Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Susan Sontag as Case Study

Joseph Epstein gives a lesson on how to understand and dissect contemporary intellectuals and their poseurs--in this case Susan Sontag.  Not for the squeamish. 

Faith-Based Politics Comes to "Mother Jones" Magazine

Kevin Drum, formerly of the Washington Monthly, gives an "I'm not worthy" rationale that allows liberals to support the Obama administration's policy on Libya: "If it had been my call, I wouldn't have gone into Libya. But the reason I voted for Obama in 2008 is because I trust his judgment. And not in any merely abstract way, either: I mean that if he and I were in a room and disagreed about some issue on which I had any doubt at all, I'd literally trust his judgment over my own. I think he's smarter than me, better informed, better able to understand the consequences of his actions, and more farsighted. I voted for him because I trust his judgment, and I still do."

Drum's argument isn't really an argument, just a gut feeling.  There's no more point in building syllogisms against it than in trying to persuade somebody that scrambled eggs taste better than fried ones.  He does, in fact, provide a cogent reason to oppose the kinetic whatchamacallit: Qaddafi "appears quite capable of holding out, or even outright winning," which increases the chances that Obama will "escalate even further" rather than "accept a stalemate or a loss." 

If that happens, it will have consequences not only for American policy in Libya, or foreign policy generally, but for liberals' relationship to Obama.  Those who, like Drum, rest their case for Obama on their convictions about his character, will have to question whether the president is really all that smart, informed, discerning or farsighted.  If he isn't, the people who should be the president's strongest supporters will enter his reelection campaign, and prospective second term, viewing the incumbent as the least bad option, rather than "an evolutionary flash point for humanity," as one of his adoring throng said during the children's crusade of 2008.  Whether Obama can be a successful president while being such a big disappointment to his core constituency is doubtful, at best. 


Gird Your Loins

The Hill reports that Paul Ryan's budget committee will propose huge Medicare and Medicaid reforms.  The Democratic response is gonna be epic.  The fight over public opinion for block granting Medicaid is probably winnable, but even that will take some care.  Reformers will have to lead with the present broken condition of Medicaid and present the block granting as a way to let states produce better results with less money.  The fight over Medicare will be much harder.  Almost everyone is a current or prospective stakeholder in Medicare.  Defined contribution Medicare (where the government gives a set amount of money and the recipient uses the money to purchase from a range of health care plans) is a policy proposal that is almost entirely unknown to the public.  I would be surprised if one in fifty Americans could accurately describe defined contribution health care.  If you were to write down a neutral, one sentence description of a defined contribution version of Medicare, I suspect most respondents would not prefer it to the present system.  One of the most important facts in this debate is that most people would keep things going as they are - if they could.  They would want Medicare to continue to pay at the projected (pre-Obamacare cuts) level and for the resulting burden to not crush the economy. Well that isn't going to happen.  There are going to be limits placed on Medicare spending.  The only question is whether those limits will be more of the kind centralized, sudden, and dumb cuts we saw in Obamacare, or whether we will have more market-oriented reforms that increase the productivity of the health care sector and let the elderly pay for the services they want rather than the services some bureaucrat wants them to have.  A few pieces of advice from an amateur for Paul Ryan:

1. Defined contribution is a terrible way to describe the conservative version of Medicare.  So is is voucherizing and privatizing.  It should be called patient-centered Medicare for future retirees.  It should be conservative patient-centered health care reform that allows the (future) elderly to purchase the services they want vs. bureaucrat-centered Medicare cuts where some agency just says no.  It should be innovation, choice and better health care vs. death panels.

2.  Medicare reform is a comparative issue.  We are really facing tough choices and those who say otherwise are liars who want to cut your health care.  There are two major ways of bringing down Medicare spending to a sustainable level. The Democrats will cut your benefits and leave you with no other options.  We see that in Obamacare's plan to reduce provider reimbursements.  The Obamacare plan is to pay your doctor less, thereby making it harder to get medical care.  Multiply this approach across all your medical needs.  And the Democrats are doing this to current retirees.  Sometimes the government will just tell you no.  More often the government will find sneakier ways to deny you care (creating waiting periods or paying at artificially low rates so that a service becomes unavailable.)  They will nickel and dime you to death.  This is the future under the Democrats and they have already started building it.  Republicans need to explain that patient-centered Medicare will force providers to reorganize to provide better care for the elderly at a lower price, and that this is much better than the Democrat plan to give you less care when and how the government says so.

