Liberals And Your Soul

Remember when Michelle Obama promised that Barack would heal our broken souls?  In my lifetime, that’s pretty much been the refrain of liberalism – a concern for the well-being of your souls, if not of yourselves, despite the stereotype that this is a feature of the religious right.  It goes to the heart of the liberal trope that intentions matter more than results, and that government action is inherently more virtuous than private initiative.

It turns out this was a characteristic of liberalism even when it was relatively new and driven by Evangelical concerns.  From Paul Johnson’s The Birth of the Modern, and his chapter on Britain’s rise in the role of World Policeman, comes this description of the conflicting British attitudes about the Barbary pirates and their slavery:

The West’s supine attitude toward the horrors of Barbary piracy had long aroused fury in some quarters.  Officers of the British navy were particularly incensed since seamen were frequently victims of the trade.  They could not understand why the huge resources of the world’s most powerful fleet were not deployed to root out this evil affront to the international law of the sea, once and for all.  They could not understand why liberal parliamentarians, who campaigned ceaselessly to outlaw the slave trade by parliamentary statute, took no interest in Christian slavery….But William Wilberforce, MP, and the other Evangelical liberals, who finally got the slave trade made unlawful in 1807, flatly refused to help.  They were concerned with the enslavement of blacks by whites and did not give the predicament of white slaves a high priority on their agenda, an early example of double standards.

I’m sure this account of Wilberforce is going to make some people unhappy, but it shouldn’t be taken as ad hominem.  He’s merely the most prominent representative of the cause, and therefore of the cause’s flaws.  Liberalism suffered from double standards when it was new, and now that it’s old, when it was religious, and now that it’s secular.

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Transcription Services

The media appear to have bought, without question, the White House line that the publication of the name of the CIA station chief in Afghanistan was accidental.

It might have been accidental; it’s certainly the simplest explanation.  Someone puts together a list of military personnel meeting with the President during his scandal-distraction photo-op visit.  The station chief, being under cover, is on the list.  The guy transcribing the list isn’t really paying attention, and he writes down the name, and sends it out to the press.  He has an embarrassing “oops” moment, and then sends out another list without the name, which only succeeds in drawing more attention to him.  You could completely see someone who’s been promoted beyond his level of functional literacy doing this.

If so, I can understand the reluctance to throw the poor schlub to the wolves, but a man’s life has been put in danger here.  He can probably find employment elsewhere doing something.  Too bad for his bureaucratic career, but I wouldn’t want to place anyone else’s life in his fat-fingered little hands.

And it might have been deliberate by whoever did it. I can think of a number motivations for an underling having done so.  None of these is a good reason; people have been known to do all manner of damage while thinking that they were doing the right thing.

First, and basest, the leaker may have had a personal grudge of some sort against the station chief.  It’s been known to happen.  It’s also pretty much the single most unprofessional thing someone could do, and deserves swift and unmerciful punishment.

It’s also possible that the leaker had a professional complaint.  Perhaps the station chief was obstructing some administration policy, or proving to be an effective voice in opposition to some policy change.  Perhaps the CIA operation in Afghanistan as a whole was proving to be difficult to dislodge, or to move on some question.  This is localized – and dirty – bureaucratic warfare.

It’s also possible that this is bureaucratic warfare of a more generalized kind.  This administration has managed to centralize control of foreign policy to a degree unusual for any administration.  One organization that steadfastly and successfully resists that kind of political centralization is the CIA, largely because of its finely-tuned skeleton sensors, and talent for exhuming bodies.  By exposing the name of the station chief, not only would it throw the Agency off-balance at a key time, it would also send a message to other field officers that they aren’t safe, either.

Up until, oh, January of 2009, this sort of behavior would have been unthinkable.  But then, up until January of 2009, having the FEC and the Attorney General coordinate with the IRS on the auditing and prosecution of political opponents would have been unthinkable, too.

When we had a real WH press corps, they would have considered those alternatives and asked questions about who did it. They certainly wouldn’t have meekly accepted an innocent explanation – especially from an administration with a track record like this one when it comes to explanations.

