Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Blogging, Decision '08, Ethics, Government, Media, Politics, Supreme Court, The Law, War on Terror — Rick Moran @ 11:40 am

Wow, the Citizen’s United decision seems to have unhinged a whole bunch of people who claim membership in a “reality based” community. The fact is, I can’t for the life of me figure out what everyone is so upset about.

Am I missing something here Keith?

Today, the Supreme Court, of Chief Justice John Roberts, in a decision that might actually have more dire implications than “Dred Scott v Sandford,” declared that because of the alchemy of its 19th Century predecessors in deciding that corporations had all the rights of people, any restrictions on how these corporate-beings spend their money on political advertising, are unconstitutional.

In short, the first amendment — free speech for persons — which went into affect in 1791, applies to corporations, which were not recognized as the equivalents of persons until 1886. In short, there are now no checks on the ability of corporations or unions or other giant aggregations of power to decide our elections.

None. They can spend all the money they want. And if they can spend all the money they want — sooner, rather than later — they will implant the legislators of their choice in every office from President to head of the Visiting Nurse Service.

This quote was after 500 turgid words trying to explain why Dred Scott was the worst Supreme Court decision evah, and the Chief Justice at the time, Robert Tawney, the 19th century equivalent of Olby’s popular segment “Worst person in the world.” This may indeed be true; but equating the Citizen’s United decision with Dred Scott?

(”Legislators” in the Visiting Nurse Service office? Does anyone read what he writes before he says it on air? Obviously not.)

It gets worse:

It is almost literally true that any political science fiction nightmare you can now dream up, no matter whether you are conservative or liberal, it is now legal. Because the people who can make it legal, can now be entirely bought and sold, no actual citizens required in the campaign-fund-raising process.

And the entirely bought and sold politicians, can change any laws. And any legal defense you can structure now, can be undone by the politicians who will be bought and sold into office this November, or two years from now.

And any legal defense which honest politicians can somehow wedge up against them this November, or two years from now, can be undone by the next even larger set of politicians who will be bought and sold into office in 2014, or 2016, or 2018.

Good thing the above scenario is only “almost literally true.” Had me worried for a minute.

But here’s a question for Keith and the rest of the hyperbolic left who have been falling all over themselves trying to outdo one another in the outrage quotient of their screeds condemning this decision:

Were politicians less beholden to corporate and union interests between 2002-2010 when McCain-Feingold was the law of the land than they were prior to 2002 when the exact same rules will now apply again? Anyone who answers yes, please go back to sleep.

The facts are a little more prosaic:

While the Court held that the ban on corporate political speech is unconstitutional, it did uphold the disclaimer and disclosure requirements. Also, corporate contributions to candidates, national party committees, and the hard money accounts of state and local party committee are still prohibited.

No direct contributions to candidates or parties by corporations, with full disclosure in the ad regarding who or what is sponsoring it. Olbermann’s massively overemoted diatribe is nonsense - unless you believe, as I point out above, that McCain-Feingold actually lessened the influence of corporations and unions on the electoral process.

Many on the left are trying to make the point that corporations are not “people” and therefore, do not enjoy any free speech protections. This is a novel idea. It presumes that non-humans run the companies, work for them, and invest in them. It also presumes that these same non-humans have no interest in democracy, and are uncaring of who might want to regulate them, and legislate for or against their interests. The left evidently believes that the non-people who work for corporations should be at the total mercy of politicians with no ability to influence the outcome of electoral contests where the sub-human’s vital interests are involved.

Why stop with preventing them from speaking out? Why not just take away the right to vote of these non-people too? I see no logical reason why this shouldn’t be the ultimate goal of those who seek to silence corporations and unions whose members, employees, and shareholders have a vital stake in who makes the laws that govern their life and death.

Politicians will be no more beholden to special interests than they are now - which is to say, it’s hard to exaggerate how beholden most members are to corporations and unions prior to the Citizen’s United decision. Corporations and unions will not be able to buy any more access to Members of Congress than they currently enjoy - largely because that access is at Max Q now.

McCain-Feingold - as all previous efforts to “reform” campaign finance laws - only made the situation worse. Every single effort since the 1970’s to remove the influence of corporations and Big Labor from campaigns has only made lawyers versed in campaign finance law rich, and has not achieved even a modicum of success in eliminating the supposed dastardly influence of large institutions on the electoral process.

It is heartening that the Supreme Court continues to recognize political donations as an important form of free speech. And I consider it a triumph for the First Amendment that they also recognize that organizations made up of individuals have a right to participate in the electoral process and make their voices heard.

The problem, I gather, is that these issue committees that will be funded by unions and corporations are wont to make devastatingly effective ads that skewer their opponent. Their very success is a detriment. It is perceived to be unfair by some to highlight an idiotic position taken by a politician, or a vote for an unpopular piece of legislation, or even that his brother in law consorts with criminals.

No - they will not be the most edifying ads, that’s for sure. But they will be protected speech, guaranteed by the First Amendment. And, as Matt Welch asks, “What’s Worse, “Disingenuously waving the flag of the First Amendment,” or Burning it?” Putting up with speech we disagree with from people we abhor is as American as apple pie.

At least, that’s what we’ve been told by those who have been chewing the carpet over the Citizens United decision.



In the midst of doing a lot of things wrong, the Obama administration appears to be about ready to take some steps in regulating the big banks on Wall Street that, if the details are carefully drawn, will make our financial system more secure while reining in institutions that were determined to be “too big to fail.”

The Wall Street Journal:

On Thursday, Mr. Obama proposed a plan that would prevent banks that receive a federal backstop from investing their own money in financial markets—what is known as proprietary trading. He also pushed for new limits on the size and concentration of financial institutions. Both moves echo the Glass-Steagall Act, the Depression-era banking curbs that was repealed in 1999.

The proposal marked the return of Mr. Volcker to center stage in the Obama White House. The 82-year-old chairman of the president’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board consulted closely with Democrats in the House and Senate as they drafted their proposals to address “too big to fail” entities, referring to financial behemoths whose collapse might bring down the economy. Mr. Volcker spoke frequently with Mr. Obama as well.

But he faced a philosophical divide with others on the economic team.

The Geithner-Summers axis in the White House has been opposing the virtual re-imposition of Glass-Steagall for months. This decision by the president makes me think that one or both of them is on their way out - and soon. Geithner is the logical choice to take a long walk off a short pier, having angered just about everybody but executives who benefited from his bank bonus policies.

My guess is the ax will fall right before the State of the Union speech, perhaps as soon as this weekend. Obama will use SOTU to probably ask for a fresh start from the American people and he’s not going to be able to do that without some heads rolling - especially among those who have been responsible for implementing his economic policies.

The experiment of having a financial system free of Glass Steagall constraints has failed. Jim Manzi at American Scene, in an excellent summary of the new regs, explains why:

Finance professionals, like members of all occupational categories, attempt to build barriers that maintain their own income. One of the techniques used is to shroud what are often pretty basic ideas in pseudo-technical jargon. The reason that it is dysfunctional to have an insured banking system that is free to engage in speculative investing is simple and fundamental. We (i.e., the government, which is to say, ultimately, the taxpayers) provide a guarantee to depositors that when they put their savings in a regulated bank, then the money will be there even if the bank fails, because we believe that the chaos and uncertainty of a banking system operating without this guarantee is too unstable to maintain political viability. But if you let the operators of these banks take the deposits and, in effect, put them on a long-shot bet at the horse track, and then pay themselves a billion dollars in bonuses if the horse comes in, but turn to taxpayers to pay off depositors if the horse doesn’t, guess what is going to happen? Exactly what we saw in 2008 happens.

If you want to have a safe, secure banking system for small depositors, but don’t want to make risky investing illegal (which would be very damaging to the economy), the obvious solution is to not allow any one company to both take guaranteed deposits and also make speculative investments. This was the solution developed and implemented in the New Deal. We need a modernized version of this basic construct, and as far as I can see, this is what President Obama has proposed.

Glass-Steagall put up a wall between commercial banks and those banking institutions that make their living on Main Street. What was seen as an antiquated, outdated notion in 1999 when it was repealed, makes a lot more sense in retrospect. The deregulators forgot one gigantic truth about human nature; we are a fallen species, and if an opportunity presents itself to aggrandize one’s own wealth and power at the expense of another, few will resist such temptation.

