The Bush Administration Doesn't Want to Buy American
by Vince Page
We've all seen photo-ops of President Bush at the John Deere Plant and in front of piles of boxes marked "Made in the USA", ostensibly promoting products made in America, but behind the scenes the story is entirely different. Everyone in the Bush Administration from the Pentagon to the White House is fighting against a new bill that requires a modest increase in American content from 50% to 65% for items of defense. It's as if the administration wants potential enemies to supply defense-related items, and Americans are puzzled.
If recent history has taught us anything, it is that fair-weather friends can often become liabilities or even enemies when times get tough. This is certainly not a new problem. The Father of the modern free trade system Adam Smith wrote in his famous Wealth of Nations that a nation should always produce its items of defense inside its own borders . Admittedly, this concept is developed in the last chapter of the book, which may explain why it seems to have escaped the notice of the Bush administration.
There may be another reason. A good number of those in the Bush administration do not consider themselves to be cast from the Adam Smith mold or even from the pattern of the American System as delineated by Henry Clay, John Quincy Adams and others of their time, but rather from a die fashioned by the hand of one Leo Strauss, a German philosopher who passed away in 1973. The Economist reports that the so-called "Straussians" include Paul Wolfowitz (Deputy Secretary of Defense) and Abram Shulsky (Director of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans), who helped to form American policy on Iraq after 9/11. Of lesser significance are John Walters (the Drug Czar) and Leon Kass (Head of the President's Council on Bioethics). Every 4th of July, about 60 Straussians in the Washington, DC area get together for a picnic .
Leo Strauss believed in two concepts which are germane to this discussion. First, he rejected modern concepts of almost everything, preferring instead to read Socrates and Plato while looking for solutions to the problems of our time. There is nothing wrong with this, except that purchasing items of defense from foreign nation-states is a truly modern idea and one which would have puzzled anyone from ancient Greece, let alone their European successors. Second, Strauss believed that it is sometimes necessary to tell the "noble lie" as a way to coerce the masses into supporting a cause or behaving in a certain way. Put in modern terms, Straussians believe that the end justifies the means. It is this latter philosophy which leads some to believe that Straussians are a dangerous lot. It may also explain why no one seems able to get a straight answer out of the Bush administration on their dichotomy of views when it comes to buying American. One day, we see the president sitting on piece of John Deere farm machinery opining that the Russians should buy a few units, and the next we hear the same administration threaten to veto modest increases in American content for items of defense. The two positions are incomprehensible unless someone is lying about something.
Certainly Bush the Younger has not learned from the ordeals his father underwent in the first Gulf War, when we desperately needed to convert the ground-to-ground capability of Patriot missiles into ground-to-air capability. Understandably, this required new software and new computer chips, but the chips were made in Japan. The Japanese were quite busy making megabucks on other products and simply weren't interested in stopping production to deliver a few low-dollar chip sets. President Bush the Elder had to personally call the Japanese firm before a commitment could be obtained. And this wasn't the only incident. Bush the Elder was embroiled in repeat performances with other companies more than 30 times during the first Gulf War because the parts urgently needed by our boys and girls in uniform weren't made in America. You would think the Bush family would have learned by now.
Moreover, the economic consultants at the Joel Popkin Company in Washington, DC who have been around for a quarter of a century recently released a white paper which makes the case for a stronger manufacturing base in America. The study notes that there is a dramatic change underway in America as supported by the fact that manufacturing recovery during the current economic crisis is unusually anemic compared to past recoveries; that there has been an exceptionally rapid decline in manufacturing jobs which may well threaten productivity due to a loss of skills; that the pace of R&D; spending in real dollars cannot be sustained as a result; that current increases in productivity may only be reflecting the effects of corporate downsizing; that the United States is losing ground in world merchandise trade, and that industries which produce raw and primary products are no longer building new facilities in America . This should certainly emphasize the pressing need for something more than lip service and a photo-op when it comes to buying American.
To make matters even worse, the legislation for modest increases in American content is supported by the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, the steel industry, the steelworkers union, the machine tool industry, apparel and footwear manufacturers, electronics makers, shipbuilders, and the 20-member Defense Industrial Base Caucus in the House. They can't all be wrong.
It's not as if 65% of defense-related products must be made exclusively from American materials and supplied exclusively by American manufacturers. The new legislation means that an item supplied by anyone for defense-related purposes must contain a minimum of 65% American content rather than the former 50% requirement. It's actually a very weak buy-American bill.
It's also enough to make one wonder where those in the Bush administration have their collective heads stuck. If the Bush administration doesn't back this modest proposal, they sure aren't sticking the heads or their necks out for Americans and I, for one, would like to know why not.
- See http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN=0679424733
- See http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=1859009
Vince Page is the Communications Director for the Texas State Constitution Party and is a District Deputy for the Texas State Knights of Columbus. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
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