Friday, July 31, 2009

Yes, a Teachable Moment, Mr. President

Everyone knows what a "teachable moment" is. It's when the liberal brings down the hammer and you are supposed to admit that you were wrong about some arcane point of liberal theology.

So when President Obama mumbled something about a teachable moment with respect to the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., ordinary Americans were ready to upchuck

But the racial incident now known as Gates-gate is showing signs of breaking the mold. Because the rules have changed.

No doubt Harvard scholar "Skip" Gates thought he was onto a sure thing when he railed against the white cop called out to investigate a reported burglary at his house in Cambridge, MA. After all, when you are a famous black-studies professor you can't turn down an opportunity for publicity. Publicity is the name of the game.

And no doubt President Obama thought he was onto a sure thing when he injected the Gates incident into an awkward press conference about his awkward health policies.

And no doubt New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd just thought it was a cheap opportunity to say something clever about "the arc of civil rights dramas from Jim Crow to Jim Crowley." What a humiliation for a man like Gates who summers on Martha's Vineyard, darling!

But it didn't turn out that way, because the rules have changed.

For years and years, liberals have been telling us that blacks can't be racist because they don't have any power. This has always been a lie because the whole point of the Civil Rights Acts was to give blacks power, to establish that blacks had the power to vote, and send federal troops to enforce that right if that's what it took.

Never mind about that. Liberals do stuff like that all the time. It is called abuse of power.

What tripped up Gates and Obama is that the Gates incident involved two powerful black men and a white man who, of all things, is a racial profiling instructor. It also involved routine audio and video of the incident. So it turned out that the white cop was truthful in his report of the incident and Gates was not.

Also, as Michael Barone points out, the guy facing the big risk in the Gates affair was the white cop. If he had lied (as Gates appears to have done) or if he had tried a cheap shot (as Obama appears to have done) then all the power of the race industry would have descended upon him without mercy.

Now we learn that the black cop photographed at the Gates incident, Sgt. Leon Lashley, has also suffered in this incident. He sent a letter to President Obama with Sgt. Crowley telling him that he's been attacked as an Uncle Tom for his support of his fellow police officer.

Well now. Isn't that interesting.

It's a reminder, as if we needed one, that in all the political maneuvering of the "Do You Know Who I Am" people there are usually innocent victims. In the liberal race politics of the last half century the victims have usually been the white working class, suitably scapegoated as "red-necks."

But now we are reminded that it's not just the white working class that gets caught in the cross-currents of liberal racism and power politics. Blacks get tossed around as well.

Yes indeed. We just had a teachable moment. But the guys that need a spot of "larnin'" probably aren't going to get the message. Professor Gates ought to be ashamed. President Obama ought to be ashamed. But don't wait around for that to happen.

But we can take comfort in the honest and honorable conduct of Sgt. Crowley and Sgt. Lashley. There are actually a lot of worthy Americans in these United States who do the right thing, even when nobody is looking. They even do the right thing after their betters have lashed their backs to ribbons with the cat-o-nine-tails.

It's enough to make you proud.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

ObamaCare: Defeat Now or Later

Either ObamaCare will pass in some form, or Congress will buckle and pass a face-saver. Either way, the question is: What happens next?

People who are adamant about killing ObamaCare at once fear that once the new subsidies and special-interest deals have been enacted into law we will never get back to the status quo ante. On this view we must defeat it now or water it down to a minor new subsidy for the uninsured.

Then there's the Leninist argument: the worse the better. On this view we need a political cataclysm in order to reverse the century-long trend of the welfare state. What better than for the Democrats to pass an unpopular government health takeover in the teeth of grass-roots opposition that gets stuck in the gullet of the American people?

I admit that my preference is for ObamaCare to pass and for the American people to rise up and send a president and Congress to Washington in 2013 to repeal it. I don't think that we can avoid this kind of confrontation if we are ever to reverse the welfare state and chart a new course based on the principle articulated by British Conservative Party leader David Cameron.

Cameron said: There is such a thing as society. It's just not the same thing as the state.

This articulates the essential conservative position. If you want to do societal things, like help women and children, you don't have to do it with a government adminstrative program. There is another way. In fact it is better not to get the government involved.

Why? Why shouldn't we have government programs where we come together to do things collectively? Well, the simple answer is: Force. Whenever government does something, it does it with force. Do we want health care to be a question of force, where we force some people to provide health care for other people? Do we want education to be a question of force. where children are forced to go to school for twelve years according to a syllabus that has been determined by political chicanery?

Conservatives say that there has to be a better way than force. In fact, there is. And if you want to know what it looks like, look around you at the amazing things that get done without government compulsion.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sitting Next to a Liberal

I just finished Harry Stein's I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Liberal. It's a quick read, and full of fun and frolic.

But underneath is the rather grim truth. Liberals don't want to hear from the loyal opposition to them, the ruling elite. The educated progressive class ditch friends that disagree with them. They ditch academics that disagree with them. And they think it is perfectly OK, as the book's title says, to embarrass a conservative at the dinner table.

Conservatives can get mad at this, but getting mad rather misses the point. Because it is worse tham that.

One of the key things that any political elite must do is keep in touch with the plebs. Any ruling class--and the progressive educated elite is one such--will commit injustices and will be corrupt. Power corrupts, as Action wrote.

So if you are serious as a political elite you must make sure that you are listening to the people. Not because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the necessary thing to do.

By keeping in touch with the people you get to know what is bothering them. That means that you can figure out how to diffuse their anger and perpetuate your power.

If the liberals have stopped listening then they are shortening the life of the Liberal Era. Because they are raising the odds that some day soon, some conservative will raise a head of rebellion against the liberal power elite. And if liberals are blindsided by the rebellion, they won't be able to react appropriately and decisively, as a power elite must do. So maybe one day soon a routine injustice will spark a major movement and end up toppling the liberal elite from its perch.

