Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Bush And 2012

Ross Douthat writes that the public's memory of President George W. Bush will prevent Obama  from being Hooverized by the lousy economy and that Pawlenty's tax plan will be a general election liability.  Here's what I think:

Douthat is partly right, but I don't think that blaming Bush helps more than a little.  Obama's situation would be worse if the Great Recession and the financial crisis had occurred entirely during Obama's term.  People recognize that Obama didn't personally cause the downturn.  But that has limited relevance in a general election context.  Swing voters can probably keep the following two thoughts in their heads simultaneously: a) Bush was a lousy President and b) Obama might not be as bad, but he is still doing a lousy job and we still need a new President.  And it isn't just swing voters.  Obama's job approval on the economy is 41%.  Short of some calamity, Obama will almost certainly get more than 41% in next year's election.  Whatever they think of Bush, even some Democratic-leaning voters don't like the job Obama is doing on the economy.  Memories of Bush won't be any clearer in November 2012 than they were when Republicans were making large gains in November 2010.  If the labor market stays where it is (or God forbid gets worse), Romney's line that "He [Obama] didn't create the recession, but he made it worse and longer" will have resonance and "Bush started it" won't be enough of a response.  To the extent the labor market improves, the force of Romney's charge will weaken. 

I generally share Douthat's concerns about Pawlenty's tax plan (and especially its relationship to his spending plans) but I hope to get to that tomorrow.

Categories > Politics


Make It About Reality, Not About Keeping It Real

Ron Brownstein argues that the Republican presidential candidates have:

coalesced around an economic agenda that will propose sharper reductions in federal taxes, spending, and regulation than the party has offered in decades. That convergence will diminish the role of ideology in the nomination contest--but then increase it in the general election.

There is some truth to that, but the way the CNN Republican debate was moderated tended to amplify this tendency.  It doesn't make much sense to ask a question about repealing Obamacare.  They're all for repealing Obamacare.  Making it about Obamacare or how to repeal Obamacare creates a situation where the candidates compete to be the "real" conservative not through their policy preferences, but through self-marketing.  One candidate says he will repeal Obamacare on his first day as President.  Another candidate says she was the first member of the House of Representatives to introduce a repeal of Obamacare.  Luckily no one has cut off a finger to demonstrate their sincere desire to repeal Obamacare.  Yet.

The debates would be better (for viewers, and for the general election chances of the Republican Party probably - but not for the comfort of the candidates) if the debate questions focused on how particular policies would affect individuals and subgroups.  It would be more useful and more interesting to see how much (if any) the Pawlenty tax plan saves middle-class families vs. the Romney tax plan vs. the Bachmann tax plan.  It would be interesting to learn how much more they expect seniors to pay out of pocket due to their Medicare reforms and why (along with other health care reforms) this might be a good thing in the end.  This could set off some interesting scrums among the candidates and these are also going to be the kinds of questions that the Republican presidential candidate will face in the general election - where the swing voters won't care about who is the realest real conservative. 

Categories > Politics


The Crisis of the New Order (Cont.)

On the first page of today's Wall Street Journal there's a note about yesterday's Senate vote in favor of repealing federal ethanol subsidies, and and article reporting that AARP "is dropping its longstanding opposition to cutting Social Security benefits."  Both were unthinkable until recently.  The time they are a changin'.
Categories > Politics


As Good As It Gets, Conservative Style

George Will throws aside shame and modesty to reveal his unadulturated man-crush for Ted Cruz, the conservative candidate for the Texas Senate seat vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison. And, now that I know a bit about him, I must admit I'm begining to get a thrill up my leg, as well.
Categories > Conservatism

Shameless Self-Promotion

What a Long, Strange Trip. . .

What else can I say about attending a conference of liberals, in Marin County no less, except that it prompted me to dig out every old Jerry Garcia tie in my closet.  (More about this strange trip from the San Francisco Chronicle here.)

Mewanwhile, over on the redesigned website, my list of the dozen best environmental books is up.

You Won't Have Anthony Weiner to Jerk Around Anymore

"Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) will resign from his seat in Congress, heeding calls from President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and dozens of other congressional Democrats, sources confirm to POLITICO."

Foreign Affairs

Libya and the Rule of Law

Speaker of the House John Boehner sent a letter to President Obama on Tuesday warning him that he is about to violate the mandate for the commander-in-chief to end combat operations after thirty days of the expiration date of the War Powers Resolution, and requesting the White House's interpretation of that law as well as seeking the exact justifications and goals of American participation in the Libyan Civil War. Today, the White House arrogantly responded that it has the legal authority to continue combat operations without congressional consent, and requested that Congress stop questioning him about the use of martial power for fear of sending "mixed messages" about our support of the NATO-led mission. One official said that what we are engaged in is not a war, so it does not necessitate congressional consent under either the War Powers Clause in the Constitution or the War Powers Resolution.