3.  Ryan is articulate, energetic and smart, but he can't be everywhere at once.  I assume most Republican members of Congress will be hopeless at explaining this issue past a couple of talking points.  Some Republican members of Congress are quite old and have lost something off their fastball.  Some are hacks who are just there to be there and aren't about to take on a complicated and controversial issue with enormous political downside risk.  They will run for cover after the first AARP blast email. Some have real limited government principles but have demonstrated little ability (and perhaps little interest) in communicating to people who haven't already bought into the conservative narrative.  Some congressional Republicans fit into more than one of the above categories. 

Ryan needs to get together about twenty congressional Republicans to be the voices of the GOP on this issue (and one of them should be Marco Rubio.)  They need to know the facts and the arguments inside and out, and have their responses honed to the second.  Then they need to go everywhere and explain, explain, explain.  Congress won't pass patient-centered Medicare this year or next.  This is a public education effort and those most principled and articulate of Republicans need to be ready.  They won't get another chance to make a first impression with the public.        


Categories > Politics


The Future of Conservatism

Discover the bright future of conservatism in the latest edition of Counterpoint, the University of Chicago undergrad-edited journal.  See Josh Lerner's account of Progressivism, which reconsiders its European origins.  Also of note is the thoughtful, social-science focused exchange on same-sex marriage in the letters section.  The case against gay marriage has rarely been made more incisively.

The spring issue will contain a symposium on movies, with contributions by conservatives young and old.

Categories > Conservatism

Shameless Self-Promotion

Obama's No-Energy Speech

I unload on Obama's no-energy speech this morning in the Wall Street Journal.  Headline number: Brazil has increased its domestic oil production 876 percent over the last 20 years the old-fashioned way: they drilled for oil (mostly offshore).  


Social Conservative Review

Pete and I are in FRC's most recent Social Conservative Review. They've got the pulse of the social conservative movement - always worth a read.
Categories > Conservatism


Ensuring and Enforcing the Rule of Law

AEI resident scholar, Norman Ornstein, isn't very happy with a fellow named Donald McGahn.  It seems that Mr. McGahn, who serves on the Federal Election Commission, recently told an audience at the University of Virginia Law School, "I'm not enforcing the law as Congress passed it."  Instead, McGahn announced, he's enforcing the federal election laws as the Supreme Court has interpreted them . . . except that's not quite accurate, either.  It seems Mr. McGahn (who is a Republican) is also selective about that.  McGahn, "refused to enforce the parts of the law that the court has not reversed or changed, making his own judgments about what he wants the court to do or thinks it might do at some point down the road."  Ornstein senses something amiss in this chain of events.  Where is the rule of law?  How is it that some guy--appointed to serve on a federal commission--is now tasked with making his own judgments about federal election laws instead of looking to Congress for guidance.  Ornstein condemns McGahn for this and puts his violation on a par with Donald Trump's dalliance with the "birthers." 

Not so fast, says our own Steve Hayward.  To be sure, there are plenty of reasons to worry about the rule of law  (or, rather, the lack of it) in today's administrative state.  But is it fair to single out one guy at the FEC who could (at least conceivably) offer up Article 6 of the Constitution as a defense for his actions.  If Congress and the Courts are filled with people who, when questioned about the constitutionality of a piece of legislation, respond as Nancy Pelosi did, with "Are you serious?" why shouldn't a mere apparatchik in some federal agency take the cue that all bets are off and it's every man's interpretation for itself?

Steve notes that other Pelosi gem--the one about figuring out what's in the health care legislation after we pass it--not in order to ridicule her, as so many other pundits have (over) done, but in order to take Pelosi at her word and as a serious representation of her brand of progressive.  In fact, her statement was and is an brilliant summation of the current reality in Washington.  Missing from the ridicule is a true understanding of the import of Pelosi's words.  It's not just that the bill was too long or that not enough people had read it.  Would their reading it have made it any better?  A stricter page count made it more faithful to the Constitution?  No.  The problem Pelosi's statement actually demonstrates is, as Steve puts it, "the enormous discretion and policy responsibility delegated to executive branch agencies."  This means, "in effect the actual operating law [will] be formulated by administrators rather than Congress."  So if administrators are now law-makers, don't they have at least a perfunctory claim to use their own best judgment with respect to the Constitution and constitutionality?  Can't they enter the Separation of Powers game of push and pull vis-à-vis the Court?  What is to stop them if Congress has delegated some of its legislative power to them?

