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3/30/2010
THE RICK MORAN SHOW: AROUND THE WORLD IN 60 MINUTES
CATEGORY: General

You won’t want to miss tonight’s Rick Moran Show, one of the most popular conservative talk shows on Blog Talk Radio.

Tonight, I welcome Fausta Wertz, James Joyner, and Monica Showalter as we look at American policy in Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East.

The show will air from 7:00 - 9:00 PM Central time. You can access the live stream here. A podcast will be available for streaming or download shortly after the end of the broadcast.

Click on the stream below and join in on what one wag called a “Wayne’s World for adults.”

Also, if you’d like to call in and put your two cents in, you can dial (718) 664-9764.

Listen to The Rick Moran Show on internet talk radio

By: Rick Moran at 4:20 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

Some thoughts on change, large and small

This post originally appears at The Moderate Voice

There is nothing new about one’s political opponent’s trying to define your philosophy. This is a part of politics as old as the republic, and the more stinking and fearsome you can define how your enemy thinks, the more hay you will make with the electorate.

It worked so well for movement conservatives that they have chased the designation “liberal” from public discourse, perhaps for all time, by demonizing, exaggerating, and ultimately condemning those who identified themselves thusly as less than patriotic, less than American.

And previous to that, liberals worked wonders with the word “conservative” as they branded anyone of that philosophical bent a frothing at the mouth anti-Communist, a danger to American liberties, an ignorant, unlearned rube distrustful of intellectuals, and a mossback who looked with suspicion on international entanglements.

So goes the unending war between the two great philosophies - the yin and yang of the soul of America, forever condemned to be at odds while the country would find it impossible to do without both.

The complementary forces at work that make both liberals and conservatives necessary for a healthy society far exceed the puny efforts to rip asunder the the soul of America where these philosophies reside. While we have seen in recent decades an excessive partisanship that seeks dominance and control over the mechanism of government, what has been happening beneath the surface hasn’t changed; the slow, grinding forces of history that shape the destiny of America in ways we can only understand when we remove ourselves from the present political skirmishes and see the contours revealed by looking over our shoulder at what we have become.

American history is not a straight line proposition. It is tempting for narrative historians to paint it that way, but by doing so, much is missed in the translation. And the reason that is basically true is because of how America changes over the years, and the nature of change itself.

Generally speaking, America is a nation created to embrace change. Our Constitution has codified this notion by including the radical idea that future circumstances may require that the founding document be amended. But at the same time - and this is the key - the founders made it damn near impossible to alter their masterpiece. The Constitutional amendment must be passed by a 2/3 vote Congress and then approved by 3/4 of the states. A tall order that, as evidenced by the fact that, excluding the Bill of Rights, we have altered the text of our founding document only 17 times in 221 years.

Clearly, the founders wanted a little built in prudence to govern the engine of change. There is nothing wrong with that, as any conservative could tell you. Prudence is perhaps the most important civic virtue to which a society and by extension, government can aspire. It allows for change without overturning society in a helter skelter effort to address the issue of the day, putting a break on passion and forcing the citizenry to deal with what needs to be done in a rational manner. Change should be managed and well considered with a sharp eye directed toward consequences both seen and perhaps unseen.

This has usually been the case in America. And when it hasn’t been so, the worst consequences have usually been outweighed by the gains we have made by marching into the future with little or no idea of where we were going. Only the fact that we were moving ahead seemed to matter.

You can pick your own examples from history but I like the radical change found in Jacksonian democracy overturning the established order and giving ordinary people power they were previously denied. The “Age of the Common Man” had begun and since then, politicians have pandered to that notion of the “ordinary American,” sometimes masking schemes that accomplished exactly the opposite by claiming solidarity with regular folk.

Thinking of what has been done by government in the name of the “Middle Class” is to contemplate the unforeseen consequences that Old Hickory unleashed. And yet, we certainly wouldn’t trade what we have with what the Jacksonians defeated; the idea that there was a landed aristocracy who should rule by birthright.

In a similar fashion, we accept the consequences of destroying slavery even with the monumentally awful consequences of war, bitterness, divisiveness, and the system of Jim Crow that replaced bondage because slavery was such a fundamental evil that the unforeseen consequences didn’t matter. It could be said that in the case of getting rid of involuntary servitude and flushing it forever from the Constitution, that we could well say to hell with prudence, the actions we’re taking are long past due.

There are other examples of great change leading to unforeseen and deleterious consequences. Think of the Great Depression and the revolution in government begun by FDR. Until that time, the only contact people had with Washington was basically through the post office, or the draft. FDR changed that forever by initiating a massive government intervention in the economy in order to “save capitalism” while ordinary people were helped via government assistance with jobs, food, and housing. By today’s standards, these changes were modest indeed. But whether you are a liberal or conservative, you have to agree that there were unintended consequences to these changes and that not all of them were good.

Think of World War II and the rise of the national security state, the baby boom, the creation of a consumer driven economy - all changes that have good and bad consequences for our society, most of them unforeseen. War seems to accelerate change whether we want it or not which is a consequence in and of itself. How different we would be if we had not been drawn into the conflict? Alternate history parlor games notwithstanding, it would be impossible to say.

This brings us to the present and our president’s charge that opponents of his health insurance reform plan failed to embrace it because of their fear of change. There is something to that idea, although I would strenuously argue that for many on the right, it was not a question of being fearful of change per se, only the imprudent, unforeseen, uncontemplated changes inherent in a 3000 page bill few had read, fewer still understood, and no one could imagine the worst of what this effort at comprehensive reform of 1/6 the economy would mean.

Russel Kirk may be talking about conservative philosophy here, but I think he speaks to prudent people everywhere:

Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away. As John Randolph of Roanoke put it, Providence moves slowly, but the devil always hurries. Human society being complex, remedies cannot be simple if they are to be efficacious. The conservative declares that he acts only after sufficient reflection, having weighed the consequences. Sudden and slashing reforms are as perilous as sudden and slashing surgery.