This conflict has so far cost the United States $716 million and is expected to top a billion by September. We have taken sides in a full-scale civil war, have exceeded the United Nations No Fly Zone with targeted bombings of ground forces and installations, and are actively and openly seeking the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's regime. Armed "westerners" have been spotted on video tape in Libya, and requests for negotiation by Gaddafi have been met with blunt refusals to allow him to stay in any sort of power. This is a war, and we are helping fight it, regardless of what President Obama and his administration says to the contrary. The President of the United States is actively directing taxpayer dollars and American forces to kill soldiers of other nations with the intention of toppling the regime of that nation.

The war in Libya serves no purpose for our national security or interests, and even on humanitarian grounds the information is murky as we do not know who we are fighting for. The United Nations and other international nongovernmental organizations have uncovered evidence of war crimes being committed both by the regime and the opposition, including the use of child soldiers by both sides--one of the most despicable acts that men are capable of.

The President has gone far beyond the authority he is granted in entering the Libyan Civil War, and has grievously insulted both Congress and the U.S. Constitution in a way even worse than his domestic policies. The right to use force is the one key power that we surrender to the government, and its use must be carefully regulated-- particularly the use of lethal force. Any time that power becomes more unrestricted, it is dangerous. I do not wish Gaddafi well; I hope that he meets the same dark death worthy of tyrants and mass murderers. Sanctioning his regime would be okay. Perhaps, even, limited involvement such as the imposing of a no-fly-zone is fine-- with the permission of Congress. Without it, the President is an unrestricted wielder of force capable of picking and choosing without proper explanation to his people's representatives who will win and lose in foreign wars.

Congress has two choices, and it is forced to these two choices due to the improper irresponsibility of the Commander-in-Chief. Congress must either pass a resolution authorizing the enforcement of the UN Resolution (that is, ensuring no ground involvement) so that the rule of law is still intact, or vote to cut the funding for this ill-conceived foreign venture and make a point to the Executive Branch that there are limits to its martial power and use of lethal force, and that Congress is not to be pushed over or ignored in these non-trivial matters of great importance. Congress must do something, and it must do it soon. As the L.A. Times Editorial Board said, "Obama shouldn't have left it to Congress to ensure that this operation is grounded in the rule of law. Three months into the Libya campaign, he should have had enough confidence in his policy to submit it to the House and Senate. Instead, he has sought refuge in legal obfuscations." It is time for Congress to assert itself and rein in this misconduct; this is the area of power where the respect for the rule of law must be most preciously guarded.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


The Wisdom of the Common Law

From Ronald Seavoy's classic The Origins of the American Business Corporation.  (A book on a subject that ought to occupy more time in our history classes).  After the American Revolution, as the State of New York passed a law allowing religious congregations to incorporate (a step necessary to allow them to own land):

A mortmain clause, limiting the amount of land a congregation could own, was added to prevent the accumulation of real property in immobile corporate hands.  Thereafter, some form of mortmain restriction as placed in almost all charters of benevolent societies.  This was a legal carry-over from England where mortmain clauses were designed to prevent the accumulation of land in the hands of churches and other charitable organizations.

I wonder if we, in modern America, should consider restoring that a like restriction on all tax-free entities.  Perpetuities are problematic in a democratic-republic.  As the endowments of our major Universites and colleges grow, along with our major foundations, it reduces our tax base.  Business corporations must compete to survive. Hence that concern does not apply. But charitable trusts can be forever. Since we don't have the feudal law here (at least in most cases), it would probably have to take a different form than the old restriction. 

As I understand the law, (and I may very well be wrong here), charitable institutions have some key advantages in the market.  If they don't pay capital gains taxes on trades, for example, they can be much more efficient traders of stocks and other assets.  Similarly, if they don't pay real estate taxes, they can drive for profit landlords out of the market by charging less rent for like apartments.  When relatively little wealth is off the tax books, that's not a real problem. As more and more is held by charities, it could become a problem.  More generally, the lack of competition makes long-term ownership by charitable entities very different than ownership by business corporations.

Perhaps we could just require that charitable foundations spend more than the current 5% per year of their endowments (and change the way that 5% is counted).  It would make sense to exempt land that was used directly by charities (such as church and school buildings), but not other lands, etc.

