Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Ashbrook Center

The End

We started NLT in October of 2001.  I thought it was a good idea, as did many of you even back then.  In fact, in my typical bragadoccio mode I warned Jonah Goldberg a few months later that we would put NRO out of business.  I'm glad we didn't do that, of course.  But I am happy that we had a good run at things.  In fact, I am proud of our effort and I want to thank our fine authors.  Thank you very much!  As you know we were one of the few serious blogs where no one was paid for writing, and yet our authors wrote and wrote, plus there were some very good conversations with readers.  Thanks to all of you for that.

Over a decade of writing isn't bad. It's an accomplishment we can be proud of.  I know all our words at NLT were not birds in flight, some were, inevitably, potatoes.  But all of it was thoughtful, sometimes full of flair and ardor, sometimes full of deep learning, almost always revealing a liveliness of mind found only at a few other blogs.  I am grateful to all the bloggers  for their work.  I have learned much.  We have taught one another much.  We acted like citizens.

We will archive it all, and it will be accessible from our new Ashbrook site that will go up in three or four weeks.  It will be a fine site.  I hope you will like it.

I don't have to get too soft and weepy with y'all for you to know that I am--as is everyone at the Ashbrook Center--very grateful that we had this opportunity and that it lasted so long.  God Bless.

Our bloggers can be found at other places, including Postmodern ConservativeLiberty Law, and Power Line.

Categories > Ashbrook Center


Understanding Obama

Forget the birther nonsense, etc. Former Intelligence Committee staffer and author Angelo Codevilla establishes that Obama grew up in a  world deeply influenced by the CIA, among other establishment institutions. The key here is his life in Indonesia. Did you know his mother's supervisor was one Peter Geithner? The lead-in to this:

Consistent with the Barack Obama we know, however, are his real family, his real upbringing, and his real choices of profession and associates. His mother's parents, who raised him, seem to have been cogs in the U.S. government's well-heeled, well-connected machine for influencing the world, whether openly ("gray influence") or covertly ("black operations"). His mother spent her life and marriages, and birthed her children, working in that machine. For paradigms of young Barack's demeanor, proclivities, opinions, language, and attitudes one need look no further than the persons who ran the institutions that his mother and grandparents served--e.g., the Ford Foundation, the United States Information Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency--as well as his chosen mentors and colleagues. It is here, with these people and institutions, that one should begin to unravel the unknowns surrounding him.

At the very least one can conclude that far from being on the outs, young Obama was always part of a segment of this country's ruling elite.

Categories > Presidency

Pop Culture

Tocqueville on Julia

By now everyone has met Julia, the lucky woman in the unusual Obama campaign commercial who is looked after from cradle to grave by a compassionate federal government.  With the help of the government, Julia is educated, gets free health care, free birth control, and subsidized student loans.  When she decides to have a child (with no significant other, of course), government is there to help with health care and school programs (but no daycare?).  When Julia retires, Medicare and Social Security look after her needs.  And so on.

This happy story made me wonder what the difference is between Julia and the people Alexis de Tocqueville calls "place-hunters" (see Democracy in America, Vol. II, Part 2, chapter 20).  The place-hunter is someone whose ambition finds its primary outlet in seeking a government job, a type that Tocqueville fears will arise in modern democracies.  True, Julia seems to be on her own when it comes to choosing a job (she's a web-designer), though she does get government subsidized small business loans and tax credits to get started.  But when so many of the major problems in life are solved by government, don't you become something like a place-hunter?  At the least, you rely on government almost as much as someone who does have a government job.

So what's the problem with that? Here's our French observer, writing in the 1830's, long before the full-blown welfare state had developed:

"I shall not say that this universal and immoderate desire for public offices is a great social evil; that it destroys the spirit of independence in each citizen and spreads a venal and servile humor in the whole body of the nation; that it suffocates the virile virtues; nor shall I have it observed that an industry of this kind creates only an unproductive activity and agitates the country without making it fruitful: all that is easily understood."

No, the real problem Tocqueville sees is more political.  In a "people of place-hunters" (think about that awful idea!), there can never be enough government jobs to satisfy the ever growing number of people who want such a job.  And this creates a permanent class of discontented people who demand change "solely out of the need to make some places vacant", or, we may add, solely to acquire more benefits.  And can there ever be enough money to satisfy the ever growing demand for more government assistance? Whether out of compassion or the desire to win political support, governments try to attract partisans by giving people jobs (or healthcare, retirement and vacation benefits, etc.); but instead, Tocqueville thinks governments end up endangering themselves, as we perhaps see in places like Greece. 