Manzi’s point about risk is also well taken. We cannot overregulate to the point that risk is discouraged - especially in the competitive global business environment we find ourselves today. Intelligent risk taking is the essence of entrepreneurship and the government will have to walk a fine line between mandating responsible behavior by big investors while still allowing the magic of the market to bring new products and new ideas to the fore.

While some of the administration’s rhetoric on this issue has bordered on anti-business, the political ramifications of slapping Wall Street with new regs that will force them to act more responsibly to the economy as a whole are profound. Manzi again:

The political aspects of such reform are compelling. People are disgusted at recent bank bonuses. I’m a right-of-center libertarian businessman, and I’m disgusted by them. Make no mistake, many banking executives right now are benefiting from taxpayer subsidies. Even if they pay back the TARP money, the government has demonstrated that it will intervene to protect large banks. This can’t be paid back. And this implicit, but very real, guarantee represents an enormous transfer of economic value from taxpayers to any bank executives and investors who are willing to take advantage of it. Unsurprisingly, pretty much all of them are.

The “populist” observation that the fact of a bunch of well-connected guys each pulling down $10 million per year while suckling on the government teat constitutes almost certain evidence of self-dealing is accurate, and all the fancy finance talk in the world can’t get around it. President Obama has a clear political incentive to pursue this proposal. I assume Republicans will see that they have a clear political incentive to go along, rather than standing up for such a situation. Hopefully, this will create the political dynamic that will allow real, positive reform.

If the result of these regs is that we never hear the words “too big to fail” again, that will be fine by me. I am a little more convinced a year later that the intervention by government at the time was at least partly necessary, although I ask would it have been possible for the government to have tried a little harder to effect mergers and controlled bankruptcies rather than shelling out such huge amounts of taxpayer dollars. We’ll never know, which is why creating a regulatory regime to make sure that we never - ever - put the taxpayer in that position again is of paramount importance.



Filed under: Blogging, Decision '08, Government, Politics, health care reform — Rick Moran @ 10:37 am

The panicked Democrats are thrashing about trying to come up with a way to save health care reform if Republican Scott Brown wins the special election in Massachusetts on Tuesday to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat.

The first scenario involves challenging the results of the election, no matter how much Brown wins by. The Democrats have already deployed their crack team of election law lawyers who will attempt to muck up the process of counting the ballots, challenging machine counts, trying to force a recount if the result is close enough, and generally throwing a monkey wrench into the proceedings.

The Massachusetts Secretary of State must certify the results within 10 days of the election. That means it’s likely that the earliest Brown could be seated would be January 29 - barring challenges to the vote. It would only be earlier if the Democrats in the senate agreed to swearing Brown in before certification - good luck with that one.

If a Brown victory is within the 3-5% margin, it will be days, perhaps weeks before he is sworn in. The watchword will be “Delay” and if it’s close enough, they will probably succeed in keeping the caretaker senator Paul Kirk in his seat until health care reform is safely passed which, according to ABC’s Rick Klein, won’t be until February 2 at the earliest.

But suppose Brown wins by a large margin or the Democrats run out of challenges before reform is passed? Then things can get a little sticky.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

As the likelihood grows that Republicans could win the special election in Massachusetts, it’s worth thinking again about alternatives for health care reform in case that happens. I see three, in descending order of preference:1. Finish up the House-Senate negotiations quickly and hold a vote before Scott Brown is seated. Republicans will scream, but how could they scream any louder? It’s a process argument of murky merits that will be long forgotten by November.

2. Get the House to pass the Senate bill, and maybe use a reconciliation bill (which only needs a Senate majority to pass) to implement as many House-Senate compromises as possible.

Option #3 is to flip Olympia Snowe. The Maine senator may very well end up voting for the revised package since, according to Chait, all of her concerns about the bill have been met. Her calculation now is purely political; how badly does she want to remain in the Republican party?

Mainer Andrew Ian Dodge insists that Snowe is never likely to bolt the GOP in Maine, even if the national Republicans would strip her of her seniority or punish her in other ways. But former Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords bolted for a lot less than the Dems would offer Snowe to switch parties. It is a distinct possibility given the alternatives.

Obviously, #3 would be the preferred route. The fact that #1 is almost certainly off the table giving the time period I mentioned above, the only other option is to blow up the senate by using reconciliation to pass reform.

If the Democrats were to employ reconciliation in getting health care reform passed, the Republicans would have no choice but to bring the senate to a standstill. If they didn’t, the Democrats would be able to ride roughshod over them for the rest of the year, not to mention destroying the principle of minority rights. It is a scorched earth option that the Democrats use at their own peril.

The only other option the Democrats have is to vote to get rid of the filibuster entirely. This, I don’t see happening. Saner heads in the party realize that they will not always be in the majority and that the filibuster is a useful tool to block legislation. Besides, they would need a supermajority to change the rules of the senate which means several Republicans would have to go along with the scheme - not very likely.

The most likely scenario? If Scott Brown pulls off the upset and is seated before health care reform is passed, I think reform will die. It may not even be able to pass the House as a couple of dozen members take note of what happened in the most Democratic state in the union and resist voting for this unpopular monstrosity of a health care reform measure.

Welcome news, indeed. But first, Brown has to win.

This blog post originally appears in The American Thinker



Filed under: Decision '08, Politics, WORLD POLITICS — Rick Moran @ 11:20 am

You’ve heard of “Blame America First” when it comes to the man-made problems of the world. Such may not usually be true but it sure sounds good if you’re a liberal - makes you seem smart and informed.

Bill Quigley writing in Huffington Post has taken this concept to an entirely new level; he posits the notion that what is happening in Haiti as a result of the earthquake is actually America’s fault:

In 2004, the U.S. assisted in a coup against the democratically elected President of Haiti, Jean Bertrand Aristide. This continues a long tradition of the U.S. deciding who will rule the poorest country in the hemisphere. No government lasts in Haiti without U.S. approval.

In 2001, when the U.S. was mad at the President of Haiti, the U.S. successfully led an effort to freeze $148 million in already-approved loans and many hundreds of millions more of potential loans from the Inter-American Development Bank to Haiti. Funds which were dedicated to improve education, public health and roads.

For much of 2001-2004, the U.S. insisted that any international funds sent to Haiti had to go through non-governmental organizations. Funds that would have provided government services were re-routed thus shrinking the ability of the government to provide aid.

For years the U.S. has helped ruin small farmers in Haiti by dumping heavily subsidized U.S. rice on their market making it extremely difficult for small farmers to survive. This was done to help U.S. farmers. Haitian farmers? They don’t vote in the U.S.

Those who visit Haiti will confirm that the biggest SUVs in Port au Prince are plastered with decals of non-governmental organizations. The biggest offices are for private groups doing the basic work of government - healthcare, education, disaster response. And all are guarded not by police but by private heavily-militarized security.

The government was systematically starved of funds. The public sector shrank away. Poor people streamed to the cities.

Thus there are no rescue units. Little public healthcare is available.

So when disaster struck, the people of Haiti were on their own. We can see them pitching in. We can see them trying. They are courageous and generous and innovative, but volunteers cannot replace government. So people suffer and die in greater numbers than necessary.

Is all of this the fault of the US?

Let’s examine what Mr. Quigley won’t tell you about much of that most helpful information he supplied. Little wonder, since if he had, he would have been forced to acknowledge that the US (with the agreement of the international community) was doing its best to assist Haiti in overcoming extraordinary hurdles just to keep the country from falling completely into an abyss of corruption and chaos.

You might immediately note that Mr. Quigley had little to say about the “democratically elected” leader of Haiti, Jean Bertrand Aristide. If you are trying to blame the US for what is happening in Haiti, it is best not to supply too much information about the “little priest” whose thugs used to roam the streets of Port au Prince placing burning tires around the necks of his political opponents.

Aristide’s first chance at power in 1991 started out well, with the full backing of the United States. But a parliamentary crisis led to Aristide believing he could rule by decree and he was summarily ousted by the military.

