Saturday, July 30, 2011

Debt, Economy, and a Possible Turning Point

Richard Miniter, a Forbes columnist, is right: "Obama is not the new FDR, but the new Gorbachev." Beneath the tattered banner of reactionary liberalism, Obama struggles to sustain a doomed system. Democrats' dependency agenda is buckling under an intractable contradiction: It is incompatible with economic growth sufficient to create enough wealth to feed the multiplying tax eaters.

--George Will

Last January, we wrote about a column by the Los Angeles Times’ Doyle McManus (picture) that offered his progressive readers reassurance that House Republicans could over-interpret their 2010 election victory and overplay their hand. In the January article, McManus suggested Republicans might reach for too much during the anticipated debt ceiling increase fight:
Boehner[‘s] biggest test will come in March [sic], when the federal government is expected to bump up against the debt ceiling . . . Boehner[‘s] goal will be to use the debt ceiling to force Obama to cut spending without precipitating a federal government shutdown (a gambit that backfired on Gingrich in 1995) or, worse, a default that would be disastrous for financial markets.
At the time, I commented,
Republicans know (as McManus says they do) that the debt ceiling will have to rise. They also want to use the battle to extract spending concessions from Democrats. Is McManus predicting Republicans won’t force even a single concession? We’ll see soon enough.
Did McManus remember his January implied prediction that the threat of a government shutdown would turn back House Republican efforts to force spending cuts? I think he may have, because earlier this month, he wrote,
Obama has an opportunity to improve his standing among independent voters — many of whom deserted the Democrats in the 2010 midterm election — by working with Republicans toward bipartisan deficit-reduction measures. . . The 2012 presidential election could be won or lost in the next three weeks.
So 6 months later, McManus has shifted gears, first implicitly conceding House Republicans had forced budget cuts on Obama, but second, seeing the turn as benefiting Obama, because it allows him to demonstrate flexibility to independents. That means when one is forced to back off a previous hard position, one can always claim the forced flexibility is a virtue. Nice.

Unfortunately for both McManus and Obama, events thus far are not working out for the president. Poll ratings go up and down, but closely watched as they are, polls have a tremendous impact on the tone commentators bring to public discourse. And right now, Obama’s Gallup poll ratings are his lowest ever at 40% approval, 50% disapproval.

Furthermore, Obama’s low numbers came before we learned the nation’s GDP grew only 0.4% in the first quarter of 2011, and 1.3% in the second quarter, with revised figures showing current GDP below even where it was in 2008 (see chart). This is terrible economic news.

Solve the debt crisis, and Obama’s approval numbers will rise again. But given today’s grim economic realities, perhaps Obama can only hope that the McManus July prophesy that “The 2012 presidential election could be won or lost in the next three weeks” turns out to be wrong, and that the latest bad economic news doesn't doom the Obama presidency right here, now, in these "three weeks."

Friday, July 29, 2011

“The piercing pitch of our political debate.”

Quote without Comment:

"The more pressing question, is . . . whether we will begin to re-evaluate the piercing pitch of our political debate in the wake of Saturday’s [Arizona] shooting."

--Matt Bai, New York Times, 1.8.11

"If sane Republicans do not stand up to this Hezbollah faction in their midst, the Tea Party will take the G.O.P. on a suicide mission." [emphasis added]

--Thomas Friedman, New York Times, 7.26.11

"I [blame] the Republicans for the needless debt-ceiling fracas, especially the Tea Party-era House Republicans . . . The debt-ceiling showdown represents hostage-taking, plain and simple."

--James Fallows, Atlantic, 7.28.11

"The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage." [emphasis added]

--Paul Krugman, New York Times, 7.28.11

Monday, July 25, 2011

Pundits and Presidents

In a column titled, “Make Way for the Radical Center,” New York Timesman Tom Friedman (picture, right) continues his quixotic pursuit of a third party 2012 presidential option. Friedman recommends a third-party effort called “Americans Elect” that will nominate online a presidential ticket it hopes to put on the ballot in all 50 states. The group, Friedman writes, will soon submit 1.6 million signatures supporting its effort to get on California’s ballot, then go after the remaining 49 smaller states. It will later draw up a platform and nominate finalists, all online, with the people who vote online making all decisions.

