Obama and the Democratic Revolt

The White House must convince Dems—50 in the House and about 15 in the Senate.

For agreeing to a temporary extension of all the Bush tax cuts, President Obama is now facing a full-fledged revolt within his party. The responses from congressional Democrats have ranged from chilly to angry to threatening.

One asked, “Could we have a little fight before we cave? Why go right to surrender?” Another accused Mr. Obama of saying, “let ’em eat cake.” Another called the compromise “an absolute disaster” and “an insult.” Another complained, “we got screwed.”

Liberals outside Congress are even more bitter. MoveOn.org demanded Democrats not “capitulate to the GOP on this terrible deal.” Some have talked of primary challenges to Mr. Obama.

It won’t be easy for Mr. Obama to push the compromise through Congress. Nancy Pelosi doesn’t see where the votes will come in the House. Harry Reid’s spokesman says simply that the majority leader “plans on discussing it with his caucus.”

Despite all this, Mr. Obama should actually find a sizable constituency for his plan among Democrats. By my count, roughly 50 House Democrats have already signaled that they may sign on to a compromise like the one announced this week.

In a man-bites-dog moment in September, 31 Democrats signed a letter telling Ms. Pelosi that now was not the time to raise any American’s taxes. It was smart politics. As a new poll from American Crossroads (a group with which I’m associated) has found, Americans believe—by a 4-to-1 margin—that raising taxes in a recession will hurt growth, and that tax rates should stay where they are so employers start hiring again.

On Dec. 2, another 12 House Democrats broke from their leadership by opposing the rule under which Ms. Pelosi’s tax measure—which would have let the cuts lapse for Americans in the top brackets—was going to be taken up. Doing so suggested that they wanted the House to consider a GOP substitute measure extending all the Bush tax cuts.

There was also a ragtag group of seven House Democrats who didn’t sign the letter or oppose the rule but did vote “no” on the final Democratic bill. Some in this group are liberals who probably object to keeping any of the tax cuts, but others may support the compromise.

Combined, these three groups contain 50 House Democrats who either (a) publicly endorsed keeping all the tax cuts, (b) broke with Democratic leaders on a key procedural vote, or (c) voted against a bill that extended only some current rates. Added to the GOP’s near-unanimous support for extending all the Bush tax cuts, their numbers could produce a House majority for the president.

But convincing them won’t be easy: Last month 22 of the 31 Democratic letter-writers broke their word and voted to let the cuts lapse for the top brackets, and last week only four of the 12 Democrats who bucked Ms. Pelosi on the procedural vote joined Republicans in opposing her bill.

Still, these are the House members who could hand Mr. Obama the compromise he now seeks. So the White House’s lobbying priorities in the coming days will be members of the president’s own party.

In the Senate, with its 60-vote requirement, two of the 42 Republicans have come out against the compromise and eight Democrats are on record favoring extending all the Bush tax cuts. That would leave the Senate with 48 in favor of this week’s compromise and 52 opposed or up for grabs. A strong vote out of the House might swing more Senate Democrats toward “yes,” but winning will require Mr. Obama’s engagement and a deft White House lobbying effort. That’s especially true since some Democrats are now threatening a filibuster.

So far the White House hasn’t inspired confidence. Mr. Obama’s Tuesday press conference, in which he compared Republicans to “hostage-takers” and accused liberal Democrats of being “sanctimonious,” offended everyone. He has a huge amount riding on this compromise, so he has to do better.

Mr. Obama’s advisers are reportedly warning Democrats that allowing taxes to rise may cause a double-dip recession. The president can also warn them that it’ll be worse to settle this issue after Republicans take over the House in January.

If he fails, taxes will go up for every American on Jan. 1. If that happens, the new Congress would likely rectify the situation within days after being sworn in. The political damage to Mr. Obama would not be undone nearly as quickly. Failure to pass the tax compromise would make the president appear impotent. Confidence among Democrats would collapse. And there would be more challenges to Mr. Obama’s leadership from within his own party, perhaps even in the 2012 primaries.

