Commentary Magazine


Topic: liberalism

An Impressive Stand on Behalf of Liberal Ideals by Gay Marriage Advocates

A group of prominent advocates for same-sex marriage signed a statement arguing for both the freedom to marry and the freedom to dissent.

This statement comes in the aftermath of the forced resignation of the CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich, because of a donation he made in 2008 on behalf of California’s Proposition 8, which would have upheld the traditional definition of marriage. The statement points out that there is no evidence that Mr. Eich believed in or practiced any form of discrimination against Mozilla’s LGBT employees. No matter; he was still forced out.

This action signaled “an eagerness by some supporters of same-sex marriage to punish rather than to criticize or to persuade those who disagree,” according to the statement. “We reject that deeply illiberal impulse, which is both wrong in principle and poor as politics.”

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A group of prominent advocates for same-sex marriage signed a statement arguing for both the freedom to marry and the freedom to dissent.

This statement comes in the aftermath of the forced resignation of the CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich, because of a donation he made in 2008 on behalf of California’s Proposition 8, which would have upheld the traditional definition of marriage. The statement points out that there is no evidence that Mr. Eich believed in or practiced any form of discrimination against Mozilla’s LGBT employees. No matter; he was still forced out.

This action signaled “an eagerness by some supporters of same-sex marriage to punish rather than to criticize or to persuade those who disagree,” according to the statement. “We reject that deeply illiberal impulse, which is both wrong in principle and poor as politics.”

The statement went on to point out that diversity is the natural consequence of liberty, saying:

Much of the rhetoric that emerged in the wake of the Eich incident showed a worrisome turn toward intolerance and puritanism among some supporters of gay equality—not in terms of formal legal sanction, to be sure, but in terms of abandonment of the core liberal values of debate and diversity.

Sustaining a liberal society demands a culture that welcomes robust debate, vigorous political advocacy, and a decent respect for differing opinions. People must be allowed to be wrong in order to continually test what is right. We should criticize opposing views, not punish or suppress them.

The declaration goes on to invoke the memory of Franklin Kameny, one of America’s earliest gay-rights proponents, who lost his job in 1957 because he was gay. We’re now living in a time when those who oppose gay marriage are being fired.

Neither situation–firing people because they are gay or firing people because they oppose gay marriage–is right; and the efforts by the signatories of this letter to stand up for classical liberal ideals and push back against those with whom they agree on the matter of gay marriage is admirable and important.

As I wrote about before on this matter, “When the dust finally settles, we still have to live together … Surely treating others with a certain degree of dignity and respect shouldn’t be too much to ask of those who oppose gay marriage and those who support it.”

The signatories of the statement have done their part, and I for one am grateful to them for having done so. 

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Ryan and Liberal Welfare-State Amnesia

At first it seemed like just a minor kerfuffle, the sort of thing that happens to every politician and soon fades away. Paul Ryan says something on a talk show. Liberals howl. Conservatives defend. And a couple of days later nobody even remembers what it was about. But now I’m convinced it’s about something bigger than the normal inside-baseball political fights. What’s at stake is an attempt to reinstate the old shibboleths that were the foundation of the liberal welfare state that was buried when President Bill Clinton said the era of big government was over and then signed a historic welfare reform act into law.

I’m referring, of course, to the dustup that ensued after the chair of the House Budget Committee said the following on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio show:

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

That provoked the left to blast him as a racist using “dog whistle” politics in which “inner cities” means black. But as I pointed out on Friday, the faux outrage being ginned up against Ryan flew in the face of just about everything we had learned about the role that family breakdowns and cultural problems have played in creating and perpetuating poverty. In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a recognition that one of the unintended consequences of the creation of the welfare state was the way it had produced a near-permanent underclass in our cities that no amount of government largesse seemed capable of ameliorating. As I noted last week, the backlash against Ryan seemed rooted in forgetting everything Daniel Patrick Moynihan taught us about the subject.

But rather than tailing off after a day as I anticipated, the assault on Ryan seems to be growing. In the last three days, we’ve seen a new round of attacks from even more prominent sources such as this hit piece from Politico Magazine and a 700-word-long rant from (as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto likes to call him) “former Enron advisor” Paul Krugman in the New York Times. Yet rather than this being a case of the left simply seeking to damage a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, what is going on is something much bigger. The discussion about “income inequality” was intended to change the subject from ObamaCare and to breathe some life into the lame-duck Obama presidency but it is now morphing into something far more ambitious: erasing the last half-century of debate about the problems of the welfare state.

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At first it seemed like just a minor kerfuffle, the sort of thing that happens to every politician and soon fades away. Paul Ryan says something on a talk show. Liberals howl. Conservatives defend. And a couple of days later nobody even remembers what it was about. But now I’m convinced it’s about something bigger than the normal inside-baseball political fights. What’s at stake is an attempt to reinstate the old shibboleths that were the foundation of the liberal welfare state that was buried when President Bill Clinton said the era of big government was over and then signed a historic welfare reform act into law.

I’m referring, of course, to the dustup that ensued after the chair of the House Budget Committee said the following on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio show:

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

That provoked the left to blast him as a racist using “dog whistle” politics in which “inner cities” means black. But as I pointed out on Friday, the faux outrage being ginned up against Ryan flew in the face of just about everything we had learned about the role that family breakdowns and cultural problems have played in creating and perpetuating poverty. In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a recognition that one of the unintended consequences of the creation of the welfare state was the way it had produced a near-permanent underclass in our cities that no amount of government largesse seemed capable of ameliorating. As I noted last week, the backlash against Ryan seemed rooted in forgetting everything Daniel Patrick Moynihan taught us about the subject.

But rather than tailing off after a day as I anticipated, the assault on Ryan seems to be growing. In the last three days, we’ve seen a new round of attacks from even more prominent sources such as this hit piece from Politico Magazine and a 700-word-long rant from (as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto likes to call him) “former Enron advisor” Paul Krugman in the New York Times. Yet rather than this being a case of the left simply seeking to damage a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, what is going on is something much bigger. The discussion about “income inequality” was intended to change the subject from ObamaCare and to breathe some life into the lame-duck Obama presidency but it is now morphing into something far more ambitious: erasing the last half-century of debate about the problems of the welfare state.

Ryan’s problem is not just that he tripped over the way some on the left have tried to turn the use of the phrase “inner cities” into a code word for racist incitement. The newly energized left wing of the Democratic Party wants something far bigger than to delegitimize the intellectual leader of the Republican congressional caucus. What they want is to take us back to those heady days of the 1960s before Moynihan’s report on the black family started to strip away the veneer of good intentions that defended government policies that hurt the poor far more than it helped them.

The point is, absent the buzz words about inner cities, you’d have to have spent the last 50 years trapped in some kind of time warp in order to think there was anything even vaguely controversial about the notion that cultural problems play a huge role in creating poverty. To his credit, Andrew Sullivan concedes as much when he defended Ryan from attacks by fellow liberals. Sullivan gets bogged down in a defense of Charles Murray’s seminal book Losing Ground and the question of various ethnic groups’ IQ numbers.

But the argument here is far more basic than such esoteric intellectual debates. The talk about income inequality isn’t only an attempt to associate Republicans with their traditional allies in big business and reposition Democrat elites as the friend of the working class. The goal of resurgent liberalism is also to reboot discussions about poverty in such a way as to ignore decades of research and debate about the ways in which dependency on the government breeds unemployment and multi-generational families mired in poverty.

That’s why the need for pushback on the slurs aimed at Ryan is so important. For decades, fear of telling the truth about the social pathologies bred by big government was assumed to be a permanent obstacle that would prevent change. The racism canard constituted the third rail of American politics that even reform-minded Republicans feared to touch. But by the ’90s, even many liberals understood the system was unsustainable. The passage of welfare reform was an acknowledgement on the part of Democrats that New Deal and Great Society liberalism had flaws that could no longer be ignored. But the shift left under Obama has given some liberals the belief that they can recreate the politics of the past and undo everything Moynihan and Clinton had done to change the national conversation about welfare and poverty. Instead of taking into account the way government policies create havoc for society and the poor, we may go back to the old liberal shibboleths that assume that throwing more money at a problem is the only solution and that the state can do no wrong.

What is at stake here is something far bigger than Paul Ryan’s political prospects. The future of generations of poor Americans trapped by government dependency hangs in the balance if the amnesia about the welfare state that is the foundation of the attacks on Ryan spread. Fair-minded Democrats who remember the cost to the country and to the poor, including so many minority families from an unrestrained welfare state, need to join with conservatives and restore some sanity as well as historical memory to this debate.

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The “War on Women” for Dummies

Liberal activists and lobbyist groups used today’s New York Times story on identity politics to loudly declare two things: there is a “war on women,” and these groups couldn’t be happier. That may sound strange at first glance. After all, some of these groups are ostensibly “women’s groups,” and this is indeed a counterintuitive way to react to political bias.

But that’s only if they actually believe their rhetoric; keep in mind, the White House fabricated the “war on women” to win elections. If that’s the case, why would these women’s groups repeat the story, especially considering just how demeaning and dehumanizing it is to women for these liberal groups to reduce them to their gender or reproductive organs? They’re surprisingly frank about their answer:

Democrats do not just get mad when they hear those words. They cash in.

In fact, they are trying to find even more examples by tracking Republican opponents, their surrogates and conservative news media personalities, then blasting their comments out to supporters to build voter lists and drum up donations, casting aside the well-worn advice to shrug off sexist comments lest they draw attention to gender over issues.

It is proving effective. Emily’s List, the political action committee that backs female candidates who support abortion rights, has raised a record $25 million this election cycle. On Tuesday, the group put out an online petition, “Tell the G.O.P.: Pregnant Women Are Not ‘Hosts,’ ” after Steve Martin, a state senator in Virginia, referred to a pregnant woman as the child’s “host” in a Facebook message.

“Instead of fearing sexist attacks, we wait gleefully for the next one,” said Jen Bluestein, a political strategist who formerly ran communications at Emily’s List.

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Liberal activists and lobbyist groups used today’s New York Times story on identity politics to loudly declare two things: there is a “war on women,” and these groups couldn’t be happier. That may sound strange at first glance. After all, some of these groups are ostensibly “women’s groups,” and this is indeed a counterintuitive way to react to political bias.

But that’s only if they actually believe their rhetoric; keep in mind, the White House fabricated the “war on women” to win elections. If that’s the case, why would these women’s groups repeat the story, especially considering just how demeaning and dehumanizing it is to women for these liberal groups to reduce them to their gender or reproductive organs? They’re surprisingly frank about their answer:

Democrats do not just get mad when they hear those words. They cash in.

In fact, they are trying to find even more examples by tracking Republican opponents, their surrogates and conservative news media personalities, then blasting their comments out to supporters to build voter lists and drum up donations, casting aside the well-worn advice to shrug off sexist comments lest they draw attention to gender over issues.

It is proving effective. Emily’s List, the political action committee that backs female candidates who support abortion rights, has raised a record $25 million this election cycle. On Tuesday, the group put out an online petition, “Tell the G.O.P.: Pregnant Women Are Not ‘Hosts,’ ” after Steve Martin, a state senator in Virginia, referred to a pregnant woman as the child’s “host” in a Facebook message.

“Instead of fearing sexist attacks, we wait gleefully for the next one,” said Jen Bluestein, a political strategist who formerly ran communications at Emily’s List.

Essentially what the story makes clear is that liberals have realized that the extent of their dominance of mainstream media and cultural institutions has enabled them to create a new dialect of the American political lexicon, and until someone gives Republicans a Rosetta Stone to the left’s Orwellian language, they will struggle to communicate according to the approved rhetoric.