The political impact of third parties is to deny election to one of the big parties' candidates. John Anderson hurt Jimmy Carter in 1980, Ross Perot hurt George H.W. Bush in 1992, and Ralph Nader hurt Al Gore in the tight 2000 election. So anybody who cares about Obama’s re-election has to be alarmed at Friedman’s third-party advocacy. And for whatever reason, perhaps integrity actually playing a role, Friedman has chosen not to get close to Obama.

I wrote earlier that Charles Krauthammer is the sage to Republicans the way Walter Lippmann and Scotty Reston once were to establishment Democrats. In 1980, a 39-year-old George Will (picture) hosted a dinner for Ronald Reagan, thereby linking the ex-California governor to the Eastern establishment. Will then hosted another dinner just before Reagan’s 1981 inauguration. Will was important to Reagan, who wanted to become familiar with the relatively small group of Republican intellectuals centered in Washington D.C., so Will was in a position to help the future president. In turn, Will clearly benefited from the close relationship he formed with the popular conservative.

The New York Times’ David Brooks (top picture, left) must have aspired to a close and mutually-beleficial relationship with the up-and-coming Barack Obama that would be similar to Will's ties to Reagan. Democrats eager to get close to the new Illinois senator were everywhere, but Brooks the conservative stood out in Obamaland. Brooks offered Obama access to an entirely different slice of the political spectrum.

Brooks, I believe, saw his opening after he became almost physically attracted to Obama when the two first met in 2005. Brooks later said of the meeting, “I remember distinctly an image of—we were sitting on his couches, and I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant, and I’m thinking, a) he’s going to be president and b) he’ll be a very good president.” Since then, Brooks has had a difficult time separating himself from the President’s agenda.

Little doubt that George Will, a fellow conservative to Brooks who hardly shares Brooks’ high opinion of the president, took notice of Brooks’ efforts to worm his way into Obama’s inner circle. One can almost see the “perfectly creased pant” image resting in Will’s brain as he wrote of the president yesterday, “Obama [is] a demagogue for an age of smooth surfaces; Huey Long with a better tailor.”

Friday, July 22, 2011

Obamacare Kills Jobs

Disturbing facts from former labor secretary (2001-09) Elaine Chao:

➢ Canada created more net new jobs last month (28,400) than we did — and we have nine times their population.

➢ weekly initial unemployment claims [have now run] higher than 400,000 . . . for the last 13 weeks. The weekly initial claims figure must drop to [the] mid- to low-300,000 range. . .before significant job growth can occur.

➢ First-quarter GDP growth was [1.9%]. In contrast, coming out of the 1981-82 recession, we had five straight quarters of 7%-to-9% GDP growth.

➢ creation of new businesses — the traditional engine of job growth — was down 23% in 2010 from 2007.

But the most disturbing job fact of all comes from a story by the Weekly Standard’s Jeffrey H. Anderson. He writes that since the June 2009 official end of the recession, the percentage of Americans who are employed has actually dropped, while most Americans who are employed are now making less money than they were during the recession. Why?

Anderson quotes the Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk:
Private-sector job creation initially recovered from the recession at a normal rate. . . Within two months of the passage of Obamacare, [however,] the job market stopped improving.

