Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


9/11 Remembered

A link to some timely commentary on the anniversary of 9/11 from Ashbrook Center Director, Peter Schramm.  
Categories > Politics


Impoundment Si, Payroll Tax Holiday, No.

Kevin Williamson argues against Mitch Daniels' idea of a payroll tax holiday and I must say I agree with him.  There was a time I was agnostic about the wisdom of a "timely, targeted, temporary" stimulus program.  It seemed worth the risk of the extra debt, if the stimulus could significantly moderate and shorten the recession.  A payroll tax holiday seemed like exactly the right way to go (if you were going to go the stimulus route), but that isn't what we got.  Now, almost three years into this lousy economy, another government attempt to prop up demand doesn't make much sense to me.  The good news is that after the failure of the Obama stimulus, Cash For Clunkers, and the temporary homeowners tax credit, the public might be ready to turn away from quick fixes and toward an agenda that can plausibly offer a stable policy environment for investment and sustained, broadly (if unevenly) rising living standards.

On the other hand, I think Daniels' idea of pushing Congress to grant the President an impoundment power makes both electoral and policy sense.  Campaigning and the legislating on specific budget cuts is difficult because of the problem of concentrated benefits and diffuse costs (cough, ethanol subsidies, cough.)  That doesn't mean that there aren't tens of billions of dollars in the federal budget that could be impounded with the vast majority of voters a) not noticing the money wasn't spent and b) being unmoved at the consequences of the money being unspent.  The problem is creating an incentive system in which the unorganized majority that does not benefit from this spending can be rallied against the well organized interests which are well placed to push for spending within congressional electoral and appropriations processes.  The impoundment power gives the President (if inclined) the ability to rally the general interest against particular spending interests.

But why would Congress grant the President this power?  Partially because it would be in the interest of individual members of Congress to do the granting.  Giving the President the power to impound wasteful spending could be a very popular issue.  Fiscally conservative members of Congress would want to grant the power because it would be a tool to restrain spending.  It would also allow them to plausibly argue in favor of spending restraint without having to go through long lists of spending cuts that induce rage in the spending interests and mego (my eyes glaze over) in everyone else.  More opportunistic members of Congress (especially Republicans) might be convinced to support granting the impoundment power because campaigning on the issue might help the Republicans win congressional majorities and the chairmanships that go with majority status.  Supporting impoundment might also help Republicans of suspect conservatism avoid embarrassing primary defeats.  Impoundment wouldn't be a substitute for a poltic and relevant agenda on taxes, health care and entitlements, but it could play a part in shifting our electoral politics in a more limited government direction and bringing the budget under control.

Categories > Politics


Obama's Post-Modernism Strikes Again, on 9/11

In his 9/11 speech at the Pentagon, the President declares that our enemies 

may seek to exploit our freedoms, but we will not sacrifice the liberties we cherish or hunker down behind walls of suspicion and mistrust.  They may wish to drive us apart, but we will not give in to their hatred and prejudice.  For Scripture teaches us to "get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice."

(Note the context of the Ephesians 4:31 quotation. Paul goes on to urge slaves and masters not to be angry with one another and that wives should obey their husbands.  Paul's goal here is not submissiveness of men to each other but above all to God.) 

This meekness Obama declares on "a day of remembrance, a day of reflection, and -- with God's grace -- a day of unity and renewal."  And what does this unity consist of?

Those who attacked us sought to demoralize us, divide us, to deprive us of the very unity, the very ideals, that make America America -- those qualities that have made us a beacon of freedom and hope to billions around the world.  Today we declare once more we will never hand them that victory.  As Americans, we will keep alive the virtues and values that make us who we are and who we must always be.

And what virtues and values make us one?   Evidently the most unAmerican person is an angry one.  It follows that the American should lack this most fundamental passion for politics.  (This said at the Pentagon!)  I suppose we should save our anger for BP executives, Republicans, fanatical pastors, etc.   

Obama appropriately recalls the Declaration: 

Like generations before us, let us come together today and all days to affirm certain inalienable rights, to affirm life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  On this day and the days to come, we choose to stay true to our best selves -- as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 

But contrary to Obama's suggestion, defending rights and being angry are inseparable.  When justice is the goal, anger humanizes.

