September 12, 2010

WOW, HE REALLY IS JIMMY CARTER:

The Presidency, Chained to the World (MATT BAI, 9/12/10, NY Times)

[U]ntil the end of the Soviet Union, America’s economic and national security were largely self-determined, thanks to its manufacturing might and its ability to negotiate treaties with other states. But the advent of truly global markets, along with threats from non-state forces like Al Qaeda, changed all that. Now we live in an integrated world where American jobs rely on the economic policies of governments in Asia or Latin America, while our security is subject to the whims of a cleric living in a cave.

In “Futurecast,” his book about this new age, the economist Robert J. Shapiro notes that the percentage of the world’s combined gross domestic product that is traded across borders rose to just under 30 percent by 2005, from 18 percent in 1990.

The Stanford historian, David M. Kennedy, points out that for most of the 20th century, foreign trade accounted for roughly 10 percent of America’s G.D.P. That number started rising in the 1970s and now hovers at above 25 percent of G.D.P.

Mr. Kennedy said he suspected that his future fellow historians would classify our most recent presidencies as encapsulating an “era of globalization” in which “the whole concept of sovereignty is less meaningful than it once was.”

John Lewis Gaddis, the Yale historian and pre-eminent scholar of the cold war period, calls the last decade or so an “age of regression,” meaning that the popular notion of a “unipolar” world — one in which the United States was supposed to have no serious economic or military competitors — gave way to the realization that the best America could aspire to was a stable balance of power.

All of this has significant ramifications for Mr. Obama and our concept of the presidency generally. The presidents whose statues ring the National Mall are those who were deemed not just wise and just, but also masters of our national destiny. We celebrate them as decisive men who, by making the right choices, seemed to define and control the events of their times.

What the historians are suggesting, however, is that the modern president may simply not be able to exercise that same firm grasp — or at least not most of the time.


That whole "America is ungovernable" meme hasn't been trotted out since Presidents Ford and Carter showed they were incapable of governing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 12, 2010 9:44 AM
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