Unfortunately, spreading the legislative power around in this way (a way that is only very tangentially connected to consent) invites even more opportunities for the vices of faction and arbitrary usurpation.  We are seeing this now with the implementation of the recent health care legislation.  With all the special waivers and exemptions granted to the "right" people, the rule of law is suffering.  According to Steve, these waivers show "the essentially arbitrary (some might say lawless) nature of administrative government."  The only thing that might be said in favor of all of this is that it does present an opportunity for clarity about fundamental questions of good government.  This may be the kind of government we deserve right now . . . but, in seeing that, can't we re-group aspire to something better and more worthy of free men?  
Categories > Progressivism


The Central Front, The Right And The Center: Part II

I can't find the post, but I remember Reihan Salam writing that repealing and replacing Obamacare might be the work of decades.  I hope not.  I can hope that, in 24 months, Congress will be well on the way to passing a repeal bill that will be signed by a Republican President.  There is an element of chance as to whether the election of 2012 will return results that make Obamacare's repeal possible in the short-run.  If James Capretta and Yuval Levin are right that "If the health care debate is lost, then the fight for limited government is lost as well" and Salam is right that the chances for are near-term repeal of Obamacare are questionable, then conservatives will need a health care reform approach that maximizes their odds of prevailing both next year and years down the line. 

Conservatives shouldn't waste any opportunity to undo Obamacare, but let's be honest: it's not entirely in our control when that opportunity will come.  Some elections are between evenly matched parties, but sometimes circumstance tilts the playing field strongly in favor of one side.  The Democrats were smart to nominate candidates like Jim Webb and Jon Tester in 2006 but most of their political advantages in that year came from the Bush administration's mishandling of  the Iraq War - absent Bush's epic unpopularity, George Allen probably still wins the Virginia Senate race.  Webb also turned out to be the marginal vote for passing Obamacare past the 60 vote hurdle for cloture.  Obama didn't earn the financial panic of 2008 (though by not seeming either panicky or overtly demagogic he maximized the political benefits.)  In 2010 the Republicans surely benefited from the high unemployment rate and the Democrats' insistence on passing the most liberal bill that could unify their Senate caucus after the maximum application of presidential influence.  Opportunity will come when it comes.

But opportunity won't be enough.  A public desire to throw out the Democrats might result in a Republican victory, but if the Republicans aren't ready with good policy, who cares?  I see no reason to repeat the Schwarzenegger experience of Republican administration of liberal governance.  But opportunity and a plan aren't good enough either when the issue is health care.  Health care policy is an intensely personal issue that almost everyone has a stake in.  The Democrats and their allies and well wishers in the media and other institutions will expend every resource to prevent a repeal of Obamacare and a center-right reform of health care.  If conservatives are to retain enough public support to enact their policies, they will need sufficient support from the public.  It probably won't have to be an absolute majority but a 40% to 60% split in favor of Democratic policies on such a high salience issue will probably be fatal in the long-term.  This is going to be a debate and Capretta and Levin's words should be remembered, "If the health care debate is lost, then the fight for limited government is lost as well"  I think that this argues for a multi-track approach to repealing and replacing Obamacare.  Some suggestions about what that might look like:

1.  Continue to argue for a full near-term repeal.  Continue to explain what is wrong with Obamacare and explain strategies for incremental right-leaning reform at the federal level (including block granting Medicaid.)  It could work.  The Republicans could retain their House majority while a Republican Senate majority and a Republican President are elected.  You would almost certainly still have at least forty one Senate Democrats who will filibuster any attempt to repeal Obamacare.  You would need at least fifty Republican Senators ready to vote to kill the filibuster in order to pass a repeal.  I think it would be worth the trade, but I'm not sure Susan Collins agrees.  Anyway, a Republican President could use their discretionary authority to move health care policy in a more market-oriented direction and lay the groundwork for the next stage of right-leaning health care reform. 

I don't think it is a good idea to put all of our eggs in this basket.  We should do all we can to bring this result about, but for all of our efforts, opportunity might not come just when we wish.  The labor market could improve sufficiently to give the President a political boost.  A large fraction of the population is already behind him and he does not need many more reinforcements to be well on the way to victory. 

2.  Focus on state-level health care reforms.  Right now. I can't overestate the importance of expanding the social basis of market-oriented health care reform.  The best arguments for conservative health care policies won't be found in think tank papers.  They will be found in the experiences of people who have benefited from those policies.  Republican governors and state legislators should do everything they can to get as many people as possible on HSA/catastrophic coverage plans (especially state and municipal employees.)  It would save the government money while increasing the take home pay of the workers.  It would make the full implementation of Obamacare harder.  Let the Secretary of HHS tell millions and millions of Americans that a health insurance policy they like will now become illegal and that they should now pay more in order to get no better care.  Make our day.  If the Obama administration blinks, we win and there is an expanded social basis for market-oriented reform down the line.  If they don't, then it is an issue for 2014 and 2016.  In the meantime, much of the public is now better informed about the benefits of right-leaning reform.  It is a win-win-win. 

