Before the Supreme Court’s oral argument on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, I was told by people I trust that Paul Clement was an outstanding lawyer. He proved it. The New York Times’ coverage of one exchange illustrates why.
Reporter Adam Liptak, after claiming that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s “touchstone and guiding principle” is liberty, went on to write this:
The point was not lost on Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., who concluded his defense of the law at the court this week with remarks aimed squarely at Justice Kennedy. Mr. Verrilli said there was “a profound connection” between health care and liberty.
“There will be millions of people with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease,” he said, “and as a result of the health care that they will get, they will be unshackled from the disabilities that those diseases put on them and have the opportunity to enjoy the blessings of liberty.”
Paul D. Clement, representing 26 states challenging the law, had a comeback. “I would respectfully suggest,” he said, “that it’s a very funny conception of liberty that forces somebody to purchase an insurance policy whether they want it or not.”
In the New York Post today, I diagnose the shock at the powerful Constitutional arguments advanced against Obama’s health-care plan as another example of the self-defeating parochialism of American liberals, who are continually surprised that conservative ideas and conservative arguments are formidable and can only be bested if they are taken seriously: “the strength of the conservative arguments only came as a surprise to [Jeffrey] Toobin, [Linda] Greenhouse and others because they evidently spent two years putting their fingers in their ears and singing, ‘La la la, I’m not listening’ whenever the conservative argument was being advanced.” (There is nothing new under the son, as the “fingers in their ears” analogy was, it turns out, rather more wittily deployed by James Taranto in February 2011 in a column called “Law Law Law.”)
Indeed, yesterday, as I was writing my column, liberal New York Times columnist Gail Collins literally wrote these words: “How can this law not be constitutional?…Really, I have my hands over my ears. Not listening.”
In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, two liberal Catholics, Bryan Massingale and John Gehring, wrote a column asserting that Representative Paul Ryan’s budget “fails the moral test of his own faith tradition and disregards our nation’s responsibility to care for the most vulnerable.” The budget “acts like a schoolyard bully. It kicks those who are already down.” The writers then offer us “a refresher course in basic Catholic teaching. The Catholic justice tradition … holds a positive role for government, advocates a ‘preferential option for the poor’ and recognizes that those with greater means should contribute a fair share in taxes to serve the common good.” A Catholic vision for a just economy is “rooted in the conviction that we are all in this together, and not just isolated individuals locked in a Darwinian struggle for survival.”
These writers have opted for moralizing over serious arguments, banalities over facts. There’s not a word in their column, for example, about (a) the explosion in domestic spending we’ve seen during the last three years or (b) how Medicare is the main driver of our debt, why our debt trajectory is different and unprecedented, and why the failure to fundamentally restructure Medicare would lead to a fiscal catastrophe and eventually to dismantling the program. There is no acknowledgement that Ryan’s budget increases spending on programs like S-CHIP and Medicaid, that it keeps domestic cuts from harming anti-poverty programs, and that it respects the principle of subsidiarity. But the column by Massingale and Gehring is worth highlighting not simply for its substantive ignorance but for its moral confusion, which is at the core of modern liberalism.
The term “compassionate conservatism” is still invoked by some on the right. But for many commentators, compassionate conservatism has become a synonym for Big Government. In fact, it is distinct from — and in important respects the opposite of – the collectivist/statist impulse.
The idea was based on the writings of Richard John Neuhaus and Peter Berger, who argued in their 1977 book To Empower People that “mediating structures” such as family, neighborhood, church, and voluntary and civil associations are crucial institutions that needed to be fortified. One of the more elegant summaries of compassionate conservatism can be found in George Will’s book Statecraft as Soulcraft, where Will wrote:
The institutions that once were most directly responsible for tempering individualism — family , church, voluntary associations, town governments — with collective concerns have come to seem peripheral. Using government discriminatingly but energetically to strengthen these institutions is part of the natural program of conservatives. Far from being a rationale for statism, the political orientation … involves the use of government to prevent statism by enhancing the social competence of citizens. In the best and most mature polities, what government does is encourage society to do things through its organic working. Government can do this by enhancing, in many ways, the vigor of those intermediary institutions which shape, support and inspire individuals, drawing persons out of the orbits of individualism and into social relationships. One way that government strengthens such institutions is by not usurping their functions. But that is not the only way. Government can plan positive inducements to vigor.
Earlier this week, in describing the ambitions of the Progressive Project, as embodied in Barack Obama, I wrote, “Obama wants government to weaken, and eventually replace, civil society, create greater dependency, and expand the states reach into every nook and cranny of life, including into the internal life of the church.”
It’s with interest, then, that I note that former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a woman for whom Obama has had nothing but praise and with whom he has worked very close, was asked this question by John McCormick of The Weekly Standard: “The Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., is a self-insured institution. Should the Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., be required to pay for these morning-after pills and birth control if they find that morally objectionable?”
Two recent interviews with two prominent liberal figures help cast some revealing light on modern liberalism’s attitude toward the Constitution.
