There has been a lot of comment about the fact that, at the last debate, none of the Republican presidential candidates raised their hands when asked if they would take a deficit reduction deal that was 10 to 1 spending cuts to tax increases. I think that the best, the very best, budget deal that conservatives can get through our political process is some favorable combination of the Simpson-Bowles Plan on taxes and discretionary spending and the Rivlin-Domenici Plan on health care policy. This will mean, even in a transformed entitlement system, that we will be paying more for Medicare than is budgeted in the revenue neutral Ryan Path to Prosperity. That means the government will need more money. That can be gotten with a tax code that is more pro-growth than the one we have.
There is a strong case to be made that conservatives should emphasize that entitlement reform and public sector consolidation should be looked at before tax increases, but holding out for not even one more penny of tax money is a good way to make sure that the budget ends up looking more like how Nancy Pelosi wants it than how Paul Ryan wants it. That doesn't mean I want the Republican presidential candidates to come out for tax increases, but there is something unreal about our discussions of crafting a sustainable budget. It is of course even worse with President Obama, who has not come close to proposing a plan that would produce a sustainable budget.. There might even be some upside to leveling with the public.
The best commentary I've yet heard on Perry - and his best endorsement yet - comes from Kevin Williams in NRO:
The guy that NPR executives and the New York Times and your average Subaru-driving Whole Foods shopper were afraid George W. Bush was? Rick Perry is that guy.
Perry's the new kid on the block and has the national microphone for the next few days - let's see what he can do with it.
When you go after Bachmann, you shouldn't just go after her failure to influence policy during her time in Congress. You should go after how she turned her failure into self-promotion even as policy got worse. This works best if you first set up a vivid narrative of doing the things Bachmann only talks about. For instance:
"When the Democrats and some Republicans in the state legislature sent me big spending bills, I vetoed then. And those vetoes stuck. And spending went down. When the Democrats shut down the government to get me to agree to higher taxes, I said no. The government got back to work and taxes stayed the same. When the transit union struck for higher benefits, we didn't give in. We won one for the taxpayers of Minnesota. That was real money. Those were real wins for the taxpayers. That was real limited government.
"So let's look at what Representative Bachmann did in Washington. She has a press conference. TARP passes. She gives some speeches. The Obama stimulus passes. She sends out some fundraising letters. Obamacare passes. She announces she is running for President and sends out some more fundraising letters. The debt ceiling raises. This is a disastrous record for the American people. Representative Bachmann has gotten herself a lot of television time, but we've added trillions to the deficit. This is a choice between real limited government where spending goes down, and employment goes up, and show biz limited government where we get big talk as we hurtle towards more and more spending and eventual bankruptcy."
Yeah, I know it isn't really fair, but it is more connected to reality than Pawlenty's economic growth targets.
h/t Ramesh Ponnuru, who made the Pawlenty case better than Pawlenty ever has.
Refine & Enlarge
Blogging on Peter Schramm from the pages of NLT is somewhat akin to voicing an opinion on Lee Iacoca from the floor of a Chrysler plant in the mid-80's. Nevertheless, the man with his fingerprint on our masthead opined this week in the Columbus Dispatch, and his words deserve contemplation.
Ever the contrarian, bating onlookers to defy his logic, Schramm celebrates the messy congressional convulsions most Americans have recently condemned. Bipartisanship is overrated:
The truth is that our Constitution builds in division.... Divisions are built into the Constitution so that the natural divisions that arise in a free regime might become, over time, less willful and more rational.
If the Framers had wanted a democracy, they wouldn't have formed a constitutional republic of separated powers, limited government and onerous checks on the will of the majority. (Steven Hayward makes a similar point on the implausibility and undesirability of compromise between 1789-minded conservatives and 1960's-minded liberals here.)
Schramm is a macro political scientist. eschewing the "details" and "logistics" of the debt-ceiling debate, he notes John Boehner's monumental achievement in shifting national attention to "fundamental constitutional questions."
Boehner and his Republican troops have disproved an assumption held by progressives and liberals since the New Deal: that government will always grow in size and scope, that all spending increases are permanent.
