July 21, 2005


The Case for a Democratic Marker: an interview with Rick Perlstein (Christopher Hayes, 7/21/05, In These Times)

Journalist and historian Rick Perlstein's new book, The Stock Ticker and the Superjumbo: How the Democrats Can Once Again Become America's Dominant Political Party, begins with a "political parable" about the rise and decline of the American airplane giant Boeing. Founded in 1917 with a singular vision of cheap, accessible commercial air travel despite its huge risks, Boeing ultimately became one of the country's most successful companies by sticking to its ambitious vision through thick and thin. In the '80s, just as they were abandoning this long-term thinking for the quarterly profit-driven tactics approved by Wall Street, the upstart Airbus came onto the scene with their own long-term vision of the superjumbo. Boeing thought it folly, but it now appears that Airbus will get the last laugh--their new plane, the world's largest passenger aircraft, made its maiden voyage in April. For Perlstein, author of Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, this story serves as an analogy for the fortunes of the Democrats, who abandoned their own long-term project in the centrist '90s to please the "stock ticker" of the next election.

Sadly, all you really need to know about the Democratic Party these days is that their best minds think the top-down state intervention model that's saddled Airbus with this white elephant is superior to the more market driven model that has Boeing taking back the skies even after adjusting to unfair competition. They all think France is the future, bit none of them ever move there...

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 21, 2005 3:09 PM

The brilliant minds of the Left have, in just the last few years, wanted us to follow the Japanese model, and then the German model and now the French! What's next, the Chinese?

That's the one I like. We throw everyone we don't like into dungeon like jails and make them work for pennies a day and we have a gazillion dollar profit margin.

Every so often as those in jail die off, we merely make another sweep and we're good to go again. Watta system? Fool proof, and no more annoying harangues by the likes of Reid and Schumer.

Oh brave new world where are you.

Posted by: erp at July 21, 2005 3:31 PM

Democrats have been pushing 'third way' economics since the Japanese and German economies were poised to take over the world circa 1980. How's this any different?

Posted by: at July 21, 2005 3:53 PM

The great minds are attuned to HISTORY and they will guide us in its ways. And they wonder why they can't "market" this mire to Americans.

Posted by: Luciferous at July 21, 2005 4:12 PM

As is the case with anything that suits their agenda, the left believes the first reports, whether it's stories about Gitmo or Karl Rove, or tales from Joe Wilson. Everything after that is white noise.

In this case, Perlstein wants to believe that Airbus and its A-380 is going to be the state-sponsored juggernaut that smashes down Boeing, and all the discussions and reports that the consortium may be building the biggest white elephant of all time is just background noise (though to be fair, given publication lag times, the book probably came out before the safety questions about the A-380's weight started making it into the press).

Posted by: John at July 21, 2005 4:39 PM

This kind of stuff is so George Lakoff.

Perlstein (and I only know of him via this blog) should know better. When he speaks of left-of-center Democratic 'timidity', he seems totally unaware of the piercing nature of current political attack from the left.

Is it timid to call the President a "loser"? Is Howard Dean 'timid'? Was Barbara Boxer's inquiry into the validation of the Electoral vote 'timid'? Is the DU a place for 'timid' souls? What about John Conyers and all the theatrical 'hearings' he has sponsored? Is Al Sharpton more 'timid' than Jesse Jackson?

People on the left who complain about 'timid' Democrats are just upset because they don't have any power. But that's what happens when you lose election after election and insult the majority in the process.

Posted by: jim hamlen at July 21, 2005 4:46 PM

What made Boeing a great company wasn't simply long term focus, it was management's willingness to bet the company on a new airplane, not just once but repeatedly. Somehow I doubt Airbus has that same corporate culture.

Posted by: joe shropshire at July 21, 2005 4:58 PM

Keep up. Jane Galt ripped this apart weeks ago. I've been trying to work up a post of my own on it but it hasn't gelled yet.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 21, 2005 5:09 PM

Reading this kind of drivel just hurts my head. The new Airbus doesn't fit on any runways around the world. Airbus loses tons of money and is heavily subsidized by the French and other European governments, to the extent that it is probably violating pretty much every trade agreement there is.

This is economic success? Perlstein should stick to telling us about the glories of 'Five Year Plans' and leaving the real financial stuff to the adults.

Posted by: bart at July 21, 2005 5:31 PM


No, really, the way to frame the issue to recapture the American voter is to say that Democrats are the French plane and Republicans the American one. trust me....

