Newspapers are reporting that Germany has just paid the last installment of its reparations for World War I, as laid down in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles and modified (that is, reduced substantially) in 1924 and again in 1929. This is not true; in fact, Germany stopped paying reparations in 1932, after having paid no more than an eighth of what was demanded, and payments never resumed. What Germany is actually paying back is the debt that it incurred from foreign bondholders in the 1920s, some (though by no means all) of which went toward reparations payments.
Why is this distinction important? Because now we're hearing repeated the old German propaganda about the grave wrong done to Germany after World War I. The Cato Institute's blog puts it this way:
As Keynes rightly predicted, the unreasonably high French demands for financial reparations led to German economic weakness. The end result was hyperinflation, which was one of the principal causes of Hitler's rise to power and the start of the Second World War. In spite of losing two world wars, Germany did eventually become the most powerful nation in Europe -- through trade, capitalism and German ingenuity.
In fact Keynes--and my friends at Cato--have this almost completely wrong. As a number of recent historians, most recently Niall Ferguson have pointed out, Germany was fully capable of making reparations payments, particularly after they were scaled back in the 1924 Dawes Plan. What was lacking was the political will of the Weimar Republic to do so. Germany was a magnet for foreign investment in the 1920s, taking in 27.1 billion marks from bond sales in the United States alone, while paying out no more than 19.1 billion marks in reparations. The rest went into lavish construction projects and--illegally under the Treaty of Versailles--the military.
The hyperinflation of 1922-23 was not the result of reparations, but rather Germany's attempt to thwart French efforts to collect them during the Ruhr Crisis. Nor did hyperinflation have anything to do with Hitler's rise to power; true, the Nazi share of the vote increased sharply in 1923, but afterward plummeted to virtually nothing, where it remained for most of the rest of the 1920s. Indeed, by 1928 Germany, far from having been crippled by the allegedly unjust Versailles settlement, had reestablished itself as one of the world's greatest industrial powers. What brought an end to the Weimar Republic was when the influx of foreign capital came to a sudden end in 1928--which produced not inflation, but its exact opposite.
The claim that Germany was mistreated in 1919 popped up repeatedly during the interwar period, fostered most commonly by the Germans themselves. It played a major role in British appeasement, which did not begin with Neville Chamberlain but was in fact consistently followed throughout the 1920s. Again and again London winked at Germany's violations of the peace treaty (which began soon after the ink was dry), while denouncing the French for attempting to uphold the settlement. Far from World War II having been the result of Germany's alleged mistreatment, it stemmed rather from the failure to enforce what been laid down at Versailles.
I thought commenter Eric made an interesting point that is worth quoting at length. He said:
Means testing social security seems a good idea on the surface. But isn't it ultimately rewarding bad behavior? And haven't we learned that rewarding bad behavior is not a good long term policy?
There are certain harsh realities to life. Is it possible that "people have to take care of themselves" is one of these realities?. Wishing it wasn't this way will not change it if it is.
I think there is one sense in which Eric is right. There is a way to design means-testing in a way that promote undesirable behavior. If Social Security benefits were designed to be paid based on assets and cash at the time of retirement, such a means-testing system would clearly and strongly encourage people in their forties and fifties to minimize their income and consume rather than save and invest. Higher earners would be able to have the purchasing power of the wealthy (since they would be turning more of their income into consumption) for most of their lives and a government-guaranteed retirement. A means-testing program in which benefits were means-tested to lifetime earnings would actually encourage greater saving and investment from high earners. A working life of upper middle-class lifestyle would only lead to a retirement of upper middle-class lifestyle if high earners save and invest.
Those who were lifetime low earners would get the "full" Social Security benefit but they would still have to work on the books to get the benefit. It is possible that low earners might work a little less than otherwise (though the incentive would be no greater than now for the vast majority) and save less in the expectation of the Social Security benefit, but let's put it in perspective: their reward for a working life of less-than-upper-middle-class purchasing power would be a retirement of less-than-upper-middle-class purchasing power. I'm not sweating the work incentives.
There are major work incentive impacts to not imposing some combination of means-testing and higher retirement ages to Social Security. The alternative of funding the existing system through taxes would mean some combination of higher payroll taxes on low and middle-income earners and applying the payroll tax to earnings above the current cap in order to give upper income retirees money they wouldn't need under a better designed system. Higher payroll taxes on low earners would tend to push low earners out of the formal economy and into off the books labor. Applying payroll taxes to earning above the Social Security cap would, combined with the forthcoming rise in income taxes for high earners and state taxes, push the effective marginal income tax for high earners well over 50% - which would really discourage work and investment. So you hurt low-income workers and hurt the overall economy in order to supplement the income of upper middle-class retirees. Makes sense to me.
Another way to go about it is to say no (or almost no) Social Security for anybody. The problem is that we seem to have a broad consensus against dealing with the exigencies of (ever longer) old age through rugged individualism (or rugged individualism plus family if you have any, plus charity.) That is why even more radical-sounding conservatives like Sharron Angle only argue for partially converting Social Security into a program of forced savings and investment rather than just leaving old people on their own.
The practical and political problems of means-testing are among the reasons I think that policy design and policy explanation is as important as the right general principles. It isn't enough to be in favor of "means-testing" or "privatizing." These kinds of reforms can be destructive if they are designed poorly. Supporters of such policies will need specific and concise answers to the obvious objections that will come from opponents, as well as explanations for the disasters that await us if reforms are not implemented
In response to the justified griping that the Republican House Members' Pledge omitted renunciation of earmarks: Propose legislation permitting opponents' omission from campaign finance laws in an amount equal to the amount of the earmark. Thus a $10 million earmark for a district/state allows each and all of the earmark sponsor's opponents $10 million in campaign funds raised in whatever way they choose--no reporting, no maximum contributions.
Offered in the spirit of Federalist 51: "ambition must be made to counteract ambition."
Just to remind you that some things are even stranger than politics.
In this and like communities, public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.It is excellent and timeless advice. Is the Tea Party listening?
The Dept. of Justice falls within the Executive branch of government, but it is one of the most important agencies in the nation to preserve from politicization. This was true when George W. Bush was accused of hiring and firing DOJ employees based on partisan ideology (a fatuous claim intended to prevent realignment of the left-leaning institution). The accusation was a serious attack because it alleged a lack of respect for the rule of law and equality under the law - principle foundations of the American republic.
Yet one of the first orders issued by President Obama was to dismiss a case of voter intimidation against the Black Panthers - even though the damning evidence was caught on tape and the trial had already been concluded in summary judgement against the racist group.
I initially defaulted to disbelief that the first black president could possibly be so impolitic, imprudent and downright daft as to immediately pardon radical black thugs for a crime intended to ensure Barack Obama himself was elected as president. As the beneficiary of their criminal conduct, he would surely be the first to condemn them and insist upon prompt justice. This would surely provide an Obamian "teachable moment."
It's thus shocking to read the testimony of former Department of Justice voting rights section chief Christopher Coates (he resigned after being transfered as punishment for, as the left would say, speaking truth to power). Speaking before the Civil Rights Commission, Coates relates that the Obama administration squashed the verdict because the convicts were black and the victims were white. Politico and WaPo carry the story.
Some incidents lend themselves to various explanations or justifications. I can see no explanation but prurient racism and sociological megalomania in this particular case. My greatest reservation in assessing blame to Obama is that I simply cannot believe he would be so foolish, divisive and racist as to institute the sort of race-based law-enforcement regime alleged in Coates' whistle-blowing testimony. Such obstruction of justice is a serious violation of trust and duty by the president, worthy of formal condemnation in the absence of mitigating circumstances which have not yet come to light.
Literature, Poetry, and Books
Men and Women
Meh. It is the opposite of the Ryan Roadmap. The Roadmap is an admirably serious (which is not to say perfect) attempt to grapple with our long-term economic challenges, but is not a prudent campaign platform. The Pledge won't hurt Republican prospects for this election but doesn't do much to address our economic problems or even move public opinion in the direction of understanding the kinds of policies we will need. I'm not mocking. Coming up with a program that can address our economic challenges in a realistic way and attract enough public support that candidates that support the program can be elected in sufficient number is really, really hard.
