Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Fight the Hate

A good rant from P.J. O'Rourke.

Perhaps you're having a tiny last minute qualm about voting Republican. Take heart. And take the House and the Senate. Yes, there are a few flakes of dander in the fair tresses of the GOP's crowning glory--an isolated isolationist or two, a hint of gold buggery, and Christine O'Donnell announcing that she's not a witch. (I ask you, has Hillary Clinton ever cleared this up?) Fret not over Republican peccadilloes such as the Tea Party finding the single, solitary person in Nevada who couldn't poll ten to one against Harry Reid. Better to have a few cockeyed mutts running the dog pound than Michael Vick.

I take it back. Using the metaphor of Michael Vick for the Democratic party leadership implies they are people with a capacity for moral redemption who want to call good plays on the legislative gridiron. They aren't. They don't. The reason is simple. They hate our guts.

They don't just hate our Republican, conservative, libertarian, strict constructionist, family values guts. They hate everybody's guts. And they hate everybody who has any. Democrats hate men, women, blacks, whites, Hispanics, gays, straights, the rich, the poor, and the middle class.

Democrats hate Democrats most of all. Witness the policies that Democrats have inflicted on their core constituencies, resulting in vile schools, lawless slums, economic stagnation, and social immobility. Democrats will do anything to make sure that Democratic voters stay helpless and hopeless enough to vote for Democrats. . . .

Categories > Politics

Movies That Don't Quite Get There

I've been thinking of really good movies that slide into mediocrity or worse halfway or two-thirds of the way through.  Here are some that come to mind as well as when I think they go off the rails:

Stripes: Right after basic training

10 Things I Hate About You: Right after the house party

The Boondock Saints: Right after "THERE WAS A FIREFIGHT!!!"


Hate The Game

So the ad of the week seems to be The Chinese Professor by Citizens Against Government Waste.  The ad is effective in exploiting fears national decline and humiliation, and personal downward mobility but...

Rewrite the text of the ad to talk about how the US fell because it failed to invest in green jobs, didn't work to stop climate change, and did not adopt a universal health care system to improve the public's health and control costs (and ice cream.)  It would be about as well argued and as effective as the ad we actually have.  And that is the problem.  Fear of defeat, decline and humiliation are used to substitute for a defensible explanation of why policies are good or bad.

I don't mean to pick on Citizens Against Government Waste.  The despicable Thomas Friedman has used these fears to push his agenda in a self-interested and misleading way.  I'm old enough to remember the big "Japan Inc. is gonna get your momma" scare of the 1980s where statist politicians and policy analysts, as well as rent seeking business executives used fear of Japan to push a corporatist agenda.  The right is just catching up.

Well forget that.  Imposing an exceptionally complex lobbyist-friendly carbon tax and then using the proceeds to fund favored companies (basically what cap-and-trade is) will slow growth and make us less competitive and poorer. God knows there are many reasons to be against Obamacare, but fear of hobbling America in the global economy is way down on the list - if it is on the list at all.  Canada has single-payer (the direction Obamacare will push us towards) and is competitive enough.  

I don't hate the players (well, maybe Friedman a little), I hate the game. 

Categories > Politics


Refections on Current Contentions

I borrow my headline here from William F. Buckley's generic title for his annual lecture tours, as it allows you to range widely over whatever is in the news at the moment.  Thus perfect for Saturday morning musings.  

About Juan Williams, I'll add just one more thought.  One thing that I always note when I see him on TV is that he is always smiling brightly when he is first introduced.  (He frowns soon enough when Bill Kristol baits him.)  But he looks like a happy person--and that fact, I suggest, is his ultimate sin for the perma-frowny folks at NPR.  My fearless leader Arthur Brooks has assembled the survey data showing that conservatives are generally happier people than liberals, and so Williams' ultimate sin is that he partakes of too much conservative cheerfulness, as well as absorbing conservative opinion from time to time.  Ask yourself a simple question: who would you rather sit next to at a dinner party: Nina Totenberg (or Dianne Rehm--kill me now, please), or Juan Williams?

Next topic. The Yankees, ousted from the playoffs last night by the Texas Rangers.  Bad enough to lose, but it must be really depressing to lose to a team from Texas.  Probably won't help the NY Times review of George W. Bush's forthcoming memoir.  Anyway, the Times covers the Yankees loss in this morning's national edition--on page B9.  (Heh.)

