Commentary Magazine


Topic: Boxer

Reid vs. Ryan

ABC News broadcast a short, favorable profile on Representative Paul Ryan, which can be found here.

I thought the most delicious part was when Majority Leader Harry Reid — a man of blinding intellectual powers and unparalleled mastery of the budget — said, in the nicest way possible (!), that Ryan “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Senator Reid is a former boxer, so let’s use that sport to make an analogy. If Reid debated Ryan on the budget — or on any other topic for that matter — it would be a first round TKO; and it wouldn’t be in the Nevada senator’s favor.

ABC News broadcast a short, favorable profile on Representative Paul Ryan, which can be found here.

I thought the most delicious part was when Majority Leader Harry Reid — a man of blinding intellectual powers and unparalleled mastery of the budget — said, in the nicest way possible (!), that Ryan “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Senator Reid is a former boxer, so let’s use that sport to make an analogy. If Reid debated Ryan on the budget — or on any other topic for that matter — it would be a first round TKO; and it wouldn’t be in the Nevada senator’s favor.

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California Dreamin’?

George Will takes a look at the Carly Fiorina/Barbara Boxer Senate race. He reminds us of Boxer’s far-left political views and of California’s miserable economic condition:

Unemployment is at least 15 percent in 21 of the state’s 58 counties. Of the 13 U.S. metropolitan areas with unemployment that high, 11 are in California, which has lost more than 400,000 jobs since passage of the $862 billion stimulus. Like Barack Obama as he campaigns in what he calls Recovery Summer for more stimulus (because the first did not ignite recovery), Boxer is vexed by the fact that California’s unemployment rate is 2.2 points higher than when stimulus was passed. When she said the stimulus was responsible for 100 jobs at a Los Angeles lithium-battery factory, the owner demurred, saying the stimulus had nothing to do with the jobs.

Republicans who have witnessed many a year when the state was declared to be in play when it really wasn’t are wary of getting their hopes up. But Fiorina has several things going for her: she is well funded, well spoken, and, well, lucky. She’s running in a year when the usual scare tactics of the Democrats seem particularly cheesy and manipulative. On the abortion issue, Will makes this observation:

It is theoretically impossible to fashion an abortion position significantly more extreme than Boxer’s, which is slightly modified infanticide. She supports “partial birth” abortion — the baby, delivered feet first, is pulled out as far as the neck, then is killed. And when asked during a Senate debate whether the baby has a right to life if it slips entirely out of the birth canal before being killed, she replied that the baby acquires that right when it leaves the hospital: “When you bring your baby home.” Fiorina believes that science — the astonishing clarity of sonograms showing the moving fingers and beating hearts of fetuses; neonatal medicine improving the viability of very premature infants; the increasing abilities of medicine to treat ailing fetuses in utero — is changing Americans’ sensibilities and enlarging the portion of the public that describes itself as pro-life.

Third-party groups and pundits can make that point, but Fiorina would do well to follow Bob McDonnell’s example from Virginia: let the Democrat obsess over hot-button social issues while keeping one’s own campaign focused on bread-and-butter issues.

California might be, as Will put it, “irredeemably blue.” But that’s what they said about New Jersey and Massachusetts.

George Will takes a look at the Carly Fiorina/Barbara Boxer Senate race. He reminds us of Boxer’s far-left political views and of California’s miserable economic condition:

Unemployment is at least 15 percent in 21 of the state’s 58 counties. Of the 13 U.S. metropolitan areas with unemployment that high, 11 are in California, which has lost more than 400,000 jobs since passage of the $862 billion stimulus. Like Barack Obama as he campaigns in what he calls Recovery Summer for more stimulus (because the first did not ignite recovery), Boxer is vexed by the fact that California’s unemployment rate is 2.2 points higher than when stimulus was passed. When she said the stimulus was responsible for 100 jobs at a Los Angeles lithium-battery factory, the owner demurred, saying the stimulus had nothing to do with the jobs.

Republicans who have witnessed many a year when the state was declared to be in play when it really wasn’t are wary of getting their hopes up. But Fiorina has several things going for her: she is well funded, well spoken, and, well, lucky. She’s running in a year when the usual scare tactics of the Democrats seem particularly cheesy and manipulative. On the abortion issue, Will makes this observation:

It is theoretically impossible to fashion an abortion position significantly more extreme than Boxer’s, which is slightly modified infanticide. She supports “partial birth” abortion — the baby, delivered feet first, is pulled out as far as the neck, then is killed. And when asked during a Senate debate whether the baby has a right to life if it slips entirely out of the birth canal before being killed, she replied that the baby acquires that right when it leaves the hospital: “When you bring your baby home.” Fiorina believes that science — the astonishing clarity of sonograms showing the moving fingers and beating hearts of fetuses; neonatal medicine improving the viability of very premature infants; the increasing abilities of medicine to treat ailing fetuses in utero — is changing Americans’ sensibilities and enlarging the portion of the public that describes itself as pro-life.

