Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Health Care

Delegation Run Amok

Betsy McCaughey points to some of the lowlights in the House health care bill.  I was particularly struck by this bit:

Sec. 224 (p. 118) provides that 18 months after the bill becomes law, the Secretary of Health and Human Services will decide what a "qualified plan" covers and how much you'll be legally required to pay for it.

In the days before the idea of a living constitution was taken to constitutionalize whatever liberals wanted (one can always say that in light of historical changes, x must now be constitutional), there was an understanding that Congress may not delegate so much legislative power. That's why the Court, quite rightly, ruled the NIRA unconstitutional. (Thanks to the supposedly reactionary Court, the New Deal known to history is less arbitrary than it would have been had they not stepped in). If one reads the transcript of the case, one finds that the rules the New Deal created were so idiotic that they were literally laughed out of court.  I hope our modern bureaucrats will be more reasonable, but doubt they will be.

Letting Congress delegate the authority to decide what is a "qualified plan" allows Congressmen to avoid responsibility. That's precisely why they're not supposed to be able to delegate such powers to quasi-executive, administrative agencies.

Categories > Health Care


Policy Puzzle

If we need to compete with China and India, why are we pursuing policies that will make us more like Europe?
Categories > Economy

Political Parties

They Might Change the Name to Libertine Party

Adventures in message mismanagement.
Categories > Political Parties

Health Care


NRO's Doctor! Doctor! blog reports that scuttlebutt from the Capitol is that Pelosi is 20 votes short of the 218 needed to pass health care.  Keep your eye on this NRO site over the weekend.
Categories > Health Care


Weird Science

I've been following the progress--or lack thereof--of the CERN Large Hadron Collider (the largest particle accelerator ever built) in Switzerland for a while now, partly because I'm an old and out of practice science geek, and partly because it is another object of technophobia: some worrywarts think the collider, when finally operational, might create an artificial black hole that will annihilate the entire planet.  Supposedly it is theoretically possible, but once again this looks like life imitating art, since something of this scenario was depicted in an obscure 1980s-era sci-fi film out of New Zealand called The Quiet Earth.  

Anyway, seems things keep going wrong with the thing, spurring some professional paranoiacs to speculate that time traveling sub-atomic particles from the future are here to prevent us from destroying ourselves with the Hadron Collider.  (I'm not making this up.)  Now, it seems, a bird dropped a piece of a baguette on the top of the collider and scrambled the thing once again.  Don't believe me?  See this article.  (Love the artist's depiction.)
Categories > Technology

Health Care

Yes We Will!

Peter: I think Pelosi's move to push for a health care vote tomorrow is a bold move made either out of determination that she can win or stupid desperation that she has to try to win now or never--most likely the latter.  The conventional wisdom among Democrats is that they lost Congress in 1994 in part because they never even voted on a reform bill, and therefore that they face greater downside risk not passing something now rather than passing something unpopular.  This is a gross misreading: Hillarycare failed to win a vote because it became so unpopular the more voters learned about it, just as polls show declining support for this mess.  I continue to believe that the basic symmetry in American politics now is that Republicans by themselves can't change Social Security in any big way, and Democrats by themselves can't change health care in any big way.  

By the way, what happened to the criticism that Bush and the Republican Congress erred by governing on a narrow partisan basis, such as the Medicare prescription drug benefit in 2003?  Now Democrats are about to do the exact same thing, but all the media critics are largely silent about this.  Like the prescription drug bill--remember the House held the vote open for more than three hours while Bush and House GOP leaders broke arms for the final votes--I expect that if the vote is called, it might be held open for three hours or more while Pelosi and Obama break arms and trade off votes.  I wouldn't be surprised to see nervous Dems switching votes halfway through--if it looks like it is going to fail, a dozen or more might bolt.  It will be a thing to watch.

Finally, Pelosi may well reckon that even losing a vote is better than not having one at all, because then she thinks it can be turned into a campaign attack next year: those mean Republicans and their insurance company cronies blocked health care reform!  I doubt that will work, but it fits with the supposed lessons of the Clinton failure.

