Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


The Crisis of the New Order

In the past few weeks, I have been pondering Arthur Schlesinger's Cycles of American History. As I recall the thesis, Schlesinger posits 30 year cycles in U.S. history, featuring 30 years of reform, and then 30 years of retrenchment or of consolidation.  (We should keep in mind Schlesinger's comment that, "Britain has already submitted itself to social democracy; the United States will very likely advance in that direction through a series of New Deals."

As I see it, however, the story is different.  From 1800 to 1861, the Union had, as a rule, a Jeffersonian/ Jacksonian governing coalition.  That order broke down in the run up to the Civil War, and was replaced with a Republican establishment, which held sway until the late 1920s or early 1930s.  (It was starting to break down during Wilson's Presidency, but the Crash killed it).   And then we had a third establishment, forged during the 1930s, which remained in charge, until it started to break down in the 1980s and 1990s.  That order is failing now. What will replace it, is open for debate, and for political competition.  In each era, there was an underlying consensus about what a democratic republic was, and about what the constitituion meant. (In every era, however, there have been important dissents from the majority view).

A couple of recent comments reflect this reality. Nancy Pelosi's now famous, comment that elections "shouldn't matter as much as they do" reflects one of the big ideas of the Progressive establishment.  Meanwhile, John Judis's lament over the "demise of impartial institutions" grows from the same ideology.  

The key institutions of this establishment grew in the first part of the 20th century, Judas notes:

The Brookings Institution also dates from this period. Retired St. Louis businessman Robert Brookings, who founded it in 1916, said he wanted an institution "free from any political or pecuniary interest" that would "lay before the country in a coherent form the fundamental economic facts." Brookings's first president, Harold Moulton, was a laissez-faire economist, yet, when coal operators complained bitterly about a Brookings study in 1928 calling for the nationalization of the industry, he rebuked them for demanding that his think tank heed their interests in its research.

The key elite publication of the era was The New York Times. Prior to Adolph Ochs's purchase of the Times in 1896, most newspapers were either party organs or sensationalistic rags that had little regard for the truth. Ochs insisted that the paper be "non-partisan," that it "give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of any party, sect or interests involved," and that it "make of the columns ... a forum for the consideration of all questions of public importance, and to that end ... invite intelligent discussions from all shades of opinion."

In their heyday, both Brookings and the Times built upon the premise that there is such a thing as apolitical analysis of political subjects.  That premise, combined with the idea that experts, trained as professionals, with PhDs in economics or political science (reflecting new ideas in education. The social science PhD was new then), or in schools of journalism (and there was a compliment to that idea in the law schools, and the bar), should study issues dispassionately and disinterestedly, and they would come up with the most reasonable solitions to society's (and the world's) problems.  From this point of view, elections were not the defining feature of what was still called "democracy."

Strictly speaking, that was always a myth.  Politics is inherently political.  For quite some time, however, this establishment was new enough, and small enough, that it remained close enough to the ideas, mores, and prejudices of the common people that it was able to fudge the line.  In time, however, that broke down.  That is the crisis we are seeing now. 

As I read it, this establishment always leaned Left, and that's because the idea of escaping politics is inherently Left, since the Left was founded during the French Revolution, with its worship of what it called "reason."  But the Left tilt of that establishment did not become such a large problem until its center started to be increasingly far from the republic's political center.

Judas shows his cards at the end of his essay. He concludes:

Ultimately, the success of disinterested institutions depends on two things: the character and views of the individuals who serve them, and widespread public support for their existence. This second pillar appears to be eroding. . . .Will this challenge to disinterestedness fade with time? . . . I certainly hope so, because, if it does not, we could be looking at a political system that begins to resemble that of the late nineteenth century, with its sharp and seemingly unresolvable clashes between different groups in American society. The next big test will be the Supreme Court's ruling on Obama's health care plan. If the court rejects the plan on the kind of spurious grounds that its opponents have endorsed, then it will have abandoned its historic commitment to disinterestedness. And American democracy will be in very big trouble.

