Tuesday, January 31, 2012

End of Mitt Milquetoast

The Republican voters, the pollsters tell us, are interested in one thing: a candidate that can beat Barack Obama.  Presumably that's why we fell in love with Newt Gingrich for half an hour when he beat up the media and liberals in the debates before the South Carolina primary.

The Romney campaign learned something from South Carolina and we learned something about the Romneyites.

To get back on top after the South Carolina loss the Romney campaign had to fight back against the surging Newt Gingrich.  The New York Times chappies Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny helpfully gave us a little insight into the Romney operation as it responded to the Gingrich challenge.
In a call last Sunday morning, just hours after Mr. Romney’s double-digit loss to Mr. Gingrich in the South Carolina primary, the Romney team outlined the new approach to the candidate. Put aside the more acute focus on President Obama and narrow in on Mr. Gingrich.

Find lines of attack that could goad Mr. Gingrich into angry responses and rally mainstream Republicans. Swarm Gingrich campaign events to rattle him. Have Mr. Romney drop his above-the-fray persona and carry the fight directly to his opponent, especially in two critical debates scheduled for the week.
That's what we have been wanting to read for months.  We want to know that the Romney campaign has the depth and the toughness to take on the Obama Chicago machine.  We want to know that the Romney campaign has the will to win.  Now we know.

Now we know that when the Romney campaign got behind, it had the organization, the means and the will to mount a kill-and-destroy mission to shoulder its way back into the lead.

That's what we have been waiting for.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Leaders Must Be Winners

Why are leaders such cowards?  Why do they duck the hard decisions for decades?  Why is Jerry Brown, in his 70s, unwilling to stand up to the unions in California?  Steven Greenhut:
Many of us had hoped that Brown, who no longer seeks higher office, would embrace the tough work of real governance and take on his own allies—i.e., the public sector unions—who are the key obstacle to reviving California.
Since politicians long to be of consequence, what's the problem?  Why do they duck the hard issues?  Jay D. Homnick listened in on Sen. Jim Talent (R-MO) as he spoke to some Jewish voters in Florida about the problem.
Firstly, they like to be popular and do not look forward to butting heads with an entrenched hostile constituency. Secondly, they always want to be associated with success and removed from failure; why take on challenges where the likelihood of emerging as a victor is minimal?
"When was the last time you heard a candidate for Governor build his campaign around the pledge to revitalize urban education?"
There is a paradox here.  For a politician to be remembered, he needs to hold office at a time when tough decisions are needed.  But politicians know that they can't "face tough issues" when the voters don't want the tough issues faced.  That way leads to electoral defeat and the end of a political career.  But people want to be led by winners.  There is something instinctual about that.

Rahm Emanuel is right. You should never let a crisis go to waste.  But let us look at his cynical comment seriously.  Between the lines he is saying that you cannot get the voters to agree to change unless things are falling apart.  For years, Republicans have wanted to "reform entitlements," but the American people didn't want them to.  Why?  Because they are not broken.  Not yet.  When the crisis finally comes, then the American people will be ready for a strong leader to reform entitlements and lead them to the Promised Land.

Of course, Republicans and conservatives say that The Obamis have utterly bungled their crisis opportunity in the winter of 2009.  Instead of courageous action to fix the budget they used the crisis to double down on their failed big-government project with stimulus for Dems and ObamaCare for the uninsured and crony capitalism for green energy.

This year, we are going to find out if the American people agree with the Republicans about Obama.  You'd have to say that, if they do, Mitt Romney, crisis manager and corporate turnaround specialist, is just the president that Hollywood central casting would choose.  Mitt looks like a strong leader, and he has the record of a strong leader and a winner.

And people want winners to lead them through tough times.  It's in the genes.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Anguish of the Reactionary President

Back in the old days, rulers ruled.  They ruled over everything, from church, to military, to trade.

But then came the modern mechanical era.  God no longer kept the planets in their orbits, and an "invisible hand" seemed to guide merchants and consumers without the constant intervention of a wise ruler.

What is a ruler to do?  He worries about "inequality."  Not because he's caring and compassionate, or even because he's a brilliant technocrat, but because if you want to meddle with the workings of the "invisible hand" you have to start out by saying that the "invisible hand" isn't doing the job.  It's making some people too rich and leaving some people behind as too poor.