P.S.  Don't forget the other mistake of the Clinton experience: GOP Senate leader Bob Dole was always ready to reach a bipartisan compromise with Democrats.  The Clintons refused even to consider the idea.
Categories > Health Care

Health Care

"We will," asserts Pelosi

That's what Nancy Pelosi said when asked yesterday if she had enough votes to pass the health care bill on Saturday.  That means she doesn't yet have it.  She is scrambling, according to the San Francisco Chronicle: "Pelosi's party holds a 40-vote margin over Republicans in the House, but Democrats in swing districts are worried about the cost and reach of the health care bill amid widespread joblessness and enormous federal deficits. Leaders sought to resolve lingering disputes over abortion and immigration."

Every other news report on the subject notes that the votes are not yet there.  (Reuters, New York Times, Washington Post)  So why try pushing this vote through now, knowing that the Senate isn't going to consider it until next year?  Because, as predicted, given the sentiments revealed in the elections on Tuesday--the massive shift of independents to the GOP (in the case of Virginia, 66%-33%)--Pelosi will certainly not be able to push it through next year, for the self-preservation of circa 50-60 more modderate Democratic Congressmen will really kick in and they will then have to vote against it.  Pelosi knows this.  But they still might oppose it on Saturday.  And yet, Saturday is her best shot. 

But in fact, I expect the House NOT to vote on Saturday because I think there will be at least a couple dozen Dems who will either say they will oppose it or will claim that they haven't yet made up their minds; Pelosi will have to back off, else there is a chance that she will lose the vote and that would be worst thing that could happen to her.  She would lose all authority (and honor).  This scenario will depend on how each member reads the polls is their district.  If I read the polls right there will be no vote on Saturday, the moderate Dems self-preservation is already kicking in.

Addendum:  The fact that the unemployment rate has jumped to 10.2% and is likely to go higher is not going to help Pelosi.

Categories > Health Care


Hayward on Reagan

Steve conducted a Colloquium last Friday on his latest Reagan volume You can listen to it all (circa an hour and a half) by clicking here.  I thought Steve was very good.  You can tell that he is quite inside the subject, is a master of all details relating to it, sees the implications of the larger questions raised, is perfectly comfortable on his feet, thinking in public.  A fine student (that is, teacher).  The room was over-packed, people on the floor, hanging from ceilings; I think more students purchased his book than any other book in such a setting.  Thanks, Steve.

Categories > Presidency

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Lucky Bastard

In the NRO symposium on Barack Obama's first year, Bill Voegeli observes, "The Yankees pitcher Lefty Gomez often said, 'I'd rather be lucky than good.' One of the problems in trying to assess Barack Obama is that he has been such a lucky politician over the past six years that it's still hard to know how good he is."

This reflection calls to mind the extraordinary Charles McCarry novel, Lucky Bastard. McCarry was for many years a CIA agent, stationed abroad, and is justly hailed as the master of his genre. His hilarious 1998 spy novel recounts the career of the bastard son of John F. Kennedy, who blazes like a comet from obscurity to a serious presidential contender--aided every step along the way, from his days at Columbia University, by Soviet intelligence. David Skinner recently wrote an appreciation of McCarry's work in The Weekly Standard (subscriber only).

With his eye on John F. Adams' sexual adventures, McCarry of course had the then-incumbent president in mind. But his description of how Soviet intelligence paved the way for Jack Adams' rise reminds us how easily American media and other institutions can be swayed by shallow elite opinion. The 1998 novel is a highly instructive work for our time.


Maine Vote Also Confirms the Argument

. . . that very little has changed about the fundamental opinions of the American electorate in this year of "change."  A ballot measure that was, essentially, a "people's veto" of legislation passed last spring in Maine to permit homosexual marriage passed handily.  The 53 to 47% margin outstrips even California's 52 to 48% on Prop. 8 from last year.  Proponents of homosexual marriage expected and hoped for a different outcome because, unlike similar ballot measures in other states, this one was not in response to any perceived judicial fiat.  It was a response action on the part of that branch of government closest to the people:  the legislature.

