Some have asked if there aren’t conservative sites I read regularly. Well, no. I will read anything I’ve been informed about that’s either interesting or revealing; but I don’t know of any economics or politics sites on that side that regularly provide analysis or information I need to take seriously. I know we’re supposed to pretend that both sides always have a point; but the truth is that most of the time they don’t. The parties are not equally irresponsible; Rachel Maddow isn’t Glenn Beck; and a conservative blog, almost by definition, is a blog written by someone who chooses not to notice that asymmetry. And life is short …
That’s right, and George Will isn’t Michael Moore; and a liberal blog, almost by definition, is a blog written by someone who chooses not to notice that asymmetry. No need to read Marginal Revolution, Becker/Posner, Econlog, John Taylor, Greg Mankiw, Robin Hanson, Steven Landsburg, etc, etc. Nothing of interest, just move right along folks. I’m always amazed when someone so brilliant can be so clueless about life. How someone can reach middle age and still live in a kindergartener’s world of good guys and bad guys.
Perhaps if Krugman would get out a bit more he might make fewer embarrassing errors, like this one, where he forgot the fallacy of composition, something taught in EC101. I guess none of his liberal friends have the nerve to point out these sorts of silly errors. So it’s still there, uncorrected after two weeks. A monument to his pride at being ignorant of the views of those with whom he disagrees.
You might ask whether I’m being a bit harsh calling him “ignorant.” Actually, he’s the one who proudly flaunts his ignorance of conservative thought.
I find that reading good liberal blogs like Krugman, DeLong, Thoma, Yglesias, etc, sharpens my arguments. It forces me to reconsider things I took for granted. I’d guess that when Krugman tells people at cocktail parties that the post-1980 trend of lower tax rates, deregulation, and privatization was a plot devised by racist Republicans, they all nod their heads in agreement. If he occasionally read a conservative blog he might learn that all those trends occurred in almost every country throughout the world after 1980, usually much more so than in the US.
I wonder if his blanket condemnation of reading conservative outlets would include books that attack silly liberal arguments for protectionism. Or articles that show the folly of liberal opposition to sweatshops. Are those conservative ideas also no longer worth reading?
The problem is sort of a Catch-22: reading the loony tunes blogs isn’t worthwhile except for entertainment value, so I mostly don’t bother. Conversely, the more moderate types have interesting things to say, but they’re so out of touch with mainstream conservatism that they often don’t seem worthwhile engaging with either. I mean, what’s the point in arguing over some technocratic point that’s a million light years away from the views of actual, existing conservatism, which doesn’t yet admit that cutting taxes reduces revenues or spewing carbon into the air heats the globe? It all has a very ivory tower feel to it.I’ll go on reading the non-insane conservatives, because (a) it’s worth having my views challenged by smart people and (b) you never know: maybe someday the tea party version of conservatism will collapse and the moderates will regain a bit of power. That sure seems like a pipe dream right now, though.
This is a recurring theme and, while I certainly read plenty of conservative pundits–and, indeed, still consider myself one–like Kevin, I read fewer than I used to. I prefer rational, facts-based analysis and find more of it across the aisle than on my own side.
Illinois governor Pat Quinn abolished the death penalty today. “It’s not possible to create a perfect, mistake-free death penalty system,” Quinn declared. More than a decade ago the state issued a moratorium on executions after wrongly condemning thirteen men. Quinn, who spent two months speaking with prosecutors, victims’ families, death penalty opponents, and religious leaders, also commuted the sentences of all fifteen state inmates on death row. They will now serve life in prison. Quinn called it the “most difficult decision” he has made as governor, saying, “I think if you abolish the death penalty in Illinois, we should abolish it for everyone.” Illinois is the fifteenth state to have abolished capital punishment. With Quinn’s decision, anti-death penalty advocates hope to create “a national wave” of opposition. But in New Mexico, which became the most recent state to abolish the death penalty, in 2009, Republican governor Governor Susana Martinez is trying to reinstate it.
Three other states, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York, have already banned capital punishment, and it is rarely enforced in Western democracies.
“In Illinois, there is no question in my mind that abolishing the death penalty is the right thing,” defense attorney Ron Safer tells Reuters. “It is naive to think that we haven’t executed an innocent person. We stop looking after they’re executed.”
Quinn noted that he was lobbied to sign the ban during calls from death penalty foes Desmond Tutu, Martin Sheen, Sister Helen Prejean and pleas from those who wanted Illinois to keep the death penalty on the books, including the families of victims and state’s attorneys from around the state.
Quinn said whether to sign the bill was harder to decide than other legislative matters because “It is an emotional issue when you talk to family members. I’ve talked to families on both sides of the death penalty issue, some are for abolition, some are not. So you have to really have to have an opportuniuty of review and reflection.”
I asked Quinn if he was convinced Illinois–with its record of putting wrongly convicted people on Death Row, which led to the current moratorium—won’t make mistakes again.
“That is the ultimate decision I have to make within a short period of time, whether or not problems that have existed in Illinois death penalty statute, its implementation, are corrected.”
Illinois legislators have attempted to ban the death penalty since then-governor George Ryan put a moratorium on it 11 years ago. Although the new law will officially take effect [Chicago Tribune report] on July 1, Quinn commuted the current 15 death row inmates’ sentences to life without parole.The death penalty remains a controversial issue worldwide. According to an Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] report [text, PDF; JURIST report], the number of countries using the death penalty dropped in 2009, but more than 700 people were executed in 18 countries, with the most executions carried out in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the US. Last August, US District Court for the Southern District of Georgia [official website] heard a habeas petition from Troy Davis, who was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering an off-duty Savannah, Georgia police officer. In a rare move, the federal court heard the habeas petition after Davis had exhausted his state remedies under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act [text], but the court sided against Davis saying that he failed to prove his innocence. Law Offices of the Southern Center for Human Rights [official website] Executive Director Sarah Totonchi argues [JURIST commentary] said that “Troy Davis’ case illustrates that US courts simply cannot provide the certainty necessary to impose an irreversible punishment; therefore the death penalty must be abolished.”
Gov. Pat Quinn’s decision to abolish the death penalty in Illinois is commonly viewed as a triumph for progressives. But some of the most persuasive arguments for doing away with capital punishment basically reflect conservative views. The last decade has seen many noted conservatives, including George Will, Richard Viguerie and L. Brent Bozell III, emerge as death penalty opponents. One reason that abolition became a political possibility here was not simply because it attracted Republican votes in the Illinois House and the Senate, but because many conservatives have grown more ambivalent about the issue and less fierce in their opposition.
Here are some of the leading conservative arguments for ending executions.
The death penalty is one more government program that’s failed.
This oft-quoted observation is an elaboration on comments and more than a clever turn of phrase by former Illinoisan George Will, perhaps the nation’s leading conservative columnist.
Illinois reinstituted capital punishment in 1977, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all prior statutory schemes as unconstitutionally arbitrary and capricious. We have now conducted a 33-year experiment in seeing whether death sentences can be meted out in a rational, proportionate fashion. That experiment has clearly failed.
I was a member of the 14-person Commission on Capital Punishment appointed by then-Gov. George Ryan in 2000 to study the death penalty. I started out ambivalent, because I knew there will always be certain murders and killers that cry out for this ultimate form of retribution. But after two years I came to realize that we will never construct a capital system that functions with anything resembling fairness.
Despite decades of legislation and litigation aimed at establishing procedural bulwarks, the imposition of the death penalty in Illinois remained haphazard. Studies authorized by the commission found that, in Illinois, defendants were five times more likely to be sentenced to death if they committed their crimes in rural areas, as opposed to cities; twice as likely to be sentenced to death if they killed a woman; and 21/2 times more likely to be capitally sentenced for the murder of a white person, as compared with an African-American.
False conviction issues aren’t just limited to Illinois. The Innocence Project has been involved in nearly 300 post-conviction exonerations based on DNA evidence, including nearly two dozen cases where a convict was sitting on death row at the time of his conviction. Moreover, there’s at least one case on record where it now seems fairly apparent that the State of Texas executed a man for a crime that he didn’t commit.
There was a time when I was a supporter, albeit a reluctant one, of capital punishment, but that time has come to an end. For one thing, I’ve come to the general conclusion that the state should not have the power to take anyone’s life, even when they’ve committed a violent and horrible crime. Additionally, ever since the advent of DNA evidence, we’ve seen far too many instances of innocent men imprisoned for crimes that they clearly did not commit to think that it hasn’t happened in a capital punishment case. Finally, my own professional interaction with the criminal justice system on a regular basis made it clear to me fairly early on that the system was far too imperfect to trust it with the power of life and death, and this is especially true when a defendant facing a death sentence is forced to accept court-appointed counsel that lacks both the experience and the resources that a private-hired attorney would. The question of whether you live or die shouldn’t depend on whether or not you’re rich enough to hire a good lawyer, but, far too often, it does.
Illinois has taken the right step here. Let’s hope that more states follow their lead.
Furthermore, in the last quarter century, there have been transitions from allied dictatorships to allied democracies in Chile, South Korea, the Philippines, and Indonesia, to name only a few. The United States has played a role in helping those transitions turn out (reasonably) well. America needn’t be passive or fretful or defensive. We can help foster one outcome over another. As Krauthammer puts it, “Elections will be held. The primary U.S. objective is to guide a transition period that gives secular democrats a chance.”
Now, people are more than entitled to their own opinions of how best to accomplish that democratic end. And it’s a sign of health that a political and intellectual movement does not respond to a complicated set of developments with one voice.
But hysteria is not a sign of health. When Glenn Beck rants about the caliphate taking over the Middle East from Morocco to the Philippines, and lists (invents?) the connections between caliphate-promoters and the American left, he brings to mind no one so much as Robert Welch and the John Birch Society. He’s marginalizing himself, just as his predecessors did back in the early 1960s.
Nor is it a sign of health when other American conservatives are so fearful of a popular awakening that they side with the dictator against the democrats. Rather, it’s a sign of fearfulness unworthy of Americans, of short-sightedness uncharacteristic of conservatives, of excuse-making for thuggery unworthy of the American conservative tradition.
