Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


MSNBC Frothing at the Mouth

I've just caught 5-10 minutes of MSNBC's Chris Matthews Show tying the Tea Party to terrorism and condemning any and all energy on the right as (very) potentially terror-inducing. There is a panel of about 5 folks, all of whom absolutely agree with one another without a single conservative, moderate or dissenting voice.

Highlights: the media is right-wing, opposition to Obama is racist, 70% of Republicans who feel their rights are being eroded are "sick," the Tea Party should be viewed from the perspective of Timothy McVeigh, Palin will be responsible for the next Hinckley, right-wingers don't want guns to hunt but to fend off the government (this was supposed to be so self-evidently ridiculous as to need no commentary) and MSNBC's Rachael Maddows show will be devoting an entire show to the McVeigh/Tea Party/Right-Wing-Terrorism theme later this week.

That's less than 10 minutes.

I honestly wonder if the vast majority of Americans do not clearly recognize these hatchet jobs as liberal hysteria and desperation on the part of the media in anticipation of a looming public disavowal awaiting Democrats in November. Matthews was noticeably distraught by rising GOP fortunes. I'm not bemoaning his, or MSNBC's, discretion to air opinion commentary - but is this sort of frenzied discourse, and are Maddows, Olbermann and Matthews, truly the summit of liberal thought?  

Categories > Politics


The Empire Strikes Back

Andrew Breitbart reported several weeks ago of meetings and conference calls between John Podesta, Bill Clinton, and other old Clinton hands with the purpose of formulating a strategy for the Tea Party movements. At the time I thought it was funny, but now, after Clinton's speech last night at the Center for American Progress dinner it seems they will press the theme of radical rhetoric leads to violence. As reported on Drudge, Clinton made several claims, or rather claims of guilt by association, refusing to draw direct lines between any actual violence that has occurred and actual rhetoric made at Tea Party rallies. Clinton flagged the term "gangsta government" used by Rep. Michelle Bachmann as one instance of out of control rhetoric that "could" lead to violence. This ignores the origin of the term which speaks to the wholesale intimidation of secured creditors of Chrysler who received less than they should under normal bankruptcy procedures. This wholesale devaluing of the bankruptcy process by Obama's administration remains hard to ignore. A charge of arbitrary and capricious behavior is necessary and needs to be made.

The thrust of Clinton's talk is mostly warmly baked Thomas Frankism whereby we are treated to the lonely, alienated American who finds a strange release and connection with aggressive conservative arguments. And thus the Right channels anger away from real problems. Clinton walked through his own strange challenges and how Gingrich, et al, channeled this anger against him throughout the 1990s. Times haven't changed much observes Clinton. The anger, however, is at a fever pitch and 'could' pose violent eruptions within America. Clinton disclaims that he is charging anyone with hate speech or that he believes in censorship. Of course. Then he launches into his own emotion-laden observations of the Ok city bombing. It was the best of America, Clinton states. McVeigh, himself an extreme example of the alienated American, is tied by Clinton to talk radio, Gingrich, even old Dick Armey, all by association of white-hot political speech. Clinton intersperses the speech with several 90s Gingrich quotes.Things had gotten too hot, Clinton said. That Clinton gave a talk last night trafficking in guilt by association might be an understatement.

It seems the racist tag isn't working. The easy fix is to charge the Tea Party movements with the unprovable offense of inadvertently promoting violence through their rhetoric. Said rhetoric, Clinton informs, is illegitimate because it emerges from alienation, anger at change, dislike of immigrants (Clinton specifically cited this), frustration with the economy, etc. There are no real arguments here folks is Clinton's hanging message. The strategy is now making the case of separateness, as in, you listening to me are normal, well-adjusted, employed, reasonably happy. If you aren't, you should be, you can be.The last thing you want to do is identify with or find yourself agreeing with Bob the Tea Party protestor at work or down the street.

Of course, that might be just the point Clinton can't counter. The disaffection and angst is too broad and too deep to be repelled. The Empire has no moves left.