But the biggest laugh of the day comes from--wait for it--VP Joe Biden, who complained, more than once, in an interview on Bloomberg News yesterday about the "$200 billion" in secret campaign money that has flowed to Republicans in this election cycle.  Um, Joe, I think you mean "million" instead of "billion," but for the gang that throws around trillions without a blink you can understand why he'd botch this.  Now Joe--he's one person I would want to sit next to at dinner, just for all the laughs that you'd get.

Now the interesting question to have asked him would have been: so, if the donors were disclosed, what would you do then?  No chance any of those individuals or companies would be harassed by government agencies or lefty-media types?  (See: Koch brothers.)  Or boycotted by pressure groups?  (See: Target Stores.)  I used to be for disclosure, but I'm fast changing my mind.  With all the pressure points of the leviathan state and its attack dog client groups, I think I may favor less disclosure of campaign contributions.  

Finally, don't miss Gerry Baker's splendid takedown of Obama-miessiah-worship in this video that I somehow missed earlier.
Categories > Politics


My Last Appearance on NPR

In light of the shameful firing of Juan Williams, I am embarrassed to mention that I was on NPR last Monday, discussing my Post-Partisan Power plan on Tom Ashbrook's (no relation I assume) "On Point" program.  I shall decline all future NPR invitations, and stick with the Ashbrook Center's podcasts instead.
Categories > Environment

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Culture Vulture Alert

Cancel your regular Sunday paper subscription and read the Wall Street Journal Friday and Saturday editions instead.  Its books and culture sections are far superior to anything in the NY Times and WaPo, for example.  Theater criticTerry Teachout is the most instructive writer on the performing arts in America.  (See Peter's notes on Teachout's Pops.)  It's too bad past movie critic Martha Bayles is no longer with them, having moved upward to the Claremont Review of Books. Such splendor comes of owner Rupert Murdoch's laudable ambition to destroy the NY Times

With the WSJ, CRB, and the Weekly Standard's often ingenious book review section, thoughtful readers will find a generous store of books and reviewers to pick from.  But first the political season. 


A Model for Cutting Government: Defund NPR

This election will give Republicans an opportunity -- more likely, a mandate -- to begin tackling big government. Painful as it may be, some government programs just have to go. The programs that are entirely funded by the government are the hardest ones to cut. The best we can hope for, at least in the short term, is some sort of reform of those programs (e.g., the welfare reform of the mid 90s). But there are a lot of partly federal, partly private programs that can more easily be set free. Enter NPR. 

NPR's firing of Juan Williams was hypocritical, badly done (over the phone, by some VP), and badly timed (right before this particular election and in the middle of NPR's fundraising week). While it is astounding how arrogant liberals have become after Obama's election, Republicans should thank NPR for what they have done, as they have put the spotlight on themselves as an opportunity for government reform. But Republicans need to be careful not to use the firing of Juan Williams as the reason to pull NPR off the federal teat. There is a much better reason. 

If Republicans want to scale back the size of government, one principle they can declare from the outset is that the government should not be funding programs that compete with the private market. If private companies are already doing something effectively, there is no reason for the government to get involved and compete with these private companies. In terms of news, we have more private companies involved than any of us could possibly follow. Just take a look down the left column of the Drudge Report to see the dozens of major news outlets already available to us.

NPR is claiming that less than 2% of their support comes from federal government sources. It looks like NPR's budget is around $152 million, which means they get a little over $3 million from the federal government. Okay, by government standards, that's not that much. But while NPR would like us to stop there, the story is not that simple. The federal government also gives $420 million to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting gives over $65 million  to local public radio stations. What do those local radio stations do with that money? According to NPR, 40% of their revenue (over $60 million) comes from these local radio stations as "Station Programming Fees." So yes, NPR receives only $3 million or so in direct federal money, but they receive another $60 million or so indirectly through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It would take a forensic accountant to really figure out what is going on here, but it is clear we are talking about a lot of money.
NPR should be given the opportunity, just like any other news outlet, of proving its relevance in the market. Many NPR listeners give money to NPR. A few years ago, Joan Kroc, wife of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc, left $200 million in her estate to NPR. Clearly, they are capable of raising money on their own, and now is a great opportunity to set NPR free of its government subsidy. But Republicans should avoid doing this because of the unjustness of what NPR did to Juan Williams. They should do this with NPR -- and many other federally funded programs -- because the government should not be subsidizing organizations to compete where a strong private market already exists. If NPR survives, good for them. If not, I'm entirely confident that the only redeeming program on NPR -- Car Talk -- would have many offers from other networks and could easily survive very well on its own in the free market.
Categories > Politics

