Commentary Magazine


Topic: liberals

Liberal Prejudices and the Secret Service Fiasco

When the director of the Secret Service was hauled before the House of Representatives’ Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, Democrats and Republicans were united by a sense of outrage over the agency’s inability to protect the president and the lack of clear answers about why an intruder was allowed to enter the White House. That sense of joint purpose and patriotism is exactly what Americans who are critical of Congress—and especially the GOP-controlled House—have been demanding for years. But that wasn’t good enough for the New York Times. It published an article today that attempted to question the sincerity of Republicans on the issue but which actually told us a lot more about the mindset of liberals than it did about conservatives.

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When the director of the Secret Service was hauled before the House of Representatives’ Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, Democrats and Republicans were united by a sense of outrage over the agency’s inability to protect the president and the lack of clear answers about why an intruder was allowed to enter the White House. That sense of joint purpose and patriotism is exactly what Americans who are critical of Congress—and especially the GOP-controlled House—have been demanding for years. But that wasn’t good enough for the New York Times. It published an article today that attempted to question the sincerity of Republicans on the issue but which actually told us a lot more about the mindset of liberals than it did about conservatives.

For Times chief White House correspondent Peter Baker there’s something fishy about Republicans expressing concern about threats to the president’s safety. While liberals took umbrage at any attempt to question their patriotism during the years when George W. Bush—the object of their unbridled contempt and rage—was in the White House, Baker was reflecting the mindset of Democrats who think conservative criticism of the Secret Service is hypocritical. For the Times and Baker’s many sources on the left, there is something weird about the ability of Republicans to fiercely oppose President Obama’s policies while still being able to worry about possible threats to his life and that of his family.

According to some of the Democrats Baker quoted, the criticism being leveled at the Secret Service from Republicans is pure cynicism. They think any anger about the lapses in the president’s security—including an incident in Atlanta in which an armed man took pictures of the president in an elevator that was not known when Pierson testified yesterday—is merely an excuse to criticize the administration.

Baker did manage to find one Democrat to contradict his thesis. Paul Begala, a hyper-partisan political consultant who torches conservatives for a living on CNN rightly brushed back the Times’s thesis:

Paul Begala, no stranger to partisan warfare as a longtime adviser to Mr. Clinton, said Republican lawmakers were asking the right questions out of genuine concern. “This is totally on the level,” he said. “They’re acting like real human beings and patriotic Americans.”

But this was the exception in an article that didn’t bother to conceal the snark that dripped from every paragraph. Yet the overt partisanship that characterizes most pieces published in the Times, especially many of those that purport to be straight news, doesn’t entirely explain the decision to treat bipartisan anger about a government agency’s incompetence as an appropriate moment to question Republican sincerity about security at the presidential mansion.

Part of the problem stems from the White House itself. Rather than making clear that the president and his staff are as angry about this as everyone else, spokespeople for the administration were circling the wagons around Pierson until her resignation this afternoon. That was bizarre since as much as the GOP delights in pointing out Obama’s many failures, no reasonable person thinks there is a Republican or Democratic way of carrying out the Secret Service’s duties or believes the president wants the people protecting his family to fail.

Yet there is something more to this than the administration’s consistent tin ear about how to manage a scandal.

What Baker was tapping into with his article is the obvious yet unstated belief on the part of many of the left that Republicans are not just Americans who disagree with them and their leader about policy but are instead vicious racists who want Obama to die. There is no other way to explain not only Baker’s snark but also the refusal to understand that Republicans, like their Democratic colleagues, want government institutions and the commander in chief protected against attack.

Thus, rather than demonstrating the Republicans’ insincerity this reaction to the Secret Service fiasco tells us all we need to know about Washington gridlock. Rather than conservative extremism being the main factor behind the impasse in the capitol, it is actually the refusal of liberals to view Republicans through any prism but their own prejudices. There is plenty of bad will on both sides in our dysfunctional and deeply divided political system these days. But the reflexive refusal of liberals to believe that Republicans don’t actually want Obama to die at the hands of an assassin reveals just how deep the problem of hyper-partisanship is on the left.

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Living in “Ideological Silos”

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that “Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades.”

Among the other findings:

“Ideological silos” are now common on both the left and right. People with down-the-line ideological positions – especially conservatives – are more likely than others to say that most of their close friends share their political views. Liberals and conservatives disagree over where they want to live, the kind of people they want to live around and even whom they would welcome into their families.

Most of us live in some version of an “ideological silo,” and it makes perfect sense that we do. The deepest friendships, after all, are based not only on common interests but on seeing common truths. Many seek out a community of like-minded individuals who can offer support and encouragement along the way.

At the same time it’s important to resist the temptation to surround ourselves almost exclusively with like-minded people, those who reinforce our preexisting views and biases. For one thing, it can insulate us from the strongest arguments that challenge, or might refine and therefore improve, our stance on certain matters. If someone with standing in your life, whose good faith is unquestioned, takes issue with you on a subject having to do with politics or theology, you’re more likely to hear them out, or at least engage with them in a serious rather than dismissive fashion, than if you’re challenged by a stranger.

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A new Pew Research Center survey finds that “Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines – and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive – than at any point in the last two decades.”

Among the other findings:

“Ideological silos” are now common on both the left and right. People with down-the-line ideological positions – especially conservatives – are more likely than others to say that most of their close friends share their political views. Liberals and conservatives disagree over where they want to live, the kind of people they want to live around and even whom they would welcome into their families.

Most of us live in some version of an “ideological silo,” and it makes perfect sense that we do. The deepest friendships, after all, are based not only on common interests but on seeing common truths. Many seek out a community of like-minded individuals who can offer support and encouragement along the way.

At the same time it’s important to resist the temptation to surround ourselves almost exclusively with like-minded people, those who reinforce our preexisting views and biases. For one thing, it can insulate us from the strongest arguments that challenge, or might refine and therefore improve, our stance on certain matters. If someone with standing in your life, whose good faith is unquestioned, takes issue with you on a subject having to do with politics or theology, you’re more likely to hear them out, or at least engage with them in a serious rather than dismissive fashion, than if you’re challenged by a stranger.

