Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Birthrights and Wrongs

Since the correct interpretation of the 14 Amendment is again being discussed, I thought I'd post another link to the debates.  Here's how Mr. Howard introduced it in the Senate:

The first amendment is to section one, declaring that "all persons born in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the
States wherein they reside." I do not propose to say anything on that subject except that the question of citizenship has been so fully discussed in this body as not to need any further elucidation, in my opinion. This amendment which I have offered is simply declaratory of what I regard as the law of the land already, 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. This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons. It settles the great question of citizenship and removes all doubt as to what persons are or are not citizens of the United States. This has long been a great desideratum in the jurisprudence and legislation of this country.

Categories > Politics

Pop Culture

The End of Diversity?

Not long after the Fort Hood shooting, General Casey said, "It would be a shame -- as great a tragedy as this was -- it would be a shame if our diversity became a casualty as well."

Most Americans, I suspect, reacted to that comment with a roll of the eyes.  Casey's comments reflect a mindset that is common among our governing class, inside and outside the military.  They have come to embrace diversity as a good in and of itself, rather than recognize that respect for a variety of points of view and ways of life is, itself, a consequence of a something larger.

I wonder if the controversy over the newly invasive screening at airports represents a beginning of the end of the religion of diversity.  As Charles Krauthammer notes:

everyone knows that the entire apparatus of the security line is a national homage to political correctness. Nowhere do more people meekly acquiesce to more useless inconvenience and needless indignity for less purpose. Wizened seniors strain to untie their shoes; beltless salesmen struggle comically to hold up their pants; three-year-olds scream while being searched insanely for explosives, when everyone -- everyone -- knows that none of these people is a threat.

We pass all passengers through the same, cumbersome screening because we want to pretend that all Americans are equally likely to be security threats.   In short, we do it to avoid profiling.  The effort does credit to the tolerance of American soceity.  On the other hand, tolerance is not the only good.  There are limits. 

What we are seeing now is, I suspect, a reflection of a frustration Americans have with the worship of what is called diversity run amok.  By pretending that all passengers are equally likely to represent a threat, we have stretched the myth of sameness past the breaking point.  The same is true in other cases.  For example, a landlord cannot tell someone from India whose cooking stinks up the hallway outside his door by cooking his native cuisine that he is in violation of a general policy against stinking up the hallway.  Were someone from anywhere else in the world to cook the same thing, however, the landlord could tell him to nock it off.  Similarly, were that same person from India to stink up the hallway one night by cooking Italian food, the landlord could say something. That's absurd.  Given how intrusive the screen is becoming, it's no less absurd not to profile.

Two further points.  Liberals might say that it is unconstitutional to discriminate in the way that profiling would lead us to discriminate.  But liberals also say that the constitution is a living document.  Why can't it "live" in that direction?

Finally, we should recall Washington's wisdom.  In his famous letter to Quakers, he noted, "

Your principles and conduct are well known to me; and it is doing the people called Quakers no more than justice to say, that (except their declining to share with others the burden of the common defense) there is no denomination among us, who are more exemplary and useful citizens."

If all religious groups claimed the same exemption that Quakers demanded, Washington recognized, the U.S. could not survive as a nation.  Americans are free to believe and to profess whatever they choose, but when it comes to action, we have to negotiate between the demands of conscience and our obligations to the good of the community (a good which, of course, includes respect for the rights of conscience).  Squaring that circle is no mean feat.  The best we can do is come up with partial solutions.  There are no completely resolved problems in politics.

Respect for diversity grew up in the wake of the civil rights movement, as part of a push to gain respect for individuals who had been deprived their rights.  It might be that the idea is reaching the end of its term of usefulness, and the anger at the TSA reflects that.  After all, in America the invdividual is supposed to come first.  The group, other than local and state government, is not supposed to have official recognition at law.

Categories > Pop Culture


The Happy Loser

CNN's Political Ticker has a short blog on John Boccieri, the US Rep whose district includes most of Ashland County. Boccieri, a freshman Democrat, was defeated for reelection two weeks ago by Jim Renacci, 52-41.

Boccieri is happy, apparently, because he thinks he did the right thing and lost only because the economy is bad. The man leaves DC with a clear conscience and, as the comments section on blog suggests, the applause of many outside OH-16.