Categories > History


Unemployment? Blame ATMs

In an interview with MSNBC, President Obama finally revealed to us why his economic policies are not helping solve the unemployment crisis: machines. Yes, ignore all those oppressive government regulations, the obnoxious size of taxes, and the massive debt accumulated by silly things like bank bailouts and a government stimulus program. Our economic misery is the fault of ATMs, self-check-out counters in Wal Mart, airport kiosks, and the machines. See, this is a similar line of thinking to the famous broken window fallacy that Keynesian types are so quick to embrace. They ignore that just because one part of the economy is seeing a decrease (in Obama's case, cashiers and bank tellers) does not necessarily mean the entire economy is hurting; if we have more ATMs, we need more mechanics to make and upkeep them, and money spent on paying tellers can be spent elsewhere that will create jobs.

That, and Obama's comments are just flat wrong, as Jonah Goldberg points out. Since the creation of the ATM, there have been 42,000 new bank teller jobs and the number of tellers is expected to grow 6% between 2008 and 2018. While it is true that the creation of automated services has significantly altered our economy, it has not hurt it. Just as he can no longer hang the lackluster economy around President Bush's neck, so too can he not hang it around Skynet's. The real automated overlord to be concerned about is the expansive federal bureaucracy choking our economy to death.
Categories > Economy


Free Speech in Wisconsin

An acquaintance of mine went to film today's protest at the Wisconsin State Capitol, where people were once again fighting against Governor Walker's various proposals. Here is the unedited footage of his attendance (WARNING - Graphic Language). Their absolute hatred of any perceived opponent and willingness to censor the opposition is unfortunately a common theme, albeit often with a more subtle tone, in many of these issues. If these are the type of people leading the fight for collective bargaining, public employees unions are doomed.
Categories > Journalism


Shallow Debate Thoughts

like you were expecting better,

1.  The questions were wretched, and not just the dumb ones about Leno, pizza and Dancing With The Stars.  The questions were generally too easy.  We already knew they were going to say they wanted to cut taxes and repeal Obamacare.  They should have been asked about the distributional impact of their tax policies.  Sample question: "How will your plan change the tax liabilities of a family of four earning $60,000 a year with a mortgage of 200,0000?"  Those who supported the Ryan PTP's Medicare reforms should have been asked how much more they expect that seniors will have to pay out of pocket in the coming decades.  Those are the kinds of questions that they are going to have to answer in the general election.  It would be nice to see if they can hit the fastballs the Obama campaign will surely be throwing at them.  There might also be some Republican-leaning middle-income voters and future Medicare beneficiaries who would be interested to hear the answers to such questions.

2.  Most of the candidates seem to be running on a version of John McCain's program of business and investment tax cuts with not much to say to middle-income voters except that a promise of tax cuts to other people will help everyone in the end.  That is just an impression from the debate.  There was a lot more talk about capital gains tax cuts than middle-class tax relief.  Ramesh Ponnuru offers an alternative tax agenda.

3.  The most recent employment report formed the context for the debate in an unhealthy way.  They all seemed to be running for the presidential election of next week.  They sounded like Sharron Angle.  No, not the crazy stuff about "Second Amendment remedies" if she didn't get her own way.  It was like whenever Angle couldn't say anything persuasive she would just circle back to Nevada's unemployment and foreclosure rates.  By itself, that wasn't good enough to win in a state with a 13% unemployment rate.  Even if the labor market remains exactly where it is, the Republicans could still lose if they are tagged as simply the party of capital gains tax cuts + Medicare cuts + hey willya look at the unemployment rate.

4.  Then again, we could be heading for another financial crisis.  

5.  Lots of the talk is about Pawlenty whiffing on the Obamneycare question,  Pawlenty had a pretty bad debate even without that answer. He appeared tentative and stammered multiple times.  Pawlenty isn't necessarily doomed.  Some candidates have a learning curve when it comes to debates.  George W. Bush was visibly nervous in the first Republican debate of the 2000 cycle but he was cleaning McCain's clock in head-to-head debates by the end (Keyes was there for some of them but they ignored him.)  Bush never became an all time great debater but he went to school and got the most out of his talent.  There is a good section in Stuart Stevens' The Big Enchilada about how Bush prepared for his debates with Al Gore.   Practice doesn't make perfect, but it can make some politicians significantly better.

