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11/3/2010
NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER, NO COMPROMISE: THE NEW GOP?

My latest is up at PJ Media where I wonder about the 80 or so new GOP congressmen and whether they will posture with the “no compromise” crowd or work together to make a difference in getting the economy back on track.

A sample:

About a third of the GOP caucus that is sworn in on January 3, 2011, will never have served in Congress previously. If they organize and stay together, they could affect everything from the battle to repeal health care reform to who becomes speaker of the House. Almost all of them are as conservative as any group of first-termers who have ever been elected. The question being asked by both tea party folk and the GOP establishment is: how wedded to “principle” are the newcomers?

Similar questions were being asked by Democrats in 1974 when the Watergate class of liberal congressmen upended the Democratic establishment and forever after skewed the party to the far left. There were 72 new congressmen in that class (the Democrats gained 49 seats) and they quickly organized themselves into a powerful caucus that changed the committee and seniority system, thus altering the way the Congress did business. Their example may be followed by this new group of freshly minted conservative House members who come to Washington as a result of the GOP tidal wave.

Not all of them have bubbled up from the tea party movement, but most are in sync with its goals: fiscal responsibility and a return to some semblance of prudent government. But what does that mean? We are in a nightmarish economy with slow growth, continuing job losses, and the specter of inflation in the background due to the irresponsible policies of the Federal Reserve. We are also faced with depressing budget deficits and a truly frightening national debt.

Is there no role for government at all in fixing this mess? If there is, the Republicans are not going to be able to accomplish much on their own. They will need to work with the Democrats and the president in order to get something done about the economy and the budget. Spending and tax cuts will have to be negotiated to have any chance of being signed by the president and put into effect. Otherwise, the GOP will simply be posturing, and nothing at all will be accomplished.

By: Rick Moran at 1:16 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

10/25/2010
WHY THE GOP WILL PROBABLY FAIL

There is no doubt that the Republican party is poised for a big night - some are even predicting an historic night - next Tuesday when America goes to the polls.

But the seeds of GOP failure have already been sown during this campaign and it is extremely doubtful that Republicans can achieve any of their short term goals, much less change the culture of America to reflect their outdated views of small government, low taxes, and a much stricter interpretation of the Constitution.

There is no doubt government can be “smaller,” taxes “lower,” and judges put in place who would take a friendlier view of original intent. But the exaggerated goals of tea partiers and other conservatives is a pie in the sky impossibility — the result of a fundamental misreading of modern American society and a refusal to recognize that, as in life, a nation cannot “go home” and recapture a period in time now lost to the ages.

Most analysts now agree that the Republicans will take the House next Tuesday. While it is doubtful they can sweep the table and take the senate as well, they will certainly score significant gains in that body. But will this sweeping victory be due to any ideas the Republicans have been promoting? In other words, can the GOP rightfully claim a mandate to govern?

Getting the deficit under control and getting people back to work are legitimate GOP aspirations and if voted into office, members of congress can claim a broad mandate to accomplish those goals. The “return to Constitutional government” - whatever that means specifically - is also broadly accepted as part of the Republican platform, although such a nebulous goal can be interpreted a thousand different ways. Then there is the rollback of Obama’s agenda in health care, financial reform, and other Washington power grabs that enjoy the support of a plurality of voters - if that.

How much success will the Republicans have in accomplishing any of those goals? The answer is, this is an agenda bred for failure.

As long as President Obama remains in office, it is not likely that any GOP measures to cut the deficit, create jobs, repeal Obamacare, repeal FinReg, or “return” the country to someone’s idea of Constitutional government will succeed. The Republicans will not have anywhere near the numbers to overturn any Obama veto. And the idea that 20 senate Democrats and 40 House Democrats will suddenly see the light and vote to emasculate their own party’s president by refusing to uphold his vetos is not in the realm of possibility on this planet.

A compromise with the Democrats might get some of those items passed into law. But incredibly, the GOP has already signaled that there will be no compromise.

Unable to get anything passed because their numbers are too few, the GOP will refuse to deal with the president because their rabid, frothing at the mouth base of partisans equates compromise with weakness. The art of governance is lost on these mountebanks — as it was with their counterparts on the left in 2008 — because so certain are they of the moral rightness of their cause that they regard compromise as dealing with the devil (or, for the left, whatever the secular equivalent). Hence, we had the spectacle of rabid leftists calling for the heads of more moderate Blue Dogs because they dared to seek compromise with Republicans on the major agenda items. Similarly, compromise with President Obama by Republicans on anything will be deemed as a betrayal of the electoral “mandate” the GOP will win next Tuesday.

With the nation in an economic crisis the likes of which have not been seen since the 1930’s and the American people crying out for leadership, the GOP will freeze like a deer in headlights, terrified that any move to get anything done in Washington to alleviate our economic problems will be seen as “caving in” to Obama and the Democrats and rile the tea party crowd, leading to a slew of primary challenges for members in 2012. Hence, the prospect of gridlock while the nation continues to sink into economic stagnation and ennui.

Note that there has been very little talk about the GOP “Pledge to America” since it was rolled out a month ago. In fact, the party leadership has avoided specifics about what they plan to do with this great victory. No grandiose plan to get the jobs machine pumping up employment. No details about a legislative strategy to repeal Obamacare or any other agenda item. There is nothing but empty platitudes and harsh criticism - well deserved - of the Democrats.

It begs the question of just what Republicans plan to do with their victory?

What appears they will do is investigate the Obama administration for a host of transgressions - real and imagined. There will be endless posturing about the debt. The president’s commission on the deficit will receive short shrift from both sides, so their recommendations will have as much impact as those of the Baker Commission on the Iraq War. Obama will blame the “do-nothing” GOP congress while the Republicans will blame “obstructionist” Democrats.

And in the end, we’ll all come back to square one and be stuck with the same high unemployment and sluggish economy, with no prospects for improvement.

It needn’t be this way but it will be. Political polarization is so ingrained in the system now that breaking free from the Gordian Knot of intractable, devastating partisanship is not even on the radar. It would take real political courage and statesmanship for both sides to build a bridge across the abyss we have dug for ourselves and meet in a spirit of real bi-partisan compromise. There are no giants in congress anymore, only misshapen trolls and midgets whose cynicism about the system requires that they gather as much wealth and power as they can before being retired by their constituents or leaving office to find an even more lucrative position in the revolving door of Washington interest peddling.

Cynicism in Washington breeds cynicism among the populace. And the coming Republican failure to fulfill the wishes of the electorate will only add to the feeling of hopelessness that stalks the land in the second decade of the 21st century. Where will we be 10 years from now? Contemplation of our prospects does not engender confidence in our future. And perhaps more than anything else, that shows just how far America has fallen.

By: Rick Moran at 2:33 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (3)

9/22/2010
THE DECIDEDLY UNCONSERVATIVE NATURE OF THE TEA PARTY ESTABLISHMENT

This article originally appears on The Moderate Voice

The Tea Party movement is a nebulous mass of citizenry, uncoordinated, not centrally directed, with no discernible “leadership,” and actually rejects the hierarchical organizational model for a fierce, unbridled independence.