Most importantly, failure would imperil $400 billion in tax cuts that would be a more effective economic boost than Mr. Obama’s justifiably ridiculed stimulus. Without much healthier economic growth and far more robust job creation, Mr. Obama has little chance of wooing back the independents who elected him in 2008 yet abandoned Democrats in 2010.

Mr. Rove is the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.

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Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703493504576007462890735264.html

From Audacity to Animosity

No president has alienated his base the way Obama has.

We have not in our lifetimes seen a president in this position. He spent his first year losing the center, which elected him, and his second losing his base, which is supposed to provide his troops. There isn’t much left to lose! Which may explain Tuesday’s press conference.

President Obama was supposed to be announcing an important compromise, as he put it, on tax policy. Normally a president, having agreed with the opposition on something big, would go through certain expected motions. He would laud the specific virtues of the plan, show graciousness toward the negotiators on the other side—graciousness implies that you won—and refer respectfully to potential critics as people who’ll surely come around once they are fully exposed to the deep merits of the plan.

Instead Mr. Obama said, essentially, that he hates the deal he just agreed to, hates the people he made the deal with, and hates even more the people who’ll criticize it. His statement was startling in the breadth of its animosity. Republicans are “hostage takers” who worship a “holy grail” of “tax cuts for the wealthy.” “That seems to be their central economic doctrine.”

As for the left, they ignore his accomplishments and are always looking for “weakness and compromise.” They are “sanctimonious,” “purist,” and just want to “feel good about” themselves. In a difficult world, they cling to their “ideal positions” and constant charges of “betrayals.”

Those not of the left might view all this as straight talk, and much needed. But if you were of the left it would only deepen your anger and sharpen your response. Which it did. “Gettysburg,” “sellout,” “disaster.”

The president must have thought that distancing himself from left and right would make him more attractive to the center. But you get credit for going to the center only if you say the centrist position you’ve just embraced is right. If you suggest, as the president did, that the seemingly moderate plan you agreed to is awful and you’ll try to rescind it in two years, you won’t leave the center thinking, “He’s our guy!” You’ll leave them thinking, “Note to self: Remove Obama in two years.”

In politics, the angry person is generally understood to be the loser, which is why politicians on TV always try not to seem angry. And politics is always, at the end of the day, a game of addition, not subtraction.

Mr. Obama’s problem is not only with the left of his party. Democratic professionals, people who do the work of politics day by day, don’t see him as a bad man or a sellout, but they scratch their heads over him and privately grouse. They don’t understand a Democratic president who, in the midst of a great recession, in our modern welfare state, doesn’t know how to win support! The other night Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor, Ed Rendell, was on “Hardball” sounding reasonable on the subject of Mr. Obama, but I thought his eyes, his visage, his professionally pleasant face were screaming: Those crazy birthers are wrong, he’s not from another country—he’s from another galaxy! He doesn’t do politics like any normal person!

The left has been honestly disappointed in Mr. Obama. He did not come through as they think he should have in myriad ways—the public option, closing Guantanamo, war, now the tax plan. But—and this makes it all more complicated and fascinating—the left does not say Mr. Obama has been revealed to be at heart a conservative, or a Republican. Most of them know he is one of them—his worldview is more of less theirs, his assumptions are theirs. Does anyone doubt he would have included a public option in health care if he thought he could have? He judged that he couldn’t. He didn’t have the numbers in the Senate. It isn’t an argument about philosophy or ideology. It’s only an argument about what’s practical and possible.

Some on the left argue that if only the president had talked more, and more passionately, if he’d worked it harder, he could have brought the country to support leftist programs. But why do they think this? The general public has seen the president out there for two years talking and promoting a generally leftist direction. Voters demonstrated in elections through 2009 and ’10 that a generally leftist direction is not what they want.

All of this—the disenchantment of the left, the confusion of the party’s professionals—has led to increased talk of a primary challenger to Mr. Obama in 2012.

And here too the president’s position would be without parallel.

