The Temper of Our Time – IV

In his short book of essays, The Temper of Our Time, the longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer deals with immigration, but not as an economic phenomenon so much as a cultural one.  He sees the mass immigration to the US as part of a general upheaval and transitional phase of mankind.  Hoffer compares this to personal adolescence, the acquisition of a new identity as one adapts to new situations:

It is fascinating to see how in Europe during the second half of the nineteenth century the wholesale transformation of peasants into industrial workers gave rise not only to nationalist and revolutionary movements giving the promise of a new life, but also to mass rushes to the new world, particularly the United States, where the European peasant was literally processed into a new man – made to learn a new language, adopt a new mode of dress, a new diet, and often a new name.  One has the impression that immigration to a foreign country was more effective in adjusting the European peasant to a new life than migration to the industrial cities of his native country.  Internal migration cannot impart a sense of rebirth and new identity.  Even now, the turning of Italian and Spanish peasants into industrial workers is probably realized more smoothly by immigration to Germany and France than by transference to Milan and Barcelona.

When we look at immigration primarily as an economic phenomenon, we tend to look at the effect on our society and culture first.  Hoffer here is as concerned with the effect of migration on the individual doing the migrating, as he is with whether or not there’s a job waiting for him.

I think he unwittingly makes the case for some limitations, possibly some severe ones, especially as regards immigration from Mexico, as much for the good of the Mexicans who come here, as for protectionist purposes.

Mass homogeneous immigration has allowed the immigrants to, in some ways, bring their society with them.  If it were just a matter of taco trucks, nobody would much care; who doesn’t like more diverse cuisine?  But it’s also a matter of trying to forego what Hoffer sees as an obligatory shock treatment.

For Hoffer, the sense of (sometimes forcibly) shedding an old identity in favor of a new one is dislocating, but it’s a necessary psychological part of the process.  That he fits better with his new society is a by-product of his being freed from his old habits and modes of thought and action.

Walter Russell Mead’s fine book, Special Providence, discusses what Mead sees as four broadly-defined schools of American foreign policy.  One of them, the Jacksonian, is the most nationalist, but also one of the most distinctively American – we don’t want to fight, but if we need to, let’s beat the crap out of them so we can get home.  (Those poor whites of Hillbilly Elegy fame tend to be Jacksonian).

Mead points out that past immigrant groups, mostly but not exclusively European, have often confounded and disappointed the urban and coastal elites by moving to the suburbs and becoming among the fiercest Jacksonians in the US.

I don’t see any reason why the current wave of Latino immigrants shouldn’t be able to follow a similar pattern.  But Hoffer makes the case that as long as the numbers are large and assimilation (as opposed to acculturation) is discouraged, it won’t.

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The Temper of Our Time – III

In his 1967 book, The Temper of Our Time, Eric Hoffer characterizes that temper as, “impatient.”  Perhaps nowhere in the book are the consequences of that impatience more sadly felt than in “The Negro Revolution,” Hoffer’s essay on the race relations of fifty years ago.  Looking back at his analysis, we can identify a number of ways in which conventional leftism has contributed to perpetuating an exacerbating the problem over the last half-century.

Hoffer identifies the essential tragedy of the black American:

This country has always seemed good to me chiefly because, most of the time, I can be a human being first and only secondly something else – a workingman, an American, etc.  It is not so with the Negro.  His chief plight is that in America, he cannot be first of all a human being.  This is particularly galling to the Negro intellectual and to Negroes who have gotten ahead: no matter what and how much they have, they seem to lack the one thing they want most.  There is no frustration greater than this.

Much has changed in the last 50 years in race relations, some for the good, some for the worse.  But when you hear someone say, “Nothing’s changed,” I suspect that it is this, more than anything else, that he means.  I think this is still largely true.  Black Americans are stuck with a collective identity, whether they want it or not.  Leftism has decided that p identity is indelible for all of us, that this a good thing, and that it should be reinforced by government regulation and bureaucracy from the time we are children.  In doing so, it’s risked fracturing the country by undermining its basis, but it’s also made things much, much worse for blacks.


The Negroes who emigrate from the South cannot repeat the experience of the millions of European immigrants who came to this country.  The European immigrants not only had an almost virgin continent at their disposal and unlimited opportunities for individual advancement, but were automatically processed on their arrival into new men: they had to learn a new language and adopt a new mode of dress, a new diet, and often a new name.  The Negro immigrants find only meager opportunities for self-advancement and do not undergo the “exodus experience,” which would strip them of traditions and habits and give them the feeling of being born anew.  Above all, the fact that in America, and perhaps in any white environment, the Negro remains a Negro first, no matter what he becomes or achieves, puts the attainment of a new individual identity beyond his reach.