Judas notes that the establishment he praises replaced the U.S. political system as it existed in the late 19th century.  Were American politics to become more open again, and the 20th century establishment to fall, that might not be so bad.  There might be more liberty, and diversity in American political life. 

I too worry about the consequences of the Court striking down Obamacare.  (A side note: In its heyday, the Progressive establishment would not have passed such major legislation without large majorities in both houses, and bipartisan support. That the bill was pushed through with some sketchy tactics is a sign that that establishment is on its last legs) 

My concern is that our Lefty establishment is so closed minded that it thinks, with Judas, that there is no good constitutional case against Obamacare.   And that establishment still has a great deal of power, and can still throw quite a tantrum.

What that tells us is that we might be, once again, in an era in which there is no constitutional consensus in the U.S.  Such eras are always interesting times.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Mexico Travel Warnings

The civil war taking place on our southern border--and make no mistake about it that the conflict in Mexico is so unstable and deadly to merit such a title--has prompted the United States Department of State to issue new warnings against traveling to many parts of Mexico. In 2006, Mexican President Felipe Calderón dispatched several thousand soldiers to the state of Michoacán to put a halt to drug violence in the area, ending the passive stance that the federal government had taken towards the powerful drug cartels for over a decade. The initial crackdown has now escalated into an all-out war, with various factions killing over 36,000 people. On the one hand you have the fight between the Mexican federal government and the drug cartels, and on the other you have the cartels fighting each other for control of territory and supplies. The cartels are in control of huge areas of Mexico, including many cities, and very often it is the case that local police forces are corrupted and aiding the cartels against the federal military. Over a dozen town mayors and hundreds of prosecutors and police have been assassinated. 

While certain states in Mexico had previously managed to remain relatively free from the Drug War, the new State Department travel warning highlights how the situation in these states is rapidly deteriorating. Most surprising on the list now is Sonora, the second largest state in Mexico, located on our border in northwestern Mexico. It is a state that I am very familiar with; a branch of my family is fairly prominent in state politics and business there and I have traveled in and around Hermosilio, the state capital, often throughout my life (I even had a few-days stay at their local hospital about a decade ago, courtesy of a ruptured appendix during spring break). Sonora now joins the list of areas in Mexico under travel warning-- any nonessential travel there should be avoided. The Mexican government is losing the Drug War.

If anyone believes that this is not America's problem, they should note that of the 15,000 drug-related homicides in Mexico last year, at least 111 were American. Americans are routinely being robbed and carjacked in Mexico, and the violence has been spilling over into our border towns. Much of the cartels' revenue stream comes from their business in the United States, where they acquire illegal arms and sell nearly all of their drugs (the Mexican cartels are now responsible for trafficking 90% of the cocaine entering the US, generating billions of dollars a year). In addition to the illegal gun and drug trade that they are engaged in, human trafficking (modern day slavery, usually sexual in nature) is a growing and lucrative business for the cartels. This is our problem, and as Mexico continues to destabilize we will continue to suffer grave threats to our national security. I would note that if the cartels can get such large quantities of money, humans, guns, and drugs back and forth over the border, it is not out of the realm of possibility for terrorists to figure out their way back and forth either.

Unmanned American drones are currently being used to help in Mexico, and various parts of the American government and military are working closely with the Mexican government to help against these cartels. But it is not enough; more needs to be done. Ties between our military and the Mexican military need to be strengthened; a greater drug strategy for the entire Western hemisphere needs to be a foreign policy priority; border security needs to be stepped up; and, yes, money should be spent on training Mexican officials, engaging in public diplomacy in Mexico, and helping fund programs to increase cooperation in Mexico. Even in these days of deep debt, using resources against the cartels in the Mexican Drug War is a national security priority that should be fully funded. The costs of letting it drag on and watching our southern neighbor deteriorate further into chaos will be far greater than a few more lines to our debt.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Who is Jon Huntsman?