Generally speaking, I’m a bigger fan of Kristol than of Krauthammer, mainly because Krauthammer is such an anti-Palin snob. In this case, however, I share Krauthammer’s forebodings of an Egyptian revolution and dislike Kristol’s effort to enhance his own Strange New Respect quotient by dissing Beck.
Set aside (if you can) Beck’s childish and churlish attacks on Kristol and focus on the substance of the disagreement.
Beck lectures Kristol on the dangers of “getting into bed with dictators.” It’s “really something the left does and not something the right should do.” But of course Bill’s position on Egypt is that America ought to get out of bed with dictators. That’s the main point of Kristol’s editorial, after all. And whether you agree with Kristol or not, he has been a strong advocate for the so-called Freedom Agenda, which argues that in the past the United States, in opting for “stability” over liberty in the Middle East, has gotten neither.
More important, though, people should simply listen to the original Beck meditation on the coming worldwide caliphate. It is Beck Unplugged, complete with chalkboards and maps; with happy faces and sad ones; with friends, enemies, and “frenemies”; with references to the Weather Underground, Bill Ayers, and Bernardine Dohrn; and of course dire, apocalyptic warnings. The result of the “coming insurrection” will be that the “whole world starts to implode.”
“Play it out with me,” Beck pleads. “The entire Mediterranean is on fire,” he cries out us — but not just the Mediterranean. This all-consuming blaze is spreading to the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Italy, Greece, and Germany; to Russia, Africa, Morocco, and almost every place in between. Beck demonstrates “how this whole thing cascades over to us.” And beware: none of this is happenstance. “This is coordinated,” America’s intrepid truth teller informs us. Pro-democracy talk is part of a “progressive movement.” The masses in Egypt’s Liberty Square are “useful idiots.” And oh-by-the-way, he promises to tell us what the real reason behind the 2003 Iraq war was:
Two wars in Iraq. We said no bombing there. Ancient Babylon. Ancient Babylon. Why? Because the Bible tells us that that is the seat — right here — of power of a global, evil empire. Well, that’s also where the 12th imam from Iran is supposedly going to show up. Everybody on this side wants ancient Babylon for their caliphate.
Leave it to Glenn Beck to sees dots on a map and connect lines invisible to mere mortals, lines that are the result of a massive and astonishingly well-organized conspiracy. It is something out of the twilight zone.
I’ve been warning about Glenn Beck for a couple of years now, concerned about his erratic behavior and conspiracy theories. “My hunch is that he is a comet blazing across the media sky right now — and will soon flame out,” I wrote in 2009. “Whether he does or not, he isn’t the face or disposition that should represent modern-day conservatism … he is not the kind of figure conservatives should embrace or cheer on.”
What about this don’t you understand, Mr. Wehner? Is it not shockingly clear to you? Glenn Beck has performed a great service for us, by highlighting the weakness of the Iberian Peninsula (the foremost challenge facing American policymakers at this moment, obviously) and the role ancient Babylon will play in the coming campaign for the worldwide imposition of Muslim law. Combine this trenchant analysis of Muslim politics with his recent attempt to highlight the pernicious work of the nine most evil people in world history, eight of whom, entirely coincidentally, are Jewish, and you should begin to get the picture.
Of course, the conspiracy goes deeper than Beck has yet revealed; I’m hoping that, in coming days, if the Freemasons, working in concert with Hezbollah and the Washington Redskins, don’t succeed in suppressing the truth, that Beck will reveal the identities of the most pernicious players in this grotesque campaign to subvert our way of life. I can’t reveal too much here, but I think it’s fair to say that Beck will be paying a lot of attention in the coming weeks to the dastardly, pro-caliphate work of Joy Behar; tthe makers of Little Debbie snack cakes; the 1980s hair band Def Leppard; Omar Sharif; and the Automobile Association of America. And remember, you read it here first.
And I’ve heard, from more than a couple of conservative sources, that prominent Republicans have approached Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes about the potential embarrassment that the paranoid-messianic rodeo clown may bring upon their brand. The speculation is that Beck is on thin ice. His ratings are dropping, too–which, in the end, is a good part of what this is all about. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a mirror-Olbermann situation soon.
As Beck becomes increasingly unhinged and lost in conspiracy-land, he may well become a litmus test for the right — and a measure of whether the leaders of Fox News care about any claim to respectability. Should Fox throw him out of the coop, Beck will still have a cult-like following that he can service via his syndicated radio show, website, and books — and still make tens of millions of dollars a year. He won’t crawl off to an undisclosed location. But he will no longer have the imprimatur of the right’s main media outfit. And what better confirmation that the conspiracy is vast, oh so vast.
Kristol explained MSNBC wasn’t the place for such a “debate” and cited a 2010 Weekly Standard article that praised Beck in some regards for his role in the Tea Party movement, explaining the commentary on Beck goes both ways.
“Well, I’m not going to get into a debate with Glenn Beck here on MSNBC,” Kristol said. “I’ll debate him on Fox where we’re fair and balanced where we have these debates among ourselves. No, I don’t think that’s fair at all. Matt Continetti had a long piece a year ago on — partly on Glenn Beck, on the tea parties, what was healthy and not so admirable in certain strains of thoughts among people like Glenn Beck. So I don’t think it’s fair to say, ‘Oh, you guys should be calling him out and monitoring everyone on your side.’ That’s not — we publish what we believe in the Weekly Standard. I’m happy to defend to defend the Weekly Standard and what I say on Fox News Sunday.”
When the likes of Marco Rubio, the new Republican senator from Florida, say this is the greatest country ever, sophisticated opinion-makers cluck and roll their eyes. What a noxious tea-party nostrum. How chauvinistic. What hubris.
Yet, what other countries deserve this designation? For the sake of convenience, start at 1648, when the Peace of Westphalia ratified the modern system of nation-states. And grade on power, prosperity and goodness.
Is Spain the greatest ever? It had a nice run a couple of hundred years ago based on plundering the New World of its gold and silver. By 1800, it was one of the poorest countries in Europe. Today, it teeters on bankruptcy.
Is France? Its model of centralizing monarchy in the 17th century was extremely influential, and admirable — if you like elaborate court ritual, religious persecution and expansionistic wars. It gave the world the template for modern ideological madness in the French Revolution and for the modern tyrant in Napoleon. After the debacle of World War II, it recovered to a power of middling rank. If there’s no doubting the greatness of the French, their history comes with the implicit admonition: “Do not try this at home.”
Germany? In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was a cultural jewel. And one of the most talented statesmen ever, Bismarck, forged a nation that became an industrial behemoth. It also had an illiberal heart. Germany today is an anchor of democratic Europe, but with a hellish black mark against it that will last for all time.
Russia? By the beginning of the 20th century, a decrepit autocracy sat atop a mass of misery. Then, things went south. The communists murdered and enslaved many millions across seven decades. Russia remains an important, if vastly diminished, power, governed by a prickly, grasping kleptocracy.
Britain? Getting warmer. It invented the rights that are the bedrock of liberal democracy. More than most European powers, it lived by Adam Smith’s formula for prosperity: “peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice.” From a tiny island, it came to govern an enormous extent of the globe in a relatively benign colonialism. It was a bulwark against the dictatorships of the Continent, from Napoleon, to the Kaiser, to Hitler. And it spawned the countries that have made the English-speaking world a synonym for good governance and liberty: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and America.
Which brings us to the U.S. We had the advantage of jumping off from the achievement of the British. We founded our nation upon self-evident truths about the rights of man, even if our conduct hasn’t always matched them. We pushed aside Spain and Mexico in muscling across the continent, but brought order and liberty in our wake. Our treatment of the Indians was appalling, but par for the course in the context of the time. It took centuries of mistreatment of blacks before we finally heeded our own ideals.
The positive side of the ledger, though, is immense: We got constitutional government to work on a scale no one had thought possible; made ourselves a haven of liberty for the world’s peoples; and created a fluid, open society. We amassed unbelievable wealth, and spread it widely. Internationally, we wielded our overwhelming military and industrial power as a benevolent hegemon. We led the coalitions against the ideological empires of the 20th century and protected the global commons. We remain the world’s sole superpower, looked to by most of the world as a leader distinctly better than any of the alternatives.
Our greatness is simply a fact. Only the churlish or malevolent can deny it, or even get irked at its assertion. When a Marco Rubio talks of the greatness of America, it’s not bumptious self-congratulation. Our greatness comes with the responsibility to preserve our traditional dynamism and status as a robust middle-class society. To paraphrase the Benjamin Franklin of lore, we have the greatest country ever — if we can keep it.
The day after Rich’s column appeared, on January 1, President Obama asserted in his weekly address that “we’ve had the good fortune to grow up in the greatest nation on Earth.” Then, in case anyone missed it, Obama repeated eight sentences later that he’s confident we can “do what it takes to make sure America remains in the 21st century what it was the 20th: the greatest country in the world.”
And sources now tell us that Lowry’s been called to the White House this week for a secret meeting.
Meanwhile, we look forward to denunciations from the usual enlightened quarters of this vulgar expression of American chauvinism and boastful claim of American exceptionalism by an American president.
The last thing you need is more proof of the mindlessness and vapidity of the right’s attack on Obama for allegedly not believing in “American exceptionalism.” But Bill Kristol’s latest rendition is really worth savoring, because it unwittingly shows what nonsense it all is.
Kristol has a post up making the case that Obama has finally caved to the right’s attacks and has grudgingly conceded America’s greatness. The evidence? Kristol notes that in his weekly address on Saturday, the President hailed America as “the greatest nation on earth,” and “the greatest country in the world.”
This, Kristol says, showcases the “new, revised Obama.”
It’s unclear whether Kristol is joking, but given the idiocy we keep hearing along these lines, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume he isn’t. So allow me to point out that Obama has been using these phrases for literally years now.
In his breakout speech at the 2004 Dem convention, Obama hailed the “greatness of our nation” and the “true genius of America.” And he’s repeatedly stated as president that we live in the greatest country evah. Way back in August 2009, Obama described America as “the greatest nation on Earth.” In October of 2009, Obama declared that “we live in the greatest country on Earth.”