NPR, Juan Williams, and the Paranoid Left

News of NPR's decision to fire Juan Williams for "bigoted" comments Williams made earlier this week as a guest on The O'Reilly Factor struck me initially as nothing more than the latest chapter in liberals' recent and sordid history of thought-policing.  That the NPR powers-that-be should target Williams, author of multiple books chronicling various aspects of the civil rights movement and--more important from their perspective--a "person of color," might have seemed a bit strange but for the fact that Williams also serves as a FOX News contributor, which, to the folks at NPR, brands him with the ineradicable mark of Cain.  Nonetheless, I was not surprised.  Perhaps those of us who have made careers in academia while resisting its leftist orthodoxies have somehow lost the capacity for astonishment at such things.  After all, we know the NPR types: the campus strut-abouts who think themselves uniquely qualified to define and punish transgressions of speech, all the while oozing sanctimony as they struggle to conceal their disdain for those around them whom they regard as their moral and intellectual inferiors.  Even Williams's own account of the firing, chilling though it is, fails to shock.  (In an ironic twist, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller offered an apology for comments made about Williams since the firing; she, presumably, will keep her job.)  But then I got to thinking, and I wondered if the real story here isn't something more than political-correctness-run-amok.

2010 is the year of the Tea Party.  Predictably, today's perplexed liberals have comforted themselves by dusting off old copies of Richard Hofstadter's 1964 essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," which, in its day, reassured equally perplexed liberals that they had nothing to fear from the so-called fringe radicals on the right who had hijacked the Republican Party and saddled it with Barry Goldwater (turns out they had a good deal to fear from one of Goldwater's most rhetorically effective champions, Ronald Reagan).  No doubt something like a paranoid style has existed since our nation's inception.  American patriots in the 1760s and 1770s routinely accused the British ministry of having hatched a conspiracy against liberty.  American revolutionaries justified their separation from the British Empire by citing a "long train of abuses and usurpations" and a "systematical plan of reducing [the colonies] to slavery."  Since the eighteenth century, fears of concentrated power have manifested themselves in mass movements of ordinary people, and the manifestation, which liberal elites regard as sinister and threatening, we who celebrate individual freedom and constitutional government deem salutary.

But what happens when paranoia grips those in power?  I would suggest that an amusing-yet-dangerous paranoia among the liberal elites, not the familiar silliness of political correctness, best explains NPR's decision to fire Williams.  What Williams actually said on the air is only part of the story.  That he said it on FOX News, whose connection to Williams NPR long has sought to undermine, constitutes another and more important element.  What really matters here is that the Obama administration's petulant 2009 crusade against FOX News, complete with the equally petulant narrative that spawned that crusade, retains its relevance among the paranoid left.  According to said narrative, and straight from the president himself, FOX News qualifies as little more than a "destructive" mouthpiece for the Republican Party.  It's not a real news network.  Its commentators are selected and paid by wealthy right-wingers, special interests, etc.  Furthermore, it exerts an unhealthy influence upon the viewing public, whom--according to the liberal narrative--Fox News seems somehow to have called into existence.  It has not occurred to the president and his supporters that the ironically-labeled "fair and balanced" network might represent an alternate and quite legitimate perspective--a perspective whose decades-long absence from so-called "mainstream" network news broadcasts, and not some mysterious-but-well-funded conspiracy, was what called Fox News into existence in the first place.  All of this is so very tedious to conservatives, who, with no little fortitude, have resigned themselves to living in a world where their liberal friends, unsatisfied with seeing their own views advanced on ABC, CBS and NBC, on nearly every major newspaper's editorial page, in academia, and in Hollywood, bristle at the fact that they do not maintain an absolute monopoly over the dissemination of information and opinion.  But in our tedium we must not overlook the real danger.  Such bristling from liberal colleagues means little when confined to the proverbial faculty lounge.  But when the foregoing narrative becomes so widespread in liberal circles as to constitute something of an axiom, when they convince themselves that their opponents act from feelings of paranoia rather than legitimate opposition born of serious reflection, and when one among them gets control of the government, it then becomes possible--imperative, actually--to de-legitimize the sources and the forces of this so-called paranoid opposition.  This explains the Obama administration's near-pathological obsession with Fox News.  And this, I would suggest, explains NPR's decision to terminate Juan Williams's contract.  This, in short, is what happens when real paranoia infects the powerful.        


