Mitch Daniels might be running the smartest presidential campaign of any Republican and he might not even be running. He has gotten glowing profiles from both the Weekly Standard and National Review (only available to subscribers it seems.) He has written several smart op-eds for the Wall Street Journal on the takeovers of GM and Chrysler, health care, and cap and trade.
Daniels has the chance to combine elements of Obama's 2008 appeal and position himself as the antidote to Obama's shortcomings. By not being a retread presidential candidate or a recent member of the Republican Washington leadership (and his Washington experience was obscure to most people who aren't obsessed with politics), Daniels can come across as a fresh face from the hinterland running for hope and change against a corrupt, incompetent and spendthrift Washington establishment. But unlike Obama, he can point to oodles of experience and to a record where he was able to balance the budget while keeping taxes under control, and both maintaining and demanding a higher standard of government services.
Daniels' Wall Street Journal op-eds also show the outlines of a compelling 2012 message. He has a record of moving health care policy in a market-driven direction through HSAs. What really helps Daniels is that his HSA plan had positive outcomes that can be pointed to in a campaign. The great political weakness of market-driven health care reforms is that they ask the public to give up something they like in the form of employer-provided health insurance (even if they think it costs too much) in return for a promise that market-driven policies (whether renewable individual policies or HSAs) will make things better. The act of asking the public to give up something real for something that is outside most people's experience gives Democrats the opening to terrify the public with the prospect of losing their coverage and in return getting nothing or inferior coverage that costs more. Daniels will be able to point to Indiana and say that his health care plan, in the real world, increased people's take home pay, saved the government money, and preserved people's access to the world's best health care system. That also gives Daniels one heck of a platform from which to attack the other guy's combination of individual mandates, coverage mandates, tax increases, and expensive subsidies.
Daniels also seems to have found the range in attacking Obama's economic policies. Obama likes to say that he is pro-business and not a socialist. Fair enough, but there are lots of ways to be pro-business and not all of them are good. A cap and trade bill that taxes most people and businesses and subsidizes connected companies is pro some businesses but not really all that good for most of us. A health care bill that forces us to buy insurance that costs too much is pro some businesses but bad for most if it increases the cost of coverage for businesses and workers and/or increases government costs that have to be paid in either higher taxes or fewer medical services. Daniels' description of Obama's policies as "crony capitalism" ties together a bunch of Obama policies (Obamacare, cap and trade, the takeover of the auto companies) and taps into public frustration not only with government, but with the privileges of insiders.
Daniels doesn't seem to be doing the things a presidential candidate is expected to do in our current permanent campaign era. He isn't going to Iowa or New Hampshire and if he is building on the ground operations in those states he is keeping it very quiet. He hasn't published a pre-campaign campaign biography/manifesto and left his job behind to go on a nationwide book tour so people can tell him how awesome he is. Daniels has a PAC that distributes money to favored candidates, but it seems more oriented to Indiana races than toward collecting chits from Republican candidates around the country. All this would seem to put him at a fundraising and organizational disadvantage for a presidential campaign, but I wonder about that. If a candidate can produce the right buzz through their message and positive media coverage (and conservative journalists seem to really like him), the internet can produce a huge surge of cash. If no other candidate produces genuine enthusiasm, even someone with a "late" start in the summer of 2011 can swamp established GOTV operations of candidates that are neither loved nor fully trusted. Above all, the thrill of novelty should not be underestimated, and especially not when it is combined with substance. But what do I know? I backed Phil Gramm in 1996.
In "The Gaza Blockade and International Law" University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner (WSJ subscriber only) notes the precedent for Israel's blockade of Gaza in the American Civil War--the Union's seizing of Confederate ships on the high seas. Israel does not recognize Gaza's sovereignty. "... Israel's legal position is reasonable, and it has precedent. During the U.S. Civil War, the Union claimed to blockade the Confederacy while at the same time maintaining that the Confederacy was not a sovereign state but an agent of insurrection." A closely divided Supreme Court approved the seizures, suggesting "a certain latitude for countries to use blockades against internal as well as external enemies."
In an important sense, the criticism of Israel is a criticism of past American practice as well. In looking to our self-interest in the Middle East, Americans should recall our own history.
