Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Mitch Daniels For President?

Mitch Daniels might be running the smartest presidential campaign of any Republican and he might not even be running.  He has gotten glowing profiles from both the Weekly Standard and National Review (only available to subscribers it seems.)  He has written several smart op-eds for the Wall Street Journal on the takeovers of GM and Chrysler, health care, and cap and trade. 

Daniels has the chance to combine elements of Obama's 2008 appeal and position himself as the antidote to Obama's shortcomings.  By not being a retread presidential candidate or a recent member of the Republican Washington leadership (and his Washington experience was obscure to most people who aren't obsessed with politics), Daniels can come across as a fresh face from the hinterland running for hope and change against a corrupt, incompetent and spendthrift Washington establishment.  But unlike Obama, he can point to oodles of experience and to a record where he was able to balance the budget while keeping taxes under control, and both maintaining and demanding a higher standard of government services.

Daniels' Wall Street Journal op-eds also show the outlines of a compelling 2012 message.  He has a record of moving health care policy in a market-driven direction through HSAs.  What really helps Daniels is that his HSA plan had positive outcomes that can be pointed to in a campaign.  The great political weakness of market-driven health care reforms is that they ask the public to give up something they like in the form of employer-provided health insurance (even if they think it costs too much) in return for a promise that market-driven policies (whether renewable individual policies or HSAs) will make things better.  The act of asking the public to give up something real for something that is outside most people's experience gives Democrats the opening to terrify the public with the prospect of losing their coverage and in return getting nothing or inferior coverage that costs more.  Daniels will be able to point to Indiana and say that his health care plan, in the real world, increased people's take home pay, saved the government money, and preserved people's access to the world's best health care system.  That also gives Daniels one heck of a platform from which to attack the other guy's combination of individual mandates, coverage mandates, tax increases, and expensive subsidies.

Daniels also seems to have found the range in attacking Obama's economic policies.  Obama likes to say that he is pro-business and not a socialist.  Fair enough, but there are lots of ways to be pro-business and not all of them are good.  A cap and trade bill that taxes most people and businesses and subsidizes connected companies is pro some businesses but not really all that good for most of us.  A health care bill that forces us to buy insurance that costs too much is pro some businesses but bad for most if it increases the cost of coverage for businesses and workers and/or increases government costs that have to be paid in either higher taxes or fewer medical services.  Daniels' description of Obama's policies as "crony capitalism" ties together a bunch of Obama policies (Obamacare, cap and trade, the takeover of the auto companies) and taps into public frustration not only with government, but with the privileges of insiders.

Daniels doesn't seem to be doing the things a presidential candidate is expected to do in our current permanent campaign era.  He isn't going to Iowa or New Hampshire and if he is building on the ground operations in those states he is keeping it very quiet. He hasn't published a pre-campaign campaign biography/manifesto and left his job behind to go on a nationwide book tour so people can tell him how awesome he is.  Daniels has a PAC that distributes money to favored candidates, but it seems more oriented to Indiana races than toward collecting chits from Republican candidates around the country.  All this would seem to put him at a fundraising and organizational disadvantage for a presidential campaign, but I wonder about that. If a candidate can produce the right buzz through their message and positive media coverage (and conservative journalists seem to really like him), the internet can produce a huge surge of cash.  If no other candidate produces genuine enthusiasm, even someone with a "late" start in the summer of 2011 can swamp established GOTV operations of candidates that are neither loved nor fully trusted.  Above all, the thrill of novelty should not be underestimated, and especially not when it is combined with substance.  But what do I know?  I backed Phil Gramm in 1996. 

Categories > Politics

Shameless Self-Promotion

"Never Enough" on C-SPAN2

I'll be talking about Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State on C-SPAN2's Book TV this weekend.  The interview, filmed May 27th at Book Expo America in New York, first airs at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday, June 5th.



