Obama and Teddy (Roosevelt)

Here is an excerpt from an article by Matthew Spalding in the December 31 National Review:

“But about a hundred years ago, there arose a different dream: that government could engineer a better society, rather than simply leaving the people free to create one. Progressive reformers were convinced not only that the American founders were wrong in their assumptions about man and about the necessity of limited government, but also that advances in science would allow government to reshape society and eradicate the inequalities of property and wealth that had been unleashed by individual rights, democratic capitalism, and the resulting growth of commerce and business. A more activist government, built on evolving rights and a “living” Constitution, would redistribute wealth and level out differences in society through progressive taxation, economic regulations, and extensive social-welfare programs, all centrally administered by expert bureaucrats.”

This article gets much right about Obama, his ideology, and his goals, in my opinion. I disagree with his statement that Obama is correct in denying that he is engaged in class warfare as conventionally understood, although it is possible I am missing his point here.

Note:  I was unable to preview this post; the function did not work properly and crashed my browser through repeated tries.

Update:  After posting, I see the link does not work, but I can’t spot the problem.

Sense and Nonsense, and David Frum

I’m going to post this with the same kind of pre-excuse that I don’t allow associates to use on the job:  typed up quickly to throw it on the table. I find Frum’s ongoing project to redefine conservatism and marginalize Republicans confused and flawed (and, frankly, annoying) in so many ways that it is hard to capture them. But it is an important topic, and I’m in a busy time at work, so this is the best I’ve got right now.

David Frum continues to make noise about the supposed Republican lurch into radicalism, speaking as what he claims is the lone (or nearly lone) voice of authentic conservatism, much to the delight of liberals, Democrats, and other sworn enemies of conservatism. His latest apologia, fittingly dispensed in the pages of the New York Times, claims that the Republican Party lost touch with reality and abandoned conservative positions across the board.

Poppycock. Frum, whatever he once was or believed, is speaking the gospel of Big Government, Progressive Republicanism, the sort that was justly described back in the days of authentic conservatism for which he longs as an acquiescence in the role of “tax collector for the welfare” state, and defeatist “go-along-get-along” politics. This is conservatism as Liberalism Lite. In Frum’s world, conservatives do not stand for a worthwhile, positive vision but serve only to throw themselves on the gears of the modern state in hopes of slowing its advance down the road to serfdom–just a little. They should not be combative or even assertive but should know their place as the perennial losers fighting an eternal rear-guard action. We should accept defeat nobly and with dignity. Surrender, in other words.

How do we know that it is Frum who either abandoned conservatism or never believed it in? It is as simple as reading his own words and what he identifies as badges of “conservative” governance. He complains that “It was not so long ago that Texas governor Bush denounced attempts to cut the earned-income tax credit as balancing the budget on the backs of the poor,” while today GOP thought leaders criticize a system under which nearly half of earners pay no income taxes. But George Bush was never a conservative. He never claimed to be. And an income tax system that excuses nearly half of income earners from taxes never was a conservative policy. It is more nearly the opposite of a conservative tax policy, particularly in the era of the modern welfare state.

Frum also inveighs: “In 2000, candidate Bush routinely invoked churches, synagogues, and mosques. By 2010, prominent Republicans were denouncing the construction of a mosque in lower Manhattan as an outrageous insult.” A few did. But does Frum really expect us to pretend that 911 did not happen, and that it was not the dominant event of the past decade?

“In 2003, President Bush and a Republican majority in Congress enacted a new prescription-drug program in Medicare. By 2011, all but four Republicans in the House and five in the Senate were voting to withdraw the Medicare guarantee from everybody under age 55.” Does Frum really expect anyone to believe that this massive new entitlement was a “conservative” innovation? Real conservatives opposed it at the time, as they always would have. Why and how did Frum come to define conservatism as the policy agenda of George Bush, rather than recognizing his old boss for what he was and is, a nonconservative? Was Medicare Part D part of the Contract with America? Or the Reagan platform? Or was George Bush a deviation from Republican governance since Reagan? And is this condemnation of Republican efforts to rein in Medicare costs really contained in the very same column in which he condemns them for profligate spending? Really, David? This is your best?