For a group that derides extended quotes as “transcription,” they’ve looked a lot like a White House transcription service for about 5 1/2 years now.

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Team Sport

Jay Cost, prize student of the history of American political coalitions, writes (among other things), the following:

Facing the liberalism of today’s Democratic party, all factions of the GOP can usually agree on quite a lot. Virtually nobody in the coalition supports the Democrats’ efforts to increase taxes or federal regulations, especially when the beneficiaries are labor unions or the environmentalist left. Yet that unity can mask a historical irony: The rise of the modern left has pushed many of the country’s old political disagreements into the GOP. The skeptics of big government might once have been Democrats in the mold of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, but now they are joined with the heirs of Alexander Hamilton and Henry Clay, who prefer to use the power of government to promote the private economy.

Considering how hot the conflict burned between these two forces when they were in different parties—the elections of 1800 and 1832 were particularly vitriolic—it is little wonder that today’s Republican establishment and its voting base can seem to hate each other more than they do the Democrats. Yet both sides must confront a stark reality: The American left is so strong today that neither half of the Republican party can do without the other.

The GOP has poached most of the conservative voters of the Democratic party. Those who remain committed to the liberal program are so numerous that the Democrats’ share of the vote is unlikely to fall below 45 percent, barring realignment. A united GOP, similarly, can count on about 45 percent support, meaning that politics today hinges on winning the support of that disengaged and unaffiliated middle 10 percent of the country.

Among those who would currently be identified in the “libertarian” wing of the party there are those who are, simply, advocating for their preferred view on these matters.  But there are others, those who cry “RINO!” or “Ogre!” or complain about “voting for what you don’t want,” or talk blithely of how unimportant winning is.  They tend to be either impatient or don’t do well with ambiguity.  (This tendency isn’t limited to the libertarian wing, but I tend to see more of it from there.  Bret Stephens’s recent column about Rand Paul is one example from the other side.)

There are others singing a siren song of purity, sometimes from outside the party, sometimes from inside.  By focusing on disagreements, they would have others believe that Mitch McConnell has more in common with Barack Obama than with Ronald Reagan.  (Come the fall of next year, they’ll be saying the same thing about Scott Walker.)  Drawing sharp distinctions, using the old political sleight of hand that 99 is no better than 0, is useful if you’re drawing a line where more people are on your side than the other.  Democrats do that, to keep the race-based portion of their coalition in line, by pretending that since personal color-blindness is impossible, the only alternative is to write race-obsession into law.

I don’t see much utility when it’s the difference between leading a party of 25% of the electorate and leading one of 45%.  Of course, if you’re interested in “influencing” without the responsibility of governing, that might have some appeal; don’t count on too many people staying around more than a cycle for that party.

There are plenty of disagreements and frustrations within the Republican party.  There are too many Republicans who aren’t willing to roll back the errors of the Left, and others who have compounded those errors with unforced errors of their own.  But the main difference – between the grassroots and the establishment – goes back to the party’s origins. It’s reasonable to take the current Democrat party at its word, that it represents ideas meant to fundamentally transform America away from its founding ideas. As Cost writes, the internal debate within the Republican mirrors many of the historical divisions within the country as a whole.

Pretending that Henry Clay has more in common with Karl Marx than George Washington isn’t a route to being trusted with government.

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The Slickest Three Minutes In Politics

Wednesday night, former President Bill Clinton made a campaign appearance on behalf of his wife the Clinton Global Initiative on the Jimmy Kimmel show.  It was vintage Clinton, folksy charm on display even as he says the worst about his past, present, and future political opponents.

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Kimmel: Do you think that this current climate, where the parties are so divided, and really have a difficult time working together on almost anything, is a temporary situation?

Clinton: I don’t know. But I think – here’s what I do believe. <pause> You know, I had a Republican Congress for six of the eight years I was president. And I had some of the same problems the president has.