But the reality is more complex. While the economy did hurt him (and every Democrat in Ohio this year), it doesn't explain something that Boccieri either cannot see or will not admit: people in the district were angry at him - at least Republicans and moderate or conservative independents. Boccieri voted for the stimulus and cap and trade, and switched his vote at the last minute to "yes" on the health care bill. The health care vote was especially damaging, and Boccieri's allies knew it. SEIU, for example, ran a TV ad praising Boccieri the day after he voted for the bill. They knew what was coming. The next day I saw signs in Ashland that said "Bye, Bye Boccieri".

Boccieri didn't understand that the Right (and even center-Right) feels the same passion about ObamaCare that the Left felt about the Iraq War. The Left hated the war on principle; the Right hates ObamaCare on principle. Both regard them as stupid, malicious, and unconstitutional. But the great turn happened in the middle. Independents didn't hate the Iraq War to begin with; Bush won Ohio in 2004, remember. In fact, the middle never hated the war, but they got frustrated and turned against it when it didn't go well. The same is true of ObamaCare. The middle might have tolerated it but with the economy faltering and mountains of debt piling up, their frustration became anger and the arguments of conservatives made sense. They turned against it and anyone who supported it.

So Boccieri may be a happy loser, but I wonder if his happiness is bought at the price of not actually understanding what happened to him and why.
Categories > Politics

The Founding

Quotation du Jour

From James Madison:

The incompetency of one Legislature to regulate all the various objects belonging to the local governments, would evidently force a transfer of many of them to the executive department; whilst the encreasing splendour and number of its prerogatives supplied by this source, might prove excitements to ambition too powerful for a sober execution of the elective plan.

Categories > The Founding


What's This?

Hayward in Mother Jones?  Mother Jones??  How's this for a VC raid behind enemy lines?
Categories > Environment

The Civil War & Lincoln

Gettysburg Address Anniversary

I'm on Cozumel, an island 10 miles off the Yucatan peninsula, on the National Review post-election cruise.  I'm having a good time, listening to good speakers, meeting nice folks, and swimming a bit.

Someone just reminded me that today is the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.  Not much needs to be said that you don't already know, but I do want to remind you of a few points: it is simple, to the point, only 32 words in it are Latin-based (the rest are Anglo-Saxon based), and without a doubt, it is the most patriotic speech in American history.


Helping Paul Ryan Out

Paul Ryan and former Clinton OMB Director Alice Rivlin have come out with a Medicare and Medicaid reform proposal.  As you would expect from Ryan, the proposal is transformative and thoughtful.  Ryan and Rivlin's proposal to turn Medicare into a means-tested voucher for private insurance is a good idea and probably where the system should go in the future - though here is another way to go about it. As far as I see there are two main ways to control Medicare costs in the long run.  The first if for the federal government to simply ration care.  The promise is one of technocracy (which has its own set of problems), but we aren't likely to get technocracy.  The process of rationing Medicare will more likely look like the combination of the short-sighted and stupid across-the-board benefit cuts and lousy access to health care that characterize Medicaid and the corrupting interest group politics that that marred the passage of Obamacare.  By the time the American political system is done rationing health care to seniors, we'll be begging for death panels.  The alternative is a system that uses market pressure to spur productivity increases and business-model innovation to control medical inflation. 

Just the same, if I were a conservative Republican candidate for state or national office in the next few years, I think I would steer clear of supporting the Ryan-Rivlin Medicare reform proposal (I think that conservative journalists and popularizers should boom it at every opportunity as an alternative to simple state rationing.)  The proposal sounds terrifying because it means replacing your Medicare with a voucher and a "good luck finding an insurance plan."  I don't think market-oriented change to Medicare, even if phased in for those currently 55 and under, will happen in such a radical way.  I think that the conversion of Medicare into a private insurance voucher (if it is to happen) will have to follow rather than lead the expanded use of consumer-driven health insurance policies elsewhere in the population.  If market-driven reforms are having highly visible benefits in other population groups, it might become nontoxic to push to convert Medicare into a private insurance voucher.  In the meantime, I think it makes more sense to emphasize other incremental market reforms for the working-aged and phasing in a competitive pricing system for future Medicare beneficiaries who are currently 55 and under (though you would have to be willing to answer attacks about that policy too.)

