John Judis, a senior editor at The New Republic, addressed about one hundred people at Stanford University on Wednesday as a Hoover Media Fellow. Judis spoke for almost an hour on the issues facing our economy and how in the process of fixing these problems, Obama has the chance to solidify a Democratic majority for decades to come. For the crowd of mostly elderly members of the Hoover Institution and Stanford communities, this argument may not have been the greatest news but did open the door to intelligent discussion about the transition from a societal model that is industrial-based to one that is intellectual-based. To put the Obama administration into the context of a historical and socioeconomic timeline, Judis presented three ways of looking at history: geopolitical, economic and political.
First, there is the "theory of empire," which outlines periods of history according to the rise and fall of empires and likely the method by which school children begrudgingly memorized information for history tests. "It has a way of explaining how countries once at the top of the pyramid begin to fall," Judis said. He further quoted Lenin in predicting that when the No. 1 power begins to erode off the top of the pyramid, those lower in the stack begin to fight for power. Judis said "we've started to enter a period like that," suggesting that the U.S. has overreached itself at least militarily in Iraq and Afghanistan, which undermines its economic and political stability by diverting attention from home to overseas.
Then Judis suggested looking at history through business cycles, with the ebb and flow of prosperity and recession or worse yet, growth to depression and back. In case anyone in the room hadn't met with reality yet, Judis said that our current economic downturn is global and therefore far worse than previous recessions when certain countries that were not affected could at least help out those in trouble. "There isn't a silver lining in that respect," Judis said. He also reiterated that "we won't be able to get out of it by normal means," and that it would fall on Obama and his team to go to extraordinary measures.
The failing of both an all-powerful empire and economy together exacerbates rivalries between countries, according to Judis. "There's only one word to describe it: trouble." Within countries, these downfalls encourage what he calls "toxic nationalism."
The final prism through which Judis makes sense of today's events is political realignment, with the dominant party and perspective of the country changing every thirty or forty years. His own book The Emerging Democratic Majority foreshadowed the resurgence of the Democrats that began in the mid-2000s. "It reflects the coming of America in a post-industrial society," Judis said, "with new people coming in, professionals, immigrants, women in the workforce...more secular, more cosmopolitan."
More specifically, there have been "soft" vs. "hard" realignments, with the latter happening only when party power switches corresponding to a major crisis. "I hate to say it in this setting," Judis said, "but Herbert Hoover and the Republicans got nailed for the depression." With some heads shaking in the audience, Judis continued his argument nonetheless, that with a similar economic emergency at hand now, Obama has a chance for precisely such a hard realignment that could last for decades, if he can prevent total catastrophe.
"The world's people are going to have to get better control over what's happening to their relationships with each other - that's resources, finances."
Follow Natasha Chen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NChen_WREG3