Last Sunday, the media were reporting that the Muslim Brotherhood was sitting down with Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, in a completely unrelated story, the BBC reported that British Prime Minster David Cameron announced that "State multiculturalism has failed": "David Cameron has criticized 'state multiculturalism' in his first speech as prime minister on radicalization and the causes of terrorism.
"At a security conference in Munich, he argued the UK needed a stronger national identity to prevent people turning to all kinds of extremism. He also signaled a tougher stance on groups promoting Islamist extremism.
"... As Mr. Cameron outlined his vision, he suggested there would be greater scrutiny of some Muslim groups which get public money but do little to tackle extremism. "
Whatever may happen in the hours after I write this column, two things are certain: The next chapter in the magnificent and ancient civilization of the Nile will be yet to be known. And the role that America plays in Egypt's great, unfolding story remains also in doubt.
I well understand the Obama administration's uncertain message in the first week of the Egyptian tumult. We have always been conflicted in such moments. America's founding idea has pointed to our ultimate objective — domestic and foreign:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Last week, the president wrote in the Wall Street Journal an article titled "Toward a 21st-Century Regulatory System" in which he announced that he had issued an executive order to review all government regulations on a cost-benefit ratio basis. In itself, this is a good idea, although the president makes it explicit that the cost-benefit analysis must take account of — as benefits — intangible factors such as "equity, human dignity, fairness, and distributive impacts." Plenty of leeway there for career regulators and liberal political appointees to justify almost any oppressive regulation they may stumble over.
But what startles one is the that such a proposal could come from the same administration that has for the last two years been saddling the American economy and our personal lives with more new legislatively mandated regulations than we have ever experienced in such a short time.
What should the congressional GOP's policy objectives be for the next two years regarding federal deficits and prosperity?
Two very different strategies are being considered by authentic conservatives: 1) attempt to govern from their majority in the House and actually try to start the process of reducing the costs of entitlements (most conspicuously Social Security and Medicare) as a path back to prosperity and good jobs; or 2) recognize that the GOP cannot govern without holding the White House, and that, therefore, they should not touch entitlements but merely tinker with discretionary spending and frame the issues for 2012 when they may win the presidency and Senate, as well as hold the majority in the House.
In the aftermath of the tragic shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and others, it is predictable that some self-centered politicians and political commentators quickly assumed the killer must have been provoked by political comments.
Following on that conclusion, they naturally argue (notwithstanding their exposure last week in the House to the reading of the Constitution, including the First Amendment) that whatever political words may have provoked him to his irrational violence should be silenced.
But as news organizations have begun to flesh out the interests and activities of the alleged psychotic killer, I am struck by several non-political factors that may have both shaped his mind and provoked his action.
As we begin a new year, it may be useful to look back to one particular piece of advice that George Washington gave us in his farewell address. In paragraph 28, he reminded us that:
"It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who, that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?"
His point was that no matter how well designed our constitutional mechanisms may be, the healthy future of our nation would depend upon the maintenance of private virtue — that self-government is only possible if our national character, made up of each individual character, yearns and acts for a free country.
A few years ago, I was in China and, through the help of a friend, had the chance to spend a few hours with a senior editor of the People's Daily —the Communist Party's voice, and the most influential journal in China.
The highly intelligent editor — himself, of course, a senior party man — was cool and dispassionate until we came to a discussion of the causes of revolutions. On that topic, he displayed an almost scholarly knowledge and focused in — with great passion and concern — on the dominant role that rising expectations of the people plays in starting a revolution.
In the spirit of the Christmas season, let me highlight from last week's confusing Washington rhetoric a statement by the president that was shrewd — even wise. On behalf of the spirit of compromise, he pointed out that even though, under the original constitutional compromise, he (implicitly, as a black man) "could not have walked through the front door" — it was worth it because otherwise we would not have gained a union.
Of course, throughout history, calling for compromise may sometimes be a cover for sheer cynicism and lack of principle. Yet without the capacity to compromise at more or less the right moment, collective activity — such as self-government — is impossible.
I suppose it is to be expected that the Great Recession should be accompanied by a sweeping national pessimism in which our purported leaders and commentators express historic despair, while the people and corporations mope about, convinced that the sun will not come up tomorrow.
Such an intensity of self-loathing and lack of confidence has not been heard since the French contemplated their disgraced future in June 1940 when they annihilated their nation, and the great light that was France, by surrendering to the Germans.
"If only we had sold our stocks a few weeks ago." "If only I'd had the brakes checked before she drove up to the mountains."
There are few sadder words than those of regret at letting time pass until the catastrophe hits. Neither individuals, nor armies, nor nations are exempt from the human tendency to wait too long before acting — and paying a terrible price for the delay.
These thoughts, among others, crossed my mind as I have watched politicians across the ideological spectrum react to the deficit commission's report last week.
Last weekend, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., tried his hand at dissecting GOP foreign policy attitudes. I commend the senator for trying to come to grips with this vital question that is getting so little, if any, national discussion. As foreign events grow ever more threatening, the view of the now both culturally and congressionally dominant party — the GOP — becomes central to the range of political options that President Obama has, as a practical matter.
There are two factors to assess: 1) Is the pre-tea party GOP in the process of shifting significantly from its free trade, strong, assertive military posture that it has maintained for two generations and 2) do the new tea party members have a discernible position, and if so, what is it?
Removing the snake from the garden with a stick was a rejection of the snake, but should not be seen as particularly an endorsement of the stick — except as the closest available tool with which to eject the snake. The stick should not be seen as a substitute snake.
That was the tone after the election in which there was a general agreement that the election was a broad and deep repudiation of the president's policies and administration, while also not being an endorsement of the GOP.
We are so used to seeing politics as binary in America, it is almost algebraic: minus 6 D equals plus 6 R. The country either is for the Republicans or the Democrats. The idea that the public could be for neither does not fit our thinking. The effort to talk about the Democrats negatively without talking about the GOP positively (or the other way round) simply leaves us mentally adrift.
In 2011, the two major legislative initiatives of the tea party Congress (pray the voters deliver such a congress) will be to get a grip on the deficit, and to begin to reverse the intrusion of the federal government in American lives and business.
It remains to be seen whether Congress will have the guts — and even the tea party public will give their support-for the entitlement cutting that deficit control and long-term fiscal soundness will require.
Procedurally, however, the method is pretty straightforward. Congress passes a 10-year budget resolution, then passes appropriations and other bills to carry out those objectives. And, of course, the president has to sign them into law. That may result in the greatest Washington political battle since slavery, but at least the legislative method is obvious and straightforward.