Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

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The American Soviet

Victor Davis Hanson comments on the crises of the Middle East, the mores of America, and our postmodern pretensions. "We are living in another Soviet, a 21st-century sort in which we nod to official pieties and mouth politically correct banalities while in our private lives, for our safety, well-being -- and sanity -- we conduct ourselves according to altogether different premises." Do read. I think he is right on in the standards that many apply to Israel.

Update: A clip from The West Wing that is relevant to a part of this discussion, in regards to targeting individuals for assassination.
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The Family

Tocqueville on the Wedding

Married to a commoner Englishwoman himself, Alexis de Tocqueville would have approved of the latest royal union.  Using insights from Democracy in America, Julia Shaw argues the splendid moment was "quite an American affair."  What the visiting, onlooking Americans "were watching was not some imaginary fairy tale or even a typical lavish royal wedding. It was another American love story."  They went abroad to meet themselves.

My favorite commentary on royalty in the modern world is on a less fortunate royal couple. Mark Helprin's splendid comic novel, Freddy and Fredericka, describes Charles and Di romping incognito across America and acquiring its virtues to make them fit for the royal throne.

Categories > The Family

Foreign Affairs

Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah at Odds?

As the Islamic Republic of Iran continues its dangerous pursuit of nuclear technology, it appears more and more that a rift may be developing between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei. The president has been conspicuously missing from the presidential palace this week after disagreeing with the Ayatollah over one of his ministers. Back in December, Ahmadinejad unexpectedly fired his foreign minister, a favorite of the Ayatollah (the president replaced him with the head of Iran's nuclear agency, signifying the regime's defiance in the nuclear issue). Last week, he asked his intelligence minister to resign-- and was overruled when the Ayatollah, who is considered the supreme leader in the so-called republic, reinstated the intelligence minister. Ahmadinejad has not appeared in any official capacity since, leading one Iranian conservative lawmaker to remark that "the president was sulking."

Over the past year it seems that there has been a struggle over who controls Iranian foreign policy, which the Ayatollah traditionally liked to maintain a leash on and the president wants more power over. The madman's power grabs are, according to some, likely causing the Ayatollah to double-think his support of Ahmadinejad in the disputed 2009 elections. Lately the Revolutionary Guard has backed the hardline regime rather than the ruling clerics, but in this incident even commanders within that organization have asked Ahmadinejad to comply with the Ayatollah's wishes. Some conservatives in the Iranian parliament are preparing impeachment proceedings against Ahmadinejad. All of this comes as Ahmadinejad has his eyes on the 2012 parliamentary elections and is trying to groom a successor, probably former chief-of-staff Esfandiar Mashaei, to eventually take his place in the palace. It is well-known that the Ayatollah does not like Mashaei and forced the politician, who is also Ahmadinejad's son-in-law, out of his position a few weeks ago.

Of course the Ayatollah is downplaying his disagreements with the president. Both parties in the dispute are dangerous, dictatorial hardliners, though admittedly it appears that the Ayatollah is not as extreme as Ahmadinejad in his foreign policy antagonisms. The best case scenario is that the growing split might be able to weaken the hardline coalition and allow the opposition to gain some power-- and, God willing, split the Revolutionary Guard's support between the two men. A more likely case is that Ahmadinejad will eventually have to bow to the supreme leader, which just may bring a slightly less-antagonistic approach to Iranian foreign policy.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Keynes vs. Hayek, Round Two

For all of us who couldn't get enough of last year's sensation "Fear the Boom and Bust" (the "Rapper's Delight" of economic theory hip-hop), producers John Papola and Russ Roberts have released the sequel, "Fight of the Century."  This one deals explicitly with the Keynesian fallacy that World War II ended the Depression: "Creating employment's a straigtforward craft / When the nation's at war, and there's a draft / If every worker was staffed in the army and fleet / We'd be at full employment with nothing to eat."
Categories > Economy

Foreign Affairs

Hungary's New Clothes

Conservatives - and Americans as a whole - are sometimes criticized by the left and foreign observers for rather excessively worshipping the U.S. Constitution. I've always absorbed such criticism with a reflection of Barry Goldwater's observation that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." If one must err, it ought to be in favor of a glorious principle which has well preserved a glorious republic. Devotion to the document has very rarely led us astray, whereas its neglect has reaped immense mischief.

I recall a joke that a man once asked a librarian for a copy of the French Constitution, only to be informed that the library did not carry periodicals. The protean and politically partisan nature of European constitutions has always limited their effectiveness. Even when changes reflect serious thinking on matters of political structure and purpose, the result is a fleeting triumph quickly subject to revision. The ultimate consequence is a weakening of fundamental, shared political convictions - an instability which always favors authoritarianism.

Hungary presents a case in point. The government is presently issuing a new constitution. Proponents celebrate the document as a final break with Hungary's communist past, whereas critics agrue it establishes an authoritarian regime in Europe. The constitution does greatly empower the current president and legislature to extend their influence (and political ideology) into perpetuity, and will thus be treated by opponents in the same manner as Obamacare and financial regulations: massive, partisan legislative overhauls to be quickly rescinded. 

The problem with time is that it can't be rushed. Hungary's new fundamental law is still wet ink on paper - it will be very long before it gains the prestige and solemnity to stand on its own. Until then, it is subject to all the slings and arrows of political warfare. Should it fall, its successor will suffer all the same frailties. Thus is the curse of European fecklessness.

I posit the moral of the story as a reflection on the great boon Americans enjoy in the U.S. Constitution, and our debt of gratitude to the wise men who composed the stately charter.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Refine & Enlarge

Another Letter from the Farmer

The latest Letter from an Ohio Farmer addresses this point that President Obama made a week or so ago: "You see, most Americans tend to dislike government spending in the abstract, but like the stuff that it buys."  The President is saying essentially what former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, meant by his most quoted maxim: "All politics is local." The Progressive agenda counts on the fact that we Americans like the stuff government spending buys, just as Tip O'Neill counted on all politics being local. The Farmer considers this massive fact.
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Literature, Poetry, and Books


Some days ago I was trying to write a few good words, maybe like this, so thought my flattery.  Once nothing appeared, again and again, I thought about the silence, the unnatural silence, of even my ill attempt.  Something was wrong, help was needed, sound needed to come from my manly attempt to compose doggerel.  So away I put my sleek and quiet iPad only good for prose, and found a place not far where an old man sells and repairs typewriters still.  On the phone he said he'd been doing it all his life and still making money at it, knew everything there was to know.  He tried selling me an electric typewriter.  So much for Solomonic wisdom, said I, he didn't know me. Told him I never used the electric stuff, but I had a manual Underwood once, and a Royal, but best was a Hermes, with a good feel, and she never asked for anything, just let me type, with a soft or hard touch, and words came out and I came to like the doing and the product.  Did he have such a thing?  Sometimes good things happen to fools, he said, for he had one in almost perfect condition, a Hermes 3000.  Dropping all prudence, I drove Clarence north an hour and bought the thing for ninety bucks.  The pleasure was great, and--eventually--the doggerel came forth.  The thing was a hit, a palpable hit.  It still is.  I love it and she puts up with me.  Now I have discovered that the last typewriter factory has closed its doors and I almost wept, but then--trusting in my iPad for the research--discovered that this ain't true thank God!  Now back to my Swiss made Hermes.  You've heard the expression, made like a Swiss typewriter?  Exactly.  Precisely.


For It Before He Was Against It

Michelle Malkin has dug up an old Paul Krugman column (or "former Enron adviser Paul Krugman," as James Taranto likes to remind us) from the mid-1990s calling for entitlement reform, sounding a lot like today's deficit hawks. Funny how Krugman's Bush-Derangement-Syndrome has completely overtaken his mind.

Meanwhile, over at Power Line, I dilate the latest chapter in liberal hypocrisy on energy. I've done it before here on NLT, but thought the PL audience deserves a taste.  (And also an item about Time magazine's lame 100 Most Influential People cover story from this week.)
Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Inside Obama's Foreign Policy

The New Yorker has a new article out about Obama's foreign policy (or lack thereof). It provides some interesting insight into the minds of Obama, Clinton, and the aides surrounding them as they conduct American foreign policy. Elliot Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations summarizes the important parts of the piece. "One of the advisers described the President's actions in Libya as 'leading from behind.'" Recommended reading.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Exaggeration of Chinese Ascendancy

The blogosphere was all a-twitter today with news from the International Monetary Fund that the Age of America will end in five years. Yes, prepare for your inevitable servitude to Chinese businessmen as, in five years, they overcome us as the preeminent power on Earth. We've only got five years left of being successful and safe. The coming Age of China will bring all sorts of new realities to the world, according to the commentators, including the United States going the way of the Soviet Union, the British Empire, and the Dodo. How very silly.

First of all, people who lament the rise of other economies around the globe in relation to our own begin with the flawed perception that there is a finite source of wealth in the world and that as others get richer, we get poorer. This is absolutely not true; just because the once-called "Third World" is rapidly gaining on us in economic progress does not mean that we must begin to decline as a result. Yes, it changes the way that markets and economies operate and require some readjustment, but the idea that just because China is rising economically that we are going to be worse-off is ridiculous. It does put us at a disadvantage insofar as we are no longer able to project our power as easily as we used to in certain parts of the world-- but that change is a result of them getting stronger, not us getting weaker.

Second, projections of China's rising power are grossly exaggerated. Overlooking the massive fact that hundreds of millions of Chinese still live in feudal poverty, their economy is built on severely unstable foundations. Eager to increase their power, wealth, and prestige, the Communists have cut all sorts of corners to inflate their economy and over-invested in property and infrastructure. Take, for example, this episode concerning China's poor investment in high-speed rail (something to note from those in the United States who lament our lack of high-speed rail in relation to our Eastern friends): highlighting the corruption and shortsightedness of the Communist Party, the Chinese have invested $300 billion in an intricate high-speed rail line. The New York Times and President Obama gushed over the Chinese investments in airports, electric cars, and bullet trains, citing them as an example for America to follow. The problem? No one is riding the trains and the airports are empty. The government is $270 billion in debt over the bullet train investment, and they have had to lower the speed of the trains by 30 MPH due to safety concerns that came up because of how haphazardly this was done. It is a train wreck that they will never be able to pay for (note to those supportive of Obama's investment in high-speed rail: Japan and Thailand saw their trains bankrupted too after investing in it).

Like their investment in trains, China's economy will soon wreck as well. Their excessive investment in unused infrastructure, the bureaucratic corruption of their government and businesses, and the abject poverty that 95% of their population lives in will lead to a collapse. It's a paper tiger dangling over a flame. At any rate, hopefully their growing middle class and increased access to sources of non-censored information will lead to political reform in the country. In the mean time, American politicians should stop looking at the Chinese as a model for anything (especially infrastructure investments) and pundits should stop decrying the decline of the United States before an ascendant China. They have a long, long way to go.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Krugman Strikes Again

Paul Krugman writes that "'Consumer-based' medicine has been a bust everywhere it has been tried."  That would probably come as a surprise to the state employees of Indiana where an HSA/catastrophic insurance program has saved the government money and increased worker take home pay while maintaining access to high quality health care.  It would probably come as a surprise to the people of Singapore where the several enormous consumer-driven programs have helped the country achieve access to high quality health care at a fraction of the GDP that the US pays.

That doesn't mean there aren't legitimate questions.  The Indiana-style program seems to work well for some populations but perhaps not the elderly (though that doesn't mean that a government single-payer FFS system is the only alternative.)  While there are things to learn from Singapore it probably wouldn't make sense for a much larger, more diverse, more dispersed population to adopt the entire package of Singapore policies.  Even moving in a more consumer-oriented, the government will still have a crucial role supplying subsidies (whether direct subsides, tax subsidies, or forced savings) and in some ways an even larger role in regulation (especially in enforcing price transparency.)  Neither Indiana, nor Singapore offer a one-size-fits-all answer to our health care policy problems - though we ought to try to learn what we can.  We should also never forget that Paul Krugman will never let his integrity get in the way of whatever narrative he is pushing. 

h/t Megan  McArdle

Categories > Politics

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Andrew Marvell

Because of this review (in hard copy) of a biography of Andrew Marvell, and also because of a fine Ashbrook Thesis defense on Milton's Paradise Lost (Marvell was a contemporary) I read some of his poems this weekend. I find them hard to resist, pulls you in like the magnet eyes of a lover. He attracts my heart and holds my mind. Take a look at On a Drop of Dew first, then To His Coy Mistress, and then the longer (and best?) An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland.  Well, maybe even this, which begins, "O who shall, from this dungeon, raise/A soul enslav'd so many ways?"


Happy Easter

Today, Christians celebrate the festum festorum, the principal feast of the ecclesiastical year. This year, the feast falls on the same day in the east and west, so all Christians share a single celebration. Ken justly mentioned the Pope's intellectual religious approach during the Easter vigil homily, so I only add his Urbi Et Orbi Easter day message.

In mixed Anglo-Czech tradition, I ran about the house this morning (gently) swatting the ladies with braided Willow branches demanding "vejce malovany" (painted eggs) and they searched for chocolate-stuffed baskets hidden by the Easter Bunny. Now comes the home-cooked feast.

A happy Easter to all RONLT!

Categories > Religion

Foreign Affairs

Now We Know

Curious as to why the Obama administration has been slow to deal with the problem of piracy?  This amazing photograph of the president suggests the reason.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

The Problem with Big-H History

The last place I imagined I'd find a trenchant criticism of Obama's foreign policy--not to mention an illustration of the problems inherent in the Progressive view of History-as-force--is Doonesbury.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Krugman on Taxes

Paul Krugman is tired of hearing that only the rich pay taxes.  Of course, he admits, they do pay most federal income taxes, but once we count state and local income taxes, property taxes, and, especially, payroll taxes to fund Medicare and Social Security, taxation tracks more or less evenly with wealth.

The conclusion from this, of course, is that were it not for Medicare and Social Security we would have a far more progressive tax system in this country.

It's also worth pointing out that, as this graph demonstrates, the share of income taxes paid by the wealthiest one percent of Americans has tended to increase with the decline of the top marginal tax rate.

Categories > Economy


Before Philosophy--and After?

Pope Benedict XVI's Easter homilies are intellectually powerful statements of the Christian creed but also important for all interested in restoring reason to commanding place in public discourse.  In other words, he (like his predecessor) should be thought of as public intellectuals, not simply religious leaders. 

His Easter Vigil homily is one example: "We celebrate this day as the origin and the goal of our existence. We celebrate it because now, thanks to the risen Lord, it is definitively established that reason is stronger than unreason, truth stronger than lies, love stronger than death."

Likewise, his Good Friday homily these remarks (coincident with Earth Day--see Wheat&Weeds for comments) reflect on the relationship between the created and the rational order. 

Reason and revelation, philosophy and faith, freedom and duty--these are the themes of western civilization and the themes of the Catholic Church.  Little wonder that the Church is the principal institutional defender of reason in public discourse today--meaning as well the freedom to dissent in the public square from the Church's teachings.  Little wonder, too, that this defender of intellectual freedom should be derided as the source of bigotry and superstition.

