Clause 61: The Pushback Blog

Because ideas have consequences

Posts Tagged ‘leadership

On the Other Hand, There’s a Fist

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(With apologies to Jona Lewie, whose album by this name was part of the 1978 Be Stiff release.)

I watched the State of the Union speech last night. Donald Trump had a respectable outing. Given his track record, it’s only a matter of time before he squanders it with an ill-advised tweet. I think the over-under is about 36 hours.

However, he also demonstrated his vision for the Republican Party. Reading the speech carefully, you can understand how he won the Republican nomination over what has been described as “the GOP’s deepest White House field in a generation.

Michael Goodwin understands this. Writing in the New York Post yesterday, he claims “Donald Trump is teaching Republicans how to fight.

Yes, those responsible for writing this address deserve credit. However, so does Trump. Just like I discussed with Napoleon, the advisers and staff can advise and plan, but someone in an executive role has to sit at the table and act with his own chips. Donald Trump had to have the will to pursue this line, or the speech would have ended in the wastepaper basket.

Laughing Tonight

Last night on the post-game — er, post-speech wrap-up (have you noticed how political coverage and sports coverage have converged?), CNN’s Jake Tapper was critical of Trump for having offended Democrats (the horror!):

What you saw tonight was President Trump, I think, with one hand reaching out his hand to Democrats, and with the other hand holding up a fist. And this is almost the conundrum of Donald Trump. In addition to more Republican positions, such as tax cuts, talking about strong borders, etc., there is in his Trump Republicanism — nationalism, populism, whatever you want to call it — room for Democrats to work with him. He talked about changing trade deals. He talked about lowering the cost of prescription drugs, spending money on infrastructure, paid family leave, prison reform, path to citizenship for dreamers. There is that there. But by the same token, I think President Trump doesn’t quite necessarily understand just how offensive many Democrats in that chamber are going to find some of the things he proposed and some of the things he said, in terms of “there are Americans who are dreamers, too”, etc. … And this really is the mystery of Donald Trump.

Conundrum? Mystery? Are you serious?

The only mystery is why it took Donald Trump to address the Republicans’ inability to stand up for their beliefs and push back effectively. Goodwin summarized it perfectly: “After all, that’s what Republicans usually do — soften their tone and, badgered by a liberal Washington press corps, give in to big government ideas.” It is why the electorate was fed up, why they started talking about “cuckservatives“, why they were ready to take a chance on Donald Trump.

Republicans are supposed to decline the opportunity to offend Democrats? Let’s review:

You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
— Barack Obama, 2008

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
— Barack Obama, 2012

You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.
— Hillary Clinton 2016

How does it feel to be flipped off? Democrats appear to believe they can say anything they want to, because they’re the caring people. They mean well, so any kind of sanctimonious attitude is to be given a pass.

[Oh, by the way, Government research did create the Internet, but there was no intention of creating it as a means by which the commercial sector could make money. The government exposed the Internet to the public, and people in commercial enterprises promptly figured out how to use it to make money. That’s what we do.]

Feeling Stupid

The Democrats and their sympathetic friends in the press are masters at showing the human costs of the problems they are trying to solve. I can’t fault them for that; that’s good messaging. Conservatives have typically been horrible at humanizing their ideas, preferring to present dry, abstract arguments that do not reach ordinary people effectively.

So when Trump presents the human costs of letting the MS-13 gang into this country, he is taking a page out of the Democratic playbook. Democrats don’t have a patent on this approach. Van Jones was lame when he accused Trump of a “smear” on dreamers:

What he said about those young people, he implied — and he did it deliberately — that Dreamers are gang members

This is the standard Democrat response: anything other than full rollover is morally unjustifiable. Jones inferred that Trump was saying that dreamers are gang members, but it was an unwarranted inference. You can make the inference, if you want to, but you can’t lay it at Trump’s doorstep. Trump specifically addressed the dreamers:

Here are the four pillars of our plan: The first pillar of our framework generously offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents at a young age. That covers almost three times more people than the previous administration covered.

At the same time, Trump promoted his program for border security. Republicans have historically shied away from taking on these issues, whether because they didn’t know how or they were afraid they would get it wrong.