Your mama.

If recent events in Delaware as well as the growing electoral involvement of the tea party movement tells us anything, it is that an identifiable tea party establishment has emerged to make war on those they suspect of ideological impurity while mindlessly defending their candidates from attacks no matter how flawed, or how ridiculous those candidates may be.

In short, the tea party establishment has become what they profess to hate the most; a self identified elite who are more interested in maintaining their position at the top of the tea party ziggurat than in stopping the far left agenda of the Obama administration or in promoting conservative principles in their candidates.

I hasten to add that the vast majority of tea party folk are sincerely interested in reform, are probably a little more pragmatic on the whole than their elites, and have acted as a spur to getting good conservatives (in many cases) to run for office. It is not their fault that a certain segment of the conservative punditocracy now purports to speak for them in the shrill tones of the ideological purist who protects their position at the top of the tea party pyramid by trashing other conservatives who don’t agree with them 100% of the time as “RINO’s or worse, “ruling class” or “establishment” Republicans.

Rush Limbaugh:

Now, they may have talked about it, but it certainly isn’t reported. What’s reported is that these guys are going, “Oh, woe is us, oh, woe is us. Coulda had a Castle seat, coulda won it, coulda been a contender.” And Scott Brown going on and on and on, “There’s no more room for moderates.” Mr. Brown, let me tell you something. Look around you in the Senate. You are surrounded by moderate Republicans, Mr. Brown. You’re surrounded by ‘em. Not only where you live but in the Senate, surrounded by ‘em. You got moderate Republicans in Maine. After this election you’re still going to be surrounded by moderate Republicans in the Senate. What are you talking about? No more room for moderate Republicans in the Senate? The question is whether there is room for Reagan conservatives anymore in the Republican Party. That’s the question. That’s what this is all about.

Fascinating. Limbaugh isn’t the only establishment tea party leader to raise the spectre of poor little conservatives being “surrounded by moderates” in the senate. This is utter nonsense - a shibboleth that goes to the heart of the meme that “moderates” lost the 2008 election (independents, scared off by the radical social cons, gave the election to Obama). There might be 7 “moderate” senators in the GOP caucus. And that’s using the tea party establishment’s definition. When 80% of the caucus is made up of conservatives far to the right of Ronald Reagan, one begins to wonder why Limbaugh and other tea party elites have to create an enemy to destroy. Isn’t Obama and the Democrats enough of a foe on which to concentrate their firepower?

The next time a tea party elitist talks about the GOP senate being lousy with RINO’s, I demand they name names. Who do they think is a “moderate” besides the obvious targets? There better be a lot more than 6 or 7 in order to make good on their observation about the senate being full of moderates. I’m sure we will be surprised to learn who they believe doesn’t measure up to their ever narrowing definition of conservative. More than likely, many senators they believe are RINO’s would hold views to the right of Reagan.

Indeed, it is not that these senators are necessarily moderate that upsets the tea party establishment. It is that they dare work with the Democrats to craft legislation and assist in governing the country - as their constituents demand that they do. I find it endlessly fascinating to compare the reactions of the hard right and hard left to members of their respective parties who take to heart the definition of “public service” and try to work with the other side to get things done for the country. The very act of compromise is enough to brand the lawmaker as one who has “no principles.” Both excessively ideological camps scream “betrayal” and “traitor” if a member dare defy their strictures against fraternizing with the enemy. The fruit of any such compromise is to be rejected out of hand.

Obviously, to even the most simple minded adolescent, this is not how to run a country of 300 million people made up of every race, creed, religion, and special interest on the planet. Not everyone can support one faction’s idea of how a piece of legislation should work, or who it should cover, or how much it should cost. The essence of governing in a democracy is compromise and adults interested in the welfare of the United States recognize that singular fact. In the process of compromising, political deals are made, backs are scratched, favors called in, and threats and cajoling are used to pass an imperfect, flawed piece of legislation that the president may or may not sign.

It is childish to believe that all of this rigmarole is somehow “corrupt” or the means used by the “ruling class” to oppress us. It is messy, inefficient, unsatisfying, and irredeemably venal. But it works - mostly. And it used to work a lot better. We all better pray that we reacquire the ability to craft livable compromises considering the stupendous challenges this country faces with regard to the debt, the budget, our security, and the security of the planet. Otherwise, we simply won’t survive.

But none of this matters to the tea party establishment. We know who they are. Limbaugh, Levin, Malkin, Erickson,, Riehl, Stacy McCain, and several other prominent conservatives who have abandoned their principles by supporting the fatally flawed, radically unconservative Christine O’Donnell.

It seems as if every revelation about O’Donnell’s past that trickles out, the tea party elites become even more enraged at conservatives who point to her shortcomings, more defensive, more dismissive of critics. They have a lot invested in O’Donnell - the narrative of tea party success must be maintained at all costs, even to the point that their own conservative principles regarding excellence, character, honesty, wisdom, prudence, and prescription are tossed aside lest their criminal candidate be seen as less than a champion of the cause.

Charges about “the ruling class” being against O’Donnell ring particularly hollow. Conservatives don’t do “class” in any way, shape or form. To bring any kind of class argument into the picture demonstrates an abandonment of conservative principles in the name of political expediency. And the even more fantastical argument that O’Donnell is no more flawed than any other candidate is wrong on its face, but particularly revealing of the tea party establishment’s desperation.

Conservatism is a way of living and of organizing society - not a political ideology, although in the real world, it is impossible to separate the two. The danger in being excessively ideological is that it becomes necessary to abandon principle in service to maintaining ideological purity. Hence, we have the spectacle of so-called tea party conservative elites railing against “class,” demonstrating imprudence in advocating against reasonable governance, wildly exaggerating criticisms of people who agree with them 90% of the time, and holding to the false notion that they are “standing on principle” in desperately defending an indefensible candidate.

Praytell what “principle” is served by supporting someone who actually believes in the radically unconstitutional notion that you can legislate morality? Or who steals from her own campaign war chest to personally enrich herself? Besides the “principle” of trying to maintain an establishment position in the internet tea party hierarchy, there doesn’t seem to be much left to consider.

By: Rick Moran at 11:15 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

9/1/2010
CONSERVATISM’S FALSE DAWN

You don’t have to be able to read tea leaves, examine entrails, or count the warts on a horny toad to know that conservatism is headed for a smashing victory in November.

Or is it? Will the coming electoral tidal wave hide deficiencies that have yet to be addressed following a long decade of decline and exhaustion?

What has changed in the intervening months? Certainly, the rising fortunes of the GOP has energized the conservative base and instilled confidence in conservative cadres. But have any of the systemic challenges that faced conservatism following the 2008 electoral debacle been addressed?

Alas, I don’t see it. Indeed, if one were to examine what is shaping up to be the Republican agenda that will be set before the American people in November, you would be excused if you felt like you had to pinch yourself in order to make sure you were not somehow magically transported back to 1980.

Tax cuts. Check. Get government “out of the way.” Check. Less regulation. Check. Cut spending. Check. Reduce the deficit. Check. Maintain a strong defense. Check.