Schramm regards the shift in Washington rhetoric "away from the favors government might bestow and to its proper role" as the "most radical change in my lifetime." It's difficult to notice the turning of the Earth at any given moment - though in any 12 hour period, it's as obvious as night and day - but one hopes Schramm's prediction proves astute, and the Boehner compromise heralds a new dawn for self-government.
Kevin Williamson makes Rick Perry sound like an attractive candidate, at least to conservatives. Best line: "The guy that NPR executives and the New York Times and your average Subaru-driving Whole Foods shopper were afraid George W. Bush was? Rick Perry is that guy."
I'm sure there's more to the story. And there's nothing on foreign policy here.
Bonus question: in politically correct America, can the GOP ticket be two white guys?
This economic mandate represents a wholly novel and potentially unbounded assertion of congressional authority: the ability to compel Americans to purchase an expensive health insurance product they have elected not to buy, and to make them re-purchase that insurance product every month for their entire lives
So reads the majority opinion of a U.S. appeals court decision in Atlanta today, siding with 26 states by ruling unconstitutional Obamacare's individual mandate clause. Interestingly, the court did not overturn Obamacare as a whole, but held the individual mandate severable. This seems contrary to the wording (or omissions) of the law. Nonetheless, the ruling sets up a split on the federal circuit and almost ensures Supreme Court review.
The next Supreme Court term runs from October 2011 - June 2012. Obamacare is thus poised as a key issue for the 2012 election.
I'm having lunch at the Mad Boar in Wallace, North Carolina. Not bad. Large, Irish-pub-like atmosphere, attractive and competent waitresses serving me a cool glass of Pinor Gris, with a pork stew soup, followed by a whiskey river trout. Second glass of wine, and I'm reading, slower now, reactions to last night's GOP debate. The best is by Scott Johnson at Power Line. Crisp and to the point, even witty when the subject allows it. I agree with his thoughts too bad they have to be cruel.
1. It was a mostly enjoyable debate (if you like that sort of thing - and I do.) There were some heated exchanges on issues like foreign policy and especially constitutional and policy federalism.
2. The debate featured almost nothing in the way of talk of entitlement reform or positive health care policy (rather than the grounds and intensity of opposition to Obama's health care policy.) They also weren't asked questions about it. There is no sustainable budget without enormous tax increases absent reforms to those partly overlapping sectors and we heard very little about it.
3. If the Republican nomination race were simply a demagoguery contest, Bachmann would win every state, plus Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands. Her answers on the debt ceiling were perfectly crafted to hide the consequences of refusing to raise the debt ceiling and thereby having to balance the budget in one year without tax increases. Santorum mentioned the likely consequences one time. The panelists let her off the hook.
4. Pawlenty's attacks were feeble. He still doesn't have a vivid, fact-based narrative of how he brought spending down in Minnesota. People know that Bachmann fought against this, that and the other thing. People have, at best, only the vaguest sense of what Pawlenty did in Minnesota and there is no emotional resonance there. Thanks to Bachmann, people also know (or think they know) that he supported an individual health insurance purchase mandate and implemented cap and trade. His main argument against Bachmann is that he is a winner and she is a loser. From what people have been able to see in the debates, the reverse appears to be true.
5. As far as I can tell, Bachmann's political skills are limited to those that can appeal to a subgroup of previously committed conservatives, but those skill are impressive within those limits. I strongly doubt that she can win the nomination, or, if she gets the nomination, the presidency. I can just barely imagine a scenario where Bachmann gets elected President. First she wins Iowa and Romney wins New Hampshire. Perry fades and all the other candidates are marginalized. Then it comes out that Romney uses puppies for batting practice and Bachmann wins by default. Then we have a second banking crisis. Credit is frozen even worse than in 2008, GDP collapses and the unemployment rate starts going up at the rate of 1% a month. She might still lose to Obama even under those circumstances.