Bill needs no defense from me, but let me explain the joke to Greg. It is not Obama who is the target of Bill’s humor, but the left and its disinclination to project American power and values. Bill, like many conservatives, has supported the president’s policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s been quite generous in his praise of a number of Obama speeches. The point of the barb is to make clear that not even the liberal icon Obama adopts the left’s disdain for American exceptionalism, nor its desire to retreat from the war on Islamic terror. Conservatives, me included, are prone to marvel at the left’s propensity to sneer at George Bush’s formulation of American exceptionalism while remaining mute as their liberal hero does the same.
The point, you see, is not to discredit the president, but to discredit those that would pull him ever leftward on matters of national security. To the degree Obama sounds much like his predecessor and conducts a robust foreign policy (e.g. use of drones in Afghanistan, a continued presence in Iraq) conservatives will applaud and, candidly, take some glee in recognizing that a president cannot adopt a leftist world view and hope to successfully defend U.S. interests.
Unfortunately, I can’t resist pointing out minicon stupidities, and the latest example of this problem came to my attention in a recent syndicated column by Rich Lowry. In what is intended to be a discourse on American exceptionalism, Lowry goes through the anti-democratic evils of continental countries and then gets to England, which is awarded a clean bill of health. England previewed our “liberal democracy,” practiced “benign colonialism,” and was in many ways a “jumping off” point to our “exceptional nation.” “It was a bulwark against the dictatorships of the Continent, from Napoleon, to the Kaiser, to Hitler.”
Let me point out some of what is wrong with such hyperbole. The English bear many of the same “black marks” that Lowry ascribes to continental countries, and as the descendant of Irish peasants, Lowry might recall at least some of England’s many misdeeds. English rule abroad was not always “benign colonialism,” and in the Boer War, which the Salisbury government launched against the Afrikaners to grab their land, the English practiced naked aggression and engaged in atrocities against their fellow Northern European Protestants, as opposed to such customary English victims as Highland Scots, Irish Catholics, and the inhabitants of Chinese coastal cities.
It is also ridiculous to see all English entanglement in wars against continental powers as driven by a democratic struggle against dictatorship. As an insular empire protected by a large navy, the English had an interest in keeping hegemonic powers from emerging on the continent and pursued this interest with whatever allies they could find. What the English typically practiced was Realpolitik, which meant siding with some undemocratic, feudal regimes against other more powerful states. During the Napoleonic wars the English allied themselves with a reactionary Russia against a much more progressive France, which abolished serfdom and proclaimed religious liberty wherever its armies went. English Tories feared the rise of Germany from the time of its unification not because they viewed it as a “dictatorship” but because it was becoming a continental powerhouse. Later, in order to defeat its rival, England pulled the U.S. into the First World War, thereby setting the stage for playing second fiddle to England’s American cousins.
There was a lot of chest-thumping, or weasel-whacking or monkey-strangling or what have you, about the awesomeness of the United States among the wingerati over the past few days. Rich Lowry declared that the United States is the best because we are the best, no one rocks as hard as we do, bitch.
Our greatness is simply a fact. Only the churlish or malevolent can deny it, or even get irked at its assertion.
Bill Kristol then gave Lowry some kind ironic boo-yah about the fact that Obama talked about how great the US is right after Lowry wrote his column.
The exchange was fairly typical of what passes for high-brow conservatism these days. And yet there are those who why conservatism has such little appeal for intellectually-inclined voters.
Somehow Lowry fails to grasp why this kind of assertion is so, well, fatuous and irritating. Imagine that once a month or so, Michael Jordan called a press conference, confidently listed his achievements as a basketball player, and insisted, “My greatness is simply a fact.” He’d be correct: he was a spectacular basketball player, arguably the best in history. Same with Tiger Woods. Or Stephen Hawking. On the other hand, we’re put off when people announce their own greatness – experience has taught that they’re usually doing so because they’re a braggart, or a narcissist, or a bully. (In Rich Lowry’s case, it’s intellectual bullying – wielding the collective club of nationalism against genuine worries about America’s fiscal bankruptcy, academic decline, and economic stagnation).
So it goes when conservatives invoke the greatness of America. The rhetoric that follows is inevitably political. When Marco Rubio lauds the USA, we roll our eyes because we have not had our skepticism of politicians sugically removed: we understand that politicians pin on flag lapels and talk about the greatness of America because they’re calculating pols, not because they think more highly of the United States than the rest of us. Our eyes tend to roll when politicians kiss babies too. That isn’t because we object to the notion that babies are lovable – merely because most politicians aren’t. Especially when uttering fatuous platitudes.
I’ve really got to wonder what the purpose of stuff like this is. The GOP has been obsessed in recent years with the idea of national “greatness” and conservatives are quick to condemn and political leader who doesn’t make the appropriate statement about how the United States of America is the greatest country ever. It all strikes me as rather silly schoolyard boosterism. It doesn’t inform policy decisions, and it tends to lead to the rather dangerous idea of “My country, right or wrong.”
This is what passes for political insight from the right these days, apparently.
Both Mr. Mott and Mr. Kelly had told me that Yazoo City was perhaps the only municipality in Mississippi that managed to integrate the schools without violence. I asked Haley Barbour why he thought that was so.
“Because the business community wouldn’t stand for it,” he said. “You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.”
In interviews Barbour doesn’t have much to say about growing up in the midst of the civil rights revolution. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” he said. “I remember Martin Luther King came to town, in ’62. He spoke out at the old fairground and it was full of people, black and white.”
Did you go? I asked.
“Sure, I was there with some of my friends.”
I asked him why he went out.
“We wanted to hear him speak.”
I asked what King had said that day.
“I don’t really remember. The truth is, we couldn’t hear very well. We were sort of out there on the periphery. We just sat on our cars, watching the girls, talking, doing what boys do. We paid more attention to the girls than to King.”
Fortunately, it’s actually possible to look at the archives of the Citizens Council newspaper published right in Mississippi. Here’s a selection:
The Citizens’ Councils were, right in the state of Mississippi where Barbour is from, the respectable face of white supremacist political activism. Here’s an example from the Association of Citizens’ Councils pamphlet: “Why Does Your Community Need a Citizens’ Council?”
Maybe your community has had no racial problems! This may be true; however, you may not have a fire, yet you maintain a fire department. You can depend on one thing: The NAACP (National Association for the Agitation of Colored People), aided by alien influences, bloc vote seeking politicians and left-wing do-gooders, will see that you have a problem in the near future.
The Citizens’ Council is the South’s answer to the mongrelizers. We will not be integrated. We are proud of our white blood and our white heritage of sixty centuries.
Haley Barbour gives these people credit for keeping things calm!
In march of this year Congressman John Bell William told a Greenville, Mississippi, White Citizens Council, “I’d gladly trade all the Negroes in the country for my few good nigger friends.” Williams is no political scientist—he flunked out of the University of Mississippi law school in near record time—but on this occasion he did, if inadvertently, define the nature of the Citizens Council movement. Pull aside the curtain of States’ Rights and you find, more prominent than anything else, this desire to trade coat-and-tie Negroes for barefoot ones.
The White Citizens Councils, a loosely connected series of local groups which have arisen throughout the South in protest against the Supreme Court’s May 17, 1954 desegregation decision, undoubtedly constitute a very significant political phenomenon. Individually, the Councils can be either powerful or frail, at times the sincere expression of confusion and desperation, at other times the vehicle for personal frustration. But the single thread connecting all the Councils, strong and weak, is the determination not just to oppose integration in the public schools but to stop or at least postpone it. In most of the Deep South, where hostility to integration is nearly universal, it is this militancy and dedication that make the Council member stand out.
Despite occasional efforts by supporters to build the Councils up into a movement of broad conservatism, their only serious purpose is to fight the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Not only do they contest the NAACP’s desegregation suits, but they seek to cancel much else that the Negro has gained over the last half-century by keeping him out of the polling booth. The exact strength of the Councils is difficult to determine: in Mississippi, their cradle, 100,000 members are claimed, but sober estimates would run closer to 55,000. Yet nowhere in the Deep South is their strength to be scoffed at—it is a product of crisis and as more law suits are filed it will mount.
Just by way of background, in the last decade or so there’s been controversy about a group called the Council of Conservative Citizens, a successor group to Citizen’s Councils. In other words, the CCC group was an organizational attempt to cleanse the reputation of the earlier group or rather shed some of its more explicit connection to white supremacy and legal racial discrimination. But even those folks were and are so retrograde that the mainstream right would have nothing to do with them. David Keene, head of the American Conservative Union — sponsor of the annual CPAC conference — said almost a decade ago: “We kicked [them] out of CPAC because they are racists.”
So folks like Keene won’t have anything to do with the cleaned up, scrubbed down version of the group. But Barbour thinks the genuine article operating as the rearguard during the Civil Rights Era was just great.
First, both Barbour and Yglesias can be right. Based on the profile it’s clear that many people in Barbour’s home town (including his brother Jeppie, the then Mayor) held beliefs that simply were reprehensible about blacks but none the less managed to take a relatively benign course of action in integrating the community.
Were members of the Yazoo Citizens Council less than the shining examples Barbour holds them up as? Based on the examples Yglesias digs up, yeah. That’s not exactly a surprise given the time we’re talking about.
Does Barbour’s romanticized version of events fail to convey the whole picture and give some people more credit than they deserve? I’d say so. But that’s not exactly news either. The profile makes it clear these are people Barbour grew up around and admired. The fact that he cuts them slack the rest of us wouldn’t does not exactly shock me. It’s a pretty human reaction. Does this mean Barbour is a racist? Of course not. Does it mean Barbour supported segregation then or supports it now? Of course not.
So what does it prove? Nothing much as far as I can see. What it does is confirm something we already know…Democrats get a pass for their past and Republicans get nailed for the slightest variation from liberal dogma.
Obama skated by on Bill Ayers by saying he was a child when Ayers was bombing buildings and killing people. Of course Ayers past wasn’t the issue, it was his unapologetic defense of it and the wisdom of a presidential candidate associating himself with such a man in the present.
Barbour was 8 years old when the 1955 campaign to intimidate supporters of school integration Yglesias cites was conducted. What’s the relevance of that to Barbour or his memories of integration efforts in the 60’s?
