Hillaryious

katemckinnon

I will not be inclined to find any of this funny should Mrs. Clinton become President, as that is the day laughter dies. But until then, and because I don’t think it possible for a vapid cipher of nothingness to con Americans into making her Queen, The Hillary Clinton Experience is an uproarious one.

The Washington Post saw fit to run a countdown clock on its website to mark the time since Hillary last took questions from the press (40,150 minutes between Q&A’s for those keeping score). Kate McKinnon has committed her considerable talent to what could perhaps become the best Saturday Night Live political caricature ever. But what makes this all such a riot is how the media is coping with it all, which is to say they don’t know how to deal with it. Should they cover her more aggressively and demand that she get involved in the daily give-and-take, if only to better prepare her for the general? Or should they adopt a satisfied detachment and remark on how savvy Clinton is to go this route considering her 100% name I.D. Right now they fall somewhere in the middle, with the more professional journalists angry at the situation and hungry to do their jobs versus the sycophants and hacks of cable news who will offer the same critique no matter what she does: “Bravo.”

It wouldn’t be this way if the Democratic Party were not so bereft of political talent and not married to a single candidate whose only virtues are her last name and gender. If Hillary had real competition the liberal press would be hounding her and demanding that she speak with the implicit message that there are other options and “we’ll spurn you in a second if you can’t convince us you’re the genuine article. We’ve done it before.”

Hubris and arrogance are not typically mined for their comedy, but man alive is Hillary funny in her entitlement. When Alex Seitz-Wald refers to your entourage as a “palace guard” on MSNBC, you might want to reexamine your methods. If I was a handler for a candidate whose sense of entitlement dwarfed her actual accomplishments, I would probably caution against her acting arrogant and above it all, especially when scandal threatens to follow you throughout. And of all the transparently self-serving no-no’s, the one that would sit at the top of my list would be Citizens United. I would say, “don’t talk about Citizens United.” All progressives loathe Citizens United v FEC but you know who really truly despises it? Hillary Clinton. That’s because the whole case was about her. Citizens United wanted to produce and air a critical documentary on Hillary Clinton in 2008, a fairly standard practice (Michael Moore, anyone?) and well within the law and of course protected under the First Amendment. But that is not how the left views speech these days. They wish to control the flow of money to campaigns by granting the FEC the power to regulate which political speech is kosher and which is not. Calling this a slippery slope is like calling the Grand Canyon a hole in the ground. They screech in terror about billionaires and disclosure and “dark money” when in reality they are saying that bureaucrats at the FEC should set the landscape for political giving. If a federal agency has the power to declare movies and books critical of politicians invalid then it is game over for the First Amendment. And I get that progressives move closer everyday to making repeal part of the DNC platform, but Hillary? Citizens United went to the Supreme Court because Hillary Clinton was unhappy about a movie made about Hillary Clinton. The Supreme Court said the First Amendment still stands and therefore it is well within the freedom of a corporation to make whatever damn political movie it pleases. Naturally, this does not sit well with Hillary and the left, but if anyone should be recused from criticizing Citizens United it is Hillary Clinton. That she went right ahead decrying big money in politics anyway (she who made $30 million in 2014 by giving speeches) shows the level of hubris and entitlement at play. Matt Welch looks at this and sees a “wonderfully clarifying campaign slogan for you: Elect me, and I’ll try to put my critics in jail!”

On CNN Jeff Zeleny offered that “this criticism was threatening to overtake her message” as he reported on the earth-shattering news that Hillary did in fact take questions from the press on Tuesday (five questions). The pros who want to do their jobs are beginning to chafe at Her Highness’ indifference to them. Jonah Goldberg suspects it may be time for the press to start punishing her.

Normally, when a politician tries to break the media’s food bowl, the media defends itself. Instead, I keep watching broadcasts that treat her gingerly. Sure, they mention how she isn’t taking questions. But they also say things like “Clinton took questions from voters” and “Clinton met with small businessmen to talk about the economy” and then they let her get her soundbites in. I can see the case, as a matter of journalistic ethics, for letting her get her message out. Though such ethics are often selectively applied to Republicans the press hates.

But why peddle the fiction that she is having authentic conversations with Iowans? When President Bush was selective about who he took questions from, the press ate him alive for it.

And Bush was far more open to the press than Hillary’s being (and he was the president). And Hillary is running unopposed which makes the press’s role much more important. Why not err on the side of the truth, particularly when the truth hurts? Every meeting with pre-selected human props should be described that way. Every “event” should be reported in hostile — and more accurate! — terms. “Mrs. Clinton held another scripted and staged event today where volunteers asked pre-arranged safe questions the scandal-plagued candidate was prepared to answer . . .”

I understand the press is liberal, but they also have a very high opinion of themselves. The Clinton campaign is making fools of them. It’s time for some payback.

One can dream.

Solid as Iraq

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”
– Proverbs 11:2

In politics, disgrace does not follow pride and there are no such things as humility or wisdom. Partly this is because politics attracts the type of people who “think that it is not the system which we need fear, but the danger that it might be run by bad men,” as Friedrich Hayek wrote in The Road to Serfdom. The belief that there is nothing wrong with a bloated, oppressive, administrative bureaucracy actively engaged in managing the economy should be woefully outdated and subject to mockery. Alas, this idea retains decent heft in America and the broader West. Worse is the belief among federal bureaucrats that they are called to do important work on behalf of “society.” Worse still is they believe they are “public servants” arbitrating what’s fair and proper in civic life. But the absolute worst aspect of it all is how proud they are to play petty authoritarian. Whether it’s an IRS middle manager, an EPA busybody or an EEOC scold, American life is now regulated to the point of oppression by a class of elite social justice warriors who are all too happy for the opportunity. This is the subject of Charles Murray’s new bookBy the People, which calls for a form of conservative civil disobedience by way of noncompliance with the regulatory state. But the left is exceedingly proud of their regulatory state – they did build that, and over a long period and a “long march.” They are never going to part with it willingly or lightly; their identity depends on its preservation.

If only this was confined to the left. The reality though is that the faction of conservatives who base their identity more or less on American global power are similarly in thrall to pride. The spectacle that was Jeb Bush fumbling soft ball questions on the Iraq War last week was both instructive and foreboding. We got crystal clear confirmation that Jeb is surrounded by the same elite cadre of foreign policy hawks as was his brother George. We got warning that proponents of the war had undergone a level of soul-searching akin to that of Sauron after his first defeat. I would bet everything I own that without the advice of his team, Jeb would have answered Megyn Kelly’s “knowing what we know now” Iraq hypothetical with an unequivocal “no.” But Jeb is not without that advice, because that advice comes from a donor class and an establishment GOP mostly wedded to the idea that the Iraq War was basically the right call.

Hovering in the ether ever since the Democrats’ 2006 midterm romp is an obvious political truth, one which precious few on the right want to accept. The truth is this: the war in Iraq was devastating to conservatism and the Republican party. This devastation had layers. The first layer was the practical impact on the party, which suffered from both honest and dishonest partisan attacks by the Democrats and therefore limped into the post-Bush era discredited and with all the confidence and swagger of a beaten dog. The second layer has to do with how principled conservatism itself was discarded by the Bush administration. Despite pursuing a brave and fortuitous tax cut agenda, George W. Bush governed as a progressive Republican, aka a “compassionate conservative.” Federal spending skyrocketed, add-ons to entitlements were enthusiastically adopted and that once proud disciple of the Reagan-Laffer school of fiscal conservatism, Dick Cheney, opined that “deficits don’t matter.” That champions of the Bush legacy and adherents to the neoconservative worldview are one and the same today is not surprising. What is surprising is they lack any self-awareness or humility and instead prefer to look at their foreign policy record and bask in pride.

There was very little reason for conservatives to rally around Bush in 2004 beyond pride in the tribe. Compassionate conservatism was a disaster that ushered in Medicare D and No Child Left Behind. The “ownership society” Bush wished to cultivate was corrupted by the Fed and congressional loan edicts to mortgage lenders, setting the scene for the 2008 crash. The only reason Bush won in 2004 was because the war led Republican voters to dutifully vote to keep their tribe in power for fear of what the other would do. Now eleven years on, the other tribe is gearing up to rally around someone they don’t particularly like but to whom they owe loyalty and deference because again, pride and tribe, and again, those other bastards would be worse.

