in the macht van het presidentschap. M.i. hebben neo-cons weinig met old style conservatism te maken, iets dat alleen nog is te vinden bij mavericks als een Ron Paul.

Verder lijkt me de keus tussen Wilson of looney Bull Moose T.R. niet echt een wereld van verschil.

 
At 06:42 Luc Van Braekel said...

De staatsschuld uitgedrukt in % van het BBP:

België: 85% (zonder toekomstige pensioenverplichtingen!)
VS: rond de 68%
Japan: 140%

Kan Korneel ons even uitleggen wat hij zo schokkend vindt aan die 68%?

Zoals Marc Huybrechts terecht opmerkt zeggen deze cijfers uiteraard niet alles. De schuldeisers kunnen buitenlanders of eigen burgers zijn, en men vindt over het algemeen een staatsschuld aan eigen burgers minder erg, want blijkbaar zijn dat schuldeisers die men minder goed moet respecteren.

 

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