"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
Politics 2009 Archives
December 27, 2009
POLITICS: Health Insurers Have Second Thoughts About Riding The Tiger
The Wall Street Journal notes that even as Obamacare posed great threats to the independence and profitability of health insurers, they were willing to play along with an effort they thought inevitable as long as they could get the government to force more people to buy their product and dodge the poison pill of the public option:
A year ago, the industry's main trade group, America's Health Insurance Plans, decided to try to get out in front of the overhaul effort. Insurers agreed to renounce some of their most controversial practices -- such as denying coverage to applicants with pre-existing health conditions -- hoping to gain millions of new customers through mandated coverage.
It's a time-tested strategy by Big Business in making deals with Big Government: hope you can cut a deal that puts the real hardships on consumers and small competitors, and avoid the worst for yourself. But of course, once you have traded your freedom for crumbs from the government table, you lose control over the process. And the Journal notes that insurers are starting to have some second thoughts about the deal:
Big insurers are still hoping to influence some language in the legislation before Congress sends it to the president. But one thing is clear: The initiative is poised to change their industry more than any other sector of the U.S. health-care system, with huge potential to disrupt profitability.
Maybe they should have thought of that sooner.
December 11, 2009
POLITICS: Beware The Self-Funders
Patrick Ruffini has a very insightful post at The Next Right on self-funding candidates and their role in the conservative battle against the GOP establishment. I don't necessarily share quite his vehemence against self-funders, but he makes a lot of excellent points about why Republicans should be skeptical of them as standard-bearers. A sample:
Self-funders are particulary popular among money-addled political insiders for a few key reasons. First, their personal money takes the need for much party money off the table, or so it's thought. Second, they can afford to pay consultants, and lots of them, and for eye-popping amounts. Third, they will often refill the coffers of local parties in a wink and nod exchange for much-needed endorsements. But the record of self-funders in American politics is notoriously poor...
Read the whole thing.
December 10, 2009
POLITICS: Ted Kennedy, Pro-Lifer
An observant reader notes that my description yesterday of Ted Kennedy's support for legal abortion as "lifelong" is an overstatement. In fact, early in his public career, even Ted Kennedy had not yet embraced the casual cruelty of his party towards the defenseless unborn; indeed, Kennedy's rhetoric in those early days, displays genuine compassion for the defenseless unborn. Given Kennedy's centrality to Democratic strategy on this issue - he was the leader of the fight against the Bork nomination - it's interesting to look back. Here's Kennedy during his 1970 campaign for a second full term in the Senate:
Spaulding was what today would be called "pro-choice," and Kennedy, at that time, was passionately opposed to abortion. So when the subject came up, the senator was in full voice. He screamed, "Don't tell me there isn't enough love in the world to care for all the unwanted babies." He mentioned that adoption agencies had waiting lists.
Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized - the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old....Once life has begun, no matter at what stage of growth, it is my belief that termination should not be decided merely by desire....I also share the opinions of those who do not accept abortion as a response to our society's problems...When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared enough about human beings enough to...fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.
Sadly, Kennedy's estimate of how much love there was in the world, and how much his generation should care about fellow human beings, dwindled with the years - I leave to the reader to speculate on his motivations in the regard, but two of the groups most ardently in favor of legal abortion (not to suggest that they are mutually exclusive) are Democratic presidential candidates and men who have a lot of sex with women not their wives and don't especially like to pay the consequences. What is clear, however, is that the many years Kennedy spent trying to convince Americans that the pro-life movement was somehow extremist and anti-woman were really a renunciation of his own heart. Because once upon a time, Ted Kennedy cared about the unborn.
December 9, 2009
POLITICS/RELIGION: A Kennedy Tries To Tell The Bishops How To Be Catholic
For all their protestations to the contrary, liberals have an awful habit of trying to tell people of faith, notably the Catholic Church, what their faith means and how it should apply in the political sphere. If you can stomach the irony, let's take a look at the latest example of this genre, an opinion piece in the Politico by Robert Kennedy's daughter, former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
Kennedy (I use her maiden name because it's the only thing that gets her published) starts off well enough, with the title "On health care, the bishops have lost their way". There, we agree; the Bishops have inserted themselves into the health care debate by calling for a national health insurance scheme - including their call for it to cover illegal aliens - that may be well-intentioned but will have many dire practical consequences, and which confuses the individual duty of Christian charity with the power to compel others to give to Caesar. These are not problems of Catholic doctrine, they are problems of practical economics and practical politics, two areas in which the Bishops do not have the most sterling record. Worse yet, as far as their purely political judgment, the Bishops seem unable to understand that positive aspects of the proposed bills - restrictions on funding for abortion, conscience protections for Catholic hospitals - may be necessary for their passage into law, but will forever be subject to unilateral renegotiation by Congress, which when it comes to massive entitlement programs always operates on the principle of Darth Vader at Cloud City: "I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further."
But of course, Kennedy wants the Church to agitate for precisely this program; what she objects to is that the Church, having come this far in support of the bill, insists that it can't support a bill that doesn't include the Stupak Amendment's restrictions on abortion funding.
Kennedy can't resist dripping scorn at the sorts of folk the Bishops have associated themselves with:
As Catholics, are we so laser focused on the issue of abortion that we are willing to join tea partiers...
Presumably, tax collectors and prostitutes would be even worse. No, on second thought, considering who supports this bill, perhaps not. But in making an argument about how the Bishops should prioritize their moral teachings, Kennedy makes not the slightest effort to explain why the Church shouldn't be "laser focused" on abortion, given that the Church teaches that abortion is a grave moral evil that entails the willful taking of a human life. That failure to consider the core nature of the Church teaching at issue vitiates the entirety of Kennedy's argument.
Kennedy goes on to defend the weaker provisions of a substitute provision that would not include the Stupak Amendment's bar on the use of federal dollars to purchase any insurance that covers abortion. As I have explained previously, the intrusive nature of the bill makes any such "middle ground" wholly illusory; either you accept the Stupak Amendment's functionally pro-life provisions, or you accept a bill that is functionally pro-abortion; the bill leaves no room for a middle ground on this issue. But in doing so, she adds calculated insult to injury:
Catholic organizations like Catholic Charities receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for nonreligious services as long as those funds are separated from religious work. If this solution is good enough for Catholic organizations, then it is certainly good enough for health care reform.
So, now she just told the Catholic Church that it should regard the work of Catholic Charities as equivalent to the work of abortion mills. I'm sure that's an applause line at MSNBC and the New York Times, but if it's supposed to persuade the Bishops, she should maybe consider also comparing them to the Nazis.
If Nelson's amendment is a Senate version of the Stupak amendment, as expected, it will ban abortion not only in the public option but, effectively, throughout the exchange created by health care reform.
This is the point by which she has completely forgotten that she's still putatively talking to the Bishops, who obviously regard such a ban as a very good thing, perhaps the best thing the bill could do.
There are millions of pro-abortion rights Catholics who understand that women faced with unintended pregnancies or complications in wanted pregnancies have to make difficult, complex decisions for themselves and their families.
By now, the pretense of talking to the Bishops is completely gone, as she's instead pitching for the support of Catholics who reject the Bishops' teachings on a core issue. There are also millions of Catholics who are adulterers, drug addicts and hoodlums. The Bishops are supposed to minister to them and seek correction and forgiveness of their sins, not accomodate their embrace of sin.
The U.S. Senate recently took an important vote toward improving women's access to preventive health care under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The women's health amendment would guarantee health insurance coverage, at no cost sharing, for women's preventive care, including lifesaving screenings, well-woman exams and contraception to prevent unintended pregnancy.
Again, Kennedy ignores here the possibility that perhaps the Bishops don't consider access to artificial contraception to be a good thing either.
I want Catholic bishops to heed the Vatican's call for charity and justice for all, not just for the wealthy and well connected.
The irony of this last coming from a Kennedy is staggering. Ted Kennedy, in his dying days, managed to get the ear of the Pope himself, and to get a Catholic funeral despite not only his personal sins - which after all, may be forgiven - but more importantly his lifelong, public and utterly unrepentant advocacy of legal abortion. There is perhaps no greater stain on the American Catholic Church's commitment to any sort of egalitarianism than the persistent favor and preferential treatment it has showered on the Kennedy family. There can be no less persuasive messenger to make such a claim than a Kennedy.
The Catholic Church is a human institution. As such, has been slow, terribly slow, to recognize the practical dangers presented by the healthcare bill. But even its belated efforts to avoid lending its support to a pro-abortion bill are apparently too much for Kennedy-style "Catholics" to bear. They have the right, of course, to reject the Church's teachings. But the last thing the Catholic Bishops need is a lecture on moral judgment by a Kennedy.
December 8, 2009
POLITICS/BUSINESS: Government Motors, British Style
British Leyland was born. It held 40 percent of the UK car market and within five years lost nearly a quarter of it.
The rest of the piece is less humorous and more dire in its parallels to the present day, as the British spent 13 years pouring taxpayer money down this rathole. Margaret Thatcher was right to oppose the whole project - as Berlinski summarizes the Iron Lady's thinking, "[i]f the economy was in crisis, she held, the government should waste less of the taxpayers' money, not more" - but even Lady Thatcher lacked the political strength to stop subsidizing the misbegotten venture until almost the end of her tenure in office, thanks to the voting power of the auto workers whose jobs continued to exist solely as a matter of public charity.
Perhaps we can still learn a thing or two from real-world history before we spend the next decade going down the same dead-end road.
December 7, 2009
POLITICS: Science And Its Enemies On The Left, Part II(A)
In the first installment of this series, I looked at the real dangers to scientific integrity and scientific progress presented by junk science, quackery and Luddism promoted and practiced by the cultural and political Left, including the use of bad science in product liability lawsuits and the Left's attacks on vaccination, nuclear power and genetically engineered crops.
In this second part, we look at politicized science and the temptations of power. Part II is posted in its entirety at The New Ledger but my site won't support a single post that long.
III. Polticized Science
Many of the worst kinds of junk science and quackery are to be found when science is used to advance political agendas. The corrupting influence of money has nothing on the corrupting influence of political power. And contrary to what the Left may wish you to believe, the espousal of left-wing causes that advocate the expansion of such power is not an ennobling but a corrupting influence on scientific integrity. As I will discuss below, the current controversy involving climate researchers - the "Climategate" scandal triggered by the release of emails by the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in Great Britian - vividly illustrates this.
There are at two main hazards presented when science is marshalled in political argument. One, politicians may take scientific data gathered in good faith and misrepresent, overstate or suppress it - witness John Kerry overstating the growth of carbon emissions by a factor of 32 for a recent example that didn't stand up to even mininal scrutiny. And two, scientists themselves may become willing pawns in the circulation of bad science for political ends. Recent history shows that the agenda of greater government control of society pushed by the Democrats and others on the Left has often been abetted by bad science.
A. The Politics of Stem Cell Research
The most notorious recent example of politicians running far ahead of any scientific basis for their claims, of course, came from Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards, who in the course of a diatribe about the miraculous promise of embryonic stem cell research, declared in October 2004, the day after the death of actor Christopher Reeve:
If we do the work that we can do in this country, the work that we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk, get up out of that wheelchair and walk again.
Nancy Pelosi likewise claimed that embryonic stem cells had "the biblical power to cure," and Ron Reagan told the 2004 Democratic Convention, "How'd you like to have your own personal biological repair kit standing by at the hospital? Sound like magic? Welcome to the future of medicine." Of course, no such thing was or is imminent:
In January 2003, a science writer for the New York Times admitted: "For all the handwringing by scientists, you might think that therapeutic cloning is on the verge of curing a disease or two. . . . Almost all researchers, when questioned, confess that such accomplishments are more dream than reality."
But Edwards and Pelosi had elections to win. And scientists who should have known better went along for the ride:
In the summer before the 2004 presidential election, Ron McKay, from the National Institutes of Health, admitted that he and his fellow scientists had generally failed to correct the media's false reports about the promise of stem cells - but that was all right, he told the Washington Post, since ordinary people "need a fairy tale." They require, he said, "a story line that's relatively simple to understand."
In fact, the hot story in embryonic stem cell research in the middle years of the Bush Administration was a South Korean researcher, Woo Suk Hwang, looking at the use of stem cells for spinal cord research who claimed to have implanted cloned human stem cells in a cloned dog - results that turned out to be fraudulent. And proponents of embryonic stem cell research had fallen for it:
For all the major scientific journals, embryonic research had become what Robert P. George and Eric Cohen would call "a litmus test for being pro-science and the central front in the alleged war of scientific reason against religious barbarians." Science magazine had fast-tracked Hwang's work to let America know the cost of President Bush's refusal to fund embryonic stem-cell research. Scientific American published a mea culpa for all scientific journals, and it is, George and Cohen pointed out, "remarkable for both its honesty and remorse: 'Hwang is guilty of raising false expectations, but too many of us held the ladder for him.'"
This would not be the last time scientists made themselves willing pawns of the Left at the expense of their integrity.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:40 PM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2009 | Science | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Science And Its Enemies On The Left, Part II(B)
B. Anthropogenic Global Warming
More recently than the stem cell controversy, we have the series of mushrooming controversies - most spectacularly the "Climategate" scandal - over Anthropgenic Global Warming (AGW), i.e., the theory that human industry is responsible, by means of carbon emissions, for an upward trend in global temperatures. AGW is very important to the Obama Administration and its allies in the Democratic Party and on the international Left; recall Barack Obama's grandiloquent pronouncement that people would remember of his clinching of the Democratic nomination in June 2008 that "this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal". But AGW theory and its adherents are rotten with bad science.
1. The EPA Report
The first sign that the new Administration was willing to push the barriers between science and politics in support of its AGW agenda was this spring's flap over the Obama Administration's suppression of an EPA report that contradicted the agency's decision to classify CO2 (the most natural of gases, being that it is exhaled by human beings) as a "pollutant" - a decision that has been used to justify "cap-and-trade" legislation as well as administrative actions on the issue without the need for legislation (the latter being supported by an agency "finding" released in April by the EPA and finalized in November that greenhouse gases threaten public health and welfare). This episode was a fairly classic example of how government policymaking in areas of scientific expertise remains more about politics than about science. Read the summary overview of that report here, and Ben Domenech's writeup here. Michelle Malkin sums up the kind of critique presented in the report:
[I]t spotlights EPA's reliance on out-of-date research, uncritical recycling of United Nations data, and omission of new developments, including a continued decline in global temperatures and a new consensus that future hurricane behavior won't be different than in the past.
Chris Mooney, the liberal author of the "Republican War on Science" book, went so far as to argue that because he disagreed with its conclusions, the EPA was right to suppress the report. Of course, this is rather a far cry from the arguments made during the Bush years that about the dangers of suppressing scientific skepticism and dissent; the orthodoxy must be enforced.
Given its policy aims, it is not surprising that the Administration was hesitant to publish a report that contradicted the AGW narrative. In fact, the AGW hypothesis presents the most egregious example in recent years - in terms of its sheer scale - of thoroughly politicized science. The AGW debate merits consideration at some length here because of its centrality to a policy debate affecting a vast proportion of human economic activity and the copious examples it provides of the corruption of politicized science. Put simply, any reasonable person who looks at the evidence must conclude that the proponents of AGW theory are political advocates first and scientists, if at all, a distant second.
Now, it may well be true - it is certainly possible - that the Earth is presently in a warming trend, and that such a trend can be projected into the future, and that human activity is responsible for that trend, and even that changes in future economic structures could alter that trend. All of that may be true, and it may be false; science is supposed to help us find the answers to such questions, and to tell us honestly if the answers cannot in confidence be found. Science is not about identifying what is possible or plausible or arguable and then asserting it as fact; it's about following the evidence wherever it may lead, to determine whether a particular hypothesis is proven, disproven, unproven or inherently unprovable. (Unprovable theories aren't without their uses in science, if they remain the most likely explanation for a set of facts - but such explanatory theories ought not to be asserted as fact, and they make a shaky basis for sweeping and disruptive public policy initiatives.)
If you were to construct a checklist of the warning signs of bad science, the campaign to persuade the public of AGW would tick off basically every box: the refusal to share data, to the point of outright destroying it; the manipulation of the peer-review process to skew results; the constant changing of models and predictions to avoid having them subject to testing against hard evidence; the campaign of alarmism and demonization of skeptics; the rank appeals to authority and consensus in place of reasoned discussion of the evidence. Only the most credulous rubes could believe the proponents of AGW without a raised eyebrow at these tactics.
2. Warming? What Warming?
The reason why AGW has such political salience, of course, is that it is used as justification for vast governmental controls over economic activity - long a project of the Left, but now with the newly-added patina of physical science as support for the same old programs. In order to justify the massive dislocations that would be caused by such controls, it is necessary not only that AGW be unquestioned, but that it be menacing; thus, we get things like a scientific advisor to the British Government claiming that AGW will annihilate 90% of the world's population if the temperature rises four degrees Celsius. And in some cases, the rush to make dire predictions founders on the most banal forms of sloppiness, as when the IPCC predicted the demise of Himalayan glaciers by 2035, when the data said 2350. A digit here, a digit there...
The need to generate predictions of doom is a double-edged sword. One of the problems at the heart of AGW theory, and which has caused no end of difficulty for its proponents, is that it is a predictive model, yet proponents of the theory keep having to change what it predicts to avoid ever allowing the theory to be falsifiable. A theory of global warming, after all, presupposes that the Earth is getting warmer, and indeed the entire basis for convincing anyone that the theory holds water is to point to the correlation between increasing industrial emissions of carbon and recent increases in global temperature. But even before you get to the questions of (1) whether the historical temperature readings are accurately recorded and presented and (2) whether correlation equals causation, you run up against the fact that persistent alarmist predictions that the warming trend would continue have not panned out.
As you may recall, the headline-grabber that made AGW a political issue in the 1990s was the famous "hockey stick" graph produced by Penn State climatologist Michael Mann, so-called because it showed a sharp upward spike in global temperatures, shaped like the blade of a hockey stick, near the end of the 20th century. The hockey stick, in turn, was premised in good part upon historical temperature data derived from a database of tree ring measurements maintained by the CRU. Mann's hockey stick was never the sole source of AGW theory, and the CRU was never the sole source of historical data, but the hockey stick graph was central to the project of capturing the public imagination and turning a scientific theory into a political juggernaut. The clear implication to anyone looking at the hockey stick was that at precisely the time of accelerating industrialization, we had entered a period of accelerating increase in global temperatures that would continue unchecked into the future. Correlation being easily confused with causation, much of the public simply accepted that the increase in carbon emissions resulting from increasing industrialization must have been the cause of the temperature spike; the two patterns were too visually striking to be coincidence.
While many scientists were convinced of the logic of computer models of how a "greenhouse effect" would work in transmuting carbon emissions into increased temperatures, scientists could never prove that their models of how carbon emissions affected the Earth's temperature were correct; you can't conduct an experiment on something as large and complex as a planet and its entire surroundings in the solar system, and there was no historical precedent for the Earth's industrialization, only a long history on this and other planets of climates changing without human intervention. But with the hockey stick, nobody needed to question the underlying logic of causation anymore than they do in the case of lung cancer and smoking (i.e., it's still not known how smoking causes lung cancer, but the statistical correlation over innumerable studies covering a very large sample is so strong that nobody today seriously disputes the causal connection despite the absence of a known mechanism - much of epidemiology works that way).
Unfortunately for the proponents of AGW, it turns out in retrospect that the hockey stick was just a figment of small and incomplete samples. You can read fuller explanations here and here, but I will summarize them briefly. Basically, the original "hockey stick" did two things: not only did it show a sharp upward spike in temperatures in the late 20th century, but it also rebutted the contention that this could be a natural phenomenon by showing the lowest temperatures in 1032, in the midst of what had been believed to be the "Medieval Warm Period." That hockey stock was premised on a 1995 paper that "depended on 3 short tree ring cores from the Polar Urals whose dating was very problematic," and when additional data became available in 1999, the updated temperature series was not published, but rather replaced with a new study from Yamal, also in Russia. But to skeptic Steve McIntyre, the Yamal data - collected in two sets - didn't add up, and he embarked on a years-long battle to get all the data to review independently. When he finally did, in September 2009, the resulting sample - using a larger sample size for late 20th century data - changed the shape of the "stick" to eliminate the blade (as well as modifying the medieval results), leaving something much more clearly resembling a random walk of statistical noise. You can see the results in this graph from McIntyre's site: the red line is the Mann/CRU hockey-stick graph, the black line is the data left out of the stick, and the green line is what you get when you combine the two sets:
At least eight papers purporting to reconstruct the historical temperature record times may need to be revisited, with significant implications for contemporary climate studies, the basis of the IPCC's assessments. A number of these involve senior climatologists at the British climate research centre CRU at the University East Anglia. In every case, peer review failed to pick up the errors.
The hockey stick isn't the only such example, as illustrated by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data wrongly showing a non-existent and persistent spike in ocean temperatures in 2001.
If you had - as many AGW proponents did, in the 1990s - begun to make short-term predictions about climate trends along the lines of continuation of the Mann/CRU hockey stick trends, you would have been grievously wrong, as in fact all such predictions have proven. Since AGW rose to prominence as a political project, the past decade has shown no growth in global temperatures since the natural El Nino temperature surge of 1998. One study after another has shown that the Earth simply has not gotten warmer in the past 11 years:
[In the fall of 2009], Britain's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research added more fuel to the fire with its latest calculations of global average temperatures. According to the Hadley figures, the world grew warmer by 0.07 degrees Celsius from 1999 to 2008, and not by the 0.2 degrees Celsius assumed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And, say the British experts, when their figure is adjusted for two naturally occurring climate phenomena, El Niño and La Niña, the resulting temperature trend is reduced to 0.0 degrees Celsius -- in other words, a standstill.
[M]ean ice anomaly -- defined as the seasonally-adjusted difference between the current value and the average from 1979-2000, varies much more slowly. That anomaly now stands at just under zero, a value identical to one recorded at the end of 1979, the year satellite record-keeping began.
Earlier this year, predictions were rife that the North Pole could melt entirely in 2008. Instead, the Arctic ice saw a substantial recovery. Bill Chapman, a researcher with the UIUC's Arctic Center, tells DailyTech this was due in part to colder temperatures in the region. Chapman says wind patterns have also been weaker this year. Strong winds can slow ice formation as well as forcing ice into warmer waters where it will melt.
The response of proponents of AGW: change the predictions so they don't risk being disproven by events, as illustrated by this report from September 2009:
Forecasts of climate change are about to go seriously out of kilter. One of the world's top climate modellers said Thursday we could be about to enter one or even two decades during which temperatures cool.
In candid mood, climate scientists avoided blaming nature for their faltering predictions, however. "Model biases are also still a serious problem. We have a long way to go to get them right. They are hurting our forecasts," said Tim Stockdale of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts in Reading, UK.
Climate change models, no matter how powerful, can never give a precise prediction of how greenhouse gases will warm the Earth, according to a new study.
The analysis focuses on the temperature increase that would occur if levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubled from pre-Industrial Revolution levels. The current best guess for this number - which is a useful way to gauge how sensitive the climate is to rising carbon levels - is that it lies between 2.0 C and 4.5 C. And there is a small chance that the temperature rise could be up to 8C or higher.
AGW theory's inability to accurately predict global temperatures has gotten so bad that it has spurred a movement to rebrand "global warming" as "climate change," a moniker so vague that it can never be disproven (climates change; that's what they do, and have for all of Earth's history). The latest fad is "climate collapse," apparently because "change" wasn't scary enough. The ever-shifting definition of what the problem is, what it's called, and how it could be measured is a classic symptom of bad, politicized science. The constant goalpost-moving may be a drearisome feature of politics, but it's not supposed to be how science works.
Rebranding the AGW hypothesis allows things like Al Gore's scare tactics based on supposed trends projected from short-term fluctuations in natural disasters. In the specific example of Gore's misuse of disaster data, the question may be more one of politicians abusing scientific data than the underlying data being politicized, but both are problematic. It's unhelpful to have leading political figures running around telling us that "I hold in my hand a list of dire climate predictions" that nobody can subject to dispassionate review. Fortunately, the resort to dire predictions about natural disasters, like predictions about temperature, are subject to correction by events; we just finished an unusually mild hurricane season for the second time in four years, which is not at all the "climate change" that Gore is threatening (in fact, predictions of 2009 the hurricane season were also inaccurate). But not to worry; the predictions will just continue being kicked out further down the time horizon to ensure that they can't ever be disproven conclusively.
3. Consensus? What Consensus?
Given the mounting failure of efforts to convince the public that bad weather - or unseasonably good weather, either will do - is scientific proof of AGW, the theory's proponents have instead turned to appeals to authority, insisting that there is an ironclad scientific consensus that proves the theory to be true, and demanding that the citizenry trust the consensus because they're scientists.
This ought to set off serious alarm bells. To begin with, anyone remotely familiar with the history of science understands that scientific consensuses are made to be broken; most of the really important new scientific theories and discoveries since Aristotle have come from the overturning of an existing and erroneous consensus. If consensus was the end of science, we would have to consign Einstein, Darwin, and Newton to the ash heap of history.
Students of human nature should be equally alarmed. The proponents of policies supported by the "consensus" have sought to freeze that consensus in amber by embodying it in a series of reports by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international bureaucratic institution honored by another international bureaucratic institution with a Nobel Peace Prize. But the IPCC's reports are worth no more than the sum of their parts, especially given that only a fraction of the vaunted 2,500 scientists signing onto the IPCC reports have personally conducted sufficient research to validate AGW theory from their own personal experience and expertise.
The effort to compile an "official" scientific "consensus" into a single document, approved by governments, has exacerbated the pressures to politicize policy-relevant science. So too has been the tendency to pretend as if resolving the scientific questions will resolve policy disputes.
Government-backed and -enforced scientific consensuses have a dire history, the most notorious example of which was the work of Soviet geneticist Trofim Lysenko:
Lysenko...ruled the life sciences of Soviet Russia from the late 1920s until the early 1960s. He had a theory which fit Marxism perfectly: acquired characteristics can be inherited. This is not true, of course, but Lysenko had the Politburo and Stalin behind him. It was science that fit the political needs of the Bolsheviks, and so it was science backed by the awful power of the party and the state.
As I will discuss below, the "Climategate" emails strike at the heart of the credibility of the IPCC reports. As the Future of Capitalism blog observes of the CRU emails:
On the broader question of climate change science, the group-think suggested by the emails is bad for the scientific process, and as Thomas Kuhn pointed out in his classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, it's often a precursor to a paradigm shift that, when it comes, is adamantly resisted at first. Just ask Galileo. And for a flavor of the way that the elite reacts to the questioning of the climate change consensus, check out how the once-dignified New Yorker handled Superfreakonomics, and the way that handling was praised by the Nobel laureate New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Self-reinforcing orthodoxies have a way of being punctured in fields other than science, too, whether it is a single party's apparent dominance in Washington or mindless and widespread optimism about rising house prices.
(It should be borne in mind that groupthink and ideological bias are in addition to the far-from-foolproof nature of peer review in the first place; like any human endeavor, peer review can be and sometimes is also undone by ordinary cronyism or simple laziness or haste, as in the recent example of a scientific journal accepting for publication a nonsense article generated by a computer program, a scandal that resulted in the resignation of the journal's editor).
Proponents of the AGW consensus as definitionally unassailable have circled their wagons against the danger of free thinkers by attacking their critics as paid shills of industry. Unsurprisingly, given that carbon-emitting industries have an enormous amount to lose from the policy proposals at issue, the targeted industries have in fact sought to fund anybody who might question the forces arrayed against them. But in science, the proper remedy for self-interested assertion is transparency and replication of methods, not "na, na, na, I'm not listening."
The incessant attacks on the financial motivations of the skeptics - in addition to being antithetical to the whole project of scientific inquiry by means of evaluation of the evidence rather than argument ad hominem - not only ignores the fact that the proponents have great incentives of their own in terms of aggrandizing their political power, it also ignores that there's quite a lot of money in AGW too. As Vladimir at RedState notes:
[Employees and scientists funded by the IPCC] work for the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Of course they believe in Climate Change; it says "Climate Change" on their paychecks! The global warming opinions of organizations like the American Petroleum Institute have always been treated with skepticism; why should we not consider the source when it comes to the IPCC's studies?
Consider the case of Phil Jones, the director of the CRU and the man at the heart of climategate. According to one of the documents hacked from his center, between 2000 and 2006 Mr. Jones was the recipient (or co-recipient) of some $19 million worth of research grants, a sixfold increase over what he'd been awarded in the 1990s....
And of course, the CRU's funding includes money from the U.S. Department of Energy and the EPA. Another email shows concerns that the Commerce Department would grow "suspicious" of the CRU's activities. And the desire to keep the money flowing clearly affected AGW proponents' view of the legitimacy of criticism, as illustrated by this October 2009 email from the Climategate files:
How should I respond to the below? [an article questioning AGW theory] (I'm in the process of trying to persuade Siemens Corp. (a company with half a million employees in 190 countries!) to donate me a little cash to do some CO2 measurments here in the UK - looking promising, so the last thing I need is news articles calling into question (again) observed temperature increases--
Despite the confident assertion of consensus issued ex cathedra by the IPCC and the heavy costs in acrimony and ad hominem assault to dissenting scientists, the skeptics, organized politically by Oklahoma GOP Senator Jim Inhofe, have found no shortage of scientists willing to question the "consensus" on AGW. Senator Inhofe has released reports in 2007 & 2009 quoting more than 700 dissenting scientists, many of them quite distinguished. (One of the more distinguished skeptics is profiled by the New York Times here). Ditto for the direst predictions of climate-change disaster:
[I]f there is one scientist who knows more about sea levels than anyone else in the world it is the Swedish geologist and physicist Nils-Axel Morner, formerly chairman of the INQUA International Commission on Sea Level Change. And the uncompromising verdict of Dr Mörner, who for 35 years has been using every known scientific method to study sea levels all over the globe, is that all this talk about the sea rising is nothing but a colossal scare story. Despite fluctuations down as well as up, "the sea is not rising," he says. "It hasn't risen in 50 years." If there is any rise this century it will "not be more than 10cm (four inches), with an uncertainty of plus or minus 10cm". And quite apart from examining the hard evidence, he says, the elementary laws of physics (latent heat needed to melt ice) tell us that the apocalypse conjured up by Al Gore and Co could not possibly come about. The reason why Dr Morner, formerly a Stockholm professor, is so certain that these claims about sea level rise are 100 per cent wrong is that they are all based on computer model predictions, whereas his findings are based on "going into the field to observe what is actually happening in the real world".
In fact, one rarely has to look far for legitimate scientific skepticism about AGW climate models, even among those who buy into some aspects of AGW theory. Bjorn Lomborg, a skeptic who believes in AGW but argues that it's been overblown, notes that "there are reputable peer-reviewed studies out there that show that because we have pumped out so much CO2 in the atmosphere, we haven't gone into a new Ice Age.". A July 2009 article in Science argued that cloud behavior is a major player in global warming, and that if so, "almost all climate models have got it wrong." Others note that the historical evidence shows that the models don't account for or understand all the factors at work:
[A] new study published online [in July 2009] in the journal Nature Geoscience ... found that only about half of the warming that occurred during a natural climate change 55 million years ago can be explained by excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. What caused the remainder of the warming is a mystery.
To anyone who cares about the scientific search for truth, questions of this nature are an invitation to further research. To the political zealots who regard further inquiry as damnable heresy, they are simply quibbles to be brushed aside.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:39 PM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2009 | Science | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Science And Its Enemies On The Left, Part II(C)
4. Not So Interested In Sharing
Even before the Climategate story broke, we learned perhaps the most damning fact of all about the CRU: its refusal to share the raw data that purports to demonstrate that the Earth is getting warmer. There is nothing more essential to scientific integrity than the willingness to share data to enable everyone - colleagues, competitors, skeptics - to peer-review the conclusions drawn by applying your processes to that data. In a world of many minds, you can never know who will bring new insight to a problem, and the spirit of open inquiry demands that the largest number of minds be brought to bear on any problem. Yet, AGW proponents have fought tooth and nail to avoid sharing their data, until CRU admitted this summer that critical data supporting the AGW hypothesis has been tampered with to the point where it is no longer accessible in its original, unadulterated form:
In the early 1980s, with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, scientists at the United Kingdom's University of East Anglia established the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) to produce the world's first comprehensive history of surface temperature. It's known in the trade as the "Jones and Wigley" record for its authors, Phil Jones and Tom Wigley, and it served as the primary reference standard for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) until 2007. It was this record that prompted the IPCC to claim a "discernible human influence on global climate."
In June 2009, Georgia Tech's Peter Webster told Canadian researcher Stephen McIntyre that he had requested raw data [regarding global temperatures], and Jones freely gave it to him. So McIntyre promptly filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the same data. Despite having been invited by the National Academy of Sciences to present his analyses of millennial temperatures, McIntyre was told that he couldn't have the data because he wasn't an "academic." So his colleague Ross McKitrick, an economist at the University of Guelph, asked for the data. He was turned down, too.
Roger Pielke Jr., an esteemed professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, then requested the raw data from Jones. Jones responded:Since the 1980s, we have merged the data we have received into existing series or begun new ones, so it is impossible to say if all stations within a particular country or if all of an individual record should be freely available. Data storage availability in the 1980s meant that we were not able to keep the multiple sources for some sites, only the station series after adjustment for homogeneity issues. We, therefore, do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (i.e., quality controlled and homogenized) data.
Jones' email response to McIntyre included a classic example of the mindset of politicized science:
We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.
Anyone familiar with data storage throughout the short history of the computer age knows this is nonsense. Transfer of data from various systems to newer systems has been accomplished without real difficulty all thorough its development. What Jones is trying very hard to do is one of two things a) hide data that he's pretty sure won't support his conclusion or b) admitting to a damningly unscientific procedure which should, without his ability to produce and share the original data, call into serious question any findings he's presented.
[T]he raw data on which the landmark 1996 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change based its conclusion has been destroyed. The University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit acknowledged in August that it discarded data that, in addition to the IPCC report, has been cited by other international studies as the main justification for severe restrictions on carbon emissions worldwide.
More here on additional shenanigans with CRU's computer models. As the CRU emails reveal, the destruction of data was something of a pattern driven by the need to avoid scrutiny:
A May 2008 email from Mr. Jones with the subject line "IPCC & FOI" asked recipients to "delete any emails you may have had" about data submitted for an IPCC report. The British Freedom of Information Act makes it a crime to delete material subject to an FOI request; such a request had been made earlier that month.
As things stood until mid-November 2009, the refusal to share raw data was bad enough. But it was about to get uglier.
5. "Hide The Decline"
The "Climategate" revelation of the CRU emails - which show deliberations among the CRU's scientists and with allies such as Prof. Mann - came from an unknown source, almost certainly as a byproduct of McIntyre's battle to get the concealed data. But no one now seriously contests their authenticity, and they are damning in the extent to which they confirm all the worst suspicions about the politicization of the science underlying AGW theory at an institution that has been a central player in shaping the IPCC's "consensus" reports:
In global warming circles, the CRU wields outsize influence: it claims the world's largest temperature data set, and its work and mathematical models were incorporated into the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2007 report. That report, in turn, is what the Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged it "relies on most heavily" when concluding that carbon dioxide emissions endanger public health and should be regulated.
I can't hope to catalog here the full scope of the CRU emails - for example, accounts of the scientists cheering the death of one skeptic and musing about punching another in the face or questioning the motivations of their critics and comparing them to critics of Obama's health care plan - but will hit a few of the high points. The emails show CRU personnel frankly admitting the political process' impact on the science
Other emails include one in which Keith Briffa of the Climate Research Unit told Mr. Mann that "I tried hard to balance the needs of the science and the IPCC, which were not always the same"...
More broadly, they reveal a point of view in which facts need to be found to fit the theory rather than the other way around. Here's one email response to the BBC piece linked above regarding the lack of warming over the past 11 years:
The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.
In what is now the most notorious email, Jones, in a 1999 message to Mann and four others, discussed imitating a "trick" used by Mann to "hide the decline" in certain post-1960 temperatures (context explained here and here):
Once Tim's got a diagram here we'll send that either later today or first thing tomorrow. I've just completed Mike's Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) amd [sic] from1961 for Keith's to hide the decline. Mike's series got the annual land and marine values while the other two got April-Sept for NH land N of 20N. The latter two are real for 1999, while the estimate for 1999 for NH combined is +0.44C wrt 61-90. The Global estimate for 1999 with data through Oct is +0.35C cf. 0.57 for 1998.
This graph shows precisely the impact of Jones' trick on the dataset at issue:
A similar attitude is found in a 2009 email to Jones from Wigley, presenting strategies to "explain" a "warming blip" in the data from the 1940s - again, the sort of thing one does if presenting data in an argumentative format, rather than in the spirit of disinterested inquiry:
Here are some speculations on correcting SSTs to partly explain the 1940s warming blip. If you look at the attached plot you will see that theland also shows the 1940s blip (as I'm sure you know).
A similar example of Jones insisting that the data can't be right if it contradicts his "gut feeling" is discussed here, and here an example of the CRU crew's reactions to questions raised by skeptics that they recognized as having some validity. And the examples of the CRU's misconduct may not be isolated incidents, as examination of official data at NASA and in the New Zealand government’s temperature records suggests.
Another of the alarming but - to observers of the AGW debate - unsurprising revelations was the extent to which the CRU cabal sought to control the peer-review process to determine its outcome:
Here's what Phil Jones of the CRU and his colleague Michael Mann of Penn State mean by "peer review." When Climate Research published a paper dissenting from the Jones-Mann "consensus," Jones demanded that the journal "rid itself of this troublesome editor," and Mann advised that "we have to stop considering Climate Research as a legitimate peer-reviewed journal. Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers."
Eduardo Zorita, a German climate researcher who reviewed papers for Climate Research, has called for three of the leading (Jones, Mann, and Stefan Rahmstorf) to be ousted from the IPCC, arguing that the CRU emails confirm what was already known by climate researchers about the corruption of the process:
I may confirm what has been written in other places: research in some areas of climate science has been and is full of machination, conspiracies, and collusion, as any reader can interpret from the CRU-files. They depict a realistic, I would say even harmless, picture of what the real research in the area of the climate of the past millennium has been in the last years. The scientific debate has been in many instances hijacked to advance other agendas.
Others have also come forward with stories of Jones' involvement in using peer review to stifle dissenting points of view. The structure of scientific peer review and of academia more broadly unfortunately creates opportunities for politicized groups to capture these institutions and enforce their particular brand of groupthink in a field like climate science. The critical way this is done - hinted at by Jones' threat to "redefine" peer review - is the existence of gatekeepers. An establishment consisting of a comparatively small number of people controls publication, which controls who gets to get jobs in academia and who has to go out into business. That establishment also controls or influences grant funding (which is often government grant funding, depending on the field), which controls whose jobs are made permanent with tenure and whose aren't. You have to publish and get funding to get and keep your job. If the gatekeepers refuse to publish or fund any dissenters, and they do refuse, then scientific consensus is not reached by reasoning but manufactured by brute force.
The kind of thinking apparent in the CRU emails is so common among AGW proponents that they are sometimes unafraid to say it aloud. Economist Thomas Schelling told The Atlantic that "It's a tough sell. And probably you have to find ways to exaggerate the threat" before musing that "I sometimes wish that we could have, over the next five or ten years, a lot of horrid things happening -- you know, like tornadoes in the Midwest and so forth -- that would get people very concerned about climate change."
Some environmentalists, like British leftist George Monbiot, found Climategate too much to stomach, leading calls for Jones to step down. But the head of the IPCC, after the fashion of all UN bodies, has circled the wagons around the Climategate miscreants; while he chastised them for being "indiscreet" in putting their comments in writing, he "said an independent inquiry into the emails would achieve little, but there should be a criminal investigation into how the emails came to light."
The Obama Administration's response, as the President prepares to journey to Copenhagen to promote new restrictions on the U.S. economy in the name of preventing AGW, has similarly been one of sheer denial of the need for re-examination of the science:
Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stressed this afternoon, and the White House nonetheless believes "climate change is happening."
Ms. Browner initially shrugged when asked about the e-mails, saying she didn't have a reaction. But when a reporter followed up, she said she will stick with the consensus of the 2,500 climate scientists on the International Panel on Climate Change who concluded global warming is happening and is most likely being pushed by human actions.
"It's important to understand that these kinds of controversies and even accusations of bias and improper manipulation are not all that uncommon in all branches of science," Holdren told the House of Representatives Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
This is unsurprising, since the email archive includes Holdren's own emails sharing support and suggestions with a number of the Climategate figures.
Pay no attention, in other words, to the politicized hacks behind the curtain; just know they have reached a "consensus."
C. Cutting The Corners
The assiduous use of shady science for political ends usually runs further under the radar than John Edwards' snake oil or the Climategate scandal. As liberal Slate writer Will Saletan admits of efforts to use politicized junk science to prop up "sin taxes" on junk food and fast food as a means of meddling with individuals' personal choices:
To justify taxes on unhealthy food, the lifestyle regulators are stretching the evidence about obesity and addiction.... Liberals like to talk about a Republican war on science, but it turns out that they're just as willing to bend facts. In wars of piety, science has no friends.
And Congressional liberals can be quite as uninterested in science when acting on product safety scares driven by junk science, quackery or Luddism, as NPR noted earlier this year:
A new federal ban on chemical compounds used in rubber duckies and other toys isn't necessary, say the government scientists who studied the problem.
Overlawyered has extensive archives on the the Boxer-and-Feinstein-pushed legislation in question, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), and its disastrous effects in practice - another reminder that injecting bad science into politics has real-world consequences. In fact, there is ample historical precedent, in the hard sciences as well as in social science, for left-wing political and social agendas to drive scientific hackwork whose influence far outstrips anyone's ability to replicate its underlying research:
Consider the residue of such frauds as Rachel Carson, Alfred Kinsey, and Margaret Mead. Carson's invented findings and unscientific methods led to the banning of DDT, which in turn cost the lives of tens of millions of children in undeveloped nations. Kinsey's tortuously doctored "sex research," as Dr. Judith Riesman has so amply demonstrated, was not only invented to sate his perverted lusts, but created scientific myths about normal and abnormal behavior which haunt us to this day. Mead also simply invented research to fit her idea of what the science of anthropology ought to be in order to justify her own immature and immoral behavior. Carson, Kinsey, and Mead had an agenda before they did any research, and this agenda governed everything else.
Which brings us to the root cause of politicized science: the temptation of power.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:38 PM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2009 | Science | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Science And Its Enemies On The Left, Part II(D)
IV. The Temptation of Power
Politicized science is, itself, a subset of the most profound problem of scientific integrity: the temptation presented when science is freed from the restraints that accompany all other forms of human activity, from accountability to moral opprobrium to external civilian oversight. When experts rule, the first casualty is the quality of their expertise.
The siren song of scientific triumphalism was graphically on display throughout the multi-year controversy over embryonic stem cell research. The conservative objection to such research was that it not only entailed the destruction of human embryos, but envisioned the future creation of more embryos - each containing a genetically unique human identity - solely for the purpose of destroying them in the process of scientific research. Even moreso than the question of the humanity of unborn fetuses growing in the womb, the question of whether to regard embryos outside the womb as fully human due to their distinct genetic identity is one on which people of good faith disagree. There is understandable reluctance to face the consequences of granting any legal status to an embryo, especially because embryos are routinely created with no prospect of a full human life in the process of in vitro fertilization, and by and large our society has settled without much debate on the legality and propriety of in vitro fertilization.
President Bush, weighing the moral calculus involved, reached a compromise decision - explained in a nationally televised address in August 2001 - to provide for the first time federal funding for stem cell research, whether or not it involved stem cells derived from the destruction of embryos, but drawing the line at taxpayer funding for any research that would entail the destruction of future embryos. Bush's compromise was not morally satisfying or entirely principled from anyone's perspective, but it was an attempt to balance the moral and practical considerations surrounding some of the thorniest problems of modern bioethics.
Honest critics of Bush's decision argued that Bush had drawn the line in the wrong place, and that embryos should not carry any moral weight. But those voices were few. By far the loudest talking point from the Democrats was that Bush had committed the offense of placing moral restraints of any kind on science. This was, we were told, "anti-science" or a "war on science," and as discussed above it set off an orgy of exaggerations of the promises of the science involved. At the core of the argument was the assertion that religious people in particular should not dare to speak against the morality of anything scientists might wish to explore.
The constant insistence by the Democrats that scientific progress should brook no moral restraint, and that anyone standing in the way of this particular scientific project was a dangerous theocrat, was positively chilling. Because science, with its great power not only over human liberty but human life itself, is if anything one of the human activities most in need of our most strenuous moral faculties. Biochemists and climatologists need to be subjected to civilian oversight and the moral conscience of society for precisely the same reasons as soldiers, economists, central bankers, lawyers, spies, diplomats, epidemiologists, rocket scientists, urban planners, and every other form of expert.
The temptation of the unrestrained expert comes in two stages. First, the expert in pretty much anything is subject to tunnel vision, and the greater the expertise, the greater the risk of such a focus. The expert is apt to have a limitless appetite for resources while ignoring competing social priorities. He may demand policies that maximize the ends sought by his discipline, while ignoring countervailing considerations and interests. He may refuse to accept any moral restraints or limitations on his methods or the uses of his creations.
Tunnel vision is only the beginning, however. Because the expert who learns that the recitation of jargon and the appeal to authority effectively exempts him from moral or social scrutiny has made the most dangerous discovery known to man: the ability to get away with virtually anything. Because if people will let you talk your way into money and influence with good science on the grounds that they do not understand it or have no right to obstruct it, what is to stop the expert from using bad science from accomplishing the same end, if they layman isn't equipped to tell the difference between the two?
Every scientist dreams of a world without ethics. Whenever a scientist sees a set of twins, he or she secretly wonders what would happen if you surgically swapped their faces. They already have a chamber set up to harness the power of their screams as they gradually realize what has happened. Every day, ethics barely prevent experiments like this from being carried out.
The Nazis are obviously the extreme example, as is often the case, but the argument ad Hitlerum is a useful moral guidepost for precisely that reason: it reminds us why we insist that scientists, like everyone else, be subject to moral restraints and the skeptical eye of their fellow man. Because otherwise you do things like appointing a "science czar" who has written approvingly of compulsory abortion and sterilization as a solution to overpopulation.
In a society not yet as far gone as Nazi Germany, Climategate is what happens when scientists think nobody is looking, or at least that nobody is competent or willing to call them out. Given power, or the ability to influence those in power, the scientists have acted the way human beings have always acted around power. And because the Left provides greater scope than the Right for the exercise of power over civil society in the name of what science says is good for us - and because it denies the sources of moral remonstrance that can stand as a bulwark against scientific hubris - it will continue to offer the greatest temptations for scientists to be seduced by power.
In Part III: Dogma and the starvation of science and technology.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:37 PM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2009 | Science | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
December 1, 2009
POLITICS: Silly Sarge Strikes Again
I follow a handful of writers on the Left to keep tabs on their latest pathologies (and, on rare occasions, to get out in front of stories when they actually have a point), and I must say that few of them provide such a persistent source of entertainment as Greg Sargent, formerly a paid left-wing activist employed by the Soros-funded Talking Points Memo family of sites, and now a paid left-wing activist employed by the Washington Post. While the WaPo has always been admirably even-handed in its selection of op-ed writers - unlike the New York Times, it not only gives a decent amount of airtime to conservative voices but uses talented intellectual combatants like Charles Krauthammer, not Washington Generals "conservatives" like David Brooks. The WaPo's news coverage, however, has remained stocked with the same sorts of establishment liberals who staff all the big-city newsrooms. But hiring Sargent as a full-time blogger was something different: there's no hiding the fact that he's a professional activist, and many of his blog posts are uncritical reprints of Democratic press releases without even the usual effort to cloak them in the garb of a news story. It is sadly telling that the WaPo felt no need to hire a professional activist on the Right, but then most of the online Right consists of part-timers with day jobs, anyway.
One of the more ironic of Sargent's hobbyhorses, therefore, is his participation in the Left's campaign to rid the airwaves of any remaining conservative voices or coverage of their arguments. In today's installment, he makes the self-evidently ridiculous argument that the media shouldn't cover criticism of the Obama Administration by Dick Cheney, who if you recall not only just completed 8 years as the Vice President of the United States, but has also served as Secretary of Defense, White House Chief of Staff, and House Minority Whip during his decade in Congress:
Politico is only the latest outlet to grant Cheney a platform to defend his legacy and to launch political attacks on the current president. The amount of airtime that has been granted by the networks and other news outlets to Cheney and his daughter, Liz Cheney, has been nothing short of extraordinary. Why is it happening?