It’s as if the smiling visage of the Gipper himself was standing along side Republican candidates as for the 15th election in a row, some variation of the above agenda is presented as conservatism’s answer to the welfare state coddling of the Democrats and liberals.

To those who might say that conservative principles are timeless and immutable, I would wholeheartedly agree. Except that tax cuts are not a “conservative principle.” Neither is reduced spending, less regulation, or any other issue that currently substitutes for substantive thought on the right.

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Peter Berkowitz crows about the right being back on top:

In late 2008 and early 2009, in the wake of Mr. Obama’s meteoric ascent, the idea that conservatism would enjoy any sort of revival in the summer of 2009 would have seemed to demoralized conservatives too much to hope for. To leading lights on the left, it would have appeared absolutely outlandish.

In late October 2008, New Yorker staff writer George Packer reported “the complete collapse of the four-decade project that brought conservatism to power in America.” Two weeks later, the day after Mr. Obama’s election, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne proclaimed “the end of a conservative era” that had begun with the rise of Ronald Reagan.

And in February 2009, New York Times Book Review and Week in Review editor Sam Tanenhaus, writing in The New Republic, declared that “movement conservatism is exhausted and quite possibly dead.” Mr. Tanenhaus even purported to discern in the new president “the emergence of a president who seems more thoroughly steeped in the principles of Burkean conservatism than any significant thinker or political figure on the right.”

Messrs. Packer, Dionne and Tanenhaus underestimated what the conservative tradition rightly emphasizes, which is the high degree of unpredictability in human affairs. They also conflated the flagging fortunes of George W. Bush’s Republican Party with conservatism’s popular appeal. Most importantly, they failed to grasp the imperatives that flow from conservative principles in America, and the full range of tasks connected to preserving freedom.

What Berkowitz doesn’t mention about those critiques - and many more like it on both the right and the left - is that it appeared at the time that conservatism was a hollowed out shell; that it had lost its vibrancy, it’s vim and vigor. The idea factories were still churning out papers, the intellectuals were still trying to connect history and philosophy to politics and policy, but there was a disconnect between conservative thinkers and doers.

The politicians were less interested in implementing new ideas than in trying to preserve their majorities. The activists - then as now - were more interested in giving litmus tests to candidates and politicians in order to purge those they found less than pure than in working to elect candidates who might have advanced legitimate policy alternatives to the left to deal with real world problems that had festered for decades because conservatism had failed to find a vocabulary to connect ordinary people’s concern’s with government action.

In short, conservatism had exhausted itself. The old verities were still true, and still resonated up to a point with voters. But the world had changed in the intervening 30 years between Reagan and Obama and the right was incapable of articulating how to deal with those changes both philosophically and politically.

“Small government” (and its sister battle cry “smaller government”) was no longer an adhesive that bound the movement conservatives to the libertarians because the hypocrisy of crying for cuts in the size of government when advocating massive government intervention in marriage and family matters drove many libertarians into the waiting arms of the Democrats. That, and the inability of any two conservatives to agree on how to shrink government to make it “smaller” - much less “small” - imparted an incoherence to political conservatism that people gave up trying to understand.

Libertarians are coming back to the GOP in waves because of liberal overreach in implementing Obama’s agenda, while a welcome de-emphasizing of the social issues that drove them away has taken place. Meanwhile, in the hinterlands, GOP governors have experimented with ways to apply a more pragmatic conservatism to make a difference in the lives of their citizens on issues like health care, social policy, and education - issues that heretofore were not considered “conservative” by many on the right, or at least in the way that governors like Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie were choosing to address them. And Representative Paul Ryan has stepped forward with his “Roadmap” to deal with entitlements - the first stirrings of what may be a rallying point for the “young turks” emerging as a force in the Republican party.

All of this is welcome news for the right. But the question I have for Berkowitz and other self congratulatory conservatives is what has changed in the intervening months to make anyone think there has been any kind of a “revival?” Conservative elites are not interested in governors and have been extremely cautious about Rep. Ryan’s admittedly radical ideas. The political class has resisted any kind of change, as evidenced by clinging to the Reagan agenda as if it were a talisman to be stroked and caressed so that whatever magic might be left in the mantra might rub off on them and bring them victory.

The Beck Rally as evidence of conservative revival? Spare me. It may have indicated some kind of effort at religious revival, but please don’t confuse coming back to God with politics.

Daniel Larison:

In other words, when Mormons and evangelicals are at their worst and are indulging their least admirable tendencies to idolize the country at the expense of their religious teachings, there is a chance for them to find common ground. If you think that a serious religious revival in America might have something to do with a spirit of repentance and humility rather than with an extravaganza of validation and national self-congratulation, that is really a very damning indictment of what Beck is doing. As Joe Carter correctly says, “As Moore notes, the problem isn’t really Beck. The problem is believers trading the true faith for the syncretism of Christian-flavored civic religion.”

Religion and politics is a mighty incendiary mixture, and Beck’s sermonizing at the rally evoked unflattering comparisons to Father Coughlin. If Christians want another “Great Awakening,” that’s fine, more power to them. Just don’t try and drag political conservatism along for the ride. While many conservative philosophers believe it necessary for a just moral order to include a belief in God, that does not mean that you set the old fellow alongside conservative candidates during campaigns and use him as bait to capture voters. I’m sure God has better things to do than help elect a GOP majority.

As long as conservative activists and the elites reject the idea that conservatism has an activist role to play in running government; that prudent, practical, reasonable efforts by government to regulate business, protect consumers, care for the poor, ensure access to health care, protect the environment, and carry out the other responsibilities that must be shouldered by a 21st century industrialized democratic government, there will be no “revival” of conservatism except in the overheated imaginations of its ideological adherents.

November 2010 will therefore be a “false dawn” for conservatism. For once a GOP majority takes its seats in Congress (if it does), they are going to have to address the monumental problems facing America today. Looking at what they say they will do to address many of those problems, one wonders if they fully realize how fully out of touch they seem when advocating an agenda that was new when Leonid Brezhnev was in power in the old Soviet Union.

By: Rick Moran at 9:43 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

7/16/2010
A NON-FINANCIAL EXPERT’S NON-EXPERT OPINION ON THE FINANCIAL REGULATION BILL

It is an article of faith for many on the right that government regulation of anything is inherently wasteful and inefficient; that government’s role as a watchdog or arbiter can only lead to less freedom, more restriction of the free market, and a less vibrant economy.

More learned people than I make that argument so I will not dispute it. The question then; is there a case to be made for government regulation anyway?

We’re getting into slippery territory by weighing the bad against the good; a loss of freedom in the market in exchange for some semblance of order. The notion that this is a bad trade off in every case is mistaken, in my opinion. Certainly there are compelling reasons why the only entity large enough to ride herd on the gigantic corporations who run our financial industry upon which we all ultimately depend is the federal government. Trusting these mega-banks to do the right thing without careful, and calibrated adult supervision contradicts the conservative principle that you can’t change human nature (Russell Kirk’s principle of the “imperfectability”) - that given the means and opportunity, the financial giants will act in ways that would be detrimental to the promotion of necessary fairness and transparency, thus damaging the free market anyway.