According to Professor Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, individual reasoning is not reliable because of “the confirmation bias,” the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs and hypotheses. The only cure for the confirmation bias is other people. “If you bring people together who disagree,” he argues, “and they have a sense of friendship, family, having something in common, having an institution to preserve, they can challenge each other’s reason.”

In addition, creating “ideological silos” makes it much easier to caricature those with whom we disagree. There’s a strong temptation–stronger than most of us like to admit–to personalize political and theological differences; to assume that those who hold views at odds with mine are suffering from character flaws rather than simply intellectual ones.

One example of how things can be done the right way is the relationship between New Testament scholars Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright. They first met in 1984, after Wright read a book by Borg that impressed him but with which he had some disagreements. A friendship grew, even as Borg became one of America’s most popular liberal voices on theology while Wright became perhaps the most prominent standard-bearer for the traditional stance. Borg was a member of the Jesus Seminar; Wright was an outspoken critic. In The Meaning of Jesus, Borg and Wright presented their very different visions of Jesus. While they didn’t reach agreement on many matters, they did eliminate misunderstandings. Neither misrepresented the other. They operated on the assumption that admirable people can have deep and honest disagreements. And in the process they helped people, in their words, “grapple with points of view they might otherwise have dismissed without serious thought.”

In our unusually ideological age, that’s a fairly impressive achievement.

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For Leftists, the Personal Is Still the Political

Here are a few brief thoughts on the controversy surrounding MSNBC’s Twitter feed, in which–in response to a Cheerios ad (!)–the following message was sent out: “Maybe the right wing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww: the adorable new#Cheerios ad w/ biracial family.”

1. This kind of racial slander is the coin of the realm for MSNBC. Its president, Phil Griffin, apologized for the tweet and fired the staffer responsible for it. Fine and good. But it’s not clear why he acted on this occasion and not the hundreds of outrageous libels against Republicans and conservatives that have happened prior to it.

2. This incident demonstrates how for some on the left virtually everything is reduced to politics–even a cereal ad. It reveals an obsession with politics that is distorted and unhealthy. And it’s something that frankly one doesn’t find as prevalent among conservatives, at least in my experience. The slogan popularized during the social revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s, “the personal is the political,” helps explain this progressive cast of mind. For the left, politics is the primary means toward social progress and fulfillment, whereas for the right, our private lives are considered far more separate and distinct. Conservatives, I think, tend to view politics as important but not as all consuming, which is a far better way to understand life and reality.

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Here are a few brief thoughts on the controversy surrounding MSNBC’s Twitter feed, in which–in response to a Cheerios ad (!)–the following message was sent out: “Maybe the right wing will hate it, but everyone else will go awww: the adorable new#Cheerios ad w/ biracial family.”

1. This kind of racial slander is the coin of the realm for MSNBC. Its president, Phil Griffin, apologized for the tweet and fired the staffer responsible for it. Fine and good. But it’s not clear why he acted on this occasion and not the hundreds of outrageous libels against Republicans and conservatives that have happened prior to it.

2. This incident demonstrates how for some on the left virtually everything is reduced to politics–even a cereal ad. It reveals an obsession with politics that is distorted and unhealthy. And it’s something that frankly one doesn’t find as prevalent among conservatives, at least in my experience. The slogan popularized during the social revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s, “the personal is the political,” helps explain this progressive cast of mind. For the left, politics is the primary means toward social progress and fulfillment, whereas for the right, our private lives are considered far more separate and distinct. Conservatives, I think, tend to view politics as important but not as all consuming, which is a far better way to understand life and reality.

3. There’s a cautionary tale in all of this, which is that the right shouldn’t become like the left. Leave the hateful attacks, the venom, and the name-calling to them. Conservatives don’t need it, we shouldn’t want it, and it’s not consistent with our best tradition. If the left wants to give refuge to the haters, then that’s up to them. The right, on the other hand, should be characterized by people who are principled, passionate, decent and who don’t (as Ronald Reagan used to remind his staff) consider our opponents to be our enemies. Some conservatives seem to make a rather good living on doing the opposite, on engaging in ad hominem and often childish attacks, and it’s discrediting to them and to the movement they claim to represent.

 

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Paul Ryan and Liberal Glee

The selection of Paul Ryan has been greeted with a wild joy on Twitter, and not just by conservatives; I’ve seen hundreds of liberals celebrate the choice. A spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Jesse Ferguson, said this: “So this is what xmas morning feels like?” The idea here is that Ryan is the perfect target for Democrats because he has proposed specific budget cuts and the overhaul of Medicare, while supporting tax reform that would lower rates on the wealthy.

Doubtless, Ryan has provided some subject matter for Democratic attacks. But so, in different ways, would anyone else on Mitt Romney’s short list. Romney already opened himself up to assault on the Ryan budget by calling it “marvelous,” and it’s not as though the Obama campaign was going to stand on scruple and let him go on that because he hadn’t formally adopted it.

The other two exciting possibilities on the Romney list, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie, are arguably more dynamic than Ryan—Rubio is probably the best speaker in the GOP, and Christie the master of the viral—but they too would have been put in the position of actually having to defend the supposedly draconian Ryan budget the Democrats were and are going to hang around the Romney campaign’s neck. And they would have been worse at it, obviously.

More important is the quality of the glee itself. It’s an ongoing liberal political-character flaw. So insulated a are many, if not most, American liberals that they simply presume that which they despise is inherently despicable, and that what they fear is inherently fearful. As they gather in their echo chamber, all they hear are voices resounding with the monstrousness of redesigning Medicare and the parlousness of cutting the federal budget. They genuinely do not know that budget cutting is popular, even if only in theory, and that tens of millions of voters do understand the notion that the government is living far beyond its means. From what we can gather, in fact, these are exactly the sorts of ideas that speak to independent voters and have since the days of Ross Perot.

Ryan is a formidable presence in American politics. Generally speaking, formidable players do formidable things. The glee of the Left suggests its folk are so excited by what the Obama campaign can dish out that they are unprepared for what Ryan and Romney can dish out right back.

