Kissinger and Sam Nunn — Kicking it Old School

The Los Angeles Times asks this week: Was Phil Gramm right?

At a gardening shop near where I live the proprietor points out that when the season opened this year she sold out of onions and potatoes in the first few days. In a time of scarcity, she said, people begin to stock up on basics. I see it all over — people up here building big gardens and turning to wood stoves. Local stores have sold out of them as well.

We are sensing the end of something. It has been rising for a long while, but now it has hit a nerve.

Phil Gramm’s recent comments were meant to scold and were no help to John McCain, but what he said about a “mental recession” has some relevance. “Mental,” or psychological factors are relevant influences on the culture and on the economy. They are fully predictable as a part of the business cycle because everything in human culture, including economic theory and its applied practice, comes first from the human psyche.

People sense that we are at a turning point. But when my neighbors across the river in Vermont, which has more invested capital per capita than any other state, get all survivalist and start grabbing up basic food stocks like onions and potatoes, it is misplaced anxiety. We are at the classic third-generation break point which generational theorists William Strauss and Neil Howe tell about; the moment in post-war time when the world ends and begins again.

And we are also still at end of the millennium. Or rather, we are no longer at the end of the last millennium but are beginning to feel our feet in the new millennium. But they are not solidly grounded yet. It is a big change and history could well show the Clintons and George W. Bush as the unfortunate Keepers, the mythic Twins which accompany the millennia. Only now we begin to face forward.

The change ahead is holistic; Billary and Bush will be left behind but so will the attendant cultures which accompanied these generations. And so will Phil Gramm be left behind. Gramm was a good head full of ideas and was man of the hour oh, say 20 years ago. McCain’s selection of him as a key adviser is telling. It reveals McCain to be a nostalgico candidate; one seeking to restore a vision of the past and beholden to the past.

He senses it himself; he is a man who like all red-blooded American boys from the ’50s felt aspiring to be president was the right thing to do, like going to church and playing sand lot baseball. But McCain is, if nothing else, a decent American and he knows that there is nothing really in his history or his present repertoire which would actually make him a good president. This is where the new uncertainty is coming from in his recent daily stumbling. And he is the warrior who has proven to be willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the party and the good of the country, like the fighter pilot after being shot up in the air, considering his options and trying to find the steady-mindedness and balance to identify an appropriate target to hit on crashing.

That is why he is likely to avoid the fancifulness and novelty in picking a VP, like some of the strange bachelor farmers and religious exorcists being suggested to him. That is why he will choose someone who can prepare the Republican party for 2012 and begin to rebuild from there. Obama — “The One,” as McCain has come to call him — has it wrapped up this time around and McCain can see that with some relief. Larry Sabato, the Virginia political analyst, compares the current race with the Eisenhower/Stevenson contest in which Eisenhower won all but a few Southern states, McCain being the Aldai Stevenson of the Republican Party. A pretty good analogy.

But Obama would do well to look beyond McCain and look to 2012 as well or his rising star will have come with the dust and like those of so many pseudo-political saviors which appear at turnings, will be gone with the wind by 2010. McCain’s logical choice is Mitt Romney and he is the choice of the Bushes as well, who McCain sees as wiser and more pragmatic than he is. Go back and look at Romney’s campaign logo; it is easily mistaken for that of the New England Patriots. Both Obama and Romney well — perhaps masterfully - understand organization but in their very different ways.

Romney’s creative management gifts should not be overlooked. If he looks stiff, he can also be versatile. In recent days his sideburns have grayed, and he has begun to look strangely and remarkably like Billy Graham. But when Fox reporters asked him recently: Governor Romney, Obama says Americans should talk French. Shouldn’t the French talk American just like Jesus talked? Romney stepped aside and wouldn’t play. He is actually fairly fluent in French having journeyed to Paris as a young man on his Mormon mission.

Obama is all about establishing new forms and his political survival beyond 2011 depends on it. He is good at it and he has a great team in this primary season. It is beginning to look like Jack Reed, the Senator from Rhode Island, could be his VP choice but Kathleen Sebelius, Governor of Kansas, is also said to be a front-runner.

What he doesn’t need, and he probably knows this, is someone who will share the spotlight with him or even a VP who would be thought of as the next President to follow him. But what he does need is a bulky offensive line to protect him up front. Like Romney, he might look to the well-managed Pats. Obama, tall, lanky, self-assured and keen of eye and wit, does on occasion display an unbearable lightness of being not entirely unlike the Patriots’ quarterback who often seems to be just standing by himself in the field, aloof and alone with his thoughts, or waiting for something that the rest of us can’t see, until he throws the ball. But when the ball is thrown it is thrown as it has never been thrown before.

Forget VP, like Tom Brady, Obama needs to stand alone and like Brady, he needs bulls up front for protection. I’d suggest a bulky offensive lineup starting with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chicago’s Bill Daley and New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, with Daley as chief of staff. They are three of the most competent people in politics today and if Obama doesn’t poach two of them they are very likely to go to McCain/Romney.

This would be political theater on Obama’s part with the emphasis on theater. But it worked for Ronald Reagan, who brought far more than himself to the Oval Office. He brought a lineup. Forget VP. A great President stands alone and VPs advancing to the Presidency are always a disappointment. TV, a feeling rather than a thinking venue, tends to create states of conditioned reflex and for no good reason have we come to look to VP as the next president. But James A. Baker, Reagan’s chief of staff, would have made a far better president than Bush I.

