Tag Archives: Ramesh Ponnuru

Old School Technology Meets New School Technology

Pia Ringheim Jensen at The Daily Beast:

On June 17, at 5 p.m., the parking lot outside the Draper, Utah, prison building where Ronnie Lee Gardner is scheduled to be executed by firing squad was already full of media trucks. The only people who could get close to the building were approved members of the media, including a reporter from The Daily Beast. No protesters were in evidence.

Inside a large media room, TV cameras were set up and journalists took their seats, positioning laptops on the desks in front of them and watching TV news for updates on the execution that’s still planned for shortly after midnight. It will be the first execution performed by firing squad in this new permanent chamber, 20 feet by 24 feet and fitted with curtains to cover the bulletproof windows between the chamber and the adjacent witness rooms.

Gardner has the right to invite up to five witnesses, but it wasn’t known if he had asked for any.

We were told that the prisoner seemed calm and relaxed. He had been sleeping, reading Divine Justice and watching a movie, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He had been fasting since his last meal yesterday. He has the right to visit with clergy, but had not requested any.

Joe Gandelman at Moderate Voice:

As ABC News reports, witnesses gave accounts of their reaction to it that were not always quite the same. Here are a few press reports.

The Salt Lake Tribune:

Five shots.

Four bullets.

With two loud bangs in quick succession, Ronnie Lee Gardner’s quarter century on Utah’s death row ended.

At 17 minutes past midnight Friday, Utah Department of Corrections officials confirmed the death of a man whose life was defined by sex abuse, drug addiction, poverty, criminality and murder.

But in the final hours of his life, friends and family members said, Gardner was at peace.

And in his final minutes, witnesses said, the calm, condemned man exchanged private words with Utah’s prison chief before being strapped to the execution chair and asked if he had any final words.

“I do not. No,” he said.

Ahood was pulled over his head. An executioner counted back from five. The shots rang out.

If the man known as one of Utah’s most notorious criminals was a monster, family members said, it was only as a result of his abusive upbringing. And Gardner’s appellate attorneys long had argued that if his jurors had known more about his childhood, they would have sentenced him to life in prison, instead of death.

The paper also had this eyewitness account from Nate Carlisle:

Ronnie Lee Gardner’s head, covered by a black hood, remained upright.

His body sat straight in the chair to which it was strapped.

As my eyes traveled down Gardner’s left arm, past his dark blue jumpsuit, I saw his pale white skin appear below his elbow. Half a faded blue tattoo, some kind of diamond shape, stuck out from the restraint around his wrist.

At the bottom of his restraint, I focused on his fist. Gardner died much the way he lived — with a clenched fist.

Yes, this was my first time witnessing an execution. I have been amazed at how many people asked me that.

Firing four bullets into a man’s chest is, by definition, violent. If it can also be clinical and sterile, then that also happened in this execution.

AND further down, after the hood is placed over Gardner’s head:

I watched Gardner. As the seconds passed, I grew anxious. I pivoted my eyes away from Gardner toward the slits.

… I heard “boom boom.” The sounds were as close together as you could spew them from your mouth.

My eyes darted back to Gardner and to his chest. The target, perfect just a second earlier, had three holes. The largest hole was in the top half of the circle and toward Gardner’s left side. It may have been where two bullets entered Gardner.

Below that hole, still inside the circle, was a smaller hole. Outside the circle, in the bottom right of the target, was a third hole. Each hole had a black outline. Utah Department of Corrections Director Tom Patterson would say later the target was fastened to the jump suit by Velcro and that may account for the black outline.

….I saw Gardner move his left arm. He pushed it forward about 2 inches against the restraints. In that same motion, he closed his hand and made a fist.

Then it happened in reverse. Gardner’s hand loosened, his arm bent at the elbow, straightened again and the fist returned. At the time, I interpreted this as Gardner suffering — clenching his fist in an effort to fight the pain.

….The next movement I saw from Gardner came from beneath his hood. I could see the bottom of his throat and it rippled as though Gardner moved his jaw.

..I squinted my eyes, looking for blood. I saw none through the holes in Gardner’s chest. None spilled on the floor. The jump suit slightly darkened around his waist and it appeared that’s where blood was pooling. But I never saw a drop

When an official checked to see if Garnder was alive, Carlisle could get a glimpse of the prisoner’s face:”His mouth was agape. His face was even whiter than it was before the hood covered him.”

Brad Hirschfield at The Huffington Post:

Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed at approximately 12:05 AM at the Utah State Correctional Facility in Draper, Utah. And even more than other death penalty cases, this one stirred strong emotion because it was carried out by firing squad. At Mr. Gardner’s request, he was strapped to a chair and shot by a team of five executioners, four of whose rifles contained live ammunition.

While I’m opposed to the death penalty, once the citizens of a state have agreed to permit it, I am entirely supportive of implementing it by firing squad. In fact, as long as it is limited to cases in which the convicted felon elects that method, I think it’s actually a good way to go.

How can someone opposed to the death penalty make such a claim? While done with a heavy heart, it’s a matter of honesty and clarity about the brutality of taking another human being’s life, even if that person “deserves” it.

If citizens really long for the death of another human being, then let it be as messy and horrible as taking a life really is. And if doing so bothers us, perhaps we shouldn’t be executing the person at all!

Robin Wauters at Tech Crunch:

A sign of the times, although many may find it distasteful, or much worse: Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff used a mobile Twitter client to send out a tweet announcing the impending execution by firing squad of convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner.

As the BBC notes, quite a modern way to announce a very old-fashioned death.

In total, the AG sent out 3 tweets about the event from his iPhone only a couple of hours ago, the most recent one an all-too-familiar (on Twitter) self-promoting one.

1) A solemn day. Barring a stay by Sup Ct, & with my final nod, Utah will use most extreme power & execute a killer. Mourn his victims. Justice

2) I just gave the go ahead to Corrections Director to proceed with Gardner’s execution. May God grant him the mercy he denied his victims.

3) We will be streaming live my press conference as soon as I’m told Gardner is dead. Watch it at http://www.attorneygeneral.Utah.gov/live.html

James Joyner:

Rather in poor taste, no?

Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review:

Any time you are tempted to think, “Surely nobody would have the bad taste and lack of sense to do that?” remember that the answer is always no.

Radley Balko at Reason:

Old school justice meets social networking.


What, no Twitpics of the body?

Elizabeth Allen at Mashable:

Were these tweets really necessary? For the most part, the 140-character messages about death, devoid of any emotion, did not sit well with many Twitter users.

A Twitter user named diptychal tweeted: “@MarkShurtleff’s tweet will probably go down in history as the dumbest most disgusting use of Twitter ever.” Another user, named drhonk, simply tweeted: “What a way to announce someone’s execution … twitter .. geez.”

The incident raises an interesting question. Is Twitter really appropriate in every occasion, even one as serious as an execution? What do you think, should Mark Shurtleff have tweeted about it? Voice your opinion in the comments.

Shani O. Hilton at Ta-Nehisi Coates’ place:

I admit that part of my issue with this is that I think that capital punishment is generally indefensible. But more than that, tweeting about someone’s death—even the death of a convicted murderer—strikes me as callous and not fitting for the gravity of the situation. It would be different if, say, he had tweeted a link to a press release. But to send out a message about the end of someone’s life so cavalierly. It boggles.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan

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Filed under Death Penalty, New Media

Mitch Daniels And The 2012 Wheels

Andrew Ferguson at The Weekly Standard:

When Mitch Daniels ran for governor of Indiana in 2004, a friend and videographer got the idea of filming the candidate in vidéo vérité style as he traveled around the state in his Indiana-made RV. In both his campaigns for governor—in 2004, when he won a close race, and in 2008, when he won reelection against the Obama tide in an 18-point landslide—Daniels visited each of Indiana’s 92 counties at least three times, appearing in places that hadn’t seen a statewide candidate in generations, or ever. If he wasn’t riding the RV, he came to town on his custom-built Harley Davidson, a solitary aide trailing behind.

He insisted on spending every night on the road in the home of a local family. Nearly all the families were strangers to him. He slept in guest rooms, family rooms, dens, and children’s bedrooms, on bunks and foldout couches, with pictures of pop stars staring from the walls and an occasional Disney mobile dangling overhead, proving to the people of his state that he could sleep anywhere. He was bit by a pig and, later, a farm dog. For his website he wrote a day-by-day account of the places he went and people he met. He paid special attention to the quality of pork tenderloin sandwiches he found in the local bars and diners. Pork tenderloin sandwiches, the size of a platter, are unavoidable in Indiana, no matter how hard you try, and Daniels made it clear he didn’t want to try. Food became a theme of the campaign. The best dessert he’d discovered, he said, was a Snickers Bar dunked in pancake batter and, this being Indiana, deep-fried.

All of this was the stuff of what became MitchTV. Daniels said he was skeptical of having his every move placed under the eye of a crew with a handheld camera and a boom mike. The first line of the first episode is: “The first thing you need to know about this is, it was not my idea.” But it was a good idea. The campaign edited the video down to half-hour episodes every week and bought time in nearly every TV market in the state, on Saturday nights, Sunday mornings, and Sunday evenings. A typical episode received a five or six share, a rating that shocked everybody and translated into tens of thousands of regular viewers.

I was alerted to MitchTV by a politically connected friend. Most of the episodes are available on YouTube. The shows are bizarrely compelling, as if D.A. Pennebaker had been let loose on the set of Hee Haw. The Hoosiers themselves​​—grizzled old farmers, bikers with attitude, housewives in floral prints, chubby kids in too-tight T-shirts—are part of the attraction. They are alternately delighted, disbelieving, and annoyed to find a well-known politician in their midst. The action, if that’s the word, plays out in county fairs and barn auctions and meetings of the chamber of commerce, against the woebegone beauty of small towns slowly sinking back into the Indiana prairie.

What ties the episodes together, of course, is the presence of Daniels. His telegenic appeal is highly unlikely. He’s 5′7″. His pale coloring is set off by his reddish gray hair, and the day is fast approaching when the combover will no longer be able to work its magic. He favors pressed sport shirts and sharply creased Dockers, public-golf-course casual. His accent is hard to place. He calls it “hillbilly hybrid,” a term he coined to describe what happens when the rounded tones of Tennessee and Georgia, where he lived as a boy, are stomped flat as a griddle by the adenoidal twang of Central Indiana, where he’s lived, off and on, since he was ten. He has a fine sense of humor—after their dog bit him he told the family he was off to a diner for his new favorite breakfast, “two eggs over easy, biscuits and gravy, and a tetanus shot”—but his manner is just awkward enough to make you wonder, when you talk to him, if you’re making him nervous.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

Daniels is in Washington this week doing interviews and meeting with groups like the Business Roundtable. This morning, he met with a group of mostly conservative new-media and print journalists. He proved both impressive and problematic for conservatives seeking a favorite in the 2012 race.

On the positive side, he is plainly not Obama. He is precise, self-effacing, down to earth, and rooted in conservative philosophy. The first question was about education, and, out of the box, he acknowledged that education was “one of the shortcomings of our administration,” and although he has made limited progress, he wants to step up his efforts in the remainder of his term. He then went on to discuss the substantial reforms he has made with the help of a new superintendent (ending social promotion, insulating teachers from lawsuits if they enforce discipline, opening up credentials so people who have had other careers can get into the classrooms, etc.). What he conveyed was both candor and a big-picture view (”Public education has evolved into a situation . . . where it is set up as much for the benefit of the adults as for the kids.”)

He also explained his effort to tame public-employees’ unions, pointing out that teachers in his state are paid 22 percent more than the average worker and that he needed to bring the union to heel if “we were going to overhaul government.” By executive order, he ended mandatory union dues, and 90 percent of the employee chose not to pay. (”They gave themselves a 2 percent pay increase.”) But he is not anti-union by any means. He explained that the playing field should be level, and workers should have the choice to unionize. He said the right to join a union is “fundamental” and has “led to freedom in a lot of countries.”

He was at his best when discussing political theory and domestic policy. Asked what conservatives he looks to for guidance, he listed Hayek, Friedman, and Charles Murray. All of them, he explained, “are realistic and therefore modest in what government is capable of doing.” He continued that they evince “skepticism of bigness — in all its forms.” When I asked him what the principle errors of Obama and Congress had been, he began by pointing out that most of them “have not spent a day in a profit-making enterprise.” He explained that the choice between political parties is the clearest we’ve ever had. Conservatives believe, he said, that public service is a temporary job and that their duty is “to promote free enterprise, family, and other intermediary institutions.” Democrats believe the opposite, he said — that society will work better “if the ‘enlightened’” make the decisions.

He explained: “I’m concerned. I’m alarmed about the direction of the country.” Even apart from the theoretical argument, he observed that looking at entitlements and the debt, “Can we all agree the arithmetic doesn’t work?” But he said he is interested in the bigger philosophical questions: “What kind of people do we want to be?” Are we still capable of preserving liberty and independence?

About entitlements and the debt, he said he has faith that we can have a “grown-up” conversation. He then proceeded to have one. “Americans,” he asserted, “have a renewed sense of the menace of too much debt.” In their personal lives, with credit-card and mortgage debt, he notes that “they had a searing personal experience.” What to do about entitlements? “Paul Ryan is right — we need to bifurcate these programs.” He said that Democrats would have been best suited to do the hard work, given the negative rhetoric hurled at Republicans when they undertake entitlements control, but he said that is a “lost opportunity. Someone’s got to try.” He continued: “Why should we pay for Warren Buffet’s health care? Why should be pay Bill Gates a pension?” Like businesses that have phased out defined-benefit plans, he recommended that we have “a new plan and an old plan.” And he wasn’t shy about criticizing Republicans for grandstanding on Medicare cuts during the health-care debate.

He explained: “None of this will work if we don’t have a sustained period of growth.” Unfortunately, he said, “Everything they are doing as far as I can see leans against economic growth.” And he pointed to his own job-creation record. Indiana has 2 percent of the population and 7 percent of the new jobs. He has made sure “the next job comes to Indiana and not someplace else.”

He also showed a knack for political message. He questioned “what the hell” did “change you can believe in.” He suggested that the conservatives’ motto should be “Change that believes in you,” stressing that Americans are “fully capable” of running their own lives, buying their own health-care insurance, etc.

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard:

Mitch Daniels told THE WEEKLY STANDARD’s Andy Ferguson that the next president “would have to call a truce on the so-called social issues. We’re going to just have to agree to get along for a little while,” until economic issues are resolved.

This morning, at the Heritage Foundation, I asked Daniels if that meant the next president shouldn’t push issues like stopping taxpayer funding of abortion in Obamacare or reinstating the Mexico City Policy banning federal funds to overseas groups that perform abortions. Daniels replied that we face a “genuine national emergency” regarding the budget and that “maybe these things could be set aside for a while. But this doesn’t mean anybody abandons their position at all. Everybody just stands down for a little while, while we try to save the republic.”

To clarify whether Daniels simply wants to de-emphasize these issues or actually not act on them, I asked if, as presdient, he would issue an executive order to reinstate Reagan’s “Mexico City Policy” his first week in office. (Obama revoked the policy during his first week in office.) Daniels replied, “I don’t know.”

