The Long View 2006-05-12: Three Presidents

By LokiiT - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

By LokiiT - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

From the Wikipedia article, Demographics of Russia, it would appear that whatever changed in Russia in 2006 had pretty much the desired effect.

Three Presidents

President Putin's State of the Nation Address this week bears comparison with the major speeches of FDR, one of which it apparently cites. The range of social and military reconstruction it contemplates is at least as great as what Franklin Roosevelt grappled with in 1933. There are differences, of course, one of which is that the Russian Federation is flush with oil money, which means that, unlike the United States and Germany during the 1930s, it need not withdraw from the world economic system while effecting reconstruction at home.

The most ambitious part of Putin's agenda, and the one most noted by the international media, is a basket of programs to reverse Russia's demographic implosion. The great oil-tanker of informed opinion in the West has still not quite reversed course from worrying about population growth, so it is interesting to see how the press conceptualizes the issue. Here is what the New York Times had to say:

Much of the fall in the birthrate is caused by economic concerns: low wages, shortages of decent housing and worries over finding a job and keeping it in a volatile economy, and with laws that provide little job security.

This would be plausible, if the Times did not note a few paragraphs later that other countries in quite different economic circumstances are having a similar problem and implementing remedial measures of their own:

Some Japanese localities, facing near catastrophic population loss, are offering rich incentives. Yamatsuri, a town of 7,000 just north of Tokyo, offers parents $4,600 for the birth of a child and $460 a year for 10 years. Singapore has a particularly lavish plan: $3,000 for the first child, $9,000 in cash and savings for the second; and up to $18,000 each for the third and fourth.

The communist regimes of Eastern Europe attempted drastic pro-natalist policies. The policies worked for a while, but fertility rates soon fell again. Much the same happened in Sweden. One can only repeat: demography is mysterious. Nonetheless, I would suggest that Putin's program, like the family-friendly tax and social policies in the United States from the 1930s to the 1960s, may be less important for its own effect than as an indicator of the cultural climate.

* * *

Meanwhile, in the United States, President Bush seems to need to make a few Rooseveltian addresses of his own.

I would argue that Bush's strategic initiatives have been notably successful: not only did he complete the war in the Persian Gulf that his father began, on what now looks to be stable terms, but he ended Libya's appallingly extensive WMD program and succeeded in turning the EU against Iran. This will all look very impressive to historians (or perhaps, as The Onion has suggested, to revisionist historians).

His immediate problem, however, is that the transition to a post-petroleum economy is accelerating and his administration is taking the blame for the friction. Presently, we will see the folly of bragging about deficit-ballooning tax cuts at a time when inflation is becoming a danger again. Don't forget that medical-insurance rates are up 10% and 15% again this year. And then there is the president's Alien from the Outer Nebula attitude toward immigration. (I use "Alien" in this context to mean "foreign to popular opinion," not to refer to actual aliens from the Outer Nebula, but if any such aliens were present illegally in the United States and working in the construction business then I am sure the president would argue that they were here just to support their families). The upshot of all this is that the president's approval rate has fallen to 29%: not because his enemies have grown in number, but because his friends have despaired of him.

His friends are clueless too. Here, from The DC Examiner, we see what Bush's base is saying:

Most important, Mr. President, secure the borders. Build the wall now. Tell Mexico the border is officially closed to illegal immigration and demand respect from that country for all U.S. laws. And stop using our own Border Patrol against patriotic Americans who are simply trying to help protect this nation from intruders who mean us ill.

In other words, the Republican base wants the party to run "against the government" again, as it did in 1980. The problem with that strategy was that it succeeded. It installed a political culture blind to the importance of plain-vanilla good administration, of which fiscal integrity is the first consideration.

I would not trade America's problems for Russia's, but we should note that Putin's speech was more encouraging than anything Bush is likely to say in the near future.

* * *

This brings us to President Achmedinajad's Grand Remonstrance to President Bush, the text of which is available here.

No, this was not a "last warning" to embrace Islam. The letter does not exhort Bush to embrace Islam, but rather to return to the teachings of Jesus. The most interesting aspect of the letter is its real audience, which the beginning of the letter indicates:

For sometime now I have been thinking, how one can justify the undeniable contradictions that exist in the international arena -- which are being constantly debated, specially in political forums and amongst university students. Many questions remain unanswered. These have prompted me to discuss some of the contradictions and questions, in the hopes that it might bring about an opportunity to redress them.

Note that the letter attempts a global perspective of the antiglobalist variety, with just a few theological sprinkles on top. There is quite a lot about Latin America, which no doubt reflects the Islamic Republic's rapprochement with Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. All-in-all, this letter looks like the kind of thing that have might proceeded from the pro-Islamist European Left.

If the Iranian version of antiglobalism is Achmedinajad's base, then he has far greater problems than George Bush does.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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