Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Drink and Live Long

Another study proves that drinkers outlive non-drinkers: Moderate drinking, which is defined as one to three drinks per day, is associated with the lowest mortality rates in alcohol studies. Moderate alcohol use (especially when the beverage of choice is red wine) is thought to improve heart health, circulation and sociability.  And it has been consistently found that those who don't drink actually tend to die sooner than those who do.   In other words, abstaining from alcohol leads to a shorter life.  Just a thought.  And I'll be sober in the morning....
Categories > Leisure


Very Bad Poll Numbers for Dems

When ordinary, well intentioned (read liberal) journalists/reporters like Chris Cillizza in the WaPo can't find anything positive to say about Dems/Obama, you know things are bad.  You can feel the attempt to circumnavigate the important things, to only allude to the depth of the problem.  But then you get this from Gallup weekly tracking, your know that some political worlds are collapsing.  Gallup: "Republicans lead by 51% to 41% among registered voters in Gallup weekly tracking of 2010 congressional voting preferences. The 10-percentage-point lead is the GOP's largest so far this year and is its largest in Gallup's history of tracking the midterm generic ballot for Congress."  And then to add even more clarity, in case it's needed: "The Republican leads of 6, 7, and 10 points this month are all higher than any previous midterm Republican advantage in Gallup's history of tracking the generic ballot, which dates to 1942. Prior to this year, the highest such gap was five points, measured in June 2002 and July 1994."
Categories > Elections

Literature, Poetry, and Books

The Nonfiction Cell Phone

Is the time students used to spend reading fiction, weighty tomes of novels, now spent on the cell phone?   From James V. Schall's "On Reading Fiction:" 

The poet and the fiction writer are not merely substitutes for our not talking to our friends wherever they are, whenever we want. So when people spend time on immediacy in place of fiction, are they closer to understanding the reality they live in? We can doubt it.

Schall asks whether the cell phone and cyberspace "reality" have diminished our imaginations, which used to be expanded by the reading of fiction.  We see the lack of fiction reading in our students and how it shrivels their souls.

Pop Culture

Jazz Recordings found

This is a couple of days old, but I just noticed that a great discovery of Jazz recordings has been made: The Savory Collection  consists of 975 discs with recordings of live performances broadcast by radio stations in the late 1930s, the height of the swing era, and into 1940. Recorded by audio engineer William Savory, the discs feature Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Bunny Berigan and Lester Young, playing in the relaxed setting of a nightclub or ballroom, rather than the confines of a recording studio, where songs could not exceed three minutes in length. The quality of the music, therefore, is superb.  There are a half-dozen examples you can listen to; especially note the Waller, Armstrong, Tegarden improvisation at bottom right hand corner.  Sweet.  Here is the longer story on the discovery.
Categories > Pop Culture


20 Minutes before Beck (Updated)

"Racism, racism, fight, fight, fight/Workers of the world unite"--a Communist leafleteer provided some zest for the Glenn Beck rally and handed out fliers to bemused participants.  In my mere 20 minutes at the rally (I had a lunch engagement) I heard little from the stage and saw less, save the apparently middle to upper-middle class crowd, very thick just NE of the Lincoln Memorial.  I have no way of estimating its overall size, except to observe that where I was it was denser than, say, the Fourth of July crowd.  I did hear numerous complaints about the sound and the lack of a view, as many people left, but maybe the audience further back had better sound and perspective on the stage.

In case someone else hasn't made this obvious point, I note that the Lincoln Memorial unites the Beck crowd, the counter-rally, and the original civil rights March on Washington through its presentation of simple justice.  After all, it was Lincoln who defined slavery as "you work, I eat."  That was at the heart of his attacks on slavery in the 1850s, and it is the moral precept that condemns slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and compulsory redistribution of wealth today.  And it is the logical deduction from the proposition that all men are created equal.  The Communists and others who don't share American principles would have a different view of the matter. 


On the methodology of counting crowds:  Consider this photo analysis.  That's fine as far as it goes, but this is like taking roll at the start of class and ignoring all the students who sneak out (and others who come in later).  As I came in, around 11 a.m., I saw innumerable folks leaving, some complaining they could not see or hear.  Others may have found the heat too hard to take.  Yet they should count as attendees, too.  Many more people were coming in than leaving.  So the count needs to take into consideration the total numbers who were there throughout the day--not just a static snapshot of the event.  Maybe some (overly clever) social scientist (a new-bred economist) has devised a methodology for doing this.  So my total count would exceed the static count at the crowd's greatest size by a considerable factor.

Categories > Conservatism


On-Road Hindenbergs?

Well this is strange: a hydrogen car filling station blew up in New York.  Not sure if it means anything, but it surely won't help with folks who think hydrogen cars parked in underground garages might be some kind of risk.

Meanwhile, video of my Hannity Fox News segment on cap and trade is now up.  They used more than I thought they might.
Categories > Environment


Presidential Missteps

It is amazing to watch a President of the United States continue to be so thickheaded about something like golf. This has turned into a liability for him, and he doesn't even see it. Michael Ramirez does:
But what is even more amazing is that his thickheadedness extends well beyond how he spends his free time. It looks like he is about to spend this week digging himself even deeper: a Sunday clarification of his comments on the Ground Zero Mosque (which he shouldn't have even waded into in the first place, and unless he is going to contradict himself, he should stop making a bigger story of it), a Tuesday visit to Louisiana to commemorate Hurricane Katrina (you would think that at least one of his advisors would tell him that after the Gulf oil spill on his watch, he really won't be able to score any points against Republicans and George W. Bush on this one), and a Tuesday evening Oval Office address on foreign policy (violence is escalating, we are leaving, but this is somehow good). But yes, d★#m, he really is good -- but it looks like he will continue to be even better for the Republicans.
Categories > Presidency

Political Philosophy

Leo Strauss tapes

This note in the Wall Street Journal is important for those who may consider themselves serious students of political philosophy: It's a reminder that the Leo Strauss Center at The University of Chicago is uploading to its website written and audio recordings of Strauss's lectures, many made by graduate students in the 1950s and 60s. Eventually, students world-wide will be able to take courses by Strauss, free of charge.  This is significant on many levels, the most important one for me has to do with learning and teaching as the search for truth, as an affair of love.  Students loved Strauss.  He took the human mind seriously, as he did them.  Everyone has always said that Strauss was fine teacher in a classroom (we have only had books and some transcripts of classes until now); now we will have the voice and the conversation, the hint and the giggle, and the blunt talk and the persuasive silences.  It would seem that in this case techne is on the side of truth, the human questions, for the sake of which we do what we do.  It will be good to hear him talk.
"Listening to the tapes, you hear Strauss's different approach [than that of historicism]. He believes that thought--at least by great minds--can transcend its time and place. In other words, he believes there is such a thing as truth.

Instead of cataloging philosophers for rows of classroom note takers, he throws students into an ongoing argument: How should we live? He forces students not merely to study political philosophy but to engage in it."

Shameless Self-Promotion

Media Alert

Last week Fox News sent a crew up four hours from LA to my remote summer location on the California central coast to tape a long interview with me on climate change and cap and trade policy for a special Hannity show on the topic that will air tonight on Fox News at 9 pm eastern (the Hannity web site only has a banner listing for it, with no further details).  Much of what I said will surely end up on the cutting room floor, but I'm told I made the final cut, so tune in!


The Spiliakos family isn't moving far, but we are moving.  Probably no blogging until after Labor Day.


Presidents and their generals

Elliot Cohen is interviewed by The American Interest on this topic, starting with the Stanley McCrystal episode,  The whole thing is very much worth reading.  Some truths have to be understated, I hope you will allow me to remind you.
Categories > Presidency


The Hack Caucus

So liberals have already started their attacks on Joe Miller (h/t to Andrew Sullivan.) If that is the best they can do, he should be fine in a Republican-leaning state in a Republican-leaning year - as long as it stays a two person race. 

It seems like Lisa Murkowski might be thinking of going the third party route.  It is tough to imagine a rationale for her campaign.  I guess she could cobble together some kind of pro-choice, pro-pork, pro-seniority platform.  It would clearly just be a Charlie Crist-like attempt by a hack politician to hold on to office for the sake of holding on to office.

Even though the polls are all over the place, I don't expect Crist to win in Florida.  Rubio's message is a little overwrought for me, but he is a well above average speaker, seems to have a clue on domestic policy, and will have plenty of money to get his message out.  With Crist's movements to the left on abortion and Obamacare, Rubio should be able to consolidate the right-of center vote.  It would take a major Rubio scandal and/or virtually unanimous tactical voting from usually Democratic voters for Crist to win.

It is interesting to compare Crist and (maybe) Murkowski with the Democrat-affiliated independents in the Senate.  Lieberman broke with his party over differences with his party's base on a high salience issue.  Bernie Sanders is an explicit social democrat and the Democrats (an internally complicated party) tend to furiously reject that label.  Their formal estrangement from the Democratic Party is based on stuff that matters.  What, other than ambition, estranges Crist or Murkowski from the Republicans?  Does anyone doubt that Crist would take back his support of the stimulus and the Obama hug if it could be guaranteed he would get the Republican nomination and a two man race against Kendrick Meek or that Crist would still be pro-life and pro-repeal of Obamacare if he was the Republican nominee?   

Categories > Politics

Men and Women

A good old man, talking

You know Ed Taylor as a donor and friend, both to the university (Taylor Excellence in Teaching Award) and the Ashbrook Center (Taylor Chair in the MAHG program, held by Christopher Flannery; Taylor Excellence in Writing Award, etc.).  He is an old friend.  And here is where the humor of it starts.  Not only have I known him for a long time, but he is also almost 101 years old.  It was late in the day, and I was a bit tired, yet I visited him yesterday as he is recovering.  He fell a few weeks ago, broke his leg, but didn't know it, kept walking on it, damaged old bones, and had to have a partial hip replacement.  I was there last week when he was taken into surgery, giving thoughtful orders to the nurses. He still rules himself, and others around him, as needed, by right.  He still has his wits and his authority.  I repeat myself, Ed is one hundred years old.

There he sits, a good man and true.  He can't see everything, but he sees enough to know that this fat shape in front of him must be Peter.  He doesn't hear well, but he can turn the gizmo in his right ear up, in case I say anything interesting.  I was with him an hour and a half.  He wasn't interested in talking about himself, or the weather, only the well being of the country.  His experience hasn't dulled his most fundamental sense, his vigorous mind.  He is not too old to think, he is not too old to learn.

