Category Archives: Conservative Movement

Wait, Wait, Don’t Film Me

James O’Keefe:

Project Veritas’ latest investigation focuses on the publically-funded media organization, National Public Radio.  PV investigative reporters, Shaughn Adeleye and Simon Templar posed as members of the Muslim Action Education Center, a non-existent group with a goal to “spread the acceptance of Sharia across the world.”

Matthew Boyle at the Daily Caller:

A man who appears to be a National Public Radio senior executive, Ron Schiller, has been captured on camera savaging conservatives and the Tea Party movement.

“The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people’s personal lives and very fundamental Christian – I wouldn’t even call it Christian. It’s this weird evangelical kind of move,” declared Schiller, the head of NPR’s nonprofit foundation, who last week announced his departure for the Aspen Institute.

In a new video released Tuesday morning by conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe, Schiller and Betsy Liley, NPR’s director of institutional giving, are seen meeting with two men who, unbeknownst to the NPR executives, are posing as members of a Muslim Brotherhood front group. The men, who identified themselves as Ibrahim Kasaam and Amir Malik from the fictitious Muslim Education Action Center (MEAC) Trust, met with Schiller and Liley at Café Milano, a well-known Georgetown restaurant, and explained their desire to give up to $5 million to NPR because, “the Zionist coverage is quite substantial elsewhere.”

On the tapes, Schiller wastes little time before attacking conservatives. The Republican Party, Schiller says, has been “hijacked by this group.” The man posing as Malik finishes the sentence by adding, “the radical, racist, Islamaphobic, Tea Party people.” Schiller agrees and intensifies the criticism, saying that the Tea Party people aren’t “just Islamaphobic, but really xenophobic, I mean basically they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-America gun-toting. I mean, it’s scary. They’re seriously racist, racist people.”

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

Check out this stunning video, shot undercover by two associates of James O’Keefe. The two posed as representatives of an organization founded by the Muslim Brotherhood that is trying “to spread acceptance of Sharia across the world.” That, plus their expressed interest in making a $5 million donation to NPR, got them a meeting at a Georgetown restaurant with Ron Schiller, the outgoing head of NPR’s nonprofit foundation, and Betsy Liley, NPR’s director of institutional giving.

Hugh Hewitt:

I asked my booking producer to put in a request for NPR’s Vivian Schiller to appear on today’s program.  Her staff first demanded to know what we wanted to talk about and then, after being told it was her speech yesterday, tunred us down and cited Schiller’s travel schedule.

Of course NPR executives don’t want to face other than their Beltway journalist pals asking softball questions. And that was before this tape surfaced.  Incredible. (The subject of the undercover film is Ronald J. Schiller, whom the Aspen Institute just announced as a big new hire.)

If the GOP House leadership leaves one dime in the CPB’s account, it will be to their shame and it will not be forgotten by the base anymore than a failure to defund Planned parenthood will be forgiven.  The majority of Americans are fed up with feeding the hard left interest groups in this country, no matter how nice their bump music or how self-satisfied and insular their hard-left leadership.

Ann Althouse:

The pranksters were trying to trap Schiller into sounding anti-Jewish or anti-Israel, and I would defend Schiller for what he said in response to that prodding. What does look really bad, though, is his virulent hostility toward social conservatives and his twisted image of the people in the Tea Party movement. What’s completely predictable — we’re familiar with NPR — is the preening self-love of the liberal who’s so sure he and his people are the smart ones. Not smart enough not to get pranked, though.

Remember when Scott Walker got pranked the other day by a phone call purporting to be from David Koch? His opponents couldn’t get enough of calling him stupid for that, and even though he said nothing inconsistent with his public talking points and seemed the same as he is in public, they fine-tooth-combed his remarks to find little things they could blow up and portray as evil. Forget empathy and fairness — use whatever you find as brutally as you can.

Now here’s this choice new material from Schiller, giving conservatives the chance to punch back twice as hard (to use the old Obama WH motto).

Ed Morrissey:

Maybe I’m getting inured to this kind of thing, but for me the big screaming headline from the latest James O’Keefe undercover video isn’t that high-ranking NPR executive Ron Schiller bashes conservatives, Republicans, and the Tea Party as “white, gun-toting … xenophobic … seriously racist people.” The big news for me comes when Schiller, who thinks he’s meeting with representatives from the fictitious Muslim Education Action Center (MEAC) to discuss a $5 million donation to NPR to help MEAC “spread Sharia worldwide,” that NPR would do better without federal funding.  Just before this, Schiller tells the two undercover reporters that federal funding only accounts for 10% of their direct funding, but a sudden end to subsidies for public broadcasting would close a number of their stations, which gives a little more clearer explanation of their financial dependence on taxpayers.

Nick Gillespie at Reason:

I agree with HotAir’s Ed Morrissey that the most-interesting takeaway from the latest vid from James O’Keefe (he of ACORN fame) is that Ron Schiller of the NPR Foundation suggests that the media operation would be better off without taxpayer subsidies. I suspect many if not most Reason.com readers will disagree with much of what Schiller and his colleague say, but they don’t come off so bad.

Coincidentally, NPR just put out this: Davis Rehm, NPR’s senior vice president of marketing, communications and external relations, has released this statement: “Mr. Schiller announced last week that he is leaving NPR for another job.”

Too bad the Muslim Education Action Center Trust is a fake organization — Schiller would have made a perfect spokesman for them.

Unbiased bonus from the same video: Climate change deniers compared to birthers and flat earthers.

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The Asteroid Can Hit If It Means We No Longer Have To Listen To Bad Aerosmith Songs

Mark Kleiman:

When I saw that Rand Paul (R-Comedy Central) had voted against a bill outlawing the use of lasers to blind airline pilots on the grounds that “the states ought to take care of it,” I was reminded of this week’s best Onion story imagining an effort by Republicans to repeal a law providing for the destruction of an asteroid coming at the Earth.

The Onion story didn’t mention lawsuits seeking to have asteroid-destruction declared unconstitutional as a violation of the limited, delegated powers of the Federal government. But I’d be grateful if one of our libertarian-leaning readers could point me to the specific provision of the Constitution under which the Federal government could spend money on asteroid destruction. It’s not, properly speaking, defense, unless the asteroid was deliberately launched at us by the Klingons. The asteroid isn’t “in commerce” at all, so it can’t be covered by the Commerce Clause.

No doubt some socialists would assert that the reference to “the General Welfare” in the first sentence of Art. 1, Sec. 8, plus the Necessary and Proper clause at the end of that section, would cover asteroid destruction. And I might agree with them. But of course from the libertarian perspective that proves way, way too much.

So I offer this as a challenge: If you think that the doctrine of limited powers forbids much of what the federal government currently does, please explain why that same argument wouldn’t forbid spending money to shoot down an asteroid.

Footnote If your objections to “big government” are based on economics rather than constitutional law, please explain why the public-goods argument that justifies shooting down the asteroid doesn’t apply to the programs you don’t like.

Pejman Yousefzadeh:

As a libertarian-conservative, I am glad to help resolve this question. Of course, it should be noted from the outset that the framing of these kinds of questions is a common Kleimanian tactic; he tosses out an appealing public policy approach, and then dares readers to conclude that the approach may not be constitutional. I certainly agree with Kleiman that asteroid defense cannot be covered by the Commerce Clause (thank goodness that there are some limits recognized by the Left on the reach and scope of the Clause), but I don’t see why he is so quick to dismiss asteroid destruction as a defense measure merely because the asteroid was not “deliberately launched at us by the Klingons.”Original public meaning jurisprudence assists us in showing how asteroid destruction can be justified by Art. I, Sec. 8 of the Constitution as being “for the common Defence.” I am indebted to Professor Larry Solum for his excellent and comprehensive definition of original public meaning jurisprudence, which is excerpted below:

The original-meaning version of originalism emphasizes the meaning that the Constitution (or its amendments) would have had to the relevant audience at the time of its adoptions. How would the Constitution of 1789 have been understood by an ordinary adult citizen at the time it was adopted? Of course, the same sources that are relevant to original intent are relevant to original meaning. So, for example, the debates at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia may shed light on the question how the Constitution produced by the Convention would have been understood by those who did not participate in the secret deliberations of the drafters. But for original-meaning originalists, other sources become of paramount importance. The ratification debates and Federalist Papers can be supplemented by evidence of ordinary usage and by the constructions placed on the Constitution by the political branches and the states in the early years after its adoption. The turn to original meaning made originalism a stronger theory and vitiated many of the powerful objections that had been made against original-intentions originalism.