It’s almost as if the old professor had health insurance reform in mind when he wrote those words more than 50 years ago. The difference here between “real conservatives” (Kirk) and “true conservatives” (Palin) is probably lost on the partisans from both sides. But there is a universality to what Kirk is saying that strays beyond ideology and speaks to something far more important; our innate common sense.

President Obama has made a passionate case for health insurance reform. Indeed, many on the left have declared America deficient because we refuse to follow the lead of our European betters and embrace government run health care. I don’t doubt for a minute their sincerity in believing what the Democrats hath wrought on health care reform isn’t good and necessary, although I would gently point out that our founders went about writing a Constitution that put as much distance as possible between us and their ancestors across the sea.

I do question their common sense and prudence in advancing legislation that so many don’t want, and so many have pointed out potential disastrous consequences. Given that all change brings with it these unforeseen happenstances, and that the bigger the change, the more potential for catastrophe, one can only conclude that this kind of massive reform of the entire health care system was unnecessary and imprudent.

Change for the sake of change is mindless idiocy. Change because we are unique, and altering our society to conform to someone else’s idea of what is proper is nonsensical. There must be purpose, logic, and reason to change or you allow passion to govern. And if that be the case, you not only lack prudence, but judgment as well.

The American people would have embraced a far less ambitious, less costly, more tailored reform effort. We could have insured the uninsured and made insurance available to those denied it because of a pre-existing condition. We could have placed the hand of regulation less heavily on insurance companies while forcing them to conform to better standards, with more consumer protection. We could have done all of this and then carefully weighed the consequences before proceeding further.

But we didn’t. And the unforeseen consequences of this imprudent alteration in our health care system may far outweigh any good done in the passing of it.

By: Rick Moran at 9:41 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (3)

3/29/2010
KILL THEM! KILL THEM ALL!
CATEGORY: Ethics, Politics

Am I talking about Democrats? Or am I quoting Johnny Rico’s battle cry from Starship Troopers?

As much as some Democrats and liberals remind me of cockroaches, the answer is a qualified “no.” I say that because if I was indeed crying out for the termination of liberal’s life functions, that would be wrong, although anyone who 1) took my threat seriously; or 2) tried to make the case that I was inciting violence would, under normal circumstances, be seen as something of a raving loon.

But that’s the state of political discourse today. Intent on stifling any post-Obamacare dissent, many of our friends on the left have discovered that over the top, exaggerated, hyperbolic rhetoric is not usually a good thing - except when they engage in such and target conservatives and Republicans. Then, all manner of free speech is allowed, even considered necessary, in order to stifle opposing viewpoints.

And connecting my “Kill them all!” cry to some yahoo throwing a brick through a Congressman’s office is, if possible, even loonier. Five seconds of extra thought to such a notion would tell you that not only would said yahoo probably be unable to read and therefore would miss my transgression against civility altogether, but the chances of him coming across my blog post in the first place are astronomically small.

Hence, I feel perfectly comfortable in crying out “Kill them all!” After all, who’s to say where I am directing my battle cry? Maybe I only want congressional liberals to expire? Perhaps I am only targeting black liberals with my eliminationist rhetoric? It’s even possible that I am only advocating that three toed, humpback, mustachioed, gay Democrats be given the deep six?

The only way to deal with restrictions on speech is to speak the supposedly offending words and offensive language in the loudest, longest, most exaggerated manner possible and keep doing it until those seeking to stifle your First Amendment rights are shown to be the tyrannical louts they truly are.

To wit:

It’s time to take off the kid gloves and start TARGETING these Democrats for SPECIAL TREATMENT. HANG THEM FROM THE YARDARM, I say! PUT THE CROSSHAIRS over their district and FIRE AWAY. Don’t be NIGGARDLY (couldn’t resist) in your criticisms. RACK THEM. You might even consider DRAWING AND QUARTERING them - metaphorically speaking, of course.

Why stop there? HANGING IS TOO GOOD FOR THEM! OFF WITH THEIR HEADS! BLEED THEM! MAKE THEM HOWL! STICK A FORK IN THEM! PUNCTURE their balloons. SLAP THEM SILLY! SLAP THEM UPSIDE THE HEAD. KNOCK THEM OVER THE HEAD WITH A TWO BY FOUR!

Getting hysterical over a figure of speech may be taking the idea of “eliminationist rhetoric” to its absolute, most frothingly idiotic limit. It isn’t a question of whether such language incites violence; it doesn’t. It isn’t a question of whether the user actually intends to hang someone from a yardarm or wishes to use the Medieval torture device, the Rack, to injure or kill a political opponent because the very definition of a “figure of speech” precludes such a possibility:

A Figure of Speech is where a word or words are used to create an effect, often where they do not have their original or literal meaning.

What we have is the old liberal trick of ignoring the author’s intended meaning of words and phrases in order to substitute their own, politically motivated interpretation of what is written. Hence, if I quote Johnny Rico by writing “Kill them all!”, I am not making fun of liberals, I am actually calling on those shadowy tea party folks to put a bullet through a Democratic Congressman’s head. It doesn’t matter that my intent was to make liberals look like idiots. It is that some liberal schmuck decided he could make political hay by pointing hysterically to my figurative use of the phrase and triumphantly accuse me of advocating the death of Democrats.

Goldstein has been tracking this phenomenon for years. He always explains it better than I:

As I’ve explained on countless occasions, however, language simply does not exist in the absence of intent. Intent — the intent to signify — is what turns signifiers into signs, marks into language (and so, potential communication). In an instance where we don’t know the intent of the author or utterer, it is our job as receivers of a communication to try to decode that intent. And that’s because the intent and the message are irrevocably tied together. Which is why when we aren’t interpreting by way of appeals to authorial intent, we aren’t “interpreting” at all. Rather, what we are doing is treating marks as mere signifiers, and then we are attaching to them our own signifieds — in essence, writing our own text. To then turn around and attribute the text we wrote to that author is not only wrongheaded, it is pernicious: after all, we are still privileging intent. It’s just that we have now privileged our own, while attributing that intent to the writer/utterer.

Intent is always present; whose intent gets privileged determines whether or what we’re doing is “interpreting” or “creative writing.”