When Pat Buchanan challenged an incumbent president in his party’s presidential primary in 1992, he was going at George H.W. Bush from the right. Mr. Bush’s base wasn’t the right, it was the party’s center. His support came from people who said not “I am a conservative,” but “I am a Republican.” Mr. Bush wasn’t challenged from his base.

When Ted Kennedy challenged a sitting president of his party in 1980, he was going at Jimmy Carter from the left. But Mr. Carter’s base wasn’t the left, it was more or less in the party’s center.

When Ronald Reagan challenged a sitting president of his party in 1976, he was going at Gerald Ford from the right. Like Mr. Bush, Ford’s base wasn’t the right, it was the party’s establishment. Eugene McCarthy in 1968 the same—he challenged Lyndon Johnson from the left, while Johnson’s base within the party was the establishment.

Modern presidents are never challenged from their base, always by the people who didn’t love them going in. You’re not supposed to get a serious primary challenge from the people who loved you. But that’s the talk of what may happen with Mr. Obama.

The Democratic Party is stuck. Their problem is not, as some have said, that they don’t have anyone of sufficient stature to challenge the president. Russ Feingold and Howard Dean have said they aren’t interested, but a challenger can always be found, or can emerge. If anything marks this political age, it’s that anyone can emerge.

The Democrats’ problem is that most of them know that the person who would emerge, who would challenge Mr. Obama from the left, would never, could never, win the 2012 general election. He’d lose badly and take the party with him. Democratic professionals know the mood of the country. Challenging Mr. Obama from the left would mean definitely losing the presidency, as opposed to probably losing the presidency.

There is only one Democrat who could possibly challenge Mr. Obama for the nomination successfully and win the general election, and that is Hillary Clinton. Who insists she doesn’t want to.

What are the Democrats to do? If you are stuck with a president, you try to survive either with him or, individually, in spite of him. Some Democrats will try to bring him back. How? Who knows. But that will be a great Democratic drama of 2011: Saving Obama.

The White House itself still probably thinks the Republicans can save him, by overstepping, by alienating moderates. But so far, on domestic matters, they’re looking pretty calm and sober. They didn’t crow at the tax compromise, for instance, even though they knew the left is correct: It wasn’t a compromise, it was a bow. To reality, but a bow nonetheless.

Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal

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Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703766704576009943102291486.html

Throw the WikiBook at them

It is understandable for the administration to underplay the significance of the WikiLeaks State Department cables. But while it is wise not to go into a public panic, it is delusional to think that this is merely embarrassing gossip and indiscretion. The leaks have done major damage.

First, quite specific damage to our war-fighting capacity. Take just one revelation among hundreds: The Yemeni president and deputy prime minister are quoted as saying that they’re letting the United States bomb al-Qaeda in their country, while claiming that the bombing is the government’s doing. Well, that cover is pretty well blown. And given the unpopularity of the Sanaa government’s tenuous cooperation with us in the war against al-Qaeda, this will undoubtedly limit our freedom of action against its Yemeni branch, identified by the CIA as the most urgent terrorist threat to U.S. security.

Second, we’ve suffered a major blow to our ability to collect information. Talking candidly to a U.S. diplomat can now earn you headlines around the world, reprisals at home, or worse. Success in the war on terror depends on being trusted with other countries’ secrets. Who’s going to trust us now?

Third, this makes us look bad, very bad. But not in the way Secretary of State Hillary Clinton implied in her cringe-inducing apology speech in which she scolded these awful leakers for having done a disservice to “the international community,” and plaintively deplored how this hampers U.S. attempts to bring about a better world.

She sounded like a cross between an exasperated school principal and a Miss America contestant professing world peace to be her fondest wish. The problem is not that the purloined cables exposed U.S. hypocrisy or double-dealing. Good God, that’s the essence of diplomacy. That’s what we do; that’s what everyone does. Hence the famous aphorism that a diplomat is an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country.

Nothing new here. What is notable, indeed shocking, is the administration’s torpid and passive response to the leaks. What’s appalling is the helplessness of a superpower that not only cannot protect its own secrets but shows the world that if you violate its secrets – massively, wantonly and maliciously – there are no consequences.