What is more disturbing is that Pawlenty weaseled regarding "Obamneycare" in almost the same way that he weaseled on waterboarding in the first debate.  Both times he tried to avoid being pinned down (either on standing up for his Obamneycare formulation or taking a firm position on use of waterboarding.)  Both times he caved in to follow up questions and took a stand, but only after looking both evasive (since he had to be hounded into giving a direct answer) and weak (for knuckling under to the questioner.)  What is the point of this approach?  It has all of the downsides of taking a firm stand while forfeiting the respect due to someone who takes a forthright stand.

6.  Romney looked and sounded good.  Maybe he has gotten better since 2008.  Maybe it is just that he didn't have to fend off the withering attacks of McCain and Huckabee.  I hate to think that this a group with weaker debating skills than the Republican presidential field of 2008. 

Categories > Politics

Refine & Enlarge

Political Success and Governmental Failure

It's Tuesday, so another letter from the Ohio Farmer: Political Success and Governmental Failure starts with Lincoln's thought that without public sentiment nothing can succeed, to this: "Seven score and 13 years after those debates we are now engaged in a great political contest over whether the welfare state established by the New Deal and built up continuously since 1932 can long endure. Its growth over the past eight decades and the financial crisis confronting it today suggest the need to qualify Lincoln's rule: Public sentiment may ensure political success for a policy, but it does not rule out governmental failure.  Indeed, a policy can be a governmental failure precisely because it is a political success."
Categories > Refine & Enlarge


The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend

Ohio Governor John Kasich has made the Dallas Mavericks honorary citizens of Ohio for today. While not mentioning LeBron "take my talents to South Beach" James by name, he joins Dan Gilbert and other "Cavs for Mavs" with an excellent swipe:

"Whereas, NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Dirk Nowitzki chose to re-sign with the Dallas Mavericks in the summer of 2010, forgoing free agency and keeping his talents in Dallas, thus remaining loyal to the team, city and fans for whom he played his entire career"

The full Resolution is on the Governor's site. I'm sure the Heat will win the championship some year, but it sure is nice for us Cavs fans that it wasn't this year. The self-titled King still chokes in the fourth quarter, just like he did in Cleveland.
Categories > Sports


FDR's Flag Day Address

A presidential prayer for world freedom, in the midst of war.
Categories > Presidency

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Harriet Beecher Stowe

John Miller at NRO reminded me that today is Stowe's birthday.  I think it is worth noting for both public and private purposes, and not only because she was "the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war".  She should be remembered for our own good, and Uncle Tom's Cabin was one of the first books I ever read (about age 9), and I loved it.  That the term "Uncle Tom" has been misused in our time is one of those great wrongs the world is capable of allowing.  On the other hand, there are good men trying to write that wrong, see Bill Allen's Rethinking Uncle Tom's Cabin: The Political Philosophy of Harriet Beecher Stowe, wherein he tries to reclaim his promised hero.

I read the book in Hungarian (a 1954 version), with the explicit Christian references removed by the communist regime.  But even nine year old boys understand something about freedom (and Christianity)....besides I was also reading Hucklebery Finn, and already knew something about a boy and a man on a raft on a big river talking about freedom, about ruling themselves and ruling others.  And as Huck learned from him, so did I.  The tyrants could remove references to natural rights and Christianity, as if human beings were incapable of reading between the lines.   But it turned out they were wrong, the human mind is created free, and can figure these things out on its own, along with Uncle Tom, and Jim, and Huck, and Peter.  Bless you Mrs. Stowe.


Very Quickly On The Republican Debate

I missed the twenty minutes or so on foreign policy but...

1.  Romney looked so relieved that Huckabee and McCain weren't there to kick him up and down the stage.

2.  I hope the five non-liberal Supreme Court Justices are training, saying their prayers, and eating their vitamins.

Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

End of the Line for Berlusconi

Sorry for my absence; a combination of travel, seminars, misfortune (which I shall go into at another time), and shoddy internet access has kept writing at arms length from me. After a weekend visit to Ohio for the Ashbrook Dinner, I'm now settled for a while and ready to jump into things again!

In a sign that his citizens have finally had enough of his antics, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has lost several key votes in recent weeks. Berlusconi, still hosting "bunga bunga" parties despite the scandals surrounding him, saw his government defeated in local elections in Milan (northern Italy) and Naples (southern Italy) a few weeks ago, initially signifying widespread discontent. Now, several major referendums he backed were defeated by popular vote today-- including one granting government ministers exemption from being put on trial. They also rejected nuclear energy in Italy and opposed the privatization of water resources. In two weeks, the Italian Parliament will face a confidence vote-- and Berlusconi's party will likely be defeated. New elections will probably be held in the fall. Who will replace Berlusconi is difficult to place at this time; his conservative coalition is splitting between Umberto Bossi of the Northern League, who is demanding tax cuts, and the Berlusconi-approved Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti, who insists the nation cannot afford tax cuts at this time. Opposition Leader Pier Busani, with the support of Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, is in a decent position to take charge.

