Commentary Magazine


Topic: Alexander Hamilton

Bad History: Vox and Alexander Hamilton

Earlier today I wrote about Ezra Klein’s lame defense of the Obama presidency in which he mistakenly asserts that the office is inherently weak. Blaming the Founding Fathers for the president’s incompetence is easier than owning up to the collapse of faith in the crusade for hope and change. Rather than taking a hard look at the president’s own lack of basic political and leadership skills, Klein claims Obama is in a no-win position, an assertion that can only be accepted if you ignore the vast expansion of presidential power in the last century.

But there is one more point about Klein’s essay that bears refutation. He concludes it by taking a swipe at the doctrine of original intent when it comes to interpreting the Constitution. He writes:

That said, the Founding Fathers have been dead for some time, and even when they were alive they disagreed about quite a lot. Anyone who confidently claims they know how the Founding Fathers would feel about today’s political problems is a liar. It’s likely that Alexander Hamilton would have some questions about airplanes and African-American presidents before he’d render an opinion on congressional productivity.

It is true that there is a lot that the authors of the Constitution would find that was difficult to understand about the America of 2014. But the point of that document was to create a structure for governance. It is a work of sheer genius and has, despite its critics on the left, stood up very well to the test of time. While original intent can sometimes be a dodgy exercise that both left and right play at when it suits them, if you want to know the mindset of the Founders one can easily do so by reading either The Federalist Papers (which were written principally by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton) or Madison’s Notes on the Federal Convention.

But leaving that debate aside, Klein’s potshot at Hamilton tells us more about his own intellectual pretensions than the shortcomings of the man who was killed by Aaron Burr. In fact, if any of the founding fathers would have been at home in 21st century America it was Hamilton. He may not have known much about manned flight, but, in contrast to Madison, Jefferson, and most of the rest of his contemporaries who embraced foolish notions about the United States being principally a nation of yeoman farmers, he envisaged the emergence of America as an industrial and commercial giant as well as global power. As many scholars have pointed out, though we venerate Jefferson and to a lesser extent Madison as the men who made our country, it is Hamilton’s America we live in, not theirs.

Read More

Earlier today I wrote about Ezra Klein’s lame defense of the Obama presidency in which he mistakenly asserts that the office is inherently weak. Blaming the Founding Fathers for the president’s incompetence is easier than owning up to the collapse of faith in the crusade for hope and change. Rather than taking a hard look at the president’s own lack of basic political and leadership skills, Klein claims Obama is in a no-win position, an assertion that can only be accepted if you ignore the vast expansion of presidential power in the last century.

But there is one more point about Klein’s essay that bears refutation. He concludes it by taking a swipe at the doctrine of original intent when it comes to interpreting the Constitution. He writes:

That said, the Founding Fathers have been dead for some time, and even when they were alive they disagreed about quite a lot. Anyone who confidently claims they know how the Founding Fathers would feel about today’s political problems is a liar. It’s likely that Alexander Hamilton would have some questions about airplanes and African-American presidents before he’d render an opinion on congressional productivity.

It is true that there is a lot that the authors of the Constitution would find that was difficult to understand about the America of 2014. But the point of that document was to create a structure for governance. It is a work of sheer genius and has, despite its critics on the left, stood up very well to the test of time. While original intent can sometimes be a dodgy exercise that both left and right play at when it suits them, if you want to know the mindset of the Founders one can easily do so by reading either The Federalist Papers (which were written principally by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton) or Madison’s Notes on the Federal Convention.

But leaving that debate aside, Klein’s potshot at Hamilton tells us more about his own intellectual pretensions than the shortcomings of the man who was killed by Aaron Burr. In fact, if any of the founding fathers would have been at home in 21st century America it was Hamilton. He may not have known much about manned flight, but, in contrast to Madison, Jefferson, and most of the rest of his contemporaries who embraced foolish notions about the United States being principally a nation of yeoman farmers, he envisaged the emergence of America as an industrial and commercial giant as well as global power. As many scholars have pointed out, though we venerate Jefferson and to a lesser extent Madison as the men who made our country, it is Hamilton’s America we live in, not theirs.