Tocqueville concludes that it would be "more honest and more sure" for governments to teach each citizen "the art of being self-sufficient."  Wouldn't that be better than a "people of place-hunters"?

Categories > Pop Culture

Greek Democracy Would Go Down, If It Had Somewhere To Go

If, you are any kind of well wisher of Greece, the results of last nights election was a horrible result.  The headline result from much of the media was that the Greek electorate voted against "austerity."  There is something to that.  Since 1974, two major parties, the nominally socialist PASOK and the nominally conservative New Democracy have taken turns running Greece.  They built an unsustainable state built on unsustainable debt and eventually the bill came due.  Greece had to borrow to continue to pay its bills, but, for obvious reasons, the sane don't want to lend to the Greek government. Greek has secured a series of loan agreements from the "troika" (The European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.)  In return for the money, the troika has insisted on a series of "memorandums."  The memorandums are promises by the Greek government to implement spending cuts, tax increases and labor market reforms to bring the Greek deficit down to a sustainable level and restore Greek economic competitiveness.  With the economy no longer being floated on unsustainable foreign borrowing, taxes going up, and government spending going down, Greece has seen its GDP decline by 13% and unemployment climb to over 20%

In yesterday's election, the two major Greek parties (who had been governing in coalition as a condition of getting money from the troika), supported the memorandum along with vague promises to negotiate with the troika to modify some of the terms after the election.  Everything was against the two major parties.  They were campaigning as tax raisers and spending cutters.  They were presiding over an economic downturn that was more than twice as deep as our Great Recession of 2007-2009.  And everyone knew that the two "pro-memorandum" parties had driven Greece into this ditch.  The result was that the two major parties saw their share of the popular vote go from over 77% in 2009 to 32% yesterday. 

Due to quirks of the Greek electoral system, the two mainstream "memorandum" parties got 149 seats in Greece's 300 member Parliament.  The problem is that you need 151 seats to form a government and all of the other 151 seats have gone to parties that oppose the memorandum. But the real problem isn't that the Greek electorate voted against the memorandum.  The real problem is that the Greek electorate didn't vote for any policy alternative.  Of the 151 anti-memorandum seats, 26 belong to the Communist Party which has promised not to join a coalition with any other party.  They are content being in opposition and calling for protests until the Revolution.  But even if you could get the Communists to go along, 21 of the 151 anti-memorandum seats belong to the extreme right (and arguably neo-nazi) Golden Dawn Party who are toxic to everybody else.  There is no governing majority to be had among the anti-memorandum parties. 

The anti-memorandum parties also have the example of LAOS to look at.  LAOS  was a right-populist party that was against immigration, skeptical of the EU, and anti-spending cuts.  Basically it was protest vehicle for mostly traditionally right-leaning voters who were against immigration, felt they were being left behind by economic change and who were afraid that Greece was losing its sovereignty and distinct cultural identity.  Yesterday's elections were made for a party like LAOS.  The problem was that LAOS joined the pro-memorandum coalition last year. The party saw its poll ratings crater.  Its leader instructed his MPs to vote against the most recent spending cuts and tax increases, but the damage was done.  LAOS lost its credibility as protest party, saw its vote go down to under 3% (the minimum for winning seats) and will not be represented in the new Parliament.  LAOS' place on the Greek right was taken by the new Independent Greeks Party that got 10% of the vote and Golden Dawn that got about 7%. 

One lesson from LAOS' experience is that they shouldn't have supported the memorandum.  Another lesson is that, when circumstances are bad, any party that is associated with the government is going to be hurt.  The anti-memorandum parties like SYRIZA and Independent Greeks won votes as protest parties. They stop being protest parties if they take part in a weak and likely short-lived multiparty coalition during terrible economic circumstances.  The political incentives are for the anti-memorandum parties to avoid governing responsibility.  The is especially the case for Independent Greeks, whose leader is campaigning on vilifying Germany while promising free lunches to be served by Russia, China and Israel.   This program will not survive contact with reality,

In an earlier era, there would probably be a military intervention in politics.  I doubt that happens now.  The last time the military intervened in 1967, the military still has some legitimacy from its creditable performance in World War II.  I don't see the Greek military having that kind of legitimacy now (thank God.)  The collapse of the military dictatorship in 1974 discredited military government.  The most likely scenario is that Greece defaults on its debt, has to leave the Eurozone, and has to go back to the drachma. Defaulting and going to a Greek currency might not be the worst thing in the world, but it takes positive actions on the part of the government if the shocks of the transition are to be minimized. Greece now looks like it is just going to be paralyzed as the money runs out, reforms aren't implemented and Greece's troika creditors refuse to disburse more funds.  They are probably going to default not as a considered policy choice, but by... default.  Then some combination of parties will probably agree to a government of technocrats to oversee the transition to the drachma, and then new elections as Greeks try to adjust to their new situation. Greek democratic institutions will be strained but will survive.

