Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

24 December 2011

Jon Huntsman: A Good Man Ignored

[For a brief note on a small ray of light in our media darkness—Time Magazine—click here.]

I don’t know much about former Utah governor Jon Huntsman. But everything I know I like.

Nearly six months ago I noted two unique things about him. First, as Obama’s former ambassador to China, he speaks fluent Mandarin. That means he can deal well with our nation’s most important business partner and rival (by far!) and the nation most likely to overtake us economically in the next two decades (earlier if the big banks blow up our economy again). It also means he can uniquely command the respect of a nation that for millennia considered itself the center of human civilization.

Second, Huntsman is a diplomat. He knows how to say things—even important things—without getting people needlessly riled up. That’s what diplomats do, and that’s apparently what Huntsman did.

Diplomats only make the news when they screw up. We never heard about Huntsman as ambassador to China. So he must have worked quietly and well, just like the President.

These things alone make Huntsman—by far—the most serious Republican as a candidate to govern our nation.

But the media ignore him because he’s a real candidate. He’s not an amusing buffoon like the succession of inexperienced, not-Romney morons whom the media have anointed as “leading” contenders so far (except for Newt, who has plenty of experience, all bad).

Now we learn a third positive thing about Huntsman, just this week. Leading Time columnist Joe Klein reported it in his personal “Teddy” (political courage) awards. First Klein praised Huntsman for believing in evolution and global warming, like all sane people but unlike nearly all of his Republican rivals. Then Klein dropped this little bombshell:
“Huntsman [has] proposed the only plan offered by any candidate, including Obama, to break up the big banks and move our economy, in the long term, back towards productive investment and away from speculation.”
One of our biggest and gravest national problems (a large part of number nine out of ten on my list) is our media. They are a joke. Recently the New York Times buried the EU’s caving to gamblers and casinos in a single sentence, with a double negative, hidden in the middle of a long story. Now we hear of Huntsman’s real solution for a very real problem in a bit of year-end fluff (although, coming from Klein, more thoughtful fluff than most).

That story was big news because Huntsman is the only serious candidate for president on the Republican side. Romney is a jerk and unelectable and, with only one gubernatorial term under his belt, would be the most inexperienced President in American history. But much more important, breaking up the big banks is the best way to stop their gambling and swindling and protect our fragile economy from the very real threat of a second Great Depression.

As every economist and antitrust lawyer knows, structural solutions are often the best way to deal with serious economic problems, especially long-term, structural ones. Cutting the big banks down to size so they are no longer “too big to fail” is a far better solution to their collective financial depredation than trying to watch their every move through multiple competing federal agencies. I have proposed specific means (which I think could be made perfectly legal) to break them up and prevent another utterly gratuitous financial catastrophe, which would make China the world’s leading economic power far ahead of its already-ambitious schedule.

So if Huntsman says “break the big banks up” and so prevent the coming second Great Depression, that’s big news that every voter should know. It’s big news even if its only effect is to drive the President and his advisors to a similar conclusion.

But would all who heard about Huntsman’s proposal before reading this post (or Klein’s “Teddy Awards” piece) please raise their hands? The media have grossly underreported this story, and Huntsman’s candidacy generally, because they are either: (1) in Wall Street’s pocket or (2) simply incompetent.

Resurrecting Time

While on the subject of our failing media, I’d like to note a rare counterexample: Time Magazine.

When I was a kid, Time was part of the old Luce media empire. It was consistently, and often stupidly, right wing, virtually a Republican house organ. I can’t remember how many times my father threatened to (or did; I don’t recall) cancel our subscription for bias in reporting.

How Time has changed! My wife has had a subscription for many years. And lately, I’ve been reading it more than usual. I’m making the transition between an obsolete netbook and a new MacBook Air. I can’t bear to risk getting food on that beautiful machine at the breakfast table. So when we recently came back from over six weeks away, I eagerly attacked our small pile of unread Times.

The collected issues had a few misses, like a shallow, cover-page psychobabble piece on anxiety. But they also had some reporting and analysis that I’d found nowhere else.