Moreover, maintaining there is a right to burn a Koran and a right to build a mosque near the 9/11 site reveals utter confusion about rights.  As Lincoln argued in debating with Douglas, there is never a right to do wrong.  In a regime of freedom, we permit willful, stupid, and even immoral actions to occur without punishing them.  And defending such actions as rights diminishes their dignity and what makes virtues of real rights. Freedoms of speech, religion, and property become mere "values," which can be bargained away or accommodated like anything else.  Hence 9/11 becomes a day for anaesthesia.

Categories > Politics


Hillary's back

We have started seeing some daylight between the president and his secretary of state, and, as Con Coughlin notes, there is also a growing sense among Democrats that they chose the wrong candidate. Of course, there is no reason to think that this opinion will abate after the November vote.
Categories > Politics

Literature, Poetry, and Books

For Anne Gregory

A reminder from Yeats:

For Anne Gregory

"Never shall a young man,
Thrown into despair
By those great honey-coloured
Ramparts at your ear,
Love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair."

"But I can get a hair-dye
And set such colour there,
Brown, or black, or carrot,
That young men in despair
May love me for myself alone
And not my yellow hair."

"I heard an old religious man
But yesternight declare
That he had found a text to prove
That only God, my dear,
Could love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair."


The Kansas-Nebraska Democrats of 2010

Michael Barone writes a compelling essay today in which he compares the political arrogance of today's Democrats to that of the Democrats in 1854 who passed the Kansas Nebraska Act.  In both situations, Barone notes, Democrats had large majorities and a young President who seemed to rise up out of no-where to the heights of personal popularity. In both cases, the justification for passing an intensely unpopular piece of legislation without first securing popular sentiment, was that the people would come to appreciate the thing once they had come around to understanding it.  An interesting comparison, that.  It is striking, of course, how unwilling Americans seem to be to come around to an understanding of things their Democrat betters foist upon them.  You'd think that 156 years of experience in this regard might force some Democrats to come around to understanding that
Categories > Elections

Agenda Crafting

David Frum writes that congressional Republicans need an agenda if they are to make the most of their (hopefully!) forthcoming gains and offers a Contract With America for 2010.  Even if Republicans don't take up Frum's Contract, I think that such exercises can be useful.  As Reihan Salam pointed out today, constructing policy agendas and building support both within and outside a partisan coalition for an agenda is an important, early and crucial step towards policy reform.  I think Frum's effort is thoughtful, but I have some pretty big reservations.

On Taxes - He wants to repeal the tax increases in Obamacare.  So far so good.  He also wants to extend the Bush tax cuts for another five years, have an eighteen month payroll tax holiday and speeded up expensing.  That isn't a bad plan and Mitch Daniels offered something similar, but I'm skeptical of what amount to rightish versions of stimulus.  The challenge is coming up with a set of long-term sustainable policies that can win majority support and make the US economy more competitive.  This means a tax program that offers significant and long-term direct benefits to most working families and encourages growth year in and year out (rather than a short-term demand spike.)  I prefer something like the family-friendly and pro-growth plan offered by Robert Stein along with maybe some kind of cut in the corporate income tax.  There are reasons to not like the plan since it raises income taxes on some high-income voters, but it keeps the top income tax rate at 35%.

On Debt - Frum wants to cut federal aid to states.  I see his point.  I personally prefer a Cash for Cuts approach in which federal dollars are made conditional on structural changes in state government that bring state and municipal budgets under control.

Health Care - You can read Frum's suggestions yourselves, but for me, Frum's proposal amounts to a Liberal Republican version of Obamacare.  Frum is right that repeal sentiment, in itself, is likely to fade over time, but I'm not so sure that young voters will be as indestructibly tied to an Obamcare-type system as Frum thinks.  Obamacare basically forces younger people to either pay too much for their health insurance or else pay a fine for the privilege of having no health care coverage whatsoever.  For younger cohorts, Obamacare (for all the problems) might actually beat out a Republican message built around repeal and incomprehensible slogans about socialized medicine.  But a Republican alternative that offers low-cost catastrophic coverage options for the middle-class young, state reinsurance pools for those with preexisting conditions, and a reformed and market-oriented Medicaid program for those with low-income might seem like a pretty big improvement over Obamacare. 


