Thursday, February 28, 2013

Politics Means Intimidating the Journalists

While visiting my sister back in January, I suggested to her that, even allowing that the mainstream media guys are all Democrats, the utter lapdog attitude towards Obama seemed extreme.

Sure, the media wants Obama to look good, but the net result seemed to be too good to be true.  I told my sister that journalists are not that accommodating to people in power, even their favorite Democrats.  Journalists live for the big coup, and surely there are liberal journalists willing to stick their heads out for a scoop.

There must be something else going on, I suggested.  There must be intimidation, I said, and my sister agreed.

So now we know how it works in Obamaland, from the Bob Woodward flap here reported by Bryan Preston.  When veteran journalist Bob Woodward called to tell the White House that he was going to call the president a liar over the sequester, because the sequester was not Congress's idea, but the president's, he got yelled at for half an hour and an angry email with a veiled threat: "I think you will regret staking out that claim."

Now Bob Woodward is the hero of Watergate, and at 69, a grand old man of journalism.  He can afford to have the White House mad at him; he can afford to go public and publish threatening memos from White House bulldogs.  But how many others would dare?

The truth is that journalists are wusses.  That's because 97 percent of journalism is "source" journalism. That is French for sucking up to powerful people.  Here's an example of how it works, reported by Justin Katz, from the great state of Rhode Island.
A conservative news and commentary site for which I work,, recently offered a young journalist a regular freelance opportunity at a very competitive rate of pay. The one catch was that his name must appear on the articles, and that was a step too far. It appears that union leaders and other insiders who are entrenched in boards, initiatives, and agencies at every level across government had only just begun responding to the journalist’s calls, having suspected his political leanings. For the journalist to be identified by his own name would be fatal. His calls would go unanswered again.
Journalists are like sharks: they only bite when there is blood in the water.  I learned this thirty years ago when the Seattle Seahawks first coach, Jack Patera, got fired.  All of a sudden, it turned out that the broadcast journalists, that had covered and interviewed him for years, thought he was useless.

Oh really.  Now you tell us.

Political journalists, not less than sports journalists, depend on getting their phone calls to powerful people answered.  To put your access at risk means risking your career, in a world where there are thousands eager to take your place.

No doubt there will come a moment in the Obama administration when there will be blood in the water, and we will suddenly learn how all those noble journalists hated being spun and intimidated.

But who remembers or cares about the sixth guy to stick the knife into Caesar?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Back to the Future on the Economy

Back in the 1930s the New Deal Democrats got really, really angry that business was sitting on its hands, that "capital was on strike."  So they passed a retained earning tax, to tax earnings that weren't distributed as dividends and weren't reinvested in the business.

Deja vu all over again as Connecticut Democrats push a hoarders' tax, according to Instapundit.
This would place a levy on liquid assets — companies with a lot of money in the bank — and dedicate the proceeds to job creation programs.
Really, the statists never learn.  Although, maybe they don't want to.  They don't seem to get that the more they bully business around the more that businessmen just want to curl up in a ball and hide.

Back in 1936, the year of their stunning win, the Democrats passed the Undistributed Profits Tax.
 The idea was to force businesses to distribute profits in dividend and wages, instead of saving or reinvesting them. In the end, Congress watered down the bill, setting the tax rates at 7 to 27% and largely exempting small enterprises.
Then in 1938 the act was watered down some more; it was repealed in 1939.

But maybe the Democrats then and now don't really care.  What they care about is getting reelected at the next election.  So the point is to generate the right atmospherics, to rile up the faithful against "corporate greed" and "price gouging."  It really doesn't matter what happens to the economy or jobs or wages.  That is a second order effect.  The only thing that matters is whether ragging on business helps you get reelected in November.

Election or reelection, the facts are still pretty clear.  When the politicians start bullying businessmen and creating uncertainty, then businessmen are going to draw in their horns.  Not because they want to "go on strike" but because any new capital investment is a big risk.  And if the politicians are threatening anti-business legislation it just makes any and all bets on the future a little more risky.

And get this.  Any and all business decisions are bets about the future.  The more uncertain the future, the more likely that any decision will turn out to be a mistake.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Obama: Genius of Being There?

Some conservatives like to think of President Obama as an empty suit.  Who knows?  Who knows anything about a public figure, given that public figures live by publicity, and we peons really know  nothing about them?

But the facts are that President Obama and his team won two presidential elections.  So the team won ugly, you say; but the president and his team still won.  I suspect that the bottom line reason for the president's success is that the American people aren't ready to move on from the entitlement state, and they won't be until they lie buried in its ruins.  Why should they?  As long as you can get free stuff, why worry?

So the president's policy is simply "Tax, Cut, and Pray" according to  James Pethokoukis, as in: cut defense, tax the rich, and pray the slowdown in health costs continues.

Every military commander has a idea in his mind about how his army is going to win, and the only way that Obama wins through is if the continuous explosion in health cost abates.  So naturally he believes that ObamaCare will "bend the cost curve."  The president and his liberal advisors have to believe that, otherwise they would have to "do something" about it.  And really, the only thing they care about is the next election, and you certainly don't win the second midterm by telling your base that the gravy train is ending.

It helps, in the fog of war, to cut to the chase, and I have been doing so with Thomas Sowell's Basic Economics.  The point he makes, again and again, is that the price system is the only thing we know that can coordinate an economy of strangers.