The selection of Paul Ryan has been greeted with a wild joy on Twitter, and not just by conservatives; I’ve seen hundreds of liberals celebrate the choice. A spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Jesse Ferguson, said this: “So this is what xmas morning feels like?” The idea here is that Ryan is the perfect target for Democrats because he has proposed specific budget cuts and the overhaul of Medicare, while supporting tax reform that would lower rates on the wealthy.

Doubtless, Ryan has provided some subject matter for Democratic attacks. But so, in different ways, would anyone else on Mitt Romney’s short list. Romney already opened himself up to assault on the Ryan budget by calling it “marvelous,” and it’s not as though the Obama campaign was going to stand on scruple and let him go on that because he hadn’t formally adopted it.

The other two exciting possibilities on the Romney list, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie, are arguably more dynamic than Ryan—Rubio is probably the best speaker in the GOP, and Christie the master of the viral—but they too would have been put in the position of actually having to defend the supposedly draconian Ryan budget the Democrats were and are going to hang around the Romney campaign’s neck. And they would have been worse at it, obviously.

More important is the quality of the glee itself. It’s an ongoing liberal political-character flaw. So insulated a are many, if not most, American liberals that they simply presume that which they despise is inherently despicable, and that what they fear is inherently fearful. As they gather in their echo chamber, all they hear are voices resounding with the monstrousness of redesigning Medicare and the parlousness of cutting the federal budget. They genuinely do not know that budget cutting is popular, even if only in theory, and that tens of millions of voters do understand the notion that the government is living far beyond its means. From what we can gather, in fact, these are exactly the sorts of ideas that speak to independent voters and have since the days of Ross Perot.

Ryan is a formidable presence in American politics. Generally speaking, formidable players do formidable things. The glee of the Left suggests its folk are so excited by what the Obama campaign can dish out that they are unprepared for what Ryan and Romney can dish out right back.

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GOP Unjustly Called “Party of Sodom”

Appealing to the Bible, Gershom Gorenberg earlier this week declared that the Republican Party is the “party of Sodom.” In claiming that “the GOP is rather obviously committed to the quality of Sodom,” he was not referring to a sexual sin (that is more a Christian than a Jewish interpretation of the biblical story), but rather to “economic injustice, selfishness, and refusal to redistribute wealth.” The Talmud pithily encapsulates this quality, he notes, with the phrase, “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours.”

These “selfish economics,” Gorenberg goes on, are espoused by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, and shared by Benjamin Netanyahu. In Sodom, apparently, there would have been no problem passing the Paul Ryan budget. (Incidentally, how would the Democrats’ budget have fared? Oh right. Oops.) Read More

Appealing to the Bible, Gershom Gorenberg earlier this week declared that the Republican Party is the “party of Sodom.” In claiming that “the GOP is rather obviously committed to the quality of Sodom,” he was not referring to a sexual sin (that is more a Christian than a Jewish interpretation of the biblical story), but rather to “economic injustice, selfishness, and refusal to redistribute wealth.” The Talmud pithily encapsulates this quality, he notes, with the phrase, “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours.”

These “selfish economics,” Gorenberg goes on, are espoused by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, and shared by Benjamin Netanyahu. In Sodom, apparently, there would have been no problem passing the Paul Ryan budget. (Incidentally, how would the Democrats’ budget have fared? Oh right. Oops.)

Unfortunately for Gorenberg, all he really achieves in his post is yet another demonstration of how liberals profoundly misunderstand conservative thought. Yet, the conservative position is so straightforward that their failure to apprehend it is quite remarkable: government should be small so that society and the individual can be large. This, conservatives believe, encourages true compassion and selflessness: one cares for one’s neighbor oneself or as a community, rather than leave the government to do it, and those receiving aid do their utmost to strive for economic self-sufficiency where possible. It is a society where “redistribution of wealth” is replaced by charity and integrity. Hardly “what’s mine is mine.”

And this isn’t theoretical. The data already shows it: conservatives give staggeringly more than liberals to charitable causes, and Mitt Romney in particular has given more (in absolute and proportional terms) than any other presidential candidate for whom we have a record. Party of Sodom, eh? Now who’s being unjust?

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Liberal Intolerance Strikes Chick-fil-A

If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times: The American Left and the self-described liberals who inhabit it are open-minded, inclusive and tolerant. As we’ve come to learn, however, that tolerance only extends to those who agree with their worldview.

The latest conservative in liberals’ crosshairs is Chick-fil-A’s President Dan Cathy. An interview with the Baptist Press has caused a firestorm after Cathy stated he was “guilty as charged” in his company’s support of the traditional family.

For these remarks, boycott campaigns have raged across the internet as outraged liberals call the company and its president “hate mongers,” “bigots” and other, unpublishable, epithets. Many liberals have stated they will no longer “support” Chick-fil-A, perhaps under the mistaken impression that it is a charity, not a restaurant, a business that doesn’t need supporting, but patronizing.

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If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a thousand times: The American Left and the self-described liberals who inhabit it are open-minded, inclusive and tolerant. As we’ve come to learn, however, that tolerance only extends to those who agree with their worldview.

The latest conservative in liberals’ crosshairs is Chick-fil-A’s President Dan Cathy. An interview with the Baptist Press has caused a firestorm after Cathy stated he was “guilty as charged” in his company’s support of the traditional family.

For these remarks, boycott campaigns have raged across the internet as outraged liberals call the company and its president “hate mongers,” “bigots” and other, unpublishable, epithets. Many liberals have stated they will no longer “support” Chick-fil-A, perhaps under the mistaken impression that it is a charity, not a restaurant, a business that doesn’t need supporting, but patronizing.

Cathy’s remarks have been portrayed as “anti-gay” when in fact they are merely pro-traditional family. People can disagree with an action, position or lifestyle without being “anti-” something. Those who are pro-life aren’t anti-woman, those who are pro-family aren’t anti-gay, and those believe in the importance of hard work and dedication are not anti-poor.

