Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


All-purpose Alinsky

Saul Alinsky's tactics are being used by conservative protesters now, the NY Times cackles. See these excerpts.

While Alinsky was very much a man of the left, he hated bureaucracy. Perhaps that, and not leftist politics, is the soul of the man. That, at any rate, is my recollection of him, from a talk he gave when I was an undergraduate. He even poked me in the chest to emphasize his point about a question I asked about Madison and factions. "Yeah, that's what I'm getting at"--countervailing power.

Categories > Politics


The Rich Get Richer, the Poor Get....Richer

Austrian economist Steve Horwitz has been going over census reports from 2006 on average household income. It turns out that the percentage of American households earning $100,000 or more annually more than doubled between 1980 and 2006. The percentage of those making between $75,000 and $99,999 also increased somewhat, while the percentages in every category making less decreased. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, these are constant 2006 dollars.
Categories > Economy


Remember when Dissent used to be Patriotic?

Imagine, protesters comparing a president to Hitler and making death threats. But that was okay, because Bush was in the White House then.
Categories > Politics


Comunity Organizer in Chief

Apparently, President Obama is trying to use his to organization and his bully pulpit to get America's clerics to preach for socialized medicine. Beyond that he wants his sub-organizers to do their part at, seemingly, all civic events across the land. Will Americans take well to this permanent campaign? Do we think of ourselves as one, big community? Do we want to be so organized? Do we want our religious leaders to get talking points for their sermons from the President?
Categories > Presidency


Garage sale regulation and death panels--the tie-in

Now the government wants to protect you from buying faulty products at garage sales. The next move will be to tax garage sales. To soberly discuss "death panels," Charles Krauthammer, shooing Sarah Palin out of the room, winds up channeling her. In both instances the heavy thumb of government distorts the making of human choices.
Categories > Economy


Ends and Means

Sen. Edward Kennedy is gravely ill with cancer. Beyond his medical problems he and his party face a political problem: If Kennedy is unable to attend Senate sessions and cast votes, the 59 other Democratic senators might be stymied if health care legislation needs 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. If Kennedy dies or resigns, his successor will be the winner of a special election to be held within five months of the vacancy in the Senate. No provision in Massachusetts law allows for a vacant Senate seat to be filled before that special election.

No provision in current law, that is. Before 2004, the governor would appoint someone to fill a vacant Senate seat, a procedure used by many states. The law was changed by the Democratic state legislature that year to prevent Gov. Mitt Romney from appointing a Republican to the Senate in the event that John Kerry won the presidency.

Now, Kennedy has asked that the law be . . . adjusted. In a letter to the governor and legislative leaders of Massachusetts, Kennedy calls on the legislature to give the governor, no longer a Republican, the power to appoint an interim senator to serve until the special election is held. The request, according to the Boston Globe, "puts Massachusetts lawmakers in a delicate position" because "Democratic lawmakers [are] nervous about being accused of engineering a self-serving change to help their party."

Kennedy's request puts some prominent advocates of Obamacare in a delicate position, as well. Michael Tomasky, for example, says, "If Republicans were up to this sort of thing, to pass a major tax-cut bill, would I criticize it? Quite frankly, I probably would. So, as much as I want health-care reform to pass, I can't quite put my heart into defending this. . . . I'll certainly grant that changing a law that's just five years old that was changed for political reasons in the first place is not the best way to do things."

Other liberal bloggers are not so fastidious. Ethics, schmethics, according to Matthew Yglesias: "When you have a state whose state legislature is firmly and forever in the hands of one political party, the smart thing is for the legislature to be constantly changing rules based on short-term considerations. Nothing's stopping them from changing the rules back later." Ezra Klein doubles down, saying that what appears to be a delicate situation for Democrats is really a moral dilemma for Republicans, one of whom could prove that the Senate traditions of civility and comity really count for something by voting for cloture against a filibuster of health care legislation as a measure of respect to an ill or deceased Ted Kennedy: "Conversely, if not one Republican can be found who feels enough loyalty to Kennedy to make sure that his death doesn't kill the work of his life, then what are all those personal relationships and all that gentility really worth?"

The obvious question about the shoe being on the other foot - would Klein insist that a Democrat vote to pass a major GOP initiative out of respect for an absent Republican senator - is not worth the trouble of pursuing. Both Yglesias and Klein are unapologetically committed to the position that justice is the interest of the stronger. The only criterion for determining whether the game is being played fairly is whether the right side is winning. Changing the rules as often and flagrantly as necessary in order to advance its prospects is just one more egg that needs to be broken to give the country the omelets it needs.