It Begins

Megan McArdle writes that health insurance companies are increasing premiums in response to Obamacare.  Republicans (and right-leaning institutions generally) cannot talk too much about this issue.  They should be talking about it now and in the years (and premium increases) to come.  They have to capture the narrative that Obamacare is leading to higher health insurance costs.  If they don't, the narrative will be "Mean insurance companies are picking on people which why we need price controls and a government-run program that will produce a single-payer system."  If the pro-government run health care narrative takes hold, conservatives will find themselves in the absurd position of defending the Obamacare-created status quo as the only politically viable alternative to a fully government-run system.  Republicans should be talking about premium increases and linking them to Obamacare at least as often as they talk about taxes.  It also wouldn't hurt for some right-leaning 527 to buy one or two minute ads on programs with audiences that don't consume much right-leaning media.  One set of ads could explain what is wrong with Obamacare and a second set of ads could describe the potential benefits of market-driven health care reforms.  It would be expensive, but it would also be a down payment for shaping the health care debate in a reformist direction.   
Categories > Politics


So I said to him...

"Barack, I know Abe Lincoln, and you ain't Abe Lincoln!"


(Let me know if you come up with a better caption!)

Categories > Presidency


The Democrats' Home Stretch Playbook

Obama has just revealed the policies and tactics which will take Democrats down the home stretch to November - win or lose.

Bush Tax Cuts. Obama announced that he will "will rule out any compromise that would extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy beyond this year." Democrats have thus been thrust into a class-warfare fight with Republicans, rather than the bipartisan, compromise victory they might have desired following a wholesale extension of the tax cuts for all Americans.

Obama is gambling that Americans will view a tax hike on the wealthy as somehow benefiting the middle-class, rather than harming the economy. The latter fear, however, has been espoused even by Obama's former budget director. And Rasmussen polls finds that Americans, by a margin of over 3:1, prefer tax cuts to increased spending to repair the economy. Which brings us to...

Stimulus, Part II (or II, or...). Obama will soon announce yet another stimulus plan, this one weighing in at $180 billion. The package will entail infrastructure projects and business tax cuts - policies amenable to GOP sensibilities. This may be the first instance of relatively bipartisan legislation supported by President Obama. Naturally, if he hopes to claim an economic victory before November, the substance will have to be attractive to Republicans. But, Obama would be just as happy with GOP resistance, as his major theme between now and then will likely be to brand the GOP as "the party of 'no'" and hope Americans will prefer something (read: anything) rather than nothing.

However, by a margin of 3:1, Americans prefer fewer government services and lower taxes to more services and higher taxes. By a margin of nearly 2:1, in fact, Americans oppose a second stimulus. Further, Obama is proposing to offset the cost of his stimulus package by increasing corporate tax rates - which will certainly not prove soothing to a flailing economy - and his resistance to a payroll tax cut to spur hiring portrays Obama as more fixated upon transforming the U.S. economy in his image than fighting unemployment.

The battle lines have thus been drawn, and Republicans should be smiling at their fortunes.

Categories > Economy


Islam and the West: Art Lessons

A provocative question for our times (and for quite some time):  How does Islam fit into western civilization?  There is the view of Raphael's "School of Athens," where Averroes (far left) sits among other great philosophers, and then there's this view, in a poster announcing a talk by a friend of mine.  Dante has a similar opinion of Islam.
Categories > Religion

Foreign Affairs

First America, Now Israel

I touched upon Islamic issues below, so it's timely to follow up with mention of Time magazine's latest disgrace. Last week's issue denounced Americans as bigots for questioning the propriety of building a victory Mosque at Ground Zero. This week's issue condemns Jews for not caring about peace - because, Time concludes, they are just too busy being miserly, money-grubbing Jews.

Victor Davis Hanson writes:

I know it's commonplace to read in the latest issue of Time or Newsweek that Obama is a god, that Islamophobic Americans are collectively prejudiced against Muslims, that the response after 9/11 was overblown and unnecessary ... but the recent Time piece on Israel by a Karl Vick is probably the most anti-Semitic essay I have ever read in a mainstream publication.