Or maybe liberals will wake up just in time.

But according to Harry Stein, liberals are so deeply embedded in their liberal enclaves that it is probably too late for them to wake up. Their ideological conformity is so deep that nothing can disturb their dogmatic slumber.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Palin Loaded for Bear

Some how I've gotten the idea in recent months that Sarah Palin couldn't take it. She was whining too much at the media instead of taking it like a man. I don't know where I got the idea. I must have read it, and heard it from every liberal friend.

Anyway, what would a liberal know about Sarah Palin?

But the Palin exit speech, delivered at the inauguration of her successor as Alaska Governor, certainly didn't sound like a whimper. It sounded like a declaration of war.

Palin spent a lot of time talking about the armed forces, and then just to emphasize the point, reminded the media that the armed forces were there to protect them. Oh, and by the way, lay off the children of my successor, she added.

Then it was on to remind everyone of her extraordinary record as governor, getting the Alaska gas pipeline off dead-center.

Here's how it sounded to me. Palin is positioning herself as the candidate of conservatives and moderates. She's not really running as a movement conservative but as an American patriot who believes in America, independence, self-reliance, faith, reform, small government, and neighbors.

Who believes in that sort of stuff? Well, there's the 40 percent of Americans that style themselves as conservative, and the 35 percent that style themselves as moderate. You could say it's a start.

There are two kinds of politicians in America. There is the kind like President Obama that follows the liberal trade-winds. It's the kind that hopes, by staying right in the middle of their political party, that she'll eventually be rewarded.

Then there are the politicians that make their own weather. I am thinking Ronald Reagan. Even in 1980 he ran as the outsider. Even in 1980, after a decade and a half in national politics he just wasn't considered "safe."

Sarah Palin is like that.

It's been pretty obvious since Palin first emerged as a national politician that she makes her own weather.

But that won't make any difference to the doubters. People will be predicting that she just doesn't have what it takes right up until the day of her election as President of the United States.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Obama Wasn't Elected to Go Liberal

As President Obama pushes his government takeover of health care his approval numbers are tanking. What's going on?

Clark Judge thinks he knows. The American people didn't elect Obama to implement a liberal agenda. They elected him to rein in government spending.

What the Obama people failed to understand was that the election of Mr. Obama in 2008 began in 2005. That was when pollsters started picking up that a big segment of George W. Bush’s 2004 vote was becoming disaffected, not over Iraq (as many Democrats later imagined) but over spending. This group was enraged by the growing deficits, saw passage of the Medicare prescription drug benefit in the first Bush term as a minus, not a plus, and later in the second term was repulsed by the emblematic Alaskan bridge to nowhere. So they abandoned the GOP in 2006. In 2008, they remained disaffected. Many were attracted to Mr. Obama personally and embraced the historic change he seemed to epitomize regarding race. The result was that again they voted Democrat.

The Obama people must know this. After all, they ran a center-campaign full of talk about transparency, getting rid of corruption and lobbyists, and choice. Just like the congressional Democrats ran in 2006.

Evidently they don't care. They figure, following Rahm Emanuel, that you should never let a crisis go to waste. They believe that if they rush through their agenda it will be a fait accompli and will never be reversed.

Well, maybe they are right. It worked for Social Security and the Great Society. Why not try it on again?

But there is another possibility. The Dems might remind people why they voted for Ronald Reagan in 2000 and against Clinton in 1994. For the new generation of voters, the ones who believed that Obama meant "change," it might teach them a bit of political reality.

For the truth is that the Democratic Party is not the party of hope and change. It is the party of the welfare-state status quo. It is the party of patronage. It is the party of the education blob. It is the party of the trial lawyers. It is the party of extreme environmentalism.

Every American voter needs to be reminded of this from time to time. And every new voter needs to be taught it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

If Only the MSM Did Their Job

Conservative politicians have one big advantage over their liberal friends. They know the the mainstream media will do a good job criticizing their proposals.

Whenever a Republican president offers a new program you will be sure that there will be a "But critics say..." zinger towards the end of every news story on the program. In that paragraph all the usual liberal suspects will unload on the program.

You can say that's unfair, but at least it keeps conservative politicians on their toes. They have to think about what the opposition will say, and how it will look in the inevitable "But critics say..." grafs. They know that a beneficial conservative reform has a battle on its hands from the first trial balloon to the final signature in the Rose Garden.

Poor President Obama. What with a year and a half of adoring media coverage the MSM hasn't done its due diligence on his program. Without a serious effort to source and write those "But critics say..." on the stimulus, on the cap-and-trade bill, and on the president's proposed health makeover, nobody really knew what would happen to the president's program once it got to Congress. Nobody really knew what the American people would think when they got to see the details.

Of course, when the American people start to look at the details of any government program they say: "What's in it for me?" Like it or not, that's how politics works. That's why, as Irving Kristol said many years ago, if you want to help the poor you've got to deal in the middle class. Result: Social Security and Medicare.

There's a real problem with the president's health reform. There's nothing in it for the American people. Nearly everyone has health insurance. When you look at the 45 million uninsured, it turns out that they are mainly young people, the unemployed, and the rich--i.e. people who don't need health insurance, don't think they need health insurance, or who are consciously skipping health insurance until they get a job. So when you want to help the uninsured (and introduce rationing to cap costs on Medicare by the back door) you pretty soon find out that you have a problem. There will be nothing in the program for the average American. That's what sunk HillaryCare.

Same with cap-and-trade. Some people are going to get stupid green jobs and subsidies, but most people are just going to have to pay more for energy. What's in it for me?

The answer is: not much. And if the mainstream media did their job the American people would have found out about all this a year ago.

Meanwhile, we will have lost another opportunity to reform Medicare. And that's the real elephant in the room.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Blue States Will Suffer Under Obama

Back in the Nineties and the Oughties, advanced people were talking about the new "creative" economy. Their notions were boosted by people like Richard Florida in The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life.