One might ask why Greg Sargent is more qualified to get his views in print than Vice President Cheney, but let us ask a few questions here about how things would have gone down when George W. Bush was president.
What if Bush was criticized by former Vice President Al Gore, then a private citizen who signalled fairly early that he wasn't running again in 2004? We know that Gore generated tons of headlines. We know he was given an Oscar, and Emmy and a Nobel Peace Prize as a reward for his criticisms.
What if Bush was criticized by former President Jimmy Carter, a figure rejected by the American electorate as firmly as anyone in memory? Carter, too, generated scores of column-inches and was also awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
What if Bush was criticized not by a former elected official but by a left-wing filmmaker with no political standing whatsoever? Michael Moore certainly got tons of play for his bizarre rants against the Bush Administration, as indeed did numerous Hollywood figures who represent nobody but themselves.
I could go on, but as usual with these kinds of "arguments" from the Left, a little examination is more than enough to get the point: during the Bush years, nobody tried to enforce Sargent's rule that press coverage of criticisms of the Administration should be strictly limited to officeholders and potential presidential candidates. As an activist, Sargent wants to limit the universe of critics, partially to limit criticism and partially because current officeholders and future candidates always need to be more constrained in what arguments they make, more hemmed in by calculation and less free to take a stand that moves the center of public debate.
Nobody who writes for the purpose of giving an honest opinion rather than activism would defend Sargent's point with a straight face. He's just trying to help his side.
November 30, 2009
POLITICS: Handy Summary
The Politico's John Harris neatly summarizes the seven building narratives about Obama that are hazardous to his political health. What Harris perhaps misses is the extent to which the narratives, even the apparently contradictory ones, form a seamless whole.
Meanwhile, Greg Sargent, the Washington Post's in-house left-wing activist, argues that Harris is wrong because American exceptionalism and national security issues in general are passe. File that one under "by all means, keep telling yourselves that."
Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:11 PM | Politics 2009 | Politics 2012 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Corporate Farmfare
Francis Cianfrocca at the New Ledger makes a startling point writing on an issue I have addressed at some length before: the excessive government involvement in America's farm policy. He argues that if you look at the numbers, the Agriculture Department's budget is larger than the profits of the entire U.S. agriculture sector.
I don't agree with his provocative conclusion that the industry would vanish without subsidies, but it would surely be compelled to adapt.
November 20, 2009
POLITICS: The Arsenal of Medicine
If you're wondering where health care dollars go in this country, the invaluable Phil Klein reminds us:
Raymond Raad, a resident in psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center and co-author of a new Cato study, presented evidence showing that the United States leads the world in the development of drugs, medical devices, and other advanced treatments. For instance, between 1969 and 2008, 57 of the 97 Nobel Prizes in medicine and physiology -- or nearly 60 percent -- were awarded to people who did their research in the U.S., and nine of the top 10 medical innovations between 1975 and 2000 were developed here. But ... once these products are developed in the U.S., they become widely available and improve health care outcomes around the world.
Read the whole thing, and remember: that's the system the Democrats are trying to tear down and replace with one more like the European countries that depend almost as heavily on American medical and pharmaceutical innovations as they do on American military protection. In both cases, the arguments for the superiority of a European model that is unsustainable on its own depend on somebody else assuming the role of America. And nobody's volunteering for the job.
BLOG: Quick Links 11/20/09
*Lots of interesting stuff out there on Sarah Palin and her book tour. the Daily Beast looks at how Palin's book and tour are a one-woman economic stimulus package. Obama's organization wants a part of that action too: Organizing for America says Palin's book tour is "dangerous," so please give them $5. As liberal writer Ezra Klein notes of the Palin coverage:
Liberal sites need traffic just like conservative sites, and the mainstream media needs traffic more than both. And Palin draws traffic. This is actually pretty good revenge for a politician who hates the media. The press had a good time showing Palin to be a superficial creature who relied more on style than on substance, and in getting the media to drop everything and focus on her book tour, she's proving that they're much the same.
Amazingly, two positive Palin pieces at Salon, and neither of them written by Camille Paglia: a favorable review of her book and a look at what she means and why she's not going away as a public figure.
And witness the McCain campaign's crack rapid-response team in action: more than a year after the election, the NY Times finally gets to talk to the stylist who bought the Palin family's clothes, and admits that Palin had nothing to do with the money that was spent.
*Mitt Romney takes apart how Obama's inexperience has led to his failure to set clear priorities and resulting lack of focus on the war and the economy while he pursues as-yet-unfinished health care and cap and trade bills and failed efforts to salvage the campaigns of Jon Corzine and Creigh Deeds. It's a mark of how inexperienced and incompetent Obama is that he can be lectured credibly on these points by a 1-term governor like Romney and a half-term governor like Palin. Michael Gerson looks in more detail at the mess that is Obama's decision-making process in Afghanistan.
The Southwest Georgia Community Action Council, after receiving about $1.3 million in funding from The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, reported creating or saving 935 jobs in their Head Start preschool program that only employs 508 people.
*Patterico, as usual, is a man not to tangle with, and he remorselessly dismantles an LA Times columnist over the latest Breitbart ACORN videos. It's a facepalm with egg and crow!
*Jonathan Karl notices a $100 million payoff to Louisiana in the Senate healthcare bill to buy Mary Landrieu's vote. John Conyers, in griping about Obama's posture on the House bill, speaks about "the Barack Obama that I first met, who was an ardent single-payer enthusiast himself."
*Michael Rosen looks at Al Franken's so-called "anti-rape" bill that would preclude arbitration of sexual harrassment and various negligence-based employment claims. As Rosen notes, given that the law already bars arbitration of claims arising from rape, whereas the things it would actually change are much less dramatic, it is flatly false to describe opposition to the bill as being "pro-rape" - but then, that's pretty much Franken's M.O.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:48 AM | Blog 2006-13 | Law 2009-13 | Politics 2009 | Politics 2012 | War 2007-12 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
November 17, 2009
WAR/LAW/POLITICS: The Public's Not Buying The Trial
Here in New York, the Obama Administration's decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other Al Qaeda terrorists in the civilian justice system in downtown Manhattan has garnered plenty of well-earned criticism, including from New York's leading anti-terrorism experts like Rudy Giuliani, Michael Mukasey (who handled the blind sheikh trial as a district judge before becoming President Bush's third Attorney General) and Andrew McCarthy (who was one of the prosecutors), and Long Island Congressman Peter King. And not just from the Right; even arch-liberals like Daily News sportswriter Mike Lupica have weighed in against the decision. Now the people are being heard from, and while the polls as usual show some diversity of opinion, the public is deeply skeptical of this enterprise even before it gets underway, let alone after what promises to be many months of grandstanding by the terrorists, gridlock in lower Manhattan, possible setbacks in the prosecution and the hemmhoraging of scarce resources on the trial(s) (as my retired-NYPD dad put it: "there's going to be plenty of overtime for the cops.").
The critics' bases for opposing a trial are numerous, and several of them are reviewed by Erick here. And the polls now show those criticisms are shared by a majority of the nation's voters and a significant minority even in liberal New York City, with the rest uncertain.
To quickly summarize the case against the trials:
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1) The trials are wholly unnecessary; the Administration is holding some enemy combatants without trial and trying others through the military commission system, thus conceding that it has alternatives. As a result, any risks, expenses or other downsides of the trials are being undertaken solely for the purpose of empty symbolism.
2) The trials risk disclosure of sensitive intelligence information and sources. This is the most significant objection of all.
3) The trials create a heightened risk or incentive for a terrorist attack/jailbreak effort in Manhattan.
4) The additional security required to guard against #3 will cost the federal and city governments a fortune, interfere with the administration of justice in a busy federal district and busy federal prison, add to the traffic and delays already extant in lower Manhattan, and place a great burden on the jurors, judge, and prosecutors.
5) The detainees, as they have shown in the past, are especially dangerous to guards, a problem that's more acute when in transit or in civilian prisons than in a facility like Guantanamo that's designed to house them.
6) The trials will give these extremists the opportunity to grandstand.
7) There is, inherent in civilian criminal trials and given the likelihood that the defense will seek to play politics with the trial, some risk of one or more acquittals or hung juries that would give a propaganda victory to the terrorists and destroy what little symbolic value the trials have if the defendants are remanded to custody after being acquitted.
8) There is a risk that, to guard against #7, rules and precedents governing criminal procedure will be distorted in ways that have lingering effects on the regular justice system.
9) Trying terrorists in civilian courts perversely rewards their war crimes; they have not earned the rights of either American citizens nor lawful combatants under international law, and should not be granted them.
Well, the polls are in, and the news should not be encouraging to the Administration. First, the Rasmussen poll, conducted nationally:
Fifty-one percent (51%) of U.S. voters oppose the Obama administration's decision to try the confessed chief planner of the 9/11 attacks and other suspected terrorists in a civilian court in New York City.
As Rasmussen notes from prior polls, "Most voters have consistently opposed moving any of the Guantanamo prisoners to prisons in the United States out of safety concerns." And public awareness is high:
Seventy-five percent (75%) of all voters say they have followed news stories about the decision to try the suspected terrorists in a civilian court at least somewhat closely. Thirty-nine percent (39%) say they have been following very closely. Only six percent (6%) are not following the news about the decision at all.
Locally, the Marist poll of New York City residents (H/T) finds a small plurality of the overwhelmingly Democratic City in favor of the trials - but a significant group opposed, and a larger minority among New Yorkers than nationally who are concerned about the elevated security risks:
45% of residents think it's a good idea to have the trial in New York City while 41% believe it's a bad one. 14% just aren't sure.
The left-wing response to the criticisms of the trials has been to focus only on point #3 above and essentially throw a tantrum, accusing anyone concerned with the risk of an attack of either cowardice or fear-mongering. As I have explained at some length before, this is shtick, not argument, and especially ridiculous given some of the people making it. Thus, we have people like left-wing activist Greg Sargent getting so wrapped up in their own shtick that they try to spin the Rasmussen poll as a victory, even in the face of the public being against them on the bottom line:
[P]ublic opposition is not a response to all the lurid fearmongering we've heard from Rudy Giuliani and other diehard anti-terror warriors. It's more rooted in a sense that the justice system isn't a proper venue to prosecute terrorism, because it places suspected terrorists - symbolically, perhaps more than legally - on an equal footing with your run-of-the-mill suspected murderers....While a majority does oppose the trial, it appears that most Americans aren't quite as fearful of it as Rep. Shadegg is.
Sargent further notes of the Marist poll: "Opposition to trying Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his co-conspirators in a New York court is almost entirely driven by old, white, and Republican voters." Well, good thing none of those groups is a significant voting bloc, eh?
A few more such victories, as Phyrrus said, and Obama and his fans are finished.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:43 PM | Law 2009-13 | Politics 2009 | War 2007-12 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
FOOTBALL: Silverdome Fire Sale
The death of Detroit continues, as the Potiac Silverdome, onetime home of the Detroit Lions, sells for a mere $583,000 to an unidentified Canadian company:
The sale of the Silverdome takes a large financial burden off the hard-hit city of Pontiac, which has fallen on hard times, with budget shortfalls and high unemployment. Earlier this year, GM announced it would close a truck plant, taking about 1,400 jobs from the city.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:30 PM | Business | Football | Politics 2009 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: David Obey Messes With Joe
I know there are some in this chamber and watching at home who are skeptical of whether this plan will work. I understand that skepticism. Here in Washington, we've all seen how quickly good intentions can turn into broken promises and wasteful spending. And with a plan of this scale comes enormous responsibility to get it right.
How's that working out? So badly, now, that even David Obey, the liberal Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations Committee is looking to lay the blame on the Administration before it lands on him. A lot of observers have been assuming all along that with the Democrats currently headed in the direction of a very bad midterm election in 2010, Obama, like Bill Clinton before him, would sooner or later try to triangulate the Congressional Democrats, moving towards the center to let them take the fall for the failures of big-spending, big-taxing, big-regulating, big-bailouts, big-favor-giving liberalism. But maybe at some point, they will triangulate him first.
We've already seen how unemployment has just kept getting worse with the stimulus than Obama projected without it (red dots represent the actual unemployment rate, the other two lines are the Administration's projections):
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And we've seen how the stimulus is leading state governments themselves into deeper holes, by forestalling tough budgetary choices and encouraging spending on programs that won't have permanent federal subsidies. And now we are seeing a flood of reports, which I summarized yesterday here and here, proving that the skeptics were - if anything - not skeptical enough; not only has one investigation after another turned up bogus claims of job creation or savings, even under the deliberately elastic definition of "created or saved," but many of the claimed savings listed on recovery.gov are supposedly in Congressional Districts that don't even exist. They took $787 billion of our money and sent it to an undisclosed location.
This incompetence - we'll be charitable for now and assume it's incompetence - is too much even for David Obey to bear from his own party, as left-wing activist Greg Sargent reports:
"The inaccuracies on recovery.gov that have come to light are outrageous and the Administration owes itself, the Congress, and every American a commitment to work night and day to correct the ludicrous mistakes.
Joe Biden, consider yourself messed with.
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November 16, 2009
POLITICS: Losing the Rabbit Ears
I haven't watched Sarah Palin's Oprah interview yet, but the Anchoress has and is unimpressed, specifically regarding Palin's attitude towards her media antagonists (including the AP, which assigned 11 reporters to come up with some fairly flimsy "fact-checks" of Palin's book):
I know Palin is a tough, frontier spirit, and that serves her well in many ways, but she needs to learn to delegate the punches, so that she can remain above the fray, or she will never get past this guarded, watchful, overly-cautious and defensive vibe that rang out of her like waves from a tuning fork on the Winfrey show, today. She has to know that someone else will throw the punch for her, and she has to learn to be okay with that.
Read the whole thing, as she's got more on the topic. This is one of the emerging critiques of Palin among people on the Right who are more or less sympathetic to her: she's a natural politician who connects well with people (obviously an Oprah interview is going to be mostly about the personal, not hard political issues; those interviews will be another day), and she's been horrendously mistreated by the media, and yes, George W. Bush provided an object lesson in what happens to people who never push back at critics or the media, but at some point, she's not going to go to the next level politically until she learns to let go of a lot of the criticism and let it wash over her.
We've seen with Obama what happens when a thin-skinned candidate gets through the election with minimal scrutiny and only in office really has to respond to criticism, with the result of demonizing individual critics and TV networks, using crude sexual terms like "teabagger" to describe ordinary citizens upset with his policies, taking the rostrum of the House to call his critics liars over a bunch of legislative provisions that were subsequently amended to acknowledge those criticisms, organizing campaigns to try to dismember organizations like the Chamber of Commerce that stand in his way, etc. By 2012, Americans are going to want a candidate whose response to critics is not Obama's style of peevish vendettas. If Palin wants to challenge Obama, she will have to convince people that she's not just tough enough to hit back, but sometimes tough enough to smile and take a punch.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:20 PM | Politics 2009 | Politics 2012 | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: The Meaning of Jobs "Created," Part II
Somewhere in these 57 states, there exist Congressional Districts between sight and sound, in which Barack Obama is "creating jobs" that do not exist for constituents of Congresspersons who do not exist either, reports Jonathan Karl of ABC News:
Here's a stimulus success story: In Arizona's 9th Congressional District, 30 jobs have been saved or created with just $761,420 in federal stimulus spending. At least that's what the website set up by the Obama Administration to track the $787 billion stimulus says.
Read the whole thing (did you know the Northern Mariana Islands had 99 Congressional Districts? Neither did I.)
I can't wait for these guys to run the Census, can you?
POLITICS: The Meaning of Jobs "Created"
More than ten percent of the jobs the Obama administration has claimed were "created or saved" by the $787 billion stimulus package are doubtful or imaginary, according to reports compiled from eleven major newspapers and the Associated Press.
Read the whole thing, and don't miss clicking on the link for the map. Ah, well, it's only $787 billion, I'm sure there's more where that came from.
UPDATE: My favorite, of course: "A $1,000 grant to purchase a single lawn mower was credited with saving 50 jobs."
ANOTHER FAVORITE from the Sacramento Bee's report, including a quote that sums up government budgeting in a nutshell:
The California State University system received $268.5 million in stimulus funds and claimed that the money allowed them to save over 26,000 jobs or half its workforce. But when pressed, the California State University system admitted they weren't really going to lay off half their workforce, and that in fact few or none of these jobs would have been lost without the stimulus. "This is not really a real number of people," a CSU spokesman said. "It's like a budget number."
November 13, 2009
WAR: The Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Lower Manhattan Reunion Tour
Pardon me if I am seeing red this morning:
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and four others accused in the attacks will be put on criminal trial in New York, Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to announce later Friday.
WHAT IN THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?
So, Barack Obama will be staging his own New York production of Chicago, with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as Roxy Hart ("You had it coming, you had it coming, you only have yourselves to blame...." ). We will be treated to months upon months of front page headlines giving a platform to this lunatic war criminal. The courthouses and City office buildings in lower Manhattan (City Hall, the state courts, the immigration offices, the Court of International Trade, the US Attorney's Office, the DA's office, and the main city office building that does marriage licenses and the like are all within about a two-block radius of the federal courthouses and the Metropolitan Correctional Center) will be snarled with massive security, as if lower Manhattan needs more traffic and more armed men. We'll have to have pretrial hearings on the inevitable countless motions about how KSM was apprehended and the evidence against him collected, undoubtedly to the detriment of vital sources of intelligence, like when we lost the ability to track Osama bin Laden by cellphone after our tracing of his calls was revealed by a prosecution under the DOJ Criminal Division then headed by...Eric Holder. And that's even before he starts in on the sob stories about being waterboarded. I'm not seriously concerned that KSM stands any chance of being acquitted, but a hung jury? It only takes one person with extreme political or religious views, one juror who just can't abide the death penalty (even assuming Obama's DOJ pursues it). Just imagine the controversy, if there are Muslims in the jury pool, over what questions prosecutors are permitted to ask them and whether they can be challenged. And of course, it sends the message to our enemies that there's nothing you can do to us that will get you sent through a process rougher than the one we used on Michael Vick or Martha Stewart.
I know I have spoken and written many rough things about Obama, but as Michael Moore would say, most New Yorkers voted for the man - why is he doing this to us?
It's impossible, really, to caricature this White House; even Josiah Bartlett didn't run through this many liberal stereotypes in his first season. Obama needs new writers. Blow up the World Trade Center and kill 3,000 Americans? Jail! Don't buy health insurance? Jail! Win the Nobel Prize for doing jack squat. Travel to Copenhagen to beg and grovel unsuccessfully for the Olympics, and pledge to go visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but blow off traveling to Berlin to commemorate the victory of freedom over Communism (then give a tepid speech on the subject that refuses to acknowledge Ronald Reagan). Commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland by unilaterally abandoning missile defense installations in Poland. Insult and disdain one faithful ally after another - Britain, India, Israel, Poland, Colombia, you name it - and cozy up to our enemies, with nothing to show for it - nothing to show for anything he's done in foreign affairs. All but ignore democratic protests in Iran while supporting an illegal effort by Honduras' president to stay on beyond the end of his term. Suddenly complain about corruption and electoral fraud in Afghanistan, while seeking the favor of Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadenijad and Vladimir Putin - heck, Obama endorsed half a dozen people in Chicago more corrupt than Hamid Karzai. On and on and on we go, with President Apology constantly straining to run down his country's record and talk up the propagandized view of history of its enemies. He's taken more time to "evaluate" General McChrystal's recommendations about Afghan policy than it took George W. Bush to invade Afghanistan and capture Kabul after September 11. It would be funny if it wasn't tragically stupid and bound to get people killed. There is no mistake of our past that Obama is unwilling to remake.
If there's an upside to all this, after months of watching KSM up close, even liberal New Yorkers may be ready to give Dick Cheney a medal.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:15 AM | Law 2009-13 | Politics 2009 | War 2007-12 | Comments (90) | TrackBack (0)
November 12, 2009
POLITICS: Latest Connecticut Poll: Good News For Simmons, Bad News For Dodd, Obamacare
The latest Quinnipiac poll of Connecticut voters is out, and while it is (standard disclaimer) only one poll, it shows bad news for Chris Dodd, good news for his strongest challenger, Rob Simmons, and bad news for President Obama's health care plan.
Here's the topline result on Simmons vs Dodd:
Former Connecticut Congressman Rob Simmons has an early lead in the Republican primary race for the 2010 U.S. Senate contest and runs better than any other challenger against Sen. Christopher Dodd, topping the Democratic incumbent 49 - 38 percent...
The poll shows Dodd with a favorable/unfavorable rating of -15 (38-53) among men and -25 (34-59) among Independents, and a re-elect number of -24 (34-58) among men and -32 (30-62) among Independents, the latter mirroring the showing of Jon Corzine and Creigh Deeds among Independents.
It's still somewhat early to judge whether any of the other Republicans in the race would be electable against Dodd; clearly, Simmons, as a moderate former Congressman, has a very real shot of winning this race, as he's polling basically where Chris Christie was polling at this stage against Corzine. And bear in mind, this was a poll of registered, not likely voters; the likely-voter screens almost always help the GOP candidate, especially since 2010 will be an off-year election in which polls are consistently showing that voters on the Right are far more motivated and energized. Here's the poll's sample:
From November 3 - 8, Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,236 Connecticut registered voters with a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points. The survey includes 474 Democrats with a margin of error of +/- 4.5 percentage points and 332 Republicans with a margin of error of +/- 5.4 percentage points.
I don't have offhand the overall registration breakdowns for CT. The sample here is 38.3% Democrats, 34.8% Independents and 26.9% Republicans, as compared to 2008 exit polls showing an electorate 43% Democrats, 31% Independents and 27% Republicans. So, Republicans aren't oversampled here; whether the poll oversampled Independents at the expense of Democrats depends on whether you think 2008 turnout is representative of what the electorate will be going forward.
Anyway, time will tell as to whether the other GOP candidates can credibly challenge Simmons. McMahon is clearly well-funded, and her pro wrestling background suggests some familiarity with the kind of populist appeal that made Jesse Ventura a governor, but Ironman at Next Right, a close observer of the CT political scene, thinks she is a poor stump speaker and too close with Rahm and Ari Emanuel and Lowell Weicker to be trusted, including a $10,000 donation to the DCCC in the fall of 2006 while it was pouring money into CT to help defeat Simmons and Nancy Johnson (McMahon herself didn't vote in that election). $3 million in state tax credits for WWE and a heavy WWE lobbying presence in the state capitol are also not the kind of resume lines that are likely to help a populist campaign against the goodies-collecting Dodd. All of which adds up to more reason why McMahon will have a long way to go to convince GOP voters that she's a better option against Dodd than Simmons.
As for Connecticut's other Senate seat, up again in 2012 and presently held by an incumbent from the Connecticut for Lieberman party, Jay Cost has argued that the 2006 race shows that Lieberman needs to win over Republicans and conservative-leaning independents to keep his job, and that this helps explain his opposition to Obamacare:
18% of all voters [in 2006] were self-identified Republicans who voted for Lieberman. 14% of all voters were self-identified conservatives who voted for Lieberman. Simply put, Lieberman won that 2006 race in large part because conservative Republicans voted for him, not Schlesinger.
The Q poll strongly supports Cost's thesis - Lieberman's poll profile is essentially that of a liberal Republican at this point, and Connecticut voters are far more skeptical of the Democratic health care plan than they are of Obama in general:
By a 51 - 25 percent margin, Connecticut voters say Sen. Joseph Lieberman's views on issues are closer to the Republican Party than to the Democratic Party. There is agreement on this among voters in all parties.
Note also that the poll shows that voters trust a Republican over Dodd on the health care issue, 43-37. And this is a liberal northeastern state; today's Q poll in Ohio, which shows some encouraging news for Rob Portman, has voters disapproving of Obama's health care plan by 55-36 and Obama's approval rating running lower than the Democratic Senate candidates.
As a final footnote, recanvassing shows that Bill Owens - who ran against the House health care bill, although he then voted for it as soon as he was sworn in - has lost a significant part of his margin of victory over Doug Hoffman (who also ran against the House bill) in NY-23. Even assuming that the net result of the recanvassing doesn't lead to any efforts to challenge the legitimacy of Owens' election, the dwindling margin of victory undermines efforts to make much hay of Hoffman's loss, and offers yet another data point - from the Northeast, no less - to suggest that support for Democrats and their health care plan is faltering almost everywhere.
If Connecticut is turning into dangerous turf for liberal Democrats and their big government schemes, that should be a sign to encourage opponents of big government everywhere to get in the game.
November 10, 2009
POLITICS: Um, Never Mind
Ramesh Ponnuru notices how Obama's latest remarks expose the falsehood of his previous statements about the impact of abortion on the health care bill. Among other things, when Obama stood in the well of the House of Representatives and called liars anyone who criticized the pre-Stupak Amendment bill on abortion grounds, we now know he was extending that accusation to 64 House Democrats.
POLITICS: Democrats Divided on Abortion
A funny thing is happening on the way to the impending health care showdown, as the Democrats try to turn the newly-passed House bill into something that can pass both Houses of Congress: Democrats are divided over abortion, and their divisions threaten to wreck the bill. With government-run health care having passed the House with only a 3-vote margin of victory, 60 votes needed in the Senate, and pro-life and pro-choice Democrats both vowing to go to war over the bill's abortion provisions, the whole legislative initiative can be put at risk by even a small number of defectors.
The Democrats' divisions over abortion may surprise casual observers. If you've tried getting your news from the mainstream media any time in the last three decades or so, you have undoubtedly seen more variations on the headline "Abortion Divides GOP" than you could count. The basic narrative is usually some variant on the notion that the Republican Party would be one big happy family if it weren't for those awful pro-lifers. The MSM will write stories from this template at the drop of a hat, with the goal of feeding a larger narrative that one side of the abortion debate is "divisive" and that this problem is a Republican problem because being a pro-lifer is synonymous with being a right-wing woman-hating extremist. The idea that there might be broader bipartisan support for the pro-life movement seems never to have occurred to the media.
That's where this weekend's vote over the Stupak Amendment, which amended the House version of the health care bill to bar federal health care dollars from being spent on abortions, comes in.
Presumably believing her own rhetoric about pro-lifers being beyond-the-pale extremists whose opinions no longer matter in today's Democratic-run Washington, Speaker Pelosi had fought for months to resist any efforts to prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to finance abortions under Obamacare. This recalcitrance belied President Obama's repeated rhetorical efforts to convince the public that the bill was abortion-neutral, and created a political problem even the New York Times was forced to acknowledge: especially since the 2006 and 2008 elections, in which Rahm Emanuel recruited many Democratic candidates to run in districts where the pro-life cause is strong, there are once again a fairly substantial number of Congressional Democrats who call themselves pro-life, and they really do not want to be compelled to choose between voting against a health care bill and voting in favor of taxpayer funding of abortion. The ultimate vote in the House on the Stupak Amendment drew surprising Democratic support: 64 votes, contributing to the measure's resounding 240-194 victory. This reality came as a shock to pro-choice hardliners like Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro:
[W]hen Pelosi announced late Friday that she would allow an amendment strictly limiting insurance coverage of abortions, it touched off an angry yelling match between DeLauro and another Pelosi confidant, California Rep. George Miller, and tears from some veteran female lawmakers, according to people in the room.
By this morning, this was entrenched as a Democratic talking point, as California's Loretta Sanchez repeated on Morning Joe that even with a wide Democratic majority, pro-lifers are in the majority in the House and the pro-choicers have only about 150 votes.
Now, longtime pro-life activists are justifiably somewhat skeptical that "pro-life" Democrats really ever mean it. While there have at times been true warriors for the pro-life cause in the Democratic Party, notably the late Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey (who fought all the way to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade in 1992), the usual pro-life Democrat tends to be a mushy-middle sort who isn't up to change the Roe status quo and will choose party loyalty in any difficult battle over, say, the composition of the Supreme Court, but at the same time is willing to sign on to restrictions at the extreme margins of the issue, like partial-birth abortion and the Born Alive Infant Protection Act.
But the health care bill, by virtue of its intrusive nature, makes neutrality impossible, and thus may have pushed a number of these reluctant pro-lifers into a position where they had no choice but to vote for what they profess to believe. Contrary to what Obama claims, true neutrality is not possible when the government gets so deeply entangled in an area of life as this bill proposes to get the government into the provision of health care. Such a bill cannot be "pro-choice" in the sense of leaving mothers to make their own decision on their own private dime; it can only be pro-abortion, by providing federal subsidies for abortion coverage, or anti-abortion, by denying them where in the past they may have been funded by purely private insurance.
The Stupak Amendment "would bar anyone receiving a federal subsidy from purchasing a private plan that covers elective abortion. In addition, under Stupak, the public plans would not be allowed to offer abortion coverage prohibited under the Hyde amendment." Pro-choicers claim that this is actually an expansion of the Hyde Amendment's scope and would squeeze out private plans that cover abortion - but they somehow miss that that's how the bill would work with regard to everything it touches, not just abortion. As Phil Klein puts it:
[T]he need for the controversial measure is a direct consequence of liberal efforts to have the government take over the health care system. The amendment, proposed by Reps. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Joe Pitts (R-PA), would merely extend protections under current law that prevent taxpayer funding for abortion through government health care programs such as Medicaid. The only reason the Stupak-Pitts amendment would apply restrictions to the private market is that the government would be drastically expanding its role in the private market as a result of the health care legislation.
In short, pro-life Democrats were left no other option than to demand a clear affirmative prohibition on the use of federal funds to subsidize abortion. Politico reports that Stupak threatened to vote against the bill unless his amendment was included and that "a big bloc of anti-abortion Democrats were threatening to derail the entire bill unless party leaders agreed to stronger restrictions" demanded by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has pushed for health care legislation but refuses to support it without something on the lines of the Stupak Amendment. In all, 42 Members of the House (including the lone GOP vote for the bill, Joseph Cao) voted for both the Stupak Amendment and the final bill, well in excess of the 3-vote margin for error provided by the bill's ultimate 220-215 victory. Stupak told the Wall Street Journal that he has more than enough votes to scuttle the whole bill if his amendment is removed:
"We won because [the Democrats] need us," says Mr. Stupak. "If they are going to summarily dismiss us by taking the pen to that language, there will be hell to pay. I don't say it as a threat, but if they double-cross us, there will be 40 people who won't vote with them the next time they need us - and that could be the final version of this bill."
In the Senate, the health care bill already faces a rocky road; the death of Ted Kennedy and Joe Lieberman's vow to join the GOP filibuster of the bill leave the Democrats starting with 58 votes (59 if they can get Maine Republican Olympia Snowe to stay on board with the bill), and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson says he needs the Stupak Amendment in the bill to support it:
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) wants to see abortion language as restrictive as the Stupak amendment in the health care reform bill, his spokesman told POLITICO Monday.
The last line is significant: the bill needs 60 votes to overcome a filibuster but only 50 "yes" votes, and unlike Lieberman, Nelson hasn't vowed to filibuster. Nor have we heard a firm answer from putative pro-lifers like Gov. Casey's son, now a Pennsylvania Senator, or from at-risk Senators like Blanche Lincoln who need to face strongly pro-life electorates to get re-elected (Sen. Reid is himself nominally pro-life but not expected to do anything about it).
Lest you believe that the Democrats can hold the wavering pro-lifers in place by maintaining the Stupak Amendment, however, the pro-choice hardliners are also threatening to kill the bill unless it's removed. As the Washington Post reported:
Rep. Diana DeGette (Colo.) said she has collected more than 40 signatures from House Democrats vowing to oppose any final bill that includes the amendment -- enough to block passage.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the Democrats' chief deputy whip in the House, said that she and other pro-choice lawmakers would work to strip the amendment included in the House health bill that bars federal funding from going to subsidize abortions.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said that 60 votes would be needed to strip the current health care bill of its abortion-related language and replace it with a version resembling that passed by the House of Representatives on Saturday. And, in an interview with the Huffington Post, the California Democrat predicted that pro-choice forces in the Senate would keep that from happening.
Boxer is relying on Senate procedural rules regarding the original bill, as opposed to the conference report, but in either event, as in the House, the battle over the original bill will be a warning shot about what could possibly pass both Houses following a conference:
Currently, the Senate bill's language would allow for insurers participating in a health care exchange to cover abortions so long as they ensured that federal funds are not used to pay for the procedure. An amendment similar to Stupak['s] effort -- which was offered by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) -- had already been voted down in the Senate Finance Committee.
Some pro-choice Democrats, led by Lynn Woolsey, Chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, are not just looking to strip the Stupak Amendment, but calling as well for an investigation of the Catholic Bishops' role in the Amendment, a posture that effectively would require them to investigate the Bishops' coordination with 64 of their own Members.
Unsurprisingly, given his extreme record on abortion, President Obama seems to have joined the chorus looking to water down or remove the Stupak Amendment, although in the end it seems unlikely that Obama has much say in the process, given that he's likely to vote for just about anything he can call a health care bill:
Saying the bill cannot change the status quo regarding the ban on federally funded abortions, the president said, "There are strong feelings on both sides" about an amendment passed Saturday and added to the legislation, "and what that tells me is that there needs to be some more work before we get to the point where we're not changing the status quo."
"I want to make sure that the provision that emerges meets that test -- that we are not in some way sneaking in funding for abortions, but, on the other hand, that we're not restricting women's insurance choices," he said.
At the end of the day, for all the conservative hand-wringing over Speaker Pelosi's short-term tactical victory in allowing a vote on the Stupak Amendment and thus enabling passage of the bill through the House, the political reality remains: there may not be enough votes to pass the final bill with the Stupak Amendment, because of intransigence from pro-choice Democrats, and there may not be enough votes to pass the final bill without the Stupak Amendment, because of intransigence from pro-life Democrats. And that's even before we get to the fissures among the Democrats and with the public at large over taxes, spending, individual mandates, the public option, tort reform, immigration, and euthanasia.
There are two ensuing lessons for Democrats, if that turns out to be the case. One is that a Democratic majority in this country is only possible if Democrats make real, rather than just rhetorical, concessions to the pro-life movement. And the other is that, for all of the grand ambitions of progressives, any bill that drives this far and this deep into American life is bound to expose long-dormant fault lines in any political coalition.
November 5, 2009
I'm so accustomed to interviews with German magazine Der Spiegel producing anti-American quotes from American politicians and entertainers that it's a breath of fresh air to read this marvelous interview with Charles Krauthammer, especially at the obviously staggered reaction of the interviewer. The parts dealing with Obama's foreign policy are the best parts of the interview.
I'm not sure, however, I quite agree with this:
The analogy I give is that in America we play the game between the 40-yard lines, in Europe you go all the way from goal line to goal line. You have communist parties, you have fascist parties, we don't have that, we have very centrist parties.
That's true to some extent, especially as far as comparing the governing center of each of the two U.S. parties to the overall European landscape. But the governing coalitions in European politics differ far less from each other than the Democrats and the Republicans do. Margaret Thatcher notwithstanding, Reaganite conservatives are a rarity in Europe, where the conservatives are largely socialist and the fascists are (as fascists generally are) even more socialist. That remains true even today, as the prevailing trend in many European countries is to the right of the current leadership in the U.S.
I love that Krauthammer mentions perhaps my favorite elected Republican, Paul Ryan, as a presidential candidate, but realistically Ryan's still young, and if it's ever possible to win the White House from Congress (Obama proved that perhaps the only way a Senator gets elected is by running against another Senator who's been in the Senate longer), 2012 doesn't look like that year.
Also, Krauthammer's analogy of Bush to Truman, while by no means original, is better-argued than I've generally seen it:
I think Bush actually handled the Iraq War better than Truman handled the Korean War. For one thing, the number of losses is about one-tenth. Secondly, he made the right decision with the surge. Thirdly, if Iraq turns out well, meaning becomes a country fairly self-sufficient and fairly friendly to the West, it will have a more important effect on the West than having a non-communist South Korea. The Middle East is strategically a far more important region.
November 4, 2009
POLITICS: Yes, All Politics Is Local
Republicans are - rightly - crowing this morning about the GOP's victories in the New Jersey Governor's race and a battery of races in Virginia from the Governorship on down and what they say about the turn in the national mood, if not in a pro-Republican direction then at least in a direction that's sufficiently hostile to the Democrats that voters in states won by Obama and dominated by the Democrats in the last few years are willing to give individual Republicans another chance.
But the key word there, even in an across-the-board sweep like happened in Virginia, is individual. There remains an ongoing battle on the Right over how Republicans choose which candidates to support - who voters and the national party organs should back in primaries, when and whether to support third party candidacies, etc. It's a battle intensified by Doug Hoffman's loss in the NY-23 race after the NRCC-backed candidate, Dede Scoazzafava, ended up swinging the race to the Democrats when she endorsed Bill Owens. But in making sense of such debates, this is a point that cannot be stressed enough: no matter how favorable or unfavorable the overall national climate may be, no matter what ideological compass you want the party to follow, you can't ever overlook the importance of the individual candidates and the conditions they run in. I said it in 2008 with regard to presidential campaigns, and it's true as well of races for Governor, Senate or House: ideas don't run for president, people do.
This point is overlooked by naysayers arguing that this or that position on a particular race is hypocritical or compels a similar result in other races - e.g., if you support the challenger you must always support the challenger; if you support the moderate, you must always support the moderate, etc. Hugh Hewitt eviscerated David Frum in a hugely entertaining segment last week over a column making a similar argument; I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but this excerpt from the Frum column is a sterling example of the kind of blinkered thinking I'm talking about:
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt this week offered a stern condemnation of this fratricide on his popular program, calling the third-party candidate:
This is idiotic. I'll get to the specific races below, but how can a guy like Frum write this and not notice that Doug Hoffman had a serious chance to win his race - as it turned out, he ran Scozzafava out of the race, drew 45% of the vote and lost a narrow defeat after Scozzafava endorsed his opponent - while Daggett regularly polled below 15% of the vote - often in single digits - and ended up drawing just 6% of the vote in the general election?
Let me illustrate, by discussing several examples from the 2009 and 2010 races, how a principled, pragmatic conservative approach can lead to supporting a variety of different candidates.
The hottest debate for now is over the special election in NY's 23d Congressional District, long held by moderate Republican John McHugh until he stepped down to accept a position in the Obama Administration. The GOP, without a primary, selected as its candidate state assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, but Doug Hoffman challenged her on the Conservative line and ended up running her out of the race before losing narrowly himself. The NRCC spent almost a million dollars backing Scozzafava, who was also backed by Newt Gingrich and other establishment figures, but RedState and other conservative commentators and blogs, including national figures like Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty, joined the revolt and lined up behind Hoffman.
In the abstract, a moderate Republican may well have been the better fit for NY-23. But there were a number of practical reasons why Scozzafava was a bridge too far for conservatives (Jay Cost summarizes the broader problems with her selection here). She had longstanding ties to ACORN and its cat's paw, the Working Families Party of New York. Her husband was a ranking official in a left-leaning union. She wasn't just a moderate but a liberal on economic and social issues. She turned out to be a thunderingly incompetent candidate. She had no party loyalty to offset her ideological leanings - she refused to promise to remain a Republican in office, held talks about switching parties in the state legislature, and ended up endorsing the Democrat. And conservatives had never been given a voice in the nominating process, so a third party challenge was the only way to revolt against the party establishment's candidate.
And perhaps worst of all, and a desperately under-covered aspect of this special election as well as the one to fill Kirsten Gillibrand's seat in New York's 20th District in April, Scozzafava has spent more than a decade in New York's State Assembly. ACORN ties are bad enough, but the most radioactive association possible right now in the State of New York is with the notoriously corrupt, dysfunctional state legislature. Yet the GOP ran the State Assembly Minority Leader, Jim Tedisco (a 23-year veteran of the Assembly), for Gillibrand's seat, and now Scozzafava. Unsurprisingly, in a climate of pervasive anti-Albany sentiment, both went down to defeat in otherwise winnable races. The nominations of Tedisco and Scozzafava represent a catastrophic failure to understand local sentiment. Conservatives who supported Hoffman, while recognizing that he, too, was an imperfect candidate, saw that at least as a political outsider, he'd have the credibility to speak to the populist revolt against the unholy alliance of Big Federal Government, Big State Government, Big Labor, and Big Business against the ordinary taxpayer.
In New Jersey, by contrast to NY-23, most of us on the Right fell in behind the more moderate candidate, Chris Christie, against both a primary challenge by Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan and a third-party challenge, mostly from the Right, by Chris Daggett. Again, we would have liked a strongly conservative candidate, but balanced that against a left-leaning electorate that might be more open to a moderate. But in this race, things were different.
First, Christie's no liberal, just a guy who shied away from taking conservative stances - or, for that matter, detailing very much of his platform at all (he'll come to office with a strong mandate to fight corruption and resist tax hikes, but anything else he wants to do, he'll need to sell the voters on from scratch). Second, unlike Hoffman, Daggett jumped into a race where there had already been a full and fair opportunity for a reasonably well-funded and credible primary challenger (Lonegan) to offer the voters a choice, making the selection of Christie inherently more legitimate and a third-party run more obviously sour grapes designed to split the vote (as it turned out, the Democrats ended up doing robocalls for Daggett). Third, while a political novice, Christie's an impressive guy, a good debater with a regular-Joe demeanor and a hard-won statewide reputation for prosecuting corruption as US Attorney. And fourth, Christie comes to office without any negative baggage in the form of past associations with the activist Left or past positions defending outrageous examples of overspending and overreaching by the federal government.
With the Right mostly united behind him, Christie was able to reach enough independents and moderates to win the race.
The primary races were less divisive in Virginia this year, but it's worth mentioning here: Virginia's been increasingly dominated by the Democrats, who won the state in the presidential election in 2008, won Senate races in 2006 & 2008, and won the Governor's races in 2001 & 2005. More than a few voices counselled for moderation in statewide races in Virginia, but the GOP instead picked a slate of unapologetic, bold-colors conservatives (Bob McDonnell for Governor, Bill Bolling for Lt. Governor, and Ken Cuccinelli for Attorney General), each of whom won by nearly a 20-point margin. And local dynamics were a significant factor: the state GOP had lost credibility with the voters for its tax-hiking, big-spending ways, so running moderates would only have underlined the extent to which the party hadn't learned its lessons.
In a normal electorate, Republicans would regard Mike Bloomberg as the sort of liberal barely-a-RINO deserving of a primary challenge - besides his left-leaning views on a number of issues, he literally only joins the party for election years, and offers zero support to the party city-wide. Plus, a lot of voters didn't like his decision to amend the city charter to run for a third term. But not only due to his vast wealth did he avoid a serious primary challenge: New York is an overwhelmingly Democratic city, so running a conservative challenger (even a conservative-on-some-issues candidate like Rudy Giuliani) is a tough sell absent an enormous crisis, plus Bloomberg's basic managerial competence and the fear of what a liberal Democrat would do on the two biggest issues in City politics (crime and taxes) is enough to convince most NYC conservatives, like me, to fall in (however grudgingly) behind Bloomberg.
This one I have discussed before at length: the GOP establishment has thrown its weight behind moderate Florida Governor Charlie Crist against conservative former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio in the race to succeed Senator Mel Martinez. There are all kinds of reasons to prefer Rubio: Florida's been welcoming territory for conservatives for the past decade; Rubio's both young and experienced (by Senate candidate standards) and a much better speaker than Crist; a Rubio nomination would be a symbol of inclusiveness given his Cuban heritage, an important factor given Florida's demographics; and while Crist's overall profile is moderate, he's made the crucial error of over-associating himself with the Big-everything Obama agenda, including his support for the bloated stimulus bill. On top of that, because Crist is the sitting Governor and hasn't been willing to criticize the sitting president's economic agenda, as a matter of campaign strategy he has no Plan B to fall back on if Floridians are unhappy with the state of the state's economy. Unsurprisingly, Crist's approval rating has been eroding, leaving Rubio already the stronger candidate in general election matchups against the likely Democratic opponent. And that opponent, Kendrick Meek, is the final piece of the puzzle: he, like other Democrats mentioned as possible challengers, will run not as a moderate but as an arch-liberal, making it much easier for the GOP to run a conservative and still appeal to voters in the political middle.
The California Senate race to unseat Barbara Boxer is a much tougher call than the Rubio-Crist race. There are a number of reasons why I initially expected to back former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina over California Assemblyman Chuck DeVore. First, California's a liberal state, and Boxer's an incumbent; despite Boxer's generally weak poll numbers (she frequently gets less than half of all voters interested in re-electing her, a danger zone for incumbents), either candidate will have a brutally tough road ahead to actually win the race, but the more moderate Fiorina would seem the more natural fit. Second, California and Boxer are especially obsessed with abortion; if I recall correctly, no pro-lifer has won a statewide election in two decades. Third, Fiorina is a woman, a political outsider, a former media darling at HP and much more well-known than DeVore.
But along the way, I ended up siding with a number of other RedStaters in endorsing DeVore. Why? The biggest factor is that I'm just not convinced that Fiorina is a strong candidate - despite the inital good press she was fired for poor performance at HP, and she was sacked by the McCain campaign for her blundering as a spokeswoman. The abortion issue is less of a divide than you might believe; while pro-lifers seem suspicious of her on the issue, Fiorina describes herself as pro-life, so she'll face the same barrage from Boxer on the issue as DeVore. DeVore, by contrast, seems like an energetic candidate who's spent a lot more time in the trenches over the past year.
The temper of the times matters. An entrenched incumbent like Boxer can be beaten in a state that normally favors her only if there's a populist wave to the Right - and the candidate better positioned to ride that wave is Devore, with his ear attuned to the Tea Party movement, not Fiorina, the failed CEO with the golden parachute.
The state of the state party matters too. The California GOP has deep divisions between its persecution-complex-carrying moderate wing and its disaffected conservative activist base. Even if the Senate race is a loss, the best way to fire up the activists - especially against a candidate as famously arch-liberal, nasty, arrogant and dim-witted as Boxer - so as to have them out to vote in the governor's race and down-ticket races for House seats and the state legislature is to run a candidate who will take the fight to Boxer root and branch, and that factor too favors DeVore. And as discussed below, I expect the more moderate Meg Whitman to win the nomination for Governor and will probably support Whitman. A tag-team of Whitman and DeVore on the ballot is a balanced ticket that shows both wings of the party that they are valued by the state party, and will help defuse momentum for any sort of third-party challenge being mounted by either wing.
To all appearances, the California Governor's race is a replay of the Senate race: a moderate, female business executive (Meg Whitman) against a male conservative elected official (State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner). And it's true: Whitman's had some awful rookie mistakes (she's spoken glowingly about Van Jones and her first major political donation, made with warm words, was to Boxer), while Poizner, also a successful business executive in his own right, seems an impressive guy.
But this isn't the Senate race. Whitman was a massively successful businesswoman as the founder and CEO of eBay, and by all accounts is a fiercely disciplined woman. The Governor's race is for an open seat, with Arnold Schwarzenegger term-limited, so picking a candidate with a good chance to win is paramount. The absence of Boxer from the race will enable Whitman to run an inherently less polarizing campaign. And, as I said, running one moderate and one conservative statewide will best unify a party that notoriously lacks unity.
I could go on. There will undoubtedly be decisions for conservatives to make in Senate races in states like Illinois and Delaware, for example, that will likely shake out in favor of more moderate candidates; there will be others where it will make more sense to go with a more conservative, more populist candidate. But you get my point: the assessment of which candidate to back in a conservative-vs-moderate race is not one to make on automatic pilot. Even if you prefer to always back the conservative, the practical considerations of each race and each set of candidates needs to be evaluated. This is such an obvious point that it shouldn't need to be emphasized, but it does.
November 3, 2009
POLITICS: Barack Obama: Not Helping Democrats
There will be much debate in the morning about whether or not the bad results for Democrats in the Governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey - both states where Barack Obama campaigned for the Democrat and the Democrat sought to join himself at the hip with Obama - reflect public anger at Obama and his Administration. This is an interesting debate, but let us not miss a critical point:
Obama tried to help Deeds and Corzine, and was unable to do so. He can help nobody but himself. And that fact alone is hugely significant.
Democrats will point to exit polls showing that Obama retains a healthy approval rating among those who went to the polls in today's two battleground states. But one of the signal exit poll items was pointed out by Jake Tapper: in NJ, which Obama carried by 15 points a year ago, 19% of the voters told exit pollsters they were casting ballots in support of Obama, and 20% against. In other words, even in a very pro-Obama electorate, he was a small net drag on the Democratic candidate, and certainly no help despite campaigning ardently for Jon Corzine.