One of the problems with young people, and with lower-income working people that have kids and trouble voting, is that they’ll show up in a president election, and if their candidate wins, they think that’s all they need to do. So then they don’t show up in midterms, when the Congress is elected – a third of the Senate in off-year elections, and all of the House of Representatives, and most of the governors, and state legislatures. So then they wonder why nothing happens.

So we have – the president and I – have talked about this a lot, about how the number one thing we gotta do is try to get voting up in the non-presidential years.

But I think it was easier for me to get cooperation in my second term, and remember, they were trying to run me out of town. And I just kept showing up every day like nothing had changed, and I just kept knocking on the door, and just kept trying to work with them, because that’s what people hire you to do, to get something done.

But it is – when you have economic adversity – and people are pessimistic and frustrated with their own circumstances, it is easier to polarize the voter. And I think you see that in other parts of the world too, that…

Like when the Arab Spring started in Tahrir Square in Cairo. All the young people that were in Tahrir Square were among the most impressive young people I’ve ever seen in my life. But the vast majority of people who live in Egypt live in rural areas, and were having a hard time keeping body and soul together, and the only organized political force there was the Muslim Brotherhood. So they won the election, and the young people never gave any thought to how they should form a political party, go out and campaign, have a program.

And that’s what happens in a lot of places. The young people Ukraine, in the square in Kiev, were immensely impressive, and they want a modern country that is not – despite what President Putin says – against Russia, but gets along with both Russia and Europe, and is a bridge between the two, which is what they want. But, the power brokers say no, you gotta be on our side or theirs.

That’s not what people want. But all these people, who have these feelings, who want to build modern, cooperative, prosperous societies have got to understand that no matter how distasteful they find politics, if you don’t play it, somebody will, and you will lose if you sit it out. And it always happens. You gotta suit up and play the game.

This is Clinton at his best/worst.  He appears to blame situations rather than people, even as he then turns around and blames his opponents for creating the situations.  And don’t be fooled by the dramatic pause and sigh at the beginning of his remarks.  He knows exactly what he plans to say before he starts to say it, before he even walked out on stage.

The Republicans are the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or both corrupt sides in Ukraine, manipulating the rubes who don’t know anything other than their own desperation.  It’s a supremely patronizing view of the American people.  And this, from a president of the party that has practiced unceasing class warfare and ethnic balkanization for well over a generation.

Remember, this is the president who blamed talk radio for the Oklahoma City bombing. Clinton also hosted the gala retirement party for Julian Bond, who later famously referred to the Tea Party as the “Taliban wing of American politics,” so it’s fair to say he knows something about polarization and demonization.

He’s picked a couple of the most incendiary examples in recent world politics, which makes the comparison absurd.  American political categories almost map onto British or Canadian ones, match up poorly with traditional European ones; they’re like fitting round pegs into watermelons for almost anything else.  If he really wanted to make a political point, there are plenty of examples from American political history he could have drawn from.

Of course, it’s part of a pitch to get young people to vote this year, presumably pro-Obama, although recent polls have shown the bloom off that rose, especially among his youthful former supporters.  Being forced to buy products they don’t want at prices they can’t afford will do that to people.  Clinton will eventually say that it’s the mission of young people to vote, to rescue us from the curse of polarization.

Clinton has never been one to let the facts get in the way of a good story, and here he’s true to form.  Young people and working class families with children “have a hard time voting,” when in fact, voting has never been easier.  His timing here was off, although I suppose it’s not his fault that his appearance was scheduled for the day that North Carolina revealed that tens of thousands of its citizens had found it so easy to vote, they did so more than once.  Egypt is not overwhelmingly rural; about 56% of its population lives in rural areas, although it’s true that that’s where the Muslim Brotherhood had been organizing for decades.

Perhaps the biggest whopper was one we’re going to hear a lot of, that Democrats lose mid-terms because young people don’t turn out.  Moments before, he had been reminiscing about the Republican impeachment attempt of 1998.  That was an off-year election, and Democrats picked up seats, in the 6th year of his presidency, and election that usually poisonous to the party in power.  I guess his memory last night wasn’t any better than it was under oath.