By depriving the black man of the opportunity to create his own new identity, because he’s never been forced to shed the old one.  And for some decades now, the rest of us are being encouraged to undo the salutary effects of immigration.  (What this says about new immigrants to the US should be pretty obvious. But even then, it’s worth noting that black immigrant from Africa and the Caribbean do about as well as immigrants from other countries, because they’ve had to undergo the immigrant experience.)

In this regard, blacks were doubly victimized by trendy leftism.  Black civil rights successes came round about the same time as African countries were winning independence from Europe.  Hoffer points out that just as Jewish success in Israel had bolstered the self-confidence of Jews worldwide, blacks in the US should have been a model for Africans.  Instead, US blacks were misguidedly encouraged to look to dictators and ideologues like Nkruma for inspiration, setting back their own development at a critical moment of development.  Black leaders in the US spent the better part of two decades trying to transplant African nationalist movements into very unhospitable soil..  Thanks for nothing.

Hoffer’s suggestion is one that remains as true today as it was half a century ago:

What can the American Negro do to heal his soul and clothe himself with a desirable identity?  It has to be a do-it-yourself job….Non-Negro America can offer only money and goodwill….

The only road left for the Negro is community building.  Whether he wills it or not, the Negro in America belongs to a distinct group, yet he is without the values and satisfactions which people usually obtain by joining a group.  When we become members of a group, we acquire a desirable identity, and derive a sense of worth and usefulness by sharing in the efforts and achievements of the group.  Clearly, it is the Negro’s chief task to convert this formless and purposeless group to which he is irrevocably bound into a genuine community capable of effort and achievement and which can inspire its members with pride and hope.

Whereas the American mental climate is not favorable for the emergence of mass movements, it is ideal for the building of viable communities; and the capacity for community building is widely diffused.

Hoffer makes it clear he’s not talking about the ghetto, but about broader black community institutions, and the re-engagement of the black middle class with the masses.  And it doesn’t mean a separate, segregated, parallel society, but black institutions capable of creating a sense of community for people participating in the larger American society.  All that talk about deriving a sense of worth isn’t statism or “collectivism” in a destructive sense (although it obvious has the potential for misuse).  This is a real part of how people operate in the real world that libertarians ignore or ridicule at their own peril – communities matter to people, even if our legal rights come to use solely by virtue of our individuality.

And here’s the second great betrayal off blacks by the Left.  Just as blacks were gaining the chance to remake their own communities with far fewer legal obstructions, the federal government swooped into destroy those institutions by replacing the black father with a welfare check.  We’ve seen the results – absent fathers lead to unmanageable boys and now, generations of crime, a downward spiral that make community-building that much harder.

So along with the virtual elimination of legal barriers, the social barriers seem only to have gotten higher.  That much, at least, has changed.

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The Temper of Our Time – II

In his 1967 book, The Temper of Our Time, Eric Hoffer took on the question of race relations, as they’d be called today, or “The Negro Revolution” as he called it then.  There are at least two new ideas and several interesting sentences in the essay, but I’ll take as my text his description of how the white unionized longshoreman outside the South saw matters:

The simple fact is that the people I have lived and worked with all my life, who make up about 60 percent of the population outside the South, have not the least feeling of guilt toward the Negro.  The majority of us started to work for a living in our teens, and we have been poor all our lives.  Most of us had only a rudimentary education.  Our white skin brought us no privileges and no favors.  For more that twenty years I worked in the fields of California with Negroes, and now and then for Negro contractors.  On the San Francisco waterfront, while I spent the next twenty years, there are as many black longshoremen as white.  My kind of people does not feel that the world owes us anything, or that we owe anybody – white, black, or yellow – a damn thing.  We believe that the Negro should have every right we have: the right to vote, the right to join any union open to us, the right to live, work, study, and play anywhere he pleases. But he can have no special claims on us, and no valid grievances against us.  He has certainly not done our work for us.  Our hands are more gnarled and workbroken than his, and our faces more lined and worn.  A hundred Baldwins could not convince me that the Negro longshoremen who come every morning to our hiring hall shouting, joshing, eating, and drinking are haunted by bad dreams and memories of miserable childhoods, that they feel deprived, disabled, degraded, oppressed, and humiliated.  The drawn faces in the hall, the brooding backs, and the sullen, hunched figures are not those of Negroes.