Hamilton might be surprised at the election of an incompetent like Barack Obama but I doubt he would be shocked at the evolution of our society on race over the course of the centuries to come. He was a virulent opponent of slavery (he was president of one of the country’s earliest anti-slavery societies) and thought the faculties of blacks were as good as those of whites, something that is hardly surprising since he grew up in a biracial environment in the West Indies.

The point here isn’t just that Klein is being unfair to Hamilton. The first treasury secretary needs no defense against jibes from the likes of the founder of Vox. But it says something that a liberal website that poses as the smart citizens guide to politics and culture would be so illiterate when it comes to one of the chief architects of our nation.

Read Less

Why Virginia Matters (Besides the Obvious)

Republicans looking for a silver lining in last week’s Virginia elections got some bad news today: it looks like the Democratic candidate for attorney general, Mark Herring, will eke out a victory by less than 200 votes, enabling the Democrats to sweep Election Day’s major contests in that state. The current margin of victory allows the Republican candidate, Mark Obenshain, to request a recount, which the state will pay for since the margin is less than one half of one percent, according to Time.

Though obviously not as significant as the governor’s race, the attorney general gets a head start on running for governor, since Virginia governors are limited to one term. This is especially true for an attorney general when his party does not also hold the governorship of the state, since it gives him an advantage in wrangling for the party’s gubernatorial nomination in the following election. The office can also offer an attorney general a way to gain national name recognition and experience, as Ken Cuccinelli did with his role in the states’ legal charge against ObamaCare.

So it would have been a consolation prize worth having for Republicans in Virginia. Additionally, the GOP is confronting what Reid Wilson calls a “changed electorate” that enabled Terry McAuliffe to win. McAuliffe can only serve one term, so Virginians just have to make sure he doesn’t do anything crazy in that time, like sell the state at a “Clinton 2016” fundraiser or some such. But after McAuliffe leaves office, Republicans will still have to face this “changed electorate,” and do so with the momentum pulling the state into the Democrats’ column. And that changed electorate is in part about turnout–an area the Democrats excelled in during President Obama’s reelection and which the Romney campaign flubbed badly. Wilson explains:

Read More

Republicans looking for a silver lining in last week’s Virginia elections got some bad news today: it looks like the Democratic candidate for attorney general, Mark Herring, will eke out a victory by less than 200 votes, enabling the Democrats to sweep Election Day’s major contests in that state. The current margin of victory allows the Republican candidate, Mark Obenshain, to request a recount, which the state will pay for since the margin is less than one half of one percent, according to Time.

Though obviously not as significant as the governor’s race, the attorney general gets a head start on running for governor, since Virginia governors are limited to one term. This is especially true for an attorney general when his party does not also hold the governorship of the state, since it gives him an advantage in wrangling for the party’s gubernatorial nomination in the following election. The office can also offer an attorney general a way to gain national name recognition and experience, as Ken Cuccinelli did with his role in the states’ legal charge against ObamaCare.

So it would have been a consolation prize worth having for Republicans in Virginia. Additionally, the GOP is confronting what Reid Wilson calls a “changed electorate” that enabled Terry McAuliffe to win. McAuliffe can only serve one term, so Virginians just have to make sure he doesn’t do anything crazy in that time, like sell the state at a “Clinton 2016” fundraiser or some such. But after McAuliffe leaves office, Republicans will still have to face this “changed electorate,” and do so with the momentum pulling the state into the Democrats’ column. And that changed electorate is in part about turnout–an area the Democrats excelled in during President Obama’s reelection and which the Romney campaign flubbed badly. Wilson explains:

The McAuliffe campaign had to invest heavily in digital media, Mook said, because many of the voters most likely to back the Democrat were part of groups that vote at lower rates — particularly younger voters and minorities. …

The gamble on turning out McAuliffe-friendly voters paid off: Exit polls showed the 2013 electorate was 72 percent white and 20 percent African American. Those two groups made up 78 percent and 16 percent, respectively, in 2009. Cuccinelli won white voters by a 56 percent to 36 percent margin, while McAuliffe won among blacks with 90 percent of the vote.

Younger voters, between the ages of 18 and 29, made up 13 percent of the electorate, three points higher than in 2009. Those voters gave McAuliffe a 45 percent to 40 percent edge; in 2009, younger voters chose Republican McDonnell by a 10-point margin.