This sets the stage for what is sometimes called “the New Originalism”  and also is called “Original Meaning Originalism.”   Whatever the actual origins of this theory, the conventional story identifies Antonin Scalia as having a key role.  As early as 1986, Scalia gave a speech exhorting originalists to “change the label from the Doctrine of Original Intent to the Doctrine of Original Meaning.”   The phrase “original public meaning” seems to have entered into the contemporary theoretical debates in the work of Gary Lawson  with Steven Calabresi as another “early adopter.”   The core idea of the revised theory is that the original meaning of the constitution is the original public meaning of the constitutional text.

Randy Barnett  and Keith Whittington  have played prominent roles in the development of the “New Originalism.”  Both Barnett and Whittington build their theories on a foundation of “original public meaning,” but they extend the moves made by Scalia and Lawson in a variety of interesting ways.  For the purposes of this very brief survey, perhaps their most important move is to embrace the distinction between “constitutional interpretation” understood as the enterprise of discerning the semantic content of the constitution and “constitutional construction,” which we might tentatively define as the activity of further specifying constitutional rules when the original public meaning of the text is vague (or underdeterminate for some other reason).  This distinction explicitly acknowledges what we might call “the fact of constitutional underdeterminacy.”   With this turn, original-meaning originalist explicitly embrace the idea that the original public meaning of the text “runs out” and hence that constitutional interpretation must be supplemented by constitutional construction, the results of which must be guided by something other than the semantic content of the constitutional text.

Once originalists had acknowledged that vague constitutional provisions required construction, the door was opened for a reconciliation between originalism and living constitutionalism.  The key figure in that reconciliation has been Jack Balkin, whose influential 2006 and 2007 essays Abortion and Original Meaning and Original Meaning and Constitutional Redemption have argued for a reconciliation of original meaning originalism with living constitutionalism in the form of a theory that might be called “the method of text and principle.”  Balkin has called his position on the relationship between originalism and living constitutionalism “comptibilism,” but it is important to understand that this means that an originalist approach to interpretation is consistent with a living constitutionalist approach to construction.

Per Professor Solum’s definition, we have to ask how “the common Defence” would “have been understood by an ordinary adult citizen at the time it was adopted.” Specifically, we have to demonstrate that the notion of “Defence” against a threat does not depend upon that threat being initiated by a sentient being, or group of beings. This entails showing Kleiman that the non-presence of Klingons or any other sentient beings in a scenario which features an asteroid threatening life on Earth does not prevent the necessary countermeasures from being considered constitutional as acts of “Defence.”

In order to proceed along this line of inquiry, a definition of “defence” or “defense” (however one wishes to spell it) is needed. I can think of no better lexicographical authority than Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language. Consider especially the following bit of information: In his book Dr Johnson’s Dictionary: The Extraordinary Story of the Book that Defined the World, the writer Henry Hitchings quoted Joseph Emerson Worcester as saying that “[Johnson’s] Dictionary has also played its part in the law, especially in the United States. Legislators are much occuped with ascertaining ‘first meanings,’ with trying to secure the literal sense of their predecessors’ legislation . . . Often it is a matter of historicizing language: to understand a law, you need to understand what its terminology meant to its original architects . . . as long as the American Constitution remains intact, Johnson’s Dictionary will have a role to play in American law.”

So, Johnson’s Dictionary was/is quite useful when it comes to analyzing bodies of American law. Now, we have to ask what Johnson wrote about the definition of the word “defence.” Well, it just so happens that we can look. Feel free to examine the definitions of “defence,” “defenceless,” “to defend,” and “defendable.” One will find that none of the definitions in question make it necessary for a threat to have been launched by some form of sentient being, or group of beings, before one can be said to organize and implement some kind of “defense/defence” against that threat via preventive measures. Absent any competing definitions of similar or greater influence, one may reasonably conclude that “an ordinary adult citizen” would not have understood “defence” to mean a countermeasure against a threat set into motion by a sentient being, or group of beings–like Klingons, for example. A “defence” can therefore be mounted against a threat that appeared or emerged sua sponte, without any sentient beings or higher intelligence having brought that threat into being, and/or having directed that threat against us.

Indeed, if Kleiman wanted to get a libertarian legal analysis regarding this issue, he might have done well to ask Glenn Reynolds, whose blog is full of posts regarding the need for asteroid defense. I recognize that Kleiman loathes Reynolds, and has nothing but contempt for him, but it perhaps would not have been a bad idea for Kleiman to put his loathing aside and consider that Reynolds’s example might indicate that there are plenty of libertarians who (a) are concerned about defending the Earth against extinction-causing asteroids, and (b) might be able to justify it (as I have) constitutionally. As a general matter, it might be best for Kleiman to consult actual lawyers regarding constitutional or statutory interpretation, before trying to navigate legal thickets on his own. I mean, it’s his blog, and he can do what he wants, but it is worth noting that past Kleimanian efforts to play lawyer have ended quite poorly.

Jonathan Adler:

This post by Mark Kleiman is a good example, in that it puts forward a laughable caricature of libertarian and originalist constitutional thought that would have been discredited with but a moment’s investigation into the question (as I noted here, and Pejman Yousefzadeh discussed here).  To Prof. Kleiman’s credit, he backed off (a little) when other took the time to respond, but that a prominent, thoughtful academic would post something like this as an ostensibly thoughtful critique of right-leaning ideas says quite a bit about the state of much academic discourse.

Sasha Volokh:

I agree with Jonathan below that the Constitution (through the spending power) allows Congress to spend tax money to protect the Earth from an asteroid.

On the other hand — and at the risk of confirming Mark Kleiman in his belief that libertarians are loopy — I don’t speak for all libertarians, but I think there’s a good case to be made that taxing people to protect the Earth from an asteroid, while within Congress’s powers, is an illegitimate function of government from a moral perspective. I think it’s O.K. to violate people’s rights (e.g. through taxation) if the result is that you protect people’s rights to some greater extent (e.g. through police, courts, the military). But it’s not obvious to me that the Earth being hit by an asteroid (or, say, someone being hit by lightning or a falling tree) violates anyone’s rights; if that’s so, then I’m not sure I can justify preventing it through taxation.

Bryan Caplan once suggested the asteroid hypo to me as a reductio ad absurdum against my view. But a reductio ad absurdum doesn’t work against someone who’s willing to be absurd, and I may be willing to bite the bullet on this one.

On the other hand, if you could show that, once the impending asteroid impact became known, all hell would break loose and lots of rights be violated by looters et al. during the ensuing anarchy, I could justify the taxation as a way of preventing those rights violations; but this wouldn’t apply if, say, the asteroid impact were unknown to the public.

This does make me uncomfortable, much like my view that patents are highly useful but morally unjustifiable, so I’m open to persuasion

Matthew Yglesias:

I think this is a mistake about how a reductio works. The mere fact that Volokh is willing to bite this bullet has no real bearing on the fact that the conclusion is clearly false, and so the argument is either logically invalid or else proceeds from false premises. I’d say “false premises.” The best liberal thinking—classical, modern, whatever—proceeds from broadly consequentialist ideas about making human beings better off.

Brad DeLong:

So not only does Sasha Volokh claim that it is immoral to tax people to blow up an asteroid (or install lightning rods, or mandate lightning rods, or pay for a tree-trimming crew on the public roads), but it is immoral to tell people of an approaching asteroid so they can scramble to safety because it will cause violations of rights through looting.

Wow.