Who is Jon Huntsman and why does President Obama keep saying he likes the guy? These are the questions that I asked a few months ago when a friend first mentioned Huntsman as a 2012 contender. Since then, most articles up until this week were mostly about his relationship with President Obama and compliments that Obama and his staff seemed to be going out of the way to make. This week, there have been several articles mentioning him as one of the few serious contenders for the Republican nomination (along the likes of Romney, Daniels, and Pawlenty). While there are some who think that the idea of Huntsman being the nominee is completely ridiculous, others are not so quick to write him off-- at least as a very serious threat to Mitt Romney's campaign.

Huntsman, a Mormon who lived in Taiwan for a time as a missionary, is the son of billionaire businessman Jon Huntsman, Sr. He was a staff assistant in Ronald Reagan's White House, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce in George HW Bush's White House, and Deputy US Trade Representative in George W Bush's White House. The youngest ambassador in a century, he also served as Ambassador to Singapore. He was elected Governor of Utah in 2004, reelected in 2008 with 77% of the vote, and left office in 2009 with an 80% approval rating. Fluent in Mandarin, President Obama named Huntsman as his Ambassador to China-- a post which he will vacate at the end of the month. He has seven children, including one adopted from China and one adopted from India. He loves motocross and plays in a rock band.

A fiscal conservative who cut taxes and pushed for private sector answers to the healthcare problem, he has been criticized by the Cato Institute for his spending policies (Cato has also praised him, ranking him the best of all 50 governors on tax policy). Like many in Utah and among the Mormon community, he tends to split with national Republicans on immigration policy. He also holds moderate stances on climate change, civil unions, and education-- previous support of his for the Bush/Obama stimulus packages and cap-and-trade will no doubt come to haunt him. However, he is one of the most successful politicians in pro-life issues and a firm supporter of gun rights. Vocally critical of Chinese human rights abuses, he supports proactive approaches to end North Korea's nuclear program; he is also a fervent supporter of Israel, having made several trips to that country.

It is not yet certain if he is actually planning to run for president in 2012; some suggest he is setting things up for 2016. If he does run, he will have the face two great difficulties-- name recognition and his moderate stances on some issues. Arguments against him based on his working in the Obama Administration are probably overblown and will be easily handled ("he was doing his duty to his country"). Some suggest that President Obama is concerned about a Huntsman candidacy, with hints that Obama purposefully put him in China in order to get him out of the way. It's a possibility-- if Huntsman were to somehow survive the Republican primaries, he would no doubt stand a very real chance of easily defeating the President (and attracting some millennials and Latinos away from Obama in the process); I'm not sure that everything is that cynical, though. The fact that he is currently the only individual with foreign policy credentials eyeing the election likely puts him at least on a vice presidential short list. Regardless, no matter what Ambassador Huntsman's success, his entrance into the race would be a game-changer by most likely diminishing Romney's support enough for another candidate to gain an advantage in the primaries.
Categories > Elections


Re: Trump

Scott Adams gets the joke.  I'd be a little less harsh on the people who back Trump in the opinion polls.  The question "Who might you vote for in a series of primaries and caucuses starting sometime in the first two months of next year?" is very, very low stakes
Categories > Politics


More Notes On Trump

1.  This is a silly season.  Nobody is actually casting a vote for Trump that counts and it will be months and months before real votes are cast.  It will get better.

2.  Trump might actually improve the discourse in the Republican primary.  Since there is no point in trying to out-inflammatory Trump, it might create a primary to see who can consolidate the 75%-80% who even now won't back Trump.  So the competition might be in the direction of being the anti-Trump rather than becoming Trump-lite.  Good for Michelle Bachmann for renouncing the birther issue.