Categories > Religion


The Crisis of the New Order

In the past few weeks, I have been pondering Arthur Schlesinger's Cycles of American History. As I recall the thesis, Schlesinger posits 30 year cycles in U.S. history, featuring 30 years of reform, and then 30 years of retrenchment or of consolidation.  (We should keep in mind Schlesinger's comment that, "Britain has already submitted itself to social democracy; the United States will very likely advance in that direction through a series of New Deals."

As I see it, however, the story is different.  From 1800 to 1861, the Union had, as a rule, a Jeffersonian/ Jacksonian governing coalition.  That order broke down in the run up to the Civil War, and was replaced with a Republican establishment, which held sway until the late 1920s or early 1930s.  (It was starting to break down during Wilson's Presidency, but the Crash killed it).   And then we had a third establishment, forged during the 1930s, which remained in charge, until it started to break down in the 1980s and 1990s.  That order is failing now. What will replace it, is open for debate, and for political competition.  In each era, there was an underlying consensus about what a democratic republic was, and about what the constitituion meant. (In every era, however, there have been important dissents from the majority view).

A couple of recent comments reflect this reality. Nancy Pelosi's now famous, comment that elections "shouldn't matter as much as they do" reflects one of the big ideas of the Progressive establishment.  Meanwhile, John Judis's lament over the "demise of impartial institutions" grows from the same ideology.  

The key institutions of this establishment grew in the first part of the 20th century, Judas notes:

The Brookings Institution also dates from this period. Retired St. Louis businessman Robert Brookings, who founded it in 1916, said he wanted an institution "free from any political or pecuniary interest" that would "lay before the country in a coherent form the fundamental economic facts." Brookings's first president, Harold Moulton, was a laissez-faire economist, yet, when coal operators complained bitterly about a Brookings study in 1928 calling for the nationalization of the industry, he rebuked them for demanding that his think tank heed their interests in its research.

The key elite publication of the era was The New York Times. Prior to Adolph Ochs's purchase of the Times in 1896, most newspapers were either party organs or sensationalistic rags that had little regard for the truth. Ochs insisted that the paper be "non-partisan," that it "give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of any party, sect or interests involved," and that it "make of the columns ... a forum for the consideration of all questions of public importance, and to that end ... invite intelligent discussions from all shades of opinion."

In their heyday, both Brookings and the Times built upon the premise that there is such a thing as apolitical analysis of political subjects.  That premise, combined with the idea that experts, trained as professionals, with PhDs in economics or political science (reflecting new ideas in education. The social science PhD was new then), or in schools of journalism (and there was a compliment to that idea in the law schools, and the bar), should study issues dispassionately and disinterestedly, and they would come up with the most reasonable solitions to society's (and the world's) problems.  From this point of view, elections were not the defining feature of what was still called "democracy."

Strictly speaking, that was always a myth.  Politics is inherently political.  For quite some time, however, this establishment was new enough, and small enough, that it remained close enough to the ideas, mores, and prejudices of the common people that it was able to fudge the line.  In time, however, that broke down.  That is the crisis we are seeing now. 

As I read it, this establishment always leaned Left, and that's because the idea of escaping politics is inherently Left, since the Left was founded during the French Revolution, with its worship of what it called "reason."  But the Left tilt of that establishment did not become such a large problem until its center started to be increasingly far from the republic's political center.

Judas shows his cards at the end of his essay. He concludes:

Ultimately, the success of disinterested institutions depends on two things: the character and views of the individuals who serve them, and widespread public support for their existence. This second pillar appears to be eroding. . . .Will this challenge to disinterestedness fade with time? . . . I certainly hope so, because, if it does not, we could be looking at a political system that begins to resemble that of the late nineteenth century, with its sharp and seemingly unresolvable clashes between different groups in American society. The next big test will be the Supreme Court's ruling on Obama's health care plan. If the court rejects the plan on the kind of spurious grounds that its opponents have endorsed, then it will have abandoned its historic commitment to disinterestedness. And American democracy will be in very big trouble.

Judas notes that the establishment he praises replaced the U.S. political system as it existed in the late 19th century.  Were American politics to become more open again, and the 20th century establishment to fall, that might not be so bad.  There might be more liberty, and diversity in American political life. 

I too worry about the consequences of the Court striking down Obamacare.  (A side note: In its heyday, the Progressive establishment would not have passed such major legislation without large majorities in both houses, and bipartisan support. That the bill was pushed through with some sketchy tactics is a sign that that establishment is on its last legs) 

My concern is that our Lefty establishment is so closed minded that it thinks, with Judas, that there is no good constitutional case against Obamacare.   And that establishment still has a great deal of power, and can still throw quite a tantrum.

What that tells us is that we might be, once again, in an era in which there is no constitutional consensus in the U.S.  Such eras are always interesting times.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Mexico Travel Warnings

The civil war taking place on our southern border--and make no mistake about it that the conflict in Mexico is so unstable and deadly to merit such a title--has prompted the United States Department of State to issue new warnings against traveling to many parts of Mexico. In 2006, Mexican President Felipe Calderón dispatched several thousand soldiers to the state of Michoacán to put a halt to drug violence in the area, ending the passive stance that the federal government had taken towards the powerful drug cartels for over a decade. The initial crackdown has now escalated into an all-out war, with various factions killing over 36,000 people. On the one hand you have the fight between the Mexican federal government and the drug cartels, and on the other you have the cartels fighting each other for control of territory and supplies. The cartels are in control of huge areas of Mexico, including many cities, and very often it is the case that local police forces are corrupted and aiding the cartels against the federal military. Over a dozen town mayors and hundreds of prosecutors and police have been assassinated. 

While certain states in Mexico had previously managed to remain relatively free from the Drug War, the new State Department travel warning highlights how the situation in these states is rapidly deteriorating. Most surprising on the list now is Sonora, the second largest state in Mexico, located on our border in northwestern Mexico. It is a state that I am very familiar with; a branch of my family is fairly prominent in state politics and business there and I have traveled in and around Hermosilio, the state capital, often throughout my life (I even had a few-days stay at their local hospital about a decade ago, courtesy of a ruptured appendix during spring break). Sonora now joins the list of areas in Mexico under travel warning-- any nonessential travel there should be avoided. The Mexican government is losing the Drug War.

If anyone believes that this is not America's problem, they should note that of the 15,000 drug-related homicides in Mexico last year, at least 111 were American. Americans are routinely being robbed and carjacked in Mexico, and the violence has been spilling over into our border towns. Much of the cartels' revenue stream comes from their business in the United States, where they acquire illegal arms and sell nearly all of their drugs (the Mexican cartels are now responsible for trafficking 90% of the cocaine entering the US, generating billions of dollars a year). In addition to the illegal gun and drug trade that they are engaged in, human trafficking (modern day slavery, usually sexual in nature) is a growing and lucrative business for the cartels. This is our problem, and as Mexico continues to destabilize we will continue to suffer grave threats to our national security. I would note that if the cartels can get such large quantities of money, humans, guns, and drugs back and forth over the border, it is not out of the realm of possibility for terrorists to figure out their way back and forth either.

Unmanned American drones are currently being used to help in Mexico, and various parts of the American government and military are working closely with the Mexican government to help against these cartels. But it is not enough; more needs to be done. Ties between our military and the Mexican military need to be strengthened; a greater drug strategy for the entire Western hemisphere needs to be a foreign policy priority; border security needs to be stepped up; and, yes, money should be spent on training Mexican officials, engaging in public diplomacy in Mexico, and helping fund programs to increase cooperation in Mexico. Even in these days of deep debt, using resources against the cartels in the Mexican Drug War is a national security priority that should be fully funded. The costs of letting it drag on and watching our southern neighbor deteriorate further into chaos will be far greater than a few more lines to our debt.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Who is Jon Huntsman?

Who is Jon Huntsman and why does President Obama keep saying he likes the guy? These are the questions that I asked a few months ago when a friend first mentioned Huntsman as a 2012 contender. Since then, most articles up until this week were mostly about his relationship with President Obama and compliments that Obama and his staff seemed to be going out of the way to make. This week, there have been several articles mentioning him as one of the few serious contenders for the Republican nomination (along the likes of Romney, Daniels, and Pawlenty). While there are some who think that the idea of Huntsman being the nominee is completely ridiculous, others are not so quick to write him off-- at least as a very serious threat to Mitt Romney's campaign.

Huntsman, a Mormon who lived in Taiwan for a time as a missionary, is the son of billionaire businessman Jon Huntsman, Sr. He was a staff assistant in Ronald Reagan's White House, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce in George HW Bush's White House, and Deputy US Trade Representative in George W Bush's White House. The youngest ambassador in a century, he also served as Ambassador to Singapore. He was elected Governor of Utah in 2004, reelected in 2008 with 77% of the vote, and left office in 2009 with an 80% approval rating. Fluent in Mandarin, President Obama named Huntsman as his Ambassador to China-- a post which he will vacate at the end of the month. He has seven children, including one adopted from China and one adopted from India. He loves motocross and plays in a rock band.

A fiscal conservative who cut taxes and pushed for private sector answers to the healthcare problem, he has been criticized by the Cato Institute for his spending policies (Cato has also praised him, ranking him the best of all 50 governors on tax policy). Like many in Utah and among the Mormon community, he tends to split with national Republicans on immigration policy. He also holds moderate stances on climate change, civil unions, and education-- previous support of his for the Bush/Obama stimulus packages and cap-and-trade will no doubt come to haunt him. However, he is one of the most successful politicians in pro-life issues and a firm supporter of gun rights. Vocally critical of Chinese human rights abuses, he supports proactive approaches to end North Korea's nuclear program; he is also a fervent supporter of Israel, having made several trips to that country.

It is not yet certain if he is actually planning to run for president in 2012; some suggest he is setting things up for 2016. If he does run, he will have the face two great difficulties-- name recognition and his moderate stances on some issues. Arguments against him based on his working in the Obama Administration are probably overblown and will be easily handled ("he was doing his duty to his country"). Some suggest that President Obama is concerned about a Huntsman candidacy, with hints that Obama purposefully put him in China in order to get him out of the way. It's a possibility-- if Huntsman were to somehow survive the Republican primaries, he would no doubt stand a very real chance of easily defeating the President (and attracting some millennials and Latinos away from Obama in the process); I'm not sure that everything is that cynical, though. The fact that he is currently the only individual with foreign policy credentials eyeing the election likely puts him at least on a vice presidential short list. Regardless, no matter what Ambassador Huntsman's success, his entrance into the race would be a game-changer by most likely diminishing Romney's support enough for another candidate to gain an advantage in the primaries.
Categories > Elections


Re: Trump

Scott Adams gets the joke.  I'd be a little less harsh on the people who back Trump in the opinion polls.  The question "Who might you vote for in a series of primaries and caucuses starting sometime in the first two months of next year?" is very, very low stakes
Categories > Politics


More Notes On Trump

1.  This is a silly season.  Nobody is actually casting a vote for Trump that counts and it will be months and months before real votes are cast.  It will get better.

2.  Trump might actually improve the discourse in the Republican primary.  Since there is no point in trying to out-inflammatory Trump, it might create a primary to see who can consolidate the 75%-80% who even now won't back Trump.  So the competition might be in the direction of being the anti-Trump rather than becoming Trump-lite.  Good for Michelle Bachmann for renouncing the birther issue.

3.  What are the odds that the whole Trump thing is a footnote by November of this year?  I'd say at least 50/50.

Categories > Politics


The Right's Deaniac Moment

David Brooks is trying to figure out the secret of Donald Trump's high poll ratings.  I think Brooks makes some plausible points, but I think there is something else there too.  Donald Trump has become the Howard Dean of the 2012 presidential campaign.  There is a certain minority fraction of center-right leaning Americans for whom expressions of loathing and suspicion of Obama are the most salient issues.  They might rationalize it as being willing to "fight" or "talk straight", but it is mostly the satisfaction of hearing Obama insulted and diminished (he isn't an American citizen, he didn't write his first book, etc.) in the most extravagant terms.

This happens across the ideological divide.  Howard Dean got to be the Democratic presidential frontrunner almost eight years ago.  It wasn't just that Dean was against the Iraq War from the beginning.  Dennis Kucinich's credentials were at least as good.  Those of us who met Howard Dean supporters also know that Dean's record as a budget balancing, NRA-friendly governor didn't account for much of his support.  Dean's strength was that he spoke of President Bush will sincere contempt and his loathing of Bush was so intense that it seemed to ripple under his skin.  This approach always had its limits and Dean wasn't going to be the Democratic nominee even if Dean's underlying emotional instability hadn't erupted on the night of the Iowa Caucuses.

Just like Dean tapped into a vein of Bush loathing and hatred, Trump has now tapped into a similar vein of Obama hatred and suspicion on the right.  In one sense, Trump has already won the Obama hatred primary among prospective Republican presidential candidates.  The paradox is that Trump's rise to prominence in the Obama hatred primary is related the underlying absurdity of his candidacy.  He can outbid all the other Republican candidates in appealing to the Obama-hatred-above-all demographic because he isn't worried about losing elections or becoming a national joke. 

Howard Dean was actually running to be elected President.  This put a limit on the kinds of things he could say about Bush - even if he was personally inclined to say them.  Newt Gingrich is no more likely to be elected President than Trump, but he seems to have some interest in maintaining a degree of respectability.  Gingrich tried to make a play for the Obama hating demographic, but in a way that didn't cut Gingrich off from the rest of the center-right.  He talked about Obama's "Kenyan, anti-colonial" worldview (not really American you see.)  Trump does Gingrich two better.  Not only does Trump question Obama's very citizenship, but also asserts that Obama's first book was written by a terrorist.  Gingrich probably thought he was being quite clever by restricting himself to calling Obama foreign in mentality.  How timid and pale Gingrich seems compared to Trump.    

Trump is going for attention and that creates a different dynamic. The Trump dynamic is closer to that of a pro wrestling heel than a candidate for office. It is okay if he stirs up more opposition than support - as long as the opposition and support are both passionate.  This allows Trump to adopt the birther issue and the Ayers issue.  There is a market for such things (though not one big enough to win the Republican nomination), and there is vast publicity in the media pushback.  Either way people are talking about him, and that is the point.  Since he isn't trying to win a presidential election, he can't lose. 

Categories > Politics


A Better Strategery And Better Chosen Ground

Rich Lowry is wondering whether the Medicare cuts in Paul Ryan's Path to Prosperity will sink the plan.  You can look at the public polling and conclude that restraining Medicare spending is a lost cause, but not so fast:

1.  Reforming Medicare is a comparative issue.  It is (or ought to be - if the Republicans are minimally competent) a choice and not a referendum on one particular approach.  We aren't really arguing about Medicare cuts.  We aren't even arguing about Medicare cuts vs. tax cuts.  President Obama has already cut Medicare by hundreds of billions.  He has now proposed to cut Medicare by over a trillion more.  He has proposed to give a panel of unelected bureaucrats the power to impose service cuts.  So our choice is a market-oriented reform in which seniors would have more options (and maybe more disposable income) and a centralized government system in which the government slams the door in your face when and how the government decides.  Even so, the Republicans could still lose this argument because...

