THE BLOG
03/13/2006 10:32 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Ports Post-Mortem

The Dubai deal is dead, and few are sorry to see it end this way. In fact, there hasn't been this much bipartisanship since the Era of Good Feelings nearly two hundred years ago. The Republicans in the Senate and the House, led by the likes of Rep. Peter King (R- New York), have asserted their independence from an increasingly unpopular president, and the Democrats have managed simultaneously to reconnect with their populist base and seem more stringent on national security. Polls show that upwards of 70% of the American public either strongly opposed or somewhat opposed the takeover, and with the capitulation of the company, there has been no dearth of back-patting, from Capitol Hill to the blogsphere.

But there is something disturbing going on here. The Left is now engaged in the same level of hyperbole and demagoguery that they have so correctly excoriated the Right for: anyone who questions the opposition to the deal is labeled either a corporate stooge or a stalking horse for the president. For its part, the Right has capitalized on nativist fears of Arabs and Islam, and on both sides, those who challenge what's gone on are treated as elitists out of touch with the public.

It's hard to know where to start, but for starters, the American public is not always right. In 1882, substantial majorities of the public supported the exclusion of Chinese immigrants; in 1919, many opposed U.S. participation in the League of Nations; and in 1942, similarly high percentages applauded the internment of Japanese-Americans. In the first two years of the 1950s, Joe McCarthy was a rather popular man, supported by no less than the liberal hero of later years, Robert Kennedy. Just because most people support the outcome of the ports affair doesn't mean that it was right, nor that it will be seen as right in retrospect.

Second, the facile linkage of Dubai to terrorism is one of the more shameless arguments put forth by opponents across the political spectrum. The fact that Dubai was a financial base for the organizers of 9/11 is unarguable, but so were cities in Germany, the UK, and the United States. Dubai has a banking system that is more like Swiss banks than Swiss banks are today, allowing for a great deal of anonymity. But the use of that system doesn't make the government of Dubai complicit in terrorism anymore than the use of U.S. servers and email systems like Yahoo, Google, and AOL, make the United States a technological haven for al-Qaeda.

And third, killing the deal doesn't make our ports one iota more secure. Where are the opponents now? Are they demanding federal spending on expensive equipment to screen incoming containers? No, because while almost all voters walk through airports, almost no voters walk through ports. There's political advantage to be gained from bashing the deal and the president, but none from significantly enhancing port security - until there is an attack.

Enough people have noted by now that most U.S. ports operations are already controlled by foreign companies, including state-owned enterprises from China and Singapore. That leads anti-globalization voices to say, hey, let them be run by U.S. companies, but surprise, there are no U.S. companies left that can run the ports on such a massive scale (in fact, it is possible, as several senators noted over the weekend, that if no U.S. buyer can be found, DP World may ultimately end up running the ports in spite of everything, which means that six months from now, the deal will have de facto gone through, except no one will know it). The ship of globalization has sailed, and nothing is going to alter that.

That leads to the final issue: the Bush administration may deserve as much criticism as this blog and the American public can dish out, but not for this and not in this way. Big business has assumed a dominant position in political and economic life, but that is a development that far transcends George Bush and his cronies. In fact, it is not simply the result of corporations: it is the product of our desires, of the American public's desire for things that are cheap, from fuel to homes to gadgets. Impeach Bush tomorrow and that will change not one whit.

Killing the deal has been deeply satisfying to many, but so is getting rip-roaring drunk and dancing all night. Believe it or not, it's possible to left and liberal and still feel deeply disturbed by the outcome here. Soon, we're going to wake up, maybe not tomorrow morning, but with an aching head and a bucket of regret. It's not just the anti-Arab sentiment that is so distasteful; it's the whole toxic brew that is us at our worst. It is the next chapter of childish glee at bringing an opponent down, the Left's mini-version of the Right's orgiastic assault on Bill Clinton, without a thought as to the longer-term consequences. We live in a world that is moving ahead with or without us, and if the port imbroglio is any indication, we will look back at these years as a turning point when the best that bipartisanship could do was help us fail collectively.