The South has a special burden to bear (although to what extent it still does is another question), but for most of white America outside the South, I think this fairly sums up the attitude, if not universally the work experience.  And I think it’s about right.  People should be able to pursue their life’s path without laboring under legal handicaps because of their race.  I have no doubt that it accurately reflects Hoffer’s own inclinations, and that of his brother dockworkers in mid-1960s San Francisco.  They worked hard, and didn’t create or perpetuate the hardships that blacks had suffered.

But if Hoffer understands that the black man’s tragedy is that he can’t be an individual without being seen as black first, he seems to miss who’s doing the seeing.  Hoffer’s a union guy through and through, but the union movement in the North gained great strength in response to the influx of black workers during the Great Migration, especially during the Depression, and worked hard to deny blacks the benefits of union membership.  Hoffer doesn’t have to answer for that behavior, but he should have at least acknowledged that it existed, and the effects it had on blacks outside the South.

The more relevant question is what it does for blacks.  Hoffer’s main point, which I’ll examine in greater length in another post, was the what blacks needed wasn’t cheap, easy, flashy political victories, but community institutions that would give him pride, security, and and self-respect.


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The Temper of Our Time

Eric Hoffer was known as the “Longshoreman Philosopher,” mostly because that’s what he was.  Born in the Bronx in 1902, he lived most of his life as a migrant worker and then a longshoreman.  He had spent 50 years reading, observing, and thinking before producing his first and best-known book, The True Believer, about the psychology of mass movements.

Hoffer’s writing is blunt, direct, thoroughly working-class and thoroughly American, but neither his style nor his ideas are simple.  Unlike academicians who do field work in red states, he’s not writing to explain the working man to the rest of the country; he’s writing as a working man talking to the rest of the country.

By 1967, he had written several more books including The Temper of Our Time, which he characterized as impatient, and he provides a number of examples.  The book is short – six essays, about 110 pages in all.  When his publisher complained about the length, he replied that it had six original ideas and twelve excellent sentences.  If he had bought a book of any length that had six original ideas and twelve excellent sentences, he would have felt that he had gotten a good deal.

I think Hoffer sold himself short.  I found many more than six original ideas, and many more than twelve superb sentences.  I don’t propose to go over all of them here, but let’s start with a story:

When we speak of the American as a skilled person, we have in mind not only technical but also his political and social skills.  Once, during the Great Depression, a construction company that had to build a road in the San Bernadino Mountains sent down two trucks to the Los Angeles skid row, and anyone who could climb onto the trucks was hired.  When the trucks were full, the drivers put in the tailgates and drove off.  They dumped us on the side of a hill in the San Bernadino Mountains, where we found bundles of supplies and equipment.  The company had only one man on the spot.  We began to sort ourselves out: there were so many carpenters, electricians, mechanics, cooks, men who could handle bulldozers and jackhammers, and even foremen.  We put up the tents and the cook shack, fixed latrines and a shower bath, cooked supper and next morning went out to build the road.  If we had to write a constitution we probably would have had someone who knew all the whereases and wherefores.  We were a shovelful of slime scooped off the pavement of skid row, yet we could have built America on the side of a hill in the San Bernadino Mountains.

And so the paradox of America in Hoffer’s day was – how is it that a country that produces so little leadership in normal times manages to produce great leaders when it needs them?

Hoffer doesn’t directly answer the question, but I think the answer lies in the very capacity for self-organization.  People who are capable of self-organization don’t need external leadership to tell them what to do in normal times.  What defines abnormal times is the nature of the large-scale projects to be accomplished – winning a war, for instance.  But the American’s capacity for self-organization makes the leader’s job easier in those circumstances.  Leadership is free to focus on the general direction things need to take, and leave the lower-level problem-solving to the lower levels.

Hoffer’s quote comes in the context of the American genius for community-building.  One of the most destructive aspects of leftism has been the shrinking of our citizens’ initiative when it comes to communities, where more and more basic functions are left to city government, and individual or neighborhood initiative often needs to wait for government approval.  Even the petty bureaucrats of HOAs enjoy pseudo-governmental authority.

Americans’ ability to spontaneously and collectively solve problems on their own does survive, though, both in the military and in private business.  Every successful business I’ve worked in encourages small groups to solve technical problems, and every unsuccessful one has been a top-down affair.  When I got my MBA 11 years ago, the management classes were definitely the most trendy social-sciency courses, but they all stressed leadership in terms of empowering employees rather than directing them.   That strikes me as a very American approach, where workers generally think of themselves as equal to their bosses.

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Presidential Candidates’ Health Then And Now

Hillary Clinton is not a young woman.  If elected President, Mrs. Clinton would be a few months younger than Ronald Reagan was when he was first elected.  Mrs. Clinton also suffered a fall and a concussion in 2012.  The cause of the fall has not been determined, and the extent of the concussion has been the subject of some informed speculation.
Much of this was covered by the press in 2014, but there have been no definitive answers from the Clinton camp, and as usual, the press has responded with its usual lack of curiosity where Democrats are concerned, and has been content with being stiffed by the campaign.

