Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


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