Michael Gerson writes an elegant and spot on editorial in today's Washington Post on sin, virtue, aspiration, hypocrisy, humility and mercy.  A must read.
Categories > Religion


The (Unstated) Conventional Wisdom

Helen Thomas, the dean of the White House Press Corps, suggests that Jews should leave their homeland and go back to Poland and Germany.  As if often the case, she is simply following the Progressive position to its logical conclusion.
Categories > Journalism

Foreign Affairs

Israel's Blockade: The American Precedent

In "The Gaza Blockade and International Law" University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner (WSJ subscriber only) notes the precedent for Israel's blockade of Gaza in the American Civil War--the Union's seizing of Confederate ships on the high seas.  Israel does not recognize Gaza's sovereignty.  "... Israel's legal position is reasonable, and it has precedent.  During the U.S. Civil War, the Union claimed to blockade the Confederacy while at the same time maintaining that the Confederacy was not a sovereign state but an agent of insurrection."  A closely divided Supreme Court approved the seizures, suggesting "a certain latitude for countries to use blockades against internal as well as external enemies." 

In an important sense, the criticism of Israel is a criticism of past American practice as well.  In looking to our self-interest in the Middle East, Americans should recall our own history.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Poverty Line Dancing

Robert Samuelson gives an interesting reflection on the politics of defining poverty. The official poverty rate has remained virtually unchanged for decades partly because of how we count it:

The poor's material well-being has improved. The official poverty measure obscures this by counting only pre-tax cash income and ignoring other sources of support. These include the earned-income tax credit (a rebate to low-income workers), food stamps, health insurance (Medicaid), housing and energy subsidies. Spending by poor households from all sources may be double their reported income, reports a study by Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute. Although many poor live hand-to-mouth, they've participated in rising living standards. In 2005, 91 percent had microwaves, 79 percent air conditioning and 48 percent cell phones

And the Obama administration's effort to improve the statistic might not be helpful:

The "supplemental measure" ties the poverty threshold to what the poorest third of Americans spend on food, housing, clothes and utilities. The actual threshold -- not yet calculated -- will almost certainly be higher than today's poverty line. Moreover, the new definition has strange consequences. Suppose that all Americans doubled their incomes tomorrow, and suppose that their spending on food, clothing, housing and utilities also doubled. That would seem to signify less poverty -- but not by the new poverty measure. It wouldn't decline, because the poverty threshold would go up as spending went up. Many Americans would find this weird: people get richer but "poverty" stays stuck.

Categories > Politics


The Case of Linda McMahon

So Rich Lowry went after the likely Republican Senate candidate from Connecticut pretty hard today.  But I don't think that WWE programming is McMahon's most glaring weakness.  I think her biggest weakness is how her company has handled the health issues of her employees.  Some journalist should go through the back issues of the Wrestling Observer from the last ten years and then construct a tick tock of how WWE handled say, the death of Eddie Guerrrero and how WWE dealt with the steroid issue. 

There are things for a Republican partisan to like about McMahon.  She seems willing to spend enough money that Connecticut voters will have heard her message dozens of times before election day.  Based on her business past, she is both relentless and ruthless.  And who knows or cares about how WWE handled the immediate aftermath of some wrestler's death?  But the Rand Paul situation demonstrated how the media can, all at once, latch onto something that was already out in the open and transform the public's perception of a candidate.

Categories > Politics

Shameless Self-Promotion

Enough Already!

I guess we need a category for "shameless friend promotion."

Our own William Voegeli gets a shout-out today in Jonah Goldberg's column over at NRO (the column also appeared yesterday in USA Today) for his just released book, Never Enough:  America's Limitless Welfare State.  Goldberg suggests that the purists who insist on need (as determined by their own very pliant heartstrings) and the purists who ideologically oppose any and all safety nets in society have led, are leading and will continue to lead us toward a stalemate that ends with the same result:  Greece. 

Bill also gets a nod this week from George Will (a nationally syndicated version will appear tomorrow). 

Bill is scheduled to appear on both the Michael Medved and the Dennis Prager shows in coming weeks.  So stay tuned to those also.  

Finally, a very good source tells me that Bill did brisk business at a Book Expo in New York but found himself in the curious position of being seated near "a flowing haired former wrestler" whose fans and autograph seekers stretched around the block.  This source observed that it is, indeed, "a big country."  I hope Bill's fans here will show him just how big it is by ordering his book (and reading it!).  RTWT, as they say in the blogosphere.  


