Tag Archives: progressive

One Year Later

On the one year anniversary of Donald Trump entering the presidential race, it is worth looking back. Before Trump, it was possible for right-leaning Americans to take comfort in the principles that inform conservatism. Ours was the side of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and ordered liberty. Theirs was the side of state central planning, coercive mandates and regulations, and identity politics. Our team was lining up a deep bench of accomplished and impressive presidential candidates, while they were talking themselves into a robotic, uninspiring and corrupt Hillary Clinton.

On June 16th, 2015 Donald Trump entered the arena and proceeded to destroy every illusion conservatives held about the Republican Party. GOP voters nominated a candidate who they believe speaks for them, someone who says out loud and in public the things they are too cowed by political correctness to say. Were this the sole explanation for Trump’s support, it would be easier to dissect: backlash against political correctness is indeed warranted and worthwhile.

Alas, the Trump movement is more than rage against the establishment machine; embedded within the celebrity-fueled movement is an identifiably left-of-center policy agenda causing consternation among conservatives. The most visible aspect of this agenda (because it is what Trump talks about on the stump more than anything else) is protectionism, the belief that free trade and the global economy have been net negatives for Americans, a view that until Trump was associated almost entirely with the anticapitalist left. Opposition to free trade is rooted in Bastiat’s timeless counsel concerning the “seen and the unseen.” As a 2013 Mercatus study declares: “The benefits of free international trade are often diffuse and hard to see, while the benefits of shielding specific groups from foreign competition are often immediate and visible.” Efficient supply chains resulting in broader access to cheaper goods are not as readily apparent as decaying towns and rotting factories. It requires only a rudimentary understanding of economics or, failing that, minimal imaginative capability, to grasp Bastiat’s meaning and thus shed the adolescent belief in government’s capacity to manage society’s problems. 

Trump is suspect on his commitment to the first two amendments in the Bill of Rights (he likely doesn’t know what is contained in the rest), which should be disqualifying for any Republican candidate for President. He advocates for higher minimum wage laws, possesses no understanding of religious liberty or pro-life sentiments, believes “the rich” ought to pay more taxes, is the definition of a crony capitalist, and is indistinguishable from Bernie Sanders on trade. His army of followers include a toxic minority of vile racists and white nationalists who have drunk so deeply the left’s cultural messaging that they proudly adopt skin-deep identity politics, clamoring not for smaller government but for a redistribution of government spoils to the white working class.

This amounts to a final capitulation to another of Bastiat’s warnings: a free society’s descent into a will-to-power fight between factions, each using an ever-expanding law to obtain spoils, applying the force of the state to expropriate from its opposition. The Trump movement is a giant white flag surrender to Big Government that effectively substitutes the Tea Party/libertarian-infused brief against Leviathan with factional populism demanding its share from “Daddy” Government.   

These painful realizations confronting conservatives and right-libertarians since Trump’s emergence lead to the depressing conclusion that the American right is not the principled defender of small government that we wanted to believe. Instead it is an angry, frustrated mob reaching for the shiniest object it can as a salve to feelings of impotence, futility and betrayal. The early Tea Party represented a return to principle, a call to reduce spending, to halt the expansion of government, and to restore the Constitutional order and separation of powers gradually deteriorating under both parties. It is a shame that such an opportunity was squandered.

And yet… while I will not vote for Trump, neither will I vote for Hillary. The progressive ethos animating the Democratic Party is orders of magnitude worse than Trumpism. Riddled with contradictions and confusion, progressivism is about deception. Secular preachers of social justice insist they have “the facts” and “science,” but actually they are nothing more than a fashionable clique of Sneetches, preening and strutting and signaling, all to convey their tolerance. Ironically, the highest virtue in the cult of diversity is conformity.

And that conformity begets a unified worldview based on lies.

The left lies routinely about guns, abortion, Islam, the minimum wage, climate change, rape culture, unemployment, healthcare, the effects of the welfare state, and much besides. I’ve no doubt that a significant chunk of Trump’s support is fueled by angry reaction to these lies. I am sympathetic. I only wish we had the good sense to hold in our minds competing truths: political correctness and progressivism are a scourge on society, and Donald Trump is unfit to be the avatar of our opposition against it.

All that remains is to enlist in our little platoons.

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.

 

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

 

Remedial Civics

This is one of those “wait, that can’t be true … but then again that is obviously true” stories: “Only 36% of Americans can name the three branches of government.”