If Barbour were associating with men who still believed in segregation or defended their role in opposing it back in the day (as Ayers does about his terrorist past and continued belief in violence as a political tool), I’d be the first to say he has a disqualifying problem. But that’s not the charge, is it?
Oh and if supporting segregation is disqualifying (and again no one is claiming Barbour did any such thing, then or now), then I’d like liberals to explain their on going love affair with Jimmy Carter.
As Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU’s Voting Project, relates in his book A Voting Rights Odyssey: Black Enfranchisement in Georgia, Carter’s board tried to stop the construction of a new “Elementary Negro School” in 1956. Local white citizens had complained that the school would be “too close” to a white school. As a result, “the children, both colored and white, would have to travel the same streets and roads in order to reach their respective schools.” The prospect of black and white children commingling on the streets on their way to school was apparently so horrible to Carter that he requested that the state school board stop construction of the black school until a new site could be found. The state board turned down Carter’s request because of “the staggering cost.” Carter and the rest of the Sumter County School Board then reassured parents at a meeting on October 5, 1956, that the board “would do everything in its power to minimize simultaneous traffic between white and colored students in route to and from school.”
It’s clear that this country still hasn’t fully dealt with the implications of the Civil Rights era or how to deal with the sides people took or didn’t take at the time. That’s only going to fully come about when the generations that lived through that era have all passed.
I get that it’s a complicated and emotional issue but I think we need some balance in how we deal with it. To simply and forever give Democrats who actively took part in it a pass, while smearing Republicans who only had tangential involvement (like a high school aged Haley Barbour) is simply unacceptable.
Now, all of that said…this is simply bad politics for Barbour. A lot of folks whose only notions of the south come from watching or reading To Kill a Mockingbird or popular history simply equate “southern” with “racism”.
The insinuation that Barbour is an apologist for racists (or worse) is a powerful one. People want to hear their own worldview reflected back at them by politicians. That’s why Obama is forced to pretend his incredibly strange childhood and background fits perfectly within the traditional American narrative. Barbour’s recollection of the south in the 60s will no doubt resonate with a lot of people who live there and know people they like and respect who did the best they could in difficult times. But for a lot of others it will sound like (pardon the phrase) whitewashing history. Personally, it strikes me as somewhere in between.
As a matter of pure politics, if Barbour does run for President (and you can tell the left is at least a little worried about that judged on the hits he’s taking today), he’s going to need to have a better spin on his take about this period in history. Because, as we see, it’s going to be brought up over and over again if he is nominated. Voters outside the south (think Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, even Florida) are going to want a better narrative than, “there were some good people who stood up for integration regardless of their feelings about blacks”.
Like I said, Barbour is not dumb. If he’s being a revisionist about race in Mississippi, he’s not alone, and he’s fighting back against a media standard that all conservatives hate — this idea that Southerners and conservatives can never stop atoning for Jim Crow. Why should he have to apologize for this, after all? He wasn’t in a Citizens Council. With the exception of some people, like Howell Raines — who covered Barbour’s 1986 Senate bid — how many of these reporters know what they’re talking about, anyway? And there are few things conservative voters hate more than being told they were on the wrong side of the Civil Rights movement.
I just spoke with Dan Turner, the official spokesman for Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS), who responded in strong terms to criticism of Barbour’s recent praise for the segregationist Citizens Council groups of the Civil Rights era.
“You’re trying to paint the governor as a racist,” he said. “And nothing could be further from the truth.”
So, I asked Turner, does Barbour have any comment on the Citizen Council movement’s basis in white supremacy, and its work of launching economic boycotts to cut off employment and business for African-Americans who became active for civil rights — including that notable occasion in Yazoo City?
“Gov. Barbour did not comment on the Citizens Council movement’s history,” Turner responded. “He commented on the business community in Yazoo City, Mississippi.”
I asked further about the Citizen Council movement’s white supremacist activities, such as the boycotts in Barbour’s hometown. “I’m not aware that that’s accurate,” Turner said. “I’m not aware that he [Barbour] has any statement on that. I’m aware of the statement that he made in context of how he made it.”
After being pressed further on whether Barbour’s comments about the Citizens Councils were accurate, Turner said: “I’m aware of what the governor said in this interview. I’m not gonna get into the business of trying to twist what the governor said, or to manipulate it.”
What does he mean by manipulate it, I asked?
“Your questions are very angular, let’s say that,” said Turner. “You have a very specific point that you’re trying to drive at, and you’re trying to paint the governor as a racist. And nothing could be further from the truth.”
I then responded that I was not asking about whether Barbour is a racist, but was asking about whether it is true or not that the group he praised was a racist organization?
“It was an organization in Yazoo City that was, you know, a group of the town leaders and business people,” Turner responded, then referring back to Barbour’s comment. “And they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. And that doesn’t sound like a racist to me. Does it to you?”
Turner then repeatedly asked me that question, whether the group in Yazoo City sounds racist from its anti-Klan policies. I responded again by asking about the same Yazoo City group that launched boycotts of African-Americans who sought civil rights.
Turner asked me a question right back. “Do you have any comment that throughout the history of America things have changed?” he said. “Do you have any comment that there were riots in Northern cities, as well as how there were problems in Southern cities?” Turner then pointed out that civil rights was an issue for the whole country, including places like Boston, and not just the South. And as he also added again, things have changed.
“Tell me what in Gov. Barbour’s past gives any indication of any racist leanings, and I’ll be glad to address the question,” said Turner. “Otherwise, it’s not a legitimate question. There’s nothing in his past that shows that. If you pick out a sentence or a paragraph out of a fairly long article and harp on it, you can manipulate it. And that sounds to me like what you’re trying to do.”
It’s a trivial matter to show that the Citizens’ Councils were repellent white supremacist organizations, and their current incarnation, the Council of Conservative Citizens, is every bit as bad — if no longer as powerful.
And I don’t believe Turner doesn’t know this. How could he not know? It’s as if they just can’t help themselves.
The White Citizens’ Councils usually refrained from terrorizing and murdering black people like the Klan did, because they were businessmen. A permanent underclass of low-cost, low-maintenance servants and manual laborers was very valuable to them. So instead of killing African Americans, they just denied them education and opportunities.
When asked why my hometown in Mississippi did not suffer the same racial violence when I was a young man that accompanied other towns’ integration efforts, I accurately said the community leadership wouldn’t tolerate it and helped prevent violence there. My point was my town rejected the Ku Klux Klan, but nobody should construe that to mean I think the town leadership were saints, either. Their vehicle, called the “Citizens Council,” is totally indefensible, as is segregation. It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country, and especially African Americans who were persecuted in that time.
The Senate voted Saturday to repeal the ban on gays in the military, marking a major victory for gay rights and an impending end to the 17-year old “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
The bill now heads to President Barack Obama, who plans to sign it into law, overturning what repeal advocates believed was a discriminatory policy that has unfairly ended the careers of thousands of gay members of the military.
The 65-31 Senate vote marked a historic — and emotional — moment for the gay-rights movement and handed Obama a surprising political triumph in the closing days of the 111th Congress. The legislation had been left for dead as recently as last week when Senate Republicans blocked efforts to advance it. But on final passage, the bill won the support of eight Republicans, an unexpectedly high total.
Earlier in the day, the Senate voted 63-33 to invoke cloture. Six Republicans voted in favor of doing so: Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Mark Kirik, Scott Brown, Lisa Murkowski, and George Voinovich. On the final vote, two conservatives, John Ensign and Richard Burr, joined in to support repeal.
Of that entire group, the only Senator whose view on the subject I credit even slightly is Scott Brown, who has served for 30 years in the National Guard. But Brown must run for re-election in left-liberal Massachusetts. And, political calculation aside, I do not credit Brown’s views nearly as much as those of, for example, John McCain, a true expert in military affairs whose son serves in the Marines and opposes repeal.
It’s clear to me that there will come a day when DADT can be repealed without an appreciable risk to the military and its personnel, such as the risk described by Gen. James Amos, Commandant of the Marines, of American soldiers dying on the battlefield as a result of the decrease in unit cohesion he thinks repeal will produce. The testimony of Gen. Amos, and the data contained in the Pentagon’s study showing the views of the people who actually fight for this country, led me to conclude that day has not yet arrived.
It’s been more than three decades since Leonard Matlovich appeared on the cover of Time magazine. It’s been more than two decades since this struggle began to reach the realm of political possibility. From the painful non-compromise of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, through the big increase in discharges under president Clinton, via the wars and civil marriage breakthroughs of the first decade of the 21st Century to the calm and reasoned Pentagon report of December 2010, the path has been uneven. We need to remember this. We need to remember constantly that any civil rights movement will be beset with reversals, with dark periods, with moments when the intensity of the despair breaks the hardiest of souls.
But we should also note that what won in the end was facts and testimony and truth. There is no rational basis to keep qualified and dedicated gays from serving in the military. It was confidence in this truth – not assertion of any special identity or special rights – that carried us forward. And the revelation of the actual lives and records of gay servicemembers – all of whom came out of the closet and risked their livelihoods to testify to the truth – has sunk in widely and deeply. These men and women had the courage to serve their country and then the courage to risk their careers, promotions, pensions, salaries and, in some cases, lives to bring this day about. They represent an often silent majority of gay men and women who simply want to belong to the families and country and churches and communities they love, and to contribute to them without having to lie about themselves. This, in the end, was not about the right to be gay, but the right to serve America. Like all great civil rights movements, it is in the end about giving, not taking.
Now that the lame duck Democratic Congress has repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), the new Congress will have to see to it that the Obama administration manages the implementation of repeal responsibly, and that the concerns of military leaders and troops are taken seriously. But over the next two years Congress can do something else. It can take an interest in ensuring that discrimination against ROTC on college campuses ends.