This Time article on the vote in Maine is interesting for the way it draws upon and, I'd add, also draws out some of the thinking of leading homosexual marriage activists in the wake of their defeat. For example, Mary Bonauto (the lawyer who successfully argued before the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 2003 that it should strike down state prohibitions on gay marriage) told Time, "Ultimately, this is going to have to have a national resolution . . . It's about aligning promises found in the Constitution with America's laws." 

This is intelligent politics on Ms. Banauto's part.  The argument on behalf of homosexual marriage, if it means to be successful, has to be one suggesting that homosexual marriage is a fulfillment of rather than a turning away from America's promise in its Founding.  Every success of big "L" Liberalism (or Progressivism) in this country (up to and including Barack Obama's) can be traced back to public argument that embraced--or seemed to embrace--America's purpose and foundations.  Progressive have had to argue that there is something essentially American about adopting the course they advocate; that it is in keeping and of a piece with our familiar understanding of the universality of justice and equality.

But always within these attempted unions of an ever expanding "Liberalism" and the legacy of the American Founding is an inherent tension between them that threatens to bust up the match and, in the interim, serves to make Liberals very unhappy in the marriage.  The two things, it turns out, are not at equal purposes and--unless they have a very clever counselor  (perhaps like Obama--though certainly like FDR) it's fairly clear in their rhetoric to the electorate, that the partners would prefer to be divorced.  For advocates of homosexual marriage or--more generally--the broad agenda of "Liberalism," the trouble with our "abstract truth applicable to all men and all times" is that it does not expand any more than it contracts.  It simply is.  As Calvin Coolidge might have said, "it is final."  Universal human equality in our natural rights is a fact--whether it is recognized and put into force or not.  When it is simultaneously publicly pronounced and practically denied, we have the proverbial "House Divided Against Itself."  The denial of human equality in American chattel slavery was at odds with this central and animating principal of our republic in that it denied it by making slaves of men.  The homosexual lobby in America--like Progressivism more broadly considered--denies the principle by seeking to grow it.  But it wants to appear as if it is trying to protect it or live up to it.  It seeks to argue that we have a "House Divided" with respect to equality for homosexuals.  It sees no necessary limit to the good that can come of an expansion of the meaning of equality and it appeals to our generosity of spirit.  But in seeking to expand the meaning of equality, the truth is that we actually deny it.  We cannot make equality, however much we may wish it, to include things not encompassed within the natural meaning of equality.

I have to think that this, at least in part, helps to explain the natural revulsion to the idea of homosexual marriage on the part of black voters--who, of course, were a driving force in the passage of California's Prop. 8 last fall.  Left wing whispering, revealingly, would have you believe that black opposition to homosexual marriage is nothing more than a kind of retrograde or backward prejudice on the part of too many blacks. This is at once patronizing and reflective of some remarkably stupid thinking.  The majority of black voters who oppose homosexual marriage rightly sense--when they don't vividly understand--that the suggestion of a symbiotic relationship between the struggles of blacks and the struggles of the homosexual lobby in this country is an insult to their struggles and our shared American history and accomplishments on behalf of genuine equality.  It is a kind of righteous indignation--obviously felt more keenly by blacks--at the notion that the elimination of slavery and the struggle for equality before the law for black Americans is anything akin to an extension of a right to marry to homosexuals.  That was a struggle to make America live up to its stated principle, not a demand that we expand it.  Slavery was wrong from the start . . . not because we eventually grew into that opinion.  To suggest otherwise is to demean those efforts by implying that it, like this current struggle, was a mere power struggle or numbers game without any transcending universal principle of right.   

If homosexual marriage eventually passes into being and becomes an accepted part of American culture and law it will be something entirely new under our side of the sun.  It will not be an extension of America's promise to recognize the equality of all human beings.  It will be a bastardization of that promise and an attempt to undermine the true meaning of it.  To suggest otherwise is, let us be clear, to suggest that our rights are not natural or, even, necessarily permanent.  It is to suggest that they are but an outgrowth of popular sentiment or of an evolution of opinion.  It is logically (though perhaps not fully understood and certainly not clearly articulated by those who advocate on its behalf) to suggest that perhaps there was nothing inherently or fundamentally unjust about slavery.  After all, people probably just hadn't evolved enough back then.  For in a Progressive's world, persuasion is not a real possibility.  Everything is evolution--everything is subject first to hope, then to power, and then to change. 