Third-party groups and pundits can make that point, but Fiorina would do well to follow Bob McDonnell’s example from Virginia: let the Democrat obsess over hot-button social issues while keeping one’s own campaign focused on bread-and-butter issues.

California might be, as Will put it, “irredeemably blue.” But that’s what they said about New Jersey and Massachusetts.

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Slip-Sliding away — the Senate Majority, That Is

House Democrats are in frantic mode. Soon, Senate Democrats will be. From the Cook Political Report (subscription required), Jennifer Duffy writes that Carly Fiorina will have to overcome questions about her leadership of Hewlitt Packard but is one tough candidate:

She defends her role and actions at H-P, arguing that she did what needed to be done to position the company in the wake of the dot com bust and for the challenges ahead. The fact that H-P is doing well today would seem to support her case, but it is not a story that Fiorina tells in enough detail on the stump to take the wind out of the opposition’s argument. Instead, Fiorina prefers to focus on Boxer. She questions what the incumbent has actually accomplished in her nearly 18-year tenure in the Senate, and is critical of Boxer’s voting record, saying that she often votes against California’s economic interests. Fiorina believes that the stimulus package, which Boxer touts as a grand success for California, has been a failure that has not produced the promised jobs. She also takes aim at Boxer’s positions on the environment and her stewardship as chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Recently, she has said that Boxer hasn’t done enough to ease the water crisis in the state’s Central Valley, accusing Boxer of caring more about protecting the endangered Delta smelt than about getting water to the state’s farmers and creating jobs. Fiorina also takes aim at Boxer’s record on national security, which was the subject of the last television ad she ran before the primary.

It is interesting that, in a year when many candidates are ignoring foreign policy, Fiorina is highlighting it. (“This marriage of national security and domestic policy may become a staple of Fiorina’s argument against Boxer, as will numerous other statements Boxer has made over the years that Republicans contend portray Boxer as out of touch and arrogant.”) Accordingly, the California race is moved to toss-up status.

Then there is Wisconsin:

Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold and his chief Republican challenger Ron Johnson remain locked in a neck-and-neck battle for the U.S. Senate in Wisconsin.The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Wisconsin finds Johnson with 47% support, while the Democrat earns 46% of the vote.

It is as if the entire political playing field is tipped, and everything not anchored is sliding to one side. And consider if the turnout models are underestimating Republican enthusiasm. Why, then, the field tips at an even steeper angle.

Democrats have been assuring themselves that there would be a point at which the polls reverse course and their prospects brighten. Maybe that’s so. But they are running out of time.

House Democrats are in frantic mode. Soon, Senate Democrats will be. From the Cook Political Report (subscription required), Jennifer Duffy writes that Carly Fiorina will have to overcome questions about her leadership of Hewlitt Packard but is one tough candidate:

She defends her role and actions at H-P, arguing that she did what needed to be done to position the company in the wake of the dot com bust and for the challenges ahead. The fact that H-P is doing well today would seem to support her case, but it is not a story that Fiorina tells in enough detail on the stump to take the wind out of the opposition’s argument. Instead, Fiorina prefers to focus on Boxer. She questions what the incumbent has actually accomplished in her nearly 18-year tenure in the Senate, and is critical of Boxer’s voting record, saying that she often votes against California’s economic interests. Fiorina believes that the stimulus package, which Boxer touts as a grand success for California, has been a failure that has not produced the promised jobs. She also takes aim at Boxer’s positions on the environment and her stewardship as chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Recently, she has said that Boxer hasn’t done enough to ease the water crisis in the state’s Central Valley, accusing Boxer of caring more about protecting the endangered Delta smelt than about getting water to the state’s farmers and creating jobs. Fiorina also takes aim at Boxer’s record on national security, which was the subject of the last television ad she ran before the primary.

It is interesting that, in a year when many candidates are ignoring foreign policy, Fiorina is highlighting it. (“This marriage of national security and domestic policy may become a staple of Fiorina’s argument against Boxer, as will numerous other statements Boxer has made over the years that Republicans contend portray Boxer as out of touch and arrogant.”) Accordingly, the California race is moved to toss-up status.