Though ROTC was kicked off campuses like Harvard, Yale and Columbia before gays in the military was ever an issue, DADT became the excuse offered by those universities in recent years for continuing to discriminate against ROTC. The excuse is gone. One trusts the presidents and trustees of colleges that have been keeping ROTC at arm’s length, allegedly because of DADT, will move posthaste to ensure a hearty welcome and full equality for ROTC at their universities. One would expect that patriotic alumni of those universities would insist on quick action. One would hope that prominent individuals, like Yale alum Joe Lieberman, who played so crucial a role in ending DADT, would lose no time in writing president Richard Levin to urge the re-installing of ROTC at Yale, that Crimson alums like Chuck Schumer will be in touch with Harvard president Drew Faust, and that Columbia graduate Barack Obama will weigh in with Fair Columbia’s Lee Bolling
It’s past time for a litmus test for Republican candidates. This debacle shows what happens when party leaders are careless about the allegiance of candidates to the fundamental conservative principles expressed in the party’s own platform.
Character-driven officers and chaplains will eventually be forced out of the military en masse, potential recruits will stay away in droves, and re-enlistments will eventually drop like a rock.
The draft will return with a vengeance and out of necessity. What young man wants to voluntarily join an outfit that will force him to shower naked with males who have a sexual interest in him and just might molest him while he sleeps in his bunk
This isn’t a game, and the military should never be used, as is now being done, for massive social re-engineering. The new Marine motto: “The Few, the Proud, the Sexually Twisted.” Good luck selling that to strong young males who would otherwise love to defend their country. What virile young man wants to serve in a military like that?
If the president and the Democrats wanted to purposely weaken and eventually destroy the United States of America, they could not have picked a more efficient strategy to make it happen.
Rarely can you point to a moment in time when a nation consigned itself to the scrap heap of history. Today, when the Senate normalized sexual perversion in the military, was that moment for the United States. If historians want a fixed marker pointing to the instant the United States sealed its own demise, they just found it.
It won’t happen overnight, but happen it will.
And Republicans did not just stand around and watch as our military was shredded before their very eyes, they helped it happen. Shame on them all.
His is an absurd position, one that portrays gay soldiers as uncontrollable rutting beasts, and our straight servicemen as docile sheep waiting to raped. Such a point of view is hysterical and illogical and shows that those holding such views think very little of the professionalism of all soldiers regardless of their sexual preference.
It also taps into a deep-seated phobia that some seem to have that homosexuality is a communicable disease, and that soldiers that serve with gay soldiers could be “turned gay.”
I wish I was joking, but the folks who hold these views are dead serious. Some are borderline frantic, apparently unaware that tens of thousands of gays serve in the military right now. This kind of freakish paranoia brings out the worse in some people, and in some, it simply seems to be striking fears that their own sexuality isn’t quite as black and white as they profess it to be.
I find a gay soldier willing to sacrifice his life for my family’s safety to be on much firmer moral ground than a sputtering viper like Fischer the serves up division and fear.
Perhaps that is the greatest irony; a professed Christian, Fischer certainly seems to be batting for the other team.
Finally, the idiotic and anti-freedom “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy has been rightfully placed in history’s dustbin. Sure, it took too long to happen and shouldn’t have been in place in the first place (lasting all the way to the 21st century!) but at the end of the day it will be signed into law by President Obama and that’s a good thing.
Kudos to Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid for this passage, and even to the Republicans who kept their promise for a change and voted for repeal.
Getting rid of discriminatory policies like this are part of the neverending American move towards progress and while regressive demagogues like John McCain and Louie Gohmert will always do the best they can to halt the inevtiable – they will ultimately be defeated.
McCain distinguished himself doubly this weekend, opposing the Dream Act and leading the opposition to “Don’t Ask,” despite the very public positions of his wife and daughter on the other side of the issue. I used to know a different John McCain, the guy who proposed comprehensive immigration reform with Ted Kennedy, the guy–a conservative, to be sure, but an honorable one–who refused to indulge in the hateful strictures of his party’s extremists. His public fall has been spectacular, a consequence of politics–he “needed” to be reelected–and personal pique. He’s a bitter man now, who can barely tolerate the fact that he lost to Barack Obama. But he lost for an obvious reason: his campaign proved him to be puerile and feckless, a politician who panicked when the heat was on during the financial collapse, a trigger-happy gambler who chose an incompetent for his vice president. He has made quite a show ever since of demonstrating his petulance and lack of grace.
And the report is absolutely clear that straight servicemembers by large majorities have few problems with openly gay servicemembers. 69 percent of them acknowledge they have fought or worked alongside gay men and women already. A staggering 92 percent of those were fine with lifting the ban. Again: when you know someone is gay, all the fears and stereotypes tend to evaporate. This is not a surprise. The men and women of the US military are among the finest in the land; they want to do the job at hand, not deepen social division or posture politically. They are not bigots. I note one colorful quote from a special ops fighter:
“We have a gay guy [in the unit]. He’s big, he’s mean, and he kills lots of bad guys. No one cared that he was gay.”
And why would they? The other critical point is the inherent conservatism of many gay servicemembers. The last thing they would want to do is make a fuss about their orientation. The overwhelming majority will stay largely closeted in the workplace and battlefield – not out of fear but because it is irrelevant, and they are discreet kinds of people. Rand found that “even if Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell were repealed, only 15% of gay and lesbian Service members would like to have their sexual orientation known to everyone in their unit.”
It turns out that although 30% of respondents think that repealing DADT would affect their unit’s ability to train well together (a number that shows up pretty consistently on every question about the effect of repeal), only 10% think it would affect their own readiness and only 20% think it would affect their ability to train well. In other words, there’s pretty good reason to think that even the 30% number is overstated. It seems to include a fair number of people who are assuming that DADT repeal would have a negative effect on other people even though it wouldn’t have a negative effect on them. My guess is that a lot of this is reaction to a small number of vocal traditionalists, which makes opposition to repeal seem like a bigger deal than it is.
Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s chief counsel, agrees, saying that surveys about personnel changes “tend to overestimate negative consequences, and underestimate the U.S. military’s ability to adapt and incorporate within its ranks the diversity that is reflective of American society at large.” I suspect he’s right. In the end, real opposition is probably more in the range of 10-20% than 30%, and even that will probably produce nothing more serious than occasional grumbling and discomfort for a year or two at most. There’s really no further excuse for inaction. It’s time for Barack Obama and the Democratic leadership to figure out a way to cut a deal and get repeal passed before Congress recesses.
Early reports on the Pentagon’s survey of the troops on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were nothing but roses for repeal supporters, but the details of the survey complicate that narrative somewhat. While only 20% of troops who have never been deployed to a combat zone say that repeal of DADT would “very negatively” or “negatively” affect their “immediate unit’s effectiveness at completing its mission,” more than 44% of combat troops say repeal would have a negative impact on unit effectiveness:
An exception to the pattern was the response of Service members deployed to a combat zone now or in the past to the circumstance of being “in a field environment or out to sea.” Among all Service members in this group, 44.3% (and 59.4% of Marines—see Q71a in Appendix E) said performance would be “very negatively/negatively” affected in this situation. Of note, among all survey items related to the review’s major subject areas, this item had the highest percentage of Service members reporting negative perceptions about the impact of a repeal.
About 11% of all combat troops surveyed said repeal would “positively” or “very positively” affect performance, while 19% said repeal would have “no effect.” Another 26% of combat troops surveyed said repeal’s affect wold be “equally as positively as negatively.” These troops–who see both negative and positive effects of repeal–are lumped together with those who believe it will have “no effect” under the survey’s “neutral” category.
Spartan living conditions on combat zones may be one reason why combat troops see repeal more negatively than non-combat troops do
Defense Secretary Bob Gates just called on Congress to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell before the end of the year — while asking that Congress give the military time to implement the change.
Asked by reporters how much time he would need, Gates conceded he didn’t know. But he indicated the the President would keep a close eye on the Pentagon and make sure it didn’t slow roll the implementation.
As expected, the Pentagon’s review of DADT found that repeal of the flawed policy would not have an adverse effect on unit morale or cohesion. But Gates’ unequivocal call for repeal by Congress was perhaps a surprise. The argument he made for repeal cuts particularly sharply for Republicans: if Congress doesn’t repeal DADT in orderly fashion, the federal courts may do it in a haphazard and disruptive way.
Commenting on the Pentagon report, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added, “We treat people with dignity and respect in the armed forces, or we don’t last long in the armed forces: No special cases, no special treatment.”
Igor Volsky has more, including a variety of related highlights from the survey findings. The entire report has been published online here.
As for the larger legislative context, remember, Senate Republicans recently refused to even allow a debate on funding U.S. troops because they wanted to wait for this report. They took a gamble, of sorts — maybe the survey results would show servicemen and women agreeing with the GOP’s anti-gay animus, thus giving the party a boost fighting pro-repeal Democrats.
The gamble failed. We now know a majority of U.S. troops, a majority of U.S. civilians, a majority of the House, a majority of the Senate, the Commander in Chief, the Secretary of Defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs are all ready to see DADT repeal move forward.
If John McCain and other anti-gay senators hoped to gain some leverage, those hopes were in vain. They’ve run out of excuses. It’s time for the Senate to do the right and decent thing.
Remember, Democrats only need two Republicans — literally, just two — to break ranks. These GOP senators, if they exist, don’t even have to vote for the spending bill that includes the DADT provision; they just need to let the Senate vote up or own. If this report doesn’t lead two Republicans to drop the nonsense, nothing will.
Two points. Part of the argument for keeping DADT — and the criticism that’s been directed at its opponents — has been that the military is special, that the rules for civil society are not the same as those necessary for a well-disciplined and effective military force. There’s some sense in this; it’s probably why, for instance, we don’t ask military members to vote on each tactical move they have to carry out, or leave the decision of whether the country goes to war to them. If the rights and responsibilities of military members need be different from those of civil society in any way, following decisions made along the chain of command seems to be the most important for maintaining cohesion. Surveying the troops about a policy matter is, in that light, a departure from the military M.O.
But the larger question is whether the rights of any minority group should be put up to a vote. In this case, the results of the study tip the scales in favor of repeal, but that needn’t have been the case — and it shouldn’t matter anyway. Anti-gay activists rely on the prejudice of voters to suppress minority rights — and call it undemocratic when a court rules that the electorate does not have a right to vote on issues like gay marriage or in this case the DADT repeal. But a fundamental feature of our democracy is that the system is reined in from pure mob rule by the (at least in theory) inalienable guarantees of the Constitution. You don’t want the Bill of Rights put up to a vote every time the courts want to extend its protections to a marginalized group, whether public opinion is on your side or not.