3.  Expand public knowledge of the principles and benefits of market-oriented health care reform.  This is an enormous challenge.  Public awareness (much less public understanding) of right-leaning health care reform policies is abysmally low.  I doubt that enough Republican politicians or the populist right-leaning media can reasonably be expected to bear the burden of expanding public understanding in the early stages of a public education effort. It would be worthwhile for some conservative foundation or right-leaning 527 to expend much of its money not in a particular election campaign, but in a campaign to increase understanding of some key issues.  Perhaps money spent on the 407th, 408th and 409th 30 second ad for a candidate just before an election might be better spent on a 90 second ad that explains how right-leaning health care reform could save the government money, increase people's take home pay, and maintain people's health care security.   This would be about shaping opinion between elections to make it easier for conservative candidates to talk about alternatives to Obamacare and make it harder for liberals to demagogue conservative policies.  The ads shouldn't just be on during election seasons and should be on the Rush Limbaugh Show, The O'Reilly Factor, The Daily Show and Sabado Gigante (though the content might vary somewhat depending on the audience.)       

Categories > Politics


Adolescent Challenges Einstein

Jacob Barnett is twelve years-old. He likes to play Halo, likes shows on the Disney Channel, and recently attended his first dance. He has an IQ higher than Einstein's at 170, can play classical masterpieces by memory on the piano, left high school by the age of 8, taught himself advanced mathematics within a two-week period, and is currently getting so far ahead in university that he is likely to be given a PhD research position soon. Now, the boy is challenging Einstein's theory of relativity and the Big Bang. By Mr. Barnett's calculations, Einstein's theory does not adequately explain how all the carbon that makes up things like the Earth came into being, and that the Earth would have to be three times older than it is believed to be-- which he also deems improbable. As for what, if not the Big Bang, is responsible for all the carbon in the universe? "I'm still working on that," says the child prodigy. "I have an idea, but...I'm still working out the details."

For a kid with a higher IQ than Einstein who is on his way to a PhD before puberty, his parents seem to be doing a good job with raising him and helping keep him as grounded as they can. Certainly this 12-year-old's good mind will be a great contribution to mankind as he continues to grow and learn and explore. His genius is matched with a tremendous curiosity of things and a desire to understand, noticeable even at the age of three:

"We were in the crowd, just sitting, listening to this guy ask the crowd if anyone knew why the moons going around Mars were potato-shaped and not round," [his mother] recalls. "Jacob raised his hand and said, 'Excuse me, but what are the sizes of the moons around Mars?'"
The lecturer answered, and "Jacob looked at him and said the gravity of the so large that (the moon's) gravity would not be able to pull it into a round shape."
"That entire building...everyone was just looking at him, like, 'Who is this 3-year-old?'"

It is not often that we get to see a potential Galileo or Einstein at such an age. Good luck to Mr. Barnett as he continues his studies and sparring with the great scientific minds that came before him.
Categories > Leisure

Foreign Affairs

The Obama Doctrine

President Barack Obama delivered a speech last night at the National Defense University to publicly explain and defend his decision to go to war in Libya. In the process of the speech he publicly declared a foreign policy doctrine for his administration, one rooted in intervention for the sake of humanitarian goals, and more detailed in practice than his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech. Though he emphasized that he would willingly intervene in other nations unilaterally if American interests were at stake, he obviously gravitated more towards the support of bodies such as the United Nations, the European Union, and the Arab League for approval before intervening abroad. He also emphasized the necessity of using non-military means, such as sanctions and freezing of assets, before being justified to act-- though he did little in offering more criteria for when it is okay to move from embargoes to bombs.

"It is true that America cannot use our military wherever oppression occurs," offered Obama as he prepared to defend against those who criticize this new interventionist streak. However, he argues, Libya faced "the prospect of violence on a horrific scale" and thus America had a responsibility to act. "To brush aside...our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action." He seems to almost want to make a case for American exceptionalism, but this is quickly brushed aside with his constant appeals to the international community and international mandates. Much of the rest of the speech is spent talking about how historic the international reaction was and how quick and efficient his own actions were in handling the crisis.

The Obama Doctrine, as it is then, means that the United States has a moral imperative to intervene in any nation whenever the threat of humanitarian disaster is judged to be too severe in the eyes of the sitting American president, and usually only when there is firm international backing and the possibility of coalition-building to help support any intervention. However, under this doctrine, there is a limit to how much intervention there can be-- if at any time intervening in a country involves any sort of risks or responsibilities deemed to be too dangerous or unpopular, we would not engage in them. This means that intervening anywhere that requires the use of ground troops is likely out of the question. At this point in explaining his doctrine, the President insisted on taking a few more potshots at President Bush and the invasion of Iraq; a paraphrase-- "that invasion took too much blood, treasure, and time to deal with, but mine is faster and less-costly and therefore better."