“Today, the Fed’s pushing down interest rates in hopes of igniting economic growth is close to treason, according to Governor Rick Perry, coyly seconded by TheWall Street Journal. In 2000, the same policy qualified Alan Greenspan as the greatest central banker in the history of the world, according to Perry’s mentor, Senator Phil Gramm.”

Let’s just overlook whether Phil Gramm spoke for all conservatives in 2000 or whether Rick Perry does today. Is Frum again unaware of any difference in economic conditions in 2000, before the tech bubble burst, let alone before 911, and the current economic situation?

“Today, stimulative fiscal policy that includes tax cuts for almost every American is socialism. In 2001, stimulative fiscal policy that included tax cuts for rather fewer Americans was an economic-recovery program.” We should be allowed to expect more integrity in argument than this from Frum. He’s factually wrong, to begin with; the Bush tax cuts cut taxes for virtually everyone who pays taxes, and took many completely off the rolls. But, that aside, which Republicans have said that tax cuts included in Obama’s stimulus package were socialism? We’ll go ahead and mark you down as a doctrinaire Keynesian who treats lower taxes purely as “stimulative” demand manipulation, David. But please don’t try to tell us that your position is the conservative one.

Frum massages history in strange ways. He says that Republicans are respsonsible for all our current problems because “Republicans held more power for longer than at any time since the twenties,” while completely excusing Democrats for any responsibility even for their current failures. Let’s see now, George Bush, a moderate liberal domestic President, had slight majorities in Congress for part of his eight year term. In the Senate, he scarcely ever had a majority, and Democrats decisively took over both houses in 2006. By contrast, Democrats had decisive control in 2009-10. Just as Bill Clinton did until he overreached. Just like Jimmie Carter had. And Johnson. But while Democrats have enjoyed much greater–indeed incomparable–control, they have no responsibility in Frum’s world. Only Republicans do.

And at the same time that he condemns Republicans for the results of their statecraft under George Bush, he holds up that period as the reflection of true conservatism that he claims to represent. Did I miss something here, David?

I’m not even sure what to make of statements like this one:

“The Bush years cannot be repudiated, but the memory of them can be discarded to make way for a new and more radical ideology, assembled from bits of the old GOP platform that were once sublimated by the party elites but now roam the land freely: ultralibertarianism, crank monetary theories, populist fury, and paranoid visions of a Democratic Party controlled by ACORN and the New Black Panthers.” [I don’t know how to block quote.]

Notice the ease with which he adopts the scornful rhetorical style of a partisan liberal, and equally how dismisses doubts about the Democratic Party of Obama. (Conservatives are crackpots for having raised alarms over Obama’s radical past? Does Frum understand that that past is real?)

The reality is that conservatives repudiated much of the “Bush years” while they were happening. That is true of real conservatives, at least, as opposed to people who were helping write speeches about “compassionate conservatism” and promote a huge new Medicare program. The government, the debt, the budget– all of it is much bigger now than at the beginning of the “conservative” Bush years. So you are darned right that conservatives have decided that we have reached a point where going along and getting along are no longer viable. Serious people like Paul Ryan have tried to start providing the conservative leadership we need to right our course and get through this time when our very survival sometimes seems at stake. But it is precisely this sober leadership that Frum seems to despise is radical kookery.

There is much else in Frum’s column with which to take issue. When he is at odds with 99% of conservatives, perhaps, just perhaps, it is he who is not what he claims to be. I’m happy for Frum that he has his blog with a little crowd of liberal “Republicans” to tell him how smart and honest he is. But he is not relevant to conservative Republicans except to continue to remind us of what has been most wrong with the party for many years:  lack of principle, self-doubt and even self-hatred, liberal elitism, resignment to surrender as the noble course.