2.  The Republicans still need a better plan.  As Josh Barro wrote, they need more credible funding proposals for Medicare.  Keeping a defined contribution version of Medicare FFS would be good politics and good policy.  As Capretta and Miller pointed out, there will be circumstances where a defined contribution Medicare FFS would offer the best product at the most competitive price. This would also reassure some fraction of the public that Medicare FFS would still be there, but within a system that encourages health care providers to orient themselves to patients rather than bureaucrats and would give patients choices between different provider networks that competed on extent of services (past the government-mandated minimum) and cost.   

Categories > Politics

Health Care

The Buy-In Myth

Ross Douthat writes:

Asking a population that's increasingly brown and beige to accept punishing tax rates while white seniors receive roughly $3 in Medicare benefits for every dollar they paid in (the projected ratio in the 2030s) promises to polarize the country along racial as well as generational lines.

Wouldn't it be more accurate to say, they will receive "roughly $3 in Medicare benefits for every dollar they have paid to benefit those who have retired before them"?

Categories > Health Care

Refine & Enlarge

Nullification is Not a Principle for the Serious Tea Partier

Recent Ashbrook Scholar graduate, Michael Sabo, writes one of the most clear and concise explanations I have seen of why the doctrine of nullification has no part to play in any clear-eyed understanding of the principles that animate America.  Moreover, Sabo argues, it ought to be rejected by those who, in supporting the work of the Tea Party, understand themselves to be arguing for a restoration of America's founding principles. 

Nullification, far from being fundamental to the American Founding, is a principle at war with our Declaration of Independence and with the natural rights of individuals.  It holds individual states, rather than individual citizens, to be sovereign and it thereby diminishes the principle of consent that--in so many instances--has been violated by the workings of the modern administrative state and is the basis of Tea Party dissatisfaction with the administrative state.  If the Tea Party wants to hold the separate states to be sovereign, the problem is that they will be sovereign over (and, often, against) individuals.  This principle does not protect individual rights but it does empower factions.  In combating the evil of the modern administrative state, this seems a thin and uninspiring argument.  To suggest that the states are more sovereign than THE state begs the question:  Why?  Upon what principle of justice?  What makes the various states and their interests more important than the general welfare?  In addition to simply being wrong, this argument is unpersuasive in the modern context.   The problem of centralized power in "the state" is not that it violates the rights of the various states so much as that, in pulling away authority and the management of local affairs from smaller communities, the temptation to violate individual rights is much less effectively countered. 
Categories > Refine & Enlarge

Shameless Self-Promotion

Earth Week Flotsam and Jetsam

Over on NRO's Planet Gore, I offer a new quiz: can you tell Charlie Sheen from Charlie Manson?  Not as easy as you think.

And since Earth Day is Friday, my newly "rebooted" franchise, the Almanac of Environmental Trends, is out today.

The Founding

Washington on the Debt

Peers and I went to Mount Vernon for a retreat of sorts to revisit our Founding Father and draw some wisdom from his example again. As always, a trip to the Virginia estate is rewarding; it is truly a remarkable piece of land along the Potomac. While there I took the chance to skim through his Farewell Address once more, and came across an interesting note on the debt that I think provides much-needed clarity on the responsibilities of the government and its finances (emphasis added is my own):

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible: avoiding occasions of expence by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expence, but by vigorous exertions in time of Peace to discharge the Debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your Representatives; but it is necessary that public opinion should cooperate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty it is essential that you should practically bear in mind, that towards the payment of debts there must be Revenue; that to have Revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment inseperable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties) ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the Conduct of the Government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining Revenue which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

General Washington recognized the necessity of using public funds for providing for the common defense in the general welfare of the nation, and he insisted that people realize that taxes are a necessary sacrifice and a solemn duty for these needed expenses. He also recognizes clearly the immorality and injustice of one generation racketing up the national debt only to enslave a future generation to it-- the great crime which the Baby Boomers have now threatened their posterity with. Many are of the belief that the Millennial Generation will be the first in American history to be worse-off than their predecessors. As Vice President Biden's Debt Commission prepares to meet, they should keep that fact and Washington's warnings in mind. It is necessary to capturing that vision of America that he and countless others since have reached for. From Washington's final message to Congress:

A reinforcement of the existing provisions for discharging our public Debt, was mentioned in my Address at the opening of the last Session. Some preliminary steps were taken towards it, the maturing of which will, no doubt, engage your zealous attention during the present. I will only add, that it will afford me, heart felt satisfaction, to concur in such further measures, as will ascertain to our Country the prospect of a speedy extinguishment of the Debt. Posterity may have cause to regret, if, from any motive, intervals of tranquillity are left unimproved for accelerating this valuable end.

The situation in which I now stand, for the last time, in the midst of the Representatives of the People of the United States, naturally recalls the period when the Administration of the present form of Government commenced; and I cannot omit the occasion, to congratulate you and my Country, on the success of the experiment; nor to repeat my fervent supplications to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and Sovereign Arbiter of Nations, that his Providential care may still be extended to the United States; that the virtue and happiness of the People, may be preserved; and that the Government, which they have instituted, for the protection of their liberties, maybe perpetual.

If there was ever a time to channel President Washington, it is now as we look at our debt, mark the anniversary of the Civil War and examine its causes, debate our Constitution, and discuss America's vision and the purpose of government. 
Categories > The Founding


Steve On Moynihan

Please read Steve Hayward's terrific article on Daniel Patrick Moynihan.  It is a damn shame that the words "insecurity, bordering at times on an inferiority complex" can accurately be used in describing someone of Moynihan's talents and accomplishments.  It is very human.

Categories > History

Refine & Enlarge

What kind of country?

Here is the latest Letter from an Ohio Farmer.  The Farmer takes President Obama's recent speech at George Washington University seriously and considers what his "vision" for America means.
Categories > Refine & Enlarge


NY Times Trash Talking

NY Times trash talks the Wall Street Journal:  "The [Pulitzer] awards this year included other notable firsts. The Wall Street Journal won its only Pulitzer since Rupert Murdoch bought the paper in 2007."  The WSJ won this year for its Obamacare editorials, written by 28-year old Joseph Rago.

Murdoch lives to destroy the NY Times, and it knows it.  The WSJ is now clearly the daily paper of intelligent readers.

Among other prizewinners, the LA Times won an award for its investigation of the Bell, California city government salary scandal, and Ron Chernow won for his bio of George Washington.  In a setback to Lincoln scholarship, Eric Foner won for his book on Lincoln and slavery.

Ben Boychuk had this interview, last November, with Chernow.

Categories > Journalism

Foreign Affairs

Tehran, Pyongyang Watch Libya

The gangsters who rule from Tehran and Pyongyang are no doubt watching the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's actions in Libya with great interest. Generally spared from the fervor that has swept throughout the Arab World (what with the Ayatollah's regime having decimated the opposition since the disputed 2009 elections), these two rogue states are very interested in seeing how long it takes for the West to get rid of Colonel Gaddafi-- or even if we can get rid of him. Despite a pledge from President Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and French President Nicholas Sarkozy that they will not leave Libya until Gaddafi has been removed from power, the madman continues to openly roam the streets of Tripoli while his thugs unleash a furious counterattack against the beleaguered rebel forces. Now feeling limited by the United Nations Resolution that authorized the creation of a no fly zone, the French are pressing for a broader resolution to allow for more action to be taken against Gaddafi even as politicians in Europe criticize the intervention.

Meanwhile the West's enemies watch the disarray and lack of American leadership with quiet glee. From China (with its largest crackdown in years) to Burma (with its rigged election and the creation of a new title for its military master) to Venezuela (where Chavez is continuing to expand his powers), the world's despots have an understanding that there will be little trouble from the Western world outside of a few meager protests from cabinet-level officials. While these crackdowns and abuses are indeed troublesome and should be met with full diplomatic and economic punishments, the rogue states that are most worrisome are Iran and North Korea, who shrugged off concerns of Western condemnation years ago and seek entrance into the nuclear club. As NATO appears rudderless and incompetent in handling a lunatic located directly within its geographic sphere of influence, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong-Il no doubt feel more and more assured that they will not be met with much actual resistance at all as they pursue their nuclear programs and flex their muscle internationally. After all, if we can't bring ourselves to stop a mad terrorist who has openly threatened genocide against his own people, what threat could we pose to the well-armed and ambitious Revolutionary Guard of Iran?

Ahmadinejad's crackdown after the 2009 elections was, in part, a test to see how much the West would do as images of his thugs driving into crowds of students filtered their way onto YouTube. North Korea's recent brinksmanship with South Korea was both an attempt to show strength as Kim's power is (apparently) being prepared to transfer to his son as well as a test to push the limits of America's resolve on the Korean peninsula. In both instances, Iran and North Korea had favorable results at seeing what they could get away with. Now, with our often conflicting and confusing responses to the various troubled states of the Arab World and NATO's trouble in handling Gaddafi, the gangsters of Tehran and Pyongyang will try to push the limits once more. We must not let them push too far, though; even in the midst of the crises in the Middle East, the far more dangerous scenario is one of these madmen obtaining a nuclear weapon.

While President Obama has decided that America should play only a supporting role in helping the rebels against Colonel Gaddafi, it is imperative that we take a leading role in keeping Kim Jong-Il contained and continuing to curtail Tehran's nuclear ambitions. We can wring our hands all we want over how to handle Gaddafi and the other Arab dictators, but we must remain firm in our determination that these rogue states are not allowed to get the bomb. A nuclear-armed Iran is a disaster scenario of unprecedented proportions that must not be allowed to come to fruition. If ever there was a time for President Obama to show strength over acquiescence, determination over compromise, and leadership over internationalist deference, it is in dealing with these thugs. If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his master get a nuke, then our impotence in that part of the world will no longer be a self-imposed restriction on ourselves-- it will be a very real shift in geopolitics. The danger to our allies and interests would be devastating. This cannot be allowed to happen. 
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Health Care Links

1.  Howard Kurtz is right that Republicans should hit IPAB as centralized rationing really hard.  The biggest weakness of Obama's demagogic speech last week wasn't its tone, but his suggestion of using IPAB to cut over a trillion from Medicare.  This is just a down payment on trillions more IPAB-directed Medicare cuts if Obama is reelected.  They should also follow Kurtz's advice in arguing that Obamacare puts all Americans on the road to IPAB rationed health care and higher middle-class taxes.  I would stay away from the socialist stuff.  The policies are bad enough without bogging down into abstruse arguments about what is and isn't socialism.  The correct tack is that they are terrible policies no matter what you call them.

2.  Josh Barro's City Journal article is something that should be read by every Republican presidential candidate whose primary interest is something other than promoting a reality television show.  Conservative need to come to terms with constructive criticism of Ryan's Path To Prosperity and come up with better policy proposals that can withstand scrutiny.  Unlike Barro, I'm for getting rid of IPAB and replacing it with a purely research-oriented body that is attached to the HHS bureaucracy - then again I'm for a different Medicare reform than Ryan's.  Republicans are going to need a proposal that includes realistic funding levels for Medicaid and especially Medicare and adjust their tax proposals accordingly.  If Republicans include proposals that don't add up (and especially if they seem to shortchange Medicare), they are going to pay the price and the price will almost certainly be another Obama term and the kind of socialism that Kurtz outlines.  Now you might think that Republicans will be able to get by with Medicare proposals with major weaknesses.  After all, Obama got away with promising just about everything to everybody + a tax cut for most + a net budget cut and got away with it (politically.)  There are several reasons I don't think a similar strategy will work out for Republicans in 2012:

a.  Obama is a far more competent candidate than McCain, and will run a ruthless and obscenely well funded campaign.  If a right-leaning wonk like Barro thinks that the Republican plan is too optimistic in its Medicare cuts and will lead to near-term care reductions, then so will every last (formerly) persuadable voter.

b.  The media that persuadable voters consume will cover these issues extensively and without mercy (though not always with malice.)  That doesn't mean that Republicans can't win the argument, but they need well thought out, and well articulated answers that stand up to scrutiny.  Evasive or misleading answers on an issue as personal as health care will be fatal unless...

c.  The Obama administration could be so discredited that none of this matters as long as the Republican plan has the barest shred of credibility and the Republican candidate doesn't show a Joe Miller-type desire to simply undo the federal welfare state.  I doubt this kind of circumstance will attain in 2012.  In Fall of 2008, Bush's Real Clear Politics job approval average varied from 32% to 25%.  The only circumstances where Obama's job approval falls to that level by November 2012 is if the living envy the dead.  Even when the unemployment rate was around ten percent and Obama was losing the debate over the enactment of Obamacare, his RCP job approval average bottomed at 44%.  I guess it is possible that a commodity shock will send the economy into another recession within the next year but I doubt it.  At best, Republicans will be facing economically ambiguous circumstances in which the persuadable populations of the public might be disappointed in Obama, but still listening to what he says, and know that major changes are needed, and are leery of any big changes proposed by the Republicans.

3.  It isn't online (outside of a firewall) so I can't link to it, but you should read Ramesh Ponnuru's article in the April 18, 2011 issue of National Review on replacing Obamacare.  It points to a politic and incremental strategy for moving towards a more sustainable and market-oriented health care system.  It is much more prudent than the more radical health care reform strategy that McCain put up on his campaign website and then ignored. 

4.  The crux of the argument over health care policy will be over whether market-oriented changes can bring down the cost of health care while maintaining access to high quality care or whether bureaucrat-directed rationing is the best we can hope for.  The less theoretical this argument this is, the better.  I won't shut up about this.  It would do Republicans a world of good if their 2012 presidential nominee has a record of saving the government money on health care, maintaining access to high quality care, and even increasing the disposable income of some health insurance clients.     

5.  Run Mitch Run.  

Categories > Politics


The Old College Try, rev.

The college admissions craze according to Andy Ferguson.  I've started his new book, which resembles in style, wit, and ultimate seriousness his wonderful book on Lincoln popularizers. Lincoln is a far more noble subject than contemporary higher education, so a certain drop-off is to be expected, but he makes the most of a target-rich environment.
Categories > Education

Ashbrook Center

Bill Rusher

Talking with Marv Krinsky (who replaced Bill Rusher as Chairman of the Ashbrook Board about ten years ago when Bill retired) about the death of Bill Rusher has reminded me to add another few thoughts on him, aside from what Steve (and NRO) has said just below.  I knew Rusher for over thirty years.  He was the best of men.  Thoughtful, learned, quick witted, a great teller of (true) stories.  Plus he loved good cigars.  That he had a great effect--was even the cause of, along with Cliff White and John Ashbrook--on the American conservative movement has been noted by everyone.  It is true.  It was wonderful to hear his stories about it all, about the founders of it all.  Stories about Goldwater, Reagan, and the others. The stories about Bill Buckley should be mentioned as well.  Terrific stuff, at his best Rusher told stories as painters paint, color and detail combined to pull you in, as good poetry always does. He was always clear and concise, his words at their best were evocative and surprising, lovely.  He loved the Ashbrook Center and was helpful to it at critical moments in its youth.  Both Marv and I were fond of him.  My mother met him once and called him an American gentleman, her highest form of praise.  I don't disagree.  May Bill Rusher Rest in Peace.
Categories > Ashbrook Center


William A. Rusher, RIP

William A. Rusher, the long-time publisher of National Review, great friend of John Ashbrook and a member of the Ashbrook Center's board of advisers, has died at the age of 87 out in California.  I know everyone in the Ashbrook Center circle, as well as the wider conservative movement, will mourn his passing.

