Michael Lewis' essay-review of Louis Menand's Marketplace of Ideas in the February, 2010 Commentary (not available online) points to a 2007 survey of the political opinions of America's university professors:
The percentage of social-science faculty members at elite colleges and universities who voted for George Bush in 2004 was--statistically speaking--zero percent. Likewise among their colleagues in the humanities: zero percent.
Lewis comments: "This is the sort of results that usually sends worried statisticians scurrying back to their data to see what went wrong." The proble, I fear, ain't the quality of the survey.
I've been enjoying visiting left-wing sites to see the outrage over the Supreme Court's recent Citizens United decision. I'm particularly struck by one recurring trope--that the decision places the country squarely on the road to fascism; see, for example, the Huffington Post, but an internet search using the terms "Citizens United," "Supreme Court," and "fascism" yielded some 86,000 hits. Yes, I know that the whole "fascism-as-capitalism" theme was pushed hard by the Communists in the 1930s and 1940s, but it surprised me that marginally intelligent people believe it today. In fact, big business barely existed in the semi-industrialized economy of Mussolini's Italy, and it didn't fare well at all in Hitler's Germany. In fact, a couple of recent economic histories of Nazi Germany--Adam Tooze's The Wages of Destruction and Goetz Aly's Hitler's Beneficiaries--show how corporations were subjected to bureaucratic micromanagement, constant threats of expropriation, or imprisonment of their managers, and, in particular, crushing taxation. Aly points out that, from 1933 to 1939, the only tax that the Nazis significantly increased was the corporate income tax, which reached 60 percent by the final years of the war. Much of this, it should be added, went to fund a cradle-to-grave welfare state.
So where is the line about "corporate fascism" coming from? It seems that many of them have hit on this alleged quote by Mussolini: "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power."
On the surface this would seem to be pretty damning; however, there's no evidence that Mussolini ever said it. A reading of his most important writing, "The Doctrine of Fascism", yields all sorts of references to a "corporative" system and a "corporate" state, but he clearly wasn't talking about business organizations. Rather, he was claiming that the role of the state was to play a harmonizing or balancing role among the various interests in the nation. In other words, fascism looks a lot more like progressivism than it does anything the Roberts Court mentioned in Citizens United. At the very least, the willingness of the Left to make such breathless claims gives the lie to the accusation that Tea Party-types are uniquely prone toward hyperbolic Hitler comparisons.
Can't let January pass without noting that this is the 175th anniversary of the publication of Alexis de Tocqueville's enduring classic, Democracy in America. It may well be the best book on democracy and the best book on America ever published, as Harvey Mansfield has argued. (I dispute the second claim.)
A recent re-reading affirms that Mansfield's edition is by far the best. So far as I know it is the only one that catches Tocqueville's altering of Madison's words in Federalist 51 from "popular form of government" to "tyranny of the majority" (p. 249). Other translations simply adopt the text of the Federalist. The attractive Penguin edition commits politically correct atrocities such as translating "sauvage" as "primitive people"--he means savages! The readable Lawrence translation just makes passages up. Now comes James Schleifer's beautiful, four-volume bilingual edition of Democracy, published by Liberty Press--indispensable for the serious Tocqueville student.
Noteworthy too is Jim Ceaser's essay on Tocqueville on China, part of AEI's Tocqueville on China project.
UPDATE: I found this CSPAN Tocqueville Tour program, featuring Mansfield, the late Delba Winthrop, our own Peter Lawler, Schleifer, Dan Mahoney, and some other characters, engaging in Tocquevillean meditations with Brian Lamb.
That's the conclusion of the latest and most comprehensive study of the program ever conducted, writes Andrew Coulson, "This study used the best possible method to review the program: It looked at a nationally representative sample of 5,000 children who were randomly assigned to either the Head Start." The conclusion, "by the end of the first grade, children who attended Head Start are essentially indistinguishable from a control group of students who didn't."
Yesterday in the State of the Union address, President Obama suggested we use "common sense" in reforming our laws and instutions. According to Coulson, "the president already raised spending on the program from $6.8 billion to $9.2 billion last year." In light of the latest, peer-reviewed science, perhaps he should call for ending Head Start, and using that same money for voucher and charter school programs that have shown more promise for improving our schools.