Bill Clinton righted the situation by forcing the military out and reinstating him, backing the Haitian president with American troops. But all of this was simply prologue to what happened in 2000. Aristide’s campaign of massive violence against the opposition caused a boycott of the elections and when his opponents protested, they were arrested or, more often, simply killed. Aristide himself was a accused of ordering assassinations. The police were helpless as Aristide’s gangs wandered the streets with impunity.

The elections was pronounced fraudulent by the OAS, no bastion of pro-American sentiment. Finally, in 2004, Aristide angered enough people that a bloody coup occurred. He maintains to this day that he as kidnapped by the US and ended up in South Africa. If so, we did the Haitian people a monumental favor.

So much for the “democratically elected leader” of Haiti.

What about all that foreign aid we’ve cut off or funneled to NGO’s? Mr. Quigley’s screed is a little short on details. Allow me to remedy that.

In 2006, Haiti was named the most corrupt nation on planet earth. Any foreign aid sent to Haiti had a better chance of sprouting wings and flying than ending up helping any Haitians. The elites in Haiti and family cronies make sure of that, enriching themselves by siphoning aid into ventures they control or own outright.

One thing not mentioned by Mr. Quigley; that corruption contributed to the vastness of the disaster because most of the buildings in Haiti are so poorly constructed due to short cuts taken by contractors who then pocket the difference:

The death toll in the massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti Jan. 12 is expected to continue to rise in the coming days, likely in large part because of corruption and resulting shoddy construction practices in the poor Caribbean nation, according to a University of Colorado at Boulder seismologist.


Bilham said one of the chief causes of the high destruction and fatality rates in Haiti and other developing countries is due in large part to corruption in the construction industry. One of the problems is bribery, which often takes the form of corrupt awards of construction projects, corrupt issuance of permits and approval documents and corrupt inspection practices.

“It should be appalling to the people of the world that in 2009, more than 100 years after earthquake-resistant construction began to be understood and implemented by engineers, that it is possible to forecast large numbers of future earthquake fatalities from the collapse of cities,” said Bilham in his 2009 Mallet-Milne Lecture to earthquake engineers at The Society for Earthquake and Civil Engineering Dynamics meeting in London.

Quigley probably didn’t bring this up in the article because there’s no way to blame America for it.

Yes, but what about all that foreign aid we’ve cut off? What about allowing NGO’s to distribute the aid?

Bush critics complain that Aristide wasn’t given enough aid. By the end almost all assistance to Haiti was being funneled through nongovernmental groups, because no one trusted the government. The OAS and the European Union, especially the French, didn’t want to hand aid over to a corrupt regime. The United States withheld certain aid, but didn’t cut it off entirely ($71 million in bilateral aid last year), continuing a stream of assistance that has been generous by any standard.

Since 1994, the United States has spent $850 million on Haiti. If you count money spent on U.S. troops in the country and on repatriation of refugees, the figure is roughly $3 billion. “If that’s not a commitment to a country, I don’t know what is,” says a senior administration official.

Quigley conveniently uses the year 2004 to complain about aid cutoffs to Haiti. In fact, from 2004-06, the US sent $230 million in developmental aid to that nation. The 2008 regular foreign aid appropriation was $287 million which doesn’t include another $45 million in food aid.

The idea that the only reason we withheld aid in 2001-2004 was because we were “mad” at the Haitian president is laughably childish. People were being murdered in the streets, chaos and corruption reigned in government, and Quigley wanted to continue business as usual? It wasn’t just America, either. The international community made most of these determinations based on the realistic notion that any money sent to Haiti would be used to enrich the ruling elite and not end up helping the people. That’s the bottom line, Quigley’s ignorance - or deliberate obfuscation of the facts - notwithstanding.

And Quigley may be the only lefty in America who begrudge poor people saving a few cents per pound on rice. An unfortunate by product of this is the flight from rural areas of farmers who can’t compete. We’ve seen the same thing in Africa and Asia as globalization makes its uneven and problematic journey around the world. There may be cause for criticism for subsidizing rice growers in the US. But to make the preposterous leap of logic that more people died as a result of US policy is a monumental stretch that even a high school debater wouldn’t make. It sounds logical but there is no empirical evidence that remotely supports it.

Perhaps Mr. Quigley wrote his article as satire. Morel likely, he’s simply an ignorant twit who cherry picked information that he thought would make his case that America is to blame for the large numbers of dead as a result of this tragedy.

Trying to draw attention to yourself by using a catastrophe to make an invalid, and ultimately silly point that you know will play well with those already disposed to believe the worst about their own country may be the height of cynical self promotion. Congratulations are in order for Mr. Quigley. He lived down to all the lowered expectations we’ve come to expect from most writers at Huffington Post.



Filed under: Decision '08, Politics, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 12:05 pm

This is the second and final part of my effort to explain why much of conservatism has lost touch with reality. Part I is here.

When I was a younger man, living and working in the early years of Reagan’s Washington, I fell in with a group of guys who mixed penny ante poker nights with discussions of politics and political philosophy.

We were not the Algonquin Round Table, that’s for sure. But in between the sounds of ice clinking in glasses filled with good scotch, and chips being tossed into the pot, a colloquy of sorts would develop about the issues of the day.

I should mention that I was definitely on the low end of the scale when it came to brain power in this bunch. In our group were a couple of congressional aides, some crack lobbyists, an AEI fellow, and two guys who were studying for advanced degrees at George Washington University in Public Administration. I think the rest of them allowed me to hang around to provide comic relief. Otherwise, I was (at the time) royally outclassed.

No matter. My job, as I saw it, was to challenge the assumptions held by these bright young men by playing devil’s advocate in fleshing out the underlying rationale for their positions. More often than not, my attempts were met with groans of “here he goes again,” and not a few guffaws. But at the time, I was not very well read and couldn’t contribute to the scintillating arguments being advanced by my more learned colleagues.

These were exciting times in Washington. The intellectual ferment on the right was incredible with ideas and proposals bubbling and frothing at think tanks, policy hubs, and even bull sessions like the one with which I was involved. There was a lot of cross pollination of ideas as a proposal from one source would be captured by another, improved upon, and perhaps even fiddled with by a third before ending up in Congress or the White House as a serious policy alternative.

The bottom line is that there were no litmus tests, no question of being forced to conform to a certain worldview. The open, free exchange of ideas was done without fear that someone else would step forward and accuse you of not being “conservative enough.” The arguments back then were no less passionate, but there was an underlying respect for those with which you disagreed.

I may be romanticizing this period a bit but I think that essentially, this captures the spirit in conservative salons and other centers of thought at the time. With no internet, and only a few media outlets (NRO and Human Events being most prominent), the dynamic of discussion allowed for a free wheeling exploration of issues and principles from all angles. The idea that anything proposed or said might brand one an “apostate” never entered our thought processes.

Is the state of conservatism today even remotely similar? I would challenge anyone who thought so. The dead hand of conformity has settled over conservatism with consequences that have yet to fully play out. There is no room in modern conservatism for anything except rote ideology. This catechism brooks no deviation lest any introspection reveal how weak and wildly contradictory what passes for conservative thought has become.

Case in point; my inclusion of some criticisms by liberal Sam Tannenhaus in my piece from yesterday. Apparently, my belief that Tannenhaus has anything useful to say with regard to conservatism makes me some kind of closet liberal. The feeling among some conservatives appears to be that anything written about conservatism by any liberal is useless, and believing otherwise makes one a dupe, or worse.

I don’t know how widespread that belief is on the right but judging by comments I have received in the past, it is not uncommon at all. Rejecting criticism based solely on the ideology of an author is anti-intellectual and anti-reason. Despite making the point that Tannehaus - someone who I believe to have made an honest attempt to track the decline of conservatism in a systematic, logical manner - gives us a critique that overall, is seriously flawed. But does this mean that every single criticism he made was invalid simply because he’s a liberal?

I reject that notion and point to this response of some conservatives as evidence that the excessively ideological prism by which many on the right look at the world causes them to abandon reason and logic, substituting a comforting credo that cannot be amended.

Liberals have their own problems along this line. Rigidity of thought is not confined to those on the right. But this attitude still begs the question; can anything be done by anybody to lift conservatism out of this moribund state and set it on a path to where it can claim the high ground based on honesty, prudence, and a clear eyed view of the world as it truly is?

