I USED TO THINK THAT SEBASTIAN MALLABY WAS A MANIC NEOLIBERAL. I have always respected the former Economist magazine writer and thinker who now writes as an editorial writer at the Washington Post, but much of his writing years ago was so heavily on the go-go globalization side that I wondered whether he ever thought seriously about the costs and adjustments, and real train wrecks in some societies, associated with high speed neoliberal style globalization.
I was wrong because Sebastian Mallaby — and his wife the talented and thoughtful top U.S. economics correspondent, Zanny Minton Beddoes — have emerged as two important writers who can write about neoliberalism while not suspending conscience or political rationality. Mallaby is out there with Harvard’s Dani Rodrik arguing that we need to get the developing nation problem right — and that whether it is more enlightened drug policies or finally removing anachronistic farm subsidies — failing to think about the “welfare to work” road map in Congo will eventually undermine globalization.
Beddoes, as well, while a believer in the net economic benefits of outsourcing of jobs focuses a great deal on the burdens faced by those who carry the burden for outsourcing and thinks that the Bush administration has simply failed to implement policies that help retrain and rehire displaced workers.
Today, Mallaby poses “The Character Question” about George Bush in his op-ed in the Washington Post and asks the question of whether Bush is all attitude and boldness combined with intellectual laziness and ignorance — or whether he is fundamentally duplicitous and a liar. These words are mine — but the article poses roughly this set of questions.
This weakness (sometimes defending positions that have no intellectual basis) is most commonly associated with this war in Iraq — a radical policy that has backfired on him. Even if you accept the case for war, the way Bush has argued it raises fundamental character issues. Why did he claim links between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein despite the lack of evidence? Had he failed to absorb the facts, or was he being plain dishonest?
Why did he allow the postwar planning to be so scandalously poor? Could he not be bothered to cross-examine the officials who were drawing up plans that would determine his standing in history? Bush appears to have been deaf to the chorus of outside experts who warned that nation-building would be difficult. Doesn’t this illustrate a lazy lack of curiosity about how bold ideas will play out in the real world? Doesn’t this raise doubts about Bush’s fitness to be President?
Believe me, Sebastian Mallaby is as tough on John Kerry in the pages of the Post. As in his critique of Kerry, Mallaby pulls no punches on the questions that should be posed to Bush and those of his team in power.
Questions are important and legitimate. Why are so many of our nation’s best journalists failing to pose the kinds of questions Mallaby is posing?
Why didn’t anyone ask James Shlesinger if he would resign over the Abu Ghraib mess if he were in Rumsfeld’s shoes?
Why isn’t anyone asking Senator Joe Lieberman why he is mixing his name and reputation with James Woolsey who is making financial profits off of the Iraq War.
Why isn’t anyone asking our former chief spy James Woolsey whether he feels guilty for serving as the lawyer for Ahmed Chalabi who now seems at the nexus of an intelligence investigation involving BOTH Israel and Iran? John Le Carre must love this.
I got goose bumps reading Mallaby’s hit on the Bush tax cuts. He writes:
The clearest illustration of this inflexibility (not acknowledging mistakes) is not Iraq. It is the central plank of the economic agenda: the tax cuts. These were conceived when the economy was booming and huge budget surpluses were expected, but when the boom turned inito bust, Bush showed no ability to course-correct. Almost unbelievably, Bush not only rammed through the huge tax cut he had promised in the campaign: He cut taxes again in 2002 and a third time in 2003. Even now he seems ready to sign an appalling pork-ridden corporate tax reduction. . .
Again, this is not just a policy issue; it goes to Bush’s character. How can he push such a dramatic shift in economic policy without grappling with the basic point that his cuts are unaffordable?
. . .Bush fails to understand that his policies are unsustainable, or perhaps he understands but refuses to say so. In other words he is either ignorant or dishonest: Neither suggests that he deserves the trust of the electorate.
Sebastian Mallaby, and his former Economist magazine colleagues Zanny Minton Beddoes, Adrian Wooldridge, John Micklethwait, John Parker — and there are probably others on staff there — are all the sort of writers who are biased towards a “kinder, gentler” conservatism and kind of soft neoliberalism. They are the kind of center-right commentators that if Fox News were fair and balanced they would be using. I know that many of my progressive friends despise the Economist magazine — but these folks are everything that I would hope from serious thinkers in both moderate Republican and moderate Democrat circles.
Bill Emmott, editor of the Economist and an old friend who used to be Tokyo Bureau Chief for the magazine, and his editors were big supporters of the Iraq War. They did not have unanimity in their circle — but the fact is that the Economist ate crow, for the most part, and admitted their failures of perspective and reporting this last year. I give them credit for that.
But mostly — though he is no longer at the Economist — Sebastian Mallaby deserves kudos for having the guts to pose exactly the right questions about Bush’s continual resistance of empirical reality — “Is he either ignorant or dishonest.”
Congratulations Sebastian Mallaby — for reacquainting us with our backbone and political conscience.
— Steve Clemons