It has therefore fallen to the Trump campaign to raise the issue, in its usual ham-handed way.  The press has responded by, more or less, suggesting that there is something inappropriate in raising the question of a candidate’s health.

And yet, I can recall plenty of speculation about Reagan’s mental capacity in 1980.  Mark Russell even did a song about Reagan promising to quit if he became senile while in office.

Another candidate who faced a lot of discussion about his health was John McCain in 2008.  A few minutes of googling produced the following:

Indeed, the NY Times post about the attack ad evidences an acknowledgement that some people might be mildly uncomfortable with such an ad, but mostly simply reports on the ads content, and concerns about illegal coordination with the Obama campaign or the Democratic Party.

Uninformed or wild speculation about Clinton’s health is, of course, irresponsible.  But merely raising the question?

This seems to be another example of a special “Hillary Rule.”

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From the Convention Floor

Almost forgotten in the other storylines of the 1968 Democratic Convention was the two-hour boomlet (or so it seemed) to run Ted Kennedy in place of his assassinated brother, Robert.  Theodore White recounts the moment (p. 351-354), noting that it was briefer, more fleeting, and far less likely than the press coverage that Tuesday evening made it seem.  Kennedy would never allow himself to be seen actively courting such a movement, and the forces needed to make it happen were too unlikely as allies.

He then delivers, in a footnote, his damning indictment of the press and its coverage of that non-development:

It has always seemed to me unfair to criticize the floor reporters of television for behavior forced on them by the commercial competition of their networks.  To report a convention from the floor, the networks choose their best political correspondents…Turned loose in the compact space of the convention floor, with dozens of Governors and Senators, scores of Congressmen, political bosses, old contacts and political freshmen, they are as happy as dogs in a meat market.  No one can escape their cameras and microphones; nor do many delegates want to escape a televised interview…

Delegates thus lived in an echo chamber; and so, as a matter of fact, did the reporters themselves.  Floor reporters are turned loose on a chase, and the director in the control room calls the course, the story-line they must chase.  On the convention floor, someone can always be found to say anything, and it remains only for good direction to put the fragments together in dramatic form.  Neither the delegates nor reporters can be blamed; only the mechanism and its programming, which calls for competitive and rival drama to hold audience.

If the script that night had called for the discovery and dissemination of a Southern revolt, or the candidacy of Lester Maddox, the reporters could have delivered that to the nation, too – all carved out of truth, from the lips of authentic and honest men on the floor.

This is something to bear in mind as we head towards Cleveland, with Trump’s poll numbers beginning to tank and his fundraising outlook getting bleaker.  There will be reports of incipient revolt, of blocs of delegates withholding their support, of Rubio and Kasich (who retain control over their delegates) trying to organize Cruz delegates to deny Trump the nomination on the first ballot.

With the increasing likelihood of violent events taking place outside the hall, and the necessity of word-of-mouth organization of the delegate inside the hall, things have changed less than people think, even with the advent of social media.  We’ve seen how those media are highly susceptible to the manipulation of a very few influential practitioners with many followers.

Add to that the fact that, unlike in Chicago in 1968, the press will be actively looking for stories designed to make the Republicans look bad.  Certainly, the press’s favorite story-line already is the failure of the party to unite.  They will find ample fodder for that claim, and any other they decide they need on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday evening.

Caveat emptor.

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The Risks of Committing Too Early

All expected [Chicago Mayor Richard Daley] to be with Humphrey; but his silence reminded politicians of old-time Boss Richard Croker of New York.  Once, at one of Tammany’s boisterous Fourth of July parties, when everyone else broke into singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” an associate noticed that Boss Croker was not singing, and asked why.  “He doesn’t want to commit himself,” growled a crony.

— Theodore H White, The Making of the President 1968

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s terrorist murders in Tel Aviv, each of the campaigns of the presumptive nominees issued a statement.  They each read, in tone, about as you would expect them to read, but the content is very different.

Hillary Clinton’s reads like a fairy standard pro-forma press release from the State Department.  It reads, in full:

I condemn the heinous terrorist attack in Tel Aviv today.  I send my deepest condolences to the families of those killed and I will continue to pray for the wounded. I stand in solidarity with the Israeli people in the face of these ongoing threats, and in unwavering support of the country’s right to defend itself. Israel’s security must remain non-negotiable.