Keynes dead in Europe

Britain "unveiled the country's steepest public spending cuts in more than 60 years, reducing costs in government departments by an average of 19 percent, sharply curtailing welfare benefits, raising the retirement age to 66 by 2020 and eliminating hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs in an effort to bring down the bloated budget deficit."  And then there is this, as a news story (also in today's NY Times): John Maynard Keynes "may live on in popular legend as the world's most influential economist. But in much of Europe, and most acutely here in the land of his birth, his view that deficit spending by governments is crucial to avoiding a long recession has lately been willfully ignored."  Amusing.
Categories > Economy



about the tightening Senate polls.  Democrat-leaners are coming home.  The early voting indicates a Republican edge.  The Republicans will still pick up 9 to 11 Senate seats.  But if you live in one of those states and are eligible, please vote.

Categories > Politics


A Top Ten List for Our Times

Arthur Brooks gives us a top-ten worth considering in this political and economic climate:  the top 10 ways government kills jobs in America.
Categories > Economy


Election Panel

Last Thursday we had a Panel Conversation on the Election at the Ashbrook Center with David Foster, Jeff Sikkenga, Chris Burkett, Michael Schwarz, and me. I thought it went very well.  It's about an hour and a half long.

Categories > Elections


This Is Your Politics On Obamacare

The Republicans are having a good year in Massachusetts.  They elected a Republican Senator for the first time since the 1970s, and several (maybe as many as four) of their nominees for the House of Representatives look competitive.  They have a shot at the Governor's chair too.

They might win it, but there is something interesting about the messaging in the Governor's race that could have implications for national politics going forward.  The Republican nominee is a former health insurance company executive.  Health insurance premiums are have been rising very quickly in Massachusetts.  A lot of the anti-Baker ads have been hitting him for raising people's health insurance premiums.

This is something we are going to see a lot more of in the coming decade.  Romneycare has tended to increase insurance premiums.  The Massachusetts Democratic Party's response is to demonize insurance companies for the consequences of government policy.  Obamacare is, in large measure, a much more poorly designed version of Romneycare and is going to cause the same kind of premium spike.

In the short-trerm it doesn't matter much.  The economy is lousy enough that Baker might win anyway.  Not many Republican nominees are going to be former health insurance company executives.  But the important point is the need for conservatives to control the narrative on the consequences of Obamacare and never let up.  To the average person, the consequences of Obamacare (which will unfold over years and years) will just seem like a bunch of stuff that happens with no obvious cause.  The liberal narrative will be that the health insurance premium increases are the fault of mean insurance companies and that only heroic liberal politicians can save them with new statist initiatives.  Massachusetts is a preview of how liberals will use the failures of statist health care policy to advance the cause of even more statist health care policy.  And they could win.  

Categories > Politics


Jeffersonian Education

David Marion has some thoughts on the relationship between self-government and education.

Categories > Education


Slogan Idea

Tea Parties: The Change We've Been Waiting For
Categories > Politics


Listening to good sense of the people

I want to make sure you get this Peter Baker piece ("Education of a President") in the New York Times Magazine.  It is revealing.  So is this Bob Herbert op-ed on the same issue today.  This is a pretty good attempt by a Dem--as close as his ideology will allow--to come to grips with their problem.  In other words, They understand it as not reflecting the interest of the American people (high unemployment, bad economy, etc., doesn't show that their prospects are improving), they can't get to the larger point of the character and the sentiment of the people.  The most surprising thing about Obama is how UNpersuasive he is; everyone expected the opposite, we all thought he would be very persuasive.  Now the people see that he is not capable of persuading because he doesn't understand the sentiments--character of, and political opinion of, if you like--of the American people.  It is arguably the case that the GOP, at the moment, also does not understand the sentiments of the American people.  It is probably true that the Te Party represents the sentiments of the people, even though it is not able to articulate it (vide Sarah Palin).  Is it surprsing anyone that no one is persuasive?  It is probable that the same reason Bush and the GOP lost in '06 and '08, is the same reason the Dems will lose in 2010: Neither listened to the people, neither was able to persuade, neither got the people's consent before acting.  Julie once wrote (or said to me) that when the people heard Obama say in the campaign that "we are the change we have been waiting for" they thought he was talking about them, the people.  But, it turns out he wasn't talking about us but rather about his elititist and haughty friends, at least that's what the people think now. This is why Obama ended pushing through health care, instead of persuading the people to support it.  But their political sentiments are well formed enough to oppose those Dems who are not seeing this, hence the coming tidal wave.  Then, the next two years will be enough time to reflect and persuade on all this, and again to choose, for even better reasons.
Categories > Elections