More McCormack

Joseph Lawler at The American Spectator:

Is it a winning strategy to put the so-called social issues on the back burner? Thinking in terms of what a “truce” on social issues would like like substantively, it’s not obvious how Daniels’s truce would differ from past Republicans’ policies. What exactly did Bush do on the social issues that President Daniels would have to forgo?

If Daniels’s strategy is a widely palatable campaign platform aimed at bringing on board disaffected and economic issue voters, the question is how much of a trade-off would social conservatives have to make to vote for him. What typical Republican policies would he have to suspend and they have to sacrifice? It’s not clear to me that it would be anything more than simply the usual social conservative rhetoric. He might not have to do more than what he’s already started doing, which is merely playing down the importance of social issues and telling liberals that we “just have to agree to get along for a little while.”

If that trade-off would allow for a coalition that would elect president that would actually cut spending — and that’s a big if — then it’s one social conservatives should definitely be willing to make.

More Lawler

Philip Klein at AmSpec

Ramesh Ponnuru at The Corner:

Truces are usually popular, and most people see the economic issues as more important than the social ones at this moment. But I’m not sure how a truce would work. If Justice Kennedy retired on President Daniels’s watch, for example, he would have to pick someone as a replacement. End of truce.

I also can’t help but think of Phil Gramm’s presidential campaign in 1996. Like Daniels, Gramm was an enthusiastic budget-cutter. Concern about big government was running strong in the years just prior to that election. Gramm had a solid social-conservative record, but consciously chose not to campaign on it; he famously flew out to Colorado Springs to tell James Dobson, “I’m not a preacher.” That approach helped to doom Gramm’s campaign.

Daniels, presumably, won’t be trying to unite conservatives against the party establishment’s candidate, as Gramm was, and so these issues will play out differently next time. But I am not at all sure that the party’s grassroots will be less interested insocial issues in 2012 than it was in 1996.

Mike Huckabee:

Apparently, a 2012 Republican presidential prospect in an interview with a reporter has made the suggestion that the next President should call for a “truce” on social issues like abortion and traditional marriage to focus on fiscal problems.
In other words, stop fighting to end abortion and don’t make protecting traditional marriage a priority.
Let me be clear though, the issue of life and traditional marriage are not bargaining chips nor are they political issues. They are moral issues. I didn’t get involved in politics just to lower taxes and cut spending though I believe in both and have done it as a Governor. But I want to stay true to the basic premises of our civilization.

Matthew Sheffield at The Washington Examiner:

With tea partiers rallying against government debt and faith in government’s abilities to achieve the basic, let alone the moon we were promised two years ago, 2012 seems awfully convenient for the likes of Mitch Daniels, the affable skinflint governor of Indiana.

At a presser for bloggers held this morning at the Heritage Foundation, Daniels held forth on a number of national issues. While he didn’t say outright that he is running to replace Obama, the formerly Shermanesque denials that he might do so have been replaced with much more flirtatious language.

Part of that might be simply Daniels taking the advice of former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich who is quoted by the Hoosier in a must-read profile by Andrew Ferguson in the Weekly Standard that “keeping the door open” gives a state politician a lot more national press attention than he’d otherwise receive.

That can’t be entirely it, however, because, as mentioned above, things seem almost made for a Daniels run, not just in terms of current events, but also in terms of his persona.

In the midst of a recession, mountains of state and federal debt and worldwide financial crisis, running on a platform of “humility” toward government (Daniels’ term) contra Obama is a bit of a no-brainer, however, Daniels also seems to have learned one thing few GOP politicians have: being able to think quickly on his feet in response to uncomfortable questions.

He’s had a lot of practice at that crisscrossing Indiana’s 92 counties multiple times, eagerly interacting with fellow Hoosiers. That’s great for someone wanting to run for president. It’s also given him an ability to overcome the “unfortunate stereotype” of Republicans that they don’t care about the average person.

In that sense, Daniels is a bit of an anti-Bush, he’s also that way in that the former Office of Management and Budget director has no fear of tangling with the bureaucracy at their own game of spreadsheets and inventory audits

Ross Douthat:

There are scores of interesting nuggets about the 2012 dark horse scattered throughout Andy Ferguson’s profile of Indiana’s governor, but for a press corps that’s struggling to believe in love in the wake of the Gore break-up, I suspect that this one will have the most appeal:

[Daniels] and his wife Cheri divorced in 1994. She moved to California, leaving Daniels with the four daughters, aged 8 to 14, and married a doctor. She divorced again and moved back to Indiana. She and Mitch remarried in 1997.

Cheri has never spoken about this publicly, and from what I can tell it’s been mentioned in print only twice. Daniels’s only comment was to the Indianapolis Star in 2004: “If you like happy endings, you’ll love our story.”

Ferguson doesn’t say so, but I’m guessing that two of those Daniels daughters were mischievous identical twins ….

For those of us who have labored long and hard in the fight to educate the Democrats, voters, the media and even some Republicans on the importance of strong families, traditional marriage and life to our society, this is absolutely heartbreaking. And that one of our Republican “leaders” would suggest this truce, even more so. Governor Daniels is a personal friend and a terrific Governor, and I’m very disappointed that he would think that pro-life and pro-family activists would just lie down.

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Filed under Political Figures

There Are Cordoba Guitars And Cordoba Houses

Dana Chivvis at Politics Daily:

A government group representing lower Manhattan voted last night in favor of plans to build a controversial mosque two blocks from the World Trade Center site. After four hours of discussions between opponents and supporters of the proposed Muslim community center, called Cordoba House, the community board voted 29-to-1 in favor of the plans.

The vote is not binding in any way, but is seen as a gauge of public opinion. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, State Senator Daniel Squadron and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn support the plans for the 13-story building, which would include a swimming pool, auditorium , exhibition space and as an area for worship.

Still, many others nationwide have voiced their opposition to the plans, saying the mosque will be an ugly reminder of the extremist ideology behind the terror attacks. Julie Menin, the community board chairwoman, told The New York Times she had received hundreds of calls and emails about the plans, most of which were from outside New York.

Paul Mirengoff at Powerline:

My conservative cousin from New York writes:

Plans to build Cordoba House, a 15-story Islamic Center two blocks north of Ground Zero, received a major boost yesterday when a Manhattan community board backed the proposal by a 29-to-1 vote. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said the center would help “bridge and heal a divide” among Muslims and other religious groups.

Perhaps the Imam is sincere but I find the whole project an outrage. The name Cordoba House at best conveys a total insensitivity to the families of victims of the attack at worse it shows sympathy with the terrorist’s goals. Cordoba, was the Capital of Al-Andalus the Islamic Caliphate that ruled much of Spain during the Middle Ages. One of Al-Qaida’s main goals announced after the 9/11 attack was the restoration of the Cordoba Caliphate in Al-Andalus.

The Project is said to cost $100 million and no one seems to know who is paying for all of this. There are hundreds of Mosques in the New York area in a nation dedicated to religious freedom. If the Imam wants to “bridge and heal a divide” among Muslims and other faiths he should look beyond Manhattan. There are no churches or synagogues in Mecca, Riyadh or Kuwait. In Egypt, Iran and other Islamic nations those who don’t adhere to Islam practice their faiths at great risk to themselves and their families. I don’t understand why Mayor Bloomberg and other local officials are supporting this project.

Can anyone explain?

I can’t. But the name of the Center should help increase our understanding of Islam.

Julie Marsh at The Stir:

Let’s make one thing perfectly clear up front: I’m no fan of Islam. Then again, I’m no fan of the Catholic church or fundamentalist Christianity either. I confess that Mormonism befuddles me, and I’m weirded out by Wicca.

But the First Amendment allows all of these religions and more to be practiced freely here in the United States. Meanwhile, the Fifth Amendment covers private property rights, among others.

Conservatives love to cite the Constitution when arguing a point, but in the case of the proposed Cordoba House community center in lower Manhattan, they’ve conveniently forgotten about both of these amendments.

First, I’d like to dispel some misinformation regarding this project. The site is not at ground zero, but a few blocks away — an existing building already owned by the two groups spearheading the project. It’s not set to open on September 11, 2011, but will take three to five years to complete. It’s not just a mosque but an entire community center, including “a performing arts center, swimming pool, culinary school, child care facilities … [and] it would provide 150 full-time jobs, 500 part-time jobs, and an investment of more than $100 million in infrastructure in the city’s financial district.”

The project sponsors voluntarily presented their plans to the Community Board of lower Manhattan on Wednesday, May 5; they did not have to do so. As board member Ro Sheffe noted, “They own the land, and their plans don’t have any zoning changes.” The board members present at the meeting voted unanimously to support the project.

Rod Dreher:

There are some things you just don’t do, no matter how well-intentioned. You may recall in 1993, Pope John Paul II ordered Carmelite nuns to remove themselves from a convent they established on the grounds of Auschwitz, after years of Jewish protest. Even though the Nazis did not massacre Jews there in the name of Christianity, Jews saw the presence of the convent on the most notorious site of the Holocaust as an affront. It was plainly not meant to be, but it was, and one can certainly understand why, given what happened on that site, and the history of anti-Semitism in European Christianity. If reconciliation and peace is what one wants to see between Jews and Christians in the Holocaust’s wake, erecting a site of Christian religious worship on the site where millions of European Jews were gassed and burned is not the way to do it.

Though the numbers of dead in the 9/11 attacks were incomparably smaller than the Holocaust, the inescapable fact is that those killings were carried out by Islamic religious fanatics who believed they were serving Islam through mass murder. Again, it would be very wrong to hold all Muslims responsible for what those monsters did. At the same time, however distorted the religious views of those terrorists may have been, it is deeply offensive to build a giant mosque in what would have been the shadows of the Twin Towers, had they not been brought down explicitly for the greater glory of Allah. I see the desire to erect such a building on that site not as a gesture of interreligious peace and reconciliation — which we need — but rather as an outrageous act of nerve and arrogance

Gabriel Winant at Salon:

Mark Williams, a Tea Party leader and Fox News commentator, wrote on his blog, “The monument would consist of a Mosque for the worship of the terrorists’ monkey-god.” He added, “In the meantime I have a wonderful idea along the same lines as that mosque at Ground Zero thing… a nice, shiny new U.S. Military Base on the smoldering ruins of Mecca. Works for me!”

At WorldNetDaily, the Birther Web publication popular on the conservative fringe, an article, written in classic WND style, begins by acting like a straight report — albeit laced with purple prose about “that fateful day when time stood still.” Then author Chelsea Schilling moves on to ominously noting that building inspectors had trouble investigating construction complaints — almost as if somebody was hiding something. She finishes up by quoting a random selection of racist blog commenters: “Muslims are doing this only to see if they get away with it. It’s the way Islam spreads in every country these days, like a cancer — through incremental totalitarianism,” writes one. Another writes, “This is not different than allowing the Nazis to establish their headquarters and propaganda office in NYC in 1938. How come people could tell right from wrong then and not now?”

Lest you think it’s just anonymous trolls producing this stuff, though, check out Pamela Geller, the head of the group “Stop Islamization of America,” talking to Joy Behar on CNN. According to Geller, instead of a mosque, the site should be host to a monument to the “victims of hundreds of millions of years of jihadi wars, land enslavements, cultural annihilations and mass slaughter.”

You’d think someone who runs a group with “Islam” right in its name might know that the religion is about 1,400 years old — not “hundreds of millions.” I know that all that desert stuff seems super-ancient — “sands of time” and and all that — but honestly. “Hundreds of millions”? That’s way, way older than homo sapiens as a species. (Maybe that explains Williams’ “monkey god” reference?)

Then there’s Andy McCarthy, National Review writer and recent author of a book arguing that liberals are consciously conspiring to betray America to the ravenous Muslim horde. McCarthy recently pointed out on Fox News that there are 2,300 mosques in America, but no churches or synagogues in Muslim holy cities Mecca and Medina.

First of all, I think this fairly puts to rest any notion that the more militant strain of anti-Islamist hawkishness is anything other than full-scale, civilizational hatred. After this eruption, it’s going to be a stretch to take seriously claims that the interest of the right-wing base in armed conflict in the Middle East is about anything but an active desire for full-on race war. (I’ve taken some heat in the past for using this term, but I stand by it. The occurrence of the phrase “monkey god,” I think, makes my point rather neatly.) Moreover, it’s penetrated quite far into the mainstream of the right, with the flowering of a sub-literature that treats migration patterns and labor markets in Europe like they’re the secret plan for the conquest of Christendom.

In recent years, liberals have become fond of pointing out that this kind of belligerent overreaction to the terrorist threat is exactly what makes terrorism effective. It plays into the hands of Osama bin Laden to treat Islam like our foe in a global, apocalyptic struggle. That’s exactly how he sees it, and joining him in this fantasy endorses al-Qaida’s ideology.

This is a true and important point, pragmatically. But there’s something even worse going on here. It’s not just that Gellar, McCarthy, Williams and the rest in the War-with-Islam group are inadvertently playing into the hands of Islamic extremists. They are, exactly, their analogue within our own society. The same things that benefit Islamic radicals benefit anti-Islamic militants. Both groups feed off conflict, and prosper when violence erupts. Their only break from accusing Islam of guilt in wars and mass violence seems to come when they call for wars and mass violence against Muslims.

UPDATE: Pamela Geller at Big Government

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time

UPDATE #2: Michelle Malkin

Alex Pareene at Gawker

UPDATE #3: Charles Johnson at LGF on the ad

Greg Sargent

Jim Newell at Gawker

UPDATE #4: Stephen Schwartz at The Weekly Standard

Jules Crittenden

Scott Johnson at Powerline

UPDATE #5: Michelle Goldberg and Ramesh Ponnuru at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #6: Robert Wright on Schwartz in NYT

Jonathan Chait at TNR

Matthew Yglesias


Filed under Religion

And These Visions Of Miranda That Conquer My Mind

Max Fisher at The Atlantic:

Naturalized American citizen Faisal Shahzad, arrested late last night for the failed car bomb in Times Square, is in U.S. custody. Should he be read his Miranda rights? The question has a complicated recent history in U.S. policy.

In December, the Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was Mirandized after his failed attempt to blow up a U.S. flight, which provoked outrage among some Republican legislators. Critics insisted that the Miranda reading made Abdulmutallab less likely to share intelligence, although administration officials say he continued speaking openly. The current rift among some conservatives over Shahzad’s Miranda rights reveals a tension within the party between two core issues: Civil liberties, which is emphasized by those saying Shahzad’s rights as a citizen must be respected, and national security, which some Republicans say is better served by not Mirandizing.

Conservatives For Mirandizing

Glenn Beck: Read Him His Rights On Fox & Friends, Glenn Beck said, “He’s a citizen of the United States, so I say we uphold the laws and the Constitution on citizens.” Fox New’s Brian Kilmeade pushed back, calling Shahzad “a threat to the country.” Beck sighed, “So are a lot of citizens. If you’re a citizen, you obey the law and follow the Constitution. He has all the rights, under the Constitution.” He added, “We don’t shred the Constitution when it’s popular. We do the right thing.” Kilmeade suggested that Beck’s approach could risk the lives of his family.


