April 2, 2009 – Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, and Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, debated the first 100 days of the Obama presidency at a Hauenstein Center event in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Gleaves Whitney, director of Grand Valley State University’s Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, moderated the evening’s debate. In his six years as director of the Hauenstein Center, Gleaves has been the architect of more than 200 public programs, including three national conferences covered by C-SPAN, and three internationally web cast debates — one to more than 3,500 viewers in eighteen countries, and another watched on YouTube by more than 65,000 people in some 30 nations on all six inhabited continents. He has overseen tremendous growth of the Hauenstein Center’s website, premiered a popular web column called Ask Gleaves—the first presidential Q & A column in the nation—and created a leadership academy for students and young professionals committed to public service. He is the author or editor of 15 books, including the forthcoming Bush: Legacy and Lessons (edited with Mark Rozell).
Rich Lowry has been called today’s “edgy voice of fresh-faced conservatism.” He is editor of National Review—America’s most widely read and influential conservative magazine. Lowry is author of the New York Times bestseller, Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years (2003). He has written for the New York Times, Reader’s Digest, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal. An outspoken conservative, he is a syndicated columnist and he serves as guest commentator on CNN, MSNBC, The McLaughlin Group, and Fox News—where he has guest-hosted “Hannity and Colmes” and “Fox & Friends.”
Katrina vanden Heuvel, one of the nation’s leading progressive commentators today, is editor, publisher, and part-owner of The Nation—a weekly magazine and flagship of the Left. She is editor of a half-dozen books, and author of Meltdown: How Greed and Corruption Shattered Our Financial System and How We Can Recover (2009). She is a frequent commentator on MSNBC, CNN, and PBS, and her award-winning articles have appeared in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Boston Globe. Vanden Heuvel is a member of The Council on Foreign Relations, and she also serves on the board of The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, The Institute for Policy Studies, and The Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute.
Gleaves moderated and offered the resolution that shaped the first half of the debate: “Resolved: President Barack Obama’s domestic and fiscal policies will likely make the economy get worse.”
Lowry was given ten minutes to respond. “I think Barack Obama’s approach to the economy is ineffectual, it’s cynical, it’s dishonest, and it’s irresponsible,” said Lowry.
“The kind of big fiscal stimulus that he’s depending on to get us out of this recession has never been shown and demonstrated to work. The Japanese tried it in the 1990s, it didn’t work. FDR tried it in the New Deal, it didn’t work. People forget FDR presided over some of the most despairing years of the Depression, the so called ‘depression within the depression’ in the ’37, ’38 time period—after he had been President for five or six years. His Treasury Secretary Henry Morganthal said to Congress in 1939, and I quote, ‘We have tried spending money we are spending more than we have ever spent before, and it does not work.’ And he was exactly right.”
Vanden Heuvel offered her ten minute statement. “The historian Garry Wills once said that Americans think of government only as a necessary evil, a last resort.” “Well folks,” said vanden Heuvel, “all the other resorts are boarded up.”
“There is no alternative to President Obama’s economic recovery plan and his budget except deepening recession and an accelerating global economic crisis. Consumers are cutting back. Employers aren’t investing, laying off workers. Exports have collapsed. State and local governments are squeezed. One out of every ten people in this good state are jobless. Your unemployment rate is twelve percent; the national unemployment rate is at it’s highest in twenty-five years. The only thing that will lift and kick start this economy, get people back to work, provide the demand we need, advert a deepening economic crisis, is spending at the Federal level, and President Obama’s recovery plan and budget provide the most expansive, breathtaking unleashing of government fiscal firepower in the face of a recession since World War II.”
“The problem with this Keynesian fiscal stimulus,” said Lowry in his five-minute response, “is it can never really get big enough. It can never be big enough.”
“If you look at the seven hundred billion top line number for this stimulus, about forty percent or so of it is tax credits. Intellectually honest Keynesians will tell you that’s going to be saved. So you chop that percentage off the spending, and then it’s spread out over a number of years. A huge chunk of the spending happens after 2010—too late to make any difference in our immediate economic situation. So again, if you get beyond the rhetoric and actually look at the detail and the facts on its own terms, this program does not make sense. It cannot logically make the difference between a recession and recovery.”
“The nation has never opposed increasing the deficit if you are investing in the country’s education, its public infrastructure, its productive capacities, its human capital,” vanden Heuvel responded in her five minutes.