While routine appearances by sitting presidents on late-night talk shows cheapen the office, appearances by former presidents serve to emphasize the Cincinnatus-like qualities of the office, since they appear as private citizens.  They also show us, I think, that the presidency doesn’t usually change people, it just brings out their core personalities.  And it’s often helpful to be reminded exactly what those personalities are.

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The State Department Responds

Our State Department’s idea of a coordinated response to Putin’s aggression in Crimea is – wait for it – a hashtag.  This afternoon, using her official State Department Spokesman Twitter account, Jen Psaki tweeted out this picture and text:

That hashtag was later used by embassy staff, as well, so apparently they’re invested in this.  Also note that @BarackObama is not the twitter account for the President or the White House, but rather Organizing For Action, the official/unofficial campaign arm of the Obama Administration.  That account has been tweeting heavily about Obamacare, the minimum wage, and immigration, along with touting their official OFA Store Grand Opening, but nothing about Ukraine, so it appears that the @StateDeptSpox doesn’t even know how to properly reference her boss on her social media of choice.  Way to go, guys.

Under Barack Obama, the State Department has gone from incompetent (remember the Reset that was actually “Overcharged”), to dangerously incompetent (Cairo and Benghazi), to delusional (the Palestinian “peace process”), to now simply being an embarrassment.  It’s going to be a long three years.

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Grayson’s Parallel Universe

Alan Grayson (D-Cloud Cuckooland), has long been given to weird and outrageous comments.  A cursory search reveals many of them, including his speech in favor of Obamacare, claiming that Republicans “want you to die quickly.”  Presumably this is to differentiate them from the Democrats who want to place in charge of your health care, a bureaucracy utterly indifferent to your fate.

Yesterday, he delivered one of the more stunning apologias for tyranny that I’ve been privileged to witness since the end of the Cold War, in his defense of Putin’s wrenching of the Crimea, and most of Ukraine’s Navy, away from Ukraine.

Now, you may say that he (Yanukovich) was thrown out of office for good reason. There are allegations against him that he was corrupt. There are allegations against him that he used the military against his own people to stay in power. But the fact is that from the perspective of the Crimeans, their leader, the one that they placed in charge of their country, was thrown out of power.

So it should come as no surprise, as Secretary Kerry recognized, that the Crimeans had had enough, and they wanted to leave this artificial entity called “The Ukraine.” Now, in fact, the Russians did assist. They assisted by disarming the local Ukrainian Army and Navy, that’s what they did, and they did it virtually bloodlessly. They did it so the Ukrainian Army and Navy could not interfere in the referendum that was held.

That’s the fact of the matter. Why are we pretending otherwise? Why are we speaking about “naked aggression?” Why are we speaking about “stealing Crimea?” Why are we speaking about bullying, or the new Soviet Union, or thuggery, or audacious power-grabbing, or “Bully-Bear Putin,” or Cold War II? I’m surprised that Judge Poe didn’t tell us that he was saddened that the Iron Curtain had descended over Sevastopol.

This fact is, as the Chairman has recognized, this is not some new Cold War that is occurring. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. We should be pleased to see – pleased to see – when a virtually bloodless transfer of power establishes self-determination for two million people somewhere in the world, anywhere in the world.

And in fact, what we’re seeing here, instead, is the vilification of Putin, the vilification of Yanukovich, the vilification of anybody who we try to identify as our enemy. Before that it was Saddam Hussein. Before, and since then, it’s been Assad. This does not help. The basic principle here is self-determination, that’s what’s happened in the Crimea, and it’s not for us to determine otherwise.s

These comments are best described by Mary McCarthy’s critique of Lillian Hellman’s writing.  Others, such as California’s Dana Rohrabacher, opposed sanctions on the grounds that they wouldn’t serve US interests. That’s a debatable proposition, but at least it’s debatable, and the people putting it forward appear to live in the same universe as the rest of us.  Grayson appears to have been starring in a trailer for an upcoming science fiction movie involving travel between worlds.

