Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

ME on Solzhenitsyn, Technology, Purpose, and Our Future

...can be found HERE. I say a little bit about everything, including health care.

Stelzer on the Economy

It really is getting better. It’s even true that some credit rightly goes to the stimulus package. The president has a decent economic story to tell, although his health care "narrative" is pretty darn discredited. So his most prudent course would be to scale back his health care ambitions for now and try to produce bigger Democratic margins in 2010 as Dr. Fix It on the economy. Stelzer adds some cautionary notes, including the undeniable fact that eventually we get bitten hard by the mega-debt. But who can be against the economy continuing to improve for a while, and who can be against the president backing off health care for a while, at least until people can actually read the whole plan, get a decent executive summary, and have a real national discussion about it? Most of all, the president needs some to figure out what he really wants and honestly make some hard and unpopular choices.

Democracy in Action

"Divided we ever have been, and ever must be"--John Adams

The recent rise in tensions and confrontations as debate heats up over health care reform, is a sign of healthy democracy. It is inevitable that sometimes passions will boil over every now and then. But in a country the size of the US, especially one where each Congressman represents roughly 650,000 people, shouting is going to happen.

Part of what we see on display, however, is a continuation of the underlying tensions that American politics has seen for quite some time. We have two political spectrums in the US. First there is the spectrum that includes all US citizens. In that spectrum, to oversimplify, National Review is about as far to the Right as The New Republic is to the Left.

In addition to that political spectrum, we have the elite political spectrum. In that spectrum, The New Republic is on the center-right. If one tracks the opinions of people who staff our news organizations, our governments (at all levels) and our major corporate bureaucracies, their opinions, particularly on cultural issues, but also on other issues such as immigration and health care regulation, are to the Left of the general mainstream. Particularly among those people who live in New York, Washington, and LA, this is what used to be called the "New Class." In those cities, there tends to be a bit of a bubble because the concentration of members of this group is so high.

Part of the anger aimed at President Bush, and the GOP Congress, I suspect, grew from the tension between the two political spectrums. What is mainstreatm conventional wisdom in Washington is often not mainstream in the US as a whole. The members of the New class tend to see themselves as post-partisan, neutral, well educated people who are simply trying to serve the public. Since they don’t often hear truly dissenting voices, they dismiss protests as irrational. Peter Jennings’ famous comment that in 1994 the voters threw a tantrum in 1994 is the emblematic statement of this attitude. From Jennings’ perspective, the GOP is, by definition, out of the mainstream. The party that captured Congress was, by definition, an extremist movement to Jennings and the other members of his class.

Hence people like Paul Krugman believe that "the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that’s behind the “birther” movement." One could also say that the dismissal of those who dissent from liberal conventional wisdom as irrational grows from cultural anxiety--one that grows from the tension between the belief in democracy and the belief in the rule of the New class. Krugman’s mainstream is not really the mainstream.

One further point. The GOP establishment is not so far from the elite mainstream in many ways. That reality led to much of the anger directed at the GOP during the Bush years. Now that the Democrats hold all three houses of the legislature, there is more clarity in this situation.

Now we’re thinking

Rather than trying to eliminate the liberty that allows us to harm the environment, find ways to control its effects. Liberty is to pollution what air is to fire.

Help on the Health Care Bill

I wonder if someone out there couldn’t point me to an evenhanded, fair-minded analysis of Obama’s health care proposals. Like those who are going to vote for it, I have no intention of reading the complete bill, and I have a hard time swallowing some of the stuff I’ve heard both from its defenders and its detractors. I’m not naive enough to think there’s anything truly objective that’s been written about it, but some sort of "executive summary" that lists the plans strengths and weaknesses would be much appreciated.

The RV-ing Justice

As Obama spoke in Elkhart, Indiana, where most of the RV’s are made (he also brought gifts), note this conversation with Ginni Thomas about her RV (it’s a forty-footer) trips with husband Clarence. Some of the comments are worth reading. Also see this short story on the same theme.

Poltico Online Chat on Sotomayor

I will be participating in Politico’s live online chat in what they dub "The Arena" today from 12:00 – 12:30 Eastern Time to discuss the Sotomayor nomination. Those wishing to join the chat can do so here.

Power to the People?

What is the role that the philosophy of history plays in the Left’s response to the tea party movement and to the recent visibility people opposed to Lefty health care reform?

The Left embraces the living constitution because it is confident that the constitution will only evolve in a direction it likes. Whenever I am in a constitutional argument with a Progressive friend, and I suggest (with irony that’s usually not noticed) "what the constitution used to mean is not important. I believe in a living constitution, and under current circumstances, x is constitutional" they get rather angry. The constitution is not supposed to evolve in a direction that Left does no like.