  • Sen. John McCain: ‘Serious Mistake’ Appearing on the radio show Imus In The Morning, McCain warned, “Obviously that would be a serious mistake…at least until we find out as much information we have. … Don’t give this guy his Miranda rights until we find out what it’s all about.”
  • Rep. Peter King: Should Have Talked to Intelligence Community First The New York Republican worries, “Did they Mirandize him? I know he’s an American citizen but still. … I hope that if they did read him his rights and if they are going for an indictment as opposed to a tribunal that he did discuss it with the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, all the component parts of the intelligence community.”
  • Sen. Joe Lieberman: Remove His Citizenship Appearing on Fox News, the Connecticut Independent suggested a process to strip “American citizens who choose to become affiliated with foreign terrorists” of their U.S. citizenship, which would presumable include their Miranda rights. He asked “whether they should not also be deprived automatically of their citizenship, and therefore be deprived of rights that come with that citizenship when they are apprehended and charged with a terrorist act.”

Mark Kleiman:

John McCain, who might have been elected President last year, thinks that according American citizens their constitutional rights is a “terrible mistake.” Presumably he still thinks so despite the fact that Faisal Sharad, after being given the Miranda warnings, promptly spilled his guts. Not merely did he confess, he apparently gave up the names of at least eight associates who have now been arrested by Pakistani police.

The fervent desire on the extreme right wing – which is to say, at the center of the Republican Party – to allow terrorists to bluff us out of our way of life ought to seem puzzling. The world is full of third-world dictatorships where the secret police get to hold enemies of the state incommunicado and torture them. I have no desire to live in such a place. If John McCain’s tastes are different, no doubt Saudi Arabia would be delighted to have him as a subject.

Steve Benen:

Look, I know McCain’s in a tough primary and has to prove himself to the far-right, but this Miranda-related demagoguery is growing stale.

Najibullah Zazi was Mirandized, and the entire case went beautifully. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was Mirandized, and the results have been excellent. When shoe bomber Richard Reid was taken into custody, the Bush/Cheney administration read him his rights five minutes after he was taken off the plane he tried to blow up, and McCain never said a word. It’s been standard practice, especially with American citizens upon their arrest, for years — spanning administrations of both parties.

Can’t McCain just let the grown-ups do what they do without offering suggestions from the peanut gallery? The Joint Terrorism Task Force caught the suspect 48 hours after the attempted bombing; the frequently-confused Arizonan should probably trust them to know how best to proceed.

John Cole:

“I hope that [Attorney General Eric] Holder did discuss this with the intelligence community. If they believe they got enough from him, how much more should they get? Did they Mirandize him? I know he’s an American citizen but still,” King told POLITICO.

“I know he’s and American citizen, but still” really says it all, doesn’t it?

Half our political leadership wants a banana Republic, and our media is just treating it like it is another opinion. At what point do we start calling these people what they are?

And I just don’ know what to say about the obviously insane John McCain. You would think that someone who spent half a decade in a cage with no rights whatsoever in the defense of this nation and our laws and legal tradition and way of life, would have the slightest bit of respect for the rule of law. You would, of course, be wrong.

Moe Lane at Redstate:

Anyway, this isn’t a case of a non-citizen captured overseas as an illegal combatant, or even one of a non-citizen captured here: there are existing Constitutional mechanisms in place. Including this one:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

Of course, that assumes that this administration will seek to have this man charged and tried with what is unambiguously a capital crime. I leave it to the reader to contemplate the implications of a refusal to do so.

Ed Morrissey:

Shahzad is an American citizen, arrested by law enforcement in America. As a US citizen, Shahzad has the right to remain silent. In that sense, he differs from the EunuchBomber, who attempted to enter the country (our airspace) to conduct a sabotage mission for an enemy of the US. Ambdulmuttalab should have immediately been taken into custody by military and intelligence agencies, not the FBI, in order to make his status as an enemy combatant clear.

Rick Moran:

First of all, it is never a “mistake” to follow the law. Mr Shahzad is an American citizen, and even if he had murdered thousands, he would still be entitled to the protections guaranteed under our Constitution.

And yet, this is one instance where the “ticking bomb” scenario might very well be a reality. Newsweek reports there may be a connection between Shahzad and the Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud:

A prominent expert on Jihadist media says there is an apparent link between the new video message in which Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, once thought to have been killed, proclaims he is still alive, and a message posted overnight Saturday in which the Pakistani Taliban appears to claim credit for the failed Times Square car bomb attack.

Rita Katz, founder of the Site Intelligence Group, a private organization that monitors and translates extremist Web postings, late on Monday outlined a timeline her organization put together that suggests that the Hakimullah video and the U.S. attack claim were both posted, at least on some sites, by the same person or persons.

Terrorists are notoriously full of bombast but just for the record, Meshud made some bloodthirsty threats toward America in his latest video:

In the videos, Hakimullah Mehsud vows attacks on U.S. cities, which he says his suicide bombers have penetrated. The videos provide the first solid evidence that he survived the missile strike, and they come after the Pakistani Taliban’s widely dismissed claim of responsibility for the failed attack in New York’s Times Square. In that case, authorities were zeroing in on a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan. A suspect was arrested late Monday, though reports of his ties to extremist groups in Pakistan could not be substantiated.

Might there be other terrorists in other major American cities waiting to strike as I write this? And would that be a good enough excuse for the government to arbitrarily waive Mr. Shahzad’s Constitutional rights, designate him an “enemy combatant,” and interrogate him using all legal means at our disposal (I take it as a given that President Obama has rejected “enhanced interrogation” as an option)?

For some on both sides of the argument, this is an easy question to answer in the affirmative or negative. However, knee jerk ideological reactions from civil liberties absolutists or bloodthirsty right wingers are just not good enough in this situation.

The threat is real and immediate. Hundreds – perhaps thousands – of American lives may be at stake. Wouldn’t it be easier just to forget the Constitution in this one instance and treat this terrorist as the enemy he himself claims to be?

It would be easier. But would it be the right thing to do? I daresay if there is another terrorist attack – this one successful – and we followed the law to the letter by allowing the suspect to remain silent despite the fact that it is later revealed he could have given us information that would have stopped the attack, the political ramifications would be severe. And the fact that our police obeyed the Constitution would give cold comfort to the families of those who lost a loved on in a preventable attack.

It’s an easy choice – unless you lose someone because of that choice. Then it becomes a little more complicated, yes? Or, on the other side of the coin, if Mr. Shahzad knows nothing of any other attacks and precious little about his overseas connections, violating his constitutional rights would be seen as dramatic overkill. The law would have been violated for, what in retrospect, would be seen as no good reason.

You might argue that postulating outcomes is a fool’s game and that holding fast to Constitutional principles or making the exception in Shahzad’s case is a decision for the moment and no thought should be given to relative consequences. I disagree. This decision would be all about “relevant consequences.” If we violate the suspect’s Constitutional rights and the information we are able to wean out of him prevents an attack, is that justification for tossing the Constitution aside? Or if he has no information relevant to accomplices or other plots, must we automatically assume that what was done was a travesty?

Herein lies the conundrum over Mirandizing Shahzad. Whether we do or don’t, our actions will have profound consequences.  Even if no other terrorist attacks are being planned, finding that out is almost as important as discovering another plot to kill Americans. And as with any other decisions made by policymakers, the potential harm must be weighed against any positive outcome to their actions.

James Joyner:

First off, we can’t designate American citizens as “enemy combatants.”  The Supreme Court has made that quite clear, in case it wasn’t absolutely obvious upon reading the Bill of Rights.  Second, while the Constitution isn’t a suicide pact, it is supposed to limit government’s powers over its citizens.  Rule of law and all that.   Third, lest we forget, Shahzad is merely accused of a crime.   The government not infrequently accuses the wrong people.  Even, it turns out, for terrorism.

Now, I suppose, if the president or the attorney general felt strongly enough about the matter, they could order their subordinates to flout the law.  But that would mean that Shahzad would be much harder to jail.  And it would mean possible criminal charges against those ordering the unconstitutional acts and those carrying out those unlawful orders.

But let’s be clear:  Just as I didn’t trust President Bush, for whom I voted twice, to decide when to deprive citizens of their rights, I don’t trust his successor.  And neither should you.   That is, after all, the very definition of absolute power.  And we all know what that does.

UPDATE: John McCormack at The Weekly Standard

Marc Thiessen at The American Enterprise Institute

Conor Friedersdorf on Thiessen

UPDATE #2: Orin Kerr

UPDATE #3: Ramesh Ponnuru at The Corner

Andy McCarthy at The Corner

More Ponnuru at The Corner

Matthew Yglesias


Filed under GWOT, Homeland Security

Close Your Mind And The Rest Will Follow

Julian Sanchez:

I’ve written a bit lately about what I see as a systematic trend toward “epistemic closure” in the modern conservative movement. As commenters have been quick to point out, of course, groupthink and confirmation bias are cognitive failings that we’re all susceptible to as human beings, and scarcely the exclusive province of the right. I try to acknowledge as much, and I’m often tempted to pluck some instances from the left just to show how very fair-minded and above the fray I am. (For instance, I find myself increasingly sympathetic to complaints about the coverage of the Tea Parties: Obviously there are both subtle and not-so-subtle bigots in the pack, but I doubt they’re representative, and it’s a huge leap to the dismissive suggestion that the phenomenon is nothing but a manifestation of racial anxiety.) Yet I can’t pretend that, on net, I really see an equivalence at present: As of 2010, the right really does seem to be substantially further down the rabbit hole.

Perhaps some of that perception can be put down to the fact that I mostly write about the issues where I’m prone to agree with progressives—so I’m more conscious of it when Fox spins fantasies about the Patriot Act than when MSNBC spins on economics or health care—but I don’t think that’s the whole of it, since I feel like I see the same tendencies even on issues where I’m closer to the conservative position. So suppose it’s true that there’s a real asymmetry here—the obvious question, if we’re going to sideline the cheap partisan explanation that conservatism intrinsically appeals to the stupid or closed minded, is why this should be true now. I have a couple ideas, and (perhaps another bit of personal bias) they mostly focus on the effects of technological change.


here’s another explanation that’s related to the rise of what I’ve called the politics of ressentiment, maybe best illustrated with the help of an example in the news lately. Constance McMillen, as you may have read, is a teenage lesbian in Fulton, Mississippi who (with the help of the ACLU) sued for the right to bring her girlfriend to her high school prom, and to attend wearing a tux.  At first, the school planned to simply cancel the prom rather than afford Constance the basic equality a court agreed they should. But ultimately, there was an official “prom” attended by Constance and a handful of others, including a couple of the class’ learning disabled kids, and a real (but unofficial) prom sponsored by parents, to which she wasn’t invited.Here’s what’s interesting for present purposes. A bunch of her classmates started a Facebook group called “Constance quit yer cryin” to ridicule her. The attitude of the students and parents who spoke up there was characterized less by overt homophobia than by a resentment of the effort, characterized as attention-grubbing and selfish, to upset local traditions and “force” the school to cancel the dance by demanding equal treatment. But then gay-friendly sites—including traffic behemoth Perez Hilton—began linking the group, bringing a tsunami of comments from people all over the world, in numbers vastly dwarfing the original membership. Almost all condemned the actions of the school and parents, and supported Constance.  Not a few doled out their own hateful stereotypes, heaping scorn not just on the school, but on southerners or Christians on the whole, as inbred rednecks. Photos were posted, and much speculation ensued about which rack at Walmart various prom dresses had come off.

Contemplate how vertigo-inducing this must be. You’ve got a local community where a certain set of cultural norms is so dominant that it’s just seen as obvious and natural that a lesbian wouldn’t have an equal right to participate in prom—to the point where the overt hostility isn’t really directed at Constance’s sexuality so much as her bewildering insistence on messing with the way everyone knows things are supposed to be. They’re not attuned to the injustice because it seems like almost a fact of nature. Except they’re now flooded with undeniable evidence that a hell of a lot of people don’t see things that way, and even hold their community in contempt for seeing things that way. There have been thousands of “outside” posts in a handful of days, with more every minute. (Think of the small-town high school quarterback getting to college and realizing, to his astonishment, that everyone thinks the “art fags” he used to slag on are the cool ones. Except without even leaving the small town.)

Fulton is an extreme case, but I think there are probably a lot of conservative communities that feel a lower-grade version of this all the time. So here’s a hypothesis: Epistemic closure is (in part) an attempt to compensate for the collapse of geographic closure. A function no longer effectively served by geographic segregation—because the digital equivalents of your local hangout are open to invasion by the hordes from New York and London—is being passed to media segregation, bolstered by the sudden demand that what was once tacit and given be explicitly defended.

On both explanations—and I think they’re complementary rather than competing—the shift toward epistemic closure is linked to changes in communications technology. Then the obvious question is whether it’s a short-term symptom of adjustment to that technology, or the start of a new equilibrium.

Matthew Yglesias:

The left is simply less monolithic. It seems to me that if you look at the discourse among “green” types, you see groupthink there. And if you look at labor types, there’s another groupthink there. And there’s an immigrants’ rights groupthink and there’s feminist groupthink and all kinds of groupthink all around. But these points of view come into contact with one another and only partially overlap. At times they conflict. The progressive infrastructure contains people and institutions who are robustly on both sides of important questions like trade policy or K-12 education. Business groups are very involved with most Democratic Party politicians and with many progressives organizations (we have a “Business Alliance” at CAP). I think it would actually be beyond the intellectual powers of any one person to work all the sacred cows of all the different factions of the movement into a seamless and coherent whole.

The right just isn’t like that. It’s less demographically diverse, less diverse in its financial base, and less ideologically diverse.

At any rate, it does occur to me to wonder why Julian’s post is at his personal blog rather than on the Cato blog where he works. Isn’t the first step toward disrupting right-wing epistemic closure to put ideas that challenge it into the right’s institutional network?

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

I think the answer is that liberalism is not really an ideology in anything like the sense that conservatism is. Conservatism is an ideology organized around the belief that big government inherently destroys freedom. Contemporary liberalism is the ideology of people who don’t share that conviction, though it lacks any strong a priori beliefs to hold it together. I wrote about this in a 2005 essay for TNR’s 90th anniversary issue.Liberals are not ideologically pro-government in anything like the sense that conservatives are ideologically anti-government — conservatives view shrinking government as an end in and of itself, while liberals would view expanding government a success only to the extent that doing so furthers some other real-world benefit. I think it’s the fundamental distinction between the two parties, and it explains all kinds of asymmetrical behavior — a loose coalition versus a coherent ideological movement.

Now, I realize that I’m only discussing economics, and while this is the central front for two-party competition, it’s not the only front. I don’t think I have the only answer here to Sanchez’s question. (Indeed, on social issues and foreign policy, I think there’s more symmetry than asymmetry between the two parties.) I do think the central role of economics in the two party competition does play in important role in organizing the contrasting epistemological styles of liberalism and conservatism — that is, economic conservatism plays a dominant role is shaping the epistemological style of the conservative movement as a whole, and likewise for economic liberalism.

Sanchez admirably dismisses “the cheap partisan explanation that conservatism intrinsically appeals to the stupid or closed minded.” That’s certainly an explanation we should treat with caution. But should it be dismissed out of hand? Open-mindedness to rational inquiry is a political style historically linked with liberalism, and it’s usually (though not always) found more often in liberal parties than in conservative or Marxist ones. Certainly, when we consider other countries, we frequently assume that one party is more nationalistic, populist, reactionary, racialist, fronting for powerful economic interests, and so on, and often we associate those parties with simplistic or closed-minded approaches to politics. Likewise other parties are associated with technocracy, internationalism, and general willingness to impose policy reforms in response to objective needs. We don’t assume that there’s some universal law requiring the spirit of open-minded inquiry to be equally divided between the two major parties in any democracy. Nor should we assume that such a law should apply to the United States but not elsewhere.