Ilya Somin:

That said, I don’t think that Sasha’s view is necessarily ridiculous or “insane.” Any theory based on absolute respect for certain rights necessarily carries the risk that it will lead to catastrophe in some instances. Let’s say you believe that torture is always wrong. Then you would not resort to it even in a case where relatively mild torture of a terrorist is the only way to prevent a nuclear attack that kills millions. What if you think that it’s always wrong to knowingly kill innocent civilians? Then you would oppose strategic bombing even if it were the only way to defeat Nazi Germany in World War II. How about absolute rights to freedom of political speech? If you are committed to them, that means you oppose censorship even if it’s the only way to prevent Nazi or communist totalitarians from coming to power and slaughtering millions.

Many such scenarios are improbable. But over the long sweep of human history, improbable events can and do happen. Had Kerensky suppressed the Bolsheviks in 1917 (as he easily could have that summer) or had the Weimar Republic done the same with the Nazis, the world would be a vastly better place, even though most political censorship (even of evil ideologies) causes far more harm than good. A civilization-destroying asteroid attack during the next few hundred years is also a low-probability event.

Thus, the potential flaw in Sasha’s view is one that it shares with all absolutist rights theories. Scenarios like the above are one of the main reasons why I’m not a rights-absolutist myself. But I don’t believe that all the great moral theorists who endorse such views from Kant to the present are either ridiculous or “insane.”

It’s also worth noting that Sasha’s approach would in fact justify asteroid defense in virtually any plausible real world scenario. As he puts it, “if you could show that, once the impending asteroid impact became known, all hell would break loose and lots of rights be violated by looters et al. during the ensuing anarchy, I could justify the taxation as a way of preventing those rights violations; but this wouldn’t apply if, say, the asteroid impact were unknown to the public.” It’s highly unlikely that news of an impending asteroid impact whose onset was known to the government could be prevented from leaking to the general public. Even if it could, “all hell” would surely break loose after the asteroid impact, resulting in numerous violations of libertarian rights by looters, bandits, people stealing food out of desperation, and so on. Either way, Sasha’s analysis ends up justifying asteroid defense.

If I understand Sasha correctly, he’s only partially a rights absolutist. He doesn’t believe that you can ever sacrifice rights for utilitarian benefits, even truly enormous ones. But he does think that you can justify small rights violations as a way of forestalling bigger ones. Sasha is an absolutist when it comes to trading off libertarian rights for other considerations, but a maximizer when it comes to trading off rights for greater protection of those same rights in the future. Effective defense against a massive asteroid impact easily passes Sasha’s rights-maximizing test.

Obviously, I welcome correction from Sasha if I have misinterpreted his views.

Mark Kleiman:

I’m glad that Adler agrees with me – and disagrees with many Tea Party lunatics, including some recently elected to the Senate and the House – that there’s no actual Constitutional question about funding the Department of Education or National Public Radio. That, of course, was my point.

I’m also glad that Sasha is standing by his guns, thus demonstrating that my argument was not directed at a mere straw man, though his objection to spending is philosophical rather than Constitutional.

Sasha worries that his honest and forthright response might confirm me in my belief that “libertarians are loopy.” That’s certainly a reasonable concern. But I would have thought that a bigger concern would be that the conclusion is, in fact, obviously loopy, and – like any good reductio ad absurdum argument, ought to lead to a re-examination of the premises that would lead to such a loopy conclusion.

Ilya Somin is right to point out that any theory that puts an absolute constraint on action runs into problems when inaction has catastrophic consequences. But if he really can’t see the difference between torture and income taxation – can’t understand why absolute opposition to torture is not analogous to absolute opposition to public spending on public goods – then “loopy” is entirely too weak a word.

Eugene Volokh:

I leave it to others to debate the constitutional and moral merits of government spending on asteroid defense (my view is that such spending is both constitutionally permissible and morally proper, but I have nothing original to add on the subject). I just wanted to add that one side of the debate is an unusually near-literal application of the saying, “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.”

Noah Millman at The American Scene:

An impending catastrophe – asteroid strike – threatens to kill everyone in the society. That doesn’t violate anyone’s “rights” because you don’t have a “right to life” but rather a right not to have your life taken away by somebody else against your will. Therefore, the government has no right to tax you to protect you – and everybody else – from the asteroid.

So how is the asteroid to be stopped?

Presumably, everyone in society would agree voluntarily to cooperate to stop the asteroid. That is to say: we could still have collective action, but it would have to be voluntary, not coerced.

But would everyone participate?

The government goes around, passing the hat for contributions to stop the asteroid. A certain percentage of people, though, don’t believe in asteroids. Another percentage believe that the asteroid will bring the Rapture and so must not be stopped. These people are crazy, though, and crazy people are not interesting to talk about. Let’s hope there aren’t too many and ignore them.

Some people, though, notice that there are wealthier people than them in the society, and figure those other people should shoulder the burden of saving society. These are the “free-riders.”

Now, so long as this group is relatively small, no problem. Enough people will still put up enough money to stop the collective catastrophe. But so long as that is the case, free-riding is the economically rational thing to do. Indeed, in any large enough society, free-riding is always the rational thing to do: in a society with enough people putting up enough money voluntarily to stop the asteroid, free-riding is costless; in a society without enough such people, contributing is pointless.

The salvation of this ultra-libertarian society, then, depends upon the existence of a sufficient number of irrationally self-sacrificing people, people who ignore their rational self-interest in order to procure a social good for the group, without regard for the amount of “free riding” going on around them.

On the assumption – which I don’t think is pushing it at all – that there are a whole lot of communal problems that require collective action to address, libertarianism is only practical in highly communitarian societies.

I don’t know that that’s a knock-down argument against libertarianism. Wikipedia is a highly communitarian activity that grew up in a highly libertarian environment (the Internet), and most of the world is free-riding.

But it’s worth stressing nonetheless, because libertarians tend to talk as if rationality will lead to the necessary level of cooperation. But it won’t. In any case of communal threat where attempted free-riders cannot independently exposed to the threat, while contributors are protected, the rational thing to do is free-ride.

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Live, From CPAC, It’s Friday Afternoon!

David Weigel:

First, a word about hecklers: It’s awful that they get so much attention. A few bad apples in a room of thousands can create the impression of massive dissent, when it really isn’t there.

That said, boy, was there a lot of heckling when Donald Rumsfeld arrived at CPAC to accept the Defender of the Constitution Award. The ballroom for big events fills up many minutes in advance. In this instance, the people who wanted to hear Rand Paul speak at 3:45 had to arrive around 2:30, and stay there. If they did, they sat through a speech from Donald Trump (a surprise to attendees who weren’t checking the news frequently), and used every possible moment to yell “RON PAUL” at the Donald. When Trump responded to one of the heckles, and said that Paul “can’t win” the presidency, there were loud and righteous boos.

It takes a while to exit the ballroom. This means that hundreds of Paul fans — recognizably younger and sometimes beardier than the median CPAC attendee — are in the room or in lines as Donald Rumsfeld is introduced.

“I am pleased to recognize our chairman, David Keene, to recognize Donald Rumsfeld,” says emcee Ted Cruz.

There are loud boos.

Robert Stacy McCain:

Total CPAC attendance is more than 10,000, among whom are hundreds of Paulistas – more than 10 percent of the total attendance, due not only to the fanaticism of Paul’s following but also because Campaign for Liberty has paid the way for his student supporters to attend the conference.

As might be expected, the Paulistas are at odds with most conservatives on foreign policy and this coincidence of scheduling that had many of the anti-war libertarians in their ballroom seats during the Rumsfeld recognition is just typical of the unexpected happenings at CPAC. And this unfortunate incident of inexcusable rudeness should help put the whole GOProud “controversy” in perspective. Are conflicts between anti-war libertarians and pro-war neocons really any different than the clash between gay Republicans and pro-family social conservatives?

Grant that these would seem to be what might be called irreconcilable differences, and yet if the broad coalition of the Right is to cohere — as it was powerfully coherent in 2010 — the disagreements must be tamped down. Courtesy and forebearance would seem to be requisite to the endeavor.

Dana Milbank at WaPo:

Republicans may not yet have the ideal candidate to take on President Obama in 2012. But at least they have an apprentice program.

“This is the largest crowd we have ever had in eager anticipation of our next speaker!” Lisa De Pasquale, director of the Conservative Political Action Conference, told the annual gathering this week. “We have overflow rooms filled! This ballroom filled!”