Then there is Wisconsin:

Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold and his chief Republican challenger Ron Johnson remain locked in a neck-and-neck battle for the U.S. Senate in Wisconsin.The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Wisconsin finds Johnson with 47% support, while the Democrat earns 46% of the vote.

It is as if the entire political playing field is tipped, and everything not anchored is sliding to one side. And consider if the turnout models are underestimating Republican enthusiasm. Why, then, the field tips at an even steeper angle.

Democrats have been assuring themselves that there would be a point at which the polls reverse course and their prospects brighten. Maybe that’s so. But they are running out of time.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The National Jewish Democratic Council attacks other Jewish organizations for going after Obama on the Israel-bashing. Well, it’s nice to know what the NJDC’s priorities are.

In a radio interview, Carly Fiorina sounds quite knowledgeable on the Jerusalem housing project and bashes Obama for blowing up the incident. She asks why the administration “says nothing” when Syria and Iran talk about the destruction of Israel. She calls on Barbara Boxer to say something. (Boxer has been silent.)

Chuck DeVore also puts out a strong statement excoriating Obama. “For the Administration to ‘condemn’ — the strongest possible diplomatic language — the construction of some apartments in a historically Jewish section of Jerusalem does nothing to advance the cause of peace, and still less the security of our country. Peace is advanced through strength, not weakness — and through unity, not division. At a stroke, President Obama has diminished both.”

Cliff May: “How do you explain the strange calculus that condemns building homes for citizens and condones celebrating terrorism? You start by understanding not how the “peace process” works — because it doesn’t — but how ‘peace processors’ think. They have convinced themselves that the Palestinians will make peace with the Israelis when and if the Israelis make sufficient concessions. So the pressure must always be on the Israelis to offer more concessions.”

Charles Krauthammer in his not-to-be missed smackdown of Obama notes: “Under Obama, Netanyahu agreed to commit his center-right coalition to acceptance of a Palestinian state; took down dozens of anti-terror roadblocks and checkpoints to ease life for the Palestinians; assisted West Bank economic development to the point where its gross domestic product is growing at an astounding 7 percent a year; and agreed to the West Bank construction moratorium, a concession that Secretary Clinton herself called ‘unprecedented.’ What reciprocal gesture, let alone concession, has Abbas made during the Obama presidency? Not one.” Read the whole thing.

More bad news for incumbents: “A gauge of future economic activity rose 0.1 percent in February, suggesting slow economic growth this summer, a private research group said Thursday.”

The ObamaCare effect? “Obama’s job approval in the RCP Average has gone net negative for the first time ever as well. Currently 47.3% of those surveyed approve of the job Obama is doing as President, while 47.8% disapprove.”

That was due, in part, to Gallup: “President Barack Obama’s job approval is the worst of his presidency to date, with 46% of Americans approving and 48% disapproving of the job he is doing as president in the latest Gallup Daily three-day average. … The new low ratings come during a week in which the White House and Democratic congressional leaders are working to convince wavering House Democrats to support healthcare reform, which they hope to pass using a series of parliamentary maneuvers in the House of Representatives and Senate. Americans hold Congress in far less esteem than they do the president — 16% approve and 80% disapprove of the job Congress is doing. … That is just two points off the record-low 14% Gallup measured in July 2008.”

The National Jewish Democratic Council attacks other Jewish organizations for going after Obama on the Israel-bashing. Well, it’s nice to know what the NJDC’s priorities are.

In a radio interview, Carly Fiorina sounds quite knowledgeable on the Jerusalem housing project and bashes Obama for blowing up the incident. She asks why the administration “says nothing” when Syria and Iran talk about the destruction of Israel. She calls on Barbara Boxer to say something. (Boxer has been silent.)

Chuck DeVore also puts out a strong statement excoriating Obama. “For the Administration to ‘condemn’ — the strongest possible diplomatic language — the construction of some apartments in a historically Jewish section of Jerusalem does nothing to advance the cause of peace, and still less the security of our country. Peace is advanced through strength, not weakness — and through unity, not division. At a stroke, President Obama has diminished both.”

Cliff May: “How do you explain the strange calculus that condemns building homes for citizens and condones celebrating terrorism? You start by understanding not how the “peace process” works — because it doesn’t — but how ‘peace processors’ think. They have convinced themselves that the Palestinians will make peace with the Israelis when and if the Israelis make sufficient concessions. So the pressure must always be on the Israelis to offer more concessions.”