[Obamacare] discourages employers from hiring in several ways:

• Businesses with fewer than 50 workers have a strong incentive to maintain this size, which allows them to avoid the mandate to provide government-approved health coverage or face a penalty;

• Businesses with more than 50 workers will see their costs for health coverage rise — they must purchase more expensive government-approved insurance or pay a penalty; and

• Employers face considerable uncertainty about what constitutes qualifying health coverage and what it will cost. They also do not know what the health care market or their health care costs will look like in four years. This makes planning for the future difficult.
Here’s Sherk’s chart, which shows dramatically how Obamacare stopped job growth:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Krauthammer Solution to Debt Ceiling Crisis

Charles Krauthammer, conservative sage, is the person who is today to Republican leaders what Walter Lippmann (1889-1974), Scotty Reston (1909-1995), and David Broder (1929-2011) were in succession to the liberal establishment. Now Krauthammer is telling anyone who will listen that House Republicans should advance to the Senate a bill that raises the debt ceiling only $500 billion, but matches the ceiling increase with $500 billion in spelled-out spending cuts.

Washington should then use the five months relief such a debt ceiling increase provides to negotiate more comprehensive tax reform, one that lowers rates while closing loopholes. Krauthammer is silent on whether or not he would accept tax increases as part of the later agreement, but his short-term plan contains no tax increases.

A likely solution?

James C. Capretta, 2001-04 associate director of the Office of Management and Budget, writes a National Review article generally sympathetic to the House Republicans’ efforts to cut spending. But even Capretta ends up cautioning the House Tea Party faction that the debt ceiling will have to be raised. It’s significant that without naming Krauthammer, Capretta fully endorses the Krauthammer recommendation:
The conservatives in the House who say they will never, ever vote to increase the debt limit need to realize they are handing all of the leverage to President Obama. To begin with, the budget they support — the Ryan budget that the House Republicans voted for nearly unanimously in April —requires a large debt-limit increase. Indeed, there’s no conceivable budget plan out there that doesn’t require one. Moreover, there is a strong chance that going past August 2 without an increase could completely backfire on the GOP.

[Conservatives] should move immediately to pass a small debt-limit increase, on the order of $500 billion, coupled with a reasonable set of spending cuts, including caps on discretionary spending. They should then send that to the Senate as the starting point for discussions. . . at this late stage, there’s a very real chance it would become the vehicle for getting past August 2.

The 5% ($.75 trillion a year) Question

"One of the virtues of being on the liberal side of politics is that total obedience isn't required. . . If ever there was a time to stand behind the captain, this is it. . . [L]ike Churchill calling upon a coalition cabinet in the depth of the war years, it’s paramount that we see the greater danger for what it is. . .We need to remember that if [he were to lose], it wouldn't be because President Obama made too many mistakes or failed to pass a sufficiently liberal agenda. The reason would be that all of us forgot the thirty-year reign of reactionary administrations (minus the Clinton years) and the power of debased politics to keep coming back, again and again."

--Deepak Chopra

Why is President Barack Obama so darn adamant about raising taxes?

That’s the question James Pethokoukis of Reuters asks, before offering the answer himself:
realize the long game [Obama]’s playing: Big Taxes to fund Big Government. Decade after decade. See, it’s an almost universal belief among left-of-center journalists, economists, policymakers and politicians that Americans must pay higher taxes in coming years to cover the medical expenses of its aging population – not to mention all sorts of brand new social spending and green “investment.” Dramatically higher taxes. On everybody. And if we have a debt crisis, maybe those tax increases come sooner rather than later.
According to Pethokoukis, taxes since World War II have averaged of 18.5% of GDP, and the highest level of taxes ever taken was 20.9% in 1944. Yet progressives now want a sustained level of taxation 5% higher than the post-World War II average.

Pethokoukis has unearthed a chart (below) from the Center for American Progress (CAP), headed by ex-President Clinton aide John Podesta. The chart shows how to bring federal revenues and expenditures into balance at 24% of GDP. Progressives are deadly serious about raising the taxes needed to sustain our currently unsustainable level of federal spending. For now, they need any tax increase. But after winning on the tax increase issue in 2012, then-lame-duck Obama will go for the major tax increases needed to support the progressives’ gigantic government.