The reason for this eager anticipation, and for the whoops and hollers from the crowd: “someone who is thinking about tossing his hat in the ring for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.”

The sound system played the theme from NBC’s “The Apprentice.” A puff of orange hair appeared on the stage, and somewhere underneath it was the billionaire Donald Trump, giving a flirtatious, finger-wiggling wave to the crowd.

“You’re hired!” a woman in the front called out to him.

Basking in the adulation, Trump announced: “These are my people!”

Oh? The last time Trump tested the presidential waters, as a prospective Reform Party candidate a decade ago, he favored abortion rights, campaign finance reform and universal health care. He’s thrice married and has had many girlfriends in and out of wedlock. He’s behaved erratically in his handling of the Miss USA competition. He’s contributed to Democrats as recently as four months ago. And – unbeknownst to most in the audience – he was invited to CPAC by a gay Republican group, GOProud, whose participation in the conference sparked a boycott by social conservatives.

“Over the years I’ve participated in many battles and have really almost come out very, very victorious every single time,” the Donald said. (Except for the bankruptcy, that is.) “I’ve beaten many people and companies and I’ve won many wars,” he added. (Though he didn’t serve in the military.) “I have fairly but intelligently earned many billions of dollars, which in a sense was both a scorecard and acknowledgment of my abilities.”

Joshua Green at The Atlantic

Jennifer Rubin:

Mitt Romney’s wife Ann introduced Romney, trying to humanize a candidate that in 2008 seemed remote if not plastic. However, this line didn’t exactly make him seem warm and cuddly: “When the children were young and Mitt would call home from a business trip on the road, he would often hear a very tired and exasperated young mother, overwhelmed by our rambunctious five boys.” She’s an attractive lady and her battles against MS and cancer make her especially sympathetic; she however needs better material.

Romney’s delivery was more relaxed and quick-paced than in the past. His use of humor was perhaps the most noticeable change. (This got a hearty laugh: “The world – and our valiant troops – watched in confusion as the President announced that he intended to win the war in Afghanistan….as long as it didn’t go much beyond August of 2011. And while the Taliban may not have an air force or sophisticated drones, it’s safe to say… they do have calendars.”) Romney is a polished and professional pol.

As for the substance, he made clear he’s not a pull-up-the-drawbridge Republican. In fact he began his speech with a foreign policy riff:

An uncertain world has been made more dangerous by the lack of clear direction from a weak President. The President who touted his personal experience as giving him special insight into foreign affairs was caught unprepared when Iranian citizens rose up against oppression. His proposed policy of engagement with Iran and North Korea won him the Nobel Peace Prize. How’s that worked out? Iran armed Hezbollah and Hamas and is rushing toward nuclear weapons. North Korea fired missiles, tested nukes, sunk a South Korean ship and shelled a South Korean island. And his “reset program” with Russia? That consisted of our President abandoning our missile defense in Poland and signing a one-sided nuclear treaty. The cause of liberty cannot endure much more of his “they get, we give” diplomacy!

But the heart of his speech was the economy. But, for obvious reasons, he limited his focus to job creation, entirely ignoring ObamaCare. His attention to jobs was effective insofar as it went:

Fifteen million Americans are out of work. And millions and millions more can’t find the good paying jobs they long for and deserve. You’ve seen the heartbreaking photos and videos of the jobs fairs around the country, where thousands show up to stand in line all day just to have a chance to compete for a few job openings that probably aren’t as good as the job they held two years ago. These job fairs and unemployment lines are President Obama’s Hoovervilles.

Make no mistake. This is a moral tragedy–a moral tragedy of epic proportion. Unemployment is not just a statistic. Fifteen million unemployed is not just a number. Unemployment means kids can’t go to college; that marriages break up under the financial strain; that young people can’t find work and start their lives; and men and women in their 50s, in the prime of their lives, fear they will never find a job again. Liberals should be ashamed that they and their policies have failed these good and decent Americans!

Curiously his only mention of debt was this: “Like the Europeans, they grew the government, they racked up bigger deficits, they took over healthcare, they pushed cap and trade, they stalled production of our oil and gas and coal, they fought to impose unions on America’s workers, and they created over a hundred new agencies and commissions and hundreds of thousands of pages of new regulations.”

Reason

Michael Scherer at Time:

The heirs to Ronald Reagan’s conservative legacy gathered Thursday in a hotel ballroom to exchange variations on the dominant theme in today’s Republican politics: It is evening in America.

“The Germans are buying the New York Stock Exchange,” announced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. “The U.S. is becoming the laughing stock of the world,” exhorted reality television star Donald Trump. It’s “a national reckoning unlike any I have seen in my lifetime,” explained former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Rick Santorum, a one-time Pennsylvania senator preparing a run for president, rounded out the collective cry of Cassandra by announcing that the nation was being run by a heretic. “This is someone who doesn’t believe in truth and evil in America,” he said of President Obama. (Read about what to expect from CPAC 2011.)

For decades, the Conservative Political Action Conference has been a bellwether of conservative thought. And the first day of this year’s event, with record attendance boosted by ever multiplying scores of college students, did not disappoint. For journalists looking to crack the code on the right’s narrative for the 2012 election cycle, it was evident in nearly every speech delivered in the main ballroom.

The next election, different speakers argued in different ways, would not just determine the occupant of the Oval Office, but the very survival of the country as a global superpower. “This is a crossroads of American history. This is a moment,” said Santorum. “Were you there? Did you see it? Did you understand what was at stake?”

As can be expected, much of the blame for America’s precipitous state was laid at the feet of Obama and the Democratic agenda, which Rumsfeld poetically described as “the gentle despotism of big government.” Several speakers accused Obama of not believing in the exceptionalism of America, or understanding American power, and therefore precipitating the country’s declining influence. Downstairs, in the exhibit hall, supporters of Mitt Romney distributed stickers that read only, “Believe In America,” as if his Democratic opponents did not.

Erik Hayden at The Atlantic with a round-up

Tim Mak at FrumForum:

The new chair of the American Conservative Union, Al Cardenas, today distanced his organization from GOProud, telling FrumForum in an exclusive interview that “it’s going to be difficult to continue the relationship” with the gay conservative organization.

The ACU, which annually organizes the Conservative Political Action Conference, has faced some criticism for including GOProud as a co-sponsor for the second year in a row. Socially conservative organizations have denounced the move, and the Heritage Foundation claimed that GOProud’s inclusion was part of their decision to opt-out.

Cardenas, who was selected yesterday to replace outgoing chairman David Keene, told FrumForum that he disapproved of GOProud’s response to the furor.

“I have been disappointed with their website and their quotes in the media, taunting organizations that are respected in our movement and part of our movement, and that’s not acceptable. And that puts them in a difficult light in terms of how I view things,” said Cardenas.

GOProud had asserted that Cleta Mitchell, the chairman of the ACU Foundation, was pushing conservative groups and individuals to boycott CPAC because of GOProud’s inclusion. Chris Barron, the chairman of GOProud, recently said in an interview that Mitchell was “a nasty bigot.”

“It’s going to be difficult to continue the relationship [with GOProud] because of their behavior and attitude,” Cardenas told FrumForum.

Asked for GOProud’s response, the group’s chairman apologized for his comments about Cleta Mitchell.

“For the past six months, we have watched as unfair and untrue attacks have been leveled against our organization, our allies, our friends and sometimes even their families. Everyone has their breaking point and clearly in my interview with Metro Weekly I had reached mine. I shouldn’t have used the language that I did to describe Cleta Mitchell and for that I apologize,” said Chris Barron.

Asked about whether he values a big tent approach to conservatism, Cardenas said that he did – but that his vision applied principally to reaching out to different minorities and ethnic groups.

“There are not enough African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities here. That diversity is critical – you don’t need to change your value system to attract more diversity into the movement… [but] I’m not going to – for the sake of being inclusive – change the principles that have made the movement what it is,” said Cardenas.

“David [Keene] invited these folks [GOProud] in an effort to be inclusive… Having friends of ours leaving… presents difficulties to me,” he said. “There’s always going to be some tension, [but] there should never be any tension between time-tested values.”