If you have any appreciation for the destruction to our education system wrought by progressivism, particularly by the exlusively-progressive plague of public sector unionism, then you are not likely to be very surprised by this headline. Likewise, if you are sentient and in possession of basic senses, you also are not surprised to learn that a great majority of your fellow citizens are utterly clueless about basic civics. The age of reality television and selfies has clearly seen the chaff of society overshadow the wheat. No future historian will confuse the early period of the 21st century with the Age of Enlightenment.

But… 36%???

One would think that by merely existing in an age of ubiquitous information, on-demand content and 24 hour news and internet, at least half the national population would be able to absorb through data osmosis the basic foundations of our republic. With all the inescapable political banter soaring through the ether, surely even the most checked-out or apathetic citizen must know that there exist simple delineations between the President, the Congress and the Supreme Court? This headline would be staggering if it said 50%, but 36%? Almost two-thirds of Americans really have no clue how our government works. I wonder who that benefits, and I wonder if said beneficiaries have incentives to keep it this way.

Woodrow Wilson urged Americans to reject the Founding Fathers and the Constitution in order to bring about a “renewed” America because the left can only thrive with an electorate which holds no first principles. A citizenry that abandons interest in its natural rights and the separation of powers meant to protect those rights is an aimless and rootless citizenry always chasing “progress” down whichever road the winds are blowing. For Wilson and the progressives, strict separation of powers with clearly demarcated responsibilities therein just would not do. These eminent geniuses had it all figured out, and something as trivial as checks and balances was not going to stand in their way. But in 1912, Americans tended to revere notions of natural rights and constitutional liberty, so the cause of disavowing them of their quaint ideals fell to the ultimate elitist, a Princeton President and all-around narcissist, Captain Woodrow. Wilson running against the Founders and Constitution was merely the first step in a long campaign to undermine the values of our republic. The seed of the idea of an omniscient executive had been planted, waiting for Roosevelt to come along and water the shit out of it, which he surely did, starting in 1932.

Since Marxist ideology burst on the scene in the 19th century, leftwing regimes have understood that the path to control of the citizenry is information. The more informed the population, the less likely it is that your socialist utopia is going to fool them into compliance. The 20th century incarnations of Marxism, whether through Hitler’s Nazism or Stalin’s Communism understood this and were thoroughly ruthless in their censorship, propaganda and disinformation outfits. They also correctly identified the fundamental antagonist to the socialist enterprise, capital, and thus set out to shut down stock exchanges whenever they acquired territory. How it is that so many erstwhile sophisticates of the millennial generation find it trendy to wax nostalgic over collectivism and express vague platitudes as to the inherent virtues of socialism will forever escape me when the requisite qualities of any socialist operation typically consist of harsh censorship and restrictions on capital generation. But in order to make the connection between the abysmal failures of socialism – in theory and in practice – and a culture of repression and censorship, you must be educated on actual history and economics. Which brings us back to the issue at hand: education.

If the population is educated and informed, especially regarding the specifics of our constitution and of our history, then it is likely to be a proud and patriotic population. But if the population withers intellectually and ceases to be educated in such matters as remedial civics, then the project of our republic suddenly appears vulnerable. If the citizenry gradually shifts from participatory and engaged to apathetic and indifferent, and in doing so becomes less educated and less concerned with the genetic coding of our complicated federalist system, how easy it would be to take advantage. And that is what the progressives have done.

Whether or not they set out to import the Bismarckian model of education from Germany as a Trojan Horse for bureaucratizing and centralizing our country, the progressives have definitely capitalized on the opportunity and used the national public education monopoly to attain power and to keep the citizenry placid and immobile. The power comes from the pernicious and corrupt relationship between teachers’ unions and Democratic politicians, who court lavish campaign contributions from the union bosses in return for preferential treatment in collective bargaining sessions. They effect to keep the public stagnant by treating public education primarily as a jobs program for adults rather than as an education program for students. National curricula are designed and overseen by a cadre of leftwing academics at the DOE and the College Board. Each and every attempt at reforming the public education cartel is met with furious and unhinged behavior by the unions and the progressive left, which is thankfully becoming more transparent to the parents of low-income and minority students, who see the unions and the leftists standing squarely in the way of their children’s opportunities for advancement, all in the name of protecting cushy pensions and work benefits.