Kirk’s “well ordered society” and “prudent restraints upon power” should inform any regulatory scheme that seeks to balance the needs of society to protect itself and the necessity of the free market to operate. In this way, there is a conservative case for financial regulatory reform to be made. It’s just too bad that GOP lawmakers are so terrified of their right wing base that they didn’t dare work with Democrats to come up with a bi-partisan FinReg bill that would have been a more prudent, less intrusive, and more effective than the one that passed the senate yesterday. Working with the enemy is verboten and that goes double for anything that smacks of using the government to regulate Wall Street.

It is a legitimate question to ask whether Democrats would have listened to Republicans - any Republican - on a FinReg bill in the first place. Not even trying to work with the opposition on such significant legislation is irresponsible governance. Those few Republicans who exposed themselves to the fury of the base by trying to work with Democrats will get precious little thanks for their efforts. What meager concessions that senators like Scott Brown, Susan Collins, and Olympia Snowe were able to wangle from the majority will do little to alleviate the impression that this is a Democratic bill through and through, passed once again in the dead of night, with little understanding of what the senate has wrought, and will place an inordinate amount of power in the hands of regulators to make sense of the bill’s 2000+ pages.

Prudence is a lost civic virtue.

The tragedy is that there are indeed, some aspects of this bill that any conservative could have gotten behind. For the first time, a light will shine on the shadowy world of derivatives and credit default swaps - the abuse of which became a primary cause of the downfall of Bear Stearns and AIG. The NY Times Steven Davidoff:

Shadow Banking. The bill establishes record-keeping and reporting requirements for most derivatives (Section 727 and 729). It also establishes a registered derivatives exchange and requires all of these derivatives to be submitted for clearance on an exchange (Section 723). The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission can regulate and ban abusive derivatives as well as decide which derivatives are required to be cleared (Section 714). Nonfinancial companies do not need to clear derivatives if there is a commercial reason for the transaction and they notify the S.E.C. of their ability to financially meet the obligation (Section 723). These provisions as a whole ensure that there is a more open process for derivatives and the ability of regulators to assess their systemic risk.

Treating the derivatives market in a similar fashion that we regulate the stock exchange is a reform long overdue. Previously, we were treated to the spectacle of derivative traders actually betting against the plays of their clients - a grossly unethical practice. At least regulators will get a heads up if there are the kinds of abuses in the system that led to the meltdown.

What about bailouts?

The bill establishes an intricate series of provisions to place ailing financial institutions and systemically significant nonbank financial companies into receivership (Title II). The bill also has provisions allowing the government to deal with systemically significant foreign firms and foreign financial subsidiaries of American companies (Sections 113 and 210). Had these provisions existed, the government could have dealt effectively with the disastrous problems at the American International Group, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers.

The bill requires that in any resolution, senior management is placed farther down the line of creditors of the firm than they would in a normal bankruptcy (they are placed after the unsecured creditors and just before shareholders) (Section 210). The bill also allows the government to break financial contracts, like credit default swaps, in the resolution process (Section 210). These two provisions allow the government to avoid an A.I.G.-type situation where it is forced to hand over collateral under these derivatives contracts or otherwise pay out money to undeserving management.

There is no guarantee that a company will be “too big to fail” but it makes a taxpayer bailout a matter of last resort rather than panicked action by government. The point being, even if we allow a failing giant to go out of business, it must be managed very carefully so as not to spook the rest of the market and guarantee an orderly exit for the business.

Not perfect but probably the best that could be achieved under the circumstances.

The bank capital requirements are mostly sensible to me, although there is the risk that too stringent requirements will lessen the competitiveness of our financial institutions. As a prime example of unintended consequences, a regulatory regime that is too restrictive in how much cash and assets a bank should have on hand is a probable outcome. Regulators, by nature, are overly cautious and this area of the bill would seem to lend itself to overregulation.

There’s plenty not to like in the bill. A fairly thorough and intelligent take on this comes from Conn Carroll over at Heritage blog. No doubt there are other unknown consequences that will emerge over the next few years. All we can do is hope that Congress will ride herd on the bureaucrats and mitigate the worst of what they can do.

Could the GOP have done any better - that is, if they were of a mind to regulate Wall Street to begin with? I really don’t know. Would a GOP bill have incorporated more suggestions from the industry? Would it have been as tough on derivatives as the current bill appears to be?

What is certain is that we have another imprudent example of how not to govern an industrialized democracy in the 21st century. These gigantic “comprehensive” reform measures hand too much power to unelected bureaucrats by Congress abdicating its responsibilities to carefully weigh the consequences of their proposals before greenlighting them. The most disheartening aspect of Obama’s agenda is not that little thought is given in this area, but that no thought at all is invested in figuring out the downside to these legislative initiatives. It is beyond irresponsiblity that the Democratic Congress has placed us in thrall to government apparatchiks who care more about aggrandizing power and elevating their position than in promulgating intelligent regulation. That is the nature of bureaucracy - something that the Democrats have forgotten, or simply about which the Democrats don’t care.

Reason enough to boot them from power in November.

By: Rick Moran at 11:10 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

5/11/2010
BENNETT’S MISTAKE: TOO RATIONAL FOR THE GOP

This article originally appears on The Moderate Voice

How can you claim that a senator who has a lifetime score of 85 from the American Conservative Union to be “not conservative enough” for any state?

You can if you are a member of the modern Republican party. You can if the senator in question - Bob Bennett of Utah - made the horrible mistake of taking his responsibilities as a senator seriously. Senator Bennett was unaware that the modern Republican party demands that he seek to constantly score political points against his opponents by exaggerated and outrageous name calling rather than thoughtfully approach issues that concern his constituents and look to address their problems.

For this, he has been tossed aside by Utah Republicans and will not appear on the ballot this November.

Bennett, along with his Democratic colleague from Oregon Ron Wyden, made a serious attempt to address the health insurance problem in America with a flawed, but earnest effort at comprehensive reform. Called “The Healthy Americans Act,” the bill incorporated some standard liberal thinking like an individual mandate, but was also innovative in the way costs would be shared and how the program would be administered at the state level. It would also have done away with Medicaid - a plus in any conservative’s book. In short, it was a good old fashioned senate compromise on a thorny issue that, in another less mindlessly partisan time, would have served as a starting point for the two parties to work out their differences.

It wasn’t just his dalliance with the “enemy” that angered right wingers in Utah. Bennett courageously voted against the Constitutional amendment to prohibit flag burning back in 2006 - one of only three GOP senators to do so. He also supported comprehensive immigration reform. While there was a lot wrong with that bill, the guest worker provision had broad bi-partisan support and Bennett worked tirelessly to improve it. As for the rest of it, the best that could be said of the measure was that it was attempting to address a problem for which there are probably no good answers. That Bennett felt responsible enough as a legislator to lend his name and support to the bill reveals much about how seriously he views his office.