The progressive target for federal spending at 24% of GDP contrasts with GOP Rep. Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity,” which seeks to reduce spending to 19% of GDP, the historic American level of tax collection. The 5% difference works out to $733 billion a year; a yearly difference worth 3/4ths of a trillion dollars.

As we have said, and as the Washington Examiner’s Michael Barone recently wrote, “in the debt limit struggle. . . what's at stake is fundamental. . . whether we should have a larger and more expensive federal government.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Did you see that? Wall Street Journal gives up.

The earth moved last Wednesday. Before the tectonic shift, the Wall Street Journal stood firmly behind the House Republican majority’s position that 1) any debt ceiling increase had to be matched by real spending cuts of an equal or larger amount, and 2) tax increases of any kind were off the table.

After the shift, the Journal argued against the House Republican position, supporting Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposal to allow Obama to have his debt ceiling increase without budget cuts, but with Republicans allowed the fig leaf of being able to vote against the increase.

A Wall Street Journal earthquake. The Republican defense collapses.

Here are the details.

1. On July 11, the Wall Street Journal carried an article by Carol E. Lee, John D. McKinnon, and Naftali Bendavid reporting the inside story of secret discussions between the President and House Speaker Boehner to solve the debt ceiling impasse:
Messrs. Obama and Boehner began to seriously negotiate a $4 trillion deficit-reduction deal the week of June 27, when the speaker indicated he was open to raising revenues through the tax code, a senior administration official said.

To generate the revenue Mr. Obama needed to make a $4 trillion deal palatable for Democrats, Mr. Boehner agreed to explore letting the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire as scheduled in January 2013, while extending the cuts for Americans making under $250,000 a year.

In exchange, Mr. Obama would agree to significant savings in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and comprehensive tax reform to simplify the tax code and lower rates by early 2012.
Whoa! Boehner agrees to exactly what Obama is fighting for, tax increases on the wealthy? Really?

2. Venting unhappiness with its own correspondents’ story, the Journal immediately penned an editorial, making sure the newspaper’s official position appeared in the very edition carrying the story of Boehner’s willingness to support a tax increase. The editors laid down their displeasure with Boehner in crystal-clear language:
a non-exhaustive list of ObamaCare's tax increases [totals] $438 billion in new revenue over 10 years. But even that is understated because by 2019 the annual revenue increase is nearly $90 billion, or $900 billion in the 10 years after that. Yet Mr. Obama wants to add another $1 trillion in new taxes on top of this.

Last November Republicans won the House and landslide gains in many states in large part because of the deep unpopularity of the stimulus and ObamaCare. Mr. Boehner has a mandate for spending cuts and repealing the Affordable Care Act. If Republicans instead agree to raise taxes in return for future spending cuts that may or may not happen, they will simply be the tax collectors for Mr. Obama's much expanded entitlement society.
3. Two days later, McConnell’s proposal collapsed GOP determination to tie a debt increase to real budget cuts and no tax increases. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial staff went along with McConnell, leaving the House Republican position isolated, alone, on the other side of the fault line. How else to read this editorial?
Obama is trying to present Republicans with a Hobson's choice: Either repudiate their campaign pledge by raising taxes, or take the blame for any economic turmoil and government shutdown as the U.S. nears a debt default. . . This is the political context in which to understand [McConnell's proposal] to force Obama to take ownership of any debt-limit increase. If the President still insists on a tax increase, then Republicans will walk away.

[T]he blogosphere [called] this a sellout. . . [But if] Obama insists on a tax increase, and Republicans won't vote for one, then what's the alternative. . .? [V]oters [now opposed to] a debt-limit increase will turn on a dime when Americans start learning that they won't get Social Security checks. Republicans will then run like they're fleeing the Pamplona bulls, and chaotic retreats are the ugliest kind.

The entitlement state can't be reformed by one house of Congress in one year against a determined President and Senate held by the other party. It requires more than one election.
Journal to House Republicans: "Give up! We did."

