Jonathan Chait writes about the liberal freakout against Obama over at MSNBC. John Podhoretz links this disaffection to the expectations that Obama aroused during the campaign. I think I agree more with Chait that the liberals who are currently so upset are having their judgments distorted by a too romantic a view of the policymaking process and a distorted view of the New Deal. I also agree with Jonah Goldberg that expectations of New Deal-type change and liberal political dominance were always a delusion. The Republican Party is much more unified and confident than during FDR's first term. I think just as important, the economy improved through FDR's first term.. It was from a low base, but FDR's policies coincided with rising growth and lower unemployment. Regardless of the real cause of economic improvement, FDR's policies seemed to be working. The unemployment rate is now over two percentage points higher than when Obama took over.
This liberal disaffection with Obama is not deserved. He managed to get a stimulus bill through Congress that was many times bigger than the one Clinton failed to get in 1993. Obama's health care plan puts us on the road to a single-payer system, and getting off that road will be really tough. The votes for card check and cap and trade were never there and nothing Obama said or did were going to change that. He played his hand (from a liberal perspective) about as well as could be expected.
I think the biggest cause of the liberal disaffection with Obama comes from looking at the poll numbers and knowing that the Republicans will make big gains in November and also knowing that the window for passing transformational liberal legislation is closing. Obama looks weak and confused. Why doesn't he go out there and kick the butts of the oil spill and Congress and get things done?
But there will be a reconciliation. If and when the labor market begins to recover and Obama's job approval goes above 50, those same liberals who are now so critical of Obama will notice that Obama will be able to plausibly point to the stimulus as the cause of the recovery (not because thats the truth of course) and use that "success" as an argument for an even more government-run economy. Perhaps the economy would do even better with a "green stimulus." The health care system will have been restructured so as to become ever more statist as time goes on. An Obama reelection would likely consolidate these liberal gains and maybe produce a solidly liberal and confidently activist majority on the Supreme Court. Then these same liberals will look at Obama like some combination of a saint, action hero and Einstein. The reality will be that Obama will always have been the same guy: an articulate, shrewd, flawed, ambitious, social democratic-leaning liberal with a knack for moving the country as leftwards as possible without destroying his administration.
Mitch Daniels is in favor of reinstating the Mexico City policy. Michael Gerson quotes Daniels as calling government funding for organizations that fund or promote abortions overseas one of "a thousand things we shouldn't be spending money on." Fair enough, but a social liberal might look at the same policy and see it as an attempt to block the ability of poor foreign women to exercise their reproductive rights. That doesn't sound very trucey.
The reality is that there can no comprehensive truce on the social issues (which is not to say that they must dominate the debate all or even most of the time.) What would a President Daniels do to maintain a truce if Anthony Kennedy were to die during Daniels' first term. Abortion, campaign finance restrictions, church and state issues, the Second Amendment, and who knows what else would hang in the balance. Would the Supreme Court Justice be appointed by lottery? Would the appointee have to swear a blood oath not to overturn any controversial precedents?
Having said all that, Daniels seems to be moving in the right directions and I'm going to follow National Review's advice and declare my own unilateral truce on this truce stuff - at least until Daniels says something I really disagree with.
One last point. Hasn't Daniels' approach ensured that his (seemingly orthodox conservative)opinions on the social issues receive more scrutiny than they otherwise would have?
In Canada, Mark Steyn reports, the Dons of popular culture are starting to entertain "the question of whether Canadian judges should give those who commit 'honour' killings a break because they have different 'cultural practices' and may not be aware of our norms and laws."
The logic is inescapable. Culture, law, and politics are not, ultimately, separable. In America, we are so used to making a conventional separation between civil society and government that we sometimes forget that that very separation is built upon the ideas of 1776.
P.S. I often wonder whether, if we take multiculturalism seriously, we'll find that some cultures value life more than others, whether some value honesty more than others. Etc. Or does multiculturalism built on the premise that culture does not cut that deep?
Literature, Poetry, and Books
"His idea to tax all forms of carbon already failed once as the public gagged on his splurge in deficit spending.
Even Democratic senators and governors fear the impact it would have on energy prices and manufacturing jobs in coal and oil states.
But the idea is in play, repackaged as Obama's answer to the Gulf spill. It would be one thing if he came up with these industry takeovers as answers to the emergencies.
It's quite another when he uses the emergencies as a transparent excuse to sell a plan he had before the crisis hit." [Emphasis mine]
The headline on Goodwin's piece calls Obama's speech a "Crude Grab for Power." And that's just it. Unfortunately, regarding power grabs we've come to the point where we all rather know to expect that--what's shocking (and perhaps even disconcerting) is just how crude these power grabs are getting.