Student in Italy

Robinson O'Brien-Bours is spending his last semester as an undergraduate in Florence, once the home of Amerigo Vespucci, Boticelli, Raphael, Dante, Medicis, Machievelli, et al.  I envy him for his youth, his good mind, and this experience.  I was in Florence a couple of times in my youth, saw the noble David, drank red wine on the Ponte Vecchio in the middle of the night, looked at beauty, and tried to heed my father's advice, (I paraphrase) "Take heed of the girls in Italy, for our language does not have the words to deny if they demand."  Robinson blogs at Life, Liberty, and the Times.  You might want to have a look. He wrote me a good note, and long.  I'll just lift a paragraph from it:

I attend class Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. My final class of the week is on Wednesday night; Wine and Culture- The Wines of Italy. It is a fascinating class where we move beyond the mere drinking of wine to learning about it. We are learning how to taste, smell, view, and feel wine as we drink it, to determine excellent from average. We learn of the different grape appellations and specialties of the various Italian wine regions. It really is a fantastic art. The week before last I went to a vineyard in the Tuscan countryside, about a 40 minute bus rid from Florence. The owner of the vineyard, a nobleman whose family has owned the property for two centuries now, gave our small group a tour of his property, and walked us through how he produces his wine. When someone asked which wine was his favorite, his response was, tellingly, "That is like asking me which of my children is my favorite. I love them all." This trip also had a particular treat to it as the property is home to a villa that Machiavelli's family owned for some time and where the famed theorist spent a part of his exile. "This is special to me I had my wedding here," said the owner, married to a former model from New York, referencing the villa's courtyard. "It's declared a national heritage site so the government comes by occasionally to make sure we're taking care of it."

Here is a photo he sent of the Duomo from atop the Gioto Bell Tower.

Categories > Leisure

Foreign Affairs

Founders and Foreign Policy

This essay, "America's Founders and the Principles of Foreign Policy: Sovereign Independence, National Interests, and the Cause of Liberty in the World", by Matthew Spalding, is certainly worth reading and passing on.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Quote of the Day

From Newsweek: "As Cass Sunstein, a centrist legal scholar at the University of Chicago who now serves in the Obama administration, has explained . . . "

Categories > Journalism

Political Parties

An Open Letter

NRO's Rich Lowry pens an "Open Letter to the Chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party."

Dear Chairman Redfern,

I hesitate to take your time with a missive like this because I know you are busy losing a governorship, a Senate seat, and conceivably as many as six House seats in the great state of Ohio. Managing such a massive political failure can't be easy, so I don't want to do anything to distract you from it. . . .

[read more]

Categories > Political Parties


In the Court of Public Opinion

The LA Times notes that since shifting to the right four years ago, the Supreme Court "has made the right call in most of its major decisions," according to public opinion. And as if on cue, the Court today denied the appeal of a prison inmate in Mass. who argued his disenfranchisement as a felon was unconstitutional.

Bad felon, no vote.

Naturally, Democrats have sponsored a bill to "restore" voting rights to felons - the Democracy Restoration Act. Just the sort of democracy we were hoping to restore. Democrats apparently failed to appreciate the irony. I mention the obvious motivation for the bill without need of further comment:

Criminals vote Democrat.

Categories > Courts


Supreme Twist of Fate

Today the Supreme Court agreed to hear former Attorney General John Ashcroft's appeal of a suit by a Muslim American alleging an abuse of federal law for his imprisonment as a "material witness." (See WaPo, USA Today and Bloomberg)

The twist: the Obama administration is appealing on Ashcroft's behalf, arguing the ruling (by the infamously liberal 9th Circuit) against Ashcroft would "severely damage law enforcement."

The view's different from the inside, isn't it, Mr. Obama?

Categories > Courts


Obama And The Liberal Pantheon

Jay Cost eviscerates Obama's D- sociology (yeah I stole that trope from Peter Lawler) in trying to explain away opposition to his agenda.  I think it goes well with this smart paragraph by regular commenter Art Deco:

One gets the impression that his understanding of history begins and ends with the Democratic Party's received narrative and that he conceives of himself as a character in some tome by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Obama had a long apprenticeship in politics that was in some ways diverse and in some ways narrow.  His lived experience is almost entirely on the left-of-center, but he isn't the creature of any one institution.  He has experience in issue advocacy, academia, and Chicago machine politics.  He had to learn how to speak to different liberal constituencies (the South Side and Hyde Park) at the same time.  He no doubt learned some lessons about the nuts and bolts of politics as well as how to take a cheap shot.  His apprenticeship (from the early 1980s to the mid-2000s) also coincided with the experience of feelings of marginalization by many liberals.  Republicans usually held the White House and the Clinton administration was something between a missed opportunity and a desperate rearguard action. 