Because ultimately, depressingly, inevitably…. we’re all tribal animals and it will always be so, to a degree. What is the point though of living in a tribal democracy, where the mob reigns? Despite the fact that it is the natural condition of democracies to have competing tribes looking to get to 51% so that they may force their preferences and mandates on the other 49%, the American model is supposed to be something quite different. We are a republic because the founding generation looked askance at democracy. Pure, majoritarian democracy is indistinguishable from mob rule, whereas a republic would be healthier than a democracy because a combination of representative democracy with an ingrained respect for natural rights and common law would cement the centuries long social transition from “status to contract,” meaning a society where prospects and opportunities are contingent on an individual’s freedom to enter into contract instead of on social status or class. Democracy only works if certain first principles and inalienable rights are enshrined forever into the nation’s DNA so that no transient majority can ever deny those natural rights which inform the Declaration of Independence.

The parallel rise of the Tea Party along with a rowdy libertarian-minded youth are about far more than tribalism. They are about first principles and the attempt to revive them in the public conscience. The movements are essentially inchoate, schizophrenic attempts by frustrated conservatives and libertarians to reclaim the agenda from the big spending, saber-rattling, deep pocketed GOP elites who not only wish to see their influence preserved, but who insist in all their pride that their righteous motives yielded righteous gains, and anyway, who are you to suggest otherwise, some kind of isolationist?  This is the takeaway from l’affaire Jeb Bush: the GOP foreign policy establishment is simply too proud to admit they committed a fatal error, politically, strategically, morally. “Most of the Republican presidential candidates would have invaded Iraq. Despite protestations to the contrary, few of them have truly learned the lessons of the war,” says James Antle at The Week. There is nothing in the founding and nothing in conservatism that says nation building abroad  or preemptive war is desirable, and yet “even today, the true conventional wisdom in the GOP seems to be that the only mistakes that were made in Iraq were invading with too few troops and withdrawing too soon.”

When the party which is supposed to stand for limited constitutional government that maximizes individual freedom eventually abandons its fixation with mimicking the domestic progressive project on the global stage and returns to its notional commitment to free markets and federalism, then that will be party worthy of my pride. Until then, all the elites in both parties should take a moment to consider why exactly growing government and expanding arbitrary power (whether with OSHA or the DHS) at the expense of ordinary taxpayers is anything to be proud of.

Or maybe the GOP is actually G.O.B.?

Iraq? Solid as a rock!

solid as a rock

 

Michigan and Special Interest

Everybody loves roads.

Elizabeth Warren likes to lecture about roads and President Obama loves speaking about investment in crumbling infrastructure. Get past the talking points and into the weeds and the MSNBC set will offer something about “rebuilding America” as their pet panacea for, well, everything. Even Rand Paul has teamed up with Barbara Boxer on a bill that would fill the coffers of the federal highway fund via revenue brought in by a lower corporate tax rate. Libertarians can hardly go five minutes without being condescendingly informed that our free market paradise could never happen because who would build the roads?!?!?!?!?

In Michigan this week, Republican governor Rick Snyder saw Proposal 1 – a ballot measure to hike sales taxes to finance road and highway improvement – go down by an 80-20 margin. The governor and his party supported this bill which would have increased the average household’s annual tax burden by as much as $545 a year. The key support for the measure came from a lobbying consortium representing several concrete, asphalt, paving and excavation interests in the state. They outspent the opponents of the tax hike by 30 to 40-1.

Proposal 1’s “sound defeat undermined the media assumption that Big Business and Big Government working together represents a public consensus,” says Tim Carney in a piece for The Washington Examiner. Carney ends his column urging conservatives to build on this and sees it as an effective way to make the case against cronyism more broadly: “This points towards the way to sell limited government: When government has more power, it empowers those with connections to government.”

It is naive to think special interest lobbies will ever be eliminated. As long as we put the people’s representatives forward, interest groups will be there to gain their favor. The only way to limit lobbyist influence is to limit the number of laws coming from Washington. Bastiat feared an overabundance of legislation would lead to “legal plunder” which would give incentive to special interests to use the legal system for its own advantage. Illegal plunder earns universal scorn whereas legal plunder is considered “democracy.” But because we are never going to convince self-interested politicians who think they are divas to curb their enthusiasm for passing laws, we might as well abandon the dream of a lobby-free zone in Washington.

Instead, we should focus our attention on the small instances where Big Government-Big Business collusion is exposed, as just happened in Michigan. And we should heed Carney’s advice to highlight how ballot measures such as Proposal 1 “undermine the common liberal trope that the push for lower taxes is the agenda of Big Money, and that higher taxes is the populist agenda.” This is a crucial point.

President Obama, that fierce populist champion and avatar of the working man, showed in his first major act in office just how comfortable Big Business is with the progressive agenda. The stimulus was nothing more than a massive special interest kickback to blue state governments, public unions and friends of the progressive left. The most infamous example is Solyndra, a solar panel firm granted half a billion dollars by the Obama administration for no other reason than the CEO was a huge Obama bundler. The federal bureaucracy is notorious for how it awards contracts to connected firms over more qualified bidders, a fact that became known to most Americans during the Obamacare website’s China Syndrome moment. CGI Federal, a subsidiary of a Canadian firm infamous for completely botching a Canadian gun registry, was given the insanely lucrative contract in part because a Princeton classmate of Michelle Obama’s was the Senior VP. Even Rick Perry was not immune to the special interest lure when he was governor of Texas. Despite presiding over the best economic record of all states since 2007, Perry routinely offered state subsidies to chic tech companies such as Tesla, Google and Apple to entice them to open plants in Texas. That many companies express interest in locating in Texas speaks to the favorable tax and regulatory climate, sure, but the subsidies certainly play a role too.

Conservatives are generally fans of federalism and celebrate the idea of states experimenting with distinct economic models. By foregoing uniform economic policies drawn up in Washington to be applied nationally, we encourage competition between states as they experiment in various ways. Illinois is probably going to have to walk back its progressive obsession with high taxes and oppressive regulations because they are bleeding jobs and capital to neighboring Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan, all of whom have lowered taxes and cultivated friendlier business climates in the last several years. Unfortunately, state competition for business goes too far when it devolves into a circus of competing subsidies and special treatment, also known as the “Redevelopment Racket.” Cynics say this is the way the game is played, but Michigan offers hope for a brighter alternative.

As Rick Perry and other conservative governors prove, conservatives can also be guilty of catering to special interest lobbies. However, a conservative politician engaging in crony capitalism is straying from established principle whereas a progressive doing the same is adhering to the only principle he knows: grow government. And despite the myth progressives maintain about high tax policy equaling populism, Michigan reveals the truth of the matter. Special interests representing road construction lobby the Michigan government for more spending and more taxes to pay for it, all so they themselves can get rich off the exclusive bid grant. The government – in this case a nominally conservative one – agrees that improved roads are desirable and does the bidding of the special interest by insisting that the voters agree to a pretty stiff tax hike. Perhaps voters would be more open to the measure if they thought the deal wasn’t riddled with corruption and back-scratching to begin with? At the end of the day, governments rarely look for ways to get what they want on the cheap. Why bother being frugal when powerful lobbies are there to suggest a simple tax increase?

Corruption and cronyism know no ideology, but government itself is the engine that drives them. Therefore, the party of government needs to come to terms with this reality and perhaps reconsider their dogma surrounding the benevolent Leviathan. Until then, let us hope for more Michigan-style tax proposals being met with boisterous thumbs down and that they serve to show the public exactly how deals are made in politics and what always lies beneath calls for more “populist” tax increases.

VE Day

Seventy years ago today an avowedly leftist nationalist project surrendered to Allied forces in Europe, bringing to end the horrors of the Second World War in Europe.

“Fundamentally, these new means of political struggle can be traced back to the Marxists,” said one Adolph Hitler to Hermann Raushning in 1935. “I only needed to adopt and further develop them, and I essentially had what we needed. I just had to continue, with greater resolve, where the Social Democrats had failed ten times over because they insisted on trying to achieve their revolution within the framework of democracy. National Socialism is what Marxism could have been if it had freed itself from its absurd, artificial connection with the democratic system.”

If the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist, then I submit that the second greatest trick is the idea that 20th century fascism derived from right wing political or philosophical precepts. What makes the lie especially galling is that elite opinion even in the “decadent” West – the object of contempt for all collectivist ideologies of the time – expressed great affinity for the planned economies which announced themselves as the solution to the perceived failures of democratic capitalism.