Charles Krauthammer in his not-to-be missed smackdown of Obama notes: “Under Obama, Netanyahu agreed to commit his center-right coalition to acceptance of a Palestinian state; took down dozens of anti-terror roadblocks and checkpoints to ease life for the Palestinians; assisted West Bank economic development to the point where its gross domestic product is growing at an astounding 7 percent a year; and agreed to the West Bank construction moratorium, a concession that Secretary Clinton herself called ‘unprecedented.’ What reciprocal gesture, let alone concession, has Abbas made during the Obama presidency? Not one.” Read the whole thing.

More bad news for incumbents: “A gauge of future economic activity rose 0.1 percent in February, suggesting slow economic growth this summer, a private research group said Thursday.”

The ObamaCare effect? “Obama’s job approval in the RCP Average has gone net negative for the first time ever as well. Currently 47.3% of those surveyed approve of the job Obama is doing as President, while 47.8% disapprove.”

That was due, in part, to Gallup: “President Barack Obama’s job approval is the worst of his presidency to date, with 46% of Americans approving and 48% disapproving of the job he is doing as president in the latest Gallup Daily three-day average. … The new low ratings come during a week in which the White House and Democratic congressional leaders are working to convince wavering House Democrats to support healthcare reform, which they hope to pass using a series of parliamentary maneuvers in the House of Representatives and Senate. Americans hold Congress in far less esteem than they do the president — 16% approve and 80% disapprove of the job Congress is doing. … That is just two points off the record-low 14% Gallup measured in July 2008.”

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Tom Campbell Will Debate on Terrorism and National Security

There will be a radio debate with California Republican Senate candidates Carly Fiorina, Chuck DeVore and Tom Campbell on Friday. The topics will be national security, foreign affairs, and terrorism. Sure to come up will be Campbell’s record. The controversy concerning his past voting record, campaign donors, and positions on Israel and the Middle East certainly will not subside so long as new facts continue to come to light.

For example, in a 2000 report for the Forward (subscription required), Eli Lake, now a national security correspondent for the Washington Times, wrote:

The California Republican who hopes to unseat Senator Feinstein this fall in the general election raised $35,000 last month at a fundraiser in Brooklyn hosted by Arab American and Muslim grateful for his efforts to cut aid to Israel, ease sanctions on Iraq and weaken counterterrorism legislation.

The report quotes the event’s invitation: “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Mercy-Giving, the American Muslim Coordinating Council and the American Muslim Alliance of New York request the honor of your presence at the Support for Tom Campbell for Senate Fundraising Dinner. … Requested Donation $250 per person.” Lake explains that the invitation explicitly praised Campbell for “votes to cut aid to Israel and weaken anti-terrorism legislation. It also stressed his support for a Palestinian-Arab state and opposition to sanctions on Iraq.” Lake noted that the American Muslim Alliance website boasted that the event raised $35,000 for Campbell.

The report also says the groups represented in the Campbell fundraiser include those who held “such events as a protest organized by the Southern California chapter of CAIR in 1998 outside a special televised event marking Israel’s 50th anniversary.  According to the CAIR website, protestors held signs that said, ’50 years of Palestinian Blood’ and ’50 years of Palestinian Disposession.’  In 1996, the American Muslim Council took out a newspaper advertisement accusing the Israeli Defense Force of ‘genocide’ in Southern Lebanon for the bombing commissioned by Prime Minister Peres.”

At the time, the campaign manager of Campbell’s opponent made the argument that “Senator Feinstein’s votes on the Middle East are much more in the mainstream than Congressman Campbell’s, and I would like their records to be evaluated by the voters of California.” One can imagine Sen. Boxer’s campaign manager is readying the same spiel should Campbell be the Republican nominee.

But this, of course, was not an isolated event. Campbell was not rewarded with a lifetime achievement award by the American Muslim Alliance for nothing. He was there with the likes of Sami Al-Arian at rallies and advocated the position of these Muslim organizations in Congress. In October 2000, the Los Angeles Times reported:

Calling themselves a “sleeping giant,” Muslims gathered Saturday in Irvine to brainstorm ways to increase their clout in the U.S. political system and the November elections. . .

“When we first started this, no one stood with us,” said Sami Al-Arian, a professor at University of Southern Florida. He told the crowd of more than 100 people that the campaign against secret evidence took persistence and eventually generated more than 55 supportive editorials and 200 positive articles in U.S. newspapers that were instrumental in raising public awareness.

Campbell, delivering the keynote luncheon address, told the Muslim crowd that such political victories could be replicated–such as fighting to end sanctions on Iraq. Campbell, who is challenging Democrat Dianne Feinstein for a Senate seat, urged Muslims to set up volunteer networks to support candidates of both major parties in every congressional district.