The cat is out of the bag. The cables are public. Deploring them or trying to explain them away, a la Clinton, is merely pathetic. It’s time to show a little steel. To show that such miscreants don’t get to walk away.

At a Monday news conference, Attorney General Eric Holder assured the nation that his people are diligently looking into possible legal action against WikiLeaks. Where has Holder been? The WikiLeaks exposure of Afghan war documents occurred five months ago. Holder is looking now at possible indictments? This is a country where a good prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. Months after the first leak, Justice’s thousands of lawyers have yet to prepare charges against Julian Assange and his confederates?

Throw the Espionage Act of 1917 at them. And if that is not adequate, if that law has been too constrained and watered down by subsequent Supreme Court rulings, then why hasn’t the administration prepared new legislation adapted to these kinds of Internet-age violations of U.S. security? It’s not as if we didn’t know more leaks were coming. And that more leaks are coming still.

Think creatively. The WikiLeaks document dump is sabotage, however quaint that term may seem. We are at war – a hot war in Afghanistan where six Americans were killed just this past Monday, and a shadowy world war where enemies from Yemen to Portland, Ore., are planning holy terror. Franklin Roosevelt had German saboteurs tried by military tribunal and executed. Assange has done more damage to the United States than all six of those Germans combined. Putting U.S. secrets on the Internet, a medium of universal dissemination new in human history, requires a reconceptualization of sabotage and espionage – and the laws to punish and prevent them. Where is the Justice Department?

And where are the intelligence agencies on which we lavish $80 billion a year? Assange has gone missing. Well, he’s no cave-dwelling jihadi ascetic. Find him. Start with every five-star hotel in England and work your way down.

Want to prevent this from happening again? Let the world see a man who can’t sleep in the same bed on consecutive nights, who fears the long arm of American justice. I’m not advocating that we bring out of retirement the KGB proxy who, on a London street, killed a Bulgarian dissident with a poisoned umbrella tip. But it would be nice if people like Assange were made to worry every time they go out in the rain.

Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post

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Full article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/02/AR2010120204561.html

On Mrs. Kennedy’s Detail

IT was with great trepidation that I approached 3704 N Street in Washington on Nov. 10, 1960. I had just been given the assignment of providing protection for the wife of the newly elected president of the United States, and I was about to meet her for the first time.

I soon realized I had little to worry about. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, just 31 years old at the time, was a gracious woman who put me immediately at ease. She was the first lady, but she was also a caring mother; her daughter, Caroline, was nearly 3 years old, and she was pregnant with her second child. Three weeks later, she went into early labor with John Jr., and I followed her through the entire process. It would be the first of many experiences we would have together.

Being on the first lady’s detail was a lot different from being on the president’s. It was just the two of us, traveling the world together. Mrs. Kennedy was active and energetic — she loved to play tennis, water-ski and ride horses. She had a great sense of humor, and we grew to trust and confide in each other, as close friends do.

In early 1963, Mrs. Kennedy shared with me the happy news that she was pregnant again. She had curtailed her physical activities and had settled into a routine at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., for the last few months of her pregnancy. I was on a rare day off when I got the call that she had gone into early labor. I raced to the hospital at Otis Air Force Base, arriving shortly after she did.

The president, who had been in Washington, arrived soon after she delivered their new baby boy, whom they named Patrick Bouvier Kennedy.

When Patrick died two days later, Mrs. Kennedy was devastated. I felt as if my own son had died, and we grieved together.

The following weeks were difficult as I watched her fall into a deep depression. Eventually, it was suggested that she needed to get away. In October 1963 I traveled with her to the Mediterranean, where we stayed aboard Aristotle Onassis’ yacht, the Christina. The trip to Greece, Turkey and Yugoslavia, along with a short stop in Morocco, seemed to be good therapy, and by the time we returned to Washington the light had returned to her eyes.