Robert Samuelson gives an interesting reflection on the politics of defining poverty. The official poverty rate has remained virtually unchanged for decades partly because of how we count it:
The poor's material well-being has improved. The official poverty measure obscures this by counting only pre-tax cash income and ignoring other sources of support. These include the earned-income tax credit (a rebate to low-income workers), food stamps, health insurance (Medicaid), housing and energy subsidies. Spending by poor households from all sources may be double their reported income, reports a study by Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute. Although many poor live hand-to-mouth, they've participated in rising living standards. In 2005, 91 percent had microwaves, 79 percent air conditioning and 48 percent cell phones
And the Obama administration's effort to improve the statistic might not be helpful:
The "supplemental measure" ties the poverty threshold to what the poorest third of Americans spend on food, housing, clothes and utilities. The actual threshold -- not yet calculated -- will almost certainly be higher than today's poverty line. Moreover, the new definition has strange consequences. Suppose that all Americans doubled their incomes tomorrow, and suppose that their spending on food, clothing, housing and utilities also doubled. That would seem to signify less poverty -- but not by the new poverty measure. It wouldn't decline, because the poverty threshold would go up as spending went up. Many Americans would find this weird: people get richer but "poverty" stays stuck.
So Rich Lowry went after the likely Republican Senate candidate from Connecticut pretty hard today. But I don't think that WWE programming is McMahon's most glaring weakness. I think her biggest weakness is how her company has handled the health issues of her employees. Some journalist should go through the back issues of the Wrestling Observer from the last ten years and then construct a tick tock of how WWE handled say, the death of Eddie Guerrrero and how WWE dealt with the steroid issue.
There are things for a Republican partisan to like about McMahon. She seems willing to spend enough money that Connecticut voters will have heard her message dozens of times before election day. Based on her business past, she is both relentless and ruthless. And who knows or cares about how WWE handled the immediate aftermath of some wrestler's death? But the Rand Paul situation demonstrated how the media can, all at once, latch onto something that was already out in the open and transform the public's perception of a candidate.
So I'm going to talk up William Voegeli's and Wilfred McClay's (it was online Friday but isn't now) articles on the Tea Parties. They are really good at helping us understand the Tea Parties as a populist reaction to a governing elite that both seeks to expand government past its core functions and claims (or pretends to claim) incompetence at basic functions of government. Voegeli gets to this contradictions when he writes that this elite both believes that it can transform our health system in a more state-run direction and that securing the border is impossible absent an amnesty first.
The Voegeli and McClay articles are worth reading in conjunction with William Schambra's National Affairs article on Obama and technocracy. What the Tea Parties are revolting against could be the view that "government exists not to attend to the various problems in the life of a society, but to take up society itself as a problem," and that "To address social problems this way, the policymaker must put himself outside the circle of those he governs, and, informed by social science, see beyond their narrow clashing interests." This is especially necessary because "most citizens (and the self-interested politicians they elect) are either baffled by or deliberately ignore social complexity and interrelatedness."
The relationship between the technocracy described above and Ivy League elitism is complicated. Schambra's description of the good politician demands impossible standards of both intellect and disinterestedness. That is why the President character on the West Wing is a combination of Jesus and a nonsatirical Cliff Clavin. The Ivy League degree can serve as a signal that the possessor has the intellect needed to "take up society itself as a problem." The problem of course is that one is beginning with unrealistic expectations of both government and politicians.
But one can be a technocrat or a believer in technocracy (the West Wing had a pretty large audience) without an elite college background. One can also be a believer in limited but effective government while being a Harverdian (to use Seth MacFarlane's expression.) Which is to say that one can prefer Ouachita Baptist University's Mike Huckabee over Harvard's Obama and Brown University's Bobby Jindal over the University of Delaware's Joe Biden.
According to NLT blogger and Heritage Foundation legal scholar Robert Alt, then-Dean Kagan axed Constitutional Law as a core requirement at Harvard Law:
"My understanding is that she instituted three new courses to the required curriculum and, in so doing, got rid of a requirement to take constitutional law," Robert Alt, senior legal fellow and deputy director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation, told CNSNews.com.
"Currently, at Harvard, constitutional law is not required for first-year law students, or even for graduation," Alt added.
Evidently she felt that law school education should focus instead on public international law, international economic law, and "complex problem solving." See this Harvard news release. In defense of Dean Kagan, it might be said that no Con Law is better than terrible Con Law, but this is a peculiar argument to use for a Harvard, is it not?