At the top of the list was a story on the success and relative moderation of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Coming at the national height of Fox-inspired Islamophobia and paranoia about the Arab Spring, it was a real eye-opener. A second story—equally unusual and equally important—discussed the dangerous alienation of our abused armed forces and what they face when they come home to a nation that didn’t really know it was at war. The headline read, “The Other 1%.” Time also re-introduced me to an old friend, Van Jones, who is now an organizer with Occupy Wall Street. It’s nice to know what’s happening to unafraid activists like him.

That was not all. Time has columnist Joe Klein, a superb writer and thinker. Now that Bob Herbert and Frank Rich of the New York Times have retired and Paul Krugman repeatedly writes the same column over and over again (“more stimulus!”), Klein may be the best in the business. With his honesty, his insight and his good turns of phrase, he is certainly a pleasure to read.

Finally, Time’s year-end piece, made “The Protestor,” worldwide, “Person of the Year.” That stroke of genius reflected real understanding of our zeitgeist, backed up by in-depth reporting and superior analysis.

It collected stories from the Arab Spring and all over the world. It showed how no one (perhaps outside of China) is satisfied with government. And it told how the Arab Spring’s techniques and procedures went viral globally, finding their way into some very unlikely places, including Russia and here at home.

These pieces are great journalism—fine reporting coupled with probing analysis and succinct, clear and often inspired writing. Many of them provide information that is readily available nowhere else.

Time is now on line, so I can cite and link to its superb journalism. Except for its thick year-end edition, I worry sometimes about emaciation of its weeklies. But maybe—unlike most media—when Time doesn’t have anything to say it doesn’t say it. What a concept!

So, no, unlike my late father, we won’t be canceling our subscription anytime soon. We’ll be recommending Time to friends. And I’ll be linking to it repeatedly on this blog.

Time is the best antidote to Fox. It comes in a compact and convenient weekly package. You don’t need power or long battery life to read its print version. And its good journalism just might help save our Republic. The next time you fly, buy a copy at the newsstand. It’ll give you a whole new and more accurate picture of the world out there.

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  • At Monday, December 26, 2011 at 11:28:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Dear Jay,

    I totally agree with you. Jon Huntsman's outstanding credentials are a sure bet that will make Obama nervous running against him to the White House. It's pathetic and unfortunate how the media can ruin a prospective Presidential candidate who has more sense and potential to lead our country out of our present catastrophic situation.

    Should any one of the three Musketeers (Gingrich, Perry and Romney) run against Obama, Obama is assured for the 2nd Presidential term.

    Best wishes for 2012!


  • At Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at 8:59:00 AM EST, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    Dear MAM,

    Thanks for the good wishes and your comment, which gives me the chance to correct what otherwise may have been a misleading impression.

    I can’t conceive of any circumstances under which I would actually vote for Huntsman. He’s a good man, but he represents the Party of Extremists, whose asinine ideology is destroying our country. It’s tragic that such a good man is trapped in such a dysfunctional party, which is extremely unlikely to nominate him.

    For the presidency in 2012, I unequivocally support the President. In my view, re-electing him with filibuster-proof majorities in both Houses of Congress is the best way to make significant progress on our multiple, grave and longstanding problems.

    That said, if somehow Huntsman managed to win the nomination and the presidency, I would feel far more comfortable with him in office than with Romney, let alone any of the not-Romney buffoons who have garnered so much undeserved public attention.

    As with any president, I would give a President Huntsman my loyalty, at least at first. (That’s something virtually no Republican did with President Obama—an attitude that, in my view, borders on treason.) With Huntsman, as distinguished from the other Republican contenders, I would hope for the best rather than fear the worst.



  • At Tuesday, December 27, 2011 at 9:17:00 AM EST, Blogger Jay Dratler, Jr., Ph.D., J.D. said…

    P.S. (to reply to MAM):

    One other point, at which I hinted in the post above. I would welcome the GOP’s nomination of Huntsman, despite the fact that I support the President and think Huntsman would be the strongest GOP contender in the general election.

    Why? I would hope Huntsman would control his staff and political consultants and raise the level of debate above puerile name-calling.

    In this hope I may well be naïve. I thought the same about McCain and turned out to be spectacularly wrong!

    Yet I would love to see the sort of substantive debate that Obama could have with a man like Huntsman if both controlled their advisors and kept the focus on real problems and real potential solutions. In particular, I would love to see the President respond to Huntsman’s sage proposal to break the big banks up, make them small enough to fail again, and so save our economy from public financing of future financial malefactors.




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