And the reason it works is that the price system and the system of profit and loss force people to fix their mistakes.  Here is Sowell in Chapter 7: Big Business and Government.
People make mistakes in all fields of human endeavor but, when major mistakes are made in a competitive economy, those who were mistaken can be forced from the marketplace by the losses that follow.  In politics, however, those who were mistaken can often continue to survive by doing things that were never contemplated when their positions and their powers were created.
We have been seeing this from President Obama recently.  He proposes a universal pre-K program even though the governnment's Head Start program has been shown to have no measurable long-term effect on the pre-K children it serves.  Why not?  It may not help children but it certainly gives mothers a break and it will provide lots of jobs to deserving Democrats.

Now, it is fair to say that we need the government to do things that the private sector would not do on its own.  But really, are we saying that people would not save for retirement without Social Security?  That they would not make provision for end-of-life health care with Medicare?  That they would not raise children into competent adults without government education?

And are we to say that a government program that fails to respond to and correct its mistakes is better than a private sector provision that does, that must, correct its mistakes?

It's pretty obvious why we have all these government programs.  It's because we humans are all secret freeloaders.  We cannot resist the idea of someone else paying for our free stuff.

Politics is the art of gathering a band of brothers to get out there and get some free stuff, and President Obama seems to understand that at a deep instinctive level.

Because promising your supporters free stuff seems to work right up until the moment that the free stuff runs out.

Call the president a genius.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Tao of Obama

In the week that the stock market ignored the prospect of the sequester but fell out of bed at the hint that the Fed might stop printing money, let us meditate on the Dao of Obama.

Dao, or Tao, means The Way, the unthought, unplanned Way of the person that is beyond being nice, beyond doing the right thing, beyond doing the just thing.  It is just The Way.

So let us run the Dao Chapter 38 in review.
The highest good is not to seek to do good,
but to allow yourself to become it.
It is easy to think of President George W. Bush as a man that always sought to do good.  Maybe he never become goodness, but he certainly tried.  But Obama?
The Master does not force virtue on others,
thus she is able to accomplish her task.
The ordinary person who uses force,
will find that they accomplish nothing.
Boy, doesn't that tell it like it is about Obama and the administrative welfare state.
The kind person acts from the heart,
and accomplishes a multitude of things.
The righteous person acts out of pity,
yet leaves many things undone.
The one thing we know about President Obama is that he always acts out of strategy.  After all, that's what "fundamental transformation" is all about, making, molding, forcing America into a different social, economic and political pattern.  Because of the superior righteousness of the progressive program.

The upshot to all this is the great peroration in Dao 38.
Therefore when Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is kindness.
When kindness is lost, there is justice.
When justice is lost, there is ritual.
Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion.
In the Tao of Obama, what is there other than the Tao of community activism, the instinctive practice of Alinskyism, the manipulation of the rage of the mob?

And notice what is implied with the idea that, when justice is lost, there is ritual.  It means that people are reduced to enacting the old forms without any faith that they will achieve anything.

In fact we are talking about people mumbling the old forms as the great tidal wave of force, of power lying in the street and taken up by young men with guns, gathers strength and sweeps over them, engulfing and destroying everything and everyone with its blind and heedless power.

In these times, when the old Tao of the American Way is lost, we hope for goodness.  But goodness, in the Chicago Way of the Obamis is lost, and so we hope for kindness.  But kindness does not apply to a ruling class that believes in hitting back twice as hard.  And so we hope for justice.

Justice? What hope of that when the supporters of the president get to cop all kinds of special carveouts and privileges?  When the insider rich get new privileges in the same bill that raised taxes on the rich overall?  So we hope for ritual.

Ritual?  Why in the Obama years we don't even do the budget resolutions and "regular order" appropriations.  In fact, we don't really even do the replacement ritual for regular order appropriations any more, the "continuing resolutions."  Because now we lurch from debt crisis to fiscal cliff to sequester.
Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion.
What do you think, America?  

Are we into the beginning of confusion, or right in the middle of it?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

GOP Civil War: Does it matter?

Conservatives seem to be having a grand old  time arguing about what to do.  Should we be sidelining Tea Party extremists with Karl Rove?  Or teaching Rush a lesson with S.E. Cupp?

Should we return to the William F. Buckley Jr. policy of supporting the most conservative politician that can get elected? Or should we be doing full-bore conservatism, as Rush always recommends?

Who, in other words, will own the future?

Who knows?  The fact about US politics is that the marginal voter is a lot more liberal that an average Republican candidate, and a lot more conservative than the average Democratic candidate.  So getting elected is always a crap-shoot; you need to get your people to the polls, but you need to avoid turning off the moderates and the partisans in the other party.

Everyone wants the government to spend money on them, but they think that someone else should pay more in taxes.

In the next four years, I suspect that the big political story will be the gradual collapse of the Obama permanent campaign, the ability of the Obama people to define political reality.

In the last decade we have experienced an extraordinary political campaign by the entire liberal universe.  It started with the campaign to demonize President Bush as the "selected, not elected" president, and it extended into the opportunistic campaign against the Iraq War.  Then it morphed into the 2006 mid-term campaign when the Democrats ran a slate of center-right candidates to take back the House of Representatives.  Then, of course, it was the campaign to elect Barack Obama as a post-partisan moderate.  Then there was the push for ObamaCare.  In the last two years it has been a campaign against Republican obstructionism.

During the whole decade the Democrats and the media have managed to achieve an astonishing message discipline as they seamlessly switched from one phase to the next.  How did they do it?  I think they did it because of the utter determination in liberal-land to restore the liberal project.