This is consistent with what we've seen nationally: Obama remains personally popular (if far less so than on his Inauguration Day, which remains the high point of his presidency), but his popularity doesn't rub off on his policies, much less on other Democrats, especially white male Democrats like Deeds and Corzine who have no claim to being historic symbols of national progress. The record turnout among racial-minority and youth voters generated by the 2008 Obama campaign was not replicable in 2009 without his personal presence on the ballot. And of course, the same will be true in 2010, when Obama himself is not personally on the ballot and will again make every effort to explain helpfully to other Democrats that they lost their jobs for reasons unrelated to his precious historic personal popularity.
The revelation that Obama cannot help other Democrats get elected is, of course, bound to affect his ability to govern; he can't convince wavering "Blue Dog" Democrats that supporting him in return for his campaign appearances in their districts will do any more for them than it did for Jon Corzine or Creigh Deeds. But then, so long as people like Barack Obama, maybe it doesn't matter so much to him if he actually accomplishes anything. After all, he is "change." Just don't expect a lot of Democratic incumbents to consider that a bankable asset in the future.
POLITICS: Jim Moran and the "Taliban"
Arlington/Alexandria Democrat Jim Moran is always a reliable source of lunacy and foolishness; examples include blaming the Iraq War on Jews (Moran has an exhaustive rap sheet of anti-Semitism) and pushing to get Guantanamo detainees tried in his district over the objections of local Democrats.
U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) likened the Republican ticket in Virginia this year to Afghanistan's radical Taliban movement in comments broadcast Sunday by WAMU radio.
Of course, when it comes to fighting the actual Taliban, Moran's position is a lot more, er, nuanced; it turns out that his view of the US military's presence in Afghanistan is closer to the Taliban's than to the GOP's:
Jim Moran, a Democratic member of the US congress, said "the majority of Democrats will continue to support President Obama, but that's not to say we're going to continue on the course in which we're going".
When Bob McDonnell starts blasting the perfidious influence of the Jews, bemoaning the U.S. overthrow of Saddam and complaining that the US military presence in Afghanistan is a "problem," maybe it will be time to consider comparing him to the Taliban. In the meantime, maybe Jim Moran should stick to pushing around women and children and leave the Taliban-hunting business to people who are serious about it.
POLITICS: Election Day 2009
Today will be the first real test of the public political mood a year after Obama's election, three years into Democratic control of Congress, with elections for Governor and state legislators in New Jersey and Virginia (in each of which the Democrats have held the Governorship for 8 years), the New York City Mayor, and the special elections in New York's 23d Congressional District and California's 10th.
Some of these are easy calls. Bob McDonnell is running away from Creigh Deeds in Virginia, with the main question being the length of McDonnell's coattails in the legislature; the latter, rather than any serious belief that Deeds can be rescued, is why President Obama has campaigned hard for Deeds (control of the statehouses in a handful of big states, Virginia and New Jersey among them, will be crucial in redistricting following the 2010 census). Mayor Bloomberg should easily be re-elected. The GOP should gain at least some seats in the NJ Legislature. CA-10 is likely to go to the Democrats.
The others are harder to call. Jon Corzine's in terrible straits, an unpopular, scandal-tarred incumbent heading a notoriously corrupt state party, and as a result he has polled above 43% in one poll in the RCP index all year (an early October Rasmussen poll that had him trailing 47-44). Even Nate Silver isn't willing to predict a Corzine victory. But the Democrats have been pouring resources into making robocalls in favor of third party conservative/libertarian candidate Chris Daggett, hoping to split the vote. If forced to make a prediction, I'd predict that Christie will get more votes today, but Corzine will win the race by means of a recount. The usual rule of thumb holds that if the polls are within 5 points, a NJ Republican can't overcome the way New Jersey politics works on the ground.
As for NY-23, the race is fluid, but a number of late polls seem to show that the collapse of support for ACORN- and union-backed "Republican" Dede Scozzafava following her withdrawal from the face and endorsement of the Democrat has mostly benefitted conservative candidate Doug Hoffman, so I'd cautiously predict a Hoffman victory large enough to avoid a recount.
RELIGION/POLITICS: The Anti-Catholic Times
Archbishop Dolan, the new Archbishop of New York, takes the gloves off regarding the New York Times' persistent anti-Catholicism and its role in the Left's larger public campaign against the Church (which is not to say that every Democrat is anti-Catholic, but when you encounter virulent hatred of the Catholic Church it's almost always from left-wingers, and when you encounter efforts to use the force of government against the Church, especially its ability to run schools and hospitals consistently with its teachings, it's almost always from the Democrats).
It's worth reading the whole thing. One example he cites is wholly typical of the double standard applied to sex-abuse cases, which the Left would have you believe is primarily a Catholic clergy problem; as Archbishop Dolan notes, this perception is fed mainly by playing up such cases in the Catholic Church while systematically downplaying such cases in other faiths, in the public schools, and elsewhere (contrast the defenders of Roman Polanski and Michael Jackson to the broad-brush treatment of the entire Church commonly meted out by anti-Catholic bigots):
On October 14, in the pages of the New York Times, reporter Paul Vitello exposed the sad extent of child sexual abuse in Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish community. According to the article, there were forty cases of such abuse in this tiny community last year alone. Yet the Times did not demand what it has called for incessantly when addressing the same kind of abuse by a tiny minority of priests: release of names of abusers, rollback of statute of limitations, external investigations, release of all records, and total transparency. Instead, an attorney is quoted urging law enforcement officials to recognize "religious sensitivities," and no criticism was offered of the DA's office for allowing Orthodox rabbis to settle these cases "internally." Given the Catholic Church's own recent horrible experience, I am hardly in any position to criticize our Orthodox Jewish neighbors, and have no wish to do so . . . but I can criticize this kind of "selective outrage."
As he notes, there remains pending legislation in Albany to repeal the statute of limitations for sex-abuse cases against the Church, and of course - given the near-impossibility of defending such antique cases (this is why we have statutes of limitations in the first place) - this would be financially ruinous for the Church in many places at a time when it's already in financial straits during a recession. The Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware recently became the seventh US Diocese to file for bankruptcy. But that's precisely the point - it's why the bill pushed by the Democrats in Albany doesn't apply the same treatment to the public schools.
There are, of course, many valid criticisms of the Church's institutional handling of sex-abuse cases, but let us be serious: the critics on the social Left were never interested in those cases except as a club with which to beat the Church, as evidenced by their continuing disinterest in similar cases not involving the Catholic Church.
October 28, 2009
BLOG: Quick Links 10/28/09
*Josh Painter looks at how the latest financial disclosure forms tell the story of the intense financial pressure put on Sarah Palin by the stream of bogus ethics complaints filed by left-wing bloggers, culminating in the complaint that prevented her from accessing funds raised for her legal defense. It certainly makes a compelling case why an ordinary person in Palin's shoes would step down rather than be driven under by the expenses. Whether that's enough to absolve her as a potential presidential candidate is another matter; we tend to expect potential presidents not to act like ordinary people. Of course, most politicians would have escaped the mounting debts by writing a book or giving speeches for money, but Palin may have felt, not without reason, that any such activities while serving as governor would lead to further ethics complaints that would tie up those sources of income as well. Meanwhile, Melissa Clouthier looks at a CNN poll finding 70% of the public currently thinks Palin unqualified to be president.
I'm not picking a horse for 2012 yet, nor will I until after 2010. It's unclear if Palin will run, anyway. I do know a few things. One, for reasons I've been through many times, I'd much prefer to support a more experienced candidate - we're not the Democrats, after all, who have permanently forfeited the right to say anything on this subject by backing Obama - and the fact that people in my position are even open to Palin at all at this juncture is a sign of the weakness of the field so far. Two, Palin has proven to be extraordinarily effective at retaining the public's interest and even at exercising her influence as a guerilla opposition leader armed with nothing more than a Facebook page; by mostly absenting herself from the public eye except for Facebook and a few op-eds and obscure speeches, she's kept 'em wanting more (witness the explosive early pre-orders for her book, which non-fiction publishing people viewed as unprecedented), while still driving the public debate (i.e., "death panels"). But the Newt Gingrich experience is vivid proof for Republicans that effective guerillas don't always make good leaders when they come into power.
Whichever way Palin chooses to go, the book tour (including the appearance on Oprah, who is naturally hostile but not really accustomed to tough interviews) will be a sort of second coming-out for her on the public stage that will be critical and should reveal whether she has spent well her time out of the limelight in terms of boning up for future policy debates. We'll be able to assess her future much better in a few months.
*Meanwhile, a man to watch if he gets persuaded to run is Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. (H/T) I'll have more on him another day...upside: Daniels is serious, tough-minded, won re-election in Indiana in 2008 (while it was carried by Obama) after being given up for politically dead in 2006 (when his low approval ratings were blamed as a cause for heavy GOP House losses in the state, paralleling a similar trend in Ohio and Kentucky). Downside: Daniels is as yet reluctant to run (recall how well that worked out with Rudy and Fred), and as a public speaker he's dry as dust.
*The Democratic circular firing squad over health care continues. And Jay Cost explains why the continuing threat to Lieberman from the Left has made it politically necessary for him to oppose the public option.
*Dan Riehl looks at how the GOP made the disastrous decision in the Congressional race in NY's 23d district to nominate Dede Scozzafava, who now seems likely to finish third in that race. Meanwhile, Newsbusters notices that the NY Daily News still refuses to acknowledge the existence of Doug Hoffman, the Conservative candidate in the race. Jim Geraghty is unsparing on the folly of Newt's continuing support for Scozzafava.
*George W. Bush, motivational speaker - without a teleprompter. The WaPo seems astonished that a man who won something on the order of 110 million votes in two national elections is actually a decent speaker. Key quote from Bush: "It's so simple in life to chase popularity, but popularity is fleeting."
*Naturally, he's retracted it, but you can't top Anthony Weiner's initial assessment of Alan Grayson as being "one fry short of a Happy Meal."
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:48 PM | Blog 2006-13 | Law 2009-13 | Politics 2009 | Politics 2012 | Pop Culture | Comments (19) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Science And Its Enemies On The Left, Part I
Liberals have dined out at length in recent years on the charge that the Bush Administration and the cultural Right spent the Bush years engaging in a "war on science." Since political power passed to the Democrats, President Obama has practically dislocated his shoulder patting himself on the back for "restor[ing] our commitment to science". But power in the hands of the Left is no boon to science. Quite the contrary.
Whatever one thinks of the validity of the "war on science" charge against the Right, the threats to scientific integrity and scientific progress from the Left are numerous, and they are very real. In this three-part series, I'll consider six major species of dangers to science and the role of the Left (inside and outside of government) in promoting them.
I. Junk Science
While definitions of science differ, most of us learned in grammar school and high school the basic concepts. Science is, as Karl Popper famously defined it, the testing of falsifiable propositions. In other words, you start with a hypothesis that seems to be supported by certain facts, but that would be proven false if certain other things happened, and you test to see if you can make those things happen. The process of experimentation - whether by laboratory experiments, statistical regressions, archaeological digs, or myriad other methods of testing hypotheses about past events or present processes - can take a variety of forms. But the mental approach to science should remain common: the scientist, being human, may seek a desired conclusion, but is expected to use a method of testing for the truth that keeps the finding of truth always as its ultimate goal (wherever the chips may fall). Perhaps more importantly, the process must be transparent in its methods, so that later researchers can replicate the method to ensure that the same test in different hands produces the same result. Scientists, to be scientists, must never say "trust me, I'm a scientist" or "I'm a scientist, don't question my work," and must never demand acceptance of theories that cannot be put to a test they could fail; they must share information and accept correction with a spirit of collegial search for a common and provable truth.
Those are the ideals; humans, being human, often fall short of them. This shouldn't shock us, but we should see the failures for what they are: bad science.
Probably the most pervasive cause of bad science, and one in which the Left and its component interest groups are heavily complicit, is junk science. Junk science is, broadly speaking, opinion or outright deception masquerading as science, for the purpose of persuading people of something that's untrue, unprovable or at least unproven. Junk science shows up in many places, but is most frequently encountered in the courtroom, and its motives are often more or less baldly about money.
The proliferation of junk science in the courts is notorious and widespread, and while the federal courts in particular have tried to crack down on it since the Supreme Court's 1992 Daubert decision authorized trial judges to act as 'gatekeepers,' the job of keeping junk science away from juries falls mainly to individual judges who may not necessarily have the scientific training themselves to spot all the charlatans. Much of modern litigation turns on expert witnesses of various stripes, from products liability experts to economists, and a good many of these are effectively professional testifying experts. That, in and of itself, need not be a bad thing; just as with lawyers, there are many honorable and principled professional experts, but many lazy hacks and cheap scam artists as well. Every lawyer knows that with enough monetary incentives, you can eventually find someone with a couple of degrees to say almost anything if you're not picky.
The personal injury plaintiffs' bar - one of the Democrats' core constituencies - is by far the most notorious offender in this regard. The incentives for junk science are especially powerful on the plaintiffs' side, since a novel scientific theory, in and of itself, can create from whole cloth an industry that will use governmental power to transfer millions or billions of dollars of wealth (a defendant can lose the battle of the experts but win a case on another basis, but a successful plaintiff must have an expert). There's an awful lot of money to be extracted through the use of junk science. It is no accident that it is customarily the plaintiffs' bar that resists efforts to have judges take a more active role in screening expert witnesses to determine the reliability of their processes. Asbestos litigation alone has produced more scientific scandals than one could possibly recount. Consider as a sample studies of vast disparities in diagnoses of asbestosis by unaffiliated and plaintiff-affiliated physicians. The Wall Street Journal has exhaustively catalogued the use of junk science to perpetrate a massive products liability fraud against Dole Foods in Nicaragua. The list could go on and on. Michael Fumento explains a typical example from the silicone breast implant litigation:
Consider the case of Dr. Nir Kossovsky of the UCLA, an inventor of one of the types of tests the FDA warned against. Kossovsky is one of the best-known critics of silicone implants, has testified at the FDA hearings that resulted in the essential ban on silicone breast implants, and is a regular expert witness for plaintiffs in implant- related trials.
More of the same here.
II. Quackery and Luddism
Another longstanding threat to science is the twin scourge of quackery and Luddism. While there is likewise a lot of money in quackery, and sometimes money in Luddism as well, there is a subtle difference in their genesis. Junk science may be principally driven by the needs of its suppliers, who know what they want to prove and need scientific experts to bend their processes to reach the desired results. But true quackery comes from somewhere different: it arises from existing demand, from the needs of people to believe things that science can't supply. Quacks prey on popular gullibility about quasi-scientific-sounding cure-alls, while Luddites (the heirs of the British protestors against the Industrial Revolution) thrive on irrational fears and superstitions about technological progress. The social, cultural and political Left is heavily complicit in both phenomena.
For a good illsutration of what this looks like, David Gorski has an exhaustive look at how the Huffington Post has made itself a haven for the opponents of modern medical science. It's worth reading the whole thing, which details the site's madness for anti-medical and anti-scientific quackery ranging from campaigns against vaccines to enthusiasm for all sorts of bizarre homeopathy, much of which is reflective of the Hollywood culture that pervades the site. The sort of quackery pushed by the HuffPo and its allies includes a lot of traditional junk science as well (for example, plaintiffs' lawyers pushing assaults on vaccine makers in the hopes of hitting a judgment jackpot in court) but the rot runs deeper than that, from the Left's neverending quest for substitutes for religion and commerce and its conspiracy theories about business.
We see all of this at work in the causes the HuffPo flacks for. Parents of children with autism need to blame some evil external force for their children's condition. New Age spirituality fills the gap created by rejection of traditional faiths, and offers the promise of patent-medicine style cures where modern medicine is short of answers. Diet gurus of every kind prey on the widespread chase for the magic weight-loss pill, just as the purveyors of sexual remedies prey on deeper insecurities. Some of these forces go beyond politics, but New Age hokum and hostility to vaccines and other successful products are unmistakably phenomena of the cultural Left. The campaign against vaccine manufacturers has drawn support from icons of the Democratic party:
US senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Chris Dodd of Connecticut have both curried favor with constituents by trumpeting the notion that vaccines cause autism. And Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a scion of the most famous Democratic family of all, authored a deeply flawed 2005 Rolling Stone piece called "Deadly Immunity." In it, he accused the government of protecting drug companies from litigation by concealing evidence that mercury in vaccines may have caused autism in thousands of kids. The article was roundly discredited for, among other things, overestimating the amount of mercury in childhood vaccines by more than 100-fold, causing Rolling Stone to issue not one but a prolonged series of corrections and clarifications. But that did little to unring the bell.
The hysteria - contradicted by numerous peer-reviewed studies - has real consequences:
In certain parts of the US, vaccination rates have dropped so low that occurrences of some children's diseases are approaching pre-vaccine levels for the first time ever. And the number of people who choose not to vaccinate their children (so-called philosophical exemptions are available in about 20 states, including Pennsylvania, Texas, and much of the West) continues to rise. In states where such opting out is allowed, 2.6 percent of parents did so last year, up from 1 percent in 1991, according to the CDC. In some communities, like California's affluent Marin County, just north of San Francisco, non-vaccination rates are approaching 6 percent (counterintuitively, higher rates of non-vaccination often correspond with higher levels of education and wealth).
Left-wing Luddism is also at work in the outright hysteria, especially in Europe, regarding things like genetically modified "frankenfood" and nanotechnology, here at home in the form of fear of nuclear power and food irradiation; in each case the unfocused, irrational fear comes first, and the pseudoscience used to justify it comes later. Thus, despite the sterling safety record of nuclear power everywhere outside the Soviet Union, and its crucial role in the power systems of countries like France and Japan, we have not had a nuclear power plant built in the U.S. since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979.
The environmental Left is especially guilty of this sort of thing, creating bugaboos grounded in public fear and ignorance about technology ranging from 1989's notorious Alar scare to 2001's hysteria about microscopic quantities of arsenic in drinking water, to "Gulf War Syndrome." Over and over we see the Left pressing to convince the public that unseen forces of technology and business - from pesticides to power lines - are conspiring to make them sick, and insisting that once such an assertion is made, the burden is on the skeptic of such crazes to produce conclusive scientific proof to the contrary. The process of disinterested analysis of the evidence and testing of falsifiable hypotheses falls swiftly by the wayside. Science itself becomes the enemy. Anyone who spent time wringing their hands over Bush-era policies with any degree of sincerity should find this all deeply alarming.
In Part II: Politicized science and the temptations of power.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 AM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2009 | Science | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)
October 26, 2009
POLITICS: Dust to Dust
Via Jim Pethokoukis' Twitter feed, Urbanophile has a fascinating look at the depopulation, de facto deregulation, and in some places re-ruralization of Detroit. The pictures tell thousands of words.
I don't buy the idea that cities in general should be broken up in this fashion, but there's a pretty strong case that Detroit is a completely failed polity, a sort of laboratory of modern liberalism run to its natural and logical conclusions, and the fewer people who are held captive to its malignancies, the better.
October 22, 2009
POLITICS: Rasmussen Makes It Official: Marco Rubio More Electable Than Charlie Crist
A new Rasmussen poll knocks the props out from the main argument why conservatives who would prefer to be represented in the Senate by Marco Rubio should nonetheless support Charlie Crist. Crist, his supporters say, has two things going for him: he's going to win the nomination anyway, and if nominated he'd do better in the general election. Certainly nobody would try to convince Republicans with a straight face that Crist would be a better Senator, given his support for the stimulus bill and other Obama initiatives.
Well, there's been a bunch of polls showing Rubio gaining ground on Crist in the nomination fight, but now Rasmussen reports that Rubio would be a stronger general election candidate, as a new poll shows he would beat the leading Democrat in the race, Congressman Kendrick Meek, by 15 points:
Read More »
A new Rasmussen Reports survey of Florida voters shows Governor Charlie Crist leading Representative Kendrick Meek by a 46% to 34% margin. In August, Crist led by 19 and in June he was ahead by 21.
Note two things. Number one, while Crist also beats Meek, both men would win handily if the election was held today. That makes the "electability" argument a weak one. Florida is not an overwhelmingly Republican state, but it's still congenial turf for a conservative, and Meek is a liberal Democrat out of step with the kind of moderates who might look like an otherwise difficult sell for Rubio. Rasmussen notes that Obama's approval rating in the state is 42%, so a pro-Obama Republican isn't being pro-Obama out of any necessity.
Second, the trend - Rubio is growing stronger against Meek, while Crist weakens, a trend consistent with their matchup in the primary, as well as with the fact that Rasmussen shows a 10-point drop (from 59% to 49%) in Crist's approval rating as Governor.
And remember: all this is more than a year from Election Day, while Rubio is still lightly funded (his campaign only recently started coming into good fundraising numbers) and relatively lesser known. As Rasmussen notes, the state's voters still haven't developed especially hardened opinions yet as to any of the candidates:
Seventeen percent (17%) of Florida voters have a very favorable opinion of Crist, while 13% view him very unfavorably.
The Crist campaign is all about a balancing act between two disparate narratives: an air of inevitability in the primary and sufficient desperation about electability in the general to get Republicans to turn away from voting for the better man. Neither of those arguments looks good right now. Sorry, Charlie.
« Close It
POLITICS: It's A TARP!
Leaving aside the blow-by-blow of how the voting went down, much of which involved appalling levels of political cowardice and fecklessness, I remain very ambivalent at best as a policy matter about whether I should have opposed TARP instead of supporting it, which I did at the time (the unfolding of events almost always leaves me living to regret taking anything other than the strict conservative position when I do). There's no question in my mind that I would have opposed it if its actual operation had been described and set forth in the bill, rather than what Paulson's original plan was (i.e., the government buying and most likely holding to maturity securities for which there was no liquid market but as to which a large majority were still expected to pay off). And it's still all too easy, as happens with these things, to discount what might have happened without TARP. But certainly the whole experience is an object lesson in the fact that when government gets involved in the economy, it tends almost invariably to (1) shovel money out the door without adequate controls and (2) bring about loads of unintended consequences (in fact, these are also both true to a large extent of more traditionally straightforward government functions like the military and law enforcement; we just live with the mess because those are truly things only the government can do).
October 16, 2009
POLITICS: Conveniently Forgotten
One of the things that I confess has stunned me about the Obama era is the extent to which Obama's supporters, after an eight-year orgy of hysteria and rhetorical excess directed at George W. Bush, have been acting stunned and shocked at the intensity of opposition to Obama. There really is a sort of collective amnesia - disnigenuous, presumably, in most cases - about their side's incandescant hatred of Bush.
Anyway, Vladimir over at RedState has a look at one example of this, comparing a Facebook poll on killing Obama to Facebook groups championing killing President Bush, a cause that - if you recall - was even made into a movie. (Related example here).
Somehow, we are to believe that none of this - and believe me, we could go on for days with examples - ever happened.
October 14, 2009
POLITICS: Rush To Be Suckered
A few followup items on the fabricated Rush Limbaugh quotes story.
*Erick looks at the unsavory rap sheet of CNN's Rick Sanchez, one of the network reporters pushing the made-up quotes (so, unsurprisingly, are MSNBC's David Schuster, Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann, although to his credit Olbermann has actually argued that Rush's politics shouldn't stand in the way of his bid for the Rams). I had not known that about Sanchez, who is generally as dishonest as he is smug.
October 13, 2009
POLITICS/FOOTBALL: Climate of Hate and Lies
My RedState colleague Leon Wolf looks at the fabricated quotes being used to smear Rush Limbaugh - seriously, when national columnists like Jason Whitlock are quoting things found only on Wikiquote, there's a problem - as well as Chris Matthews wishing on air for somebody to shoot Rush in the head.
All this out of fear of Limbaugh buying a stake in the St. Louis Rams. What, are they worried that he'd go say something about Obama while accepting a Super Bowl trophy? Oh, that's right, that already happened.
October 5, 2009
BLOG: Quick Links 10/5/09
*Is there a bigger example on the web of not knowing your audience than ESPN.com automatically playing video content - i.e., with sound - when you open the page?
*I'm still unclear on why exactly the Twins-Tigers game has to be tomorrow instead of today....I'll have a more detailed post - whether you like it or not - on my Roto team, but I enter that game tied for first place, and if I lose the pennant by one home run or one RBI (both a real possibility) despite having the possible AL MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year on my team, I swear I'm gonna sue Grady Sizemore.
It's been sad watching the direction of Letterman and his show the last few years. I've had progressively less time to watch anyway since I started working for a living, but I'd been a fan on and off for decades. If there's one lesson here, it's that if you wanted to keep an affair secret, you don't take the woman you're sleeping with, put her on air on your national TV show and flirt with her shamelessly. Well, that and a guy who's a producer at 48 Hours shouldn't be dumb enough to think he could get away with blackmailing a public figure. Another glorious chapter in the history of CBS News.
*The Olympics story is pretty much a dead horse at this point, but this American Thinker piece does a bang-up job of dissecting the Obamas' sales pitch to show how it violated pretty much every rule of sales pitches.
*The Washington Post's paid left-wing activist Greg Sargent is proud that the Left is playing the race card on health care - seriously, read this post. Sargent's thesis is that the ad in question is racial code and that that's a good thing. Regardless of what you think of the ad itself, that speaks volumes about Sargent's mindset. What remains less clear is why the Post employs a full-time left-wing activist in the first place.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:54 PM | Baseball 2009 | Blog 2006-13 | Politics 2009 | Pop Culture | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
October 2, 2009
So, as you've probably seen, Chicago was eliminated in the first round of bidding for the 2016 Summer Olympics, despite (I assume despite) President Obama's personal lobbying for the Games.
Now, as a New Yorker, I really would not want the Olympics anywhere near my city, and the Olympics don't exactly have a grand history of making money for the host city (ask Montreal) or necessarily good press (ask Munich), but I take at face value for the moment that Chicagoans really wanted this one and felt it would be good for the city. Certainly great effort and expense was put into the bid, and many hopes seemed to be riding on it.
I'd questioned Obama's priorities in making the trip, but now he has a much bigger problem. It's one thing for the President to make a phone call or two to lend a subtle hand to this sort of effort; that would have been fine with me. But by the President and First Lady both making personal appearances and elevating this to the top news story of the day and a test of personal and national prestige, Obama stood a significant chance of being humiliated, and doing so for what is hard to describe as a critical national interest. Most of us on the Right assumed, whatever we thought of the trip, that Obama would never be fool enough to make it if he didn't already have deals done to get this in the bag for Chicago. Apparently, we overestimated him.
This is why you don't publicly stake your prestige on something that's not (1) hugely important (2) a done deal or (3) ideally, both. All presidents suffer defeats and embarrassments, but you generally don't walk right into one on an issue of purely local importance to your home city. Obama's and the nation's standing in the world can't help but be chipped away by this; the next time he goes jetting off to a summit or some other international event, people won't be so quick to assume that he has all figured out in advance how he's going to get what he wants. That aura, that mystique is a thing of value that the President is supposed to husband carefully for when the nation really needs it. Bush was impotent by the end of his presidency because he'd burned that up, but he had it for the better part of five years. Obama's losing it already.
What a waste.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:11 PM | Politics 2009 | War 2007-12 | Comments (35) | TrackBack (0)
October 1, 2009
POLITICS: VAT of Trouble
James Pethokoukis has a rather alarming column adding up signs that Obama may propose a European-style Value Added Tax. All trial-balloon tea-leaf reading at this stage, but at a minimum he definitely identifies a coordinated groundswell among people with the Administration's ear.
A VAT is arguably not as bad as our current system in terms of economic incentives, but (1) it's more insidious politically - people feel the pain of income taxes directly, so they're harder to raise; and (2) it's likely that if Obama did push a VAT, it would be in addition to the taxes we already have. Pethokoukis thinks such a proposal could be an opportunity for the Right to crack open a broader discussion on reform:
Obama wants a VAT? First, it should be part of broader tax reform, including getting rid of capital gains and corporate taxes. Second, it should accompany an Economic Bill of Rights much like Ronald Reagan used to suggest. Its elements: a) a balanced budget amendment, b) a line-item veto, c) a spending limit such as inflation plus population growth, d) and a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate for any tax increases. (Reagan also wanted a prohibition on wage and price controls. That would likely kill ObamaCare.)
Well, it's a nice idea, not that any of that would get done under the current alignment, and not that, say, a balanced budget amendment would even necessarily be a good idea in practice. As he notes, Obama's tax pledges in the long run are unlikely to fare any better than his infamous and wholly insincere promise of a net reduction in federal spending:
Obama's campaign promise to not raise taxes on households making less than $250,000 a year was always considered a joke here inside the Beltway. It's the economic "consensus" - and this was true even before the financial meltdown and recession - that rising entitlement costs would eventually mean a higher tax burden for the American people.
POLITICS: Beyond Parody
That said, I admit it, silly as it is, this cracked me up:
September 30, 2009
POLITICS/POP CULTURE: Christie & The Boss
I thought I was a serious Bruce fan, but you know, I've only been to 3 shows, 4 if you count seeing him at Rockefeller Center on the Today Show in 2007; NJ GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie has seen the Boss 120 times, including 9 of 10 shows of a set and scheduling a Paris trip with his wife around Bruce's European tour. Now that is dedication.
It's an uncharacteristically nice piece from the NYT, but of course only in a non-substantive puff profile way; they capture pretty well the uncomfortable position for Christie being a Springsteen fan while Bruce was out campaigning against his party.
September 29, 2009
POLITICS: Respect Authority
Hey, remember when the Left's big slogans were all about "Question Authority" and "Speak Truth to Power" and all that? Well, here's the perfect gift for the left-wingers you know who have had those bumper stickers during the Bush years and want to get their mind right with the new Administration:
Yes, the shirt says "Respect the President of the United States." And no, you just can't get more rebellious and counter-cultural than that, now can you? That'll show The Man!
POLITICS: Health Care and Abortion, Again
Today's New York Times essentially owns up to what conservatives have been saying, and what President Obama branded a lie during his joint address to Congress: federal funding for abortion is very much on the table in the health care debate. Let's take a look:
Abortion opponents in both the House and the Senate are seeking to block the millions of middle- and lower-income people who might receive federal insurance subsidies to help them buy health coverage from using the money on plans that cover abortion.
Hard cases make bad grammar, apparently.
Abortion-rights supporters say such a restriction would all but eliminate from the marketplace private plans that cover the procedure, pushing women who have such coverage to give it up.
In other words, up for discussion is what happens if the plan is structured to subsidize nominally private plans rather than a "public option." Under a public option, the issue would be squarely presented: the plan would cover abortions, or not. In the case of subsidies, it would be indirect. Abortion supporters are concerned that this would entangle the government in regulating private plans' provision of insurance for abortion, but of course the whole health-care proposal is about the government regulating all sorts of things the insurers can and can't cover (recall the exhaustive list of things Obama, in his speech, said would be henceforth prohibited or mandated). The point of keeping the health care sector private is to get government out of those decisions. Once it's in the door regulating everything else, it rings hollow for the proponents of all that other regulation to say that objecting to subsidizing plans that cover abortion isn't the business of the people doing the subsidizing. Consider this line:
The bills would also mandate the availability in each state of at least one plan that covers abortion and at least one that does not.
The question looms as a test of President Obama’s campaign pledge to support abortion rights but seek middle ground with those who do not. Mr. Obama has promised for months that the health care overhaul would not provide federal money to pay for elective abortions, but White House officials have declined to spell out what he means.
Yes, well, he said he'd seek middle ground, but on every substantive issue his record and pledges hewed to the furthest-left position possible. He also pledged to restore federal funding for abortion, but the Times won't tell its readers that.
Democratic Congressional leaders say the latest House and Senate health care bills preserve the spirit of the current ban on federal abortion financing by requiring insurers to segregate their public subsidies into separate accounts from individual premiums and co-payments. Insurers could use money only from private sources to pay for abortions.
Precisely so, as anyone remotely familiar with the fungibility of money and the pricing of any sort of service could tell you. The Democrats' defense is that they are already using a similar system to evade the Hyde Amendment in the Medicaid program:
Supporters of the current segregated-money model argue that 17 state Medicaid programs that cover elective abortions use a similar system, dividing their federal financing from state revenues they use to pay for procedures.
Moreover, it's not just the Republicans balking. Democrats like Bob Casey, who claim to be pro-life while supporting only Supreme Court Justices they believe will uphold Roe v Wade, are finding the pro-abortion extremism of the health care bills too much to swallow. As a result, even the Times can no longer deny what Obama has been furiously insisting was a complete fiction: that unless it includes a solid prohibition, a vote for the health care bill is a vote for federal taxpayer money subsidizing abortion.
LAW/POLITICS: Whoopi Goldberg, Moral Monster
I knew Whoopi was rude, an ignoramus (she told John McCain last year that the Constitution doesn't prohibit slavery) and a walking crime against comedy, but even I was startled to discover her cavalier attitude towards the violation of a young girl.
Oh, and also following the same story with what only tries to be parody: the Onion.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:36 PM | Law 2009-13 | Politics 2009 | Pop Culture | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Is Violence The Answer?
ACORN founder's response to news that a fellow community organizer had helped the FBI foil a plot to bomb the 2008 GOP Convention? "[It's] one thing to disagree, but it's a whole different thing to rat on folks."
September 24, 2009
POLITICS: From The Department Of Completely Predictable Consequences
[E]arly revenue figures suggest that taxing the wealthy more under this year's state budget may have driven away richer New Yorkers. That could make the economic comeback for the state even harder.
In a similar we-told-you-so vein, the Wall Street Journal notes a GAO report saying that the stimulus has had precisely the effect on state budgets that its critics among the GOP Governors warned it would:
Stimulus money is helping states plug budget holes, but state officials are worried about how they will sustain programs after the federal funds run out, according to a new Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday.
LAW/POLITICS: Nuts To That
Leon Wolf disposes swiftly of the legal "merits" of ACORN's lawsuit against Breitbart. One of Jonah Goldberg's readers has more, although I'm skeptical of his third point, on standing grounds (as to RICO, anyway; the False Claims Act would be more a matter of finding something new, and I'm not familiar with whether you can use civil discovery to become an "original source" for qui tam purposes).
September 21, 2009
POLITICS: Too Many Words, Too Few Deeds
Howard Kurtz asks if the American people have seen too much of Obama on TV; Mickey Kaus says we still don't know him well enough to trust him. They may both be right; as Kaus notes, Obama simply lacks the kind of track record that could reassure Americans that he means any of the things he says when he's claiming not to be a creature of the Hard Left. If this is starting to cause him problems, well, it's not as if we didn't warn you.
September 20, 2009
BLOG: Quick Links 9/20/09
*You know who quietly helped his Hall of Fame case this season? Bobby Abreu. Stayed healthy for a winning team, close to .300 average, .400 OBP and 30 steals, on the verge of his 7th straight 100-RBI season.
*Obama points out to David Paterson that he's already dead. Apparently redistricting trumps racial solidarity (so much for Paterson's effort to argue that all criticisms of him were racist, an argument that was especially dangerous to Obama due to Paterson's effort to equate himself with Obama; Obama has enough problems of his own without carrying Paterson as baggage). Of course, with only one GOP-held Congressional seat and few others even potentially competitive, redistricting isn't as big a deal as it will be in California, Texas, Illinois or Florida, but it's still a priority for the White House to bigfoot governors' races.
*Ben Domenech notes that Salon's polling shows that Obama had an 85% approval rating among Hispanics the week before the Sotomayor nomination, but 68% after her confirmation. So much for that battle damaging the GOP.
*Michael van der Galien looks at how Afghanistan has replaced Iraq as the anti-war Left's next target, with the declining salience of Iraq and the departure of President Bush dispensing with the need to pretend to be in favor of pressing on with the war that was started when America was attacked from Afghan territory by terrorists who were essentially indistringuishable from the Taliban. This was entirely predictable to anyone familiar with the Left, but it has nonetheless been more depressing than amusing to watch the turn in particular among the leading left-wing bloggers.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:56 PM | Baseball 2009 | Blog 2006-13 | Politics 2009 | War 2007-12 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
September 16, 2009
POLITICS: Fun Poll Question of the Day
UPDATE: Allahpundit, looking at the same poll, notes that 9/11 Trutherism is about exactly as prevalent among Democrats as the Birther stuff is on the GOP side. Which is consistent with years of polling on Trutherism, I should add; it's not just this one PPP New Jersey poll. And which is worrisome, since while both are basically fringe ideas, the baroque conspiracy and nefarious motives one has to believe in are much greater on the 9/11 Truther side than in the case of a coverup of the location of one man's birth. (And the 9/11 Truthers have a significant overlap with the Trig Truthers).
September 11, 2009
POLITICS: Inconvenient Truth
Mary Katharine Ham looks at the rhetoric and reality of the Democrats' campaign to paint town hall protestors as dangerous, violent right-wingers. It's worth reading the whole thing, especially on the "right-wing terrorist" nonsense, but this stuck out:
That's the full list of documented violence from the August meetings. In more than 400 events: one slap, one shove, three punches, two signs grabbed, one self-inflicted vandalism incident by a liberal, one unsolved vandalism incident, and one serious assault. Despite the left's insistence on the essentially barbaric nature of Obamacare critics, the video, photographic, and police report evidence is fairly clear in showing that 7 of the 10 incidents were perpetrated by Obama supporters and union members on Obama critics. If you add a phoned death threat to Democrat representative Brad Miller of N.C., from an Obama-care critic, the tally is 7 of 11.
As is usually the case when the Left starts attacking ordinary citizens to score political points, it's a bit late by the time the truth laces on its boots, but it's never too late to try. (Meanwhile, the people who practically got a hernia rushing to politicize the death of George Tiller are spluttering about the meaninglessness of this).
September 3, 2009
POLITICS: Grow or Perish
Jay Cost has a typically enlightening column on Obama's present troubles and what he might do to fix them. H/T I thought this was a particularly useful observation: "no president in the last hundred years has won election to a second term with a smaller share of the vote than what he received for the first."
That doesn't mean Obama couldn't be the first, since he does have a margin of around 3% to risk (larger if you count electoral votes), but it's a caution: unlike Governors, Presidents rarely survive by gripping on solely to the coalition that elected them. Somehow, they need to reach out and persuade enough new people to make up for the inevitable loss of some former supporters who didn't get what they expected.
Cost's suggestion that Obama consider sacking Rahm is premature. But if the year closes out with no health care bill and no other significant legislative victories (e.g., cap-and-trade, card check, Son of Stimulus), then the rationale for retaining a brass knuckles get-things-done-and-f***-the-opposition Chief of Staff loses a lot of its force; the entire point of having Rahm around is that he can make the trains run on time and understands how to command the loyalty of all those moderate-district Democrats he helped elect, and if the trains are not running on time and the moderate-district Democrats aren't cooperating, what's the point?
Quin Hillyer is right, if overstated, that conservatives should not get complacent at Obama's bad summer; there remains time for the worm to turn again. But the season of hope is running to its inevitable end; now is the season for Obama to deliver change or face his inability to do so.
POLITICS: Hey, Look At Those...Wait, Don't Look!
Jonah Goldberg makes an excellent point about EJ Dionne that goes beyond just Dionne: the liberals complaining about media coverage of town hall health care protestors are the same people who just a few weeks ago were deliberately drawing attention to those protestors in an effort to discredit opponents of the health care bill. Uh, oops. The Administration did the same thing. And is now - not coincidentally - pushing the same line as Dionne.
September 2, 2009
POLITICS: When Does School Start? The President Doesn't Know
There's been a lot of controversy about President Barack Obama's plan to give a speech to the nation's public (only public) schoolchildren on September 8 (the Tuesday after Labor Day), a controversy Caleb Howe comprehensively summarizes here. The problem isn't the President giving a pro-education message to the nation's kids, something that's part of any president's job; the problem is the specter of enlisting of public school teachers, already a core interest group supporting Obama, in indoctrinating kids in his agenda. The conservative uproar over the Department of Education's proposed materials for the speech seems to have already scored a victory in forcing the Administration to scale back its plans.
But I'm from New York. When I mentioned this speech to my wife, her immediate reaction was that Obama wasn't looking at the calendar: the New York City schools, public and private, aren't even in session yet the day after Labor Day. Obama's effort to roll this into a massive PR blitz with the following day's health care speech to a joint session of Congress will fail in my neck of the woods because nobody paid attention to the school calendar.
I suspect Obama rushed to coincide the speech with a Bill Gates-produced back to school education documentary that Obama will be appearing on the same evening on a battery of cable channels (because really, what Obama needs is more press). But either way, I'll be keeping my kids home from their (Catholic) school September 8 - because they don't have school anyway.
August 28, 2009
POLITICS: Respect For The Dead
Despite my best efforts to find something positive to say about Ted Kennedy, CBS tabs me as an example of speaking ill of the dead. Well, at least I was concise. Well, the worst sort of disrespect one can imagine is finding humor in the death of someone you killed.
August 27, 2009
POLITICS: No Bill
August 26, 2009
POLITICS: Big Hole
Heritage's Brian Riedl crunches some of the still-staggering numbers on the Democrats' spending spree, including the fact that the projected 2009 budget deficit is larger than the Bush budget deficits for FY 2002-2007 (the six years when Bush had a Republican Congress to work with) combined. A worthwhile fact to recall when dealing with liberals who cannot comprehend how one could be more concerned about Obama's deficits than Bush's (of course, as always my concern is with spending, not deficits - deficits are just a symptom of overspending - but even then, Reidl's point that 43 cents of every federal dollar spent at present is deficit spending is pushing into worrisome territory, especially with important sources of funding drying up). He also walks through the usual budget gimmickry, like how 75% of Obama's projected budget "savings" are from not having another surge in Iraq each year, which was never anybody's plan (note that these are budget numbers that don't include the cost of the health care plan, either).
This year, President Obama will spend a peacetime-record 26 percent of GDP....The 22 percent spending increase projected for 2009 represents the largest government expansion since the 1952 height of the Korean War (adjusted for inflation).
Digest this, as you consider how many of Obama's massive spending plans haven't even been passed yet:
Federal spending per household (adjusted for inflation) remained constant at $21,000 throughout the 1980s and 1990s, before President Bush hiked it to $25,000. In 2009, Washington will spend $30,958 per household -- the highest level in American history -- and under President Obama's budget, the figure will rise above $33,000 by 2019.
Read the whole thing. H/T Mark Tapscott.
Remember: Obama was the man who twice looked the nation in the eye in the October debates and pledged a net reduction in federal spending.
POLITICS: Ted Kennedy, Workhorse Lawmaker
It is traditional, upon the passing of an important and famous person - however controversial - to find some good words to say. This is not an easy task in the case of Ted Kennedy, a man whose personal life ranged from alcoholism to debauchery to sexual harrassment to (sadly, uncharged) second-degree murder, and whose public career entailed the embrace of nearly every foolish, ruinous and cruel political idea of the past five decades and whose most enduring legacy is installing the bitterly polarized modern Supreme Court confirmation process.
But a few words are nonetheless in order to recognize the man's work. Ted Kennedy arrived in the Senate in 1962, as soon as he was Constitutionally old enough to serve; aside from a Korean War-era non-combat tour in the Army, it was his first real job. Kennedy was a young man with fame, glamor and a fair amount of his family's natural charm, but had done nothing of distinction with his life to that point; he'd inherited the seat as effectively a family heirloom, and a review of his life to that point - such as being suspended from college for cheating and a reckless driving arrest for leading cops on a 90 mph chase while in law school - would hardly have suggested a man likely to take seriously the work of a United States Senator.
Kennedy at that point could have taken a number of different turns. He could have become a Senate showhorse, making the rounds giving speeches and national TV appearances and doing little real work. He could have become one of Capitol Hill's time-markers, coasting to re-elections while using his office as just a prop for the exhausing, booze-and-flooze nightlife he pursued for so many years. He could have decided that fame and glamor meant he deserved to run for President at the first available opportunity, and stayed far away from any of the real and often controversial work of making laws.
To Kennedy's credit, he did none of those things. He hired the most aggressive, competent staffs on the Hill and immersed himself in the daily business of making laws. Boring bill markups, blathering conferences, wicked hangovers; Kennedy took them all and kept working, working even to the end. He learned how the sausage was made and the deals done, and made quite a lot of it himself. He waited 18 years to run for President, and did so only after compiling an extensive record of actual accomplishment in the Senate.
Kennedy's influence waned after his unsuccessful 1980 run; that year ushered in an era in which Republicans controlled the White House for 20 of the next 28 years, and more or less controlled the Senate (to the extent the Senate is "controlled" by the majority party) for the better part of 17 of those 28 years. But with key committee seats and an energetic staff, he remained a player in important legislative business to the end, whether forging successful bipartisan compromises (as with No Child Left Behind in 2001) or fighting for unsuccessful ones (the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill, which failed even with the backing of President Bush). The harshness of Kennedy's partisan rhetoric never left him unable to figure out how Beltway Republicans ticked and how to get them to the bargaining table; Republicans who worked with him testify unanimously to his Irish charm and personal grace.
Kennedy's career could have been a cautionary tale for our current president, who might not have found himself in quite the fix he is in at the moment if he'd followed Ted's example, bided his years, spent more time in the trenches doing the unglamorous work of legislating and taking the hard punches that must be taken to sell the product to the public, learning how the system works, why it works and who makes it work. Most of the changes Ted Kennedy made in this nation over his career were change for the worst - but he did, over time, make real change because he worked at it instead of just saying the word "change" and hoping it would be so.
August 20, 2009
POLITICS: There's No Such Thing As A Death Panel. There's No Such Thing As A Death Panel. There's No Such Thing As A Death Panel.
From last year:
August 19, 2009
POLITICS: First Among Equals
In a morning conference call with about 1000 rabbis from across the nation, Obama asked for aid: "I am going to need your help in accomplishing necessary reform," the President told the group, according to Rabbi Jack Moline, who tweeted his way through the phoner.
Partners. Not servants. Partners.
And if you disagree with the domestic legislative agenda being pushed by God and Obama, not necessarily in that order?
POLITICS: Where Are The Cost Cuts Going To Come From?
One of the central selling points used by President Obama to push the Democrats' health care plan is the notion that a comprehensive overhaul of the health care system will reduce costs. But costs to who, and how? Let's step back a minute and try to figure out how Obama's cost-cutting argument could possibly be so.
Prologue: Tax That Man Behind The Tree
First, a quick reminder of two reasons why cost-cutting is such an important selling point.
Number one, the core of what the Democratic base, in particular, wants from health care "reform" is universal coverage. You often hear statistics thrown around about there being 30 or 35 or, last I heard, 47 million people without health insurance, and the implication that these people are receiving zero or negligible healthcare. Debunking those statistics and assumptions is itself a cottage industry, but let's leave that aside for the moment, because the fact of the matter is that in a country of 300 million people, when you strip out the people who (1) already have health insurance and expect to continue having it, (2) don't especially want to buy health insurance, (3) are only briefly without health insurance and not worried about it, or (4) don't or can't vote, what you end up with is a very small slice of the electorate that would benefit from getting health insurance they currently lack or fear lacking. Now, voters don't only vote their own self-interests on any issue - but the fewer people who benefit directly from legislation, the harder it is to drum up public support for a bill that may threaten the self-interest of others. So, it becomes politically necessary, if the bill is to be as sweeping and ambitious as most of the versions circulated have been, to sell it to the public on the basis of some argument above and beyond insuring the uninsured. That's doubly so because if your goal was solely to insure the uninsured, much of what is in the various bills would be unnecessary.
Second, specific to the issue of saving money for the federal government, the Obama Administration and the Democrats have already severely tried the electorate's appetite for massive expansions of federal spending, especially deficit spending. The explosion of new spending, most notably the pork-laden "stimulus" bill, makes prior complaints about spending under Bush look like complaints about the deck chairs on the Titanic and flatly contradicts Obama's read-my-lips pledge during two of last October's debates that his proposals would result in a net reduction of federal spending. The voters have noticed that they're not getting anything resembling what they were promised. Thus, Obama has repeatedly pledged, with the same assurance as his campaign pledge on spending, that the health care bill would be "deficit neutral." The Congressional Budget Office, typically a liberal redoubt, has repeatedly thrown cold water on the claim that any of the proposals on the table would be deficit-neutral. Clearly, to get there, cost savings would need to be found somewhere to completely offset outlays.
How's that gonna work?
Let's review the options. The Democrats' main argument is that restructuring the entire health care sector will reduce the nation's total (public and private) outlay for health care. When you boil it down, though, there are only three variables you can cut: reduce the amount of medical care provided; reduce what providers of medical care earn for their products and services; and reduce intermediary costs. All are problematic.