I got to know him fairly well after his retirement from National Review, when he moved to California and took a position as a distinguished senior fellow at the Claremont Institute.  I think it was Bill who joked that it was better to be a distinguished senior fellow than an extinguished senior fellow.  Then when I used to spend two or three days a week working in San Francisco at the Pacific Research Institute in the early 1990s, he'd treat me to lunch at the University Club up on Nob Hill fairly often, and we'd always retire to the lounge afterward for a good cigar, and better conversation.  I'd ask him question after question about the early days at National Review, whether all the rumors and stories about Willmoore Kendall were true, what Whittaker Chambers was like to be around (surprisingly funny at times he told me), and of course about Reagan, whom Bill tried very hard to convince to found a third party in 1976.  Bill was above all a fabulous story teller.  He was one of the great happy warriors of the conservative movement.  Somehow I can't see him on the O'Reilly Factor or Hannity's "Great American Panel."

Richard Brookhiser offers a few observations about Bill over at The Corner.

My own favorite memory of Bill was back when he used to square off on the PBS show "The Advocates" against an obscure out of office governor from Massachusetts named Dukakis.  Right before the 1980 election, an episode was dedicated to Reagan versus Carter.  Bill asked the most devastating debate question I ever heard, concerning Carter's remark right after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that he (Carter) had learned more about the nature of the Soviet Union in the last three days than in his previous three years in office.  Bill asked the Carter advocate (I forget who it was now) in his best deadpan: Please tell us exactly what the president believed to be the nature of the Soviet Union during those prior three years?  The Carter advocate did not do well.  I reminded Bill of that line once, and he recalled it with great fondness.
Categories > Conservatism


Misrepresentation and Exaggeration notes that "Obama misrepresented the House Republicans' budget plan at times and exaggerated its impact on U.S. residents during an April 13 speech on deficit reduction." Highlights include:

  • Obama claimed the Republicans' "Path to Prosperity" plan would cause "up to 50 million Americans ... to lose their health insurance." But that worst-case figure is based in part on speculation and assumptions.
  • He said the GOP plan would replace Medicare with "a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry." That's an exaggeration. Nothing would change for those 55 and older. Those younger would get federal subsidies to buy private insurance from a Medicare exchange set up by the government.
  • He said "poor children," "children with autism" and "kids with disabilities" would be left "to fend for themselves." That, too, is an exaggeration. The GOP says states would have "freedom and flexibility to tailor a Medicaid program that fits the needs of their unique populations." It doesn't bar states from covering those children.
  • He repeated a deceptive talking point that the new health care law will reduce the deficit by $1 trillion. That's the Democrats' own estimate over a 20-year period. The Congressional Budget Office pegged the deficit savings at $210 billion over 10 years and warned that estimates beyond a decade are "more and more uncertain."
  • He falsely claimed that making the Bush tax cuts permanent would give away "$1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire." That figure -- which is actually $807 billion over 10 years -- refers to tax cuts for individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples earning more than $250,000, not just millionaires and billionaires.
  • He said the tax burden on the wealthy is the lowest it has been in 50 years. But the most recent nonpartisan congressional analysis showed that the average federal tax rate for high-income taxpayers was lower in 1986.
Categories > Economy


Patient-Centered Vs. Bureaucrat-Centered: The Battle Of The Decade

"Our approach lowers the government's health care bills by reducing the cost of health care itself. - President Obama on Wednesday.

This gets to what will be one of the most important arguments that we are going to have about health care and entitlement policy.  As Yuval Levin explains, President Obama believes that American health care can become more affordable, and fairer by having a group of bureaucrats decide what procedures are paid for and what the cost of those procedures should be.    

Conservatives need to hit this very hard and constantly.  This isn't about whether we spend less on Medicare.  President Obama wants to cut Medicare.  President Obama has already cut Medicare by hundreds of billions and is now proposing another cut of over a trillion and he is not done yet (wait until the cuts he proposes if he gets reelected.)  This is about how we structure an affordable Medicare system. Obama wants to empower bureaucrats to tell you what services you will get.  They will sometimes deny you services by just telling you no.  They will sometimes deny services by setting arbitrary waiting lists.  They will sometimes deny care by under reimbursing healthcare providers so that seniors will not be able to get appointments.  Obama will try to argue that you will then have the option of paying for whatever care the government refuses, but that isn't really true.  In a health care system where providers are oriented to the government as the main client, individual elderly consumers will be marginal and the costs of procedures in a such a bloated and inefficient system will be prohibitive.  You will have nowhere to go after the government bureaucrat tells you no.  That is what we have to look forward to under Obama-style entitlement reform (along with higher taxes, lower growth, fewer jobs, blighted futures for the young...)

In a consumer-driven system, companies would compete for your business by developing lower cost business models that can offer the same level of care at a lower price (my personal caveat to this is that such an approach would work best if there was an even more consumer-oriented health care system for those under 65 years old.)  If you don't want to pay extra to cover a high cost, low success rate procedure, you have more money in your pocket.  In a bureaucrat-centered system, they just tell you no and you are not even financially better off for being forced to forgo coverage.

There are several political problems with consumer-oriented and patient-centered health care reform (low levels of public comprehension, the lack of interest in such policies on the part of much of the right-leaning populist media), but one of the biggest problems is that it is counterintuitive (if you spend more out of pocket, you can end up with more take home pay etc.)  The best argument in favor of consumer-centered and patient-centered health care is real life experience.  That is why it would be very helpful if the Republican presidential nominee who stands up for patient-centered health care reform has a record of instituting patient-centered policies that save the government money while maintaining access to health care.

Run Mitch Run.   

Categories > Politics


Playing Chess

Steve Hayward's thoughts on the budget deal and the overall political implications of that deal are now posted over at NRO's The Corner.  Though not at all discounting legitimate disappointment in some conservative quarters, he rightly argues that conservatives will make a huge mistake if they over-react and lose sight of the big picture. 

In my own view, I think that in forcing Obama's move, the leadership of Boehner and Ryan has made itself evident.  For an ordinary citizen--not an already engaged conservative or a Tea Partier--the contrast between the sides has never been more clear.  Indeed, in the wake of that pathetic speech from two days ago, his approval ratings have now tied his previous lows.  No more do conservatives have to sit around and assert the many ways in which Obama's leadership has failed the country . . . Obama now gets up to the podium and does the job for us.  We should continue to press him to do this.  

Far from being a "first strike" against Boehner and the Republican leadership, I think this was a first step.  First steps are always wobbly and sloppy . . . and there will be falls.  But now is not the time to write off the attempt as wasted effort.  As Hayward notes, bigger battles lie ahead--most notably the debt-ceiling fight and, in that fight, the Dems won't have Planned Parenthood to throw in the faces of Republicans.  "Let's hang together for the next round."  Indeed.  
Categories > Politics


Playing by Obama's Rules

If entitlements are off the table, as Obama demands, then Republicans might as well make a counter-demand of equal leverage. How about a 25% reduction in discretionary spending? I can think of a half dozen government agencies which would best serve the nation by being eliminated (the Department of Education springs immediately to mind).

Let's all be audacious in our hopes.

Obama's decision to ignore entitlements is radical and reckless. The GOP should respond with an equally radical plan which, far from reckless, would certainly constitute a benefit for the common good. And when the debt continues to soar and there's (honestly) nothing else to cut, we'll be in a far better position to talk about entitlement reform.

Categories > Economy



Have non-Tea-Party Republicans hoodwinked the nation by agreeing to a "federal budget compromise that was hailed as historic for proposing to cut about $38 billion" but actually "would reduce federal spending by only $352 million this fiscal year, less than 1 percent of the bill's advertised amount?"

That's what the CBO is reporting.

Politically, Democrats are against the ropes. Obama has abandoned his first budget strategy and adopted the language of his foes. Leading Democrats are hailing as "historic" the same spending cuts they recently opposed as "extreme." But has the Democrats' faux conversion successfully achieved a grand strategy of luring a witless - or compromised - GOP into a bipartisan agreement entirely on the Democrats' terms? Has the will of the nation been completely nullified by clever accounting by the Democrats and daunting imbecility among the Republicans? Can the GOP possibly be so amateurish at politics?

If the GOP hope to redeem themselves, they'll need to deliver shocking results on the debt ceiling, 2012 budget and other fiscal issues on the horizon.

Categories > Economy


You Can Fool...

In the Czech Republic, the Social Democrat Party (the liberal wing of the government) perpetually finds itself in public disapproval on major issues, but always seems to get out the vote on election day by simply promising everything to everyone and counting on the political prediction that "you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time." If elected, they spend without regard for future consequences and consistently warn the ever-increasing ranks of citizens on the government dole that the oppossition wants to take away their entitlements.

The question for conservative Czech parties is always whether the inability of the left-wing to "fool all of the people all of the time" is sufficient to overcome their initial gains among the fooled. The Federalist Papers refer to this tactic as demagoguery, and it has rightly been attached ever-more frequently to Obama's performance as president.

Obama's election slogan of "hope and change" was largely a promise of everything to everyone. It wasn't so vulgar as the Czech Social Democrat's promises: prior to the last election, they offered post-election rewards (bribes) to poor people for their votes. Obama's promises were more ethereal and transcendent. But now that he is in office, the promises must become more concrete and credible as public patience and approval quickly dwindle. Obama may appreciate the need for such a transition, but he has failed to act in accordance - hence his unwillingness to confront any of the substantive issues involved in the national debt.

Obama isn't the first U.S. politician to ignore fiscal responsibilities and he won't be the last. But fiscal reform is the issue of the present - wars and natural tragedies have flared and dimmed, but the economic crisis and the fiscally-minded Tea Party remain. Obama thus has an opportunity to lead and confront a national security threat.

He has failed to lead. Either he truly believes there is no danger or accepts the consequences in light of short-term political gains. His first budget ignored the problems, and his revised budget acknowledges the problem only insofar as to sabotage any true attempt at reform through offers of meaningless, partisan compromises. One may disagree with Obama on any number of issues, but his decision to ignore America's debt in favor of demagogy for partisan gain is lamentable. Far from the statesman promised in the campaign, Obama is a typical Chicago-style politician without vision, courage or a sense of duty.

Categories > Presidency


The Challenge Of Obama

I saw Paul Ryan's first response to yesterday's speech by Obama.  Ryan was angrier than I'd ever seen him, and his response (which seemed to have been composed in haste) wasn't that effective.  It doesn't do Ryan much good to call out Obama for partisanship.  I doubt any persuadable population would be won over by one politician saying that some other politician is acting like a stereotypical politician.  Ryan would be better off taking Obama on over what the President said he plans and the likely consequences of Obama's to take on the drivers of increasing debt. 

1.  He proposed one trillion dollars in tax increases, and that doesn't even begin to deal with the long-term problems caused by Social Security and Medicare.

2.  He proposed large cuts to defense.

3.  He called for bureaucrat-directed cuts to Medicare.  Not only will less money be spent on Medicare, but the Obama administration will tell you what services you get less of rather than putting you in a position of choosing the package of services you would prefer (and either paying for other services yourself or having more disposable income.) 

4.  He has specific calls to raise taxes but only vague suggestions about how to cut discretionary spending and those cuts are only planned to happen after he is reelected.  This from a guy who just fought tooth and nail to prevent a 38 billion dollar cut to discretionary spending in the face of a threat of a government shutdown.  If Obama is reelected you can bet he will discover that the money he had promised to cut was now needed to win the future.

5. Even with the tax increases, defense cuts, and the bureaucrat-directed Medicare cuts - and even taking his discretionary spending cut promises at face value - Obama's budget still reduces the deficit by 400 billion fewer dollars than Paul Ryan's Path To Prosperity over the next ten years and still doesn't head off the ruinous increase in entitlement spending in the out years.  Obama's plan isn't only inadequate for the medium term, it puts us back in the position of having to make far sharper tax increases and/or spending cuts, but from a position of being a higher tax, more government-run country with a weaker defense establishment.

I haven't even gotten to the worst part yet.  Obama's tax increases and bureaucrat-directed Medicare cuts are a down payment on the middle-class tax increases and far larger government-directed Medicare service cuts that are to come if Obama is reelected.  This is the key to the argument that will take place over the next year.  Obama's budget promises are a cover for a long-term agenda that means higher taxes for everybody and greater government control over the disbursement of medical services.  There is room for disagreement over the details, but we face two broad choices.  Our first choice is a sustainable entitlement system that focuses on protecting the poorest and sickest of the elderly and a market-oriented health care reform that allows us to buy more and better health care services for our money.  Our second  choice involves huge and broad tax increases, and the government denying health care services whenever and however government bureaucrats. decide .

Categories > Politics


Navy Tests Ship-Based Laser

The United States Office of Naval Research, in conjunction with Northrop Grumman, has successfully tested a solid-state, high energy laser (HEL) mounted on the deck of Navy ship. Aimed at a small target vessel moving through the turbulent waters of the Pacific Ocean, the laser beam managed to successfully set the target's engines on fire. And the Navy says that the beam can travel over miles, not just yards. This research is a step towards a whole new technological genre of warfare.

Already it is said that the laser beams would be incredibly successful at warding off the pirates infesting the waters off of the coast of Somalia. With the ability to take away an attacking ship's ability to move, the ability to change the beam from a lethal mode to a nuisance mode, and more precision than bullets, it is expected that these things will find their way to those troubled waters around the Horn of Africa rather soon. But this new type of weapon will not stop just there; now that we have a successful beam like this, the next steps would be working to make alterations to its size (the current one is about the size of a baseball) and power is next, meaning that the lasers could eventually be used in any type of naval warfare-- not just against small attack craft. They are already working on a laser capable of defending against incoming ballistic missiles; this appears to be a preview of what is to come.
Categories > Technology

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On Demagoguery: A Preceptorial

The President's budget speech reminded me of the Federalist on demagogues:  the word appears twice, once in Federalist 1 and once in #85, the last paper (both by Hamilton).  The precarious realm of reason and choice is surrounded by demagogues, who always beset democratic republics. 
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Quote of the Day

Quotation du Jour

In Edward Corwin's famous, "'Higher Law' Background of American Constitutional Law," Corwin notes:

The opinion of a Massachusetts magistrate in 1657 holding void a tax by the town of Ipswitch for the purpose of presenting the local minister with a dwelling house. Such a tax, said the magistrate, "to take from Peter to give it to Paul," is against fundamental law.