I was surprised, however, when not long after our return Mrs. Kennedy decided to join her husband on his trip to Texas. It was so soon after the loss of her son, and she hadn’t accompanied the president on any domestic political trips since his election.

Nevertheless, when we left the White House on Thursday, Nov. 21, I could tell that Mrs. Kennedy was truly excited. I remember thinking this would be a real test of her recovery, and that if she enjoyed the campaigning it would probably be a regular occurrence as soon as the 1964 race got into full swing.

The first day of the trip was exhausting. We had motorcades in San Antonio, Houston and finally Fort Worth, where we arrived around midnight. It had been a long day for everyone, and Mrs. Kennedy was drained.

On the morning of Nov. 22, I went to her room at the Hotel Texas to bring her down to the breakfast where President John F. Kennedy was speaking. She was refreshed and eager to head to Dallas. She had chosen a pink suit with a matching hat to wear at their many appearances that day, and she looked exquisite.

The motorcade began like any of the many that I had been a part of as an agent — with the adrenaline flowing, the members of the detail on alert. I was riding on the running board of the car just behind the president’s.

We were traveling through Dallas en route to the Trade Mart, where the president was to give a lunchtime speech, when I heard an explosive noise from my right rear. As I turned toward the sound, I scanned the presidential limousine and saw the president grab at his throat and lurch to the left.

I jumped off the running board and ran toward his car. I was so focused on getting to the president and Mrs. Kennedy to provide them cover that I didn’t hear the second shot.

I was just feet away when I heard and felt the effects of a third shot. It hit the president in the upper right rear of his head, and blood was everywhere. Once in the back seat, I threw myself on top of the president and first lady so that if another shot came, it would hit me instead.

The detail went into action. We didn’t stop to think about what happened; our every move and thought went into rushing the president and Mrs. Kennedy to the nearest hospital.

I stayed by Mrs. Kennedy’s side for the next four days. The woman who just a few days before had been so happy and exuberant about this trip to Texas was in deep shock. Her eyes reflected the sorrow of the nation and the world — a sorrow we still feel today.

Clint Hill, a former assistant director of the Secret Service, served under five presidents.

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Full article and photo: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/22/opinion/22hill.html

Who Cares About Haiti?

Extortionists drain the country’s economic lifeblood while the U.N. stands by idly.

Ten months after a magnitude 8.0 earthquake killed more than 200,000 Haitians and destroyed an already decrepit infrastructure, some 1.3 million impoverished souls are still barely surviving in tent cities around the country. Living conditions are deplorable and after nearly a year, optimism about a way out of what were once dubbed “temporary” camps has dimmed.

Now more than 1,100 people have died in a cholera epidemic, and riots that began in the northern city of Cap-Haitien spread to the capital of Port au Prince last week. Protestors allege that the United Nations peace-keeping mission brought the disease to Haiti. The jury is still out on the source of the cholera, but the unrest has taken a further toll.

And so it goes. Just when you think things can’t get any worse, more poverty, violence and sorrow conspire to increase the sense of helplessness in what is the ultimate economic basket case in the Western Hemisphere. Millions of people the world over watch from afar and wonder why something can’t be done.

Here’s the $64 million question: Is Haiti’s seemingly intractable misery the result of a society and culture that is incapable of organizing itself to create civil order and a viable economy? Or is it the consequence of ruling kleptocrats—abetted or at least tolerated by influential foreigners—treating every economic transaction in the country as an opportunity for personal enrichment?

Evidence abounds that it is the latter. So why have the U.S. and the U.N. refused to take even small steps toward shutting down an official corruption racket that pushes millions of helpless people into lives of desperation? Instead they’ve put Bill Clinton—whose political family famously went into business with the notoriously corrupt former President Jean Bertrand Aristide—in charge of rebuilding the country with billions in foreign aid.

A cholera victim in a Doctors Without Borders treatment center near the slum neighborhood of Cite Soleil, Nov. 19.

Development takes generations, and nation building by outsiders is a fool’s game. But often there is a simple change that can yield fast returns. One no-brainer target in Haiti is the port at Port-au-Prince, where the bulk of imports must enter the country, but where Haiti’s legendary mafia will only release containers after sizable bribes are collected.