While Campbell now says he was unaware of the extremism of his supporters, the facts suggest otherwise. Yesterday, Philip Klein had yet another report detailing a Campbell donor, “Abdurahman Alamoudi of the American Muslim Council, whose views in support of Hamas and Hezbollah were well known — and captured on videotape back in 2000. Yet Campbell was still defending him even as other politicians were running for cover.” Alamoudi appeared at a rally extolling the crowd: “We are all supporters of Hamas.  …  I am also a supporter of Hezbollah.” But as Phil notes, a week later, Campbell defended Alamoudi and refused to return the donation.

Campbell has yet to explain fully his connection to these Islamic organizations, from whom he took money and for whom he was a dependable advocate at a time when these groups did not bother to hide their extreme rhetoric and views. California voters will have to decide for themselves whether they feel comfortable with Campbell’s record. But I think there is little doubt that the portrait Campbell now paints of himself bears little resemblance to the one he was peddling up through 2001.

There will be a radio debate with California Republican Senate candidates Carly Fiorina, Chuck DeVore and Tom Campbell on Friday. The topics will be national security, foreign affairs, and terrorism. Sure to come up will be Campbell’s record. The controversy concerning his past voting record, campaign donors, and positions on Israel and the Middle East certainly will not subside so long as new facts continue to come to light.

For example, in a 2000 report for the Forward (subscription required), Eli Lake, now a national security correspondent for the Washington Times, wrote:

The California Republican who hopes to unseat Senator Feinstein this fall in the general election raised $35,000 last month at a fundraiser in Brooklyn hosted by Arab American and Muslim grateful for his efforts to cut aid to Israel, ease sanctions on Iraq and weaken counterterrorism legislation.

The report quotes the event’s invitation: “In the name of God, the Merciful, the Mercy-Giving, the American Muslim Coordinating Council and the American Muslim Alliance of New York request the honor of your presence at the Support for Tom Campbell for Senate Fundraising Dinner. … Requested Donation $250 per person.” Lake explains that the invitation explicitly praised Campbell for “votes to cut aid to Israel and weaken anti-terrorism legislation. It also stressed his support for a Palestinian-Arab state and opposition to sanctions on Iraq.” Lake noted that the American Muslim Alliance website boasted that the event raised $35,000 for Campbell.

The report also says the groups represented in the Campbell fundraiser include those who held “such events as a protest organized by the Southern California chapter of CAIR in 1998 outside a special televised event marking Israel’s 50th anniversary.  According to the CAIR website, protestors held signs that said, ’50 years of Palestinian Blood’ and ’50 years of Palestinian Disposession.’  In 1996, the American Muslim Council took out a newspaper advertisement accusing the Israeli Defense Force of ‘genocide’ in Southern Lebanon for the bombing commissioned by Prime Minister Peres.”

At the time, the campaign manager of Campbell’s opponent made the argument that “Senator Feinstein’s votes on the Middle East are much more in the mainstream than Congressman Campbell’s, and I would like their records to be evaluated by the voters of California.” One can imagine Sen. Boxer’s campaign manager is readying the same spiel should Campbell be the Republican nominee.

But this, of course, was not an isolated event. Campbell was not rewarded with a lifetime achievement award by the American Muslim Alliance for nothing. He was there with the likes of Sami Al-Arian at rallies and advocated the position of these Muslim organizations in Congress. In October 2000, the Los Angeles Times reported:

Calling themselves a “sleeping giant,” Muslims gathered Saturday in Irvine to brainstorm ways to increase their clout in the U.S. political system and the November elections. . .

“When we first started this, no one stood with us,” said Sami Al-Arian, a professor at University of Southern Florida. He told the crowd of more than 100 people that the campaign against secret evidence took persistence and eventually generated more than 55 supportive editorials and 200 positive articles in U.S. newspapers that were instrumental in raising public awareness.

Campbell, delivering the keynote luncheon address, told the Muslim crowd that such political victories could be replicated–such as fighting to end sanctions on Iraq. Campbell, who is challenging Democrat Dianne Feinstein for a Senate seat, urged Muslims to set up volunteer networks to support candidates of both major parties in every congressional district.

While Campbell now says he was unaware of the extremism of his supporters, the facts suggest otherwise. Yesterday, Philip Klein had yet another report detailing a Campbell donor, “Abdurahman Alamoudi of the American Muslim Council, whose views in support of Hamas and Hezbollah were well known — and captured on videotape back in 2000. Yet Campbell was still defending him even as other politicians were running for cover.” Alamoudi appeared at a rally extolling the crowd: “We are all supporters of Hamas.  …  I am also a supporter of Hezbollah.” But as Phil notes, a week later, Campbell defended Alamoudi and refused to return the donation.