Thus Marx.  Thus the British Fabians.  Thus the American Progressives.  Thus the New Deal.  And thus our modern "progressives," university liberals, and President Obama.

It's not that the president is a socialist, but that socialism is just one phase in the serial attempts of the modern educated elite to justify its rule over the "commanding heights" of the economy, the culture, and politics.

In President Obama's recent State of the Union speech, we see the box that he and his educated elite friends are in. They want to rule.  They want new programs.  They want new regulations.  They want to be patrons, and they want us to be adoring and grateful clients.

But the science is in.  The "invisible hand" really works.  And it really works better if the government isn't endlessly manipulating the economy to get out of its latest jam with money printing, debt defaults, and endless subsidies.

And now the educated elite has run out of money.  But the band plays on.

In his speech the president has to walk a fine line.  He must invoke the great narrative of American exceptionalism, quoting Abraham Lincoln.  But he must twist it to fit his ruling-class agenda.  Thus he invokes "fairness" to justify increased taxes on the rich.  Here's the data from the IRS on this.  The rich pay a huge chunk of federal taxes, the rest of the top 50 percent pay almost all the rest and the bottom 50 percent pay almost nothing.  What the bottom 50 percent do pay goes towards payroll taxes, i.e., Social Security and Medicare.

I've been arguing with a left-wing friend recently about "inequality."  He has a chart that shows that median income went up with average income in the 1950s and 1960s.  But since 1980 the median income has lagged the average income, so the rich have been getting more of it.

Folks like Walter Russell Mead and Megan McArdle tell why this happened.  The post-World War II economy was corporatist.  The benefits were parceled out by an inside deal between the Big Units: big government, big unions, and big corporations.  But this crony capitalism ran out of money in the 1970s, as the rest of the world recovered from World War II and began to compete.  But then breathtaking new developments in technology and commerce poured gigantic fortunes into the laps of the entrepreneurs that took the opportunities and made them into consumer products, men like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.  Then there was Sam Walton who built Wal-Mart up from nothing to become the world's biggest retailer.  There's nothing fancy about Wal-Mart, just hard work to buy low and sell low, and provide an emergency operations center so Wal-Mart can flood assistance into disaster areas.

But what about the salvific progressive political leader?  Where does he fit in all this?  He really doesn't.  We really don't need him.  That is why the educated elite keeps coming up with new end-the-world scenarios.  That's what political leaders and religious leaders have always done to persuade us to follow them.

And that's the point.  Obama ran for office as a salvific leader under whose transformative leadership the "rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."  But really, global warming is a crock, and we've been working successfully on the environment for half a century, since about the time that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii.

The great Montesquieu imagined the modern government with its separated powers: legislative, executive and judicial.  This was not an argument against tyrants, but an argument about the inevitable tyranny of a unified government.

Now we need to expand Montesquieu's ideas into a Greater Separation of Powers, between the political, the economic and moral-cultural sectors.  Obviously the scope and power of salvific political leaders will be much reduced.

President Obama and his ruling class will kick and scream all the way to their eventual irrelevance. Oh well.  I can handle that if you can.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Duck and Cover, Mr. President

I suppose that President Obama knows what he is doing with his class warfare strategy for reelection.  His State of the Union speech was complete with Warren Buffett's secretary, the one that pays more, percentage-wise, in tax that her boss.

But I'd like to warn you, Mr. President, that there is a ballistic missile en route that may well change the terms of trade in the current political argument.  The missile is Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010.  It shows that it's not a question of the One Percent versus the 99 Percent, as our Occupy friends suggest.  It is not a question of millionaires and billionaires not paying enough in taxes. It is more a question of the top 20 percent of the upper-middle class doing fine in America while the bottom 30 percent does not.

Last time Charles Murray had a blockbuster it was Losing Ground in the 1980s. That book was an analysis of the effect of the welfare state and its welfare programs.  It led to the reform of welfare in the 1990s.

The point that Charles Murray tries to make, over and over again, is that "inequality" is not a problem of millionaires and billionaires making too much money.  It is a problem of the governmenet spending too much money on the welfare state.

It sounds very caring and compassionate for the government to spend money on the poor.  If only it were true.  Instead government spending leads to the breakup of families and the idleness of men.