Do you think that there is enough of a constituency out there that still appreciated standards, so that the old virtues of diligence and perseverance can be re-kindled when necessary?  It wasn't enough for me to say yes, I had to give reasons, and each had to be expanded and clarified as a result of his queries.  The whys and wherefores forced me to concentrate, just to keep his pace.  It was not possible to get beyond him.  Sure, there was some talk of policy issues, and taxes, and government spending, but mostly there was just talk of the virtues necessary for self-government and questioning whether or not we still have them, as needed.  He argued with perfect clarity why we shouldn't hide our virtues in the world as it now is.  No tempest in his old unblemished mind, nothing but clarity and wisdom on behalf of freedom.  Impressive and good, and I noticed as I left that I was no longer tired.  Another gift from Ed.

Let me praise my old friend this way: An old man should always be an Edward Taylor.
Categories > Men and Women


The Legal, the Moral, and the Natural

For just about everyone who has addressed the question, the controversy has to do with whether Muslims ought to build a Mosque in the blast-zone of Ground Zero.  Almost everyone agrees with President Obama that the owners of the property have a legal right to build it.  Even so, most people who heard Obama's remarks thought he was endorsing the Mosque, rather than making a trite comment about the legality of the matter.

In this context it is interesting to consider the question of "strategic default"--defaulting on one's mortgage not because one cannot pay it, but rather because it is no longer an economically sound position.  Megan McArdle takes the classic view on the question, saying it is, morally wrong and financially stupid.  The first half of that comment is relevant here.  McArdle believes that a moral man pays his debts.  Failure to pay one's debts when one has the means to do so is a form of fraud, or perhaps theft.  Many Americans, however, don't see it that way.  They simply think that the law allows it, and, therefore, they are perfectly entitled to do it.

I suspect that in both of these cases we are seeing nature at work.  It is natural, and I would say inevitable, for people to conflate what is right with what is legal.  Everyone allows that there is daylight between what is right and what the law allows or requires.  On the other hand, to hold that the legal and the moral are completely separable is to wish for that which cannot happen among men.  The law is by nature a moral teacher.  It cannot be otherwise so long as we remain human.

Categories > Education


The Question to Ask This Fall

"Have you ever voted for a bill that was unconstitutonal?"  That's what possible upset winner Joe Miller asked Lisa Murkowski in their only debate for the Republican Party Senate nomination in Alaska.  Expect even worse answers than the one she gave the Yale-educated lawyer, with even worse results.
Categories > Conservatism

Shameless Self-Promotion

Happy Anniversary to Me

The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counter-Revolution, 1980-1989 was published a year ago today.  Time flies when you're having fun.  If you missed the hardback, copies are still available, but the paperback edition will appear on November 2 (you can pre-order now), which happens to be Beatdown Day, I mean, Election Day.  By then I should have news about my next book project, which is on the drawing board right now.


Suppporting The Ryan Roadmap Takes Courage

says Dick Armey, and he is right.  But I don't think he spells out why it takes so much political courage.  Alot of conservatives are thinking of 2010 in terms of 1994, so it might make sense to compare the Ryan Roadmap to the Contract With America.  The Contract was a collection of poll-tested rightish proposals that the House Democratic leadership was not willing to support due to some combination of opposition from Democratic political elites (welfare reform), the arrogance of power (ending congressional exemptions to federal regulations) or principle (the tax limitation and budget balancing amendment.)

What the Contract lacked was any provision that seemed to threaten the economic interests of any constituency that Republicans were courting.  About the only group that was being directly asked to give anything up were the trial lawyers (families on welfare are a complicated case.).  The Ryan Roadmap is a totally different kind of document.  It isn't designed to put together a set of popular policy ideas as a campaign document.  It is designed to try to answer the hard questions about how to get the long-term deficit to sustainable levels without crushing the economy.  That means asking for sacrifices from alot more groups than the trial lawyers.  Running on the Roadmap is nothing like running on the Contract.  It is more like running on the 1995 Medicare cuts, plus some major Social Security cuts, plus a middle-class tax increase.  Oh, and it might cost you your employer-provided health care coverage.  Running on that does take courage, but it might also be the wrong political answer in the short and medium term.

It might also be something less than the ideal policy answer.  I think that the Ryan Roadmap is best thought of not as the economic policy agenda for the center-right, but as framework for thinking about a broad range of policy problems.  Individual Republicans might want to structure the tax burden differently.  They might want to transition to a more market-oriented health care system differently.  Those might be better ideas and debate between different approaches should be encouraged rather than demanding featly to one plan as a sign of seriousness (something which Ryan himself has never demanded.)

But I'm prone to some of the same vices as Armey and I do recognize that Republicans need something more than just not-Obama.  Actually I don't think that (Republicans could probably make big gains just based on the huge flop that "recovery summer" has turned into), but I would like to see the Republicans advance arguments in favor of a set of policies that have a chance of winning majority support and are achievable in the medium term.  This would structure the forthcoming debates with Obama in a way that would force Obama to either compromise or hurt his chances for reelection.  The Ryan Plan doesn't put that choice to Obama.  It makes it easier for him to dig in and paint the Republicans as the party that will cut benefits for Granny, take away your health insurance(and your children's) and raise your taxes for the privilege. 

The best such Republican agenda I have seen was the one put together by Ramesh Ponnuru.  I would also throw in some version of Medicaid reform that introduces some kind of Swiss-style voucher option into the program. 



Categories > Politics


The Wages Of Corporatism...

or how the collusion of the government, environmentalists, and the auto companies made life tougher for low-income Americans who don't have a lobby or a public relations apparatus.
Categories > Politics

The Founding

The 14th Amendment

Two distinguished scholars explore its original meaning. First, poitical scientist Edward Erler

Most revealing, however, was Senator Howard's contention that "every person born within the limits of the United States, and subject to their jurisdiction, is by virtue of natural law and national law a citizen of the United States." Almost everyone certainly would have understood "natural law" to refer to the social compact basis of citizenship, the basis for citizenship adumbrated in the Declaration of Independence.

The argument of the Declaration grounded citizenship in consent. The natural law argument of the Declaration was a repudiation of the notion of birthright citizenship that had been the basis of British citizenship (i.e., being a British "subject") ever since it was first articulated in Calvin's Case in 1608.

Next, law professor John Eastman:

Such a claim of birthright citizenship traces its roots not to the republicanism of the American Founding, grounded as it was in the consent of the governed, but to the feudalism of medieval England, grounded in the notion that a subject owed perpetual allegiance and fealty to his sover­eign.[33] 

So is "Born in the U.S.A." an anti-American song?  No, as long as we agree through democratic republican principles.  "All men are created equal" means that Americans are free to determine their destiny through proper means--not through the aristocratic principles that underlie birthright citizenship.  In the current debate over illegal immigration, the true egalitarians here, the believers in the Declaration of Independence, are not the "birthers."  This nation long ago stopped recognizing "squatter rights." 

UPDATE:  See at least this earlier post on the 14th amendment, with Richard Adams' comments.

Categories > The Founding


Unbossed, Unbought and, So Far, Unasked

I was shocked to learn that it has become "standard operating procedure" for political campaigns to pay bloggers for favorable coverage.  If only someone would pay me the compliment of trying to induce me to rent my analytical abilities until November.  I'm sure I would take the opportunity to give a righteously indignant speech about my inviolable integrity, right out of a Frank Capra film.

Alas, it seems not to have occurred to any candidate that my independence is worth bidding on.  Pending further notice, then, NLT readers can rest assured that every half-baked argument and stretched-to-the-breaking-point metaphor appears in my posts because I sincerely believe the drivel I write.  
Categories > Politics

Shameless Self-Promotion

Come, Let Us Reason Televisually

I discuss my book, and practice walking across the Claremont McKenna campus, in this interview with Reason TV.


Managing The MSM's Decline

Over in one of the threads, political scientist Carl Scott referenced the shrinking of the mainstream media.  He is certainly right when you look at the long-term ratings trends of the CBS Evening News or the prime time line up of the old big three networks.  But I don't take much solace from that decline.  My sense is that the decline of the mainsteam media and the resulting audience fragmentation is going to make it harder for conservatives messages to reach certain segments of the population.

The old MSM sure wasn't fair.  I remember being in seventh grade and reading a Time magazine story about abortion.  I didn't know what abortion was.  At the end of the really long story I still didn't know what abortion was, but I knew that people who were against abortion were bad.  It wasn't like the story outright told you to dislike them but the message got across. 

But even though the coverage wasn't fair, the vast size of the MSM's audience, its commercial orientation and certain journalistic conventions that predominately liberal journalist felt they had to follow gave conservatives the space to get their message out.  If you had the money to but ads, you could be pretty sure that most people would hear your thirty second (or thirty minute) message.  The interviews for conservative figures might have been more hostile than the ones for liberal figures, but at least people got to see you and the hostility was usually limited to subtle cues (an exception being Bryant Gumbel, who usually didn't bother to disguise his detestation of center-right figures.)  Even an overtly hostile interview could play to a center-right figure's advantage as George H.W. Bush and Dan Rather could tell you.  Certain conventions where journalists were discouraged from openly taking sides and were obligated to describe center-right arguments, and provide coverage and interviews for center-right figures usually put boundaries on a press corps with liberal defaults.  That these conventions allowed conservative messages to reach the public has been bitterly noted by  liberal media critics who wanted the media to more overtly side with liberal partisans.  Even when the MSM clearly took sides (as in the 1964 presidential campaign), if you had the money, you could buy a thirty minute ad that could make a huge impression on people who never thought of themselves as conservatives 

The decline of the MSM, rise of the right-leaning media and the fragmentation of audience into small pockets that consume formally "nonpolitical" media has made it much easier to mobilize right-leaning Americans even as it has made it much harder for conservative messages to reach that majority of Americans that don't consume right-leaning media.  Reaching that majority is now tougher because it means fighting for space in hundreds of outlets that aren't overtly political.  These media often have a celebrity, lifestyle or ethnic/racial focus.  The defaults of those who produce the media are probably liberal, and those producers can, by their occasional interventions into political issues, shape the political orientation of their media consumers.  The most obvious example was the US Weekly "Babies, Lies and Scandal" cover story on Sarah Palin.  This helped shape the perceptions of people who don't follow much "news."  While reading my wife's Parenting magazine (don't judge me!) I was struck by an explanation of Obamacare that read like a paid advertisement.  It didn't seem "political."  It was just telling busy middle- class women (and me apparently) how a new law was going to change the lives of their families.   

Twenty years ago you could count on at least reaching those people by ads during popular programs.  Today it is much tougher not only because of audience fragmentation, but because it is easier to skip ads.  Getting conservative messages into the forums that people are consuming will require different techniques than the ones that conservatives developed to deal with their relative weakness in the old MSM.  It doesn't matter so much now that the economy is so bad, the turnout model for the November elections favors Republicans and the right-leaning media is able to help mobilize tens of millions of voters.  But reaching those tens of millions who aren't being reached now is a major long-term problem with no obvious solution.