I would have liked to see some discussion of how our drug policies have enabled cartels, destabilized Mexico and created further incentives for Latin Americans to try to get into this country by any means possible. Nevertheless, I recognize that Trump is not going to follow that line. Instead, he is going to assert the need for border security and immigration restriction. And, to his credit, he effectively humanized the costs of not doing so.

I’ll Get by in Pittsburgh

Also in the Post, Salena Zito profiled the experience of one exurban Pittsburgh family watching the State of the Union address.

The children in the family noticed how Democrats on the floor sat through the speech in stony, unresponsive silence. Their fourteen-year-old daughter mused, “I just wonder if they thought this through past their politics, on many of these things all of America is applauding while they are sitting.”

These are people who do really want to take care of people who, they feel, deserve to be taken care of (I’m married to such a person). They don’t want to deport people who were brought here as children, and know no other country. But they also want laws enforced and borders secured.

When Democrats get righteous, when they start equating objections to their policies with racism, when they paint themselves as the caring people but are selective in their choices of people about whom to care, these people want Republicans to stand up, push back and, without apology, represent their concepts of equity and justice.

At this point, it looks like Donald Trump is the only person who has any idea how to do that.

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Written by srojak

January 31, 2018 at 10:14 pm

Not Following the Logic

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The whole flap over pro football players kneeling during the national anthem has gone to a new level this week. Let’s sort it out.

Thumbing Your Nose

Kneeling during the national anthem is thumbing your nose at the entire country. It is a posture, an affectation. People who do it are poseurs. Where else could they go to make this kind of money doing what they do?

A football player does not get to tell us how to interpret his disrespect to the nation. Yes, I am talking to you, Richard Sherman. Kneeling during the national anthem is an act of disrespect to the entire country, including most of us who have no influence over how the criminal justice system treats black people in the inner city. Sherman is too intelligent not to know that.

Having a Complaint

Do black people have a complaint regarding the way they are treated by the criminal justice system? Hell, yes. Many people, not just black people, have a legitimate beef. The shenanigans in Ferguson, Missouri, for example, should offend every voter in this country. Municipalities and counties using law enforcement as a revenue center should offend every voter in this country.

The number of persons under correctional supervision (in prison, on probation or on parole) is appalling. According to a 2012 article by Adam Gopnik, there were more black men under correctional supervision at that time than there were in slavery in 1850; the total population of America that is under correctional supervision was over six million and growing. Contrary to popular lore, many of the people in prison are there for drug offenses or offenses against “public order”. Since black people are in prison at a disproportionately higher rate than Americans in general, yes, there is a genuine issue.

Taking Action

So what should a politically aware black football player do? How about taking some of that large NFL salary and putting it to work in community action? How about sponsoring court appeals on behalf of people who are being exploited by municipalities? Put your money where your mouth is.

White House Invitations

Back in 2011, the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup and were invited to the White House. Goalie Tim Thomas declined the invitation. This writer maintained that Tim Thomas had no business declining the invitation.  I disagree. Similarly, Stephon Curry has every right to decline an invitation to the White House, given that he disagrees with the politics of the President.

The President is the Chief Executive, the Head of State and a high profile political figure. If a person disagrees vehemently with the political viewpoint of the President, by all means, do not accept his invitation to the White House.

Donald Trump’s Statements

Yes, Donald Trump made inflammatory and provocative statements on this subject. In other news, Lindy made it!

Really, who reasonably expected that, if this issue made it to Trump’s radar at all, he would make a nuanced, empathetic statement that would uphold respect for the nation as a whole while recognizing the real problems that people have encountered at the hands of governments? Did anyone really think Trump would call for national reflection on the issues that black athletes are raising while asserting that the nation deserves respect even if specific people in positions of authority have abused their power?

And there was every reason to expect Trump to weigh in on this issue. It is red meat to his base, many of whom a) love America and b) watch football. Trump has demonstrated that he has a laser focus on his core constituency, his political “investors”.

Trump’s statements are off the table for purposes of this discussion. There is nothing new here. The themes have not changed at all during the year. There really is not anything else to say.

Donald Trump is my President, in that he was duly elected through the recognized Electoral College process, just like Barack Obama was. Trump does not represent my viewpoint, and I would have wanted a more nuanced response. However, I recognize that Trump doesn’t do nuance. There is no point in flogging this horse anymore. He is what he is, and he is not going to change.