I. Less Medical Care
The most obvious way to cut spending on medical care is to buy less of it. That's at the crux of the public's worry about "death panels" cutting off care, about rationing; it's why so many of the people showing up agitated at town halls are senior citizens worried about getting less medical care.
The "death panel" phrase was shorthand, of course, but it neatly captured the core of the problem: government already rations care, albeit not very efficienctly, in programs like Medicare and Medicaid (see, e.g., here - then again, the failure to do more rationing explains those programs' exploding, budget-busting costs) and the end-of-life consulting procedures criticized by Palin and subsequently dropped by chastened Democrats are not the only way in which government incentives could or would be brought to bear on physicians to push patients from consuming health care to preparing for death or assisted suicide. More here, among many other places. But you don't have to be looking at the end-stage to see that any plan premised upon cost-cutting by reducing the amount of care provided would, well, reduce the amount of care provided. And if the costs being cut are taxpayer costs, the power to do so would end up being vested in some sort of governmental entity, likely a panel of government-appointed "experts," as Mickey Kaus notes was alluded to by President Obama himself back in April:
THE PRESIDENT: So that's where I think you just get into some very difficult moral issues. But that's also a huge driver of cost, right?
One argument advanced by proponents of the various plans is that costs would be reduced by providing more care, because preventative care would prevent more expensive care from being needed. Even leaving aside the grim fact of human mortality (i.e., preventing heart disease at one age can just leave you to die slowly of cancer or suffer prolonged dementia later), Charles Krauthammer notes that studies in reputable medical journals have concluded that the need to offer preventative care to so many people to make sure you catch health problems early means that more widespread preventative care is more, not less expensive:
Think of it this way. Assume that a screening test for disease X costs $500 and finding it early averts $10,000 of costly treatment at a later stage. Are you saving money? Well, if one in 10 of those who are screened tests positive, society is saving $5,000. But if only one in 100 would get that disease, society is shelling out $40,000 more than it would without the preventive care.
Whatever else can be said for more preventative care, it is likely to offer no great cost savings.
Moreover, reducing the total amount of care provided contradicts one of the central premises of the entire project, which is that it will result in providing more care to tens of millions of people not presently receiving it. As Bob Hahn notes, if this is the case, it won't just drive up costs but will create shortages:
If we added 47 million more people to the health care system, there would be lines. We wouldn't even know how to send 47 million more people to McDonald's without causing lines.
The Democrats can't have it both ways. One way or another, they either need to sell the public on the idea of sharply curtailing the amount of medical care provided, or stop claiming cost savings that can only come from less care.
II. Medical Care For Less Cost
The issue of shortages brings us to the problem with the second option: rather than reducing the amount of care provided, reduce the amount paid to the people who provide it: doctors, nurses, and pharmaceutical and medical device companies. Certainly on the Left there is a fair amount of sentiment for making it less profitable to provide care. But there is really no getting around the basics of supply and demand: if we make it less profitable to become a doctor, we will end up with fewer doctors. If we skimp on salaries for nurses, home health aides, and less-skilled care providers (e.g., people who work in nursing homes), we will exacerbate the existing shortage of nurses and other providers, which is likely to become more acute in years to come as the population ages. And if labor responds to financial incentives, capital is even more sensitive: slash the profit margins of drug companies and medical device manufacturers, and inevitably there will be less investor capital for those companies and less coming out of the pipeline in terms of drugs and devices that save or improve lives. The net effect will be the same as rationing care directly: cost savings will come only by reducing the quantity and quality of medical care.
III. Cutting Out The Middleman
With open advocacy of government rationing of care largely politically infeasible and reducing the profitability of health care providers economically impractical, the debate logically falls upon the middlemen, mainly insurance companies. Pretty much everybody hates insurance companies, whose business model by nature involves collecting more money than they lay out. And there's empirical data to support the idea that we're spending proportionally more of our health care dollars on insurance, rather than care, than we used to spend. To shift the discussion away from rationing care, Democrats are desperately trying to paint the insurers as somehow siphoning off more money to enrich themselves than they "should," an effort that's now leading to an especially vindictive crackdown by panicked Congressional liberals:
House Democrats are probing the nation's 52 largest insurance companies for lavish spending, demanding reams of compensation data and schedules of retreats and conferences.
The main idea here, other than simply intimidating the insurers, is to try to sell the Democrats' plan on the theory that the insurers are artificially inflating their overhead. The fact that they have to subpoena 52 companies suggests that this will not be as easy a case to make as in the case of a monopoly industry...and of course, a monopoly is the preferred solution of Democratic policymakers, elected officials and even Democratic base voters who essentially see the long-term goal as using a "public option" to plant the seeds for replacing this patchwork of private companies with a single-payer system of government monopoly insurance.
But let's unpack here a little further the elements of the expense of a middleman. First of all, there's the question of why have insurance at all. Most of us pay for other life essentials - food, clothing, shelter, transportation - directly, rather than buying, say, grocery insurance to make sure that an insurance company or government agency will give us groceries every week on terms acceptable to the insurer plus a premium. Now, unless you are seriously wealthy, insurance against truly catastrophic health care costs makes economic sense, so that the pool of the insured absorbs the individual occurrences of massive spikes in one person's health care costs. But pretty much all the proposals on the table go far beyond purely catastrophic coverage.
The entire rationale of the Democrats' proposal is to get more people to buy insurance or have it bought for them than is currently the case, thus increasing the proportion of our health care that is paid for through intermediaries rather than directly. That's true of people who currently buy no insurance and get little or no care, or pay for it out of pocket; it's true as well of people who currently get their care from emergency rooms. That's exactly the opposite direction of where you want to be moving if cutting intermediary costs is your goal.
And in the existing health care market, Democrats (with the help of big-government Republicans) have been driving up costs for the past two decades by piling on mandates and "patients' bill of rights" legislation that ever increases the number of procedures that the insurers have to be involved in. The Medicare prescription drug plan likewise expanded the scope of health care products and services paid for through a public intermediary rather than directly by consumers. And of course, subsidizing preventative care that may be presently paid for out of pocket does the same. So, not only are the Democrats proposing to have more people use health care intermediaries (public or private), but their proposals will inevitably continue the trend towards having more types of health care paid for through intermediaries.
Well, say Democrats, we will use more intermediaries, but we'll be much more efficient in doing so, because the public plans won't have a profit motive and expensive executives. Which is true. But it's also true that government programs, even ones that start out fairly simple, tend only to grow and expand over time and grow less efficient as their competition is eliminated and the political power of those who draw salaries and contracts from them grows. Will unionized government workforces necessarily be less expensive than non-unionized private insurer workforces? History doesn't suggest so. As one National Review reader posed the question:
If we can cut a half-trillion dollars from Medicare and Medicaid to pay for health insurance reform but if, as looks to be the case, healthcare reform won't pass, why not just cut a half-trillion dollars from Medicare and Medicaid anyway?
The fact that it hasn't happened and won't happen should remind us that replacing a competitive private marketplace with a colossal, Washington-run bureaucracy is a bad bet to produce savings. The conservative answer in this situation is not to throw out the entire existing system on the hope that things will work out better than they ever have before.
The elephant in the waiting room is the other big cost driver of intermediaries besides the scope of coverage and the cost of having shareholders and executives: lawsuits. Precise figures are again a subject of intense dispute, but a goodly chunk of what drives the amount of 'unnecessary' care provided, the cost of providing services and the cost of intermediaries is the need to protect against and pay for the cost of medical malpractice and denial of coverage litigation. None of the Democratic proposals, however, seek to make any practical inroads against this source of costs. Replacing a private system with a public one could arguably do so if the trial bar is effectively precluded from bringing against the government many of the kinds of lawsuits now used against private insurers - but aren't liberals in favor of keeping those kinds of suits viable? And how likely is it that in the long run they won't provide other mechanisms to keep one of their vital constituencies in business?
We have pretty much exhausted the options for cost-cutting: less care (at a steep political price, at the cost of giving frightening power to the government, and at odds with the goal of providing care where none is now given); less money to caregivers, which would amount to the same thing; less use of intermediaries (which is likewise contrary to the whole thrust of the project); or less cost in using intermediaries (which is impractical and unlikely to pan out).
There will be no cost savings. There's no sense in pretending otherwise.
August 12, 2009
POLITICS: The Power of Protest.
Patrick Ruffini responds to Marc Ambinder's contention that opponents of Obamacare will fail for the same reason that opponents of the Iraq War failed to dent President Bush's popularity. Key passage:
When Bush was at 70%+, his prosecution of the war was first branded "divisive" because something like 500,000 anti-war activists were marching on CNN. And it was a short hop from branding the war "divisive" to branding it a disaster.
He also notes the impact on swing Congresspersons...one thing about Members of Congress is, they may swear up and down in public that the town hall protestors are some sort of paid shills, but the reality is that people who show up motivated at an August town hall in an odd-numbered year - or lay out money and organization to get others to do so - are surely going to do the same the next November. That lesson is never lost on vulnerable Members of the House or Senate.
POLITICS: That Hitler Mustache
Yes, of course, the TV networks and lefty blogs have been trying to discredit conservative opponents of Obamacare with...signs and rhetoric from Lyndon LaRouche supporters who think Obama's plan isn't far enough to the left:
H/T Caleb Howe - go to Caleb's post if you can't get the video to load here. I don't even know at this point whether to attribute this to deliberate dishonesty or just plain stupidity, but it hardly matters.
(Of course, you could cure anemia with the irony of left-wing blogs discovering, on January 20, 2009, that it's not nice to compare the president to Hitler - or even Democratic politicians saying so after years of things like this and this and this and this. Worse yet is the Democratic tendency to accuse conservatives of "carrying Nazi symbols" when they mean "calling Democrats Nazis," as if to say that the protestors on the Right are in favor of National Socialism).
Par for the course.
POLITICS: Obamacare and the Ghost of Terri Schiavo
Obama Says His Health Plan Won't 'Pull The Plug On Grandma'
The NY Daily News had a similar headline using that quote in this morning's print edition, as does this Reuters item; the NY Post less delicately shortens the headline to 'WE WON'T PULL PLUG ON GRANNY'.
This is not the place the White House wanted to be in right now. Even George W. Bush, as many things as his opponents threw at him and as low as his approval ratings went at times, never felt compelled to ... well, as Jake Tapper put it,
[I]f the president finds himself at a town hall meeting telling the American people that he does not want to set up a panel to kill their grandparents ... perhaps, at some point, the president has lost control of the message.
I've previously covered one of the primary reasons why Obama is in this pickle: he doesn't have a clearly defined, easily and consistently explained plan. There are still multiple bills, none of which has the unambiguous support of either the White House or a working majority in both Houses of Congress; the bills are massively long and complicated, yet for the most part they leave huge numbers of unanswered questions by deferring important decisions to vaguely-constructed and questionably supervised bureaucracies. Many of the worst things in the bills are not what they say they will do, but what by silence they would permit to happen. The absence of a ban on using federally-provided insurance funds for abortions is one example, as noted by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in explaining why the USCCB (long a supporter of more government funding for universal health care coverage) can't support the House bill:
Some seemed surprised at [a previous objection by the Bishops], since abortion was not specifically mentioned in draft health care bills until recently. Those with longer memories may recall that the Medicaid statute doesn't mention abortion either, but it was funding 300,000 abortions a year in the 1970s until we put a stop to that with the Hyde amendment. In any case, numerous amendments to keep abortion out of health care reform have been defeated in committee, and it is now apparent that some leaders have every intention of threatening the health care reform process by forcing Americans to accept abortion mandates and/or fund unlimited abortion in their health coverage.
Camille Paglia, also a supporter in general of health care 'reform' but a critic of Obama's approach, connects the same dynamic to the debate over whether Obamacare would create "death panels" empowered to cut off treatment for those deemed not worthy of continued life, as we have seen happen in European systems:
I simply do not understand the drift of my party toward a soulless collectivism. This is in fact what Sarah Palin hit on in her shocking image of a "death panel" under Obamacare that would make irrevocable decisions about the disabled and elderly. When I first saw that phrase, headlined on the Drudge Report, I burst out laughing. It seemed so over the top! But on reflection, I realized that Palin's shrewdly timed metaphor spoke directly to the electorate's unease with the prospect of shadowy, unelected government figures controlling our lives. A death panel not only has the power of life and death but is itself a symptom of a Kafkaesque brave new world where authority has become remote, arbitrary and spectral. And as in the Spanish Inquisition, dissidence is heresy, persecuted and punished.
Even beyond the particulars of the present bills, what Obama and his Congressional allies are confronting is the legacy of their own party's deliberately constructed image. And a part of that image that they may least have expected to haunt them is the ghost of Terri Schiavo.
Political parties are not born anew each election cycle. The average voter, having limited time to devote to politics, very prudently comes to rely upon the general reputation of a party to form an impression of what its individual members stand for. A reasonably informed voter will try to learn at least a few things about particular candidates, but even political junkies rarely know A to Z on where all their elected representatives stand on every issue of public consequence (quick: what does your State Senator think about immigration? capital gains taxes? the minimum wage? gun control?). Thus, a party's image is important and carries the baggage, for good and for ill, of the high-profile debates in which it takes a prominent position. Moreover, a party's image is built not only by its leaders but its supporters inside and out of public office. People can usually filter out the crazies on the margins, but the battery of media commentators and activists involved in any given controversy add to that overall image.
Indelible images are hard to shake. During the last election, Obama ran ads criticizing John McCain for opposing federal funding for stem cell research and being an anti-immigrant hardliner. These were blatant lies, of course - the polar opposites of McCain's actual positions, laughably in the case of the immigration ads given that McCain had risked his political career over his support for the comprehensive immigration bill - but Obama obviously assumed that the ads would be effective because the audience would identify McCain with his party's reputation on those issues and would be unaware of his actual record.
Which brings us to Terri Schiavo. Now, I have previously discussed the immediate political cost to the Bush Administration's agenda of the Schiavo brouhaha in March of 2005. Commentators have debated for some years now how much political damage the GOP suffered with moderates from its identification with the movement (headed largely by committed pro-lifers, many of them religious) to prevent the State of Florida from, essentially, starving the brain-damaged Schiavo to death. That controversy was an unsettling one: the issue was what to do about a woman who had no medically realistic prospects for recovery, was consuming expensive healthcare dollars, and had left no reliable instructions on what her wishes would be in that situation, and a lot of people were very uncomfortable with either option, continuing to pay for her care or depriving her of nourishment. Public opinion at the time was hardly unanimous on what should be done (indeed, even some high-profile left-wingers sided with those who opposed removing Schiavo's feeding tube). The conventional wisdom in the pundit class was that the damage done was all to one side - that the flap revealed the GOP to be in the thrall of religious extremists. I don't doubt that some such damage was indeed done. But little attention was paid to the fact that the Right vs Left narrative of the Schiavo episode - one willingly stoked by Democrats eager to capitalize on precisely the "Religious Right overreach" angle - painted the Left as the advocates of 'pulling the plug' on Terri Schiavo. Another anecdote had been added to the public's collective memory of what the two sides stand for - an anecdote, I should add, that is consistent with other pieces of the puzzle, as the Left has clashed with the same pro-lifers again and again on abortion, assisted suicide, and the destruction of embryos for stem cell research. Sarah Palin's invocation of her Down's Syndrome son Trig is another flashpoint: it is the Left that insists that it is appropriate to abort a child when prenatal testing reveals such a condition, and it was from the Left that we heard cruder jibes suggesting that Palin should have done just that. A coherent pattern emerges, forms itself and takes root in the public's mind.
In 2006 and 2008, nothing happened - at least, nothing visible that would interfere with the Democrats' march to power, as other issues were at the fore and nobody on either side much wanted to discuss euthanasia. But now, with health care legislation at stake and the end-of-life issues it poses front and center, and with "cutting costs" a core part of his mantra for "reform," Barack Obama is running into the legacy of Terri Schiavo and those other pieces of the pattern. Schiavo's name isn't heard much, but it doesn't have to be, because it's part of the public's memory. The American people know that the same people who wanted to pull the tube from Terri Schiavo want to be trusted not to pull the plug on grandma. Which is why they are appropriately skeptical of any hint that Obamacare would leave any power in federal hands to make those decisions.
Four years ago, the Left was proud of its stance on withdrawing not just medical care but food itself from Terri Schiavo. That was their choice. If the price to be paid is a public in need of assurance that President Obama and his plan don't share those values and won't encourage the same thing, well, choices have consequences, and the voiceless dead can still haunt us in ways we had never foreseen.
August 11, 2009
POLITICS: The Lobbyist Lobby
Michael Kinsley's singularly ungracious column in the Washington Post yesterday took the occasion of the death of longtime Democratic Beltway lobbyist Anne Wexler to denounce that favorite scapegoat of liberals, the influence of lobbyists in Washington. But Kinsley is not serious about the influence of lobbyists, because unaddressed in his diatribe is the source of their power in the first place.
Kinsley notes Wexler's background as a principled liberal, and bemoans how her work as a lobbyist strayed from that:
Wexler was a pioneer of bipartisan lobbying -- the ultimate in cutting-edge moral neutrality -- in which one firm supplies both well-connected Democrats and well-connected Republicans.
Kinsley then moves in to denounce the entire process of representing paying clients in advocating their interests before the political branches of government:
And what is wrong with this? After all, the Constitution guarantees each of us the right to petition our government for the redress of our grievances. Plenty is wrong. First, there is nothing in this list of services about determining which side of a legislative dispute happens to be correct before jumping in on the side that has hired you. Second, if the lobbyists' claims about being able to affect the outcome of political disputes are even close to being true, this tilts democracy in favor of those who can afford to hire them. And third, what a waste of a lot of smart people's time! What might Anne Wexler have accomplished for causes that she really believed in if she hadn't spent the last three decades of her life taking on any cause that walked in the door with a checkbook in hand?
Kinsley is right that making a living this way is a departure from principled political advocacy - but so is most of what private-sector enterprises do. In the legal profession, for example, there are a variety of limits (some personal, some institutional, some legal-ethical) on what clients and causes a lawyer will represent, but fundamentally, the lawyer's job, or the lobbyist's, is to speak for the interests of the client before the power of the State. That may be neither as pure a cause as political activism nor as socially productive as private enterprise that caters to the public, but it is a necessary function and there is nothing dishonorable about it. In 2008, amidst a campaign season with even more than the usual huffing and puffing about the evil of lobbyists, both parties nominated presidential candidates who had themselves worked as lobbyists - Barack Obama as a "community organizer," John McCain as a Capitol Hill "Congressional Liaison" for the Navy. Neither job involved representing private institutional interests, but both were basically lobbying roles: that is, special pleading before the elected branches of government on behalf of their clients, in Obama's case the community interests chosen by his organization, in McCain's case the branch of the armed services in which he served. People like Kinsley would no doubt argue that these are more virtuous interests to lobby for than private companies, but in many cases that depends on the merits of the issue - the very thing Kinsley bemoans as being disregarded when lobbyists put their clients' interests first.
In any event, if Kinsley was serious about limiting the role of lobbyists, he would have to recognize that the explosive growth of lobbying as an industry unto itself in recent decades is a symptom, not the disease itself. The disease is the pervasive intrusion of the federal government into picking winners and losers in the economy, and that intrusion plays precisely the same role in the lobbying industry that the growth of litigation does in the legal profession. From the perspective of a corporate client, spending money on lobbyists only makes sense if lobbyists can deliver for their clients either (1) government favor, (2) protection from government hostility, or (3) the opposite results for their competitors. Prior to the New Deal, there were precious few lobbyists in Washington because the federal government's role in doing any of those things to particular private businesses was much more limited. The growth of the regulatory state, the increasing complexity of the tax code, and the growth and specificity of the federal budget have all created vast opportunities for the federal government to make decisions that redirect profits and losses among private businesses with the stroke of a pen.
The Obama era in Washington is nothing if not an effort to vastly expand the role of the federal government in determining the favor or punishment doled out to companies and industries, greatly exceeding what is already an overgrown favor factory. The legislation pushed by this White House and Congress - and cheered by media liberals like Kinsley - presents an endless parade of new opportunities for the shaping of rules and the doling out of appropriations: who gets stimulus money, and on what conditions? Who gets a bailout, and will it be structured to benefit some interests (the cash for clunkers program essentially funnels taxpayer money to the automakers to institutionalize a bailout designed to insulate the UAW from the consequences of the industry's labor costs and practices) and harm disfavored ones (used car dealers). How will the health care bill help or harm insurers, hospitals, companies that provide health insurance, unions, malpractice lawyers, etc.? (There was a report that Wal-Mart was supporting Obamacare because it expected the bill to put more costs on Target - even if that's not accurate, it's illustrative of how corporations will evaluate the bill and how their support can be negotiated). What conditions will attach to cap-and-trade provisions as they apply to varied industries? No serious adult should be so naive as to be surprised when the end product benefits powerful moneyed interests who know how to work the system. With government decisions reaching further into more industries, and the details of those incursions buried in thousand-page bills nobody reads, it can't possibly be a better time to be a lobbyist.
Oh, of course, restrictions - many of them cosmetic - can be placed upon the how and the where of lobbying, but none will change the fundamental dynamic that as long as private businesses see government power as a determinant of their success, they will use every means at their disposal to influence the course of that power, and the nature of people in political power will always be to be susceptible to being influenced.
If you want money out of politics, get politics out of money. If you want to stop influence peddling, go after the influence, not the peddling. If Michael Kinsley was serious about thinking the growth of lobbying a bad thing, he would not be denouncing the symptom while cheering for the disease.
August 10, 2009
POLITICS: Paid For By...
I know I link to a lot of RedState posts these days, but really, Caleb Howe has done it again with an extensively documented post examining efforts to pay for support for Obamacare, as well as rounding up more from other blogs on the same subject.
When Boxer grilled Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about what personal price the childless Rice paid for the Iraq war, Boxer later boasted that she was "speaking truth to power." But when angry voters try to do the same with elected officials, whether they're heckling them or just showing up, Boxer wants the media to investigate.
When anti-Bush protesters behaved badly, when Code Pinkers shouted and anti-war protesters brandished signs with swastikas, they did not rate nearly as much press scrutiny as the ObamaCare protesters. There seems to be the impression in my profession that comparisons of Bush with Hitler were to be expected, but not of Obama with Hitler. That's below the belt.
August 8, 2009
POLITICS: Shaddup And Take Yer Medicine
Peggy Noonan, who has so rarely been worth reading the past few years, nonetheless nails the dynamics of the health care debate. FreeRepublic.com veteran Bob Hahn, who is always worth reading but far less frequently around to read, offers his own experience organizing conservative demonstrations and zeroes in on the specific double standard by which the Left and the media treat anger at Republicans as a sign of genuine, authentic popular discontent (think of the deification of the unhinged Cindy Sheehan once upon an August) while anger at Democrats about domestic politics is treated as a sign of dangerous extremism. Jim Geraghty asks what kind of dissent from Obama's policies would be regarded as legitimate. David Boaz (via Instapundit) looks at knee-jerk Democratic accusations that opposition to nationalizing health care equal racism.
It seems to me that the Democrats are still, even at this late date, engaged more in assertion than argument:
If I came up with a health care plan that provided all Americans with universal coverage, protected the 45 million people without health insurance, did so without rationing treatment, prevented insurance companies from denying coverage, didn't cut Medicaid and Medicare benefits for seniors, AND provided significant cost savings over the current system I'd be proud of it.
One of my RedState colleagues puts the matter starkly: if Democrats are so certain, in the face of noisy opposition and fretful poll numbers, that the public is overwhelmingly behind them and that all opposition is illegitimate, extremist, manufactured, and worthy of being reported to the authorities, why not just draw clear lines, vote and wait for the GOP to be punished at the polls? Which side in this debate is acting as if it is confident of public support?
July 29, 2009
POLITICS: Department of Bad Photo Ops, Obama Edition
Well, it looks like whoever scheduled that disaster is still doing advance work for Obama:
The grocery meat aisle? Really?
POLITICS: Repeating Failure
Hunter Baker looks at a few of the arguments against national health care. The federalism point is an important one: TennCare was a failure, RomneyCare has been a failure. Why should we expect better results in imposing a complex system on a nationwide basis?
Megan McArdle has a longer essay, which of course begs the question of why she voted for Obama, but it's worth reading. One of the particularly chilling ideas is that national health care in the US will help mask the failings of other national health care systems around the world, because there won't be a place left with a vibrant, relatively free health care sector to make the government-run options look bad.
POLITICS: Not Persuading
The health care fight is still fluid enough to make predicting the outcome a crapshoot, but Michael Barone has an excellent look at President Obama and why he has run into trouble on this issue:
We knew that day that Obama was good at aura, at generating enthusiasm for the prospect of hope and change....
On the major legislation considered this year -- the stimulus, cap and trade, health care -- the Obama White House has done little or nothing to set down markers, to provide guidance, to establish boundaries and no-go areas.
Obama's mental and political framework is built around the left-wing, community-organizer notion that there's a real majority out there that already supports all the things he believes in, if only you can get them to show up at the polls. (That includes not only the youth vote and low-turnout minority groups but also people who aren't eligible to vote - felons, illegal immigrants, etc.) Thus, the bulk of Obama's efforts are aimed at firing up the base, not at persuasion. (I should break in and note here that this is not so vastly different from the Bush/Rove strategy, which leaned heavily on getting non-voting evangelical Christians to the polls. I leave to the reader whether to take that as a compliment.)
The things he did do to try to reassure swing voters who flocked to his banner last fall after the financial crisis - promises of tax cuts and a net reduction in federal spending - are undetectable in his governing agenda. And Obama's long-term strategy, as I have noted repeatedly, is not to win over the electorate but to alter it by changing the political system.
Obama simply never deals with the arguments against his policies seriously, only caricatures them and personally demonizes his opponents (the worst knee-jerk response we have seen from him in this regard was the whole Henry Gates episode, in which Obama reflexively attacked the Cambridge police on racially divisive grounds without bothering to get the facts). That's an effective way to get things done when you have the public behind you already. But it also makes it very difficult to win back people once you lose them.
July 24, 2009
POLITICS: Not A Sparrow Falls From The Sky.....
Buehrle explained after the call that Obama also "was taking a little bit of credit because he wore the White Sox jacket at the All-Star Game and I told him how surprised I was that he actually did it.
Yes, I know Obama was trying (unsuccessfully) to crack funny here, but in humor there is sometimes truth - of course, The One's first natural instinct in making a call of congratulations is, "how can I claim credit for this?"
(As Ben Domenech asks, "how many perfect games have you created or saved today?")
July 23, 2009
POLITICS: Obama's Health Care Strategy: Vote First, Sell Second
One of the most elusive concepts in politics is the notion of a mandate. Presidents love to claim them to bulldoze opposition ("the American people elected me to do this!"), but they can evaporate with astonishing speed, most famously in the case of the backlash against Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Court-packing" plan after FDR had won the most sweeping electoral endorsement for any party in a presidential election year since the dawn of the modern two-party system.
If there's one essential characteristic of a mandate, it's that the public support behind the president is solid because people know what it is they're supporting. That's how conservative presidents like Reagan and George W. Bush got mandates to cut taxes: they ran on a clearly articulated plan, everyone who cared to follow the race knew what the plan involved, and public support didn't change dramatically once they got into office and their opponents started hitting back with the same arguments they'd used against the tax cuts during the campaign. A corollary is that when Members of Congress voted for the tax cuts, they could do so knowing that the arguments on both sides had been fully ventilated to the public, and the voters wouldn't turn against them quickly for supporting the cuts.
Barack Obama is now pressing forward on health care on the theory that he was elected on a platform of doing something about "health care reform," and therefore he has a mandate. Bill Clinton thought the same thing; so did George W. Bush after winning not one but two elections while promising Social Security reform. One can argue about their assumptions (that both Obama and Clinton won because of the economy, and Bush in 2004 because of war, social issues and the economy), and of course it remains too early to predict whether Obama will succeed in getting a health care bill to his desk. But of this much we can be certain: even if he does, his legislative strategy is designed to ensure that the bill is passed without the controversial details being sold to the voters. And if Congressional Democrats follow Obama's lead, they may find next fall that they can't hide behind any sort of mandate to justify their votes.
From watching him approach the votes on the stimulus and cap-and-trade proposals and now health care, we have a pretty clear picture of Obama's modus operandi:
Step One: Lay out very general principles and trumpet the absolute urgency of immediate action on those principles. Obama is in favor of "health care reform." He wants to lower costs and insure more people. A high level of generality. There was more flesh on the bones of his campaign proposals, but not nearly at the level of covering all the bases, and in any event Obama has not even tried to insist that legislation be crafted around his campaign proposal. Yet he has insisted that even if he can't say what exactly is to be done, it has to be done quickly and without a lot of debate.
Step Two: Deflect all specific attacks by not having a single bill with transparent provisions. On the House side, we've had a bill coming together that's fairly detailed, and as recently as this morning, Speaker Pelosi was simultaneously insisting that she (1) has the votes to pass it and (2) was going to cancel the August recess to hold Members in town long enough to get the votes to pass it. At a minimum, there seem to be a fair number of nominally conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats who might vote for the House bill if forced to but would really prefer to have a bipartisan compromise emerge from the Senate instead. The Senate side has been much murkier, with support as well for a liberal bill like the House version but also a number of Democrats who are balking at the House's rigid demands and a number of Republicans who won't sign on to the House version but have left the door open to something different. In any event, it's impossible to debate exactly what an "Obamacare" bill is at present, because there's no one bill the White House is willing to publicly stand behind. Much of the Administration's communications strategy has been based on deflecting criticisms by denying that this or that controversial provision has been set in stone, using (1) the shifting nature of the various bills and (2) those bills' ultimate vagueness in passing on key decisions to an amorphous, yet-to-be-established bureaucracy as cover to stay unclear on how the pieces of the puzzle will fit together.
Let's consider, just as an example, one of the most radical changes in national policy that may end up in the final bill - public funding of abortions. For three decades, the Hyde Amendment has codified the policy under which the federal government does not provide taxpayer money to subsidize abortions. This is the ultimate middle-of-the-road compromise (for pro-lifers, just refusing to subsidize isn't nearly enough), but it maintains the pretense that the federal government is pro-choice rather than actively pro-abortion (if you subsidize something, you're actively encouraging more of it). Repealing the Hyde Amendment as a stand-alone piece of legislation would require a major pitched battle and be an enormous flashpoint for putative moderate Democrats from districts with a lot of pro-lifers; instead, it may get done as part of a huge, sweeping overhaul that brings in scores of other dramatic changes (tax hikes, huge funding increases, changes in the way insurance, medical care and malpractice are handled) all at once.
So, how does President Obama respond to criticism that repeal of the Hyde Amendment is a step too far? Here's what he told Katie Couric:
Katie Couric: Do you favor a government option that would cover abortions?
If Obama is serious about getting a public mandate for his bill, this isn't at all an honest approach; either the final bill will continue to bar the use of public funds for abortions, or it won't. But so long as he's not defending any particular piece of legislation, he can keep doing this two-step.
The list of controversial issues goes on, almost endlessly. Much of the controversy focuses on the effects of various plans on existing private health benefits. And Obama can claim a strong mandate....against tampering with anybody's existing health care. When John McCain proposed eliminating the favored tax treatment of employer-provided plans, Obama flooded the airwaves with ads hammering McCain for putting any sort of tax on anyone's current health care. Obama may argue now that the various proposals are different - the main liberal plans don't tax health benefits, they just use a variety of squeezes to try to drive them out of existence, but Obama's (laughable) pledge to make his hugely expensive proposals "deficit-neutral" leaves the door open to the possibility that a final deal may incorporate any number of as-yet unspecified tax hikes (also in violation of other of his campaign promises). But then, McCain's proposal also offset the taxes on employers with individual tax credits, and Obama pounced on him anyway, and ended up drawing substantial public support from people who - whether they knew that or not, having heard his barrage of ads - concluded that McCain would tax their health benefits and Obama would leave them in place. If proposals that tax or otherwise pressure existing benefits out of existence end up in the final bill, it will be quite a surprise to a lot of people who took Obama's campaign ads and rhetoric seriously.
Step Three: Keep as many things on the hopper as possible. For much of the year, Obama has sought to simply overwhelm the Republican opposition by pursuing so many different things at once - the above-mentioned legislative agenda, the continuing parade of bailouts, the Sotomayor nomination, the overhaul of intelligence and detention policy - that undermanned, underfinanced and disorganized Republicans simply couldn't get a hearing on all of them at once, and things could get done in Congress and the Executive Branch without a lot of scrutiny of the details. The apex of this strategy was the cap-and-trade vote that was buried in the news by the death of Michael Jackson.
This part of the strategy has broken down somewhat at the moment, as the President himself has now taken to talking almost entirely about healthcare. And that, in turn, has raised the political stakes, with Republicans openly declaring that health care is Obama's Waterloo. From here out, it will be increasingly difficult for Obama to ram through a vote under cover of other events.
Step Four: Rush to get the bill into concrete form and passed with as little time as possible elapsed from Step Two. We saw this dramatically with the stimulus bill, which got passed without anybody in DC having read the whole thing and with hardly anyone having a firm grip on exactly what was in the bill that might later prove embarrassing to have supported. And predictably, the stimulus package is much less popular now than it was when it passed.
The rush to passage is effective for muting opposition. Pelosi's desire to hold the House over August to vote would not only allow a rush to a vote, but would insulate her Members from spending a month in their districts hearing from voters while there's a proposal on the table they have some chance of understanding. But it also means the Members vote before they have sold the public on the bill and everything in it. Even if you think that's an appropriate way to make law in a democracy, as a matter of pure politics, it can be toxic later on. Even if the whole thing passed by the end of August, Republicans would have a year and a half to hammer on particular provisions of the bill ahead of the 2010 elections, and Democrats who voted for it could be caught offguard if they never spent a day guaging how individual parts of the bill would play in their states or districts.
Obama's not worried about that - he can run for re-election on his personal popularity and the historic nature of his historic presidency. But Congressional Democrats won't have that luxury - if you're a white male supposedly moderate Congressman running for re-election in a district in Indiana or North Carolina where a majority of the voters are still old enough to remember when and why they voted for Bush in 2004, you need to be able to defend the actual policies you voted for.
Which may be why Obama's hurry-up offense is at risk of a serious slowdown, with Harry Reid announcing today that unlike Pelosi, he's not going to cancel the August recess or have a vote before then. Congressmen and Senators are nothing if not self-interested, and with Obama having burned a lot of political capital to get them signed on to the stimulus, the bailouts, and the cap-and-trade bill, and with polls showing sinking support for health care reform, many of them may be ready to decide that a full and open debate on the particulars of a particular bill, and some serious time discussing those particulars with the voters, may be necessary to get their votes on a final package. And that's an outcome that can't warm the heart of the White House.
July 22, 2009
POLITICS: Our Incurious, Insular President
If we were told one thing by the media from the 2008 campaign, it's that telling Katie Couric you do not read a lot of newspapers is an absolute disqualifier for the presidency. (This is aside from how the media reacted to President Bush saying he didn't pay much attention to the newspapers). So, when Couric confronted President Obama with criticisms in an uncharacteristically O-negative David Brooks column, what was his response? In the President's own words:
Katie Couric: President Obama, there was a stinging column in the New York Times today written by David Brooks. He says Democrats are losing touch with America because, quote, "The party is led by insular liberals from big cities and the coasts, who neither understand nor sympathize with moderates. They have their own cherry-picking pollsters, their own media and activist cocoon, their own plans to lavishly spend borrowed money to buy votes." He goes on to say that you have, basically, been co-opted by Nancy Pelosi. And you've differed to the, what he calls, old bulls on Capitol Hill.
Gee, could it be that chief executives actually have important jobs to do that preclude them from spending a lot of time reading newspapers? (Judging from circulation numbers these days, they're not the only ones).
Obama's supporters who made a big deal out of Bush and Palin saying basically the same thing owe some serious apologies. But of course, they were just point-scoring; nobody apologizes for doing that.
July 20, 2009
POLITICS: Same Old Shell Games
Jeff Emanuel looks at Obama's deficit two-step on health care. I can't pretend to be at all surprised at this, and realistically it's hard to imagine anyone willfully naive enough to believe that the health care plan, if passed, won't massively increase government spending, resulting in (1) large tax hikes, (2) large increases in the deficit and national debt, or most likely (3) both. It's wasted energy on all sides to conduct the debate without frankly acknowledging this.
July 16, 2009
POLITICS: Race To The Bottom
Leon Wolf rounds up here and here the latest battery of incidents reflecting how white Senate Democrats - the same people who blocked Miguel Estrada's nomination to the DC Circuit out of fear that the GOP would put a conservative, highly qualified Latino on the Supreme Court - really think about African-Americans. Combined with this, the overall picture is an ugly one indeed. The logical inference here is that they feel essentially immune from the possibility of consequences, serene in the confidence that anything racially divisive helps solidify their political position, no matter how ghastly the underlying attitudes it reveals.
PS - On the second of the two Durbin exchanges, I love Sam Brownback's utter incredulity at what Durbin was saying.
July 14, 2009
POLITICS: Sarah Palin and the Scum of the Earth
If there is a lesson to be learned from Sarah Palin's withdrawal from public office, it is this: if you want to take out a female politician, you go after her children.
There is likely no one and single reason for Palin's withdrawal, and she cited a bunch of them in her disorganized "you won't have Sarah Palin to kick around anymore" speech. But two things seem to explain most logically Palin's behavior: she was ground down by the unusually vitriolic campaign waged against her, and the aspect of that campaign that did the most damage was the attacks on her children. As Palin put it in her speech:
In fact, this decision comes after much consideration, and finally polling the most important people in my life - my children (where the count was unanimous...well, in response to asking: "Want me to make a positive difference and fight for ALL our children's future from OUTSIDE the Governor's office?" It was four "yes's" and one "hell yeah!" The "hell yeah" sealed it - and someday I'll talk about the details of that...I think much of it had to do with the kids seeing their baby brother Trig mocked by some pretty mean-spirited adults recently.) Um, by the way, sure wish folks could ever, ever understand that we ALL could learn so much from someone like Trig - I know he needs me, but I need him even more...what a child can offer to set priorities RIGHT - that time is precious...the world needs more "Trigs", not fewer.
All national politicians take their share of potshots; it comes with the territory, and anybody who can't take the heat, as Harry Truman famously said, should get out of the kitchen. And with that heat inevitably comes some spillover onto a politician's family members - especially if those family members are politically outspoken adults, Washington lobbyists, or businesspeople involved in shady practices. But some grief will come as well to soft-spoken spouses and minor children. It's the nature of the business.
But no politician in modern memory, not even Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, has faced the sort of ferociously personal assault that greeted Palin from the instant she set foot on the national stage, in many cases before her detractors even knew anything about her besides that she was female, attractive, pro-life and pro-gun. And while the pervasive crude sexual references to Palin were horrible, the assault on her family was the worst of all. Palin has worn many hats in her life - Vice-Presidential candidate, Governor, Mayor, Oil & Gas Commissioner, City Councilwoman, sportscaster, point guard, runner, beauty queen, moose hunter - but it's clear that the role that defines her is her role as the mother of five children. And as James Taranto put it, "If you've never met or had a mother, the thing to know about them is that they tend to be very protective of their children."
There is fairly widespread public and media agreement that criticizing, mocking or making more than glancing political use of President Obama's two daughters is an absolute no-no. For the media's part, the effort to spare the President's children dates back to the Clinton years. Yes, there were mean-spirited jokes told at the expense of Chelsea Clinton, but Republicans who did so (John McCain, Rush Limbaugh) almost always immediately apologized, and Saturday Night Live eventually eased off on Chelsea. There was also regular vitriol from the left, mainly in the blogospehere, aimed at Jenna and Barbara Bush, and no apologies of any kind. But much of that was under the public radar. (John Kerry and John Edwards both bringing up Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter in the 2004 debates wasn't, but at least Mary Cheney is an adult). We have simply never seen anything like the targeting of Palin's children, under a variety of flimsy pretenses that no mother would ever accept as a basis for going after her kids.
One must attribute at least part of the vileness of these attacks, among left-wing blogs, to how very few of the leading left-wing bloggers have children of their own - were conservatives tempted to mock Obama's daughters, they would at least have to face their own daughters and sons at the end of a day of doing so. A political movement of the childless has no empathy for children. Empathy for other human beings requires human decency, and decency breeds hesitation - a hesitation the Online Left has never displayed. Were any of these people capable of shame, they would be feeling it. Instead, they have been gleefully dancing on Palin's political grave ever since. It is worth considering what the "New Politics" has looked like when applied to Sarah Palin, because it presents a cautionary tale for Republicans with families.
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The most egregious example was posted on Daily Kos on Sept. 12, 2008 by Paul Lewis Hackett III, a trial lawyer and U.S. Marine Corps veteran of Iraq, who ran in 2005 for a vacant seat in the House from Ohio's second congressional district, losing narrowly in a district President Bush had carried easily just a year earlier.
TIME Magazine noted that back in August, "National Enquirer sent four reporters to Alaska, hoovering up gossip about drug use by her older children and long-ago marital infidelity"; stories were run on drug use by her oldest son Track, who was serving in Iraq and thus, ironically, unavailable to defend himself. Cannon noted how Trig Trutherism forced the story of Bristol's pregnancy into the fore, and how differently it was handled than crackpot conspiracy theories on the Right:
Also, it's important to remember why the Palin family even acknowledged Bristol's pregnancy: Because a thousand "liberal" Web sites, led by Daily Kos, the favored site of leftist Democrats, filled cyberspace with off-the-wall theories that Trig Palin was really Bristol's child and that Sarah had faked her own pregnancy. This was truly ugly territory, and nutty besides. It's not terribly different from the Obama-is-a-secret-Muslim-not-born-in-this-country stuff, with one crucial distinction: The Obama Muslim stuff was either debunked or ignored by the media --not the conspiracy theories about Trig Palin's birth. In some quarters of the evolving new media - The Huffington Post and Bill Maher's HBO program, to name two - the Palin pregnancy hoax was repeated. Some traditional outlets, including Vanity Fair and, most inexplicably, The Atlantic blog written by Andrew Sullivan, kept hammering away at it after it was proven false by photographic evidence and by Bristol's own pregnancy.
Taranto noted the bile spewed specifically at Palin's infant son Trig:
Palin-haters have been unusually uninhibited in their cruel mockery of the governor's children, particularly Bristol and Trig. HotAir.com's "Allahpundit" notes that Palin's resignation moved one Erik Nelson to write a Puffington Host post titled "Palin Will Run in '12 on More Retardation Platform." (Trig Palin has Down's syndrome.)
Daughter Bristol Palin's relationship with her baby's father, Levi, has been ripped open for public consumption in the aftermath as he's appeared on "The Tyra Banks Show" to discuss his sexual experiences with her and was seen shirtless in the pages of GQ magazine. When Bristol attempted to become a spokeswoman for abstinence, based on her experience as a teenage mother, she was pilloried as a hypocrite and mouthpiece for her power-hungry mother.
Ben Voth drives home the point about the church-burning in particular - the culprits for which have never been apprehended - which led Palin to apologize to her fellow congregants for the negative attention her career brought down on them:
A public figure openly called for Palin to be raped during the campaign. Months after the losing campaign was over, a major comedian joked about the fictitious rape of one of her daughters. Immediately after the election, her church was burned. It's fairly difficult to reconcile this 'heat' as something conventional in politics. In fact, there might be some good reason to collectively indict Palin critics for their silent complicity.
Paparazzi regularly stalked the family, once ambushing Bristol Palin when she arrived with her newborn and her father at the Beehive beauty salon. Mr. Palin was forced to wait for her in the car with Bristol's baby, Tripp, whose image was fetching a particularly high tabloid bounty.
Then, of course, there was the highly-publicized flap with David Letterman:
During his opening monologue on CBS' "Late Night" Monday, Letterman poked fun at Palin's visit with her family to a New York Yankees game this past weekend. "There was one awkward moment during the seventh inning stretch," Letterman said. "Her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez."
Presumably, Letterman thought it was OK to make sex jokes about Bristol - really, does she deserve that? would you feel the same way if she was your daughter going through young single motherhood after a teen pregnancy? - but he misfired badly, as Palin was accompanied by 14-year-old Willow at the game. (Letterman also took the kind of potshot no liberal politician would be forced to endure, cracking that Palin "was in New York to pick up some 'slutty flight attendant' lipstick."). Palin, predictably, went nuclear, and ultimately forced an apology from Letterman, but once again she was off spending time defending her daughters from the national media.
Here are lessons of the Sarah Palin experience, for any aspiring politician who shares her background and her sex. Your children will go through the tabloid wringer. Your religion will be mocked and misrepresented. Your political record will be distorted, to better parody your family and your faith. (And no, gentle reader, Palin did not insist on abstinence-only sex education, slash funds for special-needs children or inject creationism into public schools.)
As the TIME profile notes, Palin closely followed and insisted on a response to every attack hurled her way. It's the polar opposite of George W. Bush's attitude, which for 9 years (including the 2000 campaign) was to ignore criticism almost entirely. The upside of Bush's approach was confident and steady leadership; the downside was a complete abdication of the field of public debate to his enemies, and an emboldening of them (if no charge would be answered, there was no downside in making the most inflammatory or spurious of charges). Palin's push-back-on-everything view, however, has its own costs, as it entangles the leader herself in personally absorbing every body blow. A more logical division of labor is for the candidate to hire people who do the daily work of fighting back, as long as they're given enough information to fight back with.
The second prong of the attacks that brought down Palin was the abuse by left-wing bloggers of Alaska's wide-open system (previously supported, ironically, by Palin herself) allowing almost anyone to file an ethics complaint against the Governor that would automatically trigger a costly and distracting investigation. Martin A. Knight has looked in detail at how this system was gamed by left-wing bloggers, sometimes pseudonymously, and the more than $500,000 in legal bills it imposed on the Palin family, in addition to the costs to Alaska taxpayers as the Governor's legal staff was swamped by the assault. The ethics charges against Palin were all unsuccessful and generally frivolous, but that wasn't the point; the effort to taint her good name and bankrupt her financially was. As TIME noted:
Since the election in November, Palin has been hit with at least 10 ethics complaints for such alleged offenses as allowing her picture to be used to promote Alaskan fisheries and wearing a logo on her snowmobile gear. One complaint was filed under a pseudonym borrowed from a British soap opera. Most were quickly dismissed. And yet, Palin says, she arrived at the conclusion that there would always be more and that the complaints would consume her remaining time as governor.
Followers of Palin's Twitter feed in recent months would have to notice that her most enthusiastic posts involved the dismissal of these various complaints. The ethics complaint machinery was even used to block Palin from accessing funds raised to defray her legal expenses:
While the defense fund has raised more than $250,000, according to its trustee, the money cannot be spent pending resolution of an ethics complaint that contends that the contributions could amount to improper gifts.
That financial strain, unknown to most national politicians, put hardship on her family as well:
Her husband, Todd, her most trusted adviser, was spending less time at her side both because they needed money from his oil industry job, friends say, and because questions had been raised about whether he had been too involved at the Capitol.
The bogus ethics complaint machinery has rolled onward, as witness her attorney's statement on the 18th and 19th ethics complaints filed against Palin:
When Governor Palin announced that she would be resigning, in part, because of the unusual number of frivolous ethics complaints burdening the state of Alaska, that was not intended to be an invitation to file more frivolous ethics complaints. Not everyone got the message. As if to underscore the Governor's point, two more frivolous complaints were filed this week.
All of this is on top of the campaign of innumerable falsehoods flung at Palin daily through the campaign, such as when Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times reported falsely that Palin had belonged to an Alaskan third party without bothering to consult voter registration records showing that she's been a registered Republican since being old enough to vote. The Left keeps up the campaign of deliberate smears even now, inventing a story that Palin was resigning under an FBI investigation, which an FBI spokesman unequivocally denied:
"There is absolutely no truth to those rumors that we're investigating her or getting ready to indict her," Special Agent Eric Gonzalez said in a phone interview Saturday. "It's just not true." He added that there was "no wiggle room" in his comments for any kind of inquiry.
The FBI story was spread with deliberate malice by many left-wing blogs; it had no basis in fact, but who cares? And no line of attack was too petty; when Palin Tweeted that Todd "left fishing grnds to join me this wkend; but now he’s back slaying salmon & working the kids @ the site; anxious to join ‘em!," left-wing Washington Post writer Greg Sargent, his sensibilities strained to breaking by the thought of salmon fishing, sniped that she was "looking forward to spending more time with my family killing animals." Perhaps the most amusingly baroque theory was a radio caller to Al Sharpton's show who suggested that Palin was dropping out because she had murdered Michael Jackson. Sharpton called the theory "interesting."