I have sympathy. There is no consensus on the center-right on exactly how to design the means-testing of Social Security or how that means-testing should be balanced with some kind of increase to retirement ages (and there is more than one way to design that) and what role private accounts might (or might not) play in Social Security reform. And none of those policies are all that popular anyway. Reforming Medicare, if it is to mean more than just cuts to provider reimbursements, only makes sense in the context of a wider, incremental reform of health care policy. But there is no consensus among conservative policy analysts about exactly how to do it. The situation in the Republican Party is even worse. You have moderates with no principles that are leery of any politically untested idea that might incriminate them in the court of public opinion. I don't doubt that there are many conservatives who would be happy to repeal Obamacare, make some futile noises about tort reform and never think about health care policy again - until the next time Democrats pass a huge step toward government-run medicine.
A worthwhile consensus on entitlements, health care reform and tax reform (huge issues there) won't come from John Boehner consulting with the House Republican backbenchers. It will have to be an organic and entrepreneurial process. Entrepreneurial backbench members of Congress as well as candidates for governor and President will have to show that they can win elections based on the kinds of reforms we need. The Republican congressional leadership will come along last. What the Republican leadership can do is push to create the kind of regulatory space that would allow state-level policy experimentation in health care and that expands the number of Americans with consumer-driven health care policies in a way that doesn't immediately threaten people who are happy with their employer-provided policies.
So what would I do? Glad you asked. Off the top of my head I have four non-earth shattering (actually somewhat minor) ideas. I assumed that the House Republican leadership (and much of the membership) would not accept any idea that would encounter massive initial resistance from the majority and I kept that in mind in crafting this list.
1. Capping expenditures for federal civilian personnel costs.
2. Granting the President (yes, even President Obama) the impoundment power. Once granted, it might be put to some good use later.
3. Adding an Indiana-style HSA/catastrophic coverage option to the range of health insurance options available to all federal employees and making the sale of such policies by private entities or by state and local governments legal in all states. The program proved popular among Indiana state employees, and saved the state money too, so it can be sold to the public as a way to reduce the deficit. And if it good enough for federal employees, there is no reason why it should be illegal for the rest of us is there?
I'm a little less confident about my last suggestion.
4. Turning Medicaid into a voucher for high deductible private health insurance. I think it would be a good idea as Medicaid is presently a disaster, but crafting a funding mechanism would be really complicated given the combined state and federal nature of the current program. Republicans would also need ready answers to charges that they were abandoning the poor to die (as the program would not be immediately understood by the public.) I doubt most Republicans could master the argument in a few short months.
RONLT (Readers Of No Left Turns) will note that I am a surveyor of Czech news and happenings. As of late, the news has been especially interesting. The Summer elections wrought a crushing defeat upon the Social Democrat - Communist partnership which had expected to seize power. Instead, a coalition of conservative, right-leaning parties swept into government by the largest majority in the Czech Republic's history. The right campaigned on an austerity message of fiscal sanity and stabilization through genuinely needed reform - but they had remained rather quiet for a few months as they built a government and planned.
They have now announced the means to their end. The 2011 state budget narrows the deficit by 17%, the public finance gap will be reduced to 2.9% by 2013 (from 5.9% in 2009) and, perhaps most dramatically, public sector wages and operating costs will be slashed by 10% next year.
The effects of this fiscal austerity policy (or, rather, mere expectations of such a policy) are tangible. The Czech koruna has gained 5.2% against the euro (which Czech has wisely declined to adopt) since the Summer elections, ranking the koruna as the world's third best-performing currency during the period. The S&P has raised Czech's standing from "stable" to "positive." And the public seems optimistic of the future.
Perhaps Czechs simply recall communism well enough to avoid its lures and snares (even in the guise of socialism - or "social democracy"). But by their example they are a city on a hill - visible, one should hope, even from the corridors of Washington. The Tea Party movement speaks to the relevance of their fiscal message here in America - if only we had a conservative, right-leaning political party with the courage to govern according to such principle. I think the result would be just as surprising - and rewarding - here in America as it has been in Czech.
Family Research Council has released a compendium of articles of socially conservative consequence. Though lengthy, the authors, institutions and content are deserving of attention - the list is reproduced here for ease of reference. As an introduction of sorts, read Rick Santorum's remarks at the University of St. Thomas, "A Charge to Revive the Role of Faith in the Public Square."
Educational Freedom and Reform
Faith and Policy
Homosexuals in the Military
Marriage and Family
Sanctity of Life
Stem Cell Research
Other News for Social Conservatives
Thursday morning, the GOP will unveil a "Pledge to America" (text here), attempting to reproduce the results of the 1994 election by replicating the means: the "Contract with America." Both the CwA and the PtA was / is a mere sidebars to the prevailing national zeitgeist which swept / will sweep Republicans into office - but the substance is instructive of how well the GOP has internalized the prevailing national zeitgeist.
The PtA emerged from town hall meetings and an internet project, America Speaking Out. CBS highlights the PtA agenda as:
- Stop job-killing tax hikes
- Allow small businesses to take a tax deduction equal to 20 percent of their income
- Require congressional approval for any new federal regulation that would add to the deficit
- Repeal small business mandates in the new health care law.
- Repeal and Replace health care
- Roll back non-discretionary spending to 2008 levels before TARP and stimulus (will save $100 billion in first year alone)
- Establish strict budget caps to limit federal spending going forward
- Cancel all future TARP payments and reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
- Will require that every bill have a citation of constitutional authority
- Give members at least 3 days to read bills before a vote
- Provide resources to troops
- Fund missile defense
- Enforce sanctions in Iran
The GOP has thus shown its hand.
The Obama administration immediately expressed its knee-jerk, blanket opposition to the PtA. Co-option of some provision and targeted opposition to others might have proved a more bipartisan, practical response. But delusions of that sort should be all but evaporated by now.
On the right, NRO's lengthy review embraces the PtA as "bold" and "compelling," and Powerline praised it as a "ringing statement of first principles" which "deliberately echoes the Constitution and, especially, the Declaration of Independence." Conversely, Redstate lambasts the PtA as "the most ridiculous thing to come out of Washington since George McClellen." "Dreck," they call it. "Stagnant water."
Six weeks to go.
In a previous post I argued that the version of Obamacare that passed sure seemed similar to Romneycare They are more similar than different, but the differences are important too. Romneycare was a good faith effort at a long-term Left/Right compromise on heath care policy. The Left got a plausible commitment to universal health insurance coverage through the combination of an individual insurance mandate and subsidies along with a series of coverage mandates that turned health insurance into something like (but not quite) comprehensive medical prepayment. The Right got to have the insurance subsidies channeled through private insurance companies and with no formal government price controls.
Obamacare is best described as a kind of Romneycare designed to fail and create public demand for a single-payer system. Romneycare included coverage mandates that made health insurance more expensive but it didn't give unelected bureaucrats the power to indirectly force insurance companies to enact huge premium increases. Obamacare also creates a weaker individual mandate than Romneycare. This (combined with the soon-to-be illegality of insurance companies denying coverage) would make it inviting for younger people to avoid getting insurance, pay the fine and only sign up for insurance when they get sick. This would of course raise premiums on those who comply with the law and buy insurance. That is why liberals were so upset about the loss of the public option. Bureaucrats would have been able to destroy the private insurance companies by forcing them to raise premiums and thereby drive customers to the government-run insurance program creating a virtual government monopoly in health insurance. Now liberals will have to try to direct the public discontent that Obamacare will create toward passing a yet another program - one that will establish full government-run medicine.
The thing is, trying to rebuild Obamacare in the image of Romneycare isn't a good idea. The better designed Romneycare is still leading to rising premiums, and evasion of the individual mandate, there are longer waiting periods for seeing a doctor, and emergency room visits are on the rise. The problem is the model of government both subsidizing and (on the state level pre-Obamacare) mandating a costly and inefficient system of health insurance that amounts to comprehensive prepayment for noncatastrophic medical services. Romneycare, for all of its good intentions, makes that problem worse.
Character, so goes the saying, is what you do when you don't think anyone is watching. Relevant wisdom when considering Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern's on-tape, profane disparagement of Tea Partiers and others opposed to Obama-care. Redfern explained that he thought the cameras had stopped rolling.