Reihan Salam:

One of the virtues of Matt’s theory is its parsimony. The conservative coalition is diverse in many respects, but is is certainly more ideologically coherent than the liberal coalition, which, as Matt suggests, is more transactional, more interested in achieving incremental expansions of government power on issue of particular concern. You want a cap-and-trade system and a green industrial policy? That’s fine, as long as I get higher public sector salaries and a permanent system of racial preferences. In contrast, the right — for better or for worse — is organized around the principle of saying no to new expansions of government power and mostly acquiescing, in reality if not rhetorically, to old expansions of government power.

In his brilliant new book Never Enough, forthcoming from Encounter, William Voegeli writes:

All the liberal arguments point to a welfare state even bigger than Sweden’s; all the conservative ones to a welfare state smaller than pre-New Deal America’s. The welfare state we actually have limps along, lacking enthusiastic support and a compelling rationale that could explain how to improve it without making it radically larger or smaller. Liberals and conservatives are both in the awkward position of reassuring voters that they don’t really mean what all of their arguments clearly do mean. As a result, neither of them can muster the syllogisms or the votes to change the welfare state we’re stuck with.

But would this problem on the right be solved by less groupthink? Or should an ideologically coherent group move collectively away from arguments that are straightforwardly anti-statist to arguments that are more focused on value for money? The ideological through-line, about the dangers of unsustainable state expansion, remains the same; the arguments, however, would reflect more of a real-world engagement with near-term policy issues. As Voegeli suggests, this would move left-right debates from a philosophical terrain, where the left is strong because it is vague and hard to pin down, to the more practical question of what we can and can’t afford, i.e., would the median voter have the same appetite for taxpayer-financed public services if we were all paying enough taxes to pay for current spending, of if we even came close?

Noah Millman at The American Scene:

Here are some possible additional explanations that I think are worth considering:

– Blame the South. The argument, in a nutshell, is that a successful political coalition in America cannot be dominated by the South, as the GOP currently is. The South is a distinct region in America, significantly different in history and political culture from the rest of the country. Moreover, regional identity in the South is manifested substantially in opposition to the rest of the nation. A political movement dominated by the South will necessarily manifest a political culture that is more similar to that of the South than to that of the rest of the nation, and that political movement is also going to absorb this oppositional element of Southern identity, and will necessarily become overly invested in intellectual shibboleths. What looks like epistemic closure is really just identity politics.

I don’t think this explanation can be dismissed out of hand – in particular, dismissing it out of hand as “insulting” to the South would be in instance of precisely the dynamic I’m outlining. The South does have a distinct history and culture; that culture is substantially oppositional; and the American right is dominated by the South in a way that it has not been before. Dominance of a party by an atypical and oppositional region is just a structural problem. And, if this is a problem, it is going to be a hard one for the American right to solve, because the South is now large enough and strong enough, and remains cohesive enough, that its leaders should expect to lead any coalition of which they are a member.

Now, you might plausibly say that whether the GOP is dominated by the South is irrelevant to the intellectual state of the right in America. The GOP could be run by a bunch of ninnies and the right could be full of intellectual ferment. I think that’s a reasonable description of the state of things in much of the 1970s, for what it’s worth.

The problem is that, if you are an engaged intellectual, you want to be able to see a way forward. And right-leaning types today – contrary to historical type – are terribly engaged. If, for the foreseeable future, the GOP is going to be dominated by the South, and the Democrats are going to be dominated by the left, then where is a Northern conservative to find a natural political home?

You can see the dynamics playing out in a place like the Manhattan Institute. Properly, the focus of the Manhattan Institute should be topics relevant to urban America – that’s their beat. So why do they publish so much culture war fodder? Why do they publish on foreign policy at all? Is it really plausible that what’s good for Alabama is good for New York? If not, then why isn’t City Journal the forum in which New York’s right-wingers get to make the case for their priorities over the priorities of Alabamians? I think part of the answer relates to the fact that an oppositional section is now dominant within the conservative coalition.

– Blame the money. Is there a major patron of conservative intellectuals who is a patron primarily because he or she wants to generate new ideas, insights, works of the spirit that do not already exist in the world, as opposed to advancing arguments for ideas that are already well-established in defense of interests that are well-entrenched? If there is, please let me know that person’s name. Ron Unz is the only person who comes immediately to mind, and honestly I don’t think he’s quite in the wealth category one would ideally want.

Nobody, of course, is just going to hand out money willy-nilly. But there is an enormous difference between bankrolling a person or organization because you like what they think, and bankrolling a person or organization because you like the way they think. If a multi-millionaire says: I am interested in education, and I believe that vouchers are the answer, so I’m going to give $100,000 per year to a think-tank to produce pro-vouchers research and advocate for vouchers, well, that’s not really intellectual patronage. If, on the other hand, that same multi-millionaire says: I am interested in education, and I am skeptical of the way the system works now, how we train teachers to how our schools are financed, and impressed with some of what’s been achieved following new models. I’m going to find the smartest, most informed, most independent-minded people I can, who are also skeptical of established practice, and give them money to do whatever research they want. If they can impress me with their independence and intelligence, then I want to know what they can learn with a bit of money to work with – and I want other people to know as well. That second millionaire might wind up funding Diane Ravitch – and getting a very different report than he or she expected. And why would that be so bad? If Diane Ravitch has lost faith in a certain kind of school reform, that’s a hugely important fact – her arguments are ones that any advocate of school reform needs to know and grapple with. Even if she doesn’t change her patron’s mind, he or she should be glad to have funded her work.

Ultimately, you can only have an intelligentsia if you have patrons who are interested in learning things they don’t already know. And so, if you want a conservative intelligentsia, you need patrons of a conservative temperament who want to learn things they don’t already know – things that may unsettle them. If all the patron wants is advocacy for established views in defense of established interests, then you don’t actually have intellectual patronage at all, and pretty soon you won’t have an intellectual establishment.

I have never been a movement conservative, and I’ve never worked for a conservative institution, so any impressions I have are from a considerable distance – second-hand impressions at best, generally third-hand. Having declared that caveat, I will say that my general impression is that the money going to purportedly intellectual conservative organs is vastly more interested in advocacy than in developing intellectual talent or generating new insights. If I’m right, then that is something that has to change if you want an open conservative mind.

But if I’m right, the question that must next be asked is: has this changed? Were things different in 1975, and if so – why? I think it would be highly instructive to see a study done on the sources of funding for conservative organs and see how these sources have changed over time – is the money coming more or less from individuals over time, from more or fewer sources, from the same or different industries, is the age of donors changing, has the place in American life of donors changed over time, etc. I don’t know much of this information is in the public domain, but if it is, it would be interesting to see if anything can be gleaned from this kind of aggregate data. But, you know, I’m an elitist. My own inclination is to think that single individuals who are determined to shape history can make an enormous impact if they have the wherewithal. You don’t need a whole generation of intellectually-minded plutocrats to sponsor a renaissance. If he’s rich enough, and clear-eyed and determined enough, you may only need one.

– Blame David Frum. Just prior to the Iraq War, David Frum published a now-infamous essay expelling “unpatriotic conservatives” – that is to say, people who vociferously opposed the war – from . . . well, it’s not exactly clear from what, since he had no power to expel anybody from anything – let’s say from “conservative respectability.” And this endeavor on his part was, generally, applauded by the outlets of the organized American right. I don’t know that this was literally unprecedented, but it felt to me at the time – and more so since – like a crucial Rubicon had been crossed.

In previous defenestrations – Eisenhower’s turn against McCarthy, Buckley’s expulsion of the Birchers, the removal of Trent Lott from his leadership position – the organizations or individuals being expelled were extremists of the dominant tendency. If Republicans were generally anti-Communist, McCarthy took this to an unacceptable extreme; if Republicans were generally more friendly to a white Southern perspective on American history, Lott, in his remarks, took this to an unacceptable extreme. Frum was not expelling extremists, however; he was expelling dissenters.

The expulsion of dissenters is not something we generally associate with mainstream political movements; it is most memorable as a tic of the radical left, Stalinists expelling Trotskyites and so forth. Certainly, right-wing groups – anti-tax groups, anti-abortion groups, etc. – have tried to impose orthodoxy before, demanding pledges of allegiance in exchange for electoral support. But this is just interest-group politics; civil-rights groups, unions, and other left-wing organizations do that sort of thing all the time, with more or less effectiveness depending on the political circumstances. Expelling dissenters is something else again, and once the precedent has been set, it is very difficult to see how one may justify not applying it in more and more circumstances.

While I don’t think it’s fair to blame David Frum as an individual for very much (and poetic justice has already been served on him specifically anyhow), I do think it’s important for those who are concerned with the openness or closedness of the conservative mind to grapple with this particular event, and consider whether a formal repudiation might not do rather a bit of good, even at this late date.

– Blame Iraq. The Iraq War was the cause for which Frum expelled the so-called “unpatriotic conservatives” and the Iraq War is the cause for which the conservative mind closed. It won’t open again until this fact is faced.

Of course, conservatives weren’t alone in supporting the Iraq War, or in blinding themselves to contrary arguments. But it is instructive to examine the difference between the way conservatives who changed their mind about the war have behaved and the way liberals who changed their mind have behaved.

In my experience, conservatives who have changed their mind fall into three broad camps: minimizers, avoiders, and abandoners. Minimizers admit the war didn’t work out as planned, but spend their energies on damage control – arguing that intentions were good, or that knowledge was limited, or that some aspects did work out, or whatever. Avoiders show signs that they know the whole enterprise was rotten to the core – so they avoid the topic and avoid drawing any broader conclusions about, well, anything from the fiasco of Iraq. And abandoners, well, they feel obliged, when they face the depth of their mistake, to abandon their political home altogether, either for the other side or for a relatively un-engaged posture.

In other words, there’s a general sense among conservative thinkers that the die was cast long ago: within the context of the conservative political world, it is not an option to seriously rethink the decision for war. Doing so is tantamount to abandoning their political identity. Why that is, I’m not sure, though I suspect guilt has more to do with it than anything.

It’s instructive to compare conservatives with liberals in this regard. Liberal hawks – people whose political identity was very bound up with the Iraq War project – have had much the same problem as conservatives coming to grips with the war. But liberals who supported the war but didn’t consider that integral to their identity have had a pretty easy time chucking off their history and forging a new identity around what they learned from that mistake. These liberals frequently learned a great deal from dissenting conservative opponents of the war – people like Andrew Bacevich – and have thereby brought essentially conservative arguments against ventures like Iraq into the tent of liberal thinking – to the benefit of the nation, if to the impoverishment of the conservative tent.

I don’t know what the solution to this is. I do know that when Ross Douthat writes a column for the New York Times about why the Iraq War was fundamentally a mistake, and how his outlook on the world changed when he fully absorbed that, we’ll know that the conservative mind has opened a bit again.

– Blame the times. No analysis of where conservatism has gone wrong would be complete without an utterly fatalistic analysis, so here it is. Political movements have their life cycles like anything else: they are born; they grow; they mature; they decay. The conservative movement was born in the 1950s, grew in the late 1960s and 1970s, matured in the 1980s and early 1990s, and decayed from the mid-1990s through today. You can lament being born at the wrong time, but you can’t do anything about it.

To a considerable extent, the life cycle of movements derives from the life cycle of the people who grow up within those movements. Young conservatives in the late 1980s and early 1990s saw their movement go from strength to strength – and learned that conservatism was always right and that people who didn’t see that were fools. These same folks in the Bush years tutored their successors in appalling intellectual tactics: bullying and sophistry and identity politics. By contrast, the generation of liberals who came of age in the Bush years had to weather that bullying, had to cut through that sophistry – and were vindicated by events. I am continually impressed by the intelligence and sophistication of liberals ten years younger than I am. They are the leaders of tomorrow’s left even more than today’s, and the right is just not in the same league. It was, once, in 1960s and 1970s, when left-wing ideas were dominant and left-wingers intellectually complacent – even as their intellectual roof was falling in. The bright young things who saw that the roof was falling in, and who debated what their new home should look like, became the rising generation of conservative leaders.

Noah Millman has a very thoughtful, long post exploring the reasons for the so-called “closing of the conservative mind.” As I have said before, I am skeptical that the movement conservative mind was ever open in quite the way that Millman or Sanchez means it. The conservative mind of the sort described by Kirk is one that is both grounded in principle and also very capable of critical thinking and self-criticism, but what I think we have seen in recent years is not much the closing of such a mind as its replacement by an ideological mentality that is basically hostile to a conservative mind. To say that the conservative mind has closed leaves open the possibility that it might open someday. Perhaps I am wrong, but once such a mind is obliterated by ideology I’m not sure that it can recover.

Millman’s argument is persuasive that something has changed in degree, but I’m not at all sure that much has changed in kind. What has changed is the relative strengthening and consolidation of movement institutions compared to twenty or thirty years ago, and there has typically been greater access to Republican administrations and majorities and involvement with them during a general period of Republican ascendancy. Where conservative intellectuals once had to prove themselves by the strength of their arguments, they could now increasingly get along by repeating not much more than slogans and audience-pleasing half-truths. By the start of the last decade, there was considerable complacency, which the myth of the “center-right nation” helped to encourage by making intellectual bankruptcy seem to be politically cost-free, and then after 2006 there seems to have been general disbelief and horror that the ascendancy to which the movement had tied itself so closely was now coming to a close.

I agree that the Iraq war and the greater post-9/11 ideological rigidity movement conservatives embraced have worsened matters considerably, but what we have seen over the last eight or nine years is really just an intensification of past habits, which new forms of online media and the growth of distinctively conservative media over the last twenty years have facilitated and brought to a much larger audience. The cocooning instincts were always there (because any group that sees itself as an embattled minority is prone to this), but the means to create a large enough cocoon was not present until the 1990s and afterwards. The creation of the conservative media as an “alternative” to mainstream media gave way to conservative media as a near-complete substitute for their conservative audience. At one point, there was a desire, which I think was partly very genuine, for greater fairness to the conservative perspective, but this soon morphed into the need to construct a parallel universe of news and commentary untainted by outsiders.

Millman contrasts the expulsion of the “unpatriotic conservatives” (i.e., mainly paleoconservatives) with earlier movement expulsions, and sees a difference between expelling “extremists” as opposed to expelling “dissenters.” As far as movement conservatives were concerned then and now, paleoconservatives who opposed the invasion of Iraq (and at least some elements of the “war on terror” more broadly) were like the “extremists” of the past in that we were/are radicals, but we paleoconservatives were considered worse than these others because we were/are also basically reactionaries in many ways when compared to mainstream conservatives. We were and are very sympathetic to the Old Right on both foreign and domestic policy, and we have tended to find fault with movement conservatives on account of their myriad compromises with the welfare and warfare states. Whatever they say now that it is useful, mainstream conservatives tend to abhor the Old Right in both spheres, but they are particularly offended by the desire to return to anything remotely resembling pre-WWII neutralist foreign policy. It may or may not be an important element, but paleoconservatives also tend to be cultural pessimists and many are traditional Christians, and both pessimism and traditional Christianity have helped keep us grounded and wary of any form of triumphalism, be it nationalist or democratist or “conservative.”