Categories > Politics

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Jonathan Chait is scornful and livid - not, in itself, a news bulletin - because Sen. Mitch McConnell has not made it his highest priority to inform every American that Barack Obama is not a Muslim.  Instead, McConnell said today that the president says he's a Christian and, "I take him at his word."

If the odiousness of that response is not apparent to you, then your antennae are not as sensitive as Chait's, who believes McConnell's formulation is: "dirty pool," "absurd," and "a sneaky little game" designed to "get more chatter about Obama . . . possibly being a Muslim into the news."  

Chait's position would be stronger if McConnell were the first person to say such a thing, or if Obama considered those who had said such things in the past to be so contemptible that he wanted nothing more to do with them.  That not being the case, it may be that McConnell's formulation is not "a dog-whistle message to the far right," but an insult that only Chait can hear.


Vin Scully is back

A friend who cares about the right things sent me this note about the great announcer for the L.A. Dodgers, Vin Scully.  He will announce for at least one more year; suspicion had it that he would retire.  Note how Scully explains his decision to stay on:  "I remember thinking, 'Gee, I should cut back.' But I talked to my wife, and she said, 'No, if you totally love it, then maintain the pace.' "  Great advice.  You can't retire from something you love.

A friend, overjoyed, sent me this note when he heard:
"Good news for America, and I can feel the world economy turning around as we speak, driven by an ineffable joy.  At restaurants in L.A. strangers walk up to your table, starry eyed, and announce their engagements or offer you a cigar.  A used car salesman stopped lying for 45 minutes--and he was not fired.  Sean Penn and George Clooney signed a public announcement in the L.A. Times: 'We love America and are ashamed of ourselves.  We will never speak about politics again, except to sing the national anthem at Dodgers games, and we will try to make better movies.'"
Categories > Leisure

Once More Into the Mosque

The Associated Press and the New York Times have banned the use of the term "Ground Zero Mosque" in all future stories about the "Unbelievably Benign Community Center Containing Acres and Acres of Facilities For All Kinds Of Inclusive and Unobjectionable Activities (including a nearly undetectable worship thingy of some sort) Located Two Vast, Gargantuan, All But Impassable City Blocks Away From A Place Where Something Vaguely Unpleasant May or May Not Have Happened At Some Indeterminate Point In The Past."  Instead, most stories about the . . . entity, are using "Park51," the name chosen by its sponsors, and a standard nomenclature for New York real estate developers promoting new office buildings, condos and retail sites.

The substitution of "Park51" for "Ground Zero Mosque" treats the fact that Park51 is more than a mosque, located near but not right at Ground Zero, as politically significant, not an incidental detail.  And that fact is indeed emphasized by those who believe that the Park51 controversy is about, not just the constitutional limits determining how government treats religion, but the social attitudes that make religious freedom a day-to-day reality in America.  Thus did President Obama say, in endorsing Park51, "This is America.  And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable."  Thus did his admirers interpret Obama's endorsement as "casting this as a larger argument over the bedrock moral principles that are the foundation of American identity."

As Clive Crook points out, however, if the Park51 controversy is simply and solely about Americans' tolerance for religious diversity, it wouldn't matter if the "Ground Zero Mosque" really were a Ground Zero Mosque.  Indeed, it wouldn't matter if it were the "Osama bin Laden Mosque," located as close as physically possible to where the World Trade Center stood, preaching every day about the vileness and treachery of the American infidels.  In that case, Park51 would be a deliberate provocation, like the attempts by neo-Nazis in the 1970s to march through Skokie, a Chicago suburb that was home to many Holocaust survivors.  Americans, you say you're tolerant? Tolerate this!

Park51 is supposed to be nothing like Nazis marching in Skokie.  Its defenders say it represents a "vision of interfaith harmony."  Its developer says, "we know the best way to start a conversation is by extending a hand."  These are relevant considerations if we are supposed to make a distinction, as President Obama did by the time he finished expressing his thinking on Park51 last weekend, between the right to build Park51 and the wisdom of exercising that right in that particular way, and place. 

It is, therefor, legitimate to inquire about the vision of interfaith harmony Park51 will represent, rather than accept the characterizations advanced by the project's defenders as dispositive.  Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the sponsor of Cordoba House, Park51's mosque and Islamic center, has at least some notions of interfaith relations that are not self-evidently harmonious.  Rauf's repudiation of the 9/11 attacks, delivered in a 2001 television interview, was notably equivocal: "I wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened."  Rauf has had almost nine years to retract or clarify those remarks, and un-blame the victim.  If he has ever done so it is a remarkably well-kept secret, given that it would be so politically useful.

Moreover, if Park51's developers and defenders sincerely want the project to reconcile Muslims and non-Muslims, the undeniable fact that lots of Americans consider the project a gratuitous provocation cannot be dismissed as unimportant, or ascribed to bigotry and intolerance.  The "rights-ization" of the debate over Park51 is, for those purposes, exactly the wrong approach.  Defenders of Park51 who conflate the most strident opponents of the project with all opposition to it, thereby denying that there are any legitimate arguments or respectable sentiments against Park51, are guaranteeing that the whole endeavor will lose friends.  As Micheal Tomasky recently conceded, the argument that liberals have erred by framing the Park51 debate entirely in terms of rights and tolerance, leaving no room for the consideration of community norms, is "not wrong."  For them to continue to insist that those who consider Park51 an affront should simply accede to the idea that First Amendment rights trump all competing political considerations, as the Skokie residents were told they must do 30 years ago, is . . . not wise.


Churchill, Again

A long feature article about Churchill's determination to defeat Hitler appears in the current issue of Der Spiegel, Germany's version of Time magazine.  It is standard stuff to, say, any Ashbrook scholar, but is probably not very familiar to an entire generation of Germans. My (limited) experience with Germans is that they have only the most superficial knowledge of their  20th century history, beyond knowing, like Americans and race relations, that they must express guilt for what took place, while avoiding prolonged study of the matter.  Mel Brooks' joke in the original film version of The Producers, where the director says after reviewing the script of "Springtime for Hitler"--"I didn't realize the Third Reich mean Germany!"--might not be such an obvious joke some day.
Categories > History


God Help Us

Jim Wallis is the president of Sojourners, a magazine and organization whose "mission is to articulate the biblical call to social justice."  Marvin Olasky recently described his own politics as conservative, and chided Wallis for disingenuously insisting that his politics and Sojourners' were not leftist, and for accepting funds from the George Soros' Open Society Institute, which has a leftist political agenda but a posture somewhere between indifferent to hostile toward Christianity.

An interviewer recently asked Wallis about Olasky's assertions.  Wallis gave a carefully wrought, turn-the-other-cheek response: "It's not hyperbole or overstatement to say that Glenn Beck lies for a living.  I'm sad to see Marvin Olasky doing the same thing.  No, we don't receive money from Soros."

Yesterday the interviewer received a message from "the communications manager for Sojourners, confirming that Sojourners has indeed received funding from Soros' Open Society Institute."  It contained a moving statement by Wallis: "I should have declined to comment until I was able to review the [Olasky] blog post in question and consulted with our staff on the details of our funding over the past several years. Instead, I answered in the spirit of the accusation and did not recall the details of our funding over the decade in question." 

So, just to recap:

  1. Marvin Olasky says that Jim Wallis and Sojourners receive money from George Soros.
  2. Jim Wallis says that Sojourners does not receive money from George Soros and that Marvin Olasky lies for a living.
  3. Sojourners and Jim Wallis subsequently say that they do receive money from George Soros, though not much, though they don't say how not much.
  4. Jim Wallis does not apologize for saying something that was untrue - the three grants from Soros were "so small that I hadn't remembered them" - and doesn't retract or apologize for the assertion that Olasky lies for a living.
  5. The only blame Wallis is willing to assign for his own categorical statements that turned out to be categorically wrong is that it was all Olasky's fault, since Wallis merely replied in the spirit of the accusation against Sojourners.
Is it any wonder ours is an age of declining faith?

P.S. Marvin Olasky's colleagues and readers pitched in to help Jim Wallis overcome his spotty, overtaxed and emotionally susceptible memory.  The Open Society Institute's tax returns show that it made three grants to Sojourners between 2004 and 2007, for a total of $325,000.  Either Sojourners is drowning in money or Wallis is succumbing to dementia, because he says, fessing up, that the "OSI made up the tiniest fraction of Sojourners' funding during that decade--so small that I hadn't remembered them."  The other possibility, that Wallis lies - not for a living, exactly - but when it appears convenient for the greater good of articulating the biblical call to social justice, is too far-fetched and cruel to entertain for as long as it takes to pose the thought.
Categories > Religion


The Real Shame of Ground Zero

Instead of complaining about the construction of a mosque/community center/whatever two blocks from Ground Zero, why not focus (as John Podhoretz does) on the fact that, thanks to meddling and incompetent politicians and bureaucrats, nothing at all has been built on the site of the World Trade Center, a full nine years after 9/11?
Categories > Politics

Ashbrook Center

On Principle

The latest edition of On Principle is out and there are two articles within it that may be worth your time: My article, "Among Marines," and David Tucker's, "In the War on Terror, Trust the American Citizen." The whole edition of On Principle can be viewed as a PDF here.
Categories > Ashbrook Center


Lurking Dangers

I got to watch some of Obama's town hall thing today (you could probably find it on YouTube or something) and it reminded me why he is such a canny opponent.  Watching and listening to him is a strange and frustrating experience.  I get frustrated by his persistent intellectual dishonesty, but can't help but be impressed at his skill.

Obama was utterly deceptive about how the introduction of private accounts into Social Security would work.  He seemed to indicate that private accounts would involve older workers shifting all the money that would otherwise have gone to their Social Security benefits to the market.  He had some vague easy answers ("tweaks") about how Social Security could be saved and threw in a reference to a commission to give himself some third party validation.

He was even worse on Medicare.  He repeated the amazing stupendous lie about how Obamacare extended the life of Medicare when Obamacare actually took hundreds of billions of dollars out of Medicare to pay for a new entitlement.  He was smart to use expert third party validation (from the Medicare actuaries who are required to credit the cuts as extending the life of Medicare because of arcane budget rules) so as to show how post partisan and nonideological he is.  If you didn't know about the CBO's commentary on this practice (and most people don't), Obama sounded like the most reasonable guy in the world and not a refugee from Enron's accounting department.