Chris Littleton, the president of the Cincinnati Tea Party, responded that just because Redfern didn't know the cameras were rolling doesn't mean his point of view changes. He added that all the accusations that Tea Partiers are racist or hateful are a "projection" of opponents' own thoughts and he'd be willing to explain to Redfern why the health care law is problematic to Tea Party participants.
It's helpful to remember that "those f-ckers," on behalf of whom Mr. Littleton would be speaking, constitute the 61% of voters who favor repeal of the health care law. One wonders just how the Ohio Democratic Party really views Ohio's voters.
Mike Pence won the straw poll at the Values Voter Summit and is experiencing a presidential boomlet. I think he has a better chance to win than does Larry Sabato. He is a smooth talker and is obviously conversant on national issues. After 2008, six terms in Congress will hardly seem like too little experience. He seems to be a principled conservative and projects a kind of calm reasonableness that is very helpful in an ideological politician - as Obama would be the first to tell you. I'm not sure that being in the House of Representatives rather than holding statewide office is as big a drawback as it seems. The trick to getting credibility in the 2012 Republican presidential race will involve some combination of getting media attention and using it to make an impression, winning support from activist networks and building a fundraising base for paid media. Pence is an ex-talk radio host and probably understands the right-leaning media environment at least as well as any other 2012 Republican contender. His victory at the Values Voters Summit shows real appeal to conservative activists. If Pence manages to use the media well, and makes inroads among activists, the money should come (assuming Pence runs a competent and industrious campaign - which is never a sure thing for a first time presidential candidate.)
Pence has real issue advantages over his best known potential Republican rivals. Unlike Romney, Pence never supported TARP and National Review pointed out the similarities between Romneycare and Obamacare. Romney could respond that TARP wan an okay idea messed up by Obama and that Romney's version of individual insurance mandate/coverage mandates/middle-class insurance subsidies/guaranteed issue/community rating is different and better than Obama's version of individual insurance mandate/coverage mandates/middle-class insurance subsidies/guaranteed issue/community rating (and Romney would have a point though it is complicated and Romneycare is probably fatally flawed anyway.) It just wouldn't be that easy to sell and Pence could easily tag a potential Romney administration as an Obama administration without Obama. Pence seems to have a solid social conservative record, which doesn't make him much different from Huckabee, but unlike Huckabee, I've never heard of Pence advocating a huge sales tax that seems like it might hurt middle-income voters.
Pence also has stylistic assets. His speeches don't set the room on fire but he speaks the language of the populist conservative narrative as a native tongue. It isn't that easy. Look at the pitiable effort of Tim Pawlenty when he tried to get all populist at CPAC. As a talk radio host, Pence had a lot of practice selling his limited government and socially conservative ideas to a broad audience rather than intellectuals or other politicians. That is pretty good practice for winning over the right-leaning voters that dominate Republican primaries. Finally, Pence has that combination of looks and bearing that comes across as presidential. It isn't fair or healthy but having that (superficial) quality helped Obama and not having it hurt Tommy Thompson and Duncan Hunter.
I have my worries about Pence. The most substantive worry is that he never seems to have held an executive position. My less substantive concern is that he never seems to have had to win over a nonconservative electorate. Pence made his name as a conservative talk radio host. He has represented a right-leaning district (McCain by 6% in 2008 and Bush by 29% in 2004.) I'm not sure his rhetoric works as well for voters (which is most voters) who have not already committed to the conservative narrative. His run in with Obama at the 2009 Republican retreat does not inspire confidence.
A Palestinian Court has ruled that people who sell land to Israelis face either the death penalty or life in prison:
A Palestinian court has ruled that anyone selling land to Israelis will automatically face the death penalty. The ruling came in response to an appeal from Palestinian public prosecutor Ahmed al-Mughani. The current law says courts can choose life in prison or death
The ruling came in response to an appeal from Palestinian public prosecutor Ahmed al-Mughani. The current law says courts can choose life in prison or death.
Al-Mughani told the AP on Monday that the law isn't tough enough. In practice, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has not approved executions since coming to power in 2004..
Literature, Poetry, and Books
And there is something in it for Mr. Clinton, too. Any microphone or tape recorder is a two-fer for him, giving him a chance to talk up his global works, as well as discuss politics. On Monday, for example, he urged donors to give more so he can hire more staff for the daunting rebuilding efforts in Haiti.So the next time you hear Bill Clinton waxing eloquent about Republican errors, Democrat virtues, and the way things really moved along swimmingly in those halcyon days of the 1990s, just remember: he's doing it for Haiti. Yeah, that's the ticket.
Powerline notes that more Americans think that their positions on the issues are closer to Sarah Palin's than to President Obama's.
If one polled people in the so-called "Mainstream Media" (I prefer, Old Establishent Media), or people who work at Universities, schools, or for government, however, I suspect that the answer would be very different.
There are, in short, two mainstreams in America: that of America as a whole, and that of the establishment.
Even if you work for New Jersey government (transit)? John Eastman, among others (Eugene Volokh), disagree, in a New York Times symposium. No Heckler's Veto--especially if you're not on duty when the stupid act was done.
[H]ow far are we willing to let the threat of violent reaction to peaceful speech and expression go when it is used to curtail First Amendment freedoms? Suppose that Fenton had simply held up a placard (or a cartoon!) defending Israel and chastising those who launched mortar attacks against Israel from the Gaza Strip as the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were getting under way? If New Jersey Transit thought that might provoke attacks against its trains, too, could Fenton be fired for that as well?
Governor Christie's heroic efforts to rein in spending may be for naught if New Jersey has to pony up for the firing!
Anne Bayefsky of Eye on the UN has an article in today's NRO revealing the real dangers of the leftist politicization of human rights (particularly at the international level). Anne notes that leftist George Soros has just dumped $100,000 million into Human Rights Watch - and then relates the fall of HRW (as well as Amnesty Int'l) from a true guardian of individual rights to a shameful puppet of imposter rights invented by tyrannous nations to protect their own systemic and unapologetic abuses.
Human rights have been "hijacked" (to borrow the term) by leftist fanatics and the very worst of the world's human rights abusers - a glance at the ruling bloc of the UN Human Rights Council (Islamic and African states, backed by China, Russia and Cuba) suffices as ample proof. The only human rights abuser in the world, according to the UN HRC is Israel (occasionally joined by the U.S.) - states which still indulge in slavery, genocide, honor killings, female mutilation and the like are immune to criticism.
For further human-rights-as-anti-Semitism evidence, note a recent experiment by University of Illinois Professor Fred Gottheil. He wrote to hundreds of professors who had signed a petition urging the U.S. to abandon Israel over human rights abuses, and asked them to sign a similar "statement expressing concern about human rights violations in the Muslim Middle East, such as honor killing, wife beating, female genital mutilation, and violence against gays and lesbians." Less than 5% agreed to sign.
Leftists have circumvented (read: overcome) democracy for decades by corrupting and utilizing the judiciary - the entire "right to privacy" line of case law, flowing out of "emanation from penumbras" of the Constitution, have served little function but to implement liberal policies opposed by the majority of Americans. International organizations are the next weapon they hope to develop. At present, these bodies lack enforcement power over the U.S. (as they have gained over Europe), but just as the courts were originally without power to subvert democratic governance, this too could change. All that is needed is a sympathetic ear in the White House and a Congress willing to appease for American sovereignty to be curtailed by the rule of internationalization.
Men and Women
Correction: The debate airs at 10:00 PM tonight on C-Span 2 - which my cable company, alas, does not support. Let me know how it is....
CSPAN is airing a Fixed Point Foundation debate between Christopher Hitchens and David Berlinski on the question of whether atheism poisons everything (a counter-point to Hitchens' latest book subtitle: "How Religion Poisons Everthing"). The next (and final) CSPAN showing should be tonight at 9:00 PM.
Democrats, their apologists, and centrists have dismissed Dinesh D'Souza's argument that Barack Obama absorbed anticolonialist ideology from his father's writings and career. I have yet to see such a critic actually cite the President's autobiography, the basis for many of D'Souza's claims. Dreams From my Father presents a young man who sees himself as a smirky, post-modern and post-nationalist critic of almost everyone he encounters. (I would add to D'Souza's observations Obama's own comments about his anthropologist mother's influence over him, in his second autobiography.)