Categories > Politics


Drill for Oil Here--What a Concept

Didn't know I was going to end up on the cover of the Weekly Standard again this week, but here it is, with the bold idea that perhaps we could get more of our oil from right here in the U.S.  I was startled to find that the U.S. is now back to the level of production it experienced in 1947.  This is pathetic.
Categories > Economy


The Errors of Big Government

First. He said VAT?  The TaxProf makes a section of Irwin Stelzer's recent op-ed on the VAT available.  Stelzer shows why the VAT is no way to reduce the influence of lobbysts:

The tax sounds simple, but don't be fooled. Because both upper- and lower-income families pay the tax at an equal rate, the VAT is considered regressive; that is, it hits the poor harder than the better-off. So it is the practice in countries such as Britain to exempt food, which lower-income families spend a greater proportion of their income on. The technical term is "zero rating," meaning that exempt items are taxed at a "zero rate."

However, wait until the folks at the IRS get their hands on the regulations for the application of the new tax. They will undoubtedly turn to their more experienced British counterparts for guidance. ...

Clothing also presents a problem for the British tax man. Two problems, actually.

First, what is clothing? Well, sailors' lifejackets are clothing because they "have the form and function of clothing," but "buoyancy aids" are not. Second, since children's clothing is zero-rated, what fits into that category?

Bras up to and including size 34B; body stockings that measure no more than 27½ inches shoulder to crotch; babies' shawls but not "mother-and-baby shawls intended to wrap around both mother and child." There's more, lots more, but you get the idea.

Then there's "Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink," Andrew Ferguson's fine discussion of the official regulatory philosophy of the Obama administration.  The whole essay is worth reading, but I'll highlight a couple of paragraphs near the end:

You can see how useful the notion of irrational man is to a would-be regulator. It is less helpful to the rest of us, because it runs counter to every intuition a person has about himself. Nobody sees himself always as a boob, constantly misunderstanding his place in the world and the effect he has upon it. Surely the behavioral economists don't see themselves that way. Only rational people can police the irrationality of others according to the principles of an advanced scientific discipline. If the behavioralists were boobs too, their entire edifice would collapse from its own contradictions. Somebody's got to be smart enough to see how silly the rest of us are. 

Traditional economics has always been more modest. Assuming the rationality of man was a device that made the discipline possible. The alternative--irrational people behaving in irrational ways--would complicate the world beyond the possibility of understanding. But the modesty wasn't just epistemological. It was also a democratic impulse, a sign of neighborly deference. A regulator who always assumed that man was other than rational was inviting himself into a position where he could exert a control over his fellow citizens that wasn't proper for a true democrat. Self-government demands this deference. It won't work otherwise.

It seems to me that either the ways people are predictably irrational apply to all people, including regulators, or they don't. If not, then why, we should ask, does it apply to everyone else.  If it applies to regulators, on the other hand, behavioral economics might offer some insight into why regulations so often have "unintended consequences" and might suggest that we should distrust our regulators--for they have their biases to.  Now we're back to the familiar arguments of the founding.  Having studied John Adams closely for some time, I have been saying that "people are irrational in predicably ways" for years.  It is the idea at the heart of Adams' call for a government of checks and balances.  As Adams knew, but as modern scientists sometimes forget, the purpose of a system of checks and balances it to keep the people who staff the government in line--making it more likely that they serve the public interest, rather than feathering their own nests with money, power, prestige, or other goods.  The modern regulatory/ administrative state, which delegates legislative, executive, and judicial power to bureaucrats, tries to deny that such checks are necessary.  In short, behavioral economists, although they try to pretend otherwise, are simply the latest generation of Progressives.

Categories > Progressivism


Conservatives and Confederate History Month

I've been trying to find the language to talk about Bob McDonnell's Confederate History Month Proclamation and what it means.  I don't for a second think that McDonnell was being racist or intended to stoke or profit from racism, but I do think he was trying to play an identity politics game and got caught.  My read is that the Proclamation was designed to make white Virginians with roots in the mid-1800s and earlier feel good about their ancestors.  The problem was that the history Proclamation, in the interest of constituency group flattery, left out too much history that was too important.

McDonnell recovered well and manfully but the original Proclamation showed obstacles for conservatives in making sustained gains among African Americans.  One problem is the tendency not to look at how statements look through the lens of African American experience.  It is a habit of mind to ask oneself "How would this statement sound to someone whose family history (or if not of their own family history, that of the majority of the group they affiliate with) includes slavery and Jim Crow."  A second problem is having to navigate the tensions between constituencies that might have overlapping policy preferences, but deeply felt differences about history and identity.  Most white Virginians with roots in the mid-1800s or earlier might see the Confederacy and Confederate soldiers one way, and most African Americans another way.  This disagreement about the past (which is about justice and honor among other things) can, if kindled, become much more salient than any agreement the two groups might have about abortion or taxes. 