3.  What are the odds that the whole Trump thing is a footnote by November of this year?  I'd say at least 50/50.

Categories > Politics


The Right's Deaniac Moment

David Brooks is trying to figure out the secret of Donald Trump's high poll ratings.  I think Brooks makes some plausible points, but I think there is something else there too.  Donald Trump has become the Howard Dean of the 2012 presidential campaign.  There is a certain minority fraction of center-right leaning Americans for whom expressions of loathing and suspicion of Obama are the most salient issues.  They might rationalize it as being willing to "fight" or "talk straight", but it is mostly the satisfaction of hearing Obama insulted and diminished (he isn't an American citizen, he didn't write his first book, etc.) in the most extravagant terms.

This happens across the ideological divide.  Howard Dean got to be the Democratic presidential frontrunner almost eight years ago.  It wasn't just that Dean was against the Iraq War from the beginning.  Dennis Kucinich's credentials were at least as good.  Those of us who met Howard Dean supporters also know that Dean's record as a budget balancing, NRA-friendly governor didn't account for much of his support.  Dean's strength was that he spoke of President Bush will sincere contempt and his loathing of Bush was so intense that it seemed to ripple under his skin.  This approach always had its limits and Dean wasn't going to be the Democratic nominee even if Dean's underlying emotional instability hadn't erupted on the night of the Iowa Caucuses.

Just like Dean tapped into a vein of Bush loathing and hatred, Trump has now tapped into a similar vein of Obama hatred and suspicion on the right.  In one sense, Trump has already won the Obama hatred primary among prospective Republican presidential candidates.  The paradox is that Trump's rise to prominence in the Obama hatred primary is related the underlying absurdity of his candidacy.  He can outbid all the other Republican candidates in appealing to the Obama-hatred-above-all demographic because he isn't worried about losing elections or becoming a national joke. 

Howard Dean was actually running to be elected President.  This put a limit on the kinds of things he could say about Bush - even if he was personally inclined to say them.  Newt Gingrich is no more likely to be elected President than Trump, but he seems to have some interest in maintaining a degree of respectability.  Gingrich tried to make a play for the Obama hating demographic, but in a way that didn't cut Gingrich off from the rest of the center-right.  He talked about Obama's "Kenyan, anti-colonial" worldview (not really American you see.)  Trump does Gingrich two better.  Not only does Trump question Obama's very citizenship, but also asserts that Obama's first book was written by a terrorist.  Gingrich probably thought he was being quite clever by restricting himself to calling Obama foreign in mentality.  How timid and pale Gingrich seems compared to Trump.    

Trump is going for attention and that creates a different dynamic. The Trump dynamic is closer to that of a pro wrestling heel than a candidate for office. It is okay if he stirs up more opposition than support - as long as the opposition and support are both passionate.  This allows Trump to adopt the birther issue and the Ayers issue.  There is a market for such things (though not one big enough to win the Republican nomination), and there is vast publicity in the media pushback.  Either way people are talking about him, and that is the point.  Since he isn't trying to win a presidential election, he can't lose. 

Categories > Politics


A Better Strategery And Better Chosen Ground

Rich Lowry is wondering whether the Medicare cuts in Paul Ryan's Path to Prosperity will sink the plan.  You can look at the public polling and conclude that restraining Medicare spending is a lost cause, but not so fast:

1.  Reforming Medicare is a comparative issue.  It is (or ought to be - if the Republicans are minimally competent) a choice and not a referendum on one particular approach.  We aren't really arguing about Medicare cuts.  We aren't even arguing about Medicare cuts vs. tax cuts.  President Obama has already cut Medicare by hundreds of billions.  He has now proposed to cut Medicare by over a trillion more.  He has proposed to give a panel of unelected bureaucrats the power to impose service cuts.  So our choice is a market-oriented reform in which seniors would have more options (and maybe more disposable income) and a centralized government system in which the government slams the door in your face when and how the government decides.  Even so, the Republicans could still lose this argument because...