Millman mentions that the expelled are expelled from “conservative respectability,” but one reason for engaging in these expulsions is to preserve the respectability of mainstream conservatism in the eyes of the broader public. Another reason for going through the expulsion exercise is to reaffirm one’s own credentials as the True Conservative and Real American, which I suppose must be gratifying in its own right. Opposing the invasion of Iraq was already a minority view during 2002-03, and on the right opposition to the war commanded almost no support, so it was not politically risky to cast out people who were already on the margins of the movement. As far as most non-conservatives were concerned, this was simply a matter of conservatives policing their own extremes, which is what “centrist,” establishment figures are always asking movement leaders to do.

Kevin Drum:

My guess is that this hasn’t really changed much over the years. It just seems like it. Take vouchers. I imagine that conservative think tanks of the 70s were just as single-mindedly dedicated to producing pro-voucher advocacy as today’s think tanks. But in the 70s, the intellectual superstructure to support that advocacy didn’t exist because the big mainstream center-left institutions like Brookings or the Ford Foundation weren’t studying the issue. So conservative think tanks got busy doing research, writing white papers, developing talking points, writing op-eds, etc. This was responsible for the “intellectual ferment” that Millman associates with conservative advocacy of that era.

Today, that intellectual superstructure has long since been built. So the only thing left is to keep pressing the argument. That means repeating the same talking points, issuing slight variations on the same research, rewriting the same op-eds, and so forth. It’s really the same thing they were doing in the 70s, but without the excitement of actually constructing all the arguments in the first place. That makes it seem duller and more closed-minded than it used to be.

But I suspect it’s not, really. It’s just that things always seem more exciting when you’re doing them for the first time and fighting an insurgent campaign against an entrenched power. But once you win — or, in the case of vouchers, reach a stalemate — it’s not as exhilarating anymore. That’s the real difference between the 70s and today. The goals of the funders, the entrenched interests they serve, the ideas they want to promote, and the desire to construct arguments to support preordained conclusions are probably much the same.

(And why haven’t conservatives been more willing to entertain new ideas over time? Good question. Liberals have retained many of the same goals over the past few decades too, but for some reason have been more willing to consider different approaches and open up whole new areas of inquiry. Global warming is entirely new, for example, and Barack Obama’s healthcare reform was quite different from Teddy Kennedy’s or Bill Clinton’s. I’m not entirely sure what accounts for the difference, though Millman’s essay proposes some fairly plausible mechanisms.)

Andrew Sullivan:

Noah’s comments on the Iraq war are also trenchant. I think his major omission is the ideological-industrial complex – the FNC/Talk Radio money machine that holds everything else in thrall. And then there’s the authoritarian leader worship of the Bush-Cheney war years, when party discipline was all the more vital because the policies themselves were so incoherent and practically disastrous.

I certainly feel, of course, total alienation from people I once saw as fellows in a broad world of ideas. I don’t think I’m alone. I just think I’m rare in saying so in public day after day. The perils of blogging, I guess. And I fear the handful of us out there in total dissent – now with extra Frum! – somehow enable the others to stay silent.

James Joyner:

Noah Millman makes an even broader claim, that somewhere along the way conservative intellectuals ceased to be intellectuals but rather advocates for Establishment views favored by funders.  Kevin Drum isn’t so sure that this is a recent phenomenon.

I don’t think this is quite right.  There are oodles of conservative intellectuals out there, whether on university campuses, the journalistic circuit, the blogs, or whathaveyou.  But I’d agree that the Official House Organs of the Conservative Movement are increasingly orthodox and that the hacks seem to get most of the airtime.

Partly, I think, it’s a function of network effects.   People who book shows are looking for people with recognizably conservative views, and the Official House Organs of the Conservative Movement are the obvious places to look.  And not only is it hard to get hired at those places if you’re far outside the orthodoxy but your views are likely to more closely approach the orthodoxy if you’re surrounded by people steeped in it.  (The reverse is also true:  Conservatives or liberals surrounded by reasonable and friendly people of the opposite persuasion will naturally moderate their views over time.)

Partly, too, there’s a self-selection effect.   As the house blogger (among other things) at the Atlantic Council, I frequently write about breaking topics in the foreign policy realm.  Sometimes, it’s about something in which I’m expert or close enough to expert that I’ve got a strong opinion.  Sometimes, it’s very important to our constituency that I have to get something up quickly (and thus don’t have time to solicit and wait for a genuine expert to write something) but sufficiently outside the scope of my interests or expertise that all I can do is aggregate the news and commentary that’s out there in a way that’s hopefully of use to the reader.

Quite frequently, I’ll be approached by the booker of a show to talk about one of these second types of posts.  For example, last night, a major international network asked me to be a guest this morning to talk about the mess in Kyrgyzstan.  I thanked them for their invitation and expressed interest in appearing again at some point in the future, but politely declined the offer — as I frequently do — on the basis that I simply don’t know the subject well enough.  [UPDATE:  I’ve now turned down a second request from another major international outlet.  Sigh:  They almost always approach me after one-off posts rather than things in my wheelhouse.]

I’ve watched enough news television and heard enough news radio to know that this stance is unusual.  There are clearly people who will show up any time, anywhere, to talk about anything.  But that pretty much defines a hack.  Doing that reduces you to regurgitating a few talking points you’ve picked up and steering the conversation back to them.

Tyler Cowen

More Salam

UPDATE: Megan McArdle

Michael Berube at McArdle

UPDATE #2: Matthew Continetti

Jonah Goldberg at The Enterprise Blog

Chait on both of them

UPDATE #3: Conor Friedersdorf on Goldberg

More Goldberg

UPDATE #4: Jonathan Bernstein

Matt Steinglass at DiA at The Economist

Both of the above via Sullivan

UPDATE #5: Ross Douthat

UPDATE #6: Bruce Bartlett

More Chait

UPDATE #7: Jonathan Chait and Ramesh Ponnuru at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #8: More Sanchez

UPDATE #9: More Goldberg

Marc Ambinder

UPDATE #10: More Bartlett

UPDATE #11: William Saletan at Slate

Ezra Klein

UPDATE #12: Glenn Greenwald and David Frum on Bloggingheads

Julian Sanchez


Filed under Conservative Movement, Politics

Slaughterhouse 435

What did conservatives (mostly) have to say about the “Slaughter Solution?”

Mark Tapscott at The Washington Examiner:

You’ve been hearing a lot this week about the Slaughter Solution, the rule devised by House Rules Committee Chairman Louise Slaughter of New York whereby the House would pass an Obamacare reconcilliation bill via a rule that “deems” the chamber to have voted for the Senate version of Obamacare even though no such recorded vote was actually taken.

It’s been dubbed the “Slaughter Solution in the media. I prefer to call the Alice in Wonderland way of passing Obamacare.

But put aside the present for the moment and step into my time machine. Dial the date selector back to 2005 when the Republican majority in Congress approved a national debt limit increase using a self-executing rule similar to the Slaughter Solution.

Guess who went to federal court to challenge the constitutionality of the move? The Ralph Nader-backed Public Citizen legal activists.


And now for the kicker, guess who joined Public Citizen in that suit with amicus briefs:

Nancy Pelosi

Henry Waxman

Louise Slaughter

If the Pelosi/Slaughter/Waxman argument against using a self-executing rule against a debt limit increase measure sounds familiar, it should because it’s the same argument now being used by Republicans to oppose the Slaughter Solution for moving Obamacare through the House.

Andy McCarthy at The Corner:

The bad news for present purposes is that they lost the case. The D.C. Circuit in Public Citizen v. U.S. District Court upheld the procedure. Upheld in this case does not mean endorsed. The Court did not say the self-executing rule was constitutional. It said it could not reach the question due to the standards of deference that apply between departments of government: If the presiding officers of both houses of Congress attest that their respective chambers have passed a piece of legislation, the Court is required to accept those representations as conclusive.

That doesn’t mean it is proper for government officials to execute a procedure that violates the Constitution, nor does it mean that a presiding officer should attest something that is not true. It does, however, suggest that it may be an uphill battle to get a court to declare the process null and void.

Mark is correct to point out that raising the debt ceiling is (regrettably) a routine, uncontroversial practice. Byron made a similar point yesterday in running down the handful of times the “self-executing” procedure has been followed. The key here is that in each instance, at issue was something that was non-controversial or almost ministerial — not, as with heathcare, an unpopular, bitterly opposed, ragingly controversial socialization of the private economy.

I think Democrats are mistaking a customary short-cut for a substantive precedent.

Peter Suderman at Reason:

The Post‘s headline—”House may try to pass Senate health care bill without voting on it”—tells you all you really need to know about the what of House Democrats’ procedural strategy via the Slaughter Rule (which I explained in greater detail here). But it doesn’t tell you much about the why.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi explains that she “like[s] it because people don’t have to vote on the Senate bill.” And presumably that’s what anxious legislators who might want to vote for reform but don’t like the Senate bill are thinking too. But Democrats nervous about voting for the bill would still have to vote on the reconciliation bill—which, under the Slaughter Rule, would not only amend the original bill but also trigger its passage.

In other words, legislators will still have to cast a vote for the passage of the original Senate bill. And what’s more, they’ll do so using a complicated procedure that makes it look as if they are trying to hide their votes.

Not so fast, says former federal circuit court judge Michael McConnell in The Wall Street Journal:

Under Article I, Section 7, passage of one bill cannot be deemed to be enactment of another.

The Slaughter solution attempts to allow the House to pass the Senate bill, plus a bill amending it, with a single vote. The senators would then vote only on the amendatory bill. But this means that no single bill will have passed both houses in the same form. As the Supreme Court wrote in Clinton v. City of New York (1998), a bill containing the “exact text” must be approved by one house; the other house must approve “precisely the same text.”

Democrats have already hidden 60 percent of the cost of the Senate bill, effected an obscenely partisan change in Massachusetts law to keep the bill moving, pledged more than a billion taxpayer dollars to buy votes for the bill, and packed the bill with an unconstitutional individual mandate and provisions that violate the First Amendment. It’s almost as if, to paraphrase comedian Lewis Black, Democrats spent a whole year, umm, desecrating the Constitution and at the last minute went, “Oh! Missed a spot!”

Ramesh Ponnuru at The Corner:

Opponents of Obamacare have recently been talking about how outrageous the Slaughter strategy is. I agree with them. But there’s another point that’s worth making more than Republicans have: It’s not going to buy the Democrats much political cover, and might make their situation marginally worse.

Any House Democrat who votes for the rule that allows the Senate bill to be deemed passed will be voting for the Senate bill. A foreseeable consequence of that vote is that the Senate bill may become law while some of the fixes the House votes for do not. It is entirely fair for Republican opponents of any House Democrat who votes for the Slaughter rule to tie him to the Senate bill. Republicans will be able to say, fairly, that such a House Democrat has voted for the Senate bill — kickbacks and all — and tried to hide the fact. Republicans may as well point out now that that’s exactly what they’re going to do.

Brian D at Redstate:

Ryan Grimm of the Huffington Post writes:

The Speaker, in a press briefing with progressive media in her Capitol office, said that three options were under consideration. One of them involved a vote on the Senate health care bill, followed by a vote on a reconciliation package. “Nobody wants to vote for the Senate bill,” she said. She wouldn’t rule out that option, she said, because there is no official bill language yet, which she said she needs first before she makes a decision on process.

This shows an intent on the part of Pelosi to skirt the Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution that “Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it becomes a Law, be presented to the President of the United States.” If the House does not have a direct vote on the legislation, this seems to be a violation of the explicit language of the Constitution.  Pelosi favors the Slaughter Rule that would allow a complicated procedure to be used so that the House does not have to schedule a direct vote on the Senate passed version of ObamaCare at any stage in the process.

Steve Benen:

As expected, the responding tantrum is nearing full force. The WSJ editorial page is outraged; Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is suggesting laws approved through the self-executing rule aren’t laws that Americans have to follow; and assorted GOP voices, on and off the Hill, are characterizing the deem-and-pass approach as unconstitutional.

Of particular interest were complaints from Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Rules Committee, who called use of the self-executing rule “very painful and troubling.” It’s interesting — Dreier found the rule neither painful nor troubling when he used it in 2006.

Indeed, while the deem-and-pass approach used to be rare, its use became far more common 15 years ago — right after Republicans took over Congress. Don Wolfensberger, former chief of staff for the House Rules Committee under Republicans, explained in a column a few years ago, “When Republicans took power in 1995, they soon lost their aversion to self-executing rules and proceeded to set new records under Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).”

It’s a familiar pattern — Republicans open doors, and then whine incessantly when Democrats walk through them.

Michelle Malkin:

Just heard from GOP Hill folks:

“House Republican leaders will announce this morning a plan to force a vote this week on a resolution that would require the Senate health care bill to be brought to an actual up-or-down vote. The likely text of the measure is below. If passed by the House, the resolution would prohibit Speaker Pelosi from implementing the “Slaughter Solution,” the scheme by which House Democratic leaders are seeking to “deem” the Senate bill as passed without an actual vote in the House. More details to come.”

Here’s the text:

H. RES. __


Ensuring an up or down vote on certain health care legislation.

Resolved, That the Committee on Rules may not report a rule or order that provides for disposition of the Senate amendments to H.R. 3590, an Act entitled The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, unless such rule or order provides for—

(1) at least one hour of debate, equally divided and controlled by the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader, or their designees; and

(2) a requirement that the Speaker put the question on disposition of the Senate amendments and that the yeas and nays be considered as ordered thereon.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin

Jim Geraghty at NRO

Allah Pundit

1 Comment

Filed under Health Care, Legislation Pending

The Paul Ryan Week That Was, Week Two

Paul Ryan’s “A Roadmap For America’s Future” website

Tim Fernholz at Tapped:

Republican Rep. Paul Ryan was in the news earlier this year after releasing a budget designed to eliminate the deficit and federal debt. Many argued that, though it contained radical changes in Social Security and Medicare as well as draconian budget cuts, it also represented a good-faith effort to make hard choices about the budget. But several new analyses show that not only is the plan incredibly regressive, it fails to actually solve the debt problem. Here’s your background on the issue:

  • Ryan’s Plan:A Roadmap for America’s Future” [PDF] was released in January; it promises major changes in social insurance, tax policy, and spending cuts that would cut deficits and gradually eliminate the national debt.
  • Tax Policy Center Analysis: However, the respected Tax Policy Center highlighted an important problem [PDF] in these calculations: The expected tax-revenue figures — approximately 19 percent of GDP — were assigned arbitrarily. When TPC ran the numbers, they found that Ryan’s plan was billions of dollars short and would also result in extraordinary regressive tax policy, with large cuts for the wealthy but tax increases [PDF] for almost everyone else.
  • Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Analysis: The CBPP took the TPC analysis and went one step further, looking at the impact on other government programs, noting that the plan “would eliminate traditional Medicare, most of Medicaid, and all of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).” It’s funding for private Social Security accounts “would leave the program with a deep financial hole.”
  • The President’s Budget: For comparison, here is the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of President Barack Obama’s preliminary budget proposal, which, while it does not purport to eliminate the deficit and the debt, it does propose the (barely) feasible goal of lowering the deficit to the point where the national debt is sustainable.