Obama seems to have gone to school on selling a liberal activist agenda to the general public (he already knew how to talk to liberals) and then getting that agenda securely enacted.  This included constructing the cool, detached, pseudo-open minded style that serves an ideological politician especially well in reassuring swing voters.  It also included certain policy concessions.  He changed his mind on welfare reform.  He was pro-death penalty and talked out of both sides of his mouth on the Second Amendment (no biggie there, he can appoint Supreme Court Justices who will vote abolish the death penalty and neuter the Second Amendment.)  He tried to neutralize the Republican advantage on taxes by advocating (in the short-term) tax cuts for most combined with tax increases on high earners.  John Kerry had actually promoted this policy first, but Kerry (unlike Obama) had a long history of voting for tax increases and against tax cuts as a Senator.  Obama was of course willing to make spectacular bad faith promises like the one of a net budget cut.  There is something off about his attempts to create an appeal to non-liberal-leaning Americans.  Unlike Reagan, who learned to appeal to FDR-loving Democrats by talking to them at length, Obama seems to have constructed his appeals to non-liberals in isolation from them.  That is why he sometimes resorts to a sociology of smugness when things seem not to go his way.  Still, his appeals have worked well enough for Obama to get his way when it really mattered.   

The payoff for all these campaign concessions is to do something big for the liberal cause as President. Something big could mean using the opportunity of an economic crisis to pass a big spending increase (and pay off favored constituencies.)  If the economy turns around, the public would tend to identify Big Spending with prosperity.  It isn't working out well so far, but 2012 is far away and we'll see.  Something big could mean reordering the energy market in a "green" corporatist direction through cap-and-trade.  That ain't gonna happen anytime soon.  Above all, something big would mean adding a huge new middle-class entitlement and taking THE decisive step toward government-run health care. 

Even if it hurt his popularity in the short-run, such a health care law would ensure him a place in the Mount Rushmore/Hall of Fame/Valhalla of liberal historiography.  That would be far higher than the place of Bill Clinton, who had high approval ratings, but whose most notable policy accomplishments were a balanced budget and welfare reform.  FDR would love Obama best.  So when you get the chance, go for broke (in every sense.)  Once you have enacted the big change you can let the anti-majoritarian features of American politics (bicameralism, the filibuster, the veto) work for you rather than against you. You can also count on the tendency of government expansion to reorder interest group politics in a more statism-friendly direction.  You can hope that demagoguery (if you repeal health care reform children will die...) and people's natural risk aversion will scare enough people to prevent the GOP from reversing your policies, and once those policies are entrenched, the political incentives will tend to push policy in an  ever more statist direction.

None of this is to say that Obama is a good President.  He is a dangerous opponent with the skills to win elections and then enact and (potentially) entrench policies that I find destructive.  It is also why, for all of his weaknesses and blind spots, he is the most formidable domestic opponent conservatives have faced in generations.  And whatever happens this November, he is not beaten.  

Categories > Politics


Culture of Poverty

Patricia Cohen has a great NY Times article on the resurgence of cultural explanations for generational poverty. Conservatives (as Cohen states) never abandoned the obvious connection between culture and poverty,

But in the overwhelmingly liberal ranks of academic sociology and anthropology the word "culture" became a live grenade, and the idea that attitudes and behavior patterns kept people poor was shunned.

Most interesting is not the sudden liberal awakening to culture as a factor in economic success, nor the pathological ideology which kept liberals blind to this common-sense explanation for decades, but rather the oppressive censorship and dogmatic ideological rigidity present in academics and among the left.

Of course, the left is only taking baby steps toward sensibility and reality. While acknowledging the relevance of culture, "they attribute destructive [cultural] attitudes and behavior not to inherent moral character but to sustained racism and isolation." One couldn't expect it would be long before racism was called upon to explain everything. Baby steps.

UPDATE: For an even more cynical perspective on the supposed reformation of liberal thought on poverty, see the Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector on NRO. Spoiler: liberals still think poverty is the reason for poverty - and the solution is thus to simply throw around more (of other people's) money. Rector identifies the most obvious culprit leading to poverty as "the collapse of marriage."

In low-income communities, the overwhelming majority of children are born outside marriage and raised by single mothers on welfare. If these single mothers were married to the actual fathers of their children, two-thirds would immediately be lifted out of poverty. But, despite these obvious facts, the Left is reluctant even to mention the connection between marital collapse and poverty.