So Virginia matters for all the obvious reasons: it used to be a red state; it may be a leading indicator of Republican struggles in swing states; it’s evidence the Democrats still have a superior ground game; etc. But it also matters for another reason, one that is both quantifiable and symbolic: the northern Virginia suburbs.

First, the quantifiable: as the Washington Post reports, population increases in the northern Virginia, blue-leaning counties hurt the Cuccinelli campaign in ways that portend trouble ahead for the Republicans. In three of those counties, for example, the Post explains that McAuliffe either matched, slightly exceeded, or slightly underperformed the voting percentages accrued there by Tim Kaine, the last Democrat to win the governorship eight years ago. Yet basically matching Kaine’s percentages in Fairfax, Prince William, and Loudoun counties still gave McAuliffe an extra 6,400, 7,000, and 300 or so votes respectively.

Northern Virginia is home to a sizable population of federal workers and where, according to the Hill, nearly one-third of the economy depends on the federal government. According to some estimates, there are 65,000 federal employees living in northern Virginia and 110,000 federal workers who work there. So the politics of Virginia are clearly influenced by the growth of government and people dependent on it.

And that gets to the symbolic aspect of this. The trend is understandable, but it is also an inversion of the benefits of the famous deal Thomas Jefferson and James Madison struck with Alexander Hamilton to locate the capital on the Potomac in return for the federal assumption of state debts (and a favorable accounting of such as far as Virginia was concerned). Their intentions, of course, are difficult to know. But the practical effect of locating the capital on the Potomac was to inaugurate a capital that was modest and humble, not imposing and imperialistic. As Joseph J. Ellis writes in Founding Brothers, in its early years it would easily assuage anyone’s concern about the powers of the new federal government: “It symbolized the victory of diffusion over consolidation.”

Skeptics of the federal government and the Hamilton deal wanted Madison and Jefferson to oppose it on the grounds that the debt assumption was akin to conquest by a foreign power–this new federal Leviathan, from which the states could be forgiven for contemplating secession. Ellis continues:

Jefferson and Madison claimed to share their apprehensions and their political principles, but not their secessionist impulses. Their strategy was different. They would not abandon the government, but capture it. Like the new capital, it would become an extension of Virginia, or at least the Virginia vision of what the American Revolution meant and the American republic was therefore meant to be.

The trend that carried McAuliffe to victory, and threatens to concretize in Virginia, is the opposite effect. It is the looming capture of Virginia by the federal government and the capital, and making Virginia an extension of the vision of the American republic according to the federal bureaucrat. Jefferson soon regretted the deal and his role in it, and nothing since then would likely change his mind.

Read Less

Petraeus Was Right to Resign

As I wrote on Friday, I agree with Max Boot that the resignation of David Petraeus is a tragedy. That such a distinguished career should end on such a tawdry note is appalling, especially since Petraeus’s place in our military history ought to guarantee him the nation’s highest accolades rather than to be subjected to the sort of tabloid scrutiny that is usually reserved for the denizens of reality television shows. Yet as much as I regret the circumstances, I disagree with those like Max who take the position that the former general’s resignation was unnecessary. Petraeus stumbled badly when he engaged in extramarital activity that wound up involving him in a bizarre harassment case that was investigated by the FBI. But he was right to assume that the only honorable course of action once it was uncovered was for him to leave the CIA.

Whenever public figures are driven from office as a result of private misconduct, the decision is often followed by a chorus of criticism about the puritanical nature of American society. We are also inevitably asked to compare the actions of the wrongdoer to those of former President Bill Clinton, whose outrageous behavior and lies didn’t put a dent his popularity let alone cause him to step down, even after impeachment. A better argument is that made by those, like Max, who ask us how much the country would have lost if the same standards were applied to heroes of the past who were also guilty of similar bad judgment. Yet in spite of that, I think Petraeus would have been wrong to “brazen it out” by attempting to hold on to his office. Doing so would have been an unpardonable distraction for the CIA at a time when it is under fire for the Benghazi fiasco. Moreover, no man, no matter how great he might be, is indispensable. While the general may well serve his country again in some capacity in the future, having called his judgment into question in this manner, it was impossible for him to remain at the CIA.