The problem is that the resumption of the liberal project is going to end in the most almighty mess: debt default, entitlement cuts, inflation, hardship.  The "manufactured consent" (thanks Noam Chomsky) of the last decade is going to collapse.

When that happens it won't matter how the conservatives and the beltway Republicans have been arguing and posturing in the months after the 2012 election.  Politics will become a whole new ballgame, and it will all depend on the mood of the American people.  Will they want to blame insurance  companies for ObamaCare, or the federal government?  Will they blame Obama and Helicopter Ben Bernanke for the inflation or greedy oil companies?  Will they blame the Democrats for the bad economy or obstructionist Republicans?

In the new environment it will all depend on the qualities of the individual candidates running for election and the excellence of their campaigns.  Because there are always people that want to loot the corporations on one side, and people that want to get the government out of the way on the other.  The question at election time is which approach wins the support of the folks, the so-called "low information voters" in the middle.

So I say, let's have it all out between the conservative and Republican factions right now.  Then, when 2014 and 2016 come along, let's fight the elections and win them.

And stop worrying about whether the other guys will ruin the party.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What Women Want, Pt 37

Yes, what do women want?  It's the eternal complaint of men, because our lives are much simpler than women.

First we want a job, the kind of job that means that women will give you a second glance.  Then we want to get laid.

Women are more complicated because they want to be able to conceive, raise, and launch children.

So what about President Obama's universal pre-K proposal?  Is that what women want?  To get their children off their hands so they can get back to work and continue their careers?

Not exactly, writes Penelope Trunk.  Never mind that "Universal pre-K is bad for everyone."  And she has the links to prove it.
  • Preschool does not help most kids.   The children of educated parents don't need pre-school; they are better off playing.  Boys especially.
  • We do need good childcare. "Parents who are home with their kids want to have a break from their kids."  Of course, that's what the schools do for us.
  • Universal pre-K is 1950s feminism.  It assumes that women want careers.  But actually most women want to raise their children and work part-time.
  • Schools are a waste of time.  Middle-class parents are waking up to this.  After all, universal schooling was intended to train up the children to be factory workers.
  • What about dead-beat dads?  Promote marriage and go after dead-beat dads.  So more women can stay home and raise their kids.
In other words, writes Trunk:
In light of the overwhelming evidence that kids and parents are better off without preschool, let’s use the funding for universal pre-K to help parents create safe, stable environments where they stay home with their four-year-old kids.
Hey!  Why stop there?  Why not end the hugely expensive programs paying seniors like me huge pensions and healthcare bills and return the money to the workers so that they can work less and spend more time with their children?

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Welfare State is Here to Stay?

Get a grip conservatives, writes Heather Wilhelm in her review of Peter Berkowitz's Constitutional Conservatism.  The welfare state is here to stay.  What conservatives -- libertarians and social conservatives -- need to do is propose how to reform it.

The easy response to that is Peggy Lee's.  Is that all there is?  All we can hope for is a little fiddling at the margins of big government?

But that pessimistic outlook ignores the difference between morality and politics.

Politics is the art of the possible, and right now politics is a contest of voting for free stuff.  And who can ignore the lure of the free stuff?  Not conservatives.  Conservative Carrie Lukas recalls the temptation of subsidized pre-school:
I lived in one of those celebrated European cities, Vienna, Austria, for two years, during which time they created a city-wide subsidy for  “preschools”...  When I no longer had to pay almost anything for my 4-year-old daughter, I signed her up for a longer day to make it easier on me.  I also enrolled my 2-year-old for the mornings.
So now the Obama administration is proposing not just universal pre-school but a jump in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 per hour.  Who  couldn't benefit dropping the kids off or from more money at an entry level job?

The RedState guys propose that conservatives act like a wrecking crew, by proposing an even higher minimum wage--especially for fast-food and nail-salon workers--to teach those suburban moms a lesson.

But they only show that right now, "free stuff" rules, and so conservative politics must continue to dance around the disaster that is welfare state politics, trying to limit the damage.

"Real change," requires more than politics.  It requires a moral revolution, the kind of revolution that led to the American Revolution and the end of slavery.  That is what it would take to enroll the folks that I call "people of the marginalized self" into the ranks of the People of the Responsible Self.

In other words, welfare moms have to believe that having a child out of wedlock is a damning sin, because it ruins their child's life.  Middle-class Americans have to believe that breaking up is a damning sin because it utterly demoralizes their children.  Laid-off middle-aged workers have to believe that it is a damning sin to come up with a back ailment and get on Social Security's disability program instead of sucking it in and taking a job with less status or accepting a cut in pay.

People don't think that stuff up and change their lives on their own.  Instead they get swept up in the hysteria of a great moral movement, like the Great Awakening of the 1740s, and the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and early 1960s.  Think about gays all suddenly deciding that the most important thing in the world is gay marriage.  Where did that come from?

The thing about moral movements is that, although they are led by leaders, you can't turn them on and off like a light switch.  They answer the demands of the age, the inchoate feelings of the multitude that something is wrong with their lives.

But once you've got a moral movement on the march, then the politics is easy.  But that time is not yet, so that's why Peter Berkowitz is probably right.  Conservatives need to do the right thing, for now, and nibble around the edges of the welfare state.

But some day, come the revolution...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Kids are All Right. But...

What's the matter with kids today?  Why are they just sitting there taking it from the old 'uns like me?  If you ask me, they should be in the streets digging up cobblestones.

