Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tom Ricks Finds Himself Drifting to the Left

Tom Ricks is a great writer on the American military whose comments have often appeared here. He recently wrote an essay on Politico in which he described his own political evolution:
In my late 50s, at a time of life when most people are supposed to be drifting into a cautious conservatism, I am surprised to find myself moving steadily leftward.

This is unexpected. It comes even as I am financially comfortable and enjoying my work. (I’m writing this from my summer home in Maine.) I’m not a natural progressive—I spent the last quarter century covering the U.S. military, first for the Wall Street Journal and then for the Washington Post, and now for Foreign Policy magazine. I have written five books about the Marines, the Army and our wars.

I am puzzled by this late-middle-age politicization. During the time I was a newspaper reporter, I didn’t participate in elections, because I didn’t want to vote for, or against, the people I covered. Mentally, I was a detached centrist. Today I remain oriented to the free market and in favor of a strong national defense, so I have hardly become a radical socialist.

But since leaving newspapers, I have again and again found myself shifting to the left in major areas such as foreign policy and domestic economic policy. I wonder whether others of my generation are similarly pausing, poking up their heads from their workplaces and wondering just what happened to this country over the last 15 years, and what do to about it.
As the issues that have driven him leftward Ricks lists:
  • our dismal performance in the Afghan and Iraq wars
  • torture
  • our use of mercenaries
  • increasing economic inequality ("I also have been dismayed by the transfer of massive amounts of wealth to the richest people in the country, a policy supported over the last 35 years by successive administrations of both parties. Apparently income redistribution downward is dangerously radical, but redistribution upward is just business as usual.")
  • the contempt of our intelligence apparatus toward the citizenry (bad enough that they spy on us, worse that they won't tell us straight out what they are doing or offer any kind of justification for it)
  • bailouts for rich bankers
  • Supreme court verdicts that put democracy up for sale
  • gun massacres
I find it interesting that Ricks begins his list with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He covered both, and was dismayed by what he saw -- his book on Iraq is called Fiasco -- but then so were a lot of people who have remained neocons. I can only imagine that his experience of the lying, double-dealing and cavalier attitude toward peons that radiated from the Bush administration aroused in him a feeling that something was fundamentally wrong, and that this feeling was what drove him to rethink his own political positions.

My political evolution was somewhat similar, although I started out from a position that was ambivalent rather than detached. It was the reign of Bush II that drove me toward a firm leftist view, as he carried on with one policy after another that I had simply believed impossible -- that will never happen, I told myself about things ranging from the size of his tax cut to his invasion of Iraq to his open embrace of torture.

The sense that something is very much wrong in America is widespread. Sadly, it is divided about equally between leftists like Ricks and me and others who think the main problems are government and sexual immorality and the solutions are tax cuts and religion. That is hardly a set-up for successful reform.

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