Tag Archives: big government

The Progressive Delusion

Anyone looking for an explanation as to why the left went all in on identity politics and matters of conscience need only look at their record where they have long held political sway.

“Blue America,” defined as states that have not voted Republican in presidential elections since the eighties, is lagging “Red America” in virtually every economic category, and the gap is widening. Net migration from blue states to red over the past decade is staggering and the progressive planners are feeling the pain of losing so many taxpayers to fund their social democracy.  And much as activists might salivate over the prospect of “turning Texas blue” or of flooding red states with progressive migrants, the truth is that the blue state diaspora has not effected any real shift in states’ partisan affiliations. People motivated to “vote with their feet” typically do so out of raw economic self-interest and therefore are less inclined to factor politics into the decision to relocate. But even if many of these domestic migrants are motivated by progressive politics and seek to transform states, the aggregate effect of people looking for work and then finding it is generally not one of antipathy toward their new home; quite the opposite. Democrats who move to places like Austin, Orlando, Raleigh or Phoenix to find work and come to appreciate the policy agenda that facilitates vibrant economies are growing in number. Writ large, this phenomenon explains Reagan Democrats. After the malaise of the seventies, the Reagan revolution ushered in growth and opportunity nationwide. Blue collar workers and those without degrees saw with their own eyes how deregulation and lower taxes lead to broad prosperity. Most were Democrats frustrated with high gas prices, high unemployment and higher inflation, yet they were ready to dump partisan affiliation in favor of economic growth and when they got what they were promised, they registered their appreciation by giving Reagan forty-nine states (may Minnesota forever live in shame) in 1984. Ultimately, paychecks trump partisanship.

A similar thing is happening today, only it is the states instead of the federal government leading the way. Federalism – the system of decentralized power and state autonomy championed by Madison for its facility to cater competing experiments within the republic – is ascendant.

One reason to cheer the decline of Democrats’ political fortunes is that it will accelerate the left’s budding flirtation with federalism. As Matt Welch reminds us, in the wake of George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004, desperate Democrats looked to states’ rights as a panacea. “On gay marriage, marijuana, even environmental regulation, progressives were getting in touch with their inner decentralist.” Today the left has won genuine victories on same-sex marriage, gun restrictions, minimum wage and tax increases and, most notably, straight legalization of marijuana. All were achieved at the state level while federal policy lagged behind. Of course, being progressives, the embedded intent in state initiatives is always to lay the groundwork for federal extension. But the fact that the left is working to advance their agenda at the state level at all is encouraging. It is the way things are supposed to work.

Experience can be a hell of a teacher and as the drug war and police state escalate in proportion to the growth of government, progressives are starting to realize government’s inherent dangers. The rising tension between federal prohibition and state legalization of marijuana is instructive. How will they react when the feds bust pot dispensaries in Boulder or Spokane? I doubt it will be to say “well, it’s the law, and we progressives must bow to the benevolent will of our federal government.” Or is it more likely that such an experience would likely nudge a few leftists ever so slightly towards the view that politics and legislation should be conducted as locally as possible? Baby steps to federalism are better than the road to serfdom.

If there is hope yet for grass roots lefties to see the light as a result of government’s expanding reach, the same cannot be said for the leading lights of progressivism. Three celebrity stooges for an unabashed progressive agenda, Elizabeth Warren, Bill DeBlasio and Bernie Sanders believe that cronyism and inequality can be cured by adding more cronyism and bureaucratic oversight to an already straitjacketed economy. Like Occupy Wall Street, their answer to the genuine problem of corporatism and crony privilege is not to fix the underlying incentives that create corruption but to make sure that they are the ones in charge. They have no problem with the federal reserve or quantitative easing, the true culprits of widening income inequality. All are whole hog supporters of the Ex-Im Bank, an almost comical embodiment of special interest and regulatory capture that privileges large corporations over the interests of smaller competitors. Economist Veronique de Rugy’s extensive research “show[s] that the Export-Import Bank’s top beneficiaries constitute a large portion of total financial assistance—and therefore have plenty of reasons to support the upcoming reauthorization.” Elizabeth Warren wants to keep the Ex-Im Bank because to a progressive, eliminating any part of Leviathan is tantamount to admitting failure. So what if the only people in favor of keeping the bank are its direct beneficiaries, Boeing and GE? It is simply more important to the progressive identity that the benighted government they consider theirs be forever guarded. Denying the bureaucracy its ability to meddle in everyday Americans’ lives would be tantamount to stripping however many championships Alabama football claims and make Charlton Heston’s position on gun rights look tame by comparison. What truly vexes is the lack of any question from Warren’s rabid supporters about whether her support for the bank of cronyism is a good idea. The silence speaks volumes and suggests that OWS was never about tackling cronyism. Only the most confused socialist could rail against the injustice of rigged games and corrupt power and call in the next breath for further consolidation of power in the form of more rules and regulations. The farce that passes for leftwing “populism” is in reality just another primal scream against capitalism and a call for mass redistribution of wealth for the sake of fairness. To echo Milton Friedman, “I don’t believe in fairness. I believe in freedom.”

