Mr. Kurtz's International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness anticipates Ghadafi's wish for an international organization for philosopher-kings--the practice of one would approach that of the other. See a serious political scientist, Robert Putnam (an admirer of Tocqueville and Edward Banfield), on his conversation with the Libyan dictator back in January, 2007. Putnam compares his visage to that of "the aging Mick Jagger."
There were some translation problems: "Libyan history includes nothing remotely analogous to Rotary or Little League or the Knights of Columbus, so we settled on "veterans' associations" as the only intelligible illustration of my argument." I thought Putnam was at Harvard, not Syracuse.
By the way, the Edward Banfield website has been renewed, with downloads of several of his books, links to his writing, including his fiction, and others on him, such as Leo Strauss's praise of him. Banfield is clearly one of the major political scientists of the late twentieth century.
Quote of the Day
If, as many on the Left seem to think, it's okay to tar today's conservatives with the sins of conservatives in previous generations, why does the same not apply to Unions? Consider the motives behind the Davis-Bacon act, from a review of David Bernstein's Only One Place of Redress:
Depression era legislation, though officially colorblind, was often highly discriminatory. A case in point was the Davis-Act requiring construction firms with federal contracts to pay "prevailing wages." As defined by the Department of Labor, the prevailing wage usually equaled the union wage thus freezing low-skilled black workers out of many projects. As Bernstein points out, "contractors had every incentive to hire unionized workers for skilled positions. Union members were generally the best-trained workers, and they could be hired quickly and efficiently through union hiring halls." Many backers of Davis-Bacon did not hide their racist goals. The testimony at the hearings for the bill by William Green, the president of the American Federation of Labor, was a clear example. Green praised the proposed law because it would make it more difficult for contractors to "demoralize" wage rates through use of low-wage "[c]olored labor"
In general, in American history, American Unions have not covered themselves in honor on racial matters.
Refine & Enlarge
Local sport radio talk-show host Michael Felger likes to ask "What are we trying to do here?" whenever means and ends don't seem to be aligning. The recent commentary on Mitch Daniels' refusal to focus on right-to-work legislation in the face of a walkout by Indiana's Democratic state reps has me asking the same thing. So here are some points,
1. This isn't about public employee unions. As Avik Roy pointed out, Daniels has already ended collective bargaining for state employees and his proposed education bill would curtail collective bargaining for teachers along lines similar to Scott Walker's, while vastly expanding school choice.
2. This line from NRO's The Corner comments is very interesting. The commenter writes in response to Daniels, " Palin 2012 The lady knows how to fight" What does this mean? As governor, Daniels has slashed spending, instituted market-oriented health care reforms, signed pro-life legislation, taken on the public employee unions, and won a fight for a cap on property taxes in the Indiana state constitution. Now, in the second half of his second term, he is working for a radical right-leaning education reform plan. To the extent that "fighting" figures of speech have a place in our democratic politics, hasn't Daniels not only fought but also won the kinds of major substantive victories that have been all too rare on the center-right? What are we trying to do here?
3. But I do think that the commenter is getting at something important in our political culture. Even though Palin never turned Alaska into a right-to-work state, and Alaska state employees are unionized, she is able to stir the US vs. THEM emotions of many conservatives. She might not have instituted an HSA/catastrophic coverage program but she wrote about death panels. She fights. This reminds of how some liberals responded to Howard Dean. He wasn't much more liberal than your average Democratic presidential contender (in some ways he was less liberal), but he gave many liberals the sense that he shared their frustrations and their contempt for President Bush. That created a powerful bond for a while, but it also limited his appeal beyond his largely white upper middle-class liberal base. Palin has a wider base, but the point isn't Palin or Daniels or anybody else. It is that any conservative who wants to get elected President in 2012 will have to engage conservatives not only on substance, but by appealing to their sentiments. There is more than one way to do this. Obama appealed to the sentiments of liberals even more strongly than Dean, but he was far less alienating to persuadable. The trick for a reformist conservative presidential candidate will be to be able to speak movingly to conservatives and persuadables at the same time about the kinds of policy changes we need. This politician would have to be an authentic conservative without seeming like a rightworld provincial. Those are some choppy cultural waters to navigate, but it isn't impossible. Chris Christie is one example of how to do it and Bob McDonnell is another - though I think they would both run into some authenticity issues of their own if they ran for President. Maybe Daniels will be able to do that if he runs for President and gets into campaign mode rather than pass major legislative priorities mode (and let's not dismiss the possibility that getting the most possible good policy right now might end up being good politics in the end.) Maybe he won't. But if we are going to get the kind of reforms we need to avert either a debt crisis or the emergency imposition of social democratic policies or both, we are going to need a conservative politics that is both substantive and populist, and that has intense appeal to self-described conservatives while being attractive to persuadables.. So that is something for Daniels (or Christie or Rubio, or whoever) to think about.