The notion was that people that worked in creative occupations were concentrating into creative-friendly "ideopolises" and that these metrosexual cities with their vibrant creative life were the wave of the future.

Obviously, in President Obama the creative class has elected one of their own.

But Joel Kotkin in The Blue-State Meltdown and the Collapse of the Chicago Model asserts that the creative class model is a mirage. Worse, the creative-class illusion is bankrupting the big blue states like New York, California, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois.

There's nothing wrong with the idea of creative work becoming more important as we outsource manufacturing to low-wage countries like China and India. The problem arises when blue-state elites privilege themselves and their political supporters and put a thumb on the scales.

The model they develop nurtures a highly-paid creative elite to pay for a large and expensive public sector. New York City is the prime example. Its financial elite pays for the services and the public-sector jobs for which New York is famous.

Left out in this model are all the ordinary people in the middle that work in the private sector at more ordinary jobs. And worst off of all are the workers in the declining industrial sector in the blue states. The creative class has an "instinctive distaste for 'sprawl,' cars, and factories," and its distaste has real-world effects in the anti-business politics of blue states.

Many blue-staters thought that Obama would rescue them from their decline. But that now seems unlikely. Obama "policy is tilting to favor all the basic blue-state economic food groups—public employees, university researchers, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Wall Street, and the major urban land interests." The old rust-belt interests need not apply.

Kotkin judges that this Obama tilt will not end happily, not for the blue states at least. The red states will continue to grow because their economies are not suffering so much under the clipping and training and meddling of liberal elites.

One day soon, the old lunch-bucket crowd will understand that the Republican Party best represents its interests. But it seems that they are determined to have one more fling with the Democratic Party and its addiction to political power as the solution to all problems.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Obamacare Inflection Point

Never mind all the bloo-hah about too fast or too reckless. The problem with Obamacare is that Democrats don't like it. Here's Donald Lambro quoting Democrats:

"I don't like the idea of raising taxes in the worst economic crisis since World War II," said Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas, chief negotiator for the Blue Dogs. He warned his party last week that "there's no way they can pass the current bill on the House floor. Not even close."

In the Senate, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid said he could not vote for a bill financed by a tax on employee healthcare benefits, warning that his party could lose 10 to 15 Democrats if such a tax ended up in the bill.

So, now the question is: what do we do next? Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) has some ideas. First of all, he lists the three dishonest selling points in the Obama campaign.

  1. People can keep their existing health insurance. No they won't, not with a "public option."
  2. Quality won't be compromised. Oh yeah? With the government in the middle between patient and doctor?
  3. The massive new benefit won't cost anything to the middle class. Here, I gotta bridge I want to sell you.

Well, this is baloney, Jindal says, and the Democrats know it. So let's abandon the partisan game of three-card Monte, and let's try a bipartisan approach,

Here is Gov. Jindal's proposal.

  • Transparency: posting prices and outcomes on the Internet.
  • Consumers should benefit when they lower their own healthcare costs by better health care shopping or by healthier lifestyle.
  • Medical lawsuit reform.
  • Insurance reform. Make insurance more portable and cover more pre-existing conditions.
  • Pooling for small businesses, self-employed, etc.
  • Pay for performance in bringing down the 75% of healthcare dollar that goes for chronic conditions related to lifestyle
  • Tax credits to the poor to help them buy health insurance policies.

There. That wasn't that hard, was it. But it reflects the reality of real life. In real life you get to improve things a little bit at a time. You don't get to be the savior of the nation, Mr President.

The best thing is to keep saviors confined to religion and the moral/cultural sector. It's best to keep them out of politics.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

If Taxes Start to Bite Dems

It was easy for Democrats to persuade economically conservative/socially liberal voters to turn up their noses at the socially conservative President Bush. But now that Obama is talking tax increases, things are not so simple. Democrat officeholders are starting to worry about their rich voters.

Could 2010 be a replay of 1994? Stay tuned.

Why the Hurry Mr President?

President Obama took office promising a era of transparency and openness in government.

Well, you could understand that he would want to violate that pledge when pushing through the trillion dollar stimulus package. When you do your traditional post-election payoff to supporters you really don't want to let too much of the sausage-making see the light of day.

But in the case of health-care reform and of energy reform the president is proposing an utter transformation, a revolution, in the way America does business on health care and energy taxing and regulation.

It cannot be, Mr President, that this sort of thing is rushed through in the dead of night. It cannot be that it is passed on bare partisan majorities.

Because when you stiff-arm your agenda through, Chicago style, you are not obtaining the consent of the governed. You are setting up conflict for years to come.

The great culture war in which we live was not started by the religious right. It was started by liberals ramming their agenda through Congress and the courts. It was intensified by liberals refusing to debate their opponents honorably when opposition arose.

If you liberals ram through your agenda on health care and on "cap and trade" you will be not just doing an unjust thing, you will be making a strategic error.

The reason that Democrats got elected in 2008 was partly due to the natural political cycle: throwing the Republican bums out after eight years of Bush. But it was partly due to the intense partisan campaign conducted against President Bush right through his administration, representing him as a mad-dog partisan when he wasn't.

But now that Bush is gone, people can revert to their natural political selves. And people are naturally conservative. This is a center-right country.

The time is going to come, very soon, when liberals are going to find themselves in strategic retreat. The question will be: are they willing to lose gracefully, like conservatives in the years after the New Deal through the 1960s? Or are they going to be intransigent like the South on slavery in the 80 years between the founding of the United States and the Civil War.

It's time for thoughtful Democrats to start thinking about this. Chances are that 2009-10 will be a great high-water mark for Democrats and liberals, before a long withdrawing roar.

With the hyper-partisan health and energy agenda, the chances are that Democrats are putting themselves in the same overstretched situation as the German Army in the summer of 1942, just before the Red Army began its counter-offensive on the left shoulder of the Nazis' great salient into the southern Soviet Union.

