Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


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. 
Categories > Refine & Enlarge

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?

Refine & Enlarge

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