2.  The Republicans still need a better plan.  As Josh Barro wrote, they need more credible funding proposals for Medicare.  Keeping a defined contribution version of Medicare FFS would be good politics and good policy.  As Capretta and Miller pointed out, there will be circumstances where a defined contribution Medicare FFS would offer the best product at the most competitive price. This would also reassure some fraction of the public that Medicare FFS would still be there, but within a system that encourages health care providers to orient themselves to patients rather than bureaucrats and would give patients choices between different provider networks that competed on extent of services (past the government-mandated minimum) and cost.   

Categories > Politics

Health Care

The Buy-In Myth

Ross Douthat writes:

Asking a population that's increasingly brown and beige to accept punishing tax rates while white seniors receive roughly $3 in Medicare benefits for every dollar they paid in (the projected ratio in the 2030s) promises to polarize the country along racial as well as generational lines.

Wouldn't it be more accurate to say, they will receive "roughly $3 in Medicare benefits for every dollar they have paid to benefit those who have retired before them"?

Categories > Health Care

Refine & Enlarge

Nullification is Not a Principle for the Serious Tea Partier

Recent Ashbrook Scholar graduate, Michael Sabo, writes one of the most clear and concise explanations I have seen of why the doctrine of nullification has no part to play in any clear-eyed understanding of the principles that animate America.  Moreover, Sabo argues, it ought to be rejected by those who, in supporting the work of the Tea Party, understand themselves to be arguing for a restoration of America's founding principles. 

Nullification, far from being fundamental to the American Founding, is a principle at war with our Declaration of Independence and with the natural rights of individuals.  It holds individual states, rather than individual citizens, to be sovereign and it thereby diminishes the principle of consent that--in so many instances--has been violated by the workings of the modern administrative state and is the basis of Tea Party dissatisfaction with the administrative state.  If the Tea Party wants to hold the separate states to be sovereign, the problem is that they will be sovereign over (and, often, against) individuals.  This principle does not protect individual rights but it does empower factions.  In combating the evil of the modern administrative state, this seems a thin and uninspiring argument.  To suggest that the states are more sovereign than THE state begs the question:  Why?  Upon what principle of justice?  What makes the various states and their interests more important than the general welfare?  In addition to simply being wrong, this argument is unpersuasive in the modern context.   The problem of centralized power in "the state" is not that it violates the rights of the various states so much as that, in pulling away authority and the management of local affairs from smaller communities, the temptation to violate individual rights is much less effectively countered. 
Categories > Refine & Enlarge

Shameless Self-Promotion

Earth Week Flotsam and Jetsam

Over on NRO's Planet Gore, I offer a new quiz: can you tell Charlie Sheen from Charlie Manson?  Not as easy as you think.

And since Earth Day is Friday, my newly "rebooted" franchise, the Almanac of Environmental Trends, is out today.

The Founding

Washington on the Debt

Peers and I went to Mount Vernon for a retreat of sorts to revisit our Founding Father and draw some wisdom from his example again. As always, a trip to the Virginia estate is rewarding; it is truly a remarkable piece of land along the Potomac. While there I took the chance to skim through his Farewell Address once more, and came across an interesting note on the debt that I think provides much-needed clarity on the responsibilities of the government and its finances (emphasis added is my own):

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible: avoiding occasions of expence by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expence, but by vigorous exertions in time of Peace to discharge the Debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your Representatives; but it is necessary that public opinion should cooperate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty it is essential that you should practically bear in mind, that towards the payment of debts there must be Revenue; that to have Revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment inseperable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties) ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the Conduct of the Government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining Revenue which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

General Washington recognized the necessity of using public funds for providing for the common defense in the general welfare of the nation, and he insisted that people realize that taxes are a necessary sacrifice and a solemn duty for these needed expenses. He also recognizes clearly the immorality and injustice of one generation racketing up the national debt only to enslave a future generation to it-- the great crime which the Baby Boomers have now threatened their posterity with. Many are of the belief that the Millennial Generation will be the first in American history to be worse-off than their predecessors. As Vice President Biden's Debt Commission prepares to meet, they should keep that fact and Washington's warnings in mind. It is necessary to capturing that vision of America that he and countless others since have reached for. From Washington's final message to Congress:

A reinforcement of the existing provisions for discharging our public Debt, was mentioned in my Address at the opening of the last Session. Some preliminary steps were taken towards it, the maturing of which will, no doubt, engage your zealous attention during the present. I will only add, that it will afford me, heart felt satisfaction, to concur in such further measures, as will ascertain to our Country the prospect of a speedy extinguishment of the Debt. Posterity may have cause to regret, if, from any motive, intervals of tranquillity are left unimproved for accelerating this valuable end.

The situation in which I now stand, for the last time, in the midst of the Representatives of the People of the United States, naturally recalls the period when the Administration of the present form of Government commenced; and I cannot omit the occasion, to congratulate you and my Country, on the success of the experiment; nor to repeat my fervent supplications to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and Sovereign Arbiter of Nations, that his Providential care may still be extended to the United States; that the virtue and happiness of the People, may be preserved; and that the Government, which they have instituted, for the protection of their liberties, maybe perpetual.

If there was ever a time to channel President Washington, it is now as we look at our debt, mark the anniversary of the Civil War and examine its causes, debate our Constitution, and discuss America's vision and the purpose of government. 
Categories > The Founding


Steve On Moynihan

Please read Steve Hayward's terrific article on Daniel Patrick Moynihan.  It is a damn shame that the words "insecurity, bordering at times on an inferiority complex" can accurately be used in describing someone of Moynihan's talents and accomplishments.  It is very human.

Categories > History

Refine & Enlarge

What kind of country?

Here is the latest Letter from an Ohio Farmer.  The Farmer takes President Obama's recent speech at George Washington University seriously and considers what his "vision" for America means.
Categories > Refine & Enlarge


NY Times Trash Talking

NY Times trash talks the Wall Street Journal:  "The [Pulitzer] awards this year included other notable firsts. The Wall Street Journal won its only Pulitzer since Rupert Murdoch bought the paper in 2007."  The WSJ won this year for its Obamacare editorials, written by 28-year old Joseph Rago.

Murdoch lives to destroy the NY Times, and it knows it.  The WSJ is now clearly the daily paper of intelligent readers.

Among other prizewinners, the LA Times won an award for its investigation of the Bell, California city government salary scandal, and Ron Chernow won for his bio of George Washington.  In a setback to Lincoln scholarship, Eric Foner won for his book on Lincoln and slavery.

Ben Boychuk had this interview, last November, with Chernow.

Categories > Journalism

Foreign Affairs

Tehran, Pyongyang Watch Libya

The gangsters who rule from Tehran and Pyongyang are no doubt watching the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's actions in Libya with great interest. Generally spared from the fervor that has swept throughout the Arab World (what with the Ayatollah's regime having decimated the opposition since the disputed 2009 elections), these two rogue states are very interested in seeing how long it takes for the West to get rid of Colonel Gaddafi-- or even if we can get rid of him. Despite a pledge from President Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and French President Nicholas Sarkozy that they will not leave Libya until Gaddafi has been removed from power, the madman continues to openly roam the streets of Tripoli while his thugs unleash a furious counterattack against the beleaguered rebel forces. Now feeling limited by the United Nations Resolution that authorized the creation of a no fly zone, the French are pressing for a broader resolution to allow for more action to be taken against Gaddafi even as politicians in Europe criticize the intervention.