Naturally, the Palin camp suspects that the blog and media assault is more coordinated than it appears:
"A lot of this comes from Washington, D.C. The trail is pretty direct and pretty obvious to us," says Meg Stapleton, a close Palin adviser in Alaska. Awaiting a flight back to Anchorage from distant Dillingham, Stapleton adds that the anti-Palin offensive seems lifted straight from The Thumpin', which describes the political strategies of Rahm Emanuel, who is now the White House chief of staff. "It's the Sarah Palin playbook. It's how they operate," Stapleton says.
Regardless of the source, at the end of the day, all of this presents something of an ethical conundrum for the Right: whether to find a way to disarm these kinds of assaults, or failing that, to imitate them. Either way, it won't stop until the other side has a downside for continuing in this vein. The history of national politics suggests, unfortunately, that the latter is more usually the path taken: after absorbing years of harrassing Independent Counsel investigations and a bogus sexual harrassment flap, the Right turned those same weapons on Bill Clinton. After Newt Gingrich mastered the machinery of House Ethics complaints to bring down Speaker Jim Wright, the same machinery was used to help topple Newt. The Right will have a decision to make: whether to make like villians on "24" and adopt the war of personal attrition against family members used by the left-wing blogs, or accept that some punches should not be thrown and some playing fields simply can't be leveled. Neither choice is an appealing one, and for now at least the fact that the Right lacks the paid online 24/7 resources of the Left suggests that it is not even capable of the former. But in time, that worm may turn, and it's hard to see how anything in the world of politics will be improved as a result.
As for Palin herself, she remains a galvanizing figure who commands attention with every move, and we have almost certainly not heard the last of her. There are many ways for her to contribute to the public debate - op-eds, TV appearances, maybe a TV or radio show, book deals - and most of them are not fettered by Alaska's Lilliputian ethics system, while staying outside of public office and formal campaigning may make it easier to shield Palin's children from further abuse. Ironically, less time spent governing Alaska may give her more time to study and reflect on national politics. Only a fool would count her out of the political scene entirely, especially in today's volatile populist climate. But it's hard to see her as a serious presidential contender in the future. Presidents have to put all other things aside for their jobs, even their families. Maybe Barack Obama has broken the mold of requiring presidents to have some relevant experience, and maybe her primary opponent in 2012 would be a one-term Governor (Mitt Romney), but at the end of the day, a one-term governor who didn't even finish her term is not a credible presidential contender.
My reaction to Palin's decision, the more I think about it, is in some ways the opposite of my reaction to Mark Sanford. Palin has been a deep disappointment politically - she could have accomplished a lot more. Those of us who saw in her toughness, combativeness and joyful presence on the campaign trail a possible President are inevitably disappointed, as we've been disappointed again and again by Republicans - Sanford, Rudy, Fred, McCain, Romney - who one way or another always seemed to lack the fire to take the battle to the other side day in and day out for the cause. But as a human being, she walks away a success in a way that few people in Washington can contemplate, and few of her detractors could ever relate to. The salmon are biting, the sun is shining, the kids are playing, and the road is rising before her, and she's going where she's needed. If that's the epitaph for good, decent mothers in politics, well, we're a smaller, meaner nation for it.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:30 AM | Politics 2009 | Politics 2012 | Comments (119) | TrackBack (0)
July 8, 2009
POLITICS: Yes, We .... Told You So
Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress have already increased tobacco taxes - which disproportionately hit the poor - to pay for extending health coverage to 4 million children in working low-income families.
H/T This is beyond the colossal taxes incorporated in the "cap-and-trade" bill. As the AP notes and others have noted lately, the explosive growth of current and future spending under Obama is basically designed to force tax increases down the line.
Yes, we told you so.
POLITICS: You Can Check Out Any Time You Like
It remains a fierce competition between California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Massachusetts as to what state has the worst, most dysfunctional government. California's budget disaster is a tough one to top, but then again it hasn't had anything to match New York's out-to-lunch State Senate or Illinois' Blagojevich saga.
Such are the joys of blue-state government.
July 7, 2009
POLITICS/FOOTBALL: The Moralizers Were Right
My initial reaction, besides horror, to the shooting death of former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair was to try to hide from the story. I was always a fan of McNair, and will never forget the heartbreak of the Titans' just-a-yard-short drive against the Rams in the Super Bowl. Like Kirby Puckett, McNair was a guy whose virtues on and around the field of play were such that I'd prefer to remember him only as he was in uniform.
That said, the saga of McNair's death at the too-young age of 36 is the proverbial train wreck you can't look away from, and the details are ugly: McNair was involved with a 20-year-old mistress while he was married to his wife of 12 years, with whom he had four children. From what we can tell, his mistress thought he was leaving his wife, and his wife didn't know about the mistress. McNair's death has been ruled a homicide, and while the police haven't wrapped up the investigation, it appears that the mistress shot him and turned the gun - which she had purchased days earlier - on herself. The motive for the killing is likewise murky, but the obvious likely explanation is that McNair's deceptions in one sense or another caught up to him.
The McNair story brought me back yet again to the downfall of Mark Sanford and a basic point that the cultural Left, with its pervasive hold on our culture, has fundamentally wrong. You will recall that the main criticism of guys like Sanford from the left is that they are "moralizers" - i.e., speak out on behalf of traditional sexual mores and 'family values,' such as not shacking up with a woman not your wife, especially if you are already married. The argument, sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit, is that the real sin of political and cultural leaders is not cheating on their own wives but telling other people that cheating on your wife is a bad thing.
Now, of course any system of moral values, and any discussion of right and wrong in government policy, inherently involves religion, as the foundation of pretty much everyone's moral thinking is their religion or irreligion. That being said, it can't be stressed often enough that when our leaders speak out against things like marital infidelity, what they are doing is not just abstract moral philosophy but rather bringing to bear the prudence and wisdom of human experience. Which is where McNair comes into the picture. We know, from many thousands of years of human experience, that cheating on your wife opens up a whole world of hazards and complications and deceptions, and that many bad consequences flow to everyone involved that could otherwise have been avoided. If Mark Sanford hadn't cheated on his wife, he'd still be a presidential candidate. If Steve McNair hadn't cheated on his wife, he'd still be alive. If Eliot Spitzer hadn't cheated on his wife, he'd still be Governor of New York. And on and on and on throughout the ages. The story is all the sadder when men like Sanford and McNair, who had been models of integrity and professionalism in their professional lives, throw it all away over such foolishness. Promiscuous sex, sex among teenagers, prostitution, divorce...we know, and we see, the costs of these things played out again and again and again, and the job of adults, wise in the world by virtue of experience, is to impart to others those lessons, to impart knowledge that comes from human experience and acts as a restraint on the most common of impulses. When the leaders of our society, government and culture speak out on these issues, they are performing that valuable service. Would that someone had gotten that message through at some point to Steve McNair; would that Mark Sanford had listened to his own advice. And shame on anyone who wants to drive the wisdom of experience out of the public square.
The usual rejoinder at this point is to complain that of course it's all well and good for people to teach morality in the privacy of their own homes, but that people in politics and government have no business getting involved in private matters. As I have noted repeatedly over the years, that's an easier argument to make when government is small and less intrusive, and laughable coming from people who want to make it larger and more intimately involved in everyday life, but besides that, the very fact that things like adultery are largely beyond the reach of the law is precisely why they remain properly within the reach of the culture, and why it's a good thing to have prominent people speaking out on such issues.
Maybe McNair, and Sanford, and Spitzer, and so many, many others would never have listened. Human beings are sinful by nature, and desire is strong. But the whole point of civilized society is to make a concerted, collective effort to pass on what we have learned over human history about the restraints we must place upon our instincts if we are to avoid similar tragedies, if we are to act as reasoning moral agents rather than animals driven only by impulse. Being a 'moralizer' about those restraints may not be the popular path, but it's the path of wisdom and maturity. We should be happy for anyone still willing to do that job.
June 30, 2009
POLITICS: The Favor Factory
I had meant to link earlier to Francis Cianfrocca's piece on the cap-and-trade bill and how - from what little anyone knows of what's in it - it vastly expands the federal government's role in doling out rewards and punishments to particular private businesses, a role that inherently brings with it a cesspool of corruption. Also worth noting is the Democrats' strategy of trying to blitz through Congress as many things as possible at once so as to minimize the possibility of public debate (the cap and trade vote being held while the press was covering the Michael Jackson story).
June 26, 2009
Pejman looks further at the growing scandal involving the Obama Administration's purging of Inspectors General who deliver bad news. John Kass explains why this is completely consistent with Obama's Chicago background.
Seriously, anybody who expected Obama wouldn't behave like this needed their head examined.
This whole flap, by the way, underscores one of my longstanding arguments, which is that the various Inspectors General and periodic should be replaced by a single Cabinet-level official charged with investigations of public integrity. A strong, prominent IG would have a couple of institutional advantages: harder to fire by virtue of his or her prominence, yet still directly accountable to the President; able to bring the perspective that is lacking in ad hoc special prosecutors; able to remove public integrity cases from DOJ, freeing up the Attorney General to focus on less politically-charged law enforcement priorities. Granted, this means yet another Cabinet department, but even aside from the issue of eliminating departments, you could make room by combining a bunch of the currently redundant departments, like Commerce and Labor or Interior and Energy.
June 25, 2009
POLITICS: Sanford Steps Out, But The Battle Continues
Perhaps the most telling moment in the past few days' controversy over South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's absence and subsequent revelation that he'd been visiting his mistress in Argentina came during the period when his staff was putting out the story that Sanford was hiking the Appalachian Trail, and the Democratic National Committee rushed out a press release blaring that the Trail had received stimulus money, and therefore Sanford - as an ardent opponent of the stimulus bill - was a hypocrite for walking on ground that had been touched by Obama's pork-barrel bill. Once the reach of the federal fisc had touched that ground, no possible alternative is permissible but to agree with the political dictates of the hand that holds those purse strings.
The incident speaks volumes about the peril the nation faces to its way of life, and the depth of the trust Sanford breached by engaging in a reckless affair at a time when he was one of the small handful of people in the country well-positioned to do something to stop it.
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We live in a time when the governing majority in Washington is pressing to weaken or coopt every institution that could stand, as De Toqueville would put it, as an independent bulwark against the power and pervasive influence of the federal government - private businesses bought off with no-exit bailouts and subsidies or coerced with regulatory threats, the states bribed with no-exit stimulus money and compelled to accept it, private charities subsidized or supplanted, universities, newspapers, schools, churches, the family - everyone ensnared in the influence of Washington and expected to dance its tune, and none permitted to stand against the one, singular set of value judgments imposed by the cultural and economic Left. The push to insert the federal government far more deeply into health insurance and health care is now the critical inflection point. Health care involves a person's most basic, private, intimate, familial and life-and-death values and relationships. "Health" can be and is used, by the Left, as an excuse to regulate everything else - the argument being that if the taxpayer's involved in your medical care, Uncle Sam has a financial interest in whether you smoke, wear a seatbelt, own a gun, eat fast food, watch too much television, etc., etc., etc.
We sometimes hear the much more modest ambitions of the Right - prohibiting abortion, maintaining existing legal definitions of marriage - described as if they were some sort of massive conspiracy to meddle in other people's private lives. Libertarians complain, in the same-sex marriage debate, that really we'd be better off if the government was out of the marriage business entirely. But of course, such things are inconceivable as long as the federal government keeps expanding - with ever more programs directed at 'families,' government is incapable of staying neutral on how to define a family, as it would in a nation with more liberty and less government. On issue after issue, we get cultural flashpoints precisely because government has already moved in and set up shop, and is now just quibbling over the price.
For all of that, there is still, out there in the public, a fair amount of sentiment in support for the traditional American way of life - having liberty and taking personal responsibility for your own decisions, the bad ones as well as the good ones. But what that public sentiment is missing is a leader. A lot of the burden of speaking out on the issue has fallen on older right-wing war horses like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich, but while Rush and Newt are formidable spokesmen, neither holds elective office or is likely to again. And the battered Beltway GOP has lost many of its leaders and most of its authority on size-of-government issues. That's one reason why so many hopes have devolved on the next generation, the 50-and-under Republicans, many of them in state government or in the House: Sanford, Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey.
Among that younger generation, Sanford stood out as the most experienced, and has compiled a strong record not only of principle but of public integrity, from leaving Washington after three terms in Congress to battling his own party back home over spending. It's too early to pick a horse for 2012, but a lot of us had already put valuable time and energy into studying up on Sanford and promoting his views: I'd interviewed Sanford and written up a long profile of him when I could have been doing something else with my time, just as I'd pored over video clips of him last summer. Erick Erickson stuck his neck out during Sanford's absence, passing on his staff's explanation about being on the Appalachian Trail. Even to those of us already jaded about politicians, Sanford seemed, however quirky, to be a true believer in the good fight and a solid if unexciting guy to possibly line up behind.
And Sanford betrayed us, just as he betrayed his family; he lied to us and wasted our time. But that's not what is so frustrating - it's that at a time and place when the nation desperately needs champions of our traditional liberties, he was one of only a few people who could really have made a difference. To read his emails to his mistress, you can sense that Sanford was in the hold of a deep infatuation, and any of us who have been lovesick teenagers can understand that, but the man's not a teenager; he's a married father with responsibilities not just to his family and his State but to the nation as a whole. He's not easily replaced, and the American people will be poorer for his abandonment.
The Left, of course, sensing the removal of an obstacle to ever-greater social control, is ecstatic at Sanford's downfall. It's amusing to watch, given that these are the same folks who told us a decade ago that an executive's affairs - even felonies committed to cover them up - are nobody's business and only the concern of people with some sort of mental problem (I believe it was Sid Blumenthal who argued that anyone remotely disturbed by Bill Clinton's affairs must be a closeted homosexual), but then they always just assume nobody remembers what they said back then, having no principles but the pursuit of power. The convenient excuse is that it's only hypocrisy when Republicans act immorally, on the theory that Democrats don't believe in right and wrong anyway, an argument whose counter-factual nature and fundamental depravity I have dealt with at length before and won't rehash here. Republicans, while we may disagree among ourselves about precisely the impact of Sanford's affair, aren't switching sides on this the way the Democrats do, and have all but unanimously written him off for the office Clinton once held; nobody is planning a pep rally on the Statehouse lawn to celebrate in his honor. (I had more thoughts on the significance of marital infidelity to executive and legislative roles in this post on John McCain last fall).
The fight to preserve the American people's independence from Washington control will continue. But for now, the people will have to fight on without one of their best leaders. Shame on him for that.
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June 24, 2009
POLITICS: Questions That Have Very Obvious Answers
This is from Obama's press conference yesterday:
President Barack Obama on Tuesday squared off with the insurance lobby over industry charges that a government health plan he backs would dismantle the employer coverage Americans have relied on for a half-century and overtake the system....
As usual when Obama has to respond to a serious criticism, he acts like a snarky left-wing blogger rather than a serious adult, throwing off a one-liner that seems to his die-hard supporters like a clever parody of Republican arguments but doesn't stand up to even the most minimal of scrutiny. Typically, it's pointless to debate whether Obama is being astoundingly ignorant or deliberately mendacious; the point is that no sane person could defend his response. Daffyd offers a long list of screamingly obvious ways in which the private sector would be unable to compete with a government plan even though the government plan is inefficiently run, including the obvious-to-everyone-but-Obama fact that a profit-making enterprise has to make a profit, whereas a government agency or government-sponsored entity can afford to lose money pretty much indefinitely (Francis Cianfrocca points out to me that the proposed new healthcare GSE, which he refers to as the Consumer Health Management Corporation or "Charlie Mac," would start with something on the order of $10 billion in capitalization, many multiples larger than the market cap of even large insurers, and with an endless credit line from Uncle Sam). There is even - you may know this, but presumably Obama does not - a whole body of antitrust law dedicated to preventing large companies in certain circumstances from driving competitors out of business by undercutting their prices to sell at a loss, then jacking prices up when the competition is dead and buried. Profit-making private entities don't actually act like that very often, for obvious reasons: but governments can and do, at the taxpayer's expense. As Phil Klein notes, one of the main arguments by supporters of the government plan is that it will use its vast size to obtain cost savings at the expense of health care providers (doctors, hospitals, drug companies, all of which are presumed to continue providing the same level of goods and services without regard to profit motive), cost savings that far smaller private insurers could not obtain. That's an argument Obama himself has made repeatedly, yet he now professes ignorance of it. Because, of course, he retains at all times the confidence that nobody will ever call him on this sort of thing.
June 23, 2009
POLITICS: Through The Looking Glass With Andrew Sullivan
My always-worth-reading New Ledger colleague, Christopher Badeaux, has the definitive and exhaustive profile of Andrew Sullivan's work and the obsessions that have defined him as a writer and wasted so much of Sullivan's prodigious writing talents. You'll want to print this one out and digest it at leisure. Here's the opening:
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Perhaps the single, common life goal of every intellectual, pseudo-intellectual, and intellectual aspirant, is to be a true Renaissance man - a genius whose force of will and flexible, dominating intellect allows him to master or nearly master not one or two, but a whole host of related and unrelated fields of study and practice.
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June 19, 2009
POLITICS/LAW: The More Things Change...
Not that there's anything wrong with that; we conservatives have been standing up for Justice Scalia's view of the unitary nature of executive power - and the democratic accountability it promotes - for years. It's the people who blathered about it during the Bush years who didn't know what they were talking about, and now have to pretend that they were in favor of this kind of thing all along, much the way they only learned to despise the Independent Counsel when they found themselves on the receiving end of it.
June 18, 2009
POLITICS: Hey, Sure, But This Time It Will Work!
WAR: Say Goodbye To Cairo
The Obama Administration's response to protests against the Iranian regime's contempt for even its own thin facade of democracy has been markedly muted and tentative; even the French Government has spoken out more clearly against the fraudulence of the presidential election and the mullahs' suppression of the Iranian people than has President Obama. One conclusion we can draw from Obama's failure to offer support for the Iranian people against their theocrat masters is that it eviscerates the entire point of his Cairo speech to the 'Muslim world'.
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In and of itself, there were already many reasons to be concerned about the Cairo speech, as Mark Steyn, Charles Krauthammer, Martin Peretz, Andrew McCarthy and Erick Erickson have all detailed at length - its factual distortions and omissions of history, its false equivalencies, its acceptance of the legitimacy of treating "the Muslim world" as a collective political construct superseding national interests or popular sovereignty, its contrast between Obama's deferential words towards Muslim nations with his meddling in the affairs of the world's lone Jewish nation. In the speech, Obama embraced the role of a defender of the Islamic faith, even going so far as to speak of where Islam "was first revealed," a statement that explicitly endorses Islam's claim to theological truth. Obama proved the old saw that a liberal is a man too broad-minded to take his own side in an argument: on every issue on which there is a pro-American (or pro-Western or pro-Israeli) set of factual assertions and arguments and an opposing set of anti-American (or anti-Western or anti-Israeli) factual assertions and arguments, Obama accepted the anti- premises and ignored the pro-. Thus, as Peretz details, he accepted the notion that the State of Israel owes its legitimacy entirely to European guilt for the Holocaust, and wholly ignored the pre-1945 history of Zionism. Thus, he accepted the notion that the U.S. properly bears the baggage of historical guilt for the sins of Europe, while refusing to claim credit for the blood Americans have shed repeatedly for Muslim peoples. Thus, Obama blamed tensions between Muslims and the West on "colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims" - even though many of the core regions of the Islamic heartland (such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Levant) were either never Western colonies after the rise of Islam or were only briefly under British control between the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Second World War. As a whole, while the speech's historical and political narrative departed from the pro-American view of the world, it dovetailed neatly with the views of Egyptian-raised scholar Edward Said, a professor at Columbia during Obama's time there and mentor to Obama's friend and Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi. (Perhaps that's one reason why Obama chose Cairo as his location and why he's taken every available opportunity to offer petty diplomatic snubs to the British in particular.) In short, Obama spent the speech accepting, rather than challenging, the views of his audience, and leaving to someone with a job other than President of the United States the task of defending the United States against the arguments made against it.
There is, of course, an argument to be made, and that has been made by Obama's supporters, in favor of giving such a speech. Certainly, if you want to persuade people, it's easier to do if you start your remarks by buying into their view of the world, even if this requires the embrace of demonstrable untruths. (The definition of diplomacy is the art of not speaking the truth). By setting himself up as the arbiter of two contending parties - America and the Islamic world - and above both, Obama banked on using his own personal popularity with Muslims to establish a separate brand identity, the Obama Brand (count the number of times the word "I" appears in the Cairo speech, as well as the references to his own biography), with a base separate and distinct from the American Brand with all its historical associations. As Andrew Sullivan expressed the argument, back in 2007, for the value of having Obama as a distinctive representative for America rather than an advocate for its values or a defender of its record:
A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man - Barack Hussein Obama - is the new face of America. In one simple image, America's soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama's face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.
All of this raises a question. If the Obama Brand is to be sold to Muslim populations in various nations, to what purpose? What do we hope to accomplish by having an American President who is more well-regarded for his identification with the views of Muslims than is America itself? If Obama's charm initiative can pay some dividends to the United States, when do we collect them?
The Iranian crisis reveals the hollowness of the entire effort. Here we have a situation in which the truth is obvious: the Iranian people, a majority Muslim population, are being oppressed by their government. And in which the ideal outcome is obvious: anything that weakens the control of the mullahs over Iranian society is a positive, and with the legitimacy of the regime now staked on the victory by the odious Ahmadenijad, any outcome that undermines that victory is a step in the right direction.
Under a presidency, like that of George W. Bush, that single-mindedly pursued American interests and American values, the answer would be to speak that truth and lend public support to the Iranian people against the mullahs. That doesn't mean offering explicit support for Mousavi, the dissidents' candidate who is only slightly less a tool of the mullahs than Ahmadenijad, but it does mean acknowledging the legitimacy of the people's grievances. The downside if President Bush took that step is the risk of a backlash: that Ahmadenijad in particular could rally anti-American public support against the protestors by portraying the whole enterprise as an American puppet. Reasonable minds can differ on whether that backlash would be a serious problem (certainly the people behind the Iron Curtain always approved of Ronald Reagan speaking the truth about the oppressive nature of the regime they lived under), but it's the cornerstone of the Obama supporters' argument for why the President should keep out of this one.
But what if President Obama did it? If Cairo was about anything, if it was worth anything, if the Obama Brand could ride to the aid of the interests of the United States in a situation where a more explicitly pro-American president could not, Obama should be willing and able to put that brand to work in a situation where the obvious objective truth is that he was acting to favor the interests of an Islamic population. He should be able to draw on his personal favorability in a crisis when something real is at stake.
There are two possible answers to why Obama hasn't done that. One is that when push comes to shove, the Obama Brand in the Muslim world isn't actually worth anything when there are real stakes. That people everywhere are savvy enough to know that nations and peoples don't change their inherent interests simply because they've hired a new front man, that personalized diplomacy doesn't do anything to budge the basic dynamics of international relations, and thus that efforts like Cairo are just meaningless piffle in terms of their practical effect on America's ability to pursue its foreign policy objectives when there are opportunities presented to alter the status quo in our favor.
The darker possibility is that Obama views strengthening, rather than weakening, the Iranian theocrats as America's predominant foreign policy objective in this crisis, and thus he would regard action on behalf of the Iranian people as counterproductive. That case is laid out by Robert Kagan and Francis Cianfrocca. Low an opinion as I have of Obama, I'd prefer not to believe that he actually wants the mullahs to win, although Kagan and Cianfrocca make a compelling argument at least that Obama's strategy prior to this crisis was to offer more American-conferred legitimacy to the mullahs and Ahmadenijad as a carrot in arms control talks (the opposite of the Reagan strategy).
In either event, this much is clear. Cairo was only words, in a situation when words alone would mean nothing, cost nothing. When words could make a difference, President Obama won't speak them. The Iranian people aren't deemed worthy of change they can believe in.
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June 16, 2009
POLITICS: Fixated On FOX
June 15, 2009
POLITICS: Third Time The Charm?
High on the list of states where the GOP needs to rebuild its credibility and has a realistic chance to do so is Wisconsin, whose two-term Democratic Governor, Jim Doyle, is seeking a third term in 2010 (no Democrat has ever won three terms as Governor of Wisconsin). The state of Tommy Thompson's Governorship was part of the great ferment of GOP reform in the Upper Midwest in the 1990s, and despite Democratic sweeps of the state in the past decade, many statewide races have been very close (George W. Bush lost Wisconsin by a razor-thin margin in 2004). If the climate has turned against the Democrats by 2010, this is a state that should be a prime target. For his part, Doyle pushed for billions in new taxes in 2007 after running on a no-new-taxes campaign in 2006, and now faces huge budget deficits. CQ reports that the polls are showing his weakness:
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Wisconsin Gov. James E. Doyle is looking vulnerable as he seeks to win a third term in 2010, according to a new Public Policy Polling poll. The PPP poll, conducted June 9 and 10, found that just 34 percent of voters approved of Doyle's job performance, while 60 percent disapproved.
That echoes a recent Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll that also recorded Doyle's favorability rating at an all-time low.
Read the whole thing; CQ notes that the PPP poll has Doyle trailing his GOP opponents, while the Kos poll unsurprisingly has him leading, but that any poll shows his opponents to be very unknown this far out, leaving much of the race to be determined by who the GOP nominates, how much money and activism they generate, how quickly the party coalesces behind a candidate (in past years, a late primary has left GOP challengers dead and buried before there was even a nominee) and how Doyle succeedes in defining his opponent to the electorate.
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June 13, 2009
POLITICS: The Left Falls In Love With Profiling
In the wake of the shooting at the Holocaust Museum, there's been something of a mad rush by left-wing bloggers to use the shooting to validate the now-infamous Department of Homeland Security report on "right-wing extremists.".
There are two noteworthy aspects of this effort. One, it continues the DHS report's willful misidintification of people like James von Brunn, the museum shooter, as "right-wing." And two, it ultimately embraces the concept of profiling in law enforcement, in ways that liberals used to deplore.
The initial problem with this effort, as Leon and Pejman have detailed, is that von Brunn had more in common with left- than right-wingers: he railed against Christianity, "neocons," President Bush, John McCain, and Bill O'Reilly, peddled 9/11 conspiracy theories, and had in his possession the address of another possible target: the building that houses The Weekly Standard and the American Enterprise Institute, the nerve center of neoconservatism. Like the DHS report itself, the left-wing commenters simply assume that "racist" = "right-wing," and therefore lump together conservatives with racists who reject, root and branch, virtually everything conservatives believe in. (This is the historical fallacy used to designate the Nazis as right-wing, when - as Jonah Goldberg details exhaustively in his book Liberal Fascism - they were thoroughgoing economic statists, marketed themselves as a socialist worker's movement, pushed a platform with numerous planks that could come straight from modern-day liberals and did in fact come from 20th century American progressives, were obsessed with health food and anything "natural" or "organic," and campaigned persistently to undermine, subvert and replace the authority and legitimacy of Christianity, among other family resemblances to the Left.)
We can see the same effort to link racial hatred to strains of actual right-wingery in the DHS report:
Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.
One wonders if these guys would qualify on the first half of that definition.
The second point of interest is the left-bloggers' embrace of profiling. Now, let's back up a bit: law enforcement officers generally rely, in identifying possible suspects in the absence of a direct tip, on their own experience and the institutional knowledge of their departments in identifying who might be a criminal. Profiles are a part of the second half of that equation, one that's been formalized in recent decades as a regular feature of law enforcement agencies. Profiling principally involves profiles of behavior indicative of various kinds of criminal activity - bank fraud, prostitution, serial killing, drug smuggling, etc. None of this is controversial. What is controversial is including things that aren't prelude-to-crime behaviors in a profile, whether it be inherent characteristics (race, gender), or what are generally thought of as protected activities (religion, political affliation).
The conservative view on profiling has generally been to treat it as disfavored but not necessarily rule it out entirely, while liberals spent years making a cause celebre of racial profiling (Barack Obama made an anti-profiling crusade one of his priorities as a state legislator). Profiling, if done carefully and drawn narrowly from factual experience, can be a useful law enforcement tool. The problem with profiling people based on general characteristics, especially things like race and religion and political affiliation, is that it tends to feed into stereotypes, be grounded in overbroad generalizations rather than hard evidence, sweep in too many innocent people into a law enforcement net, and as a whole encourage dangerous and usually sloppy law enforcement.
The DHS report was all that, and any liberal worthy of the name would not be defending its sweeping generalizations. And still less would liberals be rushing to validate it based on individual shootings in a nation of 300 million people. Imagine if the DHS report had focused on African-Americans as especially likely to commit murder: how many shootings by lone African-Americans would be enough to justify profiling on the basis of race? More than one or two, I'd bet - certainly I wouldn't tolerate profiling on such a basis.
Federal surveillance and vigilance against actual groups of potentially violent political extremists, whatever their political stripes, is of course reasonable. And conservatives, being believers in the virtue of experience as the basis of knowledge, should not turn up our noses at efforts to draw profiles of other possible groups based on experience with existing ones. But we can and should demand something more rigorous than sloppy generalizations in venturing onto the dangerous turf of profiling political opponents of the current Administration (the same Administration whose Attorney General has previously raised the temperature of otherwise peaceful political debate by threatening to criminally prosecute members of the outgoing Administration over policy differences).
But liberals who are cheering this sort of thing ought to be deeply ashamed of themselves, if they ever meant anything they said about racial profiling.
June 11, 2009
POLITICS: A Tale Of Two Projects
Jim Geraghty notes that Gov. Palin has brought ExxonMobil to the table in her signature policy effort, the natural gas pipeline, defying critics who didn't think she could make the big energy companies blink and cut a deal. Meanwhile, President Obama faces the first defection from his effort to drum up support for nationalizing health insurance, as the AMA comes out against the so-called "public option" of government health insurance.
It's far from the end of the journey for both these initiatives; Palin still faces other hurdles, and Obama retains a strong position (the NYT notes how he can put the screws on the doctors: "If the doctors are too aggressive in fighting the public plan, they risk alienating Democrats whose support they need for legislation to increase their Medicare fees."), despite the powerful arguments Karl Rove outlines for marshalling opposition. But it's encouraging to be reminded that sometimes, governing is actually about doing things rather than just talking.
June 9, 2009
POLITICS: Not As Projected
Whether or not you assign the Obama Administration any responsibility for making things worse four-plus months into the new president's term, and whether or not you blame Congressional Democrats (who took over under much better economic conditions over two years ago), the simple facts are:
1. The direct costs of the stimulus are known.
The primary reason, of course, is Crank's First Law of Government Financial and Economic Projections: they are always, always wrong. Nothing is ever accurately forecast by the government, because forecasting is hard even for the private sector experts, there are tons of variables, and there are too many incentives to shade the truth. The proponents of the policy, bearing the burden of defending it, have their work cut out for them in explaining why we're better off than if nothing at all had been done.
Reason and experience told anyone familiar with the issue that the stimulus was, on balance, a colossal expenditure of taxpayer money - money that really could have been used in the credit-starved private sector right now - that was going to pay zero dividends in the short run, and only small dividends greatly outweighed by its costs in the long run. But then, the point of the exercise was never about hepling the economy anyway, as any serious adult had to know.
June 4, 2009
WAR/POLITICS: Don't Know Much About Arithmetic
Noah Pollak notes of President Obama's claim that "if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world":
Obama is right - we're one of the largest, only outranked by Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Egypt, Nigeria, Iran, Algeria, Morocco, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia, Russia, Yemen, China, Syria, Malaysia, Tanzania, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Tunisia, Somalia, Guinea, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Cote d'Ivoire, Congo, Libya, Jordan, Chad, Turkemenistan, Philippines, France, Kyrgyzstan, Uganda, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cameroon, Thailand, Mauritania, Germany, Oman, Albania, Malawi, Kenya, Eritrea, Serbia and Montenegro, Lebanon, Kuwait, the UAE, and…well, at some point here you get to the United States, which has (estimates vary) around 1-3 million Muslims.
POLITICS: Sanford's Stop Sign
Whether or not Republicans can ever get a meaningful mandate to significantly cut government spending, the political climate has unmistakably shifted to one in which one of the great domestic issues of the day is simply putting the brakes on runaway expansion of government and the concomitant diminution of the true private sector. Frank Luntz thinks that South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is making headway in selling the message that it has to stop somewhere:
Unfortunately, a court order from the South Carolina Supreme Court may cost Sanford this round in the budget fight no matter what the public thinks. But the battle to win public opinion never ends.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:14 PM | Politics 2009 | Politics 2012 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
June 3, 2009
POLITICS: Pay No Attention To The Actual Governor
Jon Corzine promises that if he's re-elected, NJ will not invade Iraq. As Jim Geraghty notes, a guy with a 36% approval rating needs something better than "I'm not Bush" to defend the corrupt and dysfunctional status quo in Trenton, where Democrats have ruled unchecked for years with predictably familiar results.
Chris Christie's victory in yesterday's GOP primary is good news. Christie's the best shot the GOP had, and he's had a spectacular record of hunting down corruption in the state (granted, in New Jersey that's like hunting cows).
One of the interesting potshots from Corzine's speech was focusing on John Ashcroft. I know why he did it: Christie is close with Ashcroft and has drawn some fire for appointing him as a federal monitor as part of plea deals with corporate defendants. It's a silly charge; while I agree broadly that the entire monitor concept is something of a racket, it's been used widely by prosecutors of both parties (it was a similar arrangement that got Deval Patrick hired at ExxonMobil), and it's fairly ludicrous to argue that a man who'd served as Attorney General, Governor and Senator was not qualified for the job.
But what makes it politically interesting is the assumption that Ashcroft is universally unpopular with moderates; I'm not so sure that's true anymore. Ashcroft's DOJ was a model of professionalism and aggressive law enforcement, and only looks better compared to his famously inept immediate successor, and if anything moderate voters have heard a lot since 2004 about some of the settings in which Ashcroft's pushback established the outer legal limits on some of the more controversial Bush Administration anti-terror policies (an unpleasant, but necessary role for the AG to sometimes perform). We'll see if using Ashcroft as a boogeyman is effective, let alone effective enough for New Jersey residents to decide that they'd prefer more of the same disastrous tax-spend-steal policies to electing a guy who knows John Ashcroft.
UPDATE: Geraghty also notes that the centerpiece of Corzine's campaign in 2005 was a promise to cut taxes, which - like all such promises from Democrats - he broke, leaving the state with the nation's highest tax burden.
June 1, 2009
POLITICS: Bill Ayers' Revenge: The Left's Crocodile Tears on Domestic Terrorism
Because they usually lack the organization, training, funding, numbers and suicidal ideology of international terrorists, it can at times be difficult to distinguish domestic terrorists from ordinary psychopaths. But domestic terrorism has been a sporadic presence in the United States since at least radical Kansas abolitionist John Brown in the 1850s, running through the likes of Leon Czolgosz, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Black Panthers, Tim McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski, and more recenly Bruce Ivins and John Allen Muhammad. The causes they have killed for have ranged from the noble (Brown) to the nefarious to the outright deranged (Kaczynski), and their inspiration has ranged from the purely domestic to imitations of foreign movements like anarcho-syndicalism or Islamism. This being America, domestic terrorists have almost always done more harm than good to their stated causes.
It appears that Scott Roeder, the man arrested for Sunday's murder of notorious late-term abortionist George Tiller, would qualify for membership in this group, given press reports that Roeder has a long record of extremism, possession of explosives and profession of belief in killing abortionists. Now, it's hard to generate much sympathy for Dr. Tiller himself; whatever moral blinders it may be possible for a man to wear regarding early-term abortions, anyone who has seen a sonogram or felt a child kick against its mother's womb can hardly imagine the cruelty required to repeatedly perform..."terminations"...of such helpless and innocent victims. But as long as we live in a nation of laws made by the people and as long as his conduct is permitted by law, the job of judging men like Dr. Tiller belongs to the Lord alone, and the job of stopping men like him remains with the democratic process and with peaceful protest and persuasion; the way of the domestic terrorist is the way of madness no matter the cause.
Even before anything was known about Roeder, the left side of the blogosphere reacted to Dr. Tiller's murder as if it was Christmas morning and they just got a pony; I was following the Twitter feed of Markos Moulitsas, the man best known for reacting to the murder of American contractors in Iraq by declaring "screw them," and he and others were positively vibrating with giddiness about the possibility of using Dr. Tiller's murder to discredit pro-lifers in general and critics of Dr. Tiller in particular.
Well, unlike the Left, some of us have been against associates of domestic terrorists all along. Most of us would, I think, agree that if Roeder somehow escaped prosecution, we would have serious reservations about supporting politicians who subsequently associated themselves with him in the process of cultivating favor with the Right. But that, of course, is exactly what Barack Obama did with Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. And anyone who supported Obama has zero credibility in criticizing anybody for associating with violent domestic extremists.
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Ayers and Dohrn, you will recall, were participants in the Weather Underground, one of the few domestic terrorist groups that was genuinely organized and operated over a period of years, engaging in bombings (including bombing the Pentagon), riots and vandalism; when a splinter group led by a friend of Ayers and Dohrn committed a sensational armed robbery and murdered a security guard and two cops, Ayers and Dohrn took in her son and raised him as their own. Dohrn ultimately landed on the FBI's Most Wanted List. To this day, they are wholly unrepentant. I discussed the cases at greater length here, here, here, and here. Obama not only appeared at Ayers' home in one of the coming-out events that launched his political career (again: imagine a Republican doing this at Roeder's home 20 years from now), he gave a glowing review to one of Ayers' books, made joint public appearances with him, and most tellingly of all, Obama in the only executive role of any kind he held before the White House funnelled millions of dollars to educational projects under Ayers' direction to help Ayers further a politicized educational agenda. Ayers was and is still dining out on the notoriety of his status as a domestic terrorist, and Obama abetted and financed Ayers in doing so. And the Left saw no problem with any of this.
Associating with known domestic terrorists is a very bad thing. I'm glad the Left has belatedly awoken to this fact. Now perhaps the people looking to make political hay over Roeder will extend some of their outrage to Bill Ayers' benefactor in the White House.
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May 30, 2009
POLITICS: Credit Where Credit Is Due
George W. Bush, on being thanked for his AIDS initiatives in Africa: "Don’t thank me, thank the taxpayers of the United States of America."
May 28, 2009
POLITICS: Castles of Sand
The Wall Street Journal looks at the severe falloff in tax revenues from millionaires in Maryland after the state socked them with a new, higher tax rate for the purpose of closing a budget gap, a move hailed at the time by supposedly big-thinking liberals. Somehow, Maryland liberals were surprised that this didn't work out:
One-third of the millionaires have disappeared from Maryland tax rolls. In 2008 roughly 3,000 million-dollar income tax returns were filed by the end of April. This year there were 2,000, which the state comptroller's office concedes is a "substantial decline." On those missing returns, the government collects 6.25% of nothing. Instead of the state coffers gaining the extra $106 million the politicians predicted, millionaires paid $100 million less in taxes than they did last year -- even at higher rates.
The easy partisan divide on this issue is over how much of the decline in revenues is attributable to millionaires leaving the state or voluntarily reducing their taxable income (by working less or hiding money in tax shelters) as opposed to the effects of the recession, which the WSJ notes as an obvious contributing factor. But that's only one problem with sharply progressive tax rates; the Journal notes a structural problem that is at least equally serious in times of recession, as New York and California in particular are discovering to their grief. Specifically, the surplus annual income and investment returns of the wealthy tend to be much more volatile year-to-year than the great mass of incomes earned by average citizens.
Let's consider an illustration: in a boom year, the stock market rises 20%, and housing prices rise 30%. Lots of people (proportionately to the number of millionaires) make big gushing spigots of money from this, not just capital gains from sales but commissions, year-end bonuses, the whole gamut of ways people profit in eye-popping amounts from a boom. The average guy sees some extra money too, but he's less likely to see a dramatic percentage increase in compensation. Despite some variations across different boom era, by and large, this has always been true.
When booms turn to busts, though, the high-end incomes are the hardest hit in percentage terms. We think of down times as being harder on the average worker because in human terms they are: it's a lot worse to lose your job than to go from making $10 million a year to $800,000. But when unemployment goes from 5% to 10%, the dropoff in the tax rolls isn't that dramatic, especially given that a lot of those lost jobs were people paying little or no income or capital gains taxes to start with, and so the state budget literally does not feel their pain. Whereas collections from high-end incomes can and do drop off far more than 5% in a year, as the Maryland example illustrates. Here in New York, investment banker bonuses that were once the core of the state and city tax bases evaporated overnight. Put simply, taxing the rich is the least recession-proof revenue-raising strategy you could design.
This would be problematic enough if the federal and state governments were trying to sustain a stable income and socking away the extra money for a rainy day (Gov. Palin in Alaska did something like this with the revenue from oil boom years, but Alaska too is subject to the laws of political gravity). Instead, Congress and the states tend to create new permanent claims on temporary income in the best of times, creating long-term self-perpetuating entitlement and spending programs and hiring more unionized workers. (The Obama 'stimulus' bill combined the worst of both worlds, giving states temporary revenues while demanding that they use them to permanently increase funding obligations, and doing so during a recession). This tax-on-the-boom, spend-through-the-bust philosophy is designed for certain failure; it's not possible it could ever succeed.
Yet, that's exactly how all tax-the-rich systems are designed. And no amount of failure will ever teach their proponents anything.
POLITICS: Harry the Insult Comic Senator Strikes Again
I have previously catalogued Harry Reid's penchant for petty insults of political opponents, and that was before he started complaining about the voters smelling bad. Well, Reid has a new one: quoting himself in his book calling Barbara Bush a "bitch."
UPDATE: Oops, read too quickly before posting, Reid is quoting Bentsen. So, not on the level of some of his prior insults.
May 27, 2009
POLITICS: Metaphor Overload
The Obama Administration in a nutshell:
May 26, 2009
POLITICS/LAW: I Forgot
POLITICS: Clearing The Field
Anthony Wiener has dropped out of the Democratic primary to face Mike Bloomberg. H/T That leaves two relatively weak candidates against the Bloomberg juggernaut...if you're outside NY, you can't really grasp the massive scale of Bloomberg's ad campaign six months from Election Day when he has no opponent yet and won't for some time. I have to believe his election will be a formality.
LAW/POLITICS: SCOTUS Prediction
Just to get on record before the expected announcement at 10:15 this morning, I will be shocked if Obama does not pick Judge Diane Wood of the Seventh Circuit for the Supreme Court. Wood is a veteran federal appellate judge, she's female, she's a relatively low-key personality (usually an asset in confirmation hearings), she's reliably liberal, and he knows her personally from Chicago. Downsides? Well, Obama, like Bush, wants badly to name the first Hispanic Justice, but there are always multiple considerations in picking a Justice; Bush never got there either, and Obama may well have one or two more picks in the next few years. Otherwise, the main downside - if you consider it one - is that Judge Wood's record will put the abortion issue front and center even more than the usual SCOTUS battle.
UPDATE: No sooner had I written these words than the word came down that Obama has instead chosen Second Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
I'm going to need to be very cautious in writing about this nomination battle, for professional reasons. Let's just say that everyone with any interest in making a fight of this nomination is very happy with this pick.
SECOND UPDATE: Ruffini notes that Obama is making this announcement the same day the California Supreme Court is set to decide whether to throw out the verdict of the people of California in supporting Proposition 8, the anti-same-sex marriage proposition. Unclear whether Obama is hoping to preempt the issue, but the net result will likely be a sudden shift of focus to social issues.
May 22, 2009
POLITICS: Conservatism's Essential Element
What is the essential element of conservatism?
I have had a number of conversations and arguments on this question in recent months, as befits a movement doing its time in the wilderness. The responses by Beldar, Prof. Bainbridge and arch-libertarian Brink Lindsey to Judge Richard Posner's provocative blog post on the subject of conservative intellectualism is only the latest installment in this debate, but a good excuse to weigh in on my own.
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First up, there are those who argue that the core of conservatism is the intellect, the use of reason. These tend, by and large, to be the economic conservatives, doing constant battle with the Left's efforts to repeal the laws of economic reality to cater to demagogic appeals to "fairness" and blatant nonsense like protectionism and minimum wage and rent control laws. Or the legal conservatives, struggling to hold the line for the consistent application of the rule of law in the face of appeals to "empathy." (Judge Posner, being the dean of the economic-analysis-of-law movement, sits neatly at the intersection of both). Or, at times, the national security hawks, arguing for more cold-eyed realism and fewer appeals to the self-abnegating moral vanities of the moment.
All of these have their point. Reason and intellect have a vital role in conservatism. But the intellect, taken alone, carries its own dangers and limitations. Polls regularly show that Americans with post-graduate educations tend to be less, rather than more conservative, and that's been true for years. Conservative intellectuals in particular have often been late to join the populist waves that have given political conservatism its greatest victories. More broadly, intellectuals are rightly notorious for building castles in the air that have neither appeal nor connection to the common man and the world he inhabits. Intellectuals as a class have fallen prey to nearly all the worst ideological fads and enthusiasms to sweep the Western World since 1789. Too often, as Beldar notes, intellectuals have left themselves defenseless against moral monstrosities and the seductions of power (especially where the ideology in question offers to give power to intellectuals as a class). A conservatism solely of the intellect can be a powerful force in a debate society, but it will never be either politically resonant or wholly trustworthy with power.
The failings of intellectuals give rise to the opposite argument: that the weakness of liberalism, which conservatives must remedy, is precisely that it is a sterile intellectual creed, reducing man to his wants and his biological imperatives and neglecting what really animates the human animal: pride, anger, fear, love of family and country and all that is dear and familiar. Law-and-order and national-security conservatives will tell you that the Left's legalisms leave it unable to grapple with the true threats posed by dangerous men and too limp to appeal to legitimate needs and methods for gaining the people's loyalty and redressing their injuries. We have people on the left these days who want to bring terrorists to our shores and put them in our prisons, and cannot for the life of them understand why anyone would object to that, because they have locked themselves so thoroughly into their own mental straitjackets that they can't use simple common sense. Students of patriotism will tell you that men will fight for their homes in ways that they would never fight for international abstractions. Students of culture will tell you that all the studies and programs in the world are no substitute for what a man will do for his family if government stops trying to substitute itself for his role. Critics of abortion will tell you that the cold utilitarianism of the "pro-choice" movement and its clinical approach to the most powerful force known to humanity - a mother's love for her child - leaves women who make that fatal choice with an emotional wound they may never entirely salve. Critics of big government argue that central planning and the rule of experts is doomed to grief because it passes the point where a man is willing to be nagged.
The heart is indeed a powerful and mysterious thing, one that must be accounted for in public policy. But the heart can be an even more treacherous guide than the mind, more prone to romantic fantasies that are all the more inexplicable when the madness passes. Conservatives may thrive at times on their connection to deep emotional currents, but they are just as often called upon to curb them.
A further school of thought is that the core dividing line between conservatives and liberals is faith. Mind and heart alike may be powerful tools, but they can only be properly guided by an informed conscience, which is a gift from God. The devotees of the role of faith in conservatism have polls on their side: even in the worst of times, regular churchgoers are conservatism's most faithful core. Strong religious faith is a powerful indicator of being conservative, moreso even than having a family, a mortgage or a job. Turning from politics to policy, certainly there is much to say for the view that a society that loses its faith loses its conservatism and, ultimately, its moral bearings and even (as Mark Steyn is wont to observe) its desire to populate the Earth with the next generation.
But faith alone is too narrow a definition. Religions are notoriously fractious and factional, so while a political consensus can be built on broadly shared moral foundations that themselves are the products of faith, one cannot be built directly on faith itself. And in any event, many faiths simply don't provide the answers needed to grapple with the myriad banal matters of politics, and are rightly suspicious of entangling themselves in trying to answer them. Conservatives may include many people of faith, but to get how conservatism works, something more earthbound is required.
Reason, emotion, and faith are all important. But the crucial and distinctive element of conservatism is experience. There's a reason why people in general tend to grow more conservative as they age: partly because they have more responsibilities and pay more taxes, yes, but also because they have seen more of life. That process is only a microcosm of the broader conservative belief in tradition: not tradition as nostalgia or fear of the unknown, but rather tradition as the proving ground of human experience, the ultimate laboratory of humanity. Experience, as the saying goes, is the school of mankind, and he will learn at no other.