Categories > Quote of the Day

The Founding

Happy Birthday, Mr. Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was born 268 years ago today. The author of our Declaration of Independence, one of the greatest forces behind religious liberty in America, our first Secretary of State, and our third President, the red-haired wonder from Virginia continues to be a useful source of wisdom for us today as we muddle through our present calamities and disagreements-- even if his genius was difficult to interpret. There is much to learn from the fact that he, most wary of executive power among the Founders, ordered the bombing of Tripoli in order to dispel the threat of the Barbary Pirates; that it was he, who pressed most for a strict interpretation of the Constitution, that purchased the Louisiana Territory from France (probably in violation of the Constitution); and that he, our most eloquent spokesman for liberty, could not figure out how to end slavery-- a practice that he, although a slave owner, deemed to be cruel war against human nature itself.

"This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we are compelled to take. Neither aiming at originality of principle or sentiment, nor yet copied from any particular or previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion." (Jefferson to Henry Lee, 1825)

Though Congress put on a poorly-executed show earlier this year with a reading of the Constitution, it would have done well if they had also read from Mr. Jefferson's eloquent words on Liberty and the American mind in order to place our Constitution, and government in general, within its appropriate context. They are the words that define who we are, and history will long remember our constant struggle to live up to our own principles as enshrined within the Declaration. With such grounding in the first principles of our country, those immortal words of the Founding Father can help us along in our quest to become partisans of the Constitution once more. Happy Birthday, Mr. Jefferson.
Categories > The Founding


More Examples of Contemporary Progressive Hostility to Politics

First this great post (again, from Steve . . . we really do have to stop meeting like this) on Pelosi's recent suggestion that what's wrong in contemporary politics is all the "politics."  That is, she doesn't think it ought to matter (very much) who wins elections because there should not be these vast and, seemingly, insurmountable disagreements between Democrats and Republicans over the ends of government.  As Steve puts it:

Of course, if you determine that a function of government, like traffic enforcement or tax collecting, should be beyond the reach of partisan political argument, then you have essentially ruled the other party out of order when it objects. Pelosi and confreres believe that once any welfare state measure is in place, it cannot be questioned. The tacit premise of Pelosi's remark is that today's Republican Party is an illegitimate party, akin to Nazis or Communists or other subversives who reject the principles of the Constitution. At best, elections to the Progressive mind would increasingly become ceremonial exercises, like Fourth of July picnics. At worst, it is an argument for tyranny.

But do read his whole post.  It's very thoughtful and thought provoking. 

I offer another example of the ways in which progressive hostility to politics has infiltrated even the most ordinary of conversations, this time from my local web-paper.  The author cannot understand the people she terms "thinkers on the political right" who will not march in lock step with Michelle Obama and others who, to this authors way of thinking, only want to draw common sense attention to the problem of childhood obesity and draw from it policy prescriptions to combat the problem.  She takes it as a given that the problem is one that must be combated by government and cannot fathom dissension.  If people disagree they must be either peevish or stupid or hostile to the well-being of children. The question of the limits of government reach and capacities does not even enter her realm of possibilities.

But with the news, just yesterday, of one public school in Chicago banning all home-packed lunches for "health" reasons and of other schools on similar grounds now banning chocolate milk--is it really so strange that parents might begin to suspect that there is something more nefarious at work here than a well-meaning and wholesome concern for children's health?  The question is not as simple as this author and many other good people who want the best for children would have it.  It is not merely a question of,"What would make children more healthy?"  It is also a question of determining who has the authority to make determinations like this on behalf of children.  In other words, it is a question of liberty.  In a system where health (as determined by an administrative expert) is more important than individual liberty, this author would have some grounding for telling the opposition to shut up.  But in our system of government--a system that progressives have not, I repeat, had the courage actually to change--neither she nor Nancy Pelosi have any reason to think that they are within their rights in telling us to shut up. 
Categories > Progressivism


Spring Offensive

A Seattle elementary school insists on calling Easter eggs "Spring Spheres."  The good that comes out of this is the thought placed in kids' minds at an early age that government (even your school) will lie to you.  This goes with the bad that comes out of this:   the thought placed in kids' minds at an early age that government (even your school) will lie to you. 
Categories > Education

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"A Republican Form of Government"

Guaranteed to the states by the Constitution is the theme of the latest Letter from an Ohio Farmer.  This appears to be one of the Constitution's less difficult assignments.  Not so, asserts the farmer.  Something has changed.  Are the people really in charge of the state government?
Categories > Refine & Enlarge

Foreign Affairs

Mother Earth as Global Victim

The United Nations may soon declare that "Mother Earth" (and her bugs, trees and such) has human humans. The Earth would become an official "victim" which humans have sought to "dominate and exploit." A UN "Ministry of Mother Earth" will provided the planet with an ombudsman to hear nature's complaints - as voiced by eco-activist.

So what's the motivation? Bolivia is sponsoring the treaty, which mirrors a recently passed Bolivian law. The first of the country's 10 commandments accompanying the policy is "to end capitalism." The law is touted as seeking "harmony" with nature, but mining companies and other industries are preparing for heavier regulations. As a result, a nation rich in natural resources remains among the poorest in Latin America.

Unfortunately, environmentalists see this as a success. Poverty disease and misery are a small price to pay for a happy Mother Earth. Obviously, the rights of 10 quintillion bugs outweighs those of a mere 6 billion humans. Such insanity would be humorous if it were not a major force in global economic policy.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Scattered Thoughts On David Frum, Paul Ryan and Yuval Levin

David Frum is taking on Yuval Levin and Paul Ryan in a multipart series of blog posts.  Several scattered thoughts on what Frum has written:

1.  Frum summary of Yuval Levin's ambitious article on reforming the welfare state, "compassionate conservatism is kaput."  This is a problem only if you assume that a marketing device is preferable to constructing a sustainable welfare state under current demographic conditions.  Taking care of the most vulnerable while not crushing the economy under taxation seems pretty compassionate to me.

2.  Frum writes that there would be huge resistance to sharp cuts in spending joined to "tax cut[s] for high-bracket taxpayers."  Well that depends.  You could somewhat cut the marginal tax rate for high earners and still produce more federal revenue depending on what you did with tax expenditures (that was in the Simpson-Bowles Plan but there are multiple ways to structure the tax code changes.)  This approach improves work and growth incentives while producing more revenue for the government.  Some high earners who are happy with their current balance of disposable income and leisure might object to such a change, but I don't think that is what Frum has in mind.  I should add that I'm talking about general principles and I don't entirely trust Ryan's instincts in this area.

3.  Frum writes, "I come to feel that the libertarian ideal championed these days by so many conservatives has become at least as drained as the social democratic idea."  If Frum were writing about Andrew Napolitano, then this comment would make sense.  Ryan's Path to Prosperity would maintain a multitrillion dollar federal government with enormous transfers to various segments of the population and a large defense establishment.  The federal government would still be spending 19% of GDP under Ryan's Plan.  This might be a smaller government than Frum would like (it is somewhat smaller than I find prudent) but it isn't libertarianism any more than Obamacare is communism.  Frum is being the Joe the Plumber of ex-conservatives.

4.  Frum is grateful that "now-substantial government/education/health/military sectors of the economy continued to provide some source of stable demand"  Well he needn't worry as the federal government will continue to have substantial military/health/etc. sectors under any conceivable legislative outcome of our current debates.  He would be wiser to worry whether the cost of those sectors will grow in such a way that the costs will lead to crushing taxation or a debt crisis.

5.  Frum writes of Yuval Levin's idea to means-test old age entitlement benefits "What is contemplated is the end of social insurance, at least as it applies to healthcare for retirees: a state to which all contribute on more or less equal terms and from which all draw benefits on more or less equal terms."  What is amazing is that Levin really is suggesting social insurance in which government aids the poorest and most vulnerable of the elderly while not taxing current workers to death in order to give money to old people will not need it.  Given current demographic conditions, we have certain choices. First, we could reorient our entitlements for future retirees so that those whose health holds up work a little longer and lifetime high earner retirees get somewhat less, or second, we could have some kind of huge tax increase and bureaucrat-directed health care cuts.  Now those tax increases could take the form of enormous marginal tax rate increases on high earners (though that probably won't be enough) and/or tax increases on the middle and working-class in order to supplement the retirements of healthy lifetime high earners who are in their middle 60s + some kind of centralized health care rationing for all. Then we can really talk about austerity.  

Categories > Politics


One, Two, Many Paul Ryans. No John McCains Please.

Michele Bachmann is not ready to endorse Paul Ryan's Path to Prosperity.  That isn't necessarily a bad thing.  I think of Ryan's Path to Prosperity as a framework for thinking and talking about the reforms we need.  Criticism and political prudence will almost certainly require modifying parts of Ryan's Plan.  I've already made some (second hand) suggestions.  Bachmann is entitled to her own thoughts about the best way to develop a sustainable and pro-growth long-term budget - and so is every other Republican presidential candidate.  Even if we agree on Ryan's basic principles of curbing entitlement spending, reforming health care in a market-oriented direction and producing a simpler, more growth-friendly tax code, there are still huge issues about how to go about doing it.  It isn't clear how much of the revenues from cutting tax expenditures should go to lower marginal rates, to deficit reduction or to an expanded child tax credit.  It isn't clear that Ryan's Medicare reforms include enough revenue or that the Medicare reforms are structured ideally.  Having thoughtful, responsible, and sharp competition among the Republican presidential candidates on these issues would be more useful than unanimity.

What we don't need are candidates who either don't have a realistic budget plan or who just put one up on their websites and then focus on gimmicks, cheap partisan opportunism, and rocks thrown from glass houses.  We don't need a replay of the 2008 Republican primary campaign in which candidates bashed each other upside the head over who had been most pro-amnesty the longest, or whether having been pro-choice or having raised taxes was the greater sin against conservatism.  We don't need a Republican presidential nominee whose domestic politics strategy was, at various times, drill baby drill, making Mario Cuomo's son chairman of the SEC, and complaining that Obama almost sorta kinda called Palin a pig. 

Categories > Politics

The Founding

Your Reaction to PBS Hamilton?

I'm of two minds on last night's Hamilton documentary.  What did you think, those of you who watched it?
Categories > The Founding


Chronicles of Failed Doomsaying

Gregg Easterbrook, author of one of the better books on the environment over the last 20 years (1995's A Moment on the Earth: The Coming Age of Environmental Optimism) coined what he called "Easterbrook's law of doomsaying"--"Predict dreadful events whose arrival impends no sooner than 5 years hence, no later than 10. That time window is near enough to cause worry, far enough off that when it actually rolls around everyone will have forgotten what you predicted." 

But in the age of Google, it is easier to go back and check on these serial blunders.  So as Britain was paralyzed with huge snowstorm a few months ago a number of folks went back and dredged up the climate campaign's predictions that winter snowfalls in Britain would soon (as in, by now) be a thing of historical memory.

Yesterday, Gavin Atkins of Asian notes that just a few years ago the UN Environment Programme predicted there would be 50 million climate refugees by the year 2010.    And so Atkins sensibly asks, um. . . where are they?  He noted we have census figures for the areas identified as most vulnerable, such as the Tuvalu Islands, and finds in every case that population is still growing.

(Hat tip: Benny Peiser.)

Categories > Environment

The Civil War & Lincoln

The Civil War

We have a new exhibit at TeachingAmericanHistory called The Civil War Sesquicentennial. We put it up today because the war began today, one hundred and fifty years ago. On the evening of April 13, 1861, The New York Times started its report with the following words: "Major Anderson has surrendered, after hard fighting, commencing at 41/2 o'clock yesterday morning, and continuing until five minutes to 1 to-day. The American flag has given place to the Palmetto of South Carolina...."

In a speech delivered in Germany to a group of Americans in the late 1870s, U.S. Grant distilled into a few sentences, according to the historian Gary Gallagher, what most loyal citizens would have said gave most meaning to their great internecine conflict:

"What saved the Union, was the coming forward of the young men of the nation.  They came from their homes and fields, as they did in the time of the Revolution, giving everything to the country.  To their devotion we owe the salvation of the Union.  The humblest soldier who carried a musket is entitled to as much credit for the results of the war as those who were in command.  So long as our young men are animated by this spirit there will be no fear for the Union."

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Time for a Constitutional Budget

Steve thought he was being funny and original last week in suggesting that I get my own blog and call it the "The Ponzi Scheme" . . . so, o.k., maybe it was just a tiny bit funny.  But picking on my name, original?  It's about as original as the old saw that starts, "If I only had a nickel for every time" . . . and when it comes to ribbing me about my name, let's just say that with that kind of money I could move the debt ceiling all by myself. 

Anyway, I'll come right back at him with something that may be neither funny nor original . . . but it is practical and maybe, even, philanthropic.  It is not me, but Steve  who needs some kind of site to keep track of all his writing (e.g., Steve Hayward's "Making Hay"?) because if it weren't for Facebook, I could never keep up with him.  So, in the meantime as we await its debut, I'll just stay put here and try to make myself useful by pointing NLT readers in the direction of some of Steve's better posts (and more original thoughts) as even Steve's own massive powers of shameless self-promotion are no match for his output. 

I'll start with this:  Yesterday at NRO Steve addressed the question of what, if anything, was achieved in the big Washington budget drama over the weekend.  (Also not to be missed on this is the big debate there between Andrew Stiles and Andrew McCarthy -- Stiles says Boehner wins "big time" and McCarthy says "meh" . . . but there are too many links to list here in that on-going battle, so you'll have to look them up.)  Steve, on the other hand, mulls the thing over with an eye more to the big political picture and, of course, another eye on the possible pitfalls.  On the pitfall side of it, Steve counsels that the GOP has to be very wary of "phony" cuts--things like moving spending into the following fiscal year and calling it a cut.  That's a trick from an old playbook and, if anything is certain in these political times, it is that Dems will recur to old playbooks.  Steve calls upon the Reagan experience for evidence both of this scheme and of things that could shift the political momentum--which now seems to be swinging in the direction of the cutters--away from them and back toward the spenders.  There is solid advice in all of that and Steve is right to suggest that freshmen GOP members, especially, need to study this history (they can start by reading his books, of course).

But the more interesting observation, from my point of view, is in his last paragraph.  Steve picks up on this quote from an anonymous Democrat in a Sunday evening Politico story:

"The fundamental problem of the whole process is Democrats have zero ability to describe what our view of government really is. So basically all we do is defend the status quo against attacks from the right-wing fringe of the GOP."

Steve suggests the problem for the Dems is that they've got nothing new:  no new ideas, no new rhetoric--little more, really, than a stale defense of the status quo.  He rightly notes that, politically, this is a terrible place to be.  In electoral politics, this makes your side boring, dry and tired.  It doesn't motivate people to run out to the polls and it doesn't keep the troops in the mood to fight. 

Yet I'd suggest that Steve's suggestion about how the GOP should respond to this little bit of good political fortune is only half right.  He hearkens back to Reagan's mantra that "government is too big, and it spends too much."  And that's true as well as being a useful political/rhetorical weapon--as far as it goes.  But is he forgetting that in just the preceding paragraph he recalled the way that 1980s GOP leaders got rolled and reached their high water mark with meager cuts?  So this suggestion smacks a bit of offering to fight a fire that has been burning at least since the 1980s with the same extinguisher that wouldn't put it out 30 years ago . . . except maybe now the wind is blowing in the right direction.  Yet, even here, we get more of wish than a forecast to that effect.  Perhaps circumstances have changed since then; and perhaps they've changed enough to make this the right time to make old argument to better effect.