It doesn't really work to describe what Obama does.  You have to see and hear it.  There is something about his calmness, verbal fluidity, seeming empiricism, and easy confidence that adds up to what people think of as "moderate" in the flattering sense of the word.  He can talk for four minutes and it would take ten to explain what was wrong with what that nice smart man was saying.  It allows him to seem much less partisan and ideological than he really is.  It didn't matter so much today.  It is August and the economy is lousy.  The marginal voter isn't caring what he is saying or how he is saying it.  But we saw a preview of some of the most important domestic policy arguments that will dominate the next several years.  So the challenge is to explain both what was wrong with what Obama was saying and why your preferred policies will work better.  You have ten minutes and the message has to be pitched to the median American.  And you are following Obama.

He should not be underestimated.

Categories > Politics


The Most Underreported Events Of The Last Year In Conservative Politics...

might be the founding of National Affairs, and Reihan Salam's The Agenda blog (there is some overlap between those who write for the two platforms.)  They don't get much mass media attention (even from the more popular venues of the right-leaning media), but the conservative domestic policy ideas that will get picked up by the sharpest conservative candidates in the years to come are being hashed out in those places.

Also, National Review On Dead Tree has been smoking in its willingness to publish dissenting or reformist articles in a way that doesn't needlessly antagonize established conservative media figures or politicians.  There is still the problem of popularizing policy prescriptions, but we can begin to see the outlines of a set of rightish policies appropriate for the moment and that is a huge improvement over two years ago.  Now if only someone could get National Affairs subscriptions for the Arizona Republican senatorial candidates. 


Categories > Politics

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Ray Bradbury

There is an interesting short note on Ray Bradbury in the Los Angeles Times. Two of his comments:  "I think our country is in need of a revolution," Bradbury said. "There is too much government today. We've  got to remember the government should be by the people, of the people and for the people."  And: "We have too many cellphones. We've got too many Internets. We have got to get rid of those machines. We have too many machines now."

Worthwhile Muslim Canadian Initiative

Raheel Raza and Tarek Fatah, members of the board of the Muslim Canadian Congress, declare their solidarity with the American xenophobes and purveyors of "race and religious hatred" who oppose building the Cordoba House two blocks from Ground Zero.  Their intolerant arguments mocking the First Amendment include:

  • "Muslims know the idea behind the Ground Zero mosque is meant to be a deliberate provocation to thumb our noses at the infidel. The proposal has been made in bad faith..."
  • "Do they not understand that building a mosque at Ground Zero is equivalent to permitting a Serbian Orthodox church near the killing fields of Srebrenica where 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered?"
  • "[A] mosque is an exclusive place of worship for Muslims and not an inviting community centre. Most Americans are wary of mosques due to the hard core rhetoric that is used in pulpits. And rightly so. As Muslims we are dismayed that our co-religionists have such little consideration for their fellow citizens and wish to rub salt in their wounds and pretend they are applying a balm to sooth the pain."
  • "As for those teary-eyed, bleeding-heart liberals such as New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and much of the media, who are blind to the Islamist agenda in North America, we understand their goodwill. Unfortunately for us, their stand is based on ignorance and guilt, and they will never in their lives have to face the tyranny of Islamism that targets, kills and maims Muslims worldwide, and is using liberalism itself to destroy liberal secular democratic societies from within."

    Read the entire article, from the Ottawa Citizen.

More On Greg Sargent

The motto of the Washington Post's Plum Line blogger appears to be, "When you're in a hole, dig faster."  He renews his effort today to send the Cordoba House debate in the direction he demands.  One of his mule-headed commentators responds:

Mr. Sargent: You keep drawing lines in the sand. First, you disparaged mosque opponents who made a distinction between recognizing the right to place Cordoba House on Park Place and endorsing the wisdom of their doing so. When President Obama availed himself of the same distinction, you dropped that argument.

Now you make a new distinction. It is fine, you say magnanimously, "for Republicans to argue the case against the center on the merits," since "the same First Amendment that protects the right of the group to build the center also protects the right of conservatives to make a case against it." However, "it's another thing entirely if Republicans adopt criticism of Obama's speech as part of a concerted electoral strategy."

How is the latter entirely different from the former? Opposing Cordoba House is legitimate but opposing it in a politically coordinated, systematic fashion is illegitimate? The same First Amendment that protects the freedoms of religion and speech also protects the freedom of association. If Republicans have your permission to say that the mosque location is a bad idea, why can't they say so to anyone, including campaign consultants, in any manner, including speeches and campaign ads? And if it's something one Republican can say, why can't scores or hundreds of Republicans say the same?

And things just keep getting worse for the blogger who called Obama's pro-mosque speech on Friday "one of the finest moments" of his presidency.  (Well, it was one of the shortest, says James Taranto.)  Now Harry Reid has also discovered the distinction between the right to build Cordoba House two blocks north of Ground Zero and the wisdom of doing so - and says "the mosque should be built some place else."  Sargent's nuanced assessment is that Reid's decision is "weak and indefensible," it "leaves the President hanging after he took a big risk to do the right thing," and it "just makes the Dems look weak, unorganized, cowardly, and unwilling to take a stand for principles they plainly believe in."  Apart from that, Sargent thinks it was a pretty deft move.

When the "second most powerful Democrat in the country," in Sargent's words, isn't enough of a Democratic team player, you do understand a little better why the Journolist echo chamber was so harmful.  Get a group of like-minded writers, many of them young, barely employed and aspiring, and have the most strident act as orthodoxy cops, and you wind up as tone-deaf, shrill and unpersuasive as Greg Sargent.

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Dante's World

A friend sent me this note from The New Yorker about a site on Dante, called Danteworlds.  It is worth a look.  From The New Yorker: 

It's not a video game and it's not CliffsNotes--Danteworlds is "an integrated multimedia journey" through Dante's "Divine Comedy." Situated somewhere in cyberspace between EverQuest and Solitaire, it's a terrific way to lose a month's worth of lunchtime in a cubicle. Most literary texts don't lend themselves to the "integrated multimedia" approach, which often just whisks readers off the page into biographical or literary analysis land and strands them there. But, in the case of "The Divine Comedy," and perhaps other epic poetry--the Odyssey comes to mind--the approach is a perfect marriage of medium and message, launching the reader right into the allegorical action, heightening rather than dulling appreciation and comprehension.

I like it, but especially like the brief Italian in the audio section.  Bellissimo.


Obama Won't Win By A Landslide, But He Might Not Have To

Megan McArdle argues that Obama won't see a Reaganesque turnaround in the economy or his political fortunes.  That is probably true but that doesn't mean Republicans have a clear path to winning in 2012.  2012 won't be some Democratic version of 1984.  The economy almost certainly won't be growing as fast as it was in 193-1984.  Obama hasn't shown Reagan's ability to lop off large chunks of voters from the other party's coalition.  Obama's strengths were his ability to win large margins (and get large turnouts) among voters from Democratic-leaning groups and make gains among upper income and higher educated whites who were not reliable voters for either coalition.  That is a good place to start from, but not the stuff of 49 state sweeps.

2012 also won't be 1996.  This recession was worse that the early 90s recession and the unemployment rate  won't be in the 5s when Obama is running for reelection.  Obama also won't go as far to the center as Clinton.  I don't know what the current equivalent of Welfare Reform would be, but I don't see Obama signing a major piece of rightish policy change. 

The problem is that Obama doesn't have to win a reelection landslide in order shift the country to the left in an enduring way.  Obama's administration is in a consolidationist phase.  He has already passed a law that puts the country on the glide path to government-run medicine.  Obamacare will raise premiums while making middle-class Americans more dependent on government subsidies, guaranteed issue and community rating just to make health care coverage affordable.  The likely result of the problems Obamacare creates is a more government-run system that transitions to government price controls and the replacement of the health insurers with a single-payer system.  He only has to hang on and let the dynamics play out.  If even one of the five non-liberal (or rather nonconsistently liberal) Supreme Court Justices retire we can expect a transformational liberal majority on the Supreme Court.

If the labor market of 2012 is the same one we have now, Obama's skills won't matter and the Republicans would have a tough time losing the election.  But there is another potential scenario where Obama's chances are uncertain, but much better.  Imagine the economy is growing slowly.  The unemployment rate is in the 7s but falling very, very slowly.  Obama and his media allies have been assailing the congressional Republicans as Medicare and Social Security cutters - shades of 1995.  It doesn't help that this is a plausible interpretation of the Ryan Roadmap.  Even if congressional Republicans don't sign up for the Roadmap, it is hard to see how a Republican majority in the House can seriously cut into the deficit without cutting entitlements or defense or raising taxes.  It is probably possible but who trusts John Boehner to either come up with the right plan or find an effective way to defend it?  The ensuing arguments could do the GOP enormous damage.  Obama will be able to plausibly argue that his spending program averted a depression and put the country back on the road to recovery.  It doesn't have to be true.  It only has top seem true to some wavering voters.   As Peter Lawler says, when the answer isn't obvious, spin matters alot.  No amount of spin ("recovery summer") is going to help when the unemployment rate is 9.5%.  A slightly better labor market puts the economic discussion back in the spin zone and I'm not ready to bet against Obama in a spin contest.  This isn't even getting into Obama's demonstrated skill at crafting an enormously well funded GOTV and media operation in a year when the turnout model will be more favorable to Democrats.

None of this means that Republicans are doomed under this scenario.  They would need a good candidate, a good media message and a good GOTV operation.  Basically the opposite of the McCain campaign.  They will also need some answers on economic growth and getting the deficit under control that offer tangible benefits to the middle and aspiring working-classes without terrifying them (as most talk of entitlement cuts and market-oriented health care reform have a tendency to do.)  This will be incredibly complicated (as Paul Ryan will be the first to tell you), and the stakes are huge.  If Obama wins reelection and retains enough Democrats in congress to uphold his vetoes, Obama will be on the way to being a far more significant (from the liberal perspective) President than Clinton, even if he wins reelection by a much smaller margin.  


Categories > Politics


A Mosque by Any Other Name . . .

If the builders of the proposed Mosque near Ground Zero have pure intentions, why did they originally want to call is Cordoba House.

Update: a commentator points us to an article in Tablet on the history of Medieval Cordoba.  Apparently the myth of Medieval Muslim Spain being a haven of toleration is an invention of 19th Century Germans.  Why am I not surprised.