6. No one laid a glove on Romney.
7. Gingrich got back some of his old mojo. Part of it was he was able to effectively revert to victim politics by positioning himself against the hated gotcha liberal Fox News media that had the temerity to ask him about the management and fundraising problems of his campaign. Part of was that he actually has a record of getting good policy out of divided government (and then being bounced from power by his own party.) If he hadn't revealed himself to be a fraud with his cynical attack on the Ryan PTP (and it was the transparent cynicism rather than the attack itself that did him in) people would be talking about him as almost a real contender to get the nomination.
1.Ramesh Ponnuru points out that Obama's job approval ratings have been remarkably resilient given the circumstances and that they have moved within a very narrow range (from the mid 40s to the low 50s) for almost two years now. Up until now, Obama's Real Clear Politics job approval floor has been 44%. This week his job approval average has dipped below 44% for several days. Pretty much every voter who isn't powerfully tied to the Democratic Party (and some who are) are not approving of Obama's job performance. I haven't seen crosstabs on the most recent polls (including the ones putting his job approval at 41%), but I suspect that his job approval numbers among whites are spectacularly low. Ponnuru is still right that Republicans should assume that they will need more than just a warm, non-scary body to win in 2012.
2. Dear People Who Schedule Republican Presidential Debates,
Could you please stop scheduling these debates up against new episodes of World's Dumbest?
The riots in Britain are a case study in democracy run amok. Consider this post form the Standard:
The issues raised by these riots are generational and cannot be resolved, necessarily, by the government. Traditional structures of authority in the UK have been eroded. Parents have no ability to control their children and instill basic levels of morality and respect. The police--powerless to stop young rioters destroying businesses and private property--have been utterly emasculated. As one officer said, "We can't cope. We have passed breaking point." . . ., The British home secretary, Theresa May, recently announced, before having to backtrack, that the British way was not to enforce the laws. "The way we police in Britain is not through use of water cannon...the way we police in Britain is through consent of communities," May reportedly said.
Now consider Plato's account of democracy, as reported by John Adams in his Defence of the Constitutions (which I quote because I happen to be reading it lately, and I know exactly where to find it online):
Magistrates who resemble subjects, and subjects who resemble magistrates, are commended and honored, both in public and private; in such a city they of necessity soon go to the highest pitch of liberty, and this inbred anarchy descends into private families. The father resembles the child, and is afraid of his sons. The sons accustom themselves to resemble the father, and neither revere nor stand in awe of their parents. Strangers are equalled with citizens. The teacher fears and flatters the scholars, and the scholars despise their teachers and tutors. The youth resemble the more advanced in years, and rival them in words and deeds. The old men, sitting down with the young, are full of merriment and pleasantry, mimicking the youth, that they may not appear to be morose and despotic. The slaves are no less free than those who purchase them; and wives have a perfect equality and liberty with their husbands, and husbands with their wives. The sum of all these things, collected together, makes the souls of the citizens so delicate, that if any one bring near to them any thing of slavery, they are filled with indignation, and cannot endure it; and at length they regard not the laws, written or unwritten, that no one whatever, by any manner of means, may become their master.
The rioting in Britain reminded me of a certain passage in one of Hugo Young's biographies of Thatcher. I'm not linking for reasons that I hope will become apparent. This is Young's description and analysis of Thatcher's reaction to a cycle of rioting and looting that occurred during Thatcher's first term.
"'Oh those poor shopkeepers!' she cried, on seeing the first pictures of riot and looting in Toxteth
"A lot of Margaret Thatcher's character is expressed in that single phrase. It was a perfectly intelligible reaction. It just wasn't the first response that most people might have made when they saw rioters and police in pitched battle, and watched the disintegration of a run-down city. Later, seeing looters walking away with armfuls of merchandise, they might [!] have felt for the shopkeepers too. It was interesting that this should be the first and overriding reaction expressed by the Prime Minister, speaking eloquently for the priorities rooted in the Grantham grocer's shop and the party which, for the first time, had one of nature's shopkeepers at its head."
Quote of the Day
In light of the barbarism in England, a couple of choice quotes from John Adams might be in order, reminding us of how Anglo-American law used to understand the rights of men:
"We talk of liberty and property, but, if we cut up the law of self-defence, we cut up the foundation of both."