As progressive-led cities across America suffer under terrible policies and worse corruption, it is the poorer citizens who suffer most, from education to crime to jobs. If Democrats held even an ounce of compassion for poor people as they claim, wholesale changes to the public union, tax-and-spend model would have been undertaken long ago. No such changes were made of course, let alone contemplated, since it is the only model they know. As Bill McGurn attests in the Wall Street Journal, progressivism “can claim its victories, here making it more expensive for employees to hire workers, there enshrining some race or gender grievance into law, here again imposing some new tax on millionaires. As a governing philosophy, however, progressive cures tend to leave the people the movement claims to want to help most – the poor and the working class – in worse shape.”

The poor are starting to notice how progressive policy “works” in practice. Black community leaders and Hispanic conservatives are pointing to different approaches to poverty and education because if one thing is clear, it is that America’s urban environments are in crisis and conservatives have not been at the helm of this sinking ship.

Because “progressive leaders [have] few examples of thriving progressive states and cities to point to,” they delude themselves into believing that Americans place matters of petty cultural disagreement above kitchen table concerns. The left is thoroughly convinced of their moral superiority, on everything from compassion, empathy and tolerance to women’s issues and sexuality. In fact, one could be forgiven for thinking the whole Democratic platform is about sex. Or race. Or “science!” Not a lot of particulars or specifics or even slight departures from the status quo regarding opportunity or upward mobility. It is like they believe that denial and obfuscation are enough to keep them in power, and once in power, prior transgressions will just fade away, especially as they work their will on the agenda that the American people really want, even if they don’t know it yet.

The progressive delusion is twofold: delusion about the reality of their economic and political stewardship of urban America and further delusion that economic performance is secondary to cultural considerations. Essentially, the Democrats are betting that cultural grievance and contempt for the “other side” will be enough to neutralize whatever fallout they suffer from being routinely exposed as incompetent inner city stewards. Ready for Hillary should be inspiring. If nothing else, it will be delusional.

 

“In Quiet Areas, This is Something We Talk About”

pastor corey brooks

Corey Brooks is on a mission to leverage his influence as pastor of New Beginnings Church on the south side of Chicago. He wants to open a dialogue between the community and Republican politicians, an all but endangered species in the inner city. Brooks is asking questions about poverty and political representation, questions that make Democrats uncomfortable for a simple reason. According to Brooks, the Democratic Party has failed the black community.

The question seems permanently on Brooks’ mind. He asks what loyalty to the Democrats has given the south side of Chicago: “We have a large, disproportionate number of people who are impoverished. We have a disproportionate number of people who are incarcerated, we have a disproportionate number of people who are unemployed, the educational system has totally failed, and all of this primarily has been under Democratic regimes in our neighborhoods. So, the question for me becomes, how can our neighborhoods be doing so awful and so bad when we’re so loyal to this party who is in power? It’s a matter of them taking complete advantage of our vote.”

Brooks invited all Republican candidates to the south side to speak and to offer alternatives, an offer taken up so far only by Rand Paul. Brooks’ exasperation at the lack of community improvement and the failure to produce opportunity through the years eventually forced him to realize that “[Democrats] have a failing plan. A business owner wouldn’t allow the person who runs it to remain in charge for 50 years, constantly running it into the ground.” Brooks is open to a new plan, but are others so inclined?