On Social Security

It seems like all the obvious fixes will either create perverse incentives that cripple savings and investment or most disadvantage those in the most low paying and unpleasant jobs.
Categories > Economy


Want to increase your country's average life expectancy?

Then support policies that promote growth in GDP.
Categories > Economy


Taking Joe Seriously, Part II

It was Memorial Day yesterday and Vice President Joe Biden was offered a chance to speak at Arlington Cemetery.  It is easy to understand why serious people have a difficult time concentrating the mind when such a profoundly un-serious person is elevated to a lofty position like Vice President of the United States and stands before them offering a meaningless stew like this.  There was no of mention of liberty; no mention of the threats to liberty.  To be sure, there were a few gratuitous remarks about the military being our "heart and soul" and then "spine" (though it is unclear to me why he thinks a spine trumps a heart and soul).  He had some genuine words of sympathy to offer to grieving Gold Star families--employing the usual (and, may I say, lazy?) practice of singling out a few and telling their stories to illustrate his point (and take up space).   But sympathy, in Biden's case, had everything to do with personal loss.  He even made reference to his own personal loss and tragedy--well-meaning and heart-felt, I have no doubt--but still, beside the point of the occasion.

Sorrowfully lacking in all of this display was any recognition of what the nation lost when these men gave their "last full measure of devotion."  All honor to those families and friends whose hearts are aching for a brave soldier who gave all on behalf of our freedom.  But we miss the point, entirely, if we don't recognize how much we lose in permitting such sacrifices to be made.  Part of what makes our freedom so valuable, after all, is its cost.  And, consequently, we can never fully understand when and if those sacrifices are worthwhile if they are only presented outside of their larger context. 

There is a place for acknowledging and honoring private grief.  And it may even be the case that there is a place for it on Memorial Day--for their sacrifice is as much a part of the cost of our freedom as was the loss to the nation of a good citizen and soldier.  Yet, if we fail to put these sacrifices in their larger context, we fail to honor the dead.  Instead, we do what Biden did . . . we feel pity for their families and we come close to insulting both family and fallen.  .  Yet this, too, is revealing of the thinking of Biden and his associates.  It is part and parcel of the profound lack of understanding that this administration has shown when it comes to our fighting men and women and the cause for which they enlisted to serve.  Joe Biden--though unworthy of the ground where he stood yesterday--did us a service in revealing the true sentiment of this administration on these matters.  Again, we ought to pay attention when this court jester speaks.  
Categories > Military

Foreign Affairs

Taking Joe Seriously

Joe Biden's remarkably absurd and outrageous comments last month in Brussels were noted here on these pages with righteous indignation.  But apart from that sound judgment, it seems that the remarks have been given the usual pass from both the right and the left.  "It's just Joe being Joe," people are apt to say.  Perhaps dismissal of this kind is to be expected when one earns for himself the reputation of being a moral idiot on the one hand, and a useful idiot on the other.  But, because this conclusion is so easily arrived at, perhaps we shouldn't be so eager to draw it?

It should be noted that Biden has, on more than one occasion, used his reputation for general idiocy to his and to his benefactors' benefit; and this may be another such occasion.  Conservatives, especially, ought to avoid the temptation to roll their eyes when Biden speaks.  All the more true when one notes, as Jonah Goldberg does here, that Biden's remarks in Brussels were no "off the cuff" gaffe.  They were part of a prepared speech.  They reflect his--and the administrations'--true sentiments.  Given that, Biden's idiocy ought to be more useful to us than it is to his patrons.  He is not a clever enough student or politic enough as a speaker to learn the subtleties of selling the outrageous opinions of his clan.  He takes to them with childlike wonder and cannot imagine why anyone might take exception to these notions or differ with him and his betters.  Like a puppy with a bloody offering, he lays it bare and presents it with pride in all its horrific glory--and he seems genuinely hurt and confused when he is repulsed for his good efforts.  He thought that he was doing good work on behalf of a big "*ing" deal, after all.
. .
So the next time Joe speaks, open your eyes and your ears.  A friend of mine likes to say that "stupid people are dangerous."  Yes, they are.  But we ought to make sure that this particular stupid person is more dangerous to those who embrace him than he is to those of us who are too easily tempted to ignore him.  Dangerous people, after all, should be observed with more care than are the benign.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Technocrats and the Ivy League

So I'm going to talk up William Voegeli's and Wilfred McClay's (it was online Friday but isn't now) articles on the Tea Parties.  They are really good at helping us understand the Tea Parties as a populist reaction to a governing elite that both seeks to expand government past its core functions and claims (or pretends to claim) incompetence at basic functions of government.  Voegeli gets to this contradictions when he writes that this elite both believes that it can transform our health system in a more state-run direction and that securing the border is impossible absent an amnesty first. 