For the record, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated today that he stands firm with his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, in refusing to countenance a Jewish state in the Arab world. Perhaps this is the sort of peace which Time has in mind - the sort that arrives when Israel is swept into the sea. Israel's refusal to accept this peace proposal is seemingly inexplicable and infuriating to the writers of Time ... who will never be accused of Islamophobia.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Literature, Poetry, and Books


A favorite from A.M. Juster:


The other frogs consider me aloof
And mock each out-of-season mating call,
But I regard my plight as living proof
That faith can foster something magical.
So crouching patiently above the scum
With chin uplifted, eyelids low and still,
I wait for my redeeming love to come.
With numbing numbers cruelly reduced
To caviar for snacking perch and trout,
Dessert for weary birds before they roost
Or toys that idle boys have caught for sport,
It all confirms my sense of destiny.
Someday she will appear to grace this plot
And recognize the manifest in me.


Higher Ed Bubble?

Picking up on the education theme of the Samuelson article Peter links to below, I note that Michael Barone today writes about something Glenn Reynolds and Charles Murray (among others) have pointed to as a coming bubble in higher education.  A quick look at this overview of Ohio schools (just to cite an example in which--full disclosure--Ashland is not considered) offers one explanation.  Looking at the cost of tuition and comparing that to what is expected of students (in other words, what they learn) one can see in concrete terms what critics of American higher ed have long suspected:  we don't ask much of students . . . unless, of course, you count their money. 

Making college more accessible--through the infusion of government loans and a general societal expectation that ALL should go--has had the effect of making college much less valuable.  It has now reached the point where this is true, not only in terms of the actual knowledge garnered by students but also in fiscal terms.  The return on investment part of the equation is finally catching up to the quality of the education.  In other words, it is poor. 

In a recession, of course, people flock to quality because the cost of blowing their money on sub par investments is much higher than it is when times are good. Combine this fact with the new realities of an information age in which it is now much easier for consumers of higher education to comparison shop and evaluate the merits of the product.  Now consider whether this coming bubble might be the best thing to happen in American education for a long time. 

Of course, this all presumes that people will ask the right questions when they search for answers about higher education.  That is, it assumes that people will have some general good idea about what education, in fact, is.  This will lead some of my colleagues to despair.  But I am more optimistic.  Here's why:  until now, no one (save a few precious souls already ensconced in ivory towers) was even asking these questions.   Until now, most Americans had been content to assume that the experts who insisted that so-called college "education" is a good to be desired by all, were correct and, in that assumption, we have allowed that education to become cheap and easy.  As it becomes more precious and rare, perhaps the general character of what is offered will come, finally, to resemble what education is actually meant to be:  precious and rare.

Barone notes that Charles Murray is happy about the coming bubble because Murray thinks college really ought to be reserved for serious scholars.  I have some sympathy for that point of view, but I don't quite accept it in full.  Is it possible (or, even, desirable) to put that particular genie back in the bottle?  Would it really be better to go back to the 1910 standard of a 2% college graduation rate?  There are a number of things about the democratization of college education that I think have been pretty good developments.  For one thing, because of the proliferation of colleges, nearly every town is at least reasonably close to some valuable cultural outlets that probably did not exist in 1910.  And there are many other happy developments--including more opportunities for women and for people not born into otherwise educated families--that make me pretty glad I was not of college age in 1910.  Moreover, if everyone is not suited to be a scholar, it does not follow that everyone cannot benefit--to some degree--from a good education.  How much any one person benefits will now, as always, depend upon that person.  In 1910 few people benefited from education because education was not widely available.  Today, few people benefit from education for exactly the same reason . . . though there is a different cause for education's absence. 
Categories > Education

Foreign Affairs

Rights: Sharia Style

Iran has chastised the world for trying to make the stoning of a woman accused of adultery into a "rights" issue. Silly world. Don't we know that criticizing Sharia law is "Islamophobic" - and human rights, women's rights and any other brand of rights you can invent are subordinate to religious rights, Sharia style.