 

Written by srojak

September 24, 2017 at 11:22 pm

Conserve Exactly What?

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I wanted to write something about what Conservatism is and where it is going before the Election Day, so that I was not perceived as being wise after the event. Evidently I was not alone in thinking this way, because I have seen three major thought pieces in the last month:

For context, the reader may also want to refer to these links:

All quotes are from the above.

Continetti

The Continetti article is a good place to start, both because it launched the discussion and because the author attempts a historical review of conservatism. He identifies four waves of conservatism:

  1. The Old Right initially organized against the original progressivism of Teddy Roosevelt and Wilson, and were always marginalized.
  2. The 1950-s era wave of William Buckley, James Burnham and Russell Kirk (among others), who were, in Continetti’s words, “elitist, pessimistic, grimly witty and academic” — and still politically marginal.
  3. The 1970’s New Right, full of political fire and brimstone, who took credit for bringing Ronald Reagan to power (more on that later).
  4. The religious right, whose fire and brimstone is not confined to politics.

Here is the first major problem that I have with Continetti’s analysis. Are the religious right really conservative? Well, it depends on how you define Conservatism, doesn’t it?

The relentless quest for votes.

The relentless quest for votes.

Back in the high summer of collectivism, between 1930 and 1963, Conservatism was not really a vote-winning political brand, so it was easier to keep the definition clear. I don’t believe that you ever would have seen a yard sign claiming a candidate was a Texas Conservative before 1963. Now, because of the perceived success of the New Right, conservatism is a label that can win votes, so we see dilution. As a result, we are not really sure what conservatism is anymore.

The Old Right did organize in opposition to Progressivism — not in reaction to it, as progressives would have you believe, but in principled opposition to its expansive tendencies. They did not accept the claim that human society could be perfected along rational lines. They rejected the expansiveness of Progressivism. If you’re not clear on what I mean by expansiveness, consider the slogan, “Yes, we can,” which is the ultimate expression of expansiveness. That opposition to expansiveness is the real unifying principle of Conservatism. Not, “No, we can’t,” but, “Should we?”

People on the religious right, who want to bring about the New Jerusalem, who want to achieve the Kingdom of God on Earth, are themselves expansive. I don’t want to disparage their beliefs, just to point out that there is nothing “conservative” about them. Conservatives can make common cause with them — or anyone else — but do not mistake the religious right for Conservatives.

So, having established that Continetti really doesn’t have a good working definition of Conservatism, it is hardly surprising that he is willing to grant conservative credentials to Donald Trump. If the religious right can be accommodated, can’t the populists?

Continetti concludes:

 The triumph of populism has left conservatism marooned, confused, uncertain, depressed, anxious, searching for a tradition, for a program, for viability. We might have to return to the beginning to understand where we have ended up. We might have to reject adversarianism [sic], to accept the welfare state as an objective fact, to rehabilitate Burnham’s vision of a conservative-tinged Establishment capable of permeating the managerial society and gradually directing it in a prudential, reflective, virtuous manner respectful of both freedom and tradition. This is the challenge of the moment. This is the crisis of the conservative intellectual. What makes that crisis acute is the knowledge that he and his predecessors may have helped to bring it on themselves.

I am not sure if Continetti meant adversarianism as a portmanteau of adversarial + Arianism = heresy, especially given his use of other religious terms (e.g., chiliastic).

More to the point, isn’t accepting the progressive vision of corporatism and the welfare state as an objective fact what Republicans have more or less been doing, with infrequent lapses, since Richard Nixon? Is this not just another go-along-to-get-along tactic that has fueled frustration with the Republican establishment?

Gerson

Michael Gerson is an evangelical and a neo-conservative. He was George W. Bush’s chief speechwriter from 2001 to 2006. This makes him a somewhat suspect advisor for conservatives, but let’s see what he has to say.

The main point of Gerson’s article is that:

Bush represented a fundamentally different option (still embraced, in more modern form, by many Republican governors). His appeal included the aggressive promotion of economic growth, expressed in support for broad tax cuts. A commitment to compassionate and creative social policy, demonstrated by No Child Left Behind and his support for faith-based social services. A belief in ethnic and religious inclusion, shown by his proposal for comprehensive immigration reform and by his defense of American Muslims after the 9/11 attacks. An internationalist foreign policy, which included not only the war against terrorism but also the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. And a tolerant version of traditionalism, based on moral aspiration rather than judgment. (It is an approach I helped frame while working for candidate and then President Bush.)