Clearly the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. goes a long way to explain the actions and policies of his son in the Oval Office. And we can be doubly sure about his father's influence because those who know Obama well testify to it. His "granny" Sarah Obama (not his real grandmother but one of his grandfather's other wives) told Newsweek, "I look at him and I see all the same things--he has taken everything from his father. The son is realizing everything the father wanted. The dreams of the father are still alive in the son."
In his own writings Obama stresses the centrality of his father not only to his beliefs and values but to his very identity. He calls his memoir "the record of a personal, interior journey--a boy's search for his father and through that search a workable meaning for his life as a black American." And again, "It was into my father's image, the black man, son of Africa, that I'd packed all the attributes I sought in myself." Even though his father was absent for virtually all his life, Obama writes, "My father's voice had nevertheless remained untainted, inspiring, rebuking, granting or withholding approval. You do not work hard enough, Barry. You must help in your people's struggle. Wake up, black man!"
The climax of Obama's narrative is when he goes to Kenya and weeps at his father's grave. It is riveting: "When my tears were finally spent," he writes, "I felt a calmness wash over me. I felt the circle finally close. I realized that who I was, what I cared about, was no longer just a matter of intellect or obligation, no longer a construct of words. I saw that my life in America--the black life, the white life, the sense of abandonment I'd felt as a boy, the frustration and hope I'd witnessed in Chicago--all of it was connected with this small piece of earth an ocean away, connected by more than the accident of a name or the color of my skin. The pain that I felt was my father's pain."
In an eerie conclusion, Obama writes that "I sat at my father's grave and spoke to him through Africa's red soil." In a sense, through the earth itself, he communes with his father and receives his father's spirit. Obama takes on his father's struggle, not by recovering his body but by embracing his cause. He decides that where Obama Sr. failed, he will succeed. Obama Sr.'s hatred of the colonial system becomes Obama Jr.'s hatred; his botched attempt to set the world right defines his son's objective. Through a kind of sacramental rite at the family tomb, the father's struggle becomes the son's birthright.
I really don't want to pile on Christine O'Donnell, but I'm not sure all this talk about her involvement with witchraft is on point. In one sense, who cares? The people of Delaware aren't being asked to vote for the teenage version of O'Donnell or anyone else and if that is all there was to questions about O'Donnell there wouldn't be much there at all.
What disturbes me more is what this might tell us about Christine O'Donnell's career as a conservative activist and pundit - which is much more relevant to her Senate run than her teenage dating history. I don't really believe her story. It is isn't imposible that it happened the way she says, but it sounds to me like she made it up to have something to talk about on the show. It fits in with a wider pattern of behavior like her fishy lawsuit against ISI and her "Who are you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?" approach to questions about her financial and academic background. None of this makes O'Donnell a monster, but it does make her a lousy candidate for Senate
No doubt in honor of the Constitution's 223rd birthday, the Washington Post is running an opinion piece by Damon Linker calling for the removal of the Constitution's ban on religious tests.
Of course, Linker says his religious test isn't really a religious test, at least of the "formal" Constitutionally proscribed type. Rather, he simply wants a couple of debates devoted solely to morals and faith, in order to "explore the dissonance" of religious conviction and democratic government. Naturally, it's quite obvious that he is really interested in outing religious Republicans as somehow disqualified by virtue of their faith from holding political office.
The questions Linker proposes include:
How might the doctrines and practices of your religion conflict with the fulfillment of your official duties?
How would you respond if your church issued an edict that clashed with the duties of your office?
What do you believe human beings can know about nature and history?
Do you believe the law should be used to impose and enforce religious views of sexual morality?
Atheists, "bearded Marxists," humanists, secularists, relativists and the such apparently have never had any ideas which might not be entirely compatible with democracy. (And note that anti-religious folks just can't get through a single thought without inevitably talking about sex.)
As might be expected, Linker has an example of a superb religious politicians: Barack Obama. Membership in a racist, anti-American, hate-group congregation is apparently just the sort of religious example which merits Linker's approval.
"I dabbled in witchcraft...."
"My first date was a picnic on a satanic alter...."
"There was a little blood there...."
We 're all trying, Christine. Really. But if Bill Maher really has more like this, could I please be the first to suggest that you politely step aside and let Mike Castle win Delaware for the Republicans?
Maybe O'Donnell can rebound with a clever, witty public statement and quickly change the subject to the economy. But supposing her numbers begin to sink, her loss in November might be a relief rather than a disappointment. Six more weeks of this sort of news would be all but unbearable.
The results of the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit Straw Poll are a good indicator of the tastes of conservative activists. I'd expect a decent percentage of Tea Party sympathizers at the FRC summit, so the poll is probably a good indication of where conservative energy is centralized.
The interesting details are that Pence has risen to national stardom amongst conservatives, whereas Palin is seen as a viable VP - but not a ticket-header. Huckabee, of course, is still a favorite
Mike Pence 170 24%
Mike Huckabee 159 22%
Mitt Romney 93 13%
Newt Gingrich 72 10%
Sarah Palin 51 7%
Rick Santorum 39 5%
Jim DeMint 38 5%
Bobby Jindal 15 2%
Mitch Daniels 13 2%
Chris Christie 11 2%
John Thune 11 2%
Bob McDonnell 10 1%
Marco Rubio 10 1%
Paul Ryan 7 1%
Haley Barbour 6 1%
Ron Paul 5 1%
Jan Brewer 1 0%
Undecided 12 2%
Vice Presidential Candidates:
Mike Pence 119 16%
Sarah Palin 112 15%
Rick Santorum 75 10%
Paul Ryan 51 7%
Jim DeMint 45 6%
Mike Huckabee 43 6%
Marco Rubio 43 6%
Bobby Jindal 36 5%
Bob McDonnell 31 4%
Chris Christie 25 3%
Mitt Romney 25 3%
Newt Gingrich 24 3%
Jan Brewer 20 3%
John Thune 15 2%
Mitch Daniels 10 1%
Haley Barbour 6 1%
Ron Paul 5 1%
Undecided 38 5%
This reminds me of the weekend when two clubs at Harvard both threw events - one had a cross-dressing drag-queen ball, the other held a meeting on sexual chastity in relationships. Guess which one was so controversial that it made the school newspaper.
The Washington Post is attempting to stir up a scandal about Republican, Tea Party favorite O'Donnell. Apparently, 20-30 years ago, O'Donnell made "controversial statements in favor of 'sexual purity' and against masturbation in a 1996 MTV documentary." (Since when does sexual purity deserve scare quotes?)
In the video, a very young O'Donnell calls for a mature conversation with the youth about the morality and consequences of masturbation and pornography. Not only is there shockingly little scandal in her charmingly upbeat religiousness, but everything she says is rather rational, moderate and thoughtful. No fire and brimstone - just common sense opinions about sexuality.
On the other hand, her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, is a self-described socialist who fancies himself a "bearded Marxist." No scandal there. Merely par for the course in the Democratic caucus, I suppose. Coons held that "the ideal of America as a 'beacon of freedom and justice, providing hope for the world' was not exactly based in reality." Charming.
It's an interesting experiment in perspective to see which view the WaPo sees as scandalous in a U.S. politician. I wonder if Delaware shares the WaPo's views?
Mea culpa - I'm a day late in wishing a happy birthday to the Constitution.
Thanks to the Tea Party, the Constitution has been appearing center stage during this campaign season. However, it's interesting that present invocations of the Constitution focus on its core, structural provisions - limited government, vested powers, federalism - rather than the usual individual rights rhetoric. Impressive versatility and relevance for a document under 5,000 words.
And I gotta say - the old lady's lookin' pretty good at 223 years.
The NY Times laments that Unions are finding their members slow to march, zombie-like, to the Democrats' drumbeat.
Labor leaders, alarmed at a possible Republican takeover of one or both houses of Congress, promise to devote a record amount of money and manpower to helping Democrats stave off disaster. But political analysts, and union leaders themselves, say that their efforts may not be enough because union members, like other important parts of the Democratic base, are not feeling particularly enthusiastic about the party....
Ironically, it is likely the Democrats' legislative victories - healthcare, stimulus packages - which most annoy the rank-and-file. Though these bills, like nearly all of the Democrats' Obama-era legislation, were intended to prostrate the party before labor unions, they have had the effect of ruining the economy, prolonging unemployment and alienating blue-collar workers (who feel these realities far more acutely than their union "leaders").