Now, it’s important to note: there are certainly instances of clear sexist language being used against Democratic women. It doesn’t quite rise to the level that the left deploys against conservative women, for example the National Organization of Women declaring that a woman with conservative political views is not a woman at all, but in fact, as far as NOW is concerned, a man. Nonetheless, not all the outrage is ginned up out of nothing; occasionally someone steps over the line, and there’s nothing wrong with pointing that out.

But actual sexist remarks are only one of three categories of comments that the Times story attempts to seamlessly blend into one, considering all of them to be overtly sexist. The other two consist of insults that are offensive but not inherently sexist, and comments that are neither offensive nor sexist. The Times explains that to Democratic lobby groups seeking to raise money, the latter two categories, when applied to women, become sexist merely because the target of the comment is a woman.

The story gives one example of the second of the three categories: Claire McCaskill’s opponent said she was like a dog playing “fetch” by going to Washington to push for taxes and regulation that then get brought back to the people of Missouri. It’s obviously offensive to liken someone to an animal, and this particular analogy is also nonsensical. But it was also clearly not meant as a comment on her physical appearance.

As an example of the third and final category, the Times explains that a GOP communications official called Kentucky candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes an “empty dress,” referring to her campaign’s lack of policy specifics. This is obviously the same insult as calling someone an “empty suit,” standard fare for political debate. The only difference was that the GOP figure acknowledged that Grimes is a woman. This is the opposite of sexist (using a male version of the insult would have brought the accusation that Grimes was being called a man).

One is tempted to suggest that all this would be easier if the Democrats’ ministry of communications would just publish a book of what words and phrases Republicans are permitted to say in America. But that would defeat the purpose, which is, liberals explain, to ensure Republicans say the wrong thing so the left can raise money, as a former Obama official made startlingly clear:

“It comes down to your ability to not just ride the wave, but create the wave,” said Marie Danzig, deputy digital director for Mr. Obama’s 2012 campaign and head of creative and delivery at Blue State Digital, which works with Emily’s List.

If a wave’s not there, they’ll “create” it. And all they need is your generous donation to do so.

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Conservatives and Culture

Patrick Ruffini, long one of the conservative movement’s brightest minds on tech strategy in politics, has been working (with some success) to shake the right out of its ossified technological stasis. Part of Ruffini’s insight stems from his bias toward creativity and against institutional inertia: an entrenched institution isn’t by definition counterproductive, but neither should its persistence be taken for granted.

This week, Ruffini took to Twitter to broaden his critique to the conservative movement’s attitude toward institutions in general, both its own and those of the left. This Storify page captures the relevant tweets. Ruffini undoubtedly makes good points, and has some worthwhile advice for the right. But I think the limitation he runs into here is not really about cultural institutions per se but the culture that leads to the formation of those institutions. Ruffini writes:

Where is our Harvard, our New York Times, our Hollywood, our Silicon Valley? Owning the commanding heights of culture, it matters.

It’s true that culture matters, and later on Ruffini seems to acknowledge that a conservative version of the New York Times is not the best way de-marginalize conservative cultural perspectives when he writes:

This is why I’m encouraged to see guys like Robert Costa go to WaPo. Hard news reporting that started on the right.

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Patrick Ruffini, long one of the conservative movement’s brightest minds on tech strategy in politics, has been working (with some success) to shake the right out of its ossified technological stasis. Part of Ruffini’s insight stems from his bias toward creativity and against institutional inertia: an entrenched institution isn’t by definition counterproductive, but neither should its persistence be taken for granted.

This week, Ruffini took to Twitter to broaden his critique to the conservative movement’s attitude toward institutions in general, both its own and those of the left. This Storify page captures the relevant tweets. Ruffini undoubtedly makes good points, and has some worthwhile advice for the right. But I think the limitation he runs into here is not really about cultural institutions per se but the culture that leads to the formation of those institutions. Ruffini writes:

Where is our Harvard, our New York Times, our Hollywood, our Silicon Valley? Owning the commanding heights of culture, it matters.

It’s true that culture matters, and later on Ruffini seems to acknowledge that a conservative version of the New York Times is not the best way de-marginalize conservative cultural perspectives when he writes:

This is why I’m encouraged to see guys like Robert Costa go to WaPo. Hard news reporting that started on the right.

Indeed, as everyone knows, the most glaring lack of diversity in liberal media and cultural institutions is lack of intellectual and ideological diversity. The right produces plenty of talent, but the left’s rigid orthodoxy and enforced groupthink too rarely take the risk of exposing their audience to a dissenting view.

But the larger obstacle to the construction of conservative cultural institutions is that conservatives are so often by nature averse to the infusion of partisan politics into every facet of private life that would be required. Take each of the institutions Ruffini mentions.

Harvard: this is a stand-in for liberal academia overall, but it’s a good example since it retains its high status even as it basically gives its students A’s just for showing up. How does a place like Harvard become what it is today, when it once had such prestige and promise? Easy: the politicization of education by liberals who don’t want their students to be challenged. Do conservatives even want their own version of that? Should they? I don’t think they should, and I don’t they really do either. I think they yearn for the influence such institutions have, but greatly—and appropriately—disapprove of what it takes to get there.

New York Times: this is a stand-in for the liberal mainstream media, especially since the Times itself is going through such a crisis of credibility right now. But Ruffini already answered this one when he spoke of National Review’s ace political reporter Robert Costa going to the Washington Post. Conservative alternatives are too easily defined as such. More importantly, the Times mostly bellows groupthink and has allowed its bias not only to seep into its news reporting, but to become its news reporting. Why would conservatives want to foist another such institution on the country?

Hollywood: Here again we recently got a good look at how this operates. Actress Maria Conchita Alonso lost work because she supported a Republican. This new Hollywood blacklist is seemingly getting government sanction by federal authorities targeting any other nonconformists.

Blacklists, propaganda, the politicization of education—this is what it took for liberals to succeed in dominating cultural institutions. Which brings me to the last example: Silicon Valley. Ruffini answers this question with a sharp observation later in his discussion, when he writes:

If there are = numbers of smart righties as smart lefties, where do they go. On the right, they go into business. On the left, into politics

And thank goodness for that! Of course we want smart conservatives going into politics, and there are plenty. But it’s the sign of a healthy outlook when Americans are driven to the private sector instead of lusting after power. We are a nation with a government, as the saying goes, not the other way around.

It may be politically marginalizing to the right that conservatives believe in the need for a society outside the suffocating bureaucracy of the federal government, while leftists don’t. But the fact that conservatives believe in a life outside of partisan politics is healthy both for the conservative movement and the country on the whole. It’s a worthy, if frustratingly disempowering, sacrifice.

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The GOP’s Opening

I’m slightly less hopeful than John that the new Congressional Budget Report has dealt a death blow to the Affordable Care Act–but I certainly agree with him that the CBO report is “devastating” when it comes to the “inefficiencies, ineffectualities and problematic social costs of ObamaCare.” And John’s crisp analysis of just how far short the ACA has fallen from the claims made by the president–including CBO’s projection that in 10 years about the same number of people will lack insurance as before–underscores what an epic failure Mr. Obama’s signature achievement is turning out to be.

The CBO report affords another chance, then, to point out that the ACA isn’t just an indictment of the Obama presidency; it is an indictment against reactionary liberalism. ObamaCare was the capstone of a half-century effort by progressives to remake the American health-care system. Now they have, and the results range from awful to catastrophic.

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I’m slightly less hopeful than John that the new Congressional Budget Report has dealt a death blow to the Affordable Care Act–but I certainly agree with him that the CBO report is “devastating” when it comes to the “inefficiencies, ineffectualities and problematic social costs of ObamaCare.” And John’s crisp analysis of just how far short the ACA has fallen from the claims made by the president–including CBO’s projection that in 10 years about the same number of people will lack insurance as before–underscores what an epic failure Mr. Obama’s signature achievement is turning out to be.

The CBO report affords another chance, then, to point out that the ACA isn’t just an indictment of the Obama presidency; it is an indictment against reactionary liberalism. ObamaCare was the capstone of a half-century effort by progressives to remake the American health-care system. Now they have, and the results range from awful to catastrophic.

This doesn’t ensure Republicans a sail on a summer sea. There are still significant problems facing the GOP, demographic and otherwise, when it comes to presidential elections–problems I’ll focus on in a later post. For now, though, it’s enough to say that thanks to the combination of Mr. Obama’s staggering incompetence and flawed ideology, and the resultant harm to the America people, voters will give the Republican Party another look. It’s an open question as to whether the party will take the necessary steps–in tone, countenance, and substance–to take advantage of it. We’ll know more during the next year–and a lot more once the GOP has a nominee.

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Cuomo’s Version of Liberal Tolerance

There’s no sign that Hillary Clinton will forgo a run for a Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 that appears to be hers for the asking. But should she pass, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will likely be one of the main contenders. As such, he has spent the last year shoring up his left flank by departing from the moderate policies that he ran on in 2010 and that characterized his first two years in office. But Cuomo’s pivot left has now escalated to the point where he not only wishes to impose liberal ideas on a blue state apparently all too eager to accept such dictates but to make it clear that those who oppose him are no longer welcome to stay.

That was the upshot of a remarkable rant by Cuomo on a public radio station in Albany. As the Albany Times Union reported, in the course of an angry critique of the national Republican Party and as well as New Yorkers who oppose his SAFE Act—a draconian gun-control bill railroaded through the New York legislature not long after the Newtown massacre—Cuomo said the following:

You’re seeing that play out in New York. … The Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act — it was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate! Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.

Cuomo’s astonishing statement may please a suddenly ascendant left wing of the Democratic Party that is now feeling its strength after the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City and thinking about how it could influence the 2016 Democratic race. But it also demonstrates a disturbing degree of intolerance that illustrates the general rule of thumb, that conservatives believe liberals to be wrong and liberals think conservatives are evil. While this will endear Cuomo with his party’s base, it may come back to haunt him if he ever gets the chance to campaign on the national stage.

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There’s no sign that Hillary Clinton will forgo a run for a Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 that appears to be hers for the asking. But should she pass, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will likely be one of the main contenders. As such, he has spent the last year shoring up his left flank by departing from the moderate policies that he ran on in 2010 and that characterized his first two years in office. But Cuomo’s pivot left has now escalated to the point where he not only wishes to impose liberal ideas on a blue state apparently all too eager to accept such dictates but to make it clear that those who oppose him are no longer welcome to stay.

That was the upshot of a remarkable rant by Cuomo on a public radio station in Albany. As the Albany Times Union reported, in the course of an angry critique of the national Republican Party and as well as New Yorkers who oppose his SAFE Act—a draconian gun-control bill railroaded through the New York legislature not long after the Newtown massacre—Cuomo said the following:

You’re seeing that play out in New York. … The Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act — it was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate! Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.

Cuomo’s astonishing statement may please a suddenly ascendant left wing of the Democratic Party that is now feeling its strength after the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City and thinking about how it could influence the 2016 Democratic race. But it also demonstrates a disturbing degree of intolerance that illustrates the general rule of thumb, that conservatives believe liberals to be wrong and liberals think conservatives are evil. While this will endear Cuomo with his party’s base, it may come back to haunt him if he ever gets the chance to campaign on the national stage.

Cuomo’s reference to abortion opponents is especially interesting in the way it seeks to declare them not only out of the political mainstream in New York (which is undoubtedly true) but also worthy of being driven out of the Empire State. As Kathryn Jean Lopez noted in National Review on Friday, the governor’s rant demonstrates the distance both the Democratic Party and the Cuomo family have traveled in the last 30 years. As Lopez writes, in 1984, one of Cuomo’s predecessors as governor of New York—his father Mario—famously articulated a nuanced position in which he restated his personal opposition to abortion while defending its legality and public funding.