I believe there is hope to be found in a small group of very smart, very talented younger conservatives who may be able to bridge the divide in conservatism’s factions while re-establishing a reality-based paradigm that sees America as the rest of the non-conservative country sees her.

As an example, I would point to the deceased website Culture 11 as a place were young writers were nurtured and given a chance to flex their intellects to delve into subjects you rarely see discussed on blogs or other conservative media. The site was provocative, unconventional, and scandalously unorthodox. They even had the occasional liberal write for them, which raised the hackles of true conservatives everywhere.

I realize I am heading into dangerous territory by bringing up Culture 11. Some of the writers at the site regularly challenged conservative dogma - a mortal sin to many on the right who hate having their assumptions questioned by anyone, even a conservative. And Culture 11 writers like Conor Friedersdorf and James Poulos are are in bad odor with most who consider themselves “real” conservatives, largely because they sometimes speak well of liberals and take a decidedly less ideological approach to their writings.

But Culture 11 had huge problems that it could never overcome; first and foremost, they could never quite figure out what kind of publication they wanted to be. Failure flowed from that one premise, as this autopsy by Washington Monthly’s Charles Homans points out:

This had a lot to do with the fact that Culture11’s editorial brain trust was made up of people who had little concern for—or at least needed a breather from—the self-immolating Hindenburg of movement conservatism. Kuo had proclaimed his own disenchantment in Tempting Faith. Friedersdorf was concerned with improving journalism, not creating a permanent Republican majority. Political editor James Poulos, a PhD candidate in government at Georgetown who describes his dissertation subject as “the alluring puzzle of the Napoleonic soul,” was far too idiosyncratic in his own politics. Arts editor Peter Suderman was a libertarian who in the last frenzied days of the election spent a whole column arguing that voting was stupid. Having no claim to any particular ideological niche, Culture11 tried to corral them all in the same room and get them talking to each other. “People talk about the conservative circular firing squad—I think we see ourselves as a demilitarized zone,” Friedersdorf told me. “There is nothing like an agreement on our staff that would allow us to claim a slice of anything.” The result, perhaps inevitably, lacked a real sense of identity, but it also offered the closest thing political journalism had to a controlled experiment.

In such a free wheeling atmosphere, quality was bound to be uneven. But what excited me about Culture 11 was that a real attempt was being made to break out of the echo chamber conservative media had largely become. The writing was fresh, and the ideas presented challenged conventional wisdom.

Admittedly, my own taste in cultural critiques tends more toward The New Criterion and its mix of policy and cultural criticism. But what kept me coming back to Culture 11 was that the writers were willing to take chances. In a conservative culture so addicted to conformity, it took some courage to place yourself outside the box and approach subject matter from an entirely new perspective.

Of course, this meant that many of those writers were given short shrift by mainstream conservatives. RedState eventually banned any links to the site which is inexplicable unless you realize that this kind of anti-intellectualism is rampant on the right today. Refusing to be exposed to alternative viewpoints is the essence of ignorance and only proves my point again about a large portion of conservatism being out of touch with reality.

Ross Douthat believes that younger conservative writers tend to me more heterodox, less wedded to the ideology of movement conservatives:

Moreover, part of what creates the air of heterodoxy among the young turks is the fact that many of the young conservative writers I’m thinking of (again, myself included) are still experimenting with a wide range of topics, and haven’t settled into the kind of groove (or rut) that most successful pundits and public intellectuals eventually find themselves slipping into. In this sense, at least some of the ideological conformity that you see among old older right-wingers on, say, foreign policy is really just ideological conformity among those older right-wingers who dilate regularly about foreign policy.

What makes some of these younger conservatives different than their elders isn’t their position on issues, which is decidedly conservative, but rather their willingness to examine and criticize assumptions upon which those issues rest. This imparts a breath of fresh air much needed if conservatives are to return to their roots, embrace freedom of thought, and move beyond the narrow confines that conservatism has boxed itself into by rejecting reason and logic in favor of emotionalism and ideology.

The Culture 11 writers have scattered to the 4 winds with some moving on to smaller publications like Reason Magazine or The American Conservative. Friedersdorf and a couple of other Culture 11 alumni are now blogging at American Scene, among other places. But their impact will continue to be felt. It may take a decade or more, but eventually these and other writers will take their place in the forefront of conservative thought.

Will they be any more welcome then than they are today? A couple of more electoral smash ups like 2008 may be the catalyst that shakes conservatism out of its conformist stupor and forces the right to begin listening to those with a more realistic outlook on America and conservatism itself.



Filed under: Culture, Decision '08, General, History, Politics, Tenth Amendment, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 11:20 am

Another in my series of puny attempts to dissect what’s wrong with modern conservatism. Part II will appear tomorrow.

I debated whether or not to make this a piece about “some conservatives” eschewing reality for an alternate universe or if I should make it about much of modern conservatism’s disconnect from the reality of 21st century America.

In the end, I think it is more important to look at how conservatism as a philosophy has closed itself off so thoroughly from uncomfortable and inconvenient truths about America. The fringe players in the movement with their litmus tests and dreams of going bear hunting with Sarah Palin are not really the problem as I see it.

Their worldview, shaped as it is by wallowing in the echo chamber of conservative media, and warped by a naive and ultimately uninformed ideological prism through which they spout nonsensical, paranoid conspiracies, may be relevant to the political health of the right but has little to do with the breakdown of conservatism as a governing philosophy itself.

In this case, it is conservatism losing its ability to question itself in a rigorous and punishing manner, preferring to maintain a comfort zone in which certain shibboleths of the past rest easily on the mind and prevent the kind of examination of underlying assumptions that any set of philosophical principles needs to maintain touch with the real world.

One might argue that the problem is really with people who hold to those philosophical principles and their refusal to challenge their beliefs. I don’t think this is necessarily true. You can’t sneeze these days without tripping over someone on the right indulging in the kind of “Woe is us” pontificating. I should know. I do it often enough. One would think with all this angst, some truths about why conservatism is where it is today and how it got there would emerge. So far, I have been unimpressed.

There have been some valiant attempts, most notably after Sam Tannenhaus’s Death of Conservatism was published. Rejecting much of Tannenhaus’s critique (as most conservatives should), the author nevertheless wallops a couple of extra base hits while socking at least one, long home run in his analysis; that modern movement conservatism isn’t very conservative at all in that it seeks to overthrow the social order rather than conserve what is best about America while channeling change into productive venues consistent with tradition and the Constitution.

Tannenhaus refers to these right wingers as “revanchists.” Indeed, there is a strong impulse even among so called “reasonable conservatives” that FDR’s New Deal and Johnson’s Great Society need to be repealed or drastically curtailed. In it’s place? There things get kind of fuzzy but what emerges from many conservatives is some kind of “super federalism” where a souped up 10th Amendment would give us 50 different EPA’s or worse, where “market forces” would solve the problems of clean air and clean water.

That’s just one example, of course. And I should hasten to add that any good conservative supports a reasonable brand of federalism, not to mention a prudent regard for liberty and the taxpayer’s money that would force us to question the efficacy of hundreds if not thousands of federal programs. But, what many of the revanchists seek is not a “return” to first principles in the Constitution but rather a form of government more akin to an Articles of Confederation on steroids.

Another Tannenhaus point scored deals with the notion that movement conservatives positively hate government - government of any kind. It goes far beyond the healthy suspicion that all conservatives should possess of the positive impact government programs can have on society, and devolves into paranoia about any government program or effort to address stubborn national problems.

Here is where conservatism itself goes off the rails and feeds this paranoia, preventing conservative ideas from being brought to bear on national issues like health care, immigration, loss of industry, globalization, and adequate, sensible regulation of everything from financial institutions to the environment.

For it is not necessarily people who have become hostile to government but rather conservatism as a governing philosophy that has walled itself into a corner, refusing to confront a modern America that is less white, less agrarian, more urbanized, more technical, and developing a growing tolerance for government solutions to prickly, systemic problems experienced by ordinary Americans.