You can argue whether this cost control is better or worse than other forms of cost control. But it’s a blunt object of a proposal, swung with incredible force at a vulnerable target. Consider the fury that Republicans turned on Democrats for the insignificant cuts to Medicare that were contained in the health-care reform bill, or the way Bill Clinton gutted Newt Gingrich for proposing far smaller cuts to the program’s spending. This proposal would take Medicare from costing an expected 14.3 percent of GDP in 2080 to less than 4 percent. That’s trillions of dollars that’s not going to health care for seniors. The audacity is breathtaking.

But it is also impressive. I wouldn’t balance the budget in anything like the way Ryan proposes. His solution works by making care less affordable for seniors. I’d prefer to aggressively reform the system itself so the care becomes cheaper, even if that causes significant pain to providers. I also wouldn’t waste money by moving to a private system when the public system is cheaper. But his proposal is among the few I’ve seen that’s willing to propose solutions in proportion to the problem. Whether or not you like his answer, you have to give him credit for stepping up to the chalkboard.

Ramesh Ponnuru at The Corner:

I don’t share the liberal objections to it, particularly those that assume that his reforms would have no effect on medical inflation and then complain that he would leave people unable to keep up with it. I do, however, think that his tax proposal is flawed. The alternative, simpler tax structure he would allow people to opt into would have a child allowance smaller than current law, which already makes it too small. The effect would be to shrink the overall tax burden but to leave families with children paying a larger share of it. I think that this is lousy politics and policy, although one that Representative Ryan could easily correct.

Our entitlement programs overtax families with children. People who make the financial sacrifices needed to raise children are paying twice for those entitlements, both via their payroll taxes and via those sacrifices. Those who don’t have kids benefit in retirement from the fact that others have made those financial sacrifices. The tax credit for children should not be considered a special-interest tax break that we should try to move away from. It should be seen, rather, as a partial corrective to the bias against children in federal fiscal policy — and it should be expanded in order to provide a complete offset.

Jake Sherman at Politico:

Last Friday, Rep. Paul Ryan looked like President Barack Obama’s new Republican best friend. The president showered praise on everything from his substantive budget proposal to his family during the now-legendary question-and-answer session with House Republicans.

But rather than opening a hopeful new avenue for bipartisanship, the White House and Hill Democrats quickly went to work ripping apart Ryan’s “Roadmap for America’s Future” — which Obama himself said he had read.

Democrats accused the Wisconsin Republican of trying to privatize Social Security, cut taxes for the rich and increase them for the middle class. Medicare would be allowed to “wither on the vine.” Here we go again, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said Thursday of Ryan’s proposal. On Capitol Hill, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag deconstructed the plan, saying it would address long-term fiscal problems but in a way that many policymakers might find “objectionable” because it would shift risks and costs onto individuals and their families.

In just a week, Ryan had gone from being seen as the smart conservative whom Obama might take seriously to being seen as the symbol of how Democrats believe Republicans would dismantle the social safety net if the GOP took control of Congress.

Republicans believe the criticism was a setup.

Matthew Continetti at The Weekly Standard:

Key fact: Ryan’s plan preserves the current entitlement system for everyone over the age of 55. The rest of us will see dramatic changes in the structure of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the tax code–changes the CBO says will solve the long-term budget problem, in ways that increase individual choice and limit government’s scope. If nothing is done, America faces high interest rates, inflation, and economy-crushing tax rates. Is this the future Democrats prefer? After all, they have provided no alternative way to achieve the Roadmap’s outcomes.

Why is the assault on Ryan irresponsible? Because Democrats are pretending that America’s future budget obligations aren’t a serious problem. They have no proposals to limit the growth in entitlements other than phantom reductions in Medicare reimbursement rates, a parodic “spending freeze,” and independent commissions whose recommendations Congress will probably ignore. Democrats clearly hope they can preserve their majorities by demagogic attacks on Ryan. Meanwhile, the crisis approaches.

Obama has no ideas to balance the budget. Ryan has a big one–one that nonpartisan analysts say would work. Thus, he’s now a target.

More Continetti at TWS:

Liberals have seized on the Roadmap in order to say that Republicans want to leave seniors in the cold. Today, the Wisconsin Democratic party organized a conference call, featuring Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra of California and left-wing economist Dean Baker, devoted entirely to attacking Ryan and his plan. (Ryan participated in a conference call of his own to respond.) Meanwhile, the liberal Talking Points Memo website reports that House Democrats are planning to hold a vote on a resolution condemning the Roadmap and other attempts to introduce personal accounts into Social Security. This week’s blizzard interfered with the Democrats’ plans, however. Now the vote is up in the air.

The critics make two specific charges against Ryan’s plan. One involves revenues. It’s true that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) did not score the revenue side of the Roadmap. (It would reduce the current six tax brackets to two, replace the corporate income tax with a business consumption tax, and eliminate the Alternative Minimum, dividend, capital gains, and estate taxes.)

But that’s because macro-economic volatility makes it close to impossible for the CBO to estimate revenues in, say, 2070. Instead, the CBO assumed that in the long-term, the Roadmap’s revenues would be similar to the historical average of 19 percent of GDP. You can agree or disagree with that assumption, but it seems fair enough to me — especially considering the growth potential of Ryan’s tax reform.

The second charge against the Roadmap is that “ends Medicare as we know it.” Yes, but only for Americans 55 or younger — these are the same people, in other words, who face a fiscal nightmare as entitlement spending surges in the coming decades and Medicare and Social Security become insolvent.

Expect liberals to focus heavily on Ryan’s “cuts” to Medicare. The Ryan camp’s response is that these are a far cry from the Medicare cuts in the Democratic health care reform. The $500 billion in cuts there would affect current beneficiaries — Ryan’s do not. Moreover, in the Democratic health bill, the cuts to Medicare would be pocketed and used to pay for … another entitlement!

Stephen Spruiell at NRO:

Ryan has put a credible plan on the table. It isn’t perfect, but no plan for controlling the cost growth at the heart of the entitlement problem is going to be uncontroversial. As Ryan put it to me, “If we are going to get serious about controlling costs, then either the individual is going to be in control of their health-care decisions or government is going to be in control.” Putting the individual in control sounds like the no-brainer choice, but in the past voters have expressed a preference for less risk, not more control, when it comes to their post-retirement well-being. Getting Republicans to embrace the politically perilous task of explaining to people that the status quo entails more risk, not less, will be no easy feat.

For now, the GOP leadership wants to proceed along two tracks: Stay away from big, specific reforms until the most dangerous items on the Democrats’ agenda have succumbed to the politics of the election cycle; and, meanwhile, develop a “Contract with America”–style set of positive agenda items on which to run. The plan is to pivot to this second track at some point between now and November. But details about this new contract have not been forthcoming. Will it include a specific plan for getting us out of the debt trap? Or will it eschew these for broad platitudes, so that the focus stays on the Democrats’ unpopular agenda?

The desire to remain vague is understandable as long as there is a threat that Obamacare might pass. And the political dangers of including something like the Ryan plan in the platform for 2010 are clear. But here’s the contrarian case:

The Democrats have already put forward a health-care bill that cuts Medicare, complete with the rationing board that inspired Sarah Palin’s memorable bit of resonant hyperbole. Medicare cuts are on the table, and we know how the other side would do it: price controls that force providers to leave the system and a federal apparatus that thinks it knows better than you or your doctor what treatments you need.

The Ryan alternative — reduced spending, but in voucher form, which allows patients to comparison-shop on quality and price —would likely prove to be effective at controlling costs, balancing out the spending reductions. And if we do nothing, we’ll get Medicare cuts anyway, in the context of a debt crisis that leaves us with no choice but to ration care.

Politicians do not generally consider elections to be good times for serious conversations about the nation’s problems. This year, the nation’s problems are so great that it’s possible the calculus has changed. If they want to appeal to the growing number of Americans whose heads are spinning at the size of Obama’s deficits, Republicans might need to start that conversation. Ryan’s plan provides as good a starting point as any.

Ramesh Ponnuru at The Corner, answering Spruiell:

Many Republicans have complained that President Obama’s agenda is too ambitious: that it attempts to do too many things at once, indeed to transform America. Conservatives have said that health-care reform should take the form of modest steps that reduce our problems with cost, access, and portability rather than an attempt to have Congress rationalize the entire system. Rep. Ryan’s plan is the mirror image of Obama’s agenda. It attempts to move America in a free-market rather than social-democratic direction, and I support that goal; but it is just as transformational, just as ambitious, just as immodest. I don’t think that the public, or the political system, can bear this type of comprehensive change. Nor do I believe the public really wants our politicians to offer a complete 100-year solution to making entitlements solvent; I suspect it would need them to prove first that they are equipped to make headway against the problem before it would trust anything so sweeping.

Rep. Ryan’s plan is a great way to provide the conservative movement with long-term goals, but it is not a practical agenda for incremental progress, and that’s what conservatives need more urgently.

Howard Gleckman at Tax Policy Center:

However, TPC found Ryan’s plan generates much less revenue than he projects. If all taxpayers chose the simplified system, it would produce about 16.8 percent of GDP by 2020, far below the 18.6 percent he figures for that year. If taxpayers chose the system most favorable to their situation, the Ryan plan would produce even less revenue—about 16.6 percent of GDP.

What does that mean in dollars? CBO’s most realistic projection of revenues (assuming  most Bush tax cuts are extended and many middle-class families continue to be exempted from the Alternative Minimum Tax)  figures the existing tax system would raise about $4.2 trillion in 2020. By contrast, Ryan’s plan would generate about $3.7 trillion, or $500 billion less in that year alone.

While TPC didn’t model the Ryan plan beyond 2020, the pattern of revenues it generates suggests it would be decades before it reaches his goal of 19 percent of GDP—very likely sometime after 2040.

Top-bracket taxpayers would overwhelmingly benefit from Ryan’s tax cuts. By 2014 people making in excess of $1 million-a-year would enjoy an average tax cut of more than $600,000. To put it another way, their after-tax income would rise by nearly 30 percent.

By contrast, the average taxpayer making $75,000 or less would pay higher taxes if they  chose Ryan’s two-rate alternative. If they chose the tax plan more favorable to them, they’d do a bit better. For instance, people making between $50,000 and $75,000 would typically get a tax cut of $157 in 2014, while those making between $40,000 and $50,000 would pay $128 more on average.

These estimates are subject to lots of uncertainty. For instance, we assumed Ryan’s 8.5 percent VAT—the new business tax—would generate about 4.3 percent of GDP in revenues. TPC’s Joe Rosenberg, who modeled the Ryan plan, believes that estimate is generous. But since no such tax currently exists, it is hard to know for sure.

One other caveat: TPC did not assume that taxpayers would change their behavior in response to this new tax structure. We know they would, of course, in some ways that would generate additional revenue and in others that would lose revenue. But because these changes are so uncertain, TPC did not include them in our revenue estimates.

As I’ve written before, Ryan deserves kudos for highlighting the nation’s fiscal challenges and putting out a real deficit reduction plan. But it is hard to see how this one adds up.

Paul Ryan:

The Tax Policy Center has completed a 10-year revenue estimate of “A Roadmap for America’s Future” that suggests that the tax reforms would raise slightly less revenue than claimed.  With respect to TPC’s analysis, Congressman Paul Ryan issued the following statement:

“I appreciate the Tax Policy Center’s effort to advance the debate on our need to get a grip on the explosion of spending and put the government on a sustainable path.  Our nation’s fiscal crisis is the result of Washington’s unsustainable spending trajectory, not from a lack of sufficient revenue.

“The tax reforms proposed and the rates specified were designed to maintain approximately our historic levels of revenue as a share of GDP, based on consultation with the Treasury Department and tax experts.  If needed, adjustments can be easily made to the specified rates to hit the revenue targets and maximize economic growth.  While minor tweaks can be made, it is clear that we simply cannot chase our unsustainable growth in spending with ever-higher levels of taxes.  The purpose of the Roadmap is to get spending in line with revenue – not the other way around.

“I look forward to continuing the dialogue with the Tax Policy Center and working with my colleagues in Congress to advance real solutions to our fiscal crisis.”

The following additional points should be considered when interpreting these results:

1) The Tax Policy Center’s revenue analysis of the Roadmap is not an “official” score of this plan.  The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) is responsible for providing the official revenue score of legislation before Congress.

2) The Roadmap’s revenue baseline was constructed last year, using CBO’s long-term “alternative fiscal scenario.”  This baseline incorporated an economic forecast from early 2009.  Since that time, economic forecasts have generally been lowered, which would tend to cause lower-than-predicted revenues over the near term.  The Tax Policy Center’s revenue analysis of the Roadmap uses an updated economic forecast from the one originally used to construct the Roadmap revenue baseline.  The different economic assumptions in these baselines likely explain a portion of the lower revenue prediction.

3) The Tax Policy Center analysis covers a 10-year period, but the Roadmap is a long-term plan with spending and revenue projections covering 75 years.  As such, the analysis is not consistent with the long-term horizon of the plan.  Staff originally asked CBO to do a long-term analysis of both the tax and spending provisions in the Roadmap.  However, CBO declined to do a revenue analysis of the tax plan, citing that it did not want to infringe on the traditional jurisdiction of the JCT.  JCT, however, does not have the capability at this time to provide longer-term revenue estimates (i.e. beyond 10 years).  Given these functional constraints for an official analysis, staff relied on its original work with the Treasury Department and other tax experts to formulate a reasonable expected path for long-term revenues given the tax policies in the Roadmap combined with the economic growth projections available at the time.

J.D. Foster at Heritage:

The TPC analysis is a good first step, but critically leaves out some important information on economic effects. By way of analogy, imagine the Congressional Budget Office providing an analysis of health care reform and ignoring any references to the consequences for health care costs or whether the ranks of the uninsured would rise or fall. Policymakers want to know if the legislation would “bend the curve” and that it substantially reduces the ranks of the uninsured. Analysis lacking this information would obviously be woefully incomplete.The TPC has done much the same by ignoring the stronger economy that would follow from enactment of the Ryan plan. As with health care reform and the uninsured, a fundamental motivation for tax reform is to improve economic performance, yet the TPC acknowledges its analysis is essentially static. Revenue forecasts aside, this is a substantial shortcoming of the TPC analysis that will hopefully be remedied in their follow-on work.

Foibles to Resolve
One foible in the TPC analysis is that it combines a rigorous methodology for assessing the revenue effects from the tax on individuals with a back of the envelope approach to estimating tax revenues from the new Business Consumption Tax (BCT) tax contained in the Ryan plan. If TPC does not have the tools for a rigorous assessment of the BCT, then so be it, but TPC should clearly indicate the difference in approaches and admit that its revenue forecast of the BCT carries an unusually high degree of uncertainty.

Another foible in the TPC analysis deals with the treatment of pass-through entities such as sole proprietorships. This is a difficult area and the TPC analysis usefully highlights an issue in the plan its designers may want to revisit. However, TPC arbitrarily assumes small business owners will take all their income in tax-exempt dividends rather than taxable wages. To be sure, this is a troubled area in the existing tax code, but the TPC assumption is most unreasonable, and creates an obvious downward bias in the total revenue estimate.

Finally, the TPC is known for its distributional analysis and it refers to distributional effects in its analysis. But where are the tables?