For comparison, here’s the actual standard pro-forma press release from the State Department:

The United States condemns today’s horrific terrorist attack in Tel Aviv in the strongest possible terms. We extend our deepest condolences to the families of those killed and our hopes for a quick recovery for those wounded. These cowardly attacks against innocent civilians can never be justified. We are in touch with Israeli authorities to express our support and concern.

By comparison, presumptive-although-by-no-means-certain Republican nominee Donald Trump issued the following statement via Facebook post:

I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the outrageous terrorist shootings that took the lives of at least four innocent civilians and wounded at least twenty others in Tel Aviv yesterday.

The Israeli security forces’ investigation is ongoing, but some facts have already emerged — and they are grim.

Just as fast as the condolences arrive from the civilized world is the praise arising out of the uncivilized one. Hamas praised the attack, calling the attackers “heroes.” Reports out of Hebron indicate that residents of the terrorists’ hometown lit up the night sky with celebratory fireworks. One Palestinian “news organization” even referred to the shootings, in which the assailants dressed up as observant Jews, as a “Ramadan treat.” The leader of Hamas called the injured terrorist a “hero.” How despicable!

The American people stand strong with the people of Israel, who have suffered far too long from terrorism. Israel’s security is a matter of paramount importance to me and the American people.

We understand all too well the unspeakable horror that terrorism unleashes. To address it — and address it we must! — we must recognize the parallel horror of the culture of religious hatred that permeates many Palestinian quarters. From schools that indoctrinate toddlers to grow up to kill Israelis to the daily menu of hate that spews forth from various “news organizations,” change is long overdue in the Palestinian territories.

Let us begin the arduous task of creating a future where peace can take root and terror finds no refuge.

I express my deepest condolences to the families of the four Israelis who were murdered, as well as my wishes for a speedy recovery to the wounded.

There’s nothing pro-forma about that, and it indeed reads just like something that Trump would say or tweet, down to the trademark “How despicable!” It places blame directly on – get this – the terrorists and the people who encourage them, rather than on Israel or “the occupation,” and while it mentions Hamas by name, it refers to “the Palestinian territories” all together, implicitly including the PA and Abbas as guilty parties.

If you’re a supporter of Israel, it’s almost impossible to imagine a statement more sympathetic to Israel, more discouraging to the deceitful Palestinian leadership, or with greater moral clarity.

The problem, of course, is that it’s coming from Donald Trump, who’s been more than a little malleable in his public statements.  The question about any statement issued by Trump isn’t whether it’s good or bad, but whether he’ll even admit tomorrow that he said it.  It’s usually prudent to at least apply Trump’s own 25% contractor discount.

What’s to be learned here isn’t much about either campaign.  It’s about the dangers of committing too early to a side without bothering to extract concessions, which is what the #NeverTrumpers have done.  As I’ve written before, there are excellent reasons for voting for Hillary, or voting for Trump, or voting for some third or fourth or fifth-party candidate.  Reasonable people can come to different conclusions about the result of that calculation.  (My own mind isn’t made up, and it’s got a complex calculation with only one output: what’s the best scenario for Constitutional conservatism surviving as an organized political force by 2020?)

It’s not just how someone eventually votes, it’s what they do with their leverage before they vote.  The #NeverTrumpers have effectively thrown away all of that leverage, insisting that it’s better if Clinton is elected than Trump, leaving her no incentive to try to win their votes.  What you end up with is statements like the one above, which say absolutely nothing, and could have been issued by an administration whose actions have been unprecedentedly hostile to the Jewish State.  It’s worse than a crime, it’s a blunder, because it’s exactly the same mistake we see the Jewish community at large as having made for generations.

In a complex year like this one, like 1968 in many ways, such a simple calculation leaves a lot out: how far can Hillary move to being pro-Israel without losing even more voters to the openly Israel-hostile Bernie? does at least saying #NeverTrump put more pressure on delegates at the RNC to ditch him for a better candidate? But I don’t see where any of the #NeverTrumpers are really using that as a negotiating ploy, they really mean it, and since they’ve persuaded everyone that they really mean it, Hillary has no reason to do more than she’s done, letting everyone read into her statements whatever they want.  I’m sure some conservative, pro-Israel #NeverTrumpers will persuade themselves that this tepid bland press release actually represents something acceptable or even laudable.

But you don’t have to be Boss Croker to see that by holding out, by at least making Clinton work a little bit for your vote or half-vote, you at least have the chance to move her in a more pro-Israel direction.

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Aiming To Misbehave

Ever since Donald Trump won Indiana, those seeking to nominate a non-Don have been hoping to find a way to stave off his nomination at the convention in Cleveland.