That last is the killer. Since the end of World War II and the rise of modern conservatism, it is been de rigueur for the right to promote the idea that government can be cut down to size, shrunk to an ill-defined outline that bears more of a resemblance to 19th century America than a modern society with all the miseries and challenges that reality entails.

The thrust of conservative critiques of the welfare state from Hayek to Kirk to Reagan has been that government is bigger than it should be as a result of it trying to do more than is necessary for the functioning of a constitutional republic. Indeed, a strict constructionist reading of the Constitution would cause anyone to question the manufactured justifications for everything from overly zealous government interference in commerce to the legislating of cultural issues from the bench. Conservatives rightly believe that “original intent” are not dirty words and that First Principles are in many ways as valid today as they were 220 years ago.

But over the decades, conservatism lost its flexibility in delineating a coarse ideology from this philosophy. By this I mean that conservatism has eschewed thoughtfulness for conformity. I’m not sure if you can actually pinpoint a moment where ideology trumped reason, although my personal line in the sand was the 1992 Republican convention and the rise of the culture warriors.

But that may have been the denouement to a decade or more of slow rot eating away at the foundations of a carefully nurtured worldview that fought for principle while recognizing that America was changing and that conservatism as a governing philosophy must change with it. The idea of reforming government - Reagan’s grand notion of a New Federalism, lower taxes, fewer regulations, and freer people - died in the fires of a cultural backlash that has come to define modern conservatism.

This is where conservatism lost touch with reality. The moment that the war itself became more important than the principles espoused, all semblance of rationality was tossed out the window and in its stead arose a mindless, knee jerk opposition to government and, of course, the left. As the living embodiment of Big Government, liberals became an enemy and not the political opposition. Rather than fighting to apply conservative principles to the art and artifice of government, the right chose to immolate reason, and turn its back on the reality of modern American in order to destroy their enemies.

As practiced by the most influential conservatives today, this is what passes for conservative thought. Tannenhaus correctly surmised that movement conservatism has won the battle against the pragmatists and now dominates the conservative discussion. I don’t agree with what he believes this fact necessarily portends for the future - a continued decline in influence and relevance of the right. In fact, as I will show tomorrow, there is cause for some hope that younger, more intellectually muscular conservatives who are questioning everything while searching for a new conservative paradigm that would re-integrate movement conservatives into a re-energized whole, may be the beginning of a conservative revival.

Tomorrow: Reports of the death of Culture 11 have been greatly exaggerated.



Filed under: Decision '08, Ethics, Politics, War on Terror — Rick Moran @ 11:44 am

Dick Cheney got a bigger rise out of the administration than the underwear bomber.

That’s a legitimate conclusion one can draw when you read this:

David’s post below on the White House’s decision to accuse of all people, Dick Cheney, of being insufficiently critical of al Qaeda beggars belief. As Jim Geraghty quipped, “He’s beyond condemning [bomber Abdulmutallab]; he wants to waterboard him until his lungs qualify for a federal wetlands status.” We all agree al Qaeda’s attempts to blow up airplanes are bad — the question is what is the current occupant of the White House going to do about it?

But what I can’t wrap my head around is that it took the President four days to acknowledge what he termed a “catastrophic” national security failure, but Cheney criticizes the administration’s handling of the war on terror and they have a rapid response on the White House blog in a matter of hours? Priorities!

Then again, it took six days to respond to the riots in the streets of Tehran during their election, so four days seems about right for a barely averted domestic catastrophe.

Also, is the White House aware of how small they look when they are so obviously spooked by Cheney’s every utterance? Remember when the President rescheduled a press conference earlier this year to deliberately conflict with a pre-planned Cheney speech?

We could really use a steady hand on the tiller while dealing with national security matters, but the White House is still in campaign mode, worried about what a private citizen — who left office remarkably unpopular! — thinks of them.

The counter argument is that the president is being wise and prudent in taking his time to respond in a meaningful way to this terrorist attack.

In an unusually direct and aggressive blog post, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer today criticizes former Vice President Dick Cheney for his constant critique of the administration’s national security policies.

Pfeiffer wrote, “it is telling that Vice President Cheney and others seem to be more focused on criticizing the Administration than condemning the attackers.”

Pfeiffer said that in his statement to Politico today Cheney makes a “clearly untrue” claim that Obama doesn’t realize we’re at war.

“I don’t think anyone realizes this very hard reality more than President Obama,” Pfeiffer wrote, detailing the times Obama and his top advisers have used the term.

“The difference is this: President Obama doesn’t need to beat his chest to prove it, and - unlike the last Administration - we are not at war with a tactic (”terrorism”), we [are] at war with something that is tangible: al Qaeda and its violent extremist allies. And we will prosecute that war as long as the American people are endangered,” he wrote.

Judging by the initial reaction of the administration - our clueless DHS Secretary telling us the system worked and that the bomber was a lone extremist - I would say that someone has to focus on criticizing the administration and it may as well be Cheney.

And why this liberal obsession with “chest beating?” Obama himself said he will not rest until all the perps are brought to justice. Isn’t that “chest beating?” If it isn’t, then they can hardly accuse their favorite whipping boy George Bush of chest beating because that’s about as rough Bush got in any of his rhetoric the last 6 years of his presidency.

These guys are still in campaign mode. They sure got out the hatchet quick enough to respond to Cheney. But our president can’t come off the links long enough to say something meaningful about a terrorist attack on Christmas Day with millions of people visiting friends and relatives and soon to be passengers using a suddenly vulnerable airport security system? No chest beating required. No exaggeration needed. No brave words and political solipsisms necessary. Just the facts, Barack, just the facts.

Prudence is one thing. Measured responses are welcome. But the president is also supposed to be reassuring in times like this and he failed that test miserably. Instead of disavowing his DHS secretary’s comical opinion of “the system,” he spun her words after the fact:

Mr. Obama appeared to be trying to contain the damage on Tuesday, offering “systemic failure” as a substitute diagnosis for “system worked.” He framed Ms. Napolitano’s statement by saying she was right that “once the suspect attempted to take down Flight 253, after his attempt, it’s clear that passengers and crew, our homeland security systems and our aviation security took all appropriate actions.”

Maybe. But Napolitano was not referring to any after action report. It was plain that she was referring to a failed bombing attempt proving the “system” worked when a reasonably aware 3 year old knew that it didn’t. Without those passengers taking action - never mind the crew, or homeland security systems, or aviation security - there would have been a lot of dead Americans on Christmas day.

He probably should have fired her on the spot. Instead, he became the second part of the joke.

And what’s up with Pfeiffer? Talk about breathing fire and doing some chest beating! His contention that the administration does indeed believe we are “at war” flies in the face of almost every statement, every action taken by this president since he took office. There was a conscious decision to downplay the “war” aspects of this conflict and substitute cooperation and law enforcement as the primary means to combat Islamic extremism - a term that continues to stick in the throat of Pfeiffer and his boss. We aren’t at war with abortion bombers or fat white guys out in the bush playing at being militiamen. We are at war with an ideology as insidious and odious as Nazism, Communism, or fascism. Islamism is not a religion, but a political ideology. And until we hear that acknowledgment pass the lips of Barack Obama, he and his flunkies can make all the claims they want about being at war but it won’t alter the fact that they appear to be unserious unless they brush up on their enemy identification.

It is typical that Pfeiffer would criticize form over substance by talking about “chest beating” rather than exactly who it is we are fighting in this “war” that they can’t seem to make up their mind to call a war. It wasn’t Cheney who came up with the ludicrous notion of calling a terrorist attack a “man caused disaster.” Nor did the former Veep rename the conflict an “overseas contingency operation.” Obsessing about form is something this administration is very good at. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda plots and our response is to force passengers to sit quietly in their seats the last hour of every flight.

Doing a heckuva job Janet. Your boss too.

No, Obama is not incompetent. Just muddle-headed. He can’t seem to figure out where political calculation ends and his job protecting Americans begins. His being the anti-Bush in his approach to governing doesn’t work every time. Nor does bending over backward to satisfy his rabid base on national security matters always make smart policy. The left may adore the fact that Obama is downplaying this latest terrorist attack. After all, what’s the worst that could have happened? A couple of hundred Americans incinerated in mid air is all. Nothing to get upset about. plenty more where they came from. Even if we had to endure a 9/11 attack every day, it wouldn’t make a sizable dent in our population. Better to get national health care passed than worry about such pinpricks.