The city around which the Red Army made its counter-offensive was called, at the time, Stalingrad.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Those Liberal Feelings

It's liberal feelings versus conservative values. That's the mantra you hear from a number of conservatives these days. Conservatives are steadfast and true, with their lives founded on timeless rational values. Liberals are skittering all over the lot, depending on what they feel today.

But I disagree. It is liberals that are guided by disengaged reason, proposing relentlessly rational schemes for the bureaucratizing of everything into a comprehensive universal set of rules.

It is conservatives that believe in life and love, mothers and babies, fidelity and families. What could be more emotional than that?

The truth is, of course, that humans operate at many levels; that is our magic. We are instinctive, we are emotional, we are rational.

The point of conservatism is grounding. We believe in embodied reason. We believe in the one and only fleshly life that we are given, and we experience ourselves as connected in a web of responsibility between the dead ancestors and the generations yet unborn. We feel the tug of the past and also of the future.

That is why conservatives cannot get away from the burr under the modern saddle, abortion. For abortion cuts the cord between the generations. It privileges the adolescent present, the whims of the moment against the claims of eternity.

In the modern world of disengaged reason people have come to believe in the metaphor rather than the reality. Our liberal friends believe in the generation of creativity rather than creating a new generation. They seek immortality in creative work of originality, rather than in the creation of children to carry their genes into the future.

Well, nature takes care of things like that. If you don't have children you won't have immortality, not unless you are Einstein. The way things are going, there won't be any liberals by 2100. Just as there won't be any Europeans.

Liberals may be driven by feelings, but their feelings are curiously disengaged, learned responses to the world taught to them by their government teachers and government university professors. These learned feelings teach them to honor the principle of rational government control, that whenever you have a feeling, it should lead to a government program.

As for me, I don't get it. I don't understand how anyone could live in that kind of a culture without going mad.

I say: Give me the life I am given, and the glorious divine madness that is conservatism.

And to heck with liberal rational control and its mindless rational government programs!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rationing Smashioning

The New York Times is hauling out bioethicist Peter Singer this weekend to sing the praises of rationing, according to NRO.

Not that Obamacare has anything to do with rationing. Oh no. President Obama has specifically told the nation's governors not to talk about it.

Come on. Mr. President. We weren't born yesterday. We understand that underneath the massive pushing and shoving on your health care plan is a direct route to rationing.

If you have a government program that gives out goodies then you have to have rationing.

All resources in this world must be rationed. The most just method is to ration goods using the price system. In this system the poor get less than the rich. That's unfair, of course, so many people try to help the poor out with charity.

There are other ways of rationing. You can force everyone to stand in line for resources on a first-come first-served basis. Everyone pays for resources at work and then stands in line for them. Problem is, as the Soviet Union showed, you get less of every kind of resource. Where's the justice in that?

Of course there's a third method. The government can sequester all resources and give them out as a reward for political loyalty. That seems to be the method preferred by the Obama administration. That is, if the stimulus plan is any guide to its political philosophy.

But which is the most just? It's a good question. It depends whether you are rich or poor, or, like Peter Singer, an academic that gets paid for thinking up bioethical policies for government programs.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The War on the Poor

Radical thinker Ivan Illich called it the "war on subsistence." He looked on both liberal programs and conservative industrialization as a deliberate effort to obliterate traditional ways of living.

You can see the process working in the descriptions of Third World education in The Beautiful Tree by James Tooley. The west comes into a Third World country with money and expertise and gets the government to implement a universal, compulsory education system. But it doesn't work. The newly middle-class teachers don't give a damn about the poor, who they regard as ignorant and uninterested in education. And the government just uses the western money to build a patronage system.

But in the Third World it turns out that the poor do want education. They want it so much that they turn away from the "free" government system and spend their own money on school fees at below-the-radar private schools.

The schools that they patronize are, of course, by middle-class standards, dirty and inadequate. There are often no bathrooms for the children, and no playground. And as for computers, forget it. But the schools, operating on a shoe-string, almost equal middle-class private schools in academic performance, at least according to James Tooley's research.

This is not the first time that the poor have been shafted like this. Ever since the middle of the 19th century the middle class have been on a mission to clean up "slums." The middle class hates the ramshackle housing that the poor build in the industrial cities. The slums operate outside the rules and the proper planning and land-use laws. For one thing, there is a lack of basic sanitation, water, sewage, and garbage, darling.

But the poor build and live in the slums for a simple reason. They are cheap. An immigrant to the city can get a job in the city and live cheaply in the only way that he can afford. Unless she is to become a government benefit recipient.

The welfare state model insists that everyone live and work at a middle-class standard. Middle-class rules for houses. Middle-class rules for education. Middle-class rules for health care.

But when you insist on middle-class rules you force the poor to become dependents. Because the poor can't afford to live by middle-class rules. Not if they want to live in proud independence.

This is the great challenge for conservatives. If we want to replace the welfare state with something better we have to figure out how to let the poor live in proud independence. Can that be squared with basic decency in the life of the poor?

The way that the modern poor live is by camping out in industrial society, living in old dilapidated housing, working in the informal economy, cadging health care where it's free or nearly free. The standard response to this by progressive people has been outrage. How can we allow the poor to suffer so? But it is clear that the progressive response, to dish out benefits controlled and organized by the middle class, has turned the working poor into the underclass, has destroyed the lower-class family, and has turned the progressive class into a corrupt political elite.

There's gotta be a better way. And it's up to conservatives to find it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Palin Puts Down a Marker

In the Wall Street Journal liberal columnist Thomas Frank is sneering at Sarah Palin's victim strategy--as if the Clintons didn't take it to the bank in the 1990s and in 2008.

But meanwhile Sarah Palin has emerged from resigning as Alaska Governor with an op-ed in the Washington Post. You could say that this action says, as clearly as possible: I'm still in the game!