Philip Klein at The American Spectator:

I’d also add that “TPC did not assume that taxpayers would change their behavior in response to this new tax structure.” Yet in reality, if we had a new simplified tax code that didn’t tax savings or investment, and that eliminated the corporate income tax (while replacing it with a business consumption tax), as the Ryan plan does, it would generate more economic growth. While this economic growth may not make up for all of the revenue that TPC estimates would be lost, there’s good reason to believe, based on economic theory and empirical experience, that at least some portion of that “lost” revenue would be recouped by higher GDP. But the overaching point is that the Ryan plan, as scored by the CBO, shows that there’s a way to balance the long-term budget by keeping taxes at historical levels rather than raising them to levels that would cripple the economy. If critics acknowledge that Ryan’s reforms to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the health care system can make our nation solvent as long as we maintain historical levels of tax revenue, and the only argument left is over how to maintain historical levels of taxation, then I’d say that’s a major victory for Ryan.

Josh Marshall at TPM:

I guess it wasn’t such a hot idea after all to let Rep. Ryan (R-WI) score his own budget.

This is a story that deserves a lot of attention. For weeks, DC has been fawning over Rep. Paul Ryan’s ‘courageous’ Social Security and Medicare-slashing budget as a brave attempt to deal with mounting federal deficits. But it turns out the CBO didn’t really score his budget as he suggested. He asked him to score it on the basis of assuming his numbers were right.

But now an outside group has actually scored it and it turns out it leaves deficits much bigger than President Obama’s budget plan.

But hey, he’s the toast of Washington even though his numbers are pure fantasy.

Matthew Yglesias:

The CBO score that people are relying on to reach that conclusion doesn’t actually estimate how much revenue Ryan would raise, instead it just takes Ryan’s word for it that his ideas would raise 19 percent of GDP. That’s because the CBO doesn’t score tax issues, that’s done by the Joint Committee on Taxation. But if you look at what Ryan’s ideas would actually do, the truth is rather different:


So that’s the Ryan Ripoff in a nutshell—much lower taxes for the rich, higher taxes for ninety percent of Americans, and no balanced budget. All in the name of balancing the budget!

Matthew Yglesias:

Paul Ryan’s “budget roadmap” has terrified the GOP leadership, but thrilled conservative intellectuals with its calls for sharp cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, defense, and all other government programs combined with privatization of Medicare so that a larger share of your diminished benefit goes to for-profit insurance companies. Less widely discussed is the tax aspects of Ryan’s plan. As you would expect from a conservative plan, compared to Barack Obama’s tax ideas Ryan would raise less government revenue. This is why he needs sharp cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, defense, and all other government programs combined with privatization of Medicare so that a larger share of your diminished benefit goes to for-profit insurance companies.

The interesting thing, however, is that when the Center for Tax Justice (PDF) ran the numbers, they discovered that this isn’t the kind of tax cut that makes your taxes lower. On the contrary. Most Americans will pay higher taxes under Ryan’s plan than under Obama’s. Only the very richest will pay less.

Paul Ryan:

Yesterday, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities [CBPP] published an error-riddled attack on what remains the only proposed solution to our nation’s fiscal crisis – “A Roadmap for America’s Future.”  Congressman Paul Ryan put forward this plan (H.R. 4529) to lift our nation’s crushing burden of debt, fulfill the mission of health and retirement security for current and future generations, and makes possible future economic growth and spurs sustained job creation.  The CBPP report is the latest is a series of partisan demagoguery against Ryan and the Roadmap – reminding the American people why bold, serious solutions are so rarely proposed in Congress.

In reviewing the CBPP’s analysis, it is important to keep in mind the lengthy series of factual errors and misleading statements – including the following:

Tax Reform

Claim: CBO was directed not to score revenues for the Roadmap by staff.  (pg. 2 – http://www.cbpp.org/files/3-10-10bud.pdf)

Reality:  False. In fact, Congressman Ryan and his staff did ask CBO to analyze both the revenue and spending provisions in the Roadmap.  However, CBO declined to do a revenue analysis of the tax plan, citing that it did not want to infringe on the jurisdiction of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT).  The JCT is responsible for providing the official revenue score of legislation before Congress.  JCT, however, does not have the capability at this time to provide longer-term revenue estimates (i.e. beyond 10 years) that Ryan’s long-term solution requires.

Given these functional constraints for an official JCT cost estimate, Ryan relied on its original work with U.S. Treasury Department tax experts to formulate a reasonable expected path for long-term revenues given the tax policies in the Roadmap combined with long-term expectations for economic growth.

Claim: The Roadmap does not bring in the amount of revenue specified to the CBO according to the Tax Policy Center, and therefore it does not reduce the deficit as is claimed. (pg. 2)

Reality:  The Tax Policy Center does not give official revenue estimates, and in their analysis admit to significant uncertainty and unfamiliarity with a proposal of this size and scope. The tax reforms proposed and the rates specified were designed to maintain approximately our historic levels of revenue as a share of GDP, based on consultation with the Treasury Department.

Congressman Ryan stands by his numbers, and of course would be open to adjustments in the specified rates under his tax reforms if in fact TPC’s estimates are closer to reality than Ryan’s estimates.  We clearly cannot chase our unsustainable growth in spending with ever-higher levels of taxes – and the purpose of the Roadmap is to get spending in line with revenue – not the other way around.

Health Security

Claim: The Roadmap imposes no requirement that private insurers actually offer health coverage to Medicare beneficiaries at an affordable price. (pg. 10)

Reality:  Title III, Sec 301 of the Roadmap requires the Department of Health and Human Services to certify plans and publish an annual list of Medicare-approved plans, at least one of which must be targeted to the “special needs of Medicare’s highest cost seniors.”

Claim: The Roadmap provides no specific standards for Medicare benefits. (pg. 10)

Reality:  Title III, Sec 301 of the Roadmap defines qualified health coverage for Medicare.  The Medicare reforms are modeled on the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plans – giving all Americans the health coverage options enjoyed by Members of Congress.

Claim: The Roadmap would eliminate most of Medicaid and the entire SCHIP program. (pg. 10)

Reality: The CBPP described similar provisions in a health care proposal introduced by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon (the Wyden-Bennett plan) as “converting Medicaid and SCHIP into effective supplemental wrap-around programs.”  The CBPP provides two dramatically different descriptions of the same policy.  This raises the question on whether CBPP’s analysis is dependent on the party affiliation of a proposal’s author.

Social Security

Claim: The Roadmap privatizes Social Security (title and on pg. 12)

Reality: The Roadmap makes no change for those 55 and older. It provides future retirees with the option to either stay in the traditional government-run system or to enter a system of guaranteed personal accounts. Neither option is privatized. In the personal-accounts system, the accounts are owned by the individual, and managed and overseen by a government board — not a stockbroker or private investment firm. People choosing the reformed system select from a handful of low-risk, government-regulated options — just as Members of Congress and Federal employees do.Claim: The Roadmap’s inclusion of personal accounts requires $4.9 trillion in general revenue transfers, more than the entire Social Security shortfall. (pg. 13)

Reality: The CBO concludes that the Roadmap reforms would result in zero general revenue transfers (pg. 44, Table C-1).  The CBPP analysis either relies on faulty or outdated data – or is simply dishonest.

Claim: CBO did not analyze the cost of the guarantee for personal accounts. CBPP estimates the cost of the guarantee would equal $2.9 trillion on a risk-adjusted basis. (pg. 14)

Reality: False. The Roadmap guarantees that all Americans that choose to take part in the personal account option would get back at minimum what they’ve contributed, adjusted for inflation.  The CBO explicitly modeled the cost of the guarantee for personal accounts, which they included in their cost estimates.  The CBO makes clear that the Roadmap reforms – including the cost of this guarantee – makes Social Security permanently solvent.

Claim: The Ryan plan would cut traditional guaranteed Social Security benefits compared to the benefits now scheduled to be paid. (pg. 12)

Reality: The Roadmap reforms, in fact, increase benefits for low-income individuals, and places Social Security on a sustainable path through common sense reforms.  To be clear, the current trajectory for Social Security would require a 24% cut in benefits or 31% increase in taxes on workers.

Reihan Salam:

If Paul Ryan’s office is right about the CBPP analysis of the Ryan Roadmap, I’ll be very disappointed. CBPP is an institution with a richly-deserved reputation for doing its work with great care.

The CBPP report does provide a very valuable service in its revenue estimates, which seems more plausible than others I’ve seen.

But note that attacks on the Roadmap haven’t primarily been about the revenue estimates, etc. Rather, they’ve centered on the idea that shifting to premium support and the Medicare Advantage model represents a dismantling of the welfare state, as does the use of personal accounts in a public retirement system. This is, in my view, highly misleading, and it’s easy to see why Ryan’s office might feel unfairly maligned.

In my view, the Roadmap is too optimistic on the revenue side and possibly too politically optimistic on the spending side, i.e., if we shift to a defined contribution model rather than a defined benefit, as I think we must, it is very plausible that upward political pressure on the contribution will be higher than the Roadmap assumes, consonant with health inflation overall. To be sure, the hope is that the shift to a defined contribution model will itself encourage a shift in the ecosystem that will help restrain health inflation, but we don’t have any guarantee of that, just as we have guarantee that the projections of how the Senate health bill will “bend the cost curve” in its second decade.

Ross Douthat:

But the bottom line is this: Paul Ryan has attempted, admirably in my view, to sketch out a vision of the welfare state that forestalls the massive tax increases that will be required if we remain on our current fiscal trajectory. But as a matter of policy and politics alike, this vision only make sense (and only stands a chance of appealing to the broader public) if it forestalls tax increases for everybody — and especially for those Americans who stand to have a very difficult time of it, if current trends persist, in the 21st century economy.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

Ryan’s plan would make the federal tax code regressive, especially at the top, on top of an already-regressive state and local tax base. According to the Tax Policy Center, the richest 1% of all taxpayers, who earn more than 21% of the national income and currently pay about 25% of federal taxes, would pay 13% of federal taxes under Ryan’s plan. (Ryan’s response argues that the corporate income tax he’d eliminate is already born by consumers anyway, a contention most economists including the CBO reject, and even if true would only chip away slightly at the overall critique of his plan’s regressive nature.) Ryan’s tax plan alone would amount to the greatest shift of resources from the non-rich to the rich in the history of the United States, by far.

And that is just the beginning. Ryan would impose a series of dramatic social policy changes that would all push in the same direction. He would blow up the employer-based health care system, pushing workers into an under-regulated individual market. Instead of sharing medical risk with their fellow employees, they’d bear it entirely by themselves, which would be good for the healthy but bad for the sick. He would convert Social Security into primarily a network of individual investment accounts–meaning that some workers would do well and others poorly. And he would convert Medicare into a voucher system, capping the value of each voucher at well below the rate of medical inflation, which would make the elderly bear a far greater share of medical risk.

All these changes push in the same direction. The basic thrust of liberal public policy over the last century is to keep in places the market system but use government to slightly mitigate against risk–the risk of getting sick, the risk of outliving your savings, the risk that you just won’t make much money in the first place. The downside of these policies is that, in order to mitigate the downside risk, you also have to mitigate the upside benefit. If you’re unusually rich, you have to pay a somewhat higher tax rate than most people. If you’re unusually healthy, you have to subsidize medical care for people who aren’t. If you were able to invest well enough to cover your entire retirement, some of your good fortune will be siphoned off to those who weren’t. The rewards for getting rich, or merely being born rich, will remain enormous, just slightly less so than in a completely free market.

Republicans want to eliminate these mitigations of risk. Ryan would retain some bare-bones subsidies for the poorest, but the overwhelming thrust in every way is to liberate the lucky and successful to enjoy their good fortune without burdening them with any responsibility for the welfare of their fellow citizens.

Douthat responds to Chait:

It may not be as redistributionist as some would like (though any kind of means-testing has traditionally been anathema to many liberals), but it’s a long way from “Atlas Shrugged” territory.

Chait would no doubt counter that the voucher system Ryan proposes is still too ungenerous to low-income Americans, because the subsidies the roadmap envisions wouldn’t keep up with medical cost inflation. And he might be right: I suspect it won’t be possible, in the end, to keep the government’s share of G.D.P. as low as Ryan wants to keep it. But that’s a different kind of criticism, one that goes to how much we want to spend on entitlements overall, not whether we want to make them more or less redistributionist. On the latter question, there’s no question where Ryan stands: A big part of his plan for reining in the growth of government is to hack away spending (and implicit spending) on the wealthy, creating a welfare state that does more redistribution than it does right now.

“The rise of Ryan,” Chait concludes, “is a sign that the possibilities for bipartisan cooperation on domestic issues are, at the moment, essentially nil.” Change “rise” to “persistent caricaturing and misrepresentation,” and he and I agree.

EARLIER: The Paul Ryan Week That Was

UPDATE: More Chait

Paul Krugman

1 Comment

Filed under Economics, Entitlements, Political Figures

No Change Of Mind Left Behind

Diane Ravitch’s new book The Death and Life of the Great American School System here.


In 2005, former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch wrote, “We should thank President George W. Bush and Congress for passing the No Child Left Behind Act … All this attention and focus is paying off for younger students, who are reading and solving mathematics problems better than their parents’ generation.”

Four years later, Ravitch has changed her mind.

“I was known as a conservative advocate of many of these policies,” Ravitch says. “But I’ve looked at the evidence and I’ve concluded they’re wrong. They’ve put us on the wrong track. I feel passionately about the improvement of public education and I don’t think any of this is going to improve public education.”

Ravitch has written a book about what she sees as the failure of No Child Left Behind called The Death and Life of the Great American School System. She says one of her biggest concerns is the way the law requires school districts to use standardized testing.

Tyler Cowen:

Her bottom line is this:

The more uneasy I grew with the agenda of choice and accountability, the more I realized that I am too “conservative” to embrace an agenda whose end result is entirely speculative and uncertain.  The effort to upend American public education and replace it with something market-based began to feel too radical for me.  I concluded that I could not countenance any reforms that might have the effect — intended or unintended — of undermining public education.

Ravitch of course was once the number one advocate of these very ideas; read this excellent article on her intellectual evolution.

Overall it is a serious book worth reading and it has some good arguments to establish the view — as I interpret it — that both vouchers and school accountability are overrated ideas by their proponents.  (Short of turning the world upside down, some school districts will only get so good; conversely many public schools around the world are excellent.)  But are they bad ideas outright?  Ravitch doesn’t do much to contest the quantitative evidence in their favor.  There are many studies on vouchers, some surveyed here.  Charter schools also seem like a good idea.

Jessica Olien at The Atlantic:

An interview with Ravitch followed a story about Central Falls High in Rhode Island which recently fired its entire staff of teachers because of low achieving students.

An emphasis on test scores can make it hard for teachers in poorer schools to get ahead. When their entire performance is based on the tests and they are rewarded or punished accordingly it can seem like the system gives wealthier schools an automatic advantage. As a result, Ravitch says that the testing encourages schools desperate for funding to game the system.

When asked whether it was healthy to have some competition in the education marketplace, Ravitch countered that “there should be no education marketplace,” emphasizing that education for children is not meant to be run like a business.

“Schools operate fundamentally — or should operate — like families. The fundamental principle by which education proceeds is collaboration. Teachers are supposed to share what works; schools are supposed to get together and talk about what’s [been successful] for them. They’re not supposed to hide their trade secrets and have a survival of the fittest competition with the school down the block.”