A report this year by the Rand Corporation describes the port’s importance this way: “The costs of shipping through Haiti’s ports have imposed a major burden on Haitian consumers and businesses. Because imports play such an important role in consumption, investment, and business operations, the cost of imports is a key determinant of living standards and economic growth.” And yet, Rand says, “importing a container of goods is 35 percent more expensive in Haiti than the average for developed OECD countries.”

Haitian officials like to blame inefficiency at the capital’s port on a lack of modern infrastructure. But Haitians know that’s only part of the story. Writing for the online magazine The Root in October, Haitian-born business consultant Yves Savain explained that pulling a container out of the port in the capital “takes walking the documents from office to office to secure an unspecified number of signatures.” The full cost, which he said includes “legitimate and illicit duties,” constitutes “a substantial and arbitrary financial drain on all sectors of the national economy.”

Mr. Savain was being diplomatic. On a visit to the Journal offices last week, former Haitian ambassador to the U.S., Raymond Joseph—who resigned in August—was more direct. “The corruption situation in the ports was one of the major reasons I decided I could no longer defend this government,” he says.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, Mr. Joseph says, “I had so many [nongovernmental organizations] calling me and saying ‘ambassador, could you help me get our things out of the port?’ They kept telling me [port officials] want so many thousands of dollars to get the things out.” Mr. Joseph says that by calling the minister of finance he could sometimes get the goods out but that he wasn’t always successful.

Another example: A Nov. 14 CBS “60 Minutes” report featured the case of six containers destined for an NGO housing project that had been “stuck” in the port for months. No one could figure out why the goods couldn’t be released, but the NGO was still forced to pay $6,000 to the Haitian government for an “imposed storage fee.”

Haiti holds elections on Nov. 28 for parliament and president, and enemies of representative government want to disrupt that process. This partly explains the recent violence. Yet it would be foolish to write it off as solely the work of the nefarious underworld.

Haitians are fed up with the squalor that seems to promise an end only in death. They are angry not only with their own crooked politicians but with the way in which outsiders turn a blind eye to their tormentors. The fact that Washington and the U.N. have refused to rein in the extortionists running the port demonstrates the lack of international political will to alter the status quo.

Mary Anastasia O’Grady, Wall Street Journal

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Full article and photo: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704496104575627061101867870.html

The Uproar Over Pat-Downs

Americans understand the need for security screenings at airports and are remarkably patient. So there is no excuse for the bumbling, arrogant way the Transportation Security Administration has handled questions and complaints about its new body-scanning machines and more aggressive pat-downs.

The Times reported on Friday that civil liberties groups have collected more than 400 complaints since the new pat-downs began three weeks ago. That is a minuscule number compared with all the people who flew. But there are far too many reports of T.S.A. agents groping passengers, using male agents to search female passengers, mocking passengers and disdaining complaints.

Lawsuits have been filed asserting that new, more powerful body-scanning machines violate the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches. In general, it seems to us that the scanners are not unconstitutional, but the lawsuits are a healthy process that will require the government to prove that the scanners are reliable and more effective than other devices.

The Fourth Amendment would certainly protect Americans from unnecessary, overly intimate security checks. And nothing in the Constitution permits power-happy or just downright creepy people from abusing their uniforms and the real need for security. The government could start by making their screening guidelines clear. And they should respond to the concerns of people like the woman who told The Times that she is patted down every time because of an insulin pump.

Some passenger groups are planning demonstrations during the Thanksgiving rush. That’s their right, although if they interfere with air travel, or with security measures, they have to assume the risk that applies to any civil disobedience: they might be arrested.

The federal authorities need to take customers’ complaints seriously. And while they’re at it, they should be hard at work filling in the really huge hole in the security of air travel: the inadequate screening of cargo.