So what can we conservatives do?  I think that the first step is to come up with an interpretation and rhetoric that accommodates what is true in both narratives.  Many Confederate soldiers did feel themselves to be fighting for their homes and families and not for slavery as such.  Slavery was (as McDonnell told us) the cause of the war.  The Confederacy was an attempt to preserve chattel slavery and it is a blessing that the institution was destroyed and our nation preserved.  Such an answer will not satisfy everyone, but it might satisfy enough to get people talking about shared principles and the issues of the day, and have the added virtue of being true.  When one combines McDonnell's original Proclamation with his apology, one can perhaps see an outline of what such a rhetoric might look like. Though maybe, if he had it to do over again, McDonnell would not have issued the Proclamation in the first place.  But even if he hadn't issued the Proclamation, issues of this sort could well come up unbidden. 


Categories > Politics


Worse Than I Feared

Steve, good comments on the Tea Parties, but some of the other reactions were appalling in their stupidity.  The worst comments were by Rick Perlstein because he could have done better.  His Before the Storm is one of the best books about modern American conservatism, though Nixonland was a major disappointment.  It is as if the following things happened:

1.  Perlstein fell into a coma the day after Obama's election.

2.  He woke up on April 14, 2010 and was told that there was a right-leaning protest movement opposing Obama's policies.

3.  He was kept away from all media and personal contact that might have given him specific knowledge of the Tea Party phenomenon, except for being informed about somebody saying something about keeping the government off their Medicare, something about Glenn Beck on the cover of Time, and some cliches about Democrats being wimps.

4.  He was ordered, on pain of lots of pain, to recycle the least thoughtful, most partisan tropes that had appeared in his earlier work and to treat his subjects as a group of homogenous, dehumanized, villainous caricatures.

In one sense it wasn't the worst of the essays.  It was more a confession that partisan passion had crippled his ability to think about contemporary center-right politics.  The award for worst comments might go to Paul Butler, who is able to find racist attitudes in the racist things Tea Partiers don't say because, "This is how educated right-wing people talk about race in the age of Obama - by not talking about it."  They didn't say racist stuff, which just shows how racist they are.  I won't say that this is how educated left-wing people talk in the age of Obama, because I don't doubt that many left-wing people have kept their sanity, integrity, sense of proportion, and appreciation for robust public debate.  The inability of Paul Butler and Rick Perlstein to comment about an opposition protest movement without despicable insinuations and mindless dismissals reflects personal failings.  I'm glad they worry about paranoia, extremism and bigotry.  If they paid better attention, they would see an example of how those awful vices can twist a human mind every time they looked into a mirror.


Categories > Politics



President Obama laughs at tea party protesters and remarks that the they ought to say "thank you" to him and his administration for all of their great work in the area of tax-cutting.  Classy on top of entirely missing the point . . .
Categories > Presidency



Okay, so a few days ago I flagged this spectacular YouYube video of a citizen taking down Republican Congressman Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey for his obvious ignorance of the Constitution, along with the update from Michelle Malkin that the person in the video was supposedly a 9/11 Truther or somesuch nut.  Uncharacteristically for Michelle, who is a good journalist, she did not offer any links behind her claim that this guy is a nutjob, but I passed it along relying on her post. 

Well, this person has a name: Christopher Weber, and he has his own YouTube account, hpprinter12345, where you can see all 16 of his videos, some of them very good.  Nothing about 9/11 Trutherism.  But this guy does know how to speak well and compellingly.  And he did me the kindness of calling me on the phone to ask, essentially, what the hell is going on?  I'm not that guy!

He's right, he isn't, and I owe him an apology as well as this correction.  Unfortunately, there is another Christopher Weber with a Youtube account, thepenrev, and this other Weber has more than 1,300 YouTube videos posted.  Looks like he posts several a day.  And it is THIS OTHER CHRISTOPHER WEBER who has the nutty 9/11 Truther videos and lots of other stuff.  Unquestionably what happened is that Michelle, or someone, saw these other videos--these two Webers look a little bit alike--put 2 and 2 together, and got 22.  And now the original Mr. Weber is being besmirched across the net.

