The American Moral Leader

Source: New York Times

George H. W. Bush, the 41st American President, was no ordinary politician or public servant. More than a surviving World War II veteran, Congressman, Ambassador, CIA Director, and Vice President, he was a man who knew the importance of doing the right thing, despite the odds. Whether it cost him political mileage and popularity, though at one time he enjoyed an approval rating of 84%, and whether it meant turning popular opinion against him, he stuck to what he believed was in the best interest of the American people, the American Empire, and, most importantly, democracy.

This is the reason why I think George H. W. Bush is one of the most important Presidents of our times and is surely one of my favorites. He took it upon himself despite strong opposition on Capitol Hill to initiate action against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and managed to build an international coalition. He also showed the world of the right way to do it through the Security Council and withdrew once Iraq surrendered in Kuwait, even though criticized for letting Saddam regime survive in Baghdad, probably unfinished business that his son would complete in 2003.

His realization to do the right thing also guided him to be open to bipartisanship, leading to a number of important pieces of legislation like the Clean Air Act and balanced budget deals despite his unrealistic campaign promise of no new taxes. He was not exactly a libertarian Republican out of touch with fiscal realities, after all, a hint many might get if they revisit his primary run against Ronald Reagan in 1980. He was also instrumental in negotiating the landmark North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, later to be concluded by President Bill Clinton.

While his approach to domestic issues can be considered rather vague, emotional, and hollow, with perhaps an exaggerated focus on “a thousand points of light,” one which a progressive Democrat could easily destroy as Clinton did in 1992, his vision for the world was unmistakably clear and resolute. Something that the opposition has barely had an answer to since Ronald Reagan. Carrying forward his legacy, George Bush knew what he was doing from the moment he took the oath.

In today’s America that is rapidly falling into the pit of isolationism and nationalism that borders on fascism, the words and actions of President George Bush remain as relevant as they were at the end of the Cold War. A great moment in history, albeit inevitable but one that he worked on in the Reagan administration. He had warned us about the threat of rising terrorism. He had warned us about the threat to liberal democracies. But most of all, he told us about the value of freedom, free speech, and free markets. The ideals of republicanism.

It is important to remember President George Bush because he was a great Republican leader. A party of great ideas that has descended today in petty populism and defending a disgraced Presidency. It is important to remember his stress on a gentler and kinder Republican party in which conservatism need not be synonymous with heartlessness. Today, people are reminded of his Presidency as a time of decency compared to the vicious circus of the Trump administration.

But most important of all, he took action when it mattered. One of the most underappreciated aspects of his leadership was his brilliant foreign policy and its continued legacy in terms of American leadership. He offered his internationalist vision of a new world order that aligned with American values and interests, something which appears to be fading since the end of his son’s term.

Having inherited massive deficits from President Reagan, his fiscal pragmatism, despite his rather misleading rhetoric of “read my lips,” his bipartisan budget deals helped pave way for Clinton’s golden fiscal era of budget surpluses. His letter to President Clinton initiated a beautiful Presidential tradition, indicative of his bipartisanship and fair-mindedness. Many liberals praise him today, but his legacy is still as misunderstood as the more liberal side of conservatism is. That precious centrism is sadly evaporating from the American politics which is giving way to more vicious, albeit passionate, forces on both extreme left and right. What remains underappreciated is the commitment of centrists like him to find the most reasonable path to social harmony and economic prosperity. This talk from Council on Foreign Relations featuring Jon Meacham and John Sununu sheds light on areas often ignored about George Bush.

George Bush for all his qualities and an extremely qualified resume, remained flawed in his handling of domestic affairs, inappropriate in expressing empathy at times, failing to inspire when the economy was down, and being convincing enough to retain the Presidency. However, his name will always remain a shining beacon of a quality that America has been losing for the past decade.

America’s moral leadership.

An Opportunity for Globalist Centrist Liberalism

Source: National Review

The world may appear to be sharply divided among the far left and the far right on the social media, and even on the mainstream media these days. However, you could make the case that with the election of Emmanuel Macron as the French President, some hope has been revived in centrism and globalist liberalism. Because the polls in late April were nothing less than a scare with Marine Le Pen ending up neck-a-neck.