The roots of British and American collectivism are found in Germany. Ironically, one can make the argument that much of the foundations for individualism, common law, and parliamentary democracy also trace back to Germany, albeit of a much earlier vintage (c. 8th or 9th century Saxon tribalism), but with respect to post-industrial modernity, Germany is the fount from which bad politics sprout. During the late-nineteenth century American elites considered it a rite of passage to spend time in Prussia observing and absorbing the wonders of the world’s first welfare state, designed and presided over by Bismarck. Though he looked askance at the Marxist socialists in his midst, Bismarck was nevertheless guided by the same general ethos that exalted the state as the ultimate engine for equality and happiness. Not only was the idea of the individual’s natural subordination to the general will already deeply embedded across the continent (and to a lesser degree in the broader Anglosphere), so too was the idea of the organic state as the ultimate arbiter of History as a proper noun. Despite being a largely dull and unoriginal philosopher who culled his ideas from Plato, Hegel was a brilliant polemicist who knew how to advance an agenda for his masters. Such was his task when he was commissioned by the Prussian state to proselytize on behalf of the mystical, metaphysical state. Hegel preached (and Marx greatly expanded on) that the state existed foremost to interpret the hidden, internal logic of History. That wars were always just for the victors since History’s logic willed it. That states rise and fall according only to a fixed arc of pre-determined events. Ah, but how to obtain this mysterious logic that explains all of History? Hegel and Marx have the answer and it’s one that understandably pleases anyone predisposed to power and control. To know the Arc of History, you see, is to trust in an enlightened clerisy who cloister in academia or administrative agencies waiting for the truth to reveal itself and relay to the masses like Moses with tablets the wisdom and reason behind the mystical forces driving the universe.

Call me cynical, but that sounds suspiciously like a religion.

Because all variants of leftism are essentially faith exercises in collective delusion designed to keep the truth hidden, it should not be news that the left lies about where fascism falls on the left-right spectrum. The lie that JFK was killed by rightwing ragers instead of by a loony Castro-inspired commie is small potatoes compared to the seventy year myth that Hitler and Mussolini carried the banner for the political right. Hitler didn’t just lead a revolutionary party called the “National Socialists,” he outright bragged that he was “a socialist, and a very different kind of socialist from your rich friend, Count Reventlow.” Mussolini left the Communist Party not out of disillusionment with the philosophy but because he saw in Italian Fascism and its alliance with the Nazis a more efficient and assured path to power.* At least Mussolini resisted the Jewish pogroms until the Nazis forced his hand well into the 1940s, making Benito the tallest midget in the room when it comes to dictators, I suppose. Leftists love to diagnose fascism as what happens when the state doesn’t control the means of production, the implication being that if you don’t go the Full Marx then you’re clearly just a wrecker and closet laissez-faire enthusiast. But while both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy each allowed private business nominal ownership of its plant and equipment, this was merely a facade, for both Berlin and Rome were centers of top-down central planning where private enterprise was deemed merely a cog in the collective wheel. A company’s profits in Germany or Italy were not its own because those fruits belonged to “the people,” meaning the government.

Because the Nazis and Fascists did not subscribe as fully to the tenets of revolutionary socialism as Lenin, their socialist movements did not mirror Bolshevism’s zeal to burn down everything that came before as the way towards the classless society. Instead, Germany and Italy accepted the existence of the bourgeoisie but resolved to bring them under their strict yoke. But Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin were all lockstep in their agreement that bourgeois Anglo-Saxon capitalism’s characteristic exploitation was a thing of the past and, moreover, that the very concept of individualism was a quaint and outmoded relic of the “decadent” West. Why the consensus? World War I was so devastating to Europe and its collective conscience that naturally the prevailing wisdom about what caused it – an exuberant and toxic wave of “nationalism” brought about again by that decadent capitalist system – was entirely wrong and blamed it all on insufficient planning. Because science and Darwin were thick in the air, elites were giddy to deploy all kinds of newfangled approaches to social engineering and economics. Leveraging the prior hundred years of elite discomfort with the very idea of capitalism, collectivists of all stripes – progressives, socialists, pragmatists, communists – used the chaos of the first World War to ascend to intellectual fame by promising the masses that the unjust inequities of bourgeois capitalism could finally and forever be eradicated by implementing the scientific, empirical, pragmatic programs of the central planners.

The idea that Hitler or Mussolini stood against this tide is ridiculous. The social prize for being a rogue individualist in Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy was nonexistent. Cultures that send their children to indoctrination camps and jail dissenters for insufficient deference to der Furher or Il Duce are not havens of capitalist opportunity that venerate the rugged entrepreneur in the popular imagination. No, these are cultures of conformity, of rigorous military ritual made mandatory in the social sphere. They stood on opposite sides of the Bolsheviks the same way a football team’s offense and defense can be said to play for different teams.

Seventy years on and still scores of useful idiots in the West have been raised to believe that the evil Nazis and Fascists were examples of what happens when rightwing extremism reaches its logical terminus. Communism, which could never be made to look rightwing no matter the effort, is offered by Western elites as the wary example of going too far to the left. And yet, throughout the Cold War and even today, it’s clear that the Left never really bought the idea that communism was anything to apologize for. It just never got implemented properly was the standard refrain up until the fall of the Berlin Wall, the event that drove the final nail into Marxist/Leninism as a plausible system and sent the more enthusiastic communists largely underground (or into the waiting arms of the environmental left).

Today, paeans to communism are far less common, though one need not look too hard to find some moron at The Nation or Salon extolling the virtues of the Venezuelan model. Still, sometimes reality is so real that even the liars can’t change it. So there are scant few brave leftists today willing to go to bat for Bolshevism (Jacobins on the other hand?), but in practice that has meant a quiet doubling down on their conviction that fascism is of the right. It’s a neat and tidy construct that History and English professors can cope with if discussion surrounding WWII concerns the leftwing communists against the rightwing fascists, with noble and unaffiliated America and Great Britain riding to the rescue. It is a lot harder to explain how the socialist Nazis and socialist fascists came to fight such a bloody campaign against the socialist Russians. The American Civil War saw brother fight against brother while the Eastern front pitted socialist against socialist, but the latter is not something commonly taught in America.

George Orwell wrote in Politics and the English Language that “one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” In their campaign to make the word fascism meaningless, intellectuals and elites have spent seven decades turning it into a catch-all for “thing I don’t like.” Partly motivated by a desire to impugn their opponents and partly out of self-preservation, the “fascist!” epithet is deployed against conservatives to a staggering degree.

The political right is and has always been full of problems and inconsistencies, but nothing really comes close to approaching the rank dishonesty and intentional deception that defines the left and which goes into making two of the 20th century’s most toxic manifestations of collectivism/socialism conventionally accepted as intellectual products of the right. If misrepresenting the political lineage of past totalitarian regimes is done to paint modern adherents to a certain politics as hopelessly wedded to a patrimony of extremism is what it means to “stand on the right side of History,” then who wants to be right? And why do sanctimonious lectures about being on the right side sound so familiar?

Happy VE Day.

 

The Laffer Era

I won’t presume to speak for “Ready for Hillary,” but it’s a fair guess that they hope to face Jeb Bush because Democrats believe they hold the ultimate trump card which has nothing to do with his name. It is “the 90’s.” The Clinton campaign is convinced that in a matchup with Bush, all they need do is trumpet the “Clinton economy” while decrying the “Bush economy.”

To borrow from Lee Corso, “not so fast.”

Let’s acknowledge that Jeb Bush is not George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton is not Bill Clinton. The odds of President Hillary pronouncing “the era of big government over” or signing a signature welfare reform are as remote as President Jeb Bush championing a new extension of Medicare or proclaiming “deficits don’t matter.” Still, it is inevitable that in a Clinton-Bush race the comparison between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush will be broadly accepted as fair. Team Clinton believes they hold an unassailable advantage because they act like Bill Clinton was the sole progenitor of the 90’s economy.

Now comes their bete noir Rand Paul poking holes in the myth. Speaking at a Lincoln Labs conference in Washington last week, Paul said “when we dramatically lowered tax rates in the ’80s, we got an enormous boom in our country, probably for two decades. Many of us believe that the ’80s and the ’90s, once the boom began, had a lot to do with lowering the tax rates.” With that explicit challenge to conventional liberal wisdom, Paul turned the comparison between the 90’s and the 00’s into a debate on whether the 90’s were really just a continuation of the 80’s.

Cue the long knives.