The Christopher Weber who schooled LoBiondo is a retired schoolteacher raising three children with his wife in southern New Jersey, and is attempting to run against LoBiondo as an independent because LoBiondo is untouchable in the GOP primary.  But Mr. Weber is now having trouble getting anywhere because the internet legend has taken hold that he's a nutjob.  He's been done an injustice by us blogging internet rangers.  He hasn't been able to get anything through to Michelle Malkin.  Once something is on the internet it is hard to get it corrected--I know; Greenpeace is still accusing me of attempted bribery, but no one cares about Greenpeace and I'm not running for anything.  But Mr. Weber is, and we owe it to him to try to correct the record.

P.S.  I told him my offer to buy him dinner still stands; it will be pasta and chianti, rather than steak, however.  Good luck to him.

ADDENDUM:  Got hold of Glenn Reynolds, who it turns out didn't link to Michelle's follow up post.  My bad--memory at least. 
Categories > Politics


Party On (Tea Party) Dudes

Busy, busy, busy week, with another coast-to-coast trip, last minute tax filing (grrr) and another feature article coming out in the Weekly Standard tonight or tomorrow morning, but the New York Times asked me to contribute to their "Room for Debate" blog about the results of their long poll about the Tea Partiers.  You can find my brief reflections here.

I am hopeful of getting back to more regular blogging this weekend.  Or not, depending on the weather.  Plus the garage that needs cleaning out.
Categories > Politics


The importance of taxes

On this April 15, I cite the wisdom of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.: "Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society."  Two thoughts on this:

1) In defending the forced sterilization of the "feeble-minded," Holmes also said that "[t]hree generations of imbeciles are enough," so who the hell cares what he thinks?

2) I'd be happy to pay a sufficient amount in taxes to support a federal government of the size and scope that existed in 1904, when Holmes made that quote.  I suspect that, in terms of actual civilization, we're not getting much bang for our buck these days.  

Categories > Progressivism


Re-Assassinating Lincoln

Today is the 145 anniversary of the death of Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated on Good Friday, April 14, 1865.  (Interesting that he spent Good Friday attending a comedy.)

In their zeal to find a cause of unjust big government, some conservatives turn against Abraham Lincoln.   Lincoln scholar Allen Guelzo shows why this makes no sense.  Guelzo notes how government and its expense shrank after the extraordinary circumstances of the Civil War.  Of course if one thinks rebellion and secession (let alone slavery) can possibly be principles of constitutional government, then all bets are off.

Such seekers of the cause of our current discontents would be better off blaming either George Washington (which would show the absurdity of their historical understanding) or, actually on-target, the bipartisan duo of Progressives Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.  Read political scientists Sidney Milkis and RJ Pestritto, who know well the Progressive roots of current government.  (RJ, I'm told, has been featured on Glen Beck's program, which I've never seen.)

Categories > Conservatism


Spengler on Obama

This piece is getting renewed attention in the past week. Even though it stands two years old. Its resonance appears due to several elements of the reign of Obama. John Podhoretz was not amused, but, he he seems more to disagree with certain observations rather than the overall spirit of the essay. Then see Spengler's response.

Categories > Politics


United States = Kazahkstan?

According to President Obama we are in the same boat with Kazahkstan in the sense that we are still "working on" our democracy . . .

A senior director in the National Security Council, Mike McFaul, reported in a press conference that President Obama's oft-touted skills in diplomacy and persuasion came in very handy as he discussed the nature and meaning of democracy with the Kazakh President, Nursultan Nazarbayev.  Because of Kazakhstan's record of human rights abuses, many observers have raised their eyebrows in response to its chairmanship of the 56-nation Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe--which is often charged with the task of overseeing elections in emerging democracies.  But Obama was able to reach agreement with the Kazakh President, according to McFaul, because "[b]oth presidents agreed that you don't ever reach democracy; you always have to work at it. And in particular, President Obama reminded his Kazakh counterpart that we, too, are working to improve our democracy."

To his credit, the Wall Street Journal's, Jonathan Weisman asked McFaul whether this kind of talk wasn't painting a picture of moral equivalence between the United States and Kazahkstan.  McFaul responded, ""Absolutely not ... There was no equivalence meant whatsoever."  Apparently, this ought to be clear to us because (in McFaul's words), "[Obama's]  taken, I think, rather historic steps to improve our own democracy since coming to office here in the United States."  Before Obama, though, perhaps we were less impressive?