I know what happened. I don’t know why.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Media shape politics. Just ask the media.

How powerful are the media?

Notice that when the media talk about the opposition rather then themselves, they unintentionally reveal the control they believe they have over politics. Here’s Robert Marquand, writing about Rupert Murdoch’s (picture) empire in the Christian Science Monitor:
The New York Times was once described . . . as "the kingdom and the power." But . . . the title applies more to the global empire of Rupert Murdoch, whose massive media octopus of $60 billion in assets spans [continents]. . . Murdoch's US-based Fox News network is described in a 2010 News Corp. report as "unstoppable." Murdoch's clout is such that Tony Blair's first trip as British leader was to Australia for an audience with the mogul. If being feared is a requirement for British power, says Oxford writer Timothy Garton Ash, Murdoch has been more powerful than the previous three prime ministers.
But looking at the U.S., how can Murdoch’s ownership of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, and FOX News compare to the combined influence of the rest of our print and broadcast outlets, almost uniformly liberal? The media don’t talk about that; about their crucial role in electing Barack Obama.

Now with the task shifting to retaining Obama in power, Princeton historian Julian Zelizer is willing to allude to the media’s ability to support the president, though only by comparing unfavorably the media’s current influence to the power media enjoyed before Ronald Reagan. Writing at, Zelizer blames Obama's present-day troubles on a regulatory decision made late in Reagan's presidency:
the current structure of the media has emasculated the [president’s] bully pulpit. Regardless of how good a president is on the stump, it is almost impossible for him to command public attention, because there is no singular "media" to speak of. Instead, Americans receive their media through countless television stations and websites. . . .

With the end of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, the media were also able to shed the appearance of neutrality and objectivity. Every perspective did not have to receive equal time. On many television and radio stations, objective reporters have been replaced with openly partisan commentators. Any presidential message is quickly surrounded by polemical instant commentary that diminishes the power of what he says.

Making matters worse, on the Internet, presidents can't even fully control the time they have as they must compete with live blogs and video commentary as they try to share their message. Even within most households, the era of the single family television is gone. Now in many middle-class families everyone has their own media and is watching their own thing.
The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto, who highlighted Zelizer’s efforts to blame the Fairness Doctrine for Obama’s troubles, mentioned several other reasons for the monolithic media’s decline, including that the Doctrine applied only to broadcast TV and radio, that new media--cable, satellite, Internet--would have developed anyway, and that broadcast TV networks haven’t changed with the times.

Taranto doesn’t appreciate Zelizer’s “unattractively authoritarian attitude” in bemoaning rather than celebrating the 25-year proliferation of media outlets challenging the president. Zelizer longs for the ‘60s and ‘70s, the high point of media power when the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the three major TV networks could almost by themselves destroy two (Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon), maybe three (Gerald Ford), even four (Jimmy Carter) presidencies in a row.

Zelizer’s comments reveal how much he wants that awesome power fully available and employed to keep Obama in office. And I believe Zelizer speaks for an entire class, our ruling elite including the media.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bastille Day: "C'est une révolution."

Today is Bastille Day in France—the anniversary of the world’s first revolution. The U.S.’s Revolutionary War, which produced a revolutionary form of government and involved the sacrificing of thousands, was, as it is more correctly known, a War of Independence.

France’s revolution overthrew the established order, a class war from within, a real revolution, one that still inspires revolutionaries throughout the world.

The American ruling class is under attack today for mismanaging the economy, and it is fighting with all power at its disposal to hang on. The forces lined up against it are out to destroy the state as we know it. The transformation the revolutionaries seek is undoing the massive federal government produced by the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the Great Society, and the federal government’s current Europeanization drive. And as Mao Zedong said, “a revolution is not a dinner party.”

The two seminal events in U.S. history are the Civil War and the Great Depression. The Civil War divided the country North and South, and those divisions remain. The Great Depression created a new ruling order of big government linked to the people dependent on government. Under the new order, the others are losers, the figurative descendents of those who thrived under the Northern business economy from Civil War’s end to the Great Depression.