It is one thing for a liberal Democrat to ogle your posterior for the wallet it sports and whisper sweet-nothings in your ear so as to get you to hand it over. And as he's fishing in there, we naturally expect that he's going to take with him a little bit more than just our money . . . he's also giving himself a bit of power over us--power that he maybe didn't have before this exchange. But this kind of activity--however disingenuous--is perfectly in line with the democratic tradition and gives a nod--however scoffing--to the concept of consent. Of course, political Casanova's deserve some scorn . . . though probably not as much as the gullible recipients of their barely concealed flattery.
But it is another thing altogether for a liberal Democrat to brazenly announce his intentions to take what you're not inclined to give--and whether you're into it or not . . . and then, moreover, to suggest that there is something wrong and bad about you for not wanting it. Don't you know what's good for you? No other President is going to love you like I do . . . Obama, of course, is not the first to address us in this way (and from this room!) but he seems amazingly oblivious to the likely outcome, given the precedent.
Now, when confronted with this kind of "logic" in other areas of life, we are inclined either to call it attempted rape or, alternatively, pathetic and desperate begging. Teasing out the difference, I guess, depends upon the level of threat and a reasonable assessment of the danger.
My inclination is to say that this thing of Obama's was so darn desperate and obvious . . . pathetic, really, that the temptation is to laugh him off as a political has-been before he's ever been much of anything. Yet, there he sits . . . only 17 months into his Presidency. We've got a long time ahead of us with him as President and he has demonstrated that he is not going to change his mind about what he wants from us and, moreover, that he is unlikely to stop making these desperate appeals that turn, subsequently, into pushes. We have told him that we are not going to give it. It appears that he still needs to be made to understand that he is not going to take it, either.
Some scattered thoughts,
1. This isn't news, but the Human Life Amendment is not going to happen in the foreseeable future. Any Republican presidential candidate who makes that their abortion policy and makes that policy a centerpiece of their campaign is really hurting their chances of getting elected, and even if they do get elected, the Amendment will not pass Congress. Focusing on the Human Life Amendment as an immediate goal is worse than just bad electoral politics. It is a waste of pro-life energy that, if it were better directed, could lead to better policy outcomes and better position pro-lifers to make future gains. This does not necessarily mean changing the Republican platform, but it would mean the Republican presidential candidate might avow that they won't pursue policies that they are not convinced have majority support.
2. Pro-lifers should not let themselves get taken for granted. There are commitments that pro-lifers can demand without hurting either the Republican Party's or the pro-life movement's prospects. At minimum, pro-lifers should expect that the President would pursue popular abortion restrictions (especially on public subsidies) and commit to judicial appointments that move the abortion issue out of Anthony Kennedy's head and into elected legislatures. They should also expect a Republican nominee that can, when asked, make a principled pro-life argument - even if it is not central to that candidate's message. One might argue that the assertion of pro-life principles by the Republican presidential nominee will repulse some voters. Maybe, but how many voters that were gettable by Republicans will be repulsed by the mere knowledge that the Republican candidate is a pro-lifer? Probably alot fewer than the pro-lifers who will stay home when they see that there are zero pro-lifers among the two major party candidates
3. For coalitional and demographic reasons, Republicans will have to maximize turnout among their base, win over white persuadables who don't self-identify as conservative, and make some marginal gains among Latinos and Asians. The politics of abortion will be secondary, but can be nontrivial in both mobilizing social conservatives and making some gains among nonconservatives. A combination of an incremental, majority-supported policy agenda and a focus on the abortion extremism of the national Democrats and President Obama personally could be a vote winner if Republicans also have a winning economic agenda and message.
4. Republicans have not been losing because of abortion. The one time during the last campaign that abortion came up in a big way (during the Rick Warren thing), the tactical advantage went to McCain. During the financial crisis, not so much.
5. Abortion is the easy part. Crafting an abortion message and policy agenda that can mobilize social conservatives while minimally alienating persuadables who were not committed pro-lifers is something Republicans have been doing for thirty years. I think they could do a little better, but it is the least of their problems. Crafting a positive winning message on market-oriented health care will be much harder and this is an area in which Republicans have very little history of political success.
I've just returned from Barnard College in New York, where I attended the tenth annual summer institute of the Reacting to the Past series. If you're a college or university instructor, you should know about RTTP; they're elaborate role-playing games set during pivotal moments in the past. For example, there's one based on the French Revolution, in which students play Louis XVI, Lafayette, Danton, Robespierre, etc. At the institute I participated in two new games--one set during the Constitutional Convention (I played Roger Sherman of Connecticut and yes, I did prevent the Convention's collapse by suggesting a compromise that satisfied both the large and small states) and another set in Kentucky during the secession crisis of 1861 (in which I played Maj. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, Inspector General of the Kentucky State Guard).