Given how post-ideological Bush the man appears to have been, I can understand why Gerson might want to defend the merits of the Bush Administration. The ideas of the Administration might well have been more properly the ideas of key advisors, including Gerson.

A fundamental problem with neocons was their “internationalist foreign policy,” prominently featuring a misguided belief in nation-building. To summarize concisely, neocons originated as disillusioned leftists, such as Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, who were alienated by the attitudes of the 1970s Left toward Israel, the Soviet Union and the exercise of power by the United States. All that would be understandable, but the neocons kept their expansive Wilsonian approach to foreign policy.

Nevertheless, Gerson has a point when he says:

But here is the reality: There is no reconstitution of conservative influence or the appeal of the Republican Party without incorporating some updated version of compassionate conservatism. And conservatives need to get over their aversion to the only approach that has brought them presidential victory since 1988.

But what we need to do is pick through the agenda Gerson outlines and understand what is worth having and why. David Frum illustrated the problem on the ground:

Owners of capital assets, employers of low-skill laborers, and highly compensated professionals tend to benefit economically from the arrival of immigrants. They are better positioned to enjoy the attractive cultural and social results of migration (more-interesting food!) and to protect themselves against the burdensome impacts (surges in non-English-proficient pupils in public schools). A pro-immigration policy shift was one more assertion of class interest in a party program already brimful of them.

How do we get ethnic and religious inclusion while ensuring that the costs of these policies do not land on the people who are least able to bear them? How do we turn education reform into a meaningful program that prepares Americans for the realities of the 21st century, rather than an empty slogan that affects nothing in the real world?

Domenech

Ben Domenech wrote directly in response to Continetti, and also has some rejoinders for Gerson:

From Reagan through George W. Bush, conservatives largely agreed on the traditional three-legged stool of the fusionist GOP: national defense, limited government, family values. All of that blew up in the aftermath of the Bush years. Conservative intellectuals perceive what’s happening now as a crisis because the political universe has changed so dramatically thanks to Iraq, the Wall Street meltdown, and the lackluster growth that’s followed. But a good part of that crisis mentality could be due to the fact that they still haven’t come to grips with how much the Bush presidency damaged perceptions of conservatism, even among Republicans, and made the old frame of fusionism impossible.

But that fusion was always weak and strained. As explained earlier, there was common cause with the religious right on national defense, limited government and family values, but the religious right had an expansive approach to family values that was not compatible with conservatism or with Gerson’s “moral aspiration rather than judgment.” Meanwhile, there are also the libertarians, who do not buy into the conventional understanding of “family values” at all. Libertarians want more autonomy than the religious right is prepared to grant. Libertarians also want nothing to do with an internationalist foreign policy.

The Republican party from 2008 to 2015 was an uneasy coalition of libertarians, the religious right and Chamber-of-Commerce types. Then Donald Trump came along.

Ask yourself why so many of Trump’s voters, even the middle class ones, are willing to listen when he says even something as big as a presidential election can be rigged against them. All this is happening because American society is in collapse, and no one trusts institutions or one another. It is due to the failure of government institutions, largely stood up by the progressive left, to live up to their promises of offering real economic security and education and the promise of a better life. It is due to the failure of corporate institutions, who have warped America’s capitalist system to benefit themselves at the expense of others. It is due to the failure of cultural institutions, like the church and community organizations, to help the people make sense of an anxious age.

All this is true, but doesn’t tell us how to go forward. And many conservatives have been more than willing to prostitute themselves, by being pro-business rather than pro-market, to green-light the efforts of corporate executives to “warp America’s capitalist system to benefit themselves at the expense of others” by fobbing risk off on others while keeping the reward for themselves. Libertarians have been especially susceptible on this issue.

So, while the institutional problems Domenech cites are very real, institutions are composed of people, who in turn are animated by ideas. Conservatism needs to do the soul-searching, to examine its ideas.

Buckley

Francis Buckley looked at thought leadership on both sides of the political spectrum and found a lot to dislike.