When the ruling class re-ignited the Civil War’s divisions during the the ‘50s and ‘60s civil rights struggle, it drove the Southern losers and the big government losers together enough for Republicans to hold the White House for all but 12 years between 1969 and 2009. On the other hand, conservatives controlled two branches of government only during 1953-55, 1981-83, and 2003-07, just 8 years out of 58.

The country is divided. And now the country is not working, literally. We need change. We need a revolution that results in a free economy, run by free people. “To the barricades!”

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What Price More Debt?

“Obama has an opportunity to improve his standing among independent voters — many of whom deserted the Democrats in the 2010 midterm election — by working with Republicans toward bipartisan deficit-reduction measures. . . Obama has to thread a needle between his new centrist position and his old liberal base; on that front, this month's battle over the debt ceiling offers both opportunity and peril. The 2012 presidential election could be won or lost in the next three weeks.”

-- Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times

Only trouble is, McManus misreads where the real resistance lies to a compromise agreement. It is where David Brooks said it was a week ago—with House Republicans. Brooks and most of the chattering class think the Republicans are crazy, acting like children, separated from reality. It’s better to understand where they are coming from. As CNBC’s Larry Kudlow points out:
IBD/TIPP pollsters have just released an incredible result. Get this: The public rejects a debt-ceiling increase by a huge 58% to 36%. That includes 59% of independents and even 38% of Democrats. . . Tea party populists are saying no, no: We can still make good on our debt, but this debt bill is the only leverage we have to force Washington to cut spending.
So this crazyness is larger than the House tea party caucus. It includes the general public.

Still, why would House Republicans resist what to me seems a great deal, match the debt increase total of $2 trillion (amount needed to get the country's spending past 2012) with $2 trillion in budget cuts, while taking tax increases off the table? Isn’t that everything Republicans want?

Writing in the conservative National Review, Andrew Stiles explains why such a deal isn’t enough. It’s because many Republicans view last Spring’s budget cut negotiated with the president as mostly smoke and mirrors. As Stiles reports,
Rep. Tom McClintock (R., Calif.) warns that there is still “great concern” among members who felt extremely let down by the budget deal negotiated in April, which turned out to be full of phony spending cuts and gimmicks. He said the bad taste left over from that deal could make members more hesitant to support a deal negotiated with the White House. “I think there’s a general belief that we learn from our mistakes,” he says.
These Republicans want a balanced budget amendment, the passage of which would lead us away from deficit spending—permanently. Of course, it takes a 2/3rds vote to get a constitutional amendment out of the House, and Republicans don’t have those votes.

To me, it’s more realistic for Republicans to agree on the real budget cuts themselves—no negotiating with the White House—and pass the cuts over to the Senate as a fait accompli. Then let the Senate send the country into default.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Horrible Jobs Report

"America is in a slump, with 9% of the workforce unemployed, another 7% underemployed and the economy growing at a tepid 1.8%."

--Pat Buchanan

“The average American does not view the economy through the prism of GDP or unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers.”

--David Plouffe, senior political adviser to the president

Reuters reported nonfarm payrolls rose only 18,000 in June, the weakest reading since last September and below even the most pessimistic forecast in its poll of economists. And the separately-calculated unemployment rate climed to a six-month high of 9.2%. Adding to the weak report, the economy created 44,000 fewer jobs in April and May than previously thought. Two years after the recession ended, employment is still nearly 7 million jobs below its January 2008 peak.

Reuters noted that the average workweek length fell from 34.4 hours to 34.3 hours, and temporary hiring fell for a third straight month. Increases in both are leading indicators of future hiring, so the picture going forward looks bleak as well.