Alas, Bennett’s base of conservatives in Utah didn’t see it that way. Egged on by a massive infusion of cash by the Washington, D.C. based Club For Growth, Utah conservatives plotted to ambush Bennett at the state convention where he needed at least 40% of the delegates to vote for his candidacy in order for him to take part in a closed primary with the other leading candidate. (If he had received 60%, he would have won the nomination outright.)

In the end, Bennett received 26% at the convention and his 18 year senate career of exemplary public service will come to an end. Chris Chocola, President of Club for Growth, who poured $200,000 into the effort to defeat Bennett, said, “Utah Republicans made the right decision today for their state and sent a clear message that change is finally coming to Washington.” The CFG is angry at Bennett for supporting TARP in the fall of 2008 – a bill desired by a Republican president and pushed by a Republican Treasury Secretary.

How “conservative” is making a change simply for the sake of change? Not very conservative at all. And despite the fact that polls showed a plurality of Utah Republicans supported Bennett’s candidacy, he was defeated largely because he is identified with a GOP leadership that is perceived as insufficiently rabid in their opposition to President Obama and the Democrats. The Tea Party forces don’t want cooperation with the opposition to address the pressing needs of the people; they want war. And any Republican incumbent viewed as less than ideologically committed to total victory will be in trouble this year.

Senator Bob Bennett may not be as far to the right as many Republicans in Utah would wish. But their loss is more than they can imagine. A senator with Bennett’s seniority shouldn’t be sidelined so precipitously, and it very well may be that right wingers in Utah will rue the day they so gleefully shelved a fine public servant.

By: Rick Moran at 9:26 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)

4/14/2010
THE GOOD AND THE BAD FROM NEW ORLEANS

This article originally appears at The Moderate Voice

Pajamas Media paid my way to New Orleans last weekend to attend the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, and I am just today recovered enough from my trip home on Sunday to write something about it.

The journey back to Chicago from New Orleans was actually more like an Icelandic Saga than the return leg of a round trip. The only thing missing is Odin hurling thunderbolts at the airplane, although we were lucky enough to actually fly through a Boomer when landing in Atlanta on Thursday.

I much prefer direct flights but that wouldn’t do for PJM. So off to Atlanta from Chicago I went on Thursday last week, failing to see the logic in traveling to the east coast in order to fly to a city located in the middle of the country. I’m sure it had to do with the “Hub” system that has been the death of air travel in America. At any rate, a one hour, forty five minute flight turned into a half day’s aggravation. As it was, I barely caught the connecting flight to New Orleans because we were late taking off from O’Hare.

But all that pales in comparison to the four airport, 3 airplane torture I was subjected to on Sunday. I spent more time in layovers - 4.5 hours - than I did in flight time - 4 hours. From New Orleans, I flew to Houston where a 2.5 hour layover awaited. Then, boarding a jump jet, we headed off to Dallas, another hour layover, and then the excruciating experience of being sandwiched between a man and a woman who were even larger than my 250 pound bulk for the final leg back to Chicago.

After spending the weekend endlessly walking through the conference venue, I spent Sunday endlessly walking through 4 airports. My legs almost fell off when I got home and even a hot bath didn’t help much.

Enough of my ordeal, what about the conference?

Partisans will see and hear what they want to, but I really did make an effort to step back and listen to the speeches and converse with delegates as someone not beholden to party or ideology. Some of what I heard disturbed me. Some things cheered me. Mostly, I was impressed with the confidence exuded by those present.

Is it misplaced? Some argue that the GOP has peaked too early, that the Scott Brown victory in Massachusetts was the high water mark of the GOP comeback.

Forgive me if I find that laughably wishful thinking. The fact is, there is something happening in the hinterlands of America that those of us who spend our days wrapped in this little internet cocoon can barely fathom. Millions of people - not just Republicans or conservatives - are aroused. Many are angry but many more are worried. There is a widespread belief that the government of the United States has gone off the rails and is literally out of control. In short, what ever tenuous connection the people had with Washington has been broken.

Assigning blame is not my intent. In fact, the media narrative about the tea party people is so remarkably wrong, it would be humorous in almost any other context. Every single tea partier I talked to - and you couldn’t move in New Orleans without stepping on one - is as mad at the Republicans as they are the Democrats.

Every single one.

Even if they vote Republican in 2010, the GOP will be on notice; reform or it will be your turn to get kicked out. This attitude is reflected by the polls in that while GOP fortunes may have surged, the number of people who identify with the party has remained relatively constant - about 27% of the electorate. Voters have not forgiven Republicans their mistakes. For the GOP to assume otherwise and then get to Washington next year only to carry out their own spending plans, would be the height of folly.

This emotional reaction of the tea partiers and others who may identify with the movement but have no desire to join, has little to do with health care reform or even spending. Opposition to those issues are symptoms of a much broader concern; the unmooring of government from the tenets of the Constitution.

I wrote about this aspect in my PJ Media column on Sunday:

But there was also something most unusual about the conference: an uncommon amount of talk and discussion of the United States Constitution. Ordinary people from all walks of life, not a constitutional scholar or lawyer among them, are actually trying to come to grips with the fundamental meaning and purpose of our founding document.

Has such a thing happened since the debates over ratification? If the numbers of tea partiers can be believed — and they were omnipresent at this gathering — perhaps millions of citizens are reading the Constitution and trying to place the actions taken by our government within the confines of our founding document’s strictures. And judging by the numerous conversations I had with delegates, bloggers, and just ordinary folk, there is a profound feeling of unease about not just what Obama and the Democrats have done to expand the power of the federal government, but Republicans as well. Contrary to what the left would like to establish as conventional wisdom — that the tea party movement is a wholly partisan operation — the anger people are demonstrating about spending is directed at both parties, almost equally.

But becoming emotional about spending is only a symptom of what bothers most people. If you start to talk to them about spending, inevitably the conversation will turn to the Constitution and their understanding of how that document should be interpreted.

How dare they, you might say. What do they know about 221 years of constitutional law? What do they know about the great and important decisions of the Supreme Court that have defined, redefined, and reinterpreted our founding document through the decades? How can they possibly intelligently address the minutiae, the subtlety, the beautiful strands of logic that have painstakingly been built up, layer upon layer, as our civilization has groped with ways to live together in justice and peace?

It may seem to some a quaint exercise in good citizenship for these millions to wrestle with the such convoluted and complex questions as the meaning and reach of the commerce clause or the constitutionality of the individual mandate to buy health insurance. The condescension is misplaced — and totally unwarranted.

What’s really at work here is the mystery of faith and how it can not only move mountains, but perhaps save a country from its own foolishness.

The reason for this massive interest in the Constitution may be seen as an attempt to reconnect the people with their government. Childlike in its simplicity, this very serious concentration on our founding document by people from all walks of life is an attempt to try and understand what government is doing in the context of the only blueprint we have for how to keep our liberty. It has engaged the sensibilities of the public in a way not seen for a very long time.

Some of the speakers sought to take advantage of this re-examination of the Constitution by trying to make the point that the Obama administration, the Democrats, the liberals - all were actually against the Constitution and were seeking to take away the liberty of the people, to enslave them.