The Left’s view on Cathy’s remarks show just how intolerant and sophomoric their ideology really is. Not only do they have no problem with Ben & Jerry‘s publicly and vocally supporting a position on gay rights, they laud their public stance. They “support” that company because its owners and founders follow the straight and narrow on what is “politically correct.” Others that deviate feel the wrath, as Chick-fil-A is now experiencing.

To my personal disappointment, the company has apparently buckled and released a statement that it will no longer become involved in partisan disputes, even though the company itself never did. It was the Left who involved the company in the dispute, and did so only because its president was “wrong,” according to their social views. Companies like Ben & Jerry’s have never, rightfully so, been terrorized by the Right for holding an opinion differing from their own. Some (like myself) have personally chosen not to buy their product, but a wholesale boycott was never issued in response to the personal views of its founders.

Many on the Right and Left continue to express disappointment about the polarization of American politics during the last several years, but it’s actions such as these that tear Americans apart. The campaign built to destroy Chick-fil-A has made patronizing what is, apparently, a very tasty chicken restaurant, into a political statement. There are enough things in our world that are controlled by political animosity. Chicken nuggets shouldn’t be one of them.

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A Challenge to Liberals

In his column, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne once again issues a “challenge for conservatives.” This time his focus is on income inequality.

According to Dionne, “It’s good that conservatives are finally taking seriously the problems of inequality and declining upward mobility. It’s unfortunate that they often evade the ways in which structural changes in the economy, combined with conservative policies, have made matters worse.” Dionne goes on to praise European nations whose policies are more “’socialist’ or (to be precise) social democratic than ours” and which also have greater social mobility than we find in America today.

Dionne cites several factors for this – guaranteed health insurance, stronger union movements, more generous welfare states, and higher taxes. He then cites William Julius Wilson’s review of Timothy Noah’s book The Great Divergence, which mentions “the increasing importance of a college degree due to the shortage of better-educated workers; trade between the United States and low-wage nations; changes in government policy in labor and finance; and the decline of the labor movement. He also considers the extreme changes in the wage structure of corporations and the financial industry, in which American CEOs typically receive three times the salaries earned by their European counterparts.”

“Most conservatives accept the importance of education,” according to Dionne, “but then choose to ignore all the other forces Noah describes.”

In fact, some of us have written about income inequality in somewhat more detail than Dionne has. This essay in National Affairs, for example, is roughly 10 times longer than Dionne’s column – and is, I think it’s fair to say, less tendentious. (In reading Dionne and some others, I’m reminded of this description: “Like a magnet among iron filings, [his mind] either concentrated acceptable facts in a tight cluster, or repelled them and kept itself clean.”)

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In his column, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne once again issues a “challenge for conservatives.” This time his focus is on income inequality.

According to Dionne, “It’s good that conservatives are finally taking seriously the problems of inequality and declining upward mobility. It’s unfortunate that they often evade the ways in which structural changes in the economy, combined with conservative policies, have made matters worse.” Dionne goes on to praise European nations whose policies are more “’socialist’ or (to be precise) social democratic than ours” and which also have greater social mobility than we find in America today.

Dionne cites several factors for this – guaranteed health insurance, stronger union movements, more generous welfare states, and higher taxes. He then cites William Julius Wilson’s review of Timothy Noah’s book The Great Divergence, which mentions “the increasing importance of a college degree due to the shortage of better-educated workers; trade between the United States and low-wage nations; changes in government policy in labor and finance; and the decline of the labor movement. He also considers the extreme changes in the wage structure of corporations and the financial industry, in which American CEOs typically receive three times the salaries earned by their European counterparts.”

“Most conservatives accept the importance of education,” according to Dionne, “but then choose to ignore all the other forces Noah describes.”

In fact, some of us have written about income inequality in somewhat more detail than Dionne has. This essay in National Affairs, for example, is roughly 10 times longer than Dionne’s column – and is, I think it’s fair to say, less tendentious. (In reading Dionne and some others, I’m reminded of this description: “Like a magnet among iron filings, [his mind] either concentrated acceptable facts in a tight cluster, or repelled them and kept itself clean.”)

The issue of income inequality is a good deal more complicated and less ideologically simplistic than Dionne acknowledges. Among the things the essay points out but Dionne ignores is that (a) income taxes in America are the most progressive among the rich nations in the world; (b) inequality is driven in part by the growing workforce participation rate of women; (c) federal old-age entitlement programs have become less progressive (which argues for means-testing Social Security and Medicare, a policy that has been fiercely rejected by liberals in the past); and (d) one of the quickest ways to increased income equality is a severe recession (because severe recessions destroy capital, which hurts top income earners more than average workers).

Still another factor has contributed to income inequality. In their book The Winner-Take-All Society, economists Robert Frank and Philip Cook argue that certain markets are defined by the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few top performers. The winner-take-all model has come to dominate not just the corporate and financial industry but a number of professional sectors, including sports, art, acting, and music. Yet Dionne never seems to be troubled by the amount someone like, say, Bruce Springsteen makes. (Springsteen is estimated to be worth around $200 million, though that matters not, as his politics are liberal and his songs are, according to Dionne, a paean to communitarianism.) The Washington Post columnist’s wrath is usually directed toward those who are successful in business. I’ll leave it to discerning readers to figure out why.

As for the issue of social mobility, the National Affairs essay I co-authored points out that “Whether one judges by intragenerational mobility (meaning movement within or between income brackets and social classes within an individual’s lifetime) or intergenerational mobility (movement within or between income brackets and social classes occurring from one generation to the next), the United States is less mobile than it should be.”

But here is one fundamental area in which I depart from Dionne, which is that the problem in America today is not wealth but rather persistent poverty. And the right way to deal with income inequality is not by punishing the rich, as the left is eager to do, but by doing more to help the poor become richer, chiefly by increasing their social capital. (Robert Beschel and I sketch out what the broad outlines of a real social-capital agenda might consist of.)