But what does Obama mean by saying we are still "working on" our democracy? He appears, really, to believe that this language is in keeping with the language of "a more perfect Union" in the Constitution and Lincoln's "standard maxim" (never perfectly attained, constantly labored for, etc.) . . . but is it?   Democracy, Obama forgets, is but a means to an end--NOT an end in and of itself.   (Though in Obama's defense, I'd add that Bush seemed to forget that quite a lot too . . . though not so much in relation to our country!)  This is why the results of democracy are always imperfect.  Democracy, by itself, tells us virtually nothing about the ends of government--except insofar as it implies the equality of men with respect to their right of consent. 

Given the Obama administration's and the Congressional leadership's recent inability to grasp the fullness of that concept of consent, perhaps Obama is correct.  We are still "working on" our democracy . . . though, I think, it won't be long now before we get it back.

Categories > Presidency

Literature, Poetry, and Books

More Fun . . . but with Poetry this time!

Perhaps some of you regular NLT readers do not have the pleasure of also listening regularly to the Hugh Hewitt radio show.  If not, that is a shame which you can correct by visiting his website (linked above) and by subscribing to his podcasts.  If you do, one of the very great pleasures you will no doubt come to enjoy, is his regular rotation of outstanding (and sometimes highly amusing) guests.  Some of these guests (like John Eastman) are probably already familiar to you, and for good and serious reasons.  But one of my favorite of Hugh's regulars is a poet who goes by the name of Tarzana Joe

Sample some of his offerings--starting with this recent gem and then, as graduation approaches, look too at this amusing suggestion for newly-minted college grads.  These are fun and, of course, very political.  But TJ can tackle subjects with a more serious and straightforwardly beautiful (sometimes, even, profound) bent too.  Bookmark, dig through the archives sometime, and enjoy!


Alot of Fun with Grammar . . .

. . . can be found here.  This is meant especially to entertain those poor souls I know who may be in the midst of grading papers.  On the other hand, if you are a student who is writing papers and you are really more accustomed to texting and tweeting . . . do ur profs a favor & t8k sum X 2 read this!
Categories > Education

Mmmm... Thats Good Blogging

I can't do enough to recommend Megan's McArdle's post on the partly structural and party self-inflicted problems that conservative thinkers are having in getting their ideas listened to by that fraction of the public that doesn't already identify with conservatism.  It rambles a little, but is worth the ride.

Political Philosophy

"A Dopey Nostalgia for a Nonexistent Past"

Paul Beston of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal, writes a very good review in today's Wall Street Journal of what looks to be thoughtful and entertaining book--The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves by Andew Potter.  Beston clearly enjoys the flair with which Potter pokes holes in the "authenticity" of the all-too-earnest seekers of authenticity and he appears to relish in Potter's ability to expose the vanity underlying so much of what passes for public sincerity; particularly as it applies to those of an anti-modernity and environmental bent. 

Authenticity, Mr. Potter writes, is "a positional good, which is valuable precisely because not everyone can have it." By competing against one another to see who is more authentic, he says, we just become bigger phonies than we were before. The local-food trend illustrates what Mr. Potter calls "conspicuous authenticity," by which the well-heeled embark on a "perpetual coolhunt," whether it is for authentic jeans, pristine vacation spots or mud flooring, part of the "natural building" movement. The overarching goal is less to possess the thing itself than to make a claim to refined taste and moral superiority.

So much of what motivates human beings--and not just the kind held up to ridicule in Potter's book--is really just vanity; that vain (and, usually, futile) wish to hold oneself apart from the crowd.  But as is so often the case, this wish can result in its wisher simply joining ranks with another crowd and taking part in just another form of this folly.  Thus, the subtitle, "How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves."  We get lost, probably, because we rarely ever do find anything more "authentic" than the life we are already living.

What we're really after, it seems to me, is judgment.  And the trouble with developing judgment is that there is no shortcut to it as there can be in joining the "right" crowd or supporting the "right" movement.  There are also no easy targets for blame, such as "modernity" or "capitalism" or, dare I say it, even "progressivism," to substitute for difficult thinking about the tragedies of life.  

Of Liberaltarians and the Declaration of Independence

      In thinking about the post regarding Wilkinson and Lindsey and their attempt to build a liberaltarian bridge to Progressives so as to make their political project more viable and also to liberate themselves from the Right, I was reminded of Pelosi's floor speech made before the vote approving Obamacare. Pelosi's comments were infuriating given her bastardized appropriation of the Declaration of Independence in the service of the healthcare reform bill. She stated that our Founding begins with the individual's pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. With hc reform each individual would now be liberated from the most pressing of concerns, i.e., securing healthcare, and consequently would be better able to pursue the Declaration's triad of objectives. This is, of course, a deeply flawed reading of the text and its history. However, upon reflection Pelosi acutely reveals the mind of Progressivism and the manner in which it takes up the dreams of liberalism proper into its overall project. Pelosi's real argument was that the autonomous individual rather than finding their freedom in emancipation from the state would actually find it in the state's common provisioning of healthcare. There would be one less thing to worry about, and that's a good thing, Pelosi implies. Thus the pursuit of autonomistic liberty's goals could be better made. 

