Monthly Archives: November 2014

Global Politics and Conservative Traitors

A quick round-up of some useful reading for students, not to mention the interested reader.

On Global Politics (A2 students):

Andrew Bacevich in the Spectator wonders about the usefulness of an American army that no longer wins wars.

In another edition of the Spectator the same author reviews an interesting new book on America's foreign policy in its post-Iraq era; has the age of unipolarity ended?

Gideon Rachman, meanwhile, in the Financial Times sees an alarming nuclear shadow behind Russia's new bellicosity (you need to register to read this).

UK Politics and the Conservative Problem:

Peter Oborne has been trenchant in his criticism of UKIP fifth columnists within the Conservative PArty, originally in this article, and then on the eve of the Rochester by-election in this one where he memorably describes the new UKIP MP Mark Reckless as "brutish" and "low-grade", a man whose leaving of the Conseravtive Party undoubtedly made it a better place.  But Oborne's real ire is reserved for the treacherous Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, who acts every bit as a UKIP MEP but has so far not needed to leave the party he now acts against.  Fascinating stuff.

Finally, an education interlude, as the Spectator's Fraser Nelson examines the failure of the state system in upwardly mobilising the poor.

Obama Shows How You Do Leadership

President Obama has issued an instructive lesson to any weak-minded British politicians who might be minded to try and follow the UKIP line on immigration in order to appease the voters.  Don't.

After having received a drubbing - or at any rate watching his party receive one - in the mid-term elections, you might expect the president, faced with a Congress now wholly controlled by his opponents, to lie low.  Not a bit of it.  Believing in the justice - even morality - of his cause, President Obama has shown how you do leadership.  You stay fighting for your principles, and you do so in a way no-one can possibly misinterpret you.

The immigration issue is as toxic in America as it is over here, but at least in America they have a leader willing to tack against the simple bigotry of hating immigrants.  That is not so clear in the UK.  Where Obama has used his executive power to protect some 4 million "illegal" immigrants, the Conservatives' most recent pronouncements suggest they might be keen to deal with the paranoia surrounding UK immigration by, er, embracing it.

Away from the specific issue, the president's move throws the issue of executive power into the spotlight, helps to secure a huge Hispanic vote for the Democrats, and almost begs the Republican hard liners to come out fighting and opposing it.  Now that is sublime politics.

The Evolution of ‘Soft Power’

We've got to discussing 'soft' and 'hard' power in our A2 Global politics lessons, and I must confess that the concept of 'soft power' having much traction seemed to be away with the fairies.  Challenged to name a successful instance of where soft power had a significant impact, I fell back upon the example of western culture having influenced - in some degree - the people power which brought down the Berlin Wall 25 years ago.  There are others I know, but they are undoubtedly disparate and similarly highly contentious.

Just to be clear, soft power is that power which is essentially persuasive; it stands in contrast to the exercise of hard power via military or economic means.  Now, if I were to look at how the use of hard power might be graduating from military to economic dimensions in a more successful way, as for instance with regards to Russia and the Ukraine, I might be getting somewhere.  But soft power?  Come on.  Is American culture or western materialism really what is going to win the current war of ideologies raging in the Middle East?  Even worse, for the West at any rate, its own soft power alternatives are being turned very effectively against it.  Look at how Russia has expanded its global news organisation, Russia Today (for a searing indictment of Russia Today as a news organisation read this article by Nick Cohen for the Observer).  Look at how IS are using twitter and other social media outlets to advertise their brutality and their cause, and attract similarly minded westerners in the process.

The term 'soft power' was coined by Professor Joseph Nye, and the BBC have just published an interesting assessment of its use by their reporter Ritula Shah on the BBC News site.  A2 Global Politics students should certainly read it, note from it and use its lessons as they seek to assess the importance of soft power in relation to its more quantifiable cousin, hard power.  Ms Shah looks at both the vaunted 'successes' of soft power use by the West (and notably America), and how it is now changing to favour other nations and organisations.  She examines Chinese use of soft power in particular, and notes that the term's originator, Joseph Nye, now prefers to talk of 'smart power', as an evolutionary concept.  For now, concludes Shah, America remains pre-eminent in soft power use.  Others may argue that soft power does little more than reflect the international contours put in place by hard power.

Prescription For A Stronger Economy: Marriage


Larry recently spoke at the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation dinner last week.  Nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas* wrote this column about his remarks:

At a dinner sponsored by the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation last Thursday (I am an unpaid national advisory board member), there was a debate about wealth redistribution. A team of Canadian students who think government should “spread the wealth around” faced off against a team of American students who think government has no business doing any such thing.

The theme continued when former Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, debated Chrystia Freeland, a member of the Canadian Parliament. While all of this was informative, civil, interesting and at times entertaining, the final speaker, CNBC commentator Larry Kudlow, may have uttered the most profound thought of the evening.

While Mr. Kudlow takes the traditional conservative position when it comes to economics, he said what would help individuals as well as the nation the most is for people to “get married.” He said it loudly, and the super-sophisticated New Yorkers in the room fell momentarily silent. When the shock wore off, many heads began to nod.

Mr. Kudlow’s point was that marriage gives people a reason to work, a home one hopes is stable, and children for whom two parents feel responsible.

Sociologists have reached the same conclusion over many years. In her book “One Marriage Under God: The Campaign To Promote Marriage in America,” sociologist Melanie Heath writes, “Married people” — for whatever reason — “are happier, healthier, and better off financially.”

The point I took from the speakers at the Coolidge dinner was that the real power to influence a life does not lie in or emanate from Washington, D.C., whichever party is in power. Instead, it comes from the millions of personal decisions each person makes for his or her own life.

How many politicians today would dare to admonish people who are living together to get married? Yet for not just economic reasons, doesn’t it seem the wisest course for most to take when one considers the benefits? Cohabiters may look at their divorced parents as an excuse not to marry, but that is an excuse, not a sufficient reason. One might better consider successful marriages, instead of failed ones, and emulate what made the good ones work.

At the Coolidge dinner, the organization’s chairman, Amity Shlaes, passed out buttons that said “Coolidge in ‘16.” Although the 30th president died in 1933, his ideas and philosophy of life are being given new life by events like these. If his ideas worked — and Coolidge’s did because they were born from a Puritan ethic that founded and sustained America well into the 20th century, making the 1920s roar economically — why not reconsider those ideas, updating them as necessary and applying them to solve today’s problems, rather than skipping from one failed policy to another?

Back to marriage. The Coolidges had an unusual relationship, but it worked for them. Grace was vivacious and outgoing; her husband quite the opposite. And yet there was genuine love.

Few men have ever uttered more noble words about their wives than what Coolidge said of his: “She has borne with my infirmities, and I have rejoiced in her graces.”

Mr. Kudlow seemed to be suggesting — and I would agree with him — that you don’t get that kind of affirmation outside of a committed marital relationship, which also makes for stronger families, economies and nations.

*Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist. His latest book is “What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America” (Zondervan, 2014).