Perhaps non-management union members are finally alighting to a Tocquevillian sense of "enlightened self-interest" - and recognizing that a refusal to allow parties to compete for loyalty is just as self-destructive in politics as in the marketplace.
The Q poll showed former Rep. John Kasich (R) leading Gov. Ted Strickland (D) by 17 points and former Rep. Rob Portman (R) ahead of Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) by 20.
A CNN/Time survey and internal polling from the Strickland campaign put the numbers a bit tighter. But when polls show that California, Washington and Wisconsin are up for grabs, Ohio is pretty much in the bag for Republicans.
The right to burn a Koran is not the main issue. The key issue is whether we are free to conduct research, and to publish conclusions like this:
[Sven] Kalisch, . . . scandalized the Muslim world with a 2008 paper claiming that the Prophet Mohammed was a figure of myth . Citing the work of Western Koran critics, Kalisch claimed that the prophet's life was the fabrication of 8th-century apologists:It is a striking fact that such documentary evidence as survives from the Sufnayid period makes no mention of the messenger of god at all. The papyri do not refer to him. The Arabic inscriptions of the Arab-Sasanian coins only invoke Allah, not his rasul [messenger]; and the Arab-Byzantine bronze coins on which Muhammad appears as rasul Allah, previously dated to the Sufyanid period, have not been placed in that of the Marwanids. Even the two surviving pre-Marwanid tombstones fail to mention the rasul.
Islam, he concluded, was a revival of the old Gnosticism expunged by Christianity and embraced instead by the Arabian tribes.
Religious toleration is a major tenet of American constitutionalism, but it presupposed other, more fundamental principles: agreement on natural rights and the ensuing rule of law. Richard Reeb elaborates the historical and philosophical context of religious toleration:
As Europe freed itself from the rule of theocratic regimes, dissenting religious denominations sought toleration from the domination of the most numerous or powerful sect, which generally was Roman Catholic in the south and Protestant in the north. [John] Locke's remarkable letter [on Toleration], which aimed at "mutual toleration of Christians in their different professions of religion," declares as a necessary condition "charity, meekness and good-will in general towards all mankind, even to those who are not Christian."
That is, all long as churches are "regulating... men's lives according to the rules of virtue and piety," religious tolerance is possible [emphasis added]. As difficult as it was for Christians at that time to admit it, Jews and Muslims can be tolerated as long as their loyalty is to the civil government under which they live, rather than to a foreign power. In Protestant countries, toleration of Roman Catholics seen as beholden to the Vatican was governed by the same principle....
In short, the necessary condition for Muslims' full participation in American citizenship is to renounce Sharia law. As long as any ambiguity or worse on this matter is tolerated, Muslims cannot be good citizens and they undermine American law. We can tolerate religious differences, but we cannot tolerate defiance of American law.
Taking inspiration from commenter Art Deco in this thread, I think it is helpful draw distinctions between Republican candidates who are more liberal than most Republicans and liberals candidates who happen to be Republicans. The second category is, at the congressional level, pretty small at the moment. Lincoln Chafee comes to mind as the most recent example. I'm generally in favor of running primary challenges against such liberal Republicans even if it throws the election to a liberal Democrat. The main effect of such principled liberal Republicans is to give bipartisan cover to liberal initiatives.
The first group (to include Specter, Crist, the Maine Senators) is more complicated. They usually don't have liberal (or conservative) principles. They are running as Republicans in marginal or liberal-leaning constituencies (or maybe even right-leaning constituencies) for complicated and self-interested reasons. Since they are all about themselves, they tend to take losing very badly. They have to maneuver against powerful crosscurrents. Their branding as "moderate" or "independent" Republicans (which consists of voting with the Democrats when they perceive public opinion in favor of a given liberal position) means they will be to the left of the Republican Party. Their need to win primaries among right-skewing Republican primary electorates means they will vote well to the right of liberal (and most "moderate") Democrats. It isn't for nothing that all the moderate Senate Democrats voted for Obamacare and all the moderate Senate Republicans against. I would obviously prefer a conservative to a moderate (or just plain hack) Republican whenever possible. I'm glad we will (hopefully!) have Senators Rubio and Toomey rather than Senators Specter and Crist. But it isn't clear that a trading a moderate Republican for a liberal Democrat is an upgrade.
That doesn't mean we are stuck with the moderate Republicans we have. I think it is possible to get a Republican substantially to the right of Snowe and Collins elected to the Senate from Maine. I don't just mean knocking Snowe or Collins off in the primary, I'm talking winning the general too. It would take the right candidate, a populist message, a prudent, measured, and relevant issue agenda, alot of money and a favorable environment, But that doesn't mean that nominating a badly flawed conservative no hoper (or very little hoper) and giving the Senate Democrats one more consistently liberal vote makes for a better Senate.
I don't have much sympathy for Mike Castle, though I do regret his defeat. If you are going to have a chance as a moderate Republican in this environment you need to find a some high salience positions that get strong support from conservatives and enough support from nonconservatives so that you have majority support and push those issues really hard. That is what Susan Collins did in 2008 with card check and what Scott Brown did in 2010 with Obamacare, tax cuts, and civilian trials for terrorists. Check out Castle's website to get an idea of how badly he miscalculated the environment. In fact, I'm thinking maybe we are better off with O'Donnell.
Actually not really. There is a fairly narrow band of issues (where public opinion is ambiguous) where, because we will probably have a liberal Democrat rather than a (very) moderate Republican Senator, it is marginally more likely that liberal initiatives will be passed and conservative initiatives blocked. I don't know how many such issues there will be, but Obamacare only passed the filibuster threshold by one vote.
Gaga's sexual reticence can't be chalked up to priest-ridden guilt: although she was nominally raised Catholic, her father (an internet entrepreneur who was once a bar-band rock musician in New Jersey) was clearly less repressive than Madonna's old-school authoritarian Italian-American father. In fact, the puritanical strictness of Madonna's background sparked her ambition and strengthened her best work. Without taboos, there can be no transgression -- which is why Madonna's ideas waned after she drifted into misty Kabbalah. There is no religious frame of reference in Gaga's songs, aside from the passing assertion, "Got no salvation, got no religion" (in So Happy I Could Die); there is nothing remotely comparable to the sweeping gospel-choir crescendo of Madonna's Like a Prayer. So it is unsurprising to hear that Gaga is consulting celebrity "spiritual guides" like Deepak Chopra. [Italics are mine, ed.]We note, too, that in another of Gaga's more famous works (a work that earned her top honors at the MTV VMA awards), Bad Romance, the lyrics--to say nothing of the visual suggestions--are remarkably un-erotic horrors cheaply packaged in what is taken by those who haven't experienced real eroticism to be an erotic envelope. Passing over without comment the mangled "tableau" at the end of video (which depicts a typically expressionless Gaga perched in bed over an incinerated corpse), take note of the tiresome refrain, "I don't wanna be friends."
Glenn Beck referred to Woodrow Wilson as "the most evil man we've had in office." Wilson scholar RJ Pestritto may not put it that way, but he argues "Whatever I or anyone else thinks about Mr. Beck's programming or political views, on one central historical issue he is correct: The progressive movement did indeed repudiate the principles of individual liberty and limited government that were the basis of the American republic." One shocking example is Wilson's belief in the compatibility of democracy and socialism. Such monstrosity is possible when one rejects the natural rights basis of American democratic republicanism.
Yet the conversation can be pushed even further toward founding principles. Progressivism and Calhounism have a common root in the belief in history over natural rights. In this respect, in their belief in rights and the Constitution, the Tea Partiers comes closer to the founding than the neo-Confederate argument that often plagues conservatism.
I just recieved a warning from the CDC about this recurrant disease (it's pronounced: "gonna re-elect 'em"). Apparently, it's caused by inserting one's cranium up their rectum, and it's a real "obamanation." The drug Votemout has been prescribed, on a two-year cycle, to eliminate the disease.
In keeping with the spirit of the primaries today, I thought I'd pass along the information.
A couple notes from beyond our borders:
Cuba's Fidel Castro apparently let down his guard recently with Jeffery Goldberg and confessed that the "Cuban model" of governance had been a failure (by all measures save enriching himself at the expense of his people, of course). Castro later recanted, so the "he said / she said" revolves around a question of credibility, but the Cuban government on Monday announced massive privatization reforms - including the immediate firing of one-tenth of Cuba's public sector workforce. Goldberg is publishing a series of articles summarizing his Cuban trip - they're certainly worth a read.