Has anyone been quoting Lincoln's First Inaugural on the secession in the Wisconsin and Indiana state legislatures? That good ol' grit, the Sage of Mt. Airy nailed it. Republicans, return to your roots and defend the rule of law.
From questions of this class spring all our constitutional controversies, and we divide upon them into majorities and minorities. If the minority will not acquiesce, the majority must, or the government must cease. There is no other alternative; for continuing the government, is acquiescence on one side or the other. If a minority, in such case, will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which, in turn, will divide and ruin them; for a minority of their own will secede from them, whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such minority. For instance, why may not any portion of a new confederacy, a year or two hence, arbitrarily secede again, precisely as portions of the present Union now claim to secede from it. All who cherish disunion sentiments, are now being educated to the exact temper of doing this. Is there such perfect identity of interests among the States to compose a new Union, as to produce harmony only, and prevent renewed secession?
Plainly, the central idea of secession, is the essence of anarchy. A majority, held in restraint by constitutional checks, and limitations, and always changing easily, with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people, Whoever rejects it, does, of necessity, fly to anarchy or to despotism. Unanimity is impossible; the rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy, or despotism in some form, is all that is left.
The Washington Post's Steven Mufson explains that a) total government debt has hit WWII levels and b) the debt problem is much worse now. Mufson argues that we are unlikely to see the kind of economic growth and inflation that brought down the debt incurred in WWII .
The problem is actually even worse than that. We are not going to see the kind of sharp spending cuts we saw at the end of WWII. There are several reasons for this. First, some significant demobilization was very popular. We can argue about whether the defense budget was cut too much as a percent of GDP, but there were enormous and uncontroversial savings in cutting the military. The US military is now a much smaller percent of GDP, and while some cuts might be needed given our current situation, cuts to defense spending would have to be both gradual and prudent. Defense might be due for some cuts (though I want to see some details and some thoughts on how the cuts affect global stability), but we shall not be saved by defense cuts.
We also won't be saved by the higher (by our standards) inflation rates of 1946-1948. The key drivers of our debt at the federal level are Social Security and Medicare. The structures and political incentives built into those programs leave them both practically inflation-proof. Social Security benefits are indexed to wage increases and any inflation will eventually be reflected in higher nominal wages. The more we inflate, the more Social Security we will have to pay. Medicare looks more promising, but in reality is just as bad. The federal government sets reimbursements for Medicare. Now technically, if we had high inflation and if the federal government did not increase Medicare reimbursements (or just increased them more slowly than inflation), we could inflate our way out of some of our Medicare-create budget problems. The problem is that there is no reason to expect such a thing to happen. Medicare costs are already increasing faster than inflation for the simple reason that a) if Medicare reimbursements become too low, medical providers will stop providing services to Medicare clients b) Medicare clients want to receive services c) Medicare clients vote. If the political will existed to set reimbursements at a sustainable level (or to establish a more consumer-driven system), we wouldn't need inflation, and inflation will not remove the political incentives for ever increasing Medicare reimbursements. Inflation might do some good in eroding the real value (and therefore the costs) of some defined benefit government-employee pensions, but it would increase US borrowing costs, not deal with the main drivers of the federal deficit and bring other problems besides.
So are we screwed? Probably. There are worthwhile policies for dealing with the Red Menace, but there are huge problems in enacting them. Part of the problem is public opinion. A linked problem is that the institutions of the center-right are not well organized for advancing a policy-oriented agenda for dealing with the Red Menace.
Hopefully more later this week.
A former government colleague of mine, a young history enthusiast, has put together a handsome website on George Washington, "First in Peace," well worth a visit.
I was going to peruse President Obama's proclamation of the national holiday, but I can't find the official document on the White House website. Can anyone come up with it? Thanks.
Treppenwitz: I forgot to post this charming essay on Washington in art in three dimensions, by Catesby Leigh, who is writing a book on American public architecture. Look for his essays in the Wall Street Journal.
FRC senior fellow Bob Morrison writes on the occasion of Presidents' Day:
By Act of Congress, this is still George Washington's Birthday. Although car dealers and shopping malls have told us over and over again it's Presidents Day, the law is clear: We are honoring today our first president, the Father of our Country.
George Washington has been described as "the gentlest of Christendom's captains." As a military man, he was incredibly brave, facing enemy bullets not once, but many times. But when he put away his sword, he placed a dove of peace--a biblical symbol--atop his beloved Virginia home, Mount Vernon. He was eulogized at his death in 1799 by Gen. Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, the father of Robert E. Lee. The elder Lee called Washington "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." Washington was an inspiration to virtually all the presidents who came after him.
