June 4, 2009

So much for civilized debate

Saw Karl Rove debate General Wesley Clark at the TD Ameritrade conference. A raucous affair, to say the least. Catcalls from the crowd, audience members yelling at one another and at one point Rove referring to Clark as Private Clark (not fond of Clark, but I didn't appreciate the disrespect shown the former military man). So much for civilized debate. Clark stuck to platitudes; Rove, forced to defend the past eight years and his role in it, came with facts. Even my very liberal friend sitting next to me said Rove won the day.

I thought of this as I read Rove's piece in today's Wall Street Journal. Picking up on the Ragin' Cajun Carville's theme, he makes a strong case that, despite attempts to apologize to the world for who we are and what we stand for, Obama's fortunes will rise and fall with the economy. I'm not so sure. Bush's legacy was squarely fixed on Iraq. Then the economy tanked. Looks like we'll pull a victory out of Iraq, and Bush's post-presidency approval rating now collapses under economic weight. For the time being, Rove is right, all eyes are on the economy. But recent history has taught us the black swan flies fast and frequent.

One other interesting point. Writing on The New York Times's Economix blog, Peter Boone and Simon Johnson note the following:

"A superpower faces serious economic decline. People become increasingly nervous about the government's ability to make good on its obligations, and the country's broader global role comes into question ... Into this difficult situation steps a dynamic young leader, with strong popular support, high expectations, and a positive international image. His name is Mikhail Gorbachev, and the moment is the Soviet Union in 1985."

Stick with me here. I'm not making the case Obama is the equivalent of a Soviet Premier. As Boone and Johnson point out, Gorbachev did exactly the wrong thing. He borrowed abroad, printed money to finance budget deficits and declined to undertake fundamental reform.

"You know how that ends. President Obama's team has successfully halted what could have been a major financial meltdown, primarily through a combination of sensible fiscal stimulus and a huge amount of unconditional support for the banking system. The risk is they will rest on this success, and fail to undertake the fundamental reform that we now need."

In the darkest days in Iraq, too many said the cause was lost, but look where we are today. Too many said, and continue to say, the same about the economy. This too shall pass, and with the speed at which new events are unfolding, Obama's legacy will be shaped by those yet to occur.

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