This same intolerance is made manifest in the federal ObamaCare mandate that seeks to force Catholic charity groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor pay for abortion drugs and contraception for its employees. That is a far cry from Mario Cuomo’s attempt to build a wall between private opposition to abortion and a public right to it. The Democrats of Barack Obama and Andrew Cuomo will now brook no opposition to their dictates or, in Cuomo’s case, even allow opponents to reside in “his” state.

However, the spark for Cuomo’s anger—opposition to the gun bill he promulgated in his State of the State last year and then rammed through the legislature inside of a day as a sop to public anguish about Newtown—also demonstrates the incoherence of this new extreme liberalism. The SAFE act imposed new bans on assault weapons, gun magazines, and imposed even broader rules for background checks for legal gun purchases. But in the year since it was passed, it has gone largely unenforced since it has sown almost universal confusion among law-enforcement personnel and gun venders and owners who are unsure what is and what is not rendered illegal by the vague language in the sloppily-drafted legislation Cuomo championed.

One needn’t be an opponent of legalized abortion or a member of the National Rifle Association to understand the dangers of this sort of rhetoric and a legislative agenda driven by such sentiments. Liberals have spent the past few years posing as the champions of tolerance while denouncing the Tea Party and conservative Republicans as extremists. But now that the left wing of the Democratic Party has taken back the reins of the party from more centrist forces—or in Cuomo’s case, a former moderate has put his finger in the wind and changed his direction accordingly—the same dynamic could undermine their attempts to win national elections. Just as the GOP must worry about letting its most extreme elements dictate policy and candidates, Democrats should think twice about the spectacle of one of their leading lights going so far as to tell opponents of abortion and gun control to leave New York. If Clinton passes on the presidency and Cuomo makes a run for the White House, that intolerant line won’t be forgotten.

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Rubio’s Poverty Pitch What the GOP Needs

Marco Rubio’s 2013 was as bad as Chris Christie’s was good. The Florida senator’s annus horribillis began with his goofy water bottle problem as he delivered the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union message. It continued when a month later he appeared equally ridiculous rushing to the floor of the Senate to support Rand Paul’s drone filibuster in order to avoid letting a rival hog all the attention, even though he actually disagreed with the libertarian. But Rubio, who began the year at the top of everyone’s list of Republican presidential hopefuls, didn’t hit bottom until he became the target of widespread conservative animus for his high-minded decision to back a bipartisan immigration reform bill. By the summer, many of his erstwhile fans on the right had buried him as a RINO and talk about his candidacy in 2016 seemed to be on hold. Even the senator began backing away from his own bill.

But if Christie has gone from GOP frontrunner to possible has-been in the wake of his Bridgegate scandal, Rubio has a chance to start over in 2014. Though it’s unlikely that many anti-immigration die-hards will forgive him for speaking common sense about the issue, Rubio’s address at the Capitol last week on the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” gave his year a promising beginning. As James Pethokoukis rightly noted at the AEI Ideas blog, his “new anti-poverty plan offers a dramatic, even radical revamp of the American welfare state” that attempts to raise the incomes of the poor without falling into the trap of big government.

It’s not clear whether his fine speech and Christie’s downfall will boost his presidential stock, but Rubio may have done more than advance a personal agenda. By calling on Republicans to address how to help Americans mired in poverty, Rubio may have started an important conversation on the right that could help make the GOP the party of ideas again.

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Marco Rubio’s 2013 was as bad as Chris Christie’s was good. The Florida senator’s annus horribillis began with his goofy water bottle problem as he delivered the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union message. It continued when a month later he appeared equally ridiculous rushing to the floor of the Senate to support Rand Paul’s drone filibuster in order to avoid letting a rival hog all the attention, even though he actually disagreed with the libertarian. But Rubio, who began the year at the top of everyone’s list of Republican presidential hopefuls, didn’t hit bottom until he became the target of widespread conservative animus for his high-minded decision to back a bipartisan immigration reform bill. By the summer, many of his erstwhile fans on the right had buried him as a RINO and talk about his candidacy in 2016 seemed to be on hold. Even the senator began backing away from his own bill.

But if Christie has gone from GOP frontrunner to possible has-been in the wake of his Bridgegate scandal, Rubio has a chance to start over in 2014. Though it’s unlikely that many anti-immigration die-hards will forgive him for speaking common sense about the issue, Rubio’s address at the Capitol last week on the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” gave his year a promising beginning. As James Pethokoukis rightly noted at the AEI Ideas blog, his “new anti-poverty plan offers a dramatic, even radical revamp of the American welfare state” that attempts to raise the incomes of the poor without falling into the trap of big government.

It’s not clear whether his fine speech and Christie’s downfall will boost his presidential stock, but Rubio may have done more than advance a personal agenda. By calling on Republicans to address how to help Americans mired in poverty, Rubio may have started an important conversation on the right that could help make the GOP the party of ideas again.

Rubio’s approach is based on two accurate assumptions. One is that Republicans cannot hope to win national elections by playing the role of the mean party that likes the rich and considers the poor to be an incorrigible “47 percent” of takers, to quote Mitt Romney’s unfortunate gaffe. Conservatives must demonstrate that they care about people who aren’t rich or well off lest they be written off as the party of ruthless plutocrats who want to take away benefits from the poor. Though the Tea Party movement has raised important points about the dangers of uncontrolled tax and spend policies, the results of the 2012 election should have reminded Republicans that they must do more than say “no” to Democratic ideas; they must offer voters their own plans for helping the disadvantaged.

But there is more at stake here than merely a rhetorical pivot. As Rubio also makes clear, the GOP must offer an alternative to the failed liberal policies that are associated with the War on Poverty. The senator states what generations of liberals have worked hard to ignore when he says the problem with the big-government liberalism that Johnson helped unleash was not its desire to help the poor. The problem was that rather than freeing the poor from poverty, these policies, albeit unintentionally, created a new permanent underclass trapped in misery with little hope of escape. Dismantling it, or at least stripping the federal government of much of its role in anti-poverty efforts and devolving power to the states, as Rubio advocates, offers the country an opportunity to reform a failed system.

As Pethokoukis notes, the basic principles that form the foundation of this approach are irrefutable: the need to create more of the social mobility that the welfare state discourages; to increase the gap between the income of those who work and those who don’t; and to build a more efficient safety net that isn’t run by a federal bureaucracy from Washington, D.C.

These are the key talking points that every Republican should be discussing, especially as Democrats attempt to change the national political conversation from the ObamaCare disaster to a new one about income inequality. The difference between the two parties is that Rubio is proposing a genuine alternative to the status quo while all Democrats are offering is more of the same failed ideas that have done so much damage to the poor in the last half-century.

In the 1980s, Republicans assumed the mantle of the “thinking party,” as they sought to reform the welfare state under the leadership of Ronald Reagan. It’s time they started thinking again. It’s not clear whether Rubio will run in 2016 but no matter what his plans, if he can help promote this sea change away from knee-jerk opposition to all government action to a new era of GOP reform of government, he will do his party—and the country—an inestimable service.

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Bill de Blasio’s Mandate

While it’s tempting for politicians to interpret an election victory as a mandate that aligns with their personal priorities over those of the electorate, the disconnect is especially glaring in the case of Bill de Blasio. The new mayor of New York City was sworn in yesterday in a downright bizarre spectacle. During a procession of speeches, the New York City of 2013-14 was notably absent to make room for the New York City of the progressives’ fevered imaginations, completely at odds with how New Yorkers generally view their home.

A majority of black and Hispanic New Yorkers believe race relations in their city are “generally good.” Yet the chaplain who gave yesterday’s invocation claimed the city was a “plantation.” New York has seen a steady drop in the murder rate–to historic lows, in fact–for over a decade at the same time as its incarceration rate has plummeted. Yet de Blasio’s inauguration featured a speech by Harry Belafonte in which the crowd was treated to his false depiction of the city: “While it is encouraging to know that the statistics have indicated a recent drop in our city’s murder rate, New York alarmingly plays a tragic role in the fact that our nation has the largest prison population in the world.”

But demonstrably false progressive propaganda on race and crime are just the opening acts. The main event, of course, is income inequality. This is a Progressive Moment, we are told, thanks to the victory of de Blasio and others, such as the election of an avowed socialist to Seattle’s city council advocating policies she acknowledged will cost jobs–but hey, revolutions are messy. And this Progressive Moment was made possible, as the New York Times explains, by frustration with “the city’s current gilded era” which “propelled” de Blasio to power. Except, of course, that this is a fantasy.

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While it’s tempting for politicians to interpret an election victory as a mandate that aligns with their personal priorities over those of the electorate, the disconnect is especially glaring in the case of Bill de Blasio. The new mayor of New York City was sworn in yesterday in a downright bizarre spectacle. During a procession of speeches, the New York City of 2013-14 was notably absent to make room for the New York City of the progressives’ fevered imaginations, completely at odds with how New Yorkers generally view their home.

A majority of black and Hispanic New Yorkers believe race relations in their city are “generally good.” Yet the chaplain who gave yesterday’s invocation claimed the city was a “plantation.” New York has seen a steady drop in the murder rate–to historic lows, in fact–for over a decade at the same time as its incarceration rate has plummeted. Yet de Blasio’s inauguration featured a speech by Harry Belafonte in which the crowd was treated to his false depiction of the city: “While it is encouraging to know that the statistics have indicated a recent drop in our city’s murder rate, New York alarmingly plays a tragic role in the fact that our nation has the largest prison population in the world.”

But demonstrably false progressive propaganda on race and crime are just the opening acts. The main event, of course, is income inequality. This is a Progressive Moment, we are told, thanks to the victory of de Blasio and others, such as the election of an avowed socialist to Seattle’s city council advocating policies she acknowledged will cost jobs–but hey, revolutions are messy. And this Progressive Moment was made possible, as the New York Times explains, by frustration with “the city’s current gilded era” which “propelled” de Blasio to power. Except, of course, that this is a fantasy.

Back to the polling on New Yorkers’ attitudes toward their city: a majority say the economic condition of the city is good, and closing the income gap between rich and poor rated the lowest of four voter priorities even at the height of the de Blasio campaign. How do these numbers square with de Blasio’s landslide victory? Perfectly, as a matter of fact.

De Blasio was practically handed the mayoralty after winning the Democratic nomination and never looking back. But the primaries garnered 20 percent turnout. As the New York Times explained, this means de Blasio’s initial victory was bestowed on him by “about 3 percent of all New Yorkers.” The Times also reported that turnout in the general election was a record low of 24 percent–noticeably lower, even, than the turnout for Michael Bloomberg’s election to a third term.

This also casts some light on the question of what kind of national momentum this Progressive Moment has. New York is a liberal city. Seattle is a liberal city. It’s certainly notable that de Blasio is the first registered Democrat elected to lead New York in two decades, but it’s not as though statist excesses were rare in the Bloomberg administration–and, let us not forget, Bloomberg was a former registered Democrat who changed his registration in order to avoid a Democratic primary and then dropped his Republican registration while in office.

Some, such as reporters at Politico, suggest the local progressives may elevate the conversation to the national level. The outlet has a story about the crucial relationships de Blasio will have to manage, and President Obama is at the top of the list:

De Blasio’s going to want attention from the federal government that Obama probably won’t be able to give, and Obama’s going to be pressured to respond more fully to the kind of progressive politics that de Blasio represents.