Government spending doesn't lead to idleness in the upper-middle class because, oddly enough, the government designed by the upper-middle class helps the upper-middle class do what it wants to do anyway: go to school, get a degree, get a job, start a family.  But the welfare state has the opposite effect on anyone below the upper-middle class.  It encourages women to choose the government over marriage, and it encourages men to abandon the mothers of their children.  Unmarried men tend to work less than married men--a lot less.  Also, of course, a bums-on-seats education system may work very well for the sons and daughters of the middle class, but not so well for the sons and daughters of the working class, where people learn more by doing that by listening to teachers.

I just have this feeling, Mr. President, that when we look back on 2012, we will remember not your 2012 State of the Union Speech, but the publication day of Coming Apart: January 31, 2012.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Obama is not a Friend of Catholics

You can understand that the liberal Catholics would want to find a way to support Barack Obama.  After all, he believes in a lot of the same stuff they do: social justice, and solidarity.  So it's not surprising that they would support Obama in 2008.

But now they are finding out that Obama isn't returning the compliment.  William McGurn in The Wall Street Journal:
Now, suddenly, we have headlines about the president's "war on the Catholic Church." Mostly they stem from a Health and Human Services mandate that forces every employer to provide employees with health coverage that not only covers birth control and sterilization, but makes them free. Predictably, the move has drawn fire from the Catholic bishops.

Less predictable—and far more interesting—has been the heat from the Catholic left, including many who have in the past given the president vital cover. In a post for the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winter minces few words. Under the headline "J'ACCUSE," he rightly takes the president to the woodshed for the politics of the decision, for the substance, and for how "shamefully" it treats "those Catholics who went out on a limb" for him.
The problem is that under ObamaCare Catholic charities will have to provide health insurance with birth control and sterilization.  No exemption.  No opt out.  Which rather signals that Obama and his crew aren't interested in helping their liberal friends in the Catholic Church.

McGurn says that this is a shame.
Conservatives may enjoy the problems this creates for Mr. Obama this election year. Still, for those who care about issues such as life and marriage and religious liberty that so roil our body politic, we ought to wish Catholic progressives well in their intra-liberal fight. For we shall never arrive at the consensus we hope for if we allow our politics to be divided between a party of faith and a party of animosity to faith.
 Of course, this rather misunderstands the problem.  Our politics is not divided "between a party of faith and a party of animosity to faith."  Our politics is divided between a party of transcendental faith and a party of secular faith.  On this view the liberal Catholics are fools to be supporting the party of secular faith.  Unless, of course, their real faith is the secular faith of big government and the subordination of civil society to the political sector.  Either way, liberals don't like any civil society organizations that are not subordinate to the liberal establishment, and they work, every day, to marginalize them and subordinate them to political power.

It's my view that the election this year is going to be a lot bigger than we think.  Because our mainstream media is so liberal, the discomfort with Barack Obama is still inchoate.  As the Republicans begin to campaign more vigorously against the president and get more bandwidth, I think we will see the needle start to move against the president.  When it does, our liberal friends will be shocked.  They will go into denial. They will not be able to deal with it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Educrats Chase Teenaged Sailor Round World

How about that 16-year-old Laura Dekker from Holland, who just finished a round-the-world solo cruise in her 38 foot ketch Guppy?

How about those child-welfare authorities that were hounding her and her parents?
Miss Dekker fled abroad in 2010 when Dutch child welfare authorities took legal action to try to stop her making the voyage. She later won a 10-month court battle, promising judges she would buy a bigger boat with advanced navigation equipment, take courses in first aid and coping with sleep deprivation, and enrol in a special correspondence school.
Godfrey Daniels, I hear you say.  Mother of Pearl.  Here we have millions of kids in the global underclass getting totally screwed by the family breakdown of the welfare state and the lousy schools, and the bureaucrats still have time to hound a rich-bitch kid and her parents over a teenage adventure.

Of course, there's nothing new here.   When Laura was 12 she made a solo trip from Holland to England, just like Arthur Ransome's Swallows in We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea.  Only in the Brit novel, it's Brit kids sailing to Holland instead of the other way around.  But really, the Dutch version is more realistic.  The Dutch are famous sailors.  Only they were sailing to the Spice Islands with the Dutch East India Company before the Brits got cracking with their own East India Company and the empire in "Injah."  The Brits learned about everything they know from the Dutch.