What's interesting is that at the same time they are making Sophists' arguments for achieving political goals by any means necessary, Yglesias and Klein are lamenting the way narrow, parochial concerns prevent the pursuit of the public interest - as they, broadly and selectively, define it. Yglesias is increasingly baffled by the "cynicism and immorality displayed in big-time politics." Klein, similarly, cannot understand why he is the lone Diogenes in Washington who doesn't worry whether it's "uncouth" to contend that votes against cap-and-trade and Obamacare are "literally consigning thousands of people to death."

When the life-and-death issues are not the ones Yglesias and Klein want addressed, however, the standards of civilized discourse are suddenly retrievable and relevant, even crucial. I think it's a safe bet that neither admires the bold commitment to principle of the protesters in front of abortion clinics who scream "Baby killer" at the cars entering the parking lot, and would not sit still for a long explanation of how American law since 1973 has consigned literally millions of babies to death. Nor would either be receptive to arguments that the consequences of a suitcase nuclear bomb being detonated in Times Square or Lafayette Park are so grave that the imperative to take the actions, overseas and at home, to find and thwart terrorists will necessarily take precedence over international law and civil liberties. To talk about consigning thousands of people to death in that context would be uncouth, manipulative, hysterical and jingoist.

Yglesias and Klein are both very young guys who've become blogosphere stars, so they may not have outgrown Attention Deficit Disorder. Neither seems to notice when an argument in one post doesn't square with one they write the next day. When lamenting the craven indifference with which legislators consign literally billions of people to death by not being Dennis Kucinich, both adopt the position that the graveyards are filled with indispensable men. They shake their heads at the vain, calculating politicians who would gladly see every last organism on the planet shrivel and die if it meant they wouldn't have to cast a vote that displeased a local interest or donor, reducing their reelection prospects by a fraction.

Neither mentions, however, that Sen. Kennedy has had 16 months to solve the problem of his succession without changing Massachusetts law. He could have resigned at any point after his brain tumor was diagnosed, leaving plenty of time for a special election to designate a senator who would vote for health care reform. If yielding office for the sake of a higher principle is noble, this particular hero could have extricated his party from their current dilemma at any point. Instead, Kennedy's long Senate career is destined to be bookended by two shabby, transparent maneuvers. He was elected to the Senate seat vacated by his brother John, but only after a compliant place-holder agreed to keep it occupied until Ted turned 30 in 1962. Now, again, the protocols of even-handedness are to be sacrificed for the greater good, and the greater good is to be defined to give maximum scope for Sen. Kennedy to define and pursue his ambitions.

Categories > Elections

Health Care

Cash 4 Clunkers Dead; Obama Resurrects Health Care Alternative

Even as thousands of bureaucrats were hired to streamline Cash 4 Clunkers, the Administration pronounced the program dead, as of Monday. The President referred to "victims of success."

But replacing it on Tuesday will be "Cash for Cadavers." Employing cherished Lincolnian imagery from the Gettysburg Address, President Obama declared that anyone who brings in the corpse of a beloved who had reached the biblical limit of "four score" years (within 24 hours of passing) would receive $300,000 applicable only toward the survivor's medical care. As the Administration respects the right of privacy, only minimal questions about the causes of death would be raised.

As acceptable as these pop-ins, would be "walk-in" 4-scorers who chose to terminate all means of life support, including feeding and hydration, in a hospital or other approved facility. The procedure for termination might be compared to that of the aforementioned Clunkers, with perhaps a little more (or less) emotion involved. See the procedure lovingly described of "Killed Clunkers" entering "Auto Heaven." Heaven, no Limbo or Purgatory--there is hope on the hoof! An edifying theology of the car-cass.

As the President puts it, reach "four score" and no more, and score some medical cash, and let this be a new birth of freedom, a transcedence of the realm of freedom and necessity.

Categories > Health Care


Religion and the health care debate

Yesterday, President Obama apparently said that there is a "core ethical and moral obligation" to provide health care for all. He was speaking to liberal religious activists affiliated with this group. For the way they'd like to talk about the health care debate, go here. For more coverage, go here.