One cannot help but believe that many progressives, in the name of reducing income inequality, would be willing to see the poor get poorer so long as the rich lost ground as well. Whether or not Dionne fits in this category, it should be said that he has never adequately explained his passionate opposition to welfare reform in the 1990s, which ranks as one of the most successful social reforms in the last half-century and which decreased dependency and improved the condition of the poor. It’s curious, too, that Dionne would hold up Europe as a model for America, given the extraordinary fiscal crisis and human suffering that is now sweeping Europe.

In any event, Dionne’s column at least provides an example of the fundamentally different worldviews that are competing and clashing in our time. Dionne really does hold up the socialist/social democracies of Europe as a model. Conservatives do not. Greece is not what conservatives are hoping to replicate in America.

These are matters that really ought to be the subject of a vigorous national debate.

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Liberals Can’t Handle the Truth

Peter Baker of the New York Times writes about the Obama administration’s effort to explain the continuing unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act. (Baker points out that just 32 percent supported the Affordable Care Act when it was approved in March 2010, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll; and as of a month ago, 34 percent supported it, virtually unchanged.)

The problem, Team Obama would have us believe, has nothing whatsoever to do with the defects in the law. The blame rests with an insufficiently effective PR effort.

“Unfortunately, we never had a really effective strategy around communicating to the public the benefits and the rationale behind health care reform,” said Ezekiel J. Emanuel, a physician and University of Pennsylvania vice provost who was a top White House adviser involved in developing the program. “We never had a spokesperson, and the public never really understood what we were doing.”

That failure still baffles supporters like Dr. Emanuel, given the significance of health care to Obama’s legacy. Some see it as a result of the president’s own instinctive diffidence or the natural desire to move to the next challenge. Others note the complexity of the act itself, or criticize the president’s advisers for not being more assertive.

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Peter Baker of the New York Times writes about the Obama administration’s effort to explain the continuing unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act. (Baker points out that just 32 percent supported the Affordable Care Act when it was approved in March 2010, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll; and as of a month ago, 34 percent supported it, virtually unchanged.)

The problem, Team Obama would have us believe, has nothing whatsoever to do with the defects in the law. The blame rests with an insufficiently effective PR effort.

“Unfortunately, we never had a really effective strategy around communicating to the public the benefits and the rationale behind health care reform,” said Ezekiel J. Emanuel, a physician and University of Pennsylvania vice provost who was a top White House adviser involved in developing the program. “We never had a spokesperson, and the public never really understood what we were doing.”

That failure still baffles supporters like Dr. Emanuel, given the significance of health care to Obama’s legacy. Some see it as a result of the president’s own instinctive diffidence or the natural desire to move to the next challenge. Others note the complexity of the act itself, or criticize the president’s advisers for not being more assertive.

But as I showed in this essay in COMMENTARY, the White House was highly aggressive in its public advocacy for reform. In the summer of 2009, for example, it was “all Obama, all the time,” in the words of the Washington Post. The president was “so active in advocating health care reform in September that some commentators suggested he was in danger of overexposure,” according to presidential scholar George C. Edwards III. Nothing worked; the Affordable Care Act became progressively less popular the more the president spoke about it and the more the public learned about it.

Champions of the Affordable Care Act, however, cannot handle the truth. They therefore seek refuge in the all-purpose, easy-to-apply We Have A Communications Problem explanation. This is self-deception of a high order. But when you’re allied with the Obama administration, it’s often the only excuse you have left.

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4 in 10 Liberals Hold Anti-Mormon Bias

Pundits have speculated that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism may hurt him with some Christian conservatives, but it appears that anti-Mormon prejudice is actually on the rise among liberals more than any other group. BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins flagged a new academic study out of the University of Sydney that found liberal anti-Mormonism has skyrocketed since 2007:

According to the paper, concern about Mormonism has remained relatively stable among evangelicals, with 36 percent expressing aversion to an LDS candidate in 2007 and 33 percent doing so in 2012. But among non-religious voters, that number shot up 20 points in the past five years, from 21 percent in 2007 to 41 percent in February. There were also substantial increases in Mormon-averse voters among liberals — 28 percent in 2007 and 43 percent in 2012 — as well as moderates, who went from 22 percent in 2007 to 32 percent this year.

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Pundits have speculated that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism may hurt him with some Christian conservatives, but it appears that anti-Mormon prejudice is actually on the rise among liberals more than any other group. BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins flagged a new academic study out of the University of Sydney that found liberal anti-Mormonism has skyrocketed since 2007:

According to the paper, concern about Mormonism has remained relatively stable among evangelicals, with 36 percent expressing aversion to an LDS candidate in 2007 and 33 percent doing so in 2012. But among non-religious voters, that number shot up 20 points in the past five years, from 21 percent in 2007 to 41 percent in February. There were also substantial increases in Mormon-averse voters among liberals — 28 percent in 2007 and 43 percent in 2012 — as well as moderates, who went from 22 percent in 2007 to 32 percent this year.

Some liberals might argue that this negative view of Mormonism is a response to perceived Mormon intolerance on the gay marriage issue. But it seems to go beyond that. It’s hard to imagine any other religious belief of a presidential candidate being mocked in the same way Romney’s Mormonism has been. There is an undercurrent of hostility in the ridicule that is troubling.

Is this a trend to be worried about? Any rising religious or racial prejudice is always a concern, but it seems as if there are certain ideas in anti-Mormonism that could become problematic. The theory that Mormons are plotting a theocratic takeover under Romney — an idea that the New York Times gave a disgraceful dog whistle to in an op-ed today — resembles other conspiracy theories about religious minority groups that have been used to justify persecution in the past.

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Even Relativism is Relative

In his Weekly Standard cover story on Allan Bloom’s book “The Closing of the American Mind” 25 years later, Andrew Ferguson writes of Bloom, “As well as anyone then or now, he understood that the intellectual fashion of materialism —of explaining all life, human or animal, mental or otherwise, by means of physical processes alone— had led inescapably to a doctrinaire relativism that would prove to be a universal corrosive.”