Principles and Ideology
Defining conservatism as the product of experience is not to deny that conservatism, American-style at least, has general and indeed indispensable principles: patriotism, individual liberty, free enterprise, the rule of law, protection of innocent life, the centraility of faith to an informed conscience and a meaningful life. But it is experience and tradition that guide us as conservatives in applying those principles in the real world and in resolving the tensions when those values conflict.
It is also true that the conservative movement has room within it for a variety of ideologies. But conservatism itself is a philosophy, not an ideology, and every kind of ideology on the Right comes to grief when it loses its moorings in experience and tradition. Judge Posner, for example, has for years espoused - in media ranging from his judicial opinions to his blog posts - probably the most sophisticated version of one conservative ideology, the relentless search for economic efficiency and the application of that same methodology to every aspect of life. Now, the search for efficiency-maximizing rules is a useful lens for analyzing problems, but man does not live by efficiency alone, and the public wisely tends to balk when told that it should accept results people view and unjust or cold-hearted for no other reason than that it's the most efficient way of doing things.
Likewise, libertarianism is a vital element of every conservative's intellectual toolkit; the libertarian questions are the ones we need our representatives to never stop asking. Why does the government need to be doing this? Why the federal government, not states or localities? Is the problem caused by what the government is already doing? Can private business provide a solution? Should individuals bear the costs of their own choices? These are essential lines of inquiry, and the libertarian skepticism they embody is of great value. But libertarianism has only questions, not answers; it is not a workable program so much as a Socratic exercise. Just try going to your local town or city council meeting and suggesting privatizing the fire department if you want an illustration of what happens when dogmatic libertarianism collides with common experience. Even when we ask the best of questions, if we want the answers, we must look to the world as it is and historically has been.
Translating Experience Into Policy
The conservative preference for reliance on life experience manifests itself, procedurally, in four major ways: a preference for democracy over rule by judges and other 'experts'; a preference for free markets over centralized planning; a preference for federalism over one-size-fits-all centralized government; and respect for tradition in all things.
Democracy may not seem like a point of controversy in modern America, but it is, and conservatives time and again end up standing on the side of increasing the power of democracy in its long struggle against centralized, unaccountable authority.
Now, conservatives generally do not fetishize democracy for its own sake. Many conservatives would share Winston Churchill's observation that the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. Indeed, it's not hard to find conservatives who would, at least in theory, be perfectly happy to live under a monarchy if it respected liberty, free markets, the rule of law and the other virtues treasured by conservatives. The Founding Fathers themselves were mostly content to call themselves loyal subjects of the King so long as their established rights were respected. Experience, not ideology, taught them otherwise.
Yet, conservatives in modern America are not only staunch defenders of democracy, they are often - as in the case of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush - eager to evangelize it around the world. Why? Because long experience has shown that, in Churchill's more famous phrase, it is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried. The good king may be preferable to messy democracy, but the good king is a rare breed - one is far from guaranteed to get a good king at the outset, and even if you do, he is subject to the corrupting temptations of power and difficult to be rid of without bloodshed if he goes astray. Democracies are, we know from experience, less apt to make war on one another, and more pliable in correcting their own errors. When coupled with the separation of powers, democratic governments are also, whatever their periodic failings in this regard, less likely to make dramatic changes generally and specifically less apt to toss away long-recognized rights of the citizen and long-established forms of common sense. As George Orwell wrote in explaining the deficiency of government by so-called experts:
The immediate cause of the German defeat was the unheard-of folly of attacking the U.S.S.R. while Britain was still undefeated and America was manifestly getting ready to fight. Mistakes of this magnitude can only be made, or at any rate they are most likely to be made, in countries where public opinion has no power. So long as the common man can get a hearing, such elementary rules as not fighting all your enemies simultaneously are less likely to be violated.
Democracy's virtues arise from that connection to the common man, who is valuable not because there is great virtue in being "common," but simply because the common man, being more numerous than the uncommon man, has more opportunities to learn from his mistakes. Democracy draws from a broader pool of human experience than other forms of government, by involving the greatest number of people in the making of decisions, thus bringing to bear the most wisdom (the most folly, too, but individual decisionmakers are hardly immune to folly).
This is precisely what separates it from the liberal/progressive model by which the wisdom of the people and their representatives is considered suspect if it collides with the "conscience" or judgment of a much smaller number of experts. This is especially blatant when judges arrogate to themselves the power to decide things like what rights are "fundamental" or what punishments are uncivilized, even when the public has voted them into law. Abrogation of democratic enactments by judges is unconservative in three ways: it substitutes the experience of the few for that of the many; it is often based solely on appeals to a narrow type of reasoning, rather than the competing judgments of reason, emotion, faith, tradition and experience that inform the views of the populace as a whole; and it involves pronouncing rules that are inflexible and hard to change if proven faulty through trial and error. Conservatives do, of course, recognize that sometimes the judiciary is charged with restraining the popular will - but the judiciary acts legitimately in doing so only when it is bringing to bear the popular judgments of prior generations. The core concept of conservative judicial review is to invoke constitutional limitations grounded in tradition and blessed at some time in the past by the people - in short, to say that the judgment of the people today must give way only to a judgment made with greater reflection by the people in the past. Yet the Framers of the Constitution nonetheless allowed for the possibility - in Article V's amendment process - that the people could always win out in the end over their predecessors, but only if their determination to change the constitution was sufficiently sustained and widespread. This vision of gradual and broad-based change over time is precisely the opposite of the progressive vision of sudden, jolting, permanent revisions by small numbers of legal specialists.
And the judiciary is hardly the only area where liberal/progressives seek to erode democratic decisionmaking and its necessary companion, democratic accountability (i.e., the means for the people, upon deciding that something has been tried and hasn't worked, to hold responsible the people ultimately in charge); the proliferation of independent agencies, the rise in power of unelected international institutions, the creation of this or that permanent mandated legal entitlement, and the use of the federal government to relieve states of direct responsibility for financing their own spending are all destructive of the basic principle that the best decisions are those made by the most people and subject to their continual review as experience warrants.
In foreign affairs, the enthusiasm for democracy has sometimes created controversy within as well as without the conservative movement. Critics are apt to decry President Bush's view of the value of democratizing Iraq and other Middle Eastern states as being unduly utopian social engineering. The critique is not a totally unfair one and outside the scope of this article to resolve, but there is nonetheless a powerful argument in favor of the Iraq War and the subsequent democratization of Iraq precisely on the theory that the war was about removing the obstacle of a bad government and replacing it with the kind of government that has been proven by experience to be the best option across many different cultures over the past several decades. As I have written before, the conservative argument is that since men can change governments more easily than governments can change men, the best one can do to address the problems of dysfunctional Arab Muslim societies is to remove the obstacle of a problematic centralized government and give the people the space to work things out on their own - a model more consistent with the American Revolution, as well as those in Eastern Europe, rather than the French or Russian models whereby a new government seeks to compel society to fit its theories.
(2) Free Markets
The conservative enthusiasm for free markets is, at the end of the day, simply another aspect of conservative enthusiasm for democracy. Both have their failings, but the idea in each case is that the individual decisions of the many from their own experience, when added together, will produce more reliable value judgments over time than the dictates of the few, however well-intentioned or technically proficient. Free markets for products, for investment capital, and for labor are the ultimate example of trial and error - and they work only when the error part is permitted to exact its price. The U.S. auto industry, for example, has been brought to its knees over time by the consumer and investor markets' judgment of the industry's product line and cost structure. Expecting an 'auto czar' with no background selling cars to pronounce a different verdict is the classic triumph of hope over experience.
Louis Brandeis famously referred to American state legislatures as "laboratories of democracy." Brandeis was no conservative, but he understood that the best way to promote progress in government over time was to start small, test ideas in one place and see if they work before imposing them across the nation. Federalism in the United States is an accident of history, but then conservatism is all about accepting the accidents of history if time tests them and finds them useful. What makes the conservative preference for federalism consistent with the preference for democracy and free markets is the idea that, yet again, the states provide a broader base for decision-making and a wider scope for stress-testing different approaches: 50 state legislatures are better than one, and state and local lawmakers, being closer to the people they govern, are more apt to make decisions based on local experience rather than ideology. States and localities can and do make terrible mistakes, but the nation as a whole is not saddled with them so long as other states and localities are free to witness the experience and choose a different path. On economic issues this is obvious: different tax and regulatory structures produce different results, and over time people and businesses migrate to the ones that produce results they prefer. On social issues, the nation would have a much more stable basis for resolving debates about, say, same-sex marriage or legalized marijuana if there was more confidence that differing localities could experiment with different rules without having to export them nationwide. Even on those issues where the federal government was ultimately needed to forcefully intervene, like slavery and Jim Crow, federal action did not come until there had been decades of experience with free states or states without segregation to offer a positive model to provide a contrast.
Perhaps the classic distillation of the antithesis of conservatism is the line popularized by Robert F. Kennedy that "some people look at the world as it is and ask why; I look at the world as it could be and ask why not." Now, this credo is a wonderful one for the inventor, the entrepeneur, the academic opening a graduate seminar. Asking "why not" is a fine way to stretch the mind to seek ways to try new things and find new answers.
But it's a horrible way to make public policy, which always must be rooted in knowing why the world is as it is. Conservatives can love theory, and experiment with all sorts of intellectual exercises, but fundamentally the only sustainable basis for conservatism is to offer solutions that have already been proven to work in the real world. That doesn't mean conservatives are slavish devotees of the status quo; far from it. Edmund Burke's famous dictum that a society without the means of change is without the means of its own conservation is as true today as it was 220 years ago.
The difference between the Burke worldview and the RFK worldview is respect for tradition. I've listed tradition fourth among the ways in which conservatives put the value of experience into practice for a reason: to emphasize that it's only one of several tools used by conservatives to determine what works and what doesn't, what is and isn't consistent with human nature, what solutions can be implemented without massive unintended consequences. But it remains experience's ultimate proving ground because it draws on an even larger sample size of human judgments and human life experiences than democracy or markets or federalism. Social, cultural, political, religious, legal and economic traditions incorporate within them the vast sweep of thousands of years of trial and error; as GK Chesterton was fond of saying, tradition is the true democracy, superior to the tyranny of whatever generation happens to be walking around at a particular moment. Human beings do things in particular ways for reasons they often do not even understand or think about because someone before them tried and witnessed the results. Liberals may love calling themselves pragmatists too, of course - but a pragmatism that discards tradition deprives itself of the raw material to test whether a purportedly pragmatic solution actually works.
What is most ironic about the Left's disdain for tradition is that it emanates from the same people who are most strident about the sacrosanct and unquestionable nature of Darwinian evolutionary biology. I have no quarrel with evolution as a scientific theory, but to recognize the basic mechanism of natural selection is by necessity to admit the value of tradition as a fundamental organizing principle of nature: that which works over time prospers, and that which does not falls by the wayside. Tradition, properly understood, is not statis; it is change, but change over time by constant experimentation with the new and comparison of its results to the old. It is growth that is organic to the human family. It is the school of mankind; and all the dictates and mandates of government can make us learn at no other.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Conservative successes in politics and policy have always been rooted in experience, in offering solutions that were consistent with the common experience of voters and that stood in contrast to the liberals' impractical efforts to bend the world to fit their theories. Conservatives rose from the 1960s to the high water marks of 1980 and 1994 by connecting with real worries about liberal theories run amok in law enforcement, tax, and welfare policy, and by offering solutions that were easily connected to common sense experience and historical tradition and/or were successfully tested locally. Obituaries of Jack Kemp, for example, noted that his view of the supply-side virtues of reducing marginal tax rates was based on study of how John F. Kennedy's tax cuts worked in the 1960s. By contrast, conservatives under George W. Bush struggled when the public was unconvinced that we were being conservative: when voters believed the Iraq War or Social Security reform to be unduly ambitious rather than in line with the lessons of experience and tradition. A conservative resurgence under the current government is most likely to depend on public recognition that the Democrats are doing things that just don't, in common experience, make sense.
Conservatives going forward should not take this lesson as a reason never to propose big ideas and big solutions, but the movement's many ideological factions can best sell themselves to the public by respecting the value of experience. Take control at the local or state level to test-run ideas (one reason why Barack Obama has fought so hard to compel GOP Governors to accept stimulus money and spend it as he wants it spent is precisely to prevent any Governor from offering a different model). Explain to voters why and how conservative proposals are consistent with things that have worked in the past, and why and how the left's ideas seek to impose ideology on reality rather than the other way around. Principles are fine things, but the voters by and large see our principles as secondary to a decent respect for how things work and what people are really like.
The conservative may seek to promote many good values, but liberals too have their own values. The conservative may make moving appeals to reason, emotion and faith, but liberals have their own appeals. The conservative may offer a hopeful vision of the future, but liberals offer their own vision and their own hope. At the end of the day, what makes conservatism both distinct and viable is not the castles it builds in the air but the roots that hold it deep in the ground. The essential element of conservatism is that by learning from experience and tradition, it reflects the world as it really is.
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May 20, 2009
POLITICS: Star Power
I missed this one in my post the other day on Rubio and Crist - watch this clip of Marco Rubio in action and you can see why people have been excited about him for some time. Note - as becomes obvious when he pulls out a crumpled roll of paper to read the Kennedy quote - the absence of a TelePrompter.
H/T. John McCormack offers some samples of Crist speaking for contrast. Crist's not terrible, and of course he's won a couple of statewide races as Governor and AG, but he's a pretty unexciting politician with no identifiable principles. I'm guessing he'll focus on ignoring Rubio as hard as he can.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:23 PM | Politics 2009 | Politics 2010 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: All Class
POLITICS: Meet The New Brownshirts
Intimidation, home invasion and the not-too-subtle threat of physical violence - by community organizers closely allied with governmental power and receiving taxpayer money. It's not a pretty combination:
Bruce Marks doesn't bother being diplomatic. A campaigner on behalf of homeowners facing foreclosure, he was on the phone one day in March to a loan executive at Bank of America Corp.
The goal of this sort of thing, of course, is to thoroughly politicize business decisions from top to bottom of the economy, squeezing out as far as possible the role of independent business judgment and for the benefit of favored constituencies and politicians (see here for one of the more egregious examples by one of the nation's most notorious practitioners of political extortion, and here for a similar example of the use of strong-arm street tactics). And the results will be predictable: together with the move to limit credit card fees, the Democrats and their activist allies will put businesses to the choice of (1) extending bad credit in exchange for insufficient returns to cover the risks, for the purpose of currying political favor and keeping the brownshirts away from their homes and families, or (2) getting out of the business altogether. (Allahpundit notes the third choice of shifting costs onto good credit risks, but there's only so much blood to squeeze from that stone directly, except insofar as it's done indirectly by using taxpayer money to bribe the banks).
It's not a good thing for liberty, not a good thing for the economy, and ultimately not a good thing for the integrity of a government that gets too comfortable pulling the strings.
May 19, 2009
Deval Patrick's HopeChange 1.0 act is running to its logical conclusion of broken promises and tax hikes. Don't miss clicking the graphic on the left.
May 18, 2009
POLITICS: The Case For Not Letting Up On Speaker Pelosi
Nancy Pelosi has had a very bad stretch over the issue of what she knew, and when, about waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques." She still seems not to have learned that it's a bad idea to get in a public spat with people who collect secrets for a living. Her ever-shifting explanations of what she was briefed on and when, culminating in Thursday's press conference (in which a visibly shaken Speaker repeatedly re-read her prepared statement in answer to questions by a suddenly skeptical press corps) have left her credibility in tatters and her story wholly incoherent. The latest blow came today as Leon Panetta, her former House colleague and now Obama's CIA director, produced a memo today disputing Pelosi's contention that the CIA lied to her.Nancy Pelosi has had a very bad stretch over the issue of what she knew, and when, about waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques." She still seems not to have learned that it's a bad idea to get in a public spat with people who collect secrets for a living. Her ever-shifting explanations of what she was briefed on and when, culminating in yesterday's press conference (in which a visibly shaken Speaker repeatedly re-read her prepared statement in answer to questions by a suddenly skeptical press corps) have left her credibility in tatters and her story wholly incoherent. The latest blow came today as Leon Panetta, her former House colleague and now Obama's CIA director, produced a memo today disputing Pelosi's contention that the CIA lied to her: "CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing 'the enhanced techniques that had been employed.'"
Just as bad for the Left, her flagrant hypocrisy on this issue has badly undermined their core argument for prosecuting members of the Bush Administration. Recall that the theory behind such prosecutions is that waterboarding is so obviously "torture" that no reasonable person could conclude otherwise - yet here is the leader of their lawmakers in the House declaring that she very reasonably assumed that if Bush Administration lawyers had cleared the practice, it must be legal. (Charles Krauthammer makes this point as to the moral argument). That's an impossible circle to square, and it means the cries of "war criminal" now have to be seriously muted and nuanced if the most left-wing Speaker in memory is not to be sacrificed to a left-wing crusade.
It's too soon to tell what sort of lasting damage will be done to Pelosi as Speaker. I'm not generally one to declare a politician dead the minute a bad story breaks. More likely, as happened to Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay, it will take multiple blows to bring down Pelosi, and the impetus will have to come from the rank and file of her own caucus, which seems disinclined to toss her under the bus just yet (even if the heir apparent, her longtime rival Steny Hoyer, has been fairly unsubtly measuring the drapes in the meantime).
That said, there's a school of thought among Republicans that because Pelosi is a polarizing figure with obvious weaknesses, we should fear pushing too hard because the Democrats will be weaker for having her around their necks next fall than if she's gone (one hears similar sentiments about Chris Dodd, David Paterson, and Deval Patrick, among others). Let her twist in the wind, these voices say. But even aside from the legitimate interest in exposing dishonesty and hypocrisy on the part of a sitting Congressional leader, the hard calculus of political hardball says otherwise. Of course, in any debate there are arguments that work and those that don't, and in this particular debate there are punches that may need to be pulled for legitimate national security reasons. But Republicans serious about winning political battles going forward should not ease the pressure on Speaker Pelosi out of some misguided hope that leaving her wounded is better than finishing her off.
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There are two reasons for this. The first is the brutal calculus of political hardball: when you have the enemy down, you finish her off, lest she recover and be stronger, and your ammunition stale, by the time you fire again. You don't let her get up and catch her breath and try to get her own counter-narrative out. You can't predict the flow of events, and you can't predict with certainty how much damage any particular charge or revelation might do, so better to use what you have when you have it, and get the most you can. This is how the Democrats took on Gingrich and DeLay and, for that matter, Bush - and the accumulation of damage eventually took its toll. There are rare exceptions to this rule: for example, Rahm Emanuel knew for months in 2006 that he had 100% damning stuff on Mark Foley, but since it was so damaging and Foley was a comparatively small fish by himself, it made sense for Rahm to keep quiet and have the story go off closer to the election. But that's the exception, not the rule.
Second, even if - as seems more likely - this story doesn't really have enough juice to take out Pelosi all by itself, it's undeniably become a serious distraction. And that itself is a thing of great value right now. Quick: in the past three decades, how many times has a political party passed a major domestic policy priority through legislation more than six months after taking control of the White House or one or more Houses of Congress? I don't know the answer either, but I'm pretty sure it's "not many." This is a point I have noted in regard to the Bush Administration, and it's just as true of the Democrats: they will not have an unlimited window of opportunity in which to nationalize health care and pass a ruinous cap-and-trade program, major tax hikes, EFCA, and other significant priorities. The clock is already ticking four months into the Obama Administration, with the summer recess gradually creeping closer and a potential major battle brewing over the Supreme Court. Every day that the Speaker is tied up defending herself over an issue the Democrats thought would help them is a day that her attention, and the headlines, are pulled away from the rest of the legislative agenda. Even Republicans who would like to keep Pelosi around another year for electoral advantage have to realize the even greater priority on stopping that agenda now, for the good of the country.
The Pelosi story has mostly taken on a life of its own by now, and/or is being driven by sources in the CIA or elsewhere in the intelligence community; much of this is in any event beyond Republican control. But if Republicans get the opportunity to keep the heat on the Speaker, they should.
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POLITICS: Taking Down Corzine
WaPo looks at the race to the June 2 New Jersey GOP Gubernatorial primary, as corruption-busting former US Attorney Chris Christie faces off against conservative Mayor Steve Lonegan for the chance to go after the unpopular Jon Corzine. In contrast to some of the other races this year, I happen to think the GOP should go with the more moderate Christie in this one, especially since a guy who made his name indicting scores of corrupt New Jersey politicians (the bulk of them Democrats, of course, but by no means all of them) is the right choice to clean up Trenton.
It's noteworthy that despite obituaries for the GOP in the Northeast, there are GOP Governors in Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island and a significant shot at the statehouse in New York and New Hampshire (in Massachusetts Deval Patrick's in dire trouble but more likely to lose a primary), as well as a fighting chance to pick up Senate seats in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, maybe even Delaware. Most all of those races will turn largely on the national mood in 2010 (or in Corzine's case, this fall), and it's wildly unlikely that Republicans will sweep them, but the obituaries may yet prove premature.
POLITICS: With Biden, There Is No Such Thing As "Undisclosed"
Providing an object lesson on the hazards of sharing secrets with a man who has no unexpressed thoughts, the undisclosed location is undisclosed no longer:
[W]hile recently attending the Gridiron Club dinner in Washington, an annual event where powerful politicians and media elite get a chance to cozy up to one another, Biden told his dinnermates about the existence of a secret bunker under the old U.S. Naval Observatory, which is now the home of the vice president.
According to [Eleanor] Clift's report on the Newsweek blog, Biden "said a young naval officer giving him a tour of the residence showed him the hideaway, which is behind a massive steel door secured by an elaborate lock with a narrow connecting hallway lined with shelves filled with communications equipment."
May 12, 2009
POLITICS: Charlie Crist Picks A Fight Republicans Don't Need
Republicans are going to have a lot of challenges and a lot of opportunities in the 2010 elections. One thing the party needs to do is get our best candidates into races we can win; another is to make sure we hold the easy races and avoid bloody and ideologically divisive primaries in the tough ones; a third is to make sure we can raise adequate funds to support all the races we need to contest; and a fourth is to promote the young stars of the party who will represent its future.
Charlie Crist disregarded all of that when he announced that he was dropping out of the race for re-election as Governor of Florida to enter the primary to replace retiring Republican Senator Mel Martinez. And NRSC Chairman John Cornyn, by immediately endorsing Crist, signalled that he encouraged this sort of behavior. Shame on both of them for putting Crist's personal ambitions above the good of the party. Let us count the ways in which Crist's decision is bad for the Florida GOP and the national party:
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(1) Crist Is Abandoning His Post.
This is the underreported aspect of what Crist is doing, on the national level - but it's not going unnoticed in Florida. The GOP has held the Governor's mansion in Florida for 11 years now, through two highly successful terms of conservative Governor Jeb Bush and now the more moderate Crist enjoying the fruits of the Bush-built party. Crist hasn't been an especially great Governor, but he's popular enough and he's handled managerial aspects of the job (e.g., hurricanes) pretty well. He'd be a very strong favorite for re-election in 2010, likely running unopposed for the nomination and allowing the Florida GOP to put the bulk of its efforts behind the Senate race and the down-ticket races. And holding the statehouse is especially critical, with redistricting on the horizon after the 2010 Census - for the future of the party at the state level as well as in the House, the Governor's mansion may even be a bigger deal than the Senate, which is saying quite a lot. Anyone with a passing familiarity with how political parties work should know this, which is what makes it so infuriating that the NRSC wants Crist out of the Governor's race.
The Miami Herald lays out the ramifications down-ticket, where Crist's maneuver opens up a chain reaction of contested races for Republican-held offices:
Besides Crist and Sink, the other statewide elected officials expected to seek new office are Attorney General Bill McCollum and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, both likely to run for governor.
The only party leaders who would encourage Republicans to take this course are Barack Obama and Howard Dean.
(2) Crist Is Throwing His Weight Against A Rising Star
For all the talk about ideas - and ideas do matter quite a lot - political parties win and lose elections with people. And when you have good people on your team, you want them to succeed and advance.
Marco Rubio is one such person. Only 38 years old, the charismatic, Miami-born Cuban-American Rubio - a lawyer and father of four - has risen swiftly in his decade in Florida politics, serving as a City Commissioner for the City of West Miami before entering the Florida House, where he served four terms, served first as Majority Whip during the last redistricting, then Majority Leader and finally Speaker of the Florida House before term limits forced him out of the job in 2009. You can read more here on Rubio, and watch him in action:
And announcing his Senate run:
Rubio is everything older Republicans like Crist should be encouarging: he's young but already experienced as a leader, he's telegenic and a good speaker, he's conservative, and yes, he's Latino, a demographic that a more inclusive Republican party would be reaching out to, not spurning. Here's the reaction from the conservative Hispanic Leadership Fund:
We are highly disappointed that the Republican establishment would slam the door on Marco Rubio, who is the kind of candidate that the GOP should be eagerly supporting. We have heard a lot of talk about how the party wants to find qualified Hispanic candidates to run for office but in the end we see once again that this is nothing but lip-service. Additionally, as conservatives, we are doubly troubled that Rubio has been so swiftly brushed aside by the powers that be. Republicans cannot be a governing majority again until they earn more Hispanic votes, and this move certainly does not help them in this regard.
Charlie Crist has talked a good talk as Governor about promoting diversity, but here we have a guy who is every bit as qualified as Crist to hold statewide office as a legislator - and rather than find a way to co-exist with him, Crist bolts his own job to try to stop Rubio. So much for outreach.
(3) Crist Is Picking An Ideological Battle
Florida is one place where the moderates and the conservatives have, by and large, managed to get along pretty well, as illustrated by statewide victories by the likes of Bush, Crist, Martinez and McCollum, men who certainly don't see eye to eye on every issue. By running Crist for re-election and Rubio for the Senate, Republicans could send a clear message to voters that the state party remains big enough for both groups. Instead, Crist is jumping into a messy, expensive primary race that will split the party into clearly-defined ideological camps and is bound to leave hard feelings on both sides. Moderate Republicans can complain all they want about the Pat Toomey primary challenge to Arlen Specter, but make no mistake: in this race, it's the moderate picking a fight to muscle out a conservative in a state where there is no serious question that conservatives have won and can continue to win races statewide.
(4) Crist Is Leading The Wrong Way
Finally, to be blunt, Crist is wrong on the biggest issue of the day: whether Republicans should oppose President Obama's plans to massively increase government spending and government control of health care, banking, energy, the auto industry, and indeed virtually every aspect of the U.S. economy. His embrace of the wasteful $787 billion stimulus package is the first step in a political Jim Jones act, by which Republicans abandon the clear distinctions that give voters any reason to choose Republicans over Democrats. It's one thing for Crist to be a moderate back home in Florida, where he has to work in a coalition with other Republicans, but it's entirely another to send him to Washington on a platform of joining the Democratic coalition on one issue after another. The party simply can't survive if it's identified with Obama's agenda, and why would such an opposition party appeal to anybody?
Finally, John Cornyn has proven that he has learned absolutely nothing from the fiasco of 2006, when the GOP lost close Senate races elsewhere after pouring millions into a primary race to prop up Lincoln Chaffee. You don't cannibalize key offices like the Florida Governorship to recruit candidates, and you certainly don't do so to poke a stick in the eye of the party's base by creating a contested primary against a rising star who appeals to a crucial demograpic. It's a loser move all around.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:00 PM | Politics 2009 | Politics 2010 | Comments (33) | TrackBack (0)
May 11, 2009
POLITICS/LAW: How Republicans Should Oppose Obama's Supreme Court Nominee
At this writing, we do not know who President Obama will nominate to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court, and so it's impossible to anticipate precisely how much Republican opposition his pick will meet with, or for that matter whether any Democrats will be opposed.
Nonetheless, of this much we can be sure, from Obama's own history and prior statements as well as that of his party: Obama is highly likely to select a nominee who will do a terrible job as a Supreme Court Justice, in terms of (1) following the reasoning process that we Republicans and conservatives believe is the legitimate and appropriate way for a Justice to decide cases and (2) reaching what Republicans/conservatives would regard as the correct results in interpretiting the Constitution and federal statutes.
So, the President is likely to do something Republicans legitimately and seriously disagree with, and which will do lasting damage to the nation. How then to respond? Here, sight unseen of the nominee, I can offer two main suggestions.
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I. Get To The Merits
Republicans in recent battles over judicial nominees, especially those conducted while the GOP held a strong majority in the Senate, have had an unfortunate tendency to fall back on proceduralism. That means making arguments primarily along the lines that if a candidate is "qualified," he or she should be given a floor vote by the Senate, without getting into matters of judicial philosophy or ideology.
This is perhaps the best tactical approach if you control the White House and need to apply pressure to wavering Senators, given that there's a fairly broad bipartisan popular consensus that is at least vaguely in favor of deferring to the President in the judicial selection and confirmation process. But as a matter of long-term strategy, it's terribly short-sighted.
Sure, arguments about merit, like this Pejman essay, are important. Lack of qualifications was ultimately what turned me and many others who had no particular ideological reason to oppose her against Harriet Miers. But qualifications are not the core issue. Let's say I was starting a team that aimed to win a championship, and I asked you whether LeBron James was more qualified than Albert Pujols. You could not answer that question without first asking me whether I'm playing basketball or baseball - because the two men make their living trying to accomplish completely different things.
The simple fact is that Republicans have a fundamentally different view of what judges are trying to accomplish. And so, ipso facto, a judge who is highly intelligent and experienced may be "qualified" in the abstract, but is guaranteed to perform poorly if he or she is not even trying to do the things those of us on the Right believe are the essentials of the job.
Obama has been known to say things like this in describing what a Justice should be like:
We need somebody who's got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it's like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that's the criteria by which I'm going to be selecting my judges.
Now, empathy is not a bad thing in the abstract (although a little empathy for the unborn, the soldier, the cop, the Christian, the victim of crime or terrorism among others, might offer some balance to that picture), but in terms of putting it as the centerpiece of a judicial philosophy...well, imagine how liberals would feel if George W. Bush had said the most important thing in a judge was being patriotic or a good Christian. Just because something is an important value for people or government officials generally doesn't mean it's the job of the judiciary.
Republicans disagree fundamentally with the view that "empathy" is a Justice's primary job. Instead, we believe that the job of judges is, at its core, to recognize that all legitimate exercises of judicial power derive from the consent of the governed. That job is carried out by figuring out what exactly the people - acting directly or through their elected representatives - agreed to when they enacted the Constitution and federal statutes. Making that determination doesn't decide 100% of the issues presented to the Supreme Court, of course, but it's the bedrock foundation without which the Court's exercise of power is fundamentally illegitimate, and the Court must decide that question, and determine if it disposes of all the issues at hand in a case, before it proceeds to any other question. But Obama and his allies simply refuse to be bound by the need to limit themselves to such constraints on their power.
The Republican position has a lot of popular appeal, much more than the competing view of judicial imperialism (that the judiciary should stop the elected branches from doing things that violate the judges' moral and public policy views) and, worse yet, transnational progressivism (i.e., the notion that American law should conform and ultimately subject itself to European/Canadian-derived "international" law without regard to the consent of the American people). Republicans have a winning philosophical argument on the merits, one that goes to the very core of our continuing status as a democracy; we should not fear to make it.
Perhaps the best evidence of the enduring popularity of judicial conservatism is the other side's perennial and often-desperate attempts to blur this distinction and appropriate its language. Justice Stevens has been known to claim that he is a conservative, which is the highest tribute that can be paid to judicial conservatives: a man who is closing in on the status of oldest and longest-serving Justice prefers the conservative label to one that would distinguish his jurisprudence from that of his critics. For a recent example, Gordon Silverstein at the New Republic peddles the myth of Justice Souter as a "real" conservative, which he frames as adherence to judicial precedent but by which he really means one who never makes liberals unhappy. Orin Kerr explodes that myth. A sample:
[T]he two Justices on the current Court who vote most frequently with each other are often Justice Souter and Justice Ginsburg. Looking at the current Supreme Court Term, for example, the Souter/Ginsburg pairing is the most common: They have fully agreed with each other 88% of the time. The next closest pairings are Scalia/Roberts at 83%, Roberts/Alito at 81%, and Thomas/Scalia at 79%.
This is even before you consider the numerous occasions on which Justice Souter has not adhered to precedent, ranging from recent reversals on the 8th Amdment to Lawrence v. Texas, just to pick a few of the more sensational examples.
Putting the argue-the-merits approach into practice, of course, doesn't mean ignoring short-term tactics entirely. Certainly, we should want to win the battle ahead. But tactics are not everything, and the odds against victory are prohibitive: even if Obama picks a poor nominee who generates significant Democratic opposition, the fact remains that he has close to 60 votes in the Senate; he'll get some choice of his eventually, whether it's his first choice or not.
Thinking strategically, therefore, Republicans and conservatives should prioritize, not immediate tactical advantage, but long-term victory, by focusing on educating the public about how Obama's nominee departs from the proper and legitimate interpretation of the law and how the visions of the two sides differ on this issue. Elections have consequences - and the loser of the election should not hesitate to point out what those are.
II. Be Willing To Apply The Obama Standard
Many of us on the Right have long argued, on principle, against the filibustering of judges. Personally, while I'm comfortable with using the filibuster to delay floor votes on a nominee to ensure the gathering and dissemination of sufficient information about the nominee, I regard it as an important practice for the Senate, as a matter of courtesy and tradition, to give the President an up-or-down vote on all his nominees.
But let's face it: we had a long national argument on that point, and we lost. The other side didn't adhere to that view of deference. In the 2008 election, we nominated a candidate who voted in favor of every SCOTUS nominee during his career, ranging from Bork to Ginsburg; the Democrats nominated a man who participated in numerous filibusters of appellate nominees, voted to filibuster Justice Alito, and voted on the merits against the two SCOTUS nominees (Roberts and Alito) to come to a vote during his brief tenure as a Senator. Orrin Hatch led the way in convincing Senate Republicans to give a fair vote and deference to the selection of Justices Ginsburg and Breyer, and left-wingers are still using that against Republicans. Republicans should make explicit that they will give Obama's nominees only so much deference as he himself was willing to give.
Jeff Sessions, himself at one time a victim of Democratic obstruction in the Senate back when he was nominated for a federal appellate judgeship, has signalled that the GOP is not necessarily gearing up for a filibuster. I don't have a problem with this statement. First of all, it's traditional to at least profess a willingness to keep your options open. Second, as Karl Rove points out, Senate rules currently require that any nominee win at least one vote of the minority party on the Judiciary Committee, and with the loss of Arlen Specter from the minority, the pickings could be slim even without a filibuster. And third, there's a lot on the table in the Senate; if Republicans can accomplish their mission of educating the public, and if they are prepared to vote against the nominee on the merits, there may not be a point in a fruitless filibuster vote.
All that said, Republicans shouldn't rule out the filibuster. There comes a time when unilaterally standing on a principle the other side doesn't respect, out of courtesy and tradition, is just self-defeating. And in the long run - maybe not now, given how close the Democrats are to 60 votes, but sooner or later - Republican resistance could decide the Democrats on changing the rules themselves to make it easier to get judges confirmed. As with other efforts to rely on brute force, it is better to compel this to be done openly, in full view of the public. And new rules - unlike courtesy or custom - are something Republicans can use down the road to re-establish the balance they wanted all along.
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POLITICS: The Court Jester
It ain't exactly the biggest story in the world, but it's a symptom: Andrew Breitbart nails the difference between the Bush years, when comedians like Stephen Colbert came to the White House Correspondents' Dinner to mock the president, and the Obama years, when they come to fawn over the president and wish harm to his enemies while he laughs. Even Mike Lupica recognized that Wanda Sykes' jokes were over the line and, frankly, barely jokes at all - yet Obama laughed at them, because they were aimed at his enemies.
May 8, 2009
POLITICS: Sanford Takes The Heat
Over at RS we have a writeup of a blogger conference call with Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina. It was the first blogger call he'd done, and was a pretty informal 45-minute chat.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:10 PM | Politics 2009 | Politics 2012 | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: Thou Shalt Not Mock Obama's Mustard
This is just hilarious. Even the mildest of needling brings out this response from the Left. HuffPo describing Obama's trip to a hamburger joint as "historic" is precious.
Stretching the science to sell 'climate change.' The politicization of science proceeds apace.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:57 PM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2009 | Science | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
May 7, 2009
WAR/POLITICS: Democratic Spin on GTMO Stupid Even By Standards of Democratic Spin
Goldfarb notes this hilarious attempt to claim that Republicans opposed to moving detainees from Guantanamo into their districts are - wait for it - insulting America's corrections officers:
ON GUANTANAMO, GOP DISPARAGES MEN AND WOMEN WHO KEEP OUR COMMUNITIES SAFE
Let's review the varieties of stupid here.
1. This statement assumes that 100% of the detainees will continue to remain locked up, and of course if you believe that, why not just improve the prison they are in? In fact, the whole point of this exercise is to release some detainees entirely and send others into the criminal justice system, where they may be acquitted or have cases dropped against them, in many cases because of how evidence was gathered against them under wartime or battlefield conditions.
2. The Democrats presume to speak for all prison guards as being thrilled to take these guys on. I am guessing that's not the case. Ask Louis Pepe. Ask why our allies are balking at taking them. Ask the people of Alexandria, Virginia what additional precautions had to be taken just to hold one of them.
3. I love the line about "communities that depend economically on prison facilities" - leave it to the Democrats to look at holding jihadists as a jobs program.
4. Does anybody but Democratic politicians actually believe that jihadists are no more dangerous than your usual criminal? Hmmm, we have prisoners who are willing to engage in suicide attacks, believe they will go to eternal paradise if they die killing infidels, specifically hate the U.S. government, and are connected to international organizations with money and weapons. You don't think they are a greater security risk than your typical prisoner, even in maximum security? Really?
POLITICS: How Reagan Made Himself Reagan
The recent flap over Jeb Bush talking about leaving Reagan behind has been overblown - Jeb's point is that the GOP needs to sell its ideas, not just the Reagan brand, and that's obviously true as the man himself recedes into memory for a lot of the electorate.
Steve Hayward, though, has an excellent point that should be drilled into the heads of GOP candidates everywhere:
[A]ll those folks who claim to be Reaganites would take the time to sit down a study the man's methods - not his ideology - more seriously. As we now know, he worked extremely hard, studying the issues in depth and preparing and practicing his speeches at great length. I'm frankly appalled at the low level of rhetorical skill displayed by most GOP politicians today. It is not just a matter of talent; talent helps, but Reagan showed that hard work is the key ingredient. Too many of our would-be party leaders today are simply lazy, and think they can coast through speeches and media appearances with little forethought. Finally, Reagan lived by an old show-business adage - always leave your audience wanting more. His speeches were often memorable because they were relatively short. You could fit five of Reagan's state of the union speeches inside one of Bill Clinton's or George W. Bush's. (This means you, Governor Palin, whom I heard in Anchorage in March making a rambling hour-long speech that someone at my table rightly described as "Castroesque.") So try this out, GOP leaders: Shorter speeches. People will remember more of what you say, and want to hear you say more later. This really isn't rocket science. Heck, it isn't even political science.
Very few politicians bring together all the elements of communication Reagan did: specific ideas, backed by specific facts; inspiring rhetoric, well-delivered; good use of humor, whether planned, ad-libbed, or by knowing when to use planned ad-libs; brevity; warmth; respect for the audience's intelligence. I still think Rudy Giuliani is the closest we have to that, although Rudy's too hard around the edges to match Reagan's personality. But then, rhetorical skill actually wasn't the weakness of the GOP field in 2008. On the Democratic side, Obama is a match for Reagan at soaring rhetoric, but he rarely communicates the kind of concrete, memorable messages backed by facts that Reagan deployed, and he doesn't really switch gears well to being funny or folksy or warm; all his best stuff is in the tone of the JFK Inaugural.
Bush and Obama are both proof of the adage that hard work matters - Bush is a famously poor speaker, but his big set-piece speeches that he worked at usually came off well; Obama is notorious for hemming, hawing and bumbling when away from his TelePrompter (which he uses in many situations where Bush might have been well-advised to try one), but he performed well in the debates with McCain when he put the effort into it.
Most of the major GOP future stars have the potential to be really excellent communicators, but each will need to work on something different, like Gov. Jindal with the TelePrompter. Hayward's advice would be well-taken by all of them.
You may remember the flap over the Secret Service limitations on where protestors could set up near George W. Bush, and the wailing about "free speech zones" being an unconscionable restriction, etc. I have yet to hear anybody (1) complain about the Secret Service's policy since Obama took over or (2) explain how the policy changed, as I suspect it has not. Like so many routine government activities, it's only objectionable when it's Bush.
Anyway, this is a slightly different story - about a private sign-making company, not a government agency - but it's nonetheless revealing: a billboard company refused to allow signs to call President Obama "pro-abortion," insisting on altering the billboards to "pro abortion choice." You can go click the link to see the proposed and amended billboards.
First of all, this is ignorance. Obama has long supported taxpayer funding to subsidize abortions. It is simply not possible to support taking money from taxpayers to pay for a thing, causing more of that thing to happen, and then argue that you are not supporting the thing itself. Taxpayer funding is a far cry from live and let live (it's something Obama opposes for, say, sending black children in failed DC school districts to private schools - he must regard abortion as more desirable than a good education). Add in efforts to squeeze Catholic hospitals that have moral objections to performing abortions, and Obama's famous crack about how he would not want his daughters "punished with a baby," and it's just nonsensical to deny that Obama is, if words have any meaning whatsoever, pro-abortion. The fear of saying so about anybody is revealing, though - it's a recognition that being pro-abortion is a bad thing, which of course is not the case if you believe, as supporters of legal abortion must, that the act does not take a human life.
(A digression: when Sarah Palin talked recently about the choice to keep her youngest child, liberals argued that this was a concession - isn't it wonderful, some of them argued, to live in a country that allows such choices? Um, no. Using cocaine and driving drunk are illegal, but we still speak of not doing them as being moral choices. If a teenager from a bad neighborhood refuses to join a gang, we can celebrate the positive moral choice without saying, "isn't it great to live in a country where teenagers get to choose whether or not to join violent, drug-dealing street gangs?" No, it's a tragedy.)
Second, the reluctance to allow open discussion of the issue is symptomatic of something Justice Scalia has noted at the Supreme Court level: the systematic bending of all other rules and customs, much as happened in the days of slavery, to protect the practice of abortion, from unique rules for protests around clinics, to laxer regulation of clinics, to distortion of the language itself. The same people calling for displaying graphic photos of interrogation of detainees or who want soldiers' coffins on the front page of the newspaper without the consent of their families are the ones who are horrified by the idea that any image should be displayed of abortion, the ones who even recoil at showing pictures of live unborn children in the debate. The unwillingness to face the language itself is a symptom of the recognition that some things can't really be defended.
May 5, 2009
POLITICS: Why Republican Unity On Spending Matters
While the defection of Arlen Specter to the Democrats had a number of causes, the proximate cause was that his support of the Obama stimulus bill brought Pat Toomey off the fence and into a primary race Specter would have lost. Jim DeMint followed this up with a provocative WSJ op-ed arguing for more purity in the GOP caucus in sticking to small-government principles and opposing big federal spending. There's been a lot of hand-wringing about whether the Toomey run and the views of people like Sen. DeMint mean the GOP has become too narrow and exclusionary to appeal to moderates. (Leave aside Barney Frank saying the same thing on the other side). As a deep-blue-state Republican, I have always been a believer that the GOP needs to have some flexibility in the demands of party loyalty if it is to have a tent big enough to contain a majority governing coalition; sometimes our elected officials need to treat our principles as a compass, not a straitjacket. But broad generalizations about "conservative" and "moderate" miss the fact that politics is situational. And the political situation we find ourselves in today demands that the GOP have a strong preference, in every jurisdiction, for candidates who will hold the line on spending.
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How We Got Here
Let's start by briefly recapping where we have been. The Reagan Revolution did not spring ex nihilo from the mind of the Gipper; it was the culmination of decades of pent-up, un-responded to public disapproval of high taxes, big spending, heavy regulation, and extravagant and flagrantly unsuccessful welfare policies. What finally cleared the way for Reagan was unified Democratic governance and the mess it made under Jimmy Carter. Reagan, of course, was a genuine conservative on all fronts, but even Reagan had to pick his battles, leaving some segments of the party happier with him than others. Eventually, a combination of bad decisions, weak leadership, bad economic circumstances and political tides brought down Reagan's successor; at the core of the fall of George H.W. Bush was the loss of credibility that came about when he broke his pledge not to raise taxes, leaving voters in peacetime without a reason to distinguish him from his opponent.
But then Bill Clinton came to town, jacked up income taxes and came perilously close to imposing a ruinous energy tax plan and a disastrous government takeover of health care. Strong GOP opposition helped derail the latter two plans, and restore a clear contrast between the parties. The Gingrich Revolution of 1994 - like the Reagan one triggered under unfied Democratic governance - was largely about small government, taxes and spending, and the spending hawks got their turn at the head of the party from about 1995-98. They had some signal successes, including reducing federal spending to below 21% of GDP for the first time since Watergate, a benchmark it has stayed below until this year. But they were also outmaneuvered by the elusive Clinton, and after Clinton declared that "the era of big government is over" and worked with them to balance the budget (with a big assist from the late-90s tech boom), public enthusiasm waned.
The GOP responded by nominating George W. Bush, who accused the GOP Congress of "balancing the budget on the backs of the poor" and set about relegating the spending hawks to the back of the bus with the immigration hawks. Instead, Bush built a winning coalition in 2000, 2002 and 2004 on the three pillars of national security, taxes and social conservatism. With a war on, the spending hawks swallowed more of this than they generally wanted to.
Bush's record on domestic discretionary spending was never as bad as it was portrayed - certainly the contrast to Obama has reminded us of that - and he did try things (like Social Security reform) that would have made a difference if they'd passed, and some of his individual initiatives are defensible on the merits ... but DeMint aptly summarizes how the Bush-era GOP's cumulative effect, combined with a handful of Capitol Hill scandals that unsurprisingly tended to arise from allocation of federal spending, eroded the GOP's distinctive message of taking better care with other people's money and thus respecting the freedom over one's own property that forms the foundation of all other liberties:
No Child Left Behind didn't win us "soccer moms," but it did cost us our credibility on locally controlled education. Medicare prescription drugs didn't win us a "permanent majority," but it cost us our credibility on entitlement reform. Every year, another Republican quality was tainted: managerial competence, fiscal discipline and personal ethics.
Now, we come full circle. Once again, the Democrats have unified control of the government. Once again, they are on a spree, jacking federal spending up to 26% of GDP in a single year, blasting the deficit into orbit, rolling out plans for more taxes and regulations, plotting to nationalize health care and tax energy. Once again, the popular anxiety and anger is out there, as the voters wonder whether anybody has a better answer. Who should they call?
How We Get Out
In short, the current situation calls for the party to once again - as it did in 1980 and 1994 - re-emphasize spending discipline, lower taxes and less intrusive government. The fact that this is an especially powerful message when the Democrats are running things is not coincidental. But to do so, the GOP needs to convince voters of two things: first, that what the Democrats are doing is really bad; and second, that the GOP, if given more power, will actually do something and not just posture, fall back into bad habits or go along with the Democrats. And with the small megaphone of a legislative minority, Republicans need to paint in bold strokes to get heard at all.
This is why party loyalty on this issue is so critical at this time. If a lot of Republicans sign on to Obama's bills, he will have a leg up in claiming to the public that he's not really up to anything dramatic. He knows that - it's why he tried so hard (if ham-handedly) to get Republicans to support the stimulus, and why he has tried so many legal maneuvers to compel unwilling Republican governors to accept stimulus funds and thus make it seem as if they approved of the whole idea all along. (And it is, in fact, hard even for true believers to say no to the money when the federal government has effectively already taken it from your constituents and is only asking if they want a little piece of their own money back). Only a united front can match through actions what the President - by virtue of the bully pulpit - gets to say in words.
And to rebuild the GOP brand on this issue, party unity is also critical. Contrast the ever-controversial issue of abortion. It is well-known that the GOP is the pro-life party. But voters also know and understand that some Republicans - like Rudy Giuliani, or like Specter before he switched - are not pro-life. It's not difficult to accept that dichotomy: pro-choice Republicans call themselves "pro-choice," and so voters can discern the difference without a lot of difficulty and without unduly watering down the party's longstanding identification with opposing abortion.