Adams also noted that "If a robber meets me in the street, and commands me to surrender my purse, I have a right to kill him without asking questions."
If only Jack Benny had been carrying . . .
Still living in Asian hotels, world news is sporadic - but it seems U.S. economic news has been overtaken by news of British riots. My interest was particularly piqued by mention that the riots had spread to Ealing, my home for a time during grad school. Hardly a hoodlum hang-out, the Ealing Broadway gate serviced the highest concentration of affluent Arab youngsters outside of the Middle East. Discovering whether this demographic was perpetrator or victim of the mob violence would answer several pertinent questions of causality.
Britain's lack of response to domestic terror and urban riots has been as dismaying as it has been expected. Enthrallment to diversity and white-guilt apparently extends as far as thuggery and gangs - who apparently feel their social entitlements extend as far as robbery and looting.
But David Cameron's increasingly militant speeches over the past two days have been refreshing. He refers to the scenes of violence as "despicable," "sickening," "appalling," "criminality, pure and simple," which must be "confronted and defeated." Police forces have been nearly trebled and afforded long-overdue tactical liberties, such as the use of rubber bullets and, potentially, water cannons. Cameron's hesitancy to roll out non-lethal water cannons as Englishmen are being killed is still baffling, but this is, at least, motion in the right direction.
It was heartening to hear Cameron's outright dismissal of "phony concerns about human rights" which liberals are sure to raise when these murderous thugs are arrested and prosecuted. I've long noticed that CCTV only truly offends those who expect to be on the receiving end of a prosecution charge at some point in their life, whereas law-abiding folk recognize that it is an indispensible law-enforcement tool.
Also encouraging is Cameron's rhetoric and frank assessment of the reasons for the riots.
There has been a lack of focus on the complete lack of respect shown by these thugs. There are pockets of our society that are frankly not just broken but also sick.
Cameron claimed the problem was "as much a moral problem as a political problem," repeatedly citing the looters' "irresponsibility," and leveled blame at the undisciplined British school system and a broken welfare system.
The sight of those young people running down streets, looting, laughing as they go, is a complete lack of responsibility - a lack of proper parenting, proper upbringing, proper ethics, proper morals - that is what we need to change.
Strong words for an increasingly thin-skinned electorate which, as Cameron identifies, prefers to blame society for their own irresponsibility. Most reports identify the rioters as belonging to immigrant communities, poignantly illustrating Cameron's previous assertion that British multiculturalism has failed.
It has widely been conceded that European nations have devolved into nanny states, producing dependants rather than citizens. Britain should now fully appreciate that a bit of Old Testament paternal virtue is sorely needed. These youngsters desperately need to be taken out to the woodshed for a lesson in civility.
In light of the London violence, Kevin Kosar (a frequent Weekly Standard contributor) reminds us of the late political scientist Edward Banfield's sly--and revealing--comment on urban riots. It's not a lack of government spending, discrimination, poverty, etc. Often young men riot because it's fun to do:
Often, though, people riot "mainly for fun and profit," as Banfield put it in The Unheavenly City. Riots, as he reminded us, have been around as long as there have been cities. "In Pittsburgh in 1809 an editor proposed satirically that the city establish a 'conflagration fund' from which to buy twelve houses, one to be burned each month in civil celebration."
Kosar concludes, "[O]ne sure accelerant to riots present and future, Banfield explained, is the widespread belief that one can get away with it." RTWT for clear thinking and illuminating links. Kosar's website, covering higher education, reviews, Banfieldiana, and whiskey, can be found here.
Walter Russell Mead, who seems to have become a blogging superstar lately, has a long, interesting reflection on the phenomenon of "flash mobs" and not of the amusing kind. He connects the problem with other social trends, and concludes that it is yet another way that the Progressive consensus is failing. He notes the:
Growing public perception that sixties liberalism doesn't work undermines the consensus for sixties racial as well as immigration and economic policy.
The trouble is that the Progressive branch of liberalism cannot function without the myth that there is a consensus about what comes next. Without agreement that things must move in a particular direction, a living constitution cannot function.