When the left “privileges” its own intent, substituting their own interpretation of a word, or a phrase for what the author was trying to convey, it becomes impossible to communicate on any level whatsoever. How can there be discourse when both sides cannot agree on the meaning of language?

I hate to see the right attempting this nonsense - and not doing it very well. When Ed Schultz says on his show that if there is another Oklahoma City-like terrorist attack, that Glenn Beck and other righties should “blow their brains out,” no one with any respect for language believes that Schultz is advocating the death of talk show hosts. He is using a figure of speech to shock his audience (and garner ratings). He is not signaling some kook to kill Beck. He is not using language to incite violence against anybody. Those who interpret Schultz’s use of the cliche as anything other than the radio host doing his shtick are guilty of exactly the same kind of idiocy the left uses when critiquing, for example, Stephen Green’s call to “tar and feather” congressmen.

Political violence is unwanted in America. So is deliberate exaggeration of the threat of such. Ten recorded incidents against Democrats (and a couple against Republicans) do not a civil war make. The notion that tea partyers, bloggers, pundits, or anyone else on the right is advocating, inciting, or wishing for violence against Democrats is balmy.

That is, if everyone were truly interested in defining intent correctly, rather than reinterpreting speech in order to score political points and stifle the opposition.

By: Rick Moran at 8:36 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

FAREWELL AND ADIEU, JACK BAUER
CATEGORY: "24", History, Media, Politics

This article originally appears in The American Thinker

When 24’s Jack Bauer first burst into the American consciousness back in 2001, a few short weeks after the attacks on 9/11, it was as if, as the New York Times said at the time, that there had been a “deadly convergence between real life and Hollywood fantasy.” Little did the Times know, nor could any of us have guessed, how 24 would reflect and define that convergence for 8 thrilling seasons, while acting as catalyst for discussing the most controversial issues of the decade.

Fox Network announced on Friday that this season would be the last for action series, which gives us the opportunity to look back and examine 24 and especially, the character who defined the War on Terror for the 8 years the show existed. (Note: The writer’s strike of 2008 forced cancellation of the series for that season.)

Jack Bauer may be the first fictional character in history who has been accused of inciting war crimes. During the shooting of Season 6, a group of real-life interrogators from the FBI, CIA, and the Army paid a visit to the set to make their case that the depiction of torture on 24 was not only unrealistic, but was also inspiring Cadets at West Point, and soldiers in the field to ape Bauer’s methods of extracting information. The professionals pointed out that, in their experience, torture never works and that the “ticking bomb scenario” itself is a fantasy that has never happened and would never occur.

Following that meeting, the casual, constant use of torture by Bauer was cut back, although, much to the chagrin of the Human Rights movement, the series continued to depict torture as being a successful method in extracting vital information.

More importantly perhaps, the issue of torture was discussed not only by inside the beltway types, but Americans everywhere debated whether or not what we were doing in real life with prisoners like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was right or wrong. Not since the issue of slavery had so many Americans become intellectually engaged on the practical ramifications of a moral issue.

The phenomenon of Bauer and the show itself has been nothing short of astonishing. Intellectual debates at think tanks have been inspired by Bauer’s tactics. Scholarly papers have examined the social, political, and national security aspects of the show. Law and Humanities classes at prestigious Universities have been taught using 24 as a template. Magazines from The New Yorker to Time have looked at the show from every possible angle, dissecting its relevance and impact on American society.

Not bad for a TV show. But the basis of 24’s success was the revolutionary nature of the “real time” presentation. In recent years, the writers have flubbed a few instances where one could question how a character made it from Point A to Point B in the time allotted on the show. But since every minute onscreen reflected a minute passed in the 24 universe, the tension - expertly crafted by a stable of fine writers - could be ratcheted up and deliciously sustained to the point that when the dam burst (usually with some fantastic twist to the plot), viewer satisfaction was assured.

It didn’t hurt that the show’s production values were among the best on network television. With a budget on average that was nearly twice that of any other dramatic show, 24 wowed its loyal viewers with realistic pyrotechnics, gee-whiz electronics, and dizzying camera work that put the viewer right in the heart of the action. Original producers Joel Surnow and Howard Gordon proved that a weekly action TV series need not skimp when it came to special effects and other high end details that gave 24 the feel of a blockbuster movie at times.

Still, it was always Jack Bauer that 24 fans came back year after year to see. Despite the convoluted plots, threads in the script that petered out and went nowhere, characters that came and went inexplicably, and the the final capitulation to political correctness that we are witnessing this year, it is the character of Jack Bauer who has cemented the personal loyalties of the show’s fans and kept the series near the top of the heap for so many years.

Bauer is the “Perfect Post 9/11 Hero.” In the first few seasons of the show’s incarnation, he possessed exactly the qualities we wanted in a hero who battled terrorism. He was loyal, patriotic, devoted to duty, solicitous of his friends, and a terror to his enemies. But what attracted us most to Bauer was the moral certitude he possessed that allowed him to fight the good fight with the absolute, unbending conviction that he was right. We were the good guys, they were the bad guys, and there was no in between. If it sounds like Bauer echoed the Bush administration warning to the world that if you weren’t with us, you were against us, you would be correct.

There was no hand wringing by Jack when he was confronted with a moral question regarding torture, or other extra-Constitutional measures he found it necessary to use. There were no angst-ridden soliloquies where Bauer went back and forth between doing what was legal and what he knew had to be done to save America. There was Jack, the terrorist, the threat, and that ticking clock and that was it. No ACLU standing off to the side whispering in his ear that he was as bad as the terrorists. No human rights lawyers got in the way - save one memorable, and short lived appearance in Season 6 where the terrorist’s lawyer whined about “rights” only to be summarily tossed out of the Counterterrorism Unit headquarters.

In those early years, Bauer followed Davey Crockett’s motto: “Be always sure you’re right. Then go ahead.” But something began to change in the character the last three seasons - a reflection of real life changes in America regarding the War in Iraq, the War on Terror, and the faith Americans place in their government.