Spending is different. All Republicans, and most Democrats, run around saying they are opposed to excessive government spending. Northeastern Republicans, in fact, have tended to excuse their views on abortion, in fact, by intoning that they are "socially liberal but fiscally conservative." What are voters supposed to believe when they hear those terms? Only what the parties can prove by their actions. If voters are unhappy with Democratic policies on spending, taxes and regulation, and they see that a bunch of Republicans voted for all those things, they will reasonably conclude - and Democrats will be happy to tell them - that Republicans don't really oppose them or that Republican opposition is somehow not realistic. "Don't listen to those guys, they just want to change who spends the money." If the GOP runs a bunch of candidates who deviate from the party line on opposition to Obama's spending plans, they water down the message of everyone who does.
The special election in NY-20 should be a wake-up call. Republicans ran a candidate who (1) was tied to the bloated, corrupt and incompetent Democrat-dominated state government in Albany, where the GOP has not done much to draw contrasts on spending discipline and its close cousin, public integrity; (2) failed to take a clear, early stand against the stimulus bill; and (3) attacked the Democrats' businessman candidate on liberal-populist grounds as an outsourcer who created the wrong kinds of jobs for the wrong kinds of people. Somehow, we were surprised that this didn't work.
And that's why even a GOP that can ill afford to lose another Senate seat is better off running Pat Toomey than Arlen Specter. Because right now, under today's political circumstances, the only road back in the short term or the long term is to offer an unambiguous message to the voters: if you are not happy with how the majority is doing things, you have a choice.
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Daffyd on the meddling, incompetence, leaks and excessive partisanship of the Congressional Intelligence committees. We're closing in on the day when Democrats will demand 24/7 live C-SPAN coverage of the CIA.
POLITICS: Great Moments in Presidential Oratory
May 2, 2009
POLITICS: RIP Jack Kemp
Just saw this reported: Jack Kemp, a giant of the modern conservative movement, has died after a bout with cancer. Kemp never won national or even statewide office, and his gravelly wonkishness wasn't always the epitome of charisma, but his political career was a testament to the power of ideas, simple ideas like human freedom and the potential of the individual to do better for himself than the government could ever do for him. He was an inspiration to everyone who believed that the interests of government are not the purpose of government. Ronald Reagan inspired many people in politics, but Reagan didn't get to be Reagan alone, and then-Congressman Kemp was one of the people who inspired Reagan's belief in the transformative incentive power of reducing taxes on the last dollar of income earned. Before entering politics, Kemp was a heckuva quarterback, compiling a 65-37-3 record as a starter in the AFL, playing in championship games for LA and San Diego before winning two AFL titles for the Buffalo Bills. Kemp was also the rare HUD secretary who left office well-regarded rather than under investigation or indictment. He was added to the GOP ticket in 1996 when Bob Dole realized his campaign needed ideas - and Jack Kemp, though an ordinary guy, not an intellectual, was synonymous with ideas. And he was, most of all, a happy warrior, like Reagan - a guy who took visible joy in politics because he always believed that if you gave people the ability to keep their own piece of the pie, we'd all have a larger pie to divide. He was, in every sense, a true heir of the Party of Lincoln. He will be missed.
May 1, 2009
POLITICS: Michelle Antoinette and the Don't-Go-To-The-Mall Administration
Obama explains that she and her husband made the choice to give up lucrative jobs in favor of community service. "We left corporate America, which is a lot of what we're asking young people to do," she tells the women. "Don't go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. Those are the careers that we need, and we're encouraging our young people to do that. But if you make that choice, as we did, to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry, then your salaries respond."
Michelle Obama has taken casual to a haute new level.
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It goes without saying that a Republican First Lady who showed up at a food bank during a recession wearing $540 sneakers would never hear the end of it, let alone one who had lectured voters on learning to make do with less. But you know, it goes deeper than that. Remember how Barack Obama relentlessly mocked George W. Bush, in the tone of a petulant teenager who can't believe what Dad told him to do, for advising Americans to "go shopping" after September 11? Well, President Bush was absolutely in the right: the nation needed reassuring, and it needed to both sustain the consumer confidence and consumer demand that are the engines of our economy, and demonstrate to the world that we don't change our routines to satisfy terrorists.
Now, with consumer demand in the worst slump in most of our living memory, one of the things we need most of all from the White House is reassurance that it's OK to - you guessed it - go shopping. But President Obama, who has tiptoed up to that line a few times, can't quite bring himself to sound like Dad now that he's the one in the driver's seat. So, Michelle shops, while consumer demand drops. And then what happens? We get Joe Biden giving us the "we're all gonna diiiiiieeeeee" alarm on the Today Show, telling people that he'd advise his family to avoid malls, planes, and trains. It's OK if you go, mind you, but not Joe's family. So much for projecting calm in a crisis.
Somehow, no matter what the state of the U.S. economy, the Michelle Obamas in and around the government will always manage to get their fancy French sneakers. I don't begrudge them that - but I do wish they acted as if they felt the same way about the rest of us.
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April 28, 2009
POLITICS: Slash and Burn
One reason that I was so interested in candidate Obama in 2007 was that he seemed to have the same broad orientation to politics as I do. The world is a harsh, complicated place in which to live. Ultimately, we're going to have different views on what to do. But politics isn't like math, where there is some unequivocal answer waiting at the bottom of a proof. It's hazy and uncertain. Our policy proposals are more like stabs in the dark than geometric theorems. So ultimately, we should accept as fact that others will disagree - and we should respect those who disagree with us, above all assuming that they're acting in good faith.
(H/T) It's been grimly amusing watching people on the center-right who bought into this notion of Obama one by one waking up to the realization that he is, in fact, the most archly partisan president since LBJ, a man who is unceasing in his attacks on his predecessor (who remains, as always, too classy for his own good and accordingly unwilling to respond) and all too fond of personal attacks on his critics as well as the kind of rhetoric Cost addresses.
Obama still retains the personal popularity that comes with the political honeymoon - how much, depends on how you read the polls, which can vary - but at the end of the day, his policies are going to be less so. If you would be happy with Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank or Charlie Rangel as president, you will of course be happy with Obama, and if you wouldn't, sooner or later you won't be happy with him. Obama, of course, is gambling that he can restructure the American electorate and electoral system into one that is more supportive of that faction of his party before we get there, and a soon-to-be-60 vote Senate majority gets him closer to that goal. The only issues will be whether he can succeed in that race against time, and how long it takes for the rest of the electorate to start identifying Obama with his policies.
April 27, 2009
WAR/POLITICS: The Inverted Conscience of Barack Obama
Next time the United States captures some hardened, mass-murdering terrorists, the CIA should tell President Obama that we captured some unborn children, and he'll let them do whatever they want.
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With the release of the CIA interrogation memos, we learn that men like Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, one of the principal architects of the September 11 attacks that killed over 3,000 Americans (note to those keeping score at home: this is incontestably a war crime) and Abu Zubaydah, who the CIA told OLC had "been involved in every major terrorist operation carried out by Al Qaeda" and "wrote Al Qaeda's manual on resistance techniques" to interrogation, were approved for subjection to techniques like the following:
Facial grasp: "Used to hold the head immobile. One open palm is placed on either side of the individual's face."
Faced with such revelations, President Obama's heart overflows with tenderness for these men's plight, compelling him to pronounce to the world that the memos "reflect, in my view, us losing our moral bearings.". The thought of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, cold and alone in a dark room, moves the president to action and to call for a nation's penance.
Now consider the testimony of registered nurse Jill Stanek on the lack of care given in Obama's own state to unborn children who survive an effort at an abortion and are left to die to complete the process:
One night, a nursing co-worker was taking an aborted Down's syndrome baby who was born alive to our Soiled Utility Room because his parents did not want to hold him and she did not have time to hold him. I could not bear the thought of this suffering child dying alone in a Soiled Utility Room, so I cradled and rocked him for the 45 minutes that he lived. He was about 22 weeks old, weighed about a half a pound, and was about 10 inches long, about the size of my hand. He was too weak to move very much, expending any energy that he had trying to breathe. Toward the end of his life he was so quiet that I couldn't tell if he was still alive unless I held him up to the light to see if his little heart was still beating through his chest wall. After he was pronounced dead, we folded his little arms across his chest, tied his hands together with a string, wrapped him in a tiny shroud, and carried him to the hospital morgue where all of our other dead patients go.
Then-Illinois State Senator Obama, you may recall, heard similar testimony from Ms. Stanek, yet voted repeatedly against bills to require - among other things - additional medical oversight to prevent such barbarities. For all of his self-proclaimed "moral bearings" when mass murderers and war criminals are involved, Obama when dealing with the most innocent and defenseless among us slips into the cold-eyed worldview of utilitarianism. Unlike Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, such helpless infants - with a developing brain, a beating heart, and a unique and irreplaceable human genetic code marking them as a scientifically identifiable and distinct human being - are to be treated as mere inanimate objects with no dignity, no mercy for their pain, no claim on our consciences, nothing but an obstacle to the accomplishment of a procedure:
As I understand it, this puts the burden on the attending physician who has determined, since they were performing this procedure, that, in fact, this is a nonviable fetus; that if that fetus, or child - however way you want to describe it - is now outside the mother's womb and the doctor continues to think that it's nonviable but there's, let's say, movement or some indication that, in fact, they're not just coming out limp and dead, that, in fact, they would then have to call a second physician to monitor and check off and make sure that this is not a live child that could be saved.
[T]he only plausible rationale, to my mind, for this legislation would be if you had a suspicion that a doctor, the attending physician, who has made the assessment that this is a nonviable fetus and that, let's say for the purposes of the mother's health, is being - that - that labor is being induced, that that physician (a) is going to make the wrong assessment and (b) if the physician discovered, after the labor had been induced, that, in fact, he made an error, and in fact this was not a nonviable fetus but, in fact, a live child, that the physician, of his own accord or her own accord, would not try to exercise the sort of medical procedures and practices that would be involved in saving that child.
Or listen to the same words in Obama's own flat, emotionless voice, as well as his hemming-and-hawing statement at the end of this clip - just last August - that his moral bearings could not be located to do anything about the unborn because determining who is and isn't a human being deserving of the most basic human rights was "above my pay grade" (this hasn't stopped Obama from supporting, throughout his career, taxpayer funding to encourage abortions):
One can argue, of course, as I do, that a just and humane society must treat innocent and defenseless members of the human family better than one treats mass-murdering war criminals who seek the destruction of one's country. One can argue that an elevated moral sensibility commands elevated treatment of the just and the unjust alike. One can argue that the greater good must triumph over treatment of either.
But a man who is driven to grand moral pronouncements when we do things to terrorists that he would not bat an eyelash at when the same and worse is done to the unborn can only be described as morally depraved. In a perverse way, Frank Rich is on the right track when he asks how the banality of moral evil helps lull us into accepting it and treating it as respectable, but he's looking in the wrong end of the telescope. Treating a man with this worldview as if he has any moral bearings whatsoever is obscene.
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April 24, 2009
Megan McArdle on fair pay. Some of her best work.
April 23, 2009
POLITICS: Education in Pettiness
The impact...was like a comet on a town that makes china and cymbals: all the moms at the bus stop today expressed a unanimous desire to remove their children from the system.
WAR/POLITICS: Nancy Pelosi Was Briefed On Waterboarding But Didn't Inhale
One of the occupational hazards of partisan politics is attacking the other side for something people on your own side knew about or participated in. Of course, that's politics; but it becomes a serious problem when you raise the rhetorical temperature to the point of calling your political opponents war criminals ... and it turns out your own people knew about the "war crimes" and didn't see anything wrong with them at the time, or at least didn't act as if they did. It's a pretty clear sign that they don't believe it now, either - but try telling that to the people who have bought the "war criminal" bill of goods and now find out that you did what they consider the equivalent of sitting in camp construction meetings with Himmler and not making a peep.
So we find that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, despite her angry denials, has to face up to having been briefed back in 2002 on the CIA's 'enhanced' coercive interrogation techniques:
In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.
Pelosi's laughable defense is now to admit that she was briefed on the Bush Administration having obtained Office of Legal Counsel memos on waterboarding but she thought they got those memos but didn't actually intend to use them:
Pelosi denied these claims. "We were not -- I repeat -- were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used. What they did tell us is that they had . . . the Office of Legal Counsel opinions [and] that they could be used, but not that they would," she said.
Yes, I guess George W. Bush was ordering up OLC memos as an intellectual exercise, so he could kick back and read some dense legal reasoning to unwind at the end of a long day of not using the anti-terrorism tools at his disposal on captured Al Qaeda leaders. That's credible, right?
Pelosi's other tactic is to claim that she was sworn to secrecy so she couldn't do anything anyway:
[T]hey were then forbidden from talking about what they had learned so they could not work to outlaw the practice.
Uh, didn't she just say they were briefing her on what they were not doing?
Now, when Congressional leaders are sworn to secrecy for national security purposes, they better have a very good reason for breaking that pledge. But when they learn about something that the Executive Branch is doing, claims is legal but ought to be made explicitly illegal, can the Speaker of the House be powerless to introduce legislation stopping it? Is our Congress that powerless if it thinks that tyranny or torture is actually afoot? As it happens, the Framers of the Constitution, being far wiser and more courageous than Nancy Pelosi, already thought of this problem and thoughtfully even gave her explicit instructions that in such a situation she could speak out without fear of prosecution. It's right there in Article I of the Constitution (Joe Biden, if you're reading this - that's the one that deals with Congress):
Section 6. The Senators and Representatives shall receive a compensation for their services, to be ascertained by law, and paid out of the treasury of the United States. They shall in all cases, except treason, felony and breach of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other place.
Under the Speech and Debate Clause, if Speaker Pelosi was told that the Executive Branch was committing war crimes, she has an absolute constitutional privilege to speak about that on the floor of the House, as well as to introduce legislation to stop it.
Unless, of course, it wasn't really a war crime at all. Unless, of course, it would have been too politically risky in 2002 to come out against a hard line on interrogation of terrorists.
There is deep foolishness of many kinds in the desire to criminalize the Bush Administration's efforts to protect the nation. The more Speaker Pelosi and her party insist that waterboarding is a war crime, the more they have to distort the evidence to fit their narrative, the harder it is to justify their own acquiescence, their actions that spoke louder than words when they learned what was being done to keep the nation safe. And the harder it will be for those who watched them nod their heads one day and turn Inquisitor the next to do their jobs with the same zeal. Back when the real Nazis stalked the land, there were indeed people who sat down and tried to do business with them, and they almost brought the West to ruin; but even in the direst and darkest hour, when he had been called upon to replace those people after years of enduring their mockery, Winston Churchill gave a warning that today's Democrats would have been wiser to heed:
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I am not reciting these facts for the purpose of recrimination. That I judge to be utterly futile and even harmful. We cannot afford it. I recite them in order to explain why it was we did not have, as we could have had, between twelve and fourteen British divisions fighting in the line in this great battle instead of only three. Now I put all this aside. I put it on the shelf, from which the historians, when they have time, will select their documents to tell their stories. We have to think of the future and not of the past. This also applies in a small way to our own affairs at home. There are many who would hold an inquest in the House of Commons on the conduct of the Governments--and of Parliaments, for they are in it, too--during the years which led up to this catastrophe. They seek to indict those who were responsible for the guidance of our affairs. This also would be a foolish and pernicious process. There are too many in it. Let each man search his conscience and search his speeches. I frequently search mine.
Once upon a time, the Bush Administration did not seek to drag members of the prior Administration into the dock for their role in leading us to the pass of September 11. Once upon a time, the threat - or at least the political climate - was clear enough that Speaker Pelosi saw the wisdom in not broadcasting what was being done to our dangerous foes. Today, drunk on their own rhetoric, complacent that the threat has passed, confident that political power will never again pass from their hands, the Democrats ignore Churchill's advice at their peril. But the genie has escaped the bottle, and the questions won't stop. If the writing of the OLC memos was a war crime, then Nancy Pelosi can't escape her role in aiding and abetting that crime by saying she knew about the memos but didn't inhale them.
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April 22, 2009
LAW/POLITICS: Uh, Pandora, Shut That Lid...
Christopher Badeaux continues his look at the dangers unleashed by threatening to impeach a federal judge over legal advice given prior to taking the bench. As he notes, Democrats proposing these sorts of things plainly are not planning for the possibility that Republicans might ever retake control of any branch of government.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:29 AM | Law 2009-13 | Politics 2009 | War 2007-12 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)
April 21, 2009
POLITICS: Barack Obama Thinks You Can't Count
[W]hat I've proposed, you'll hear Sen. McCain say, well, he's proposing a whole bunch of new spending, but actually I'm cutting more than I'm spending so that it will be a net spending cut.
OBAMA: ...[W]hat I've done throughout this campaign is to propose a net spending cut. I haven't made a promise about...
If ever a public policy proposal deserved universal ridicule, it has to be President Obama's effort to convince the public that [cue Dr. Evil voice] 100 million dollars in spending cuts are a significant dent in federal spending. Since Obama looked the nation in the eye and made that read-my-lips promise of a net spending cut in those two debates, we have sat and watched as he signed into law a colossal $787 billion 'stimulus' bill, proposed a $634 billion fund to begin offsetting the projected trillion-dollar cost of his health care plans, and unveiled a $3.6 trillion budget that's projected to consume 26% of GDP, the biggest share for federal spending since World War II (it hasn't been above 21% since the last budget before the Republicans took control of Congress in 1994).
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That's 0.0027% of his first budget, and 0.0057% of his first deficit.
You could also do the baseball analogy and note that the proposed cuts are smaller than the $117 million contract the Rockies signed with Mike Hampton. Republicans have pointed out that the federal government spends $100 million every 13 minutes; this morning's NY Daily News had a longer list of amusing analogies, from the budget for Titanic to the cost of Mike Bloomberg's re-election campaign. The Heritage Foundation has perhaps the most telling graph:
Even the White House press corps, led by arch-liberal AP reporter Jennifer Loven and the indefatigable Jake Tapper, scoffed at this nonsense, leaving the hapless Robert Gibbs vainly trying to defend Obama's proposal with a straight face:
JENNIFER LOVEN, AP: The $100 million target figure that the president talked about today with the Cabinet, can you explain why so small? I know he talked about -- you know, you add up 100 million and 100 million, and eventually, you get somewhere, but it would take an awfully long time to add up hundred million (inaudible) in the deficit. Why not target a bigger number?
Those of us who had paid any attention to the man's record knew that Obama was lying to us last October when he claimed to be proposing a net reduction in federal spending. Hold your breath if you like waiting for the remaining trillion or so dollars in spending cuts he'd need to do that. The only possible reason I can think for the fanfare surrounding the $100 million in cuts is literally Obama's belief that he can fool voters who do not know the difference between a million, a billion and a trillion. So there you have it: Barack Obama thinks you can't count.
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WAR/POLITICS: The Other Half of the Story
Drew M at Ace notes that Dick Cheney's demand that the Obama Administration release all intelligence gathered from the interrogation techniques detailed in the memos it recently released places Obama in a bind:
Will Obama do it and risk people thinking, "maybe this wasn't such a bad idea after all". If they don't do it, then the argument becomes, "there must be something so valuable they can't talk about it". Which again means, it worked.
(H/T) If critics of coercive interrogation were honest, of course, they'd welcome the release and the chance to argue that even interrogation methods that get results are not worth the moral lines we have to cross to get there. And in fact, many of us on the conservative side would agree with that in principle; we just disagree on where you draw the line that says that certain forms of coercion constitute torture, and think that, for example, exposing a man to a caterpillar or bouncing him off a fake flexible wall doesn't get there.
But of course, most of the voices shrieking "torture" not only refuse to define where they draw the line - and denounce anyone who tries, to the point of cheering on prosecutions of lawyers for making the effort - but insist on living in a fantasy world where there are never any tradeoffs. They look at interrogators saying that less coercive methods of questioning are often the best (true), and that individuals acting under coercion or torture may provide false information (also true, but of course true as well of any method of interrogating terrorists or criminals) and conclude from this that coercive techniques never, ever work, never, ever provide useful information, and are always the least effective method.
It's the cheap, easy way out of a moral debate as old as war itself. Now, if there really is intelligence that's still too valuable to disclose, just say that and I won't question it; but otherwise, if you are going to argue that coercive interrogation is 100% ineffective, you should not fear disclosure of its fruits.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:33 PM | Politics 2009 | War 2007-12 | Comments (27) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS: You Know What We Needed? More, Cheaper Subprime Loans! And Maybe Cheaper Hookers, Too.
So, Ezra Klein wants Eliot Spitzer back in public life, and argues that New Yorkers should take him back just like his wife did, and presumably for the same reasons. This is part of Spitzer's rehab tour (more here and here). But Klein has picked the wrong man, and for the wrong reasons.
First of all, Spitzer should never be entrusted with any sort of executive authority ever again. The reasons for this are too numerous to recount here, but let's start with the obvious: the man held the State's top two law enforcement positions (Attorney General and Governor) while pursuing a lengthy and illegal prostitution habit, which he surrendered (so far as we know) only when exposed by a federal investigation. Yes, some politicians have survived hookers and other sex-and-crime scandals before: Barney Frank is still in Congress two decades after paying for an affair with a prostitute who operated a brothel out of Frank's apartment; David Vitter is running for re-election in the Senate after being exposed as a former client of the DC Madam; Gerry Studds kept a commitee chairmanship in the House after an affair with an underage Congressional page; Ted Kennedy is still in the Senate four decades after leaving a woman to drown in his car, an event that in a just world would have resulted in a charge of second-degree murder. But bad as our tolerance for such scandals in legislators may be, they are another thing entirely when you are talking about a man who was charged not only with casting votes and writing laws but with taking care that the laws be faithfully, fairly and uniformly enforced while he was creeping around choking hookers.
It should also not be forgotten that fair and reasonable law enforcement was never Spitzer's thing. Before the hooker scandal broke, he was already mired in investigations over improper use of state troopers to dig up dirt on political foes. He pursued a thuggish investigation designed to intimidate crisis pregnancy centers while giving a pass to abortion clinics. He forced out the successful management of AIG over charges that seem terribly penny-ante compared to what happened afterwards, and pursued a petty and ultimately unsuccessful vendetta against former NYSE chairman Dick Grasso. He tried to issue drivers' licenses to illegal aliens, and while he was going after New York's leading industries, his parole board dramatically increased the number of violent felons it let back on the streets; Spitzer never had much interest in violent crime. His signature move was applying vague laws to conduct they'd never been extended to; over and over again, he prosecuted things people had done that they'd never thought illegal. His targets, when they fought him in court, often won, a reflection of the weakness of his cases on the merits; Spitzer's MO depended on suing businesses who couldn't afford the consequences of an ongoing government campaign against them and had to settle rather than fight. Oh, and let's also not forget, as we watch New York suffer under the bumbling regime of David Paterson (who even Klein admits is a "disaster"), that Spitzer was the guy who picked Paterson (already known for such lunacy as his 'shoot to wound' bill) to take over in case Spitzer had to resign, at the same time that Spitzer was engaging in the pattern of criminal activity that forced him to do just that.
All that aside, let's look at the Spitzer article from 2004 that has Klein swooning about "pretty prescient stuff":
Unfortunately, our belief in the importance of equal opportunity and nondiscrimination is too often forgotten when it comes to the debate over whether and how to police the market for home mortgages. In poor and working-class communities across the nation, predatory mortgage lending has become a new scourge. Predatory lending is the practice of imposing inflated interest rates, fees, charges, and other onerous terms on home mortgage loans -- not because the imperatives of the market require them, but because the lender has found a way to get away with them. These loans (which are often sold as refinance or home improvement mechanisms) are foisted on borrowers who have no realistic ability to repay them and who face the loss of their hard-won home equity when the all-but-inevitable default and foreclosure occurs. When lenders systematically target certain low-income communities for loans of this sort, as they often do, the result is more insidious. Costs are imposed and burdens inflicted in a manner and to a degree that is discriminatory by race.
Leave aside Spitzer saying that the problem with the market is that it charges more than the market requires, which is nonsense by definition in the absence of a cartel (nobody claims that the chaotic mortgage market was a cartel at the retail level; the only place where the market narrowed to a few players was at the GSE level). The critical point here is that Spitzer never argued that the borrowers he discussed should not be given loans at all; to the contrary, his reference to "lower-cost capital" makes clear that he felt that the problem was that lenders were pricing loans too high. But if lenders had made the same loans at lower rates, they'd have been in even worse shape than they are now, with less return on their investments to cover the same default rates. Spitzer's simplistic thinking seems to be that the only reason why subprime borrowers would end up defaulting was because they were paying too much in fees - it never occurred to him that the problem was underpriced credit for overpriced real estate investments by people with insufficient credit, whether they be people who should never have been given a mortgage to higher-end borrowers who were given one too big for their means. In short, Spitzer got the problem precisely backward - and worse yet, Ezra Klein, writing with the benefit of hindsight, still thinks this is profound.
April 8, 2009
POLITICS: Sovereign What?
The lawyers here will find this endlessly amusing. Yes, to Olbermann, Turley and Greenwald, a foundational legal concept that's been black-letter law for the entire duration of American jurisprudence, and is recognized in just about every jurisdiction on the planet, is somehow a novel and frightening expansion of executive power. Olbermann at least is not a lawyer, but how the other two passed the bar exam escapes me.
April 7, 2009
POLITICS: None Too Bright
George Will looks at some of the perils of the new compact flourescent lightbulb. I can attest from personal experience to the fact that the bulbs are prone to burning out quickly despite the alleged long life that comes with their hefty price tag, and to the slow warm-up times and generally inferior quality of the light produced (Megan McArdle notices a similar trend with other supposedly 'green' products). All of which, of course, is why the force of the law will be required to outlaw Edison's great invention by 2014.
POLITICS/POP CULTURE: Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down
The good: reader Rob B points me to the Tauntaun sleeping bag, which of course I now want...or at least, wish I had had when I was about 11.
The not so good: Brian Faughnan looks at the new General Motors ....vehicle. Um, yeah, let's see how this drives on the highways of Minnesota in winter. And this Iowahawk video Brian links to is too good not to share:
Posted by Baseball Crank at 3:11 PM | Business | Politics 2009 | Pop Culture | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
April 6, 2009
POLITICS: Where We Will And Won't Go
An interesting debate between two people I know and greatly respect in the blogosphere: Patterico and my RedState colleague streiff - about a topic I addressed immediately after the election: how the Right should conduct itself in opposition. The debate is, unsurprisingly, reflective of their backgrounds - Patterico, as a prosecutor, has a lawyer's sensitivity to the costs of losing credibility, while streiff, as an old infantryman, is focused more on how to confuse and overwhelm the other side. Basically, Patterico argues broadly that there are lines we should not cross, and specifically that certain types of personal attacks on Obama run the risk of sinking to the level of madness and virtiol characteristic of the Left and the Democrats the past 8 years; streiff cites chapter and verse of Obama's inspiration, Saul Alinsky, to argue that those tactics were ultimately successful against Bush and that the Right should not hesitate to use them, at least within reason, and has suffered in the past from refusing to do so.
I agree with a good deal of what both of them say, and at the end of the day it comes down to specific cases. Surely, there is a happy medium between being an aggressive advocate and ending up like the Left.
Obama apologizes for not speaking Austrian. Seriously, you can't make this stuff up.
This is also a great riff on what happens when Obama tries to answer a question without his Teleprompter handy.
April 2, 2009
POLITICS: Not Much Better
Since I noted the poor state of the Oakland Mayor's office yesterday, we get news that the Democrats' next in line has his own problems:
Former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata said Tuesday he will run for mayor of Oakland in 2010.
Perata is a political heavyweight who served four years as state Senate president pro tem, when he was, arguably, the most powerful Democrat in state government. But candidate Perata will bring plenty of baggage into the mayor's race, too.
Of course, there's not always fire where there is smoke, but the step of trying a second set of prosecutors certainly suggests that the FBI thinks it has something.
Meanwhile, David Freddoso looks at the "corruption tax" imposed on residents of Illinois (the latest Daley ally convicted last week is discussed here). Then there's Alabama, where Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford will stand trial this summer and former Governor Don Siegelman, also a Democrat, saw the bulk of his conviction affirmed earlier this month. Pretrial proceedings also continue against Democratic officials in Baltimore, including the Mayor. And the NY Daily News has an article and a rogues' gallery on corruption and dysfunction in Albany. As usual, when you dig for this stuff there's a boatload of Democrats and a handful of Republicans.
March 30, 2009
POLITICS: Bigger and Closer to Power
My RedState and New Ledger colleague Francis Cianfrocca, working off the same Matt Yglesias piece I noted below, gets to the core of the issue of executive compensation:
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The problem is that, because of tight arrangements with government, the largest companies really don't have to perform well. They're insulated from competition in ways that also make it possible for their CEOs to receive high income even if they destroy shareholder value.
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POLITICS: The Congress Party
Jonathan Chait has an interesting article in the New Republic on Democratic dysfunction in governing Washington. I have a variety of quibbles with Chait's narrative, in which the iron discipline of the GOP has given way to the weak-kneed moderates undercutting Obama's liberalism. Among them:
-His retelling of the enactment of the Bush tax cuts ignores the episode in which a member of the GOP caucus switched parties in revolt over the tax agenda and threw control of the Senate to the other party, which is rather a larger problem with party unity than Obama has yet faced.
-Chait ignores the Social Security fiasco, which occurred while the GOP had a solid majority. Typically of Chait, his narrative of the Bush Administration fails to note that Bush was re-elected.
-Chait recognizes the tension between liberalism and self-interested home-state interests (including rural-state farm policy) but neglects to recognize the same dynamic among Republicans, who often found fiscal conservatism stymied by members of Congress who wanted to protect things like farm subsidies or earmarked transportation projects. To say that "[t]his sort of behavior didn't hurt Bush because his agenda largely was synonymous with business interests" is to overlook those tensions.
-Chait ignores the unifying effect of the war on Republican party discipline; in fact, he ignores the existence of foreign and national security policy altogether.
-Chait ignores instances of Congressional Democrats pushing Obama leftward, rather than rightward.
-Chait's discussion of the filibuster ignores its prominent deployment by liberals, Obama among them, to hold up judicial nominees.
-Chait fails to address the possibility that the last three Democratic presidents have had things in common that made it more difficult to deal with Washington. Jimmy Carter was a relatively inexperienced governor and a stranger to national politics until 1976; Bill Clinton came from a tiny state and had not been much involved in national debates before 1992 (although at least Clinton had been a governor for a decade and headed the National Governors Association, so he wasn't starting totally from scratch); and Obama most of all is a guy who was elected direectly from being a first-term, wet-behind-the-ears backbench Senator. By contrast, the last seven GOP Presidents going back to Hoover have all been either familiar faces in DC (what Bush lacked in formal experience in Washington he'd made up through working with his father's campaigns and White House) and/or major national figures over an extended period before becoming president. It's harder to get Congress to listen to you if you have neither a built-in base of respect nor the executive chops to tell people what to do (LBJ, the last Democratic president who'd been a somebody to Washington insiders before his election, had no trouble keeping Congress in line). One of the continuing issues will be the extent to which Obama defers to Congress in the writing of legislation, with the attendant additional delay and loss of control, rather than leaning on Congress to accept things as the White House lays them out (granted, in the health care debate, Clinton went too far in the opposite direction).
Anyway, it's worth reading despite all of that, and I especially liked this passage, which does encapsulate the differing cultures of the two parties in Washington:
Since Democrats controlled the Congress almost continuously for more than 60 years beginning in 1933, the culture of Congress left a deeper imprint on their party. Republicans, shut out from the perks of majority status, finally decided under the opposition leadership of Newt Gingrich in the 1990s that their only path to power lay in partisan discipline.
March 28, 2009
POLITICS: What Kind of Fool is Matt Yglesias?
a) The kind of fool who has never held a real job?
Judging by this post, probably all three?
Some people, as I understand it, just don't think inequality is a problem. But for the egalitarians among us, I've never really understood the view that obscene executive compensation is an issue that absolutely positively certainly must only be addressed through the indirect Rube Goldberg-esque method of changing corporate governance rules. What if we had a 95 percent marginal tax rate on income over $10 million? What dire consequences would flow from this? Perhaps a certain outflow of top-flight baseball talent to Japan. But I don't see this leading to any kind of economic calamity. Producers of certain classes of supply-constrained luxury goods would lose out as their prices go down. But my strong suspicion is that at the end of the day most of the super-rich would ultimately find it a relief to get off the treadmill of status-competition and the not-quite-so-rich would be thrilled to see their betters cut down to size.
Pejman and Michael Moynihan have a good deal of sport with this insanity and the greed, envy and lust for power that drive it (he's not suggesting burning the money, after all, but giving it to powerful politicians to spend, presumably - these days - politicians he's hoping will listen to the advice of Matt Yglesias) as well as the complete failure to comprehend that we do not live, as liberal economics so often assumes, in a closed and statis universe, but rather in a world of competitiveness and response to incentives. Only a fool of colossal proportions would believe that one could enact such a draconian tax policy with no consequences, but so often we hear these arguments (we hear them as well from the president regarding limiting charitable deductions) from liberals who simply assume that the economy is a money machine that can be loaded down with an unlimited number of burdens with no consequences. High marginal tax rates? Rent control? Generous welfare policies? Nah, it's inconceivable that human beings, being the self-interested creatures humans are, would alter their behavior even the slightest in response.
Let's consider Yglesias' example: baseball, specificallly the New York Yankees, whose payroll last season included 13 players making more than the wholly arbitrary $10 million figure. Presumably, even Yglesias isn't so dense as to believe that the Yankees would continue awarding salaries over $10 million under such a tax regime - he refers to his confiscatory tax proposal as "a de facto cap on compensation" - so the money would....stay with the team? Which raises the question of whether he would apply the same tax to the owners of the team, or the large shareholders of other enterprises. If he doesn't, then he's basically just redistributing wealth from the employees of an enterprise to its owners; if he does, then what he's proposing is more radical still, the destruction of enterprises that provide more than a certain amount of value (as measured by the revenues they raise from the choice of consumers to spend money on their product) - and that does seem to be his intention, as he says that "[t]he lack of ceiling on executive compensation creates bad incentives for firms to grow into unduly large conglomerates rather than be content to exist as highly profitable medium-sized enterprises," without considering the fact that given economies of scale and, in the case of a business like the Yankees, the fact that it simply can't create the same amount of value if you break it into little pieces with the coercive power of the state, you are simply destroying the value large enterprises deliver to consumers.
Finally, an irony: if the enemy is bigness, and if it's no problem at all to replace large enterprises of vast scale with many smaller ones that cater to smaller, perhaps regional markets, then shouldn't Yglesias be championing federalism? After all, the federal government is nothing if not the ultimate embodiment of conglomeration of many previously local functions into one colossal enterprise of continental scale. If that's a bad thing, however, it has wholly eluded Yglesias' notice.
March 26, 2009
POLITICS: Deval Patrick In Deep Trouble In New Poll
Some of you may recall that many of the themes used by Barack Obama in his presidential campaign, and even some of the words that came off Obama's TelePrompter, were first tried out by another David Axelrod client, Deval Patrick, in Patrick's successful run for Governor of Massachusetts in 2006:
Three years later, one poll says the voters of the deep-blue Bay State haven't gotten the Change they Hoped for, and they want a recall, with Patrick locked in a dead heat just for renomination:
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Only 34 percent of those surveyed in the poll conducted for 7News by Suffolk University say the governor deserves re-election, while a stunning 47 percent say it is "time to elect someone else."
Asked about Patrick's job performance, 49 percent disapproved, 40 percent approved and 11 percent were undecided.
Voters, the 7News poll shows, appear to have had it with Beacon Hill politics, with a whopping 72 percent calling for the state to add a recall vote for "underperforming" pols.
Read the whole thing for the most recent litany of Patrick's screwups. Of course, these being Democrats, the Boston Herald has to note of the Democratic state treasurer's strong standing against Patrick that the poll was "conducted before headlines this week that the treasurer faces an ethics probe over a Lottery contract."
Patrick's hardly the only embattled Democrat in the Northeast - David Paterson, Chris Dodd, and Kirsten Gillibrand will all be lucky to get renominated, and Jon Corzine faces a tight race this fall. Clearly, voters across the region are getting an early wake-up call about the hazards of one-party Democratic rule.
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March 24, 2009
POLITICS: How The Left Works
Martin Knight looks at the liberal campaign to bankrupt Sarah Palin. Call it "new politics."
POLITICS: Your Democratic Majority At Work
Most of us have had the experience at one point or another in our lives of getting stuck in a conversation with someone who is irrational and full of conspiracy theories. If you are particularly unfortunate, that person is a member of your family, your boss, a judge, or otherwise someone you can't afford to just blow off. But pity poor Tim Geithner as it dawns on him that he has to answer questions from such a person - in this case, Congresswoman Maxine Waters - under oath, on camera, knowing that she is a powerful political ally of his boss (Geithner is not the first to have this experience):
I could take a pretty good guess as to why Goldman Sachs in particular is the subject of Waters' conspiracy theories about the secret power of financiers, and I'm guessing it's not because of Henry Paulson. Of course, Waters may just be assuming everyone else does business with bank regulators the way she does. Anyway, Geithner's facial expressions in this video are just priceless.
March 21, 2009
POLITICS: Life, If You Can Keep It
When you picture a future of government-run health care and the complete defeat of the pro-life movement, this is what it looks like - the state decides when it is in your best interests to die:
The nine-month-old, known as "Baby OT", had a rare metabolic disorder and had brain damage and respiratory failure.
Doctors treating him had said the boy's life was intolerable and his disability was such that his life had little purpose.
Lord Justice Ward was told the couple had decided to wait outside the courtroom while the ruling was given as they could not face hearing the decision.
March 19, 2009
Pejman on Geithner, who increasingly looks like the only thing keeping him from getting fired is the fact that you can't have no senior people at Treasury at all. As Casey Stengel said, you gotta have a catcher or you're gonna have a lot of passed balls.
March 18, 2009
POLITICS: So Much For Supporting The Troops
Regular readers will know that I have a pretty low opinion of Barack Obama, and for the most part he's lived down to my expectations since taking over as our President. But even I have been astounded that President Obama would do anything as monumentally politically stupid as trying to chisel budget savings out of the health care for wounded veterans, this after a wild spending spree so profligate that nobody seems to even have bothered to read the stimulus bill to see what it was promising to bailout recipients. As Ed Morrissey notes, the projected savings from forcing veterans to cover their own health care - at the undoubted cost of driving up their premiums and disincentivizing employers from hiring veterans - "amounts to just over half of what Obama just gave Hamas in Gaza to rebuild after their disastrous war with Israel this winter, and about 1/300th of what the government gave AIG in a bailout." No wonder even Congressional Democrats are running as fast as they can away from Obama's folly.
Now, it's true that you don't have a budget until you have said no to everyone at least once. And it's also true that the VA and DOD are gigantic bureaucracies, and as such they don't always work very well; the Bush Administration certainly took its lumps over the periodic failures of those agencies in taking proper care of what is almost certainly the federal government's single most sympathetic and deserving constituency. But nobody ever doubted that Bush at least tried to do the best by our veterans. Ditto John McCain, himself a disabled veteran, who was lambasted for proposing a better deal for veterans to take federal money to pay for healthcare outside the VA system. Obama is harking back to the days of the Bonus Army by viewing wounded or disabled veterans as a source of cost savings to pay for his other priorities. Given the opposition even among his own party, his defeat on this one seems as inevitable as it is deserved.
March 17, 2009
POLITICS: Convicted Thieves We Can Believe In
Did the Obama Administration's "vetting" team somehow miss this?
In the annals of vetting, this will go down as the most laughable miss ever: Vivek Kundra, the D.C. official tapped by Obama to run government technology, pleaded guilty to a theft charge in 1997.
I suppose, given Obama's record of endorsements back in Chicago, it's possible that this sort of thing seemed small by comparison.
March 16, 2009
POLITICS/WAR: Obama Backtracks on Bungled Mexico Policy
President Bush's critics often accused him of alienating key U.S. allies. Frequently that case was overstated, as the Bush Administration forged stronger bilateral ties with many strategically important allies, and as the Administration's foreign critics were often engaged in faux outrage for domestic political purposes over purely symbolic issues. That said, at least when the Bush Administration set out to do something our allies didn't like, it (1) did so to advance concrete U.S. interests and (2) stuck to its guns.
With the Obama Administration, neither is true. Fresh off a bizarre series of unnecessary gaffes in dealing with friend (the U.K.) and foe (Russia) alike, and after already rattling sabers and then caving on trade war threats with Canada and the EU, Obama and Congressional Democrats have brought us to the brink of a full-blown trade war with Mexico - and they are stuck trying to climb down from the ledge. Brian Faughnan has some of the background here; today's news is the desperate scramble to avoid the consequences of the Democrats' own policies as Mexico escalates with new tariffs for the Administration's violation of our treaty obligations under NAFTA:
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The White House says it wants to work with lawmakers to restore a program that allows cross-border trucking with Mexico.
The Mexican Economy Department says the U.S. decision violates a provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement that was supposed to have opened cross-border trucking years ago. Department officials told a news conference Monday that the measure will affect about $2.4 billion in trade, covering agricultural and industrial products from 40 U.S. states.
Following a financial crisis with a trade war is, of course, the textbook laid out by the Hoover Administration; even the Obama team seems to understand this, but they are squandering American credibility by making threats they know full well they can't afford to back up.
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POLITICS: New Jersey: Where Today's Mayors Become Tomorrow's Defendants
New Jersey has a lot of Democratic Mayors, and it seems difficult to find a city in the state that hasn't had one indicted in the last few years. The latest is the former mayor of Perth Amboy from 1990-2008:
State Assemblyman Joseph Vas (D-Perth Amboy) was indicted last week on charges that, while he was mayor of Perth Amboy, he conspired with city employees to steal approximately $5,000 in funds from the city to pay for personal purchases and expenses.
The indictment charges that from June 2003 to September 2007, Vas fraudulently obtained payment from the Perth Amboy Recreation Department for personal expenses.
If you are keeping score at home, Vas joins the following hit parade:
March 13, 2009
POLITICS: Michael Steele Needs To Admit He Is One Of Us
What's the matter with Michael Steele? It's a question a lot of Republicans are asking these days. When the former Maryland Lieutenant Governor was elected chairman of the GOP, many of us who had supported more conservative candidates or more proven fundraisers at least felt good about one thing: because Steele is an impressive and at times eloquent public speaker who's been tested as a commentator on Fox News, we could be sure that whatever else happened, we were getting a guy who would be a good public face, spokesman and salesman for the party and its ideas. Instead, his comments on abortion, on Rush Limbaugh and other topics have ended up dividing Republicans, giving fodder to our enemies and generating one bad news cycle after another.
I think I can explain the problem.
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A political party is a team. Like any team, it takes a lot of different role players to succeed, and everyone needs to know his or her proper role. With the exception of a sitting president, which the GOP currently lacks, no one person can really speak for, much less change, the views of the entire party (in fact, ask George W. Bush what happened to his immigration bill when he thought he could impose his own views on a party in which a majority faction didn't support them).
One important role, which Republicans have had trouble filling in recent years, is the blue-state Republican: politicians who have the skill to win office in states or districts where a majority of the voters are hostile to the GOP, its ideas, and/or its people. Blue-state Republicans don't necessarily have to be moderates or liberals (though most are), but they do have to have one critical characteristic: the ability to persuade voters to look at them for who they are and not judge them based on their perception of other Republicans/conservatives. Inherently, that is a job that requires me-first-ism and distancing from those other Republicans the voters don't like. A provocative icon of pure conservatism like Rush Limbaugh or a divisive social issue like abortion is a perfect foil for doing just that.
There's one simple problem: when you take someone who has instinctually internalized the art of distancing and you make him the putative spokesman for the whole party, you get the worst of both worlds: a guy who keeps putting his own image above that of the party faithful and their core beliefs, followed by the need to apologize and look like he's beholden to the very people he just tried, intentionally or just by instinct, to distance himself from. It's a lose-lose situation.
As you can tell from the discussion above, I hold no animus towards Steele for being who he is - a blue-state Republican - and frankly, one reason I was unenthused about him running for party chair was the fear that being an effective party chair would ruin his brand back home in Maryland, a state that could use a viable GOP. (This is the "Mitt Romney can't go back to Massachusetts" problem). But if he's going to turn things around and be a successful chairman of the party, he has to break from that habit of distancing. He is one of us now, one with each of the various groups that make up the GOP, from the committed pro-lifers to the Limbaugh fans to everyone else that people who hate Republicans love to sneer at, and and he needs to accept that. He can't represent all Republicans while running away from those Republicans; he can't treat anyone in the party that way. Only when he stops looking for distance and accepts that he's one of us will he be an effective spokesman for the party.
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March 12, 2009
POLITICS: Bronx Prosecutors Investigating Obama Appointee
No, not this one, a different Obama appointee: former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, appointed by Obama as director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs. The review is confirmed by a spokesman for (Democratic) Bronx DA Robert Johnson: "The facts as reported raise questions that we are trying to get answers to." What sort of urban affairs does Carrion specialize in? How about urban machine politics of a drearily familiar sort:
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First, the Daily News reported on a Tony Rezko-style pattern of receipt by Carrion of campaign donations coinciding with his approval of housing projects:
The man who is President Obama's newly minted urban czar pocketed thousands of dollars in campaign cash from city developers whose projects he approved or funded with taxpayers' money, a Daily News probe found.
At issue now, however, is more than just campaign cash: it's Carrion having home renovations done free of charge by an architect whose projects received official favor from Carrion - the sort of direct personal benefit that gets people indicted:
Mr. Carrion ... has not paid for the design work, which began in late 2006. The construction was completed in 2007.
There once was a borough president who had a house he wanted to renovate. This borough president ruled over a place called the Bronx. He was a powerful borough president who told people what they could build. Many people asked his permissions.
Read the whole thing.
I've had occasion to say this so many times already it's becoming monotonous: nobody who paid attention to Obama's political career should be surprised by any of this. All Carrion's appointment proves is that Obama's willing to bring people in from the Bronx who are just like the ones he endorsed and supported back in Chicago.
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March 9, 2009
POLITICS/BUSINESS: Cap and Don't Trade
As anyone who followed the Kyoto Protocols back in the 1990s can tell you, even if you believe that government action to stem carbon emissions would be desirable, Kyoto wasn't a genuine effort to get a worldwide agreement on limiting emissions: it exempted seven of the world's eight most populous nations (the U.S. being the lone exception) from its provisions, including rapidly growing economies like China (now the world's number one carbon emitter) and India. And neither of those countries, with more than a billion inhabitants each, has any intention of being subject to the kinds of restrictions that President Obama's carbon emissions "cap-and-trade" plan would impose on U.S. industries, much less during a global recession. Including industries that employ lots of the blue-collar union workers the Democrats purport to represent.
Those industries' and unions' solution, naturally, is even more government taxes and regulations: use trade barriers to try to inflict the same harm on foreign manufacturers as on American ones. Hey, why not start a trade war? Just remember, one thing, though: Senator Smoot and Congressman Hawley both lost their bids for re-election in 1932.
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U.S. Steel Corp., American Electric Power Co. and the AFL- CIO, the largest U.S. federation of labor unions, are all pressing lawmakers for protection against imports from countries that won't have to bear the costs of any new measures to curb global warming.
Industry and the unions are awake now to the danger the Administration poses to U.S. industries that are already on the ropes, although they seem to reognize that with the Obama team, they are better off pleading for special-interest favors for themselves rather than standing up for free and open competition:
If China and India don't agree to pollution-reduction targets, their companies would have a pricing advantage over U.S. manufacturers that take on the added costs of emissions targets, said Tom Conway, vice president of the United Steelworkers union.
Even Democrats in Congress who represent people with industrial jobs are starting to realize the problem:
Democrat Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told steelmakers this month that he would set up private meetings with that panel's chairman, Democrat Henry Waxman of California, to make sure climate legislation doesn't harm them.
Of course, if we start a 1930-style trade war, we'll have accomplished even less.
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March 7, 2009
WAR/POLITICS: Harder Than It Looks
McQ looks at the latest sample of the scathing UK press coverage of Obama's unreadiness for the business of meeting a foreign head of state. Details of how Obama managed to botch nearly every aspect of what ought to have been a routine goodwill visit with Gordon Brown, resulting in Brown's humiliation and a surge of bad British press, here, here, and here. Plus, his State Department can't read Russian.
On the upside, maybe I didn't read the news enough today, but it's almost midnight and I haven't seen an Obama appointee withdraw today.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 11:16 PM | Politics 2009 | War 2007-12 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
POLITICS/SCIENCE: Does The Greenhouse Even Work?