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan won a referendum which will have the effect of consolidating power in his Islamic party by largely marginalizing the counter-balancing check of the nation's courts and military. The vote may have reflected the political wisdom that "it's the economy, stupid," as Erdogan's secular government has boosted Turkey's economic growth. As a de facto Muslim nation yet in the aftermath of a secular, democratic revolution, Turkey is a fascinating and critical perspective into the question of Islam and the modern world. The recent referendum seems troubling, given the present government's dim view of U.S. First Amendment-style rights and anti-American foreign policy - but President Obama has expressed gratification with the results.
France's senate has passed the long-debated ban on veils in public. Proponents contend the law "will preserve the nation's values, including its secular foundations and a notion of fraternity." Observers might note that secular values always trump religious liberties in liberal societies - particularly within the most arrogant and self-congratulatory liberal societies.
Christine O'Donnell, the Tea Party candidate, has soundly defeated moderate Mike Castle to win the Republican nomination for the Delaware senate. The obvious question now, of course, is whether this conservative candidate can ride the winds of change-to-the-change in a liberal state - or did the GOP just kiss goodbye to their only opportunity this century to win a senate seat in Delaware.
Over at NRO, Jim Geraghty wonders (i.e., doubts) whether O'Donnell can even win over Rep. Castle's Republican supporters. I suspect most will see past their bruised feelings once they've an opportunity to size up the Democratic candidate, Chris Coons - who is likely celebrating just as hard as O'Donnell tonight, having just been rid of the more formidable of his potential opponents.
The Powerline boys summed up a likely O'Donnell win by wondering whether liberal activists, who have resisted the temptation to run extreme candidates in red states, are smarter then Republican activists, who may have just blown a once-in-a-lifetime chance. We'll soon see.
P.S. I expect Tea Party Princess Sarah Palin is pondering the same questions as raised above, though with a more personal motive and slightly loftier ambitions.
Matthew Yglasias worries that a Christine O'Donnell win over Mike Castle in Delaware's Republican Senate primary might push America's political culture to the right. That is based on some shaky assumptions (like the one that the two parties are probably fated to divide time in power about equally - a possible outcome, but not at all certain), but it is worth thinking about conditions a conservative primary challenge against moderate Republicans might push the Republican Party to the right in the short-term, but shift the political culture to the left.
Within our present context, a "moderate" member of the Senate or House of Representatives (of either party) is usually an opportunist looking for attention and continued reelection to Congress. That doesn't mean they have no principles at all. They would probably continue to support democracy against Nazi or Communist tyranny even if support for dictatorship polled in the low fifties. But within the current parameters of American politics, whatever principles they might have don't usually come into play in a decisive way. Whether taxes go up or down five percent, whether there is a health insurance mandate, or whether cap-and-trade passes matter primarily to the extent that they impinge on the moderate's survival and prominence. They will vote with their party when it is popular to do so and ostentatiously break with their party when the polls (either nationally or in their own constituencies) go sharply in the other direction. When the polling is ambiguous on an issue of great public concern, they will usually demand bribes for their states or districts, as well as private and public stroking in return for their supporting a watered down version of their party's agenda. They are a vain and infuriating bunch and no sentiment should be wasted on them. Conservatives should seek to replace "moderate" Republicans with conservative Republicans whenever possible.
But in cases where a Republican conservative can't win (either because the constituency would not elect one or because the more conservative candidate is fatally flawed), a Republican moderate is usually preferable to a liberal Democrat. Republican moderates can usually be counted on to vote for the popular parts of the Republican agenda whereas a liberal Democrat would be a vote against. Moderates (of either party) can usually be induced to vote for policies that are supported by the majority of their party but are only marginally popular (or marginally unpopular.) Winning their support can often be a painful, irritating process, but the presence of a moderate of your party rather than an ideologically opposed member of the other party can make the difference between a major policy shift or a stalemate. Imagine how different the health care issue would have played out if Democrats had opted for ideological purity and nominated losing liberal Senate candidates in non-left-leaning constituencies like Indiana, Louisiana, and Nebraska and instead of "moderate" Democrats like Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu, and Ben Nelson, we instead had conservative Republicans. I'm not too concerned about about the short-term consequences of Republicans losing the Delaware Senate seat. For 2011-2012, it is likely to be about the same stalemate whether the Senate Republicans have 49, 50, or 51 votes. But it would be a shame if having a liberal Democrat Senator from Delaware rather than a moderate Republican prevented the passage of a major conservative reform of health care (or taxes or whatever) on the off chance (or maybe a little more than an off chance) that a Republican President was elected in 2012.
Newsweek has a very worthwhile article on Mitch Daniels. It contains a few partisan cheap shots and some reasonable doubts whether the public will ever be willing to accept the spending restraint we need, but it is mostly admiring. I especially like this:
His brand of reality-based conservatism might not propel him to the presidency in 2012. But eventually it could provide the GOP with something it desperately needs (and currently lacks): a convincing model of post-Reagan, post-Dubya, post-Obama governance.
Kevin Williamson argues against Mitch Daniels' idea of a payroll tax holiday and I must say I agree with him. There was a time I was agnostic about the wisdom of a "timely, targeted, temporary" stimulus program. It seemed worth the risk of the extra debt, if the stimulus could significantly moderate and shorten the recession. A payroll tax holiday seemed like exactly the right way to go (if you were going to go the stimulus route), but that isn't what we got. Now, almost three years into this lousy economy, another government attempt to prop up demand doesn't make much sense to me. The good news is that after the failure of the Obama stimulus, Cash For Clunkers, and the temporary homeowners tax credit, the public might be ready to turn away from quick fixes and toward an agenda that can plausibly offer a stable policy environment for investment and sustained, broadly (if unevenly) rising living standards.
On the other hand, I think Daniels' idea of pushing Congress to grant the President an impoundment power makes both electoral and policy sense. Campaigning and the legislating on specific budget cuts is difficult because of the problem of concentrated benefits and diffuse costs (cough, ethanol subsidies, cough.) That doesn't mean that there aren't tens of billions of dollars in the federal budget that could be impounded with the vast majority of voters a) not noticing the money wasn't spent and b) being unmoved at the consequences of the money being unspent. The problem is creating an incentive system in which the unorganized majority that does not benefit from this spending can be rallied against the well organized interests which are well placed to push for spending within congressional electoral and appropriations processes. The impoundment power gives the President (if inclined) the ability to rally the general interest against particular spending interests.
But why would Congress grant the President this power? Partially because it would be in the interest of individual members of Congress to do the granting. Giving the President the power to impound wasteful spending could be a very popular issue. Fiscally conservative members of Congress would want to grant the power because it would be a tool to restrain spending. It would also allow them to plausibly argue in favor of spending restraint without having to go through long lists of spending cuts that induce rage in the spending interests and mego (my eyes glaze over) in everyone else. More opportunistic members of Congress (especially Republicans) might be convinced to support granting the impoundment power because campaigning on the issue might help the Republicans win congressional majorities and the chairmanships that go with majority status. Supporting impoundment might also help Republicans of suspect conservatism avoid embarrassing primary defeats. Impoundment wouldn't be a substitute for a poltic and relevant agenda on taxes, health care and entitlements, but it could play a part in shifting our electoral politics in a more limited government direction and bringing the budget under control.
In his 9/11 speech at the Pentagon, the President declares that our enemies
may seek to exploit our freedoms, but we will not sacrifice the liberties we cherish or hunker down behind walls of suspicion and mistrust. They may wish to drive us apart, but we will not give in to their hatred and prejudice. For Scripture teaches us to "get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice."
(Note the context of the Ephesians 4:31 quotation. Paul goes on to urge slaves and masters not to be angry with one another and that wives should obey their husbands. Paul's goal here is not submissiveness of men to each other but above all to God.)
This meekness Obama declares on "a day of remembrance, a day of reflection, and -- with God's grace -- a day of unity and renewal." And what does this unity consist of?
Those who attacked us sought to demoralize us, divide us, to deprive us of the very unity, the very ideals, that make America America -- those qualities that have made us a beacon of freedom and hope to billions around the world. Today we declare once more we will never hand them that victory. As Americans, we will keep alive the virtues and values that make us who we are and who we must always be.