As noted before, Grayson has a history of this sort of nonsense, usually directed at Republicans, so it barely causes a ripple.  If we had an actual media, they’d ask every Democratic member of Congress about Grayson’s absurdities, but there’s little hope of that.

There is, however, some hope that the voters of Florida will rid us of this turbulent representative.  He was first elected, somewhat narrowly, Florida’s 8th District, in 2008, and then crushed by Republican Daniel Webster in 2010 in the same district.  Redistricting seems to have given him a new lease on political life, as it put Webster in the 10th, and Grayson in the 9th, where once again, he was returned to office.  Perhaps, after November 2014, with Obama having turned from aid to anchor, Grayson will once again have to find gainful employment outside of the public payroll.

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PERA Benefits Among Most Generous in the Country

Late last week, the redoubtable Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute published a state-by-state comparison of full-career public pension retirement benefits, in that organization’s monthly Economic Perspectives.  While news of PERA’s long-term fiscal problems won’t be a surprise to anyone reading this blog, it may come as a surprise to learn that Colorado ranks among the most generous states when it comes to that measure.

In nominal dollars, Colorado ranks fourth in the country, at just over $60,000 for an employee who spends his entire career in the state civil service.  The $60,420 per annum figure ranks just behind California and Alaska, and considerably behind Nevada’s $64,000.  When adjusted for the states’ relative cost of living, as calculated by the Council for Community and Economic Research, Colorado jumps well past both California and Alaska, into 2nd place.

Biggs also noted that the present value of these benefits can create “pension millionaires,” whose benefits exceed $1 million in today’s money.  When Colorado’s benefit is compounded at the maximum 2.0% COLA, and then discounted using a 3.5% risk-free discount rate, the total comes in at $1.25 million in 2014 dollars, assuming the beneficiary retires at 60 and lives to 82.5 years of age.

As Biggs points out, the need to stay for an entire career in order to collect benefits, at the same time that they forego Social Security benefits for those years, is a serious disincentive to retaining qualified and motivated public employees.  Those who leave – or arrive – in the middle of their career get shortchanged the most, since vesting and benefits are not proportional to the years served.

The problem here isn’t that workers are greedy, or that these benefits themselves are unsustainable.  It’s that the results are unfair to the majority of workers, who find their own benefits shortchanged in order to fund the retirements of full-career public servants.  A conversion to a defined contribution plan, where workers are always fully vested in their own contributions would help to solve this problem, and be much fairer to the majority of workers who do not spend their entire careers with the government.

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Springtime for Putin

Last week, I posted a comment on Facebook to the effect that I was waiting for the Pat Buchanan column defending Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as a defense of traditional conservative values.  I meant it as a joke, but he seems to have taken it as a challenge.

In a remarkable Townhall.com column, Buchanan takes Hillary Clinton to task for comparing Putin’s motives to Hitler’s in 1935-39. Then he does the same thing, in order to exonerate Putin. In doing so, he has to exonerate Hitler. It’s the Double-Reverse Godwin, and he gets 6.0 from the German judge!  And the Russian judge!  The only thing missing was a description of how it’s all Israel’s fault, or the Jewish lobby’s fault, although I guess this is only a few hundred-word column, and he has to leave something for the long program.

Here’s Buchanan’s take on the events of 1935-1939:

He imposed conscription in 1935, sent his soldiers back into the Rhineland in 1936, annexed Austria in 1938, demanded and got the return of the Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938.

He then sought to negotiate with the Polish colonels, who had joined in carving up Czechoslovakia, a return of Danzig, when the British issued a war guarantee to Warsaw stiffening Polish spines.

Enraged by Polish intransigence, Hitler attacked. Britain and France declared war. The rest is history.