Manufacturing Inequality

I’ve been arguing for a long time that the dire claims of vastly increased income inequality, and particularly the claim that only the super-rich have made any gains since 1980, are wildly exaggerated at best and complete bunk at worst. James Pethokoukis has a post at Enterprise Blog making this case and citing academic papers supporting it.

On the claim that only the rich have gained, he links to a 2006 column on Brad DeLong’s cite by Jason Furman, now deputy director of Obama’s National Economic Council, making among others the point that all we have to do is use our eyes and our common sense to realize that, yes, we are all better off, with better standard of living than we had thirty years ago. Economic analyses purporting to show that the middle class has made no gains in thirty years plainly are at odds with reality. Believe what your eyes tell you, not the statistical magic tricks of (consistently) committed liberals invested in “rising inequality.” To pat myself on the back, I made this argument many times in the comments at PL, to the great outrage of “fact-based” liberals–great outrage but never any effective answer.

Similar statistical hanky panky underlies most of the claims of wildly increased disparities in wealth, like the now ubiquitous alarm that “400 people own more wealth than the bottom 150,000,000!” These measures almost invariably arrive at a predetermined conclusion by counting only the kinds of “wealth” that are most concentrated among the wealthy. But I’ll revisit that one later.

H/T Glenn Reynolds


The CLASS program has ended in failure even before beginning, with the administration finally admitting that it was unworkable, just as prophesied by Paul Ryan and other Republicans.

Somewhere there is a museum of perpetual motion inventions. Likewise, CLASS seems to me a perfect example of the quixotic liberal quest to invent the free lunch. Democrats fought with arithmetic to the bitter end, but in the end arithmetic won, and it was revealed that, as always with the free-lunch skunkworks, the real long game for CLASS was to raise more taxes and wrest more of our freedom and money away from us and into the hands of government. The promise, of course, was that this was a gift to us of super-competent technocrats who, now at last fully in charge, could fix things for “us” that only government could fix. Politics as usual.

What do you think?

Of Killings and Imminent Threats and Nonticking Bombs

I’m making this a post because a comment wouldn’t take. (Hope we aren’t becoming PL Junior!)

I don’t know whether anyone previously posted a link to this NYT article about a DOJ legal memo justifying the target killing of alAwlaki.

Two of the points I find interesting are that it is claimed that the memo does not establish any broadly applicable precedent, and that it approves the killing despite the target’s not posing any imminent threat. The claim that the analysis is nonprecedential is one that is often made but is nonetheless unpersuasive at best. It is in the books; it is precedent for the next time an administration wants to kill an American abroad.

The fact that the memo reportedly approves the killing despite the lack of an imminent threat is interesting when juxtaposed against the arguments commonly made against harsh interrogation that (a) there are no ticking time bombs in real life, and (b) even if there were, they could not justify enhanced interrogation (let the world perish, just don’t waterboard or blow cigar smoke in a detainee’s face).

It’s hard for a conservative not to reflect on the different reaction that undoubtedly would have come from the media and Congress had this been a Bush Admin memo authored by Yoo or Bybee. Yoo reportedly has commented that he is glad that his Democratic critics turned out to be unprincipled hypocrites and not principled fools. Hard to blame him.

Religious Freedom Under Attack

A week or two ago, we briefly discussed the future of religious freedom in the Supreme Court, with Mark posing a question about how the Court would deal with laws against polygamy, if such a case came up. In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, the issue is the existence and scope of the “ministerial exception” recognized by all federal courts of appeal to protect religious organizations from employment-related lawsuits. The Obama Administration has taken the position in its brief filed on behalf of the EEOC (see Brief of Federal Respondents at the link) that there is no ministerial exception under the Constitution, and, as a fall-back position, that if there is such an exception it should be limited to persons “who perform exclusively religious functions” (emphasis added).