Texas Governor Rick Perry went so far as to define the powers of the federal government thusly: Perry believes the federal government’s responsibilities should be limited to:

Have a strong military, secure our borders, and deliver the mail on time. And that’s it. …

And until you can get those three right, how about leaving everything else alone?

Few in the tea party movement would go that far. And the ones who do could rightly be termed “anti-government” rather than small government conservatives.

There was also some worrying rhetoric about the ultimate loyalty and intentions of Obama and the Democrats. Here, many more if not most in the tea party movement agree that the Democrats are basically un-American with some going as far as saying that they want to ruin the country. This is, as I point out, the Age of the Ideologue in America so perhaps it’s understandable, if not a little depressing that this attitude is so widespread.

For now, the Republicans don’t quite know what to do with these people. They are of a different breed than other activists in that they don’t seem to want to give their loyalty to any party or party establishment. Eventually, this movement will be co-opted and absorbed by the GOP. But until then, they will give the Republican party leadership fits with their constant badgering about first principles and constitutional order.

By: Rick Moran at 10:35 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

1/27/2010
WHAT THE PRESIDENT WON’T TELL US ABOUT THE STATE OF THE NATION

Tonight’s State of the Union speech comes at a good time for the president. He badly needs a boost and these set piece, state occasions tend to elevate the president from politician to statesman in people’s eyes.

The rituals and protocols associated with this speech are, in a way, comforting. I suspect as the Democrats did for George Bush, Republicans will rise when President Obama enters the chamber, they will applaud politely at appropriate times while noticeably sitting on their hands otherwise. The Democrats - as Republicans did when George Bush was president - will leap continuously to their feet, giving their party leader standing ovations for innocuous blather about how well he is doing, or when touting some minor accomplishment. Watching them as they perform this tiresome, ritualistic nonsense will convince you that the guy who invented the jack-in-the-box probably got the idea from watching State of the Union speeches.

The cold winds blowing across the country bringing evil economics to almost every village and hamlet are put at bay for a while as what passes for a large audience today will gather in front of their TV’s and listen to what the president has to say.

Forget the prepared remarks and all the spin about the speech and concentrate on what isn’t mentioned. That will tell you the true “State of the Union” for the overwhelming majority of citizens.

In truth, in times like these, no president would give a speech that reflected what was truly on our minds. Presidents don’t do fear and depression. They’re not about anxiety and worry. They may acknowledge such but to get at the root causes of why we feel the way we do at this moment in history is just not done. No one wants to hear how bad things are nor are the people anxious to be told that even worse times may be on the horizon. Cassandras are invariably tuned out while Pollyannas are embraced.

No, I don’t expect the president to sugar coat the fix we’re in - much. He may leave a few inconvenient facts on the editing room floor such as the stubborn refusal of the housing market to improve, thus imperiling the homes of millions, not to mention the entire economy.

We’ve poured nearly a trillion dollars into banks and mortgage companies in order to stabilize the market and it hasn’t worked. The delinquency rate is still at an all time high as is the default rate on home loans. Meanwhile, the value of real estate continues to fall, people are still in desperate trouble because their loan values exceed the worth of their houses, and the market is having a devil of a time wringing all this bad paper out of the system because of massive intervention by government.

Did I mention that if, as expected, the federal government retreats from propping up the housing market that the flood of defaults could trigger another bank crisis? I’m sure you remember TARP - the Toxic Asset Relief Program - that didn’t buy up much in the trillions in toxic assets being held by banks but came in handy when the administration wanted to save some union jobs and purchased a huge stake in Chrysler and GM. You may also recall that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was going to come up with a plan to take those toxic assets off the balance books of banks.

Well, Timmy got some flak from banks and growls of disapproval from hedge fund managers and dropped his plan, promising to come up with something else. Here we are a year later and Geithner has moved on to bigger things - like approving the astronomical bonuses of his Wall Street drinking buddies. Meanwhile, that great big hole in the financial industry has been papered over and is just waiting to meltdown again - waiting for another default crisis that appears to be a real possibility.

Or could a meltdown be triggered by what is happening overseas:

The Greek budget deficit ran more than four times the European Union limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product last year and Greece is one of 13 nations facing deadlines from the European Commission to cut its shortfall. The country’s debt is set to top 120 percent of GDP this year, the highest in the euro region and twice the limit for adopting the single currency.

Trichet on Jan. 14 dismissed as an “absurd hypothesis” the argument that Greece could be forced to exit the euro area. The country should remain in the union where its problems “will be unequivocally easier to solve,” central bank governor George Provopoulos said in the Financial Times on Jan. 22.

Roubini said for all the focus on Greece, Spain may eventually pose a bigger threat to the euro zone because it’s the region’s fourth-largest economy and has higher unemployment and weaker banks. Spain’s jobless rate is more than 19 percent, almost twice the EU average.

“If Greece goes under that’s a problem for the euro zone,” he said. “If Spain goes under it’s a disaster.”

What Professor Roubini is talking about is the risk of sovereign default - a real domino scenario where nations like Greece, Spain, Italy, and Portugal are barely treading water at the moment and countries like Greece and Spain already going under. The risk to the entire European economy is growing and one of the solutions may be to get China to take on even more foreign debt:

Of course the one entity which will benefit from this is the Squid: Goldman Sachs seems to be taking the lead in trying to orchestrate a desperate and expensive sale of Greek debt to China. Expect more such desperate moves as the southern European macroeconomy continues to deteriorate; anybody who watched the world’s investment bankers swarming all over Domingo Cavallo in the final weeks of Argentina’s currency board will remember just how vulturish they can be in such situations.

My feeling is that the US poses at least as much of a risk to the global economy as southern Europe does. There’s a good chance that 2010 could be the year of walking away from underwater mortgages; there’s no sign of the private sector releveraging; and the government has clearly reached its limit in terms of the degree it can step in and borrow on behalf of the rest of us. If the attempt to prop up the still-overvalued housing market fails and there’s another downwards lurch, there will be a whole new wave of bank insolvencies and much less fiscal space to bail them out than there was pre-crisis. And the fact that most delegates here at Davos seem blissfully unconcerned about the possibility of a second nasty lurch downwards doesn’t reassure me in the slightest.

This, along with the idea that we don’t need any outside help to send the economy into a double dip recession - a possibility many believe is growing - and you have a glimpse of economic hell that could be in store in the next year or two.

But most of us don’t follow this kind of news as a rule so the question may be asked why are we so anxious? Why has this recession affected us in ways that others haven’t?

Do you get the feeling talking to your friends and neighbors that cynicism is at a high point? Parties don’t matter. Leaders are inconsequential. It’s not Obama’s fault or Bush’s, or any one party or one man. In fact, many I talk to get impatient if you try to play the blame game. I don’t think people care so much about who’s to blame as much as they want someone to acknowledge their doubts, address their fear of the future, and instill some confidence that the people in charge can deal with all of these dizzying, systemic problems that are eating away at the one thing we’ve always had faith in; our ability to govern ourselves.