Categories > Religion


God and Country in Manhattan

Ross Douthat points out that religion needs the aid of reason--America, with its insistence on natural rights and a civil religion based on it, is the case in point.  Conservatives should adopt this argument and not sound like low-grade liberals in pleading for "compassion" for the survivors and victims of 9/11.  They don't need compassion; they demand justice, and justice as the rule of law in turn requires the rule of reason.  Douthat:

The steady pressure to conform to American norms, exerted through fair means and foul [my note:  see Republican platform of 1856], eventually persuaded the Mormons to abandon polygamy, smoothing their assimilation into the American mainstream. Nativist concerns about Catholicism's illiberal tendencies [my note:  contrast Washington's letters to Catholics with those to the Jews] inspired American Catholics to prod their church toward a recognition of the virtues of democracy, making it possible for generations of immigrants to feel unambiguously Catholic and American.

Douthat also reminds us that the proposed Islamic Center's imam does not inspire confidence in his amenability to reason.  The problem of reason or natural law and Islam is elaborated on by Robert Reilly, whose work is essential on this issue.

Categories > Religion


Quotation du Jour

By Ann Althouse:

Obama has made his brilliant career out of saying the most crashingly banal things to people who hear what they want to hear.

Categories > Presidency

Tempus Fugit

Yesterday President Obama endorsed building the Cordoba House, an Islamic mosque and cultural center, in lower Manhattan, two blocks from where the World Trade Center towers stood, and fell.  The Washington Post's Greg Sargent called the speech "one of the finest moments of Obama's presidency."  Sargent contrasts Obama's "forceful" and "powerful" argument with the "clever little dodge" employed by many opponents of Cordoba House: "They say they don't question the group's legal right to build it under the Constitution.  Rather, they say, they're merely criticizing the group's decision to do so, on the grounds that it's insensitive to 9/11 families and will undercut the project's goal of reconciliation."  By contrast, Obama made a sweeping rather than a narrow endorsement of Cordoba House because he understands, in Sargent's words, that the controversy "goes to the core of our running argument about pluralism and minority rights and to the core of who we are."

The thing about moments, even finest moments, is that they don't last very long.  The New York Times headline on the story covering the president's speech at yesterday's White House dinner marking the start of Ramadan was "Obama Strongly Backs Islam Center Near 9/11 Site."  The headline on the story about the president's remarks today during a visit to the Gulf Coast is "Obama Says Mosque Remarks Were Not Endorsement."  According to the more recent story, Mr. Obama said that in yesterday's speech he "was 'not commenting on the wisdom' of [building the Cordoba House so close to the World Trade Center site], but rather trying to uphold the broader principle that government should treat 'everyone equal, regardless' of religion." 

What do you think, Mr. Sargent?  Does that qualify as a "clever little dodge"?


Bloodline Libel

Presumably in response to John Eastman's fine work on the history of the "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" clause of the 14th Amendment, in his latest column, Michael Gerson says that those who oppose "birthright citizenship" are "Advocates for bloodline citizenship."  Does Gerson think so little of those who disagree with him on this issue?  There are a few nativists out there, but I don't think they are representative.  I am fairly certain that the vast majority understand that it is Gerson, not those who oppose birthright citizenship, who want to make birth the key characteristic in determining who is a citizen of the U.S.  Most people I know who think birthright citizenship is a mistake belive the U.S. ought to allow a good number of immigrans to come to the U.S. and become citizens.  The key disagreement between Gerson and someone like myself is that he does not think that we the people should be able to choose who may join us as citizens.

Getting to the evidence, he writes:

Civil War America did not lack for unpopular immigrants. The 1860 Census found that 13.2 percent of the U.S. population was foreign-born. The figure today is 12.3 percent. During the debate over the 14th Amendment, Sen. Edgar Cowan of Pennsylvania complained that birthright citizenship would include Gypsies, "who pay no taxes; who never perform military service; who do nothing, in fact, which becomes the citizen." Others objected that the children of Chinese laborers would be covered. Supporters of the 14th Amendment conceded both cases -- and defended them. Said Sen. John Conness of California: "We are entirely ready to accept the provision proposed in this constitutional amendment, that the children born here of Mongolian parents shall be declared by the Constitution of the United States to be entitled to civil rights and to equal protection before the law with others."

He does not quote some of the other parts of Conness's speech:  "The Chinese are regarded also not with favor as an addition to the population in a social point of view . . . they are not regarded as pleasant neighbors; their habits are not of a character that make them at all an inviting class to have near you, and the people so generally regard them."  And, he noted, Chinese workers tend to return to China.  "They do not bring their females to our country but in very limited numbers."  (Scanning over the debates quickly, I did not see anyone say they agreed with Conness.  The debate turned to other questions. But I read quickly, and may very well have missed the discussion).

In the sentence after the paragraph quoted above, Gerson notes, "The Radical Republicans who wrote the 14th Amendment were, in fact, quite radical."  Conness had been a Douglas Democrat and then a Union Republican.  To what degree he then became a radical, I don't know. He did vote to impeach President Johnson. 

It seems to me that Senator Trumbull's comment that "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" means "subject to the complete jurisdiction thereof" and "not owing allegiance to anybody else" is a better reading of the text.  Even so, Gerson does have at least one Senator on his side. (To be fair, Trumbull's comment was in the context of a discussion of Indians. Indian nations were not truly independent. They were captive nations.  But if an Indian mother gave birth one U.S. soil, rather than Indian lands, and her child was not a U.S. citizen, it would seem to imply that a person born in the U.S. to parents who had not become U.S. citizens, and who were from truly independent nations, would not be citizens).

Ulimately, it does not seem to me to be a coincidence that Justice Harlan dissented in both Plessy and in Wong Kim Ark (the birthright citizenship case).  The underlying principle, that an accident of birth is not to have ultimate importance in American law, is consistent.  After all, the principles of 1776 suggest that race is an arbitrary category in law.  Similarly, they suggest that the republic is a compact.  The parties to that compact have the right to decide who joins, and under what conditions.  Enshrining those principles more clearly in American law was, after all, the purpose of the 14th Amendment.  Trumbull and Harlan understood that.

Note: I updated this from the original post.

P.S. I recommend the opinion, both majority and dissenting in U.S. v Wong Kim Ark.  Very illuminating.

Categories > Courts


Hypocrisy, Thy Name is Union

Even Unions are anti-Union:

Callaghan said he personally told Mulgrew on June 9 about his intention to try to organize nonunionized workers at UFT headquarters.

"I told him I want to have the same rights that teachers have," said Callaghan, 63, of Staten Island. "He told me he didn't want that, that he wanted to be able to fire whoever he wanted to."

The UFT has long strenuously resisted city efforts to make it easier for school administrators to fire teachers.

"This is the exact antithesis of what they preach, and Michael Mulgrew is the biggest hypocrite out there," Callaghan fumed.

Callaghan said he's planning to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against the UFT for illegally blocking his unionizing effort, and he added he would slap the union with an age-discrimination lawsuit.

Categories > Economy


Fighting An Emerging Democratic Strategy

Harry Reid is a despicable jerk and his retirement from the Senate can't come quickly enough.  But I'm not sure that the Republican/conservative response to Reid's "I don't know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican" comment has been as effective as it might be.  The main Republican/conservative reaction seems to be spluttering outrage and looking around for right-leaning Latinos who will say that gosh no, it is totally okay for Hispanics to be Republican.  This approach might work okay with white swing voters who don't like racialist politics.  It isn't clear to me why politically unaligned Latinos should care that Reid's comment hurt conservative feelings or care that some activist that 99.9% of Americans never heard of thinks the GOP is A OK for Latinos.  Reid's comment was in the context of an argument.  He was arguing that all Latinos had certain overriding common interests that were represented by the Democrats and opposed by the Republicans.  We can expect to see this argument from the Democrats in future campaigns (though perhaps not made with such brazen malice) and this argument (and it is a terrible argument) will have to be answered. It will have to be answered with an explanation as to why it is wrong in its presumptions that all Latinos have the same voting interests, but just as importantly, it will have to be answered by showing how Republicans offer (most) Latinos a better deal on both principle and policy.  Reid's comment is a preview of Democratic attempts to make voting for Democrats an integral part of Latino political identity so that non-Democratic Latinos become utterly marginal.  Just calling moral fouls when Democrats use this tactic won't be good enough.

That doesn't mean conservatives shouldn't be outraged or express outrage.  Marco Rubio had the best reaction so far.  The outrage at Reid's comment should be expressed within an answer about why Latinos (and people of every other racial and ethnic group) should vote Republican.  The substance of the answer makes contempt for Reid's presumption more meaningful.  Rubio hit all the right themes of free enterprise, sacrifice, family, work and intergenerational upward mobility but he was still only halfway there.  The problem is that these themes become easily tuned out sloganeering if they are not combined with specific policies that can plausibly offer tangible outcomes.

A better answer to Reid would be that Latino (and non-Latino) voters should vote Republican because of tax policies that will decrease unemployment and make it easier for working parents to raise their children.  A better answer would include arguing for health care reforms that will improve the quality and security of care while increasing take home pay. A better answer would include arguing that Republicans won't use limited and hard earned tax payer dollars to fund abortions.  And then it would make sense to conclude that the reason Harry Reid doesn't know why any Latinos would vote Republican is because he is an arrogant and prejudiced Washington hack who thinks he is entitled to people's votes based on their surname.  It also wouldn't hurt to put this message in Spanish language ads. 

This is much bigger than a Nevada Senate race.  I want Reid gone, but I'm not sure Nevada Republicans have a Senate candidate that can articulate and defend a relevant agenda in English, never mind Spanish language media.  Angle might win anyway based on the horrible condition of the Nevada labor market, but that won't stop Democrats from trying to consolidate the Latino vote based on racialist arguments.  This is a good moment for Republicans to work out their counterarguments (and policies) so as to block the Democrats from slowly gaining overwhelming margins among a large fraction of the voting population.

Categories > Politics

The Race Card Has Been Maxed Out



The Paul Ryan Watch

Check WheatandWeeds for its frequent postings on the Wisconsin Congressman's speeches and deeds, along with the regular thoughts on theology, culture, and family.
Categories > Politics


On Mitch Daniels - Again

So I'm back from the family road trip and used YouTube to watch Mitch Daniels' performance on FOX News Sunday.  Some thoughts as they came to me,

1.  The optics were pretty bad. I couldn't tell if he was standing very awkwardly or slouching into a very uncomfortable chair.

2.  His "trickle down government" line on government stimulus was pretty good.  I know it isn't original to Daniels but the line has more credibility coming from a governor who managed to keep the state budget under control while preserving key government services and doing so without major tax increases, than if it had come from some congressional blowhard.

3.  The idea of a congressionally granted presidential impoundment power might have some merit.  Chris Christie seems to have used it to some good effect in New Jersey. My only question is, if Congress is unwilling to vote for budget savings, why would they be willing to grant the President the power to make cuts Congress doesn't want?  Is it realistic to hope for a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate for such granting the President such a power?  I'm not sure, but I think it is a worthwhile campaign issue.