The left views informed people who are passionate about our founding ideals with suspicion and contempt. The excess vitriol spewed at the Tea Party by progressives was so intense and unhinged precisely because the Tea Party stands above all else for the Constitution. The Constitution is sacred because it is so wary of concentrated power. The most emphasis during all the convention debates and through all the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers centered around the separation of powers. Our Founders were well-read philosophes who agreed comprehensively on one thing: they did not want a king. And so all the energy of the debate focused on how to establish a republic that balanced and separated powers hitherto reserved for a king?

Woodrow Wilson announced that for the modern left, a king is exactly what is desired. Thus the need to undermine the nature of our founding by gradually eroding reverence for it. The left needs a dumb society if they are to be in charge. It needs useful idiots. When only 36% of Americans can identify the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of our government, I’d say that the left is winning.

Administrative State

For a hundred-plus years the progressive vision has sought to overturn the constitutional vision of separation of powers; of separate branches in conflict. Because the latter vision makes it purposely hard to enact laws, the former vision became frustrated and sought to find ways around the separation of powers. Hence the administrative state: a fourth branch of government that gained power through Congress willfully ceding their own. The oppressive administrative state under which we live today is answerable to no one, behaves as if it’s the aristocracy, and fights like hell to protect itself rather than serve the people it is tasked to serve. It is the nature of bureaucracy.

And progressives love it because a) it angers those of us who take constitutional democracy and separation of powers seriously and b) because it allows their preferences to be enacted on the country with minimal resistance. Congress won’t pass cap-and-trade? There’s an EPA for that. Congress won’t pass labor laws you like? There’s an NLRB for that. Won’t pass campaign finance restrictions? The IRS will take care of it. And on and on.

The thing they don’t realize because their ideological vision begins and ends with “must attain power,” is that as the administrative continues to grow and grow, often it’s going to establish entities that progressives hate. The DHS, the war on drugs, the militarization of police, Pentagon bloat…. this is all the result of Republicans using the administrative state to their liking (not to mine!) and to the chagrin of progressives.

People need to wake up and realize that, like the UK ceding most of its autonomy to Brussels via the EU, we are doing the same with the administrative bureaucracy, which is unelected, unaccountable, and makes most of the rules we have to live under quietly and in darkness.

A Uniform Theory of Government

“Do less.” Indeed.

The left love to ridicule its opposition as “paranoid” about government for two reasons. The first is obvious: defining the enemies of big government as “extreme” or “outside the mainstream” is what progressives do. When your ideology elevates superficial class concerns over individual liberty, and does so as a matter of principle, it reveals an utter lack of meaningful principles altogether. Compare the foundational literature of conservative and libertarian dogma with that of progressives and socialists and try not to be dumbfounded by the massive disparity in volume and quality of argument. The tradition that holds individual liberty and free markets as the highest virtues is older, richer, and deeper; with a larger canon of philosophical and moral arguments for a free society than any competing ideology. Collectivism was born in direct response to industrialized capitalism and has been wondering in the wilderness in search of a coherent theory of government ever since.

Which leads us to the second reason for the “paranoid” pejorative they so love to sling: the left doesn’t stand for anything, besides more ________ . It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, the progressives want more: taxes, redistribution, welfare, subsidies, political correctness, speech codes, censorship, bureaucracy, etc. And, being the party of more, it is natural that they would greet those who shout less! with contempt and derision, and so it goes. Champions of small government must be incredibly paranoid of black helicopters and such because why else would anyone have a problem with our benevolent government providing basic necessities like food stamps to people in need? There is no sentiment more alarming to a progressive than “do less” because any suggestion that government has perhaps done too much implies progressive failure in the past, which is why they are prepared to fight to the death to preserve the New Deal mentality that sustains the welfare state. Ultimately, the left is anti-capitalist, as evidenced by every policy prescription and bit of ignorant economic rhetoric that comes spewing from their midst.