And what virtues and values make us one? Evidently the most unAmerican person is an angry one. It follows that the American should lack this most fundamental passion for politics. (This said at the Pentagon!) I suppose we should save our anger for BP executives, Republicans, fanatical pastors, etc.
Obama appropriately recalls the Declaration:
Like generations before us, let us come together today and all days to affirm certain inalienable rights, to affirm life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. On this day and the days to come, we choose to stay true to our best selves -- as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
But contrary to Obama's suggestion, defending rights and being angry are inseparable. When justice is the goal, anger humanizes.
Moreover, maintaining there is a right to burn a Koran and a right to build a mosque near the 9/11 site reveals utter confusion about rights. As Lincoln argued in debating with Douglas, there is never a right to do wrong. In a regime of freedom, we permit willful, stupid, and even immoral actions to occur without punishing them. And defending such actions as rights diminishes their dignity and what makes virtues of real rights. Freedoms of speech, religion, and property become mere "values," which can be bargained away or accommodated like anything else. Hence 9/11 becomes a day for anaesthesia.
Literature, Poetry, and Books
David Frum writes that congressional Republicans need an agenda if they are to make the most of their (hopefully!) forthcoming gains and offers a Contract With America for 2010. Even if Republicans don't take up Frum's Contract, I think that such exercises can be useful. As Reihan Salam pointed out today, constructing policy agendas and building support both within and outside a partisan coalition for an agenda is an important, early and crucial step towards policy reform. I think Frum's effort is thoughtful, but I have some pretty big reservations.
On Taxes - He wants to repeal the tax increases in Obamacare. So far so good. He also wants to extend the Bush tax cuts for another five years, have an eighteen month payroll tax holiday and speeded up expensing. That isn't a bad plan and Mitch Daniels offered something similar, but I'm skeptical of what amount to rightish versions of stimulus. The challenge is coming up with a set of long-term sustainable policies that can win majority support and make the US economy more competitive. This means a tax program that offers significant and long-term direct benefits to most working families and encourages growth year in and year out (rather than a short-term demand spike.) I prefer something like the family-friendly and pro-growth plan offered by Robert Stein along with maybe some kind of cut in the corporate income tax. There are reasons to not like the plan since it raises income taxes on some high-income voters, but it keeps the top income tax rate at 35%.
On Debt - Frum wants to cut federal aid to states. I see his point. I personally prefer a Cash for Cuts approach in which federal dollars are made conditional on structural changes in state government that bring state and municipal budgets under control.
Health Care - You can read Frum's suggestions yourselves, but for me, Frum's proposal amounts to a Liberal Republican version of Obamacare. Frum is right that repeal sentiment, in itself, is likely to fade over time, but I'm not so sure that young voters will be as indestructibly tied to an Obamcare-type system as Frum thinks. Obamacare basically forces younger people to either pay too much for their health insurance or else pay a fine for the privilege of having no health care coverage whatsoever. For younger cohorts, Obamacare (for all the problems) might actually beat out a Republican message built around repeal and incomprehensible slogans about socialized medicine. But a Republican alternative that offers low-cost catastrophic coverage options for the middle-class young, state reinsurance pools for those with preexisting conditions, and a reformed and market-oriented Medicaid program for those with low-income might seem like a pretty big improvement over Obamacare.
Obama has just revealed the policies and tactics which will take Democrats down the home stretch to November - win or lose.
Bush Tax Cuts. Obama announced that he will "will rule out any compromise that would extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy beyond this year." Democrats have thus been thrust into a class-warfare fight with Republicans, rather than the bipartisan, compromise victory they might have desired following a wholesale extension of the tax cuts for all Americans.
Obama is gambling that Americans will view a tax hike on the wealthy as somehow benefiting the middle-class, rather than harming the economy. The latter fear, however, has been espoused even by Obama's former budget director. And Rasmussen polls finds that Americans, by a margin of over 3:1, prefer tax cuts to increased spending to repair the economy. Which brings us to...
Stimulus, Part II (or II, or...). Obama will soon announce yet another stimulus plan, this one weighing in at $180 billion. The package will entail infrastructure projects and business tax cuts - policies amenable to GOP sensibilities. This may be the first instance of relatively bipartisan legislation supported by President Obama. Naturally, if he hopes to claim an economic victory before November, the substance will have to be attractive to Republicans. But, Obama would be just as happy with GOP resistance, as his major theme between now and then will likely be to brand the GOP as "the party of 'no'" and hope Americans will prefer something (read: anything) rather than nothing.
However, by a margin of 3:1, Americans prefer fewer government services and lower taxes to more services and higher taxes. By a margin of nearly 2:1, in fact, Americans oppose a second stimulus. Further, Obama is proposing to offset the cost of his stimulus package by increasing corporate tax rates - which will certainly not prove soothing to a flailing economy - and his resistance to a payroll tax cut to spur hiring portrays Obama as more fixated upon transforming the U.S. economy in his image than fighting unemployment.
The battle lines have thus been drawn, and Republicans should be smiling at their fortunes.
I touched upon Islamic issues below, so it's timely to follow up with mention of Time magazine's latest disgrace. Last week's issue denounced Americans as bigots for questioning the propriety of building a victory Mosque at Ground Zero. This week's issue condemns Jews for not caring about peace - because, Time concludes, they are just too busy being miserly, money-grubbing Jews.
Victor Davis Hanson writes:
I know it's commonplace to read in the latest issue of Time or Newsweek that Obama is a god, that Islamophobic Americans are collectively prejudiced against Muslims, that the response after 9/11 was overblown and unnecessary ... but the recent Time piece on Israel by a Karl Vick is probably the most anti-Semitic essay I have ever read in a mainstream publication.
For the record, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated today that he stands firm with his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, in refusing to countenance a Jewish state in the Arab world. Perhaps this is the sort of peace which Time has in mind - the sort that arrives when Israel is swept into the sea. Israel's refusal to accept this peace proposal is seemingly inexplicable and infuriating to the writers of Time ... who will never be accused of Islamophobia.
Literature, Poetry, and Books
The other frogs consider me aloof
And mock each out-of-season mating call,
But I regard my plight as living proof
That faith can foster something magical.
So crouching patiently above the scum
With chin uplifted, eyelids low and still,
I wait for my redeeming love to come.
With numbing numbers cruelly reduced
To caviar for snacking perch and trout,
Dessert for weary birds before they roost
Or toys that idle boys have caught for sport,
It all confirms my sense of destiny.
Someday she will appear to grace this plot
And recognize the manifest in me.
Iran has chastised the world for trying to make the stoning of a woman accused of adultery into a "rights" issue. Silly world. Don't we know that criticizing Sharia law is "Islamophobic" - and human rights, women's rights and any other brand of rights you can invent are subordinate to religious rights, Sharia style.
Stoning has been an integral element of the Iranian legal system since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. In fact, the woman to be stoned was earlier sentenced to 99 lashes for being photographed without proper head-covering (the photo turned out to have been of another woman, but let's not get mired down in details). Look at the way she was dressed ... she had it coming.
Some Muslim countries might even be getting soft on crime. A court in Saudi Arabia recently rejected paralysis as a form of punishment. Flogging, amputations and public beheadings are still allowed, but the severing of spinal cords are now a bridge too far.
And the U.S. seems to have gotten the memo. Speaking out against the building of a mosque at the site of a Muslim terror attack will get you investigated by the U.S. government. Burning Korans will invite a reprimand from the U.S. military. No hiding behind free-speech "rights," even here in America.
Here is a longish but well worth reading summary of Obamacare's likely impact. It goes well with Avik Roy's explanation of how the mandates and rules making process created by Obamacare gives the government the authority to quietly strangle the private insurance market. One thing that strikes me is that health care policy is a long-term battle of position within a constantly changing environment. Liberals have managed to shape the environment in such a way that if conservatives are not winning policy victories, they are losing - if only slowly.
The NCPA report makes it clear that Obamacare will speed up the unraveling of our system of employer-provided health insurance, increase the number of people on government-provided insurance, mandate participation in a destructive and irrational system of comprehensive health care prepayment, and make the middle-class dependent on government health care subsidies within an environment of sharply rising premiums. Obamacare is, in and of itself, a big step toward government-run health care, and in the years to come, it will slowly shift the political battlefield ever more in favor of ever more government control.