I note that the issue guide to which I linked above is careful about avoiding public funding for abortion and accommodating the conscientious scruples of health care providers. This is good, but I wonder whether the President has this in mind when he thinks about the moral dimensions of health care. The guide also points out that there's a gap between morality and policy. I may feel called to care for the hungry and sick and not regard government as the best vehicle for my concern. (See here for more on this point.)

I'll have more to say when I can lay my hands on a transcript of the President's remarks. (I note in passing that the White House website provided transcripts both more reliably and in a more timely fashion during the last Administration. So much for a new era of transparency.)

Categories > Religion


Obama's POMP

Why don't we refer to it as the "Post Office Medical Plan"?

For a quick hit on how Obamacare and the clunkers program dovetail, see Brewster Rocket, August 18.

Categories > Presidency


This Sounds Like a Bad James Bond Movie Script

New York Times reports "hijacked" ship may have been on nefarious mission with military contraband. Cue the Bond theme here. Keep your eye on this. I expect we haven't heard the last of it.
Categories > Military


Dr. Kesler operates on Obama and the Republicans

As he had before with his exegesis of The Audacity of Hope, Charles Kesler hits all the high notes in his latest thoughts on Obama's ambition and Republican haplessness, which appear, again, in that indispensable organon The Claremont Review of Books.

One issue I would give more emphasis to: Kesler rightly wants conservatives and Republicans to outflank Obama by returning to the principles of the American Founding, instead of being distracted by this or that tactic or even worse by misunderstanding Reagan conservatism. But even here Obama can readily block the right by his own appeal to the Declaration of Independence, as he does in his books. And Republicans play along with this--Kesler does not note how often Bush appealed to the Declaration--by failing to make the Declaration a document affirming limited government, a denial to the death that government is based on arbitrary will.

Both the left and the right make the Declaration a justification for active government. That is one reason liberals like it and conservatives hate it. (Robert Bork's misguided cynicism about the Declaration was on to something.) Kesler is of course right about returning to the founding, but we're in the fight of our lives against a post-modern post-nationalist who has embraced the Declaration for the wrong reasons and will twist it to his convenience. Speak of the triumph of the will! The argument is that basic, about who we are as Americans. And, despite the Obamacare setback, he is still the Tiger Woods of the course.

Categories > Presidency

Health Care

I Knew It Was Out There Somewhere

Way back in 1993, in the midst of the Hillarycare debate, I wrote a cover story for Reason magazine about the disaster of Medicare. Here's the link to the piece. Remarkable how well it holds up under the specter of Obamacare.
Categories > Health Care


Bureaucrats for Clunkers

The Department of Transportation triples the number of bureaucrats who process "Cash for Clunkers" claims:

The government is tripling the number of contractors and federal employees helping to process claims in the "Cash for Clunkers" vehicle trade-in program, a Transportation Department official said.

By the end of the week, there are expected to be up to 1,100 people processing paperwork on vehicles that have been traded in for vouchers towards the purchase of new cars. At the end of last week there were roughly 350 workers dealing with the applications, but many dealers have complained of backups on the computer system. (Italics added.)

Where are the "death panels" for the bureaucracy?
Categories > Economy

Health Care

Hey, John Mackey: Open a Whole Foods in Ashland!

2003: Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks makes disparaging comments about George W. Bush while onstage during a concert in London. Country music fans respond by demanding that the band's songs be pulled from the airwaves, and by boycotting the band's concerts. The Left cries foul. The boycott is "an issue of free speech"; an example of "demonizing dissenters." Martin Sheen calls Bush "a bully" for not coming to their defense.

2009: John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of the grocery-store chain Whole Foods, writes an op-ed criticizing the Obama/Pelosi health care reform, and suggesting alternatives. Left-wing groups express their disagreement, but respect his right to offer his opinions in a public forum.

Nah, just kidding. They're organizing a boycott of Whole Foods.

Categories > Health Care


Next: Cap-and-Trade

Liberals who are disappointed by Obama's apparent willingness to back down on the "public option" for health care may soon have something else to complain about. In a possible omen of things to come, the Australian Senate has voted down that country's version of cap-and-trade.
Categories > Environment

Health Care

Death Panels: The Dutch Experience

Beware of going "dutch treat" on this provision of Obamacare. The Dutch experience is detailed in this 1991 book by a physician and Ph.D. in public policy: Buy it used for $.01 on amazon.
Categories > Health Care

Political Philosophy

Fancy Dancing by Harry Jaffa

NRO has another Peter Robinson five-series interview with the renowned Lincoln scholar and political philosopher Harry V. Jaffa. Essential conversation for all conservatives and for all Americans. One point would confront those who claim political superiority on the ground that they "believe in science": They need to make sure they are worshipping the right gods.