Will he, though? Will the leftwing mayor of New York put pressure on a second-term president to follow his lead? Anything more than lip service is highly doubtful, and class warfare rhetoric was part of the president’s speeches before most people outside New York knew much about de Blasio. You could argue, in fact, the opposite: Americans on the whole seem more concerned about inequality than New Yorkers. But then you’d have to contend with the fact that for five years Obama has been pushing inequality as a stain on the national conscience and his approval ratings have been in a nosedive.

In that way and in others, the president offers de Blasio a cautionary tale. Obama was elected in the midst of an economic crisis, and he chose to push for an unpopular health-care reform bill despite the fact that health care was not a top priority for voters in 2008 and at the time Americans favored keeping the current health-care system. The lesson for de Blasio is how easily an administration can be knocked off-course if public opinion is discarded as soon as the sun sets on Election Day.

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Unemployment: Who’s the Real Scrooge?

As part of their attempt to pivot away from the ObamaCare rollout fiasco and broken promises as well as a year of scandals and legislative failure, Democrats are following the president’s lead and attempting to highlight income inequality as an issue with which they can hammer Republicans. So it was little surprise that Senator Rand Paul’s statement on Fox News Sunday that extending unemployment benefits actually worsens the problem they are intended to solve had the mouths of liberal pundits watering. Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus jumped on the statement during an appearance on MSNBC during which she gave Paul her “Scrooge of the Year Award.” At Salon, Brian Beutler seemed to do the same thing when he wrote that House Speaker John Boehner and Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan were being equally heartless by opposing any Democratic attempt to push for another extension of unemployment benefits even as the two parties attempt to negotiate a budget deal.

Both writers cast the issue in simplistic moral terms: Liberals want to give the poor money during the holiday season. Conservatives are playing Scrooge and asking those who want them to pony up a pittance for the needy if they are not better off in workhouses or prisons. Beutler would even like the Democrats to turn the tables on the GOP and threaten a government shutdown over the issue, though he concedes any such conduct is a political loser, even if it allows the left to do a D.C. version of A Christmas Carol.

But though Marcus and the rest of the chattering classes seem to think this illustrates again how hard-hearted Republicans have become, they are wrong. Far from demonstrating loyalty to Mitt Romney’s infamous line about the 47 percent of the country being takers whose votes are bought by liberals, Paul was actually right about the impact of unending unemployment benefits.

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As part of their attempt to pivot away from the ObamaCare rollout fiasco and broken promises as well as a year of scandals and legislative failure, Democrats are following the president’s lead and attempting to highlight income inequality as an issue with which they can hammer Republicans. So it was little surprise that Senator Rand Paul’s statement on Fox News Sunday that extending unemployment benefits actually worsens the problem they are intended to solve had the mouths of liberal pundits watering. Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus jumped on the statement during an appearance on MSNBC during which she gave Paul her “Scrooge of the Year Award.” At Salon, Brian Beutler seemed to do the same thing when he wrote that House Speaker John Boehner and Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan were being equally heartless by opposing any Democratic attempt to push for another extension of unemployment benefits even as the two parties attempt to negotiate a budget deal.

Both writers cast the issue in simplistic moral terms: Liberals want to give the poor money during the holiday season. Conservatives are playing Scrooge and asking those who want them to pony up a pittance for the needy if they are not better off in workhouses or prisons. Beutler would even like the Democrats to turn the tables on the GOP and threaten a government shutdown over the issue, though he concedes any such conduct is a political loser, even if it allows the left to do a D.C. version of A Christmas Carol.

But though Marcus and the rest of the chattering classes seem to think this illustrates again how hard-hearted Republicans have become, they are wrong. Far from demonstrating loyalty to Mitt Romney’s infamous line about the 47 percent of the country being takers whose votes are bought by liberals, Paul was actually right about the impact of unending unemployment benefits.

As a 2011 COMMENTARY article by Cheryl Strauss Einhorn pointed out, by opposing such measures, Republicans are acting on sound economic and moral principles. As Einhorn writes, by transforming unemployment from a “short-term salve” into an entitlement that operates as a semi-permanent form of welfare, the government is doing more harm than good. Though Marcus assumes that all those on unemployment would take any job rather than stay on the program, the evidence of economic studies has always pointed in the other direction:

No less important than cost is the matter of results. All 10 of the economists interviewed for this article agreed that longer availability of benefits would, in fact, lead to a more leisurely job search. The Heritage study showed that “a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits results in the average worker remaining unemployed for an additional two weeks,” wrote Campbell, Sherk, and Ligon.

A recent study by Denmark’s Economic Council showed that many of those who do not find work right away wait until just before their benefits expire to take anything available. The study argues against lengthy payments, showing that recipients tend not to seek the jobs they could get but rather those they would like to have. The results encouraged the Danes to halve the country’s four-year benefit system, which, like those of other European countries, is more generous than the American one.

This flies in the face of the sort of popular sentiment that Marcus reflected. But as Einhorn discussed, the key to understanding this question is no different than that of other economic issues: incentives.

Indeed, the greatest conceptual lapse in our current unemployment policies results from forgetting the cardinal behavioral rule: incentives matter. As the unemployed conduct a more leisurely search, they lapse into government dependence and strain their connection to the workforce. This has the potential to create a crisis, whose reach goes far beyond the political, or even economic, domain and deep into Americans’ sense of worth.

Arguing against giving the unemployed more money seems harsh. Indeed, as far as liberals are concerned, it is the epitome of Dickensian maltreatment of the poor in which a refusal to spend more in this fashion is the moral equivalent of condemning Tiny Tim to death or the long-suffering clerk Bob Cratchit to a debtor’s prison rather than the goose dinner the reformed Scrooge sends him in the book. But it is of a piece with the same instinct that built a welfare system that served to create a permanent underclass in this country rather than giving the poor the helping hand they needed.

As Einhorn concluded:

According to the Congressional Research Service, workers who have been unemployed the longest are often the last to be hired after a recession. But we do not need research to back up the larger truth of what we have already witnessed. In a free market, nothing compounds a crisis like a well-meaning government, and nothing saps the individual spirit like dependence—under any name.

A sober examination of the question shows that rather than being a modern Scrooge, Paul was right. Democrats want to play Santa Claus and hand out more goodies to the unemployed. Doing so may even be good politics, at least in the short term. But by playing this game, they are doing neither the intended objects of their largesse nor the country any favors.

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Elizabeth Warren Sells Out

The raft of stories over the last week, the latest being today’s piece in Business Insider, about Democratic Party infighting has nicely illustrated something conservatives have known for a while. Complaints over the last few years about the GOP being pulled to the right by conservatives were not about liberals’ desire to meet in the middle and compromise, no matter how much they might decry the supposed extremist drift of the right. What they wanted was their very own Tea Party.

It was the same with Occupy Wall Street: the pseudoanarchist gatherings were far more violent than Tea Party protests (that is to say, containing any violence at all), and Democrats’ support for them contrasted quite sharply with those same Democrats’ condemnation of anti-ObamaCare protesters as “un-American.” What bothered them was not the existence of ideological crusaders on the right but the marginalization of same on the left.

That is not to say that the Democratic Party doesn’t espouse modern American left-liberalism. It’s that modern American liberalism is soulless–it is the ideology of power. That’s why the rumors of a possible Elizabeth Warren run for president stoked such passions on the left. It rejuvenated talk of a liberalism that stood for something besides accruing power to the state and letting bureaucrats run the show: the dilution of self-government to a ludicrous, and intellectually impoverished, degree.

But as I’ve tried to explain, Elizabeth Warren the politician is not Elizabeth Warren the writer and activist and educator. So the question remained: would Warren be a dynamic force for a liberalism of ideas, or would she use her new station in the Senate to practice the ideology of power? Warren has answered that question: it’s about power. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week:

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The raft of stories over the last week, the latest being today’s piece in Business Insider, about Democratic Party infighting has nicely illustrated something conservatives have known for a while. Complaints over the last few years about the GOP being pulled to the right by conservatives were not about liberals’ desire to meet in the middle and compromise, no matter how much they might decry the supposed extremist drift of the right. What they wanted was their very own Tea Party.

It was the same with Occupy Wall Street: the pseudoanarchist gatherings were far more violent than Tea Party protests (that is to say, containing any violence at all), and Democrats’ support for them contrasted quite sharply with those same Democrats’ condemnation of anti-ObamaCare protesters as “un-American.” What bothered them was not the existence of ideological crusaders on the right but the marginalization of same on the left.

That is not to say that the Democratic Party doesn’t espouse modern American left-liberalism. It’s that modern American liberalism is soulless–it is the ideology of power. That’s why the rumors of a possible Elizabeth Warren run for president stoked such passions on the left. It rejuvenated talk of a liberalism that stood for something besides accruing power to the state and letting bureaucrats run the show: the dilution of self-government to a ludicrous, and intellectually impoverished, degree.

But as I’ve tried to explain, Elizabeth Warren the politician is not Elizabeth Warren the writer and activist and educator. So the question remained: would Warren be a dynamic force for a liberalism of ideas, or would she use her new station in the Senate to practice the ideology of power? Warren has answered that question: it’s about power. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) asked big Wall Street banks to disclose financial contributions to think tanks, a request that came several days after a centrist Democratic think tank blasted Ms. Warren’s “economic populism” on issues including Social Security.

Tim Carney had the appropriate reaction: “Warren sits on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. She’s basically telling the entities whose livelihood her committee controls to stop criticizing her. This is bullying — and it’s the best argument for allowing companies and individuals to anonymously criticize politicians.”

Indeed it is bullying. And it’s worth remembering that this sort of thing began, in one form or another, almost as soon as Warren made the transition to politics as a candidate. When she ran against Scott Brown, she would out-fundraise him while the Democrats would accuse Brown of taking Wall Street cash. So Warren wasn’t taking Wall Street cash? Well, she was–but not that kind of Wall Street cash. Jim Antle responded with the headline: “Elizabeth Warren Wants Good Wall Street Cash.” Antle noted Warren’s reaction to the charge of hypocrisy:

“There are people on Wall Street who actually believe we need better rules, fairer rules,” Warren is quoted as saying. Obviously, the Wall Street people who help fund her campaign “want reform.” She has also attacked Karl Rove, who she says is acting as “Scott Brown’s wing man.” Rove is an adviser to American Crossroads, a conservative group that has run ads in Massachusetts critical of Warren’s support for bank bailouts.

So Warren wasn’t averse to picking winners and losers in the financial sector. And oh by the way, feel free to donate to her campaign if you work on Wall Street and are one of the good guys. Go ahead and put that donation receipt on your doorpost; who knows, your house may just get passed over. If you’re lucky.

In any event, the bullying charge is on-point, and it’s part of a pattern. But it’s also something more. I think Pejman Yousefzadeh gets it right:

I guess that I must be something of an old fogey, but I have serious objections to Elizabeth Warren’s decision to go on witch-hunts against those who have the temerity to suggest that she might be anything less than saintly and wonderful. Further proof of what might be my old-fogeyness might be found in my belief that what ultimately matters is not who is making a particular argument, but what the nature of that argument might be; whether it is weak or strong, deep or shallow, sophisticated or knuckle-dragging, informed or uninformed. Perhaps the public would be better served if Warren took the time to respond to her critics instead of trying to use senatorial power in order to bully them.

It has been difficult for liberals to accept–and some conservatives as well, who were at least looking forward to a spirited public debate–but Warren entered electoral politics and immediately became what she would otherwise claim to loathe. She is now both rich and powerful, and she is using that to stifle the debate and curtail the ability of her opponents to challenge her.