If Obama had his druthers, that attitude would probably inform our anti-terror policy. But the American people have a little less nuanced approach to the “war” on terror; they don’t want to die. This really mucks things up because at the very least, the president has to be seen to be “doing something about the problem.” He can’t discuss the top secret stuff that is going on behind the scenes so we get screwy new regulations and searches at airports. I’m sure in his mind, he is doing all that is required to stop these attacks. But whether he feels this way or not, he is projecting a rather sanguine attitude toward the entire problem. Not “pretending” as Cheney charged. Just not as engaged as his predecessor.

Does this attitude filter down to the bureaucracy and was it partially responsible for the communications snafu that allowed the bomber to almost succeed? Andy McCarthy has made that argument - unconvincingly I might add. These guys at CIA and the FBI are pros and it is doubtful anything Obama says or does affects them in the performance of their jobs. But might a culture of risk aversion - not rocking the boat - 9 years after 9/11 still dominate in some quarters of the intelligence community? That to me is a more likely scenario and explanation for what went wrong. And no DCIA or other presidential appointee has ever been able to make a dent in changing it.

All we can do is hope whatever Obama and his team are doing works, regardless of their attitude or mindset about terrorism, and regardless whether they really think we’re at war or not.



Filed under: CPAC Conference, Decision '08, Politics, conservative reform — Rick Moran @ 10:20 am

Oh, we’re meetin’ at the courthouse at eight o’clock tonight
You just walk in the door and take the first turn to the right
Be careful when you get there, we hate to be bereft
But we’re taking down the names of everybody turning left

Oh, we’re the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society
Here to save our country from a communistic plot
Join the John Birch Society, help us fill the ranks
To get this movement started we need lots of tools and cranks

Now there’s no one that we’re certain the Kremlin doesn’t touch
We think that Westbrook Pegler doth protest a bit too much
We only hail the hero from whom we got our name
We’re not sure what he did but he’s our hero just the same.

(”John Birch Society” by Michael Brown)

Upon hearing that the John Birch Society was going to co-sponsor the Conservative Political Action Conference, I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or put my fist through a wall.

The very first thing that came to mind was this hysterically funny Chad Mitchell Trio song from 1962 that captured the JBS perfectly:

A family favorite for more than 40 years, we never tire of singing it at reunions. “We’re Your Friendly, Liberal, Neighborhood Ku Klux Klan” was another CMT family favorite.

You’ll never recognize us, there’s a smile upon our face,
We’re changing all our dirty sheets and a-cleaning up the place.
Yep, since we got a lawyer, and a public relations man,
We’re your friendly, liberal, neighborhood Klu Klux Klan

Yes, we’re your friendly, liberal, neighborhood Klu Klux Klan
Ever since we got that lawyer and that public relations man.
“Course we did shoot one reporter, but he was just obscene,
and you can’t call us no filthy names. What does Anglo-Saxon mean?

As far as I know, the Kluxers have not as yet, been offered a booth in the exhibit hall, but you never know.

After laughing at the idea that responsible, mature, sane conservatives would invite into the mainstream this nest of kooks, crazies, and paranoid loons I then broke down in tears. The callousness of this move is unbelievable. Don’t these fools know what it took to wipe the stench of these freaks off of the conservative movement?

Why stop with the Birchers? Why not have a few seminars and panels on the birther issue? After all, news out of New York is that the birther convention went quite well last week:

Dear Friends:

Welcome to the Second National Conference on Barack Obama’s Missing Birth Certificate and College Records. Our meeting begins tomorrow in New York City! I am delighted to provide you with this second progress report.


3. Videotaping/Internet posting cancellation

Unfortunately, our plan to videotape the conference and post the proceedings on the network is stalled. We did not receive enough financial support to hire a professional videographer to tape the conference, so we have cancelled our reservation for a videographer. If late-in-the-day financial support still arrives, we will see if someone is available to tape. We can’t do more than the budget allows.


5. Obama: The Hawai’i Years

I had hoped we could finish editing our Hawai’i movie by early December but we are swamped with work and preparations for the conference. We will definitely show a rough cut of the movie on a laptop at the Conference and finish the film up for New Year’s.

The organizer and head honcho of this bunch is Andy Martin, perennial candidate for something or other, and an internet gadfly.

Mr. Martin, making a Quixotic run for the senate here in Illinois, claims his life story is “inspirational.” Indeed, it inspired me to almost lose my lunch. Careening wildly between right and left, the only constant in his life appears to be an overpowering ambition. In the end, it’s hard to tell whether he is sincerely nuts or has simply latched on to the birther movement for attention and a little cash.

No matter, this is a fellow that conservatives should embrace. After all, he’s only “asking questions” - like, where’s the “ribbon copy” of the birth certificate, Barry?

What I have asked Hawai’i officials to do is produce their original “ribbon” copy of Obama’s 1961 birth certificate. (For those of you not old enough to know what a “ribbon copy” is, ancient devices known as “typewriters” used “ribbons” to make impressions on paper. Cormac McCarthy’s original 1963 typewriter is about to be auctioned as an antique. The original copy of a document, i.e. the one which the typewriter ribbon actually touched, was known as the “ribbon copy.”)

Hawai’i officials have never released Obama’s ribbon copy of his birth certificate, despite many demands, lawsuits, etc. I am continuing my litigation for access. Because I am currently a candidate for U. S. Senator [www.AndyforUSSenator.com], I was unable to actively pursue the litigation in August-November, but we are gearing up to go back to Hawai’i to pry loose the original, 1961 document once funds are available.

Of course, if state officials ever released the “ribbon copy,” Martin and his ilk will probably want to see the actual typewriter ribbon on which the document was produced. You just can’t be too careful when you’ve got a reputation for truth and honesty.

Unlike some of Obama’s critics, I have been scrupulously honorable and honest in seeking only the truth about him, and trying to find only the facts about his past. Because of my passion for the truth and the facts, I seem to get under Obama’s skin, whereas his critics who float unsustainable theories are ignored. Obama wants to hide the truth; help us in our search for the facts.

Please help support these projects financially.

How can anyone resist someone so “scrupulously honorable and honest?”

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Andy shows up at CPAC with his hand out, piping his story all around the venue while the conspiracists follow him like rats leaving a sinking ship.

The birthers are only the latest paranoids on the far right. The Birchers have them beat by nearly 50 years. In addition to accusing Eisenhower of being a “conscious agent” for the red menace, over the years, the JBS has topped that lunacy by seeing goblins in globalization, and Communists everywhere, not to mention firmly opposing teh gay, as was made evident in this meeting sponsored by the JBS earlier this year in Oklahoma City:

Among the items in the agenda, Kern said, was getting the public to view homosexuality as a matter of taste, like a preference for strawberry or vanilla ice cream. She quoted the text: “The masses should not be shocked and repelled by premature exposure to homosexual behavior itself.”

“You know,” Kern said. “I’ve done a lot of reading on this. I wish I could describe to you their behavior. I will not because I would be redder than this suit. It’s their behavior that we oppose.

“This theme of equality and freedom is the approach that the homosexuals are using today — totally perverting the true intention of what our Constitution meant. … The homosexuals get it — it’s a struggle between our religious freedoms and their right to do what they want to do.”

Around the banquet hall, Kern’s speech met with applause and calls of “Amen!” from a crowd stoked in a crucible of conspiracy and intrigue. For the whole day, the “Clouds Over America” conference, run and organized by the John Birch Society, held lecture after lecture Jan. 23 and 24 dedicated to explaining their various conspiracy-laden tenets. Here’s one — that a godless secret society, the Illuminati, has been battling against the founding of the United States of America and decent citizens to live in peaceful, worshipful freedom.

Kern called for a new “Great Awakening,” referring to a period of religious revivals from the 18th century considered precursor to the American Revolution.

“The solution is another Great Awakening, folks,” Kern said. “We need a spiritual revival, and that will only come if God’s people, especially you pastors, will stand in your pulpits and vocally preach the word of God and thus declare the Lord this sin, and preach it in love, only then does our nation have a chance of overcoming the scourge of AIDS, HIV and the devastating destruction that the homosexual lifestyle is bringing on your children and our grandchildren.”

