Tag Archives: WSJ

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.

 

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.

 

Process Matters

I agree with Jonah Goldberg’s sentiment that the Senate will function better once we “have more partisanship about ideas and less about process.” His point is that Democrats under Harry Reid’s stewardship have been so anxious about protecting vulnerable members from taking tough votes that they have argued entirely over process rather than ideas.

This is undeniably true, as the Wall Street Journal chronicles today in its lead editorial:

“[Democratic Senators] have also been handmaidens to Harry Reid , the Majority Leader who has devoted the last four years to protecting Mr. Obama while turning the Senate into the world’s least deliberative body. Next Tuesday’s vote is above all a referendum on whether the Senate will spend two more years in this Obama-Reid dead zone.”

[…]

“In the media’s telling, gridlock in Washington is due to tea party pressure on House Republicans to resist Mr. Obama’s agenda. There is some of that, reflecting different views of government. But at least the House debates and votes in plain sight. Mr. Reid won’t allow the normal give and take of democratic voting and accountability that is the reason to have a legislature.

The Reid shutdown runs even to the core legislative function of funding the government. The House has passed seven of 12 annual appropriations bills, most with big bipartisan majorities. Chairman Barbara Mikulski has passed eight of the 12 out of her Senate Appropriations Committee, and Republicans wanted to debate. Mr. Reid blocked a floor vote on every one.”

[…]

“Wyoming Republican John Barrasso kept a running tally of Mr. Reid’s amendment blockade through July. In the previous 12 months Senators introduced 1,952 amendments—1,105 from Republicans and 847 from Democrats. Mr. Reid blocked all but 19.

Legislation? Mr. Reid has blocked at least 10 bills sent to him by the House that passed with notable bipartisan support. Some 35 House Democrats voted with Republicans to delay ObamaCare’s employer mandate; 46 Democrats voted to expedite the approval of liquefied natural gas exports; 130 Democrats voted for patent-reform legislation; 158 Democrats voted to expand access to charter schools; and 183 Democrats voted (in a bill that passed 406-1) to exempt certain veterans from the ObamaCare employer mandate. Mr. Reid’s response: No debate, no vote.”

Progressives have largely made peace with the fact that they are now an “ends justify the means” party and as a result they have formally abandoned any reverence for process. And yet process is their great weapon of the moment, used as it is protect Democrats from an unpopular agenda by freeing them from accountability and then blaming the gridlock on Republicans for “obstruction” (yes, Huffington Post created its very own “Senate Obstruction” tag). It is a grand illusion of activity and grandstanding meant to hide the fact that substantive debate is not happening. And so I agree with Goldberg that escaping the procedural bog in order to emphasize meaningful policy debate is the way forward out of the wretched Reid Senate.

The problem is that, in our system of government, process is still extremely important. The fact that Harry Reid and Democrats (and especially the national media which has been criminally silent on this for the most part) have decided to openly ignore process and not allow debate or roll call votes is a national scandal. Or at least it should be. Instead, the progressive bubble has convinced itself that the shutdown was the great sin against good government, not Reid’s blatant destruction of Senate tradition and process. The shutdown was a non-event of course. Federal workers got paid throughout (because of course they did) and the government actually went out of its way to make the shutdown feel worse than it was by closing off public viewpoints to Mt. Rushmore, harassing tourists at Yellowstone and ringing the WWII memorial with barricades on the national mall.

The worst in a string of many abuses of process by Democrats occurred last year when the “nuclear option” suddenly became the left’s cri de coeur. Upset over the president’s cascading failures and in a panic over the looming fortunes of both Obamacare and their upper chamber majority, Senate Democrats concluded that their best course was to nuke the filibuster for judicial nominees in order to pack the D.C. Circuit Court, a move that proved prescient when the Halbig ruling was granted an en banc hearing with the full appeals court, including the hastily confirmed additional Democratic appointees. Despite warnings of precedent from principled liberals, most progressives were avid supporters of invoking the nuclear option. Whatever future headaches would emerge as a result of the radical maneuver were worth the short term satisfaction of inserting partisan judges on the D.C. Circuit. The ends justify the means. 