Editorial, New York Times

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/20/opinion/20sat3.html

Ireland’s Paradise Lost

For an American tourist weaned on Gaelic kitsch and screenings of “The Quiet Man,” the landscape of contemporary Ireland comes as something of a shock. Drive from Dublin to the western coast and back, as I did two months ago, and you’ll still find all the thatched-roof farmhouses, winding stone walls and placid sheep that the postcards would lead you to expect. But round every green hill, there’s a swath of miniature McMansions. Past every tumble-down castle, a cascade of condominiums. In sleepy fishing villages that date to the days of Grace O’Malley, Ireland’s Pirate Queen (she was the Sarah Palin of the 16th century), half the houses look the part — but the rest could have been thrown up by the Toll brothers.

It’s as if there were only two eras in Irish history: the Middle Ages and the housing bubble.

This actually isn’t a bad way of thinking about Ireland’s 20th century. The island spent decade after decade isolated, premodern and rural — and then in just a few short years, boom, modernity! The Irish sometimes say that their 1960s didn’t happen until the 1990s, when secularization and the sexual revolution finally began in earnest in what had been one of the most conservative and Catholic countries in the world. But Ireland caught up fast: the kind of social and economic change that took 50 years or more in many places was compressed into a single revolutionary burst.

There was a time, not so very long ago, when everyone wanted to take credit for this transformation. Free-market conservatives hailed Ireland’s rapid growth as an example of the miracles that free trade, tax cuts and deregulation can accomplish. (In 1990, Ireland ranked near the bottom of European Union nations in G.D.P. per capita. In 2005, it ranked second.)

Progressives and secularists suggested that Ireland was thriving because it had finally escaped the Catholic Church’s repressive grip, which kept horizons narrow and families large, and limited female economic opportunity. (An academic paper on this theme, “Contraception and the Celtic Tiger,” earned the Malcolm Gladwell treatment in the pages of The New Yorker.) The European elite regarded Ireland as a case study in the benefits of E.U. integration, since the more tightly the Irish bound themselves to Continental institutions, the faster their gross domestic product rose.

Nobody tells those kinds of stories anymore. The Celtic housing bubble was more inflated than America’s (a lot of those McMansions are half-finished and abandoned), the Celtic banking industry was more reckless in its bets, and Ireland’s debts, private and public, make our budget woes look manageable by comparison. The Irish economy is on everybody’s mind again these days, but that’s because the government has just been forced to apply for a bailout from the E.U., lest Ireland become the green thread that unravels the European quilt.

If the bailout does its work and the Irish situation stabilizes, the world’s attention will move on to the next E.U. country on the brink, whether it’s Portugal, Spain or Greece (again). But when the story of the Great Recession is remembered, Ireland will offer the most potent cautionary tale. Nowhere did the imaginations of utopians run so rampant, and nowhere did they receive a more stinging rebuke.

To the utopians of capitalism, the Irish experience should be a reminder that the biggest booms can produce the biggest busts, and that debt and ruin always shadow prosperity and growth. To the utopians of secularism, the Irish experience should be a reminder that the waning of a powerful religious tradition can breed decadence as well as liberation. (“Ireland found riches a good substitute for its traditional culture,” Christopher Caldwell noted, but now “we may be about to discover what happens when a traditionally poor country returns to poverty without its culture.”)

But it’s the utopians of European integration who should learn the hardest lessons from the Irish story. The continent-wide ripples from Ireland’s banking crisis have vindicated the Euroskeptics who argued that the E.U. was expanded too hastily, and that a single currency couldn’t accommodate such a wide diversity of nations. And the Irish government’s hat-in-hand pilgrimages to Brussels have vindicated every nationalist who feared that economic union would eventually mean political subjugation. The yoke of the European Union is lighter than the yoke of the British Empire, but Ireland has returned to a kind of vassal status all the same.

As for the Irish themselves, their idyllic initiation into global capitalism is over, and now they probably understand the nature of modernity a little better. At times, it can seem to deliver everything you ever wanted, and wealth beyond your dreams. But you always have to pay for it.

Ross Douthat, New York Times

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Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/22/opinion/22douthat.html