Matthew Hoy looks at some new scientific research on whether the causal mechanism ascribed to manmade global warming even works. As is generally true with complex scientific theories about causation, there's no "case closed" moment here, but it's another piece of the puzzle for those who view such things with scientific skepticism rather than religious/political fervor.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:51 PM | Enemies of Science | Politics 2009 | Science | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)
March 5, 2009
POLITICS: Foreign Earnings, Continued
If I have profits in Estonia and I re-invest the profits there, the ECTR is 0%.
POLITICS: Brazen Bigots
The place: a city in Texas
I think we all know that if this happened, it would be the end of the political careers of the Congressman and his wife; that the national media storm would swamp all other news for weeks, making the Trent Lott story look puny by comparison; that the GOP's national leadership would be compelled to offer one groveling apology after another; that liberals would raise this as a talking point in discussions of every issue, no matter how unrelated, for the rest of our natural lives.
Yet, that's exactly what happened in Detroit, only the races and parties were reversed:
UPDATE: You can watch video of the hearing here.
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Speakers advocating for the deal were taunted by the crowd and cut short by Council President Monica Conyers [the wife of House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers], who presided over the hearing like an angry bulldog; whites were advised by the citizens to, "Go home."
Democratic leaders in Congress should be pressed to answer the questions: do they approve of this? And if Conyers can't or won't denounce his wife's open bigotry in a powerful government position, how can they continue to employ him as the chairman of a powerful commitee, one that oversees among other things the equal enforcement of the law?
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POLITICS: Taking Budget Gimmickry To A New Level
Governmental accounting is always a shady business, for a variety of reasons: the Ponzi-scheme financing of entitlements, the brazen use of "off-budget" expenditures (meaning, literally, money you spend and don't count in the budget), the politicized budget forecasts (Crank's First Rule of Government Financial Forecasts: they are always, always wrong), the assumption that reducing the growth of a program is a "budget cut," the tendency to project years into the unforseeable future and cite those figures as if they are single-year up-front expenses/savings, etc. Certainly Republicans have not been innocent of this sort of trickery over the years; it's inherent in the nature of politics and government. Things that would (and do) get people in the private sector fired, bankrupted or indicted continue year in and year out in Washington.
But even by DC standards, it is unusual to see something so laughably dishonest as the Obama Administration claiming a $1.6 trillion "spending cut" or budget "savings" by not repeating the surge in Iraq - a strategy that was explicitly designed to be temporary, and hah already begun drawing down on account of being successful (something one can never say of, for example, anti-poverty programs) - each of the next ten years. Ace, among others, notes the lost budgetary opportunity for the Bush Administration - hey, we could have claimed trillions in annual savings by not fighting the Nazis and the Soviets each of the last eight years!
POLITICS/WAR: Democrats May Live To Regret Instituting Witch-Hunting "Truth Commissions" To Follow Elections
Democrats have a long history of constructing their own petards on which to be later hoisted, due to their inability to consider the consequences of their actions beyond immediate partisan advantage. For a classic example of this process at work, look no further than the current proposal for a banana republic-style "Truth Commission" to conduct show trials of the outgoing Administration for the offenses of (1) acting aggressively to protect national security and then (2) losing an election.
The partisan nature of the enterprise is obvious: proponents are calling for a commission whose mandate is expressly limited to investigating Republicans, and control over which will presumably remain with the Democratic majority in Congress. (Not that a commission witch-hunting national security professionals in Democratic Administrations would be a good thing either, unless your goal is to drive good people from the field and make the ones who remain too timid to take action when the nation's security is at risk).
Thomas Jefferson, the first Democratic president and the first president to take office after a change in partisan control, did not bring up John Adams on charges for having passed the Alien and Sedition Acts; Jefferson simply removed the offending policy and cleared those who had been wrongly convicted. Our history, and our tradition of peaceful transfers of power, might have been very different if Jefferson had handed Adams over to Napoleon on the grounds that Adams had abused civil liberties in the Quasi War with France.
David Rivkin, in his testimony yesterday, pointed out that building such commissions as partisan weapons can in the long run have the same wholly forseeable yet unforseen blowback for Democrats as their creation of the Independent Counsel statute did, and then some:
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[O]ne of the commission's most dangerous effects would be to increase the likelihood of former senior U.S. government officials being prosecuted overseas, whether in the courts of foreign countries or before international tribunals. The nature of the offenses supposedly at issue vastly increases the possibility of the commission's work having the effect of priming politicized foreign prosecutions. However erroneously, senior Bush Administration officials have been the subject of accusations that implicate not only U.S. criminal statutes but also international law, and which are arguably subject to claims of "universal jurisdiction" by foreign states. Foreign prosecutors could seize upon a supposedly "advisory" determination that criminal conduct occurred - especially if it is the only "authoritative" statement on the subject by an official U.S. body - as a ready pretext for their bringing charges against individual former U.S. officials. They might argue that the mere fact that the commission was established shows that grave crimes must have occurred and interpret the United States' non-prosecution of the individuals concerned as a mere technicality to be repaired by their own broad assertions of jurisdiction. Indeed, all of these circumstances appear to be tailor-made to support the invocation of universal jurisdiction by foreign judicial bodies and its utilization of this jurisdiction as the basis to launch prosecutions of Bush Administration officials. Doubtless, many commission advocates - who also have been among the most vociferous Bush Administration critics throughout the war on terror - hope for exactly this result.
Democrats who don't want to see members of Barack Obama's Administration dragged through a similar process - as they surely will be - should heed Rivkin's words. Will they listen now? Or will they wait for their own to be in the dock before they discover that they have created a constitutional crisis that threatens the process of peaceful transitions of power that have been one of America's most treasured legacies since 1801?
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March 4, 2009
POLITICS/BUSINESS: Obama's Plan To Drive Corporations Out Of the U.S.
I know I link to a lot of pieces by my colleagues at RedState, but this from Skanderbeg (who knows his stuff because he does a lot of business abroad) is really a concise masterpiece explaining the lunacy of Obama's latest plan to jack up taxes on already-battered American businesses. A sample of his explanation of the existing anti-business rules that Obama wants to make worse:
Suppose you are CEO of XYZ Widgets, Inc., an international widget supplier based in the U.S. You have a competitor, ABC Widgets Oy, based in Finland. Both of you sell widgets in the U.S., earn profits, and pay U.S. corporate tax on those profits. Both of you sell widgets in Finland, earn profits, and pay Finnish corporate tax on those profits. So far, so good. However, here things diverge. ABC Widgets Oy can take its remaining after-tax profits from the U.S. and bring them back to home base in Finland to invest in things like increasing widget production - and not face another hit of Finnish corporate tax on that money. In contrast, if you (XYZ Widgets, Inc.) want to repatriate your after-tax profits from Finland back to the U.S. - to invest in things like increasing YOUR production of widgets...well, you have to pay the full (and also too-high) U.S. corporate tax of 35% on those already-taxed-in-Finland profits. You'd probably choose to leave that money outside the U.S. - and, oh, use if for something like investing in increasing your widget production by building a new plant in someplace like Romania.
There are three possibilities. One, Obama really is this economically ignorant. Two, Obama knows the consequences of his actions and genuinely desires to reduce the presence of large corporations in the U.S. and replace them with government employment. Three, Obama is cynically pandering to his economically ignorant base and, perhaps, hoping that somehow his plan will end up getting scuttled.
March 3, 2009
POLITICS: Dirt-Digging We Can Believe In
One of the more laughable notions during the campaign was Obama's claim to represent some sort of "new politics"; one of the sillier fictions of the last several years was that Democrats were less prone to dirty tricks and bending the apparatus of government to narrow partisan interests than Republicans. But of course, in any election season there are people eager to lie to themselves and be lied to. Young voters in particular seemed especially, cloyingly eager to swallow this particular nonsense. Worse yet, people like David Brooks (see here and here and here), who in a sane world should have known better, talked themselves into ignoring the warning signs that were written all over Obama's record and career that he's never been anything but a front man for bareknuckles Chicago machine politics that runs on patronage, favor-trading and dirt and never, ever places any value above partisan entrenchment and the enrichment of its supporters.
The saga of Shauna Daly is yet another in a seemingly endless series of proofs of this over the first six weeks of united Democratic governance. In late January, Daly was hired as "White House counsel research director". Daly is 29 and has no experience relevant to the job, having worked for the DNC and a number of Democratic campaigns, including Obama's:
Miss Daly holds no law degree and doesn't list any legal training on her resume.
Daly apparently got the job through the influence of a man who has made a career of flacking for the Daley machine and, apparently, masterminding leaks of divorce files that crippled Obama's political opponents:
David Axelrod, a senior White House adviser to President Obama, had a hand in bringing Miss Daly to the campaign, and is thought to have been instrumental in bringing her to the White House.
A month later, she was back at the DNC:
Shauna Daly, 29, will be the DNC's research director, returning to the fast-paced realm of bare-knuckles politics that associates said suits her best.
Given that the White House counsel's office deals in privileged legal advice to the president, including on sensitive issues of national security, there are reasons to be concerned that Daly has used her brief tenure in the office for gathering information that was never supposed to be used for partisan purposes:
Daly did not waste her time in an office that had reams of Bush Administration documents related to such things as the firings of U.S. Attorneys, the use and internal debate over the USA PATRIOT Act, FISA, and the Scooter Libby and Karl Rove investigations, among others.
"She realized that she could do more with all the material she saw outside of the building than inside, where she'd be bound by the rules and legalities of the White House Counsel's Office. Now she isn't," says a DNC staffer who works in the communications field. "She's good at what she does; her time at the White House means we've got a mother load of material that will have Republicans scrambling. At least that's what we hope."
That view would explain what Daly was doing if she had neither training nor assigned official duties:
Daly, according to White House staff, was often in her office early and one of the last to leave the Old Executive Office Building, which does not jibe with official White House claims that Daly was not doing much in the office, which was one reason for her leaving.
And coincidentally, shortly after her departure, we have Attorney General Holder - a man who was notorious during the Clinton years for subverting things like DOJ's pardon process to narrow partisan ends - dumping previously privileged or classified legal advice on the war on terror into the public domain, wholly without regard to the precedent this sets for the president's future ability to get such advice, and all for short-term partisan advantage.
No, you should not be surprised at any of this.
BLOG: Quick Links 3/3/09
*I had a quick piece up at RedState yesterday on Ron Kirk's tax troubles. Kirk is actually not one of the more egregious offenders like Geithner, Daschle or Charlie Rangel, but when you start talking about a third of Obama's appointees, it stops looking like just a coincidence. Maybe Taranto is right that Joe Biden questioned their patriotism.
*I don't think the Lord expends much effort intervening in public policy disputes, but it's kind of hard to avoid wondering if He has a wry sense of humor in tweaking people who think human beings control the weather.
*A man punches dog story, sort of. Not a very good idea.
*Of course, Obama wants to vastly increase the federal payroll, with unionized workers who will then be compelled to kick back dues to be donated to the Democratic party. We should be surprised?
[M]atch funds for venture capital and angel investments. Venture firms and investors need financial incentives to invest in companies that create U.S. jobs. What if firms with credible histories could receive as much as $100 million in federal matching funds if their investments create jobs in the United States? Investors could keep their normal return plus 50 percent of the returns on the matching funds, while the other half goes back to the government to revitalize further investment. This would give individuals an incentive to double down on investments they would make anyway, but sooner rather than later.
Have we really just been through a credit crisis without learning that people make bad investments when they get too much easy money to play with? And traditionally, the reason to invest in venture capital instead of established companies was the potential for rapid growth and big profits....but of course if you are making it harder for new companies to grow, and easier to take away their profits, then I guess you do end up short on incentives.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:54 PM | Blog 2006-13 | Politics 2009 | Comments (21) | TrackBack (0)
February 27, 2009
POLITICS: Sheriff Lee on Bobby Jindal: "The Day After, Bobby Was In My Office"
Game, set, match:
Olbermann and the lefty blogs: the game is up, we have video of the late Sheriff Lee attesting to then-Congressman Jindal's role during the days following Katrina:
When Hurricane Katrina hit, the day after, Bobby was in my office, saying 'what do you need'...He was hands on...He was there all the time...He got equipment for us...
Time for an apology.
PS - If you read Ben Smith's story earlier, make sure you have caught up with the updates.
PPS - Josh Marshall should consider a little less smug and a few more facts of his own. Marshall now has no leg to stand on; the entire basis of his site's work on this has been eviscerated.
POLITICS: Time For Olbermann To Apologize To Jindal
February 26, 2009
POLITICS: Facts Unchecked
TPM Muckraker, the Washington Monthly, Daily Kos diarists and Keith Olbermann have really gone and stuck their foot in it by falsely accusing Gov. Bobby Jindal of making up his experiences on the ground during Hurricane Katrina without bothering to check with the people who were actually there with Jindal, like the Sheriff of Jefferson Parish. Erick Erickson has the story.
POLITICS: Deficits and Stimulus
Megan McArdle has some thoughts on the issue, and while I don't necessarily buy all her conclusions, she makes a few points that ought to be obvious. On how we got here:
[The switch from surpluses to deficits] was only about half due to tax cuts or spending; the rest was the popping of the stock market bubble, which both hammered GDP and changed the tax base in ways that made it less lucrative to the government. (Tax revenues in America do best when the very rich are making a whole hell of a lot of money in big whacks, like stock-option vests)
It's safe to say that a deficit of 1.2% of GDP is something we will not see again so long as the Democrats are running Congress and the White House. And of course, she makes the basic point that it is not even theoretically possible to favor a stimulus bill and be against budget deficits, given that the entire Keynsian theory behind a stimulus is that it injects more money into the economy, which is literally impossible if the government is paying for the stimulus with tax revenue rather than debt:
Stimulus is not spending; it's deficit. If Bush had delivered a budget in rough balance, Obama would have had to borrow up to the current deficit to get the stimulus he desires. Given that more recent debt is always much more expensive than older debt (that's the magic of inflation, kids!), when taxes are finally raised, they will pay more for spending on Obama's watch than on Bush's.
Of course, the conservative alternative is generally to attack recessions with tax cuts, on the theory that while spending more increases the dollars in circulation, cutting taxes creates ongoing incentives for productive economic activity and thus has effects that go beyond just adding dollars to circulation.
February 25, 2009
POLITICS: State of Obama
Ten thoughts on last night's State of the Union speech; I'll stick for now to the domestic-policy parts, as Obama had little enough newsworthy to say about national security and foreign policy (sample of Obama's fresh thinking: "To seek progress towards a secure and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors, we have appointed an envoy to sustain our effort."):
1. I listened on the radio, tuning in after Obama had already started, and my first thought, honestly, was: hey, that's Rush Limbaugh! Obama's and Limbaugh's voices aren't really that similar, I think it was the cadences, Obama projecting his voice over the room the same way Rush does into the mike, and the tone that brought the counterintuitive parallel to mind.
2. This was a blisteringly partisan speech, more a campaign speech than a SOTU address, making it clear that the archly partisan approach of Obama's first month in office was no accident. The word of the day was "inherited." Of course, all presidents seek to contrast themselves with, and shift blame to, their predecessors, but even so, this was a bit much:
[W]e have lived through an era where too often short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. (Applause.) Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn't afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.
Of course, characterizing letting people keep a little more of the money they work to earn as a plot to "transfer wealth to the wealthy" is extremely revealing of Obama's economic mindset; after uttering those words, I think he owes an apology to Joe the Plumber for calling this what it is.
I will predict this now, as I've been saying privately since at least October: by 2012, Obama will still be talking more about Bush than about his own record. Obama's cagey enough to recognize that his economic policies will only drag down any recovery; he's going to keep focusing on rewriting history to shift blame. Then again, that will be easier for him than for Congressional Democrats; Obama can rail about a "trillion-dollar deficit" and "the massive debt we've inherited," but the fact is that the deficit for the last budget passed by a Republican Congress was below $200 billion (1.2% of GDP); Obama has added multiples to that just in the last month. And of course, as I always note, the really important thing is the overall size of government, since that comes out of all of our hides sooner (taxes), later (debt), or usually both. And there's really no mistaking that Obama will greatly expand the size of that. The contest for most baldfaced lie of the night has to be between his assertion that he is pushing the big-government policies he has pushed at every point of his career "Not because I believe in bigger government -- I don't" and his claim about a bill containing vast numbers of district-specific pork-barrel projects that "we passed a recovery plan free of earmarks" (you can call a pig kosher but you can't make it so).
3. Probably the strongest part of the speech was where Obama explained how the credit crisis affects ordinary Americans. Of course, this was nearly the exact same explanation President Bush gave back in September. And this was hilarious:
It's not about helping banks -- it's about helping people. (Applause.) It's not about helping banks; it's about helping people. Because when credit is available again, that young family can finally buy a new home. And then some company will hire workers to build it. And then those workers will have money to spend. And if they can get a loan, too, maybe they'll finally buy that car, or open their own business. Investors will return to the market, and American families will see their retirement secured once more.
A major concession for Obama to admit that the health of companies actually affects ordinary people, but of course it was swiftly discarded as he went back to talking about jacking up taxes on corporations during a recession.
4. Sacred cow watch: Obama somehow managed to discuss the troubles of the U.S. auto industry without mentioning the unions once. That's like discussing Wall Street's problems without mentioning bad loans.
5. Obama's "nobody messes with Joe" line about Biden was presumably intended - as it was taken - as comic relief. Dick Cheney actually had a hard-earned reputation as a man you messed with at your peril; there's nothing in Biden's four decades in Washington to suggest anyone has ever feared to cross him. Obama's saddled himself with a Vice President who is a punchline.
6. Obama's discussion of higher education was strong, but a plan to send everyone to college is absurdly wasteful, especially when - as he noted - many of the people starting college today with federally subsidized loans don't finish. There are still many jobs that don't require any college education and many people ill-suited to such an education who nonetheless have other skills that can make them a good living. The end-product of overextension of federal credit for college, as with overextension of federal credit for housing, tends to be program fraud by fly-by-night providers.
7. Promise I will believe when I see it: "end direct payments to large agribusiness that don't need them". Obama is as good a friend as the ethanol business, for example, has ever had; he did well in places like Iowa and Indiana by specifically breaking with McCain over farm subsidies, especially ethanol. He supported the horrible farm bill. Converts are welcome, but I'd like to see him back that one up and have the stones to stare down massive Congressional opposition.
8. I'll be here all day if I get into Obama's health care and entitlement talk, but a few things are clear: Obama has basically guaranteed that he'll tackle health care this year, and he didn't spend any time last night laying out a plan to do so, suggesting that his campaign proposals will take a backseat, yet again, to what Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and Max Baucus and Ted Kennedy come up with. His focus on controlling costs while extending more coverage, though, inevitably means rationing care and cracking down on the profit motives of doctors and pharmaceutical companies, with inevitable long-term implications for the supply of physicians and life-saving drugs. And this passage suggests that, despite his slam on delaying problems down the road, that's exactly what Obama will do on entitlements, in stark contrast to Bush's effort to deal with Social Security:
Now, to preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security. Comprehensive health care reform is the best way to strengthen Medicare for years to come. And we must also begin a conversation on how to do the same for Social Security, while creating tax-free universal savings accounts for all Americans.
Begin? We've had a debate about Social Security in every election year I can rememeber, we've had more bipartisan commissions and think-tank reports than I can count.
9. Another amusing yet horrifying passage came when Obama suggested we follow China's energy policy (which of course involves massive consumption of coal), then in the next breath announced he'd be proposing carbon emission caps. I hope irony left a will, the funeral will be held shortly.
10. Obama's reading of American history fits neatly in what Jonah Goldberg has described as the literally fascistic tendency to demand the peacetime permanent military-style mobilization of civilian society, the endless search for moral equivalents of war that has been a unifying theme since the days of Woodrow Wilson:
History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle class in history. (Applause.) And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.
(I'll get some other day into my review of Goldberg's book, which details the history of this sort of thinking in the U.S. and Europe between the rise of Bismarck in Germany and Hillary's "politics of meaning" in much greater detail).
Obama has chosen his course: push a left-wing, big-government, big-spending agenda with little more than rhetorical window-dressing, and then blame Bush when it doesn't work. Last night formalized that plan. We'll see how long he can keep it up.
POLITICS/WAR: Not Even On The Agenda
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano avoids mention of terrorism or 9/11 in remarks prepared for her first congressional testimony since taking office, signaling a sharp change in tone from her predecessors.
Napolitano's prepared remarks also show her using the word "attacks" less than her predecessors. She is the first secretary to use a Capitol Hill debut to talk about hurricanes and disasters, a sign of the department's evolving mission following Hurricane Katrina.
It's all too easy, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, to blame the somnolence of the Clinton Administration for allowing the terror threat to grow unchecked; the failures of the 1990s, after all, were pervasive, systemic and bipartisan, and they continued in the first nine months of the Bush Administration. But today's Democrats have no such excuse for lapsing back into complacency.
February 24, 2009
POLITICS: It Depends Upon What The Meaning Of The Word "Lobbyist" Is
Jake Tapper notices that Obama's nominee for US Trade Representative, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, worked as a state and local lobbyist in Dallas; Tapper notes that he's at least the fifth lobbyist picked for a significant position in the Obama Administration (and that's before we consider family members like Joe Biden's son or Tom Daschle's wife). Here's the Administration's defense:
"Ron Kirk has never been a registered federal lobbyist," White House spokesman Ben LaBolt told ABC News...."How precisely is it a loophole when we never pledged to bar state lobbyists?" a Democratic official asks.
(Emphasis mine). Hey, isn't that a tune we have heard before?
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As Tapper notes, that's not exactly what Obama on the campaign trail led people to believe:
[T]hough the president at his most precise has railed against former "federally registered lobbyists" running his administration, at other times he has not been so precise, and his language on the matter at times may have given many Americans the impression that state and local lobbyists -- who in many instances bring the same baggage as federal lobbyists -- would be kept from working in his administration as well.
Now, personally, while it's worth taking a long look at the lobbying background of anyone looking to get into government to see who they owe favors to, I don't actually think being a lobbyist is any less honorable a profession than my own (lawyer), and the role of a lobbyist is inherent in the First Amendment right to organize and petition the government for redress of grievances. As I noted during the campaign, Obama himself once worked as essentially a lobbyist - what else is a "community organizer" but someone who lobbies the government on behalf of the interests of particular people? (In fact, John McCain had also worked as a Washington lobbyist for the U.S. Navy near the end of his time in the service - his official title was as a Congressional "liaison," but the job was functionally indistinguishable from that of a lobbyist for private sector interests). If lobbyists have too much influence in Washington - and most of us would agree they do - it's not because of the nefarious influence of lobbyists but for two related reasons: (1) because the federal government has grown to such a scale and insinuated itself in so many aspects of life that it is in position to do enormous favors or inflict enormous damage on private businesses; and (2) because Congress in particular is willing to write special rules favoring or disfavoring particular businesses to benefit its friends. That power, after all, is a valuable thing; should they give it away for free? And companies that don't want to play ball quickly learn they need to; as Jonah Goldberg likes to point out, Bill Gates once boasted that Microsoft's one Washington lobbyist had no work to do and Washington was "not on our radar"; after the Justice Department came after the company with a series of antitrust lawsuits at the behest of its more plugged-in competitors, Microsoft changed its tune and started hiring lobbyists and making campaign contributions like everybody else.
If you want money out of politics, you first need to get politics out of money. It's the only way. And that's absolutely the last thing Barack Obama is going to do; it's not in his background, and it's certainly not in his policy programs, from more regulations to massive pork-barrel "stimulus" bills to buying big banks.
But while I was never naive enough to believe that Obama intended his talk about lobbyists and "new politics" to be anything but window-dressing on an expansion of the role of the federal government's favor factory, and while anyone who paid attention during the campaign had to know that, the amount of stress Obama put on those themes during the campaign means it is entirely fair game to keep pointing out what a false bill of goods he sold the public. Any serious adult had to know that "new politics" was never meant to do anything but get Barack Obama elected. Which only makes it funnier watching him come up with excuses for why he's still doing business as usual.
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February 23, 2009
February 18, 2009
POLITICS: Sarah Palin's Taxes
Given the battery of problems President Obama's Cabinet nominees and prominent Democrats have had paying their taxes, Democrats are undoubtedly relieved to see that a review by the State of Alaska has concluded that one very prominent Republican - Governor Sarah Palin - also owes the IRS money (H/T). The facts about Palin's taxes, however, are dramatically different from those of Democrats like Tim Geithner, the man who now oversees enforcement of the tax code. Here's why.
The issue raised back in October was whether Gov. Palin should have reported as income the per diem reimbursements she receives for meals and other expenses on days doing state business at her home in Wasilla instead of the governor's mansion in Juneau; as the AP notes, "Juneau, in the Alaska Panhandle 600 miles from Wasilla, is only accessible by airplane or ship." (We looked at the merits of the per diem reimbursements, which were dramatically lower than those collected by her predecessor, back in September). The McCain-Palin campaign responded by producing a legal opinion from tax counsel noting that the State of Alaska has traditionally not treated these reimbursements as income to state employees and has not included them on Forms W-2. Palin followed up by ordering the state Department of Administration to conduct a review of that policy. Unlike the Democrats, so many of whom seem to be playing entirely by rules of their own, the review affects other state employees besides the Governor:
Some other state employees also owe back income taxes for travel payments and will be getting revised tax forms, Annette Kreitzer, state administration commissioner, said in an e-mail.
As the Anchorage Daily News report (which also details back taxes owed by newly-elected Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Begich on a car provided to him) notes, Alaska has to deal with a whole separate set of rules for state legislators:
The new determination by administration officials won't affect state lawmakers, said Pam Varni, director of the Legislative Affairs agency.
Have fun keeping all that straight. One of my longstanding beefs with the picayune complexity of the campaign finance laws is applicable to tax law as well: if you wouldn't want a politician you support getting un-elected or indicted for violating the rules, maybe the rules are just too complicated.
Anyway, Palin's situation, in which her tax preparer reported only the income on her W-2, is rather dramatically different from that of, say, Geithner, who was given a manual by his employer explaining the taxability of his benefits and reimbursement for the taxes, and he still didn't pay them, and paid back less than all the back taxes he owed (only enough to avoid an enforcement action). Here, the state had a mistaken policy that appears to have predated her tenure as Governor, and that affected other people besides her. It's embarrassing, to be sure, but efforts to seize on the story are simply a sign of the Democrats' desperation to divert attention away from the beam in their own eye.
BASEBALL: Sources Unfiltered
"I realized right away that this was the first surefire, by his performance, Hall-of-Famer to admit this," Gammons said, "and therefore I thought keeping him talking, and getting as much as I could out there, was very important. I really felt my first duty was to get his words onto my employer's network."
I like Gammons, but this is a point I have made before about him and how he is similar to political journalists like Bob Novak and David Broder, and for that matter like Woodward and Bernstein. We all sometimes want to see reporters get adversarial with their subjects the way we lawyers do, to be fearless seekers of the truth...and there is something to be said for that style of journalism, but it's also worth remembering that lawyers get to be lawyers because we can use subpoenas to force people to talk to us. Journalists can't, and unless they have a Tim Russert type national perch, their targets are rarely at their mercy. Gammons represents a different type of reporter, the source-greaser; when Gammons tells you something, he's not telling you what he believes, he's relaying something one of his sources wants you to believe. The upside of that is that this kind of reporter gets a lot more access to powerful people; the downside, of course, is fluff interviews and a lot of disinformation, especially when the identity of the source isn't disclosed. You always have to bear in mind which kind of reporter you are reading.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:38 PM | Baseball 2009 | Politics 2009 | Comments (9) | TrackBack (0)
BLOG: Quick Links 2/18/09
*Megan McArdle on whether World War II ended the Great Depression. Francis Cianfrocca responds here.
*The New Republic profiles the Politico's knack for scoops and - what comes with that - penchant for inaccuracy. That said, you can smell the jealousy from the newspapermen quoted here (is Bill Keller really the guy to talk about unsustainable business models?)
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:23 PM | Basketball | Blog 2006-13 | Politics 2009 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
February 17, 2009
POLITICS: Quick Links 2/17/09
*Moe Lane notes a report about Obama looking for still more ways to rely on staffers, a script and prepared softball questions at his press conferences. Obama may have a lovely voice, but he really is not all that good an extemporaneous speaker and he relies very heavily on other people's prepared texts in ways that are really not all that dissimilar to George W. Bush and sometimes even more egregious. Yet, while Bush was pilloiried as being a moron due to his weak public speaking (and recall the outrage over the obscure Jeff Gannon), everybody lauds how articulate Obama is even when they can't remember a single thing he said. Is Obama, on balance, a better communicator than Bush? Sure he is even despite the vapidity of his pronouncements compared to the blunter Bush. But - I have made thisanalogy before in the comments here - comparing Obama's public speaking to Bush's is like comparing Vince Coleman's baserunning to Mike Piazza's; when that's your only skill, you have to be a lot better than a guy for whom public speaking is his biggest weakness.
*The NY GOP may not have suffered its last at the hands of Al D'Amato. But David Paterson has problems. Serious ones. And Kirsten Gillibrand may face a tough primary as well.
*Ted Stevens' conviction looks pretty shaky at this point, not that it really matters politically anymore.
February 16, 2009
POLITICS: Leave Barack Alone!1!1!1!
Mike Lupica had a column this morning weeping bitter tears over his shock and hurt that people are criticizing Barack Obama. Amazing, when you think about it, that the President of the United States should receive criticism. It's such a novel concept.
This was probably the funniest line in the piece:
Once, 100 days was the mythical grace period for a new President. This one doesn't get five minutes. In the process, he finds out that Washington is even lousier and meaner with partisanship than he knew before he got there.
You would almost think, from reading this, that Obama really did just get there. Not that he'd been a United States Senator the last four years (granted, he's been out of town campaigning for half that), doing things like voting against (and voting to filibuster) highly qualified Supreme Court nominees on the basis of ideology. Not that he'd refused to concede even the possibility of good faith on the part of supporters of the Iraq War, giving a speech blaming the war on a cabal of Jews and on political schemes by Karl Rove. To say nothing of the vats of acid spewed by the Angry Left likes of Lupica in recent years. And yet, somehow, they are surprised that politics, as Mr. Dooley remarked more than a century ago, ain't beanbag. Next, someone may even tell them that the world outside our borders is a dangerous place. But when everything in the world is as new to you every year, it is always a surprise.
February 13, 2009
POLITICS: Barack Obama's Gift To Conservatives
President Obama, like many presidents before him, would like to have it both ways: get broad bipartisan support for his domestic agenda without compromising it. Of course, in the real world, politics doesn't work that way - you can charm, cajole, browbeat, bribe and blackmail your way to a handful of votes here and there, but unless (like Reagan) you have a substantial faction of the opposition party that is philosophically closer to you than to your critics, or unless (like FDR and LBJ) you have so many votes you don't need the opposition, you're going to have to give something to get bipartisan support.
And thus far, especially on the colossal pork barrel masquerading as a "stimulus" bill, Obama has made his decision, or perhaps just allowed Congressional liberals to make it for him: it's the Democrats' way or the highway:
As the president, he had told Kyl after the Arizonan raised objections to the notion of a tax credit for people who don't pay income taxes, Obama told Cantor this morning that "on some of these issues we're just going to have ideological differences."
The results thus far have been predictable:
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-The House version of the stumulus bill passed with zero Republican votes and got the barest minimum number of Republican supporters (three Senators) to avoid a filibuster in the Senate. Yet even the pitiful concessions made have Nancy Pelosi vowing to force filibusters of any legislation that gets passed on party-line votes in the House rather than make compromises acceptable even to the most liberal Senate Republicans. The compromise bill has just passed the House, again with no GOP support.
-Obama's own choice for Commerce Secretary, Republican Senator Judd Gregg, ended up withdrawing his nomination due in part to the Administration's unwillingness to accept that he couldn't support the bill in its current form (and in part because of Obama's plan to remove control of the Census Bureau from his department and hand it over to political operatives in the White House in light of Gregg's opposition during the last census to unconstitutional partisan efforts to skew the count to favor Democrats).
[Oklahoma Democratic Congressman Dan] Boren said Obama "missed an opportunity" for the stimulus bill to be bipartisan.
Now, let's make one thing very clear here. Obama is proceeding on the view that the guy who wins the election gets to enact the policies he wants. Having won a decisive, if not overwhelming, majority of the popular vote and having a large Congressional majority at his back, he certainly has every right to do that. Democrats spent much of the 2001-2006 period moaning about how President Bush and Karl Rove pursued, at home and abroad, a 50-plus-one strategy of making only the minimum necessary concessions to get only as much bipartisan support as they needed to get things passed, and about how Tom DeLay & company ran the House with the goal of maximizing what they could get for the conservative agenda, regardless of the wishes of the minority. Republicans shouldn't whine about these things they way the other side did; they are the prerogative of an elected majority, and they promote accountability, so as to put the American people, in 2010 and 2012, in a position to judge the Democrats' handiwork. As Obama himself put it:
I'm not going to make any excuses...If stuff hasn't worked, if people don't feel like I've led the country in the right direction then you'll have a new president.
But we can certainly point out what Obama and the Democrats are doing, as well as how it makes a complete fraud of Obama's claim that he ever intended to be a "post-partisan" president in any real sense, and complete hypocrites of the very people who whined the loudest when Bush took the same approach. What they are doing is giving a golden gift to conservatives who were feeling demoralized just a few short months ago.
A. The Pure Partisan Politics
As a matter of politics, conservatives, having only a small Republican minority to work with and a moderate-to-liberal faction still remaining within that minority, faced the dire threat that Obama would coopt enough Republican support for his initiatives to make it impossible to get out a distinct opposing message and hold him accountable if he fails. Experienced leaders know what Obama doesn't:
If Republicans support the Democrats' economic agenda and the economy gets better, Democrats will get all the credit.
If Republicans oppose the Democrats' economic agenda and the economy gets better, Democrats will get all the credit.
If Republicans support the Democrats' economic agenda and the economy does not get better, the two parties will share the blame.
If Republicans oppose the Democrats' economic agenda and the economy does not get better, Democrats alone will get the blame.
In other words, as a strictly political matter, the only major risk for the Democrats, and the only possible upside for Republicans, is if Republicans can distinguish themselves from what the Democrats are doing. And by taking the "I won" approach, Obama is allowing, even compelling, moderate Republicans to do just that. The result is an opposition that is energized and sees a path to recovery, rather than one that is divided, demoralized and outmaneuvered.
B. The Politics of the Policy
Second, when you look more closely at the policy involved and how it plays politically, the Democrats in general and Obama in particular are doing two unwise things at once: they are ceding critical high ground to Republicans while concentrating their own forces on the site of their own worst prior defeats. Let's consider what the Democrats are giving up:
(1) The Deficit
Democrats have made a lot of hay the last 8 years complaining about budget deficits, an argument they generally use as cover for tax hikes. Now, they are proposing to spend three quarters of a trillion dollars in pure deficit spending. Not a month into Obama's term, Democrats are forfeiting that issue entirely. Sure, a year from now they will use the deficits they doubled as an argument for tax hikes, but who will listen?
The GOP was already in the process of a grassroots-driven movement towards fiscal discipline and away from bailouts and "compassionate conservatism." Just when this internal dynamic is gaining steam, the massive price tag and Christmas list of liberal pet projects and pork cobbled together by the Democrats has surrendered entirely any pretense that the Democrats were going to compete with Republicans on this issue. You may recall, from the nationally televised debates, Obama's own, unambiguous, read-my-lips promise on spending (which he repeated several times):
[W]hat I've proposed, you'll hear Sen. McCain say, well, he's proposing a whole bunch of new spending, but actually I'm cutting more than I'm spending so that it will be a net spending cut.
Now, lots of people have gotten elected by promising to reduce the deficit - FDR and Reagan being two successful and popular presidents who ran on such promises and got away with doing nothing of the sort - but the deficit is a goal, with three inputs (tax policy, spending policy, and economic performance), and the public tends to discount such promises accordingly. But spending policy alone is a choice. And we all know there will be no $800 billion spending cut bill to offset the 'stimulus.' As Obama himself put it:
You get the argument, well, 'this is not a stimulus bill, it's a spending bill. What do you think a stimulus is? That's the whole point.... No seriously, that's the point.
Not only spending, in fact, but substantial pork-barrel spending; the vast sums directed to pet causes of powerful Democrats and liberal interest groups having nothing to do with stimulating the economy have laid bare the fraudulence of Obama's claim to be against government by earmark and favor. Big Government is back, baby, and it's so hungry.
Finally, having staked themselves to big government spending and record deficits, Obama and the Democrats appear to be gambling on one thing: results. They are, as I noted, in a position to benefit if the economy improves on their watch. Indeed, Obama got elected in large part by raising expectations that the economy would get better under him, expectations he seems already to recognize he can't meet. The problem is twofold.
Number one, of course, given the natural operation of the business cycle and the size of the losses in the housing crisis that have to work their way through the system, it will be months at least before things get better. And number two, they run the risk of betting on a strategy that is likely to make things even worse than recessions usually are.
Remember: we haven't had liberal management of the economy in so long - three decades - that people have forgotten what it looked like in the 1933-52 and 1965-80 periods. Bill Clinton came to office with a mixed bag of policy initiatives: liberal goals like marginal tax hikes, nationalizing health care and an energy (BTU) tax, and more conservative promises like free trade agreements and welfare reform. Clinton got his tax hikes and a few additional regulatory statutes passed (we'll leave aside for now the ticking time bomb of his housing credit policy), but his health care plan and BTU tax died even in a Democrat-controlled Congress while the free trade agreements (NAFTA and GATT) passed, and once we had a Republican Congress, they teamed up with Clinton to pass welfare reform, a capital gains tax cut, and a number of smaller conservative priorities while restraining spending and ultimately running a budget surplus. In other words, the overall record of the Clinton years was moderate and bipartisan given the deals that got made between the two sides. (Clinton also benefitted from external good fortune that bears no resemblance to the conditions of today - a period of relative world peace and huge growth in democracy and free trade worldwide).
By contrast, Obama and the Democrats have now committed themselves irrevocably to massive growth in government spending, and the odds are that they are not done there, as we are likely to see the ghosts of economic liberalism past and of Eurosocialism present come knocking: more marginal tax hikes, a government takeover of health care, protectionism, massive new regulations, measures to tip the labor-management balance towards unions, restrictions on energy production, you name it. No serious adult can believe that any of this will help the economy; Obama, by always talking about "saving" rather than creating jobs, seems to imply that he, too, recognizes that he can't promise any improvements. Indeed, liberal economic policy has never been about enabling growth so much as assuming it will happen and fighting over how to divide the spoils. Republicans and conservatives can feel secure in their opposition to these economic policies because we know they don't work.
So there you have it: Obama and the Democrats, by ramming the 'stimulus' bill through on a party-line basis and bulldozing Republican opposition, have taken ownership of old-time Big Government liberalism; they have surrendered to Republicans the very issues that divided the GOP and attracted moderate swing voters to the Democratic banner; they have energized and galvanized their opponents; they have discarded the pretense of bipartisanship; and they have, in the end, lashed themselves to the mast of policies that are proven not to work. The only thing the stimulus bill will stimulate is conservatism.
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BUSINESS/POLITICS: Man Up, Wall Street
A hilarious column from Michael Lewis that's too good to excerpt. Lewis has the rare gift of two-sided satire, by which he can simultamneously needle both Wall Street's traditional mindset and the fools on Capitol Hill who want to change it. The serious question underlying his Swiftian proposal is whether the big financial firms can regain their health if they have to willingly submit to political micromanagement of all their decisions.
February 12, 2009
POLITICS: Cutting Off Our Noses
Megan McArdle on the Democrats' latest folly:
New York City's main industry lies in ruins; its finances are in peril; its housing market is falling. What does the city need? That's right, tougher rent controls!
This bill, if it passes the Senate, will represent the third time that New York has reneged on its promises not to control new housing. From what I can tell, it's trying to claw back decontrols of units that were built under laws providing for time-limited stabilization in exchange for tax breaks. Just like the first two times, it's a good bet that New York City will now have a damn hard time getting anyone to build anything except another skybox for rich patrons who do not arouse the sympathy of the New York State legislature. Every time a New Yorker curses their dirty, run-down shoebox of an apartment, they should save an especially juicy oath for Sheldon Silver.
Economics is not their strong suit, to put it mildly.
February 11, 2009
POLITICS: Geaux Bobby Geaux!
The GOP will have its best possible spokesman, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, give the response to President Obama's sort-of State of the Union. This is excellent news. Jindal is the perfect counterpoint to Obama, he's outside DC, and his selection ducks the issue of whether to tab one of the 2012 presidential contenders for the job (I'm sure Jindal's running eventually, but he has to run for re-election in November 2011, which makes a presidential campaign essentially impossible, plus he appears to be committed to staying in Louisiana until he has made a whole lot more progress in reforming the state's famously criminal political culture.
POLITICS: Tell Me What To Think!
February 10, 2009
POLITICS/BUSINESS: The Brink
I've explained here, here, here, here, here, and here, among others, why I grudgingly supported the original Paulson Plan that formed the foundation of TARP and why I have been opposed to its expansion and to all the subsequent bailouts. This post gives a pretty good anecdotal glimpse into why the situation in mid-September 2008 was so uniquely dire compared to the more usual workings of even a fairly severe recession.
POLITICS: What If?
Ben wrote largely the point I was going to make on A-Rod: he's probably the straw that breaks the camel's back as far as being able to point fingers at individual steroid users rather than just throw your hands up at the culture of the era. Which is, of course, great news for Bonds and McGwire.
To use a political analogy, it was one thing when Douglas Ginsburg could be bounced from his nomination to the Supreme Court (where Judge Ginsburg would have been a fine Justice, BTW) because he smoked pot; it was a political flap but not fatal when Bill Clinton finally admitted smoking pot, but really by the time of Clinton it was more about whether he'd been honest about it, and by then, Clarence Thomas was already on the Supreme Court having admitted to smoking pot. And then, we found out that Newt Gingrich had smoked pot, and Al Gore had smoked pot, and George W. Bush wouldn't even tell us what he'd done, and by 2008 we elected a President who admitted using cocaine and it wasn't even an issue, and there was even serious talk about hiring a guy to run a federal agency who'd been busted for heroin.
And the same defining-deviancy-down dynamic (in Pat Moynihan's words) is at issue here; we're about at the critical mass of MVPs and Cy Young winners with a steroid asterisk next to their names that we don't even notice the asterisk anymore, just as we have stopped even mentally discounting all the records set since the 162 game schedule's arrival in 1961. The story will get more play for a while, since A-Rod is still active, hugely unpopular, plays in the game's biggest media market and was dishonest about it to boot; but we'll probably look back and see that he was the moment when, behind the noise, we stopped really caring who took steroids and who didn't.
UPDATE: Looks like federal prosecutors are not among those who don't care, as they are charging Miguel Tejada with perjury for lying to Congress about steroids.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:35 PM | Baseball 2009 | Politics 2009 | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)
As you may have noticed - the Guardian did - President Obama used a Teleprompter last night for the prepared remarks he delivered to open his press conference. If memory serves correctly, this is new - at least, I don't believe President Bush ever tried to bring a Teleprompter to a press conference.
This site seems to agree that the arrival of the Teleprompter at press conferences is a new thing. Ann Althouse thinks the placement of the Teleprompters off to the side was distracting; were they trying to hide them?
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Mr. Obama called reporters from a list on the podium, and reporters buzzed afterward about how he didn't seem to know a single reporter he called on - at least in the front row.
The president ticked through all the usual suspects, calling on the three wires and all five networks before hitting The Washington Post and New York Times, both of whom sent black reporters. The only other question from outside the box was from NPR.
Of course, expect this to be a typical Obama press roster: one question from Fox, which Obama and his team prefer to demonize, and otherwise a hit parade of liberals - NPR, CNN, the HuffPo, Reuters, Chuck Todd, and the AP's famously biased Jennifer Loven. You'd think Obama would at least bother to memorize their faces before calling on them, to make it a little less obvious.
SECOND UPDATE: Ed Morrissey notes that Obama managed to misrepresent the Republican proposals and get his Japanese economic history backwards.
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POLITICS: Oh, That Joe!
You know, maybe it is unnecessary to point this out, but had McCain won the election, I'm quite certain he would not have been put constantly in the position of taking this attitude towards the public utterances of his vice president.
February 8, 2009
POLITICS: The Politics of ... Something
February 6, 2009
LAW: 11th Circuit Backs Miami-Dade School's Removal of Book About Cuba From School Library
An opinion that was handed down by a divided panel of the 11th Circuit yesterday in American Civil Liberties Union v. Miami-Dade County is bound to be controversial: the court held, among other things (the opinion plus dissent run 177 pages) that a school board in Miami was justified in removing from the bookshelves of a school library a book that painted an unduly rosy picture of life in Cuba. The interesting part of the opinion, rejecting an ACLU challenge, runs from about page 59-104 of the slip opinion in pdf form, if you want to read it yourself. The core of the court's decision was its conclusion that removing a book that was factually inaccurate in failing to depict the reality of life under Castro was not a forbidden exercise of political opinion but a legitimate exercise of a school board's power to take factually false material off the shelves.
It requires no stretch of the imagination to recognize why this holding is a flashpoint; nearly all disputes over subjects ranging from evolution to global warming to Israel and Palestine involve warring camps both of which assert that the other's position is simply factually false and should not be taught to schoolchildren. As I have long argued in the case of media bias, the biggest single issue is deciding which stories have two legitimate sides and which don't. But to state the problem doesn't answer the question of where courts can allow democratically elected school boards to draw the line, or where those boards should draw the line if left free to do so, since the alternative involves the courts tying the hands of the board in decisions about removing books, while giving free rein to political agendas in the decision to buy the books in the first place.
As the majority opinion noted:
The dissenting opinion argues that if a school board's action in removing a book from its own library shelves does not amount to banning a book, then a school board can never ban a book. See Dissenting Op. at 172. So what? Nowhere is it written that a school board must be empowered to ban books. Because a school board has no power to prohibit people from publishing, selling, distributing, or possessing a book, it has no power to ban books.
Slip op. at 93. My own preference, and I think the reading most consistent with the Constitution, would be to get the courts out of the business entirely, but even that doesn't answer the core policy question of how the school boards should decide these kinds of brouhahas.
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Legally, the interesting point in the opinion was that the court did explicitly what courts often do without saying: it distinguished between the objective facts in the record that were left as they were found by the trial court and the inferences about motivation drawn from those facts, and made clear that the appellate court was applying its own judgment to the latter (appellate courts often do this, though it's a fair question whether they ought to):
[W]e will review for clear error only the district court’s findings of ordinary historical facts. Those are facts about the who, what, where, when, and how of the controversy - what the School Board did, when and how it acted, what various members of the Board said, and so forth. Those facts, already set out earlier in this opinion, are largely undisputed. By contrast, under the assumptions about the law that we have made for purposes of deciding this case, we must determine the "why" facts. Those are the core constitutional facts that involve the reasons the School Board took the challenged action - its intent, or more accurately, its motive for removing copies of the Vamos a Cuba book from the school libraries.
Slip op. at 61. The court made clear that however much controversy is inevitably involved either way, a school board simply can't be stripped of the power to decide that some books are just wrong:
Whatever else it does in the context of school library books, the First Amendment does not require a school board to leave on its library shelves a purportedly nonfiction book that contains false statements of fact. That is no less true if, as here, the falsehoods in the book make a totalitarian regime that is out of favor in this country look better than the true facts would. A preference in favor of factual accuracy is not unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.
Facts about the conditions inside a country are not a viewpoint. They are facts. A book that recounts those facts accurately would not, for that reason, be political in nature. And a book that presents a distorted picture of life inside a country - whether through errors of commission or omission - does not, for that reason, become "apolitical."
Slip op. at 96-97. And the court chided the district court for what it saw as a bias against the Cuban-Americans on the school board (as well as the former Cuban political prisoner who originally objected to the book):
There is something of this flavor in the plaintiffs' argument and the district court's opinion: the majority of the School Board members were Cuban Americans; Cuban Americans despise Castro and his regime; therefore, the Board's removal of the book must have been motivated by their disagreement with the book's political viewpoint instead of by its factual inaccuracies....To the extent that is an argument, it confuses interest with motive. Cuban Americans are more interested than others in removing a book that falsely portrays, to the upside, life in Castro's Cuba, but that does not mean their motive for wanting the book removed is anything other than the fact that the book contain