Some have gone on to try and compare the Obama Doctrine with the Bush Doctrine. Indeed, the similarities between the two are enough that it brings out the tremendous and arrogant hypocrisy of those in the Obama Administration, including then-senators Obama and Biden, for their "principled" stands against the invasion of Iraq and any notion of attacking nuclear sites in Iran or North Korea. However, interventionist comparisons aside, the Obama Doctrine is not like the Bush Doctrine. President Bush consulted Congress and received their authorization before acting within the international coalitions he built (it is worth noting that Obama said last night that he "authorized" military action; Senator Paul has struck back with a reminder about who has the power to authorize war- "You are not a king."). Despite massive intelligence flaws and accusations of falsifying information, the goals of President Bush's military interventions were still clearly stated and laid out before the American people: find and kill Osama bin Laden, remove the Taliban from power, find and kill Saddam Hussein, install democratic forms of government in Iraq and Afghanistan. Whether or not the goals were entirely realistic for America's capabilities or executed well is up for debate, but they were still there.

The speech that President Obama gave last night should have been given either before or immediately after he initiated the campaign in Libya. Even then, it should have been better-- last night, President Obama still did not address exactly what the endgame was, who these Libyan rebels are, and how much the United States is willing to put into Libya. Going forward we must work "to minimize the commitment of the U.S. military, look after the best interests of Libya's civilian population, and limit the spread of terrorism and instability throughout the region." Hopefully the President and his administration can do a better job at explaining how this will be achieved.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Spinmaster is in

Chuck Shumer caught on tape telling his fellow Democrats to cry wolf: "I always use the word extreme," Mr. Schumer said. "That is what the caucus instructed me to use this week."

Crying extremism in defense of Liberalism is not a vice!

Categories > Journalism

Refine & Enlarge

Capacities of Mankind

So titled is the latest Letter from an Ohio Farmer.  Do read it for its theme--brought forth by Libya and Egypt and Syria--is not unrelated to a note Abigail sent to John that read like this: "You tell me of degrees of perfection to which human nature is capable of arriving, and I believe it, but at the same time lament that our admiration should arrive at the scarcity of the instances." Good woman, and smart.
Categories > Refine & Enlarge

Ashbrook Center

Reilly Colloquium

The audio from last Friday's colloquium with Robert Reilly on his book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis is now available on the Ashbrook site.

I highly recommend that you give it a listen. Bob gave a great talk, very thoughtful, which is to be expected, but also very clear and direct. The students enjoyed it immensely.  I literally had to pull him away from a group of them afterward in order to get him to dinner or they would have talked to him for several more hours!

Categories > Ashbrook Center

Shameless Self-Promotion

Energetic Radio

So I made a brief cameo on the "Morning Majority" show on WMAL here in DC this morning, the most popular morning drive-time show, discussing Obama's Libya speech and energy topics with Bryan Nehman and guest host Jonah Goldberg (Sounds like the talk radio equivalent of a fixed fight.--Ed.  Yeah, yeah.)  It was almost as good as a podcast with Schramm!  Anyway, you can listen to it here.

And as for Obama's speech, I unloaded on his most distracting oratorical tick over at Powerline.

Men and Women

A Note on Trying to Abolish Love

This Mark Steyn note on the sexualization of childhood, indeed, the abolishing of childhood, and sex, sex, sex, is worth reading.  It's all irritating, and worse, I must say.  Also kind of sad, don't you think?  I want to speak in favor of joy and love.  Would I could in those few lines that sometimes rivet the mind, and make the heart skip a bit or two!   I'll just have to be prosaic about, but I'll still make the attempt, from time to time. We seem way beyond the world that Allan Bloom described a generation ago and we thought that was bad enough. It has become rather boring stuff, hasn't it?  Sad and boring, all this sex without love. I think Julie Ponzi's reflections on the death of Elizabeth Taylor, on girls and women and on love, is right on point, and you should read it. She also puts Paglia in her place, not an easy thing to do.  So let us remind ourselves of a good song and a maybe of a meeting at night of true minds as she walks in beauty.  We shall be redeemed.  Never despair.
Categories > Men and Women

Foreign Affairs

Just What They Needed

For those who feared foreign extremists would descend upon Egypt in her state of vulnerability, their fear was well founded. According to its founder, ACORN has arrived in Egypt. Not the domestic American ACORN, which died a swift death following revelations that it condoned sex-trafficking in minors, but ACORN International, a resurrected global version of the fraudulent group.

Revealingly, an ACORN International faction which has sprouted up in the Czech Republic is calling itself the "ACORN Comrades Club" and partnering with the communist party. As the Czechs struggle against the residue of communism, ACORN arrives to champion the historic party of corruption and demagoguery. It's the same playbook they used in America.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Our Future?