While David Plouffe may downrplay the importance of these basic numbers (see quote and picture above), we see jobs and the unemployment rate as key matrices of Obama’s re-election prospects (see chart below). According to economist Matt McDonald, Obama will have to create 255,000 jobs a month until election to get unemployment below 8%.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

No Global Warming since 1998

Quotes without Comment:

“The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.”

-- 2009 Climategate email from Kevin Trenberth to Michael Mann

“The temperature hasn’t increased for over a decade. For there to be any faith in the underlying scientific assumptions the world has to start warming soon, at an enhanced rate to compensate for it being held back for a decade.”

-- Dr. David Whitehouse, Global Warming Policy Foundation

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

It really is about government’s size.

“If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred million dollars of revenue increases. . . The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates[, just asked] to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures.”

--David Brooks, New York Times

Nominal Republican Brooks, who looks ever more like someone from the New York Times newsroom’s progressive hothouse, calls Obama’s “deal of the century” the “mother of all no-brainers.” But Brooks is pessimistic, because Republicans don’t accept “the logic of compromise,” nor do they accept “the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities.”

This is the Brooks we encountered earlier this year, when he lamented the passing of power from a certified elite to clueless masses. I won’t knock Brooks, for his traditional conservative views do fit with our Democratic elite, who believe in rule by the credentialed. And no surprise Brooks implicitly sides with Obama’s effort to make the rich pay their “fair share,” since noblesse oblige is a conservative virtue.

More importantly, Brooks shifts the focus away from government’s overbearing size, this election’s signal Republican issue—freedom v. government. Brooks instead sides with government, enlightened ones running the show, wise rule by philosopher kings. Top-down authority. Traditional conservativism. Today’s liberalism.

At the same time Brooks was going after Republicans in the New York Times, over at the Washington Post, conservative-leaning Robert Samuelson was uncorking his own “straw man” argument against Republican leaders:
Conservatives have become radical by seeking "drastic political, economic or social reform." Their obsession with tax cuts when even today's taxes don't cover today's spending implies radically shrinking government programs that are woven into America's social fabric. . . Since 1971, federal taxes have averaged about 18% of GDP. There is no believable plan to reduce federal spending below that level, even with sizable cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits. So promises of more tax cuts either border on dishonesty or imply huge unspecified spending cuts that would devastate national defense, states and localities, and the poor. . . Republicans won't concede the necessity for higher taxes.
Samuelson is attacking a “straw man.” Spending is at an unsustainable 25% of GDP. Republicans want that spending back down to its historic 21% of GDP, a Herculean task under current circumstances, but a worthy objective. They are not advocating “tax cuts” as a way to get there. Conservatives do, however, strongly oppose tax increases, firmly believing such increases will inhibit the economic growth that best boosts revenue.

As we said, Democrats very much want tax increases on the wealthy. They are desperately trying to save big government by changing the subject, a cause both Brooks and Samuelson abet by wrongly attacking Republican budget cutters.

I give Samuelson a lot of credit, however. Even with his whack at Republicans, he correctly reads today’s political war:
We are now engaged in a messy debate over big budget deficits and the size of government. The struggle nominally pits liberals against conservatives, but this is misleading. The real debate involves reactionaries versus radicals. Many liberals are reactionaries. [emphasis added]

A reactionary is someone who, says Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, desires "a return to an earlier system or order." This defines many liberals. They "pine," writes Michael Barone in The Wall Street Journal, for "the golden years of the 1940s, '50s and early '60s (when) ... Americans had far more confidence in big government." Modern liberals want yet-bigger government to enhance social justice. They defend virtually all Social Security and Medicare benefits. Everything can be financed, they suggest, by cutting defense or increasing taxes on the rich.
But cutting defense and taxing the rich won’t raise enough money. Progressivism is out of options, at the end of its road.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Collapse: Al Gore and the Green Movement

This blog noted that Walter Russell Mead had hit something big, when he likened Al Gore’s fight against global warming to guilty Hollywood celebs absolving themselves by taking on public crusades. The Mead essay was the first of three about Al Gore, and dealt with Gore the private carbon burner, embracing a public cause that assuages his guilt.