The view from Streator, IL should be enlightening for our president and the Congress. The county unemployment rate as of November was 13.6% and rising. It may be closer to 20% in Streator itself. Business creation is at a virtual standstill. Some might comfort themselves with the idea that they are not quite as bad off as my friends and neighbors, but people’s anxiety cannot be measured in raw statistics. Our fellow citizens may be told that the economy is improving but I guarantee you they don’t see it. That’s why fear is still rampant in much of the country - nobody believes anything anybody says coming out of Washington.

This may have been true in the past but not to this degree. People are not stupid. They see what’s happening in Washington - the deal making, the self aggrandizement at the expense of taxpayers, the constant drumbeat of name calling, accusations, hate filled criticism, and nastiness that is inexplicable to people who expect their political leaders to put aside such childishness and address this crisis. The “anti-incumbency mood” we are told by pollsters that runs through the voting public is but a symptom of this loss of faith. People are beginning to believe that it doesn’t matter who is in power, who goes to Washington, that nothing will change.

In short, no one thinks anyone in power is looking out for them. Hence, the tea party movement which is fueled by this feeling that something has to be done or we’ll go down the tubes. Incoherent at times, raging against what they do not know - at times. Deficits? Sure. Socialism? As they understand it, yes. Obama being a black man? A few, but if Democrats make the mistake in pegging this movement as a fringe element of the Republican party, they will be seriously shocked come November.

The tea party movement may be the last authentic expression of revolutionary spirit this country is granted before it disappears in a cloud of dependency and cynicism. I saw this spirit in my youth in rallies against racism, the war, and for women’s rights. Then too, the establishment dismissed the protestors as fringe elements - “communists” and “troublemakers” (which was a euphemism for n****r lovers). But they were expressing the best of the revolutionary spirit that makes America unique and exceptional. And they managed to change America for the better - mostly.

President Obama will not talk about the tea party movement tonight. He will not talk about what animated so many to get up off their couches, turn off their TV’s, and parade with their fellows in protest against cynicism and their own self doubts about America and where she is headed. Their numbers may be relatively few. They may not be able to articulate exactly what they are enraged about. It’s spending, but it isn’t. It’s the debt, but it isn’t. It’s their conception regarding the violation of tradition, and a disappearing familiarity with an America that is changing before their eyes in ways they don’t approve.

They, and the millions who feel the same way but don’t have the time, or the motivation, or the opportunity to join them, are looking for some acknowledgment from the president tonight that he has heard their concerns and is sympathetic to their plight. Perhaps many are looking for something that President Obama can’t give them; words that will wash away the gnawing doubt that America’s best days are behind it and that we can only look forward to managing our decline.

I don’t envy the president’s task. And I don’t have a clue what he can say that could even start the process of turning things around. Actions, more than words will be more important in the long run. So perhaps rather than concentrate on what the president will say tonight, we should look to what he does tomorrow.

One thing is certain; it’s hard to see how he could make things much worse.

By: Rick Moran at 11:12 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (11)

1/8/2010
SARAH PALIN AS THE PIVOT FOR ‘NEW’ GOP

I don’t know who’s advising her at this point, but Sarah Palin is making some shrewd political moves lately that are likely to vault her into a very favorable position as leader of the only real “reform” faction in the Republican party.

Since the publication of Going Rogue, Palin has demonstrated an understanding not only her core constituency, but has slightly redefined her public image to allow a broader cross section of conservatives to embrace her. This has caused her poll numbers to rise and increase her standing with what passes for the reformist element in the Republican party.

But the question will be for Palin is who is driving who? The way the Tea Party folks want to “reform” the Republican party is to toss out those members of congress who fail to live up to their impossible standards of conservate ideology. Political professionals realize that this would mean a smaller party, not a larger one.

And herein lies Palin’s dilemma; must she embrace the reformers concept of “true conservatism” and thus emerge as a bona fide leader of a movement that may shrink the party? Or should she promote a more mainstream conservatism and eschews litmus tests while seeking support from some of the party insiders?

Apparently, she has made a choice; Palin will forgo speaking at CPAC this year and instead, address the even more conservative Southern Republican Leadership Conference. By dumping on CPAC - what passes for a “mainstream” conservative gathering today even with the John Birch Society co-sponsoring - Palin is sending the message that the conservative elites who run the conference and dominate its programs will have to go through her to get the support of the conservative base. She is setting herself up to be the pivot by which the current party leadership in Washington will be able to utilize the enthusiasm and commitment of the tea partiers to help the GOP.

For more traditional conservatives like Pawlenty and Romney, the road to the White House will go through Sarah Palin.

The significance of her appearance at the SRLC as opposed to CPAC is plain; the party’s strength now resides in the south while the southern brand of conservative ideology dominates among the base nationwide. As I have described it, Palin’s natural constituency lies with the anti-elite, anti-intellectual ideologues who believe they are putting “principle” ahead of politics but end up sacrificing both for a stultifying “purity” that bears no relation to political realities outside of the southern base. Palin made that plain in her dismissal of the CPAC invite:

A source close to the Palin camp says that request led to a decision to stay away from the upcoming CPAC conference, calling it a forum that will place “special interests over core beliefs” and “pocketbook over policy.”

“That’s not what CPAC should be about and people are tiring,” the source said. “Palin is taking a stance against this just as she did in Alaska.”

When asked about the move, Palin spokeswoman Meg Stapleton said: “We support those who advance our core beliefs and lead by principle.”

To say this is monumentally naive and stupid would be to repeat what ACU president David Keene has said of Palin in the past:

Keene has criticized Palin in the conservative press, telling Newsmax in July that she was “whining” about her press coverage and was not yet ready for primetime.

“Conservatives like her, but you’ve got to have more than that,” Keene told the outlet. “You’ve got to be more than a rock star. If in fact she’s interested in the presidency, she has got to establish herself as someone you can envision in the Oval Office. And it’s become more difficult to envision than it was at the time of the election.”

The base can envision her in the Oval Office because they believe that Palin’s very ordinariness - her demonstrable unfitness for the presidency - is just what the country and conservatism needs. Who cares if she knows less about foreign policy than my bartender? What need have we of a president who can articulate an agenda, speak beyond simple-minded talking points on issues, and grasp the nuance of governance when it is obvious that her gut instincts are so swell?

There are good arguments to be made that the GOP elite is out of touch with ordinary Americans and that some Republican members of congress need to be retired. But when logic, reason, and even a modicum of pragmatism are tossed out the window at the same time as the dead wood and drift wood, there is no meaningful “reform” to be had. Instead, flying squads of political executioners will move into suspect party regulars’ districts (as well as the growing number of open races), and put their stamp of approval on candidates likely to be slaughtered in the general election.

If Palin sides completely with these “reformers,” she doesn’t lose anything, judging by this informal poll of party insiders:

A poll of GOP insiders suggests that ex-AK Gov. Sarah Palin (R) has little support among the party’s professional class — and maybe that’s just how she wants it.

In a survey of 109 party leaders, political professionals and pundits, Palin finished 5th on the list of candidates most likely to win the party’s ‘12 WH nomination. Ex-MA Gov. Mitt Romney (R) was the overwhelming choice of the

Voters were asked to rank 5 candidates in the order of likeliness to capture the GOP nod.