Asked if someone who supported gay marriage could be a conservative, Cardenas replied, “Not a Ronald Reagan conservative… I will say this: we adopted a resolution unanimously at ACU advocating traditional marriage between a man and a woman, so that answers how we feel on the issue.”

Cardenas says that his priorities as the new ACU chairman will be focused on “making sure that our true friends never leave the table.”

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Dump All Your Stock In Chalkboards Now!

Bill Kristol in The Weekly Standard:

Furthermore, in the last quarter century, there have been transitions from allied dictatorships to allied democracies in Chile, South Korea, the Philippines, and Indonesia, to name only a few. The United States has played a role in helping those transitions turn out (reasonably) well. America needn’t be passive or fretful or defensive. We can help foster one outcome over another. As Krauthammer puts it, “Elections will be held. The primary U.S. objective is to guide a transition period that gives secular democrats a chance.”

Now, people are more than entitled to their own opinions of how best to accomplish that democratic end. And it’s a sign of health that a political and intellectual movement does not respond to a complicated set of developments with one voice.

But hysteria is not a sign of health. When Glenn Beck rants about the caliphate taking over the Middle East from Morocco to the Philippines, and lists (invents?) the connections between caliphate-promoters and the American left, he brings to mind no one so much as Robert Welch and the John Birch Society. He’s marginalizing himself, just as his predecessors did back in the early 1960s.

Nor is it a sign of health when other American conservatives are so fearful of a popular awakening that they side with the dictator against the democrats. Rather, it’s a sign of fearfulness unworthy of Americans, of short-sightedness uncharacteristic of conservatives, of excuse-making for thuggery unworthy of the American conservative tradition.

Rich Lowry at National Review:

Bill Kristol has an editorial on conservatives and Egypt. He takes a well-deserved shot at Glenn Beck’s latest wild theorizing

Alex Eichler at The Atlantic

Robert Stacy McCain:

Generally speaking, I’m a bigger fan of Kristol than of Krauthammer, mainly because Krauthammer is such an anti-Palin snob. In this case, however, I share Krauthammer’s forebodings of an Egyptian revolution and dislike Kristol’s effort to enhance his own Strange New Respect quotient by dissing Beck.

Peter Wehner at Commentary:

Glenn Beck went off on a rather extraordinary monologue last week about a caliphate taking over much of the world. Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standardtook exception to what Beck said. And yesterday Beck fired back.

Set aside (if you can) Beck’s childish and churlish attacks on Kristol and focus on the substance of the disagreement.

Beck lectures Kristol on the dangers of “getting into bed with dictators.” It’s “really something the left does and not something the right should do.” But of course Bill’s position on Egypt is that America ought to get out of bed with dictators. That’s the main point of Kristol’s editorial, after all. And whether you agree with Kristol or not, he has been a strong advocate for the so-called Freedom Agenda, which argues that in the past the United States, in opting for “stability” over liberty in the Middle East, has gotten neither.

More important, though, people should simply listen to the original Beck meditation on the coming worldwide caliphate. It is Beck Unplugged, complete with chalkboards and maps; with happy faces and sad ones; with friends, enemies, and “frenemies”; with references to the Weather Underground, Bill Ayers, and Bernardine Dohrn; and of course dire, apocalyptic warnings. The result of the “coming insurrection” will be that the “whole world starts to implode.”

“Play it out with me,” Beck pleads. “The entire Mediterranean is on fire,” he cries out us — but not just the Mediterranean. This all-consuming blaze is spreading to the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Italy, Greece, and Germany; to Russia, Africa, Morocco, and almost every place in between. Beck demonstrates “how this whole thing cascades over to us.” And beware: none of this is happenstance. “This is coordinated,” America’s intrepid truth teller informs us. Pro-democracy talk is part of a “progressive movement.” The masses in Egypt’s Liberty Square are “useful idiots.” And oh-by-the-way, he promises to tell us what the real reason behind the 2003 Iraq war was:

Two wars in Iraq. We said no bombing there. Ancient Babylon. Ancient Babylon. Why? Because the Bible tells us that that is the seat — right here — of power of a global, evil empire. Well, that’s also where the 12th imam from Iran is supposedly going to show up. Everybody on this side wants ancient Babylon for their caliphate.

Leave it to Glenn Beck to sees dots on a map and connect lines invisible to mere mortals, lines that are the result of a massive and astonishingly well-organized conspiracy. It is something out of the twilight zone.

I’ve been warning about Glenn Beck for a couple of years now, concerned about his erratic behavior and conspiracy theories. “My hunch is that he is a comet blazing across the media sky right now — and will soon flame out,” I wrote in 2009. “Whether he does or not, he isn’t the face or disposition that should represent modern-day conservatism … he is not the kind of figure conservatives should embrace or cheer on.”

Jeffrey Goldberg:

What about this don’t you understand, Mr. Wehner? Is it not shockingly clear to you? Glenn Beck has performed a great service for us, by highlighting the weakness of the Iberian Peninsula (the foremost challenge facing American policymakers at this moment, obviously)  and the role ancient Babylon will play in the coming campaign for the worldwide imposition of Muslim law. Combine this trenchant analysis of Muslim politics with his recent attempt to highlight the pernicious work of the nine most evil people in world history, eight of whom, entirely coincidentally, are Jewish, and you should begin to get the picture.

Of course, the conspiracy goes deeper than Beck has yet revealed; I’m hoping that, in coming days, if the Freemasons, working in concert with Hezbollah and the Washington Redskins, don’t succeed in suppressing the truth, that Beck will reveal the identities of the most pernicious players in this grotesque campaign to subvert our way of life. I can’t reveal too much here, but I think it’s fair to say that Beck will be paying a lot of attention in the coming weeks to the dastardly, pro-caliphate work of Joy Behar; tthe makers of Little Debbie snack cakes; the 1980s hair band Def Leppard; Omar Sharif; and the Automobile Association of America. And remember, you read it here first.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

And I’ve heard, from more than a couple of conservative sources, that prominent Republicans have approached Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes about the potential embarrassment that the paranoid-messianic rodeo clown may bring upon their brand. The speculation is that Beck is on thin ice. His ratings are dropping, too–which, in the end, is a good part of what this is all about. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a mirror-Olbermann situation soon.

David Corn at Politics Daily:

As Beck becomes increasingly unhinged and lost in conspiracy-land, he may well become a litmus test for the right — and a measure of whether the leaders of Fox News care about any claim to respectability. Should Fox throw him out of the coop, Beck will still have a cult-like following that he can service via his syndicated radio show, website, and books — and still make tens of millions of dollars a year. He won’t crawl off to an undisclosed location. But he will no longer have the imprimatur of the right’s main media outfit. And what better confirmation that the conspiracy is vast, oh so vast.

Jeff Poor at The Daily Caller:

On “Morning Joe” Tuesday, the Weekly Standard editor appeared to promote “The Neoconservative Persuasion,” a collection of essays written by his father, Irving Kristol. During that appearance, New York magazine’s John Heilemann asked Kristol why Republicans were reluctant to challenge Fox News host Glenn Beck, a regular target of MSNBC’s personalities, as Kristol did in a column for the Feb. 14 issue of the Weekly Standard for his claim Islamists and liberal forces were collaborating to orchestrate a caliphate.

Kristol explained MSNBC wasn’t the place for such a “debate” and cited a 2010 Weekly Standard article that praised Beck in some regards for his role in the Tea Party movement, explaining the commentary on Beck goes both ways.

“Well, I’m not going to get into a debate with Glenn Beck here on MSNBC,” Kristol said. “I’ll debate him on Fox where we’re fair and balanced where we have these debates among ourselves. No, I don’t think that’s fair at all. Matt Continetti had a long piece a year ago on — partly on Glenn Beck, on the tea parties, what was healthy and not so admirable in certain strains of thoughts among people like Glenn Beck. So I don’t think it’s fair to say, ‘Oh, you guys should be calling him out and monitoring everyone on your side.’ That’s not — we publish what we believe in the Weekly Standard. I’m happy to defend to defend the Weekly Standard and what I say on Fox News Sunday.”