Posted by: oj at July 21, 2005 5:41 PM

Yes, implicitly, but will the French plane pass "The Global Test"? That's what the emerging Democratic majority wants to know.

Posted by: Luciferous at July 21, 2005 5:52 PM

One other thing about the new Airbus. The landing gear could not be retracted during the test flight.

I'll let those guys who know more about aerodynamics do the real laughing about that one.

Posted by: bart at July 21, 2005 6:03 PM


Which makes her only a year late:


Posted by: oj at July 21, 2005 6:14 PM


And the Marxist model and they thought Nazism and the New Deal worked.

Posted by: oj at July 21, 2005 6:16 PM

I was thinking of my witty repostes to this thought when my head exploded. It was when I read Orrin's claim that the left "thought Nazism...worked."

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at July 21, 2005 7:42 PM

Mr. Judd,

The Left definitely thought that Facism worked for a while, at least under Mussolini. Nazism-- well, they did seem to agree that he helped the German economy, so I suppose that counts as as working.

Posted by: John Thacker at July 21, 2005 7:57 PM

It's hard to know what's most to hate about it: the delicious food and wine, the relaxed lifestyle, the beautiful public spaces, the lovely women...

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at July 21, 2005 11:29 PM

Rick Perlstein:

Surely a smart guy like you has read John Kenneth Galbraith's odes to the supposedly wonderful Keynesian policies Hitler instituted for the Third Reich?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 21, 2005 11:38 PM

Let's see the citation, Matt. I've got plenty of Galbraith's books. My guess is that you're making an incorrect inference, the same one Lon Hamby makes in his awful new comparative history of the Depression that I reviewed in the times: because (1) the early New Deal contained corporatist elements (they were soon wiped out), and (2) Nazi Germany claimed to have tamed inflation and other economic problems through a program that claimed corporatist elements (actually they controlled inflation by shooting people who raised prices), Americans who endorse corporatism must be sympathetic to what the Nazis did.

That makes no sense. It's like saying that because Tigers and people are both mammals, tigers are the same as people.

Of course, if Galbraith somewhere was stupid enough to say that Hitler was a Keynesian, and that his Keynesianism was what made his economy survive (instead of what actually made his economy survive, terrorism and slave labor), then Galbraith was an idiot. I've always thought Galbraith was wrong about most things.

It's a profound intellectual flaw endemic to contemporary conservatism to assume that everyone to the left of center is responsible for the inanities of everyone else to the left of center.

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at July 22, 2005 12:32 AM


Explain WWII.

Posted by: oj at July 22, 2005 12:36 AM

Rick -- and vice versa.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 22, 2005 12:41 AM

A madman, a lout trying to keep up (see the great essay on Mussolini in the New York Review a couple of months ago), and society gone made with militarism try to take over the world, and much of the rest of the world unites in a military alliance to stop them?

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at July 22, 2005 12:54 AM

Partially right. Hardly anyone tried to stop him, just those who believed his system worked so well that he could take over.

Posted by: oj at July 22, 2005 12:59 AM

Ah. So let me guess. You're of the "we should have let Hitler and Stalin fight it out to their mutual death" school of isolationism?

Posted by: Rick Perlstein at July 22, 2005 1:01 AM

Anyone who believes neither system could succeed is--only those who believe in the efficacy of one, the other, or both, can justify moving Hitler out of Eastern Europe and Stalin in.

Posted by: oj at July 22, 2005 1:09 AM

Rick Perlstein:

Whoa, you're putting words in my mouth, I've never suggested that most liberals are sympathetic to the Nazis, but I have heard some liberals claim that Nazi economic policies worked. I think OJ was referring to that belief specifically and nothing else. If Lon Hamby actually said what you claim he said, then I'm certainly not sticking up for him.

The point is that many liberals have intellectual weaknesses for economic planning of various sorts and to the extent Hitler participated in that they believe it to have been successful. That's not to say they approve of the Third Reich as a whole. It's similar to the attitude of certain liberals who thought that the Soviet police state was deplorable but who believed that the putative Soviet emphasis on "economic rights" was a good idea. I think that attitude is mistaken but it's clearly not the same thing as sympathizing with the KGB or Brezhnev or the jailing of internal dissidents.

I came across the Galbraith piece in a book of essays that I can't find at the moment, but as I recall it was dated to the early 70s and it may have been printed in the Saturday Evening Post (the title of the piece also made reference to Keynes's famous crack that his name rhymes with "brains"). Galbraith made an explicit link between Nazi economics and Keynes in the essay. If I manage to find it I'll email you a citation.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 22, 2005 1:12 AM


Harry has gone so far as to claim that Hitler had an advantage against the US because of the superior organization of his economy.