There was this steel cage wrestling match in the 1980s.  Ric Flair was caught in the narrow space between the ring ropes and the steel mesh of the cage.  Flair's opponent kept hitting him.  With each strike, Flair would bounce into the cage and fall into the ropes where he would dangle out on his feet but still standing.  The Flair's opponent would hit him again and the pattern would repeat.  The play-by-play announcer Jim Ross said, "Flair would go down, if he had somewhere to go."  That is the situation of Greek democracy right now.          

Foreign Affairs

Remembering Sarkozy

At a time when many Americans felt down on the future of their country, French President Nicolas Sarkozy brightened their spirits in this stirring address before Congress. It reminded Americans of the uniqueness of their enterprise, and how foreigners admire us.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Political Philosophy

The Catholic Pendulum Swings

Intellectual Conservative has posted my latest article, The Catholic Pendulum Swings.

The war between U.S. Catholic bishops and the Obama administration over Obamacare's abortion, sterilization and contraceptive mandate has been well publicized and was to be expected. Democrats, including Catholic Democrats, have openly and notoriously held policy positions with regard to these sexual issues which run directly counter to Catholic social teaching. That the bishops believed Obama would exempt religious institutions from submission to such regulations exposed profound naivety, but the ideological tension and potential for conflict was apparent to all.

The bishops' recent stance against Rep. Paul Ryan's budget in the House likely took many by surprise. The Church would seem to a casual observer to fit hand in glove with the Republican Party platform - primarily because the media usually only highlights the Church's position on a single issue: abortion. But those more intimately aware of the Church's hierarchy will notice a plethora of self-identifying blue-collar, union-supporting Democrats among the nation's Catholic leaders. These are Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and John Kerry Catholics, absent the pro-choice stain. The social gospel, according to this large faction, fits squarely with liberal economic policies. And so, we have the present impasse over the Ryan budget.

And it's a wonderful thing.

The article considers the nature and effect of the bishops' voice within the halls of Congress - particularly in light of the Democrats' effective silence on budgetary issues. While I ultimately disagree with the bishops' objections to the Ryan budget, I commend the model of dialogue in which they and the Republicans have engaged.

The debate will largely be decided by the November elections and the weight of the mandate handed to the victorious party. Nevertheless, for the first time in recent history, America is witnessing a mature and principled political debate. Between the GOP and the Catholic Church, no mud is being thrown, no names are being called and both sides are showing respect to the ideas and persons of their rivals. Gently rebuking the Georgetown Ninety, Ryan reiterated that the financial crisis requires a "charitable conversation." This is the model of political bipartisanship which America demands and deserves.

Unfortunately, it only exists because one party decided to sit this one out.

The Family

Who's Your Grandpappy?

Mitt Romney welcomed his 17th and 18th grandchildren (twins) over the weekend.

The man is an empire builder.
Categories > The Family


The Democratic Nominee

Obama formally launched his re-election campaign this weekend at Ohio State University, and the occasion bodes well for Republicans. As the Columbus Dispatch reports:

...the event fell short of the 20,000 supporters the campaign had forecast as organizers moved people from seats to the arena floor in front of the dais to project fullness to television audiences. Obama volunteers had worked feverishly over the last week to gin up a crowd, making multiple calls to residents believed to be supportive of the president.

Twitter was abuzz with photos and comments about vast areas of empty seats in the arena's upper deck.

One such photo is below.


Obama's first-term celebrity status and the excitement with which it was accompanied has vanished. He will thus be forced to rely upon his record in order to compensate for the loss of enthusiasm among his erstwhile constituency. That effort was not helped by Friday's news that the "portion of Americans in the work force is at its lowest percentage since 1981." Coincidentally, 1981 would be the year that Carter conceded defeat after a single term in office to Ronald Reagan.The Obama-Carter parallels continue to arise.

The Obama campaign's efforts to divide the nation and distract voters from the economy have thus far fizzled and failed. Such attempts have proved uninspiring and ripe for mockery, such as the ridiculous claim that Romney would not have killed Bin Laden, parading out a government-dependent, ward-of-the-state power-point character named Julia as the latest evidence of a "war against women" and declaring the campaign motto to be the socialist-styled, "Forward" (to which Romney promptly replied, "What, off the cliff?).