Ferguson adds,

The crisis was–— is–—a crisis of confidence in the principle that serves as the premise of liberal education: that reason, informed by learning and experience, can arrive at truth, and that one truth may be truer than another. This loss of faith had consequences and causes far beyond higher ed. Bloom was a believer in intellectual trickle-down theory, and it is the comprehensiveness of his thesis that may have attracted readers to him and his book. The coarsening of public manners, the decline in academic achievement, the general dumbing down of America– even Jerry Springer–—had a long pedigree that Bloom was at pains to describe for a general reader.

“[College students] are united only in their relativism,” he wrote. “The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate.”

Relativism, in fact, was the only moral postulate that went unchallenged in academic life … What follows when a belief in objectivity and truth dies away in higher education? In time an educated person comes to doubt that purpose and meaning are discoverable…— he doubts, finally, that they even exist.

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In his Weekly Standard cover story on Allan Bloom’s book “The Closing of the American Mind” 25 years later, Andrew Ferguson writes of Bloom, “As well as anyone then or now, he understood that the intellectual fashion of materialism —of explaining all life, human or animal, mental or otherwise, by means of physical processes alone— had led inescapably to a doctrinaire relativism that would prove to be a universal corrosive.”

Ferguson adds,

The crisis was–— is–—a crisis of confidence in the principle that serves as the premise of liberal education: that reason, informed by learning and experience, can arrive at truth, and that one truth may be truer than another. This loss of faith had consequences and causes far beyond higher ed. Bloom was a believer in intellectual trickle-down theory, and it is the comprehensiveness of his thesis that may have attracted readers to him and his book. The coarsening of public manners, the decline in academic achievement, the general dumbing down of America– even Jerry Springer–—had a long pedigree that Bloom was at pains to describe for a general reader.

“[College students] are united only in their relativism,” he wrote. “The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate.”

Relativism, in fact, was the only moral postulate that went unchallenged in academic life … What follows when a belief in objectivity and truth dies away in higher education? In time an educated person comes to doubt that purpose and meaning are discoverable…— he doubts, finally, that they even exist.

I think Professor Bloom was only partially right. It’s quite true that an unwillingness to believe in objective moral truth is widespread in the academy and among those on the left — but only on certain issues. On other matters –gay rights and same-sex marriage, race-based affirmative action, a constitutional right to an abortion, gun control, Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, Guantanamo Bay, rendition, the right to a Palestinian state, anthropological global warming, the Tea Party v. the Occupy Wall Street movement, Rush Limbaugh v. Sandra Fluke, and others — those on the left don’t believe truth is relative. They believe, in fact, that their positions are right, moral, and objectively true and better. If a social conservatives debates a social liberal on gay marriage, the odds are quite high that the latter will not say to the former, “Your values are as good as mine. Truth is relative. Who am I to judge?” If you ask liberals “whose truth?” they will gladly tell you, “my truth.”

The problem is that many modern-day liberals can’t quite tell you why their truth is superior to the one embraced by conservatives. They might invoke fairness, though without being able to anchor it in anything permanent or normative. But they are not relativistic or especially tolerant of views they consider to be unenlightened, benighted, and primative. Quite the opposite, in fact. Ask liberal New York Times columnists about Rick Santorum’s social views and you’ll get more than a shrug of the shoulders.

Their relativism, then, is selective, a moral postulate in some circumstances but not others. It turns out that even relativism is little more than an instrument to advance an ideology.

 

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Election Revealing Left’s Xenophobia

Pretty much everyone seems to believe Mitt Romney’s wealth is a liability. The Democrats have united around a strategy that portrays Romney as too rich for America’s taste. Some of Romney’s rivals have sought votes there as well. The Washington Post takes another whack at Romney about his wealth. Everyone agrees on this–everyone, that is, except actual voters.

Public Policy Polling, a liberal-leaning firm, finds that Romney has seemingly overcome his tax-return foibles, consistent with what other polls have found as well. The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis couldn’t get voters on the trail to disparage Romney for his wealth, even when MacGillis admittedly called them back “and pressed further” in an attempt to get voters to change their minds and please bash Romney’s wealth. They consistently refused his entreaties, however. But delve just a bit into the PPP results and there’s an uncomfortable truth for the media:

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Pretty much everyone seems to believe Mitt Romney’s wealth is a liability. The Democrats have united around a strategy that portrays Romney as too rich for America’s taste. Some of Romney’s rivals have sought votes there as well. The Washington Post takes another whack at Romney about his wealth. Everyone agrees on this–everyone, that is, except actual voters.

Public Policy Polling, a liberal-leaning firm, finds that Romney has seemingly overcome his tax-return foibles, consistent with what other polls have found as well. The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis couldn’t get voters on the trail to disparage Romney for his wealth, even when MacGillis admittedly called them back “and pressed further” in an attempt to get voters to change their minds and please bash Romney’s wealth. They consistently refused his entreaties, however. But delve just a bit into the PPP results and there’s an uncomfortable truth for the media:

If you want a clue as to why Romney releasing his tax returns hasn’t hurt him one little bit in Florida consider this: 68% of Republicans in the state have a favorable opinion of rich people to only 8% with a negative one. Romney’s up 47-32 among those who like rich people. Here’s a simple reality: in a GOP primary it’s an asset to be rich and successful, not a liability. Attacks on Romney along those lines just aren’t going to be effective with Republican voters. Additionally only 14% of voters have “major concerns” about Romney’s overseas bank accounts, while 56% have none at all.

Republican voters just don’t hold his wealth against Romney. MacGillis had been talking to swing voters who sometimes vote Democrat and sometimes Republican. They, too, for the most part weren’t angry about Romney’s wealth. So who is? Liberals, it seems. An article in Politico a few days ago inadvertently shed more light on liberal voters’ sense of political xenophobia:

The academic standards for president have been rising since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Bill Clinton was the first Rhodes scholar. He handed the Oval Office keys to our first M.B.A. president, George W. Bush.

Barack Obama held one of the highest post-graduate honors, editor-in-chief of the Harvard Law Review. The presidential and vice presidential nominees on every Democrat ticket in the past 20 years have a post-graduate degree. This is also true of the only successful GOP ticket in this period, Bush (M.B.A.) and Dick Cheney (M.A.).

