Stockman Agonistes

Everyone’s pretty much forgotten about David Stockman, the supposed wunderkind director of OMB under President Reagan. If’s he’s remembered at all it’s for becoming a traitor to Reagan’s supply-side economic policy in 1981, with a series of ill-advised conversations with left-wing journalist William Greider, then of The Atlantic.

I call Stockman a “supposed” wunderkind because his intellectual probity and general disposition have always been unstable if not unsound. I observed this of Stockman in my second Age of Reagan volume:

Stockman himself would later characterize his role as “the Trotsky of the supply-side movement.” He was touted as the youngest financial wizard since Alexander Hamilton, but ended up exciting Jeffersonian outrage. In retrospect the signs of Stockman’s disharmony with Reagan should have been more easily recognized, for the odyssey of David Stockman encapsulates the crosscurrents and confusions of the baby boom generation. Raised in a Republican family on a rural Michigan farm, Stockman got caught up in the radical fervor of the New Left when he arrived at Michigan State University in 1964, where he drew the attention and surveillance of the Michigan State Police. He intended to study agriculture and return to the farm; instead, he studied Marxism, joined the radical Students for a Democratic Society, burned his draft card, grew his hair long, bought a guitar so he could croon Bob Dylan songs to coeds, and eventually ended up at Harvard Divinity School, where God is barely a dying memory. Stockman didn’t just strike the radical pose; he helped organize anti-Vietnam War protests, and participated in the most famous of the antiwar hijinks, the October 1967 March on Washington. Stockman downplays this period to some extent in memoir The Triumph of Politics, dismissing it as “my coffee house period.” . . .

Everyone missed the signs of what the Wall Street Journal’s Robert Bartley identified as Stockman’s “intellectual instability” and “congenital restlessness,” and James Q. Wilson called “ideological promiscuity.” He professed to be a supply-side true believer, and he brought to the coming budget battle the energy and intellect that Reagan needed. (Though for all his learning at Michigan State and Harvard, he apparently never took a course in economics.)

It appears that Stockman is returning to his New Left, intellectually promiscuous anti-war roots, because he embraced the “blowback” theory of Islamic terrorism on his website Monday:

Needless to say, the sudden end to 20th century history posed an existential threat to Imperial Washington. A trillion dollar complex of weapons suppliers, warfare state bureaucracies, intelligence and security contractors, arms exporters, foreign aid vendors, military bases, grand poobahs and porkers of the Congressional defense committes, think tanks, research grants and much more——were all suddenly without an enemy and raison d’etre.

As it has happened, Imperial Washington did find its necessary enemy in the rise of so-called “global terrorism”.

But the everlasting truth is that the relative handful of suicidal jihadi who have perpetrated murderous episodes of terror like 9/11 and this weekend’s carnage in Paris did not exist in November 1989; and they would not be marauding the West today save for the unrelenting arrogance, stupidity, duplicity and mendacity of Imperial Washington. [Stockman’s emphasis.]

So—murderous radical Islam didn’t exist before November 1989? I guess Stockman must have missed the whole Iranian revolution, and it’s “Death to America” chants. Or the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut. Stockman was probably busy with his green eyeshade pouring over the budget that day and missed the news.

Anyway, it’s a long rant complete with Nation magazine-worthy clichés about the military industrial complex and Neocons and what a dummy Ronald Reagan was, and you’re welcome to take it all in if you’re a glutton for punishment. Or simply take note that Stockman is now fit to keep company with Britain’s self-loathing Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbin. As Anne Applebaum notes in The Spectator, Corbin is blaming the West for the barbarism in Paris last Friday:

Before the bodies in Paris’s restaurants were cold, Jeremy Corbyn’s Stop the War Coalition knew who the real villains were — and they were not the Islamists who massacred civilians. ‘Paris reaps whirlwind of western support for extremist violence in Middle East’ ran a headline on its site. The article went on to say that the consequence of the West’s ‘decades-long, bipartisan cultivation of religious extremism will certainly be more bloodshed, more repression and more violent intervention’.

This flawless example of what I once called the ‘kill us, we deserve it’ school of political analysis takes us to the heart of Corbyn’s beliefs. . . Corbyn, along with too much of ‘progressive opinion’, has a mistrust bordering on hatred for western powers. They do not just condemn the West for its crimes, which are frequent enough. They are ‘Occidentalists’, to use the jargon: people who see the West as the ‘root cause’ of all evil.

Maybe Stockman, who is  a deep pessimist about America’s economic future, can get a post in the next Labour government.