Thomas Jefferson, our third President, said of George Washington:
For his was the singular destiny and merit, of leading the armies of his country successfully through an arduous war, for the establishment of its independence; of conducting its councils through the birth of a government, new in its forms and principles, until it had settled down into a quiet and orderly train; and of scrupulously obeying the laws through the whole of his career, civil and military, of which the history of the world furnishes no other example. . . . These are my opinions of General Washington, which I would vouch at the judgment seat of God, having been formed on an acquaintance of thirty years. . . .I felt on his death, with my countrymen, that 'verily a great man hath fallen this day in Israel.'
Abraham Lincoln sought to model his own conduct on that of George Washington. Leaving Springfield by train for Washington, D.C. 150 years ago this month, President-elect Lincoln bade farewell to his Illinois neighbors with these touching words:
I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of the Divine Being who ever attended him, I cannot succeed. With that assistance I cannot fail. Trusting in Him who can go with me, and remain with you, and be everywhere for good, let us confidently hope that all will yet be well. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.
So impressed with Washington's conduct was Lincoln that he made a point of kissing the Bible at this own inauguration--just as Washington had done in 1789. Washington's reliance on the Bible was fully shared by Lincoln, who called it "the best gift God has ever given to man...But for it we could not know right from wrong."
Through the centuries, some few Americans have sought to pull themselves up by pulling Washington down. This tendency was most exaggerated in the 1920s, when so-called Progressives thought they could "de-bunk" American history by giving it a Marxist slant. But when a book purporting to show that Washington was a failure was published, President Calvin Coolidge was asked what he thought of it. "Silent Cal" wasted few words on the muckraking book. He looked out the window of the White House toward the Washington Monument and drawled: "He's still there."
Ronald Reagan surely admired George Washington. When Ed Meese, Reagan's loyal lieutenant, was informed several years ago that Americans in an online poll had voted Reagan the greatest of all Americans, Mr. Meese was stunned. "He didn't think so," the former Attorney General said, "Ronald Reagan thought George Washington was the greatest American."
Today, let us thank God for the life of George Washington, the Father of our Country.
During law school, I learned of the "80-20 rule," which holds that 80% of effects are due to 20% of causes. For example, 20% of students are usually responsible for 80% of extracurricular activities - at dinner one night, I was part of a random conversation among friends which concluded with our dividing up the leadership positions of every conservative group at the school for the next year.
I thought being part of the 20% was notable, but Ethiopia's Catholic population puts me to shame. A Q&A with Bishop Saldarriaga, apostolic vicar of Soddo-Hosanna, mentions the following statistic:
Although Catholics number less than 1% of the population, the Catholic Church runs more than 90% of the social programs in Ethiopia.
An "80-20 rule" is impressive, but a "90-1 rule" is uncanny.
Former public-sector Union boss Andy Stern complains of "a 15-state Republican campaign to strip workers of their rights."
Interesting language. The rights in question are not natural rights. The right of workers in general, and of workers in our government to form unions, and to negotiate collectively is not something men deserve because they are men. It is a right in the very old fashioned sense. It is a right that the government of Wisconsin granted to many government employees many years ago. Hence, taking that right away is only in a limited sense an assault on rights. It t not a fundamental rights or a human right.
I suspect that many on the Left don't see it that way. My understanding of their position is that rights are not from nature. On the contrary, rights are created in History. Hence once a right is acquired, it is to be understood as a permanent acquisition, for History is a tale of progress. To deny that, is to deny Truth, as the Left sees it. Hence the charge, by Jonathan Chait and others of "Republican Nihilism." To disbelive in History is, from the Left's perspective, nihilism.
The joker here is that History is having the last laugh. The Left's idea of what is possible in the world of human events is crumbling before out eyes. As a rule, they prefer to shoot the messenger. As Horace famously said, "you can drive nature out with a pitchfork, but she always returns."
Literature, Poetry, and Books
Over at NRO, Andrew McCarthy has harsh words for Islamic democracy within the context of an apostasy trial in Afghanistan. NLT has similarly questioned the prudence of supporting democracy in Egypt, precisely due to the possibility of an Islamic Brotherhood majority imposing sharia law.
This is the first great question of the 21st century. George W. Bush answered in the affirmative that all people and religions are capable of sustaining a free and just democracy. Many share or hope to share his optimism, but the years to come will surely test our faith.
Patriot Action Network blows the whistle on Obama's attempt to subvert the internet in an article titled, "US Gov. Software Creates 'Fake People' on Social Networks to Promote Propaganda."