In a basic sense, this is also the project of Wilkinson and Lindsey, both men deeply in communion with the individual emancipated from seemingly everything but self-interest and contracts freely entered into and freely broken. The rub, I think, and where Pelosi's position gathers steam is the absolute foundation and final purpose of the unencumbered individual to liberal and free government that she actually shares with these two gentlemen. If this is the summum bonum of existence, then why not cross over to modern liberalism and embrace certain statist objectives that will better achieve this end. After all, it seems, if autonomistic emancipation is your goal, why not bring the services of government in pursuit of that objective. What matters is the will and the pleasing of its needs. I think this concept is what unites the Wilkinson, Lindsey position with Progressivism in a far more enduring way than any momentary alliance that might be formed with conservatives on a specific policy. Ultimately, their desire is to live in a manner wholly unconducive to the givenness of the human person, and his attachments and relationships that are necessary to his flourishing. That welfare states devalue family and local attachments are none of his concern. He left these relationships, philosophically speaking, a long time ago. Big government, of course, becomes logical and needed once these contexts for liberty begin to dissolve.   


Is the Census Still Necessary?

Of course it is. I was just trying to get your attention.  But is it necessary to have such an extensive census?

The U.S. Constitution requires it, in order to apportion representatives to Congress among the several states.  So long as we had a 3/5 clause, it was necessary to count slaves separately.  Is anything other than a headcount (perhaps a count of citizens--we can argue about who is supposed to count) necessary?  Beyond that, may the government require it? Or is the degree of the mandate that the constitution imposes upon the citizen limited by its purpose.  To be sure the Court has ruled otherwise. But was it correct?

Beyond that, my friends who use census data to study U.S. history and public policy say that the census is an invaluable resource in helping them to understand the U.S.  In that sense, the longer form may be a "necessary" tool for policy in the sense that Hamilton argued that the Bank of the U.S. was "necessary."  That brings me to my real question.   Is that still true?  Is the statistical account of the U.S. given by the census still much better than that which is available elsewhere?  Or has the proliferation of survey research and other such endeavors rendered it less essential?

I suppose one could say the same thing about varous economic forecasting bureaus.  Given the proliferation of economists in the private sector, the Fed, and our Universities doing the same thing, do we need to have so many economists working for the U.S. government.

In short, might these jobs be one place where we can look to save some money in the future.  If the need for the job no longer exists, perhaps the job should no longer exist.  Change happens, sometimes leaving government behind the times.

Categories > Economy


Leah Ward Sears Joins SCOTUS Short List

Along with Diane Wood, Elena Kagan and Merrick Garland (as well as the less likely mentions of Janet Napolitano and Hillary Clinton), it seems that Leah Ward Sears has made Obama's short-list of replacements for Justice Stevens' seat.

While too early to narrow excessive focus on any one candidate, Sears would earn Obama a diversity accomplishment (the first female, African-American justice), breaks the unanimous pattern of selecting justices from federal appellate courts (Sears was elected to lead a conservative state's supreme court and is currently in private practice) and promises to deliver liberal rejoinders to Scalia without seeming so liberal as to fuel a 3-ring circus in a Senate confirmation hearing (she preserved a self-styled "moderately progressive" label during a 20-year judicial career). Ironically, her most contentious feature may be an enduring friendship with Justice Thomas

Her judicial philosophy regarding the hot-button social issues so dear to the hearts of conservatives is probably most clearly evident in her Powell v. State concurrence. Clearly lecturing social conservatives, she praises the majority's "inspired" and "courageous" decision to strike down laws prohibiting sodomy while sneering at the "moral indignation of a majority (or, even worse, a loud and/or radical minority)." Moral enlightenment, in Sears' view, clearly rests with the judiciary, rather than the people.  

Sears isn't presently touted as the front-runner for Stevens' seat, but I suspect her star is still rising. Conservatives will have plenty of red-meat for a mid-summer confirmation row (costing Dems further losses in November), but I suspect she would overcome a filibuster. 