This is not populism, however much it comforts Democrats to use that term. And I doubt it’s what voters thought they were getting when they elected Warren. At least I hope not.

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Other People’s Money: The Minimum Wage

Steve Coll has a comment in this week’s New Yorker calling for a higher federal minimum wage. He points out that it’s awfully hard for a family of four to live on the current minimum wage, which would produce a family income of about $15,000 a year. That is certainly true, but Mr. Coll leaves out a few things. A family of four with an annual income of $15,000 would be eligible for food stamps amounting to $7,584 and an earned income tax credit of $5,372. That raises the family income to $27,911, which is quite an improvement. The family would also be eligible for Medicaid, school lunch and breakfast programs, perhaps housing assistance and other forms of help. He also leaves out the fact that very, very few people earning the minimum wage are the sole breadwinners of a family of four. Most are entry-level employees, often teenagers, with no developed skills.  Most people who take a job at the minimum wage are earning above that level within a year, having learned marketable skills.

To be polite, Mr. Coll is being tendentious. To be less polite he is being grossly intellectually dishonest.

The minimum wage is a favorite liberal hobbyhorse, heavily promoted by labor unions. It is typical progressivism: a liberal politician (or journalist) says, in effect, “See that man over there? He needs help.” Then he points to an employer and says, “You, help him.” Finally, he points to himself and, addressing the man needing help, says, “Don’t forget where the help came from.”

But is the minimum wage a good idea?

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Steve Coll has a comment in this week’s New Yorker calling for a higher federal minimum wage. He points out that it’s awfully hard for a family of four to live on the current minimum wage, which would produce a family income of about $15,000 a year. That is certainly true, but Mr. Coll leaves out a few things. A family of four with an annual income of $15,000 would be eligible for food stamps amounting to $7,584 and an earned income tax credit of $5,372. That raises the family income to $27,911, which is quite an improvement. The family would also be eligible for Medicaid, school lunch and breakfast programs, perhaps housing assistance and other forms of help. He also leaves out the fact that very, very few people earning the minimum wage are the sole breadwinners of a family of four. Most are entry-level employees, often teenagers, with no developed skills.  Most people who take a job at the minimum wage are earning above that level within a year, having learned marketable skills.

To be polite, Mr. Coll is being tendentious. To be less polite he is being grossly intellectually dishonest.

The minimum wage is a favorite liberal hobbyhorse, heavily promoted by labor unions. It is typical progressivism: a liberal politician (or journalist) says, in effect, “See that man over there? He needs help.” Then he points to an employer and says, “You, help him.” Finally, he points to himself and, addressing the man needing help, says, “Don’t forget where the help came from.”

But is the minimum wage a good idea?

Labor unions love it for a very simple reason, even though few unionized workers earn the minimum wage: labor contracts are often predicated on the minimum wage, with the bottom tier of workers earning 1.5 or 2 or 3 times the minimum wage. So if the minimum wage goes up, so do the wages of all the workers covered by such a contract. Labor leaders may shed crocodile tears for the poor and downtrodden, but what they care about—because that’s what they’re paid to care about—are their often well-paid workers.

Steve Coll points out that a higher minimum wage polls well, even among Republicans. But this sort of polling is junk polling, good only for producing rhetorical ammunition for the chattering classes, not judging real public opinion. The overwhelming majority of people don’t think deeply about matters of public policy, so asking the right question will always produce the desired answer. Even if the poll is honest it will elicit, at best, an algorithmic response not a considered judgment.

But marshaling the opinions of the self-interested and the ill informed is not much of a test for public policy. Does the minimum wage make economic sense? The answer is no. It’s price fixing (fixing the minimum price of labor) and price fixing is always economically pernicious. Set the price too low, and instant scarcity results, such as affordable housing in cities with rent controls. Set it too high and instant glut happens, such as with, well, the minimum wage. In economics, a transaction is, by definition, “an exchange of commodities between two parties, to the economic benefit of both parties.” If an employer has to pay $8 an hour in wages, he must get $8 an hour in work from the employee or he won’t hire him. Could that be a reason teenage unemployment right now is 22.7 percent and unemployment among black teenagers is 36 percent?

Is there a better solution for the few people who are working full-time, trying to support a family, on the minimum wage? Yes, and it’s been in place for the last forty years, the earned income tax credit mentioned above. It is a refundable tax credit for people earning less than a “living wage.” (A refundable tax credit is one that is paid to the tax filer even if his tax liability is zero.) If the wages produced by a free market are not sufficient to produce a living wage, the EITC supplements those wages until, as skill levels improve and wages thus increase, the wages paid produce a living wage. It incentivizes the unskilled to develop the skills needed to make a living on their own without distorting the free market and producing untoward results, such as horrendous teenage unemployment.

Of course, from the politician’s viewpoint, the EITC would have to come out of tax revenue, requiring either skimping on other types of spending, raising taxes or worsening the deficit. Any of those choices might imperil the politician’s reelection. Or, of course, the politician could find ways to operate the government more efficiently, freeing up the needed revenue.

But that last option would take hard political work. It’s a lot easier to be generous with someone else’s money, secure in the certainty that liberal journalists will carry the necessary water.

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The Conservative Moment

Often in politics one moment sets up another. For example, the violence, disorder, and campus unrest in 1967-1968 opened the way for Richard Nixon’s first presidential win. Watergate created the conditions that allowed Jimmy Carter to emerge victorious in 1976. Mr. Carter’s incompetence led to Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory in 1980. George W. Bush prevailed in 2000 by offering a contrast to Newt Gingrich, who by then was viewed as polarizing and unpopular. And the difficulties in Iraq helped Barack Obama win the presidency in 2008.

Something similar may be taking place with ObamaCare.

The Affordable Care Act is the personification of liberalism in terms of its centralization of power, its coercive elements, its nearly unlimited faith in technocratic solutions, and its absolute confidence that the effects of a massive restructuring of our health-care system could be controlled.

The multiple and multiplying failures of ObamaCare may well lead to a more widespread appreciation for certain conservative truths, including the virtues of limited government, the law of unintended consequences, and the fact that change can often lead to disruption. Juxtaposing the glorious things the president said the Affordable Care Act would achieve with its mounting problems is a useful reminder that the world is enormously complicated and the ability of government to carefully order and arrange the pieces of that world is really quite limited.

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Often in politics one moment sets up another. For example, the violence, disorder, and campus unrest in 1967-1968 opened the way for Richard Nixon’s first presidential win. Watergate created the conditions that allowed Jimmy Carter to emerge victorious in 1976. Mr. Carter’s incompetence led to Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory in 1980. George W. Bush prevailed in 2000 by offering a contrast to Newt Gingrich, who by then was viewed as polarizing and unpopular. And the difficulties in Iraq helped Barack Obama win the presidency in 2008.

Something similar may be taking place with ObamaCare.

The Affordable Care Act is the personification of liberalism in terms of its centralization of power, its coercive elements, its nearly unlimited faith in technocratic solutions, and its absolute confidence that the effects of a massive restructuring of our health-care system could be controlled.

The multiple and multiplying failures of ObamaCare may well lead to a more widespread appreciation for certain conservative truths, including the virtues of limited government, the law of unintended consequences, and the fact that change can often lead to disruption. Juxtaposing the glorious things the president said the Affordable Care Act would achieve with its mounting problems is a useful reminder that the world is enormously complicated and the ability of government to carefully order and arrange the pieces of that world is really quite limited.

The Obama presidency, before it’s through, will likely cause the American people to be a bit more dubious about the next person who comes along and promises to heal the planet, remake the world, and slow the rise of the oceans; who campaigns on incantations and inspires a cult of personality; and who believes his mere touch is enough to transform things for the better. The Obama presidency may also deepen the public’s appreciation for prudent reforms, actual achievements and what George Will once called (in referring to former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels) the “charisma of competence.”

Barack Obama is the avatar of progressivism. His failure, and most especially the failure of his signature domestic achievement, is producing a legacy of disillusionment and damaged lives. Americans will look to an alternative. Which means a new conservative moment awaits. It’s now up to conservatives to provide the governing vision that will allow them to seize it. 

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Speaking of Failed Big-Government Programs…

The ongoing debacle that is the administration’s rollout of ObamaCare has reignited debate about technocracy and big-government liberalism. But Democrats who worry that their mode of coercive politics will be discredited by ObamaCare should be thankful it took this long.

A very well-timed reminder of this arrived yesterday from the Brookings Institution. Scholars at the left-leaning think tank analyzed the so-called “Cash for Clunkers” program, the 2009 “stimulus” program intended to get cleaner cars on the road by providing cash vouchers for those who trade in older gas guzzlers and buy newer, more efficient cars. The administration patted itself on the back when the program ran out of money, apparently pleasantly surprised that people took free money during an economic downturn. But Brookings confirms that this was, of course, a terrible program. Here are their major findings:

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The ongoing debacle that is the administration’s rollout of ObamaCare has reignited debate about technocracy and big-government liberalism. But Democrats who worry that their mode of coercive politics will be discredited by ObamaCare should be thankful it took this long.

A very well-timed reminder of this arrived yesterday from the Brookings Institution. Scholars at the left-leaning think tank analyzed the so-called “Cash for Clunkers” program, the 2009 “stimulus” program intended to get cleaner cars on the road by providing cash vouchers for those who trade in older gas guzzlers and buy newer, more efficient cars. The administration patted itself on the back when the program ran out of money, apparently pleasantly surprised that people took free money during an economic downturn. But Brookings confirms that this was, of course, a terrible program. Here are their major findings:

  • The $2.85 billion program provided a short-term boost in vehicle sales, but the small increase in employment came at a far higher implied cost per job created ($1.4 million) than other fiscal stimulus programs, such as increasing unemployment aid, reducing employers’ and employees’ payroll taxes, or allowing the expensing of investment costs.
  • Total emissions reduction was not substantial because only about half a percent of all vehicles in the United States were the new, more energy-efficient CARS vehicles.
  • The program resulted in a small gasoline reduction equivalent only to about 2 to 8 days’ worth of current usage.
  • In terms of distributional effects, compared to households that purchased a new or used vehicle in 2009 without a voucher, CARS program participants had a higher before-tax income, were older, more likely to be white, more likely to own a home, and more likely to have a high-school and a college degree.

That last part just seems like pouring salt in the left’s wounds. Not only was the program a massive failure, but it was also, by the way, a taxpayer-funded subsidy for white homeowners–just in case the left reached for an “inequality” or race-based argument in a desperate attempt to shut down the debate on the program.

And along those lines, conservatives will especially like that first finding in the list above: a tax cut would have been a better stimulus than this program. Of course, that isn’t a very high bar to clear; here’s the headline from the Washington Post’s Wonkblog: “Almost anything would have been better stimulus than ‘Cash for Clunkers’.” It would have been difficult to come up with a worse idea for a stimulus than the program Obama chose.

It’s not like they weren’t warned, however. As the Post notes:

The program had something for everyone: It would lend a hand to the ailing U.S. auto industry. It would tamp down on oil consumption. And, once launched, the program proved so popular with consumers that it burned through $1 billion in its first five days. Sure, a few critics argued that the program wouldn’t be very cost-effective, but no one was really listening.

But, as it turns out, the critics were on to something.