Instead, they are out voting for Obama and they are all in favor of bigger government.  That's what The New York Times's Sheryl Gay Stolberg found out when she went to the liberal college town of Missoula, Montana.
Sam Thompson, a 22-year-old environmental studies major at the University of Montana here, considers himself “fiscally conservative” but opposes cuts to Medicare; he expects to need health coverage when he grows old. Aaron Curtis, 27, a graduate student, admired Jon Huntsman, a moderate Republican, but could not stomach Mitt Romney’s opposition to same-sex marriage.
But really, what do you expect?  Here's a kid who's presumably spent his entire youth incarcerated in a government child-custodial facility, and about the only adults he's known have been the unionized, tenured, government functionaries we call "teachers." What else would he think?

The whole point of the Gramscian "long march through the institutions" is to get first crack at the young 'uns and "form their minds" as they used to do in Jane Austen novels.

But there is one thing to remember.  It's one thing to ram your ideology down the throats of the young.  The ultimate question is: will it work?  When the young heads full of mush get out in the world will they find that the ideas and the ideology that the tenured government functionaries have dished out actually work in their lives?

That's where we are with the millennials.  Their liberal teachers have taught them all the liberal PC stuff about the wonders of big government and the horrors of the patriarchy.  They have made girls into enthusiastic rowers and degreed them to a fare-thee-well.

And they have filled them full of propaganda about saving the planet and honoring traditionally marginalized minority communities.

But what's the point if there are no jobs for people with degrees in environmental studies?  What if the heavy lifting on the environment was done 40 years ago?

What if the government runs out of money for education and health care?  Do those millennials have a backup plan?

The point is that the ruling class of educated liberals have socialized the young generation to be nice obedient liberal drones, to be perpetual teenagers, in the words of Mark Steyn.

They have also socialized the young 'uns in "expressive individualism."  That's a fancy word for creative artist, and the notion goes back to the Romantic movement at the turn of the 19th century.

Expressive individualism is a fine thing, except that it's not very social, and humans are social animals.  The creative artist presents his--or latterly her--artistic vision to the world and then stands back waiting for the hosannas.

Only the world doesn't give a damn for his or her artistic vision.  In the classic Romantic narrative, the Romantic hero thereupon commits suicide, as in Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther.

Obviously, to take a Kantian approach, this is nonsense.  If everybody gave up and committed suicide where would we be?

There is worse.  The whole cult of the creative artist is a canard.  The most creative thing that almost anyone can do is to marry and create children and then create healthy, useful adults out of those children.  One in a million gets to be a famous artist or a famous scientist or a famous politician.  For those lucky few, immortality is obtained by individual creative endeavor.  But for the rest of us, immortality is our children.

The Big Lie of liberalism is the idea that the mainstream of courting, marriage, career, children is a boring cop-out for the conformist people of the racist, sexist, homophobe 1950s.

Of course, if you plan to be a supernova, then the conformist mainstream is nothing but a red dwarf.  But what if you are not cut out to be a supernova?  Then the only way for your life to mean something is to marry, have children, and leave this world with a goodly clutch of grandchildren.

That's something that the millennials will shortly be learning, good and hard.  Writer Sarah Hoyt's son already understands how hard things are going to be.  She writes:
I was talking to my son the other day and he said “Everyone in my generation has flat given up.  The height of our ambition is to someday have a job that actually allows us to live independently.  There’s no grand dreams for us.”
It's a pity that decades of liberal big government are going to make it really hard to live a mainstream life of career, children, and family.

I'd say that if the millennials have any grit in them at all, they will be really angry when they finally figure things out.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Rile up the Base for 2014

OK.  I get it.  The president's strategy for the next two years is to rile up his base for the 2014 mid-term elections.  So that's why his State of the Union speech was all about the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Violence Against Women Act, the minimum wage, more crony climatism, and more government planning, as in "manufacturing hubs."

Oh, and maybe some minor tweaks on Medicare, paid for by the wealthiest seniors.

If you wanted to enrage the rank-and-file opposition you couldn't do better than President Obama last night.  Just about everything he said goes against every sentiment that throbs in the heart of a conservative.

Oh, and by the way, Mr. President, what about your anti-science policies on climate change and wages?  We know, and the science is in on this, that the crude notion of carbon dioxide as the main driver of runaway climate change is questionable.  And we also know that the minimum wage creates unemployment.  I'm shocked, shocked at the blithe way in which you ignore settled science.

I listened to Thomas Hayes-Morrison on the radio yesterday.  He teaches business at his local college in Gainesville, Florida, and said simply that the folks he teaches, who are all trying to better their lives, voted for Obama because they wanted to keep their benefits.  Really, you can't blame them.  The economic outlook is cloudy and there is a big storm over the horizon.  Who wouldn't want a bit of insurance with a government benefit?

So when will those good folks be ready to say that it is time for a change?   that is the great political question.  And the answer is simple: When they are even more afraid.  When that government benefit doesn't seem like insurance at all, but a bus shelter about to be carried away by hurricane-force winds.

The president seems to be betting all his cards on getting his base out in 2014.  Really, that seems like a long shot, because in second midterms the incumbent president's party almost always loses seats.  I'd say that the best strategy would be to try to limit losses.

But what do I know.  Maybe the president in a genius and Nancy Pelosi will storm to victory in the House in 2014.