Ryan and Rivlin's proposal to turn Medicaid into a block grant is more politically saleable, but Ryan (or even Ryan and the congressional Republicans) can't do it alone.  Transitioning Medicaid into a block grant that gives states the flexibility to implement market-oriented reforms (and there are lots of ways to go about this) would have to mean winning over the public despite the hysterical objections of the dominant social democratic wing of the Democratic Party.  Social democratic-leaning Democrats (to include our President and most of the remaining House Democrats) would be sure to argue that block granting Medicaid would mean abandoning the poor.  This is where Republican governors and state legislators need to step up if they are serious about averting government-run health care.  If the Republican-run states have plausible plans for how to use those block granted funds (and push to implement market-oriented reforms even before Congress votes to block grant Medicaid), in ways that will control costs and maintain or even improve access to health care for the poor, it will go a long way to educate and reassure the public.  One of the reasons it was politically possible to block grant AFDC to the states in 1996 was because some states had already implemented work requirements and eligibility time limits similar to the ones in the eventual federal law.  The fact that states had already implemented such policies made it tougher for opponents of welfare reform to terrify the public into thinking that the federal welfare reform law would kill masses of children.  The example of reformist governors in the early 1990s also shows the value of persistently working the waiver process.  It will be easier for Republicans in Congress and an (eventual) Republican President to win over the general public and maybe even some moderate Democrats to the block granting of Medicaid, if Republican-led states governments show that they are ready to take over a block granted Medicaid program in a useful and responsible way.    

Categories > Politics


Sen. Rockefeller wants to ban the free press

Politicians always complain about their press coverage, but over at Real Clear there's video of Senator Jay Rockefeller from West Virginia saying that it would be a lot easier for Congress to do its job if the FCC would just ban "the Left and the Right" from the airwaves (specifically, MSNBC and FOX).

While we're at it, maybe the FCC can muzzle politicians who are bad for "political discourse", or at least the ones who hate the Constitution.

When is that guy up for re-election?

Categories > Politics

Men and Women

It's a Name, Not a Destiny

Many thanks to Kate for passing along this interesting and frequently amusing article about recent trends in baby names--and male baby names in particular.

It is not the first time that I've seen an author take up the subject of gender-neutral trends in naming and reflect upon what the trend may mean about today's parents and the future of masculinity in America.  It is, however, probably the first time that I've read something in this line that--while leaning toward a kind of traditional and general distaste--is not breathless about the threat the trend poses to the Republic.  In other words, it is a sane piece.

A reason for that, it seems to me, is that the author actually took the trouble to talk to the people engaged in all of this creative naming.  She discovers quite a few interesting things.  One of them is that while there is a core of people who really are consciously and conspicuously engaged in the careful practice of baby naming with a feminist and ideological purpose, most people pick baby names for the unoriginal and simple reason that the name--for whatever random and non-ideological reason--appeals to them.  Nuts and political philosophy students who stay up too late and take in too much caffeine (or other substances) may protest that whether these people are conscious of it or not, there is some movement of the culture afoot or an ideological force that is propelling these tastes.  Well, ok.  But so what?  Here's something those worrying sorts can stick in their pipes and smoke:  this pathetic gender-neutral ideological trend has given rise to a counterpart; the deliberate choosing of hyper-masculine but non-traditional names . . . like Colt!  So, if it turns out that the idea of a name being destiny holds water in the cosmic ordering of the universe, at least there will be ideological parity . . . and when it comes to a shooting war, we'll know which side holds the guns.  

The more important and rational observation comes at the end of the article when the author reports on the surprise of some of the hopeful parents who named for the purpose of gender-neutrality.  It appears that their efforts have had no effect at all on the actual character distribution of children.  Whatever we may hope, kids will be largely whatever those kids will be.  It is an observation rooted in the common sense of the subject:  a name is only destiny in Shakespeare and other works of art, after all.  And however good you may be as a parent, it is unlikely that you are a Shakespeare--and besides, even if you were, your child is not your manuscript or canvass. 

More disturbing than the notion that wild-eyed feminists or sociology professors will succeed in their evil plot to emasculate American society with sissy names, is this idea (one that appears to have adherents on both sides of the masculinity divide) that a human soul is putty in the hands of its parents.  After serious reflection on that proposition every actual parent--liberal, conservative, feminist, or neanderthal--will probably agree to raise their glasses in bewildered and exasperated agreement.  It is most decidedly false!   A toast to that point.  The dignity and freedom of the human soul remains.  Nature wins.
Categories > Men and Women

Videos for the Week

If you wonder why the Chinese are running circles around us in terms of economic growth, check out this time-lapse video of a hotel built in China . . . in six days.  Here, it would take six years just to get the permits.