Might the same apply to popular protest? Can dissent from the Progressive line be the highest form or patriotism? Or is it a sign of false consciousness? Senator Boxer’s comment that the protestors are too well dressed to be authentic seems to fit this model. The same attitude seems to be present in the Democratic belief that their opponents are nothing more than a mob, and the White House’s requres that Americans report questionable statements and comments to it for vetting. To be sure, some of the people who have made noise are probably connected to larger organizations, but most are probably simply people who read blogs, watch FoxNews and listen to conservative talk radio.

To the degree that this old post is on the mark, it suggests some of the reasons why things are getting tense just now. What if Americans are frustrated with the modern administrative/ bureacratic state, and the feeling that they can’t control it?

Some questions on health care reform

Andy Busch responds to the White House claim that there is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there in the form of a letter to the President. Very good, crisp, and amusing.   

The Columnist as Statesman

A blogger in the Big Apple recently discovered that Paul Krugman has made a remarkable admission:

George Stephanopoulos: "What would you consider a bottom line victory?" (at -03.23):

Paul Krugman: "In a way, since I have my own goals on healthcare, I can’t say what my final, what’s the least I’ll accept, because that then becomes a negotiating point.”

Our blogger comments:

The amazing thing about Krugman’s statement is the extent to which he expressly sees himself as a policy maker with a role negotiating the final shape of any new healthcare bill. He is afraid to say what he wants because that would be used to negotiate against him. . . . Instead of seeing that it is his role to explain what is going on, he obviously believes he was put on this earth to influence the shape of the healthcare bill. He has completely thrown out the window any pretense that he is an objective commentator on the debate.

In other words, when one reads Krugman’s column, one should recognize that he does not think it is his job to help we the people understand the issues so that we may make informed decisions about them. On the contrary, he regards it as his job to shape what he says and does not say, in order to move debate in the direction he thinks it ought to go.

I wonder if Krugman reflects a larger defect in the New York Times. The Times became a great and influential newspaper because it sought to provide information to the people, to help create an informed citizenry. It did that job so well, that the Times started have a good deal of influence in setting the agenda for the Union as a whole. As time passed, the newspaper grew self conscious about that role, and, as a result, started paying too much attention to agenda setting (asking whether a story was worthy of being in the public discussion, and working too hard to decide which facts the people ought to have before them), rather than sticking with the basics. The result has been that the Times has grown weaker as a newspaper, and, at the same time, is becoming less influential. Once the curtain is down, it can’t be put back up.

Health reform populism

Rather than simply opposing what Progressives are supporting in health reform, conservatives ought to suggest some ideas of their own. Here are two that would be popular and save money: tort reform (to reduce the amount of defensive medicine) and immigration reform (to reduce the number of uninsured who are already covered by our hospitals when they need care).

And how about supporting a law that would require Congressmen, Senators, senior staff and bureaucrats to use the "public option" if it passes? If memory serves, one of the popular items in the Contract with America was to apply to Congress all regulations that they passed for others.

A Sign of the Times?

I have joked for a while that someone needs to do an update of Arlo Guthrie’s "Alice’s Restaurant" depicting being arrested for crossing the recycling fascists, and lo and behold, here’s news that Guthrie has become a Republican! I’ll start working on new lyrics during this evening’s cocktail hour.

I can’t hear you, la la la

During the Bush Administration, we were frequently told that the President was kept in a bubble, insulated from critical voices. Democratic proponents of health care reform seem to be heading down that path, with some avoiding the meetings and others (like the current inhabitant of the Oval Office) attempting to discredit the folks who show up to protest the Administration’s policies.

My dad, who sent his Congressman--John Spratt (D-S.C.)--a quick email about health care reform, asking him to protect seniors’"hard won medical insurance benefits", received a non-reply suggesting the message was deleted without being read.

If attacking or ignoring critics was either morally or politically wrong for the Bush Administration, is it any less problematical for their successors?

The "Birthers" in Obama’s strategy

Obama will promote, or even raise, bizarre claims to discredit his opponents. He has done this before, to good effect. It is a more aggressive version of law school debating technique, which gives opponents a minor point that they go nuts on, eating up their debate time, while the debater cleans their clocks on more important points.

Obviously, only someone confident in a lead can afford such a strategy, but the guy is audacious. When the lead dwindles or disappears, such a person may be at sea, though--at least for a while.

