Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Rise of declinists

“American ‘decline’ is the foreign-policy equivalent of homelessness: The media only take note of it when a Republican is in the White House,” Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens writes.

“Broadly speaking, declinists divide between those who merely accept America’s supposed diminishment as a fact of life, and those who celebrate it as long overdue. As for the causes of decline, however, they tend to agree: declining (relative) economic muscle, due in large part to the rise of China; an overextended military bogged down needlessly in Iraq and endlessly in Afghanistan; the declining value of America’s ‘brand’ on account of Bush administration policies on detention, pre-emption, terrorism, global warming — you name it,” Mr. Stephens said.

“Yet each of these assumptions collapses on a moment’s inspection. In his 2006 book ‘Uberpower,’ German writer Josef Joffe makes the following back-of-the-envelope calculation: ‘Assume that the Chinese economy keeps growing indefinitely at a rate of 7 percent, the average of the past decade (for which history knows of no example). … At that rate, China’s GDP would double every decade, reaching parity with today’s United States ($12 trillion) in 30 years. But the U.S. economy is not frozen into immobility. By then, the United States, growing at its long-term rate of 2.5 percent, would stand at $25 trillion.’

“Now take military expenditures. Yesterday, the administration released its budget proposal for 2009, which includes $515.4 billion for the regular defense budget. In inflation-adjusted dollars, this would be the largest defense appropriation since World War II. Yet it amounts to about 4 percent of GDP, as compared to 14 percent during the Korean War, 9.5 percent during the Vietnam War and 6 percent in the Reagan administration. Throw in the Iraq and Afghanistan supplementals, and total projected defense spending is still only 4.5 percent of GDP — an easily afforded sum ….

“Finally, there is the issue of our allegedly squandered prestige in the world. There is no doubt America’s ‘popularity,’ as measured by various global opinion surveys, has fallen in recent years. What’s striking, however, is how little of this has mattered in terms of the domestic political choices of other countries or the consequences for the U.S.”

A matter of trust

“Why do so many conservatives detest — and yes, ‘detest’ is the most accurate word — John McCain?” Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi asks.

“Why are radio talk-show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Hugh Hewitt abandoning their customary stance on Republican unity by endorsing or supporting Mitt Romney?

“Why would the right-wing queen of provocation, Ann Coulter, claim that she would rather campaign for Hillary Clinton than the longtime Republican senator from Arizona?

“Why, many talking heads marvel, are conservatives ambushing their only real shot at a general election victory in November?

“Well, just maybe, to conservatives, the principle is worth more than the victory,” Mr. Harsanyi said.

“After all, hadn’t conservatives won the presidency with George W. Bush? Hadn’t they won both houses of Congress in 2002? How many conservatives are celebrating this week’s news of the first-ever $3 trillion budget unveiled by the president?

“Anger towards McCain, despite the spin of his supporters, isn’t exactly irrational. McCain has shown an elastic sense of principle. To conservatives, it seems like temperamental predilections are just as likely to determine his positions as poll numbers. He’s a man they have trouble trusting.”

Testy exchange

Former Sen. Bob Dole, the failed Republican presidential candidate in 1996, himself became a bone of contention yesterday in the increasingly testy exchanges between Republican presidential contenders John McCain and Mitt Romney.

The tit-for-tat began with Mr. Dole coming to the aid of Mr. McCain, a fellow war hero and one-time Senate colleague, in a letter to conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, who has relentlessly criticized the front-running Arizona senator as insufficiently conservative.

Before long, Mr. McCain was demanding Mr. Romney apologize for disparaging Mr. Dole.

Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said he had nothing to apologize for, but he tried from his campaign plane to phone Mr. Dole anyway.

Asked about Mr. Dole’s letter on the Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” yesterday, Mr. Romney, who has tried to portray himself as a genuine conservative alternative to Mr. McCain, responded: “It’s probably the last person I would have wanted write a letter for me. I think there’s a lot of folks who tend to think that maybe John McCain’s race is bit like Bob Dole’s race. That it’s the guy who’s next in line, the inevitable choice.”

Mr. Limbaugh spent a large part of his radio program yesterday criticizing Mr. McCain over the Dole letter. “I’m sorry, Senator McCain, I think what you are doing here is disgraceful,” he said. “How in the world is what Governor Romney said a nasty attack on a veteran? What your campaign is doing, Senator McCain, is manipulating Bob Dole, a war hero.”

$63,000 fine

A New York congressman has agreed to pay a $63,000 fine to settle a federal election probe into campaign expenditures for a personal trainer, clothing and cell-phone accessories.

Federal Election Commission officials said yesterday the campaign fund for New York Democratic Rep. Gregory W. Meeks also used political donations for undocumented credit card expenses and vehicle expenses.

The FEC said Mr. Meeks agreed to pay back his campaign committee $9,812 for vehicle expenses and $6,230 spent on a personal trainer.

Mr. Meeks yesterday said the settlement involves accusations that arose four years ago when his campaign was “volunteer driven” and its “recordkeeping and reporting practices were not what they should have been.”

He said he decided to settle the investigation so his campaign could “put this matter behind it and keep moving forward.”

Ailing lawmaker

Rep. Nita M. Lowey, New York Democrat, was recovering in a Manhattan hospitalMonday after suffering a “minor coronary incident” at a campaign rally for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a spokesman said.

“She is feeling much better — resting and recovering and in good spirits,” said the 70-year-old congresswoman’s spokesman, Matthew Dennis.

Mrs. Lowey had just delivered a speech at a rally in White Plains, N.Y., on Saturday night when she nearly collapsed on stage. She was taken to New York-Presbyterian Hospital after being referred from White Plains Hospital, Mr. Dennis said.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or

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