We had thought the Great Chain of Being washed away by the rise of science, by 18th-century philosophes such as Voltaire, by Jefferson and the Founders. But we were wrong. As long as there are elites, there will be people who think they deserve their place atop the greasy pole, that resistance is futile, that the underclass must learn where they naturally belong. And that’s what many of our left- and right-wing elites have come to believe.

Buckley’s criticism of the left is beyond the scope of this essay. His criticism of the right begins with a review of the criticisms made of the Trumpkins.

For George Will, they were “invertebrates.” For Charles Murray and Kevin Williamson, the story is one of white working-class vice, of drug use, divorce, and unwed births. If the underclass wasn’t working, that was its fault. After looking at one town, National Review’s Williamson wrote, “the truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. … Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin.”

I find that Williamson has a point when he says:

If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy — which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog — you will come to an awful realization. It wasn’t Beijing. It wasn’t even Washington, as bad as Washington can be. It wasn’t immigrants from Mexico, excessive and problematic as our current immigration levels are. It wasn’t any of that.

If they are victims of anything, they are victims of a progressive education system that said it was OK to dissipate your disposable time on leisure and hitch yourself to the consumption-debt-repayment treadmill. People in the credentialed white-collar middle class who think they don’t have to confront the same problem have another think coming. At the same time, why should the white working class be exempt from the self-examination they would dish out to others: how long are you going to keep on being a victim? At what point do you stop being a victim of your upbringing, your culture and your education and assume moral responsibility for your own continued participation in it?

Charleroi, PA is 21 miles south of Pittsburgh. The town has experienced intense economic distress as a result of the decline in manufacturing in southwest Pennsylvania, The people there want to have their way of life protected in the face of these changes. OK, but if we are going to do that, would we do that for the people who live in the Core City neighborhood of Detroit? If not, where is the justice in that? Would that be racism? It is sure going to look racist to the people in Detroit. The Economist called it, “compassion for us; conservatism for them,” and rightly so.

I have my own take on this. I would have liked to continue to live in northern New Jersey, where I grew up, but I couldn’t afford it. So I had to make choices, and I did so — I moved. Staying is also a choice. You takes your choice, and you pays the price.

There is one more consideration, and it comes from David Wong:

If you don’t live in one of these small towns, you can’t understand the hopelessness. The vast majority of possible careers involve moving to the city, and around every city is now a hundred-foot wall called “Cost of Living.” Let’s say you’re a smart kid making $8 an hour at Walgreen’s and aspire to greater things. Fine, get ready to move yourself and your new baby into a 700-square-foot apartment for $1,200 a month, and to then pay double what you’re paying now for utilities, groceries, and babysitters. 

So it is a complex and messy issue with two parallel dimensions:

  • The ethical dimension, at the individual level, where I am more inclined to side with Williamson;
  • The political dimension, at the community level, where I am more receptive to Buckley. At the community level, there are also public policy issues. Do you want whole communities being abandoned because of economic dislocation? Where do they go?

Even though the specific issue here is more complex and muddy than Buckley probably has in mind, and even though I don’t think it fair to pick on Williamson, his main point is still valid:

Williamson reminds one of the unfeeling strain in contemporary conservatism. It’s something we’ve seen in Mitt Romney, Ted Cruz, Randians, and not a few libertarians. What Romney and Cruz communicated was a perfect fidelity to right-wing principles and an indifference to people.

As they sales proverb goes, “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.” Politics is a people business. Ideas animate people, but the ideas come second to people.

In the interest of not making a long story even longer, I am going to skip forward to Buckley’s conclusion:

My atheist friends who themselves adhere to the highest codes of duty and honor might nevertheless want to consider how often they’ve observed antique republican virtue on display on college campuses or on television. What they’ve seen instead, for the most part, is the detritus of a culture that has lost its religious anchoring and with it any semblance of a moral culture.

They have dispensed with God and for their sophistication ask to be accepted by the intellectuals of the left as fellow members of a privileged elite in our Great Chain of Being. But in abandoning the religious tradition of the West, in their contempt for the invertebrates, the OxyContin sniffers, the takers, they reveal the icicle lodged in the conservative heart.