What Biden’s Beer Summit Presence Reveals

After denouncing the participants’ choice of brews, Tunku Varadarajan notes that Biden’s surprise appearance changed the racial mix and the appearances of the beer summit--it wasn’t about a black intellectual and a black intellectual-politician versus a white cop, but two white guys and the two black guys. Obama "would not have become president if he’d made white people afraid. The best way to ensure that people are not afraid is to ensure that you’re not threatening--and President Obama had never been threatening until the Gates affair"--unless you had vaguely recalled the Rev. Wright.

Shelby Steele sketches this out further, in case you missed his weekend WSJ op-ed.

Cash for clunkers again

This WSJ piece argues that the only thing accomplished by the "Cash for Clunkers" program is to speed up the natural rate of trading in old for new, rathe than actually prompting otherwise uncontemplated purchases. What will happen to the automobile market when consumers get off this financial methamphetamine? Can you say "Crash for Clunkers"?

This WSJ op-ed is also critical of the program. A snippet:

On the other hand, this is crackpot economics. The subsidy won’t add to net national wealth, since it merely transfers money to one taxpayer’s pocket from someone else’s, and merely pays that taxpayer to destroy a perfectly serviceable asset in return for something he might have bought anyway. By this logic, everyone should burn the sofa and dining room set and refurnish the homestead every couple of years.

Same-sex marriage again

Robert P. George has a most excellent op-ed in today’s WSJ.

A snippet:

Opponents of racist laws in Loving did not question the idea, deeply embodied in our law and its shaping philosophical tradition, of marriage as a union that takes its distinctive character from being founded, unlike other friendships, on bodily unity of the kind that sometimes generates new life. This unity is why marriage, in our legal tradition, is consummated only by acts that are generative in kind. Such acts unite husband and wife at the most fundamental level and thus legally consummate marriage whether or not they are generative in effect, and even when conception is not sought.

Of course, marital intercourse often does produce babies, and marriage is the form of relationship that is uniquely apt for childrearing (which is why, unlike baptisms and bar mitzvahs, it is a matter of vital public concern). But as a comprehensive sharing of life—an emotional and biological union—marriage has value in itself and not merely as a means to procreation. This explains why our law has historically permitted annulment of marriage for non-consummation, but not for infertility; and why acts of sodomy, even between legally wed spouses, have never been recognized as consummating marriages.

Only this understanding makes sense of all the norms—annulability for non-consummation, the pledge of permanence, monogamy, sexual exclusivity—that shape marriage as we know it and that our law reflects. And only this view can explain why the state should regulate marriage (as opposed to ordinary friendships) at all—to make it more likely that, wherever possible, children are reared in the context of the bond between the parents whose sexual union gave them life.


Read the whole thing.

When the News Isn’t Fit to Print

I’ve been visiting the family in Ohio and I’ve had some interesting conversations with my 80 year old grandmother who is, quite rightly, appalled by the dwindling content and quality of her local paper. She wanted to know why papers seem to be dying and remarked--in the sort of colorful terms only she could summon--on the terrible shame of it. Maybe I should have just shown her this posted today by my friend Rattlergator. The "most trusted" man in television journalism, Walter Cronkite, gets the most untrustworthy send-off possible from the New York Times? The shame of this deserves even more colorful language than my dear grandmother can muster. But that’s why I told her I can’t stand the tyranny of printed "news" and haven’t bothered to subscribe to a paper in more than 10 years (we get our local rag for free and without asking)--that, and the fact that by the time you get your news in a paper, it isn’t "news" anymore.

I understand the not wanting to sit and read on a computer part of the problem (especially at 80) but, in time and with things like Kindle, I expect the comfort issues will be overcome. But even with the strain on the eyes and the inconvenience of having to be tied to a wall or a clunky notebook, I could never go back to the tyranny of a newspaper where you can’t simultaneously search for more information, fact check for yourself, find commentary and then comment to your friends and enemies about what you’ve read. Maybe it’s a sign of my youthful (er . . . well, comparatively speaking, anyway) impatience with slow moving things, but I don’t like my news stale or thrown at me as if I were a peasant and it a bread crumb from on high (which is why I also do not like TV news with its repetitive and obnoxious droning). I don’t want another NYT or Walter Cronkite to emerge and be considered "the leading authority" . . . though God rest both of their souls. Perhaps this means chaos . . . but if it does, I like it. Besides, I don’t miss the ink stains on my fingers, trying to deal with the impossible dimensions of a broadside while curled up in bed or sitting at the breakfast table, or, still worse . . . the flickering of 24 hour television news station while trying to sleep. All the news is not, indeed, fit to print . . . and if it is worth watching, there’s always YouTube. I’m not "Kindling" yet but I hope and expect that improvements will, eventually, drive me to it. But, for now, when I go to the trouble of printing something out and taking it to read in bed, it had better be good.