You can understand those child-welfare authorities.  Why, the very idea that some kid could escape the mandatory 12-year sentence to confinement in a government-approved child custodial facility!  Not to be endured!  What could be more important for a 15-year-old that sitting bored to tears in her government child custodial facility?

On the contrary.  Here we have a young woman, in her mid-teens, that has sailed around the world solo!  What matters whether she's done her math or her social studies or her sex education.  The education she just get in life is worth about five years of confinement in the government's child custodial facility.  This idea that government officials would have anything helpful to say to a girl and her parents about sailing, survival, navigation--and "sleep deprivation."  It is madness!

Yeah, you are saying.  What about "sleep deprivation" training for Italian cruise-ship captains?

In fact, scrub the "sleep deprivation" training.  What is needed, for survival in high adventure, is the training to act effectively when you are tired, panicked, and scared out of your tree in the middle of the night in the southern ocean.  I'm sure the bureaucrats have tons of experience with that.

But there's a bigger issue. (There always is.)  What in the Sam Hill are we doing allowing the government to bully us around with the raising of our children?  When are we going to rise up and tell the politicians and the bureaucrats to get lost and come back when they have their deficits, their debt, and their utterly failed programs under control?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Green "Fight Against Big Oil"

When actor Robert Redford writes that the Keystone XL decision is an historic victory against Big Oil.  He writes:
President Obama has just rejected a permit for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline -- a project that promised riches for the oil giants and an environmental disaster for the rest of us.

His decision represents a victory of historic proportions for people from throughout the pipeline path and all across America who have waged an uphill, years-long fight against one of the most nightmarish fossil fuel projects of our time.
Oh please, gag me with a spoon.  What about the 600,000 miles of pipeline in the US, mostly not as carefully designed as the Keystone XL?  And don't you realize, Mr. Redford, that the president is almost certainly planning to allow the pipeline to proceed, once he has got your money and your vote for opposing it?

As Joel Kotkin points out, the Keystone XL decision forced the president to side with "urbanista" America against the rest of America.

There is a word for this sort of issue.  It is called a "wedge" issue.  The idea is to unite your side while splitting the other chaps.  That's why the House Republicans put language in the two-month payroll tax cut that forced the president to make a decision on Keystone XL.  Considering that the Democrats had already planned to give up on the white working class this year, it's no surprise that they went with the bigger chunk of their base: the urbanista greens rather than the suburbanista working class.

I've been saying all along: Bring it on.  I'm a naturally conflict-averse chap, but I recognize that the great issues facing America have to be fought over.  The reason is that, in normal times, the "urbanista" agenda of the liberal educated class gets no pushback.  Mainstream media types run around boosting lefty issues, from wind and solar to "diversity" to "gay marriage," and attack anyone that disagrees with them and bigots or deniers, according to taste.

But a great election is a time when conservatives can contest in these ideological wars.  Thus the perfect storm of government debt, Great Recession, climate change,  ObamaCare, and energy prices create a crisis that will force the American people to confront the issues and make a choice.  In normal times, when there is not a crisis, it is very difficult to push back against the liberal agenda.

In normal times, liberals present their statist agenda as caring and compassion, pretending that they are conducting a national conversation in accordance with Habermas's discourse ethic.  In fact, of course, they are always playing political hardball and finding ways to silence their critics and turn the "discourse" into domination.  But in normal times they manage to persuade moderates that liberals are on the side of the angels.

In crisis times, like right now, conservatives get a chance to fight back against the liberal power plays.  We can argue that the "stimulus" spending and regulatory blizzard hurts ordinary Americans.  We can show that ObamaCare is a lie that will ration health care to America's grandmas.  And during an election conservatives can use paid media to balance the free media that supports liberal ideas.

What is really needed, of course, is for conservatives to make a Long March through the institutions so that the normal times discourse is balanced between liberal agenda and conservative agenda.  That is a huge challenge because it means, for a start, neutralizing the government education complex.  Then there is the liberal culture complex, the liberal foundation complex, and the liberal mainstream media.

At any rate, there's a good chance that an historic victory can be won in 2012 if President Obama is defeated and the US Senate goes Republican.  The mad statist government of 2009-2010 will have educated a whole new generation of Americans to mistrust government.