This is why they think the problem for them today is that people just haven't "evolved" enough to recognize that homosexual marriages should be treated as equal to heterosexual marriages.  They think that if they keep at it long enough, they can "help that evolution along" (in the thuggish way they've helped other parts of "evolution" along) but they have no doubt as to the eventual outcome of their efforts.  Maine is to be commended for its unwillingness, yet, to so "evolve."

UPDATE:  Jennifer Roback Morse of the Ruth Institute adds to what I say here
Categories > Elections


Lincoln's Thanksgiving Message

In honor of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial, the House of Representatives just passed a Resolution recalling the 1946 designation of Nov. 19 as "Dedication Day," when the Gettysburg Address should be read in public places. Here's a good prelude to Thanksgiving. Recall Lincoln's message designating the last Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving.

Categories > History


The First 365 Days

National Review Online has a symposium today, assessing Barack Obama exactly one year after he won the presidency.  There's a strong Claremont coloration to the roster of opinionated scribblers: Jack Pitney teaches there, R.J. Pestritto did his graduate work there, and I hang out there.
Categories > Presidency


Nixon's Revenge?

I know things are bad in newspaper newsrooms these days, but a fistfight at the Washington Post?
Categories > Journalism


Rocco's Offensive NEA

In an interview for the Wall Street Journal, National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman exclaims: "The days of the defensive NEA are over!" Indeed, the offensive NEA may steal some of the Obama Administration show, as Landesman's NEA would return to giving the individual grants that encouraged so much offensive and, more to the point, trashy art. Landesman defends graffiti and hip-hop as examples of art worthy of public subsidy. See my previous posts on Landesman here and here.

Categories > Politics


Change We Shouldn't Believe in That Much

1. It was a genuinely good night for the Republicans in Virginia.  The main reason was a solid, non-stupid, unalienating candidate for governor.  It's amazing how badly the GOP just screwed up in 2006 and 2008 in the Commonwealth.  McDonald doesn't quite reach the pay grade of presidential material, but it's reassuring to see a savvy social conservative in office. 

2. The NY 23rd was an unforced error for Republicans.  It was also NPR's favorite election this morning.  The seat wasn't lost because of some conservative-moderate split, but because nobody was watching the locals picked a woman who couldn't win.  And then too much hope was placed in Hoffman, who is a real conservative but also had real liabilities.

3. New Jersey was mainly tossing out a justly unpopular incumbent.

4. The electorate was much more white and old han in 2008.  That'll be less so in 2010 and much less so, of course, in 2012.

5. The independents switched big-time in the Republican direction.  The issue of BIG GOVERNMENT moved them more than it has lately.  But there's also no denying that they seem to be all about CHANGE, which of course helped the president last time and hurt the Democrats this time.  (The power of indiscriminate CHANGE can be seen in Bloomberg's narrow escape, despite spending his guts out and actually being a really good mayor.)

6.  All the studies show that the president remains personally popular, but there's increased suspicion about his policies.  That really mean that what people want changed, most of all, is the huge Democratic majorities in Congress.

7. The Republicans should be gearing up for a campaign for divided government to, among other things, make Obama a better president.  Democrats and other Obama-philiacs should be reassured that it was the Republican victory in 1994 that improved Clinton's performance enough to gain easy reelection in 1996.  Republicans should quote Democrats on the virtues of divided government when Bush and Reagan were president.  They should popularize the studies that show that divided government is best for controlling spending.

8. Huge Republican gains in Congress in 2010 are possible with the right kind of campaign.  But 2012 remains a more formidable challenge in the absence of national disaster. There still aren't any Republican national leaders.  Eric Cantor is just too short, for one thing.

9. It goes without saying that Republicans should use the shift in the voting behavior of independents to do what they can to scare moderate Democrats on health care.
Categories > Elections


The Meaning of the Elections

Let's leave the TV non-thinking heads aside, and our criticism of them.  Truth is, they aren't much worth noting, even though I'm still in the habit of watching them.  Party line stuff that doesn't even come up to the level of good propaganda, says nothing teaches nothing.  And I include my side in this.  No wonder young people don't watch any of this, and ever fewer older ones do, as the ratings reveal.