Republicans holding office won't stop these changes. If Republicans win control of Congress in 2010 and Obama vetoes Republican attempts at repeal (assuming the Republicans can even beat a Democrat filibuster in the Senate), nothing changes and we stay on our path to government-run health care. As Obamacare changes our health care market and health care politics, a policy of simple repeal will (by itself) become less and less the basis of a winning politics.
The old Republican policy of "tort reform plus not much" won't get it done. There is nothing wrong with tort reform, but is doesn't address enough problems to become the basis for a winning politics of health care. Tort reform has mostly functioned as a kind of conversation stopper for conservatives who didn't really want to talk or think much about health care. Oh, the Senate Democrats are filibustering tort reform? That just means they aren't serious. Let's talk about cutting taxes.
A "get government (or even just the federal government) out of health care" rhetoric is of course a kind of self-marginalizing literary politics. There will be significant government involvement in the provision of health care (if only in the form of tax subsidies and provision for the destitute) under any realistic scenario. I hear this line of argument on talk radio every once in a while and it is just another conversation stopper. It is even worse than that. It doesn't so much stop the health care conversation so much as it leaves the conversation to be dominated by liberals.
A Ryan Roadmap-type tax change that produces a leap into individually-owned insurance is probably too big a step to win majority support. It would seem to leave people and their families naked in the health care market with only a (insufficient seeming) tax credit for help. This problem becomes worse as premiums rise and people feel even more vulnerable and afraid of being on their own.
A winning conservative politics of health care will mean assembling and relentlessly pushing a set of incremental policies that do two things. First, they would have to be able to win not only majority support among the public, they will have to be consequential enough that voters will consider voting for those policies a high salience issue. This means a set of policies that neither do too little to motivate enough voters (tort reform plus nothing), nor do so much that those voters freak out (the Ryan Roadmap.) Second, the policies, once enacted, must shape the political environment in a way that future market-driven health care reforms become both easier and more popular.
Those are some very narrow needles to thread. There are some obviously wrong answers, but the right answers are much less clear. I don't think there is any one right answer, but there are pieces of a potential right answer lying around waiting to be assembled (and somewhat changed) into a winning platform by a center-right party that is serious about winning the long and grinding health care battle.
"With tight races for governor and senator, not to mention several close congressional contests, Ohio is likely to tell us not only which political party will be victorious but also how large the anticipated Republican wave turns out to be.
If the GOP can win these toss-up Ohio races, then a repeat of the 1994 Republican landslide might be possible nationally. Wins by the Democrats, however, would likely indicate that their losses might be smaller elsewhere, more in line with those typically suffered by a president's party at this point in the calendar." The two latest polls in Ohio have Kasich leading Strickland by anywhere between 8 and 10 points, and for the Senate, Portman is ahead of Fisher by about a dozen points. Also, all the enthusiasm is with the Republicans.
Along with everyone else, I understand that things can change, that anything may happen, that giddy minds might be busied with foreign quarrels, etc., and yet, it would seem that there will be a tidal wave of some kind (also see Larry Sabato's revaltively careful/conservative GOP predictions). None of the facts reveal any comfort for the Democrats.
This is heart-warming news from "the heart of it all" state. Public Policy Polling previews:
We'll start rolling out our Ohio poll results tomorrow but there's one finding on the poll that pretty much sums it up: by a 50-42 margin voters there say they'd rather have George W. Bush in the White House right now than Barack Obama.
I've been away for some time in foreign corners of the world, so allow me to rejoin the American political discourse by citing a historical observation which seems relevant to our current plight. Explaining the reason for the Czech Republic's economic slump in the mid-90's, then-President Vaclav Havel postulated that it was a "punishment for pride":
The government has embraced an arrogant ideology. They claim to know the key to prosperity. It's analogous to communism. They thought the same thing. The clever ones - themselves - would run everything. That's the analogy. The key to prosperity is to let things run themselves. We'll liberalize everything, let everyone look after himself, let business, not the state, run the economy. The state should have no views, no policies of its own. Just open it all up, step back, let it go and you'll see how well everything will work if we just leave things alone.
These were not prepared remarks. Havel was recorded while drinking scotch and chatting with political advisors. The translation from Czech may be a bit rough, but the relevancy to English-speakers warrants the rendition here. If he'd been born in America, Havel would have been a Republican - and might have succeeded Reagan as one of the great conservative leaders of our time.
Megan McArdle wonders whether Obamacare will ever get much more popular than it is now. I'm not sure that is the right way to look at it. The idea that Obamacare was going to become much more popular by November 2010 was always some combination of self-delusion and a cynical attempt to gull wavering congressional Democrats from marginal or right-leaning constituencies. The more important issue is how Obamacare changes the structure of the health care market and how these structural changes will influence the politics of Obamacare in the next 2-6 years. People don't have to learn to love Obamacare. They only need to have their interests structured in such a way that repealing Obamacare seems like a change for the worse and (eventually) that single-payer health care is the most obvious solution to the problems produced by Obamacare. The way different elements of Obamacare will play out will be uncertain.
1. Prices - If the experience of Massachusetts with insurance mandate/coverage mandate/government subsidy is anything to go by, Obamacare will lead to an even faster rise in insurance premiums. This sounds like a major weakness for Obamacare, but, if conservatives are not careful and articulate, it could actually strengthen the political case for even more government-run health care. For one thing, it won't be obvious to everybody that Obamacare is the reason for rising premiums. The politics of rising premiums will be a jump ball. Obama supporters and liberals generally will argue that the premium increases are the result of mean, fat cat, greedy insurance companies that will benefit from Republican attempts to liberalize the health insurance market. The argument will be that the insurance companies are already bleeding you dry and that if the Republicans get their way, the insurance companies will charge you even more or even deny you coverage altogether. They will say that it is better to go with the next iteration of Obamacare (or Bidencare or Pelosicare or whatever) and crack down on those mean insurance companies with some combination of price controls and expanding programs of government-provided health insurance. Rising health care premiums will also create urgency for Obamacare's forthcoming premium subsidies to middle-class families. Rising premiums will make people feel vulnerable and suspicious of any health care reform that seems to leave them on their own to pay for coverage that only barely seems affordable even with 'help" from their employers and the federal government. Supporters of market-oriented health care reforms will have to offer policies that promise lower prices, but also policies that address what is reasonable about people's feelings of vulnerability.
2. Guaranteed Issue - This provision will force insurance companies to offer policies to people with preexisting conditions (so far only for children but eventually everybody)a nd seemingly at about the same premium rate as everyone else. This will tend to increase premiums on everybody, but as people with preexisting conditions are guaranteed coverage (it is complicated now, but if you develop a condition while insured, it becomes a disincentive from leaving your job and possibly losing coverage), they become a constituency against repeal.
3. Medicaid expansion - Obamacare is estimated to increase the population on Medicaid by as much as twenty million by 2014. I'm not sure it will be that much, but even if it is half that, it is still a sizeable constituency against repeal of Obamacare. And it isn't just the people on Medicaid. People who aren't on Medicaid will worry about what happens to people who lose coverage. It will seem awfully cruel to take people off Medicaid in an environment in which premiums are rising very fast.
There are counters to all of these concerns. Support for the guaranteed issue element of Obamacare can be reduced by coming out for well funded and well designed reinsurance pools that would reassure people with preexisting conditions. Medicaid offers an opportunity for some conservative jujitsu as conservative can offer a better deal for Medicaid recipients and allay the fears of middle-class Americans who worry about how market-driven health care will impact the poor. Medicaid is a truly lousy program that needs to be reformed in a market-driven direction for the sake of the program's recipients. I prefer something like adding a federal version of Mitch Daniels Health Indiana Plan as a choice for Medicaid recipients, but there are many ways to improve Medicaid and there is no one right answer. But any answer given will have to be defended in detail. People don't have to like Obamacare in order to start feeling dependent on it. As Obamacare is institutionalized, repeal of Obamacare and reform of health care policy will involve allaying people's concerns about what will happen to them (and what will happen to the poor and what will happen to them if they develop a condition) in an environment where prices seem to be rising too fast and Obamacare seems like their only life raft.
Personal note - The Spiliakos familly is still moving, so I won't be around much until after Labor Day.