It’s not often you get to read histories from a parallel universe in a political journal.  Hitler didn’t just get the return of the Sudeten Germans, he got the Sudetenland, which included the only serious geographic obstacle to the rest of Czechoslovakia.  In-between Munich and Hitler’s, ah, “negotiations” with the Poles, Hitler walked into Bohemia, Moravia, and Prague, effectively annexing the rest of Czecholovakia and along with it, the Skoda Works.  Although not very many more Germans.

It’s true that Poland fought a series of short, unpleasant border wars with most of its neighbors, and that it took advantage of Munich to settle some leftover business with Prague. (Paul Johnson in Modern Times suggests that that’s at least part of the reason why Poland didn’t have any local friends when its own day of reckoning came.) It’s also true that Zaolzie bore none of the strategic or military significance that the Sudetenland did, and that the Poles didn’t exactly have the same strategic ambitions as did Germany.

Hitler wasn’t going to get Gdansk/Danzig without a fight, and he knew it.  But he didn’t just walk in an take the Polish Corridor.  He shelled Warsaw for weeks, and partitioned the entire country between himself and Stalin.  So according to Buchanan, Hitler needed Prague to secure the Sudetenland, and he needed Warsaw to secure Danzig.

If I were living in Kiev right now, I’m not sure I’d find that encouraging.

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When Does It End? When We Are Finished.

The other day, I was speaking to a reform member of one of the local school boards.  We were talking about continued union-backed resistance to reform. Some of the parents who’ve steadfastly supported the board, and continue to support their policies, have been asking, “When does it end?”

“When do you stop having kids?” was my initial, somewhat snappy, suggested reply.

A more satisfying one is the one given by Charlton Heston as Michelangelo to Rex Harrison’s Pope Julius: When we are finished.

Since it’s so easy for one school board to undo much of what’s been accomplished, at this point, reform boards need to keep winning elections.  They need to do that in the face of union bullying, collusion with the PTA, staged demonstrations during board meetings, and coordinated attempts to undermine change.

Eventually, however, choice (for example) will simply be the Way Things Are Done.  They’ll be the received cultural wisdom, and everyone will assume that things have always, and will always be that way.  Merit pay, no union representation, end of tenure, these things will just be the way that schools operate.

The unions and their friends will never entirely disappear.  But at that point, the fights will move from core issues to more marginal ones.  It will become clear that the big battle – the battle to reshape how we think about managing our schools – has been won.

That’s when it ends.

 

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Dudley Brown, Self-Beclowns

I tend to avoid attacking Republicans here on this page, figuring that there are plenty of Democrats, and Democrats-with-bylines, who are paid to do that work.  Sometimes, though, you have an obligation to keep your own house clean.

Edgar Antillón, former Republican legislative candidate who now runs Guns For Everyone, a NRA Firearms Instruction company, suggested a “gay night” as a promotion.

Dudley Brown, head of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, and would-be Colorado Republican kingmaker, posted this comment last night on Facebook:

This is beneath contempt, but it shouldn’t be a big surprise.  Brown has previously been implicated in a lawsuit over an anti-gay flyer used in a state senate primary.

Some will no doubt leap to Brown’s defense, pointing to his having been helpful in the two successful recalls, and the Recall Hudak Too campaign which resulted in her resignation.   That rather rings hollow when here he his, making an ugly attack on gays on the page of someone who’s on his side on his signature issue.  So much for building alliances and coalitions.

Worse than that, this kind of garbage makes principled opposition to redefining marriage, and principled support of religious conscience much harder to maintain.  It is not only possible, it is necessary, to make those arguments without rancor and hatred.  Brown’s very public bigotry makes it all to easy for those on the other side to caricature traditional conservative positions.

Full disclosure: I’ve had personal experience with Brown, although not over gays, but over guns.  Or rather, over his gun group.  In 2010, Brown took to my campaign Facebook page to complain that I hadn’t returned his candidate questionnaire, using that as the standard for calling me “not conservative.”  Given that the outcome of the race was just under 2-1 in favor of my Democrat opponent, Dudley’s efforts probably did not constitute her margin of victory.

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