Tuesday’s vote 56-39 vote on the moratorium contrasts with one last March in the Senate defeating a similar ban by a larger margin: 68-29.
Since November’s elections, the Senate Republican Conference has embraced a two-year moratorium beginning in the next Congress. Tuesday’s amendment, offered by Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, ups the ante by including this budget year and is very much in line with the thinking of incoming House Speaker John Boehner. (See: GOP backs earmarks ban in vote)
Coburn had hoped to get to 40 and was hurt by the defections of eight Republicans, many prominent in the Appropriations Committee. But the House GOP leadership has been unyielding thus far, and with the Democratic defections, hopes to put pressure on Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to accept a temporary ban.
In a recent private meeting, Boehner warned Reid, a long time veteran of the Appropriations process, that he would not accept any earmarks in the 2011 spending bills, according to several sources familiar with that discussion.
Seven Democrats backed the proposal: Sens. Evan Bayh (Ind.), Michael Bennett (Colo.), Russ Feingold (Wis.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Mark Udall (Colo.), and Mark Warner (Va.). All are either freshman members, retiring/defeated members, or up for reelection in 2012.
Eight Republicans, primarily members of the Appropriations Committee, went on the record against the ban: Sens. Bob Bennett (Utah), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), James Inhofe (Okla.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Richard Lugar (Ind.), Richard Shelby (Ala.), George Voinovich (Ohio).
As Cochran and other have made clear, everyone on that list — apart from Bennett (defeated in primary) and Voinovich (retiring) — should expect a primary challenge in their next election. Only Lugar is up in 2012, though he has been especially defiant in the face of criticism from the right, earning him a place in the heart of the The New York Times.
Even without a formal ban, pork-lovers are going to have a difficult time keeping the practice alive in the 112th Congress, with House and Senate Republicans voting to do away with earmarks on their own. Expect the GOP to continue its efforts to isolate Harry Reid and Senate Democrats on the issue.
If you can’t trust these feckless Republicans on a little thing like earmarks, you can’t trust them on a big, hard thing like balancing the budget. I hope the Tea Party guys are planning to primary these clowns
Harvard research shows that states that experience an increase in earmark spending suffer from decreases in corporate capital expenditures and employment. Earmarking also robs money from local government transportation priorities to pay for Senator’s vanity projects. And there is a strong correlation between high numbers of earmarks high total spending by Congress.
The earmark ban, like the freeze on pay for federal workers, is largely symbolic, but let’s be honest: symbols matter, and the voters are looking for signs that their lawmakers “get it.” With the few exceptions noted above, it seems that Democratic senators by and large don’t understand what’s afoot in the country. They remain oblivious at their own peril.
I hope congressional Republicans recognize the stakes for this 112th Congress. Even though there is little hope of major policy breakthroughs, they are exceedingly high. It’s not just a matter of setting the 2012 election up nicely. The reputation of the Grand Old Party is on the line here. The Republican party has long been known as the party of fiscal responsibility. You vote for them not because you want to them to save the world — that’s what the liberal Democrats are for — but because they’re the serious fellows who insist on a balanced budget. Yet over the last couple of years the Republican Party in Congress has totally obliterated this image. And now they lose 20 percent of the Senate caucus over what is little more than a symbolic gesture on spending? That does not fill one with confidence.
This morning the full Senate voted down a proposed rule that would have barred earmarks for the next two years. Part of the reason? Earmarks are transparent.
Here’s Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), quoted in a Hill article:
There is full disclosure in my office of every single request for an appropriation. We then ask those who have made the requests to have a full disclaimer of their involvement in the appropriation, so it’s there for the public record. This kind of transparency is virtually unprecedented.
Senator Durbin doesn’t know transparency. Take a look at Senator Durbin’s earmark disclosures. Yes, you can read through them, one by one. But can you make a list of recipients? Can you add up the totals? Can you search for common words in the brief explanations for each earmark? Can you make a map showing where recipients of Senator Durbin’s requests are?
No, no, no, and no.
That’s because Senator Durbin puts his request disclosure out as scanned PDFs. Someone on his staff takes a letter and puts it on a scanner, making a PDF document of the image. Then the staffer posts that image on the senator’s web site. It’s totally useless if you want to use the data for anything. Notably, Senator Durbin doesn’t even include the addresses of his earmark recipients.
In the wake of Joe Miller’s upset over Lisa Murkowski in Alaska’s GOP Senate primary, there’s been a lot of buzz for Delaware GOP Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, who is challenging moderate GOP congressman Mike Castle in the September 14 primary. This week, the Tea Party Express endorsed O’Donnell, a former conservative activist who has worked at the Republican National Committee, Concerned Women for America, and the Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth. The Tea Party Express says it’s going to spend $250,000 on the race, and its new radio ad touts conservative radio host Mark Levin’s endorsement of O’Donnell. Some other conservatives, like RedState.com’s Erick Erickson, have endorsed O’Donnell as well.
In an interview with THE WEEKLY STANDARD late this morning, O’Donnell said there’s no difference between Mike Castle and the Democrat in the race, New Castle County executive Chris Coons. Asked if there are any issues on which Castle is better than the Democrat, O’Donnell said: “I don’t think so.”
Castle has plenty of moderate and liberal positions, but his supporters point out that Delaware is one of the most Democratic states in the country, and Castle could be Delaware’s Scott Brown.
Ideological differences aside, questions have been raised about O’Donnell’s financial history. According to a March 21 Delaware News Journal article posted on knowchristineodonnell.com, O’Donnell is using campaign funds to pay for half of the rent at her residence:
Greenville Place lists the prices of a town house rental between $1,645 and $2,020 a month, depending on the number of bedrooms and square feet.
O’Donnell said she pays half of her rent with campaign donations because she also uses the town home as her Senate campaign headquarters.
“I’m splitting it, legally splitting it and paying part of it,” she said. “This is our technical headquarters.”
O’Donnell said she has separate, private quarters and that staffers, like Hust, live in the other portion of the home.
O’Donnell tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD that while she does pay rent on what is technically her legal residence with campaign funds, she also has a separate permanent residence, the location of which she won’t disclose “for security reasons.” O’Donnell said that her campaign office and home were vandalized in 2008, and she’s fearful that her opponents will do the same this year. Says O’Donnell:
They’re following me. They follow me home at night. I make sure that I come back to the townhouse and then we have our team come out and check all the bushes and check all the cars to make sure that—they follow me.
That’s what’s disgusting, as you can see from the YouTube videos. They knock on the door at all hours of the night. They’re hiding in the bushes when I’m at candidate forums. In 2008 they broke into my home. They vandalized my home. They wrote nasty notes on my front door, on my front porch. They jeopardized my safety. They did the same thing to our campaign office. They broke into our campaign office. They vandalized our campaign office. They stole files. My campaign signs that had my picture—they put a spear in my mouth poked out my eyes, and cut out the part of my heart, and wrote nasty names all over those campaign signs.
I would be a fool to be pressured into disclosing where I live, when I know that the stakes are even higher this time. What makes me think they wont do the same distasteful things they did in 2008 when the stakes are even higher, when we’re even more viable. I mean come on, John, you’re a class act. You don’t want to—you know that this is a security issue. You know what they’re capable of.
Is O’Donnell suggesting that Castle supporters vandalized her office in 2008, when she was running for Senate against Joe Biden? “I’m not sure who did it, but I know for a fact that Mike Castle and [Delaware GOP chairman] Tom Ross were campaigning against me,” O’Donnell says. “They’ve been sabotaging my candidacy since 2008. So who knows who did it back then.” O’Donnell says there are no police reports of the 2008 break-in because she didn’t want to make an issue of it at the time. She claims to have pictures of vandalized signs.
My mistake, fellas. You’re right. It was a terrific interview. A candidate who doesn’t like the questions she’s being asked should always tell the host that there are rumors he’s taking bribes from the other campaign. When she says she won two out of three counties, no one should acknowledge that she lost both, one by 14 percentage points. Conservatism is best served when we all close our eyes and pretend we don’t see a false statement by a candidate we prefer!
Now, I’m not going to tout Mike Castle as anything other than what he is. He has a lifetime ACU rating of 52.49. That’s pretty darn “meh” for conservatives. But the moderation of the other guy isn’t sufficient reason to give a thumbs up to a candidate who makes blatantly, easily-to-verify false statements on the trail, nor to countenance her attacks on those who have the audacity to bring her the bad news.
I would rather be slowly run over by a road roller while listening to Janeane Garofalo dialogue from The Truth About Cats and Dogs than see Mike Castle in the Senate.
I’d rather see the Democrat get elected than see Mike Castle get elected. Seriously, I know many of you disagree with me, but if the majority depends on Mike Castle, to hell with the majority.
But I’m moving on from Delaware. The Tea Party Express has a poll coming out showing the race within 5 points. I wish Christine O’Donnell the best. I’d rather her than Castle.
But I’m moving on.
If Christine O’Donnell wins it’ll be inspite of the help she has gotten. What has ultimately set me off is the “Mike Castle is gay” stuff, which is nothing more than the Will Folks hour come to Delaware. The failure of the O’Donnell campaign to deal swiftly with this tells me all I need to know.
Subsequently, a number of the affiliated individuals went and worked directly for Christine O’Donnell’s campaign. A few weeks ago they left. Around that time I began hearing rumors the O’Donnell campaign was imploding.
Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell, already under fire for a sketchy history with personal finances and a number of other odd actions (including suing the stalwart conservative publishing house, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute), now is really turning into an embarrassment. Her unnamed opponents are hiding in her bushes! And her close associates are making absolutely slanderous claims about her GOP opponent, U.S. Rep. Mike Castle, while O’Donnell herself can barely raise herself to denounce the slander — only while repeating it numerous times.
Yet TEA Partiers, with whose causes I almost always gladly associate, are working hard to make O’Donnell the next Joe Miller, pulling an upset win over the GOP establishment.
I make no endorsement of Mike Castle’s leftward drift over the years. I make no endorsement in the race. I love a lot of what O’Donnell says. I would still be at least tempted to vote for her if I lived in Delaware. But if I were a political consultant telling TEA Partiers and conservative leaders in general what their best purely political action would be, long term, what I would say is this: Go to Mike Castle and get pledges from him to move back rightward.