Mostly, these ideas entail finding some way to get enough delegates to defect from Trump – either by voting for someone else or by abstaining – to deny him a first-ballot win. It’s no secret that many delegates pledged to Trump on the first few ballots are actually Cruz supporters, so the belief is that Trump will never be stronger than on that first ballot.

A long-time member of the Rules Committee, Curly Haugland, argues in his book, Unbound, that by law and national party rules, all delegates to the convention are not, in fact, bound. This is probably true functionally, but it will take some persuading, and a great deal of that persuading will probably take the form of rules fights, which will happen in both the Rules Committee and on the floor.
While there have been no confirmed reports of an organized attempt to nominate Cruz in place of Trump, rumors have been intensifying.

This is an exceedingly dangerous game that Cruz and his delegates may be playing.

I was there for the 2012 Denver Republican County Assembly, a descent into rules-chaos which few of the delegates understood, orchestrated by many in the Ron Paul faction. Rightly or wrongly, they felt themselves greatly aggrieved by the party “establishment,” and didn’t have much investment in playing by rules they felt guaranteed them to lose.

The Denver Post’s Spot blog was still writing about it weeks later.

This can be done right, but it will take preparation.

If there’s a productive way of getting another nominee at the convention – and if Cruz delegates are willing to settle for someone other than Cruz in order to make that happen – then it could be beneficial. This will mean a simple rules fight that everyone can understand, and that everyone can understand what it means.

I remember the 1980 Democratic Convention, when the Ted Kennedy forces wanted to unbind the delegates on the first ballot. Everyone understood what that meant, and that if they won, it would likely lead to Kennedy being the nominee.

The motion lost, as did the renominated President Carter in the fall, but nobody walked away wondering what they had just seen, or feeling that someone had tried to pull a fast one.

If instead, it’s a floor fight that nobody watching on TV at home understands, that just ends up dividing the party further and using floor speeches to attack party leadership and its institutions in the guise of “The Establishment,” then it won’t help in the long run or the short run.

Doing things that way, tying the convention floor up in knots without a clear path to victory, and attacking the party as corrupt or untrustworthy, it will remind Republicans of the Cruz they distrusted and disliked in the first place, the one who drags the party into losing battles and then blames everyone else for his strategic miscalculations, the one who wanted to be Robespierre, but failed to account for Trump’s Napoleon.

Moreover, those optics are a trap for Republicans. Democrats are planning disruptive, possibly violent protests outside the hall. Combined with chaos on the convention floor, it would cement the impression among voters of a party in disarray, a nominee being crowned on bayonets.  It would be the Democrats in 1968 in Chicago all over again.

It’s possible that this is ok with Cruz, and ok with a lot of his supporters, who want to be seen as the leaders of the Conservatives in Exile within the party. They figure that after Trump loses, they’ll be in a position to seize the party and nominate Cruz; their model is Reagan in 1976, or Goldwater in 1960. But Ford didn’t enter the ’76 convention with enough delegates, and Goldwater’s tactics in ’64 left the party bitterly divided.

If the Cruz people want to do this right, they’ll start telegraphing their intent publicly well beforehand. They’ll explain what it is they want to do and why. They’ll come up with a plausible reason – John Fund has suggested the tax returns could provide one. They’ll do so with a minimum of personal attacks and rancor. If they’re able to succeed in pushing it to further ballots, they’ll be prepared for the possibility that Cruz can’t get a majority, either, and will support some other non-Don for the nomination.

That’s if they care about doing this right.

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Sulla vs. Marius


Or Trump vs. Clinton, take your pick.

Several decades before the Senate got stabby with Caesar, there were Sulla and Marius.  Sulla is pictured on the left, and that’s Marius there on the right, looking like Lyndon Johnson.

I don’t have enough time to go into all the details here.  For those, you should go to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History series on the Death Throes of the Roman Republic.  The title of that should give you some clue of where we’re headed with this post.

For our purposes, it’s enough to know this highly simplified version.  Gaius Marius was a populist general, hyper-ambitious, who managed to get himself elected Consul seven times, at a time when Consul was a strictly term-limited position: once in your lifetime, and that was it.  He posed as a champion of the people, while reworking the Roman command structure so that his legions were personally loyal to him, as opposed to the Senate as an institution.  In doing all of this, he severely upended Roman political institutions, which were having trouble enough functioning as it was, and mostly in the service of his own ambitions.

Sulla, among others, was displeased with this.  If Gaius was a corrupt, self-serving general, Sulla truly saw himself as a Roman patriot, but a particularly ruthless and brutal one.