The world is too complex to give these idiots a seat at the table. Let them rant on the internet. Let them spew on their tiny radio stations. Let them meet in the dark, exchange their secret handshakes, glance furtively over their shoulders for the government bogeyman, and run up their psychiatric bills.

People wonder why I think Glenn Beck is a dangerous clown. When you lie down with rabid dogs, people are going to think you’re one of them. Beck has spoken approvingly of the JBS on a number of occasions over the years, which only feeds the perception that his mindless meanderings about fascism coming to America with Woodrow Wilson’s presidency and other lunatic conspiracies are not aberrations but rather an entrenched part of his character.

But if you were to go to CPAC in February and take a poll, Beck would be wildly popular. I will never understand it, nor will I ever get used to it. A sizable segment of the right has lost its mind and embracing the John Birch Society is just one more indication that they are not going to find it anytime soon.

It would do no good to call for a boycott of CPAC. But I would hope that some principled activists and members of Congress would take that step. As for me, I will probably be covering the conference in some capacity but I already have my storyline:

We’ll teach you how to spot ‘em in the cities or the sticks
For even Jasper Junction is just full of Bolsheviks
The CIA’s subversive and so’s the FCC
There’s no one left but thee and we, and we’re not sure of thee

Oh, we’re the John Birch Society, the John Birch Society
Here to save our country from a communistic plot
Join the John Birch Society holding off the Reds
We’ll use our hand and hearts and if we must we’ll use our heads



Jonathan Chait at The New Republic:

In reality, both parties have plenty of ideas that they would like to implement if given the political power to do so. Republicans’ policy ideas primarily involve cutting marginal tax rates and regulations. The question isn’t whether the Republican Party has any ideas. The question is whether the party has any relevant ideas.

In the days following the 2008 election, some Republicans predicted that the party would retool itself in response to reality–not just political reality but the actuality of policy challenges. “Republicans,” wrote conservative Ramesh Ponnuru in Time, “will have to devise an agenda that speaks to a country where more people feel the bite of payroll taxes than income taxes, where health-care costs eat up raises even in good times, where the length of the daily commute is a bigger irritant than are earmarks.” Nothing like that rethinking has happened or will happen.

Whatever the merits of President Obama’s agenda, it is clearly a response to objectively large problems facing the country. The administration has selected three main issues as the focus of its domestic agenda: the economic crisis, climate change, and health care reform. The issues themselves offer a stark contrast with Bush’s 2005 crusade to reshape Social Security. While sold as a response to the program’s long-term deficit, the privatization campaign was actually motivated by ideological opposition to Social Security’s redistributive role. (Bush refused Democratic offers to negotiate a fix to the program’s solvency without altering its social-insurance character.) By contrast, it is impossible to dismiss the problems Obama has chosen to address. In all three areas, the Republican Party has adopted a stance of total opposition, not merely because it disagrees with aspects of Obama’s solutions, but because it cannot come to grips with the very nature of the problems of modern American politics.


I would take issue with Chait over the reason for Social Security reform - something the Democrats will now have to face in the coming years if, as I fully expect, they maintain their majority for a decade or so. Yes, my liberal friends, there is an unfunded mandate for social security that works out to about $17.5 trillion by 2050. By that time, the entire federal budget could be comprised of payments for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Don’t sit there and tell me that the only reason Bush wanted to reform Social Security by privatizing some of it was due to “ideological opposition” to the program. It was Republicans, I will remind Chait, who reformed SS in 1986 while he and his Democratic friends took potshots from the sidelines. Democrats have always, shamelessly, used Social Security fear mongering with seniors as an electoral club. And Chait is proving that nothing has changed.

As for the rest of Chait’s thesis, he is spot on. The GOP cannot meet the basic definition of a political party; a repository for ideas and principles that advance a particular political philosophy. Cutting taxes when we’re staring at a deficit of $1.5 trillion a year is not only irrelevant, it is reckless, suicidal, irresponsible policy. Claiming that government spending would be cut an equal amount as any tax breaks is ludicrous, not to mention a horrible idea in the midst of a deep recession. The cuts that would be necessary in discretionary spending - only about 28% of the budget (most of that in the defense sector) - would gash programs that benefit the poor and the middle class. It won’t happen so why discuss it? Any tax cuts enacted would add to the deficit substantially.

So much for “fiscal responsibility.”

Tax cuts aren’t the only idea that the GOP wants to implement but it seems that way sometimes. Cutting spending is another basic notion being pushed by the GOP, but so far, specifics have been lacking. Not so with the base of the party who not only can’t “come to grips with the very nature of the problems of modern American politics,” but would have trouble “coming to grips” with 19th century American problems. This is where Chait’s ideological animus by the GOP to government truly resides (although eliminating Social Security and Medicare are ideas relegated to the fringe right). Entire swaths of the government would be on the chopping block if many in the base got their way. And I am not talking about some kind of “super-federalism” where many programs would be “transferred to the states.” There is a belief that much of what the federal government does, individuals should be able to do for themselves. I am not unsympathetic to this basic premise, but the scope and breadth of what many on the right would like to see eliminated are several bridges too far for most rational conservatives.

And this points up the major reason why the GOP is in the barren intellectual state that it is in; a stubborn, (I would say hysterical) refusal to see the world as it is and develop counter-proposals and ideas that reflect the realities of 21st century America.

What’s so hard about that? Well, for starters, perhaps admitting you have a problem dealing with reality in the first place might help:

The writers of The Daily Show, Colbert Report, and Saturday Night Live (although I’m not convinced they’ve even had writers lately) can have February 18-20, 2010, off. The hosts can handle it themselves. On those dates, the jokes will practically write themselves as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) takes place — co-sponsored by the John Birch Society. Every liberal commentator needs to send a thank-you note to CPAC’s organizers for that monumentally stupid decision.

By having the John Birch Society sponsor it, CPAC can guarantee that 90% of the coverage regarding the conference will relate to JBS’ oh-my-god-look-a-conspiracy attitude rather than the heavy-hitters and rising stars of conservatism and libertarianism that speak there. Instead of focusing on politics, reporters will ask attendees for their response to the JBS controversy and will ask organizers whether they are in such financial distress that they had to embrace a fringe group for support.

This is beyond the “nihilism” Chait writes about with regard to what the GOP has become. I think a more technical term is in order to describe what is happening with the base and hence, with much of the Republican party.

Loony tunes.

You have to live in a different reality (or perhaps spend most of your time on another planet) to accept the notion that the John Birch Society today is much different than the bunch who questioned whether General Dwight David Eisenhower - American hero - wasn’t “pink.” Or that John Foster Dulles wasn’t deliberately hiding Communists in the State Department. (Yes, there were commies at state and defense but the idea that Dulles knew they were there is lunacy).

The JBS “core principles” include this gem:

The Society also labors to warn against and expose the forces that seek to abolish U.S. independence, build a world government, or otherwise undermine our personal liberties and national independence.

The problem as I see it isn’t necessarily that the John Birth Society is filled with kooks who think Obama is part of an international conspiracy to enslave America to the Communist ideal, it’s that they are a perfect fit for CPAC and the paranoid righties who are pursuing the birther matter, believe the president and the Democrats are out to “destroy the country,” believe there’s nothing much wrong with our health care system, and are not sure if Obama isn’t the antichrist.

Yes, that last is hyperbole but it’s easy to go over the top when you are trying to describe people who have tossed aside reason and embraced a kind of collective madness that is being promoted on talk radio, and some venues on Fox News. The world - the country - simply is not as it is described by Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the cotton candy conservatives who are cleaning up by playing to the fears of the ignorant and uninformed.

And then there are those who ape the worst of these:

It isn’t too much to ask for Byrd to step off for that great klavern in the sky before the Senate vote that may force this nation to accept government-rationed health care. Even a nice coma would do.

Without his frail, Gollum-like body being wheeled into the Senate’s chambers to cast the deciding vote, the Senate cannot curse our children and grandchildren with crushing debt and rationed, substandard healthcare.