Now if you were a politician aspiring to bigger things, to the leadership of your party and even the presidency, what would you do first? You don't yet have a full-strength organization staffed up with policy experts. But you are expert in certain issue areas.

It's a no-brainer. You write an op-ed attacking the president's energy policy. It allows you to play to your strength, as a practical reformer from an energy state. And it allows you to attack the president's big-tax, big-government policy.

So that's what Sarah Palin did. She wrote an article which demonstrated her competence in energy policy. And she got off a zinger to rile up the troops.

The ironic beauty in this plan? Soon, even the most ardent liberal will understand supply-side economics.

Nothing like a little red meat for the base. But it will probably be a constant theme in Palin's rhetoric. For our liberal friends running the Obama administration have shown that as far as they are concerned the supply-side notion, that marginal tax-rates are important, is nothing but "voodoo economics."

But really, Sarah Palin is right. The only way that liberals will come to believe in supply-side economics is the day that it hits them upside the head.

Palin is also right to follow the Reagan strategy. In the years after the 1976 election Reagan cranked out endless radio commentaries and traveled the nation speaking to Republicans. With her first op-ed, it is clear that she has a similar strategy in mind.

Will it do the trick? Who knows. But one thing going for her is that the relentless scorn from our liberal friends will play well with moderate women around election time.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Great Socialism Bubble: Empty the Safe

We've been talking a lot about debt bubbles and bankers these days, so my mind naturally turned to another great bubble, the grand-daddy of them all, which right now is in its final phase. I am talking about the Great Socialism Bubble.

All bubbles begin with a plausible notion. Dozens of business startups issue wildly optimistic prospectuses. In the case of socialism, there were two major prospectuses. There was the Communist Manifesto from Marx and Engels. This advertised the brilliant vision of the revolutionary business model. Then there was the Essays in Fabian Socialism by the Fabian Society. This gave us the vision of the administrative business model, a glorious future of justice, prosperity, and happiness based on "rational, factual, socialist argument."

In due course socialism did its IPOs, the most successful ones coming in 1917 and 1949. The US had its own IPO in 1965, and the Brits had one in 1945. It looked like the future was so bright we'd have to wear shades.

But then the whole thing hit a road bump in 1989 when the US won the cold war and communism collapsed in eastern Europe in 1989. But socialism wasn't done yet. With the help of two promotional geniuses it jumped the shark.

Yes. Socialism was completely out of ideas, for the administrative state is no way to provide human society with justice, prosperity, and happiness. But with spin artists like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair and easy money, it could still put on a heck of a show.

But you can only keep up an illusion for a while, and that illusion has now been shattered. Now we have entered the empty-the-safe or bankers' bonus phase. This is the moment in the caper movie when the con-men clean out the last few wads of cash in the office safe and head out of town in their fast cars or their executive jets and leave us with the mess.

This is what Barack Obama is doing with his jam-down stimulus bill, his jam-down cap-and-trade bill, and his health reform bill. The game is up at the Bank of Socialism, but there is still some money left in the safe and the Democrats are handing it out to their faithful supporters in the pre-down hours before the G-men appear and close down the bank.

But the American people sense at last that something fishy is going on and they are holding Tea Parties, knowing instinctively that a profound change in national politics is coming. They understand that it needs a new beginning at the grass roots, and so they are beginning a new politics at the grass roots.

Why not? It's the American way.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Conservative NextGen Thinkers

Writing in the Boston Globe Drake Bennett introduces four young conservative writers and thinkers.

There's Luigi Zingales, an economics professor at the University of Chicago. He's written recently about the importance of the difference between helping business and helping the market. Business, you could say, is a special interest, and conservatives should fall out of love with business and back in love with the market.

In an argument that’s begun to catch the ear of a few conservative thinkers, Zingales suggests that it’s often business itself, rather than the government, that the market needs protection from.

Actually, I thought that conservatives have been saying this for decades. But it's a theme that needs to be constantly renewed, because business, for all its reputation as a powerful force, clearly sucks up to government. Ande it has to, because government has the power to destroy it--unless we take that power away.

Then there's L Bradford Wilcox, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia. He's been working to put an empirical basis under the conservative faith in family values. Recent research is pretty clear:

Children not raised by their married mother and father are more likely to drop out of high school, be depressed, and even commit suicide. Boys from broken homes are more likely to end up in jail; and girls more likely to be teen mothers.

Wilcox is working on reminding us that there are two important factors that help break up the family: divorce and single parenthood.

He argues that it is counterproductive to insist, as many liberals have, that all types of families are equally good for kids. Overwhelmingly, he points out, it is poor and working-class families who are grappling with the effects of divorce and single parenthood.

Lower class Americans struggling with fractured families deliver increased inequality, something that liberals say they care about.

Megan McArdle is an editor and blogger at The Atlantic. Her blogging provides a kind of nodal point, a conversation centered around libertarian conservative ideas, and provides a go-to place for people with like interests.

Finally, there's Reihan Salam, a fellow at New America Foundation. He wrote Grand New Party back in 2003 with Ross Douthat, and he's a big-government conservative.

In [Grand New Party, Salam and Douthat] return again and again to the issue of how a modern Republican party could strategically embrace government, allaying the economic anxieties of important white working-class voters without fostering a culture of government dependence and waste.

All this is encouraging. But let us not forget the importance of foundations. Take the powerful ideas of Michael Novak in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. He argues for what I call "the Greater Separation of Powers." This notion starts with the idea that just as government has its three branches, legislative, executive, and judicial; society has three sectors, political, economic, and moral/cultural.

The idea of the Greater Separation of Powers is that the three sectors of society, political, economic, and moral/cultural, should be separate and coequal. They should be independent, and each should be a strong critic of the other two sectors.

In other words, the economic sector and the moral/cultural sector should each have a lot to say about the power of the political sector and how it should be limited in the economic sphere and the moral/cultural sphere.