Politicians as experienced as Castle know the importance of honoring their word to other political actors. (Sort of like “honor among thieves,” except that most politicians really are NOT thieves.) Conservative leaders can go to him, perfectly legally, and say, look, you saw what happened to Lisa Murkowski in Alaska and to Bob Bennett in Utah. You see the polls that have you just five points up on O’Donnell. You know you are at least at some risk of failing to win the nomination. But we can call off the dogs of war. We can stop ginning up the organizational fervor that could propel O’Donnell to victory. What we ask from you is that you keep your door open to us once you are in the Senate; that you sign at least a two-year version of Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge; that you agree in writing that you will not switch parties if elected and that you would resign rather than do so….. that sort of thing. The pledges don’t even need to be public. They can’t mention any specific legislation, and they can’t be couched in terms of a quid pro quo. But they still can be binding on an honorable man, and Castle is an honorable man.
They say neurotics build sand castles and psychotics live in them. From what I’ve seen at many conservative blogs, they look determined to enable the ongoing building of a sand castle of a Republican Party by helping Mike Castle in Delaware. Well, pardon me if I don’t feel their pain as they start to whine when that sand castle comes crashing down on them after November.
It seems every time someone wants to challenge me on the Castle/O’Donnell issue, they have to start out with a straw-man argument. They don’t like, or support O’Donnell, so why should they not assist Castle in attacking her? Yet, I’ve never said anyone had to, or should support her. All I’ve argued is, why should a conservative align with a liberal like Castle to attack a conservative, when not saying anything is a principled option? It isn’t as if we all weigh in on each and every race.
I backed Lowden over Angle, but never attacked Angle. If the GOP can’t produce a satisfactory candidate in DE, then maybe they need to be sent a message in this case. Invest the time and money required to build a state and local party apparatus that can offer up real choices between a D and an R – and recruit them to run, not a Democrat by any other name. Stop following the Democrats off a cliff because it’s the easy way to win. What is it we as conservatives win in the end?
Conservatives win nothing with a Mike Castle in the Senate. Most conservative bloggers are fond of saying, I’m a conservative before I am a Republican. You wouldn’t know it by looking around out here today.
What is the incentive for the GOP to honestly shift to the Right if conservatives will accept whatever the GOP opts to shove down their throats? Reagan won DE statewide twice, Bush 41 won it in 1988. But Castle is the best the GOP can do statewide in DE today? I don’t buy it. If we want the GOP to pay attention to Center-Right views, at some point we are going to have to make a stand.
What good is a GOP to conservatives if every Republican north of Washington is liberal? How does that advance the cause of conservatism? Frankly, it doesn’t. It advances a GOP that can continue to sell out conservative principles for electoral convenience. It isn’t a party that’s leading anywhere, it’s a party following Democrats off the cliff they have been driving America over for decades.
By the reasoning I’ve seen around, we should never have supported Scott Brown in Massachusetts. In this, of all years, I don’t buy that a Castle can win in Delaware, but not an O’Donnell. Still, I’d rather see the GOP lose and have an identified Democrat, rather than one in Red skin.
Over at Riehlword and on Mark Levin’s Facebook page are marvelous pieces defining much more than Delaware’s suddenly heated fight between Christine O’Donnell and Mike Castle.
O’Donnell is taking flak for this or that, this alleged misstatement or that bad radio interview. Including from this piece over at NRO by the estimable Jim Geraghty. And, just posted, is this from my wonderful TAS friend and colleague Quin Hillyer.
Taking flak from good conservatives or, as Mark Levin puts it, conservatives who are more Republican than conservative. Not, as Seinfeld might say, that there’s anything wrong with that! And quite specifically let me make sure we understand Quin Hillyer is not included in my estimation of who is not really conservative. Anyone who knows Quin knows in an earlier life he told Edmund Burke to get on the stick with that French Revolution book, not to mention he still grouses about Wendell Willkie. Mr. Hillyer is many things….short on conservatism is not one of those things.
If I may say respectfully, this kind of thing is both terminally old when it comes to attacks on conservatives and, frustratingly, enduringly typical from — yes — some on the right.
Somewhere it always seems there’s a need to refresh on the savage attacks on Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan or, to be current and with no need to refresh, today’s Sarah Palin. Heck, why limit this to running for office? Attacks by conservatives on more prominent conservatives occur these days with the same certainty as the attraction of gin to tonic. Google names like…oh…say…Limbaugh, Rush and you’ll get the idea.
These attacks are so utterly, utterly predictable although I’m sure that a Palin or O’Donnell still finds the sensation amazing as the arrow enters between their shoulder blades.
So let’s take a second to see just how deeply normal if crazy this business has been over the decades.
The conservative is accused by his or her fellows of being: unstable (Goldwater), an extremist (Goldwater, Reagan, William F. Buckley, Jr., Palin), an un-informed lightweight (Reagan, Palin), personally irresponsible with finances (Reagan and O’Donnell), saying something utterly stupid in this interview or that public appearance (all of the above) — and don’t forget the ever dependable cry of racist/race-baiter or race something-or — other (all of the above plus pick-your-favorite talk radio host).
Until the Delaware primary, it is now Christine O’Donnell’s turn to feel that startling arrow-in-the-back sensation that comes with this.
Conservatism is not a candidate. It’s a movement. Based on a set of rock-solid principles. The fight always is to move the ball forward. The quarterback of the moment is…Fox News Alert….always flawed in some fashion. We could and can pick endlessly at the quarterback who is on the field. The real question is …now and always….are we moving the ball? Elections will be won. They will be lost. The objective is to move the ball.
I was already predisposed to endorsing Castle, feeling this was a bridge too far (or a RINO too far), and then I recalled who Christine O’Donnell was — she’s a fill-in guest on Hannity and other talk shows. She has always grated on me, because she always seems pretty unprepared (or just not really a strong thinker), and tends to just repeat the same three or four obvious bullet-points.
If I have turned the channel off almost every time she’s been on, I do not see how she is going to wear well in Democrat-stronghold Delaware.
When we were trying to get Scott Brown elected, some objected that he was a RINO. I said at the time: This is a gift from God. It is unseemly to look down one’s nose at a gift from God and ask, “Couldn’t you have gotten something better?”
I do not know why it is that Mike Castle is running 12 points or so ahead of his Democratic rival. It could be partly due to his despised RINOism, of course. And it’s also due to personal characteristics which he alone possesses and cannot be transferred to O’Donnell — like, as the state’s only at-large Representative (the state has only one Rep.), he knows everyone in the state, has campaigned statewide nine times before. For whatever reason, the voters trust him, seem to like him. (Well, “like” as much as one can like a politician.)
For whatever reason, they’ve decided he’s okay by them. And preferable to a Democrat. And so he polls 10-12 points ahead.
Meanwhile the latest Rasmussen poll puts O’Donnell ten points behind Coons.
And on that point, I ask, where is the plausible pathway to candidate growth? What is the realistic plan for getting O’Donnell up from ten points down to at least even?
Me? I’m 100% with Christine O’Donnell, come hell or high water. She’s got Dan Riehl and Mark Levin on her side, and I’m sticking with those guys — no personal offense intended to anyone who disagrees.
What has struck me as misguided all along is the fundamental assumption made by O’Donnell’s critics that Castle can win the general, or that O’Donnell’s chances of winning Nov. 2 are significantly less than Castle’s. I am profoundly dubious of either assumption. O’Donnell is a fresh face and enormously telegenic, whereas Mike Castle . . . eh, not so much.
If there really is a GOP tidal wave coming on Nov. 2 and if an anti-Obama/anti-incumbent/anti-Washington sentiment is the energy behind that tsunami, then O’Donnell is certainly better positioned to harness that energy than Mike Castle.
I don’t have much to add to what Ace said earlier, except that I’m genuinely puzzled at folks who say they’d rather the seat be Democrat than in the hands of a RINO. Given the number of Senate seats now in play, this is tantamount to declaring that they’d rather have a Democratic Senate than a Republican one.
I’m saying, it might be different if Republicans were going to have control of the Senate anyway. Then, heh, no real harm to letting our “problem Senators” know what we expect in the future. Same thing on the flipside. If the Democrats were going to have insurmountable control of the Senate…again, it doesn’t matter so much whether the Democrat or the RINO wins.
But we’re talking about taking control of the Senate, something that only now is turning into a real possibility. And that’s going to take putting up with folks like Collins and Snowe and Castle. As infuriating as they are, I’d rather put up with them than watch the Democrats run the country into the ground under another two years of Majority Leader Reid (or his successor).
It’s just astonishing that folks — good, genuine, GOP people — are actually advocating for a path that leads to Democratic majority in the Senate. Over Delaware, a blue state that we have the unimaginably good fortune to be poised to take way from the Democrats until 2014!
Think about it. Turning a Democratic state Republican for long enough that the folks there might actually learn something. Isn’t that what we want? Turn the blue states red? Why would we pass up a gift like this?
There is a reason to prefer Castle — very, very grudgingly — but we’ve already hashed that out. For further thoughts, see Gabe Malor, who wonders why any righty would rather see a Democrat win than a RINO, particularly when it could mean the difference between Democratic and Republican control of all-important Senate committees next year. The response to that argument is usually some variation on the idea that we’re one crushing defeat away from total victory — that if blue states aren’t ready to elect “true conservatives” yet, well, then it’s better to leave Democrats in control so that they can ruin the country even more and eventually produce a real conservative backlash. (Which, I guess, means we shouldn’t have supported RINO Scott Brown in January, since he spoiled Obama’s filibuster-proof majority.) The flaw in this reasoning, of course, is that some things are bound to go right for Democrats despite their dumbest efforts to prevent that from happening. The economy will start to speed up again, even with The One keeping his foot on the brake of the engine of growth (note the car metaphor!), and if the Democrats control Congress when it does, they’ll get plenty of credit from voters. You’re simply not going to get a map that’s completely red, any more than the idiot liberals who were high on Hopenchange two years ago were ever going to get a map that’s completely blue. And as I said yesterday, however much they may irritate you, RINOs are marginally better than Democrats. I recommend re-reading this Doctor Zero post from last year on that subject, after Glenn Beck suggested that McCain would have been worse for the country than Obama. Ain’t so, although it certainly is comforting to believe it.