One of the features of the shifts to far left and far right camps in public discourse has been the cynicism toward centrism and pragmatism. Candidates such as Hillary Clinton have been condemned as “neo-liberal” by progressive and leftist activists, who could have prevented the Trump Presidency by turning out in greater numbers for her favor. The shift toward absolutism might sound romantic to some in a twisted way, but it has given us politicians such as Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and perhaps even Trump on the right and Jeremy Corbyn and Tulsi Gabbard on the left. Of course, each honest in their own dangerous way. I am deliberately not mentioning Bernie Sanders in this list, whose proposals of single payer healthcare is anything but an extreme view for a centrist liberal, but he has a rather unhealthy obsession with the Wall Street.

While still both the left and right in the West are variants of liberalism, relatively speaking, but both have seemed to lose the essence of its ideals of late. The left continues to demonize the idea of private property while the right frequently compromises the liberties of people who either look different or are less fortunate. And another group simply refuses to pay for just about anything. Did I mention Ron Paul in the list?

Since when have these ideas become abominations to the people?

There is no wonder even today a majority of the population might agree on centrist ideas and fortunately that is still what a lot of voting pattern around the world follows. Though that voting pattern has been consistently shifting rightward, evident in Turkey, India, and Israel. Common sense, yes, you hear this expression very frequently in the campaigns of more conservative politicians in the West. But actually, you would rather associate this term with more centrist and pragmatic liberals beyond party lines.

The disillusionment and cynicism of the recent years have particularly been on the rise as a “people’s awakening” of sorts. This has been generally true for the attitude toward the United Nations but the precarious unity of the EU has particularly brought it into light. Blame it on the operational and bureaucratic flaws of these globalist bodies but there is no reason why the ideals behind them should be targeted without anyone putting up a reasonable defense for them.

On the other hand, there is really nothing about centrism or economic liberalism that necessitates apathy toward those who are less fortunate in the society. This ideological direction does not necessarily eliminate a social democracy. It is not as if most of the moderate British conservatives would be effectively killing the NHS, despite their fiscal conservatism. Certainly, not the Liberal Democrats. I guess centrist liberals would only be more respectful of private property and freedom for businesses than obsessing over bringing the budget into surplus too much.

Most moderate Republicans would not dare criticize late night host Jimmy Kimmel making a case for healthcare safety nets by bringing up his sick child. It is precisely the mindset that attacked him for it that a centrist liberal would discourage. Long story short, centrist liberals are more likely to side with a pragmatic, practical direction, keeping a balance between the bleeding heart and the facts of the world. Most of them would at least entertain the idea of a single payer healthcare approach while respecting private caregivers for humanitarian reasons, despite the controversy around its ideological correctness.

Another reason why globalist and centrist liberals are important is their interventionism, another point that gets under the skin of people on both extreme left and right. While there is no point getting behind a warmonger, an isolationist progressive or libertarian would be as caustic to world peace as a relentless hawk.

As much as we would like to hate President Bill Clinton and President George H. W. Bush, their timely humanitarian action in Bosnia and Kuwait goes unappreciated. It is amazing how the critics of American imperialism completely fail to recognize how the intervention has saved the freedom for the people of South Korea and West Germany. Furthermore, globalist liberals would be all for aid and accepting refugees and intervening to prevent a genocide, while an isolationist nationalist or an apathetic progressive could prove to be a humanitarian disaster. But enough of what they might mean for a government.

Despite the apparent lack of enthusiasm, the ideological polarity itself ironically presents an opportunity to the third way liberalism to bring people from left and right together. At least as a practical electoral alliance holding your nose. In a way, the rise of Donald Trump represents that possibility as opposed to someone like Sen. Ted Cruz who could become the President too. Although some could argue the same about Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton.

The person of Donald Trump has always appeared to be pragmatic and centrist, even liberal, in his approach to things but it is unfortunate that he relied on more far right policies and people to run his campaign. Perhaps that was the only way he could win this election. The policies he is enacting are not any more encouraging either. But who knows, that might change with time as he is beginning to figure out the realities of the political world and governance. And say, if Jared and Ivanka do not stay too far. Hanging on to a thread, are we not?

But don’t get too depressed. The world may still give sanity a chance.

It’s not too late.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.