Yet we’ve known for almost a year that some aspects of Cash for Clunkers were failures. Part of the rationale for the program was to help the environment. In early January of this year, the environmental-news website Grist.org reported that Cash for Clunkers “drove right into a brick wall of waste.” (It’s fair to say the program was at least a stimulus for headline writers.) Grist explained:

Billed as stimulus both for automakers and the environment, the Car Allowance Rebates System, better known as Cash for Clunkers, turned out to be clunker itself. Besides fueling more unsustainable new-car-buying consumerism, the program also destroyed thousands of older, functional vehicles — vehicles that, according to the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA), were almost 100 percent recyclable. Through Cash for Clunkers, about 690,000 vehicles had their engines destroyed and many were sent to junkyards, bypassing recycling companies altogether.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, auto dealers are speaking out to defend the boondoggle. Politico sums up their defense of the program: “And since many states and localities place high taxes on auto sales, the program generated $900 million for municipal and state coffers, according to the auto dealers.” That’s the defense: the program was a massive waste of taxpayer money whose benefit was to increase tax revenue during an economic downturn.

So yes, ObamaCare should serve to discredit big-government liberalism. But so should just about every other ill-conceived program dreamed up by the Obama administration.

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Obama Disassociates from Reality

About President Obama’s remarks on Monday in the Rose Garden on the matter of the problems plaguing the Affordable Care Act and, specifically, healthcare.gov, it seemed to me that they served a valuable purpose, at least to this extent: They distilled the Obama presidency to some of its core qualities: (a) detachment from reality; (b) misleading in its claims; (c) deeply polarizing and partisan; and (d) filled with lame excuses.

But there was another noteworthy element to what the president said. I have in mind the pitiable quality of his remarks. Speaking about the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Obama kept insisting–over and over and over again–how good the product is, how really and exceptionally good it is, how popular it is, and how things really and truly will work out. 

Methinks he doth trieth too hard. The president spoke about ObamaCare as if it were a work of art, one or two brushstrokes away from being a masterpiece. Which created the impression that the president is living in a make believe world. 

Several additional observations on the president’s remarks:

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About President Obama’s remarks on Monday in the Rose Garden on the matter of the problems plaguing the Affordable Care Act and, specifically, healthcare.gov, it seemed to me that they served a valuable purpose, at least to this extent: They distilled the Obama presidency to some of its core qualities: (a) detachment from reality; (b) misleading in its claims; (c) deeply polarizing and partisan; and (d) filled with lame excuses.

But there was another noteworthy element to what the president said. I have in mind the pitiable quality of his remarks. Speaking about the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Obama kept insisting–over and over and over again–how good the product is, how really and exceptionally good it is, how popular it is, and how things really and truly will work out. 

Methinks he doth trieth too hard. The president spoke about ObamaCare as if it were a work of art, one or two brushstrokes away from being a masterpiece. Which created the impression that the president is living in a make believe world. 

Several additional observations on the president’s remarks:

1. For Mr. Obama to say the rollout of healthcare.gov hasn’t worked as “smoothly as it was supposed to work” is a bit like the captain of the Titanic saying the trip wasn’t going quite as smoothly as planned. For one thing, there are a spate of stories today (like this one) detailing that the administration launched healthcare.gov despite ample and repeated warnings that the system wasn’t ready. As for going forward, the solutions aren’t simple or obvious. There is no General Petraeus who will step forward to lead the “tech surge.”   

The problems plaguing the system are deep, massive and structural in nature. And if they’re not fixed within the next five weeks–and there are increasingly reasons to believe the problems might not be solved by then–it might well force the president to unilaterally delay the individual mandate. After all, you can’t penalize people for not joining a program that is nearly impossible for them to sign up for.

Between now and the end of the year the Obama administration is counting on roughly three million people (out of a total of seven million) to sign up. They probably won’t get that, and they may not get even close to that.

2. The difficulties the administration faces go beyond just the number of people who sign up. It also depends on who they are. To be more precise: for the online federal health-care exchange to succeed, it needs healthy people, not just sick ones, to enroll in order to make the system work.

Here’s the problem: people with pre-existing conditions have a tremendous incentive to spend day and night signing up on the exchanges. That is, I take it, what happened with Janice Baker, who introduced the president at yesterday’s event. In Ms. Baker’s own words, it took her a “number of frustrating attempts before I could apply for and select my plan.” She had a pre-existing health condition. On the flip side, healthy–and particularly young and healthy–people might try a couple of times and quit trying to enroll. If that happens, of course, premiums and deductibles will skyrocket, which will further accelerate this problematic cycle. This is known in the insurance industry as a “death spiral.” And that may be what awaits the ACA.

3. The administration has made a great deal about 476,000 people starting the process of enrollment. Except they haven’t. What administration officials are referring to is the number of people who have started an account, which isn’t the same as the number of people who have enrolled. In fact, the number of people who have enrolled is undoubtedly a fraction of the 476,000 figure. The most transparent administration in history knows the number but refuses to tell us. Why? Because they’re embarrassed at how low the figure is. 

4. Mr. Obama, who at this point in his presidency has developed certain stale and unhealthy rhetorical habits, mocked Republicans and said it’s time for them to “stop rooting for [ObamaCare’s] failures.” But the problem the president faces isn’t Republicans rooting for its failures; it’s that the program is collapsing on its own. The GOP  had nothing to do with its development. The president desperately wishes he could share the blame for what has gone wrong. Except that every Republican in Congress opposed the Affordable Care Act. This is Barack Obama’s signature achievement; he and his party are joined at the hip to it. They are as inseparable as salt and water in the ocean.   

5. Yesterday President Obama was trying to win a news cycle. Yet in the process he is–with each false claim, with each soon-to-be-revised reassurance, and with each discredited defense–burning up his credibility. The walls of reality are closing in on the president.

The failures of the rollout of the federal health-care exchange is just the latest in a long train of mistakes in this deeply unpopular program. If the individual mandate is delayed, it will obviously be a huge embarrassment for the president. Moreover, if the problems with ObamaCare continue and mount, it becomes a huge political liability for the Democratic Party. Remember: Health care was a very significant issue in the 2010 mid-term elections, which saw historic gains by the GOP. In 2014, ObamaCare could be an even bigger issue, since abstract concerns in 2010 will be replaced by concrete anger and outrage in 2014. 

6. There’s a reason reporters who cover the White House say that top aides and even the president are deeply unsettled. It’s not just that what he considers his legacy achievement looks to be imploding before our eyes, which would be bad enough. There’s something else going on as well.

The Affordable Care Act or close approximations of it is something liberals have worked toward for generations. It has been, for the left, a kind of talisman; to have had it codified in law ranks as one of the great liberal achievements in American history. Or so the left thought. They probably should have been more careful in what they asked for. As Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker put it, “The ACA is the most important liberal project in decades. If it fails, it is a complete disaster for liberalism.”

Correct. And if you go to the scorecard, you’ll see that the ACA is failing. That the great and mighty Obama seems powerless to stop it. And that ObamaCare may become an ever more complete disaster for liberalism than it is now. Which is saying something. 

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Wanted: A Republican Governing Agenda

The New York Times reports on a study issued yesterday by two former Census Bureau officials. The study shows that although median annual household income rose to $52,100 in June, from its recent low of $50,700 in August 2011, it remained $2,400 lower—a 4.4 percent decline—than in June 2009, when the recession ended.

According to the Times:

Since the end of the recession … household income has declined for all but a few population groups. Some of the largest percentage declines occurred for groups whose income was already well below the median, like African-Americans, Southerners, people who did not attend college, and households headed by people under age 25.

“Groups with low incomes tended to have steeper declines in income,” said Gordon W. Green Jr., who wrote the report with John F. Coder, a colleague at Sentier Research, which specializes in analyzing household economic data.

Households headed by people ages 65 to 74 were the only group in the study that experienced a statistically significant increase in post-recession income, helped perhaps by the decision of some older workers to remain in the work force or re-enter it.

There are several things to make of these findings, the first of which is that we’ve seen a decline in median income in the aftermath of a recession. During a recovery. That’s a fairly remarkable (and discouraging) development.

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The New York Times reports on a study issued yesterday by two former Census Bureau officials. The study shows that although median annual household income rose to $52,100 in June, from its recent low of $50,700 in August 2011, it remained $2,400 lower—a 4.4 percent decline—than in June 2009, when the recession ended.

According to the Times:

Since the end of the recession … household income has declined for all but a few population groups. Some of the largest percentage declines occurred for groups whose income was already well below the median, like African-Americans, Southerners, people who did not attend college, and households headed by people under age 25.

“Groups with low incomes tended to have steeper declines in income,” said Gordon W. Green Jr., who wrote the report with John F. Coder, a colleague at Sentier Research, which specializes in analyzing household economic data.

Households headed by people ages 65 to 74 were the only group in the study that experienced a statistically significant increase in post-recession income, helped perhaps by the decision of some older workers to remain in the work force or re-enter it.

There are several things to make of these findings, the first of which is that we’ve seen a decline in median income in the aftermath of a recession. During a recovery. That’s a fairly remarkable (and discouraging) development.

As for President Obama’s response to all this, a recent editorial by the Wall Street Journal gets it quite right: “For four and a half years, Mr. Obama has focused his policies on reducing inequality rather than increasing growth. The predictable result has been more inequality and less growth… The core problem has been Mr. Obama’s focus on spreading the wealth rather than creating it.”

Mr. Obama, then, is not only not up to confronting the problems of this era; he is exacerbating them. But even those of us who are critics of the president should admit that the problems afflicting the American economy–including (but not exclusive to) wage stagnation among the middle class, less social mobility among the lower class, and increased inequality–predate the Obama presidency. They are complex and defy simplistic partisan explanations.

Depending on which trend we’re talking about, they are rooted in deep cultural shifts (including a weakening marriage culture), globalization and advances in technology (which have moved us toward an economy that favors skilled over unskilled labor), a decline in workforce participation rates, rising health care costs, educational mediocrity (and downright awful education for the underclass), the structure of our entitlement programs (our transfer payments are increasingly regressive and benefit households headed by older adults, who tend to be wealthier than young adults), a byzantine tax code, and slow growth (the post-2008 recession growth rate has been roughly 2 percent).

In the face of America’s deep cultural and structural problems, assembling an agenda–including a comprehensive social-capital agenda that equips Americans, especially poor Americans, with the skills, values and habits that will allow them to succeed in a modern, free society–is a hugely complicated task. It will require a thoroughgoing reform agenda focused on entitlements, education, immigration, our financial system, and our tax code. A lot of good work is being done by policy experts and public intellectuals, by governors, and some members of Congress. (At a later date I’ll lay out what I think would constitute the broad outlines of an agenda, but for starters it might be worth reading thisthis, and this.)

For the most part, however, Republicans and conservatives sound out of touch, their solutions stale, as if they fail to take into account new circumstances. And it is no wonder that Republican policies seem stale; they are very nearly identical to those offered up by the party more than 30 years ago. I’ve argued before that “For Republicans to design an agenda that applies to the conditions of 1980 is as if Ronald Reagan designed his agenda for conditions that existed in the Truman years.” It doesn’t help, of course, that prominent Republicans occupy their time pursuing tactics that are unworkable and qualify as primal screams (e.g., threatening to shut down the government unless the Affordable Care Act is defunded).

The public is in the process of concluding that President Obama and the Democratic Party, the embodiments of reactionary liberalism, are intellectually bankrupt. They are overmatched by events. This affords an opening for Republicans to put forward a positive governing vision. The elements of a conservative reform agenda certainly exist. But for the GOP to win over new hearts and minds will require the party to embrace that agenda more fully than it has; to overcome some old (bad) habits, to put a new frame on events, and to convince the public that they are the party of modernization, reform, and renewal.

It still has some distance to go. 