Stoning has been an integral element of the Iranian legal system since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. In fact, the woman to be stoned was earlier sentenced to 99 lashes for being photographed without proper head-covering (the photo turned out to have been of another woman, but let's not get mired down in details). Look at the way she was dressed ... she had it coming.

Some Muslim countries might even be getting soft on crime. A court in Saudi Arabia recently rejected paralysis as a form of punishment. Flogging, amputations and public beheadings are still allowed, but the severing of spinal cords are now a bridge too far.

And the U.S. seems to have gotten the memo. Speaking out against the building of a mosque at the site of a Muslim terror attack will get you investigated by the U.S. government. Burning Korans will invite a reprimand from the U.S. military. No hiding behind free-speech "rights," even here in America. 

Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Lay of The Land

Here is a longish but well worth reading summary of Obamacare's likely impact.  It goes well with Avik Roy's explanation of how the mandates and rules making process created by Obamacare gives the government the authority to quietly strangle the private insurance market.  One thing that strikes me is that health care policy is a long-term battle of position within a constantly changing environment.  Liberals have managed to shape the environment in such a way that if conservatives are not winning policy victories, they are losing - if only slowly. 

The NCPA report makes it clear that Obamacare will speed up the unraveling of our system of employer-provided health insurance, increase the number of people on government-provided insurance, mandate participation in a destructive and irrational system of comprehensive health care prepayment, and make the middle-class dependent on government health care subsidies within an environment of sharply rising premiums.  Obamacare is, in and of itself, a big step toward government-run health care, and in the years to come, it will slowly shift the political battlefield ever more in favor of ever more government control.

Republicans holding office won't stop these changes.  If Republicans win control of Congress in 2010 and Obama vetoes Republican attempts at repeal (assuming the Republicans can even beat a Democrat filibuster in the Senate), nothing changes and we stay on our path to government-run health care.  As Obamacare changes our health care market and health care politics, a policy of simple repeal will (by itself) become less and less the basis of a winning politics. 

The old Republican policy of "tort reform plus not much" won't get it done.  There is nothing wrong with tort reform, but is doesn't address enough problems to become the basis for a winning politics of health care.  Tort reform has mostly functioned as a kind of conversation stopper for conservatives who didn't really want to talk or think much about health care.  Oh, the Senate Democrats are filibustering tort reform?  That just means they aren't serious.  Let's talk about cutting taxes.

A "get government (or even just the federal government) out of health care" rhetoric is of course a kind of self-marginalizing literary politics. There will be significant government involvement in the provision of health care (if only in the form of tax subsidies and provision for the destitute) under any realistic scenario. I hear this line of argument on talk radio every once in a while and it is just another conversation stopper.  It is even worse than that.  It doesn't so much stop the health care conversation so much as it leaves the conversation to be dominated by liberals.

Ryan Roadmap-type tax change that produces a leap into individually-owned insurance is probably too big a step to win majority support.  It would seem to leave people and their families naked in the health care market with only a (insufficient seeming) tax credit for help.  This problem becomes worse as  premiums rise and people feel even more vulnerable and afraid of being on their own. 

A winning conservative politics of health care will mean assembling and relentlessly pushing a set of incremental policies that do two things.  First, they would have to be able to win not only majority support among the public, they will have to be consequential enough that voters will consider voting for those policies a high salience issue.  This means a set of policies that neither do too little to motivate enough voters (tort reform plus nothing), nor do so much that those voters freak out (the Ryan Roadmap.)  Second, the policies, once enacted, must shape the political environment in a way that future market-driven health care reforms become both easier and more popular. 

Those are some very narrow needles to thread.  There are some obviously wrong answers, but the right answers are much less clear.  I don't think there is any one right answer, but there are pieces of a potential right answer lying around waiting to be assembled (and somewhat changed) into a winning platform by a center-right party that is serious about winning the long and grinding health care battle.   