There has never been a Ph.D. president during the modern era or anyone holding two post-graduate degrees, or a medical license. President Harry Truman never even graduated from college.

The article notes that despite their education levels, Truman, Reagan, and Lyndon Johnson were the most consequential presidents of the post-war era. Could Truman, the authors wonder, even get elected today?

The answer is yes–as a Republican. As the article explains, this year’s crop of Republican candidates is extremely well educated–perhaps the best such group of candidates yet. So Republican voters are obviously not antagonistic toward the well educated. But Republicans have also pushed back against the narrative that those who were not educated at elite universities aren’t fit for higher office–and been pilloried as “anti-intellectual” for it.

As far as educational standards go, Republicans will nominate both the elite and the non-elite. They will support rich candidates or those closer to “the common man.” And a look back at polling tells you they are more likely to support a Mormon for president than Democrats are. Liberal voters, then, have an educational bias, a religious bias, and a class bias. So it’s really no wonder that mainstream media outlets and a liberal president are pushing the class warfare narrative: it turns out liberal voters are a closed-minded bunch.

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Liberal Slurs of Conservative Motives Par for the Course

Greg Sargent is the liberal blogger for the Washington Post. He recently expressed his barely uncontained fury at Republicans, and Mitt Romney in particular, for daring to impugn Barack Obama’s motives. “Republicans react with bloody screams of outrage whenever Dems suggest that they might be trying to sabotage the recovery in order to harm Obama politically and make it easier for them to recapture the White House,” according to Sargent. “Yet here Romney has now made an even broader charge, arguing that Obama is making policy decisions across the board that he ‘knows’ are ‘counter to the interests of the country,’ including major decisions involving war and  national security.”

Sargent concludes this way: “When Romney falsely claims that Obama apologized for America, insinuates that we should find his values suspect, and implies that we should be vaguely suspicious intentions towards the country [sic], it’s routinely treated a ‘part of the game.’ Now that Romney has taken this line of attack to its ultimate conclusion, I’m not expecting the reaction to be any different.”

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Greg Sargent is the liberal blogger for the Washington Post. He recently expressed his barely uncontained fury at Republicans, and Mitt Romney in particular, for daring to impugn Barack Obama’s motives. “Republicans react with bloody screams of outrage whenever Dems suggest that they might be trying to sabotage the recovery in order to harm Obama politically and make it easier for them to recapture the White House,” according to Sargent. “Yet here Romney has now made an even broader charge, arguing that Obama is making policy decisions across the board that he ‘knows’ are ‘counter to the interests of the country,’ including major decisions involving war and  national security.”

Sargent concludes this way: “When Romney falsely claims that Obama apologized for America, insinuates that we should find his values suspect, and implies that we should be vaguely suspicious intentions towards the country [sic], it’s routinely treated a ‘part of the game.’ Now that Romney has taken this line of attack to its ultimate conclusion, I’m not expecting the reaction to be any different.”

I’ve addressed the issue of political discourse and impugning motives before. And people can link to Sargent’s blog to see the case Romney made for his judgments (including the fact that Obama’s decision to withdraw in September 2012 more than 30,000 troops in the midst of the fighting season in Afghanistan, and made contrary to every military commander’s recommendation, makes no military sense). For now I’ll simply say that Sargent’s outrage appears to be – what shall we say? – highly selective. After all, President Obama makes a point of impugning the motives of Republicans in almost every speech and interview he does these days, including his recent “60 Minutes” interview, in which he said of GOP opposition to his tax proposals: “And I could not get Republicans to go ahead and say, ‘You’re right. We’re gonna put country ahead of party.’” (Obama also takes delight in saying that Republicans are eager to have children with autism and Down syndrome “fend for themselves.”)

This is a common Obama refrain – that unlike our high-minded, unstained, pure-of-heart president, Republicans are putting their party ahead of their country and making major policy decisions they know are counter to the interests of the country. But this charge goes uncommented upon by almost everyone in the press, including Sargent.

How curious.

As for Obama’s charge that Republicans want “dirty air and dirty water,” Sargent betrays the arrogance of reactionary liberalism, which assumes that if one opposes their policies one must expect – indeed they must want — the worst possible outcome. So the only way to a healthy environment is to embrace the regulations that Obama’s administration has implemented; to do anything less means you are wishing destruction upon Earth. I recall similar arguments being made about welfare reform in the 1990s. If you embraced reform, you wanted poor people to suffer. Conservatism was a form of sociopathy. Compassion was synonymous with reactionary liberalism.

In fact, welfare reform, by virtually every objective measure, helped the poor. From the high-water mark of 1994, the national welfare caseload declined by more than 60 percent during the course of a decade. Not only did the numbers of people on welfare plunge, but, in the wake of the 1996 welfare-reform bill, overall poverty, child poverty, black child poverty, and child hunger all decreased, while employment figures for single mothers rose. Welfare reform ranks  among the most successful social reforms of the last 50 years. And yet liberals excoriated conservatives for favoring reform, criticizing not only their policies but their motivations.

And it continues to this day, as Obama demonstrates at almost every political stop. Now that Obama has taken this line of attack to its ultimate conclusion, I’m not expecting Sargent’s reaction to be any different than it has been in the past: support for Obama or complicit silence. I’ll leave it to others to judge what motivations may be driving Greg Sargent.

 

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Was It Time or Bias that Caused the Media to Slant the Story?

Since Daniel Okrent left the post, the men who have served as the public editor of the New York Times haven’t caused much trouble for the journalists they are supposed to be monitoring. That has certainly been true of Arthur Brisbane, the latest to sit in that seat. However, when confronted with a colossal case of journalistic malpractice, even a Brisbane can’t ignore it. Thus, Brisbane was forced to address the fact that, like much of the mainstream media, the Times‘s coverage of the Arizona tragedy led with and assumed that the shooting was the result of conservative incitement, which would lead to serious political repercussions.