But the lesson from military history is that when you make a big gamble--like the Germans on the Western Front in early 1918--then the cost of failure in incalculable.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Progressive Era End-game

Probably there was no way for America but the Federal Reserve and the income tax.  "Everyone" was for it back in 1913.  It's what a modern country had to have.  Good central banking and a solid base of taxation to fund the social insurance programs invented in Germany by Bismarck.

But now we are approaching the end-game, according to Jay Zawatsky, natural gas guy and econ. professor.  It's either back to capitalism or the neo-fascism of Venezuela.
Given the power of the media and the inability of the current generation of Americans to withstand even minimal pain, the more likely new order will be one of increasing financial repression. 
He means that the Fed will keep printing money and maintain its zero-interest rate policy.  The ensuing inflation will hit "those who spend significant amounts of their income on food and energy."  Minorities and women hardest hit.

Zawatsky divides the nation into two opposing coalitions thus.  The Democrat coalition includes:
  1. The 1 percent financial elite.
  2. The 50 percent on the government dole.
The Republican side includes:
  1. The top 24 percent (after the 1 percent) business owners and non-union employers.
  2. The second 25 percent, the middle class with aspirations to the 24 percent.
Zawatsky sees the top 1 percent, the financial elite as the villains that "control the political elite through billions in direct and indirect campaign contributions," but I think he is naive.  He is buying into the left's "robber baron" narrative.

The financial elite and the crony capitalists are people paying tribute to the political elite.  It's important to understand this.  The modern ruling class is the class of educated progressives.  They rule through their ideas and through the free stuff with which they buy the votes of the bottom 50 percent.  They offer the 1 percent riches and influence in return for their contributions and their ideological support.  Ask yourself the question.  Can the 1 percent make and unmake careers in the political elite?  Not really.  Can the political elite make and unmake reputations and careers in the top 1 percent?  You betcha.

But the top 1 percent lives high on the hog, because they are very useful to the ruling political elite.

Here's another argument.  Over the past 100 years and more, the government has from time to time used the anti-trust laws to read the riot act to the rising big corporation of the time.  In the 1900s it was Standard Oil.  In the 1930s it was electric utilities and a nice union bill to tame the auto companies.  In the 1970s it was the anti-trust case against IBM.  In the 1990s it was anti-trust against Microsoft.  Now the target is Google.

What is the common thread through these actions?  These were powerful businesses growing to enormous size that were not much interested in government.  They made their money just by being first and best.  

But, as these corporations all learned, to paraphrase Trotsky:  "You may not be interested in government, but government is interested in you."  Government is force; politics is power.  When politicians see a potential rival they act to cut the rival off at the knees.

But back to the future of America.

The key to the future is what happens after the crash, what happens the day after the entitlement programs fail and the "increasing financial repression" fails.

On that day conservatives better be ready with an answer that will appeal to the broad majority of the frightened and desperate American people.  Or it's Argentina/Venezuela time.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Economics and Christianity

Everyone is eager to get Jesus on their side.  Even secular liberals.  They like to assert the opposition of Jesus to the money-changers in the Temple and the message of His Sermon on the Mount to show that Jesus was a socialist.

On the other hand there is The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, in which the German Max Weber noticed the development of the idea of "work as a calling" and its connection with the Protestant Reformation among the bourgeoisie in the early modern period.

On this reading of Christianity, God wanted Christians to love Jesus and work hard.  By the time that John Wesley came along, taking Christianity to Industrial Revolution mechanics and the saintly Dinah Morris of Adam Bede, the idea had boiled down to "work all you can, save all you can, give all you can."

In politics religion started out in the US as the water that politicians swam in, but by 1900 the parties had divided out so that, in the North, the Republicans were Protestant and the Democrats were Catholic.  Today, of course, the Republicans are the religious party and the Democrats are the secular party.

So it isn't surprising that Christians of all kinds are coalescing in the Republican Party and bringing their  concerns with them.  Liberals have not been slow to label this movement as the Religious Right, which they mean as a pejorative.

The thing about political parties is that they are coalitions.  The Republican Party is a coalition of six different kinds of conservatism, according to Ken Blackwell.  They include:
  1. Social conservatives
  2. Christian conservatives
  3. Second Amendment conservatives
  4. Economic conservatives
  5. Philosophical conservatives
  6. National security conservatives
The thing about being in a coalition is that you start to listen to the other folks in the coalition.  Economic, philosophical conservatives like me start to listen to Christian conservatives.  Hey, these guys are getting the business from liberals just like me.  That's why economic conservatives have been going pro-life over the years.

And the opposite is true.  Christian conservatives are signing on to basic Reaganite economics.   They are deciding that big government is not just hostile to them as Christians and as families but as workers and savers.

Here's an example of what I mean: the video series Economics for Everybody produced by R. C Sproul Jr. and Thomas Purifoy.  There's a two hour version on YouTube.

What do Sproul and Purifoy have to say?  That God calls us to stewardship, work as a calling.  That government is all about force, punishing evildoers.  Then they dive into basic economics: prices, private property, division of labor.  And how only a government with a capitalist economy allows people to produce for their families and to worship under freedom.  Then it's on to the redistributive state and its two poles, the welfare state and the corporate state.

Nothing remarkable here.  Christianity began two thousand years ago in the Axial Age when religions were all responding to the emergence of the "responsible self," the idea that the individual could make a difference in the world.  Responsible selves were differentiating themselves out of the undifferentiated "we" and asking what their individual role is in this world, this universe.

On this view, of course, the welfare state is a regression, turning the clock back to the age before the emergence of the responsible self.  On this view you identify yourself by race, class, gender or sexual preference, not as an "I", a responsible, purposive ego.