This case and the position of the Obama Administration may have sweeping significance to the future religious freedom. Who, if anyone, has “exclusively” religious functions? As some have pointed out, the Pope probably does not even meet this test. If there is no ministerial exception at all, then haven’t we opened the floodgates to lawsuits against churches and other religious organizations, and forever entangled the courts in their affairs? And, stepping back, consider how the ever-expanding reach and proliferation of federal regulation itself creates these conflicts and entanglements. The more the government regulates, the more conflicts with religious freedom it creates.

One Man’s Heroic Quest for Truth

Why not a little Palinmania on a Saturday when everyone is looking forward to football, cooking, or other weekend diversions? I saw this semi-explosive piece airing dirty laundry of Joe McGinnis and Jesse Griffen, one of the hardy band of Palin web stalkers, over at Big Government the other day. John Hinderaker raised the obvious question of whether it could be evidence of libel. As interesting to me are the many nuggets the (alleged) email contains reflecting on McGinnis’s MO and agenda, as well as his candid if unintentional indictment of the anti-Palin muckraking web posse. These two paragraphs are striking to me, if in no way surprising for what they admit:

I’ve neither seen nor heard anything that indicates that Ms. Tripp’s story has any basis in fact. None of the endless crap Patrick posted about her before getting the boot from palingates.com offers any substantiation.

And even you write frequently that you know things you can’t yet post, but that soon “all will be revealed.” This has been going on since I first became aware of your blog, but as far as I know you haven’t substantiated a single claim or provided verification for a single rumor that you’ve posted about Sarah’s personal life, or the personal lives of any Palin family members. Thus, she gets to denounce what she calls “lies.”

Here we see a desperate and apparently angry McGinnis, betrayed! by his fellow Palinphobes. Amazingy, McGinnis appears to have submitted his manuscript containing all these rumours while knowing that they lacked any substantiation whatsoever. Tawdry and pathetic are words that come to mind. McGinnis moved next door to the Palins to spy on them but was still scrambling after his manuscript went to the publisher to justify the sleaziest accusations he put in it, and castigating amateur smear merchants for letting him down. The lament at the end is priceless and telling. He isn’t concerned that the internet rumors spread by hate hobbyists might be lies, only that they give Palin the opportunity to call them what they are. Unfair!

Can Anyone Here Play This Game?

Warning! Technical legal content ahead. But everything will be fine.

The Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts is routinely accused from the left of being in the pocket of big business and slavishly devoted to the unprincipled advancement of political interests of the Republican Party. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito are depicted as rigid political ideologues in this narrative, and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, on the Court for 20 and 25 years respectively, are not only depicted as ideologues but are casually accused of corruption and cronyism.

These accusations reached a crescendo with the Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the Court held that the federal prohibition against independent corporate expenditures in connection with political campaigns violated the First Amendement (the case is also routinely mischaracterized as having legalized unlimited corporate contributions to political candidates, which in fact remain banned). It has been almost an article of faith among liberals since that decision that the Roberts Court is the pawn of big business interests committed to destroying representative government. The narrative incorporates not only distortions and falsehoods about cases they have decided but allegations that individual Justices have corrupt associations and motives.

These sorts of smears are of a kind hard to refute, of course, which is part of why they are attractive to many. How exactly does one refute the accusation or innuendo that a Justice who speaks at a conference of organizers and activists or hunts ducks with a business leader voted in a particular way in a particular case because of improper influence? One can’t, of course. The entanglements of liberal justices can be pointed out to show that none of this is unique to conservatives, but that sort of back and forth provides little satisfaction to anyone.

A different way to answer these smears is to look at some decisions by the Court, because the false narrative of a Court sold out to big business and Republican politics depends just as much on cherry picking as on distortions and lies. Here are some cases from the past several terms of the Court that challenge the liberal narrative.