Read More

As I wrote on Friday, I agree with Max Boot that the resignation of David Petraeus is a tragedy. That such a distinguished career should end on such a tawdry note is appalling, especially since Petraeus’s place in our military history ought to guarantee him the nation’s highest accolades rather than to be subjected to the sort of tabloid scrutiny that is usually reserved for the denizens of reality television shows. Yet as much as I regret the circumstances, I disagree with those like Max who take the position that the former general’s resignation was unnecessary. Petraeus stumbled badly when he engaged in extramarital activity that wound up involving him in a bizarre harassment case that was investigated by the FBI. But he was right to assume that the only honorable course of action once it was uncovered was for him to leave the CIA.

Whenever public figures are driven from office as a result of private misconduct, the decision is often followed by a chorus of criticism about the puritanical nature of American society. We are also inevitably asked to compare the actions of the wrongdoer to those of former President Bill Clinton, whose outrageous behavior and lies didn’t put a dent his popularity let alone cause him to step down, even after impeachment. A better argument is that made by those, like Max, who ask us how much the country would have lost if the same standards were applied to heroes of the past who were also guilty of similar bad judgment. Yet in spite of that, I think Petraeus would have been wrong to “brazen it out” by attempting to hold on to his office. Doing so would have been an unpardonable distraction for the CIA at a time when it is under fire for the Benghazi fiasco. Moreover, no man, no matter how great he might be, is indispensable. While the general may well serve his country again in some capacity in the future, having called his judgment into question in this manner, it was impossible for him to remain at the CIA.

The notion that there is something wrong with a standard of conduct that treats infidelity as warranting nothing more than a scolding is one that seems to be increasingly popular. It is argued that the privacy of public officials should be respected just as much as that of private citizens. Viewed from that perspective, David Petraeus’s private life is none of our business. Unlike Bill Clinton, who committed perjury in order to cover up his affairs, Petraeus appears to have broken no laws. So long as that remains the case, why should the nation be deprived of the services of the man who was arguably the ablest American general in more than half a century?

It all sounds quite reasonable, but there are serious problems with this line of thought.

Although it is true that a number of famous Americans in the past have also been guilty of sexual indiscretions, it is incorrect to say the American people gave them a pass for it. For example, had John F. Kennedy’s disgusting conduct in the White House with multiple partners — including interns — been made public, it is doubtful he would have survived the furor. If there is something puritanical about a society in which promiscuous goings-on in the presidential mansion is considered beyond the pale, then so be it. As much as we know that human beings are fallible, there is nothing unreasonable about expecting leaders to behave as if their high office requires them to be on their best behavior while being so honored.

Indeed, the one prominent philanderer who is often cited as a precedent for a man surviving such a scandal — Alexander Hamilton — only did so because he exposed his own private misbehavior so as to make it clear that he was innocent of any public malfeasance, as his critics had charged.

Being the head of the CIA is also a circumstance that should also have made it more, rather than less, important that Petraeus not engage in this sort of behavior. It is a given that intelligence officials ought not do anything that renders them vulnerable to blackmail of any sort. Once he was told of the affair, the immediate response of James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, was that Petraeus must step down. That was in keeping with that standard. The idea that Petraeus is so uniquely talented that his presence in his post obligates us to ignore his bad judgment doesn’t hold water. As a battlefield and theater commander, Petraeus had no peers in the armed forces. But as important as his work in Langley was, he cannot make the same claim in the field of intelligence.

David Petraeus had a unique status in our public life. That was not just because of his brilliance in Iraq but because he had come to exemplify the ideals of military honor, sacrifice and public service. It may be unfair to expect a hero to behave like one, but that is the price you pay for the sort of applause the general deservedly received. Indeed, unlike his many supporters who are right to mourn his retirement, Petraeus understood that the only proper thing to do once his predicament had become public was to withdraw from his office. This exile from responsibility need not be permanent. But in stepping down, Petraeus has reaffirmed the notion that misconduct warrants more than a shrug. In doing so, he has rendered the country a service that should be applauded.

Read Less

Answering William Galston

Unlike a number of the bloggers at the New Republic, William Galston is a serious, mature, and insightful writer and thinker. He is an accomplished academic who was also a high-ranking figure in the Clinton White House. I worked with him on some projects in the 1990s, which only increased my admiration for him. So his recent blog post caught my attention.