My view is that the history of the last 2,000 years is the history of successive groups emerging as responsible selves.  First it was the "rich bitches" like the Indian prince Gautama Siddhartha.  Then it was the city folks in Roman Palestine, then city folks all over the Roman Empire.  Then it was the early modern bourgeoisie, then the industrial mechanics.  Now, of course, in Pentecostalism, we are seeing Christianity breaking out in the favelas of Latin America and the shanty towns of southern Africa.  Then there are the house churches in China.  

But when will the spirit bring the 47 percent out of their welfare state hellhole in these United States, and shake off the chains of victimhood for the apparel of the responsible self?  Then they can join the conservative family as the seventh member, minority conservatives.

When that happens people will speak of the new minority conservatives "as waking from the sleep of ages, to the astonishing idea that they can be responsible beings, called to a life of purpose by a God that will never forsake them."

For that, we can only hope and pray.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Flap over SI and Christians in the NFL

The guys putting out enthusiast magazines, from sports to what the Brits call "lad" magazines, understand that they are second-class citizens.  They do not count in the best circles as much as folks that write for The New York Times.

So there is always a temptation to correct that with a bit of high-toned liberalism, to show that the magazine's editors really could make it at The New York Times.  But hey, someone has to write for the rubes!  Such an effort is the Mark Oppenheimer piece on Christianity in the NFL, "The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth" in Sports Illustrated.

It's a perfect liberal hit piece on the NFL and Christianity.  Did you know that Christian football players were hypocrites?  That they don't turn the other cheek when the refs make a bad call?  That some people in the NFL are opposed to gay marriage, although not as much as they used to?  And did you know that student "athletes on average score lower than the general student population on tests of moral reasoning, and athletes in 'male, revenue-producing contact sports' are the most deficient of that group"?

Oh no!

It's no surprise that, when a liberal Jew writes an article about Christianity and athletics, he serves up all the usual liberal bromides on religion.  Heck, that's probably in his job description.  And it is delightful for conservatives to get all hot under the collar about it, like genre writer Andrew Klavan.  And fun to have radio host Hugh Hewitt eviscerate Mark Oppenheimer in real time.

Look.  Of course athletes would score lower on moral reasoning.  Modern sports is war for young men by other means.  And a jolly good thing too.  Sports celebrities aren't likely to have exquisitely refined views on all the favorite liberal issues like gay marriage.    But hey, how about an article on Christianity in sports as it relates to Max Weber's notions in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.  I would think that a religion that exalts "work as a calling" would go really well with a highly focused activity like top-level professional sports, as bacon goes with eggs.

But who needs that?  Not when you are burnishing your liberal credentials at a sports magazine.  The whole idea is to show that, even though you have to push out the deadly enthusiast stuff week after week, you really long for higher things, just like the chaps and chapettes at The New York Times.

Sorry, I have to close here.  I feel the need to write a long thumb-sucker article about politics and liberal hypocrisy.  How come that liberals, who believe in equality and liberation, are the most snobbish people in America and want to treat everyone as though they were serfs on the liberal manor?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

GOP Wobbly on Sequester

Look out below! The House GOP is going wobbly on the "sequester."  That's the modest $1 trillion spending cut agreed to by the president and Congress back in the debt-ceiling deal of August 2011.

You'll remember that the president wants to replace the spending cuts with a "balanced package" of spending cuts and tax increases.  Now that the cuts are looming ahead like linebackers, GOPers representing districts with defense workers want to punt.
The problem for Boehner is that while his members generally support his position, they are unhappy about having to explain these cuts back home. Privately, GOP members say, they never thought that Congress would actually implement these specific cuts.
“We all voted for this, but we thought at the time that both parties wouldn’t want to see this happen, so it’d make us work together,” says a House Republican close to the leadership. “Both parties still don’t want to do this, but it looks like we may be forced to, if the president keeps insisting on new taxes.”
It just shows the basic problem with modern government.  It's easy to talk about small, limited government, but nobody got pitched out of Congress for bringing home the bacon.

Here is Michael Barone praising  House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for his "outside" game, appealing to voters with poster boys and girls.
He spoke not of educational block grants, but of having federal education "follow children" to schools their parents choose.
In a move reminiscent of presidents' State of the Union messages since 1982, he brought along Joseph Kelley, who sent his son, Rashawn, and his three daughters to private schools with money from a District of Columbia voucher program the Obama administration has tried to shut down.
He criticized the Obamacare tax on medical devices by bringing a Baltimore nurse who worked to develop replacement discs for patients with back pain and then needed one herself. She was wearing her cervical collar.
He brought 12-year-old Katie, from Richmond, who has been treated for cancer almost all her life, to illustrate Republican support for funding basic medical research.
See what he is doing?  He is making the case for spending: on block grants, on medical research, you name it.  More goodies, more practical help for people.  And you know what he is trying to do.  He is trying to appeal to women.

Sorry.  But to me, Cantor is playing on the Democrats' turf.  Maybe that's all we Republicans and conservatives can hope to do.  Maybe that's the only way we will ever be able to appeal to women: dangling goodies in their faces for them and their loved ones.

But here is my problem.  If conservatism means anything it is that the health of the nation and society depends on people cooperating and helping each other outside the context of big government handing out goodies.  It means children with a married mother and married father.  It means people clubbing together to make education work.  It means a whole civil society of people working together to help each other.  It emphatically does not mean politicians bribing people for their votes, reducing human society to a scramble for entitlement loot.