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It’s A Koch Fight!

Tim Carney at The Washington Examiner:

Palm Springs, California –At the front gates of the Rancho Las Palmas resort, a few hundred liberals rallied Sunday against “corporate greed” and polluters. They chanted for the arrest of billionaires Charles and David Koch, and their ire was also directed at the other free market-oriented businessmen invited here by the Koch brothers to discuss free markets and electoral strategies.

Billionaires poisoning our politics was the central theme of the protests. But nothing is quite as it seems in modern politics: The protest’s organizer, the nonprofit Common Cause, is funded by billionaire George Soros.

Common Cause has received $2 million from Soros’s Open Society Institute in the past eight years, according to grant data provided by Capital Research Center. Two panelists at Common Cause’s rival conference nearby — President Obama’s former green jobs czar, Van Jones, and blogger Lee Fang — work at the Center for American Progress, which was started and funded by Soros but, as a 501(c)4 nonprofit “think tank,” legally conceals the names of its donors.

In other words, money from billionaire George Soros and anonymous, well-heeled liberals was funding a protest against rich people’s influence on politics.

When Politico reporter Ken Vogel pointed out that Soros hosts similar “secret” confabs, CAP’s Fang responded on Twitter: “don’t you think there’s a very serious difference between donors who help the poor vs. donors who fund people to kill government, taxes on rich?”

In less than 140 characters, Fang had epitomized the myopic liberal view of money in politics: Conservative money is bad, and linked to greed, while liberal money is self-evidently philanthropic.

Caroline May at The Daily Caller:

Prior to the rally, the liberal group plans to host an opposition panel discussion called, “Uncloaking the Kochs: The Billionaires’ Caucus and its Threat to our Democracy.” The featured speakers include Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary and now chairman of Common Case’s National Governing Board; Van Jones, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress and former “Green Jobs Czar”; Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California-Irvine; Lee Fang, an journalist at the Center for American Progress; and DeAnn McEwen, co-President of the California Nurses Association.

“Our goal here for the panel Sunday is to talk about the Billionaires Caucus agenda, its human impact and what can be done to restore the voices of ordinary Americans to the our political process,” explained Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause.“Our government is supposed to be of, by and for the people, but it has been hijacked by self-interested billionaires. We must take it back. “

Despite the hyperbole, the Koch conference doesn’t sound so different from many off-the-record political conferences, including those held by the professional left. Shortly after the 2010 elections, for example, liberal groups converged on Washington D.C.’s Oriental Mandarin hotel, The meeting, hosted by Democracy Alliance featured liberal leaders such as Van Jones, hedge fund manager Donald Sussman, and AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. Michael Vachon, a George Soros representative, Peter Lewis, CEO of Progressive Insurance; and Fred Baron, the former president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America also attended.

Yet to listen to the activist left describe it, this weekend’s meeting is a threat to the existence of life on this planet. “They are actively standing in the way of our nation transitioning to a 21st Century economy focused on clean energy and job growth creation,”warned Van  Jones. “Nationally, their influence is more profound….They are the Number One funders of climate change deniers.”

Jennifer Rubin:

On Sunday, the protest group swelled to 1,000 and blocked the street for nearly an hour. In a pre-arranged arrest, authorities cuffed and removed 25 protesters. Apparently, the leftists don’t consider the Jewish Funds for Justice’s missive on improper use of Nazi references to apply to them:

swastika_sign 1.jpg
(Photo by Dan Comstock)

Also celebrated was the historical figure Guy Fawkes, whom the left routinely associates with anti-government violence.

Guy Fawkes Protester.jpg
(Photo by Dan Comstock)

According to an eye-witness who contacted me by e-mail, protesters shouted “traitors,” held signs that said “Koch Kills” and chanted “No justice, no peace” outside the hotel.

A Koch representative whom I contacted had this comment on the day’s events: “This is the kind of ‘civil debate’ the left wants to have after Tucson?” One additional note: Inside the same conference center as the conservatives was a conference of judges from the Ninth Circuit. The recent death of a federal judge in Arizona did not give the mob pause about the propriety of their actions.

Robert Stacy McCain:

Twenty-five hippies were reportedly arrested. Click here for some nice photos of the Riverside Sheriff’s Department riot squad who, alas, didn’t get the opportunity to use their batons, pepper spray and tasers.

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit:

Do you suppose if Dana Perino, Karl Rove and Condi Rice organized radical mobs to shut down highways and disrupt liberal conferences it might make a few headlines?

Former top Obama White House offiicials helped organize protests that shut down a California highway and attempted to disrupt a conservative conference
Top Obama campaign bundler Jodie Evans from Code Pink attended the protests this weekend. Evans, who raised nearly $100,000 for Obama, was also a top activist with the Gaza flotilla terror group that attacked the IDF in May 2010. Evans was arrested yesterday outside the conservative conference.

Alana Goodman at Commentary:

According to Common Cause, Koch benefited from the ruling and supported groups that filed amicus briefs on behalf of Citizens United during the case. Fair enough. But that doesn’t explain why Common Cause invited labor unions to the rally, which have profited from the Supreme Court’s ruling as well.

Not to mention the ACLU, which also filed an amicus brief in support of Citizens United, arguing that it was a free-speech issue. Will Common Cause bus in protesters to scream eliminationist rhetoric outside the ACLU’s offices next?

Probably not — getting arrested while protesting the ACLU just doesn’t have the same charm to it as getting arrested while protesting an “evil” corporate titan. Though a bit more consistency would at least help make Common Cause look a tad less clownish.

Grasping irony, however, is clearly not the group’s strong point. This was apparent from the list of speakers at the “progressive” political conference that was held in conjunction with the anti-Koch demonstration. When protesters grew tired of yelling about the political influence of corporate fat cats, they could take a break and listen to panel discussions featuring liberal billionaire financier Donald Sussman, Progressive Insurance CEO Peter Louis, the former president of the Association of American Trial Lawyers Fred Baron, and an array of representatives from George Soros–funded organizations.

Kenneth Vogel in Politico:

Faced with an avalanche of bad publicity after years of funding conservative causes in relative anonymity, the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, Charles and David, are fighting back.They’ve hired a team of PR pros with experience working for top Republicans including Sarah Palin and Arnold Schwarzenegger to quietly engage reporters to try to shape their Koch coverage, and commissioned sophisticated polling to monitor any collateral damage to the image of their company, Koch Industries.

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$100 Billion Here And $100 Billion There, Here A $100 Billion, There A $100 Billion, Everywhere A $100 Billion

Jackie Calmes at NYT:

Many people knowledgeable about the federal budget said House Republicans could not keep their campaign promise to cut $100 billion from domestic spending in a single year. Now it appears that Republicans agree.

As they prepare to take power on Wednesday, Republican leaders are scaling back that number by as much as half, aides say, because the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, will be nearly half over before spending cuts could become law.

While House Republicans were never expected to succeed in enacting cuts of that scale, given opposition in the Senate from the Democratic majority and some Republicans, and from President Obama, a House vote would put potentially vulnerable Republican lawmakers on record supporting deep reductions of up to 30 percent in education, research, law enforcement, transportation and more.

Now aides say that the $100 billion figure was hypothetical, and that the objective is to get annual spending for programs other than those for the military, veterans and domestic security back to the levels of 2008, before Democrats approved stimulus spending to end the recession.

Yet “A Pledge to America,” the manifesto House Republicans published last September, included the promise, “We will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone.”

Allah Pundit:

Their excuse will be that the fiscal year, which began on October 1, will already be almost half over by the time the budgetary resolution that was passed during the lame duck runs out in March. That means they’ll only have seven months to work with this fiscal year; when they said they’d cut $100 billion, they meant the first full fiscal year that they’re in charge. But wait, you say! Shouldn’t it be fairly easy to find $100 billion to cut in an annual budget that exceeds $3.5 trillion? Well, yes — except that the GOP’s limiting itself to cutting discretionary spending (Social Security and Medicare are, as ever, completely off-limits) and even within discretionary spending they refuse to touch “security” budgets, i.e. Defense and Homeland Security. That leaves just $500 billion or so for this year to play with, and since, as Rich Lowry noted earlier at the Corner, a good chunk of that will already have been spent by the time the continuing resolution expires in the spring, they’d have to make huge cuts to what’s left in order to get to $100 billion in savings overall.