Jonathan Chait waded into the breach to rebut this claim, arguing in New York that “tax rates on the rich, at least at current levels, have little impact on economic growth.” Note the qualifier at least at current levels. Liberal discussion of the 90’s focuses on Clinton raising the top rate to 39.6% from 31% to the economy’s great benefit. This casually omits how Reagan reduced the top rate from to 50% from 70% and ultimately to 28% with the 1986 tax reform.

Another tactic used against Reagan is that he was a serial tax raiser who saw the light after the 1982 recession proved his initial rate reductions had failed. “For example, when Reagan cut taxes, economic conditions deteriorated thanks to high interest rates. When Reagan realized he’d cut taxes too much and reversed course, raising taxes seven of the eight years he was in office, the economy improved,” says Steve Benen of MSNBC, who can be forgiven for his ignorance due to being Rachel Maddow’s petulant blogger. The left never seem to grasp that not all taxes are created equal. For every minor increase in a payroll tax or specific targeted tax, Reagan’s legacy is indisputably as an historic tax cutter, as the tax rate that matters most for economic growth and capital investment is the top marginal rate. Investors invest in enterprises when they believe the return on their investments will bear returns sufficient to justify the risk. More capital is risked when greater returns are in the offing. When top marginal rates are high there is less incentive to invest.

The adage “capital goes where it is welcome” is a fundamental truth akin to the laws of physics. Reagan’s success in bringing down top marginal rates are, more than any other external or mitigating factor, the primary reason for the 25 year secular growth trend between 1982-2007. The dramatic rate reduction heralded a new era of entrepreneurial optimism and capital investment as individuals responded to incentives brought about by a more welcoming capital landscape. Yes, one consequence of this was that the rich got richer, but the boom in middle class standards of living as well as upward mobility (an entire new class, the “upper middle” owes its existence to this period) in the 80’s and 90’s was a straight line continuum, putting the lie to the myth that things were sour under Reagan and H.W. Bush until Clinton arrived to save the day with moderate increases in top rates. Any honest appraisal of this era must account for the steady gains in GDP, employment and overall consumer confidence which contributed to multiple quarters of 6% and 7% growth during both the 80’s and 90’s.

Because Bill Clinton did very little to reverse the Reagan revolution on taxes, and in fact bolstered it by lowering investment rates while increasing the top marginal rate nowhere near in proportion to the level that Reagan lowered it, any comparison of the 80’s and 90’s is ultimately moot. We might as well call it “the Laffer era.”

Twilight of the Public Sector Union: Letters to the Editor Edition

Two letters to the editor in Friday’s WSJ underline the tone-deaf postures of public union leadership. The first comes from United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, a bona fide thug who proclaims proudly his desire to “punch you in the face and push you in the dirt” should you attempt to “take what is mine.” He writes:

Eva Moskowitz must have been staring in the mirror when she wrote her latest screed about the “big lie” about charter vs public schools (“The Myth of Charter-School ‘Cherry Picking,'” op-ed, Feb.9). Even as others in the charter sector are beginning to acknowledge that differences in student demographics and attrition are a real problem in comparing charter to district schools, she and her organization have refused to admit that many charters don’t educate children with the same challenges as do public schools.

Let’s look at one among many examples—Success Academy 3 in Harlem. It shares a building with a local public school, but her charter has half as many English-language learners, fewer than a third as many special-education students and no “high-needs” students in the special-ed category versus 12% in the public school.

She also confuses student mobility with student attrition. Most schools in poor neighborhoods have high student turnover. But while public schools—and some charters—fill empty seats, Ms. Moskowitz’s schools don’t. According to state records, more than half the students in one Success Academy class left before graduation.

While Ms. Moskowitz cites a recent report from the city’s Independent Budget Office about student attrition in charters, she neglects to mention an earlier IBO report that found that it is the less successful students who tend to leave New York City charters. And as Princess Lyles and Dan Clark note “Keeping Precious Charter-School Seats Filled,” op-ed, Feb. 3), failure to fill these seats allows a school to maintain “the illusion of success,” as the percentage of proficient students rises.

So when Ms. Moskowitz and her allies claim that charters educate the same kinds of children as do the public schools, who is telling the truth?

I have a question for Mr Mulgrew. Why did this happen last March and again in November after Mayor Deblasio made noise about shuttering charters in New York City? The rallies in Albany showed that thousands upon thousands of lower-income, inner city New Yorkers view charters as vital to their children’s chances in life; education being the clear conduit to success. The same impulse to provide your child the best education possible is alive and growing stronger across the country.  For all the criticism levied against charters by teachers unions, demand among inner city parents has skyrocketed. Mulgrew’s argument is essentially that because public schools in New York are overburdened with students – many with special needs – then any boasting from the charters about their higher performing students is deceptive because it doesn not account for the disparities in classroom makeup, which is essentially an argument for demanding that everyone be equally miserable. Because equality! The standard teacher union lament that there is never enough money (despite soaring per capita spending on students nationally) is a self-serving rhetorical device that couches the true aim of higher taxpayer-funded pensions and benefits for the dues payers in language about “the children.” If you care about the children then you cannot fly into Hulk-smash rage mode when confronted with data showing charters’ exemplary results compared to the staid monopoly that is public education. The answer is not to take opportunities away from those lucky enough to win charter lotteries, but to expand access so that a greater number of eager-to-learn kids can also win the lottery.

Eva Moskowitz has long been a champion of the charter movement and is a true hero for the cause of school choice and education opportunities for the disadvantaged. For her efforts to improve the plight of those without the luxury to “vote with their feet” and move to better school districts, Moskowitz has become the subject of intense hate and ire for the union left. They hate her because she is unabashed about taking on the unions head-on and because she has largely succeeded in this endeavor. The result is an angry cadre of progressives like Mulgrew and DeBlasio who see the threat to their political power should school choice continue to pick up momentum. And when corrupt relationships between unions and politicians are exposed and blamed for the abysmal performance of union public schools, those being exposed become shrill and defiant, which is how you get a thuggish union head like Mulgrew opening his piece calling Moskowitz a liar and going on to offer this bit of enlightened sophistication: “So I stand here in support for [Common Core] for one simple reason. If someone takes something from me, I’m going to grab it right back out of their cold, twisted, sick hand, and say it is mine.”

Below the Mulgrew letter we find an even more ridiculous and infuriating letter, this time from Colleen Kelley, National President of the National Treasury Employees Union. Titled “IRS Employees Have Cooperated” she writes:

Your Feb. 7 editorial “End of the IRS Investigation?” urges against any pay increase for IRS employees until there is “a full accounting of who ordered the harassment of President Obama’s critics.” The editorial also takes some gratuitous and inaccurate shots at the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents rank-and-file nonsupervisory employees at the IRS and 30 other federal agencies. These employees aren’t in a position to order anybody to do anything. During the IRS investigation led by Rep. Darrell Issa, numerous NTEU members provided voluntary, non-subpoenaed sworn statements. Two NTEU members voluntarily testified before the House Oversight Committee for several hours in a public hearing facing a bank of TV cameras and reporters. At the end, they were praised by then-Chairman Issa, current-chairman Jason Chaffetz, Rep. Mark Meadows, Rep. Mike Turner and others for their bravery, honesty and professionalism. Since then, they and the other front-line employees represented by NTEU have seen their workloads dramatically increase because Congress is “punishing” the IRS by slashing its budget. Their pay, like the pay of all federal workers, has been stagnant. They did the right thing. Like other federal employees who work hard every day, they deserve a fair pay raise.” (emphasis mine)

Fairness! Give America a raise! Where have we heard these cliches before? I don’t even know where to begin with this silliness. Are we supposed to be impressed that certain IRS employees “provided voluntary, non-subpoenaed sworn statements” during Darrell Issa’s investigation when we know that there remain legions of emails and records and even testimony from a certain someone (let’s just say it’s not Lois Lane) still at large? The idea that federal bureaucrats have been busting their humps and have been subject to “punishment” from the mean Republicans on Issa’s committee and therefore deserve a raise is more than a little audacious. I don’t believe you could find one person in a random sample of people on the street who would argue that IRS employees need a raise at this moment, unless that street is in Washington. Even if you’re a partisan progressive who thinks slogans such as “phony scandal!” are legitimate substitutes for argument, you still probably don’t think the IRS should be asking for a raise right now, given the broad perception that it is a rogue agency operating with politics as its prism. The sheer hubris of the head of a federal employee union asking for more money after seeing the chief agency she represents have more than a few of its dubious practices exposed is stark.