Bauer began to grow more cynical about how higher ups were using him and whether what he was doing was really worth it. The enemies he had been fighting changed as well. From fanatical Muslims to American turncoats who used terror for their own nefarious ends, the change in the American people’s attitude toward the Bush Administration, and the ongoing debate over our methods in fighting international terrorism caused Bauer to rethink his role as super-patriot and the sharp end of the stick for American counterterrorism policy.

One catalyst for this change in Jack occurred when the love of his life, Audrey Raines, was captured by the Chinese and tortured to the point that she became catatonic. While blaming himself for this turn of events, Bauer also blamed those men in high places who had cynically used him to advance their own agendas. “The only thing I have ever done is what you and people like you have asked of me,” Bauer told Audrey’s father, the former Secretary of Defense. This is as telling a statement about who Jack Bauer really is that had ever been uttered on the show.

Indeed, Jack Bauer the fictional character was as much a creation of our own fears, our own hopes as he was created by the American government in the fictional series to fill a need; that of “The Fixer” character that occasionally shows himself in spy fiction. The Fixer is an off the books, jack of all trades intel asset who operates in the shadows and, if caught, is eminently deniable. Half thug, half patriot, The Fixer employed his own methods to get the job done at any cost. His nominal superiors never want to know what he’s doing, just that the job is getting done.

This is what Jack Bauer has become the last few seasons of the show. His agenda has gotten more personal. He has been willing to act as judge, jury, and executioner, especially against those who have harmed him personally by killing his friends. He has made the apprehension of culprits more of a vendetta than a means to bring the perpetrators to justice. He has descended into a dark place where his only release will be in a meaningful death.

I liked the early Jack Bauer immensely more than this later incarnation. But I also recognize that America has changed over the past 9 years and that this new Bauer reflects those changes in attitude. In 2008, we elected a man who, for good or ill, promised to fight the war on terror differently. No longer a war, we now rely on international police forces to carry much of the burden in counterterrorism. Even in hot spots like Pakistan and Yemen, there doesn’t seem to be any room for a Jack Bauer to ride in and kill the bad guys before they have a chance to kill us.

It is a fascinating exercise to watch the evolution of Bauer through the years and note the time capsule that each season represents. That self-assuredness we felt in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 is gone, as is Jack Bauer’s moral certainty. What was once an unshakable faith in the government devolved into suspicion and loathing of the treacherous traitors who used Bauer to advance their own idea of “patriotism.”

There is one feature film of 24 in the works so Jack Bauer will not disappear entirely from the culture when the show ends its series run on May 24. But it seems clear that Jack Bauer’s run as a conservative icon and modern day American mythical hero are over. Will they kill him off in one, spectacular, dramatic, America-saving moment?

Get real. Jack Bauer can’t die because Death has a Jack Bauer complex.

By: Rick Moran at 4:18 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

3/26/2010
Frum’s Fall a Telling Blow to Pragmatism on the Right

This post originally appears on The Moderate Voice

Would the last intellectual conservative to leave Washington please turn out the lights?

The fall of AEI senior Fellow David Frum is not only a loss for intellectual conservatism, but a warning to conservative apostates everywhere that tolerance for opposing viewpoints on the right in the Age of Obama will not be a paying proposition. The previous firing of Bruce Bartlett, former Reagan senior policy analyst from the National Center for Policy Analysis in 2005 for writing an anti-Bush book should have been seen at the time as a shot across the bow by the moneybags who largely fund the conservative movement and who are apparently so insecure in their own beliefs that they are terrified of the independent mind, of thoughts and ideas that don’t match up with their own.

Most of the internet right is joyful today at the humbling of Frum who has stood four square against the emotionalism and excessive partisanship demonstrated by those who consider themselves true conservatives. He has lambasted the cotton candy conservatism of Beck, Limbaugh, and other pop righties whose exaggerated, over the top rhetoric may bring in ratings but ultimately damages the cause they purport to espouse.

Does this mean Frum was always right? Nobody is always right, which is one of the main points of intellectual conservatism. A healthy conservatism would have intelligently debated Frum’s frequent critiques of the right and the GOP. Rather than questioning his motives, his ambition, or his commitment to the right, a dynamic colloquy could have ensued that would have benefited all.

Alas, such was not - could not - be the case. Instead, Frum’s numerous critics accused him of naked ambition, trying to curry favor with the left and the press in order to further his career. He was dismissed as a non-conservative or a RINO because he didn’t believe government was the enemy. He was charged with practicing punditry under false pretenses, of not really believing what he was talking and writing about.

I can tell you from experience that it is that last criticism that hurts the most and is the quickest to bring anger to the forefront of one’s emotions. Frum knew that his critiques would diminish him in the eyes of the very people who were paying his salary. Perhaps some of his critics should try doing that in their own job someday. The squeaky wheel often does not get the grease, but rather, is replaced - and quite easily as is the case with Frum.

Indeed, Frum speculates to Politco’s Mike Allen that it was his Waterloo article that proved the last straw for some of AEI’s biggest contributors:

David Frum told us last night that he believes his axing from his $100,000-a-year “resident scholar” gig at the conservative American Enterprise Institute was related to DONOR PRESSURE following his viral blog post arguing Republicans had suffered a devastating, generational “Waterloo” in their loss to President Obama on health reform. “There’s a lot about the story I don’t really understand,” Frum said from his iPhone. “But the core of the story is the kind of economic pressure that intellectual conservatives are under. AEI represents the best of the conservative world. [AEI President] Arthur Brooks is a brilliant man, and his books are fantastic. But the elite isn’t leading anymore. It’s trapped. Partly because of the desperate economic situation in the country, what were once the leading institutions of conservatism are constrained. I think Arthur took no pleasure in this. I think he was embarrassed. I think he would have avoided it if he possibly could, but he couldn’t.”

That “economic pressure” was in the form of a donor revolt, made even more remarkable, Bruce Bartlett, because of the cone of silence that dropped over AEI health policy wonks who were instructed not to talk to the press because they agreed with some of the things Obama was trying to do:

Since, he is no longer affiliated with AEI, I feel free to say publicly something he told me in private a few months ago. He asked if I had noticed any comments by AEI “scholars” on the subject of health care reform. I said no and he said that was because they had been ordered not to speak to the media because they agreed with too much of what Obama was trying to do.