Let’s start with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who said in an interview earlier this month with Al Hayat television, “I would not look to the U.S. Constitution, if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012. I might look at the constitution of South Africa. That was a deliberate attempt to have a fundamental instrument of government that embraced basic human rights, have an independent judiciary. It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done.” She went on to praise Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the European Convention on Human Rights as much more recent, and better, models. “Why not take advantage of what there is elsewhere in the world?” Justice Ginsburg asked. “I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.”
Then there was President Obama’s interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, in which Lauer said, “I have talked to so many people over the last couple of years, President Obama, who were huge supporters of yours back in 2008. And today they are not sure. I hear more and more that they’re disappointed in you. That you aren’t the transformational political figure they hoped you would be. How does that make you feel when you hear that?”
Every once in a while liberal writers do us the favor of revealing, in unvarnished ways, their true views. Such is the case with John Cassidy of The New Yorker, who wrote this in the aftermath of Rick Santorum’s sweep earlier this week:
Aaghh! Santorum! Not Santorum!! Surely not Santorum!!!
From Cambridge to Brooklyn, from Georgetown to Hyde Park, from West L.A. to pretty much the entire Bay Area, you could almost hear the howls of anguish this morning. They even reached across the Pacific. “SANTORUM? Oh, America, how you disappoint me,” Jeremy Tian, a writer and actor from Singapore, tweeted in response to my earlier post.
Cassidy then goes on to say this:
To educated liberals of almost any description, Santorum is an abomination. It’s not just that he’s a pro-life, anti-gay, anti-contraception Roman Catholic of the most retrogressive and diehard Opus Dei variety. It’s his entire persona. With his seven kids, his Jaycee fashion code, his 1970s colonial MacMansion in northern Virginia, his irony bypass, he seems to delight in outraging self-styled urban sophisticates: the sort of folks who buy organic milk, watch “The Daily Show,” and read the New York Times (and The New Yorker, of course).
Pause for a moment on the paragraph I just cited. Let’s be generous and grant that what Cassidy wrote is supposed to be clever, funny, and even self-effacing. It still reveals a bit too much.
There is an op-ed in today’s New York Times of truly surpassing nuttiness. It is called ”The Zuckerberg Tax,” in reference to Mark Zuckerberg’s impending multi-billion-dollar capital gain from Facebook’s IPO. The author, David S. Miller, is upset that Zuckerberg will not have to pay any taxes on his vast capital gains until he sells the stock, if he ever does.
He writes, “So he recommends an annual tax on unrealized capital gains of 15 percent: For individuals and married couples who earn, say, more than $2.2 million in income, or own $5.7 million or more in publicly traded securities (representing the top 0.1 percent of families), the appreciation in their publicly traded stock and securities would be marked to market and taxed annually as if they had sold their positions at year’s end, regardless of whether the
securities were actually sold. The tax could be imposed at long-term capital gains rates so tax rates would stay as they were.”
Of all the Arab countries which have overthrown dictators, Tunisia probably provides the most cause for optimism, despite the election of an Islamist government. While the Arab Spring turns chilly in so many countries, the Tunisian government has appeared determined both to develop Tunisia and to accept the accountability for which the Tunisian people arose.
How disappointing it is, then, that Ennahda—Tunisia’s supposedly moderate Islamist party—has decided to divert attention from the real issues Tunisia faces with an anti-gay jihad. Samir Dilou, the former spokesman for Ennahda who now is the Tunisian minister for human rights, has reportedly argued that Tunisian gays should not have freedom of speech.
For many liberals these days, defining religious liberty is more a matter of circumstance and fashion than principle. Thus, when a plan was put forward to build a Muslim community center and mosque in the shadow of New York’s Ground Zero, the mere expression of concern such a decision was insensitive to the victims and families of the 9/11 attacks was taken as a sign that opponents of the project sought to repeal the First Amendment. The right of prisoners to practice their faiths is often allowed to trump other concerns. The Supreme Court has made it imperative the government must have a compelling reason to impinge in any way on the right of believers to observe religious rights and customs. But this belief in the value of diversity only goes so far. Thus, when President Obama chooses to force Catholic institutions to pay for services for their employees that the principles of the Church forbid, the government’s abrogation of their religious freedom was seen by many of the same liberal commentators who applauded the ground zero mosque as being of no consequence.
That’s the conundrum the president’s anti-Catholic fiat exposed, and the reaction to it from much of our chattering classes is hardly encouraging for those who worry about the government’s willingness to trample on the rights of believers. One needn’t agree with the Vatican’s stand on contraception to understand that if the law regards the government health care agenda as being more sacred than the rights of Catholics not to be forced to subsidize practices they abhor, then the principle of religious liberty in our country truly is in danger.
In the sound bite heard ’round the world, Mitt Romney said in an interview yesterday with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling.”
O’Brien jumped in. ”There are lots of very poor Americans who are struggling who would say, ’That sounds odd,’” she said.