The Voegeli and McClay articles are worth reading in conjunction with William Schambra's National Affairs article on Obama and technocracy.  What the Tea Parties are revolting against could be the view that "government exists not to attend to the various problems in the life of a society, but to take up society itself as a problem," and that "To address social problems this way, the policymaker must put himself outside the circle of those he governs, and, informed by social science, see beyond their narrow clashing interests."  This is especially necessary because "most citizens (and the self-interested politicians they elect) are either baffled by or deliberately ignore social complexity and interrelatedness." 

The relationship between the technocracy described above and Ivy League elitism is complicated.  Schambra's description of the good politician demands impossible standards of both intellect and disinterestedness.  That is why the President character on the West Wing is a combination of Jesus and a nonsatirical Cliff Clavin.  The Ivy League degree can serve as a signal that the possessor has the intellect needed to "take up society itself as a problem."  The problem of course is that one is beginning with unrealistic expectations of both government and politicians.

 But one can be a technocrat or a believer in technocracy (the West Wing had a pretty large audience) without an elite college background.  One can also be a believer in limited but effective government while being a Harverdian (to use Seth MacFarlane's expression.)  Which is to say that one can prefer Ouachita Baptist University's Mike Huckabee over Harvard's Obama and Brown University's Bobby Jindal over the University of Delaware's Joe Biden.

Categories > Politics


Two Memorial Day Speeches

I was just informed by a friend that the Bill Bennett Show read my Memorial Day Speech from 2004.  I gave my talk at the Ashland Cemetery.  He said it was good.  I thank him for his kindness.  But since he mentioned good speeches, let me bring this 1884 memorial Day Speech by Oliver Wendell Holmes to your attention.  He gave it in Keene, NH, in a white painted town hall on the village common.
Categories > Military


Memorial Day

I had a fine ride yesterday, a good long one.  Almost no one driving, just me and Isabella dancing along (and a few other bikers, from time to time).  I was contemplating peace and its pleasures in that easy way her purr allows, visits with my Marine son and other good pleasures, when I came around a bend and there on a flat piece of earth were about a hundred large American flags implanted in the soil of a cemetery.  It took my breath away, the thing in itself and the surprise of it.  A truly lovely moment of somber gratitude and I had to pull over for a bit, much too dangerous to ride with moist eyes.  Later that night I watched parts of The Pacific and my gut was reminded of the horror of war, that terrible waster of men, the brutish and primitive hatred, the guts spilling from once men and now no more.  And of course there was the bravery, the incredible bravery.  And then a different kind of gratitude for those who didn't make it out.  I'll do it again today, it's the least I can do.  In the meantime, here is Mac Owens on Memorial Day from a few years ago.  I will visit the old Marine later this week and tell him how grateful I am for his awful work, and that he made it through.  And then when I come home I will hug my son before he goes back to Okinawa.
Categories > Military


Kagan's Odd Harvard Reform

According to NLT blogger and Heritage Foundation legal scholar Robert Alt, then-Dean Kagan axed Constitutional Law as a core requirement at Harvard Law: 

"My understanding is that she instituted three new courses to the required curriculum and, in so doing, got rid of a requirement to take constitutional law," Robert Alt, senior legal fellow and deputy director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation, told

"Currently, at Harvard, constitutional law is not required for first-year law students, or even for graduation," Alt added.

Evidently she felt that law school education should focus instead on public international law, international economic law, and "complex problem solving."  See this Harvard news release.  In defense of Dean Kagan, it might be said that no Con Law is better than terrible Con Law, but this is a peculiar argument to use for a Harvard, is it not?

Categories > Courts