Ronald Reagan successfully rebranded the conservative movement as one with a big tent. Why exclusionists like Dan Riehl want to turn it into a small tent movement puzzles me. If they think there is a conservative majority in this country, they’re dead wrong–and their narrow views on issues like immigration, gay rights, and so on are helping make sure there never will be one. The US is a center-right country, with at most maybe 35% ideological conservatives, and a lot of them want the government to keep its hands off their Medicare! By letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, Riehl and his ilk are ensuring themselves of a pure minority. I guess it makes for good talk radio and blog posts, but it’s a lousy electoral strategy.
Let’s see. I once wrote an Examiner editorial on the need for something of a center-Right compromise on immigration I believe the majority of Americans would support. Way to do your research before attacking someone, perfessor!
I’m a large tent conservative and embrace civil unions as a compromise on gay marriage. I believe that also puts me in the majority in America, unlike wherever it is Stephen apparently rests – assuming we disagree. And I’ve never once called for the abolition ofMedicare and took Rand Paul to task for his failure to understand the finer points on Civil Rights issues. So, how the hell is it I am an intolerant exclusionist all of a sudden? Simply because we disagree?
WASHINGTON — Two important GOP constituencies, Big Business and Social Conservatives, are at odds over immigration reform. However, if both sides would take the time to actually understand each other, as opposed to hurling insults this way and that, they’d likely find common ground supported by their mostly conservative beliefs.
Castle voted to gut the Tea Party movement with the Disclose Act. He supports Cap and Trade and regulating green house gases because he’s bought and paid for by the banking lobby. They would get fat on a brand new huge Commodities Market and the middle class would foot the bill through costs, if not taxes – or both, with this administration.
Conservatives haven’t won anything. Crist could still win, as could Harry Reid. Throw a liberal Republican into that mix and you could easily have a Senate happy to throw in with the Dems and Obama, creating a big enough rift that the Right would split, dooming the GOP. The base is only willing to tolerate so much at this point.
The Republican party wasn’t always this way, of course. As Professor Bainbridge points out, there was a time not too long ago when it was the home of conservatives like Paul Laxalt and moderate Republicans like William Cohen. If it’s ever going to be the kind of national party capable of getting it’s agenda through Congress, it’s going to need to be that kind of party again, and that means acknowledging the fact that Mike Castle is the kind of Republican that can be elected statewide in Delaware, and Christine O’Donnell, as she has proven time and again in her quixotic efforts to run for office, most definitely is not.
Purism is a fine thing, it’s even got a nobility of its own, but when it becomes this rigid it just leads to defeat.
With just two months until the November elections, the White House is seriously weighing a package of business tax breaks – potentially worth hundreds of billions of dollars – to spur hiring and combat Republican charges that Democratic tax policies hurt small businesses, according to people with knowledge of the deliberations.
Among the options under consideration are a temporary payroll-tax holiday and a permanent extension of the now-expired research-and-development tax credit, which rewards companies that conduct research into new technologies within the United States.
Administration officials have struggled to develop new economic policies and an effective message to blunt expected Republican gains in Congress and defuse complaints from Democrats that President Obama is fumbling the issue most important to voters. Following Obama’s vacation and focus on foreign policy in recent weeks, White House advisers have arranged a series of economic events for the president next week, including two trips to swing states and a news conference.
The economy is struggling mightily. Some 15 million people remain unemployed. The Federal Reserve has been slow to act and still is not doing much. The Senate has been unable to find the 60 votes needed to pass anything but minor bills.
The best hope for a short-term economic plan that can win bipartisan support is a tax cut — and not the permanent extension of George W. Bush’s tax cuts, which have been dominating the debate lately. Such an extension is unlikely to win many Democratic votes. Republicans, meanwhile, are unlikely to support more spending, like the national infrastructure project President Obamahas been mentioning.
A well-devised tax cut could be different. Cutting taxes has been the heart of the Republican economic program for 30 years, and last year’s stimulus bill showed that Mr. Obama was open to tax cuts.
The question, then, is what kind of cut can put people back to work quickly.
The last 30 years offer some pretty good answers. For one thing, a permanent reduction in tax rates focused on the affluent — along the lines of those 2001 Bush tax cuts — does little to lift growth in the short term. An across-the-board, one-time cut — like the one that Mr. Bush signed in 2008 or that Mr. Obama signed last year — does more.
But the most effective tax cut for putting people back to work quickly is one that businesses and households get only if they spend money. Last year’s cash-for-clunkers program was an example. So was a recent bipartisan tax credit for businesses that hired workers who had been unemployed for months. Perhaps the broadest example is a temporary cut in the payroll tax for businesses, which reduces the cost of employing people.
The Post suggests that the bill would be introduced before the midterm elections. The article quotes William Galston of the Brookings Institution explaining that the timing proves that the decision wouldn’t be motivated by fears about the midterms: “Substantively, there is nothing they could do between now and Election Day that would have any measurable effect on the economy. Nothing.”
If the idea is to make it easier for companies to hire new workers in an attempt to revive the weak labor market, a payroll tax cut would be a good first step. The administration, however, is also toying with a few other policies that would undermine the effect of the payroll tax cut. For example, if the Democrats do allow the Bush tax cuts for top individual earners to expire, the burden will fall onto small business owners — counteracting the effect of the payroll tax cuts mere months after they’re implemented.
When all else fails, Democrats throw in the towel on their loopy economic policies and resort to tax cuts — just like the Republicans wanted in February 2009. We learn:
With just two months until the November elections, the White House is seriously weighing a package of business tax breaks — potentially worth hundreds of billions of dollars — to spur hiring and combat Republican charges that Democratic tax policies hurt small businesses, according to people with knowledge of the deliberations.
Among the options under consideration are a temporary payroll-tax holiday and a permanent extension of the now-expired research-and-development tax credit, which rewards companies that conduct research into new technologies within the United States.
A couple of problems with that. First, it won’t improve the economy before the election. The voice of sanity for the Democrats, William Galston, says: “Substantively, there is nothing they could do between now and Election Day that would have any measurable effect on the economy. Nothing.” Second, this renders the Obama economy policy entirely incoherent. If the economy is worsening and they admit tax cuts are good, why eliminate the Bush tax cuts? What sense does it make to give with one hand and take away with the other?
We’ll see what the Democrats come up with. As Milton Freidman advised, “I am in favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it’s possible.” But conservatives should insist that in addition to any tax cuts Obama proposes, the Bush tax cuts must be retained. Otherwise, we are merely treading water.
Given the mixed signals of late, it’s worth noting that Politicohas a report similar to the Post‘s, explaining that administration officials are “mulling a raft of emergency fixes to stimulate the economy before the midterms, including an extension of the research and development tax credit and new infrastructure spending.”
It’s hard to evaluate any of these ideas without more details, and for that matter, no matter what the White House recommends, Congress’ inability to function makes progress unlikely for the foreseeable future.
That said, it’s at least somewhat encouraging to see a shift away from “everything’s on track, so just be patient.” Moreover, there’s obviously real political salience to even just having the debate — with two months before the midterms, it’s worth having the two parties fight over how to help the economy grow. If Republicans intend to kill every proposal the White House offers, that should matter to voters, too.
The Post‘s report concluded that President Obama “could roll out additional measures as soon as next week.” Stay tuned.
1) Practically, this isn’t going to do anything before the mid-terms. These sorts of changes take time to roll out, and there’s no way they could get anything into effect soon enough to make an actual difference in peoples’ lives.
2) Whether you think this works as a campaign tactic depends on whether you think people will think that it is going to work. On that question, I have no idea. People do love cash in their pockets, however.
3) Politically, this has one major drawback: it’s going to put huge holes in the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. Since I think those trust funds are meaningless accounting devices, I don’t think this has any practical relevance. But as you will be able to see in my comment section about twenty minutes after I hit “post,” people have a very deep emotional attachment to the idea of the trust funds, which politicians cannot easily trifle with.
4) Practically, I think the actual impact will be minimal, at least on employment. It might help people and companies to rebuild their balance sheets (or let struggling companies ride things out a while longer). But the main constraint on business hiring is uncertainty, and a payroll tax isn’t going to change that. Obviously, some workers will get hired at the margin–but if your labor is so marginal that you need a payroll tax holiday to make it economical, then I’d expect that as soon as the payroll tax holiday is over, you’ll probably be fired. Hence, even if you get the job, you’re going to want to save as much of your wages as possible, blunting the multiplier effect we hope to get out of stimulus.
Really? I have a proposal. Suppose the holiday costs the trust fund $400 billion. Just transfer that $400 billion from the general budget to the trust fund.
In fact, we could immediately put $100 trillion gazillion dollars in the trust funds from the general budget, and then they would have enough money to pay Social Security forever. Supposedly.
The trust fund is a measure of what we are promising to pay future Social Security recipients. To me, it is nothing more than that. But what is going to fund Social Security down the road is not the promises that we pour into it today. It is the taxes that people will pay in the future.
I have tried to explain Social Security for a long time. See here, for example. But Megan is probably right. I honestly thought that among trained economists it was understood that the trust fund has no real significance. I thought that anyone who went to a respectable graduate school learned the overlapping generations model, which sometimes gets taught as a model of money but is most evidently a model of Social Security. However, Paul Krugman at least pretends to act as if he never learned that.
There’s something about working in politics which starts making people think everything is about perception rather than reality. I think a full payroll tax holiday would be fine as long as it wasn’t yet another excuse to try to destroy Social Security, but an employer only one would be truly awful on substance, impact, and message. More help for the overlords, no help for you!
But apparently the geniuses in charge think the problem is that “stimulus” and “bailout” have become scary bad words. The problem is that the economy sucks and people don’t have any money.
Dump All Your Stock In Chalkboards Now!
Bill Kristol in The Weekly Standard:
Rich Lowry at National Review:
Alex Eichler at The Atlantic
Robert Stacy McCain:
Peter Wehner at Commentary:
Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:
David Corn at Politics Daily:
Jeff Poor at The Daily Caller:
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