Meanwhile the liberal "victory" in the fight against Big Oil should remind Americans who is in favor of reducing the cost of filling their gas tanks.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Barack Obama, "Vulture Capitalist"

What is Mitt Romney going to do to scotch the job-killer label?  His Republican rivals have been ramping up criticism of the doings of Bain Capital, some have labeled him a "vulture capitalist."  If that's how Republican candidates think, then who knows what the Chicago guys on Obama's team will come up with.

Hugh Hewitt has a clever little sound bite on this.  He says that blaming Mitt Romney for job losses is like blaming the lifeboats for arriving too late at the sinking of the Titanic.

My own view is to try a health-care metaphor.  Corporate turnaround outfits like Bain are like surgeons.  They try to cure companies diagnosed with cancer.  Usually, of course, they only come in when the cancer is well advanced, because like people with a pain in their abdomen, the patient is in denial.  That's a pity, because advanced cancer often needs radical surgery.  It's almost always best to get cancer  in its early stages.

That's the business that Mitt Romney was in.  Diagnosing sick companies, coming up with a treatment plan, and then executing on the treatment plan.  Often times, of course, the treatment plan doesn't save the patient, or only provides a temporary improvement.

The Romney team evidently thinks that a direct attack on the president is the answer. Here's Romney in an airplane aisle.
Well, I’d like to look at Barack Obama’s record, and so as we talk about my experience in the private sector, I’ll talk about his experience… he’s now been a venture capitalist in Solyndra, Fisker, the Tesla… and he’s been a private equity guy in General Motors and Chrysler, so I’ll be talking about his record when I’m facing him.
That just shows why I'm not a campaign manager.  It hadn't occurred to me that Solyndra was just waiting there to neutralize the "vulture capitalist" smear.  But the Human Events reporter is livid with Romney's sarcastic answer.
Barack Obama is not a “venture capitalist” with a “record in the private sector.” The compulsory extraction of funding from taxpayers by force, to fund massive expenditures on politically favored companies run by top Obama campaign contributors, is not “venture capitalism.” It’s not really capitalism at all, although the term “crony capitalism” has become popular for describing it.
Quite right, of course.  Actually, there is a bigger problem with Romney's comment.  Most Americans really don't know the different between a "venture capitalist" and a "private equity guy."  But maybe they will after the 2012 election.  And that would be a good thing!

Sure, Romney didn't go on to spell out what is wrong with Obama's jolly little foray into venture capitalism.  But no doubt he will develop the idea in his speeches, in exactly the way that the Human Events guy did.   When the government gets into "venture capitalism" it isn't venture, it isn't capitalism, it's force, pure and simple; it is government rewarding its supporters with our money.  And the same thing applies when the government plays at the private equity game and bails out GM, the unions, and the banks.  President Obama doesn't risk his money or the money of investors looking for a risky play.  He is risking our money.  And we don't want the government taking big risks with out retirement savings.

The point is that if Mitt Romney can't turn the "vulture capitalism" issue around and make it a liability for President Obama then he's not a good enough politician to be president.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Make Some Lemonade, Mitt

Now that Mitt Romney has put his foot in it, saying, "I like being able to fire people," the whole question of his Bain Capital years has been put in play.  As Mark Steyn says,
McDonald’s makes hamburgers, but what does Bain do? Private equity, high-yield assets . . . golly, that sounds less like Main Street lingo and more like Wall Street; less to do with the kind of business built on the virtues of making and doing, and more to do with the kind of too-clever-by-half monkey business that came close to taking out the global economy in 2008.
The fact is, of course, that finance is a critical part of capitalism, and leveraged-buyout operations like Bain are right in there too.  The whole business of turning around failing businesses is a vital part of our economy.

You could say that the LBO boys perform a similar service to the health care industry.  Company gets sick, you send in the docs to figure out what is wrong.  With diagnosis in hand you come up with a treatment plan, which may include surgery, and probably will include life-style changes and more healthy exercise.

But if you talk to an average American she just wants to "save jobs."  The machinations of the turnaround artists are offensive to her.  People would rather not admit to losses until actual bankruptcy.  And, of course, an old-established firm is usually paying above-market wages to people that are not necessarily performing above the market.