Obama's campaign is off to a rough start. Voter disappointment in his weak record of accomplishments and America's continuing economic slump weigh against Obama's favor. As Ohio reveals, the election is practically tied at the moment (an unenviable situation for the incumbent candidate) and Obama faces a strong head-wind.
Categories > Elections


Small Business Friendliness

Sander Daniels at provided me with a preview of a survey of small businesses (to be released on Tuesday) which ranks the friendliness of states and cities towards small business. The data is intended to shine "a new light on the United States' business regulatory climate and the nation's economic health."

The survey's most interesting findings include:

  • Small businesses care almost twice as much about licensing regulations as they do about tax rates when rating the business-friendliness of their state or local government.
  • An important predictor of small business friendliness was whether small business owners are aware of their state or local government offering training programs for small businesses.
  • Small business owners ranked Idaho and Texas as the most business-friendly states, with Oklahoma City and Dallas-Ft. Worth taking top honors among cities across the nation. Vermont and Rhode Island found themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum, joined in the bottom-five by New York and California. (Ohio finishes with a lousy D+ rating.) Every city and state has its own page with a visualization of the location's full results.
The survey relates relevant information on the principal issue of the day: America's struggling economy. Small business owners' concerns about regulation (and taxation) should translate into preferences for Romney's "small government" approach to the business community (as opposed to Obama's penchant for ever-greater regulation). The fact that red states top the bill and blue states bring up the rear cannot bode well for Democrats, who are presently faced with a severely unmotivated constituency.

UPDATE: Daniels' survey parallels Chief Executive's eighth annual survey of CEO opinion of Best and Worst States in which to do business. As expected:

Texas easily clinched the No. 1 rank, the eighth successive time it has done so. California earns the dubious honor of being ranked dead last for the eighth consecutive year.

Importantly, the report notes the link between success and "right-to-work" - and the challenges "pro-growth" policies must overcome due to Democrats and unions.

It may be no accident that most of the states in the top 20 are also right-to-work states, as labor force flexibility is highly sought after when a business seeks a location. Several economists, most notably Ohio State's Richard Vedder and Harvard's Robert Barro, have found that the economies in R-to-W areas grow faster than other states, have higher employment and attract more inward migration. Governor Scott Walker's battle with the unions in Wisconsin (See "Will Wisconsin Rise Again?"), a state that edged into the top 20 this year for this first time, demonstrates that the struggle for a pro-growth agenda can be contentious. As one Badger State business leader remarked, "Finally, Wisconsin is headed in the right direction."

Also, the comparison between #1 Texas and #50 California bears repeating. Regarding conservative Texas:

The Lone Star State was given high marks foremost for its business-friendly tax and regulatory environment. But its workforce quality, second only to Utah's, is also highly regarded.

And regarding liberal California:

California's enduring place of perpetual decline continues in this year's ranking. Once the most attractive business environment, the Golden State appears to slip deeper into the ninth circle of business hell. The economy, which used to outperform the rest of the country, now substantially underperforms. And its status as the most ruinously contentious place to operate remains undisturbed in eight years. Its unemployment rate, at 10.9 percent, is higher than every other state except Nevada and Rhode Island. With 12 percent of America's population, California has one-third of the nation's welfare recipients. Each year, the evidence that businesses are leaving California or avoid locating there because of the high cost of doing business due to excessive state taxes and stringent regulations, grows. (See "Eastward Ho!") According to Spectrum Locations Consultants, 254 California companies moved some or all of their work and jobs out of state in 2011, an increase of 26 percent over the previous year and five times as many as in 2009.

The following is a representative sample of comments from participating CEOs:

  • California is the worst! They are doing everything possible to drive a business out of their state. If it were not for the climate, they would have lost half their population
  • California regulations, taxes and costs will leave only tech, life sciences and entertainment as viable. If you aren't an elitist, no room here for the middle or working classes.
  • California treats business owners like criminals. California has different overtime policies for its own employees vs. private sector.
  • California's labor regulation is a job killer. We will be moving our business out of the state, which will lose hundreds of jobs simply due to the poor regulatory environment.
  • California should secede from the union--it is like doing business in a foreign country, it has its own exchange rate, and its regulation is crazy.
Conservatives couldn't make up such favorable talking points.

If voters are paying attention, the Democrats are doomed.
Categories > Economy