Categories > Courts

Pop Culture

Pope Forgives Beatles

At last, I can dust off my white album and listen to the gently weeping guitar without the pangs of moral incertitude.

(This is only my second post within the Pop Culture section - and both dealt with the Beatles. Did my pop cultural references expire so long ago...?)

Categories > Pop Culture


Did Congress Destroy Its Medical Care?

In Federalist #57 (about half way) Madison argues that the House of Representatives will be restrained from passing "oppressive measures" since it will have to live under the laws that it passes.  There is not one law for legislators and another for the people as a whole. It seems Obamacare violates that principle in that it may have removed current and future congressional members and staff from medical care coverage.  As the NY Times put it, "The confusion raises the inevitable question: If they did not know exactly what they were doing to themselves, did lawmakers who wrote and passed the bill fully grasp the details of how it would influence the lives of other Americans?"

Once American politics becomes divorced from enlightened self-interest, the political process will violate rights.  In this odd way, Obamacare proves this principle.  It couldn't have happened to a more deserving group of people.

Second thought:  Of course it's entirely possible that Congress exempted itself, because it thinks it can get a better deal through other means.  In either case, debate over extending coverage will prove most revealing.

Categories > Congress

The Futility of Liberaltarianism

Championed by Brink Lindsey and Will Wilkinson, liberaltarianism is an attempt by a few libertarian intellectuals to create a "progressive fusionism" within the American center-left and to bring the center-left more in line with free market principles.  But it seems like more of a rationalization for affiliating with secular, cosmopolitan liberals even when alliances with conservatives (even if those alliances might be wary and conditional) might make more sense.

This doesn't seem like a great time for libertarians to seek an alliance with the liberals on economic issues.  Liberals just gave us a corporatist health care plan that is bound to be unstable and with the next step from the left of center being a single-payer plan.  The cap and trade plan would corrupt our energy sector (more so!) and move energy policy in a more statist direction and our spending commitments are unsustainable even as a new entitlement was added amid both record deficits and an impending fiscal pinch.  It is difficult to see what the center-left political coalition has, at the moment, to offer libertarians on the economy - aside from a slice of power. 

Liberaltarians might argue that liberals are educable on the economy - and they might be right to a point.  Liberaltarians could point out that much of liberal opinion has moved more in the direction of supporting charter schools and merit pay for teachers.  That is true, but it is also true that liberaltarians had little to do with it.  The liberal upper middle-class technocratic opinion on teachers can be seen in shows like the West Wing where the first season focused on hiring new teachers and the last season focused on a pre-Obama candidate who wanted to fire bad teachers.  An even better example of a place where the left-of-center has moved in a more libertarian direction would be on the Second Amendment.  Even with a Democratic President and Democratic congressional supermajorities, there is no movement to expand gun bans.  But once again, our liberaltarian friends had nothing to do with it.  The libertarian (or as many would call it rightwards) movement of Second Amendment politics had much more to do with election results in rural and suburban areas and the appointment of right-leaning Supreme Court justices.  The center-left political coalition repositioned itself in response not to liberaltarian arguments, but in response to gains by the center-right coalition.

You would think that liberaltarian intellectuals would take their allies where they found them.  That might mean allying with the center-right on opposing Obamacare (and working with the more creative conservative free market-oriented thinkers on alternatives) and working with a different (but partly overlapping) coalition on gay marriage.  But that might sometimes mean associating with those horrible tea people with their God, overt patriotism and general trashiness and that just won't do. The trajectory of liberaltarianism is to respond to the imposition of across-the-board wage and price controls with liberaltarians patting themselves on the back because they got their liberal senior partners to institute merit pay for park rangers.


What it really means to rein in spending

To listen to certain talk-radio hosts, cutting spending is simple--cut a few silly grants here and there, stop some subsidies, and suddenly we have a balanced budget.  But this post from the Cato Institute's blog suggests the fundamental problem.  Poll data suggests that the American people are willing to make cuts in certain areas; in fact, a majority would be happy to see foreign aid slashed.  But foreign aid makes up only a tiny percentage of the budget; eliminating it entirely--and most would probably balk at cutting all funds to Israel, Afghanistan, and Iraq, which together represent more than a third of foreign-aid spending--would make virtually no difference to the bottom line.