Before Conservatives can overcome any left-wing bias in the media or any other true-but-incidental issue in being heard, we have to overcome this. The vast majority of the electorate sees “the icicle lodged in the conservative heart,” and wants no part of it.

Is There Anything to Conserve?

What does the term Conservative even mean here in the US anymore? In Britain, at least, they are rigorous about their labels: Liberals were almost completely displaced by the Labor Party by 1924. Here, we are more sloppy with our words, and we pay a price for that.

After eighty-some years of Progressive government (it depends on what you count Herbert Hoover as), there is precious little left to conserve. Meanwhile, we have to come to terms with urbanization, specialization, autonomy and deep pluralism.

We need an ideology that really cares about people, not just one that does a bad job of trying to appear like it cares. We need to put all the productive people first, not just those who can be donors. Sheldon Adelson spent $150 million in 2012 and whiffed completely. His money did not help Romney defeat Obama, and he went 0-for-5 in congressional races. It’s still one person, one vote.

We need to be clear on the difference between pro-market and pro-business policies. We need to remind everyone constantly that a moral foundation of capitalism is that the people who bear the greatest risks have the greatest upsides. There will always be people who want to ditch the risk and keep the reward; it is bad public policy to let them do it.

That means that people who choose to earn a wage or a salary have chosen a lower-risk, lower-reward life. It is unethical to leave them exposed when trade policies change so that others can reap all the rewards in terms of profit and lower-cost consumer goods.

The majority of adults with whom I have spoken do not want those who genuinely cannot take care of themselves pushed to the wall. We need to lead the conversation on what “deserving” means. We are going to have to rebut the schoolmarms who want to take the side of whomever cries first.

We are going to have to face up to intellectual bullies who tell us, “Everyone knows John Rawls said …” We are going to have to push back more and take pushback better. We are going to have to control the language battlefield, or we will always be on ground of someone else’s choosing.

We need to stop the appalling waste of human lives that progressivism encourages. We have a drug problem in this country because we have the demand for drugs. We have a population insulated from risk living lives devoid of meaning, having no higher purpose than consumption and leisure, so they make problems for themselves. Did you ever see those videos on YouTube where they say that, by some year in the near future, India or China will have more honor students than we have students? We can’t afford our current levels of wasting people’s lives in such a world.

We can’t afford to tell people, “We’re not interested in what you can contribute because you have the wrong plumbing.” Or the wrong skin color. We can’t afford to have people who hate to go to work because they expect to be groped or humiliated or ridiculed for being who they are. Actually, we make people hate to go to work for a whole lot of reasons, but that is another essay for another day.

We need to humanize the costs of progressive policies. On Wednesday, the election will be over, but the problems will not. Progressives make more promises to more people, with continually less ability to make good on those promises. A regime based on redistribution will only lead to more intense and ugly fighting over a shrinking pie. A focus on production and the people who make it possible is the only way forward.

Written by srojak

November 6, 2016 at 8:02 pm

An Election Every Day

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No matter how unsatisfying you think the 2016 election cycle has been or will become — and I think I have been quite forthcoming on how unsatisfying I find it — you can take some comfort in this observation. The election that really matters happens every day.

You vote in this election with your scarce resources: your time, your money and your attention. You vote with what you choose to give to withhold. You vote with what you choose to expect or to tolerate.

Everyone participates in this election. You can’t opt out. Even deciding not to decide is a decision.

The results of this daily election creates the national culture and political climate in which politicians and administrators have to operate. They can push the envelope, but they can’t take it where it doesn’t provide the flexibility to go.

If this were not true, if political leaders could successfully bend a modern industrial nation containing hundreds of millions of people to their will, there would still be a Soviet Union.

Yes, the country can get better or worse. We can go up or down on the Freedom Index, where we are already behind Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, the UK, France, the Czech Republic, Poland and Estonia. We can return to the rule of law or we can have less of it. We have national problems with entitlements and education. We can have politicians and administrators break the economy.

I am not saying the annual elections don’t matter. I am saying the perpetual referendum of 325 million people conducting their daily business matters more.

I never ruled Russia. Ten thousand clerks ruled Russia.
— One of the Tsars Alexander on his deathbed.

We can strive for equal justice under the law or continue to have corruption. But, to give an example, a nation that accepts the precept that “rank has its privileges” has already bought into having corruption. Corrupt public officials will get farther in such a nation than in a nation that demands transparency and accountability.