Of course, role-playing simulations have been used in education for years, but in my opinion most are not serious enough for use in college-level classrooms. Reacting to the Past games are different in that they are tied directly to important texts. In the French Revolution game students must become thoroughly acquainted with the work of Rousseau and Burke. For the Constitutional Convention they must read Montesquieu, Hume, Paine, etc. Those playing the Kentucky game had better be familiar with the Lincoln-Douglas debates, as well as the work of Frederick Douglass, Andrew Jackson, and John Calhoun. Students must give speeches and write papers, in character, drawing on the texts. But because these are games, the participants are highly motivated. Each character has specific objectives that he or she must try to achieve; for example, in the Constitutional Convention game Roger Sherman prefers a confederal plan, and scores points for achieving it, but if the Convention falls apart Sherman earns points for proposing a compromise solution. Working for a class grade is one thing; working to WIN is another.
A complete list of the available games may be found here. Some have already been published by Pearson. Others are still being playtested, but may be downloaded if you'd like to give any of them a try in your classes. Many more are at one stage or another of development--I am, in fact, working on two, one set in Japan during 1940-41, and another set during the Frankfurt Parliament of 1848-49.
One further note: because these games are set in the past, there may be a temptation to regard them as only suitable for history courses. This is not the case. The subject matter crosses many disciplinary lines, encompassing (depending on the game) political theory, philosophy, religion, and even the sciences. Since they are writing-intensive, they could be used in composition courses, and because they require public speaking they might be used for speech communication courses. Having used a number of them myself, I can attest to their effectiveness in keeping students engaged.
Nancy Pelosi famously said that "we have to pass the bill so you can find out what's in it." Now, as Scott Gottlieb points out, we find that even that isn't enough. Congress left the most important law-writing to the unelected bureaucrats at the Department of Health and Human Services. The result does not look promising:
The 3,000-odd pages of legislation left most of the really important (and controversial) policy decisions to the regulations that government agencies were told to issue once the bill passed. Now that those regs are starting to take shape, it's clear that the Obama team is using its new power to exert tight control over the payment and delivery of all formerly "private" health insurance.
The ObamaCare law references the Secretary of Health and Human Services almost 2,200 times and uses the phrase "the secretary shall" more than 725. Each reference requires HHS to set new rules on medical care, giving control to an existing federal office or one of 160 new agencies that the bill created. . . .
The draft regs envision more than half of all policies having to change within three years -- an unmistakable break with President's Obama's oft-repeated promise, "If people like their insurance, they will be able to keep it."
Yet that may be the least of the broken promises.
Ultimately, these rules force consumers to buy one of just four health policies -- which vary mostly only by trading off higher co-payments for lower premiums, while offering essentially the same actual benefits. In arguing for passage of the law, ObamaCare's defenders claimed the rules were aimed at health plans sold in the "exchanges." Oops: Now [HHS Secretary] Sebelius is applying them to employer plans. Eventually, this would force all but the very wealthiest Americans into a single government-designed insurance scheme.
Instapundit links to a study which suggests that the hormones related to love may also cause war:
"Oxytocin has received much attention for boosting social bonding and cooperation, but it also appears to trigger defensive aggression against outsiders who might threaten an individual's social group, psychologists say. That indicates the hormone has a much more complex role in social dynamics than just encouraging humans to make love and not war."
Move evidence that John Adams was onto something when he said made a similar observation. Against the peace, love, and harmony types of his day, Adams said that love is often the cause of wars. Adams said that the desire to be seen, and, through that, to attract the admiration and love of others, was the basic political passion. As he put it in his "Discourses on Davila":
"Who will love me then?" was the pathetic reply of one, who starved himself to feed his mastiff, to a charitable passenger, who advised him to kill or sell the animal. In this "who will love me then?" there is a key to the human heart; to the history of human life and manners; and to the rise and fall of empires.
The Best Man, old style:
The tradition of the best man has its origin with the Germanic Goths, when it was customary and preferable for a man to marry a woman from within his own community. When women came into short supply "locally," eligible bachelors would have to seek out and capture a bride from a neighboring community. As you might guess, this was not a one-person operation, and so the future bridegroom would be accompanied by a male companion who would help. Our custom of the best man is a throwback to that two-man, strong-armed tactic, for, of course the future groom would select only the best man he knew to come along for such an important task.
The role of the best man evolved byy 200 A.D. his task was still more than just safeguarding the ring. There remained a real threat that the bride's family would attempt to forcibly obtain her return, so the best man remained at the groom's side throughout the marriage ceremony, alert and well-armed. He continued his duties after the ceremony by standing guard as sentry outside the newlywed's home. Much of this is German folklore, but is not without written documentation and physical artifacts. We have records that indicate that beneath the altars of many churches of early peoples (the Huns, Goths, Visigoths, and Vandals) there lay an arsenal of clubs, knives, and spears. The indication is that these were there to protect the groom from possible attack by the bride's family in an attempt to recapture her.