It saddened me to hear this. I have always hoped that my experience was unique. But now I see that I was just the first to suffer from a closing of the conservative mind. Rigid conformity is being enforced, no dissent is allowed, and the conservative brain will slowly shrivel into dementia if it hasn’t already.

Sadly, there is no place for David and me to go. The donor community is only interested in financing organizations that parrot the party line, such as the one recently established by McCain economic adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin.

I can see the gloat on the faces of Frum’s critics as they read that “the elite isn’t leading anymore.” This has been the biggest bone of contention between the few conservative critics on the right who rail against the mindless, ideologically driven opposition of many movement conservatives to anything they don’t agree with vs. the reasoned and logical, more pragmatic opposition that is more open minded, more accepting of the notion that compromise is necessary for government to work.

In fact, this was the thesis of Frum’s Waterloo article; that by choosing not to engage the Democrats in crafting Obamacare, the GOP shot itself in the foot by not only appearing weak, but eventually being unable to block the monstrosity of Obamacare. In achieving this dubious honor, the governing elites were driven like a herd of cattle, being prodded on by talk radio and Fox News buffoons who lead a movement and where any deviation from accepted wisdom was met with a withering blast of mockery and threats of excommunication.

Why has conservatism turned into such an echo chamber? Why do most on the right only read and digest that with which they agree and not open their minds, test their basic assumptions against opposing views? What is it that frightens them so that they see those who criticize the rank emotionalism of a Beck or Limbaugh as “the enemy” rather than the normal give and take among people who disagree?

I searched for an answer to these and other questions in my 5 part series “Intellectual Conservatism Isn’t Dead.” And while I never came right out and said it, I think what I was driving at was that the rejection of intellectuals or “the elites” is symptomatic of a lack of confidence in what conservatives should stand for. Issues aren’t the problem. There is broad agreement on which issues are important and what position conservatives should hold.

Rather, it is a lack of confidence in what conservatism as a philosophy should be all about. Witness the health care debate and the eagerness with which many conservatives are embracing the rush to federal court to have Obamacare declared unconstitutional. Does anyone see the titanic irony in, on the one hand, declaring fierce opposition to “activist judges” while on the other hand scurrying off to court in order to plead with a judge to take an activist stance against legislation with which the right disagrees?

This is the kind of emotional partisanship that is killing conservatism, driving the right off a cliff. And it comes from closing one’s mind to alternative viewpoints; to understand where the other side is coming from (both the left, and opponents on the right) while being terrified that one might be harboring views that are not in lock step with the majority. It is fear that is driving this kind of excessively partisan, morbidly ideological behavior on the right - fear that being cast outside of the groupthink that has become modern conservatism will leave the apostate without a political ship on which to sail.

Reading and listening to Hannity, Limbaugh, Coulter, and other pop conservatives without investigating alternative viewpoints, without challenging your own beliefs from time to time, marks one as a philistine. It is the antithesis of conservatism to close one’s mind and reject alternative viewpoints based not on their relevancy or reason but rather on the source of the criticism.

It is easy to dismiss conservatives like Frum by chalking up their opposition to the groupthink by wittily offering that they say those things so that they can get invited to liberal cocktail parties, or advance their careers in the leftist MSM. This kind of personal criticism is easier than having to respond directly to the charges that modern movement conservatism has lost touch with reality, and has become irresponsible, loutish, anti-science, and anti-intellectual. Greedy, selfish, cynical, and most of all, intellectually rigid, what is being identified as modern conservatism has no coherence, no basis in logic, and proudly represents itself as the party of little or no government at all.

And people like Frum, David Brooks, Peggy Noonan, Bruce Bartlett, and others like them who are in bad odor on the right for being “traitors” will go on being ignored and marginalized because actually dealing with their criticisms by debating them on the merits or demerits of their opinions opens a chasm beneath the feet of most movement conservatives. Even the tiniest of hints that not all they believe may be true is enough to throw the fear of God - or Rush - into them and send them scurrying back into the safety and warmth of blissful ignorance found on talk radio and conservative internet salons.

The apostates are not always right. On health care, it is naive to believe the Democrats were prepared to work with the GOP on anything that would have stopped short of the kind of comprehensive remaking of our health care that eventually passed. This, the GOP could not countenance under any circumstances and remain a viable political party. In that respect, the main thesis of Frum’s Waterloo article is hopelessly wrong. But should that be cause to force him out?

Not if conservatism was a healthy, dynamic, politically relevant entity. If that were the case, the conservative moneybags would have gotten their money’s worth because conservatism would have been better for the subsequent debate. Instead, lockstep lunacy reins and Frum - and the rest of intellectual conservatism - finds itself on the outs.

By: Rick Moran at 10:37 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)

3/25/2010
OBAMACARE: REPEAL, REPLACE, RINSE, REPEAT

My latest column is up at Pajamas Media and in it, I go through the reasons why Obamacare will probably not be repealed, nor declared unconstitutional in its entirety:

A sample:

Considering the fact that Democrats have deluded themselves into believing that ObamaCare is the nirvana all Americans have been pining for, it would be impolite not to join them in their self-deception.

This, the GOP has apparently taken to heart with talk of repealing ObamaCare. While an excellent idea with much merit, the obstacles that stand in the way of realizing this mirage are insurmountable. Consider:

1. In order to make repeal a reality, the GOP would have to win back both houses of Congress with considerable room to spare, capturing 2/3 of the seats in each chamber. This is because unless Barack Obama has a “road to Damascus” moment about liberty, the Constitution, the free market, and first principles, it is more than likely he will veto said repeal legislation just as quickly as they can load the teleprompter with his remarks on how he is saving “the children.”

2. An alternative to repeal, one that would have the same effect, would be to defund the measure by repealing parts of the bill. This path has the virtue of not needing a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, because the tax credits and Medicaid expansion could be dealt with through the reconciliation process. Before getting too excited, you might want to think of the effect of cutting off subsidies to millions of poor people who have insurance only because the government pays for it. Making yourself an easy target for liberal demonizing is not a sound political strategy.