In Erica P. John Fund v. Halliburton Co., the Court unanimously held that a plaintiff suing under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 need not prove loss causation as a prerequisite to class certification. Now, this may be an inscrutable holding to nonlawyers, but it is a big deal in the world of securities lawsuits against large corporations. It means, in simple terms, that a plaintiff need not prove that the losses investors incurred as a result of a decline in the stock price in fact were caused by the alleged fraud before the court can certify a class of all investors on whose behalf the plaintiff can sue. Certification of a class is a huge milestone in litigation against corporations and immediately places a defendant under extraordinary pressure to settle the case. And, while it isn’t practical to get into a detailed discussion of the legal issues in the case, there was a way for the Court rule the other way. Plaintiffs in these cases often try to meet a different requirement for class certification (invoking a presumption of reliance through “fraud on the market”) by showing that the stock price declined when the alleged fraud was later exposed. In effect, that is, they try to meet the class-wide reliance requirement by demonstrating loss causation, even though they need not separately prove the latter for class certification, and the plaintiffs in this case made precisely this argument. The Court could, therefore, have accepted the defendant’s argument that the Fifth Circuit’s decision was about reliance and fraud on the market and not loss causation. But it did not.

And did you notice that this is a lawsuit against Halliburton, Corporate Public Enemy Number 1 in the liberal mythos? The company at the center of years of supposed corrupt activities of Dick Cheney and his alleged cronies like Antonin Scalia? Did I mention that the opinion reversing the Fifth Circuit’s decision favorable to Halliburton was unanimous (i.e., joined by all the conservatives) and written by Chief Justice Roberts?

Then there was Matrixx Essentials, Inc. v. Siracusano. The issue in this case was whether a securities fraud claim could be based on failure to disclose adverse events reported in connection with a drug although the adverse events were not statistically significant. A unanimous Court held that it could be and affirmed the Ninth Circuit’s decision reversing dismissal of the securities fraud class action against Matrixx Essentials, The unanimous opinion was written by Justice Sotomayor and joined by all the conservatives, voting against big business.

In Shady Grove Orthopedic Assocs. v. Allstate Ins., the Court shocked much of the legal world by holding that a plaintiff who sues in federal court for alleged violations of state statutes can bring his or her lawsuit as a class action even though the state statute itself forbids class actions. This was another blow to big companies, who are often the targets of such class actions. In Shady Grove, the Court was split along nonideological lines, with Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas joining Sotomayor, along with Stevens in concurrence, siding with the plaintiff, and Alito, Kennedy, Breyer and Ginsburg with Matrixx Essentials. Three of the Court’s four conservatives thus again voted aainst big business.

The Court held in Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. Whiting that an Arizona law requiring businesses to verify employees’ eligibility to work, and revoking business licenses of businesses who knowingly employee illegal aliens, was not preempted by federal law. All of the Court’s conservatives rejected the Chamber of Commerce’s challenge to the Arizona law (and all the liberals except Justice Kagan, who recused herself, voted to hold the law preempted).

In Boyle v. United States, the Court held that an “association in fact,” that is, a loose affiliation of people or organizations, can constitute an “enterprise” for purposes of RICO. That was a criminal case, but the implications for big business are significant and threatening, because corporations are often sued under RICO, and Boyle means that corporations can not only be criminally prosecuted but sued by civil plaintiffs under RICO based on the alleged conduct of affairs of an “association-in-fact” enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity. All of the Court’s conservatives again voted in favor of this broad interpretation of RICO, which the business community strongly opposed.

These are just a few cases that contradict the liberal narrative of Supreme Court conservatives dutifully protecting business and Republican interests. They also happen to be significant cases, and the language in them is often strong and far-reaching against the interests of corporate defendants and business interests. Of course, liberal activists point to Citizens United and other cases in which the conservatives on the court “sided with business,” and even conduct pseudo-scientific numerical studies to show that … conservative justices tend to vote more conservatively than liberals. If this is really a conspiracy against American representative government, however, doesn’t it seem like a very poor one? If the Koch brothers are are pulling their strings, why all these slip ups? The business community has been battling against the “association in fact” theory for years. Using federal court to circumvent state law class action bars could lead to disastrous consequences for big business. Securities class actions are a bane of corporate America and its “oligarchical” rulers. Don’t the Court conservatives get it? Or is the liberal narrative itself mythology?