From Citizens Against Government Waste:

Categories > Economy

Pop Culture

What a Bunch of Wimps

Euroweenie TV stations pull episodes of "The Simpsons" that have nuclear meltdown jokes.
Categories > Pop Culture

Foreign Affairs

Michael Ramirez on the Brackets that Matter

From today's Investor's Business Daily.


Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Merkel, Berlusconi Facing Trouble

And it bodes ill for the conservative sweep of Europe.
Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to see His Excellency Simeon Djankov, Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of Bulgaria, speak on both the global economic crisis and Bulgaria. He was a brilliant individual and is among the most-cited economists in the world, who has helped oversee a five-fold decrease of the Bulgarian budget deficit since being in power. One remarkable thing that he pointed out, when explaining the economic crisis, is how very different the crisis was in one particular aspect-- the political aspect. Historically in times of economic crisis, the governments of Europe would elect to power socialists and left-wingers. This time around it was all different; today, 23/27 European Union governments define themselves as center-right or conservative, including every major country except Spain and Greece (both of which are floundering). For the first time in Swedish history, the right-wing government has remained in power through two elections.

This was, argued Djankov, because there had been a change in thinking for Europeans. No longer could free markets, capitalism, and economic liberalism be to blame for financial crises-- this time, nations blamed regulations and governments for the mess, and subsequently were clamoring for more economic freedom to get out of it. He used Bulgaria as an example; today, a record number of people are moving TO Bulgaria for work and citizenship due to the low taxes and great job growth. The debate in that country right now is some radical finance reform-- putting fiscal rules into the Bulgarian constitution that include a cap on expenditures, a cap on deficits, and a 2/3 majority to raise taxes.

While conservatives have thus managed to remain in power despite massive public demonstrations against seemingly-draconian cuts in spending seen throughout the United Kingdom, France, and Italy, issues of personality, corruption, and fear may threaten to topple some of these governments. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi narrowly avoided a vote of no confidence at the end of last year; I happened to be in Italy at the time and witnessed how entirely enraptured the country was in the attempt to remove him-- the general consensus was that they did not like his cuts and really did not like him as a person, but understood the necessity of some of his politics. His personal corruption--mafia ties, media control, "bunga bunga" orgy parties, etc--has led to a trial against him for allegedly sleeping with an underage prostitute. So far, his strongest defense is that, at his age, it would be impossible for him to sleep with as many women as he is accused of. Combined with his now-awkward friendship with many of the fallen and falling Arab dictators, his grip on power is slipping fast.

Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also suffered a serious setback. Her Christian Democrat party lost control of a state government to the Green Party, giving that party its first governorship in Germany. The Greens campaigned against corruption in her government and, in the wake of the Japanese disaster, against her government's support of nuclear energy. With nuclear power now abandoned in Germany, it was still not enough for her ruling coalition to maintain power, and bodes as a bad sign for her government's reelection prospects nationally. It is also said that French President Nicholas Sarkozy has been so forceful about Libya in order to bolster his flopping image at home as he prepares for reelection-- government missteps, gaffs, some corruption, and general dissatisfaction with Sarkozy are threatening to topple him as well. Thus while the conservative wave in Europe may maintain its influence in restoring the economies of those states once trapped behind the Iron Curtain, it is increasingly appearing that the personalities of the Western European leaders could return center-left governments to power in the next round of elections despite the fact that their economic policies are what is saving those countries from the brink of bankruptcy. 
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Re: [Gandhi] Quotation du Jour

Richard: Andrew Roberts left out some of Gandhi's greatest hits, such as these from May 1940: 

"I do not consider Hitler to be as bad as he is depicted.  He is showing an ability that is amazing, and seems to be gaining his victories without much bloodshed." This was, admittedly, before the invasion of France began on May 10, so one might still say he was merely a slow learner, even as many of Churchill's own colleagues were still slow learners about Hitler on the eve of May 10.  Yet Gandhi returned to this topic on June 22, the day France capitulated: "Germans of future generations will honor Herr Hitler as a genius, as a brave man, a matchless organizer and much more."   For this kind of talk, Marge Schott was banished from major league baseball some years ago.  But Gandhi is still thought of as contender for Man of the Century.

Pop Culture

The first rule of Jane Austen's Fight Club is... don't talk about Jane Austen's Fight Club.
Categories > Pop Culture


The Central Front, The Right, And The Middle

James Capretta and Yuval Levin write that Republicans need to make major right-leaning health care reform the centerpiece of their campaign in 2012.  They estimate the stakes correctly when they write:


For Republicans committed to maintaining a vibrant and free society, there is no choice but to make genuine health care reform the centerpiece of their domestic agenda. If the health care debate is lost, then the fight for limited government is lost as well.