Meanwhile the West's enemies watch the disarray and lack of American leadership with quiet glee. From China (with its largest crackdown in years) to Burma (with its rigged election and the creation of a new title for its military master) to Venezuela (where Chavez is continuing to expand his powers), the world's despots have an understanding that there will be little trouble from the Western world outside of a few meager protests from cabinet-level officials. While these crackdowns and abuses are indeed troublesome and should be met with full diplomatic and economic punishments, the rogue states that are most worrisome are Iran and North Korea, who shrugged off concerns of Western condemnation years ago and seek entrance into the nuclear club. As NATO appears rudderless and incompetent in handling a lunatic located directly within its geographic sphere of influence, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong-Il no doubt feel more and more assured that they will not be met with much actual resistance at all as they pursue their nuclear programs and flex their muscle internationally. After all, if we can't bring ourselves to stop a mad terrorist who has openly threatened genocide against his own people, what threat could we pose to the well-armed and ambitious Revolutionary Guard of Iran?

Ahmadinejad's crackdown after the 2009 elections was, in part, a test to see how much the West would do as images of his thugs driving into crowds of students filtered their way onto YouTube. North Korea's recent brinksmanship with South Korea was both an attempt to show strength as Kim's power is (apparently) being prepared to transfer to his son as well as a test to push the limits of America's resolve on the Korean peninsula. In both instances, Iran and North Korea had favorable results at seeing what they could get away with. Now, with our often conflicting and confusing responses to the various troubled states of the Arab World and NATO's trouble in handling Gaddafi, the gangsters of Tehran and Pyongyang will try to push the limits once more. We must not let them push too far, though; even in the midst of the crises in the Middle East, the far more dangerous scenario is one of these madmen obtaining a nuclear weapon.

While President Obama has decided that America should play only a supporting role in helping the rebels against Colonel Gaddafi, it is imperative that we take a leading role in keeping Kim Jong-Il contained and continuing to curtail Tehran's nuclear ambitions. We can wring our hands all we want over how to handle Gaddafi and the other Arab dictators, but we must remain firm in our determination that these rogue states are not allowed to get the bomb. A nuclear-armed Iran is a disaster scenario of unprecedented proportions that must not be allowed to come to fruition. If ever there was a time for President Obama to show strength over acquiescence, determination over compromise, and leadership over internationalist deference, it is in dealing with these thugs. If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his master get a nuke, then our impotence in that part of the world will no longer be a self-imposed restriction on ourselves-- it will be a very real shift in geopolitics. The danger to our allies and interests would be devastating. This cannot be allowed to happen. 
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Health Care Links

1.  Howard Kurtz is right that Republicans should hit IPAB as centralized rationing really hard.  The biggest weakness of Obama's demagogic speech last week wasn't its tone, but his suggestion of using IPAB to cut over a trillion from Medicare.  This is just a down payment on trillions more IPAB-directed Medicare cuts if Obama is reelected.  They should also follow Kurtz's advice in arguing that Obamacare puts all Americans on the road to IPAB rationed health care and higher middle-class taxes.  I would stay away from the socialist stuff.  The policies are bad enough without bogging down into abstruse arguments about what is and isn't socialism.  The correct tack is that they are terrible policies no matter what you call them.

2.  Josh Barro's City Journal article is something that should be read by every Republican presidential candidate whose primary interest is something other than promoting a reality television show.  Conservative need to come to terms with constructive criticism of Ryan's Path To Prosperity and come up with better policy proposals that can withstand scrutiny.  Unlike Barro, I'm for getting rid of IPAB and replacing it with a purely research-oriented body that is attached to the HHS bureaucracy - then again I'm for a different Medicare reform than Ryan's.  Republicans are going to need a proposal that includes realistic funding levels for Medicaid and especially Medicare and adjust their tax proposals accordingly.  If Republicans include proposals that don't add up (and especially if they seem to shortchange Medicare), they are going to pay the price and the price will almost certainly be another Obama term and the kind of socialism that Kurtz outlines.  Now you might think that Republicans will be able to get by with Medicare proposals with major weaknesses.  After all, Obama got away with promising just about everything to everybody + a tax cut for most + a net budget cut and got away with it (politically.)  There are several reasons I don't think a similar strategy will work out for Republicans in 2012:

a.  Obama is a far more competent candidate than McCain, and will run a ruthless and obscenely well funded campaign.  If a right-leaning wonk like Barro thinks that the Republican plan is too optimistic in its Medicare cuts and will lead to near-term care reductions, then so will every last (formerly) persuadable voter.