Meanwhile the political sector should be jealous of overweening power from business and economic interests, and also excessive militance in the moral/cultural sector.

What everyone should guard against is two sectors ganging up on the other sector--i.e., when religious leaders get too close to politics, either left-wing or right-wing.

There's nothing quite like solid first principles to help nurture good political and social thought. That goes for young conservative thinkers and older ones too.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Banality of Meanness

In his biography of Charles Dickens, G.K. Chesterton remarks on the question of evil. It is not the big evil in ourselves that we must fear, he reminds us. Most of us are not tempted by that. But there is something more prosaic that we all fall into.


We saw that a week ago when Alaska Governor Sarah Palin resigned from her office. The mean brigade was out at once, led by the queen of sophisticated mean, Maureen Dowd of The New York Times.

Later in the week Ann Coulter made fun of the liberal pile on. She burlesqued the delight that liberals expressed in never having to watch Sarah Palin again. And if she were to get a TV show, why then they would certainly never watch her dreadful, awful show. Palin was so over.

Well, no doubt they wouldn't, except maybe to check in and assure themselves how awful the Palin show was.

But one thing we learn from the Sarah Palin phenomenon is just how mean our liberal friends have become.

There's a lesson to learn from it, of course. It is that you can't do without a sense of right and wrong, good and bad, and you can't do without a code of manners.

One of the uses of manners is that it helps you from making a fool of yourself in the presence of your political foes. Once you decide that manners are old-fashioned and stupid, why then you have set yourself up for all kinds of vices from petty to mortal.

And one of the things that you license yourself to do is to be mean.

You also license yourself to be careless. That comes from the confidence you have from not needing to watch yourself. You stop thinking about how you might appear to others; you just bore ahead with your political enthusiasm.

That's what the Obama administration is doing. It's not thinking. It's not thinking about how it appears to the American people. Some people might be offended by the huge party the Democrats gave themselves in the stimulus package. Some people might wonder about the prudence of an energy tax and expensive subsidies taking effect right in the middle of a wrenching recession. Some people might wonder about a huge upset to the US health-care system in the middle of a recession just to take care of 10 million people that have chosen not to get health insurance.

Some people might think it is mean to take such risks with the prosperity of the American people.

But the thing about being a liberal is that you don't have to look over your shoulder. You know that liberals are the most evolved and the most ethical Americans, and you know that the compulsion of government health care and high energy prices is worth it. It's about equal access to health care, after all, and about saving the planet.

Mean? Not if you are a liberal.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Private Schools for the Poor, Part II

One thing we know: private schools are for the rich. The poor don't have the resources or the knowledge to educate their children.

So we need a system of free, compulsory government education for children. In fact, it's been enshrined as a right by the United Nations.

But James Tooley in The Beautiful Tree tells us that in the Third World the governments are manifestly failing to educate the children of the poor.

And guess what? The poor are doing just fine. Educational entrepreneurs living in the slums are founding and running private schools for the poor that outperform government schools and nearly approach the performance of private schools for the middle class.

These slum schools charge fees and the poor pay them. In addition, the schools typically offer free education to the children of widows and mothers abandoned by their husbands.

This is earth-shattering news. You mean to say that the poor can afford a basic education for their children? You mean to say that the education from their slum schools is better than the government schools?

Then why are we spending vast sums of money on our own government school system? Isn't the whole idea of government education to provide for the children of the poor? And that we have to put everyone else's children in the same one-size-fits-all system just to make it fair?

Now we find that the poor are perfectly capable of directing and paying for the education of their own children. In fact they are better than the government and its experts. So why are we spending 5 percent of GDP on an education system that underperforms even threadbare schools run by untrained entrepreneurs and uncertified teachers in the slums?

Why indeed?

Why not? Of course government education is worse than the private alternative. And we all know why, instinctively.

The failures of government education stem for a simple fact: the pervasive lack of accountability that characterizes every government school system. Teachers don't turn up. Teachers aren't committed to the students. Schools don't teach what parents want. Teachers' unions make it impossible to fire teachers. Education becomes a patronage system to reward the supporters of politicians.

But there's a bigger problem. And James Tooley illustrates it with the sad story of education in India. It turns out that, before the Brits got there, India had its own education system: a small, informal private school in every village. And students helped to teach each other. But Thomas Macaulay (the famous historian) replaced that system in the mid-nineteenth century with a centralized government system. According to Mahatma Gandhi, in 1931, it reduced the literacy of Indians, because it performed worse than the existing informal system.

Isn't that exactly what is going on in eduation in the United States? We have lordly experts in the progressive educated class imposing their ideas on the practical class and the poor. What kind of education do the folks in the building trade want and need? Or the poor in the inner city? Nobody ever asked. They already knew.

It is time to reform our education and return it to the people. Because we can trust parents to know what is best for their children much more than educated elitists.

As British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury said: Never trust experts.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Private Schools for the Poor

Everyone knows that private schools are for the middle class and the rich. Especially in the Third World. Back in 2000 James Tooley found out that it ain't so. Three years ago he published his research conducted in India, Africa, and China.

In fact there is a thriving private school industry in much of the Third World. Only it operates under the radar--under the radar of government officials and under the radar of international development experts.

Now James Tooley has written a book, The Beautiful Tree: A personal journey into how the world's poor are educating themselves. It presents his research as a personal narrative.

Public education in the Third World is like public education in the developed world. It is a political patronage machine. Unfortunately, for various reasons, the public education teachers and administrators do an even worse job of teaching the poor than they do in the developed world.

But the Third World poor are not just sitting around doing nothing. They have built a private school industry of unregulated schools that outperform the government schools and come close to meeting the rich-kid private schools in performance.

We know that because James Tooley has measured it. He's tested kids in government schools, in unregulated and regulated privates schools, and he's done it in Africa, in India, and in China.

And now he's gotten money from foundations to assist the unregulated private school sector in the Third World. The idea is that education should be run by private entrepreneurs. It's quite a concept.