The best the anti-capitalists have come up with so far is probably Rousseau’s “social contract,” which suggests that human nature is chaotic and Hobbesian, thus the corrupting temptations of the individual must be subordinate to the collective good of “society.” It’s the type of theory that sounds good to 8th graders but should have been laughed off the stage for all eternity once Rousseau’s vision culminated with The Terror. Rousseau’s vision of the “common good” being preserved through benign state action would become the galvanizing principle of collectivist movements for the next two and a half centuries, from Marx to Lenin to Mao to Castro to the Greens. Again, this is hardly a principle at all. Saying you’re for the “common good” is meaningless without defining the terms by which goodness is going to be brought about. Saying you’re for the common good while pushing for initiatives that expand government in order to procure all this goodness is just stupid. Human nature will always nurture certain pathologies like our instinct to seek quick and easy solutions to complex problems, a phenomenon that knows no partisan lean. Conservatives who rightfully tout the rule of law as sacrosanct often succumb to this instinct when they treat prisons and drone strikes as quick and easy solutions to crime and terrorism. The fallible human condition allows even principled conservatives who take seriously the threat of excessive state power to place their trust in state and federal authorities to not abuse their power, and they often fail to see the contradiction at work. You can’t be for freedom and limited government and simultaneously support a militarized police campaign against non-violent drug offenders and the war on terror to boot. But no one falls for the promise of the quick and easy fix as often or as passionately as the left. They need to ditch the Rousseau and read some John Locke or Adam Smith.

The idea that utopian society is right around the corner if only we got the right people in charge is the left’s uniform theory of everything. The belief that society can be “administered” to at all is ridiculous, and yet the left still show no signs of inching any closer to understanding this basic fact of life and economics. What the left does understand, though, is comedy’s capacity to be subversive and instructive, in places you least expect it. And it is in that vein that I submit Paul Rudd’s epic surfing advice as a meta narrative on how government should behave.

On Mark Steyn and Free Speech

Michael Mann is a special kind of douchebag. No, not the awesome director of movies like Heat and Last of the Mohicans, but the climate scientist famous for his controversial and thoroughly discredited “hockey stick” graph, which purports to show a calamitous rise in global warming since 1900. Mann is the type of progressive who views the cause of “anthropogenic global warming” (AGW) through the kind of militant, silence-all-opposition lens of intolerance that is familiar to most on the eco-fascist left. He is simply not a proponent of free speech. After James Delingpole exposed the fraud of “climategate” in 2009 and the IPCC officially scrapped his hockey stick from their climate assessments in 2013, further scientific “consensus” stubbornly persisted in eluding Mann and his work. The man’s professional reputation had been greatly diminished, but it would be an affront to his tender sensibilities that re-animated Mann in the form of a defamation lawsuit.

Mark Steyn castigated the climate change fear-mongerer by suggesting he was not unlike Jerry Sandusky in his zeal to “torture and manipulate data.” While this may be untoward and unsophisticated, in no universe should it qualify as defamation. But in our world of perpetual grievance where any offensive speech is seen as grounds for retribution, and where any blithe reference to word “fraud” is taken as a coordinated attempt to remove one from his profression, it is no surprise that Mann is suing Steyn, National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute on defamation grounds, on the presumed basis that Mann’s reputation as an esteemed man of science is so fragile and threatened by words that his career is must be at stake, or something.

This is all a bunch of nonsense of course, however, so far the courts have seen fit to deny multiple motions to dismiss, and so the suit proceeds apace. As Steyn has often mentioned, the point of these lawsuits is never about the result but about the heavy burden placed on defendants and their financial resources. Mann and his cohort are rabidly intolerant of any dissent and their aim here is twofold: first, potentially put the leading conservative opinion journal in the country out of business and second, broadcast an unmistakable warning to anyone who would consider challenging climate change orthodoxy going forward. If you think I am kidding or engaging in hyperbole, I invite you to scan the comments of this ThinkProgress article and answer me why it is leftists are so enthusiastic about silencing, censoring, or otherwise intimidating speech they think is offensive, dangerous, or just plain wrong? And they do not seek to use persuasion or societal shaming, but only force (i.e. government) to shut up the dissenters. And they have the audacity to call us fascists?

I have no doubt that Mark Steyn and his co-defendant organizations will ultimately prevail in court, but the fact that they must bear the financial cost to do so because of nothing more than a journalist’s criticism of a professional’s (discredited) work is outrageous. Free speech should be absolute, and thankfully we have such fearless and committed free speech absolutists as Mark Steyn.

#Benghazi

We have been living through a committed attempt at progressive revival the past seven years, and key to the project is an emphasis on “transforming” the domestic foundations of the country rather than those related to foreign policy. Progressivism depends on control of a robust state apparatus with which they mean to shape society into something more just and equitable. Once the business of remaking America at home is done, the focus can turn to exporting their enlightened awesomeness abroad. The only obstacle standing in their way is the persistent and inconvenient truth that their ideas just don’t work.