Campbell has yet to explain fully his connection to these Islamic organizations, from whom he took money and for whom he was a dependable advocate at a time when these groups did not bother to hide their extreme rhetoric and views. California voters will have to decide for themselves whether they feel comfortable with Campbell’s record. But I think there is little doubt that the portrait Campbell now paints of himself bears little resemblance to the one he was peddling up through 2001.

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Rome and the Romanovs We Are Not

Niall Ferguson delivers a typically well-written and provocative essay in Foreign Affairs: “Complexity and Collapse: Empires on the Edge of Chaos.” But I remain unconvinced. His thesis is essentially threefold. First, that empires can collapse suddenly and unexpectedly without a long period of decline. “A very small trigger,” he writes, “can set off a ‘phase transition’ from a benign equilibrium to a crisis–a single grain of sand causes a whole pile to collapse, or a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and brings about a hurricane in southeastern England.” Second, that “most imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises.” And third, that the United States may be ripe for a sudden collapse because of a crisis of confidence engendered by our ballooning public debt.

Start with the second claim — about the crucial role of fiscal crises in triggering imperial collapse. The list of fallen empires provided by Ferguson actually shows that military defeat (or even an overly costly victory) has far more often been the cause of disaster. Rome was overrun by Barbarian hordes in the 5th century. China was invaded by the Manchus in the 17th century. The Habsburg, Ottoman, and Romanov empires were all defeated in World War I. Britain used up all of its resources — including, most important, its stock of national will to maintain great power status — in winning two world wars. And the Soviet Union collapsed after its defeat in Afghanistan (and also the fall of the Berlin Wall). He might have mentioned, but didn’t, the collapse of the Manchu Dynasty in 1911 following China’s defeats in a long string of conflicts stretching from the Opium Wars in the mid-19th century to the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 and the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.

One can actually quarrel with his premise that all these events can even be characterized as imperial downfalls, since China, Russia, and France (he also cites the French Revolution, which he argues was triggered in part by the financial strain of subsidizing the American Revolution) all expanded after their revolutions under new regimes (Manchus, Soviets, and Napoleon). What about the role of financial insolvency? One can argue that it contributed to the fall of empires in all these cases; but with the possible exception of Britain (which experienced a severe balance-of-payments crisis after 1945), the financial problems were an example of the kind of long-term “decline” identified by Paul Kennedy and dismissed by Ferguson — they were not sudden crisises that destroyed otherwise healthy polities. Moreover, most of the empires he mentions (Britain is the sole exception) experienced debilitating political problems long before their end — most were ruled by increasingly unpopular and illegitimate regimes. The later Roman Empire was a particularly notorious case, with multiple self-proclaimed emperors competing for authority and military coups occurring with monotonous regularity. Does this really characterize America today?

Thus I am skeptical that a sudden loss of confidence in the American economy will lead us to crash and burn, á la Rome and the Romanovs. To be sure, a financial crisis can be costly, even catastrophic — conceivably worse than the events of 2008-09. Such a downturn would undoubtedly be painful, but would it lead to America’s eclipse as a great power? I doubt it, because our fundamentals are so sound: a stable political and legal system; a relatively low level of corruption; an innovative, productive economy; a growing population that is not aging as fast as our major rivals (the EU, Japan, China, Russia); an optimistic and self-confident ethos; the world’s most powerful military; and a bipartisan commitment to preserving American leadership. We are not going the way of Rome anytime soon.

Niall Ferguson delivers a typically well-written and provocative essay in Foreign Affairs: “Complexity and Collapse: Empires on the Edge of Chaos.” But I remain unconvinced. His thesis is essentially threefold. First, that empires can collapse suddenly and unexpectedly without a long period of decline. “A very small trigger,” he writes, “can set off a ‘phase transition’ from a benign equilibrium to a crisis–a single grain of sand causes a whole pile to collapse, or a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and brings about a hurricane in southeastern England.” Second, that “most imperial falls are associated with fiscal crises.” And third, that the United States may be ripe for a sudden collapse because of a crisis of confidence engendered by our ballooning public debt.

Start with the second claim — about the crucial role of fiscal crises in triggering imperial collapse. The list of fallen empires provided by Ferguson actually shows that military defeat (or even an overly costly victory) has far more often been the cause of disaster. Rome was overrun by Barbarian hordes in the 5th century. China was invaded by the Manchus in the 17th century. The Habsburg, Ottoman, and Romanov empires were all defeated in World War I. Britain used up all of its resources — including, most important, its stock of national will to maintain great power status — in winning two world wars. And the Soviet Union collapsed after its defeat in Afghanistan (and also the fall of the Berlin Wall). He might have mentioned, but didn’t, the collapse of the Manchu Dynasty in 1911 following China’s defeats in a long string of conflicts stretching from the Opium Wars in the mid-19th century to the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 and the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.

