The Hoover Institution April Retreat 2008

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Hoover Institution’s April Retreat 2008 (April 20–22), began with political commentator P. J. O’Rourke’s before-dinner remarks on Sunday, April 20.

In his talk, O’Rourke humorously discussed past and present elections, opening by saying he was frightened of a Democratic presidency and supported a Republican presidency because it will lead to gridlock, which he considers good. O’Rourke voted for George W. Bush over John Kerry because, as he said, Kerry complained that we had won the war but lost the peace, and now Iraq was unstable. O’Rourke pointed out that when Iraq was stable it attacked its neighbors, gassed its people, and committed other atrocities. “A stable Iraq was dangerous,” said O’Rourke, “while an unstable Iraq is good.”

O’Rourke’s talk took on a more serious tone when he spoke of what he considers wrong with democracy: it’s not the politicians, it’s the politics. “Not all societal problems can be solved by politics,” O’Rourke said. He asked the audience to imagine if instead of making promises, politicians said, “No, I can’t fix the schools. The problem is with the kids.”

Retired General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2001 to2005, addressed “World War ‘X’: What’s at Stake in the Global War on Terror” in his talk before dinner on Monday.

Myers said he has long felt that the war on extremism, not terrorism, will be a long one and that it is important to use the correct terms when discussing the situation. Terrorism, he said, is a tactic or tool; extremists are the operatives wielding that tactic.

To be effective in this war, Myers said, the effort must be multifaceted and must offer offense and defense.

“To be successful, the nation must realize it is at war; it must have a long-term strategy against extremism,” he said. “Government must have an ability to bring instruments to bear on the situation; the nation must have patience, will, and resolve; and there must be good public discourse.”

Speakers at the April retreat covered a variety of issues, including the:

Presidential Campaign
“The 2008 Elections: Review and Preview” was the topic addressed by Hoover senior fellows David Brady and Morris Fiorina and University of Texas professor Daron Shaw. Brady outlined the trajectory of the primary presidential campaign to date, with a focus on the Hillary Clinton–Barack Obama race. Fiorina noted that, although political parties are often extreme in their platforms and aims, American voters for the most part have long been and continue to be moderate in their views, even on so-called hot-button issues such as abortion and guns, and in their voting behavior. Daron Shaw also reviewed the primary campaign sprint, noting that although polls indicate that a John McCain victory in November is unlikely, the continued tension between Clinton and Obama has diminished what should be notable Democratic energy at this point.

Senior fellow Niall Ferguson discussed the benefits of electing McCain to the White House in his talk “The Old Man and the (Blue) Sea: Why America Needs a McCain Presidency.” He believes, he said, that McCain is the only presidential candidate who could stand up to Iran with authority and who would not flinch should force be necessary.

China
During “China’s Looming Demographic Troubles,” Nicholas Eberstadt, American Enterprise Institute fellow, outlined China’s still-declining birthrate and its rapidly increasing senior population. These two factors, along with a lack of a pension system, an increasingly outspoken elderly population, and a marked imbalance between male and female newborns, point to conflict and difficulties in that country over the next 50 years. The United States, on the other hand, is still “an exceptional country,” with a large population of children, a still-growing population of immigrants, and an elderly population growing older at a slower rate than that in China.

Mark Helprin called for a stronger U.S. military, collaboration with allies, and establishing attainable war aims in “Rediscovering Deterrence: Preparing for War with China so as to Avoid War with China.” Helprin, a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, fellow of the American Academy in Rome, and author, warned that, as “China grows stronger, the U.S. grows weaker.” He said that although the United States believes it will never fight another large, technological peer power, China poses a threat.

Terrorism
In “Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-first Century,” University of Columbia law professor Philip Bobbitt drew from his book by the same title to discuss his concerns about terrorism, saying that every idea we hold about terrorism is wrong. The new terrorist movement he said, is global, networked, and outsourced. Al Qaeda has created a new model; terrorism is now more warlike. Bobbitt is also a member of the Hoover Institution’s National Security and Law task force.

Property Rights
Richard Epstein, the Peter and Kirsten Bedford Senior Fellow at Hoover and a University of Chicago law professor, addressed the issue of how property rights have gone by the wayside and how to return them. In Epstein’s remarks, based on his recent book Supreme Neglect: How to Revive the Constitutional Protection for Private Property (Oxford University Press, 2008) he spoke of how the property rights provided for in the U.S. Constitution that have been undermined by succeeding generations. Property rights, he said, benefit society, by, among other things, limiting aggression, reaping benefits, and allowing for the division of labor. Epstein argued that a system of private properties is a “means to a larger social end” that benefits everyone.

Higher Education
Victor Davis Hanson took American colleges and universities to task in his talk “The Gods that Failed: Where the University Went Wrong.” The Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow criticized the rise of vocationalism and overt preparation for specific jobs instead of an education in the classics. He rapped the adoption of a “therapeutic approach” to education, which assumes that the nature of man can and should be changed, and he blasted rampant political correctness.

Conservatives compared to Modern Liberals
Finally, are conservatives happier than their liberal counterparts? Hoover research fellow Peter Schweizer’s shared his research on the subject in “The Power of Ideas: Why Conservatives Are Happier, Work Harder and Complain Less Than Modern Liberals.” Schweizer believes in a fundamental difference between conservatives and liberals when it comes to how they perceive and approach situations, with conservatives experiencing more contentment.

Conversations
In addition to the plenary speakers, conversations on a variety of topics were conducted by Hoover fellows, including Terry Anderson, the John and Jean DeNault Senior Fellow, and Gary Libecap, the Sherm and Marge Telleen Research Fellow, on “Chaos, Conflict, or Cooperation: Why We Should Care about Property Rights”; Peter Berkowitz, the Tad and Dianne Taube Senior Fellow, on “Understanding and Defeating Jihadism”; Kenneth Jowitt, the Pres and Maurine Hotchkiss Senior Fellow,” and Daniel Pipes, director of the Midde East forum, columnist, and the Taube/Diller Distinguished Visiting Fellow, on “Which Way Europe”; George Shultz, the Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow, who conducted “A Conversation”; Tunku Varadarajan, New York University professor and Hoover research fellow, on “The General in His Labyrinth: A Critique of Pervez Musharraf”; Alvin Rabushka, the David and John Traitel Senior Fellow, on “U.S. Tax Policy in 2008 and Beyond: Lessons from the American Colonies”; and Kiron Skinner, the W. Glenn Campbell Research Fellow, on “The Cold War and the Global War on Terror: Two Parallel Universes That Happened to Collide.”