Here is a historical example:

The conviction that the subordination of the individual to the good of the community was not only a necessity but a positive blessing had gripped the mind of the German army, and through it that of the nation.
— Gen. Paul von Hindenburg, Out of My Life (1920)

At all historical evidence, Hindenburg was speaking accurately. Is it any wonder that Germany turned to the Nazis in 1933 when times got hard? The ground was already prepared for them. Hindenburg himself could and did object to the style of the Nazis, but could not effectively stand against their principles. Ideas have consequences.

Control the controllables. If each of us clean up our own corner of the country, the country would be cleaned up.

Written by srojak

October 30, 2016 at 1:17 pm

Part of the Problem

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Glenn Beck says the current climate of the public square bothers him. In an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday, he said:

Everybody feels like there’s a play going on, and we’re just watching it and looking at each other and shaking our heads in disbelief. And nobody’s listening to the hardworking American who doesn’t feel like they belong to anything anymore. In fact, it’s almost as if we’re being, we’re standing outside and we’re not being invited to this party at all.
— “Glenn Beck: I Warned about the Rise of Nazism in America, and Now with Trump It Is Happening” (link to transcript)

Which I find interesting, because Beck is not just any old pundit. He is the founder of TheBlaze, a media organization that serves as the home for, among others, Tomi Lahren. Yeah, the one who calls herself “a commentator, not a journalist.”

So if Glenn Beck wants to take an active role in increasing the signal-to-noise ratio, he has levers to push. He could start by setting up standards of ethical journalism and demanding that people who have access to his platform adhere to these standards. He could assert that the people who broadcast under his nameplate take responsibility for what they say. He could cut off the use of his airspace to make the situation worse.

If Beck is not willing to do so, then his complaints degenerate into the four most Machiavellian words in the English language: “I told you so.”

Written by srojak

October 3, 2016 at 12:35 pm

The Flat Earth

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How to appraise the media coverage of this election?

I would like to invite you along on a thought experiment. Imagine we had a major party candidate for President who announced that the earth is flat. The candidate dismisses all evidence to the contrary as a fabrication by a conspiracy of interests who want to exploit the American public for nefarious purposes.

This candidate has a ready answer to every piece of evidence you can offer to support your argument, not that her answers are relevant or logically sound. You say we’ve seen pictures of a spherical Earth from space? She asserts that is a government conspiracy. You ask how it is possible for people to travel around the world? She says you’re naïve and such stories are not true. You cite an article in a newspaper questioning her claims? She shoots back, “That failed rag? Are they really still in business?” She asserts that, until you stand in space yourself and see the Earth for yourself, you can’t disprove her claims.

Media outlets are confused as to how they should handle this candidate. By journalistic standards, they should be offering her and her supporters equal time to present their views. However, on this issue, such behavior flies in the face of common sense. They perceive, correctly, that educated audiences are going to find them ridiculous if they offer a credible platform to people making such an outrageous statement.

Some cable channels try different tactics to keep the discussion tethered to sense at some point. One tries an approach where they bring on pilots, who have seen the Earth from the stratosphere. The candidate dismisses them as paid stooges of the establishment. Her campaign dredges up from somewhere a former pilot who is willing to go on the air and claim that it is all a hoax perpetuated by pilots so they can have employment privileges. He’s been in on the scam and he’s telling it all now.

Meanwhile, the candidate’s supporters charge bias against any media outlet who fails to give equal time to their assertions that the earth is flat. Everyone on the payroll may know that the claim defies believe, but if the organization does not give it a platform, the campaign howls that the system is rigged against them.

The subject of the shape of the Earth completely consumes the campaign. There is no remaining time, energy or attention to discuss the opposition candidate. This is unfortunate, because he has a lot for us to discuss. He is secretive and vindictive. In earlier pronouncements, he has stopped just short of saying that he believes the President is above the law. His previous actions attest to a belief that anything is justified to a person in power who has good intentions.

But we won’t be talking about any of that. The entire election has become a referendum on the credulity of the American electorate. We get up on 8 November and go to the polls, already knowing whatever the outcome, America has already lost.

Fortunately, that could never happen here.