What intelligent and reasonable people should conclude from Supreme Court decisions and opinions is that Justices on “both” sides have views — call them legal, philosophical, political, or a mix — and tend to apply and follow them. These people have the best legal job in the world, for life. They have reached the top. They don’t need to curry anyone’s favor. The groups to whom they speak might or might not reflect things they believe; the people with whom they associate might or might not be like minded. But they don’t vote the way they do because of these things. If their associations reflect something about their beliefs, it is the beliefs that came first.

Monday Administrative Thread

I thought I would take the liberty of putting up at least a draft administrative thread because I want to mention a couple of things … administrative.

I am going to work on several posts and leave them in draft for a day or two (or longer) until they are ready to go. If you look at the drafts, you’ll see that I started one this morning, but it will take a little research to plug in some references and the like. It occurred to me over the weekend that starting and holding drafts that aren’t time sensitive might be a good practice for some of us to use so that we can percolate them and post them when there’s a need for some new content. I know some others have already been doing this a bit, so perhaps I’m just slow on the uptake, but there has been some discussion before of spacing out posts, and using draft status is a good way for us not only to work on items that we can’t knock out in a few minutes in one sitting but to have a little inventory of working items to drop in at the right time to keep things moving. Just a thought.

I don’t know whether others have been using labels, but I suggest we do start using them, creating new ones as needed and using labels others have already created when they fit. With a laissez-faire, collaborative blog, I suppose we might end up with label proliferation, but labels are good.

Also, I wonder whether anyone else has the same problem I have with the text editing window positioning itself so that about 3/4 of the editing buttons (font, ital, etc.) at the top is blocked by gray. Is this another IE7 thing? It’s very annoying, and I can’t even see what the two gray, rectangular buttons on the far left are. If I knew how to take a screen shot to show what my screen looks like, I would, but I am too inept. — QB

Are We More Divided, and Are We Able To Talk About It?

For my first post here, let me just pose two philosophical questions I think about from time to time that relate to the nature of the undertaking. For comment or just thought, either way.

First, do you think America is more divided today than in the past (Civil War aside, we can stipulate)? More starkly, more irresolvably?

This is often said, and I do think it is true in significant respects, and that it is magnified by mass media and what passes for education and culture, as well as the course of history and events. I also think that it flows inherently from the rise of ideologies in the 20th century — principally ideologies on the left. But, I’m not sure I am right about this.

Second, how much of this political argument and disagreement do you think is a function of miscommunication and innocent misunderstanding? I see a fair amount of this in reading blogs and commentary, although I think that willful misunderstanding and demagoguery are more prevalent. I see clarity of expression and reasoned statement as indispensable, while admittedly failing to achieve them with regularity. Achieving memorable and penetrating clarity of expression is one reason some works are timeless. Thucydides comes to mind. And I am something of a sucker for believing that clear communication can go a long way toward bridging disagreements.

That being said, however, I reject strong versions of this theory that posit that miscommunication is the source of most or all disagreement. I am not that familiar with the literature and thought in this area, but I think it all but undeniable there are unbridgeable divisions in what people believe, disagreements that can be better understood but not erased by understanding.

And this leads to a question of what, then, is gained by understanding why we disagree.

Well, let’s see, did I figure out how to post?

Update (yes, my first Update, on my very first post!):  Mark emailed that he isn’t able to comment on this post. I have tried to determine why, but I am clueless. Options are set to allow comments. It may relate to my outdated Explorer version, which Blogger says will cause problems, or some other ineptitude of mine. Perhaps Kevin will be able to diagnose my error.

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