The main problem for liberals in talking about the "culture of poverty" is that any honest examination of behavioral roots of poverty will, almost certainly, diminish public support for the welfare state. Thus, any clear discussion of the links between poverty and behavior is to be scrupulously avoided.

Categories > Economy



Texas doesn't really need to think higher of itself, but Rich Lowry explains, it may have a right to considering this massive fact: "More than half of the net new jobs in the U.S. during the past 12 months were created in the Lone Star State."  He explains why, and none of the reasons should surprise.
Categories > Economy


Founders and Progressives

Saturday's Wall Street Journal runs a very good op-ed by Peter Berkowitz on how right the Tea Party movement is in being interested in limited government (also how the left has misunderstood this) and how much that is in line with the supporters of the Constitution, the Federalists.  He ends up on decrying the fact in universities politics is badly taught. "Indeed, even as the tea party calls for the return to constitutional basics, our universities neglect The Federalist and its classic exposition of constitutional principles."  He continues:

For the better part of two generations, the best political science departments have concentrated on equipping students with skills for performing empirical research and teaching mathematical models that purport to describe political affairs. Meanwhile, leading history departments have emphasized social history and issues of race, class and gender at the expense of constitutional history, diplomatic history and military history.

Neither professors of political science nor of history have made a priority of instructing students in the founding principles of American constitutional government. Nor have they taught about the contest between the progressive vision and the conservative vision that has characterized American politics since Woodrow Wilson (then a political scientist at Princeton) helped launch the progressive movement in the late 19th century by arguing that the Constitution had become obsolete and hindered democratic reform.

Of course, it will not surprise you to know that we do things differently here, both at the undergraduate and graduate level.

Categories > Education


Armageddon Deniers

The NY Times' "world" section leads with the UN's most recent promise that the world is about to end. Greenpeace explains that in order to be "rescued from the brink of environmental destruction, we need action by governments (naturally -ed) ... to halt biodiversity loss." Having blown past the 2010 deadline for total planetary annihilation, we are now on a 2020 deadline for total planetary annihilation. And this time they mean it. Really.

At the same time, the Times' op-ed page angrily laments that only one of the Republicans running for the Senate "accept the scientific consensus that humans are largely responsible for global warming." The editors blame Dick Cheney.

Mark Kirk of Illinois is the one exception among the Senate candidates. Can somebody talk some sense into him? He's obviously been reading too much of the NY Times.

Categories > Environment


Good Enough for Government Work

A new WaPo poll finds:

More than half of Americans say they think that federal workers are overpaid for the work they do, and more than a third think they are less qualified than those working in the private sector.

Only a third think they are overpaid and less qualified? That's celebratory news for federal employees!

WaPo has an unrelated story on the Supreme Court. I wish the poll had singled out the Court - it polls rather well, historically. The story focuses on the nitty-gritty lawyering that surrounds single words or phrases in appellate adjudication. I failed to immediately understand the seeming mockery of the Court's tortured parsing of legislative language - until I remembered that I long ago drank the cool-aid and find this sort of thing quite normal. (WaPo has a SCOTUS quiz here.)

Categories > Leisure


The Latest Threat to Democracy

Finally, people are beginning to wake up to the dangers of anonymous political speech.
Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

On the Other Hand...

Every now and again the Germans will surprise you....

German Chancellor Angela Merkel admits: "And of course, the approach [to build] a multicultural [society] and to live side-by-side and to enjoy each other... has failed, utterly failed."

Bill Donahue observes:

At the beginning of the new millennium, there was a consensus in Europe on the virtues of multiculturalism. Attendant to this view was a profound reluctance to acknowledge Europe's Christian heritage. Midway through the decade, there were signs that things were changing. In 2006, after meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made the case for "Christian values" in the European Union Constitution. Now her criticism of multiculturalism is causing an international stir.

The problem with multiculturalism, as the pope understands, is that it breeds contempt for the moral truths that undergird the Judeo-Christian ethos of Western civilization. Indeed, as the pope has said, it has led to "a peculiar Western self-hatred that is nothing short of pathological."

One major reason why multiculturalism is a failure is its implicit moral relativism: all religions and cultures are seen as equals. But this means that those who adhere to Judeo-Christian values, and those who espouse a preference for Sharia law, are voicing a similar perspective. This is worse than nonsense: the former yields liberty and justice; the latter yields slavery.

Chancellor Merkel deserves our support. Her courageous stand is worthy of emulation in the United States.