Fair enough.  But I propose a stronger response: instead of showing up with a 30 year fire extinguisher that has proven ineffective in smaller fights, let's show up with the 235 year old fire wall that--for all the damage it has suffered--remains the only time-tested means for shutting up Democrats--the principles of the Declaration and the Constitution.  In short, it is time to make the foundational and Constitutional argument.

I say this, in part, because of the quote to which Steve referenced us from the anonymous Democrat.  Whoever that Dem was, he said a mouthful.  But there's more than a surface reading required of his quote.  It's not that Democrats are physically or mentally incapable of making a case for their view of government--of course they can do that.  It's that they don't dare to do it out in the open for the voters to see.  They have never, really, done this in an honest way.  They don't dare, they have never dared, and as I have argued in recent posts--they rather scorn the attempt. 

What they do, instead, is to cloak their anti-constitutional view of government behind the skirts (and pantsuits) of the Constitution and its venerable champions.  They evoke the imagery and the sentiment of the Constitution and the Founding and, in their own inventive language, they speak of freedom and of rights and of "justice for all." But the truth is that they mean something entirely different from the sentiment they evoke.  They are for the Constitution on their own terms rather than on its terms--and they disdain the notion of "consent of the governed."  The more honest of the early progressives were explicit about their distaste for things American--particularly the Constitution.  But the most successful ones knew they had to make their arguments in a way that was more palatable to the average--and instinctively patriotic--voter.

I think it is high time that the GOP smoke Progressives and their Democratic mouthpieces out on these points.   If they think there is a better way for the American people to be constituted and better principles to live by than the ones articulated in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, let them say so and let them try to defend their position before the people.  Let the work of politics, rightly understood, begin.
Categories > Refine & Enlarge

Foreign Affairs

Smart Diplomacy, Part II

Following up on my earlier note that the CIA under Obama has largely suspended detainee and interrogation operations in favor of simply killing targets from afar with drone attacks, it's noteworthy that the WSJ reports today that Pakistan is demanding the CIA "suspend drone strikes against militants on its territory."

The WSJ does a good job of explaining the politicking and posturing involved, but a critical point is that Pakistan-U.S. public relations have crumbled since the end of 2008. It's as though they know they can bargain a better deal with the new sheriff in town, and are happy to challenge his authority to strengthen their play. Obama has shown his hand and limited his options by ending detentions - others can only be expected to shift their strategies accordingly.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Budget Reaction and Revision

The President will speak on Wednesday to "lay out a broad plan to reduce the nation's soaring deficit and debt." David Plouffe clarifies that Obama "believes we need significant deficit reduction in the coming years."

Powerline rightly interprets Obama's shift as proof that the GOP have seized the high ground on the budget debate. Obama presented his FY 2012 budget on February 14, and the substance did not represent a plan to reduce the deficit. Yet having seen the congressional Democrats fold, the President isn't even offering a defense of his recent proposals. He's hoping no one will notice the road kill that was his budget as he drives forward with a new tone borrowed directly from the Tea Party express.

As Andrew Stiles observes at The Corner:

Harry Reid, Feb. 3, 2011, on Paul Ryan's initial offer of $32 billion in spending cuts:

The chairman of the Budget Committee today, today sent us something even more draconian than we originally anticipated...So this isn't some game that people have been playing. The House of Representatives [is] actually sending us some of these unworkable plans.

Harry Reid, April 9, 2011, on a deal to cut $38.5 billion:

This is historic, what we've done.

John Hinderacker: When the Democrats are trying to take credit for spending cuts (much as President Clinton tried to claim credit for welfare reform, after vetoing it twice), you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.

Categories > Economy

Shameless Self-Promotion

Free Zarganar

I've got a post over at The Foundry about a brave comedian still telling jokes in the face of brutal oppression in Burma. Named Zarganar, he is being held on a 35-year prison sentence for the crime of speaking his mind. Some poetry from the famed Burmese figure:

With row upon row of iron bars
They can cage me;
With the heat of seven suns
They can roast me;
With a battalion of ogres
They can guard me.
But if I took my scarlet blood
And sprayed it all across the sky,
The bars would melt,
The ogres kneel,
Their suns kowtow before me.

It's amazing that in the face of such repression and tragedy, a tortured and imprisoned man can still find such beauty and still tell jokes. Read up on him.

Foreign Affairs

Chinese Crackdown Continues Unabated

In the wake of the Arab Revolutions, the Chinese government has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that nothing even similar to the protests sweeping the Middle East appear within its boundaries. In one of their harshest crackdowns in decades, China's Communist government is rounding up hundreds of activists, bloggers, lawyers, religious figures, artists, and other dissenters-- sometimes officially arresting them, and sometimes just making these individuals disappear. The most notorious arrest thus far has been that of famed artist Ai Weiwei, who was detained for questioning at the Beijing airport earlier this month on the way to Hong Kong-- and hasn't been heard of since. Ai, whose most famous recent work was the Bird's Nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics, has used his art and social networking sites like Twitter to criticize the government, most notably for the deaths of schoolchildren during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. People had long thought that Ai's fame as an artist and a poet would keep him immune from persecution; in the face of revolutions from some of the darkest areas of the world, though, that immunity has been revoked by the nervous Communist government.

Going after activists not being enough alone to calm Beijing down, the government has been rounding up dozens of churchgoers and Catholic clergy for illegal church services. Individuals are only allowed to go to church in government-sanctioned churches, but many Christians have lately been secretly holding religious ceremonies in private homes. Speaker John Boehner, after meeting with Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong, joined Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in criticizing Beijing for the recent crackdown. China's response has been unsurprisingly tu quoque, telling us to leave them alone and mind our own human rights record.

In light of this show of force and the Communist government's disrespect for the fundamental human rights of its citizens, it is natural that many fret about the spread of Chinese influence, power, and culture around the world. Though their expanding presence in Africa is well-noted, the Chinese influx to oft-ignored portions of South America has been relatively overlooked for some time. On the one hand, there could be some hope that the entrepreneurial spirit associated with coming to the New World might cause these Chinese immigrants to appreciate their new-found freedom and success and thus resist the tyranny of the Chinese government. On the other hand, it does not bode well for global human rights and security that China is getting cozy with some of the people south of our border, and their increasing presence may make it more difficult to rein in agitators like Chavez if ever the two decide to work together against their common competitor.

The Obama Administration ought to keep an eye on this geopolitical problem and not shrink from criticizing this barbarous crackdown on human rights in China. One major way that the United States can help advance the cause of liberty in China is by working around the firewalls and blocks to get information to the people there. Though China is struggling to keep a hold of the Internet in their country, they are so far being successful-- Ai Weiwei's disappearance has not caused too much of an uproar yet because most Chinese people don't know who he is. Internet freedom, in this day and age, is almost critical to human freedom, and we have the power to help protect that freedom so that people have access to the information that they need. It should be used.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Shameless Self-Promotion

The Week's Energy Update

Did I mention I am full of gas this week?

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The Civil War Today

The good news in a Pew Poll is that a majority of Americans think the Civil War is still relevant to politics today.  Unfortunately, by a margin of 48-38% Americans think that states rights, not slavery, was the principal cause of the Civil War, whose Sesquicentennial we celebrate over the next four years.  But limited government can't possibly be consistent with slavery.   It's best to argue from the principle of equality of natural rights and then proceed to the institutions that defend liberty--otherwise deviations rule. 

Lincoln made the case for a constitutionalism of natural rights yet again, 146 years ago, in his last public address, April 11, 1865, when he defended his Reconstruction policies.  There are states rights of course; but never at the ultimate cost of natural rights.

Categories > Refine & Enlarge

Foreign Affairs

So Much For Smarter Diplomacy

The Obama administration seems to have misplaced the "I" in CIA. An L.A. Times story "highlights a sharp difference between President Obama's counter-terrorism policy and that of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Under Obama, the CIA has killed more people than it has captured ... [and] stopped trying to detain or interrogate suspects caught abroad...."

The rationale for eliminating terrorist interrogation is beyond farce. Liberal criticism of Gitmo, as well as liberal exposure of secret detention facilities abroad, has left nowhere for Obama to hold captives. And Obama's prosecutorial witch-hunts for Bush loyalists in the CIA have had a chilling effect on agents, who no longer feel compelled to interrogate terrorists in light of Obama's politization of the office.

So, Obama's policies of knee-capping the intel community have had the catastrophic effect of literally terminating "a gold mine" of U.S. intelligence and resulted in a new policy of simply killing all of our enemies without regard for their potential intelligence value. I doubt this is what voters had in mind when they heard Obama promise to reverse Bush's policies. On the other hand, if Bush's policy was an attempt to win over hearts and minds - Obama's promise has been fulfilled.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Bane of McCain

During the presidential campaign of 2008 I explained the conservative voter's dilemma thusly: Obama will surely round us up and send us to re-education camps (Gitmo will have space), but if McCain wins he will drive us insane.  Choose wisely.

The problem with McCain (there's only one?--ed.) is brought vividly to light in George Will's latest column about how the Arizona political establishment, with McCain flying point, is trying to shut up the Goldwater Institute, which is suing to defend a state constitutional provision prohibiting blatant taxpayer giveaways.  Will nails it with this section:

Constitutions do not impress the co-author of the McCain-Feingold assault on the First Amendment (his law restricts political speech). But the institute's job -- actually, it is every Arizonan's job -- is to protect the public interest. A virtuoso of indignation, McCain is scandalized that the institute, "a non-elected organization," is going to cause the loss of "a thousand jobs." McCain's jobs number is preposterous, as is his intimation -- he has been in elective office for 28 years -- that non-elected people should not intervene in civic life.

Hear, hear.  My favorite McCain joke, by the way, runs as follows: What was the worst job in North Vietnam?  Guarding John McCain.  They're all still in therapy.

Categories > Politics


The New College Try

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams explains how to get through the bureaucracies of college and employers.  He misses the heart of education, though.
Categories > Education


Planned Parenthood Debate as Paradigm

Despite the failure to cut federal funding for abortion via Planned Parenthood, the debate is on, and the argument against subsidizing abortion rights will be won, with other victories to be won.  Federal aid to PP is decades-long--recall that then-Congressman George H.W. Bush (1967-71) was nicknamed "rubbers" by a conservative Democrat who noted his passion for population control, and the battle to change minds may take that long as well.  Proponents must present reassurances, proven results, and the unworkability of present policies.
Categories > Congress

The Founding

TV Guide: Hamilton Monday PBS

Rediscovering Alexander Hamilton via Richard Brookhiser and assorted others, Monday night PBS.  Michael Knox Beran reviews.
Categories > The Founding


Reforming Education, From the Ground Up

A Hyattsville, MD K-8 Catholic school was going under, when determined parents saved it--by imposing a classical education at all levels.  It has now become, within two years, a model school.  Be practical, be excellent.  Hyattsville is not in ritzy Montgomery County, btw.  Read the WaPo account here.

Categories > Education


The Next Ryan(ish) Plan

I really like Paul Ryan and I think that the debate over the general principles of his plan (a sustainable entitlement system, market-oriented health care reform, a tax code with fewer tax expenditures and lower rates) will be very good for the country - if the broad center-right makes its argument competently.  We are very far from the cynical and calculated domestic policy stupidity of John McCain's 2008 campaign and we largely have Paul Ryan to thank for the improvement of our public discourse.  Still, I don't think that a prospective Republican presidential candidate should run on Ryan's exact proposal.  Some suggestions:

1.  Listen to Reihan Salam and grow the premium support in defined contribution Medicare at GDP + 1 rather than at the level of the Consumer Price Index.  Salam's proposal would still slow down the rate of government-sponsored medical inflation, but without the implicit assumption that the reforms will bring medical inflation for seniors all the way down to the broader rate of growth of the Consumer Price Index.  

2.  Instead of just eliminating traditional Fee For Service Medicare, adopt the Capretta-Miller approach of having a reformed FFS Medicare compete with private insurance programs based on competitive bidding.  The government will offer all seniors a certain level of premium support depending on the senior's income and health condition.  Medicare FFS will bid against private companies for the business of those seniors.  Medicare FFS will fund its benefits from the premiums of those who choose Medicare FFS. If a private plan can offer comparable benefits at a lower price, seniors can go with the private plan.  This way each plan (including Medicare FFS) will have an incentive to offer the most desirable set of benefits at the lowest price - rather than the price set by bureaucrats. Medicare recipients will be more likely to get more of what they want at the price they are willing to pay rather than what some bureaucrat think that they should be allowed to have.  The Capretta-Miller plan has several advantages over the current Ryan proposal.  As Capretta and Miller point out, the health care market in the US is internally diverse and there are places where a defined contribution version of Medicare FFS will provide better services at a lower price in a competitive bidding environment.  Maintaining Medicare FFS on a defined contribution and competitive bidding basis might also gain some support from center-left wonks.  These folks command no electoral divisions, but they could influence coverage from some news outlets.  I suspect it would also reassure some part of the public to know that rather than traditional Medicare going away, it was remaining as a choice, but that if there was a cheaper plan that suited them better, they could go in that direction.

3.  Listen to Avik Roy. Under the current Ryan plan, if senior gets a certain amount of premium support (say, $15,000) but a private plan offers a bid for $13,000 in premiums for a desirable product, the senior has no incentive to go with the cheaper plan.  They might as well go with a plan that costs $15,000 in premiums even if they don't especially want the additional medical coverage.  At least the $15,000 plan gives the some extra services for the extra $2,000. This is perverse.  It contributes to medical inflation while decreasing the actual value that the senior gets from the premium support.  The senior should be able to pocket the difference if they pick a plan that costs less than their government premium support.  If a senior wants to buy a cheaper health insurance plan that does not cover some higher cost, and lower effectiveness end-of-life procedures (if it comes to that) and instead wants to spend that money to take more weekend trips with his grandchildren, everybody is better off.

This isn't a suggestion for a policy change, but I would be remiss not to remind everybody that the debate over economic policy is necessarily comparative.  Our choices are higher taxes, fewer jobs, lower growth and lower quality bureaucrat-rationed health care on one hand and a sustainable patient-centered welfare state with pro-growth and pro-jobs tax policies on the other.  Obama should always be tied to higher taxes and bureaucratic rationing of health care.  That is where his deficits are leading us, and he is just stalling until he is reelected and the crisis is upon us. So don't let him stall.  Hit him now. 

I would also add that some presidential candidates would be better positioned to sell this message than others.  It would b nice if the Republican presidential nominee had demonstrated the ability to cut spending while maintain core government services and instituted a free market-oriented health care reform that saved the government money, increased worker take home pay, and maintained people's health care security. 