4.  Daniels takes on the entitlement issues honestly, but he will need to up his game in the explanations department.  His answers will have to be more detail-oriented and be in plainer language.  Those two imperatives are in tension, but not irreconcilable. On the details front, how will increasing retirement ages impact people who work physically demanding jobs and how will means-testing be designed in such a way that it doesn't destroy incentives to save and invest for people in their forties and fifties?  On the plain language front, what fraction of the public understood what Daniels was talking about when he mentioned "changing the indexation formula?"  Entitlement issues cut really close to people since they involve question about when people can retire, how much they will be able to afford in retirement, and how they will get health care in their old age.  It is scary enough to talk about cuts in entitlements, but when the explanations are incomprehensible, it gets even scarier. In fairness to Daniels, the format didn't really allow for much detailed talk, but if he runs for President, being able to say alot about the entitlement issue in short bursts that are comprehensible to the layman will be a key to winning elections and then getting reforms through Congress.

5.  Daniels is still lost on the social issues and he put on an especially obtuse performance.  The social issues won't be primary on a day-to-day basis, but there won't be a truce for the sake of Mitch Daniels or anybody else.  To pick just one example, there won't be a truce as long as federal judges try to impose their preferred social policies.  This means that a President Daniels will have to make appointments that either advance, check or (we can hope) roll back these judicial aggressions.  And where did Daniels ever get the idea that not talking about popular positions on social issues will make it easier to pass Social Security cuts?  Obama might be a good example here.  It isn't like appointing two liberals to the Supreme Court has gotten in the way of taking a big step towards government-run health care.  Would Obama have made more progress in advancing his social democratic and corporatist economic agenda if he had appointed Robert P. George to the Supreme Court? 

Categories > Politics


Boring Gray Lady

Let's say you were asked to write about 800 words on why you no longer read the New York Times.  How would it come out in clean, crisp, and true, English words, such words that everyone would understand, if not agree with?  The words used would have to smell both new and good. As each word was written it would seem as though you are seeing or hearing each for the first time, and combined they would "articulate sweet sounds together" (as Yeats said).  Joseph Epstein has done this as explains why he cancelled his subscription.  True.
Categories > Journalism


My Trip to Vermont

Got back safe and sound (and dry) from my 1,400 mile ride to Vermont. Had a fine time at Plymouth Notch, watching Governor James Douglas cut the ribbon to the new Coolidge Museum and Education Center (he also gave a good talk on Coolidge's character). There were many interesting folks there, including Bernie Sanders, Amity Shlaes and George Nash. George introduced me to Jim Cooke--at first sight looked much like Calvin--an actor turned performer of Coolidge, Everett, Daniel Webster, J.Q. Adams. I begged him not go into his Edward Everett mode (I didn't have two hours plus!), no problem he said, he was doing Coolidge all that day. I asked President Coolidge a few questions and he knew all the answers, made specific reference to speeches, etc. Pretty impressive. In the conversation, Coolidge said we should "think the thoughts," that the Founders thought, George Nash pointed out that it was President Harding who first used the term "founding fathers." I didn't know this.

Isabella, see her pretty self here weighed down like a pack-mule at the end of the trip, loved the ride and she did everything that was asked of her. She loves the slow pace of the mountain roads as well as the fast-paced interstate. Best thing I ever did for her (and me!) was to put on a Corbin saddle. Long ride without pain of any kind, just pleasure. She's a great ride.

Categories > Presidency


More Bodies Found at Ground Zero?

So reports Andy McCarthy:

In late June, CBS -- in a barely noticed story that is no longer available on its website -- reported that 72 sets of human remains had just been recovered and identified as a result of new construction work at the Ground Zero site. The CBS report is cited in a synopsis at a compendium site called 9/11 Research. The synopsis explains: "Although a CBSNEWS article stated that 'some' [of the remains] 'have been matched to previously unidentified Sept. 11 victims,' it did not provide further details." Obviously, this implies that some of the newly recovered remains are actually newly identified victims. Mind you, that's June 2010 -- only a few weeks ago.

This new discovery happened because, all these years later, some of the WTC complex has been inaccessible until recently. A stepped-up effort was started in October 2006, following the discovery of remains at a Con-Ed location within the WTC perimeter. In late June 2010, at the time of the aforementioned news report, Mayor Bloomberg was informed of the bracing news that "1,845 potential human remains" had been recovered thanks to this intensified search.

Read the whole thing.

Categories > Journalism

Ignoring a Deluge of Isolated Incidents

The choice is simple, writes Paul Krugman.  It is "between asking the richest 2 percent or so of Americans to go back to paying the tax rates they paid during the Clinton-era boom, or allowing the nation's foundations to crumble."  Noting that some state and municipal governments are saving money by turning out street lights, replacing paved roads with gravel ones, or firing teachers and shortening the school year, he argues with contempt bordering on fury that "a large part of our political class" has chosen crumbling foundations over higher taxes.

Krugman implies that higher taxes engender sturdy foundations - bright lights, paved roads and good schools.  It's not clear, however, that tax increases are either necessary or sufficient for those purposes.  America kept the street lights on, roads paved and schools open with the tax rates passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1993.  It also did so with the even lower rates passed by a Republican Senate and Democratic House that President Reagan signed in 1986. 

Explaining the failure to maintain infrastructure and perform basic public functions in terms of a single cause - too little money - neglects the possibility that some state and local governments are in fiscal trouble because they have spent their money badly.  It is not the case, however, that the relationship between the size of the public revenue stream and the quality of the public services is direct, simple and reliable.  If it were, high-revenue states would always have good roads and schools, and low-revenue states would always have bad ones.  California's roads, schools and public services are not, in fact, markedly superior to the ones in Texas, despite the fact that only a few states secure more money for state and local governments than California, and only a few secure less money than Texas.  "Twenty years ago, you could go to Texas, where they had very low taxes, and you would see the difference between there and California," Joel Kotkin, executive editor of and a presidential fellow at Chapman University in Southern California, told the Los Angeles Times last year. "Today, you go to Texas, the roads are no worse, the public schools are not great but are better than or equal to ours, and their universities are good."

It would be generous to say that this other consideration, how capably and honestly states and cities spend their money, gets left out of Krugman's equation.  It would be more accurate to say that it gets kicked out.  It's not just that Krugman, and liberals generally, don't want to talk about the possibility that public funds are spent badly.  They don't want anyone else to talk about it, either.  Thus, Krugman endorses Jonathan Cohn's argument that "public employees are the new welfare queens."  That is, the problem of over-compensated (and usually unionized) government workers is, in Krugman's words, "a phony issue," just like excessive welfare payments to able-bodied adults.

The phoniness of these phony issues is not self-evident.  Phony as in non-existent?  It's not as though examples of government spending money badly are hard to find. 

  • New York City teachers, who routinely get lifetime tenure after three years on the job, can spend years receiving six-figure salaries for doing nothing while the school board and union wrangle over complaints that they are unqualified and should be dismissed. 
  • The Milwaukee teachers union, which has "one, constant focus - putting children at the center of education," has also found the time and money to sue the school district for discriminating against male employees by excluding "Viagra and other drugs that treat erectile dysfunction from its health insurance plans." 
  • In California, 12,201 retired civil servants and public educators receive pensions of more than $100,000 per year.  "Retired" is an approximate descriptor here, because California laws that allow public employees to retire in their 50s mean that many of them pocket their pensions while going on to work for other government agencies, or get hired as consultants by their former employer. 
  • Public officials in Illinois are virtuosos in the art of "pension-spiking," piling bonuses, overtime and extra assignments onto the paycheck of an employee who is just about to retire, causing his pension to leap dramatically.

Isolated incidents?  As the "isolated" incidents keep piling up, it's harder and harder to keep from wondering if there isn't a deeper problem at work.  The plural of "anecdote" is "data," as the saying goes.  Adjusted for inflation and population growth, California's state and local governments spent 21.7% more in 2006 than in 1992.  I'm still waiting to meet the first Californian who thinks the state's public services and infrastructure are 21% better than they were 18 years ago.  It would be easy to stand in line at the DMV, however, and find one who thinks they're 21% worse.

Rather than address the problem Krugman wants to deny the problem, and disparage anyone who treats it seriously.  This is not a novel approach.  Liberals have a long history of insisting that it is not just mistaken but illegitimate to challenge their enterprise by dwelling on inconvenient facts.  Today it is extravagant compensation of public employees and the ineffectual, wasteful expenditure of public funds.  In years past it has been the excesses of the welfare system or the ways school busing exacerbated racial tensions.  Liberal efforts to rule discussion about rising crime out of order were so strenuous that conservatives were forced to ask, if "law and order" is a code word for "racism," what's the code word for "law and order"? 

Before being stampeded into raising taxes or increasing deficits to prop up failing governments, conservatives today want to know when the accumulation of data about governmental malpractice becomes a legitimate issue, one that engages rather than enrages liberals who say they care about making government work.  Is there nothing more to that caring than seeking more and more money for government?  Doesn't using the money well and wisely have a claim on our attention, too?


The Worst Kind of Anti-Business

Ezra Klein's suggestion that President Obama is pro-business reminds me of this classic exchange in When Harry Met Sally:

Harry Burns: There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance.

Sally Albright: Which one am I?

Harry Burns: You're the worst kind; you're high maintenance but you think you're low maintenance.

Sally Albright: I don't see that.

Harry Burns: You don't see that? Waiter, I'll begin with a house salad, but I don't want the regular dressing. I'll have the balsamic vinegar and oil, but on the side. And then the salmon with the mustard sauce, but I want the mustard sauce on the side. "On the side" is a very big thing for you.

Sally Albright: Well, I just want it the way I want it.

Harry Burns: I know; high maintenance.

So too does the President want business to do things his way.  He's happy to work with big businesses if they play ball.  But that's not what the market economony, or economic liberty is.

Categories > Economy

Ashbrook Center

No Left Turns Mug Drawing Winners for July

Congratulations to this month's winners of a No Left Turns mug! The winners are as follows:

Robin Fought
Debbie Shelley
Christy Mays
Sarah Marallo
James Heimer

Thanks to all who entered. An email has been sent to the winners. If you are listed as a winner and did not receive an email, contact Ben Kunkel. If you didn't win this time, enter the next drawing.