If there is one truth that exists plainly in the open for all to see, it is that federal employees are overpaid. And not just overpaid but overprotected. It has become cliche to note that federal bureaucrats are far more likely to die before they ever face the prospect of being terminated. This doesn’t makes it any less true. Politicians who think of themselves as noble public servants are better able to justify rank extortion of their constituents than are politicians who cast a jaundiced eye at the very idea of a federal workforce. Further, bureaucracies are overwhelmingly staffed by people on the left who look upon the private sector with suspicion or disdain (or worse). When the lens through which you observe society is clouded by envy and bitterness toward the “rich” and you believe that they only got where they are through theft or inheritance, it stands to reason you might feel justified padding your salaries and benefits by bilking the taxpayers if it is a way to “level the playing field” or establish a more “equitable” condition where inequality magically disappears.

These union leaders are only distinguishable by their disparate tones and by the fact that only one seems to relish the idea of inflicting violence on anyone who comes for “what is mine.” But both are products of the same warped worldview that says it is perfectly moral and in fact laudable to erect the biggest public sector possible. Public employee unions are relics of the same bygone philosophy that continues to fuel activist journalism: the idea of government as an intrinsic good offering comfort to the afflicted and affliction to the comfortable. They obsess over the distribution of wealth and conclude that the unequal distribution is by malign intent rather than the natural product of millions of self-interested individuals fulfilling their wants in a free society. If you think you’re on the receiving end of a deep conspiracy by the evil rich and you possess the power to use threats of coercion to ameliorate the situation, you’re going to do so and without remorse. After all, you’re the poor blighted underdog bureaucrat faced up against the powerful corporation, so efforts to remove capital from the villains and give it to yourself are clearly blessed by the angels. This is the ethos that drives teachers union leadership to shout bloody murder any time their corrupt money train is threatened, and likewise causes IRS and White House officials to countenance a comprehensive initiative to suppress the speech of your ideological enemies who, rather than having different political views are considered instead to be motivated by nothing more than reactionary animus.

Public employee unions can’t go the way of the Dodo fast enough.

 

Twilight of the Public Sector Union

Politico has an interesting piece today on the growing movement among Democrats to curtail public union clout. Like today’s WSJ editorial it focuses on Republican governor Bruce Rauner’s efforts to follow Scott Walker down the public pension reform path. What’s interesting is how many Democrats in state legislatures are waking up to the sustainability problem with the public union model.

In November Democrat Gina Raimondo won the Rhode Island governor’s race after a bruising primary where she defeated two union-backed candidates who were hell-bent on keeping the union reformer out of power. Raimondo is Rhode Island’s first female governor; just as importantly though, she is clear-eyed about the problem with public sector unions and unabashed about taking them on and demanding key reforms. Like every brave blue state Democrat trying to convince her left flank that reality is the obstacle standing athwart their collectivist dreams, Raimondo faces an uphill battle and is probably going to lose in the end. Such is life when facing off against the naked self-interests of a rabid and entrenched opposition.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is nobody’s idea of a conservative, but he is fully aligned with Rauner in opposing the nasty Chicago Teachers Union, which needs corrupt legislators to rubber-stamp their collective bargaining scheme in the same way that humans need oxygen. Emanuel and Rauner are old colleagues, so the union left will say this is just more cronyism to fatten their own coffers by attacking unions. But any honest appraisal of Illinois politics will show that public unions exist first and last to expand the state bureaucracy, demanding always more money for pensions and benefits and higher taxes to pay for them. As a result, Illinois has the worst pension crisis of all the states and is considered a wasteland for business and economic growth. Neighboring Indiana and Iowa have so thoroughly outperformed Illinois this century that some Democrats in Springfield acknowledge the need for reform.

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed offered an admirable sentiment after “clash[ing] with public employee unions” in California when he said that “there’s a difference between being liberal and progressive and being a union Democrat.” Is there really, though?

The hard truth that confronts the left is that they are not a viable political coalition without the millions of dues-paying public union members contributing millions to keep Democrats in office. At the federal, state and local levels, union leadership as well as the rank and file line up behind Democrats at astonishing rates. Take a gander at candidate contributions by federal bureaucrats (especially the lawyers) in the last presidential election. And what happens if the miracle occurs and Democrats abandon their corrupt union practices and admit that they are more responsible than anyone for the epidemic of blue state pension and budget fiascoes?  Do they go full retard and devote their entire political project to identity politics and the cultural fetishes of cloistered academics? I mean, I welcome it should it transpire, given that a politics that doubles and triples down on postmodern relativism and political correctness is a political movement not long for this world.

The only practical solution for the 21st century left is a complete re-think and overhaul of their approach to the economy. I am not confident or optimistic this will happen, committed as the left is to a religious conviction that they are constantly beset by a rigged system and the culprit is capitalism. Going back to the San Jose Mayor’s comment, I’m genuinely curious to learn what a liberal or progressive not in thrall to the romantic ideal of the trade union looks like. The left’s overriding ethos is that power and wealth are unfairly concentrated at the top, where “owners” exploit “workers” with their unearned capital accumulation. Marx was adamant that capital could only be accumulated through theft, and that impulse is alive and well with today’s left. The romance of the unions is all about leveling the field, sticking it to the fat cats via labor “solidarity,” strikes and bargaining power. It’s a zero sum philosophy with a cynical message: the wealth has been unfairly allocated to the rich few, thus the only recourse is to organize and plot to take back your rightful share. This line of thinking, beyond being juvenile and simple, betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of how market economies work. It obsesses over equitable distribution and is uncomfortable with the fact that life’s natural order is not fair. And it treats as obscene high profits and earnings, imagining that prosperity is best when it is shared; the point of politics then is to guard against unfairness wherever possible. That they fail to see how a system of perceived unfairness does in reality serve to foster the most broadly shared prosperity (see: America, The Unites States of) imaginable is a frustration we will likely have to endure forever.

Unless of course the left is forced into reconsidering its economic perspective by blue state voters sick of living in stagnant economies where insane percentages of state budgets are allocated just to public employees and their lavish benefits. 25% of Illinois’ budget is swallowed up union costs. TWENTY FIVE PERCENT! And yet the Chicago progressive mob is adamant that taxes must increase along with spending, a tune that never changes regardless of the fiscal climate. This is the kind of blind, tone-deaf, oblivious political thuggery that is going to doom the left eventually. The question is do they see the writing on the wall and are willing to make adjustments to their chief economic plank, or are they going down with the ship? By all accounts, union leadership is going to fight to the death to coax every last possible dime out of taxpayers before they shuffle off into the void, but there are more encouraging signs among rank and file members as well as savvy Democrats in the states. The problem is at the federal level, where public unions are less strapped by finite state budgets and reap the rewards of an out-of-control government spending apparatus. But even the big federal players like Afscme and AFT can see that reformer governors in blue states where unions typically enjoy broad approval are finding receptive audiences among state Democrats who realize the union model is unsustainable.

I contend that California will be a red state before Texas ever turns blue. Their pension crisis is not as horrible as Illinois’ but it ain’t pretty either. Chuck Reed and other California Dems (including Jerry Brown) may intuit the problem correctly, but it remains to be seen whether they have either the will or the ability to take on CALPERS and the rest of the bloated public sector. Far be it for me to offer advice to progressives on how to avoid squandering their entire movement, but if they want to be viable post-Obama they absolutely must ditch their wretched attachment to public sector unions and the cesspool of half-baked Marxism from which it draws inspiration. The only way that is ever going to happen is if they leave the politics of envy behind. Rising tides do indeed lift all boats, but if you’re consumed with rancor and envy and are convinced that America and capitalism are evil schemes constructed by greedy monocle-wearers, then it is going to be impossible to recalibrate your perspective on economics. Let’s let Schumpeter weigh in on the subject because no one has ever been able to explain this stuff quite like the Austrian master (emphasis mine):

In part [Capitalism] appeals to, and in part it creates, a schema of motives that is unsurpassed in simplicity and force. The promises of wealth and the threats of destitution that it holds out, it redeems with ruthless promptitude. Wherever the bourgeois way of life asserts itself sufficiently to dim the beacons of other social worlds, these promises are strong enough to attract the large majority of supernormal brains and to identify success with business success. They are not proffered at random; yet there is a sufficiently enticing admixture of chance: the game is not like roulette, it is more like poker. They are addressed to ability, energy and supernormal capacity for work; but if there were a way of measuring either that ability in general or the personal achievement that goes into any particular success, the premiums actually paid out would probably not be found proportional to either. Spectacular prizes much greater than would have been necessary to call forth the particular effort are thrown to a small minority of winners, thus propelling much more efficaciously than a more equal and more “just” distribution would, the activity of that large majority of businessmen who receive in return very modest compensation or nothing or less than nothing, and yet do their utmost because they have the big prizes before their eyes and overrate their chances of doing equally well. Similarly, the threats are addressed to incompetence. But though the incompetent men and the obsolete methods are in fact eliminated, sometimes very promptly, sometimes with a lag, failure also threatens or actually overtakes many an able man, thus whipping up everyone, again much more efficaciously than a more equal and more “just” system of penalties would. Finally, both business success and business failure are ideally precise. Neither can be talked away.”

-Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy

The Party of Science?

American politics are becoming increasingly absurd. The only word that describes the ongoing project of American progressives is “unreality.” There seems to be a concerted effort on the part of leftwing media to pridefully advance arguments that have nothing to do with observable reality. Now, the great philosophical question of our age is the degree to which committed partisans of the left genuinely subscribe to the narrative versus those who do so purely as a means to an end. Regardless of their sincerity, progressives everywhere agree that a counter-narrative to the status quo forces of oppression must be passionately sustained via the pent-up anxieties of the oppressed.

The left’s Marxist flame – their one and only “big idea” – finally petered out at the end of the 20th century, at least officially. Communism and collectivism were declared dead, the “end of history” pronounced, and it was assumed that the long bickering over classes and accumulation and distribution were settled. History however, does not cleanly dispatch with the “losing side” in almost any conflict. Within a generation of losing their claim on the colonies, the United Kingdom was back to burn down the White House and lay waste to Washington and Baltimore. The American South was not exactly docile in defeat, nor were they keen on sudden and immediate implementation of the 14th amendment, leading to their utter annihilation. The failed German revolutionaries of 1848 decamped to the American Midwest intent on importing the nouveau fads of progressivism and the welfare state into the American psyche. So it was with the Marxists and the class-warriors and the otherwise ignorant elites of the 20th century who decidedly did not abandon their ideological presumptions in response to the fall of the Soviet Union.

Whether the newly homeless Marxists migrated en masse to environmentalism or divvied it up so that elements of their tribe could be present in almost every facet of public life (the bureaucracy, the academy, the media, the Hollywood) is not really the point. What matters is that there was nothing approaching accountability. There was no mea culpa from elite liberal media for being wrong about totalitarian socialism. To this day the left refuses to acknowledge that the Soviets had an active and operational spy network in the United States during the Cold War, and pretend not to know of Alger Hiss. For the left, the number one priority is making their opposition look bad. Consistency and sound logic are subordinate to demonizing and discrediting. “So and so DESTROYS [conservative politican X]!!!” is a staple of fever swamp progressive internet because to the emotional and insecure for whom politics determines identity, it is more important to feel superior to your opponent than it is to be right on a given issue.

Status-signaling has replaced thinking on the left. Standing opposed to Israel or misogyny or bigotry is the price of admission into the cool cliques of campus or coastal liberalism. After purchasing yourself some coveted status as a tolerant and enlightened non-conservative, all you have to do is stick to the script. Master the hashtag and learn how it’s about feelings over facts. Thus will you arrive on the battlefield backed by an army of groupthinkers to slay the latest exhibition of privilege.

The dust-up over vaccines brings this tendency to bare. Rather than a sober mining of the data about who, exactly, are these Americans refraining from vaccinating their children, leftist partisans jumped on the comments from Chris Christie and Rand Paul as an opportunity to impugn Republicans – yet again – as the Neanderthal party of “science deniers.” Never mind the minute detail that the anti-vaxxer craze is predominantly a feature of the left, particularly the well-heeled, coastal enclave left. Upwards of 50% of kindergarteners are not vaccinated for MMR at schools in San Diego and Marin counties. Oregon and Vermont have the highest per-capita populations of anti-vaxxers. Yes, elements of the libertarian and home-school right are wary of government assurances on vaccinations. But to pretend that this is a phenomenon only of the right whereas the left sits on the side of empiricism and reason is just too much. By itself it is nothing, a meaningless and annoying distraction of white noise coming from the left about how Republicans are such morons. With the performance of the institutional left of late, it probably helps the cause of anti-statism for leftists to continue insisting how awesome and smart they are and how stupid and hopeless we are, for the simple reason that logic has a way of prevailing in the long run and all logic would suggest that these people are just charlatans with an agenda, hell bent on lying to the masses they so disdain in order to fool them into acquiescence. At some point, the ruse will reach its sell-by date and the tempest of lies and distortions will at long last wear itself out.

Until then, we will have to endure more attacks and more distortions, likely of an increased intensity. Hell hath no fury like a smug elitist challenged. The left operates under an unspoken assumption that they will always hold the loudest public megaphone due to their permanent residence on the moral high ground. Their moral righteousness is an illusion, however, and deep down they know it. At the heart of the progressive project is hatred of capitalism. They view that system of voluntary cooperation with suspicion and contempt and cast themselves as quasi-holy warriors out to eradicate injustice through the exalted Hegelian state, where the state exists as a metaphysical entity and possesses a metaphysical conscience by which the enlightened will erect plans and designs for the greater good. It is much harder in 2015 to hold this position with a straight face, after the failures of the collectivist experiment last century. Even for the most committed socialist, it is difficult to deny this history. And yet the left shows every sign it intends only to buff the lens and retain its ridiculous perspective of the world. A left that knows in its bones that the collectivist project is dead yet nevertheless retains its hatred of capitalism is going to look ridiculous. Further, the evolution of the left since Marx has seen it place its emphatic hatred not just on capitalism but on conservatives. It’s not so much the system but the proponents of the system who need to be fought and defeated. It is not hard to see how a philosophy that focuses on personal antagonism more than the system supposedly manufacturing oppression itself will eventually lose its focus.

Today’s left is the natural progression. They are thoroughly and obsessively concerned with what conservatives are saying and doing and basically agnostic on whether or not their prescribed solutions and programs have any efficacy whatsoever. All they are interested in is claiming the moral highground and ascendance appears to be promised only when all the wrong-thinking right wingers are defeated and/or silenced. They get really mad when conservatives have the temerity to point out when they run afoul of reason, logic and reality. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in matters of science.

On medicine, climate and biology the left is on the wrong side of the science. Kevin Williamson loves pointing out the amount of pseudo-science hokum that has wide popularity in leftist enclaves, from acupuncture and homeopathy to astrology and phobias about genetically modified food. You can throw Scientology and yoga in that mix as well. All perfectly harmless activities to which I have no objections other than that they are not backed up by science.

The climate change arena is riddled with groupthink and populated by anticapitalist ideologues. The much-touted “consensus” of scientists on the subject of Earth’s dire climate is great if you value consensus opinion that is thoroughly and comprehensively wrong. None of the models from the most renowned scientists have tracked even moderately close to the reality of climate over the past 20 years. That they only go back to the late nineteenth century to cull data while projecting their biased assumptions onto the millennia that came before it in order to produce the scary “hockey stick” projection of rising temperatures should be enough at the outset to question the infallibility of their data. With the “climategate” scandal at Britain’s East Anglia University revealing how scientists scheme to manipulate data to facilitate preferred outcomes, the petty “defamation” lawsuit brought by climate charlatan Michael Mann against Mark Steyn and CEI, and the recent revelation that Earth’s temperatures have remained flat the last 15 years, the green movement is exposed. The farce that is the State Department’s six year (and ongoing) review of the plans for the Keystone XL pipeline is nothing more than a nod by the administration to their wacko environmental base, which has tried repeatedly to offer scientific objections to the pipeline but which have all failed. The few reports that State has issued on the plan have all said that there is no environmental risk, but that has not caused the green left to relent, nor was it intended to. No one in the progressive orbit of Democratic politics is willing to allow the pipeline’s construction and none of their objections have to do with science. It is purely an aesthetic and ideological stance. Coastal elites think oil is yucky, yada yada yada, therefore the pipeline is an intrinsic evil.

Finally, the left stands in stark opposition to human biology, whether on the issue of abortion, gender, or human nature. In an sense this is understandable, as the left has always believed that man is malleable and can be shaped to function in their idea of the good society. But certain things in nature are non-negotiable. Science has essentially proven that babies in the womb can feel pain at 20 weeks and are able to survive outside the womb at that point. The science even suggests that viability perhaps occurs even earlier. But tell this to a pro-choice zealot and he will shriek and squeal about what a scoundrel you are for daring to suggest that a woman’s body is not in fact her own when there is another human inside it. This is virtually beyond scientific dispute now, yet the left won’t so much as countenance a discussion on it. In fact, they are more likely to echo the infamous Barbara Boxer line: “I think when you bring your baby home, when your baby is born … the baby belongs to your family and has all the rights.”