In his effort to restore the traditional order, and traditional Roman virtues, reduce the powers of the Consul, restore the primacy of the Senate, and return politics to “normal” functioning, he engaged in a series of political and military battles with Marius, eventually ousting him.  Upon arriving in Rome, he addressed the Senate in the Forum, speaking over the screams of those his men were beheading just yards away.  In the need to sweep away the entrenched powers, he cleansed Roman politics in blood, so much so that when he eventually retired from public life, he was able to walk about Rome without a bodyguard, having killed everyone who could possible pose a threat.

I have been saying for several months now that the prospect of a Trump vs. Clinton matchup – which I frankly never thought would happen – would let me know exactly how a citizen of Rome, circa 80 BCE, would have felt, having to choose between Marius and Sulla.

The analogs aren’t perfect, but if forced to map one contest onto the other, I think I’d make Trump Sulla and Clinton Marius.  Clinton has Marius’s ambition and corruption.  Trump has Sulla’s brutality (though not his courage) and his appeal is largely nostalgic.  Marius had a party; while Sulla had followers, he was mostly a one-off.

None of this bodes well for us, but it should provide a particular object lesson for those conservatives and Republicans who, in their earnest and right-minded desire to have nothing to do with Trump, are in the process of convincing themselves that Clinton would be bad, but not all that bad.

Let’s be perfectly clear – a Clinton presidency would be a catastrophe for freedom and liberty, for actual traditional American values.

Clinton is not only personally corrupt and mendacious, she has managed to harness the institutions of government to her personal ambition.  She has never drawn, in her mind, a clear line between herself, her campaigns, and the public offices she has held.  It was the Clintons who put a price tag on the Lincoln Bedroom, and continued to run a likely illegal foundation while she was a Senator and Secretary of State, using the State Department to arrange thank yous to foreign governments who had contributed to the foundation.  In her zeal to conceal these activities from public scrutiny, she set up a home-brew email server so she could conveniently delete tens of thousands of emails, depriving investigators of the starting end of the thread when they tried to recover them.  In doing so, she put the nation’s most sensitive secrets into the hands of hostile foreign governments, likely getting overseas operatives killed.

This is not merely power for the sake of wealth, it’s wealth for the sake of more power.  Clinton is not, a some conservatives are telling themselves, a stable centrist.  She is a leftist ideologue leading an increasingly ideologically leftist party.  What would be her predecessor in office, the current president, has managed to weaponize the IRS and the Department of Justice against political opponents.  Clinton would revise and extend that abuse to any agency with police powers or powers of enforcement.

She would be relentless in her pursuit of a functional one-party state.  And she might well be able to achieve it.

Over the last several decades, as political power has shifted away from the states towards DC, and away from Congress towards the Presidency.  Democrats have been increasing their base in the Electoral College at the same time.  Which explains why, even as Republicans have been cleaning up at the state and local levels, and have been ascendant in Congress, those victories have seemed increasingly hollow.

And she would leave no respite at the state or local levels.  The are currently test-piloting the use of state Attorneys General in California, New York, and the Virgin Islands to criminalize political opposition.  Likewise, the flim-flam prosecution of Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the John Doe investigation in Wisconsin were designed to hamper leading Republican presidential candidacies at the local level.

Her Supreme Court picks, who see the Court not as a third branch of government but an enforcement mechanism for the Left, would do nothing to stop it.

In politics, it is organization above all that matters.  Those trying to organize opposition into cohesive, coherent, cross-state operations capable of resisting federal overreach or effectively winning electoral or legislative battles would find themselves on the receiving end of audits, OSHA visits, and Justice Department investigations.

Fortunes would be confiscated and distributed to leftist, Democrat-supporting political organizations.  Donor lists would be demanded and conveniently leaked.  This, too, has already been test-piloted by the current administration.

Hillary Clinton would use all of these tactics and more to pursue her political and ideological opponents to the ends of the earth.  After four or eight years of her, following eight years of Obama, that would mean an entire generation had grown up thinking this was how things were done.

In all of this, not one senior member of her party has objected.  Indeed, they have either denied that any such abuses took place, or denied that openly political prosecutions are abuses at all.

Make no mistake, Trump is a danger all his own.  He is more chaotic, less predictable, than Clinton.  If Clinton thinks the laws don’t apply to her, Trump sometimes seems to think no rules apply to him at all.  He might very well use all the same tools against his political opponents that Hillary would.  I strongly suspect that those who think they can control him once in office are in for a rude surprise.  His only saving graces appear to be that his patriotism can’t be in doubt, and that the Republican party is just a vehicle for him, rather than an ideological stronghold.