But the obstacles to Republicans enacting, or even running on a right-leaning health care reform agenda are enormous.  Part of the problem is with the right.  Aside from tort reform and vague calls to get the government out of health care, no particular set of right-leaning health care reform policies are a component of conservative identity.  Lower capital gains tax rates, expansion of oil drilling and opposition to socialized medicine are issues that have, for many conservatives, established narratives about growth, opportunity, freedom and justice.  Voucherizing Medicaid and giving a flat tax credit towards the purchase of catastrophic health insurance don't.  These kinds of connections can be made, but it takes time, effort, and repetition to create familiarity with the benefits of those policies, and the connections of those policies to principles of freedom, markets, and individual empowerment.  It could happen.  Most conservatives were in favor of greater oil exploration, but it took a combination of circumstances and political activism to make "drill baby drill" a big election issue (until the financial collapse.)  For a tangle of commercial and cultural reasons, it is not safe to expect the main outlets of the populist right-leaning media to take the lead in emphasizing particular right-leaning health care reform policies.  If those policies seem to be catching on, the populist right-leaning media will follow. 

One could hope for evangelical-minded conservative politicians and candidates to expand public understanding of right-leaning health care reform, but it would take a candidate of unusual character to make right-leaning health care reform the "the centerpiece of their domestic agenda."  That doesn't mean most conservative politicians won't have a good health care plan on their website (McCain did.)  That doesn't mean they won't have a one line or one paragraph nod to health care reform in their stump speech (McCain did.)  It means that focusing on right-leaning health care reform at current levels of public understanding and salience will endanger their campaigns.  In the Republican presidential primaries, it would make more purely political sense to talk about cuts to the corporate income tax, complain about this week's provocation from liberal-leaning figures, or find some new way (or yell some old way) to express contempt for Obama.  

Paul Ryan in one figure who takes right-leaning health care reform seriously.  He will get attention for his policy suggestions in the coming months (and not just on health care), but there are many segments of the population that a congressional committee chairman is not going to reach.  The politicians who can reach those other segments are Presidents and presidential candidates.  Ryan isn't running for President.  Newt Gingrich is (probably) running for President.  I heard him on the radio talking mostly about tax cuts and oil exploration and making fantasy promises about low unemployment rates and low gas prices.  Pawlenty is running for President.  His most recent CPAC speech included a vague little paragraph about giving people control of their own health care spending, but saved his energy for a phony and hyperbolic scream about how Obama should stop apologizing for the USA. Gingrich won't be Republican nominee and Pawlenty might, but their behavior closely tracks the political incentives and we probably can't expect better from most other politicians (that is a probabilistic rather than a normative statement.)

It doesn't get better when you get out of the Republican presidential primaries.  The issues involved in right-leaning health care reform are complicated.  Right-leaning health care reform policies would mean many people switching out of their employer-provided policies.  What about the currently uninsured and uninsurable?  There are answers (subsidized high risk pools or direct subsidies for those currently without insurance but with a cutoff date for new entrants), but they are complicated.  All the time the Democrats will be attacking you saying that you are going to kill grandma and throw people on the street if their kids get sick.  Public comprehension of right-leaning health care reform is low on the right, but virtually nonexistent among the potentially persuadable.  Health care security is an extremely personal and high salience issue.  John McCain was, in one sense, being quite rational in trying to get people outraged by pretending to believe that Obama called Palin a pig.  It sure beat having to explain his heath care plan.

But Capretta and Levin are right.  Public understanding and support for a patient-centered and market-oriented health care reform will have to be built somehow.  It could be a candidate of public relations genius, or a book that catches the imagination of the right-leaning populist media.  I hate waiting for one person to do something.  What if they get run over by a bus?  Also, 2012 might not be the year for Republicans to win (maybe it will, but conservatives should be ready for both eventualities.)  Republicans will have the opportunity to govern again, but will they be ready with the right reform program?  Even more important, will they have enough public understanding of, and support for their program so that Republicans politicians will be able to enact and sustain their policies in the face of Democratic counterattacks? 

I'll  try to have some thoughts a little later in the week.     

Categories > Politics

Quote of the Day

Quoation du Jour

Gandhi on Mussolini in Andrew Roberts' review of a new biography of Gandhi:

Gandhi and Mussolini got on well when they met in December 1931, with the Great Soul praising the Duce's "service to the poor, his opposition to super-urbanization, his efforts to bring about a coordination between Capital and Labour, his passionate love for his people."

No enemies on the Left?

Categories > Quote of the Day


Obama's Religious Accomodation

Obama has been no friend to religious accommodation - most recently, he opposed conscience clauses exempting medical personnel with religious objections from performing abortions. And Obama's Dept. of Justice has been widely criticized for politicizing the law - from witch-hunts for Bush-era lawyers to the pardoning of the New Black Panthers. The newest twist is the DOJ's championing of a Muslim teacher's right to skip school in order to make a Hajj.