So babies are not yet human and not yet possessing of natural rights until they arrive home from the Hospital? How very sciency of you Barb.

The left claims the mantle of science for the sole reason that it can be used as a cudgel against conservatives. But the facts on the ground in 2015, allowing for the young-Earth creationists and the anti-vaxxers of the right (even though that contingent is most present in deep blue areas), are such that it would be impossible to designate the American left as “the party of science.” If the scientific method has life anywhere in American politics, it surely does not reside on the left. You can’t be the party of science if you think truth and reality are subjective. The persistent elevation of narrative inevitably leads to perspectives that end up only sneering at the truth.

The Year in Ridiculous

puffyshirt

“But I look ridiculous!”

The unbound progressive id unleashed on the country this year was truly something to behold. No faction of the identity politics left went without aggressive advocacy and not a small number of the population was subjected to the inchoate and nauseating “agitation” that characterizes the activist method. From the false “war on women” to the cynical highjacking of a burgeoning cross-partisan police reform movement by race-baiters (and then subsequently by police unions) to the bald-faced lie repeated by every progressive that the child migrant surge at the Texas border was due to anything other than direct incentives created by Obama’s Deferred Adjudication of Child Arrivals (DACA) executive action to the execrable and absurd on its face notion that the president finished the year strong and in fact the the year was actually a success for him and for liberalism.

Unreal.

It is also tempting to declare that because there is only so much ridiculousness and farce a respectable society will accept, and that eventually lies and propaganda are exposed as such by the cold nature of reality, the progressive strain of leftwing politics is nearing its sell-by date. Just glance at some of the thoughtful midterm election postmortems by some left pundits and marvel at their nearly unanimous conclusion that the party’s decision to go all-in on divisive cultural issues at the expense of an employment focused campaign targeted at the working class is responsible for the Democrats’ lowest representation in Congress and across statehouses and state legislatures in about a century. This is no small observation. This is a blanket repudiation by people on their side of the Democratic Party’s cynical identity politics platform. Whether we’re talking about blacks, Hispanics, gays, or women, the politics of victimhood and grievance have worn increasingly thin. Throw climate change into the mix as well because it is the identity politics issue for coastal white liberals and it is something to which all right-thinking millennials give as much thought as the New Testament Gospels. The point of being a hip progressive is not to know the truth but to possess the right opinions. Far better to tow the climate change line on pure faith than be deemed a “denier.”

Why is it more important for the left to hold the correct stances on issues rather than the truth? Jonah Goldberg offers this explanation:

If you work from the dogmatic assumption that liberalism is morally infallible and that liberals are, by definition, pitted against sinister and — more importantly — powerful forces, then it’s easy to explain away what seem like double standards. Any lapse, error, or transgression by conservatives is evidence of their real nature, while similar lapses, errors, and transgressions by liberals are trivial when balanced against the fact that their hearts are in the right place.

Good intentions are more important than objective reality. In normal times this would be an outrageously controversial claim, but these are not normal times. While many feminists with a conscience have done noble and searching work in the wake of the Rolling Stone campus rape story debacle, still many others are digging in and insisting that it matters not that the story accusing a UVA fraternity of systematic and brutal gang rape is a fabrication, what matters is the narrative and the important spotlight being shined on the “epidemic” of campus sexual assault. Then, almost like mana from Heaven, the Justice Department released updated statistics on criminal sexual assault, which committed the public service of dumping ice cold water all over the favored falsehood of the president and feminists that “one in five” women will be sexually assaulted in their time on campus (the stat is closer to 6 out of 1,000, which is still too high, but nowhere near an epidemic or a crisis and certainly not one in five. That a segment of the radical left still insist on their narrative even after ideologically sympathetic outlets have suggested that this has all gone too far is pretty strong evidence that their agenda trumps the truth. If feminists are actually interested in rooting out rape cultures, they should look to Syria or, closer to home, Rotherham, England.

Though I am at odds with the majority of conservatives on the issue of immigration, I am not a full “open-borders” libertarian either. As a Texan, I tend to think the model here works pretty well, far better at any rate than my other home state of California, which has a vast and bloated public employee system over which uncontrolled immigration holds a Sword of Damocles. In Texas, where we eschew the public employee model as much as we can, Hispanics are much more likely to vote Republican than their counterparts on the West Coast. This past November, Governor-elect Greg Abbott got 44% of the Hispanic vote and Senator John Cornyn was re-elected with 49%. Whatever else can be said about the farce that is Battleground Texas, the idea that their modus operandi is to “turn Texas blue” is surely in the running for most ridiculous conceit of the year, especially in light of those Texas Hispanic voting trends. Meanwhile, California public debt and pension obligations are on a one-way ride to fiscal calamity and the people who are going to bear the worst of that reckoning are the poor and immigrant populations.

The border surge of child migrants from three countries in Central America was among the more ridiculous scenes of American politics in my lifetime. The actual line parroted by the left – extensively – was that this was all due to rising tides of violence in the region. As if Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador had never experienced cartel or gang violence before. No, what happened was obvious to anyone with a shred of decency or honesty: Obama issued the DACA order in the Spring which allowed child arrivals from non-contiguous countries (i.e. everywhere but Mexico) to avoid deportation. Leave aside for now this blatant instance of legislating from the executive branch and just connect the dots. Obama issued an order, either indirectly or directly got the word out in Central America that any children able to make it into the United States interior would be granted a “permiso,” which in turn would mean their parents would be subject to legal immigration at a later date. The sheer volume of children sent on that crazy sojourn through Mexico to the Rio Grande means the message was received. The incentive duly laid by the American government, rational people in want of a better life understandably jumped at the chance and sent their kids packing, even if it meant putting them in extreme danger by handing them over to the “coyotes” who were ably gaming the new system. The backlash by the right was too harsh, or at least not on point enough, because it focused more on the tangible reality of poor migrant children here illegally rather than the ungodly level of cynicism, deception and outright fraud perpetuated by the White House, Democrats and media nationwide.

The border surge was by design, yet we were loudly and assuredly told otherwise by the media chorus who understood it was their job to distort and confuse the issue until it went away, like all Obama scandals eventually do. Great tomes on the subject of stonewalling are still to be written about this administration and his enablers.

The piece de resistance of progressive ridiculousness is the national conversation on race. Rarely has such a broad coalition of left-right interests coalesced behind as seminal a reform effort as criminal justice and over-incarceration. Not just libertarians but conservatives, from Rick Perry to Chris Christie to governors across the South, are embracing initiatives like “Right on Crime” that aim to reduce prison populations and that carry the additional and (for some) counter-intuitive benefit of continued decline in crime rates. Had the left not been so wedded to its alternative reality narrative of America as an irredeemably racist society and instead been sober about picking its battles, it’s likely we never would have heard of Ferguson and would have instead concentrated on Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and other instances where police misconduct was far more concrete. Real consensus and coming together would have been possible, though far from assured, had the conversation remained on police conduct and the need for reform exclusively. New York’s Benjamin Wallce-Wells places his finger on it:

But something strange has happened during the past month, both in the politics of New York and those of the country. In the debates over policing that followed the tragedies of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and officers Ramos and Liu, race has assumed the central role, displacing crime. This has brought about a more direct confrontation with our remaining national sickness around race, but it has also surfaced an atavistic, tribal strain in our politics, reminiscent of the racialized fights of an earlier era. It is probably no accident that some of the central figures of New York’s recent past returned to the public stage last week, and that their view diverged from de Blasio’s. Instead of a reasonable, technocratic decision to adjust policies of policing and punishment to a place where there is much less crime, they saw the debate as a declaration of allegiances — of whose side you were on.

Of Mr. Wallace-Wells, I have just one question: who made this about race?

Based on the grand jury evidence aired to the public, one can say with 99% certainty that Michael Brown did not have his hands up and did not say “don’t shoot.” That does not make what happened any less of a tragedy, or any less of a reason to talk about the need for police reform, such as the need for body cameras which would have saved the country a whole lot of grief since this case would have been clear one way or the other. But somehow, within hours of the incident, the “hands up, don’t shoot” meme emerged in the streets of Ferguson and since that train left the station… it has barely slowed. While there is no reason to excuse the agitators for stoking ire and running with false narratives, the blame and the ridiculousness of it all lies with enablers in media and progressive politics. There are simply too many progressives in East Coast media willing to ignore facts and context so long as the existing narrative serves their interests, and it most definitely does serve the left’s interests to see America permanently mired in 1960’s racial strife, because nothing sustains power like a good grievance.