3. I hate bringing up history at a time like this, but no entitlement program once enacted has ever been repealed. “There’s a first time for everything” might be a tempting battle cry to employ, until you realize that the reason history is not on our side is because constituencies rapidly grow up around entitlements, making them as politically indestructible as the pyramids. The yowls of pain from beneficiaries of any entitlement that is under threat of major overhaul or repeal resonate with that significant portion of the electorate who gets all weepy at the thought of any American suffering for any reason. It is a major source of our strength as a nation - and it might be the death of us in the end.

Apropos my comment earlier in the week about the GOP eventually embracing national health insurance (which I shamelessly repeated in this piece), Senator Chuck Grassley has already made noises about fixing Obamacare rather than repealing it. And I think “repeal and replace” a far more intelligent political strategy than simple “repeal.”

But when you can’t move the mountain, isn’t it smarter to figure out ways to deal with it where it is? I would love to see Obamacare repealed but its never happened before and there is absolutely nothing about this situation that would make me think differently. Unless there is a total, unmitigated financial disaster before November, or unemployment skies, or inflation starts to really bite, the GOP will not win back control of the Senate, and taking over the House is also a problematic question.

Thus, with Obama firmly ensconced in the presidency until at least 2012, it seems a fanciful notion to entertain thoughts of repeal until at least 2013 — and that’s assuming Obama loses and the GOP picks up enough senate seats to defeat any filibuster attempt.

It’s not impossible - just not very likely. And saying so doesn’t make me a “defeatist.” It makes me a realist. Wishful thinking in this matter is the sign of a weak mind, easily swayed by emotion rather than logic.

Perhaps it’s too much to ask that the rank emotionalism that characterized this debate be put away and strategy formed by reason, not hysteria. But the GOP leadership, having unleashed and in some ways, encouraged this anger, is now finding it hard to control. How much of this rage is real and how much is exaggerated we’ll never know. But it seems to me that cooler heads must lead the coming fight and that by relying on hyperbolic, exaggerated rhetoric to whip up support for the cause simply isn’t necessary. Just as it wasn’t - isn’t - necessary to lie or exaggerate the worst parts of Obamacare. The bill is bad enough that it should have been defeated on its imprudent, costly, and coercive demerits.

We’ll never know if that approach would have worked. Just like we’ll never know if the Democrats had limited their goals with the bill if any GOP lawmakers would have joined them. Both sides have made their excessively partisan beds and now must lie in them. For the Democrats, everytime someone is in a doctor’s waiting room for more than 2 hours, they will be blamed. Every time a medical outcome goes against a patient, they will be blamed. Every snafu, every bottleneck, everything that could possibly go wrong with an individual’s medical care, the Democrats will be blamed. They bought the health care system lock, stock, and barrel. That’s the price they are going to pay for failing to heed the calls for prudence, and rational reform.

For the GOP, they will have to take care that they don’t appear to favor repeal at the expense of the weakest members of society. This is where “replace” comes in and where the GOP better step up to the plate with a better idea than simply throwing 30 million people into Medicaid. I think they can do it, but they have to get the base to agree that there’s a problem with the health care system to begin with. Once that’s done, the Republicans could move forward aggressively with an alternative to Obamacare; cheaper, more realistic, and one that addresses the real problems that the GOP failed to address during the Bush years.

With an astonishing 55% of Americans wanting to repeal the bill already, it’s not like Republicans will be wandering in the wilderness. With so much of this bill based on coercion, the Democrats may yet discover that when it comes to being told what to do, a majority of American still say to hell with what the Europeans are doing, health care reform is inimical to the first principles of personal responsibility and individual liberty.

By: Rick Moran at 9:02 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

3/24/2010
DON’T CANONIZE OBAMA JUST YET

This post originally appears at Frum Forum.

You have to feel a little sorry for liberals today. It’s been so long since they could claim a world-historical figure as their very own, that their gushing encomiums over President Barack Obama’s triumph in passing national health insurance reform have become just a touch too mawkish.

For example, Matthew Yglesias has placed Mr. Obama into the pantheon of liberal lions exactly one year and two months into his presidency:

Now that it’s done, Barack Obama will go down in history as one of America’s finest presidents. It’s always possible of course that, like LBJ, he’ll get involved in some unrelated fiasco that mars his reputation. But fundamentally, he’s reshaped the policy landscape in a way that no progressive politician has done in decades.

Not to be outdone, The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait makes virtually the same point:

Let me offer a ludicrously premature opinion: Barack Obama has sealed his reputation as a president of great historical import. We don’t know what will follow in his presidency, and it’s quite possible that some future event–a war, a scandal–will define his presidency. But we do know that he has put his imprint on the structure of American government in a way that no Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson has.

So eager are our liberal friends to anoint the president as the inheritor of Franklin Roosevelt’s mantle that Chait goes the extra mile in homage and writes that the bill is not only good — it’s great!

Historians will see this health care bill as a masterfully crafted piece of legislation. Obama and the Democrats managed to bring together most of the stakeholders and every single Senator in their party. The new law untangles the dysfunctionalities of the individual insurance market while fulfilling the political imperative of leaving the employer-provided system in place.

I’m sure it will come as a surprise to you that this cut-and-paste, deal-laden, haphazardly thrown together, mish-mash of an entitlement bill was “masterfully crafted.” Perhaps Chait means it the same way that a Da-Daist painter “masterfully crafts” a surreal portrait — you don’t have a clue who it is or what it means but it’s expensive and nobody really wants one hanging in their living room.

Pre-sanctifying Obama before the president has even started his second season on the golf course is sort of pathetic. It’s like consecrating a baseball rookie as a Hall of Fame candidate in April when he’s hitting over .300. Let’s revisit the rookie’s stats at the All Star break and tell me then if we should send his uniform to Cooperstown.

Similarly, the real damage Obamacare will do won’t kick in until 2014, when the individual mandate forcing everyone to buy insurance kicks in. That’s when those 10,000 extra IRS agents that are being hired will find something to do with their time besides annoying citizens about their taxes. Our IRS overlords will be on the job, making a list and checking it twice for insurance scofflaws. Beyond making sure you have insurance, these 10,000 extra pairs of eyes will also determine whether or not you have the right kind of coverage that have been dictated by the bureaucrats.