The Great Conversationalist

Ann Althouse parses Obama.
Categories > Presidency

Fred and Ginger and Happiness

It’s been a moderate summer, but not the last few days. Yesterday it reached 96. I sat inside listening to Norah Jones and flipping through a prosaic issue of the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association feeling the weight of the heat when I got hungry. The only thing in the fridge was a piece of salmon and a bottle of Kris Pinot Grigio. Got ’em both and set myself up in my best chair and flipped open my Sunday Times (Kindle, actually). The Pinot Grigio was a delight, perfect with salmon on such a day. It is vibrant with a touch of citrus, with none of that artificial and heavy oak-like and over-ripe sophistication you find in many Chardonnays. The high-plumed wine aficionados don’t praise this wine much and they are offended when us half-learned folk like it and are vocal about it. And, say the haughty ones, folks drink it like lemonade when you are supposed to sip wine! Well, to Hell with them, I was enjoying my Pinot, even as I was reading articles about war and pestilence and bad politics. And once I ran out of salmon I lit up a Cuban, but stayed with the Pinot, and then--to my delight--latched unto this fine piece by Alistair Macaulay in the Arts section of The Times. What a great piece on Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (and note the terrific Youtube videos on the left)! He explains the dance, the romance, the beauty of the movement, and how it is that in parts of a dance they "become divinities." Well, I can tell you that the day became less heavy and less hot as I watched Fred and Ginger dance and dance. I watched and re-read the fine piece by Macaulay, poured another glass and lit up another fine cigar and I was in heaven. Read the thing yourself and watch the divinities. Give yourself time.

Health Care

So Crazy, it Might Just Work

Ever wonder why the cost of medical practices such as Lasik eye surgery and liposuction have gone down in recent years, while costs for just about everything else related to medicine have gone up? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that such practices aren't covered either by private insurance or by Medicare/Medicaid. Maybe instead of talking about creating a massive new government bureaucracy we should be considering treating Americans more like consumers, and less like children.
Categories > Health Care

Health Care

Community, rationing, and Health Care

Does the fear of "death panels" show one of the inherent problems with nationalizing health care (further) in the US? As several commentators have noted, medicine, like any other scarce good, must be rationed. The question is how, by whom, and for what reasons? Is it good to have a single, open, republic-wide discussion of such things? Will there ever be anythig like consensus about such things? Do we really want a frank and open, nationwide discussion of when not to pay for a hip replacement, or a heart bypass?

Progressives, with their faith in technocracy, are often content with the idea that experts can, across a large system, make reasonable calculations about such things. If a 85-year-old has a 20% chance of benefittig from a liver transplant, then give the new liver to someone else, etc. Is it better to have a system like the one we currently have, where there is some chance involved? In that chance, there is, I suspect, more room for individuals to make measured calculations of risk and reward for themselves. There is also less blunt discussion of when it is time for our parents, grandparents, etc., to stop fighting for life. I'm not sure I want to live in a society where such decisions are made by a rule, created by expert ethicists (partly because I don't think that people with PhDs in ethics are, in fact, better at making such rules). But if there is a single payer for health care, there must be such rules. How else can the government make such decisions?

To reiterate a favorite point, the US is not a small republc. In a republic of a few thousand, it might be possible to have a real, and legitimate community consensus about such things, and also to allow some play in the system. In a large republic, of thousands of communities, that's simply not possible. People get reduced to atoms in a health care system that coveres a republic of 300 million.

Categories > Health Care

Doonesbury joins the revolt, and other Sunday funnies

Sunday’s Doonesbury is on Obama carcare, but think Obamamedicalcare. This Sunday’s “Pearls Before Swine” has a back-to-school special, tweaking the tenured professors who blog here. And it’s hard to tell when “Get Fuzzy” is being ironic; I prefer to take much of it more literally, as this older strip on exorcising "Demoncrats" from July 28. See as well the strips following. Here’s a good intro to international relations.

Silly stuff? If you think so, listen to Bill Clinton talking to the Netroots conference.