Now that the fat is in the fire, Romney's people have to come out with a good story.  They must tell us that America is in a jam and we have to take bold action to get out of the jam and get the economy moving and return to prosperity.  Where would you look for someone with those talents?  Why, someone that had experience trying to turn failing companies around.  You certainly wouldn't expect a chap from a corrupt city machine to be of any use.

To start with, the Romney folks could make a campaign video to laugh at the "I like being able to fire people" meme.  He can put his "gaffe" up and then flash a picture of President Obama.  Or Harry Reid.  Or Nancy Pelosi.  Or the Goldman Sachs building.  Or some picture that says crony capitalism or bailouts.  Because America isn't going to get better until we've done some serious surgery on the body politic.

Mitt Romney needs to turn his lemons into lemonade.

Monday, January 9, 2012

What's the Story?

I suppose the Republican candidates are all busy fighting each other.  But I sure would like to get a feel for the story they are going to tell the American people come the fall.

It's not enough to be against Obama; you need to tell the story about why he is a disaster for America and why the Republican agenda is good for America.

For instance, I don't think that this Romney retort to an Occupy protester does the job.
“You know what?” Romney said. “This president has caused a deepening recession and is responsible for 25 million Americans being out of work or stopped working or not being able to get jobs, and let me tell you, this president’s been a failure and that’s one of the reasons I’m running is to help you get a job.”
Republicans need a better story than that.  OK, genius, you say, what's your idea?

I think it must start from the basic failure of Obama's presidency, the failure to realize in the transition after the election that the game had changed.  There just wasn't going to be the money to run off all the liberal agenda items that had been kept on ice for 20 years.  Forget the porkulus stimulus to pay off supporters.  Forget the cunning step towards single-payer healthcare.  Forget the uber-regulation of environment and energy.  Forget the wasteful infrastructure plans from high-speed rail to bike paths.

Of course, that would have been impossible for him.  To brush off his liberal supporters in 2009 would have been impossible.  But he could have slipped in a few policies to help gin the economy by lowering the costs of doing business.  He didn't of course, because Democrats don't think about things like that.  They don't think about helping the goose to lay the golden eggs; they just want the eggs.

So I think that the message should hit the truth that President Obama hasn't governed as a post partisan, hasn't worked to heal the divisions.  Instead he has pushed his left-liberal agenda as hard as possible, as if time was short and if he didn't get it done today he'd never get another chance.  Here's what I would say.

"Mr. President, you have wasted your chance.  You were elected at a moment of national peril, when you could have set the US on a new direction.  And you blew it.

"We needed jobs, and you gave us handouts.  We needed energy and you gave us crony capitalists.  We needed reform and you gave your pals bailouts.

"You talked of cutting spending, and you gave us waste.  You talked transparency, and you delivered back-room deals.

"You were elected to bring us together, and you forced us apart.

"You promised hope and change, and you gave us division.

"Your moment is wasted.  Your chance is gone.  America must come together under a new leader, a leader who will heal the wounds and lead us to prosperity.

"America needs a president who will unleash the power of America's workers and businesses and bring in a new age of prosperity.

"Some wail that the Republican agenda is nothing but 'austerity,' as governments are forced to cut back on programs.  I've got news for you, Mr President.  'Austerity' is when the people get less.  'Prosperity' is when the government gets less.

"Frankly, Mr. President, I don't care about the government.  I care about the American people.  And I am going to deliver prosperity.  Not to the K Street lobbyists.  Not to the crony capitalists. To the American people.

"It is the first thing I am going to do.  It will be the second thing I do, and it will be the last thing I do.

"I only care about one thing.  Bringing this economy back, and bringing America back.

"Because America is the last best home of mankind on earth. And America's 's best days are yet to come.

"God bless America."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Obama Deepens the Divide

The Gang of 14 that tried to compromise the Democratic filibustering of judges during the Bush administration had a reason for their fudge.  They knew that the "nuclear option" of demanding an up or down vote on judges would deepen the red-blue divide.  It would make Democratic supporters mad.

Politicians are famous for avoiding tough decisions; they know that people on the wrong side of a tough decision appear in force at the next election.  Politicians want their supporters to be energized and raring to vote.  They want the opposition to be divided and demoralized.