The fall of Silvio Berlusconi has been an interesting one. The antics of the 74-year-old billionaire have long been accepted by the voting public, giving him the longest premiership in Italian history since Mussolini. Through sex scandals, accusations of corruption, bribery disasters, and the type of public embarrassments that would doom American politicians overnight, Berlusconi has gone on ruling with a wide grin on his face and a joke on the tip of his tongue. With his latest sex scandal, though, he has embarrassed his entire country and turned its politics into a joke. Buying into the false dreams of the Euro, Italy's stagnant economy has seen its public debt reach 120% of its GDP.

Though I find it hard to think that the joke and grin of Berlusconi will fade with his power. This is not a lean and hungry man, and seems to relish in his scandal-laden persona as it is. A new government will, though, have several important implications-- particularly in regards to the future of European integration and addressing the crises in North Africa. His potential successors merit a closer look for these issues.
Categories > Foreign Affairs


Kingmaker Bachmann

From WaPo:

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) announced Monday night that she has filed the necessary paperwork to run for the presidency in 2012.

Bachmann is likely to be the most surprising candidate in the next election. I continue to augur that she'll end up as the GOP VP candidate - and play a kingmaker role between Pawlenty and Romney (ultimately opting for the former).

Many will call it Palin Redux - and the media will hope to smear her with the same shameful efficiency. I hope she hones her rhetorical skills. As far as I've seen, she's not yet equal to the task of crossing swords with a malicious media. But dismiss her popularity and potential at your own risk. I suspect she'll play a historic role in the election.

Categories > Elections


The Human Lantern

Fox reports:

This one seems right out of the latest X-Men film.

Scientists have merged light-emitting proteins from jellyfish with a single human cell to create a unique first: a living, biological laser.

[Scientists] pictures a future where cells could even "self lase" from within the body's tissue.

It's a brave new world - with all the ominous connotations.


Categories > Bioethics



So I was scrolling through Alyssa Rosenberg's ThinkProgress blog when I read that Clarence Clemons has suffered a stroke. Only as the text was scrolling by, my mind interpreted it as "Clarence Thomas has suffered a stroke."

I panicked.  Then I scrolled back up and read it right.  I'm very sorry for Mr. Clemons' illness.

Just a reminder of the importance of the 2012 presidential election.  Who wants to bet that Justices Alito, Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, and Kennedy will stay on the Court for another five and a half years?  Me neither.   

Categories > Politics


Quote of the Day

By Rich Fisher, via The Rational Optimist:

One German organic farm has killed twice as many people as the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the Gulf Oil spill combined.

Categories > Environment


Power Line Prize

Ashbrook is bursting with bright young minds exercising their creativity conservative credentials - and NLT readers are an extraordinarily diverse and learned group of scholars. Power Line has announced a contest to which our community is peculiarly suited.

The Power Line Prize of $100,000 will be awarded to whoever can most effectively and creatively dramatize the significance of the federal debt crisis. Prizes will also be awarded to the runner-up and two third-place finishers. Anyone can enter the contest--individuals, companies (e.g., advertising agencies) or any other entity, as long as the contest rules are followed. Any creative product is eligible: videos, songs, paintings, screenplays, Power Point presentations, essays, performance art, or anything else, as long as the product is unique to the contest and has not previously been published or otherwise entered the public domain. Entries may address the federal debt crisis in its entirety, or a specific aspect of the debt crisis, such as: the impact of the debt crisis on the young; the role played by the "stimulus" (Where did the money go? Why didn't it stimulate?); how entitlements drive the debt crisis; the current federal deficit; how the debt crisis impacts the economy; or any other aspect of the debt crisis. The contest is non-partisan. Its purpose is to inform the public about the federal debt crisis. Entries are due no later than 11:59 p.m. on July 15th. See the official contest rules for more information. In all instances, the contest rules govern.

Someone's going to win. If its one of our own, I'll be very proud of you ... if you remember that I reserve a 10% finder's fee!

Categories > Economy

Ashbrook Center

Speaker Boehner Speech on C-SPAN

Speaker John Boehner spent the evening at the Ashbrook Center yesterday, meeting with the Ashbrook Scholars and giving the keynote address at the 26th Annual John M. Ashbrook Memorial Dinner. His dinner speech will appear on C-SPAN at 6:30 pm eastern time today. 
Categories > Ashbrook Center