When confronted with failure, progressives always obfuscate and deny their transgressions, because the only thing worse than a failed progressive experiment is acknowledgment of failure. Once you admit failure to the masses you’re trying to control, the jig is up, as who is going to sign onto enlightened rule by expert knowledge if the experts don’t know what they’re doing? The reality of every collectivist enterprise is a citizenry at the mercy of the powerful. In order to maintain the illusion that the people are served by these benevolent masters, the powerful must claim infallibility. More important, skepticism must be quashed, as the crucial element of any statist regime is information control. In the end it is all about coercion.

This is how a major foreign policy disaster is covered up. While critics and skeptics were met with either indifference or derisive mockery, the administration was busy putting the clamps down on all information so as to avoid any damning leaks that could contradict their fabrication.

Like the progressives, I prefer to talk about domestic issues over foreign policy because no matter how dangerous or precarious American interests look overseas, nothing compares to the urgency of our domestic situation. Particularly on economics and the physical makeup of our federal government, domestic issues dominate kitchen table discussions in liberal and conservative homes alike, and for good reason. And while I understand clearly the importance of the Benghazi incident, it’s hard for me to muster as much outrage or expend as much mental energy on it as many conservatives have, simply because I believe Obamacare, the NSA and the IRS stories carry larger weight. Still, Benghazi was undoubtedly a tragedy and, we now know, undoubtedly a terrorist attack. What infuriates the average American is not that the Obama administration failed to prevent a coordinated jihadist attack on an American outpost, but that they lied about it for a month in order to cover for their election campaign narrative that “bin Laden is dead and al Queda is on the run.”

Even more infuriating is the mocking and dismissive tone among leftwing pundits regarding conservative questions about what happened in Benghazi. It is now fashionable to make fun of “#Benghazi” and to paint anyone with a hint of curiosity about the subject as a desperate lunatic. The most galling thing about all this is the willingness of leftists to dutifully believe everything about the administration’s account of the tragedy. Contrast most of the national media’s reluctance to assign blame to any principal in the Benghazi matter with the way it covered the Chris Christie scandal. It is perfectly acceptable to just know that Christie knew about the retributive lane closures, whereas it is a crime against decency to suspect that someone in the administration concocted a false narrative about Benghazi because of presidential campaign considerations. And since Obama’s strategy of stonewalling has worked so well, unanswered questions and lingering suspicions are dismissed by progressives as remnants of an outdated story stuck in an infinite loop inside the conservative echo chamber.

It is bad enough that the administration lied about the circumstances that saw the U.S. lose its first foreign ambassador to violence in over thirty years. Knowing how progressives operate, especially those within the Obama White House, it is wholly unsurprising that the likes of Valerie Jarrett and Ben Rhodes would put politics and campaign messaging over the truth. By extension, the same goes for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton (and Chris Christie). What is so painfully dispiriting is the way their cheerleaders and cult followers played such a complimentary role in the administration’s efforts at brushing the whole thing under the rug. It was not enough to distort the facts or glom onto a fanciful story about a youtube video being the culprit. It was equally important to disqualify conservatives who objected to the official account so that their objections could be dismissed at the outset. Make them sound so crazy and out-of-touch for clinging onto a “conspiracy theory” about an “old” story and the public will assume there is nothing to see here and move on. And it has totally worked.

The Federal Reserve and the Right

Consider me vexed by the glut of pro-Fed conservatives who seem to exist at times just to bash those of us who lament the very existence of central banking. The point of Ron and Rand Paul agitation against the Fed isn’t to convert us back to gold immediately. It’s to raise awareness on an incredibly complex and opaque institution that approximately no one understands. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Federal Reserve isn’t going to be reigned in and/or dismantled at once either.