Does it matter that the professional class doesn’t take Palin seriously as a candidate in 2012? Not much. But it is indicative of the chasm that has opened up between the 1/3 or so of the party that identifies with her whose opposition to the party leadership has metastasized into a hate only slightly less intense than that felt for Obama and the liberals.

It may very well be that Michael Steele and the inside the beltway conservatives will have to go hat in hand to Palin and ask for her intercession with her supporters in order to get them fully engaged in the effort to flip the Congress in 2010. Will she end up being a team player and agree to work toward that end or will she maintain her distance and independence, looking to cash in on her standing with the base by running for president in 2012?

My guess is the latter. In the end, the tea partiers will run Palin more than she will be able to run them. That’s the price you pay when you mount the tiger and attempt to ride the whirlwind.

By: Rick Moran at 10:47 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (51)

1/4/2010
2010: A TIME OF TESTING

I apologize for the absence of posts these past few days but I have been locked in a titanic struggle with a nasty bug that has sought to lay me low. I was able to perform limited duties at PJM and AT but never found the strength to address some of the more interesting stories that have popped up during the last 10 days or so on my own blog.

A pity, that. There is much I wanted to say about the administration’s approach to the…whatever we’re calling what used to be known as “The War on Terror” these days. While their attitude and strategy may be intellectually satisfying - downplaying the nature of the threat while frantically trying to bolster our counterterror capabilities at home and abroad - I think it is wrong on a psychological and political level.

Obama failed in appreciating the nature of the attack on Christmas day. He miscalculated the mood of the American people and came off looking weak and disengaged when he strolled to the podium more than 48 hours after the attack and read a rote statement that could have been delivered by a press flunkie. He compounded the error the next day by issuing a stronger, more realistic statement while idiotically backing his DHS Secretary’s nonsense about the “system” working, parsing her words like a Clinton.

This is old news now - water under the bridge so I won’t belabor the point. But in their eagerness to show that they are not “chest thumping” and “fear mongering” the administration and the president failed in their primary duty of simply reassuring the American people that someone was in charge and doing something about the problem.

Not their finest hour.

The other story that piqued my interest was Rush Limbaugh’s health scare and his weird, out of touch contention that the health care system is working just fine.

I am glad that Rush is OK and will continue to entertain us on the radio. But if there was ever an example of why conservatism has become irrelevant it was Limbaugh’s monumentally stupid remarks about the American health care system:

“The treatment I received here was the best that the world has to offer,” Limbaugh said. “Based on what happened here to me, I don’t think there’s one thing wrong with the American health care system. It is working just fine, just dandy.”

Limbaugh said that despite his celebrity he received the same treatment as anyone else who would have called 911 and been taken to the hospital in his condition.

“I got no special treatment,” he said, adding that the care he received was nonetheless “confidence inspiring.”

“I just feel very grateful and thankful be an American and have this happen to me,” he said.

Anyone who isn’t worth $100 million and becomes seriously ill in this country probably looked at Limbaugh as if he was from another planet. The American people may hate many aspects of Obamacare, but they aren’t stupid. They fully realize there are severe problems with our health care system and just because rich jamokes like Limbaugh and rich foreigners can get the best care in the world doesn’t mean that the average - or even above average - American gets the same treatment as the radio star.

Put simply, Limbaugh and many of his listeners are out of touch. The alternate universe they inhabit posits an America inhabited by crusty individualists, self-reliant citizens, a Darwinian free market, and a culture informed by “Judeo-Christian” morals and principles. That’s a pretty good description of America, alright - 19th century America. Today, we no longer have to build our own house, or shoot our own meat, or churn our own butter, or even make our own clothes unless we choose to do so. America in the 21st century is a great, big, raucous, tumbling, jumbling place that has moved far beyond what these self-described conservatives believe her to be - or think she should be. In their America, the health care system is “just fine” and there’s nothing wrong with the economy that a few hundred billion in tax cuts couldn’t fix.

The clashing interests of 300 million people coupled with the enormous complexity of governing such a diverse, multi-racial, mutli-cultural society makes the kind of simple minded conservatism promoted by Limbaugh and his admirers a shadow reality, existing outside of time and out of sync with the cares and concerns of ordinary people. They are for regression, not conserving anything. And their failure to accept America as it is rather than how they wish it to be makes them worse than irrelevant in promoting conservatism; they are a hindrance.

I believe these two currents of history - the coming primal thrust of jihad and the battle to wrest conservatism from fakirs like Limbaugh, Hannity, Palin, and others will test us in ways not experienced since the late 1970’s when there was the perception that the world was closing in around us and the Soviets were on the road to victory. That time also saw the final ascendancy of “movement” conservatism as a revolutionary political force.

It will not be a year of decision. But the potential is there for global jihad to wreak havoc on the US and the west as the clock approaches midnight in Tel Aviv and the countdown for an Israeli strike on Iran approaches its final stages.

I have blown hot and cold over the years about whether Israel would attack Iran without US permission or support. But with Obama in office, I think the Israelis believe they have little choice. Our relations with the Jewish state are in shambles - the worst since Eisenhower. Quite simply, Israel does not trust the Obama administration. And with the rise of the J-Street crowd in power and influence in Washington, the prospects for US support of Israel in any strike on Iranian nuclear facilities are very bad.

A year ago I would have bet that the Israelis would have deferred to Washington on the question of attacking Iran. Now, I’m not so sure. The only question left for the Israelis is are they prepared for the consequences? The scenarios of the aftermath of such an attack are all bad. And they all include the certainty that terrorism would be unleashed against Israel, the US, and the west on a scale never before seen. There are Hezbollah cells all over the world, and it is generally believed that they can be activated by Iran. What they could accomplish as far as death and destruction can only be guessed at.

In addition, al-Qaeda is showing it’s not dead yet and may keep up its efforts to attack us. Odds are in their favor that they will breakthrough and succeed. Whether they have the capability for mass casualty attacks isn’t known but many experts believe it to be just a matter of time before WMD is used in a terror attack. What then? Where does that leave the Obama administration’s downplaying the terrorist threat? It’s not necessarily a bad policy but a couple of thousand dead Americans would make it seem faintly ridiculous. Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and their imitators may not represent an existential threat to America but I daresay the American people will have problems with the nuanced view that we shouldn’t get all bent out of shape over terrorism.

Of conservatism’s test I will say this; the farther conservatism retreats into the past, eschewing reason for emotionalism while welcoming groups like the John Birch Society back into the fold, the more irrelevant conservatism will become as a political force. Electoral gains in 2010 may indeed come to Republicans but it won’t be because of anything conservatism is offering but because the Democrats have royally screwed up. Until the voices of reason and pragmatism emerge to espouse a philosophy that resonates with ordinary people and addresses their real life concerns and problems, the right will continue to wander in the wilderness of political ideas wondering why no one takes their 19th century worldview seriously.

It should be an interesting year.

By: Rick Moran at 11:36 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (45)