Republicans threatened but never actually went through with nuclear option in 2005. Every prominent Democratic senator that year (Harry Reid, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer) took to the floor to rail against the unprecedented assault on the most precious feature of our republic: the protection of minority interests.

That argument carried the day and Republicans backed off their idle threat.

Would that things have played out the same way last year, but alas. Reid went through with it and changed the Senate for the worse, likely forever. I say McConnell should restore the 60 vote filibuster for nominees when Republicans win the Senate, even though the precedent set by Reid opening Pandora’s Box says that Republicans could use it to their advantage. I hope they don’t. Because if we don’t put the genie back in the bottle, very soon we will have legislation passing in the Senate on bare majorities, making the upper chamber identical to the lower one, giving us true democracy (aka “mob rule”) which is not the system we’re supposed to have. It is the preferred system of progressives, because they think they will always be the majority and need not worry about quaint notions like minority protections. But in that system, 51% of the population can always dictate how the other 49% lives.

In a republic with a healthy respect for minority concerns, no transient majority can vote away things like the 1st amendment (though Reid and the Democrats even tried to do that this year!) on a whim. The Reid Senate legacy has put that at risk.

A return to regular order, appropriations bills actively worked on and passed out of committees, and a free and open invitation for all to introduce amendments and allow for transparent dialogue and voting on policy will signal to the American people that the “world’s greatest deliberative body” is working to restore its reputation. By returning to process, the important debates over ideas may reconvene.

A Republican Senate will seem a veritable fount of creativity and ideas compared to that which we have suffered through since 2006. Pick your issue, Republican Senators will have an idea; from healthcare to tax reform, energy to deregulation, the upper chamber will be a cacophony of conservative arguments and proposals, and it will be interesting to see progressive reaction to it all. Already, in anticipation of being routed, leftist hacks like Michael Tomasky are crying crocodile tears and asking “How Can Dems Be Losing to These Idiots?” As he tells it, it’s not Reid and the Democrats who have forsaken ideas for a trivial and pathetic process approach designed to conceal their true motives, but Republicans who can’t muster anything new:

“I mean it is truly admirable, in its perverse way, how anti-idea this party is. It has no economic plans. Did you see this Times article last week called “Economists See Limited Gains in G.O.P. Plan”? I trust that you understand the world of newspaper euphemism enough to know that “limited gains” basically means “jack shit.” It’s all tax cuts and fracking and the wildly overhyped (in jobs terms (PDF)) Keystone pipeline.

Republicans know the truth about these proposals deep down, or I think most do (I suppose some actually are that dumb). But they keep peddling them like a costermonger selling rotten fruit. Why? At least in part because they also know deep down that things like an infrastructure bank are what will really create jobs. I mean, it’s the very definition of creating jobs. But they can’t be for that, because it would be a vote for Obama, and Party Chairman Limbaugh would call them mean names.”

I encourage Tomasky to look up the word “projection” and get back to us. Progressives of his ilk are so invested in rabid hatred of “the other team” that they are incapable of self-analysis. The mind-numbing stupidity of his assertion that an infrastructure bank is necessary to create jobs is of a piece with Hillary Clinton’s recent rhetorical majesty, where she claimed almost matter-of-factly that “corporations and businesses don’t create jobs.” Progressive principles, such as they are, exist as reactions to actual grounded principle on the right. And it’s the left’s allergy to capitalism (which is exacerbated by the right’s affinity for same) that leads it to make such asinine statements as “you didn’t build that” and “you built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for,” which in turn explains progressive insistence that the right lacks an economic agenda: when you’re utterly incompetent and ignorant of economics and how the market works, it makes sense that you’d view deregulatory and free market-informed proposals with suspicion and confusion. And that’s how you get Michael Tomasky calling the GOP an “anti-idea party.”

We desperately need an honest conversation about ideas, but just as Warren Harding promised a “return to normalcy” after the disastrous Wilson presidency, Republicans need to promise a return to proper process following the apocalyptic fail of the Reid Senate, which will allow the more pressing arguments over ideas to commence again.