The point to ponder here, I think, is that even the highly touted $100 billion figure is just a small fraction of last year’s deficit. Even with a tea-party Congress, even with a gigantic pool of expenditures to cut from, political reality is such that not only can’t they reach that modest, largely symbolic target in seven months, they’ll actually have to move heaven and earth during the next full fiscal year to get Obama and the Senate Democrats to agree to it. This is what we’ve been reduced to — the suspense of wondering whether the new Republican majority can achieve cuts that will barely make a dent in our annual budget shortfall. Hugely depressing.

Ross Douthat:

Hugely depressing, but hopefully hugely instructive as well. The pledge to cut $100 billion was always more of a symbolic sop to the Tea Parties than a real step toward fiscal discipline. The question for the new Republican majority has always been whether it will make any serious progress on entitlement reform and tax reform, not whether it will find inevitably-marginal ways to trim discretionary spending. You can’t have fiscal responsibility if you keep entitlements, tax expenditures and defense spending off the table, and the fact that these realities have been exposed in the very first week of G.O.P. control, thanks to the peculiarities of the fiscal calendar, is probably good news for fiscal conservatism. The sooner we get certain fond illusions out of the way, the better.

Peter Suderman at Reason:

I’m somewhat sympathetic to the political reality of the situation; $100 billion in cuts would have been a tall order. But the excuses given here seem designed to test one’s sympathy. Are all figures attached to campaign promises now potentially hypothetical? Were Republicans not aware of the timing of the fiscal year when making the $100 billion promise? At least the feeling isn’t universal: GOP Senator-elect Rand Paul has already responded to the article by saying that $50 billion in cuts isn’t enough.

Robert Stacy McCain:

I’m not sure that anyone will be outraged over this. The important thing is for Congress to move in the right direction and stop the kind of out-of-control deficit spending by which Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats increased the national debt by $5.2 trillion in four years.Excerpts from Speaker Boehner’s opening speech today:

“The American people have humbled us. They have refreshed our memories as to just how temporary the privilege to serve is. They have reminded us that everything here is on loan from them. That includes this gavel, which I accept cheerfully and gratefully, knowing I am but its caretaker. After all, this is the people’s House. This is their Congress. It’s about them, not us. What they want is a government that is honest, accountable and responsive to their needs. A government that respects individual liberty, honors our heritage, and bows before the public it serves.”

That’s the written text, which doesn’t include the part where he gets all choked up and starts crying. (It’s OK, Mr. Speaker, we like the crying.) Boehner’s speech — crying and all — will be livestreamed.

Steve Benen:

Oh, I see. Republican pledges are “hypothetical” promises. The Pledge to America must have included asterisks and disclaimers in font so small, the country missed the caveats.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, said, “I think they woke up to the reality that this will have a direct negative impact on people’s lives…. You know, it’s easy to talk about these things in the abstract. It’s another thing when you start taking away people’s college loans and Pell Grants or cutting early education programs.”

To be sure, I’m delighted Republicans aren’t actually going to pursue this indefensible goal. When political leaders start breaking high-profile promises right out of the gate, it’s generally not a positive development, but in this case, we’re all better off with GOP leaders having changed their minds.

Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that Republicans never should have made this promise to begin with, and shouldn’t have put themselves in a position in which they’re breaking their own pledge immediately after taking office.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

The basic situation is that you have a tiny handful of principled conservatives who genuinely want to cut the size of actual government programs. But that accounts for a tiny slice of the general opposition to government programs, which is rooted in misperceptions about what government spends money on alongside strong support for the programs that actually exist. Government programs are popular. Some of them serve little purpose (think farm subsidies) but those generally exist precisely because they have powerful constituencies.

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Galt Has A Moment And A Movement

Christopher Beam in New York Magazine:

Just before Thanksgiving, in an impassioned speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, Ron Paul called for Congress to be groped. The Transportation Security Administration, having rolled out its new airport body scanners, had decreed anyone who opted out could be subjected to the now-infamous enhanced pat-down. “Let’s make sure that every member of Congress goes through this,” Representative Paul said, waving his finger in the air. “Get the X-ray, make them look at the pictures, and then go through one of those groping pat-downs.” Perhaps this would put Congress in touch (quite literally) with real Americans.

Paul, the 75-year-old Texas libertarian and quixotic 2008 Republican candidate best known for his quest to abolish the Federal Reserve, is used to fighting lonely battles. But this time, he had company. Fox News went wall-to-wall on the (nonexistent) health hazards of body scans, naked outlines of passengers, and pat-down paranoia. “If you touch my junk, I’m going to have you arrested,” said newfound freedom fighter John Tyner to a TSA agent in a video that went viral. The left backed Paul too. Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald argued that the screenings had “all the ingredients of the last decade’s worth of Terrorism exploitation.” Blogger Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake called the X-ray devices “porno-scanners.” For one beautiful moment, the whole political spectrum—well, at least both vocal ends of it—seemed to agree: Too much government is too much government.

Maybe it was inevitable that the National Opt-Out Day, when travelers were going to refuse body scans en masse, failed to become the next Woolworth’s sit-in (how do you organize a movement that abhors organization?). It turned out most Americans actually supported the body scanners. But the moment was a reminder of just how strong, not to mention loud, the libertarian streak is in American politics.

No one exemplifies that streak more than Ron Paul—unless you count his son Rand. When Rand Paul strolled onstage in May 2010, the newly declared Republican nominee for Kentucky’s U.S. Senate seat, he entered to the strains of Rush, the boomer rock band famous for its allegiance to libertarianism and Ayn Rand. It was a dog whistle—a wink to free-marketers and classic-rock fans savvy enough to get the reference, but likely to sail over the heads of most Republicans. Paul’s campaign was full of such goodies. He name-dropped Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek’s seminal TheRoad to Serfdom. He cut a YouTube video denying that he was named after Ayn Rand but professing to have read all of her novels. He spoke in the stark black-and-white terms of libertarian purism. “Do we believe in the individual, or do we believe in the state?” he asked the crowd in Bowling Green, Kentucky, on Election Night.

It’s clear why he played coy. For all the talk about casting off government shackles, libertarianism is still considered the crazy uncle of American politics: loud and cocky and occasionally profound but always a bit unhinged. And Rand Paul’s dad is the craziest uncle of all. Ron Paul wants to “end the Fed,” as the title of his book proclaims, and return the country to the gold standard—stances that have made him a tea-party icon. Now, as incoming chairman of the subcommittee that oversees the Fed, he’ll have an even bigger platform. Paul Sr. says there’s not much daylight between him and his son. “I can’t think of anything we grossly disagree on,” he says.

There’s never been a better time to be a libertarian than now. The right is still railing against interventionist policies like TARP, the stimulus package, and health-care reform. Citizens of all political stripes recoil against the nanny state, which is nannier than ever, passing anti-smoking laws, banning trans fats, posting calorie counts, prohibiting flavored cigarettes, cracking down on Four Loko, and considering a soda tax in New York. All that, plus some TSA agent wants to handle your baggage.

Libertarianism has adherents on the left, too—they just organize around different issues. Whereas righty libertarians stew over taxes and bailouts, lefty libertarians despise de facto suspensions of habeas corpus, surveillance, and restrictions on whom you can marry. It’s not surprising that the biggest victories of the right and the left in the last weeks of this lame-duck session of Congress were about stripping down government—tax cuts and releasing the shackles of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Much of Americans’ vaunted anger now comes from a sense of betrayal over libertariansim shrugged. Right-wing libertarians charge that the Bush presidency gave the lie to small-government cant by pushing Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, and a $3 trillion war. Left-wing libertarians are furious that Obama talked a big game on civil liberties but has caved on everything from FISA to DOMA to Gitmo. Meanwhile, the country faces a massive and growing deficit (too much government!) that neither party has the power or the inclination to fix. If there were ever a time to harness libertarian energy—on left and right—it’s now.