“Well, finish the sentence, Soledad,” Romney replied. “I said I’m not concerned about the very poor that have a safety net, but if it has holes in it, I will repair them. We will hear from the Democrat party, the plight of the poor. And there’s no question, it’s not good being poor, and we have a safety net to help those that are very poor. But my campaign is focused on middle-income Americans. You can choose where to focus, you can focus on the rich. That’s not my focus. You can focus on the very poor, that’s not my focus. My focus is on middle income Americans. Retirees living on Social Security, people who can’t find work, folks that have kids that are getting ready to go to college. These are the people most badly hurt during the Obama years. We have a very ample safety net and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it. But we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor. But the middle income Americans, they’re the folks that are really struggling right now and they need someone that can help get this economy going for them.”
Liberal myths die hard, but if there is one thing the 2012 Republican presidential race has achieved it is to undermine the misperceptions that many on the left have had about the force they’ve called a menace to American democracy: the Tea Party movement. Liberal attacks on the Tea Party have been a staple of American political discourse for the last two years and persist to this day. An example is the slur uttered by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee who revived the canard that Tea Partiers were somehow responsible for the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords a year ago. For many liberals who understood little about the people or the ideas that drove this phenomenon, it was a sinister force that was a catch-all repository for everything about American society they hated including racism and violence, even if they had nothing to do with the political activism that helped turn the 2010 elections into a debacle for the Democrats. In particular, they’ve attempted to pretend that rather than being a genuine grass roots movement, it was merely a top-down conspiracy fomented and funded by the Koch brothers.
But the failure of the movement to unite around a single conservative candidate and the way its members have been unable to act in concert on the 2012 race illustrates a diversity that people who had actually followed its activities — as opposed to the liberal fearmongers — always understood. Having bubbled up from the grass roots of American politics, the movement was always far more about some basic ideas: the size of government and its out-of-control spending and taxing and not accepting the status quo rather the specific agendas of any one politician or faction. It was bigger than that and some of that comes across in a New York Times Magazine feature by Matt Bai.
One reason so many governments–municipal, state, federal, and foreign–are in deep financial trouble is that politicians spend above their governments’ incomes in order to curry favor with selected constituents, borrowing (and cooking the books) rather than taxing to make up the shortfall. But one reason so many economies are in deep trouble is that politicians also like to spend other people’s money in order to, well, curry favor with selected constituents.
There are a number of ways to do this, each and everyone of them economically pernicious. Richard Epstein, a distinguished law professor at NYU, has an article in today’s Wall Street Journal about rent control. Professor Epstein gives us the good news that it is possible the Supreme Court will take up a case that could result in the overthrow of rent control laws, which set maximum rents for properties, supposedly to make them “affordable” (and, of course, to get the favored tenant to vote for the political advocates of rent control). But forcing a landlord to rent an apartment for below the market rate is, almost literally, taking the landlord’s money and giving it to someone else.
I’m glad to respond to Jonathan’s thoughtful and gracious post, which critiqued two pieces (here and here) I wrote on climate change. This is a useful dialogue to have – and it’s a credit to COMMENTARY that it has provided us a forum.
There’s much that I agree with in what Jonathan said, including the quasi-religious faith some people place in the environmental movement; the fact that some climate scientists have acted in a troubling and intellectually dishonest fashion; and the undeniable anti-capitalist agenda being advanced by some who travel under the global warming banner. I briefly touched on these elements in my posts; Jonathan did an excellent job amplifying them.
As I noted earlier, President Obama’s pitch for the Jewish vote has more to do with his appeal to knee-jerk liberalism on a host of non-Jewish issues than it does with concern for Israel’s welfare. Nevertheless, it is a misnomer to think liberal Jews such as those who cheered Obama Friday at the Reform biennial, don’t care about the Jewish state.
However, their willingness to accept Obama’s claims on the topic says more about their desire not to turn on a Democrat than it says about his virtues. One must ignore much of what has transpired in the last three years in order to believe the president’s claims.
On Friday afternoon, President Obama received a hero’s welcome when he spoke to the biennial convention of the Union of Reform Judaism. Approximately 5,000 Reform Jews gave Obama almost as many standing ovations as Congress gave Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu this past spring. But though the coverage of the speech has focused primarily on the president’s repeat of his boasts that he is the most pro-Israel president in history, it should be understood that the bulk of the address did not touch on the Middle East. Rather, the main focus of his remarks was a compendium of liberal positions on domestic issues intended to draw cheers from an audience that, while still concerned with Israel’s security, was far happier hearing talk about higher taxes, defense of entitlements and the class warfare rhetoric Obama has been rehearsing since the start of the debt-ceiling crisis this past summer.
Those seeking to analyze the possibility of a shift in the Jewish vote as Obama seeks re-election know that the president’s often-antagonistic relationship with the State of Israel could cost him next November. Polls and special elections such as the one in New York’s 9th Congressional district last September have showed that there are enough swing Jewish voters who will be influenced by this issue to give Democrats something to worry about. But though the minority of Jews who can be swayed by concerns about Israel is not inconsiderable, it is nonetheless true that Obama is almost certain to win a majority of the Jewish vote in 2012 no matter what happens to Israel on his watch. And the applause Obama garnered on Friday afternoon when speaking to this conclave of the largest Jewish denomination in this country provides the evidence for that conclusion.