In the second essay, Mead takes on Al Gore’s Green Movement itself, a force that had it succeeded, would have moved us closer to world government. How could such an ambitious cause gain such non-critical, widespread support? The intellectuals involved truly believe they have the answer to the world’s problems, and the answer is their superior wisdom. Mead takes exception to such uncritical thinking:
The global green treaty movement to outlaw climate change is the most egregious folly to seize the world’s imagination since the Kellog-Briand Pact outlawed war in the late 1920s. The idea that the nations of the earth could agree on an enforceable treaty mandating deep cuts in their output of all greenhouse gasses is absurd. A global treaty to meet [Al] Gore’s policy goals isn’t a treaty: the changes such a treaty requires are so broad and so sweeping that a [global green treaty] is less a treaty than a constitution for global government. Worse, it is a constitution for a global welfare state with trillions of dollars ultimately sent by the taxpayers of rich countries to governments (however feckless, inept, corrupt or tyrannical) in poor ones.

The green movement’s core tactic is . . . to cloak a comically absurd, impossibly complex and obviously impractical political program in the authority of science. Let anyone attack the cretinous and rickety construct of policies, trade-offs, offsets and bribes by which the greens plan to govern the world economy in the twenty first century, and they attack you as an anti-science bigot.
In the third and final essay on Al Gore, Mead ties him to the American progressive movement, which flourished in the early 20th century. It floundered after the collapse of Woodrow Wilson’s effort to get us into Wilson’s League of Nations and with the progressive-dictated failure to impose prohibition on Americans’ private lives. But the collapse of unfretted capitalism following the 1929 crash gave progressivism a second chance, and it came back stronger than ever under Roosevelt’s New Deal, carrying on in some form through subsequent Democratic administrations.

Now Mead believes Al Gore and progressivism have truly reached the end of their road:
Al Gore . . . comes at the tail end of [the progressive] tradition; he is a living example of what you get when a worldview outlives its time. He presses the old buttons and turns the old cranks, but the machine isn’t running any more. . . Like President Obama watching a universal healthcare program that he thought would secure his place in history turn into an electoral albatross and a policy meltdown, Al Gore thought that in the climate issue he had picked a winning horse.

Today growing numbers of Americans resent and reject the tutelage of well meaning elites — and they view with suspicion the claims of ‘experts’ to be dispassionate and disinterested custodians of the public good. They don’t see civil servants as unselfish and apolitical experts who can be trusted to regulate and rule; they see them as a lobby like any other, a special interest more interested in preserving fat pensions and easy working conditions — and at foisting their own ideological hobby horses and preferences on the public at large.
It seems Mead has a clear view of the country's seasonal change. The progressive era, its Indian Summer has passed.

Monday, July 04, 2011

An Exceptional Country

Quote without Comment:

“No other nation’s founding could be so happily, indifferently, noisily, diversely, inspiringly, mawkishly, carelessly, embarrassingly, or fervently celebrated, because no other nation—no other nation—can claim to be what we are. As Archibald MacLeish once put it, we Americans are ‘the first self-constituted, self-declared, self-created people in the history of the world.’

“Somehow, despite slips here and there, we have managed to balance in the main that combination of ‘private rights and public happiness’ so proudly extolled by James Madison. Despite all the encroachments on our freedoms, despite all the insidious growth of our government at every level, we remain more free than anyone, anywhere, and in an ineffable way that no one else but an American or would-be American can completely understand. We are the people of a fabulous country, as Thomas Wolfe wrote, ‘the only fabulous country; it is the only place where miracles not only happen, but where they happen all the time.’

“July Fourth. Independence Day. It is the exceptional day of an exceptional country; whether celebrated or ignored, it is the bright and happy measure of our freedom within the security, the plenty, the enduring challenges of this astounding enterprise, the United States of America.”

--Ralph Kinney Bennett, The American