Maybe there is nothing that conservative politicians can do, absent a moral revolution that declares the bidding for government loot to be as evil as bidding for human flesh at a slave auction.  After all, plenty of people made lots of money out of slaves for thousands of years without bothering themselves too much about the morality of it.

Nothing will really change until women mount a moral revolution that declares government goodies as stuff that hurts mothers and makes babies grow up into monsters.

So let the spending roll on!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Root Cause: Fatherlessness

We educated types are pretty strong on the -essness words.  Joblessness, helplessness, and, of course, fatherlessness.

It's all part of the purposelessness of the average beneficiary of the administrative welfare state.  To have a good solid administrative state you need a good supply of the jobless, the helpless and the purposeless.  So you can help them with good solid government program.  And more to follow.

Falstaff knew all about it.  In fact he could ramble on forever on the subject:
A good [government program] hath a two-fold
operation in it. It ascends me into the brain;
dries me there all the foolish and dull and curdy
vapours which environ it; makes it apprehensive,
quick, forgetive, full of nimble fiery and
delectable shapes, which, delivered o'er to the
voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes
excellent wit. The second property of your
excellent [program] is, the warming of the blood;
which, before cold and settled, left the liver
white and pale, which is the badge of pusillanimity
and cowardice;
And so on.  The problem is that, while a good government program, like a good sherris sack, is wonderful for Sir John, it isn't so good for the average person, especially when taken to excess.

Because the root cause of all that helplessness and joblessness and gun violence and welfare is fatherlessness.  That was highlighted in a couple articles in The American Spectator.

Item: Gun violence.  It does not occur too much out in the leafy suburbs, but has been notable in the inner city where families have broken up consequent upon the demoralization of men following the migration to the city.  It starts in American history with the Irish in the mid 19th century and The Gangs of New York and the 50,000 "nymphs of the pave."  Of course by the end of the century the Irish had progressed from "shanty Irish" to "lace curtain Irish" and the Catholic Church had made the nymphs into nuns and the gang members into fathers.  But that was before the administrative welfare state.

Now of course the problem is young fatherless blacks and Hispanics.  Without fathers they act out in the streets in the archetypal "men's house" gang.  But for President Obama, fatherlessness isn't the problem. Peter Ferrara:
More government spending for mental health, more federal spending for the local government responsibility for cops on the beat, and confirmation of a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Ah yes, the need for another federal bureaucrat is really a root of the problem of gun violence.
Item: There is, as it happens, an organization that was founded over a century ago to deal with the broken family in the urban inner city.  It is called the Boy Scouts--in the US, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).  It socializes boys (originally lower-income boys) under the control of non-gang older males.  Which is the way that societies usually socialize their boys.

But liberals, of course, want to muck around with the Boy Scouts, and end their ban on homosexual scout leaders.  Actually the Boy Scouts go further than banning gay scout leaders.  They have a rule that a scout leader cannot be alone with a Boy Scout.

You can see the blaring irony of this.  Here we have a stodgy old civil society institution that actually does something to mitigate the plague of fatherlessness by creating opportunities for fatherless boys to spend time in their teenage years around real fathers.  What do liberals want to do?  Liberals want to meddle with it, to advance their liberation agenda.  Not that a liberal parent would want to see their son within a country mile of the Boy Scouts.  But not to worry, writes Mark Tooley:
Defenders of the BSA’s current policy cite Canadian scouting having lost over half its membership in five years after liberalizing its membership standards in 1998, including accepting open homosexuality.
It's amazing.  Liberals seem to know by instinct how to weaken civil society and traditional culture to soften up society for more big government.

The basic difference between conservatives and liberals is the difference between liberty and liberation. Liberty is the right to conduct a flawed, but moral and purposeful life in this world with the hope of salvation in the next; it is the freedom to make mistakes. Liberation is the hope for salvation in this world; it is the removal of the concept of mistake altogether.

This is a hard time for conservatives, as liberals press the pedal to the metal on their entire agenda.  It is small comfort to recall apothegms like: "experience keeps a dear school" or  that democracy is the idea that the people should get what they want: good and hard.

But then, conservatism does not offer salvation in this world.  So who's complaining?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Government, Guns, and Max Weber

Max Weber, the German sociologist famous for his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, is not known as a gun nut.  But he had some interesting things to say about the relationship between armed citizens and big government.

In his posthumous General Economic History he does a tour d'horizon of the feudal era.  We tend to think of that era as a pretty fixed order, with landed aristocrats at the top and serfs at the bottom.  But of course things were much more complicated than that.  Some peasants owned land, others rented land, still others owed labor to their landlords.  But there is one theme that runs pretty clear.  People that owned their own weapons were accorded much more respect in the feudal era than people without the means to arm themselves.

I wonder why.

Weber also has interesting things to say about the rise of the cities.  Generally, when cities start up, the inhabitants still look to their blood kindred out in the countryside for identity.  They don't really form an urban community.  And often the local princes make darn sure that they don't.

But when the city inhabitants start to think of themselves as individuals that swear allegiance to the city--instead their blood kindred--then things start to change.  They especially change when the city develops its own citizen militia, armed with weapons provided by the citizens themselves.

Because, of course, the landed princes don't give no respect to people that don't have the power to make their presence felt in the calculus of power.  But when a city becomes an armed power, then the princes pay attention.