The US government is offering private intelligence companies contracts to create software to manage "fake people" on social media sites and create the illusion of consensus on controversial issues. ...
According to the contract, the software would "protect the identity of government agencies" by employing a number of false signals to convince users that the poster is in fact a real person. A single user could manage unique background information and status updates for up to 10 fake people from a single computer. ...
[Leaked e-mails describe] how they would 'friend' real people on Facebook as a way to convey government messages.
It just gets worse from there. I lack the tech savvy to detect if this is legitimate news or an elaborate hoax - but if true, it's damning to the hope and change president who promised transparency and a new way. I've said it before, but, just for perspective, George W. Bush never imagined violating the principles of liberty and privacy in this way. Where is the outrage from the left?
The University of Arizona is opening a center to focus on civility in political debate. This strikes me as the final victory lap of the leftist pundits who recklessly and slanderously blamed the Tuscan tragedy on "toxic" rhetoric from conservatives.
An institute devoted to monitoring and debating political discourse could produce interesting observations and a thoughtful exchange of ideas. But the Univ. of Arizona provost admitted that the Tucson shootings were not linked to public discourse - just before saying they "created a space for us to think about civil discourse," and that "if anyone should lead this conversation, it should be the University of Arizona."
So, the Univ. of Arizona, due to its proximity to a national tragedy, should be the one to lead a national debate on the issue of political rhetoric, which admittedly had nothing to do with the tragedy. The only link between the Tuscan shootings and political discourse was the shameful attempt by disingenuous liberals to blame conservative rhetoric for the murders. This, apparently, is the nexus to be deeply mined and propagated by the university's new institute. The New York Times' editorial page must be pleased, indeed.
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers described the Continuing Resolution as:
a monumental accomplishment for each and every American who believes that their government is spending too much. It dramatically scales back the size and scope of domestic government programs, eliminates $100 billion in spending compared to what the President asked for last year, and will mark the beginning of a new trend of reductions that will take place throughout the next year.
The House Appropriations webpage lists a lengthy, interesting and vastly satisfying roll call of the many programs and positions slashed under the CR.
Supporters of the public employee unions have recently been circulating state-by-state information on collective bargaining, and then comparing it to statistics on ACT and SAT performance in the respective states. This "data" started to be passed around via Twitter and Facebook; for example, "5 states forbid collective bargaining for educators: SC, NC, GA, TX, & VA. Their national rank in ACT scores: 50th, 49th, 48th, 47th, 44th."
A friend of mine who is a public school teacher--and who is obviously closely following events in Wisconsin as well as closer to home, shared this with me, along with the claim that good ol' progressive Wisconsin ranks #1 in ACT/SAT testing. I investigated this claim, which traces back to this chart.
As it turns out, these ratings are bogus. For each state it adds the ranking for SAT scores to the ranking for ACT scores (and it's not even clear what year the data comes from), but it doesn't take into consideration the percentage of the population who take either test. The College Boards specifically warn against doing state-to-state comparisons for the SAT, because in some states all students are required to take the text, while in others only the best students do. Only 4% of Wisconsin students took the SAT in 2010, and since they tend to be the cream of the crop it's not surprising that Wisconsin does well (but third in the nation, not first). On the other hand, 69% of Wisconsin seniors took the ACT in 2010, and Wisconsin comes in 17th in terms of composite ACT scores.
A more thorough debunking of these statistics may be found here; among the revelations is the fact that the data is from 1999. The owner of this site is actually an advocate of "student organizing"; it is to his credit that he has the intellectual honesty to challenge claims that purport to back up his side of the argument.
Does collective bargaining correlate with performance by students on standardized tests? Of the five states whose students performed worst on the ACT, three--Michigan, Tennessee, and Florida--mandate collective bargaining with teachers' unions. The other two permit school districts to bargain collectively, but do not mandate it.
Student Free Press reports a study by the Center for Equal Opportunity which claims Miami University and Ohio State "discriminate based on race and ethnicity in the admissions process." CEO Chairman Linda Chavez said:
The study shows that many, many students are rejected in favor of students with lower test scores and grades, and the reason is that they have the wrong skin color or their ancestors came from the wrong countries.
If this seems unbelievable 60 years after the civil rights movement, it's because you're making the wrong assumptions. The study found that the universities preferred "African-American, Hispanic and Asian students over white students."
Now, if the bigotry seemed untenable when you thought it harmed blacks, shouldn't the same outrage accompany the revelation that it harms whites? Of course, it doesn't, because we've grown accustomed to the "soft bigotry" of affirmative action and racial preferences for minorities. But the principle of government preference for certain racial groups is just as loathsome to American morality as ever.
H/t: NRO's Corner