There are two prevailing interpretations of the recent financial and economic unpleasantness. Liberals tend to blame the Reagan/ Conservative order which, they say, has prevailed since the 1980s. The financial collapse shows it to be a failure, they say. Others suspect the true cause is that the New Deal Order, which Reagan et al did not really change, is no longer viable. Walter Russel Mead has some intersting thoughts on the latter thesis. In the 1970s, he says, the private sector side of that order fell apart:
As the old system dissolved, companies had to become more flexible. As industry became more competitive, private sector managers had to shed bureaucratic habits of thought. Lifetime employment had to go. Productive workers had to be lured with high pay. The costs of unionization grew; in the old days, government regulators simply allowed unionized firms to charge higher prices to compensate them for their higher costs. The collapse of the regulated economy (plus the rise of foreign competition from developing countries) made unions unsustainably expensive in many industries.
But the government side did not. It is crashing now. It simply costs more than we can afford, and does not deliver goods and services nearly as well as do private companies. (Perhaps I should say truly private companies, and not ones that are overly regulated, like health insurance companies).
The collapse of a social model is a complicated, drawn out and often painful affair. The blue model has been declining for thirty years already, and it is not yet finished with its decline and fall. But decline and fall it will, and as the remaining supports of the system erode, the slow decline and decay is increasingly likely to bring on a crash.
Meanwhile, Arnold Kling argues,
that there is a discrepancy between trends in knowledge and power. Power in the United States is remarkably concentrated. We are creating increasingly specialized knowledge, which means that the information needed to make good decisions is located outside of Washington, D.C. And yet we have a central government attempting to do for 300 million people what governments in places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Denmark, and Switzerland do for many fewer people. . . .
These days, most of the people who complain that the U.S. is ungovernable are looking for solutions that would allow progressive technocrats to be even more powerful. I believe that the solution is to decentralize government.
To push things a bit further. Reagan did what was politically feasible in the 1980s. As a result, he gave the New Deal Order an extra twenty or thirty years. Finance became an industry in and of itself, rather than the industry that supports and enables the others. Manufacturing in the U.S., meanwhile, remains difficult thanks to a regulatory structure that is out of date. The goal should not be simply to scrap these anachronistic regulations, but rather to change them to make them less onerous. Obama is right, we need a new politics. The trouble is that the "new" politics he wants is an extension of the the old politics that got us in trouble in the first place.
Justice Alito's disagreement with President Obama's interpretation of the Citizens United case is drawing much comment. The consensus is that Alito is correct. Even a Lefty like Linda Greenhouse thinks so. I'm not so sure, however. The question is whether the case, by overturning the restrictions on independent expenditures by corporations and unions, also overturns the prohibitions on like expenditures by foreign corporations. My question is this: for several years now, the Court has been collapsing the distinction between U.S. citizen and foreigner, (and, to a lesser degree, between U.S. law and foreign law). By what logic can U.S. law discriminate between U.S. corporations and foreign corporations in elections, when it can't discriminate between the two in so many other ways?
I think people are dazzled by Obama's rhetoric, and that people ought to begin to understand that Obama is going to be a mediocre president--which means, in our time, a dangerous president. . .
Literature, Poetry, and Books
John Miller has compiled a top ten of contemporary conservative fiction writers--the usual suspects are there, such as Drury, Dos Passos, Wolfe, McCarry, and Helprin, but not always for the novels you might have urged. I have no particular quarrel with this list (though Tolkien deserved a mention), but compare it with the greatest novelists (or poets) at hand--Henry James, to name one. Or just consider some from the 19th century: Austen, Dostoevsky, Tolstoi, and Trollope. David Lodge would have been a daring choice for this list. Whom would you have picked?
CORRECTION: As per Richard Adams' comment #2, below, my mention of the Europeans is inappropriate; John clearly intended this to be an Americans only list. An even greater blunder on my part was to omit Melville and Twain from my list of 19th century authors.
According to this morning's Wall Street Jounral President Obama "will make small-business hiring the centerpiece of" his "jobs agenda." Question: does anyone have confidence that there is a politically feasible way, in current circumstances, for the federal government to foster the creation of jobs in the private sector?
Part of me wonders whether that explains the turn to health care. If the administration concluded that it could do little, other than get out of the way and wait, as the economic crisis runs its course, then why not try to do something else in the mean time.