The answer depends on who you ask. Anyone affiliated with Democratic politics is not open to any new plan, as even an acknowledgement of the need for new plans is an indictment of the old one. But if you ask struggling minority households locked into abysmal school districts where even the local McDonalds is out of business, they are more open-minded to doing things differently. Witness the thousands of inner city youth dragged from New York to Albany by their parents to brave the frigid cold in order to tell their governor to leave their charter schools alone. That is real activism, as opposed to the petty identity politics “activism” of narcissists. Single mothers in New York or Chicago (or any major city) fighting for their child’s education is urgent activism, with meaning. The same cannot be said of social media crusaders who think they’re fighting injustice by forcing Mars rover-landing scientists into tearful apologies or by waging war against geeks and gamers. If you’re a social justice warrior with a cause, you need a hashtag. The activism inherent in reforming the criminal justice system, ending the War on Drugs and civil asset forfeiture, reducing mandatory minimums, and offering enterprise freedom zones to boost employment is likewise more consequential than anything associated with “black lives matter” or “hands up don’t shoot.” What is becoming truer by the day across all strata of American life has been true for African-Americans for a long time: the disconnect between politicians and ordinary folk is deep and getting worse. That this is the obvious consequence of an overreaching and intrusive government is of course entirely lost on the left; that is, the politicians, media and elites who form leftist opinion simply refuse to believe the evidence. Among the rank and file and particularly among African-Americans however, the consequences of having big government/public employee union machine dominance in urban America are becoming obvious, and the question is to what degree this translates into political change.

Louisville pastor Kevin Cosby is concerned with the same issues as in Chicago, and like Brooks he likes what he hears from Rand Paul. Judging the senator’s outreach sincere, Cosby declared “NO ONE in this country is crafting a better message of uplift for the African American community than Rand Paul.” Is it a coincidence that black leaders motivated to effect positive change are responding favorably to Rand Paul? While “Nixon Goes to China” is perhaps a stretch, Paul’s efforts to expand the Republican tent by going where few Republicans dare are being treated mostly as genuine and earnest. Others sneer that this is all so much opportunism and besides, have you heard what he said to Maddow about the Civil Rights Act five years ago? Increasingly though, the sneers are dwindling as much of the community for whom Paul aims to chart a better course see the failure of progressive politics more pronounced each day.

Of course, if Paul’s ideas for the black community continue to gain traction or if he wins the nomination, the left will orchestrate such a mind-numbing campaign of “Paul the Racist” that it will make their treatment of Romney’s career at Bain look like they were pulling for the guy. And no one should be under any illusions that the moment for paradigm-shifting political upheavals is necessarily upon us. Electoral transformations don’t happen overnight and anyway the dream scenario for Paul probably includes something approaching a quarter of the vote. That would be up from Romney’s six percent share of African-Americans but still a minority of the black population. But anything even in the ballpark of twenty five percent for Paul would ignite a firestorm in Washington, especially among Democrats, because such a feat would not only guarantee a Paul win but would blow up the Democratic coalition and send it into total chaos. It is remarkable that imagining such a disruption occurring in 2016 is even possible, but it is. And given how the left paints conservatives as helplessly retrograde bigots, the fact that a small but growing segment of African-Americans are expressing frustration with the Democratic model by flirting with Republicans and inviting shrieks of Uncle Tom! and sellout! shows that we may soon cross the Rubicon. If the left’s racial politics begin to peter out and the black vote becomes less monolithic in the years to come, it will stand as an historic triumph of reality over rhetoric.

Corey Brooks hopes to see the reality of Democratic failure prevail upon the minds of his neighbors and friends. It will come as no surprise to learn that he still faces a mountain to climb. When he bravely endorsed Republican Bruce Rauner for Illinois governor he was met with the usual denunciations and even death threats. Perhaps Rauner’s unprecedented victory in the heart of machine union politics heralds a bright future where more than a few people living in poverty – of all backgrounds – are open to the message of actual hope and change that both Corey Brooks and Rand Paul are selling. “In quiet areas,” says Brooks, “this is something we talk about.”

May the conversation continue.

Stupid Laws and Unintended Consequences

The scourge of progressivism is always on display, but sometimes the sheer stupidity of its arguments goes to eleven.