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Deconstructing Reality and Zimmerman

On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder, in addressing the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, reiterated that the Department of Justice is considering filing federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman in the aftermath of his acquittal. Mr. Holder went on to say, “I want to assure you that the Department will continue to act in a manner that is consistent with the facts and the law. We are committed to standing with the people of Sanford, with the individuals and families affected by this incident, and with our state and local partners in order to alleviate tensions, address community concerns, and promote healing. We are determined to meet division and confusion with understanding and compassion – and also with truth… We will never stop working to ensure that – in every case, in every circumstance, and in every community – justice must be done.”

What an ironic formulation for Mr. Holder to use. Set aside the fact that Attorney General Holder, who considers America to be a “nation of cowards” on race, has done more than his fair share to divide us along racial lines. Set aside, too, the fact that Mr. Holder’s relationship to the truth is often tenuous, including when he’s testifying before Congress on matters ranging from the Fast and Furious gun-running program to the Department of Justice’s investigation of Fox’s James Rosen.

What I had in mind is that in this case the facts, the truth, and the law all point in the same direction: George Zimmerman was not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter–and racism was not a factor in the death of Trayvon Martin. The prosecution team said as much. (Angela Corey, the special prosecutor in the case, conceded, “This case has never been about race.”) So did the jury. (One of the jurors in Zimmerman’s state trial told CNN on Monday that she did not think Zimmerman racially profiled Martin. “All of us thought race did not play a role,” said the juror.) And so did Chris Serino, the Sanford Police Department detective who headed the shooting probe. He said the fatal shooting was not based on Martin’s skin color, nor was Zimmerman considered to be a racist. That doesn’t mean what Zimmerman did wasn’t misguided or a tragic error (see William Saleton’s piece here). But it does mean that (a) he wasn’t guilty of a crime according to Florida law and (b) the Department of Justice needs to give up meddling in this case since there was not a shred of evidence presented in the trial showing Zimmerman is racist or that his shooting of Martin was driven by racial bigotry.

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On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder, in addressing the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, reiterated that the Department of Justice is considering filing federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman in the aftermath of his acquittal. Mr. Holder went on to say, “I want to assure you that the Department will continue to act in a manner that is consistent with the facts and the law. We are committed to standing with the people of Sanford, with the individuals and families affected by this incident, and with our state and local partners in order to alleviate tensions, address community concerns, and promote healing. We are determined to meet division and confusion with understanding and compassion – and also with truth… We will never stop working to ensure that – in every case, in every circumstance, and in every community – justice must be done.”

What an ironic formulation for Mr. Holder to use. Set aside the fact that Attorney General Holder, who considers America to be a “nation of cowards” on race, has done more than his fair share to divide us along racial lines. Set aside, too, the fact that Mr. Holder’s relationship to the truth is often tenuous, including when he’s testifying before Congress on matters ranging from the Fast and Furious gun-running program to the Department of Justice’s investigation of Fox’s James Rosen.

What I had in mind is that in this case the facts, the truth, and the law all point in the same direction: George Zimmerman was not guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter–and racism was not a factor in the death of Trayvon Martin. The prosecution team said as much. (Angela Corey, the special prosecutor in the case, conceded, “This case has never been about race.”) So did the jury. (One of the jurors in Zimmerman’s state trial told CNN on Monday that she did not think Zimmerman racially profiled Martin. “All of us thought race did not play a role,” said the juror.) And so did Chris Serino, the Sanford Police Department detective who headed the shooting probe. He said the fatal shooting was not based on Martin’s skin color, nor was Zimmerman considered to be a racist. That doesn’t mean what Zimmerman did wasn’t misguided or a tragic error (see William Saleton’s piece here). But it does mean that (a) he wasn’t guilty of a crime according to Florida law and (b) the Department of Justice needs to give up meddling in this case since there was not a shred of evidence presented in the trial showing Zimmerman is racist or that his shooting of Martin was driven by racial bigotry.

But that hardly seems to matter to some of those on the left and in the media, who are determined to turn this case into an example of a hate crime. Consider NBC News, which doctored recordings by Zimmerman in order to make him appear to be a racist. Here’s how NBC’s March 27, 2012 Today show’s abridged version of Zimmerman’s comments (made the evening of February 26, 2012) went: “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.” And here’s how the real conversation went:

Zimmerman: This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.

Dispatcher: OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black.

So what’s going on here? Part of the answer is that liberals long to use a case like this to transport them to an Atticus Finch-Tom Robinson, Edmund Pettus Bridge moment. They want things like the Zimmerman trial to be at core about a great civil rights struggle, even if it’s actually not. Which leads to my second observation.

What we’re seeing from the left is post-modernism on full display. The facts, the truth and objective reality are subordinate to the progressive narrative. In this particular instance many liberals so want the killing of Trayvon Martin to be driven by bigotry–which would serve as both an indictment of racial attitudes in America and turn a horrible mistake into a “modern-day lynching”–that they will make it so, even if it requires twisting the truth into something unrecognizable. What matters, after all, is The Cause. And everything, including basic facts, must be bent to fit it. This kind of systematic deconstruction of truth is fairly common in college liberal arts courses all across America. But when it becomes the primary mode of interpretation in a murder trial, it is something else again.

Most of us, when we hear the words “justice must be done,” believe that what is right, reasonable, fair and in accordance with the facts be done. But some on the left have something else in mind. For them, justice is a tool in a larger political struggle, a means to an end. Justice can be at odds with reality if reality is at odds with liberalism. Which is why the efforts to turn the Zimmerman verdict into a racial miscarriage of justice is so discouraging and so damaging.

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How Big Government Erodes Quality of Life

Homeowners who undertake construction or improvement projects on their property have noticed the proliferation of municipal regulations forbidding the removal of dirt from the property without a permit. That is, you must pay the town for the privilege of throwing away dirt–if the town engineer lets you, that is. Some towns have even formed official Soil Boards (I wish I were making that up) to oversee this process, because once you begin wasting taxpayer money as if it were, well, dirt, it can apparently become quite addictive.

When I was a reporter in New Jersey, residents of one of the towns in my coverage area began discovering this soil scheme, and at the same time the town announced it was cutting back on garbage pickup due to budget constraints. Residents quickly figured out the scam: they were not only having to do work that the township was supposed to do, but the residents were actually paying the township in order to do so. The decrease in garbage pickup wouldn’t have been so terrible but for another brilliant town rule: as in many municipalities, residents could only deposit their garbage in township-provided trash cans, and the town refused to provide additional trash cans to make up for the extra days between pickups. The government’s policies ensured that much of the town was covered by rotting garbage or unwanted dirt.

This a fairly common example of what happens when local governments overspend in times of plenty and find themselves cash-strapped after the boom. You can only raise property taxes so high–though New Jersey is perpetually testing that hypothesis. The Tax Foundation reports that “Coming in with the highest per capita collection rate is New Jersey.” But the point is that even as property and other taxes go up, the government’s balance sheet affects more than just taxes. Elected officials’ inability to budget responsibly results in numerous erosions of the quality of life of everyone except the government’s favored interest groups, to whom it has given all the money it was supposed to save or spend on you.

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Homeowners who undertake construction or improvement projects on their property have noticed the proliferation of municipal regulations forbidding the removal of dirt from the property without a permit. That is, you must pay the town for the privilege of throwing away dirt–if the town engineer lets you, that is. Some towns have even formed official Soil Boards (I wish I were making that up) to oversee this process, because once you begin wasting taxpayer money as if it were, well, dirt, it can apparently become quite addictive.

When I was a reporter in New Jersey, residents of one of the towns in my coverage area began discovering this soil scheme, and at the same time the town announced it was cutting back on garbage pickup due to budget constraints. Residents quickly figured out the scam: they were not only having to do work that the township was supposed to do, but the residents were actually paying the township in order to do so. The decrease in garbage pickup wouldn’t have been so terrible but for another brilliant town rule: as in many municipalities, residents could only deposit their garbage in township-provided trash cans, and the town refused to provide additional trash cans to make up for the extra days between pickups. The government’s policies ensured that much of the town was covered by rotting garbage or unwanted dirt.

This a fairly common example of what happens when local governments overspend in times of plenty and find themselves cash-strapped after the boom. You can only raise property taxes so high–though New Jersey is perpetually testing that hypothesis. The Tax Foundation reports that “Coming in with the highest per capita collection rate is New Jersey.” But the point is that even as property and other taxes go up, the government’s balance sheet affects more than just taxes. Elected officials’ inability to budget responsibly results in numerous erosions of the quality of life of everyone except the government’s favored interest groups, to whom it has given all the money it was supposed to save or spend on you.

In addition to the Tax Foundation’s findings, the story of big government’s failures was brought to mind by the Manhattan Institute’s Steven Malanga, who has a column today about the growth in unfunded state pension liabilities and what that is doing to the business climate–and thus the future job market–in some states. Malanga notes that courts have often sided with government employees who argue that the generous benefits formula put in place during a far different economic climate and for different workers cannot be undone, amended, or disturbed even for current and future workers.

“That’s a prescription for higher taxes, fewer services and eventual insolvency,” Malanga writes. He continues:

Large businesses that operate in multiple locations see this playing out as a new aggressiveness on the part of states. Every few years Chief Financial Officer magazine asks executives at large companies to rate the states in terms of how aggressively they pursue higher tax collections. In the last study, completed in 2011, executives told the magazine that, as one finance exec wrote: “The states are in a pure money-grab mode and don’t care about policy, the law, or fairness.” Not surprisingly, four of the five worst-rated states in that study-California, New York, Illinois and New Jersey-all have mountains of debt of one form or another.

Some state governments have switched from merely trying to collect taxes on in-state business to extending their tax arm as far as possible. That means firms with a single telecommuter in a state are being dunned for corporate income tax claims, as are firms with no physical presence in a state other than a website hosted on local server.

“We are seriously going to consider whether we allow employees to travel to or participate in events” in New York, one CEO recently told Chief Executive magazine. New York has the second highest per capita debt load among the states, according to a report by its comptroller, as well as one of the highest tax burdens in the nation. So it’s not surprising that the CEO explained his strategy by noting, “We can’t afford for NY to become a tax nexus for us just because our employees participate in a conference in NY or the like.”

Indebted states must eventually become money-grabbing states, if they aren’t already. Businesses that haven’t learned that lesson yet will learn it the hard way.

Malanga’s column explains that businesses are starting to understand all that goes into their decisions on where to locate their headquarters–and even, as the above quote demonstrates, which cities and states their employees travel to on business. The states dominated by big government liberalism run amok will be highly attractive to public sector workers but few others.

And that, in turn, risks perpetuating this vicious cycle by damaging the economy that would otherwise feed the government beast. The remaining taxpayers will see their taxes go up. These days that will be accompanied by cutting essential services because the contracts and pension plans can’t be touched (much like the similar predicament I’ve discussed in which New Jersey’s public school students lost out on computers, tutoring, newer books, and sports programs because the teachers union contracts couldn’t be adjusted to meet costs).

It also, once again, proves the importance of responsible budgeting in all economic climates and the foolishness of putting off possible reforms until it’s too late. The rise of conservative governors even in blue states is perhaps a hopeful sign that message is getting through.

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Yes, Liberals Run the Government

Over the weekend, some in the mainstream press began the job of trying to resurrect the original story put out by the IRS that the targeting of conservative groups for scrutiny was the act of isolated rogue employees. The massive story attempting to unravel the confusing story of the targeting published in the New York Times yesterday not only seemed to get us back to thinking the affair was simply the product of people at the Cincinnati regional office who were “alienated” from the agency’s broader culture. It also portrayed the agents who perpetrated what almost everyone on both sides of the aisle thinks is an outrage as an underfunded, overworked band of “low-level” hard working people coping with an impossible task made necessary by conservatives trying to evade the tax laws.