“What the Bush administration bequeathed this administration was its cynical deficit—one that was run up because of disastrous wars that didn’t make us more secure and tax cuts for the very rich. And that is a wasteful deficit. But in terms of building a new social contract in this country, one which does invest in people and in a country, which is literally in parts falling a part, you do need deficit spending. That has been the history and the experience of countries around this world at different times.”
Founding benefactor of the Hauenstein Center, Ralph Hauenstien, listened on, along with (left to right) John Wardrop, Selma Tucker, Nancy Lubbers, and Don Lubbers.
The venue for the debate, Fountain Street Church, has a history of impressive speakers, including Aretha Franklin, Eleanor Roosevelt, B.B. King, Gloria Steinem, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
The second half of the debate was in response to a new resolution: “President Barack Obama’s security policy represents a fundamental break with President Bush’s and thus will make us safer.”
“It’s going to take us years to undo the damage of the last eight years we’ve lived through,” said vanden Heuvel.
“In some ways what President Obama is doing is restoring the United States to a bipartisan foreign policy that even George W. Bush’s father held to: an end to preemptive war; an end to torture. When Barack Obama became president-elect, he told us the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, opportunity, liberty, and unyielding hope. He promised to return to America a foreign policy consistent with America’s traditional values and wants, and to partner with moderates in the Islamic world. That is a break. Another break is that Obama is governing as a peacetime president, not a war president.”
“I cannot argue tonight that there are fundamental breaks with President Bush’s foreign policy, but there are breaks, and there are continuities. But let me just come back to the fact that as a peacetime president, it is the domestic priorities like the economy and energy that are consciously given equal if not greater weight than one might call the militaristic security concerns that have so governed this country’s foreign policy in these last years…. In his first day and second day as president, Obama issued executive orders prohibiting torture, shutting down secret prisons overseas, and directing closure of the detention center at Guantanamo. This is crucial. Will Obama’s policy, his national security, make us safer? Yes.”
“My problem with a lot of the Left on national security policy,” responded Lowry, “is that I think they are really in the grips of a delusion where they think … all conflict can be talked away and all interests are compatible. And that’s just not the case in the real world that we live in on this earth….”
“All conflicts and disagreements in the world were not because George W. Bush was a cowboy who dropped the G’s at the end of his words sometimes. The French and the Germans still hate “Anglo Saxon Capitalism.” NATO is still not going to send more troops to Afghanistan, even if Barack Obama asks very, very nicely. The Anarchists are still going to riot in the streets…. I don’t think he [President Obama] has represented a fundamental break from Bush administration policy, especially on the two wars in the Middle East that are so important. On Iraq, despite all of Barack Obama’s rhetoric during the campaign, the substance of this position now is not that different from what Bush’s position was by the end of his presidency.”
Ralph Hauenstein, John Wardrop, and Selma Tucker looked on as Cook Leadership Academy Fellow Petra Alsoofy asked a question. “You implied that President Obama is keeping with President Bush’s Patriot Act and the terrorist surveillance policies. I agree that they kept us safe a couple years ago, but now that we are in 2009 under those policies, in some American mosques the FBI is approaching Muslims to spy on each other ‘or else.’ How is that keeping America safe when it’s alienating the Muslim-American community who have just as much interest in keeping America safe because we are a part of it?”
Left to right: Gleaves Whitney, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Ralph Hauenstein, and Rich Lowry
Peter C. Cook Leadership Academy Fellows posed for a photo with the debaters.
Gleaves Whitney, Rich Lowry, and Katrina vanden Heuvel were interviewed before the debate by Shelley Irwin of WGVU.
Lowry’s and vanden Heuvel’s combativeness previewed later fireworks.
Left to right: Austin Knuppe, Hilary Snell, Brian Flanagan, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Gleaves Whitney, Selma Tucker, Mandi Bird, and John Wardrop
Ralph Hauenstein and Leadership Academy Fellow Dan Reed posed for a photo at a reception that preceded the debate.
Katrina vanden Heuvel, Connie Snell, and Hilary Snell discussed how President Obama’s stimulus package will help or hinder the country.
Rich Lowry discussed education policy with Greg Dykhouse.
Ralph Hauenstein, Father Sirico, and Marty Allen talked about the Hauenstein Center’s Peter Cook Leadership Academy.
Former Grand Valley President Don Lubbers with Brent Slay
Leadership fellows Deb Mahoney and Petra Alsoofy posed for a photo during the reception.