So when President Obama does a recess appointment of Richard Cordray as chief of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and three recess appointments on the National Labor Relations Board when Congress technically isn't in recess he is asking for a fight.  He is sharpening the red-blue divide in America.

When Republicans do this sort of thing the mainstream media regards it as outrageously "divisive."

I'm not anxious to argue the constitutionality of the president's actions.  Clearly the Republicans are playing games and using technical gimmicks to avoid a formal "recess."

My concern is something bigger.  It comes from my definition of "government is force, and politics is talking about force."  Or you could say that politics is civil war by other means.  On this understanding of politics and government you have in your mind all the time the fact that any winner on any issue in politics is winning a fight, not persuading the losers about an argument.  That is why politicians usually try to pass big issues with a "bipartisan majority."  They want to create the atmospherics of consensus, that everybody got something to take home with them.

The great achievements of the Obama administration have mostly been raw partisan victories: stimulus, ObamaCare, Dodd-Frank.  In addition the Obama victories have been expressions of the pure liberal approach to politics, that almost everything could and should be a bureaucratically administered program of regulation.  Thus there is almost nothing in the Obama achievements that conservatives have participated in and have supported.  Conservatives believe that government programs and regulations are wasteful at best and usually end up as a corrupt banquet of the special interests.

There was another time in our history when the nation was profoundly divided about its future and when each side used every trick in the book to get one-up on the opposition.  It was the 1850s in the run-up to the Civil War.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Can Romney Beat the Mark of Bain?

Candidate Mitt Romney advertises his private sector experience as a qualification for the presidency.  Democrats say that Romney at Bain Capital put "profits over people."

Here's Randy Johnson, a worker laid off when Bain Capital decided to close a plant during a labor dispute.  "I really think [Romney] didn’t care about the workers. It was all about profit over people."

It's interesting how union members, whose unions work through intimidation, are outraged when other people do the power play.

But there are many Americans that long for a lifetime job and bridle at the fluctuations in the capitalist market place.  They take personally the decisions of business leaders and blame them for the failures that hurt them personally.

Or, like a Seattle supermarket checker told me a year ago, they don't want to close the state liquor stores because they don't want to lose the jobs.

They are asking for something that they cannot have except under communism.  And that, we remember, was a system where the government pretended to pay the workers and the workers pretended to work.

One fine day, conservatives are going to have to persuade Americans that we are all better off if we let the market do its work, accept that businesses rise and fall, and that people suffer when once proud titans of industry fall to earth.

Because the future is uncertain, and many magnificent plans shrivel up in the cold light of day.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney needs to do something about the mark of Bain, and persuade us that he can  move the economy off its Obama dead center.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Decline of Violence and Guns

In his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker documents the extraordinary decline of violence, from 500 deaths per 100,000 per year in the non-state hunter-gatherer era, to about one tenth of that number in the agricultural state era to the present 1 to 5 deaths per 100,000 per year in the industrial democracies?

What did it?  Well, first of all, it was states with police and courts that put a stop to the private justice of feud and revenge.  And also the Humanitarian Revolution of the 18th century and the Rights Revolution of the 20th century.  And "gentle commerce."

So what about the conservative line of More Guns Less Crime?  Pinker notes that violence is higher in the South and the gun culture.

But it is also higher, he admits, in the inner city, where the peace of the Leviathan state doesn't extend.  That's because the police don't bother to enforce the law for the poor in the inner city.  The police "seem to vacillate between indifference and hostility,... reluctant to become involved in their affairs but heavy handed when they do so."  A Harlem police sergeant describes how this works.
Last weekend, a known neighborhood knucklehead hit a kid.  In retaliation, the kid's whole family shows up at the perp's apartment... The victim's family was looking for a fight... But all of them were street shit, garbage.  They will get justice in their own way.
The police and the district attorney could have prosecuted, but "none of them would ever show up in court."

This, of course, is why the conservative argument about guns and concealed carry works.  It's because liberals have so bollixed up the policing of the poor that the writ of the government of a monopoly on violence doesn't extend to the inner city.  Policing of the poor is a battle royal between liberals who say that violence is due to "root causes" like poverty and conservatives calling for law and order.  In that no-mansland, justice and policing have collapsed, and private justice obtains.