You see, Tooley has discovered that private, profit-making schools are just what the doctor ordered. The only way the school owner can make money is by giving the customers what they want. Otherwise they'll go to another nearby competitive school. That means that he needs to keep tabs on his teachers and give the parents what they want. What they want is effective, practical education that will help their kids get ahead.

In India, what parents want is "English-medium" schools. That means that the school teaches all subjects in English. Guess what.

In Hyderabad, 88 perent of recognized schools and 80 percent of unrecognized schools reported they were English medium, compared with fewer than 1 percent of government schools.

Why the difference? Well, in India, government schools have to be "mother-tongue," so kids get to be taught in the language of their birth. Sounds like a great idea: multiculturalism, diversity and all that.

Only one problem. Parents don't want mother-tongue schools. They want English-medium schools and they are prepared to pay for it.

[P]oor parents told me that they wanted their children to be proficient in English, which they perceived to be the international language, the language that would help their children get ahead in business and commerce and lift their families out of poverty.

It's quite a concept. Letting parents decide what they want for their children's education. Of course, it would never work here in the United States.

But can the poor afford it? Well, the typical fees charged by these schools are about $2.00 to $3.00 per month. An unskilled job might earn about $50 per month. It's a big expense, but worth it if it takes your family out of the slums.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

How Dems Betray their Ideals

You don't often get to ask senior Democrats whether things have got about as far they they can go.

But on Monday, July 6, 2009, Michael Medved got to ask liberal Democrat Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) whether there was a point where government had got too big.

Politicians know how to dodge "when did you stop beating your wife" questions like that, but still, Waxman's answer was telling.

He first said that he believed in free enterprise, that business ought to be as free as possible, subject of course to government regulation. People ought to be free to do what they wanted--particularly in private life.

But some people had it easy, while people without all the assets of intelligence and education had to struggle. Government had a duty to help them. He mentioned treating people with dignity.

So Rep. Waxman was conceding the basic American narrative, but slipping in the need for a safety net to provide dignity for those less fortunate.

The next question could be, well, Congressman, we are spending a trillion dollars on government health care, and 900 billion on government education, and everyone says there's still a problem. So have we got about as far as we can go?

I believe that there is an opening here for conservatives. Waxman is admitting the basic modern moral order, described by Charles Taylor as freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life which dates from the Reformation. But he also wants the lefty addition to that menu, also described by Taylor: equality, dignity, solidarity, and creativity.

Conservatives want to help the less able and the less fortunate. We just don't want to do it by force. We believe in equality, but not equality enforced by government programs and subsidies. We believe in dignity, but we don't believe dignity is created by quotas and by hate speech laws. We believe in solidarity, but not the faux solidarity and astroturf grass-roots conjured up by government-subsidized activist groups like ACORN. We believe in creativity, but not in tenured sinecures at government universities.

This is the ground, I believe, that we should capture in our cultural and political war with our liberal friends. Liberals have great and noble ideas. But they use the wrong means to implement them.

If you try to implement your ideas as government programs you will corrupt yourself and you will fail. Government is force; it is a crude and brutal instrument. If you want to create a society of sweetness and light, of noble souls filled with the spirit of equality, dignity given and received, a brotherly and sisterly solidarity, and curious, talented people, then you've got to put government and political power in the background.

Because as soon as you unleash government power you create inequality. You corrode peoples' dignity. You break up the web of solidarity. And you cramp creativity.

And that is a lesson our liberal friends don't want to learn. Because they've learned to love their power and their influence. And power and influence has become more important to them than equality, dignity, solidarity, and creativity.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Palin: Crazy or Foxlike?

Everyone is shocked by the decision of Sarah Palin to resign as Governor of Alaska. The general consensus seems to be that she is crazy.

There's no doubt that the conventional wisdom is that you need a power base to run for president, and now Palin is throwing away her political power base, the governorship of the state of Alaska.

All this is empty speculation. It assumes that Gov. Palin wants to run for president. It assumes that the governorship is an asset. It assumes that the conventional way of rising through politics is the best way for Palin to rise.

And let us forget the canard that she is a quitter and that she has left the State of Alaska in the lurch. The State of Alaska can do just fine without Palin as governor. Or anyone else as governor.

I'd rather make the following points:

  • People tend to overemphasize the importance of the presidency. More important is setting the agenda for national politics. Democrats have been good at this over the past era. Whatever conservatives and Republicans may have wanted, the agenda is usually about the Democratic agenda, increasing the welfare state and government power generally. The big thing for conservatives is not getting a charismatic president. It is changing the agenda.
  • People tend to talk and write as if they owned their favorite politicians. We don't. Politicians all the time drop out of the limelight and life goes on.
  • Politics isn't the only thing. It isn't even the most important thing. The most important thing is raising up our families and getting the children off the nest. If anything, over the last century, politics has been the No. 1 thing making the important things harder for people.
  • It may not take a political genius to follow Obama. The recklessness and the blindness of the Obamites is going to provoke a huge backlash. Strictly speaking, Obama has been straight with the American people. He said he would transform healthcare and energy policy and that is what he is doing. But the American people weren't really thinking what that transformation would mean to them. Most people are happy with their health care and opposed to artificial increases in energy prices.
Whatever Sarah Palin plans to do, family-wise, politics-wise, all we can do is wish her well. Anything else is just self-indulgence.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Obamacare: Disaster for Who?

On the one hand people argue that President Obama's plan for health care reform is the end of freedom as we know it.

On the other hand others argue that his plan is a bridge too far that will end in failure worse than Hillarycare in 1994.

And they are arguing it in the July 20 National Review now on line.

Mark Steyn is arguing the end-of-freedom line, as the professional pessimist he has become. Call it "Dependence Day," he says, for government health care will transform our culture and our politics forever.