Erik Hayden at The Atlantic with the round-up

Beam and Julian Sanchez at Bloggingheads

Matt Welch at Reason:

Beam’s piece ends on an extended Big But, in which we hear warnings about doctrinal purity, extreme Randian selfishness, Brink Lindsey leaving Cato, and minarchy being “an elegant idea in the abstract.” In the real world, not bailing out banks “would have unfairly punished a much greater number” of homeowners, and so on. Plus, that one Tennessee house burned down, and: Somalia! He ends the piece like this:

It took 35 years for Ron Paul to reach the center of American politics. And it could take another 35 before he or someone like him is back. It’s certainly a libertarian moment—but it’s not liable to last too long. Libertarianism and power are like matter and anti-matter. They cancel each other out.

Radley Balko at Reason:

The first two-thirds of the article are a sort of tour guide of libertarian personalities, factions, and general philosophy. It comes off a bit like Beam describing to Manhattanites some exotic new species discovered in Madagascar, but I suppose that probably is how libertarians come off to people outside the politics/policy/media bubble. This portion of the article is mostly fair, though are still some revealing word and phrase choices. (For example, the Koch brothers are only “infamous” if you don’t happen to agree with them. Just like George Soros is only infamous if you’re opposed to the causes he funds.)

Still, the first two-thirds of the article is mostly a quick and dirty introduction to or primer on libertarianism and the movement surrounding it, with Beam largely playing a neutral storyteller, interviewer, and interpreter.

It’s in the last third of the article there’s a noticeable and disruptive shift in tone. After establishing a certain trust with the reader that casts himself in the role of a mostly neutral observer and chronicler of this libertarian uprising, Beam then stops describing libertarianism, and starts critiquing it himself. The critiques are selective. He picks a few issues, broadly (and sometimes inaccurately, or without appropriate detail) describes the libertarian position, then describes why libertarianism fails on that particular issue. Taken as a whole, these critiques are supposed to support his thesis for the latter third of the article, which is that libertarianism is utopian and impractical. (He neglects to explain how the current system has produced better results, but that’s a different discussion.) I don’t think much of Beam’s critiques, but then I’m also a libertarian.

But it’s not the critiques themselves that I found off-putting. If this had been a straight Jacob Weisberg-style trashing of libertarianism, we could evaluate it on those terms. But this is more subtle and, I think, in some ways more pernicious. This was a thrashing disguised as a primer. That Beam makes these critiques himself comes off as abrupt and, frankly, condescending. There’s an aesthetic I’ve noticed among some journalists that libertarianism is so crazy and off the rails that it’s okay to step outside the boundaries of decorum and fairness to make sure everyone knows how nuts libertarians really are. (A couple years ago, I emailed a prominent journalist to compliment him on a book he had written. His strange response: He thanked me for the compliment, and then ran off several sentences about how dangerous and evil he thought my politics were.)

Reihan Salam:

Radley Balko has written a characteristically astute critique of Chris Beam’s New York magazine article on libertarianism. I think Radley says all that needs to be said on the subject.

Instead, I’d like to throw out a few other approaches to the subject that might have worked better:

(1) While talking to a good friend, we came to the conclusion that while cultural conservatism’s influence has been fading (something we both lament, albeit in different degrees) and while social democratic thinking is moribund, certain kinds of libertarian incrementalism (think Ed Glaeser and Tyler Cowen), not just resigned but comfortable with the idea of a social safety net in an affluent society, have grown more influential. Libertarian purists hate it. But they’ve grown less relevant. This piece might have focused on criminal sentencing, the war on drugs, etc., with a “we’re all libertarians now” coda. The trouble with this piece is that it might be really boring. But it would make sense. And it would avoid a lengthy discussion of minarchism.

(2) A much more fun piece, attuned to a New York audience, would open with the Tea Party’s libertarianism and make a strong case for its hypocrisy: they call themselves libertarians, but here are the subsidies they love, the un-libertarian restrictions they champion, etc. This section would be tendentious and unfair, but that’s the fun of it. And then the piece would argue that modern-day New York city, for all its taxes and regulations, is the real home of liberty: look to the cultural freedom, and also to the entrepreneurial energy of Silicon Alley, etc. Bracketing whether or not this is fair, it would be a provocative piece about who really owns liberty.

(3) Drawing on Amar Bhidé and Tim Wu and Tyler, one could also write a straightforward piece on how Tea Party libertarians and minarchists are misguided because more freedom and more affluence and more government tend to go hand in hand. We get more free and less free at the same time, along different dimensions. Again, this piece might be boring, but not necessarily.

David Weigel:

Beam’s history and etymology are going to be useful to outsiders, who don’t pay attention to this stuff. It’s a better case against libertarian policy, if you want that, than a shouty “investigative” blog post at some liberal site that connects a congressman’s staff to the Koch family with the assumption that evil has just been uncovered. But no case against libertarianism sounds very compelling right now, because any alternative to the managed economy sounds great to a country with 9.9 percent unemployment.

Do libertarians promise utopia? Sure. So do the socialists who came up with the ideas that motivate Democratic politicians. Voters don’t care much about where ideas come from as long as they have jobs. Now, the real test for libertarians will come if a year of Republican austerity budgeting is followed by economic growth. In the 1990s, the new, libertarian-minded Republican congressmen and governors discovered that fast growth allowed them to cut taxes and grow budgets for services that voters liked. In the 2010s, if unemployment falls, will the libertarian Republicans keep cutting budgets and reducing services? It doesn’t sound impossible right now.

E.D. Kain at The League:

In any case, I suspect the many reactions to Beam’s article are not because of any of its insights but rather because it is long and in a prestigious publication, and because it is written in such accessible language. It may not do anything but scratch a few surfaces and regurgitate a number of old anti-libertarian tropes, but that’s to be expected. Look, here I am commenting on it myself, largely because it is long and because so many other people are commenting on it and because I’m surprised at how little it really says about the Libertarian Moment in question.

Matthew Yglesias:

I liked Chris Beam’s NY Mag article on libertarians, but I want to quibble with this:

Yet libertarianism is more internally consistent than the Democratic or Republican platforms. There’s no inherent reason that free-marketers and social conservatives should be allied under the Republican umbrella, except that it makes for a powerful coalition.

People, especially people who are libertarians, say this all the time. But we should consider the possibility that the market in political ideas works is that there’s a reason you typically find conservative and progressive political coalitions aligned in this particular way. And if you look at American history, you see that in 1964 when we had a libertarian presidential candidate the main constituency for his views turned out to be white supremacists in the deep south. Libertarian principles, as Rand Paul had occasion to remind us during the 2010 midterm campaign, prohibit the Civil Rights Act as an infringement on the liberty of racist business proprietors. Similarly, libertarians and social conservatives are united in opposition to an Employment Non-Discrimination Act for gays and lesbians and to measures like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that seek to curb discrimination against women.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

Let me refine the point a bit. The left-right division tends to center around the distribution of power. In both the economic and the social spheres, power is distributed unequally. Liberalism is about distributing that power more equally, and conservatism represents the opposite. I don’t mean to create a definition that stacks the deck. It’s certainly possible to carry the spirit of egalitarianism too far in either sphere. An economic policy that imposed a 100% tax on all six-figure incomes, or a social policy that imposed strict race and gender quotas on every university or profession, would be far too egalitarian for my taste. Soviet Russia or Communist China are handy historical cases of social and economic leveling run amok.

But in any case, there’s a coherence between the two spheres. Liberals see a health care system in which tens millions of people can’t afford regular medical care, or a social system in which gays face an array of discrimination, and seek to level the playing field. The inequality may be between management and labor, or rich and poor, or corporations versus consumers, or white versus black. In almost every instance, the liberal position is for reducing inequalities of power — be it by ending Jim Crow or providing food stamps to poor families — while the conservative position is for maintaining those inequalities of power.

Economic liberalism usually (but not always) takes the form of advocating more government intervention, while social liberalism usually (but not always) takes the form of advocating less government intervention. If your only ideological interpretation metric is more versus less government, then that would appear incoherent. But I don’t see why more versus less government must be the only metric.

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