In Sulla’s immediate aftermath, all seemed to be returned to normal.  Of course, it wasn’t.  As Carlin points out, in using his army to forcibly restore a political order that Romans had lost the will to maintain, he didn’t really put things aright; he just provided a road map for the next strongman who wanted to seize power.  (Ironically, against his better judgment, he spared one of Marius’s party – one Julius Caesar.  “You fear Marius.  I tell you this one contains a thousand Mariuses.”  But he spared him anyway.)

Our salvation, if it comes, will not come from anyone we elect President.  Even a Ted Cruz, who despite his deep personality flaws, is plainly in love with the Constitution and confined his considerable ambition squarely within its constraints, even a Ted Cruz wouldn’t be able to restore Americans’ faith in a representative system of limited government all by himself.  Just as the Romans remained stuck with a fragile system that begged for a strong executive, our own Congress seems uninterested in governing, more interested in running against an executive it won’t rein in.

The choice, therefore, is simply this – which candidate provides the best chance for liberty and freedom, representative government, limited government, to survive as living political movements and ideas in 2020 or 2024?  I am, as well, perfectly willing to entertain as a strategy helping to elect one of them, and immediately setting about to undermine him or her, in order to give American more wriggle-room.

I’ll be damned if I know yet, but let’s not fool ourselves about what’s at stake.

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What If There’s an Open Convention?

With the inconclusive results from Super Tuesday, and the possibility that Marco Rubio captures a significant number of delegates on the Second Super Tuesday, March 15, there is increasing talk of a convention where none of the three major candidates arrives in Cleveland with enough delegates to secure the nomination.

In the past, this was known as a “brokered convention,” but with the demise of anything representing a serious party power structure, there are no brokers, and the term “open convention” has taken hold.

Such a scenario has become Marco Rubio’s best shot at the nomination, assuming that he does well in the upcoming states, and is still viable as a candidate.

Reports that Rubio is now pursuing this as his primary strategy have prompted faux outrage from some quarters, decrying the “arrogance” of such a strategy that would “steal” the nomination from Trump.

Rubio has successfully head-faked us twice before, and that should be taken into account when appraising the value of these reports.  But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume they’re true.

In my opinion, this is a common-sense strategy for someone who wants to win, and who believes that he can force an open convention. Prior to the modern era, open conventions were the norm, because primaries and caucuses with reported results were so few and far-between.  Neither NY Gov. Thomas Dewey in 1948, nor Gen. Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 was nominated on the first ballot.  Wendell Willkie was nominated on the 6th ballot in 1940.  I’m sure there’s a history of the 10-ballot 1920 nominating convention either written, or waiting to be written.

The last time this happened in a Republican convention was 1976, when Reagan narrowly failed to unhorse incumbent President Gerald Ford.

Less remembered was the 1980 Democratic race, where President Carter had enough delegates to secure renomination, but Senator Ted Kennedy hoped that an increasing loss of confidence in Carter would be enough to pass a floor motion to unbind the delegates.  The procedural vote failed, but that outcome was by no means a foregone conclusion, and I remember watching it live.

I don’t see why this strategy is any more arrogant or cynical than Ted Cruz’s overt appeasement of the Trump campaign, trying to transform the race from the presumed “lanes” into a pre-Trump semifinal.  Cruz and his supporters have obviously fed Trump support, hoping to use him as a blocking back.  Over time, this has transformed into outright appeasement, an “eat me last” strategy that seeks to make Cruz the only acceptable alternative to a Trumpmonster he assisted.  In the process, they have helped Trump to severely damage many of the institutions they had hoped to inherit.

The Trump people, and the Cruz people who want to paint Rubio as exceptionally opportunistic, have taken to talking about the “will of the people,” always a doleful sign, but exceptionally so in a Republican primary.

I don’t believe in “the will of the people.”  I believe in decisions, candidates, and nominees.  I believe in ballots, and delegates, and delegates who cast ballots in order to make decisions and choose among candidates for nominees.  You mark a ballot, and if you do it wrong, it’s not my job to figure out which of the stray marks, notes, arrows, corrections, and erasures indicate what it was you were trying to do.  In mathematics, my views may vacillate between constructivism and platonism, but in politics, I am a strict, unyielding formalist.

Likewise, the rule is that you only get the nomination if you get 50% + 1 of the delegates.  If you don’t get 50% + 1 of the delegates, then by definition it was not “the will of the people” that you be nominated.

If there’s an open convention, arms will be twisted, deals will be made, principles will be pitched and abandoned, and someone will emerge with a majority on some ballot.  If the candidate who walks in with the most, but not enough, doesn’t have a plan to win, then shame on him, but it’s his problem, not mine.

Welcome to the real world.

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