One can actually quarrel with his premise that all these events can even be characterized as imperial downfalls, since China, Russia, and France (he also cites the French Revolution, which he argues was triggered in part by the financial strain of subsidizing the American Revolution) all expanded after their revolutions under new regimes (Manchus, Soviets, and Napoleon). What about the role of financial insolvency? One can argue that it contributed to the fall of empires in all these cases; but with the possible exception of Britain (which experienced a severe balance-of-payments crisis after 1945), the financial problems were an example of the kind of long-term “decline” identified by Paul Kennedy and dismissed by Ferguson — they were not sudden crisises that destroyed otherwise healthy polities. Moreover, most of the empires he mentions (Britain is the sole exception) experienced debilitating political problems long before their end — most were ruled by increasingly unpopular and illegitimate regimes. The later Roman Empire was a particularly notorious case, with multiple self-proclaimed emperors competing for authority and military coups occurring with monotonous regularity. Does this really characterize America today?

Thus I am skeptical that a sudden loss of confidence in the American economy will lead us to crash and burn, á la Rome and the Romanovs. To be sure, a financial crisis can be costly, even catastrophic — conceivably worse than the events of 2008-09. Such a downturn would undoubtedly be painful, but would it lead to America’s eclipse as a great power? I doubt it, because our fundamentals are so sound: a stable political and legal system; a relatively low level of corruption; an innovative, productive economy; a growing population that is not aging as fast as our major rivals (the EU, Japan, China, Russia); an optimistic and self-confident ethos; the world’s most powerful military; and a bipartisan commitment to preserving American leadership. We are not going the way of Rome anytime soon.

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The Ballot Box Solution

The Wall Street Journal editors zero in on Sen. Ben Nelson’s infamous deal, the “Cornhusker Kickback,” which is going to replace the Bridge To Nowhere in legislative infamy. They explain:

Under the “Cornhusker Kickback,” the federal government will pay all of Nebraska’s new Medicaid costs forever, while taxpayers in the other 49 states will see their budgets explode as this safety-net program for the poor is expanded to one out of every five Americans.

“In addition to violating the most basic and universally held notions of what is fair and just,” the AGs wrote last week to the Democratic leadership, the Article I spending clause is limited to “general Welfare.” If Congress claims to be legitimately serving that interest by expanding the joint state-federal Medicaid program, then why is it relieving just one state of a mandate that otherwise applies to all states? In other words, serving the non-general welfare of Nebraska—for no other reason than political expediency—violates a basic Supreme Court check on the “display of arbitrary power” that was established in 1937′s Helvering v. Davis.

I am not a fan of reconstituting policy arguments as Constitutional claims, even when the legislative offense is as gross as this. At bottom, noxious legislation calls out for a legislative solution: a no vote by the other lawmakers whose constituents rightly see this as unfair and, at bottom, immoral. After all, why are Californians’ health needs not given the same consideration as Nebraskans’? And just because Sen. Feinstein and Boxer allowed Nelson to get away with a better deal in the Christmas rush doesn’t mean they and their colleagues shouldn’t take a second look. As the Journal‘s editors point out, Blue states really have reason to gripe:

In a December letter Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger lamented that ObamaCare would impose the “crushing new burden” of as much as $4 billion per year in new Medicaid spending in a state that is already deeply in the red. And in a Christmas Day op-ed in the Buffalo News, New York Governor David A. Paterson protested the almost $1 billion in new costs as well as the “unfairness of the Senate bill” when “New York already sends significantly more money to Washington than it gets back.”

There are, after all, Senate races in New York and California this year. It seems as though it would behoove Sens. Boxer and Gillibrand to defend their taxpayers’ interests. The same goes for the 53 California House members and the 29 New York representatives. Don’t at least a handful of the Democrats in those and other states object to the fact that their voters are going to be subsidizing Nebraskans only so that the latter don’t get too mad at Ben Nelson?

Perhaps the courts will find some legal infirmity with the deal. But the ultimate solution to this sort of chicanery is found at the ballot box.

The Wall Street Journal editors zero in on Sen. Ben Nelson’s infamous deal, the “Cornhusker Kickback,” which is going to replace the Bridge To Nowhere in legislative infamy. They explain:

Under the “Cornhusker Kickback,” the federal government will pay all of Nebraska’s new Medicaid costs forever, while taxpayers in the other 49 states will see their budgets explode as this safety-net program for the poor is expanded to one out of every five Americans.