Safoorah Khan had taught middle school math for only nine months in this tiny Chicago suburb when she made an unusual request. She wanted three weeks off for a pilgrimage to Mecca.

The school district, faced with losing its only math lab instructor during the end-of-semester marking period, said no.

The DOJ has asserted that the school violated Kahn's civil rights and "compell[ed] Ms. Khan to choose between her job and her religious observance." The law requires employers to reasonably accommodate workers' religious beliefs, if such imposes no more than a minimal burden on working conditions.

Like his support for the Ground Zero Mosque, Obama's support for this teacher is an attempt to continue his outreach to Muslims. But this is a weak case and the DOJ is an inappropriate forum for sectarian preferences - the administration would never have intervened on behalf of a Christian teacher. Clumsy religious diplomacy in the courts devalues Obama's credibility as an advocate of the rule of law.

Categories > Religion

Foreign Affairs

An Unholy Alliance

Many have wondered how the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood - former rivals - have managed to become so cozy in so short a time. The ability of the MB to promote order is one factor, but a general alignment of belief is another. For example, the Egyptian army is forcing female protestors to undergo "virginity tests." If they fail (after they are beaten), they may be charged with prostitution. The Muslim Brotherhood needn't be militantly Islamic when it has an Islamic military to do its bidding.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Our Official New Words

The latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary has been released. FYI, the lexicon is being increasingly subordinated to the age of texting and Twitter with additions including OMG and LOL. IMHO, that's TMI for the dictionary, which is a bit of a yuck factor for all of those wags wearing tinfoil hats. Food items included are taquitos, banh mi, doughnut holes, and the schoolyard-famous five-second rule (a notional rule which permits the retrieval and consumption of dropped food within the specified period of time).

One of the most interesting new entries is La-La Land. The noun can "either refer to Los Angeles (in which case its etymology is influenced by the common initialism for that city), or to a state of being out of touch with reality--and sometimes to both simultaneously." Seems like the dictionary is trying to pick a fight. As the L.A. Times asks, what is so out of touch about a city where Spiderman can get arrested on Hollywood Boulevard?

Spelling Bee Stumper

Want to bring the National Spelling Bee to a complete halt?  Ask the kids in the final round for a correct spelling of the first and last name of the "leader" of Libya.  It appears there really isn't an incorrect answer.  Here is a probably non-exhaustive list:

Muammar Qaddafi 
Mo'ammar Gadhafi 
Muammar Kaddafi 
Muammar Qadhafi 
Moammar El Kadhafi 
Muammar Gadafi 
Mu'ammar al-Qadafi 
Moamer El Kazzafi 
Moamar al-Gaddafi 
Mu'ammar Al Qathafi 
Muammar Al Qathafi 
Mo'ammar el-Gadhafi 
Moamar El Kadhafi 
Muammar al-Qadhafi 
Mu'ammar al-Qadhdhafi 
Mu'ammar Qadafi 
Moamar Gaddafi 
Mu'ammar Qadhdhafi 
Muammar Khaddafi 
Muammar al-Khaddafi 
Mu'amar al-Kadafi 
Muammar Ghaddafy 
Muammar Ghadafi 
Muammar Ghaddafi 
Muamar Kaddafi
Muammar Quathafi 
Mohammer Q'udafi 
Muammar Gheddafi 
Muamar Al-Kaddafi 
Moammar Khadafy 
Moammar Qudhafi 
Mu'ammar al-Qaddafi


The Trouble With Birthright (Cont.)

California has reportedly shut down centers that specialized in taking in mothers who come to America only to give birth to their children on American soil to make their children U.S. citizens.

Another example of why it's a bad idea to base citizenship on soil rather than the principles of 1776.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

The Opposition Advances

The rebel forces in Libya have launched their first major offensive since the no-fly zone was instituted, pushing Gaddafi's forces out of the strategic city of Ajdabiya. Meanwhile, civil unrest has spread to Syria and Jordan. Syria has responded with particularly egregious violence.

Events in Egypt and Libya have already assured the current crisis a page in history. But the extent of the rebellion remains to be seen. As I wrote this post, I mentioned aloud that protests in the Arab world had spread to Syria and Jordan, and my lovely lady quite sincerely asked, "How many nations are left?" 

On the other hand, the outcome of the rebellion remains to be seen, as well - the entire enterprise could lead to liberal democracies or sectarian tyrannies. One can only hope that, whatever the immediate results, the uprisings mark the beginning of a trend toward liberty and moderation in an oppressed corner of the world.

Categories > Foreign Affairs