Behold the progressive left’s comprehensive rebuke of Rand Paul’s recent argument that cigarette taxes and the black markets which consequently ensue are partly responsible for Eric Garner’s death. Because racial division benefits the Democratic Party politically, there exists a profound desire on the left to sustain such a beneficial narrative for as long as possible when afforded the opportunity. Conversely, an even stronger desire to prohibit the narrative from being hijacked by other focal points manifests whenever someone challenges the established left wing conventional wisdom.

On MSNBC’s Hardball, Rand Paul offered this completely reasonable opinion on Eric Garner’s tragic death:

I think it is hard not to watch that video of him saying ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’ and not be horrified by it. I think it is important to know that some politician put a tax of $5.85 on a pack of cigarettes so that driven cigarettes underground by making them so expensive. But then some politician also had to direct the police say, ‘hey we want you arresting people for selling a loose cigarette.’ For someone to die over breaking that law, there is really no excuse for it. But I do blame the politicians. We put our police in a difficult situation with bad laws.

The last thing the left wants is their racial injustice narrative derailed by concerns over taxes or big government (which is not unlike radical feminists’ desire that the agenda outweigh the truth). Hence the surreal spectacle of countless left wing pundits levying passionate rebukes of Paul and the broader right who picked up on his critique. Jon Stewart made the splashiest headlines with his “What the fu*k are you talking about?” zinger on The Daily Show.

Joan Walsh weighed in to pronounce Paul’s 2016 hopes “wrecked,” while Gawker, Vox, Rachel Maddow’s stenographer Steve Benen, and Jeffrey Toobin all joined the chorus condemning Paul for his comments.

Meanwhile, Jonah Goldberg, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and others on the right responded to the left’s claims with justified scorn. There are some lines of attack that go unanswered because they are not worth responding to, such as charges that Republicans wish to “throw grandma off the cliff” (by reforming Medicare) or wishes to “see kids starving in the streets” (by cutting food stamps). But then there are some arguments belched out of the left’s hive mind that demand swift correction and incessant mockery. The argument that taxes had nothing to do with the Eric Garner tragedy is just plain stupid.

With the opposite of all due respect for Jon Stewart, let me explain just “what the fu*k” Rand Paul and everyone else with a brain is talking about. New York progressives believe that nothing is immune from their regulatory reach, especially those activities which they define as bad. Smoking is indisputably bad for individual health, ergo there must be government restrictions on access to this legal product. That constitutes the “seen” whereas all the unintended consequences that go into enforcing these laws constitute what is “unseen.” By and large, the right knows at least that the unseen exists as a real phenomenon that must be accounted for in public policy, while the left treats the unseen at best as an abstraction and at worst as a sort of urban legend, a myth invented by unsophisticated rubes who can’t quite wrap their puny minds around the need for government to operate as independent arbitrator.

The unseen in the matter of Eric Garner is the human response to incentives. Had there been no six dollar surtax on cigarettes, there would have been no need for the emergence of a massive smuggling racket, whereby trucks would smuggle cigarettes up from the South by the half million. Contrary to popular liberal mythology, human nature is not malleable and thus not prone to radical shifts in personal behavior just because the authorities believe that passing a law equals solving a problem.

Who smokes cigarettes? It’s not coastal elites or academia’s assembly-line activists, that’s for sure. It’s middle American whites and inner city minorities. It’s nice and noble that nannies wish for them to quit, but you know what is not nice and noble? Making packs in New York City and Chicago $14. You think by magic all these smokers are going to magically and radically change their behavior? No, they’re going to look for cheaper avenues to acquire smokes. Progressive do-gooderism and a failure to understand market dynamics, incentives and human behavior leads them to passing these sorts of taxes and levies on the poor in all of our big cities. And the left gets mad when the people don’t comply with their central plans, so they create a strike force (as Cuomo did) to crack down on those nefarious criminals who dare to sell “loosies” outside of the jurisdiction’s onerous taxes.

Progressives want everything to be about social justice and race, and nothing to be about economics or the perverse incentives created by well-intentioned government programs. Both things can be true: Eric Garner was a victim of excessive force by above-the-law police and he was also the victim of the tragic unintended consequences that often arise when black markets emerge in response to bad policy. This is not complicated, but judging by the left’s reaction, I guess it is.