Political advice from investors

Warren Buffett wants us all to line up behind the president.

Buffett said he believes patriotic Republicans and Democrats will realize the nation is engaged in an economic war.

“What is required is a commander in chief that’s looked at like a commander in chief in a time of war,” Buffett said.

From LBJ’s “War on Poverty” to Jimmy Carter’s “moral equivalent of war” to Rahm Emmanuel’s “never let a serious crisis go to waste” there are always demagogues who deliberately blur the line between peace and war in order to browbeat patriotic citizens into doing whatever their leaders tell them to do.

Because, in a war, patriots do as Buffet proposes. They allow temporary curbs on their liberties in order to fight an immediate threat. (Except if the war begins in 2001 with a Republican in the White House, in which case dissent is the highest form of patriotism.)

But bad as our economic problems are, they aren’t a war.

Congress has the authority to declare war, and Obama has control of Congress. No declaration, no war. On the contrary, Congress is going about business very much as usual, passing bills for trillions of dollars in deficit spending for such vital wartime priorities like paying people to convert their analog TVs to receive digital signals.

If we were in a war, though, whom or what would it be against? I’ve never liked the phrase “War on Terror” because it’s afraid to name names, but at least it makes a pretense of doing so. Who, then, should the American people line up behind the Great Leader to fight? The rich? The bankers? Profiteers?

And what of those whose job was to keep us out of war? After Pearl Harbor, Admiral Kimmel was cashiered. If we are in a war, why is Chris Dodd still a senator? Why isn’t Franklin Raines in prison?

Finally, the reason patriots accept sacrifice in wartime is that it is temporary. Imagine if Lincoln created the Secret Service, or FDR created the CIA, and they never went away. Okay, those are bad examples. A better example is free speech, which Oliver Wendell Holmes said could be constrained during WWI when it might pose a clear and present danger. When the war ended, wartime curbs no longer applied.

But the things being done by the administration and congress are designed to inflict permanent damage on our institutions. For example, the effort to socialize health care is designed not to address an immediate threat, but to make a permanent change in our society.

The big question about Buffet’s remarks is whether he knows better. Could he really have gotten that rich if he were this obtuse? And would anybody take what he said seriously if he had said the same thing after 9-11?

Updates: to be fair to Buffet, he has recently argued against card check:

“I think the secret ballot’s pretty important in the country. You know, I’m against card check, to make a perfectly flat statement,” Buffett said.

Buffet also argued against Obama’s “I won” philosophy of larding up economic programs with Democrat payoffs:

“If you’re in a war, and we really are in an economic war, there’s a obligation to the majority to behave in ways to not go around inflaming the minority. If on Dec. 8, or maybe it was Dec. 7, when Roosevelt convened Congress to vote on the war. He didn’t say, ‘I’m throwing in about ten of my pet projects,'” Buffett said.

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