When he says that "the same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office." The trouble is a good deal of that anger is aimed at the very things that he, even more than President Bush, represents.
Here's what I wrote on this subject in June, 2008. So far, it's looking fairly accurate:
If Senator Obama becomes president, and if the Democratic party has control of both houses of the legislature in 2009, as seems quite likely, governing might be a rude awakening. The benefit of being in opposition is that one needn't be specific. The trouble with governing is that one must be so.
If part of the reason why President Bush has had such a rough time of things is that Americans are tried of the modern administrative/ bureaucratic state (even as they don't want their own benefits cut, or many regulations eliminated), and if Democrats think that the reason why Bush is unpopular is that he's been governing as a conservative, they could be in for a rude awakening.
Bush turned his back on the limited government/ leave-us-alone side of the conservative coalition. Now that the party of government is fully and obviously in charge blame is being placed where is more properly belongs.
I've noted in the past that Richard Cohen frequently departs from the liberal party line (unlike, for example, E.J. Dionne, who is no longer worth reading), and today he delivers another sparking commentary on the Edwards business. A number of people have observed that the same folks who decried McCain's selection of Palin as a running mate have been strangely silent about John Kerry picking Edwards in 2004. Cohen steps up:
I have been particularly harsh on McCain for his irresponsible choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate. I withdraw none of it; the better we got to know Palin, the more egregious a choice she became -- astonishingly unprepared and unsuited for the presidency. She proves, if anything, that McCain was, too.
But what, then, can we make of Kerry's choice of Edwards? It is not quite in the Palin category, since Edwards had been in the Senate for one term and had made a career for himself as a stunningly successful trial attorney. Still, not only did he lack legislative achievement, but, in retrospect, it's clear that little was known about him. He dazzled as a political matinee idol -- a profile, a speech, a mirage of a marriage.
But along the way Cohen raises doubts about Barry Obama, too:
I will also throw Barack Obama into the mix, not because I know something nefarious about him but because I realize more and more that I know so little about him.
When, for instance, the call goes out to let Obama be Obama, I'm not sure what that is. For the moment, it's a tendentious populism, but the sound of it is tinny and inauthentic, a campaign tactic, nothing more. When, however, we were asked to "let Reagan be Reagan," we could be certain it was a call for a hard-right turn.
When people have lost their money, they strike out unthinkingly, like a wounded snake, at whoever is most prominent in the line of vision.
Corrections & Amplifications:
Passage of Measure 66 would increase Oregon's personal-income-tax rate by nearly two percentage points for the state's richest taxpayers. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said it would increase the rate by almost 2%.
I'm alarmed to learn, after half-a-century of speaking and writing English, that there is an important distinction between "nearly" and "almost" that no one has ever explained to me.
Men and Women
The Hill reports that there is footage of a female Democrat describing Capitol Hill girls' room chatter, wherein a female Republican suggested the whole health-care package could have been resolved if they just sent the boys home and let the women handle taking care of the family. The statement was received with bipartisan applause and a general accord that women know more about caring for their own.
I really don't see a scandal here - my better half is an angel when I'm sick, whereas I'm reduced to asking if she can stop being sick long enough to remind me where we keep the medicine and heating pad. I'm actually delightfully surprised that ladies of both parties still make jokes about men in the bathroom! That's encouraging.
The episode reminds me of perhaps the most controversial passage in C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, wherein he mentions, as a defense of the traditional role of men as the head of the house, that women are too willing to abandon justice in the defense of their families. Women, Lewis observes, harbor an "intense family patriotism" and are the trustees of the family's interests, whereas the function of the husband is to moderate the family's "foreign policy" so as to protect other people from this natural preference of the wife.
Describing Obama's decision-making following the attempted Christmas Day bombing as "myopic, irresponsible and potentially dangerous," WaPo retracts its original support of federal prosecution. Powerline has the story and commentary here, as well as a good perspective on the overarching failures here.
Such language from the WaPo editorial pages was par-for-the-course during the Bush years, but if Obama is losing this bastion of liberal talking-points....
So say's the Pope! Just wanted to point out (as I always knew) that we here at NLT are but pious pilgrims under the imprimatur of the Holy Father to carry out the Lord's good work....