“With the passage of time,” former Bush administration official Pete Wehner writes today, “President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy, including sending 30,000 additional troops to Iraq when most Americans were bone-weary of the war, will be seen as one of the most impressive and important acts of political courage in our lifetime.” Wehner may turn out to be right. And his argument has broader implications that deserve our attention.

Wehner tacitly defines political courage as the willingness to go against public opinion in pursuit of what a leader believes to be the public interest. Fair enough. And unless one believes—against all evidence—that democracies can do without courage, so defined, it follows that there’s nothing necessarily undemocratic about defying public opinion when the stakes are high. After all, the people will soon have the opportunity to pass judgment on the leader’s decision. And they will be able to judge that decision, not by the claims of its supporters or detractors, but by its results.

Galston goes on to write this:

Note that to accept this argument, as I do, is to deny that President Obama and the Democrats are acting high-handedly—let alone anti-democratically—in moving forward with comprehensive health insurance reform. They genuinely believe that the public interest demands it­—and that the people themselves will eventually agree. And they know that the people will have the last word.

This approach has the firmest possible roots in our constitutional traditions. The Framers deliberately established a republican form of government that is representative rather than plebiscitary. And Alexander Hamilton explained why in Federalist #71: “[T]he people commonly intend the PUBLIC GOOD. … But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it.” In a republic, the people are always the ultimate source of legitimacy. They are not always the proximate source of wisdom.

Many conservatives don’t seem to understand this distinction…. So today’s conservatives have a choice: They can contest health reform and the rest of the Democratic agenda on its merits, or they can go down the populist road that Sarah Palin and her followers represent. But let’s call that populism by its rightful name—namely, shameless flattery of the people and the manipulation of public fears and prejudices for short-term political advantage. Honorable conservatives such as Wehner know better. We’re about to find out how many of them there are.

As it happens, two days before the piece that Galston cites appeared, I wrote a post for CONTENTIONS in which I said this:

The Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] touched on one of the important debates in American political history, which is what the role of legislators is. Is it to reflect the views of their constituents, rather like a seismograph? Or, as Edmund Burke put it when speaking about constituents, “Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention.” But in the end, a legislator owes them something more: his “judgment.” He should not be guided by merely “local purposes” or “local prejudices.” Parliament, Burke insisted, was a “deliberative assembly.”…

I place myself in the latter camp, more now than ever — in part based on my own experience in the White House, when President Bush was advocating a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that was unpopular with the political class, with Congress, and with the American public. He proceeded anyway; and the results were stunningly successful. If the surge had failed — if Bush had pulled back, or listened to key Republicans, or decided that his job was to mirror public sentiment — America would have been dealt a terrible geopolitical and moral defeat. What George W. Bush did was right — and it was also politically courageous.

I went on to add this:

The acid test on these matters is always the wisdom of the act itself. Insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a legislative monstrosity would be unwise, whereas insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a piece of legislation that advances the common good would be commendable. Since I consider ObamaCare to fit in the former category, I naturally believe what Nancy Pelosi is asking her caucus to do is politically insane. Why issue political death warrants to your allies in behalf of a terrible idea? But her broader point, which is that self-perpetuation in Congress should not be the lawmaker’s primary concern, strikes me as quite right — and since she believes that nationalization of health care is in the public interest, her argument is understandable.

I don’t believe, and have never believed, vox populi, vox Dei.

As for Sarah Palin: I’ve made my concerns about her — and people like Glenn Beck and Tom Tancredo — known in several different forums. And while I wouldn’t go as far as Galston in my criticism of populism, I have expressed concerns about the dangers of it, as well as about what I consider to be reckless attacks on government. For example, I recently wrote this:

And [the GOP] can be responsible by taking the public’s scorn for government and channeling it in a constructive manner, in a way that translates into an actual governing and reform agenda. It is not enough to simply pour kerosene onto the bonfire. Republicans need public figures (like Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Rep. Paul Ryan) who can articulate an alternative view of government in a way that isn’t simplistic, that isn’t angry, or that doesn’t appeal (as I worry Sarah Palin sometimes does) to cultural resentments.

So I believe Professor Galston and I are making somewhat similar points. Which is reassuring to me, given my regard for him.