Ramesh Ponnuru is arguing a bitten-off-more-than-they-can-chew line. People love the idea of health reform as long as they come out ahead. Only trouble is that the week-by-week of health care politics this year is demonstrating clearly that a government plan will mean massive tax increases. Or benefit cuts. Or both. Or fiscal meltdown.

But which is it?

I'd say: both and neither.

There is still plenty of scope for politicians to offer free stuff to voters. They will do this up until the moment after the whole government spending thing crashes in ruins.

And it is also true that in places like Europe the people demonstrate an extraordinary docility and appetite for dependency. No doubt there are plenty of people in the United States who would love to live like dependent adolescents.

But then there's the law, proudly called Stein's Law by Herbert Stein. "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop."

It often seems in these latter days that liberalism and the continual growth in government spending is unstoppable. But the truth is that the notion of the Medicare unfunded liability as $30 trillion or $50 trillion, or whatever it will be next week means one simple thing. Medicare cannot go on the way it is forever. It will stop.

Viewed strategically, Obamacare is the Democrats' current attempt to lasso the health care problem. But it is probably just another bout of shadow boxing.

Because today health care can go on as it is. For a few years, at least.

That's because of Chantrill's Corollary. If things can go on as they are then they probably won't change.

Or at least the politicians probably won't get to change it. They will be afraid of the opposition.

Eventually the welfare state will end in disaster. That will happen at the point that things just can't go on like they are any more and when people are utterly abandoned to dependency.

It will all be very fascinating for the historians. But not too much fun for the people trying to live through it.

Farewell to All My Greatness

To visit Ashland, Oregon, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is to visit a Petit Trianon of liberalism. It is to experience a perfect stage-set of liberal verities.

Why, the very Playbill to the festival season outlines the liberal program. The Mission Statement talks of "cultural richness" and "our collective humanity." The Values Statement speaks of "Excellence" "Inclusion" "Learning" and "Environmental Responsibility," as well and a "safe and supportive workplace" for the theater company.

As you can imagine, on this stage set there are members of traditionally marginalized groups carefully included in the blocking, even to the extent of a spot of sign language here and there. Everyone included except for you-know-who.

And to top it all, here's Artistic Director Bill Rauch:

Whatever one's political perspective, it's hard to deny that there is new optimism in our country, even in these hard times.

You gotta love these liberals. In fairness, the Playbill must have been written in the fevered transition between a six percent victory and a triumphant inauguration. But you know that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival would never have celebrated the first 100 days of Ronald Reagan in such florid terms.

But to be fair (again, because we are conservatives) the festival recognizes that it has a problem. Right now it's in the middle of an American Revolutions project to commission a cycle of history plays. But project director Alison Carey has a problem.

"You cannot tell the story of the United States without including the story of conservative political and social movements," said Alison Carey [to] the New York Times. Unfortunately so far she’s come up blank: "I've never had a play come to me that I could say had a conservative perspective," said Ms. Carey at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, adding that if anyone hears of a playwright with one in hand, "send him my way."

Yes, it must be a problem. The liberal moral/cultural community has just spent half a century telling itself that conservatives have nothing to say. So, not surprisingly, no conservative has imagined that anything they say would be welcome in the uber-liberal culture of the theater.

This sort of thing cuts both ways. If liberals have so "excluded" the possibility of a conservative history play at the turn of the 21st century then it also means that they have no clue about how the conservative temperament works and how it could rise and thrive, perhaps beginning in thousands of chaotic Tea Parties and ending up bringing on some new American Revolution.

The danger of a Petit Trianon of liberalism is that one say they will be happily repeating liberal-speak in the liberal court of the ancien regime as one liberal bastion after another disappears in a confusion of smoke and rubble.

And then comes the day when a minor mob storms the empty shell of the Bastille.

Or then comes the day when King Henry VIII has no need of the conniving political skills of his Cardinal Wolsey, and the cardinal is left muttering farewell, a long farewell to all his greatness.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The New Spoils System

Back in the late 19th century, the Progressives, great-grandparents of today's liberals, were all agreed in substituting a civil service system, with promotion examinations, for the evils of the spoils system. They wanted to purge the governmental apparatus of political corruption and favoritism.

That was then. This is now.

In 2009 we have a liberal Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, according to Michael Barone, discussing the blatant manipulation of civil service procedures as just the workings of politics. For Ginsburg it is not outrageous that, in the New Haven firefighter case, city officials pressured the civil service commission to disregard the results of a promotion examination for city firefighters. Comments Barone:

It may remind some of us old enough to remember of the machinations and contrivances of Southern white officials and agitators employed to prevent blacks from registering and voting.

Then there are liberals like Yale Law faculty member Emily Bazelon.

She laments that the promotion test rewarded memorization and that it favored " 'fire buffs' -- guys who read fire suppression manuals on their down time." She is outraged that a fire department might want to promote firefighters who know more about suppressing fires, rescuing victims and protecting their colleagues rather than simply promote a predetermined number of members of specific racial groups whose self-appointed political spokesmen back the politicians in office.

The irony is that the civil service movement of a century ago argued precisely in favor of this kind of professionalization. They insisted on objective criteria for hiring and promotion in government service.

It is indeed astonishing that liberals should have strayed so far from the principles of the clean government Progressives. Except that it is not.

You'd expect that, after a century, a political movement like the Progressive movement would have become corrupted. You would expect that their political activists and office holders would start to believe in themselves rather than their ideas. You would expect that they would start to favor their friends rather than their principles.

But is still shocking to see law professors and Supreme Court justices descending to their level.

That's the way a proud political movement loses its moral authority. Every political movement has plenty of bad apples and corner cutters. But things really start to go bad when the good people give in to the temptations of power and condone the cheap betrayals of once noble principles.

Still, it's good to see that the Supreme Court still believes, 5-4, in equal justice under law, and that it has ruled in favor of the firefighters.

But it's only 5-4. The Supreme Court is one vote away from an endorsement of a racial spoils system.