I suppose some will be shocked and appalled that I’d wish for the former kleagle to die on command. I’d remind them that the party wheeling in a near invalid to vote in favor of this unread monstrosity of a bill is the one that should feel shame.

Yes, the health care bill as it has been so cynically and maliciously drawn up by Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and the rest of the Democrats might easily be termed a “monstrosity.”

But it is grotesque, deformed thinking to wish for another human being to die for political gain. And not seeing that is a reflection not so much of Bob Owens, but of the casual, anti-reason, anti-rational thinking that has gripped the Republican party and made it an irrelevancy.

Can you govern without believing in the efficacy of government? I find it hard to imagine that, even if the Democrats and Obama screw things up so royally that the GOP wins a smashing victory and overturns both houses of Congress next year, that the Republicans are capable of doing anything to address the problems of 21st century America. Trying to reconstitute a nation that doesn’t exist anymore - a pastoral place where everyone was self-sufficient, went to church on Sunday, and dreamed the same dreams - does not equip a party or its members to deal with the complex, urbanized, less homogeneous country America has become.

To do that, one must actually live in the present rather than some ill-defined, half-imagined past that perhaps never was, but certainly will never be again.



Filed under: Blogging, Decision '08, Environment, Government, Media, Politics, health care reform — Rick Moran @ 11:05 am

I suppose it is too much to expect that either party could deal effectively with the health care crisis. In fact, I would argue that our system was not set up to make such massive changes in American life so quickly, that the very nature of the legislative process prevents prudent lawmakers from overreaching and trying to do too much, too soon.

Part of that is the dance that occurs between the majority and minority. True, the atmosphere in Washington has been testy the last couple of decades. But beyond that, there are systemic checks on the majority - most of them built in to the very fabric of the House and Senate rules while others can be found in the Constitution. The Founders saw the People’s House as a place where men were governed by raw passion, and that the supposed elitists in the senate (chosen by state legislators), would put a brake on any imprudent measures passed in the lower chamber.

No, the filibuster is not in the Constitution. But I have no doubt the majority of the Founders would have approved of how it has been used in the past as well as how it is being employed now. When the GOP wanted to ram through some judges who were seen as being either poor jurists, or too extreme, the Democrats balked. The New York Times favored the tactic back in November of 2004:

The Republicans see the filibuster as an annoying obstacle. But it is actually one of the checks and balances that the founders, who worried greatly about concentration of power, built into our system of government. It is also, right now, the main means by which the 48 percent of Americans who voted for John Kerry can influence federal policy. People who call themselves conservatives should find a way of achieving their goals without declaring war on one of the oldest traditions in American democracy.

And they were right. Of course, now that the shoe is on the other foot, the filibuster is evil incarnate if you listen to many on the left. But the principle is sound; legislation that either doesn’t have the support of the people, or is flawed thinking, or whose consequences cannot be easily seen, deserves the “check” that the senate can place on it.

Does this mean that there shouldn’t be health care reform at all? Some on the right would argue this but I think I’ve made my own position clear over the last few months; when millions who want insurance, or need insurance, who are either too poor to afford it or can’t get it because of a chronic condition, something is wrong with the system. The other big reason for reform is the cost of health care - and thus, the cost to government who spends about 40 cents of every health care dollar - are out of control and desperately need to be reined in.

We can’t simply say to those who can’t get insurance, “Too bad if you get sick or hurt. Try bankruptcy, OK?” I don’t see health insurance as a “right” but neither is it fair for families to be burdened for the rest of their lives with a health care bill from a car accident or a serious childhood illness. It is the same reasoning we use for assistance to the poor. If through no fault of their own, someone finds themselves unable to pay for food or shelter, the government must step in. Again, do we say “Too bad you can’t eat. Try a church pantry, OK?”

I am of the school that sees government as an agent to fill in gaps where doing so is prudent and makes sense. Clearly, there is a role for government to play in addressing the health care problem. A purely free market solution does not prevent itself, although certainly applying market forces to the cost curve would seem to make a good deal more sense than the arbitrary manner in which the House and Senate bills address this aspect of the problem.

But government alone cannot address these problems - a position utterly rejected by the far left in the Democratic party who are driving this reform bill over a cliff. If the bill simply addressed the problem of insuring the uninsured and trying to “bend the cost curve” in health care spending, I have no doubt that many Republicans would have enthusiastically thrown themselves into the process. But the overreach written into the bill guaranteed from the beginning that the GOP would be on the sidelines.

You don’t need comity between warring parties to get something done on health care. What is needed is the application of common sense and a little prudence. Indeed, prudence has been sacrificed on the altar of process - the abandonment of the principle of “good government” in order to achieve a purely political triumph for the majority.

As a civic virtue, prudence is underrated.

Russell Kirk:

Burke agrees with Plato that in the statesman, prudence is chief among virtues. 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.

I don’t see how anyone can apply the principle of “prudence” to this legislation. And please note that Professor Kirk is inferring the existence of a body like the United States Senate to place a check on the passions of the imprudent.

In truth, the senate has traditionally been a “conservative” body in that its rules and traditions allow for a more thoughtful and measured approach to legislation. After all, it used to be that these cloture votes would occur after hundreds of hours of talking, as an even smaller minority than the 40 GOP senators (the rules used to call for 66 votes in favor of cloture) could tie up the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body” for weeks by reading cookbooks, the Congressional Record, and other time consuming tomes.

Cloture itself is a relatively recent invention. It was created prior to our entry into World War I when just a couple of senators could hold up the business of the senate simply by not yielding the floor (See Jimmy Stewart’s one man filibuster in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington).

The practical effect of all this talking was that bills were considerably watered down in the senate before going to conference. In order to achieve passage in the senate, the minorities concerns were addressed. And it prevented the kind of wholesale changes in American society that we are seeing with health care reform.

President Obama is not a prudent man. He is a reckless, arrogant ideologue who is so concerned with his legacy and his place in the history books, that he is willing to foist this very bad bill on the American people and damn the consequences. It is so big, so broadly drawn, encompasses so much, that it would be impossible for any group of bureaucrats to write rules and regulations that wouldn’t horribly infringe upon the liberties of the people.

There is no blueprint, no roadmap that would reveal what the long term consequences of passing this bill might be. Guessing at its cost is akin to looking into a crystal ball. And Harry Reid ain’t no gypsy. In fact, the Democrats have tried to hide the costs of the bill:

For starters, as CBO notes, the bill presumes that Medicare fees for physician services will get cut by more than 20 percent in 2011, and then stay at the reduced level indefinitely. There is strong bipartisan opposition to such cuts. Fixing that problem alone will cost more than $200 billion over a decade, pushing the Reid plan from the black and into a deep red.

Then there are the numerous budget gimmicks and implausible spending reductions. The plan’s taxes and spending cuts kick in right away, while the entitlement expansion doesn’t start in earnest until 2014, and even then the real spending doesn’t begin until 2015. According to CBO, from 2010 to 2014, the bill would cut the federal budget deficit by $124 billion. From that point on, it’s essentially deficit neutral — but that’s only because of unrealistic assumptions about tax and Medicare savings provisions. By 2019, the entitlement expansions to cover more people with insurance will cost nearly $200 billion per year, and grow every year thereafter at a rate of 8 percent. CBO says that, on paper, the tax increases and Medicare cuts will more than keep up, but, in reality, they won’t. The so-called tax on high cost insurance plans applies to policies with premiums exceeding certain thresholds (for instance, $23,000 for family coverage). But those thresholds would be indexed at rates that are less than health-care inflation — forever. And so, over time, more and more plans, and their enrollees, would bump up against it until virtually the entire U.S. population is enrolled in insurance that is considered “high cost.”

Chicanery in budgeting is not limited to the Democratic party. But it’s a question of scale, isn’t it? We’re not talking about fudging some numbers on a new jet fighter that might show a couple of tens of billions of dollars less over 5 years. We are discussing trillions of dollars in federal spending that are being covered up because if the true cost of this bill were known, it would be even more unpopular than it is now.

Prudence is a lost virtue in Washington. Neither party adheres to its meaning or even its spirit. Profligate, wastrel, wasteful, uncaring of the future - there is more broken in Washington than what passes for political discourse between the parties.

« Older PostsNewer Posts »

Powered by WordPress