UPDATE: I'm sure Germany's decision to open its first Hitler Exhibit just following the denunciation of multiculturalism is mere coincidence.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


More on Europe's Dwindling Freedoms

Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom and co-author of Silenced, a forthcoming book on contemporary blasphemy rules, has a short NRO article on the larger context of Geert Wilders and liberal suppression of free speech in the guise of Islamic hate crimes.

"Geert Wilders is the latest in a lengthening roster of Europeans who have been criminally prosecuted for criticizing Islam," Shea writes. Such prosecution "demonstrates the continued willingness of authorities in Europe's most liberal countries to regulate the content of speech on Islam in order to placate Muslim blasphemy demands."

This is an important trend I've touched upon several times, but which bears continual repeating. European liberals are confusing democratic liberty with egalitarian slavery - the result is not academic theory but public prosecution. When large groups make such mistakes about basic political priorities, historical tragedies often follow.

Also see Cliff May's post:

The decisions by Dutch prosecutors to dismiss the charges against parliamentarian Geert Wilders can be seen as a battle won in a war the West is losing - the war for freedom of speech, the freedom without which no other freedoms can be defended.

As I argue in my latest column, influential people are not just avoiding criticism of all things Islamic, they also are legitimizing vile practices -- e.g. gender apartheid -- where these practices are rooted in Islamic practice.

Women's rights groups are silent. Most elite journalists are at least complicit.

Categories > Progressivism


Obama Damns the Torpedoes

Obama has been criticized as sufficiently narcissistic as to lack the capacity to recognize personal fault. The President has ticked off a laundry list of villains responsible for all our woes: Bush, Rush, Boehner, Rove, etc. Recently, Obama chastised Democrats for failing to have his back. And finally, having run out of just about anyone else to blame, Obama turned on the voters themselves.

Apparently, "facts and science and argument" are not persuading Americans because they are unable to "think clearly," since they are "scared," "looking backwards," full of "fear" and "confused." He cited Republicans as refusing to put aside politics and deciding to "ride people's anger and frustration all the way to the ballot box." (The GOP would probably agree to the last bit - and should laugh at the President for chiding others about partisanship.)

Insulting the public as too addle minded to comprehend your magnificence isn't likely the quickest way to electoral success. It speaks to the mind-set and temperament of the President, who has yet to truly address the obvious public refutation of his policies and ideology. At this 11th hour, witnessing the eclipse of his legislative potential as November nears, Obama's desperation has led him to a unique strategy: honesty. 

Obama is right, and the public is just to dumb to get it. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead! 

Categories > Politics


The Economy And Popularity

I would like to believe Walter Russell Mead's basic point that Big Government-style programs that ensured Democratic popularity in the 1930s won't work today, but I have my doubts.  Mead writes that Democrats, without ending the Depression, made gains in the midterm elections of 1934 while Democrats are poised to lose seats in 2010.  Fair enough, but the analogy is problematic.  I think that the best metric for understanding the differences between 1934 and 2010 is the state of the economy.  Mead is right that FDR's policies had not ended the Depression by 1934, but the economy had perceptibly improved.  GDP was growing at over 10% in 1934 and the unemployment rate had fallen over 3% in the last year.  We can argue to what extent FDR's policies were responsible for the growth and the future implication for policy, but he clearly benefited politically. 

By comparison, the unemployment rate is now stuck almost 2% higher than when Obama took over and GDP growth is weak.  Obama is obviously paying the political price, but his popularity isn't that bad considering the circumstances.  Can you imagine the job approval of a President McCain under the same circumstances?  It won't take much of an improvement in economic conditions for Obama to be marginally popular again.  That doesn't mean he is destined to win reelection, just that, depending on economic conditions (and the results of Obama's fights with the forthcoming Republican House of Representatives and maybe Senate), the politics of 2012 might partly point away from the politics of 2010.  And even a narrow Obama reelection might result in the entrenchment of Big Government-style political changes that Mead thinks are on the way out.

Categories > Politics

The Passions Of The Moment

On the surface, this terrific Andrew Ferguson article is about Dinesh D'Souza, but it is really a very strong argument for rhetorical and emotional moderation.


Proposed Amendment

"All laws enacted by the Congress of the United States and signed by the President, and all administrative rulings and court decisions made pursuant to those laws, and the consitution of the United States must apply equally to private citizens and to people employed by the U.S. government."

I'm not sure the language is quite right, and it might make sense to add: "unless two thirds of both houses of the legislature specifically exempt a particular group from the law, and state clearly their reasons for doing so."  There may sometimes be a good reason to carve out exemptions, so that reservation might be wise.

Any comments?

Update: Here's a list of rules that don't apply to Congress.

Categories > Congress