Now of course, when the Founders put in the Second Amendment to the Constitution they were 200 years closer to the old tradition of the citizen militia than we are. (Think of Rembrandt and his painting of "The Night Watch," a local Amsterdam company of musketeers).  So the Founders possessed in their cultural heritage the idea that involved citizens would naturally band together in armed companies to meet the exigencies of city life.

And there is no doubt that government at all levels respects people with the means to inject themselves into the power equation.  Government is force, after all.  So if you want to play in the game of force, you had better have credible reputation in the force department.

Something to think about as our modern ruling class attempts, once again, to disarm the populace.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Why Liberals Fight Inequality

Why do liberals keep banging on about inequality?  Look: per capita income has gone from $3 per day to $100 per day in the last two centuries.  After going nowhere since forever.  So why worry that some have too much when everyone is doing better?

It all comes down to my mantra: Government is Force.

Reduced to its essentials, government is an armed minority defending some territory from enemies, foreign and domestic.  And it doesn't matter if the government is a government of male chimps defending their territory for its food or American anti-communists defending the world against godless communism.  The point is you defend against foreign pirates and predators and against the domestic kind too, whether burglars or criminal gangs.

But liberals beg to differ.  They don't think we need to spend all that money on defense.  In fact, following chaps like Noam Chomsky, they believe that the problem in the world is US imperialism not godless communism or Islamofascism.  Nor do they believe that a vigorous pursuit of domestic criminals is appropriate since their violence and criminality is really due to "root causes" like poverty and discrimination.

Good.  So now we can dispense with government completely?  Because if government is force and the traditional functions of government are no longer front and center, then we don't need the armed forces to defend our borders.  Nor do we need the police forces to defend against criminals.

How wrong can you be!  Our liberal friends had already seen the problem a century ago when William James wrote his celebrated essay of "The Moral Equivalent of War."  Without the unifying and character-building of real war, he wrote, we would need to inculcate its virtues with the moral equivalent.  As in a war on want, a war on poverty, a war on cancer.

And now we have the war on inequality.  The president's Osawatomie speech was the official Obamian declaration of war.  And Alan B. Krueger, then Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, backed him up with a speech(pdf) on January 12, 2012.  The just war declaration depends on the following:
  • Since "the 1970s income has grown more for families at the top of the income distribution".
  • The "median household suffered saw a decline in real income in the 2000s."
  • The "top 1% of families saw a 278 percent increase in their real after-tax income from 1979 to 2007, while the middle 60% had an increase of less than 40 percent."
Then Krueger gets to the causes, according to a poll of economists, in declining order of importance:
  1. Skill-based technical change, and a "slowdown in the growth of the supply of relatively highly educated workers in the US".
  2. "Other and unknown factors."
  3. Globalization.  Some have benefited, "but other workers have been left behind by globalization".
  4. Union membership has declined, and union membership raises the wages of the lower middle class "so they can make it into the middle class".
  5. "Tax changes in the early 2000s benefited the very wealthy by much more than other taxpayers", and only three countries "have tax systems that reduce inequality by less than the U.S."
So what is to be done?  I'm glad you asked that.
  • The "Affordable Care Act is already helping middle class families."
  • It "is critical to take the steps necessary to ensure that the current economic recovery continues", e.g. through the extension of the payroll tax cut.
  • "Regulate excess risk-taking and corrupt practices in financial markets."
  • Adhere to the Buffet Rule, where those "making more than $1 million should not pay a lower share of their income in taxes than middle class families."
Oh yeah.  Big deal.

Krueger closes by asserting that "more fairness to the economy would be good for all parts of American society."  Oh by the way, "this isn't about class warfare."  But you knew that.

Notice what doesn't get a mention in this speech?  Right first time.  Government entitlements.  The collapse of the lower-income family.  The retreat of lower-income men from work and marriage.  The penal marginal tax rates on the poor.  The credentialization of work.  The meddling of government in the credit system.

And that's leaving out other things.  Maybe the inequality growth in the 1980s was a delayed reaction to the corporatism of the 1950s and 1960s that fast-froze economic relations.  Maybe it had nothing to do with government, but just reflected the computer and information revolution.  Maybe there were just astonishing profit opportunities (remembering that profit is always unexpected gain) out there and chaps like Gates, Jobs, Dell, Hamm and Co. saw an opportunity and took it.  Notice that, except fort Bill Gates, son of a prominent lawyer, the others were relative nobodies: Jobs the adopted son of a mechanic and carpenter; Michael Dell the son of a stockbroker; Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, started out pumping gas, and often missed school to help pick cotton.

But that's not the point.  The point is that government is force.  When you have decided that you don't need force to defend our borders, then you naturally turn to other things.  Like inequality.  And you never think that, wow, maybe our previous efforts at force haven't worked out too well.  You don't ever think of that.  Your mind just turns to increased taxes and increased entitlements.  And more regulation of the financial markets, which have been only recently wrecked by reckless government actions and subsidies.

Jonah Goldberg writes today that people are pretty commonsensical about local government.  But when we think about the federal government we get all religious:
we've come to see the federal government as some sort of mystical entity empowered to right all of the wrongs in society. If there's a problem, there "should" be a federal response, the costs or feasibility of that response be damned.
Notice the problem here.  We are mixing up church and state.  Mystical entities are supposed to be kept in churches.  Because government is force.  When you combine church and state and start legislating morality to "right all of the wrongs in society" then you get into trouble.

Government is about force.  Religion is about meaning.  When you mix the two you tend to get wars and crusades and the little people get crunched in the middle.

Assuming that you care about the little people.