I see the potential for a situation comedy in this, as intimidated citizens are forced to argue with the Revenuers that A, B, and C in their policies puts them in compliance with the law while the infallible Treasury Agents don’t quite see it that way. Hilarity ensues when the poor schmuck gets caught in the wheels of IRS administrative justice and is ground to powder — outlasted by the well meaning, but bumbling bureaucrats. Perhaps we could call it 2 ½ Feds.

Then there’s the deficit. A great deal was made by proponents of the bill that the preliminary analysis by the Congressional Budget Office gave the House bill with reconciliation fixes a passing grade when it came to cost versus savings. The $940 billion price tag over the first ten years of the bill was accompanied by $138 billion in deficit reduction. The fact that the total budget deficit over that same span of time is predicted to be $7.12 trillion wasn’t mentioned by supporters of Obamacare for obvious reasons; the $138 billion reduction in that number is an obscene joke and Congress is, after all, a family show.

To be sure, history is not on the side of Obamacare supporters. Every single health care entitlement has far exceeded budgetary expectations. In the case of Medicare, it is particularly telling.

In 1965, the House Ways and Means Committee estimated that the hospital insurance program of Medicare — the federal health care program for the elderly and disabled — would cost $9 billion by 1990. The actual cost that year was $67 billion.

In 1967, the House Ways and Means Committee said the entire Medicare program would cost $12 billion in 1990. The actual cost in 1990 was $98 billion.

In 1987, Congress projected that Medicaid — the joint federal-state health care program for the poor — would make special relief payments to hospitals of less than $1 billion in 1992. Actual cost: $17 billion.

Nick Gillespie at Reason.com, quoting from a study done by the Joint Economic Committee,

It seems there is a kind of Murphy’s Law of health care legislation: “If it can cost more than the highest available official estimate, it probably will.”

All of this begs the question; aren’t liberals being a little premature in granting President Obama mythic hero status among presidents? If Obamacare bankrupts us 10 or 15 years down the road, or sooner, will that take the sheen off of his reputation?

Probably not. They’ll just blame it all on Bush.

By: Rick Moran at 6:06 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

3/23/2010
THE RICK MORAN SHOW: HEALTHCARE AFTERMATH

You won’t want to miss tonight’s Rick Moran Show, one of the most popular conservative talk shows on Blog Talk Radio.

Tonight, I welcome Dan Riehl, Charlie Martin, and the triumphal return of Jazz Shaw from the Dart Wars to talk about the aftermath of the Healthcare debate and what’s in the future for Obamacare.

The show will air from 7:00 - 9:00 PM Central time. You can access the live stream here. A podcast will be available for streaming or download shortly after the end of the broadcast.

Click on the stream below and join in on what one wag called a “Wayne’s World for adults.”

Also, if you’d like to call in and put your two cents in, you can dial (718) 664-9764.

Listen to The Rick Moran Show on internet talk radio

By: Rick Moran at 4:36 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

3/22/2010
NATIONAL HEALTH INSURANCE REFORM DONE

My latest column is up at Pajamas Media and it is my response to the passage of Obamacare.

A sample:

Indeed, in a striking and ironic twist to the entire debate over nationalized health insurance, the president’s call for a bipartisan effort was met not by proponents of the bill, but by its enemies. The 34 Democrats who opposed the measure made the bill the president’s first success in creating a bipartisan coalition, although the fact that it almost derailed the effort to realize his dream of massive federal regulation of the insurance industry probably gives him little cheer.

What hath Congress wrought? The difference between what the president and congressional Democrats say the bill will do, and the likely effect the legislation will have on the lives of American citizens, is a chasm whose depth and girth is unknowable. What we know is that more people will have health insurance, and that those who currently have no insurance due to a pre-existing condition will be able to purchase policies. Beyond that, Democratic claims such as insurance that offers more benefits while costing less and no change in most citizens’ insurance plans are viewed with a jaundiced eye by serious analysts. If we didn’t know any better, we would accuse the Democrats of lying about this, except they wouldn’t lie about something as critically important as health insurance, would they?

It is written that doctors and hospitals will receive less in payments from the government for treating Medicare patients, but nobody believes that. It is written that the government will dutifully find hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare fraud, but no one believes they will find as much as they are saying they will. It is written that state Medicaid programs will be just fine with the sudden influx of 30 million new subscribers, although the balance between federal and state contributions to the program will not change and nobody believes the burden on states won’t skyrocket.

In short, despite the fact that no one believes some of the basic actuarial and fiscal assumptions that under-gird this legislation — no one who isn’t besotted with partisan fervor — it was rammed down the throats of the American people with as much cynicism, trickery, deliberate obfuscation, and budgetary tomfoolery as has ever been seen for a major piece of legislation in the history of the republic.

There will be court challenges to Obamacare but I doubt if they will be entirely successful. I further find it unlikely that the GOP, if they achieve majority status again, will be able to repeal it. Perhaps a combination of the two but that may be the most unlikely scenario at all.

Prediction? In five years, the Republican party will be embracing Obamacare and will be running on a platform that boasts they are the best party to manage it efficiently.

By: Rick Moran at 10:21 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (6)

3/21/2010
Shallow, Misinformed, and Fearful: Tea Partiers or Their Critics?
CATEGORY: General

This post originally appears on The Moderate Voice.

The answer is, Alex — both, of course.

From the beginning, opposition to the tea party movement has sought to portray participants as a fringe element of conservatism; radical, anti-government protestors who never met a program they could support, or a Democrat who wasn’t either a communist or socialist. Racist, homophobic, rabidly partisan, and dangerously myopic, such analyses of the tea partiers was de rigueur in both liberal and major media outlets.

Why the caricature? In truth, opponents fear the tea partiers as the vanguard of a truly unique citizen’s movement; one based on the simple notion that the Constitution has relevance beyond how the Supreme Court interprets it and how Congress ignores its First Principles.

