It’s great to be here at the tail end of such fabulous baseball and political seasons. As everyone knows, the Curse of the Bambino dates to 1918, the last year the Red Sox won the World Series. Since Babe Ruth was traded to the Yankees in 1919, the Yanks have won 26 World Series, and the Sox have won…one. Before that trade the Yankees did not win a single World Series. The Cubs are also cursed, and you can date that either to 1908 or 1945, but the Goat is still in Chicago casting his spell.
There are curses in American politics, too. In the 70 year period from the Civil War until the Great Depression, only two Democrats were elected president, and the Democrats never controlled the White House, Congress and a majority of statehouses at the same time. All Republicans had to do was “wave the bloody shirt,” in other words remind people of the Civil War, and the Democrats would lose.
Then came the Great Depression and the Curse of Herbert Hoover, which remains unbroken. Since 1932 not a single presidential election has been held in which the GOP simultaneously controlled the White House, both houses of Congress, and a majority of statehouses… until this coming Tuesday. All the Democrats have had to do is mention Herbert Hoover’s name, as Senator Kerry has been doing, and Republicans lose.
So within five days we will find out if the Curse of Herbert Hoover, like the Curse of the Bambino, has finally been vanquished. It should be quite dramatic, and all the anxiety is already having a negative impact on national sleeping habits, productivity and the stock market.
This election is dramatic in many other ways as well. This is certainly the most interesting presidential campaign since 1980, and I believe the most important since 1932. It is the first presidential election since September 11th, the greatest catastrophe in American history except the Civil War. It is also the first national election since America launched her first ever pre-emptive war, which is ongoing in Iraq. And it will be a de facto referendum on whether Republicans are capable of managing the country up and down the entire electoral chain, as they have since 2002.
Regardless of who wins on Tuesday, the dominant issue or challenge of 21st century global politics is likely to be the overwhelming power of the United States of America, what we do with that power, and how other nations and peoples respond to it. Those of you in the military know first hand of our overarching military power in comparison with other nations, while spending only about 3.5% of our GDP per year at the Department of Defense. I’d now like to ask you to wrap your minds around the following statistics: With only 5% of the globe’s population, America has 31% of global GDP. That is up from 20% in 1980. We are both the largest importer and the largest exporter in the global economy. We have the highest standard of living and per capita income, outside of one or two small European city-states. 60% of global trade is done in dollars, and more than 4/5 of all foreign exchange transactions and half of all the world’s exports are denominated in dollars. Our military and economic power, coupled with corresponding diplomatic, cultural and political power are unmatched, not only today, but perhaps in all of history.
September 11th should have been a body blow to the United States. Our financial center was devastated, commercial air traffic shut down for days, our military command center clobbered, and the equivalent of all the commercial office space in metropolitan Atlanta wiped out in 102 minutes. More physical damage was done that day than at Pearl Harbor, coupled with the sudden mass murder of American civilians unlike anything we had seen since frontier days. And we were already in the midst of a recession and stock market collapse.
What happened? The recession ended the next quarter, and America has been growing ever since. We are still growing faster than Europe and Japan, which account for about 45% of global GDP, and household and business wealth is back above pre-attack, pre-recession, pre-stock market crash levels.
On September 10th our military, diplomatic and intelligence apparatuses were certainly not well configured for the terror war. Yet they have responded with impressive speed and success. America has sliced up Al Qaeda, overthrown two terror regimes on the other side of the world, realigned a third, and surrounded a fourth and fifth. We have now gone 37 months without the continental US being attacked again. Few would have predicted that on September 12th.
Turning the pages on 228 years of American history, you can’t help but think that this place is unstoppable. What accounts for this success? All the traditional explanations I think are valid: democratic self-government, excellent natural resources and geographic location, temperate climate, an industrious, generous population, a million new immigrants a year, a gigantic, productive economy and so forth. But there is an additional factor which is often overlooked, and is at the heart of my presentation today on the Congress: decentralization.
Outside of Switzerland, America has the most decentralized political economy in the world, and that has often been our insurance policy when things go wrong, and our catalyst when things go right. Our continental land mass and multi-trillion dollar economy diffuse power. Our Constitution is Federal and multilayered. Our financial and political capitals are separated by 300 miles, and our mass media and IT centers are 3000 miles from both. We have a global trading empire layered on top of a continental GDP. The IT revolution is reinforcing this decentralization, and it is not a coincidence that the Net is an American-invented, English-language driven phenomenon.
And perhaps most significantly, America has lots of regularly scheduled elections, including primary campaigns for major party nominations, even for our Commander in Chief, and decentralized power centers throughout the government even when no elections are taking place. Outside of Switzerland, we are also the heaviest user of the initiative and referendum, giving voters the direct power to write and pass laws in many states.
The Congress itself epitomizes decentralization. We learned from one of our peer competitors, the Roman Republic, not to centralize power in one Senate, but to have two distinct houses that are not directly controlled by the executive branch and vise versa, as they are in Parliamentary governments. One house has elections every two years, the president every four, and the other house every six, with no direct links between them. And elections are scheduled by the Constitution, not leaders currently in office. Now that’s decentralized power that is always under pressure to perform.
I’m sure I am as partisan as anyone in this room, and there are plenty of things the Congress has done over the years that I don’t like. But today I’d like to look at a few critical junctures in our recent history in which the Congress came through, in a big way, for national security, at times when the executive branch was pursuing misguided policies. In other words when our decentralized government worked to deliver true benefits to our nation’s security.
The Congress is not designed to run a national security strategy. The President rightly has that job. The presidency is an office marked by speed, secrecy and dispatch.
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