Unlike a number of the bloggers at the New Republic, William Galston is a serious, mature, and insightful writer and thinker. He is an accomplished academic who was also a high-ranking figure in the Clinton White House. I worked with him on some projects in the 1990s, which only increased my admiration for him. So his recent blog post caught my attention.

“With the passage of time,” former Bush administration official Pete Wehner writes today, “President Bush’s decision to champion a new counterinsurgency strategy, including sending 30,000 additional troops to Iraq when most Americans were bone-weary of the war, will be seen as one of the most impressive and important acts of political courage in our lifetime.” Wehner may turn out to be right. And his argument has broader implications that deserve our attention.

Wehner tacitly defines political courage as the willingness to go against public opinion in pursuit of what a leader believes to be the public interest. Fair enough. And unless one believes—against all evidence—that democracies can do without courage, so defined, it follows that there’s nothing necessarily undemocratic about defying public opinion when the stakes are high. After all, the people will soon have the opportunity to pass judgment on the leader’s decision. And they will be able to judge that decision, not by the claims of its supporters or detractors, but by its results.

Galston goes on to write this:

Note that to accept this argument, as I do, is to deny that President Obama and the Democrats are acting high-handedly—let alone anti-democratically—in moving forward with comprehensive health insurance reform. They genuinely believe that the public interest demands it­—and that the people themselves will eventually agree. And they know that the people will have the last word.

This approach has the firmest possible roots in our constitutional traditions. The Framers deliberately established a republican form of government that is representative rather than plebiscitary. And Alexander Hamilton explained why in Federalist #71: “[T]he people commonly intend the PUBLIC GOOD. … But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always reason right about the means of promoting it.” In a republic, the people are always the ultimate source of legitimacy. They are not always the proximate source of wisdom.

Many conservatives don’t seem to understand this distinction…. So today’s conservatives have a choice: They can contest health reform and the rest of the Democratic agenda on its merits, or they can go down the populist road that Sarah Palin and her followers represent. But let’s call that populism by its rightful name—namely, shameless flattery of the people and the manipulation of public fears and prejudices for short-term political advantage. Honorable conservatives such as Wehner know better. We’re about to find out how many of them there are.

As it happens, two days before the piece that Galston cites appeared, I wrote a post for CONTENTIONS in which I said this:

The Speaker [Nancy Pelosi] touched on one of the important debates in American political history, which is what the role of legislators is. Is it to reflect the views of their constituents, rather like a seismograph? Or, as Edmund Burke put it when speaking about constituents, “Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinions high respect; their business unremitted attention.” But in the end, a legislator owes them something more: his “judgment.” He should not be guided by merely “local purposes” or “local prejudices.” Parliament, Burke insisted, was a “deliberative assembly.”…

I place myself in the latter camp, more now than ever — in part based on my own experience in the White House, when President Bush was advocating a new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that was unpopular with the political class, with Congress, and with the American public. He proceeded anyway; and the results were stunningly successful. If the surge had failed — if Bush had pulled back, or listened to key Republicans, or decided that his job was to mirror public sentiment — America would have been dealt a terrible geopolitical and moral defeat. What George W. Bush did was right — and it was also politically courageous.

I went on to add this:

The acid test on these matters is always the wisdom of the act itself. Insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a legislative monstrosity would be unwise, whereas insisting on political courage from Members of Congress on behalf of a piece of legislation that advances the common good would be commendable. Since I consider ObamaCare to fit in the former category, I naturally believe what Nancy Pelosi is asking her caucus to do is politically insane. Why issue political death warrants to your allies in behalf of a terrible idea? But her broader point, which is that self-perpetuation in Congress should not be the lawmaker’s primary concern, strikes me as quite right — and since she believes that nationalization of health care is in the public interest, her argument is understandable.

I don’t believe, and have never believed, vox populi, vox Dei.

As for Sarah Palin: I’ve made my concerns about her — and people like Glenn Beck and Tom Tancredo — known in several different forums. And while I wouldn’t go as far as Galston in my criticism of populism, I have expressed concerns about the dangers of it, as well as about what I consider to be reckless attacks on government. For example, I recently wrote this:

And [the GOP] can be responsible by taking the public’s scorn for government and channeling it in a constructive manner, in a way that translates into an actual governing and reform agenda. It is not enough to simply pour kerosene onto the bonfire. Republicans need public figures (like Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Rep. Paul Ryan) who can articulate an alternative view of government in a way that isn’t simplistic, that isn’t angry, or that doesn’t appeal (as I worry Sarah Palin sometimes does) to cultural resentments.