In light of the discussion surrounding Yuval Levin’s new book The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine and the Birth of Right and Left, it’s fine for some conservatives to champion monetarism and cite Milton Friedman and advocate a more tempered attitude towards the Fed. That would be considered a Burkean approach because it takes the world as is and tries to build on what works (“its best self). And for all its flaws and infringements on good principle and sound economics, the central bank does work to a degree, and there are arguments that can be mounted in defense of it. Many respected writers on the right, including Ramesh Ponnuru and James Pethokoukis, defend monetary policy on the grounds that it has largely generated stability while preventing deflationary cycles that end with catastrophic runs on banks. But it’s more important in my view to adopt the Paineian approach and take a principled stand on the very idea of central banks. Thomas Paine believed fervently that every generation enjoyed its own autonomy and that no generation was really bound to its past. Contra Burke, who viewed the past as predicate and emphasized the preservation of institutions and of all the things that are “good” in a society as the true means to achieving progress, Paine saw every custom or cultural institution as a shackle. I’ll have a lot more to say on the fascinating debate between Burke and Paine, as I still am not sure if I agree with Levin’s ultimate siding with the Burkean disposition, especially as it relates to politics in 2014. The Paineian impulse to rely on reason and principle over tradition and custom in a quest to remake society anew according to each successive generation’s own desires explains why Levin asserts that Paine was an important precursor to the idea of the left. That he went on to fully endorse the French Revolution and its obsession with eradicating all remnants of French history supports this claim. When aimed at corrupt institutions though, Paine’s radicalism certainly has its merits, and principled opposition to the institution of the Federal Reserve would certainly have earned plaudits from Paine. The free market and the prosperity that flows from it is an organic process that is only corrupted by arbitrary third parties, and Paine loathed anything with arbitrary power to infringe on individual rights. Powerful and untrammeled as it is, the Fed cannot ever possess enough knowledge to know what optimal rates, yields or prices should be. It can get lucky guessing on occasion, but it can never know as much as the invisible hand.

My question for pro-Fed conservatives who tout their Burkean incrementalism in addressing problems with the central bank and who urge prudence and caution among those flying the End The Fed flag is simple: why is Burke’s method of building upon status quo institutions rather than abolishing them and starting over applicable to the Federal Reserve but not to the welfare state generally? Few if any modern conservatives are proponents of the welfare state – in principle and practice – and most of us are rabid Paine acolytes when it comes to our wishes to curtail both the welfare state and the permanent federal bureaucracy, and “curtail” is probably putting it lightly. Most conservatives and libertarians in 2014 want to see a comprehensive abolition of executive agencies, bureaucratic departments, and welfare state programs. That is not exactly a Burkean outlook. So why do most establishment conservatives insist on Burkean politics regarding the Fed while emulating Paine in their desire to see our government reclaim its first principles?

I understand there are cogent arguments for Fed-provided stability, particularly in the realm of inflation and deflation. Neither is desirable, but inflation is usually preferable to deflation, and the Fed has done a decent job at times of keeping inflation in check while effectively neutralizing the threat of deflation entirely. The problem is that central bank currency printing and bond purchasing alike create illusions of stability and growth while concealing the fact that markets and industries are just receiving distorted price signals which result in a mis-allocation of resources. The very instruments the Fed deploys to facilitate a stable business cycle contribute paradoxically to its volatility. Central planners can’t eliminate the boom-bust cycle in part because they themselves are responsible for it. It’s true that there were panics and crashes prior to the establishment of the Federal Reserve. But the introduction of the Fed did nothing to ease the trend; we’ve had as many or more wild rides with the economy in the Fed era than not. Bubbles form when credit is recklessly expanded, and you don’t need a central bank to recklessly expand credit. Whether you’re looking at the Panic of 1819 or a liquidity crisis of the late 1890’s, volatility and boom-bust cycles are always a risk, central bank or no.

The Fed creates false incentives (i.e. bubbles) that always lead to crashes. Bubbles are vile because lots of wealth and resources get woefully misallocated, but few are aware of the mal-investment due to the Fed’s instruments (like QE) that cloak and conceal the distortion. I understand Milton Friedman’s Burkean insight that central banking is probably here to stay so conservatives might as well figure out how to deal with it and make it least harmful to the market economy as possible, and to a large extent conservatives have succeeded in this arena. Ronald Reagan and Paul Voelcker’s partnership in the early 80’s showed how conservatives can work with the Fed Chairman to combat the rampant inflation carried over from the 70’s. But economic imperatives like inflation, energy prices and stagnation are very different today than they were at the dawn of the Reagan Revolution. Because Reagan succeeded so thoroughly in launching a three decade plus paradigm shift in American economic optimism and output, circumstances have changed (for the better) and the pressing demands of today’s stagnant economy have changed as well. As the progressives continue to cement chronic unemployment as a “new normal” and behave with utter hostility towards the private economy, conservatives need to point out that the income inequality progressives are going on about has only been made worse by their policies and the Fed’s ability to hide the true nature of a pathetic economy through money printing. Oh, and all that quantitative easing and debt monetization did was enhance the balance sheets of some very big and very wealthy banks.