The two questions are: What does VA and NJ (and NY23) mean for Obama and/or the Democratic progressive agenda, and what does this mean for the GOP both substantively and electorally over the next few election cycles? The second question can't be answered without taking a shot at the first.  Michael Barone makes some assembled numbers meaningful.  And Jonah Goldberg opines that even though Obama remains personally popular, his agenda is not (Rush Limbaugh needs to understand this perfectly honest tension within the American electorate's soul; they like the chief but not his policies; this is not the first time this has happened).  So this is certainly the end of cap and trade and probably of health care reform.  Furthermore, if the Dems don't pass some kind of health care reform, they are likely to lose at least the House in 2010 because they will have revealed that they cannot govern, even with super-majorities in Congress. Because the Dems now know this, they are likely to try to push and shove health care reform (any kind of health care reform, public option, no public option, abortion, no abortion) through within the next few weeks.  So this could be very messy.  And ironically, the GOP will have very little to do with it.  In other words, the so-called moderate Dems (especially in the House) will either decide to stop it or not.  And their decision will be based either on principle or self-preservation in 2010 election, or both.  Sometimes justice is the same as self-interest.  This will be fun to watch.
Categories > Elections


Virginia Election Returns

This is the official Virginia site for election returns.  I know that McDonnell has already won, but note the size of the victory and the GOP sweep of all state-wide offices by equally large percentages; of course, this may close some before the end of the night; but it looks impressive.  You can also follow the General Assembly returns by clicking here.

What was I thinking?  I cooked some salmon, with onions, mushrooms, and lots of lemon, had a couple of glasses of King Estate Pinot Gris, and then followed it with a CAO Cameroon, and then settled in to watch TV returns.  I can't tell you how dissapointed I am....Nothing, no one (on either side) doing much thinking aloud; everybody is reading day-old scraps of notes handed to them by faction leaders.  Very boring and, actually, a bit embarrassing.  Darn it.  So I am going back to reading Michael Walsh's Hostile Intent.  A rip-roaring story...plenty of bad guys, great gadgets, some women--good and bad--and the whole good world at stake and, wouldn't you know it, one good guy--"his soul an unquiet eddy, his fortune dark, and his fame doubtful"--is trying to save us all.  I hope he does.  I think he will.
Categories > Elections


New Jersey Returns

As far as I can tell the best place to find the returns from the NJ vote is here.  At this moment, the Republican Christie is ahead of Corzine 55-38%, with only 5% of the votes counted.
Categories > Elections


Energy Revolution in Progress

This is the single most significant energy story going on right now.  And it's happening right here in the good ol' USA.  And it doesn't involve windmills, solar cells, pixie dust, duct tape, hampster-driven turbines, or other stupid green dreams.
Categories > Environment


Referendum on Obama, the GOP . . . or Just a Return to Healthy Political Reality?

In his USA Today column, Jonah Goldberg writes that the likely results of today's elections show that the GOP--as a party committed to ideas distinct from watered down versions of Democrat liberalism--is a concept that is not only alive and well but it is a concept that is also capable of thriving and flowering, even in today's allegedly "changed" political climate.   Moreover, it calls into question (or, rather, calls out) a good deal of the triumphalism that marked Obama's most devoted supporters in the wake of his victory a year ago.  It suggests that Obama's election was more of a "let's give these guys a chance" and less of a "let's change the entire way we do business!" kind of sentiment.  The "change" Americans believed in during the '08 election, appears to have been a lot less far reaching than Obama and his true believers might have hoped. 

In that same spirit, Paul Mirengoff today at Powerline reminds us that breathless suggestions about the meaning of today's elections--from either side--are best served with a paper bag.  Wrap around mouth and breathe.  These elections are not a referendum on Barack Obama.  Neither are they going to be an indication of a coming Republican resurgence.  What they will do is re-establish in the popular mind the political reality.  America remains a pretty evenly divided country with respect to political opinion.  Barack Obama won an election; he has not succeeded in his efforts at political conversion.  The GOP as a party distinct from Democrats and defined by a common-sense sort of center-right conservatism, is a thing that will not be rolled.  It lives to fight another day.  But it remains to be seen whether it will fight.