Meanwhile, I was hoping someone would post a clip from the old Airplane 2 movie scene capturing the farce of airport security screening.  I'm already looking for some magnetic tape that will show up on these backscatter x-rays.  I'm planning to spell out "screw you TSA" on my stomach.


Eroding Obamacare

One of the strengths of Obamacare is the power it delegates to the Department of Health and Human Services to both define what is an acceptable (and thereby legal) health insurance plan and to grant waivers if they deem the waivers to be good policy or good short-term politics (whether to reward allies or avoid bad publicity.)   This mandate-and-waiver approach allows bureaucrats to slowly drive consumer-driven plans out of the market through a process of harassment and force coverage mandates that will either drive private insurers out of business or force ruinous premium increases that will push public opinion in favor of the legislative enactment of first price controls and then a single-payer health care system. 

The weakness of this system of mandate-and-waiver  is its lack of legitimacy.  If the public's attention can be focused on HHS bureaucrats denying particular insurance policies to particular people, then the Obama administration will be forced to choose between backing off or getting mired in a losing public relations fight.

Since the Obama administration is certain to make use of the strengths of the mandate-and-waiver to advance the cause of government-run health care, conservative politicians should use the political weaknesses of this approach (and the potential policy space this weakness opens up) not only to weaken Obamacare but to increase the numbers of Americans with consumer-driven health insurance policies.  Republican gains in governorships and state legislature seats gives the GOP an opportunity to force supporters of government-run health care to either retreat or fight (hopefully) losing political battles. 

One way that Republican governors and state legislators can weaken Obamacare is to reform their Medicaid systems into a subsidy for high deductible private insurance coverage.  A second way is for GOP governors and state legislators to adopt and expand Mitch Daniels' policy of offering and HSA/catastrophic insurance coverage to Indiana state employees.  This approach has saved Indiana money (which is pretty important considering the circumstances of many state budgets) and increased the take home pay of Indiana state employees while expanding the number of Americans with consumer-driven health care policies in a consensual (rather than mandated) way.  Other states should adopt this approach for their own state workers and make it mandatory that municipal governments offer identical HSA/catastrophic coverage plans to municipal workers as union contracts expire.  Let the union leadership fight not only the taxpayers, but their own members who might want the option of picking HSA/catastrophic insurance plans that would save them money in premium costs.  Also, let HHS and the Obama administration explain why a plan that is good enough for Indiana's employees isn't good enough for Kansas, Florida, or Georgia.  And let Republicans in Congress push for laws giving states the unambiguous legal authority to enact these kinds of policies. 

This approach of reforming Medicaid in a free market direction and giving an HSA/catastrophic coverage option to state and municipal employees has the potential to sharply increase the number of Americans in consumer-driven policies, making it much more politically difficult for the Democrats to abolish these kinds of plans through either legislation or bureaucratic fiat.  It also gives conservatives arguments in favor of eventually expanding use of these kinds of insurance policies to groups other than Medicaid clients and public employees.  If they are good enough for those two groups, they are good enough for most of the rest of the working public.  The very act of fighting the Obama administration for waivers for these kinds of policies will tend to increase public awareness of the existence and benefits of free market-oriented health care reform policies.  These kinds of state-level reforms (vocally supported by Washington Republicans and the right-leaning media) could do more to avert government-run health care than a dozen sure-to-be-vetoed votes to repeal Obamacare - though let's do that too.   

Categories > Politics


Deja Vu

Jonah Goldberg in February.

Newsweek today.

I wonder if Steve Hayward is having flashbacks.  What whiny, prolix nonsense. If the Democrats had won ten seats in the House and two in the Senate, no way does this article see the light of day.  The funny part is that Stone think he is explaining away Obama's problems by ascribing them to institutional problems beyond the President's control, but all Stone is really doing is taking Obama's measurements for a Jimmy Carter Halloween costume.

h/t The Corner

Categories > Politics


Obama's Greatest Hits

Writing for the Weekly Standard, Jonathan V. Last gives us a catalog of Obama's greatest hits.  Hint:  Carly Simon didn't sing them (since "nobody does it better") and every song actually IS about him.
Categories > Presidency