Not long ago, Secretary of State Clinton described piracy as a "17th century problem." Mrs. Clinton noted that we still have piracy today, and was pointing to what she regarded as an anomaly. Aristotle, of course, said that piracy is one of the five natural ways by which men put bread on their table. By that, I take him to be saying that there always will be pirates among us. The idea that certain ideas, habits, customs, ways of life, moral beliefs, etc. belong to certain ages is not natural. It is a particular idea. That idea might be under stress, too. As Mead notes in another recent post:
For two generations markets have mostly thought of risk in terms of tame risk: the risk that an asset might lose some of its value, the risk that a particular counterparty might not fulfill its side of a transaction. But now we are back to the world of real risk or wild risk: the risk that a currency might disappear, the risk that a major government (as opposed to the occasional banana republic) might default on its debts, the risk that a financial crisis could erupt and that no government, no central bank could limit its scope or temper its impact.
After the Berlin Wall fell Jesus Jones sang that we were "watching the world wake up from history." Perhaps we're seeing the end of History in Hegel's sense, and the return of history, in the classic sense. Perhaps the change is not so dramatic. Ever since Adams and Jefferson began their argument, the American mind (if there be such) has been torn on this question. Ending the debate might have serious consequences.
The diversity racket in action:
For those unfamiliar with TV staffing, the networks have initiatives that require most shows to set aside one staff position for a writer of diverse descent. The diversity hire is often the only writer on staff whose salary does not come out of the show's budget, but is paid by the network . . .
Here is what mostly happened: My agent pitched me on the phone as a diversity candidate, but once at the meetings my appearance confused people.
"Your father must be very light-skinned," one executive said.
When I told another that my paternal grandparents were interracially married in the 1940s, having met as founding members of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), she said, "So really, you are only a quarter black. You have more white blood than black blood."
Good to see that Hollywood rejects the one drop rule.
Michele Bachmann has called on the President to propose enough cuts to balance the budget for this year. Okay. Representative Bachmann voted for the Ryan budget, which cut 111 billion from the 2012 federal budget. The 2012 Ryan budget resolution Bachmann voted for still had a 995 billion dollar deficit. I would love to see the 995 billion dollars of cuts Bachmann wants in order to balance next year's Ryan budget without any tax increases. Here are some of the Ryan budget's numbers to play with (in billions and please forgive the formatting):
Global War on Terror 118
Social Security 760
Other Mandatory 408
Net Interest 256
Bachmann is on record as wanting to "stay the course" in Afghanistan (and good for her), so there isn't much chance for savings in the 118 billion dollar GWOT category. To be fair, Bachmann didn't call on herself to propose enough cuts to balance the budget in one year without any tax increases. So it isn't like she is a hypocrite.
Tax hikes conservatives can support, according to Glenn Reynolds:
One of the things that's been floating around the Web over the past week is a video clip from 1953. . . . seeking the end of a 20 percent excise tax on movie theaters' gross revenues that had been imposed at the end of World War II as a deficit-cutting measure. (Yes, gross, not net).
In the film, figures ranging from industry big shots to humble ticket collectors talk about how the tax is hurting their industry and killing jobs, and ask Congress to repeal the tax. [Which Congress did] . . .
Were I a Republican senator or representative, I would be agitating to repeal the "Eisenhower tax cut" on the movie industry and restore the excise tax. . . .
I'd also look at the tax and accounting treatment of these industries to see if they were taking advantage of any special "loopholes" that could be closed as a means of reducing "tax expenditures." (Answer: Yes, they are.)
Professor Reynolds also notes that government employees often get a big salary bump when they go to work for the very industries they have been busy regulating, (or writing regulations for):
Because much of their value to their employers comes from their prior government service, I think that the taxpayers deserve a share of the return, say in the form of a 50 percent surtax on any earnings by political appointees in excess of their prior government salaries for the first five years after they leave office.
If memory serves, he has elsewhere suggested a windfall profits tax on lawyers in class action settlemnts.
I'm sure we can come up with some other taxes that conservaties might support.