Written by srojak

September 18, 2016 at 11:52 am

Nasty, Shallow and Desperate

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I look for patterns. Patterns help us understand the world. Using patterns, we can pick out trends, tendencies and directions.

The latest pattern has to do with Hillary Clinton’s health. The steady drumfire of articles keeps blasting away. I first noticed an article in the Washington Times by Wesley Pruden on 5 September. Since then they keep coming — thump, thump, thump.

Mr. Pruden, however, was very helpful, in that he pointed out the pattern. He referenced another, related story: the campaign to find that Barack Obama was not a citizen of the United States by birth, and therefore constitutionally ineligible to be president. I don’t recall this assertion being substantiated with evidence. It was more a wild wish that, from somewhere, there would arise evidence that would magically remove this person from office.

I am certainly no fan of President Obama and his policies, but he defeated his Republican opponents in two elections. If you have evidence that the game was rigged or that he really was ineligible, lay it out. Otherwise, can we discuss ideas, policies and agendas? There are more than enough of these to which to object.

Instead, over the past twenty years, we have the opposition to the Democrats repeatedly attempting to get what they want by the back door:

  • The impeachment of Bill Clinton initiated in 1998 over what was basically a morals charge;
  • The endless charges that Barack Obama was constitutionally ineligible to be president;

and now, before the election is even conducted,

  • This fugue about the implications of Hillary Clinton’s health.

The pattern is that of people who did not get the outcome they wanted and are seeking to nullify an election.

We need a competent opposition to the progressives. This is not the behavior of a competent opposition. This is not conservative; this is passive-aggressive. This is magical thinking. “We didn’t get our message through to the voters, but maybe some force from outer space will come down and reorder the world to our liking.”

Not hardly. All this does is reinforce the sense that the voters who are not true believers have, that conservatives are raving. When people engage in these behaviors, they appear nasty. They appear shallow. They appear desperate.

Nasty, shallow and desparate: it’s a bad trifecta and a one-way ticket to the political wilderness.

Now we have the election being compared to UA Flight 93. I will have more to say about that in an upcoming post. For now, I will limit myself to remarking that Todd Beamer is not remembered for saying, “Let’s pitch a fit.”

If Clinton collapsed during the debate with a stroke, would that make you happy? Would you let the rest of the voters see you gloat?

I get that it is not easy opposing progressives. They are the caring people — if you don’t believe me, just ask them. There are people in this country who are hurting, and they want to dry their tears — with your checkbook, but never mind about that now. If you stand up to oppose them, they put words in your mouth: You just want to kill all the poor people. They set up straw men and knock them down.

Having said that, there are sensible and senseless ways to respond. The sensible way is to have an intelligent discussion, trusting that the majority of the voters can be reached by people who make the effort and who don’t appear to be ridiculous caricatures. The senseless and pointless way is to be petulant, mulish and snotty.

When you piss into the wind, three things happen:

  1. You get wet;
  2. You smell bad;
  3. People tend to shun you.

— Robert “Gene” Woolsey (1936-2015), Colorado School of Mines

We have the current election season, which is basically an ugly fight over distribution. You show that this course only leads to worse conflict as there are always more people looking for goodies from Uncle Sugar, who has continually less to offer. Eventually enough people are on the receiving end of enough promises that the whole mess screeches to a halt.

Beware of being the roller
When there’s nothing left to roll.
— Shel Silverstein, “The Smoke-off”

There is plenty of substance in Hillary Clinton’s ideas to which to object. You can start with her “earnest, incoherent moralism” — read that link carefully for examples of well-reasoned big picture objections. Then drill down to the specifics of her plans to expand the role of government, outbidding all comers in the quest to buy votes. You can ask what limits she envisions on her authority if elected president. You can ask in what form she will promise to uphold the Constitution.

There is no need to carry on about her health. Saying she’s ugly and she dresses funny will not win you points with the public at large (The comparison of her outfit to that of Kim Jong-un was funny — exactly once, don’t go there again).

Maybe you could even reach for the stars and talk about equal justice under the law, a subject with profound implications for both our politicians and our minorities.

If the state of the nation is as bad as conservatives say it is, there is no justification for being unserious and adolescent in opposition.

 

Written by srojak

September 15, 2016 at 12:19 am