Posted by: oj at July 22, 2005 1:45 AM

Any socialistic port in a storm.

Or albatross.

Posted by: Sandy P at July 22, 2005 1:48 AM


You ever find yourself wondering just how Harry can know so much about WWII minutiae and yet get the big stuff horribly wrong?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 22, 2005 1:56 AM


No. I was a history major at a time when "primary sources" were all the craze. The more deeply people delved into details the less they understood history until you had people like Bellisles arguing that guns were unimportant to American culture because he couldn't find sales receipts for them or whatever. The culture of specialization has led to people with knowledge that is so narrowed down that they can't see the wider picture any more.

Posted by: oj at July 22, 2005 2:03 AM

The claim that Nazism and Communism were opposed across a linear political spectrum where one was left and the other was right is nonsense.

Both Parties were heirs of syndicalism and they only opposed each other only in the practical political sense. Both were anti-liberal, anti-Bourgoise and anti-Christian. Neither had any affinity for the traditional European conservatism based on tradition and religion.

The Nazis lost to the Communists who got to write the histories, but if it had gone the other way, the Nazis would be progressives and the Communists would be the reactionaries. The use by the Communist of a political typology derived from 18th century France reflects their desire to muddle the real differences between the parties, which were their nation and their Leader.

It was only German Empire vs Russian Empire. That is all.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at July 22, 2005 2:09 AM

"They all think France is the future, bit [sic] none of them ever move there."

I hereby offer Mr. Perlstein a one way ticket to France, if promises to stay there and not darken the American media again. Coach, off-peak, may have stops.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at July 22, 2005 2:14 AM

"They all think France is the future, bit [sic] none of them ever move there."

I hereby offer Mr. Perlstein a one way ticket to France, if promises to stay there and not darken the American media again. Coach, off-peak, may have stops.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at July 22, 2005 2:16 AM


Yes, I remember Robert Conquest writing that students these days are sloughing off tough or controversial topics and composing theses with titles like "Grain Output in Albania from 1945-1947."

A history professor I had as an undergrad reviewed Bellesiles's thesis before it became a book. This professor was the only conservative on the history faculty but he took Bellesiles's thesis seriously because Bellesiles argued his case on a number of different fronts and of course my professor never dreamt that Bellesiles falsified data. Bellesiles made some arguments that did not dwell on the probate records, but if you're going to live by specialization you must die by it, too: once it was proven that the probate records were crap, Bellesiles's whole argument tumbled and for all I know he's grilling frozen cow parts for a living these days.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at July 22, 2005 3:15 AM

As you know, I lived in France for 3 years, loved the place, had a great time, have dual citizenship and vote in French elections.

It would take a lot, like the Hildebeest winning the Presidency and taking a Democrat Senate and House with her where the balance of power would not be with 'BLue Dog' Democrats in order for me to even consider living there again.

Rick, the public spaces are nice, the women when they get past 30 can be beautiful, the food and wine have no equal. The 'relaxed life style' has a lot more to do with confiscatory tax rates, and over-regulation of start-up enterprises, and government-enforced cartels for pretty much every activity, than any personal choice. Permanent unemployment is around 15%. The road system is abominable. The public transit is run by the Communist unions and goes on strike if someone gets a hangnail. Utility costs are outrageous as are real estate taxes. Gasoline is about $9/gallon, and contrary to popular belief, if you live outside a major city, you need a car to get around.

French medical care, while still good, suffers from a growing shortage of qualified physicians due to the low pay, particularly for specialists, from the national health service. Street crime, particularly in the Red Belt, is off the charts, far worse than any place in the US. The gendarmerie are afraid to go to the housing projects in the banlieue. You're safer in Cabrini-Green than in St Ouen. Is there any place the NYPD is afraid to go?

Posted by: bart at July 22, 2005 9:57 AM

I've been reading articles about the impending American decline since the late 1970's - early 1980's. I would like to know when this "impending" implosion is going to occur because it sure has been a long time coming.

Posted by: Mikey at July 22, 2005 10:14 AM

Mikey: If we're always crashing, how come Europe is always burning?

Posted by: David Cohen at July 22, 2005 1:12 PM

Perhaps an example of "The grass is always greener" syndrome?

Posted by: Mikey at July 22, 2005 1:16 PM