Two editorial pieces in yesterday's New York Times got me thinking about the state of the policy differences between liberals and conservatives, the impact those differences are having on America, and how it may play out in the election of 2012.
That's right, I've pretty much written off 2010. Talking about policy and strategy now is like going back to re-work the line-up or the roster at the bottom of the ninth. It's going back to the chalk-board to design a whole new play with just seconds on the clock. It's trying to come up with a lame sports analogy on a heavy blog entry when your daughter is about to wake up from a nap.
First, check out the piece from Bob Herbert: Policy at Its Worst. He's lamenting the failure of leaders -- mostly the Governor Christie of New Jersey -- to build an underground tunnel connecting Jersey to New York.
We can go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and threaten to blow Iran off the face of the planet. We can conduct a nonstop campaign of drone and helicopter attacks in Pakistan and run a network of secret prisons around the world. We are the mightiest nation mankind has ever seen.
But we can’t seem to build a railroad tunnel to carry commuters between New Jersey and New York.
The United States is not just losing its capacity to do great things. It’s losing its soul. It’s speeding down an increasingly rubble-strewn path to a region where being second rate is good enough.
He's right, of course.
I have long lamented the opportunity lost in the oil spill, for example, small(ish) though it may be. It was more than just a chance to hire cleanup crews, to engaged workers (though there are obviously some). The same thing has held true for America's sorry, crumbling infrastructure. This is all more than just a chance to hire people to go to work, as important, as desperately needed as that is. It is, or it was, a chance to reinspire America.
Mr. Herbert continues. You can feel his frustration:
This is a railroad tunnel we’re talking about. We’re not trying to go to the Moon. This is not the Manhattan Project. It’s a railroad tunnel that’s needed to take people back and forth to work and to ease the pressure on the existing tunnel, a wilting two-track facility that’s about 100 years old. What is the matter with us?
The Chinese could build it. The Turks could build it. We can’t build it.
We can’t put the population to work, or get the kids through college, or raise the living standards of the middle class and the poor. We can’t rebuild the infrastructure or curb our destructive overreliance on fossil fuels.
There have been many times when the U.S. has stunned the world with the breadth and greatness of its achievements — the Marshall Plan, the G.I. Bill, the world’s highest standard of living, the world’s finest higher education system, the space program, and on and on.
Somewhere, somehow, things went haywire. The nation that built the Erie Canal and Hoover Dam and the transcontinental railroad can’t even build a tunnel beneath the Hudson River from New Jersey to New York.
I guess infrastructure projects just aren't sexy.
Anyway, this is all about whether or not Republicans (like Governor Christie) think building a tunnel which essentially makes almost everything better, literally, is a good idea or not.
Speaking of the other side, we have this from Jack Goldsmith, who worked in the Justice Department under George W. Bush. His piece is about how we detain and ultimately what we do with terrorists we capture:
The Obama administration wants to show that federal courts can handle trials of Guantánamo Bay detainees, and had therefore placed high hopes in the prosecution of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, accused in the 1998 bombings of American embassies in East Africa. On Wednesday a federal judge, Lewis Kaplan of the United States District Court in Manhattan, made the government’s case much harder when he excluded the testimony of the government’s central witness because the government learned about the witness through interrogating Mr. Ghailani at a secret overseas prison run by the C.I.A.
Some, mostly liberals and civil libertarians, applauded the ruling, saying it showed that the rule of law is being restored. But many conservatives denounced it as proof that high-level terrorists cannot reliably be prosecuted in civilian courts and should instead be tried by military commissions.
The real lesson of the ruling, however, is that prosecution in either criminal court or a tribunal is the wrong approach. The administration should instead embrace what has been the main mechanism for terrorist incapacitation since 9/11: military detention without charge or trial.
I bolded that last bit. Again -- this is in the New York Times, everybody, not the Onion. This is one of the finest legal minds in the conservative spectrum, and kind of a big deal. He teaches at Harvard Law.
And he is advocating simply capturing people and locking them up forever without a trial or even a charge.
You know, I hear a lot from a few friends and colleagues that, doggone it, they just can't tell the difference between those Democrats and the Republicans.
Because whatever this Jack Goldsmith guy says, I'm against it. Strongly. And I hereby officially double-down on whatever Bob Herbert suggests. This framework has been presented to us for the elections of 2010. And people are going to kind of go the Jack Goldsmith route.
The question of why is for after Election Day, for the post-mortems, for the Monday morning quarterbacking.
The question of how we make this picture even clearer, even more distinct, may answer itself before 2012.
Despite what a lot of his progressive critics say, Obama has governed mostly from the "Bob Herbert" side. With respect to how he's communicated with the base, it's mostly been, um, "Jack Goldsmith" (and some might argue a little more Jack Bauer). I don't know what's on the agenda for the executive branch for the next two years. There's certainly no guessing what the next tragic Deepwater Horizon scenario might be (ie, the unknown mess that will land on the president's desk).
Whatever it is, if it is as divergent from the apparent Republican stance as you can imagine, 2012 may be a much better year than 2010.