Cultural turnings are looked at either as end-times or beginning-times depending on whether or not your own personal time and influence is ahead or behind. Panic mentality — wealthy people buying survival staples like onions and potatoes in a high-end garden shop — is normal in a time of transition.

Evidence is everywhere today that the fourth post-war generation is at hand. One of the features of the ascending century and its first generation — a generation of patriots and heroes according to Strauss & Howe — will be warrior-quality intensity in politician and poet. Singular individuals like Picasso will arise, who, when asked what he sought in painting replied, “I don’t seek. I find.”

Recently, my kids have been suggesting movies on the lives of artists and writers who were purely dedicated to pursuits of perfection and masters of their tasks and crafts; artist Jackson Pollock and writer Truman Capote in particular. Recent movies on their lives have won academy awards, but these great artists have long been absent from the public eye.

This presents to us a new trend; a trend which is diametrically opposed to Clinton-era soccer-mom culture in which everyone gets a trophy. As Bruce Wayne tells us (that would be The Dark Knight), mastery and perfection seeks no trophy and usually gets none. It is above and beyond the “excellence” theme of the Reagan period and its current moment can be seen in the work of the warrior artist who sought mastery and perfection and found it and died trying: Heath Ledger in the role of the Joker in the current blockbuster, “The Dark Knight.”

The new generation recalls the Old Masters, say Strauss and Howe, like Pollock and Capote. It seeks the “Gray Champions” of honor and integrity from grandparent’s day. And we are suddenly seeing that today.

In the last nine months we have heard the voices of wise elders which seem to have been silenced for decades, particularly those of Sam Nunn and Henry Kissinger, who have called for a quieting of the political rhetoric and the end of the hubris that has punctuated foreign policy and threatened world stability here at the turning of the millennium.

In a recent essay in The Washington Post, Kissinger calls for a stabilization of relations with Russia, which the young and the restless of recent years have jeopardized with their naïve display of manlies.

“Ever since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, a succession of U.S. administrations has acted as if the creation of Russian democracy were a principal American task,” he writes. “Speeches denouncing Russian shortcomings and gestures drawn from the Cold War have occurred frequently. Proponents of such policies assert that the transformation of Russian society is the precondition of a more harmonious international order. They argue that if pressure is maintained on the current Russia, it, too, will eventually implode. Yet assertive intrusion into what Russians consider their own sense of self runs the risk of thwarting both geopolitical and moral goals.”

Sam Nunn, has joined Kissinger in calling for a return to sense and sensibility in foreign policy.

Not long ago, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Nunn, who retired from the Senate more than ten years ago, “ … has watched what's happened to the country, and he's more than a bit ticked — at the "fiasco" in Iraq, a federal budget spinning out of control, the lack of an honest energy policy, and a presidential contest that, he says, seems designed to thwart serious discussion of the looming crises.”

Kissinger and Nunn have been working together recently in calling for a world free of nuclear weapons. Obama expressed agreement with Nunn when Nunn held a bi-partisan conference on these issues last summer, which Bloomberg and David Boren of Oklahoma attended. Susan Eisenhower, who perhaps more than anyone has been steadfast in pushing for a new approach like Kissinger and Nunn are calling for, has also endorsed Obama.

Nunn has recently called attention to the urgency of the situation in Afghanistan and Obama has reflected these comments in his visit to the Middle East. Time magazine has already picked up on the new zeitgeist and on its cover this week calls the deployment in Afghanistan, “the right war.” It was announced recently that Nunn has been selected by Obama as a senior advisor on foreign policy. Nunn is almost certain to hold a foreign policy position in an Obama administration.

This is a good beginning at a contentious turning with high gas prices, amorphous economic woes, wonderful David Attenborough nature videos on PBS and urgent voices assuring us that the end is imminent; voices like Carl Sagan’s and Paul R. Ehrlich’s, whose professorial and earnest tome, The Population Bomb, assured us in the 1970s with all scientific credibility that we would certainly be long dead by now. This world today is much like that world of the later 1970s.

But back then things began again with Ronald Reagan. And things really got moving with the publication of a few books like Ezra Vogel’s Japan as Number One and Robert Christopher’s The Japanese Mind. America suddenly realized we had two oceans, one on each side, and the countries on the other side of the Pacific were rich and creative and getter better at what we did and in what we thought only we could do.

I hope the young’ns continue to bring forth warrior artists like Heath Ledger. And I hope Obama does look post-partisan as he claimed he would when he showed his enthusiasm for the Kissinger/Nunn principles. Here is a couple he might bring in as well: Winston Lord and Betty Bao Lord, American ambassadors and China hands at the time when the West first fully awakened to China as a rising culture and economy. Because whether we accept it or rebel from it, the century begins next month and not at the Democratic or Republican conventions. It begins on August 6, in China, the opening day of the 2008 Olympics.

The basic staples of life in this ascending world will not be onions and potatoes. They will be mastery and perfection because when it gets to the tipping point, and things always do, they will be the tools we need to survive and to flourish.

Visit Mr. Quigley's website at http://quigleyblog.blogspot.com.

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