Alan Gottlieb at Huffington Post:

Ravitch raises red flags about charter schools and the foundations that promote them. While it might not be these foundations’ intentional agenda to destroy American public education, she says, their pushing of charters, choice and accountability are doing just that.

Echoing many of the arguments of teachers’ unions across the country, Ravitch says that charters drain the best, most motivated students from regular public schools, leaving those schools in a death spiral, for which they are then blamed.

“As currently configured, charter schools are havens for the motivated,” Ravitch writes. “As more charter schools open, the dilemma of educating all students will grow sharper. The resolution of this dilemma will determine the fate of public education.”

The problem with this argument, of course, is that it implies that ‘motivated’ students from low-income families should be denied the opportunity for a better education so that the institution of public education, which has served them badly, survives to fail another day.

Here I side with Howard Fuller, who on a recent Denver visit proclaimed: “I am from the Harriet Tubman school of education reform.” Every kid who escapes a bad educational environment is one more kid with a better chance at a fulfilling life.

Ravitch excoriates the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation for being unelected policy-making monoliths, utterly unaccountable, that are shaping the direction (or as she would argue, dismantling) of public education.

“There is something fundamentally antidemocratic about relinquishing control of the public education policy agenda to private foundations run by society’s wealthiest people,” she writes.

…The foundations demand that public schools and teachers be held accountable for performance, but they themselves are accountable to no one. If their plans fail, no sanctions are levied against them. They are bastions of unaccountable power.I ask Ravitch: To whom, then, should we cede control over public education? An answer as banal as “the people” won’t cut it. Elected school boards? Their failures, especially in big cities, are the stuff of legend.

Andrew Samwick:

Competition and collaboration are not mutually exclusive.  Far from it — almost everywhere you look in nature, the winners of “survival of the fittest competition” are the entities that found ways to collaborate and succeed.  (Cue Richard Dawkins.)  But what does not occur in nature or society, because it is not viable over any reasonable length of time, is a strategy of making a “family” out of disparate actors just by placing them near each other.  (Cue F. A. Hayek?)  Families involve tremendous amounts of sacrifice of the selfish interests of one member for those of another.  The willingness to do that systematically does not occur without strong bonds of kinship.

It is in fact a mistake to think that choice and accountability by themselves will be enough to improve performance, without the other elements of a competitive marketplace.  The most important of those elements is freedom of entry by any producer who thinks he can do a better job than the current producers.  Consider Ravitch’s disappointment with NCLB to date, as quoted in Chapter 6 of her book:

But what was especially striking was that many parents and students did not want to leave their neighborhood school, even if the federal government offered them free transportation and the promise of a better school. The parents of English-language learners tended to prefer their neighborhood school, which was familiar to them, even if the federal government said it was failing. A school superintendent told Betts that choice was not popular in his county, because “most people want their local school to be successful, and because they don’t find it convenient to get their children across town.” Some excellent schools failed to meet AYP because only one subgroup — usually children with disabilities — did not make adequate progress. In such schools, the children in every other subgroup did make progress, were very happy with the school, did not consider it a failing school, and saw no reason to leave.

Schools have many characteristics.  So-called performance, as measured by standardized tests, is only one such characteristic.  What the paragraph reveals is that location is important as well.  And in most cases, the school district has not allowed an alternative provider to come into the market and match the existing school on all of its non-performance characteristics while improving performance.  There is, in most cases, still a local monopoly on enough of the characteristics that matter.  Unless you break that monopoly, until you do in fact allow direct competition with “the school down the block,” you should not expect to be treated to service that is any better than what you typically get as a member of a captive audience.

Monica Potts in Tapped:

The idea of school choice fuels the charter school and voucher systems, and the hope is schools become better through a sense of competition. A steady, if unproven, criticism of school choice systems is that the best schools simply enroll the best students. Even if they don’t actively do so, there could be a self-selection bias in the parents who actively seek out better schools to send their children to. But research found the biggest problem was that parents who were offered the chance to enroll students in better schools often did not do so. They liked the idea of the school as being part of the community. After looking at the data, Ravitch now feels that’s an idea worth going back to.

UPDATE: Robert VerBruggen at NRO

Ramesh Ponnuru at The Corner

Austin Bramwell at The American Conservative

UPDATE #2: Jim Pinkerton and Robert Wright on Bloggingheads

E.D. Kain at The League

Kevin Drum

Ryan Avent

More Kain

UPDATE #3: Kain again

Even More Kain

Rick Hess at Education Week

UPDATE #4: Kevin Carey at TNR

Rod Dreher

Sonny Bunch at Doublethink, here and here

UPDATE #5: DiA at The Economist


Filed under Books, Education

My, That Is An Exceptional 6 Train

Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru in National Review:

The Left’s search for a foreign template to graft onto America grew more desperate. Why couldn’t we be more like them — like the French, like the Swedes, like the Danes? Like any people with a larger and busier government overawing the private sector and civil society? You can see it in Sicko, wherein Michael Moore extols the British national health-care system, the French way of life, and even the munificence of Cuba; you can hear it in all the admonitions from left-wing commentators that every other advanced society has government child care, or gun control, or mass transit, or whatever socialistic program or other infringement on our liberty we have had the wisdom to reject for decades.

Matthew Schmitz at The League:

Lowry and Ponnuru seem to believe that mass transit is a “socialistic program” and an “infringement on our liberty.” Presumably they think this because mass transit is built and administered by the government and supported, quite often, by taxes. But the exact same thing is true of highways. Would Lowry and Ponnuru denounce the Interestate system as socialistic on the same grounds?

Their casual slander also dishonors one of the recently passed heroes of the conservative movement, Paul Weyrich. Weyrich co-founded the Heritage Foundation and founded the Free Congress Foundation. Lowry and Ponnuru, who both probably knew him, also know that he was as American and un-socialistic as they come. Weyrich realized that transit was, in some cases, an eminently reasonable way of transporting people. If  Lowry and Ponnuru are unsettled by the fact that Europeans have more transit than we do, they should look back to the time when America had both more transit and less government than Europe did, or than it does now. If you’d like to read more on the conservative case for transit, see David Schaengold here.

Matthew Yglesias:

But of course they have nothing to say about genuine infringements of liberty like minimum parking requirements, maximum lot occupancy rules, building height limits, prohibitions on accessory dwellings, etc. that are mainstays of America’s centrally planned suburbs. That’s because to them what really matters isn’t socialism or liberty (certainly nobody who cares about liberty could be as enthusiastic about torture as National Review writers are) but Americanness. Even here, though, their critique falls badly flat. The world’s largest subway systems are in Japan and South Korea—not socialistic Europe—followed by New York City right here in the United States. Multiple-unit train control was invented in Chicago, as part of the world’s first electrically driven railway. I believe that all of the world’s 24-hour rapid transit systems (NYC Subway, Chicago L, NY-NJ PATH) are in the United States of America.

Brad DeLong:

Can people please stop bringing forward Ramesh Ponnuru as a “reasonable conservative” now?

Damon Linker at TNR on the rest of the essay:

Lowry and Ponnuru’s thesis—that President Obama is an enemy of “American exceptionalism”—is hardly original. It is so widely held and so frequently asserted on the right, in fact, that it can almost be described as conservative conventional wisdom. Still, NR’s treatment of the subject stands out. Lowry and Ponnuru aim for comprehensiveness, and they maintain a measured, thoughtful tone throughout their essay, marshalling a wide range of historical evidence for their thesis and making well-timed concessions to contrary arguments. It’s hard to imagine this key conservative claim receiving a more cogent and rhetorically effective defense. Which is precisely what makes the essay’s shortcomings so striking. While its authors clearly mean it to stand as a manifesto for a resurgent conservative moment, the essay far more resembles a lullaby—a comforting compilation of consoling pieties set to a soothingly familiar melody. The perfect soundtrack to a peaceful snooze.

Let’s begin at the beginning, with definitions. Lowry and Ponnuru aim to convince their readers that the President of the United States denies the idea that lies at the core of American identity: that the country is exceptional. But what makes America exceptional? This is what the authors tell us: Americans affirm a creed that upholds “liberty, equality (of opportunity and respect), individualism, populism, and laissez-faire economics.” These principles then combine with “other aspects of the American character—especially our religiousness and our willingness to defend ourselves by force—to form the core of American exceptionalism.”

Some of this is faintly ridiculous. (Is anything less exceptional in human history than a country’s willingness to defend itself by force?) As for the rest, it’s either a string of American banalities and clichés—or an abstract of the Republican Party platform. The next several paragraphs of the essay make it very clear that it’s the latter. That’s right: Lowry and Ponnuru expect their readers to believe that what makes our country exceptional is that large numbers of Americans affirm the ideology of the modern conservative movement. But that’s not quite right. Through long stretches of the essay they go much further—to imply that America is exceptional because the nation’s creed is the ideology of the modern conservative movement.

Follow the bouncing ball: the fact that “a profit-seeking company” founded Jamestown and that Puritan merchants wrote “In the name of God and of profit” at the top of their ledgers; that, in a “telling coincidence,” Adam Smith’s “free-market classic” The Wealth of Nations was published in the same year as the Declaration of Independence; that Benjamin Franklin’s name “comes from the Middle English meaning freeman, someone who owns some property”; that Abraham Lincoln supposedly hated few things more than “economic stasis”—all of these and many other anecdotes are supposed to add up to an endorsement of “the American economic gospel” (read: libertarian economic gospel) about “wealth and its creation.” Meanwhile, other cherry-picked facts in later paragraphs serve to highlight the American fondness for democratic elections, the country’s incorrigible patriotism and religiosity, and its “missionary impulse” to “export our model of liberty” to the world, often at the point of a gun.

More Yglesias:

In this telling, there’s something insidious about asking if they don’t do something better someplace else. But of course another way of looking at it is that you by definition can’t find examples of alternatives to the US status quo by looking at the US. That’s why you regularly see the Cato Institute touting Chile’s pension system or Heritage extolling the virtues of Sweden’s K-12 education or David Frum talking up French nuclear power. After all, we’ve never attempted to shift from a guaranteed pay-as-you-go pension system to a mandatory savings one in the United States. Nor do we have any examples of widespread operation of public elementary schools by for-profit firms. Nor do we have a robust nuclear power sector. So if you want to explore these ideas—ideas that conservatives often do want to explore—you need to look at models from abroad.

And there’s nothing wrong with that! So why isn’t it okay for liberals to talk about French health care or Finnish education or Danish energy policy? As Barack Obama once said, when you look at the right sometimes it’s like they’re proud of being ignorant.

Mark Murray at MSNBC:

And the cover story in the latest National Review, entitled “Defend Her: Obama’s Threat to American Exceptionalism,” contends: “The president has signaled again and again his unease with traditional American patriotism. As a senator he notoriously made a virtue of not wearing a flag pin. As president he has been unusually detached from American history: When a foreign critic brought up the Bay of Pigs, rather than defend the country’s honor he noted that he was a toddler at the time. And while acknowledging that America has been a force for good, he has all but denied the idea that America is an exceptional nation.”

Of course, Obama was asked whether he believes in American exceptionalism while visiting Europe during the NATO summit. His response: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism. I’m enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world. If you think about the site of this summit and what it means, I don’t think America should be embarrassed to see evidence of the sacrifices of our troops, the enormous amount of resources that were put into Europe postwar, and our leadership in crafting an Alliance that ultimately led to the unification of Europe. We should take great pride in that.”

That question Obama was asked defined American exceptionalism as the United States being “uniquely qualified to lead the world.” Historians typically regard American exceptionalism as why the U.S. didn’t have socialist revolutions or strong working-class movements like most of Europe did in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Yet the conservative definition of American exceptionalism — particularly in the National Review article — is aimed at Obama’s efforts to reform the nation’s health-care system, enact cap-and-trade (which, ironically, is based on market principles), etc. Here’s National Review summing up what American liberals want: “Why couldn’t we be more like them — like the French, the like the Swedes, like the Danes? Like any people with a larger and busier government overawing the private sector and civil society?”

But if you read Obama’s speeches — from the president campaign and now as president — you see a president with a different idea of American exceptionalism: America’s unique ability to evolve and become a more perfect union. “This union may never be perfect,” he said in his famous ’08 speech on race, “but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected.”

“In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given,” he said in his inaugural address. “It must be earned.”

Here’s what he said in his Berlin speech during the presidential campaign: “We’ve made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions. But I also know how much I love America. I know that for more than two centuries, we have strived — at great cost and great sacrifice — to form a more perfect union; to seek, with other nations, a more hopeful world.”

So it’s not that Obama doesn’t think America is an exceptional nation; his own words debunk that critique.

Rather, it’s that conservatives and liberals have two very different ideas of what “exceptional” means.

UPDATE: Matthew Lee Anderson

Samuel Goldman at PomoCon

James Poulos at PomoCon

UPDATE #2: Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene

Victor Davis Hanson at The Corner

Friedersdorf on Hanson

DiA at The Economist

Greg Scoblete

Daniel Larison

UPDATE #3: Lowry and Ponnuru responds to critics

John Holbo on the reponse

Matthew Yglesias on the response

UPDATE #4: Friedersdorf responds to the response

Goldman responds to the response

Schmitz responds to the response

UPDATE #5: More Larison

UPDATE #6: Peter Lawler

UPDATE #7: James Poulos and Robert Farley on Bloggingheads

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Bob Costas Will Come On Later And Give Us The Day’s Medal Count

Drudge screen capture from Wonkette


Nothing makes for a better “media event” than six straight hours of long back-and-forths about wonky health care reform particulars, in the middle of the day.

Andrew Sullivan has a round-up of liveblogs and livetweets.

Greg Sargent

David Frum at FrumForum

Jonathan Cohn’s tweets

Ezra Klein’s tweets

Ed Morrissey’s open thread

Michelle Malkin’s live blog

Ramesh Ponnuru at The Corner:

I have followed the health-care debate as closely as anybody here, but I just can’t stomach watching the summit. And really, why should I watch it? I very much doubt it is going to change anything, and I can count on reporting to cover any novel or revealing arguments. So at the risk of being a bad citizen or employee, I’m instead going to read a book (specifically, this one).

Ann Althouse:

So some Obama supporters will watch in an effort to perceive Obama’s awesome dominance and then  to sit back and feel optimistic about health care reform — or maybe to blog about why their perceptions are so true.

But this time, Mr. Obama will face adversaries who are well prepared to joust with him on the finer points of health policy before a large audience that will be judging both sides and looking for signs of bipartisanship.And some Obama opponents will watch in an effort to perceive the demolition of Obama’s hopes ‘n’ dreams and then to sit back to enjoy the continuation of the downward spiral of health care reform — or maybe to blog about why their perceptions are so true.

Most normal people, I think, are sick of hearing politicians talking about health care.

It’s been a consistent problem all morning. Obama has tried, repeatedly, to focus the discussion on substantive policy matters. Republicans have generally responded with talk about process, legislative mechanisms, and the number of pages in the bill.

Knowing media outlets, this exchange will likely be one of the more talked-about developments of the morning (Obama vs. McCain will prove irresistible). And that’s a shame, because the substance of this discussion matters infinitely more than the senator’s resentment about losing an election.

McCain, like his GOP colleagues, was given a chance to raise meaningful concerns and debate the policy in earnest. But whining is so much easier than governing, and talking points are easier to repeat than arguments about policy.

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Filed under Health Care, Legislation Pending