Fortunately, in some places, policing has been restored to the inner city.  There is Bill Bratton's work in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles, based on the "broken windows" theory of James Q. Wilson to prosecute minor disorders, and implemented through a system called CompStat that tracks crimes and measures the effectiveness of police in following up.

But the Bratton system is hard work.  The CompStat system requires leaders at the top to work hard pushing the neighborhood officers to perform.  You can't expect too much out of that when you consider that police are, after all, uniformed unionized bureaucrats.  And there are always liberal social justice groups looking for a way to accuse officers of "police brutality."  The default position for the police is just to show up and let the activists fight it out.

Steven Pinker has to tread carefully.  He can't rubbish his liberal friends too much, or they will trash his book.  But he wouldn't want to give conservatives too much credit.  That might encourage the fascists.  That makes his book into a work of Straussian esoterics.  For the street liberal, the book is OK because it mouths all the liberal shibboleths.  But if you know where to look, it tells a different story.

In my view, the whole thing comes down to commerce.  Business needs peace, and business encourages trust in strangers.  Fierce local and tribal rivalries are bad for business, and so, wherever business grows, violence declines.  It takes a lot of work by liberal and lefty agitators to keep the people enraged at greedy businessmen and corporations.

And wherever liberals have destroyed the peace with their destructive politics, people will need guns to defend themselves against liberal anarchy.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Pinker's Better Angels

Steven Pinker, who last scandalized us by insisting that humans are not The Blank Slate that social engineers want us to be is back with another.

This time in The Better Angels of Our Nature he is telling the story of the decline in violence--over the decades, centuries, millennia.  Then he tries to tell us why.

Yes, why is it that humans don't murder each other at the rate of 500 per 100,000 per year as they did in good old hunter-gatherer days?  Is it strong states, that suppress the private justice of feud and revenge?  Or the Humanitarian Revolution of the 18th century when the public square opened up to civil discourse? Or "gentle commerce" in which it pays for people to be nice to each other?  Or maybe the good offices of liberals that midwifed the Rights Revolution of the second half of the 20th century, de-marginalizing blacks, women, children, animals, and gays? Or all of the above?

When Pinker sets up a Manichean opposition between the Inner Demons and the Better Angels of our nature, you get a little uncomfortable and Brookeish.  Maybe it's time to pull up.  It's true that, e.g., the Church put a lot of effort into raising the consciousness of Church members in the late Medieval period and states curb private wars.  But the rise of Nazism and Communism required an intensification of conflict skills: counter-ideologies and a will to dominate the hated Hun and the cruel Commie.

It is not that violence is bad and peace is good.  Different times and contexts call for different measures.

But it seems to me that, if you are a liberal, you have to credit Darwinian natural selection.   Societies these days that feature more cooperation and less conflict seem to outperform societies that license conflict and mayhem.  No wonderful elite, just the working out of nature's plan.  Until the Mongols appear at the gates of Beijing or the Arians on the plain of Mother Ganga.  Then, all of a sudden, the skills of peace don't seem quite so urgent.

Pinker does at least provide tons of references to a groaning load of research, good, bad, and indifferent.  And for me the big take-away is the Public Goods game.  Here's how it works.

You give the players a pile of chips.  You suggest to players that they secretly put chips in a pot, which will be multiplied by a factor (often 2) and then shared out equally to each of them.  Typically, after a few rounds, only a hard core of givers continue to contribute.  Everyone else decides to keep their chips and take whatever the hard-core givers contribute.  The only way to get free-riders to contribute is to punish them.

Well now.  Who knew?  The only way you can get people to contribute to the public good is either to force them to contribute or punish them if they don't.  What a concept.

Like I said.  Government is force, and politics is talking about force.  And the force of government putting its hand into my pocket and forcing me to contribute is violence without the billy club.

The irony of Better Angels is that while liberals like Pinker boost the wonders of peace and non-violence it is liberals that encourage violence in the underclass, free-riding in the middle class, and a huge state that takes, by force, 40 percent of the national product.

That's why the Frankfurt School noticed that, while actual violence might go up or down, instrumental reason is always a tool of domination.  It is not a Better Angel as Pinker suggests.  It is a tool, for good or for ill.

That is something that we conservatives wish that liberals would realize.  Their wonderful rational plans, however well-intentioned, still amount to plans of domination.  And domination, according to Pinker, is an Inner Demon.