b.  The media that persuadable voters consume will cover these issues extensively and without mercy (though not always with malice.)  That doesn't mean that Republicans can't win the argument, but they need well thought out, and well articulated answers that stand up to scrutiny.  Evasive or misleading answers on an issue as personal as health care will be fatal unless...

c.  The Obama administration could be so discredited that none of this matters as long as the Republican plan has the barest shred of credibility and the Republican candidate doesn't show a Joe Miller-type desire to simply undo the federal welfare state.  I doubt this kind of circumstance will attain in 2012.  In Fall of 2008, Bush's Real Clear Politics job approval average varied from 32% to 25%.  The only circumstances where Obama's job approval falls to that level by November 2012 is if the living envy the dead.  Even when the unemployment rate was around ten percent and Obama was losing the debate over the enactment of Obamacare, his RCP job approval average bottomed at 44%.  I guess it is possible that a commodity shock will send the economy into another recession within the next year but I doubt it.  At best, Republicans will be facing economically ambiguous circumstances in which the persuadable populations of the public might be disappointed in Obama, but still listening to what he says, and know that major changes are needed, and are leery of any big changes proposed by the Republicans.

3.  It isn't online (outside of a firewall) so I can't link to it, but you should read Ramesh Ponnuru's article in the April 18, 2011 issue of National Review on replacing Obamacare.  It points to a politic and incremental strategy for moving towards a more sustainable and market-oriented health care system.  It is much more prudent than the more radical health care reform strategy that McCain put up on his campaign website and then ignored. 

4.  The crux of the argument over health care policy will be over whether market-oriented changes can bring down the cost of health care while maintaining access to high quality care or whether bureaucrat-directed rationing is the best we can hope for.  The less theoretical this argument this is, the better.  I won't shut up about this.  It would do Republicans a world of good if their 2012 presidential nominee has a record of saving the government money on health care, maintaining access to high quality care, and even increasing the disposable income of some health insurance clients.     

5.  Run Mitch Run.  

Categories > Politics


The Old College Try, rev.

The college admissions craze according to Andy Ferguson.  I've started his new book, which resembles in style, wit, and ultimate seriousness his wonderful book on Lincoln popularizers. Lincoln is a far more noble subject than contemporary higher education, so a certain drop-off is to be expected, but he makes the most of a target-rich environment.
Categories > Education

Ashbrook Center

Bill Rusher

Talking with Marv Krinsky (who replaced Bill Rusher as Chairman of the Ashbrook Board about ten years ago when Bill retired) about the death of Bill Rusher has reminded me to add another few thoughts on him, aside from what Steve (and NRO) has said just below.  I knew Rusher for over thirty years.  He was the best of men.  Thoughtful, learned, quick witted, a great teller of (true) stories.  Plus he loved good cigars.  That he had a great effect--was even the cause of, along with Cliff White and John Ashbrook--on the American conservative movement has been noted by everyone.  It is true.  It was wonderful to hear his stories about it all, about the founders of it all.  Stories about Goldwater, Reagan, and the others. The stories about Bill Buckley should be mentioned as well.  Terrific stuff, at his best Rusher told stories as painters paint, color and detail combined to pull you in, as good poetry always does. He was always clear and concise, his words at their best were evocative and surprising, lovely.  He loved the Ashbrook Center and was helpful to it at critical moments in its youth.  Both Marv and I were fond of him.  My mother met him once and called him an American gentleman, her highest form of praise.  I don't disagree.  May Bill Rusher Rest in Peace.
Categories > Ashbrook Center