So I believe Professor Galston and I are making somewhat similar points. Which is reassuring to me, given my regard for him.

Read Less

Obama’s Gift to Republicans: Their Resurgence

From strictly a governing and competence perspective, the health-care process that is unfolding has been one of the worst — and maybe the worst — we have ever seen. Democrats are pushing for legislation that would take over one-sixth of the American economy — and they are doing it in a manner that insults the memory of Mo, Larry, and Curly. Democratic Senator Evan Bayh provided more evidence of this with his simple complaint: “We’re all being urged to vote for something and we don’t know the details of what’s in it.” And what we’re talking about isn’t an annual farm bill; it is legislation that would fundamentally alter the fiscal and social landscape of America, possibly for generations. It is, to use a phrase from the Founders, a question of “the first magnitude to society.”

It is really quite astonishing, then, that Democrats are trying to ram through one of the largest pieces of domestic legislation in the history of our nation — and no one knows exactly what’s in it or what it will cost. The bill the Senate is now trying to find 60 votes for is an incoherent mess, a mishmash of historic size and sloppiness and, on the merits, utterly indefensible.

“It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country,” Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 1, “by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice.” What is happening right now on Capitol Hill, through the elected representatives of the people of this country, is the antithesis of reflection, choice, and good government. This matters not at all to Democrats, who have bought into a flawed theory: they must pass something, anything, no matter how awful, rather than start over again.

In fact, this process has been so bad, the products it has produced so defective, and the potential ramifications so destructive that, if the president signs health-care legislation into law, he will — with the stroke of his pen — provide Republicans with a golden opportunity to return to power. He is, in fact, in the process of setting the stage for a realignment of some significance. Repealing and replacing the monstrosity that Democrats call health-care reform will, absent some totally unforeseen events, become the dominant issue for the 2010 elections. And Democrats will, I think, pay a huge political price for what they are championing.

Barack Obama is turning out to be a very significant political figure, but not quite in the way he imagined. Ronald Reagan gave rise to a rebirth of conservatism and the GOP. So might Barack Obama.

From strictly a governing and competence perspective, the health-care process that is unfolding has been one of the worst — and maybe the worst — we have ever seen. Democrats are pushing for legislation that would take over one-sixth of the American economy — and they are doing it in a manner that insults the memory of Mo, Larry, and Curly. Democratic Senator Evan Bayh provided more evidence of this with his simple complaint: “We’re all being urged to vote for something and we don’t know the details of what’s in it.” And what we’re talking about isn’t an annual farm bill; it is legislation that would fundamentally alter the fiscal and social landscape of America, possibly for generations. It is, to use a phrase from the Founders, a question of “the first magnitude to society.”

It is really quite astonishing, then, that Democrats are trying to ram through one of the largest pieces of domestic legislation in the history of our nation — and no one knows exactly what’s in it or what it will cost. The bill the Senate is now trying to find 60 votes for is an incoherent mess, a mishmash of historic size and sloppiness and, on the merits, utterly indefensible.

“It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country,” Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 1, “by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice.” What is happening right now on Capitol Hill, through the elected representatives of the people of this country, is the antithesis of reflection, choice, and good government. This matters not at all to Democrats, who have bought into a flawed theory: they must pass something, anything, no matter how awful, rather than start over again.

In fact, this process has been so bad, the products it has produced so defective, and the potential ramifications so destructive that, if the president signs health-care legislation into law, he will — with the stroke of his pen — provide Republicans with a golden opportunity to return to power. He is, in fact, in the process of setting the stage for a realignment of some significance. Repealing and replacing the monstrosity that Democrats call health-care reform will, absent some totally unforeseen events, become the dominant issue for the 2010 elections. And Democrats will, I think, pay a huge political price for what they are championing.

Barack Obama is turning out to be a very significant political figure, but not quite in the way he imagined. Ronald Reagan gave rise to a rebirth of conservatism and the GOP. So might Barack Obama.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.