Mirengoff and Goldberg are both right, however, in taking appropriate good cheer from the likely GOP success of the day for the reason that it may chasten Democrats uneasy with Pelosi's and the President's proposed and sweeping reforms of the health care industry.  It is true, as Goldberg notes, that: "Democrats might like health care reform, but they like getting re-elected even more."  Human nature ain't always pretty.  But it is comforting, in a sense, to know that it can't be changed.
Categories > Elections


Today's Elections

Because I was on the road yesterday I was able to listen to a lot CNN (should I curse XM radio, or praise it?) and was amazed how they spun the upcoming elections, especially focusing on the New York-23.  Their main point--driven home the whole day and evening--was to try to  prove the White House line that the GOP candidate "forced off the ballot" was a sign of a civil war within the party and/or already a right-wing take-over.  (This L.A. Times article is as good as any of that view.)  The fact that the Republican cnadidate was actually to the left of the Dem, made no difference in their calculations, and hardly came up in conversation.  The drumbeat is that the GOP is being taken over by the far right.  I predict that this view will not settle into the American political psyche, especially after the defeat (by moderate Dems) of health-care as currently proposed by the Democrats.

This New York Times article on Iowa and the "sense of disappointment" that has settled in regarding Obama may be more revealing of the true problem.   The Dems will lose in Virginia and NY23, and if they can't get the vote out in NJ--where Corzine has attached himself to Obama rather explictly--then Corzine will lose and today's votes will have to be seen as a referendum on the Obama administration.  This is why we don't study physics.
Categories > Elections

Political Philosophy

Why Read Heidegger?

Folks have been buzzing for a while now about Carlin Romano's blistering attack on Heidegger in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Today in The New Republic online, Damon Linker fires back, with a half-hearted defense of why we should still study Heidegger even though he was a fascist. 

We report, you decide.


Who is Obama?

Has Obama's mask slipped or is just getting started?

George Will provides a detail about liberal bullying, by requiring disclosure of who signed petitions to validate a referendum. It is all a part of the exposure of liberalism generally: Obama is no longer the student body president but rather the schoolyard bully. But that's what contemporary liberalism has stood for as well; the masquerade as champion of the little guy/gal fell flat long ago. This underscores that deception.

Obama would use his narrative skills to further that deception. In a column titled "More Poetry Please" NY Times columnist Tom Friedman (The World is Flat) argues that Obama's poetry--his speeches--are an essential part of his political strategy of nation-building.

But to deliver this agenda requires a motivated public and a spirit of shared sacrifice. That's where narrative becomes vital. People have to have a gut feel for why this nation-building project, with all its varied strands, is so important -- why it's worth the sacrifice. One of the reasons that independents and conservatives who voted for Mr. Obama have been so easily swayed against him by Fox News and people labeling him a "socialist" is because he has not given voice to the truly patriotic nation-building endeavor in which he is engaged....

Therefore, let there be more speeches, Friedman argues. He is spot-on, in that conservative (and especially libertarian) intellectuals often ignore the poetry that has helped make America--note for example the legal arguments offered by the Federalist Society. As sound as they may be, they do not offer the winning political argument. Even a defense of "liberty" must have a goal beyond liberty. This is the vacuum Obama would fill, but Obama's critics on the right correctly suspect what he is up to (as have those of us who have read Dreams from my Father). But Obama's failure does not add up to the triumph of the best of the American political tradition. That requires further efforts.

Categories > Presidency


More Gripes of Wrath

The Los Angeles Times has an article of mine on California's public finances in today's edition.  It's based on a longer essay that appears in City Journal, and which should also be available online in the near future.

P.S. And, indeed, here it is.
Categories > Politics

Pop Culture

And Now For Something Completely Different: The Bacon Explosion

Conversation during my splendid visit to the Ashbrook Center this week turned a couple times to high calorie fare, such as the bacon explosion, which burst on the scene a couple years ago.  It's about 5,000 calories, with 500 grams of fat!  Here's a quick video of my experiment with the bacon explosion a few months ago.

Categories > Pop Culture