The details provided by the Times investigation are interesting in that they give us a sense of the timeline of the targeting and the inadequate nature of supervision of the unit tasked with giving approval for requests by organizations for nonprofit status. But what it admittedly doesn’t do is to answer the main question that looms over the entire story: who gave the order for the targeting and who or what inspired the IRS officials to adopt such a blatantly partisan policy. It also ignores a clue toward solving this problem that Dave Weigel helpfully pointed out in Slate on Friday in his reaction to the astoundingly tone deaf performance of outgoing IRS chief Steven Miller at a congressional hearing: most of the people who work at the IRS are liberal.

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Over the weekend, some in the mainstream press began the job of trying to resurrect the original story put out by the IRS that the targeting of conservative groups for scrutiny was the act of isolated rogue employees. The massive story attempting to unravel the confusing story of the targeting published in the New York Times yesterday not only seemed to get us back to thinking the affair was simply the product of people at the Cincinnati regional office who were “alienated” from the agency’s broader culture. It also portrayed the agents who perpetrated what almost everyone on both sides of the aisle thinks is an outrage as an underfunded, overworked band of “low-level” hard working people coping with an impossible task made necessary by conservatives trying to evade the tax laws.

The details provided by the Times investigation are interesting in that they give us a sense of the timeline of the targeting and the inadequate nature of supervision of the unit tasked with giving approval for requests by organizations for nonprofit status. But what it admittedly doesn’t do is to answer the main question that looms over the entire story: who gave the order for the targeting and who or what inspired the IRS officials to adopt such a blatantly partisan policy. It also ignores a clue toward solving this problem that Dave Weigel helpfully pointed out in Slate on Friday in his reaction to the astoundingly tone deaf performance of outgoing IRS chief Steven Miller at a congressional hearing: most of the people who work at the IRS are liberal.

As Weigel writes:

In theory, the civil-servant structure should make an organization less prone to an eruption of bias or of hive-mind behavior. But that’s not how it works. Liberals are more likely to enter the civil service, and to stick to it, than conservatives are. And why not? Conservatives want to shrink the size of government; Republicans have negotiated deals federally, and in the states, that slashed or froze the size of the bureaucracies. Ron Swanson aside, the public sector is no place for a libertarian.

Every single number proves this. Tim Carney has collected the campaign finance figures for IRS employees nationally and in the Cincinnati office. In the past three election cycles, IRS workers donated $247,000 to Democrats and $145,000 to Republicans. In Ohio, the number was skewed even further—75 percent to Democrats. According to a 2011 Gallup poll, around 40 percent of unionized federal employees identified as Democrats; only 27 percent identified as Republicans. State and local government employees are far more likely to be Democrats than Republicans.

None of this should come as a surprise to anyone who has had contact with the federal bureaucracy in the last century. Yet on every news talk show discussing this scandal, liberals and Democrats have accused Republicans of politicizing the scandal. But the reality is that the political slant on the story is the product of those who created this mess, not the conservatives who have complained about it. And the people who did the targeting are part of a largely liberal bunch of civil servants that are very likely to have been influenced by the complaints being lodged about the Tea Party by the president, his party and the mainstream liberal media.

The White House is working hard to provide President Obama with what another generation would have termed “plausible deniability” about his knowledge of the scandal, and liberals are screaming bloody murder about any conservative who dares to accuse the administration of creating a culture which made such lapses inevitable. But while the president can claim he didn’t issue the order, it is another thing entirely to assert that those who did it weren’t seeking to do his will.

The Times story, like the inspector general’s report on the scandal that was made public last week, tells us what happened–but they don’t say why. That’s why the need for a more far-reaching and official investigation of the targeting, conducted with the sort of zeal that the Department of Justice normally reserves these days for the press, must follow.

The Times may have convinced itself that the people who targeted conservatives were isolated from the culture of the rest of the agency. But does anyone really believe that the singling out of every single group with the words “Tea Party” in their names for special scrutiny was hatched in a vacuum? The very fact that, as Weigel notes, the employees of a tax collection agency are probably inclined to think ill of tax protest groups should alert us to the very real possibility that politics and partisan bias are at the heart of this activity.

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America’s Schizophrenic Views Toward the Nanny State

In a recent Pew Research Center poll, we’re told:

Even as public views of the federal government in Washington have fallen to another new low, the public continues to see their state and local governments in a favorable light. Overall, 63% say they have a favorable opinion of their local government, virtually unchanged over recent years. And 57% express a favorable view of their state government – a five-point uptick from last year. By contrast, just 28% rate the federal government in Washington favorably. That is down five points from a year ago and the lowest percentage ever in a Pew Research Center survey.

In examining the partisan breakdown, the Pew poll shows that there has been a steep decline in the share of Democrats expressing a favorable opinion of the federal government since Mr. Obama took office, from 61 percent in July 2009 to 41 percent currently. Favorable opinions also have fallen among Republicans over this period, from 24 percent to 13 percent—the lowest ever favorable rating among members of either party.

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In a recent Pew Research Center poll, we’re told:

Even as public views of the federal government in Washington have fallen to another new low, the public continues to see their state and local governments in a favorable light. Overall, 63% say they have a favorable opinion of their local government, virtually unchanged over recent years. And 57% express a favorable view of their state government – a five-point uptick from last year. By contrast, just 28% rate the federal government in Washington favorably. That is down five points from a year ago and the lowest percentage ever in a Pew Research Center survey.

In examining the partisan breakdown, the Pew poll shows that there has been a steep decline in the share of Democrats expressing a favorable opinion of the federal government since Mr. Obama took office, from 61 percent in July 2009 to 41 percent currently. Favorable opinions also have fallen among Republicans over this period, from 24 percent to 13 percent—the lowest ever favorable rating among members of either party.

About this poll I have an observation and a question. On the former, I would guess the poll reflects, at least in part, the damaging effects of liberalism on the public’s views toward government. What liberalism has done, in the person and presidency of Barack Obama, is take a theoretical debate about the Nanny State and make it real. And unpleasant. It’s worth pointing out that confidence in government rose under President Reagan, who tried, with some success, to re-limit it. But it’s not simply the unprecedented size of government that is eroding confidence in the federal government; it’s also incompetence. See the Affordable Care Act and the stimulus package for more.

As for the question: Why exactly do Americans continue to vote for politicians and support policies that entrusts more and more power to the federal government? As Powerline.com’s John Hinderaker asks, “Why do voters whose instincts are seemingly conservative nevertheless vote for liberal politicians?”

It may be that in general the public is skeptical of the federal government, yet on individual issues people are persuaded that it will do things better and more effectively than state and local governments. Or it may be something else. Whatever the case, the public is investing more and more authority into an institution in which it has less and less confidence, which is not a terribly good thing for a self-governing nation. One might think that Republicans should be able to leverage the public’s skepticism toward the federal government in a way that advances their interests. Of course, that should have been the case in 2012, too–and what the GOP got instead was a drubbing.

America can sometimes be a most curious country.   

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The Age of Hope and Shame

What’s the difference between righteous and self-righteous? Last Wednesday, President Obama stood alongside victims of gun violence and spoke about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey bill, which would have expanded background checks for gun buyers. Obama’s insistence that America has seen “too many tragedies” of late is righteous (“characterized by uprightness or morality,” according to dictionary.com). But he went on to describe a moral split that posited on his side “those who care deeply about preventing more and more gun violence” and on the other, “those who blocked these common-sense steps to help keep our kids safe.” That, and his declaring opponents “shameful,” is self-righteous (“having or showing an exaggerated awareness of one’s own virtuousness or rights”).

There was never an open policy debate after the Sandy Hook shooting. There was only an inarticulate pledge to act. Little wonder nothing will be accomplished. And after Obama’s speech, there would still be no debate. Liberals echoed his self-righteousness through social-media memes. Because nothing says, “I sincerely care” like an infinitely clicked-on Photoshop collage of young victims captioned by a partisan message. 

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What’s the difference between righteous and self-righteous? Last Wednesday, President Obama stood alongside victims of gun violence and spoke about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey bill, which would have expanded background checks for gun buyers. Obama’s insistence that America has seen “too many tragedies” of late is righteous (“characterized by uprightness or morality,” according to dictionary.com). But he went on to describe a moral split that posited on his side “those who care deeply about preventing more and more gun violence” and on the other, “those who blocked these common-sense steps to help keep our kids safe.” That, and his declaring opponents “shameful,” is self-righteous (“having or showing an exaggerated awareness of one’s own virtuousness or rights”).

There was never an open policy debate after the Sandy Hook shooting. There was only an inarticulate pledge to act. Little wonder nothing will be accomplished. And after Obama’s speech, there would still be no debate. Liberals echoed his self-righteousness through social-media memes. Because nothing says, “I sincerely care” like an infinitely clicked-on Photoshop collage of young victims captioned by a partisan message. 

Liberals don’t have an exclusive claim on either child welfare or common sense. And they’re not the only ones who can point to horrifying realities and place blame on policies they don’t like. Take the conservative cause of shrinking the welfare state. It may not lend itself to the easy emotional shorthand of anti-gun legislation, but that’s because few are paying attention. Amid last week’s multiple nightmares, one could have missed a New York Times story headlined “More Children in Greece Are Going Hungry.” Published the same day Obama made his “shame” speech, the report by Liz Alderman describes Greek “children picking through school trash cans for food; needy youngsters asking playmates for leftovers; and an 11-year-old boy, Pantelis Petrakis, bent over with hunger pains.” This is the latest byproduct of the Greek disaster. The Times quotes Dr. Athena Linos, who heads a food-assistance NGO, as saying: “When it comes to food insecurity, Greece has now fallen to the level of some African countries.” Talk about shame.

The Greek collapse is a direct consequence of the unbridled welfare state. The country was brought down by nationalized healthcare, exorbitant pensions, early retirements, a massive public sector, and all the other mathematical impossibilities that progressives mistake for virtue. To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher’s famous line, the Greeks ran out of other people’s money. The danger of the welfare state isn’t theoretical, and there’s a new generation of hungry Greek children to prove it.

Does that mean that those Americans who’ve been calling for the United States to follow the European social model don’t care about hungry children? No, they’re not monsters. Rather, they don’t see the connection between what they advocate and what’s unfolding—between what they think of as “welfare” and what’s actually its opposite. It would be unseemly and offensive, therefore, for leading conservatives to denounce big-spending liberals as shamefully indifferent to child suffering.   

Liberals, on the other hand, must shame their conservative opponents because emotion is nine-tenths of the liberal law, as post-Sandy Hook discussion shows. On the left, intentions dominate. Failed liberal policy could never be justified by a sober consideration of facts.

After the Boston terrorist attack progressives like Salon’s David Sirota “hoped” that the suspect would be a white American. Such musings put liberals on the high road of good intentions. No Islamists meant no “shameful” war against Islamists. But objective facts (outcome) shattered these hopes.

The Obama years are the years of hope and shame. That’s what’s left once you’ve hollowed out the space traditionally occupied by informed debate. Liberals, led by the president, merely hope that gun laws and background checks will stem gun violence. There’s no debating the merits. So when people disagree, it can only be attributed to shameful intentions, not thoughtful misgivings about effectiveness. Liberals hope that expanding the welfare state will do more good for more people. The facts of Europe don’t apply. So when conservatives disagree it’s because they’re shamefully indifferent to human suffering, not concerned about an unsustainable initiative. Obama hopes we’re no longer in a war on terror but engaged in a cleaner-sounding war on al-Qaeda. If you think a recent string of terrorism attempts in America demonstrates otherwise, shame on you. Without self-righteousness liberals have no case.

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