Categories > Ashbrook Center


A Spirit Not Quite on the Level

Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson's book The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, published last year in the United Kingdom, has attracted a great deal of attention in Europe without yet being the subject of many debates in America.  Its thesis, that economic inequality is a bad thing, is not the freshest tomato on the shelf.  The book's claim on the attention of opinion makers is, rather, that the balefulness of inequality can be demonstrated statistically.  Comparing data from several nations, and then looking at differences in the 50 states of the U.S., Pickett and Wilkinson conclude that "large income inequalities within societies damage the social fabric and the quality of life for everyone."  That is, they find a strong, positive correlation between economic inequality and each affliction on a long list of social problems, including: illnesses, both physical and mental; drug abuse; violent crime, and teenagers' pregnancies.  These problems are so severe and extensive that even prosperous people in unequal societies would be better off after income redistribution, since they would enjoy their diminished but still considerable personal wealth in safer, healthier societies that were more congenial and harmonious.

Pickett and Wilkinson argue that more equal societies have greater cohesion and higher degrees of social trust, which helps lubricate all kinds of social, political and economic transactions.  In the website that accompanies their book, Pickett gives an interview in which she says:

As human beings, we're very sensitive to social relationships.  We have an evolved psychology that makes us very aware of how others judge us.  If you think about it, some of the most difficult things to do, or the most embarrassing situations we're in, are ones where others can judge us negatively....  If we're looking at societies where the social distances between people are bigger, as they are in more unequal societies, there's just much more potential for all of us to feel that we're judged negatively by others . . .

The goal of The Spirit Level, then, is to incorporate this non-judgmental sensitivity into a wide range of public policies and social practices.  Which makes it all the stranger that Pickett and Wilkinson, after responding to some books and newspaper articles criticizing their work, recently posted this peevish announcement on their website: "Almost all of the research presented and synthesised in The Spirit Level had previously been peer-reviewed, and is fully referenced therein.  In order to distinguish between well founded criticism and unsubstantiated claims made for political purposes, all future debate should take place in peer-reviewed publications."

As Brendan O'Neill points out, this new stipulation is dubious intellectually, since a lot of crap gets published in peer-reviewed journals while intelligent things show up in magazines, newspapers and even, occasionally, blogs.  Given Pickett and Wilkinson's ultimate objectives, however, what's really striking is how anomalous their position is politically.  They come across as notably callous about the psychological wounds they're inflicting on people who can't get their critiques of The Spirit Level into a peer-reviewed journal.  What could cripple one's self-esteem more lastingly than being snubbed by two of England's leading egalitarians?  Even the term "peer-reviewed" would echo comfortably in the halls of Versailles.  The peers of the realm of intellectual discourse get to decide who is fit to join their ranks, and who is unworthy even to talk with them.  Pickett and Wilkinson won't second-guess the judgments of those peers - their peers - and won't waste their time responding to the riff-raff who were sorted out during the vetting process.

As Pickett and Wilkinson's countryman Samuel Johnson said nearly three centuries ago, "Sir, your levellers wish to level down as far as themselves; but they cannot bear levelling up to themselves."
Categories > Economy

Ashbrook Center

Under Leisure

I am ten miles from Plymouth Notch having come through two days of a perfect ride during which the weather could not have been better. Isabella loves to ride, loves to stretch her legs as long as I can maintain a good posture in the saddle. I am sitting by the side of the road smoking and sipping coffee, smelling wildflowers that I can't identify and pine everywhere. I will be here through the weekend paying homage to Silent Cal and will be home by Tuesday.
Categories > Ashbrook Center


Signs and Wonders

In honor of the prospective double-dip recession, I made double-dip buttermilk fried chicken for dinner a couple nights ago.  Looks prescient.  (It was yummy, too.)  Another punk jobs report today: a net loss of 131,000 jobs, with job levels from previous months revised downward slightly.  

Meanwhile, taxes are scheduled to go up a lot on January 1, when the Bush tax cuts expire. So I note with interest a 2007 academic paper I have in my files that studied tax increases and concludes: 

"tax increases are highly contractionary. The effects are strongly significant, highly robust, and much larger than those obtained using broader measures of tax changes. The large effect stems in considerable part from a powerful negative effect of tax increases on investment... In terms of consequences, our results indicate that tax changes have very large effects on output. Our baseline specification suggests that an exogenous tax increase of one percent of GDP lowers real GDP by roughly three percent..."

The author: Christina Romer (along with her husband Paul Romer, also a UC Berkeley economist of substantial reputation), chair of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers.

Romer announced her resignation this morning.

Categories > Economy


The Objectively Lefty Press

One aspect of the Journolist controversy that bears noting is what it reveals about the mind of the Press.   For one, I found it interesting that Ryan Avent, now an editor at The Economist was a Journolister.  In one post about Governor Palin, he :

complained that Obama's supporters were missing a chance to attack. "If we were the GOP, we'd be taking this opportunity to shout long and loud how unprepared Palin is--'She doesn't even know what Fannie and Freddie are . . . . That's the difference in the game as played by us and by them.

When I subscribed to The Economist, I often found it interesting that their American coverage tended to lean to the Left, even as I found their European coverage more even-handed (at least on most issues).  Avent's presence on the list confirms my suspicion.  He was hired by like-minded folks, or to serve the same agenda.

Then there's Chuck Todd's lament.  He said:

"I am sure Ezra had good intentions when he created it, but I am offended the right is using this as a sledgehammer against those of us who don't practice activist journalism.

"Journolist was pretty offensive. Those of us who are mainstream journalists got mixed in with journalists with an agenda. Those folks who thought they were improving journalism are destroying the credibility of journalism.

"This has kept me up nights. I try to be fair. It's very depressing."

Todd was not on Journolis.  He is upset that the mere existence of Journolist will seem to confirm what conservatives have long been saying about the press.   What I find interesting is that Todd thinks it is relatively easy to distinguish advocates from journalists.   It seems to me that the the reason why the list grew to be so big is that it is often hard to tell the difference.  The trouble is not that good and well intentioned reporters like Todd are deliberately biased.  The trouble is that objectivity is impossible.  The key questions for journalists are what story to tell and how to tell it.  Does one begin a story about the war in Iraq with the body count (American or Iraqi?), with Saddam's tyranny? With government corruption?  With a story of good work by U.S. doctors there?  Etc. There's no objective way to answer that question.  It is a lie to pretend there is. 

Science does not tell us what is a fact or what facts to study.  That's, ultimately, a moral judgment.  And morals cannot be studied scientifically, at least not if we define science after the modern fashion.  One might even say that it is the belief, on one hand, that only modern science can give us truth and, on the other, that moral judgments can be made better by experts, trained with the modern scientific method that, combined with the abstract acknowledgment that science does not teach morals, that is the foundation of modern liberalism.

Categories > Journalism


Zinn's of Omission

To follow up my post a few days ago, I thought I should note Ron Radosh's comments on Howard Zinn's FBI file.  Radosh grew up in the world of American commnists, and has studied the Party's history closely, so he knows the turf.

So what is in these files? First, the FBI had evidence that Zinn was a member of the Communist Party of the United States, and lied about his membership when being interviewed by FBI agents. The first file on the subject appeared in March of 1949, when an informant noted "that he (ZINN) is a Communist Party member and attends meetings five days a week." Zinn was then employed by the American Labor Party, which itself gives credence to the informant's report. By that date, the ALP- created in the early forties to give NYC labor a left-wing ballot on which to vote for FDR-had been taken over lock, stock and barrel by the CP. It never would have hired non-Party members as full time employees.

Another informant described Zinn as a "person with some authority" in the CP group to which they belonged. Zinn, he said, taught a course for his comrades on "basic Marxism." On June 12, 1957 another informant told the Bureau that when he was transferred to the Williamsburgh branch of the Party in 1949, "HOWARD ZINN was already a member of that section." It was his impression that  "ZINN was not a new member, but had been in the CP for some time."

Zinn, however, denied he was a Communist when questioned by the FBI in 1953. It is important to note here that unlike those who testified before Congressional investigating committees, Zinn was not under oath. The reason Zinn denied his membership was the same as that for other  Communists. The Party instructed them not to, even when asked to testify before committees like HUAC. As some of the Hollywood Ten members revealed years after their own investigations, if they said they were Reds, that would only prove that the Red-baiters were right when they called them Communists! It would undermine their pose as good liberals, who were only taking pro-Soviet positions because they genuinely believed in them, not because it was the Party line.

Read the whole thing.  Radosh makes a strong case that it was Zinn, not the FBI's informants, who lied about Zinn's party membership.

Categories > History


Holiday Road

I'm going on a family road trip, so no blogging until the middle of next week.

Hail Marty Moose.

Categories > Leisure


The Ryan Plan As A Starting Point

The New York Times notes that House Republicans aren't exactly falling over themselves to campaign on the Ryan Roadmap.  I like Ryan.  He seems like the kind of politician who is more interested in principle than short-term political advantage.  His Roadmap (though perhaps not perfect) is an attempt to create a responsible and internally consistent program for solvency rather than cynical positioning.  I doubt most of the House Republicans who are refusing to sign up for the Roadmap are being idealistic.  Most are probably looking at the state of the economy and the generic ballot.  Why risk it all by signing up for a plan that includes major cuts to middle-class entitlements?  But the more cynical House Republicans might be right on this one.  The Ryan Roadmap is a good starting point for intraconservative conversations about how to restructure economic policy, but it should not be the official or semi-official policy agenda for the GOP in 2010 or 2012.  The Roadmap has several political flaws that make it dangerous, but that can be improved upon.

The first problem is that the Roadmap seems to raise taxes on the middle-class while cutting them on the rich.  this could hardly tee up the tax issue better for Democrats.  Having passed tax cuts for most and being in the process of raising taxes on high earners, the Democrats could play off a Republican plan that would do the opposite. The ads write themselves.  In this sense, Ryan's plan is worse than the tax plan that McCain ran on in 2008.  While McCain's plan didn't offer many positive policy changes to most people in the middle-class, at least it didn't offer a tax increase.  An alternative to the Ryan tax plan would be a policy that cut taxes on investment and most middle-class families while raising taxes on some high earners (but to no more than 35% of their income.)

A second problem with the Ryan Roadmap is its approach to health care reform.  The Roadmap's tax treatment of health insurance would destroy the current system of employer provided health insurance and throw tens of millions into the individual health insurance market.  The theory is that this new class of health care consumers who will be spending more of their own dollars on health care will put pressure on health care providers to bring down costs.  I'm down with the theory, but I can see why most people might disagree.  You would lose your employer-provided coverage that is worth x number of dollars and be given a tax credit smaller than the value of your current insurance.  So either you buy "inferior" coverage or you pay more for the same level of coverage.  Or maybe you both pay more and get less.  This is a liberal demagogue's dream.  Supporters of the Roadmap's approach might argue that structural changes in the market will bring down costs for the individual, and that cheap, renewable, and individually owned health care policies will increase your health security (since you would keep them if you changed jobs),  and that health care costs off your employer's books will increase your take home pay.  The problem is that all the benefits are speculative and the downside risk seem enormous.  One of the most important strategies to achieving market-oriented health care reform will involve crafting a series of incremental policies that show demonstrable benefits to subgroups without forcing the mass of Americans into a terrifying leap.  This mean creating choices for people who might want to trade less coverage for more take home pay or more disposable income.  The successes (hopefully) of those subgroups could then be used as arguments in favor of more comprehensive reforms.  