“In addition to violating the most basic and universally held notions of what is fair and just,” the AGs wrote last week to the Democratic leadership, the Article I spending clause is limited to “general Welfare.” If Congress claims to be legitimately serving that interest by expanding the joint state-federal Medicaid program, then why is it relieving just one state of a mandate that otherwise applies to all states? In other words, serving the non-general welfare of Nebraska—for no other reason than political expediency—violates a basic Supreme Court check on the “display of arbitrary power” that was established in 1937′s Helvering v. Davis.

I am not a fan of reconstituting policy arguments as Constitutional claims, even when the legislative offense is as gross as this. At bottom, noxious legislation calls out for a legislative solution: a no vote by the other lawmakers whose constituents rightly see this as unfair and, at bottom, immoral. After all, why are Californians’ health needs not given the same consideration as Nebraskans’? And just because Sen. Feinstein and Boxer allowed Nelson to get away with a better deal in the Christmas rush doesn’t mean they and their colleagues shouldn’t take a second look. As the Journal‘s editors point out, Blue states really have reason to gripe:

In a December letter Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger lamented that ObamaCare would impose the “crushing new burden” of as much as $4 billion per year in new Medicaid spending in a state that is already deeply in the red. And in a Christmas Day op-ed in the Buffalo News, New York Governor David A. Paterson protested the almost $1 billion in new costs as well as the “unfairness of the Senate bill” when “New York already sends significantly more money to Washington than it gets back.”

There are, after all, Senate races in New York and California this year. It seems as though it would behoove Sens. Boxer and Gillibrand to defend their taxpayers’ interests. The same goes for the 53 California House members and the 29 New York representatives. Don’t at least a handful of the Democrats in those and other states object to the fact that their voters are going to be subsidizing Nebraskans only so that the latter don’t get too mad at Ben Nelson?

Perhaps the courts will find some legal infirmity with the deal. But the ultimate solution to this sort of chicanery is found at the ballot box.

Read Less

Personal?

Still stumped about the difference between funding Viagra and funding abortions, Sen. Barbara Boxer now laments that the climate-change debate has gotten off track:

Sen. Boxer criticized global warming skeptics who have “personalized” last month’s climate e-mail spat and this week’s talks in Copenhagen, Denmark. While the senator acknowledged the strong sentiments pervading this year’s debate are valid, she ultimately expressed concern the “personal” could soon “get in the way of the science.”

What’s “personal” about the discovery of e-mails showing an orchestrated scheme to conceal inconvenient data about climate change? What’s “personal” about a climate-change confab that has pitted the international emissions-limits agenda against developing countries’ ability to make a better life for their citizens by building a more prosperous society? I think that, in the Boxer lexicon, “personal” means “embarrassing facts that have popped up at a most inopportune time.”

One senses that things are not going so well for the environmental-hysteria mongers. But at least they’re consistent: so fervent in their belief system are they that all new evidence and new political developments inconsistent with the global-warming “emergency” must be discounted and ignored. Move along. Nothing to see. Let’s get back to the business of micromanaging economies.

The public seems increasingly unconvinced by this approach and more skeptical of the Chicken Little urgency that the global-warming crowd needs to justify the trillions to be spent and the economic regulation to be enacted. They must be taking it all too “personally.”

Still stumped about the difference between funding Viagra and funding abortions, Sen. Barbara Boxer now laments that the climate-change debate has gotten off track:

Sen. Boxer criticized global warming skeptics who have “personalized” last month’s climate e-mail spat and this week’s talks in Copenhagen, Denmark. While the senator acknowledged the strong sentiments pervading this year’s debate are valid, she ultimately expressed concern the “personal” could soon “get in the way of the science.”

What’s “personal” about the discovery of e-mails showing an orchestrated scheme to conceal inconvenient data about climate change? What’s “personal” about a climate-change confab that has pitted the international emissions-limits agenda against developing countries’ ability to make a better life for their citizens by building a more prosperous society? I think that, in the Boxer lexicon, “personal” means “embarrassing facts that have popped up at a most inopportune time.”

One senses that things are not going so well for the environmental-hysteria mongers. But at least they’re consistent: so fervent in their belief system are they that all new evidence and new political developments inconsistent with the global-warming “emergency” must be discounted and ignored. Move along. Nothing to see. Let’s get back to the business of micromanaging economies.

The public seems increasingly unconvinced by this approach and more skeptical of the Chicken Little urgency that the global-warming crowd needs to justify the trillions to be spent and the economic regulation to be enacted. They must be taking it all too “personally.”

Read Less




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