Run Mitch Run 

Categories > Politics


Meyerson And "Progress"

Julie has been on fire this week and her highlighting and mocking of Harold Meyerson's reactionary and romantic statism is especially needed. Meyerson's column reminded me of Sidney Blumenthal's description of Walter Mondale's liberalism, "Its credo: anything that has been superseded has proved its worth.  If it's gone, it's good.  Nothing can be tried that hasn't already failed.  The future is the endless rehearsal of the past."  Meyerson looks at Ryan's plan to deal with our current and projected financial problems and sees a threat to the past.  For Meyerson, the future happened between 1933 and 1966.  We must ever live there regardless of changing demographics and economic conditions. 

This is a secular faith-based worldview.   Any new policies (like defined contribution Medicare and block granted Medicaid) are the past, even if those policies have never been implemented before.  Meyerson's is a nostalgic progressivism where the future happened generations ago and anything new must be a return to the past.   

Categories > Politics


Shumer's Extremism

Senator Shumer declares:

The dangerous, ideological cuts to Planned Parenthood that passed the House are never, never, never going to pass the Senate," said Schumer. "Let me repeat that, so all those who want to stomp on women's health and women's rights can hear us loud and clear. The dangerous, ideological cuts to Planned Parenthood that passed the House are never, never, never going to pass the Senate.

So Senator Shumer is willing to risk shutting down the government to ensure a few hundred million dollars for Planned Parenthood, and his opponents are extremists?

Exit question: what percentage of Americans think some of our tax dollars should go to Planned Parenthood?

Categories > Politics


It's Not a Living Constitution; It's a Living Argument

This Harold Meyerson WaPo column from earlier in the week--with its suggestion that Paul Ryan and the Republicans seek to "repeal the 20th century"--is a classic and claifying example of the Progressive mind revealing itself and, in that revelation, further demonstrating that it is a mind no longer capable of working.  Why should it work when "History" does all the heavy lifting and we have no other task but to listen to it?  Let me explain:

The various 20th century violations of American Constitutionalism (presented to the courts in the name of "progress") were always justified upon the theory that the Constitution was and is a "living" document.  That is, it should grow and bend and evolve with time and with the people.  We could no more be bound by 18th century ideas than we should be shuttled around on horseback.  Of course, courts needed this justification because--codified as they are by that Constitution and bound by it to interpret it--there was no politically feasible way to simply ignore or repeal it in favor of some system of government that is more responsive to this evolution.  We were stuck with it unless or, perhaps, until some 21st century leader could "extend and expand the American social compact" for a new age. 

You see, the Progressive mind believes that political arguments are not, actually, arguments.  Instead, they are a kind of dance that we do with ourselves until we are sufficiently evolved to accept the change that history dictates.  This is why, once a "Progressive" wins, his subsequent defeat can never mean, merely, that the American people have "changed their minds."  Instead, it means that the forces of regression are holding sway.  It means that we have "turned back the clock."  Changing your mind is impossible, after all, for this would presume that your mind is . . . well, free.  And no good Progressive--with his faith all tied up in the march of Progress and history--could be accused of making that kind of a wild error.

This is why Progressives do not believe in politics or, put another way, they do not appear to respect the concept of the consent of the governed.  It is also why Barack Obama refuses to engage in it.  It is not that Obama does not see that large swaths of the American people do not agree with his understanding of the purposes and limits (!) of American Constitutional government.  It is that their disagreement is of no moment to him; it is not worth a fair hearing as far as he's concerned.  It is, at best, an inconvenience and a hiccup.  You will come along, like it or not, as political evolution works its magic on you.  Some will come fast.  Others will move slow.  But all will come . . . or suffer the consequence of being branded a retrograde.

It is possible that the setbacks Obama felt at the ballot box last November served as an example to him of what happens in a Republic founded upon the consent of the governed when a political leader refuses to engage in politics.  But it is more likely that he took this to be merely a miscalculation . . . of "doing too much too fast."  His timing was off, not his purposes.  And he figures he can always learn patience on the job.

This budget imbroglio provides Americans who still believe in the centrality of politics in a government constituted upon the consent of the governed, an opportunity to demonstrate the freedom and the power of their functioning minds.  I don't know if Barack Obama can learn patience on the job (though his off-the-cuff remarks of exasperation directed at ordinary citizens suggest that he cannot), but I do know that if enough Americans demand it, he can be forced to do his job (or, at least, clarify for us the reasons why he will not or cannot do it).  Make him make a Constitutional case for his policies.  And make him understand that though the Constitution is not living, the arguments surrounding it thrive. 
Categories > Progressivism


In Politics the 'Manager Fetish' Leaves Much to be Desired

John Podhoretz writes some biting commentary in today's New York Post which justly condemns New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, for the intellectual folly (not to mention the self-righteous arrogance) of "managerial fetishism." Bloomberg's latest manifestation of the syndrome was in his appointment of a heralded "manager" and businesswoman, Cathie Black, as Chancellor of New York City schools.  While there (a mere three months), apparently, nothing garnered in her years of experience or education in management could be counted upon to be useful in helping her navigate the inevitably stormy political waters associated with the job.  Instead, she found skills that served her well in "management" cast her as "acting highhanded and condescending" when she was confronted with people who--like parents, teachers, and principals--have more of their own skin in the game than the posterior waxing, soul-selling and ladder climbing subordinates she was probably more accustomed to confronting. 

Examples of this kind of craven worshiping at the altar of the MBA and other demonstrations of managerial "competence" abound in American political life and--like their most adept priests--they have no permanent home on either the right or the left.  It's a perfectly bipartisan and, even, schizophrenic, sort of foolishness.  And there is good reason for this.  When one lionizes the skills or tools of "success" over the substance and meaning of "success," one always sacrifices that substance to those skills and tools. 

Those who suggest that we need to "run the government more like a business" think that what they are calling for is more accountability to the bottom line and responsibility for results.  But, in fact--if they thought a bit longer--they would realize that this is a false assumption.  A business is incorporated for the purpose of success with respect to profits.  Put simply, a business exists to make money.   We can argue until the cows come home about what the meaning of success in education or war or a Congressional budget may be, but the fact that we would be arguing only strengthens my point:  this is a political conversation, not a conversation about management.  The question of what makes for success in any of these things it is not as clear cut as the goal of making money is.  People will forever disagree about these things.  Persuasion is, therefore, always necessary.  Managers may have many virtues but, if among those virtues are a power to see the right and a facility in making a persuasive case for it, then these are absolutely incidental and apart from any training he had as a manager.  More often than not, however, the successful "manager" is going to be inclined to imagine that the question of ends is a settled one and he--as Cathie Black did--will proceed without a care in the world with respect to the need for garnering consent and building trust.  He may also be inclined to think that every kind of push-back he experiences can be countered with a PowerPoint presentation of "the facts" . . . as if "facts" were all that mattered.

A better case for all that I (and John Podhoretz) say above is presented here by Charles Kesler.  It also demonstrates why the last thing we should look for in a 2012 Presidential nominee is some indication--MBA or otherwise--that he has been a good "manager."
Categories > Politics


No one left to tax?

A reader on Megan McArdle's blog does the math:

You can estimate the effects of various proposals in the best case, which is that each percentage point increase in the marginal rate translates to an equal increase in the effective rate. Going back to 2000 ("Clinton era") marginal rates on income over $200,000, let's call it a 5 percentage point increase in the marginal rate, would therefore yield $59 billion on a static basis. Going from there to a 45% rate on incomes over $1 million (another 5 percentage point increase) yields an additional $31 billion. Or, instead, on top of 2000 rates over $200,000, 50%/60%/70% on $500,000/$5 million/$10 million? An extra $133 billion, or nearly 1% of GDP. That's not accounting for the further middle class tax cuts that are usually proposed along with these "millionaires' taxes."

Now, compare this to deficits of $1,413 billion in 2009 and $1,293 billion in 2010, and using optimistic White House estimates, $1,645 billion in 2011 $1,101 billion in 2012, $768 billion in 2013, and continuing at over $600 billion after.

We simply can't balance the budget by taxing only the rich.  We have to raise taxes on everyone, or cut expenditures massively.

There's also a principle involved.  If we believe in private property, then we believe that property belongs to individuals.  The state may tax some of it in order to pay for the government's expenses.  High tax rates, except in times of emergency, tend toward the presumption that the government has first claim to the property, and citizens are only allowed to keep that which remains after the government has taken what it wants.  Possession of property is no longer a natural right in that scheme.  It is a right in the old sense--a dispensation granted by the government (which the government may take away at its whim).

I'll add that we are in an extraordinary situation.  Hence very high tax rates might be acceptable, for a short time, to get our fiscal house in order.  My guess is that many other Americans think that way, too.  But the situation is like the immigration problem.  Most Americans would be open to some kind of amnesty, if they believd the border was secure--and that this was not a repeat of the amnesty of the 1980s (fool me once . . .).  So, too with federal spending.  If the republic really is at risk, very high taxes are justified, but only so long as the risk remains.  Making high taxes permanent changes the relationship between citizens and the government, and the meaning of property rights, and is, therefore, not justifiable on American principles.

Categories > Economy


Honest Graft at Berkshire?

What, exactly, is the difference between what David Sokol did at Berkshire Hathaway:

Sokol, 54, bought about 96,000 Lubrizol Corp. (L) shares in January, less than two weeks before recommending the company as a target, Buffett said yesterday in a statement. Sokol had started confidential talks with Lubrizol the month before.

And what George Washington Plunkitt called, "honest graft"?

EVERYBODY is talkin' these days about Tammany men growin' rich on graft, but nobody thinks of drawin' the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. There's all the difference in the world between the two. Yes, many of our men have grown rich in politics. I have myself. I've made a big fortune out of the game, and I'm gettin' richer every day, but I've not gone in for dishonest graft--blackmailin' gamblers, saloonkeepers, disorderly people, etc.--and neither has any of the men who have made big fortunes in politics.

There's an honest graft, and I'm an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin': "I seen my opportunities and I took 'em."

Just let me explain by examples. My party's in power in the city, and it's goin' to undertake a lot of public improvements. Well, I'm tipped off, say, that they're going to lay out a new park at a certain place.

I see my opportunity and I take it. I go to that place and I buy up all the land I can in the neighborhood. Then the board of this or that makes its plan public, and there is a rush to get my land, which nobody cared particular for before.

Ain't it perfectly honest to charge a good price and make a profit on my investment and foresight? Of course, it is. Well, that's honest graft.

Categories > History


Hiding The Ball

Derek Thompson is at it again.  I especially like this mistake where he writes "Ryan proposes to cure health care inflation by capping Medicare payments to beneficiaries at $15,000. How will that help a senior pay for medical expenses that exceed $15,000? It won't."  This is stupid beyond words.  The Ryan plan does not give seniors 15,000 dollars to buy health care and if they incur greater than 15,000 worth of expenses they have nothing.  In fact, the Ryan plan will give different groups of seniors varying amounts of money (lower-income and sicker seniors will get larger subsidies) in order to buy health insurance that offers a package of benefits (hospitalization etc.)  This way, insurers that can offer the widest array of services at a lower price would get more customers (this approach makes even more sense in a more broadly liberalized health care market.) This can't be repeated enough:  Either the Derek Thompsons of the world are in favor of ruinous tax increases to pay for an unsustainable long-term projected rate of increase in Medicare spending or we are arguing about how to bring costs down to a sustainable level. 

The choice here is pretty simple.  Let companies compete to offer seniors a set of benefits based on price, or have the government ration care based on what a bureaucrat thinks a particular senior should have.  We can have patient-centered care or bureaucrat-centered care.  These are our choices.   

Categories > Politics


Obama's Mode of Playing Politics by Refusing to DO Politics

Is John Boehner calling President Obama's bluff?  As the House prepares to send the Senate and, one hopes, the President a bill for avoiding the shutdown and at least keeping the government operating an additional week (also--importantly--financing the military for the remainder of the year), President Obama issued a statement announcing that he will veto this bill because . . . because, why, exactly?

Boehner countered what was, in effect, Obama's non-statement with a solid statement of his own:  "I have just been informed that the White House has issued a veto threat on a bill that would keep the government from shutting down, without stating a single policy justification for President Obama's threatened veto.  Neither the President nor Senate Democrats have identified a single policy provision they find objectionable in the bill."

Indeed, if you believe that there is a specific principle or a line in the sand that the President will not cross announced in this message, you will need a cipher to discover it.  Yes, of course there is all this back-chatter about the President not liking the "horrible" riders Republicans want to keep in the final budget bill . . . but H.R. 1363 is not that bill.  Not that this would matter.  The President won't engage in that fight either.  As with the fight over health care (where he allowed his allies in Congress to take the policy lead), President Obama remains coy about his own views on those riders in the larger bill--preferring, instead, to use Harry Reid and other surrogates to do the dirty work of defending a willingness to shut down the government for the sake of funneling taxpayer funds to their friends and supporters at Planned Parenthood and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Obama will not engage on the real issues before him and, instead, works mightily to pretend that the issues presented to him by the representatives of the people are mere "distractions"--what he calls "politics" with that breath of contempt that is now all too familiar in him.  He thinks he can remain above the fray--always the academic observer of these petty squabblers in Congress where, by some freak of nature having nothing to do with the actual opinions and interests of the American people, the backward thinking of Republicans and their Tea-Party allies now prevails.  He imagines that this posture will win the trust of Americans who understand that they must bow to the consensus of finer minds like his and take their wisdom as received opinion.  His statement reads like this:  "Gee, I'd really like to work with those children on the Republican side . . . but, gosh, they've got to do their homework and catch up with me first." 

Yet, every once in awhile, the President's cool-as-a-cucumber act is tripped up by his own hot tongue.  Every once in a while, he betrays his contempt for those he claims to champion and his true sentiments about middle-class Americans spew forth.  In these cases, those who differ with him--instead of getting painted into a corner where their disagreement with the obvious consensus around his will is sacrilege--instead find themselves the cult-heroes of a newly energized American middle-class.  With his destined to be classic "You might want to think about a trade-in" remark, he evokes his "Spread the wealth around" remark and that other old favorite, the "tire-gauge" remark.  But, to be fair, I don't think he has ever uttered a truer sentence.  We might want to be thinking about a trade-in . . . in 2012.  Thanks for reminding us.

Here's a news-flash, Mr. President.  When you get "shellacked" in an election for control of the most representative body of your sovereign (i.e., the people of the United States) you no longer have the moral authority to make pronouncements about what is and what is not "politics."   Instead, you have to DO politics.  Man up. 
Categories > Presidency


Before the "Death Panel" claims...

...there was the "starving old people" meme, trotted out whenever a Republican dared to suggest reductions in federal spending.  And now, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has gone back to the well.
Categories > Congress

Shameless Self-Promotion

More Thoughts on Paul Ryan

Julie kindly noted below my thoughts about Paul Ryan over at Power Line (by the way, shouldn't Julie have her own blog called "The Ponzi Scheme"??--I think it would be a huge hit).  Anyway, I return to the subject of Ryan this afternoon over at National Review Online, with a piece whose subtitle conveys the mood: "One Part FDR, One Part Gipper."  No wonder terrified liberals are going to DefCon1 over Ryan.

While I'm here, I should also note appreciation to Denver Post columnist Vince Carroll, whose column earlier this week, "Ritter Drubbed in Debate," gives a very nice shout out about my Intelligence Squared debate on "clean energy" last month in New York.