I'm glad that Ryan is out there selling his approach.  The more people who know about his idea the better, but there is no one right and politic answer when it comes to health care policy.  Here are some suggested policies that individual Republicans might run on (aside from the obvious and worthwhile ones on which there is already a Republican consensus like repeal Obamacare, tort reform ad interstate purchasing):

1.  Add a market-based option for Medicaid clients based on Mitch Daniels' Healthy Indiana Plan.  This would require tinkering with the funding mechanism for Medicaid and would have to make state acceptance of Medicaid funds conditional on removing coverage mandates that might make such a plan illegal in that state.  It would also tend to encourage states to liberalize their insurance markets.

2.  Add an HSA/catastrophic coverage plan modeled on the Mitch Daniels plan for Indiana state employees to the health insurance options available to federal employees.   

3. Invest in better designed and better funded reinsurance pools for those with preexisting conditions..      

Categories > Politics


What Went Wrong with Obama, Part 10,389

With Obama's approval rating sitting at about 45 percent according to the latest RCP average, and the Missouri landslide vote against Obamacare yesterday, expect more and more of the media chin-pullers to be dumping on the guy as much as the NLT community.  Jay Cost has a typically interesting piece (because it's quantitative and qualitative) up at RCP reflecting on Obama's mistaken grand strategy.  I especially agree with this portion toward the end:

What he should have done instead was disarm his opponents. If he had built initial policy proposals from the middle, he could have wooed the moderate flank of the Republican party, marginalized the conservatives, and alleviated the concerns of those gettable voters in the South and the Midwest. This is precisely what Bill Clinton did between 1995 and 2000, and it is what the President's promises of "post-partisanship" suggested.

Our system of government can only produce policy when geographically broad coalitions favor it. The Senate, more than any other institution, forces such breadth. Obama created breadth the wrong way. He watered down initially liberal legislation to prompt just enough moderate Democrats to sign on. Instead, he should have built policy from the center, then worked to pick up enough votes on either side. The left would have been disappointed, but the right would have been marginalized and, most importantly, Independent voters - who have abandoned the President in droves - might still be on board.

Categories > Politics


Keeping Cool in DC

Schramm and I made a whirwlind visit to DC yesterday to attend the official presentation to the Library of Congress of Why Coolidge Matters: How Civility in Politics Can Bring a Nation Together, a collection of essays about Coolidge's continuing relevance for modern politics.  It's a worthwhile collection, with pieces by Amity Shlaes, Burt Folsom, Alvin Felzenberg, Robert Ferrell, Ward Connerly, John Kerry, and others, including Schramm and me.  It's available on Amazon.  The presentation featured a good talk by James H. Douglas, governor of Vermont--who, I was surprised to learn, is a Republican.

We met some worthy folks, including Coolidge's oldest great-grandson and several individuals from the Calvin Coolidge Memoral Foundation, several of whom, Schramm was delighted to learn, are motorcyle aficionados. 

The book has an endorsement on the back cover from a certain former governor of Massachusetts, leading a friend to quip, "A book about why someone matters, with a recommendation from Michael Dukakis? Anyone else see the irony in this?"

Categories > History

Pop Culture

The Politics of Culture

The Sage of Mt. Airy argues that the wearing of a burqa must be taken as a political statement.  Citing Claire Berlinski

Because this is our culture, and in our culture, we do not veil. We do not veil because we do not believe that God demands this of women or even desires it; nor do we believe that unveiled women are whores, nor do we believe they deserve social censure, harassment, or rape. Our culture's position on these questions is morally superior. We have every right, indeed an obligation, to ensure that our more enlightened conception of women and their proper role in society prevails in any cultural conflict, particularly one on Western soil.

Obama sees this differently ("[F]reedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion.  That is why there is a mosque in every state in our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders.  That's why the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it.")

By the way, the Sage defends himself (and other residents of Mt. Airy) against this fiasco

On another cultural matter, baseball season brought out these Mexican flag-waving exhibitionists.  (The great counterpoint remains this Rick Monday play, during an even worse era.)   Pitching star Fernando Valenzuela made his debut, to the waving of Mexican flags in Dodger Stadium, in honor of his nationality.  I don't recall anyone taking offense, and no one should have.  When other nations of the world add to this country, that's one thing.  When they seek to subvert its core principles, that's another, whether it is done by a foreigner or by the president of the United States.  

Categories > Pop Culture


The Economy

Victor David Hanson gives a report from the field.
Categories > Economy


What Does Too Conservative Even Mean?

This Jonathan Rauch article has been making the rounds.  Rauch argues that the Tea Parties (which he usefully links to the phenomenon of conservative independents who operate as "debranded Republicans") are providing Republicans with a short-term jolt of energy, and a highly motivated voting base, but threatening to pull the Republican Party too far right for the long-term health of the party.  Rauch argues that these conservative independents are highly ideological and will abandon the party if it seems to be adopting policies aimed at winning over swing voters.  So the Republicans will face the lose/lose choice of either losing a large segment of its voting base or turning off swing voters. 

I'm not sure that is true.  For one thing, I'm not sure that conservative independents are moving the Republican Party in a more conservative direction - well not exactly.  I believe they might be moving the party in an identity politics direction in which the identity is "real conservative", but where the policy implications are hazy. 

Sharron Angle, with her talk of privatizing Social Security and Medicare and using "Second Amendment remedies" if her side loses, seems to be the ideal example for what happens when the Republican Party goes too far right.  But I'm not sure how much her distinctive opinions on the issues helped her win the nomination.  She seems to have won primarily by constructing an identity as the authentic, insurgent conservative rather than the servant of any political establishment. 

She didn't do this by highlighting any positions that would be clearly alienating to the majority. She didn't campaign on denying abortions to victims of incestuous rape or cutting off grandpa's Social Security check.  Looking at her television ads during the primary (I went on YouTube and might have missed some) I was struck by how identitarian they are.  They are almost entirely about how Angle in a "true conservative" and  "one of us."  It isn't that ideological appeals are completely absent, but they consist of "limited government, lower taxes, more freedom, reduce government" blah blah you hear from every Republican to the right of Scott Brown, and contain no explanation about how those principles would be applied to the real world.  When it came to the issues she emphasized in the campaign, Angle wasn't any more conservative than Bobby Jindal, Mitch Daniels or Paul Ryan.  When she was called out for her comments about privatizing Social Security and Medicare, she talked about how she supported the Ryan Roadmap.

In one sense Angle seems incredibly inarticulate, but she mastered a way of talking to an audience that considers itself conservative, is familiar with certain buzzwords, and is alienated from the Republican establishment.  The details of how or if private accounts are introduced into Social Security are less important than that the candidate be someone who will stay "one of us."  She didn't win a contest of policy or principle.  She won a contest of authenticity.  Her "Second Amendment remedies" comment can at least partly be explained not as a threat of violence, but as a hyperbolic gesture of solidarity.  The problem is that the candidate best positioned to win the conservative authenticity derby, isn't necessarily the candidate best able to speak intelligibly to people who don't self-identify as conservative.  Most people don't care if you are a real conservative and to the tens and tens of millions of Americans who don't consume much right-leaning media, many of the stock phrases drawn from the right-leaning media are either meaningless or vaguely threatening.  It isn't that these people disagree with this or that policy (though they might.)  It is that they don't know what the heck you are talking about.

Rauch presents a seeming dilemma.  The Republicans can move "right" and lose swing voters or move left and lose large numbers of conservative independents.  It is not obvious that there is a potential Republican majority without both groups.  The problem seems greatest when it is in its most abstract form.  Our current version of conservative identity politics can be a problem, but the problem is not that it is too ideological, but that it is that it is too identity-driven.  The best answer consists in finding ways of applying ideas like limited government, free markets, etc. to particular situations.  The challenge would then be to explain to self-identified conservatives how specific policies were drawn from conservative principles (free markets, greater family stability, etc.) and explain to swing voters how those policies will produce tangible benefits - and maybe increase the appeal of conservative politics in the process.       


Categories > Politics

Shameless Self-Promotion

Coolidge Matters

John Moser and I are hightailing it to the Mumford Room, James Madison Building, Library of Congress, for tomorrow's unveiling of the book Why Coolidge Matters: How Civility in Politics Can Bring a Nation Together.  Each of us contributed a chapter; see more about the book here.  The event is at noon, if you are in the area, do come by.


The Wilderness of Zinn

Yes, Virginia, Howard Zinn was a communist.  More evidence that we should be leary of those who think his People's History of the United States is the best and most important book to read about U.S. history.  Zinn was not interested in telling the whole truth about U.S. history. He was, as far as I can tell, interested primarily in reporting only those facts which helped his indictment of America, and reporting them in a way that helped advance his agenda.

Categories > History


The Art of War

Front-page WaPo article on the Pentagon portrait of General Peter Pace, former JCS Chairman, presents some basics about portrait painting.  Contrast his portrait with that of some famous contemporaries. 
Categories > Military

The Founding

The Crisis Affords an Opportunity

WaPo notes the attraction of Colonial Willliamsburg for Tea Party adherents and other anti-liberals who are inspired by the Constitution and seek guidance from the founding.  Obviously, they won't find what they are seeking in historical exhibits, however well done.  Of course, the Federalist Papers and other founding documents are on-line, but they require mentors for more than a superficial understanding.  Popularly written commentaries, websites, and media appearances can help, but nothing replaces an inspiring teacher.

Why not a consortium of trusted, thoughtful conservatives who can teach the founding to thirsty citizens?  The project will need to extend to every major and medium population center and require years of involvement.  The Ashbrook Center, Hillsdale College, and the Claremont Institute can offer resources, and numerous other think-tanks and scholarly centers can contribute to these "Committees of Correspondence" as well.   Maybe these fine institutions should just continue doing what they have been doing and not adjust their programs to the instant situation.  But it would be a shame to waste this constitutonal crisis.

Categories > The Founding


More Contrarianism

Another contrarian article about the oil spill out today from AOL.  Plus, don't miss Charles Lane in, writing on the silliness of electric car subsidies, something I've commented upon before.  Cheers.
Categories > Environment