The corrosive effects on family and dignity imposed on poor inner city black and impoverished rural white alike are among the proudest achievements of the institutional left. Their policies trap the impoverished in their station, leaving them with little recourse but to look to government, while simultaneously feeding grievance and laying the blame at the feet of “the man.” What continues to escape them in this reasoning is the indisputable reality that in today’s America the left is the man. “Despite controlling the commanding heights of the culture — journalism, Hollywood, the arts, academia, and vast swaths of the corporate America they denounce — liberals have convinced themselves they are pitted against deeply entrenched powerful forces and that being a liberal is somehow brave,” says Goldberg. “Obama, the twice-elected president of the United States, to this day speaks as if he’s some kind of underdog.”

Progressives would bristle at the charge but it is no less true. They are ever so proud of the welfare state they erected, not because it works, but because they built it, and conservatives don’t like it. Liberals are responsible for any well-intentioned program gone bad because theirs is the philosophy that holds good intentions above truth in the heirarchy of virtues. Theirs is the vision of government that insists all social problems be adjudicated from on high. The vice grip that the left has on our culture is so tight that any objections are considered blasphemous rather than just wrong. Don’t believe me? Argue with a lefty about biological distinctions between sex and gender. Actually, for your own sake, don’t do that.

Why then, is the left allowed to avoid accountability for their failures? Going back to Goldberg, it is because their hearts are pure, and ours are not.

Peaceful, law-abiding tea-party groups who cleaned up after their protests — and got legal permits for them — were signs of nascent fascism lurking in the American soul. Violent, anarchic, and illegal protests by Occupy Wall Street a few years ago or, more recently, in Ferguson, Mo., were proof that a new idealistic generation was renewing its commitment to idealism.

When rich conservatives give money to Republicans, it is a sign that the whole system has been corrupted by fat cats. When it is revealed that liberal billionaires and left-wing super PACs outspent conservative groups in 2014: crickets.

When Republicans invoke God or religious faith as an inspiration for their political views, it’s threatening and creepy. When Democrats do it, it’s a sign they believe in social justice.

When it comes to progressives my sentiment is the same as Nick Frost’s frustration with Simon Pegg in the excellent The World’s End: “it’s pointless arguing with you.” Nowhere is that more on display than in the media’s attempt to put some kind of sheen on Obama’s 2014. All that they are left with is the spectacle of an unhinged president acting outside his constitutionally delegated authority to impose on the country his idea of what America should be. And most ridiculous of all is the fact that Obama genuinely believes he had a good year. He would look less ridiculous in the puffy pirate shirt.

Prescience

“But we had better be careful. An apparent verification by prima facie favorable cases which are not analyzed in detail may be very deceptive. Moreover, as every lawyer and every politician knows, energetic appeal to familiar facts will go a long way toward inducing a jury or a parliament to accept also the construction he desires to put upon them. Marxists have exploited this technique to the full. In this instance it is particularly successful, because the facts in question combine the virtues of being superficially known to everyone and of being thoroughly understood by very few. In fact, though we cannot enter into detailed discussion here, even hasty reflection suffices to suggest a suspicion that “it is not so.””

-Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942)

Schumpeter was arguing against Marxian orthodoxy which insists that every event and occurrence can be explained and predicted by the inherent logic of history that points to the inevitable endpoint of capitalism.

But while Marxists eventually, grudgingly had to give up on their “arc of history” fantasies, the appeal of the technique outlined above persists, most obviously on the matter of climate change. I have my strong opinions about it and people are free to theirs, but the point Schumpeter makes is instructive and should discourage climate zealots from being so self-righteously assured of their position. The scientific method was conceived in response to the understanding that the science is almost never settled and any honest broker must acknowledge that shutting down debate with the “denier” epithet is the opposite of good scientific norms and practices. It’s the mentality that got a whole bunch of heliocentric advocates burned at the stake in yonder eras.

So much of the modern left is ignorant of the degree that Marxist tenets and arguments still reign over their thinking. Those who know from whence their ideology springs are keen to disguise the heritage of their ideas and, more importantly, their tactics. If it was conventional wisdom that modern leftwing methods are just warmed-over Marxist retreads, far fewer people would embrace them.

Climate change demagoguery takes a page directly from the Marxist playbook and that makes sense once you appreciate how the rise of the green movement and its activist impulses directly correlates with the fall of the Soviet Union. All those Commies had to end up somewhere and in the environmental movement they found their home.

Schumpeter’s critique of the flaws of Marxian “synthesis” as a means of explaining the logic of history (an endeavor championed more by early 20th century Neo-Marxists than by Marx himself) were incredibly prescient. His analysis of mid-20th century Marxist tendencies translates quite well to those of the Western left today. Climate change is the most acute example of modern leftists channeling techniques from a time when unabashed reverence for their ideological godfather was a matter of pride and rebellion rather than a secret. But the left’s reliance on “verification by prima facie favorable cases which are not analyzed in detail” and which “may be very deceptive” extends to many other topics as well. Every lie told about Obamacare, for instance. The left’s entire economic model of redistribution is itself a barely-disguised Marxist policy founded on the ridiculous idea that there exist always and forever only two classes, owners (capitalists) and workers (labor), and that the obligation of government is to take from the owners – who only could have accumulated their capital through theft – and distribute to the workers. Their cultural agenda is rooted in the Marxist belief that tradition and social norms are the sole provenance of the bourgeoisie and must therefore be eradicated everywhere. Thus are we subjected to notions of “patriarchy,” “white privilege,” “systemic bigotry” and “us against them” populism aimed at nothing more than placating the jealousy cultivated by the Marxist idea of permanent class war. It does not end there. The family and religion are under assault everywhere you look, displayed most openly by MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry in a fine bit of #Grubering that included this nugget of Marxian wisdom:

“We’ve always had kind of a private notion of children. Your kid is yours, and your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of ‘These are our children.’ So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that ‘kids belong to their parents’ or ‘kids belong to their families,’ and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.”

Whether the nuclear family, religion, property rights, conscience rights or the Bill of Rights, the neo-Neo-Marxists that comprise much of the Democratic Party in the U.S. and many elements of Canadian, Australian and UK Labour are hell bent on burning it all down. Like all good Marxists they can never lose sight of the ultimate goal of bringing about the inevitable demise of capitalism, so for all the shiny cultural distractions into which they pour considerable energies, the animating impulse can always be traced back to the fundamental misconception that society is locked in a fateful struggle between classes, of which there can be only two. Having only two classes – like political parties – creates a situation of permanent adversaries, an alluring construct for the aggrieved and the charlatan alike, never mind that this construct has little tether to reality. Once established in the popular mind, it is exceedingly difficult for critics to persuade the converted that they are being sold false hope based on a lie. The intoxicating promise of seeing the capitalists ultimately succumb to their own evil system of theft and greed has endured to today. How else to explain Occupy Wall Street and the inchoate ramblings of faux-populist Elizabeth Warren?

The goal of the Marx-inspired left is simply to stand for the advancement of government interests over individual or traditional interests at every turn. If you adhere to a belief that social progress is fixed to a logical arc of history defined by the never-ending class war and that the “good guys” are predestined to triumph over the “bad guys” and their ill-gotten capital accumulation, you’re unlikely to be receptive to philosophical or economic arguments in favor of capitalism. Instead your concern falls to the “little guy” who can only be made whole by dint of an aggressive correction to the unjust and immoral status quo of market economics. The vehicle for the correction is the state. No matter how much academic evidence emerges to prove the fallacy of the project, no matter the real world evidence that confirms the futility of collectivism in practice, and no matter the human toll erected on the mantle of socialism, the cult of Marx persists because he offered a moral foundation to anticapitalism. The world was rigged in favor of the bourgeoisie and against the proletariat. Entreaties to trust the invisible hand or the beautiful twin phenomena of innovation and creative destruction would always be met with derision and contempt, for they purported to put the onus for solutions on the very class the workers had been indoctrinated to never trust. The same dynamic at play in 1914 is alive and well in 2014.

The left will not allow us to dissolve the broader class war narrative because it suits them to perpetuate. As Schumpeter might say about the left’s overriding world view today, “even hasty reflection suffices to suggest a suspicion that “it is not so.””