Categories > Politics



This BBC maps site is both useful and amusing.
Categories > Education


Democrats in horrible position

I know this will not shock any reader, but just in case you have been on the moon, it might be worth noting--on this day especially--that politics is now officially on: we are having elections in November, and not only is the news is unremittingly bad for the Democrats, but they are now admitting it.  A CNN Poll released today is entitled, accurately, "GOP's midterm advantage is growing."  The poll finds the GOP leads the Democrats by 7 points on the "generic ballot" question, 52 percent to 45 percent. That 7-point advantage is up from a 3-point margin last month.  (I will not even mention that Rasmussen has GOP up by 12 points in the generic ballot).  Also note this from CNN poll: "Sixty-two percent of independents questioned say they would vote for the generic Republican in their district, with three in ten saying they'd cast a ballot for the generic Democrat.  That 32-point margin for the Republicans among independents is up from an 8-point advantage last month."  If the Dems have a plan to hold on to the House, it might be revealed in this NYT article, and it is not impressive.  They cannot run on the economy and health care, the two things for which they originally demanded credit.  I am impressed at how hollow and unpersuasive Democratic voices are, how Obama has lost even some of his friends on the left, and how ill prepared they seem to be in understanding what is happening to them, and why.

That Ohio's races have national significance is true enough (note Obama's many trips, including another to Cleveland on Wednesday), as a Quinnipiac Pollster pollster notes:

"With tight races for governor and senator, not to mention several close congressional contests, Ohio is likely to tell us not only which political party will be victorious but also how large the anticipated Republican wave turns out to be.

If the GOP can win these toss-up Ohio races, then a repeat of the 1994 Republican landslide might be possible nationally. Wins by the Democrats, however, would likely indicate that their losses might be smaller elsewhere, more in line with those typically suffered by a president's party at this point in the calendar."  The two latest polls in Ohio have Kasich leading Strickland by anywhere between 8 and 10 points, and for the Senate, Portman is ahead of Fisher by about a dozen points.  Also, all the enthusiasm is with the Republicans.

Along with everyone else, I understand that things can change, that anything may happen, that giddy minds might be busied with foreign quarrels, etc., and yet, it would seem that there will be a tidal wave of some kind (also see Larry Sabato's revaltively careful/conservative GOP predictions).  None of the facts reveal any comfort for the Democrats.

Categories > Elections


No student motivation

Robert J. Samuelson writes a good column on why all educational reforms have failed, or at least disappointed.  There are two reasons for this:"First, no one has yet discovered transformative changes in curriculum or pedagogy, especially for inner-city schools, that are (in business lingo) "scalable" -- easily transferable to other schools, where they would predictably produce achievement gains"  And:

"The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation. Students, after all, have to do the work. If they aren't motivated, even capable teachers may fail. Motivation comes from many sources: curiosity and ambition; parental expectations; the desire to get into a "good" college; inspiring or intimidating teachers; peer pressure. The unstated assumption of much school "reform" is that if students aren't motivated, it's mainly the fault of schools and teachers."  The authority of teachers and schools has eroded, as "adolescent culture has strengthened." Too bad he doesn't spend some time on this, because he's right.
Categories > Education


Theodore Parker

This WaPo notes the "mistake" in a quote in the new rug in the Oval Office: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," is attributed to King. In fact it was said by--as MLK made clear many times--the 19th century preacher and abolitionist, Theodore Parker (he was also one of the secret six providing financial assistance to John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry).  It is perhaps just that the quote from Lincoln--who admired Parker--"government of the people...", also originates from Parker.  This Parker influence on Obama was noticed earlier.
Categories > History


The 2010 Elections: Scholars Speak, You Decide

CSPAN broadcasts a Claremont Institute panel on the 2010 elections, from last week's American Political Science Association meeting.  Watch Andy Busch, Bill Voegeli (both Ashbrook/NLT contributors), Jonah Goldberg, Matt Spalding, and Jack Pitney.  Jean Yarbrough chairs.  Other Claremont panels.
Categories > Politics


Paul Conrad, RIP

Conrad's cartoons were ideologically predictable (save an occasional pro-life one) but often clever and memorable nonetheless.  (Then-Governor Brown as "Lord of the [fruit] Flies.")  By comparison, leftists like the WaPo's Tom Toles are insufferable and a sign as obnoxious as Dana Milbank of why the paper is not respected.  Michael Ramirez is top of the 'toon craft today, and I like Sam Ryskind as well. 
Categories > Politics