So where does all the money go?  It's not hard to figure out.  The Department of Defense and Social Security alone add up to well over a third of the total budget.  Medicare and Medicaid make up nearly 20 percent more.  Of course, those things will never be substantially cut; on the contrary, they will undoubtedly grow tremendously in the next twenty years. (I realize that the health care bill calls for cuts to Medicare, but a) I don't believe that Congress will really make those cuts, and b) all of the resulting "savings" would simply go into another government pot.)  Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are, unfortunately, popular, and Republican control of Congress would probably lead to increases in defense spending.

In other words, to quote John Derbyshire, "we are doomed."

Categories > Congress

Obama as a Sacrament of Humanity

James Ceaser observed in a recent piece in the TWS that Obama sees himself as a sign pointing towards the unification of an international humanity that is stripped of the pathologies that typically accompany most men and nations. The significance of Ceasar's point, which strikes home as to Obama's self-knowledge, I think, is that Obama must avoid at a basic existential level the questions of power, force, and national interest. America must be substantial only to the extent it helps achieve higher planes of understanding, i.e., nuclear weapons policy revision and retrenchment, or shaming of Bibi because he pursues the peculiar and particular interests of the Jewish state. The pursuit of American interests is to exit  from an Obama-perceived zone of progress through a closing of the gaps of divided nations, regions, religions, etc.

The irony reeks given that many were falsely excited about an Obama-Clinton foreign policy that would pursue American interests and leave behind the enumerated embarrassments of grandiose Bushism. However, we are now seeing what Obama's vision entails literally around the globe. There seems, however, an absence of voice on the Right articulating this flawed understanding and practice and what a competent American position must be. One can't help but wonder where are the voices on the Right that will do the acts of persuasion, argument. Numerous public conservative intellectuals are present and counted for in this debate but politicians and men in the arena will need to step forward. There seems no one in the scrum at this point for the Right.

"People would do it if we got like five bucks."

If you were under the impression that people who failed to return their census forms were all paranoid militia-types, you should check out this NPR report.  Apparently the "hipster enclave" of Williamsburg, Brooklyn has one of the lowest rates of compliance in the country.

I must admit that the thought of New York City being underrepresented thanks to low returns of census forms doesn't bother me much.

Foreign Affairs

Slouching Toward Obfuscation

Michael Anton writes an extensive review of the Obama Administration's 2010 Nuclear Posture and Review and concludes that while it is much less bad than it might have been (thanks, in very large part, to Bush holdover and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates) it still moves in the direction of obfuscation as defense policy.  Lest we begin to wonder at what may be Obama's purposeful "strategic ambiguity," Anton takes up the task of considering those purposes.  Mostly, it appears, there are none . . . or, rather, that there are too many and contradictory purposes at work.  Nearly all of them suffer from the problem of stemming from defective assumptions or from not adequately considering or understanding past policies that have, whatever else may be said, resulted in an amazing run of deterrence.  Anton illustrates his argument with a multitude of examples that resonate with a chill.  Consider, foremost, that Iraq's failure to use chemical or biological warheads in the 1991 Gulf War has been tied directly to their fear that the United States might retaliate with a nuclear response. 

Those who note that the US already has enough nuclear weapons or who argue that appearing less willing to use those weapons would result in goodwill and peace and a similar disarmament on the part of other nations may be right (or, of course, they may be whacked) . . . but even granting that, do they ever consider what a more supine posture toward nuclear armament might mean with respect to the use of other means of hideous and insidious weaponry--the kinds that are, of course, much easier to obtain?

Read the whole thing. 
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Memo to GOP: Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste

So says our pal Hadley Arkes, in the new issue of The Weekly Standard.  All the pieces are in place for a historic GOP smackdown of the Democratic Party--if Republicans keep their nerve between now and November.  Well, okay, they are Republicans, so keep biting your nails.  

While many speak of a repeat of 1994, and Michael Barone points to 1946 as an analogy, Hadley goes one better, examining the parallel with British party realignment in the 1920s, which smashed the Labour Party for almost a generation.  I'll take any and all of the above.

I'm already thinking of an over/under line for the House and Senate.  If the Democrats only lose 25 House seats, they can count themselves lucky, and remain more or less in business.  The GOP needs at least a 35 seat pickup to claim a solid victory, a number I think is highly likely at this early point.  I think the upper bound of what is possible is as high as 60 seats, at which point Obama will have to follow Clinton's model and call up Dick Morris if he is to survive in 2012.  For the Senate, my over/under line is 7 seats right now.  I can easily see the GOP getting 10 or more.
Categories > Elections