State Politicians and Social Networking

DCI Group has a fantastic new web tool out called Digital America. It links you to the Facebook and Twitter feeds of state lawmakers, allowing you to be able to both keep track of your state-level politicians and have another way of trying to contact them. Using the 2010 Census information, it provides a bunch of other interesting statistics as well. Of the 7,381 state legislators in the nation, 761 (10%) are on Twitter and 2,931 (40%) are on Facebook; correspondingly, 40% of Americans are on Facebook while only 1% is on Twitter. 49/50 governors are on Facebook-- only West Virginia's Earl Ray Tomblin is not, but he's new and probably will be soon. The state with the most legislators on Facebook is Washington; the state with the least is New Mexico. Most Twitter-users belongs to Nevada, while the least is Utah. It's a convenient (and cool) tool that shows how social networking is being utilized by politics in America.
Categories > Technology

Ashbrook Center

Speaker Boehner's Moment

Even as the audience expected to greet Speaker Boehner at this Friday's Twenty-Sixth Annual John M. Ashbrook Memorial Dinner promises to outsize those of all previous such occasions, no one expects that this milestone will be the marker of the Speaker's week.  With a government shutdown looming it is likely, however, that whatever the outcome of the week's negotiations, this speech is going to be a memorable one for those assembled. 
Categories > Ashbrook Center


Paul Ryan, the Choices We Face, and the Sphinx Without a Face

The Sphinx in Egypt is famous for having had the sands of time erode away his schnozzle.  William Voegeli suggests that the Sphinx of Pennsylvania Ave., in addition to losing his proboscis, appears to have plenty of sand in his eyes and in his mouth.  How else to explain President Obama's refusal to make it plain that the situation we now face will require a choice and that the choice he prefers--continued and massive federal outlays on programs he and his base deem essential--will require tax increases; and not just on that elusive category of "the wealthy"? 

Of course, there is an alternative understanding.  As Voegeli puts it:

This Sphinx of Pennsylvania Avenue routine, from a politician hailed just three years ago as an orator so compelling he would have driven Pericles into the tunic-wholesaling business, is the result of a political dilemma: Liberalism is much more forthcoming on the question of what the government ought to do than it is about how the government should pay for all its programs.

Bingo!  Yahtzee!  Survey says:  Ding, ding, ding!  So of course there is a natural reason to explain this Liberal reticence:  there are more people who want good things than there are people willing to foot the bill for them.  In other words:  generating enthusiasm for higher taxes is a tough sell.  Just ask Walter Mondale. 

On the other hand, it's no picnic to try and sell a cutback on the free goodies.  Everybody loves Santa Claus.  No one admires the penny pincher until it is almost too late for it to matter.  Paul Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" is going to feel more like a tight shoe to most voters than a florid and inspiring promise of possibilities.

Even so, as Voegeli points out, Ryan's plan has got one big thing going for it:  its honesty.  And in that honesty, Voegeli thinks, may be the power--if not to achieve its immediate objectives--at least to place the conversation upon a more rational plane.  The hard part will be in getting people to understand that tight shoes beat no shoes; but, really, this is not a difficult concept to grasp when it's snowing outside.  In making this attempt, Ryan is forcing Obama's hand.  The biggest problem with the Obama team's routine is that it is intellectually dishonest and this is becoming increasingly plain to the voters.  Paul Ryan isn't promising us a rose garden.  But he does give us some pretty good tips about the right way to till and cultivate one. 
Categories > Economy


"Born in the U.S.A."

Dukakis used "Come to America" as his campaign song, back in 1988.  Obama won't use this version of "Born in the U.S.A." as his.

Categories > Presidency


Negotiating Skills?

Here's a case study of why Mitt Romney doesn't connect with voters, and why his campaign is floundering: before a Jewish group in Las Vegas, he touted as his primary foreign policy asset his . . . negotiating skills.  Cue Jon Lovitz: yeah, that's the ticket.  There are millions of GOP and independent voters whose first thought is, "I want a president with good negotiating skills."  There's something badly wrong with your political instincts when a speech and encounter with reporters generates headlines and ledes like this one.  But this is what happens when you dodge questions and won't take a substantive stand on the issues right in front of you.  From the story:

In his address Saturday to the Republican Jewish Coalition gathered here, he lambasted President Obama for what he characterized as a weak approach to international forces based on a lack of negotiating skills. But Romney never directly discussed U.S. involvement in Libya, leaving a group of reporters chasing him down a hall to ask him about this puzzling omission and whether he had a position on the United States launching a military offensive in a third Islamic country.

"I've got a lot of positions on a lot of topics," Romney said over his shoulder, "but walking down the hall probably isn't the best place to describe all those."

The day before, Romney had sidestepped a question about his recent trip to Afghanistan, saying he would discuss foreign policy in his speech on Saturday. But he neglected to talk about his trip or about continued U.S. involvement in Afghanistan in those remarks.

"I've got a lot of positions on a lot of topics."  That's precisely Romney's problem.  And does he really think Obama's foreign policy problems are because Obama lacks good "negotiating skills"?  Mitt, please go back to work for Bain Capital.

Categories > Politics


Paul Ryan's Prudence

Henry Olsen points out Paul Ryan's stealing of the Democratic Party issue of security (see, among other sources, FDR's 1944 SOTU).   In fighting Progressivism, we often need to turn Progressive guns against Progressivism:  capture their commanding heights and use their own weapons against them.   Leftist policies destroy Social Security, Medicare, etc.  This does not show bad faith in compromising with these New Deal policies--quite the contrary; it's part of a much larger strategy.

As bad as California is, it would be far worse without the consensus that supported the initiative and referendum measures against racial preferences, property tax hikes, and so on.  See Edward Erler's argument for using the Progressive means to conservative ends:  Keep your eye on the ball and the real enemy--the administrative state. 

Categories > Progressivism


Happy Birthday, Booker T. Washington

Today is the 155th anniversary of the birth of Booker T. Washington--a birth into a condition of slavery.  Yet, even despite the denial of his freedom and the bloody war it took to end that wretched institution, Booker T. Washington's victory over slavery, was all his own.  Yes, he was only a child when his actual condition of servitude ended and he could not, therefore, have been involved in ending it.  But the lingering effects both of slavery and of the conditions in the hearts and minds of men that had made slavery possible, did much to keep a good number of Americans in a kind of self-perpetuating bondage; and I'm not only talking about black people.

Booker T. Washington, perhaps more than any other American of his generation (and many several generations since), understood that slavery was--above all--a condition of mind.  Its victims were not only those of African descent whose ancestors (or who themselves) had been brought to our shores against their will.  The victims of the institution of slavery were Americans of every race and color and of every sex and creed.  Learning to grow "Up from Slavery" was a task that required different things from different Americans, to be sure.  But the central thing it required of all of them was an ability to grasp at an understanding of their own worth and to look beyond those who would deny them the opportunity to demonstrate that worth.  Overcoming the slavery of oneself to slavish habits, slavish thinking, and slavish dependence are lessons that remain of fresh importance to each generation of Americans; and they are the first among the requirements for actual political freedom.  Few Americans--if any--provide us with a better example of how to achieve all of these things.   

Good things about Washington's importance and example for black Americans today are expressed in this blog post from Shamara Riley.  But, as I said above, in a way it diminishes Booker T. Washington's accomplishments to describe him only as an example and an inspiration for black Americans.  Booker T. Washington is an inspiration to all Americans.  His life was a demonstration of the highest principles of our nation and of the capacities for any man of virtue and determination to succeed on the basis of his merit.
Categories > History

Refine & Enlarge

America and the World

The topic this week in the Letter from an Ohio Farmer is "America and the World."  Here is how he starts:

America, on the president's orders, has intervened militarily in Libya; the president has given a speech explaining the intervention and the manner of it; the country and the world debate the matter as events unfold; the outcome remains uncertain.  In his speech, the president insisted that, because the Libyan people faced "the prospect of violence on a horrific scale," 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." 

These letters are particularly concerned with "who we are" as a people and what this requires of our politics, domestic and foreign. So I leave aside for now the many other interesting and important questions swirling around the president's words and deeds, including his deference to the United Nations and his neglect of the United States Congress. 

What does "who we are" tell us about how we should act toward the rest of the world?

Do continue to read America and the World.
Categories > Refine & Enlarge


The Atlantic On Ryan's Health Care Reform

Megan McArdle gives a fair summary of the practical choices that the two parties offer voters when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid reform.

Derek Thompson is just obtuse.  I especially like where he writes:

This picture is a partisan Rorschach test. Washington promised to pay for every senior's health care. We can't. Paul Ryan's sees the graph and says, "Let's change our promise." The White House's sees the graph and says, "Let's change health care."

Obamacare started to "change healthcare" by sharply cutting doctor reimbursements for current Medicare clients (which will make it harder for seniors to see providers) and using the savings to fund a new middle-class entitlement.  We can look forward to future attempts by the Obamas of the world (and their media enablers like Thompson) to try to "change health care" through waiting lists, denials of service and other, less transparent ways of cutting back services.

We have to get this straight and repeat it always.  The Ryan patient-centered approach will let future retirees decide on the care they get and they will get better value for their money.  The Obama bureaucrat-centered approach will get seniors ever fewer medical services even as they are told a thousand lies about a thousand waiting lists and service reductions.  And then they will tell you about how great they are for changing health care.  The Ryan method is both more honest and will get seniors better care and more choices at a lower price. 

Categories > Politics


Bipartisan Dissatisfaction With the Top of the Ticket

Dissatisfaction with the available options for the 2012 Presidential election appears to be the subject of broad bi-partisan agreement.  Just today there are calls for Hillary to challenge Obama on the Democrat side and Ross Douthat's NYT column this week speaks of the GOP's "empty stage."

At Powerline, Steve Hayward--though not subscribing to the notion that the GOP stage is entirely "empty" (he also likes Pawlenty and Daniels)--suggests that Paul Ryan ought to take more seriously the idea that he has the stuff to step up onto it.  He suggests that Ryan consider that even though he's armed with a healthy list of reasons to be reluctant (a list that any casual observer of the political scene could compose) the humbling reality of political life is that, "one can't choose one's moments in politics."  That is absolutely true.  The right man at the right time is never going to have every other conceivable circumstance flowing along in a way that might be considered "right" for him.

If it were true that the right man for the right time would have no other outside obstacles to his emergence on the scene, all that would be required of democratic statesmanship in a republic would be to sit back and let it happen as part of the natural order of things.  Persuasion and politics--as we know and understand it--would be unnecessary.  It would be something akin to what some observers mistakenly believed about the emergence of Obama:  he appeared and the revelation that he was "the one" captivated the people as he was the culmination of our political history. 

Except it didn't quite happen like that.  Obama has found that "natural kings" (or, even, world historical ones) are stuck with the necessity of having to persuade a majority in this Republic.  When they don't work effectively at persuasion or they imagine that their work--upon winning--is done, they may get along for awhile . . . but it's usually a safe bet that they will overstep the limits of consent and that, as a consequence, they will suffer a rebuke.  This is what happened to Obama in November and he's been flailing around trying to regroup ever since.  Some combination of circumstance and his own efforts may prove Obama up to the challenge of this regrouping.  But the mask of invincibility is gone and he has had to engage in politics--that is, a more serious effort at persuasion including taking positions rather than mouthing vagaries.  World historical presidents turn out to be just as vulnerable as the workaday variety when operating within the confines of regime where the people are sovereign. 

When considered from that point of view, I think Steve is right to suggest that Ryan may have no other choice but to run come this fall.   As he puts it, "I can imagine a set of circumstances in which his budget proposal gets little traction against White House intransigence, and by the fall the political winds are such that entering the race makes so much sense that he has to do it."  If Ryan is in Washington because of his ideas (and, as he has often said, there is no other reason to be there) then it may be that he has to run this gauntlet for the sake of those ideas.  That is to say, his running may be the only way to guarantee that we are even having the right conversation in the coming election; the only way to guarantee that the other side confronts his arguments.  We cannot afford to keep postponing this conversation until it is convenient for our best interlocutors to have it.    
Categories > Elections


School Opportunity in DC

The United States House of Representatives recently passed the Scholarship for Opportunity and Results Act by a vote of 255-195. Showing how high of a priority this legislation is, this is the only bill that Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is personally sponsoring this year. The SOAR Act reauthorizes the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a popular and effective school voucher program that, due to opposition from the White House and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), was essentially cut off in 2009. Public schools in D.C., which are ranked 51st in the nation, have a 55% graduation rate; 91% of students who received a voucher graduated from D.C. private schools. Less than 1 in 5 D.C. public school 8th graders are proficient in reading.

Despite White House claims to the contrary, all research and evidence suggests that the D.C. OSP has dramatically improved education outcomes for low-income students in Washington within the few years it has been in place. It is wildly popular among D.C. residents; three-quarters of people in Washington support the program, even though the Mayor and non-voting representative to Congress opposed it. Furthermore, the vouchers are $7,500-- cheaper than the $18,000 a student costs in a public school in D.C. It is a successful program that is actually doing a lot of good for students trapped in the worst school system in the nation; President Obama and Congressional Democrats should not block it. To quote the Washington Post Editorial Board:

We understand the argument against using public funds for private, and especially parochial, schools. But it is parents, not government, choosing where to spend the vouchers. Given that this program takes no money away from public or public charter schools; that the administration does not object to parents directing Pell grants to Notre Dame or Georgetown; and that members of the administration would never accept having to send their own children to failing schools, we don't think the argument is very persuasive. Maybe that's why an administration that promised never to let ideology trump evidence is making an exception in this case.

A compelling argument on the Post's part. The administration should make the right decision here and let these low-income students escape the failing system that they would otherwise be trapped in.
Categories > Education

Political Philosophy

Assignment for the Class

Walter Russell Mead, who, judging by his long-form blog posts over the last several months, has been on a diet of an extra helping of Wheaties every day, has a long post up right now on Machiavelli.  Much of his discussion is accessibly excellent.   But along the way he also says this:

Machiavelli is not a prophet of nihilism.  His Prince (unlike Nietzsche's) isn't fighting simply for power.  He is fighting to for the right and the ability to build a state and to become a lawgiver.

Hmm.   Discuss, especially the "prophet of nihilism" sentence.


Will Republicans Save the Democratic Party?

Pete's very sobering post below on the difficulties of the coming war over entitlement spending prompts a thought on the comparatively minor skirmish over public employee compensation and union power.  If Republicans actually succeed in curtailing the power of public employee unions, the ultimate political beneficiary might well be--the Democratic Party!

In a long post over at Power Line this morning that discusses the whole matter at length, I include this observation:

By the way, Thatcher's breaking of union power in Britain had the ironic benefit of breaking the total union stranglehold over the Labour Party, making possible the emergence of the more moderate "New Labour" under Tony Blair. This suggests the possibility that if Republicans succeed in breaking the power of public employee unions, the ultimate beneficiary might be the Democratic Party; it would free them at last to support genuine public education reform, for example. Mickey Kaus, call your office.
Categories > Politics

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).