Indeed, its seems a quaint notion that any citizen can interpret the Constitution as they see fit. Not that such strikingly innocent and naive insights matter as far as the law goes. But it could very well be that for a great many people, it will matter as far as politics is concerned. We might judge the efficacy of tea partiers interpreting the Constitution as it relates to specifics like health care reform, and dismiss the effort as the well meaning, but flawed attempts by ordinary citizens to try and come to grips with the enormity of what government has become. But you cannot dismiss their seriousness, nor their earnest desire to bring Gargantua under some kind of control that would matter to citizens of this republic.

I have written previously that in many ways, the core of the tea party movement takes its cues from a 19th century view of how government should work. Would that at least at its most basic operation, and in gathering any inspiration, the government would pay heed to that notion. There is absolutely nothing wrong in preferring self reliance over dependency, less government interference in markets rather than more, and a strong federal system of states that would be more accountable to the people than Washington presently demonstrates.

The problem is that such a template does not fit over an industrialized, globalized nation of 300 million diverse people with even more diverse interests. The regional disputes of 125 years ago have been left behind for the most part, and we now have clashing interests with global implications regarding how they are settled. And while those First Principles should still inspire and guide us, the details are a little more complicated. Hence, the fingernail-across-the-blackboard grating whenever we hear a tea partier spout about this or that being “unconstitutional.”

Bruce Bartlett analyzed an unscientific survey of tea partiers taken by David Frum’s group that, not suprisingly, demonstrated how misinformed many tea partiers are about taxes:

Tuesday’s Tea Party crowd, however, thought that federal taxes were almost three times as high as they actually are. The average response was 42% of GDP and the median 40%. The highest figure recorded in all of American history was half those figures: 20.9% at the peak of World War II in 1944.

To follow up, Tea Partyers were asked how much they think a typical family making $50,000 per year pays in federal income taxes. The average response was $12,710, the median $10,000. In percentage terms this means a tax burden of between 20% and 25% of income.

Of course, it’s hard to know what any particular individual or family pays in taxes, but according to IRS tax tables, a single person with $50,000 in taxable income last year would owe $8,694 in federal income taxes, and a married couple filing jointly would owe $6,669.

Both Frum and Bartlett take this is proof positive that the tea partiers don’t know what they’re talking about. This is true — just as most Americans don’t know much about government; how it works, how a bill is passed, the importance of the bureaucracy, etc. I fail to see why it is an earth shattering revelation that tea partiers are uninformed when recent surveys show that high school graduates are so ignorant of our country’s history and workings, that anyone with half a brain should stand in terror of the future:

Only one in four Oklahoma public high school students can name the first President of the United States, according to a survey released today.

The survey was commissioned by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs in observance of Constitution Day on Thursday.

The Oklahoma City-based group enlisted national research firm, Strategic Vision, to access students’ basic civic knowledge.

Brandon Dutcher is with the conservative think tank and said the organization wanted to find out how much civic knowledge Oklahoma high school students know.

“They’re questions taken from the actual exam that you have to take to become a U.S. citizen,” Dutcher said.

A thousand students were surveyed by telephone and given 10 questions drawn from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services item bank. Candidates for U.S. citizenship must answer six questions correctly in order to become citizens.

About 92 percent of the people who take the citizenship test pass on their first try, according to immigration service data. However, Oklahoma students did not fare as well. Only about 3 percent of the students surveyed would have passed the citizenship test.

Misinformed? Yes. Shallow? An understanding of the Constitution that runs a mile wide and a centimeter deep. Fearful? Beyond being manipulated by the cotton candy conservatives on talk radio, the fear of change is so ripe you can smell it in many sections of the country.

I’m not talking about Obama-type change. I’m talking about the undercurrent of change that constantly runs through history and that occasionally, breaks ground in a flood that, when it ebbs, reveals a much altered landscape. Most people who inhabit such a place are not prepared for, nor can they manage the seminal changes that have made the familiar, unfamiliar.

America has been undergoing a radical change for more than 20 years. Our entire economy has flipped from being industrial-based to service-based, with the consequent changes in wages, lifestyle, and mores occurring faster than many can absorb. The old moorings by which most of us clung have been torn away and some have been let adrift — strangers in their own land.

The catalyst that revealed this was the financial crisis and the growing realization that recovery will be a slow, painful process no matter whether we stupidly try to spend our way to prosperity or cut taxes and risk even higher deficits, thus stifling growth. Millions of jobs are gone and it will take years to recreate the kind of economy where anyone who wants a job can get one.

With all of this happening, can you blame the tea partiers for grasping at the one talisman that has served as a steadying influence on America for 222 years? The Constitution as legal document and patriotic connection to our past is as a life buoy tossed to a drowning man. Given that there are far worse symbols upon which citizens could tie themselves — including the Communist Manifesto as some of the anti-war protestors appeared to have embraced — you would think that critics would grant tea partiers a little slack in their choice of iconic American notions to idolize.

Further, the notion that a few yahoos who scream the “N” word at a Civil Rights icon like James Lewis, or yell an equally hurtful epithet at Barney Frank is representative of the vast majority of tea partiers is absurd on its face. It might be comforting to try and smear the entire movement in this manner. After all, employing the race card has a long, dishonorable history among tea party critics. And taken in the context of the super-intensity of the health care debate a day before the vote, one can easily understand why opponents of the tea partiers would drag the old saw out of the closet and try and brand the entire movement as “fringe” or “hateful.”

True, many tea partiers appear not to have a clue about manners — as they proved during last summer’s health care town halls. In fact, I would argue that this type of behavior has hurt the cause of reform opponents more than the tea partier’s importunings have helped. But you can’t dismiss them as “rabble” or “racists” based on the actions of a pitifully few louts. To do so is to act as shallowly and as ignorantly as any tea partier you accuse of behaving badly.

Bad manners or not, the passion of these ordinary folk has caused the fear factor among Democrats to rise substantially. It doesn’t matter why they are angry; some of their reasons may be bogus, others are spot on. The point is that they are aroused enough to vote against Democrats — and even some apostate Republicans — in November in huge numbers.

And this fear is driving the actions of the tea partier’s opponents as much as it is driving the movement itself.

By: Rick Moran at 10:21 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)