Unfortunately, Brisbane’s analysis of the Times coverage ignores the real problems while focusing on the one element that journalists have always had to deal with: time. Brisbane seems to think that the Times’s initial report that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was dead was terrible. It was an error but one that was an understandable result of a chaotic situation. Brisbane is more forgiving of the bigger mistake: “The Times’s day-one coverage in some of its Sunday print editions included a strong focus on the political climate in Arizona and the nation. For some readers — and I share this view to an extent — placing the violence in the broader political context was problematic.”

While he rightly deplores the instinctive decision of both reporters and editors to “frame” the Arizona shooting as an event that was a direct result of conservative dissent against the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress, Brisbane still thinks there “were some good reasons to steer the coverage in this direction.” But the only “good reason” he cites is the assumption that any violence directed at a politician must be the result of the fact that a lot of people disagree with her policies.

Brisbane acknowledges that a better focus of the Times coverage would have been one that highlighted the fact that the shooter was mentally ill. Yet he blames the false assumptions that caused the newspaper to “frame” all its coverage around a false belief that this was a political event for which conservatives must pay on the lack of time. But that is no excuse. Journalists never have enough time. But that’s no reason to take an event and shoehorn it into a fabricated story line that is based on the delegitimization of those who espouse political views that the Times opposes. Read More

Since Daniel Okrent left the post, the men who have served as the public editor of the New York Times haven’t caused much trouble for the journalists they are supposed to be monitoring. That has certainly been true of Arthur Brisbane, the latest to sit in that seat. However, when confronted with a colossal case of journalistic malpractice, even a Brisbane can’t ignore it. Thus, Brisbane was forced to address the fact that, like much of the mainstream media, the Times‘s coverage of the Arizona tragedy led with and assumed that the shooting was the result of conservative incitement, which would lead to serious political repercussions.

Unfortunately, Brisbane’s analysis of the Times coverage ignores the real problems while focusing on the one element that journalists have always had to deal with: time. Brisbane seems to think that the Times’s initial report that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was dead was terrible. It was an error but one that was an understandable result of a chaotic situation. Brisbane is more forgiving of the bigger mistake: “The Times’s day-one coverage in some of its Sunday print editions included a strong focus on the political climate in Arizona and the nation. For some readers — and I share this view to an extent — placing the violence in the broader political context was problematic.”

While he rightly deplores the instinctive decision of both reporters and editors to “frame” the Arizona shooting as an event that was a direct result of conservative dissent against the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress, Brisbane still thinks there “were some good reasons to steer the coverage in this direction.” But the only “good reason” he cites is the assumption that any violence directed at a politician must be the result of the fact that a lot of people disagree with her policies.

Brisbane acknowledges that a better focus of the Times coverage would have been one that highlighted the fact that the shooter was mentally ill. Yet he blames the false assumptions that caused the newspaper to “frame” all its coverage around a false belief that this was a political event for which conservatives must pay on the lack of time. But that is no excuse. Journalists never have enough time. But that’s no reason to take an event and shoehorn it into a fabricated story line that is based on the delegitimization of those who espouse political views that the Times opposes.

It wasn’t time that caused the editors at the Times and other broadcast media to falsely accuse conservatives of inciting the shooter; it was their own very obvious political bias. Like the pundits who write on the paper’s op-ed page who have continued to link the crime to politics, even after President Obama urged his followers to stop doing so, the paper’s news editors live in a world where conservative opinions simply aren’t legitimate. Indeed, on the same page where Brisbane’s apologia for the paper appears was a column by Frank Rich that again sought to falsely link Palin to the shooting. Rich spoke of the widespread public anger against the Obama administration’s policies as a violent “insurrection” that threatens the rule of law rather than a grassroots movement that led to an overwhelming Republican victory at the polls last November. Like so many other liberals, Rich thinks it doesn’t matter than Jared Loughner was insane. As far as he is concerned, those who oppose the Democrats are still responsible, even though Rich has produced as much “hate” of President Bush and the Republicans as even the most rabid conservative talk-radio hosts have of Obama.

It is noteworthy that Brisbane even bothered to notice how badly his newspaper got the story wrong. But until he addresses the political bias that was the primary cause of that error, accountability at the Times is still not in the cards.

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The Irony of American History

In his column today, Charles Krauthammer argues, “What originalism is to jurisprudence, constitutionalism is to governance: a call for restraint rooted in constitutional text. Constitutionalism as a political philosophy represents a reformed, self-regulating conservatism that bases its call for minimalist government — for reining in the willfulness of presidents and legislatures — in the words and meaning of the Constitution.”

He concludes with this:

Constitutionalism as a guiding political tendency will require careful and thoughtful development, as did jurisprudential originalism. But its wide appeal and philosophical depth make it a promising first step to a conservative future.

Krauthammer is, I think, correct on both counts. Constitutionalism will require careful and thoughtful development, since how we should apply this particular political philosophy to the issues of our time isn’t always self-evident. But Charles is also correct in saying that constitutionalism has wide appeal and philosophical depth. Which raises the question: Who would have thought in 2008, when liberals swept control of every branch of government, that the second half of Obama’s first term would be devoted to counteracting the rise of constitutionalism?

In what surely qualifies as one of the ironies of the 21st century, Barack Obama is in good measure responsible for the ascendancy of both conservatism and constitutionalism.

In his column today, Charles Krauthammer argues, “What originalism is to jurisprudence, constitutionalism is to governance: a call for restraint rooted in constitutional text. Constitutionalism as a political philosophy represents a reformed, self-regulating conservatism that bases its call for minimalist government — for reining in the willfulness of presidents and legislatures — in the words and meaning of the Constitution.”

He concludes with this:

Constitutionalism as a guiding political tendency will require careful and thoughtful development, as did jurisprudential originalism. But its wide appeal and philosophical depth make it a promising first step to a conservative future.

Krauthammer is, I think, correct on both counts. Constitutionalism will require careful and thoughtful development, since how we should apply this particular political philosophy to the issues of our time isn’t always self-evident. But Charles is also correct in saying that constitutionalism has wide appeal and philosophical depth. Which raises the question: Who would have thought in 2008, when liberals swept control of every branch of government, that the second half of Obama’s first term would be devoted to counteracting the rise of constitutionalism?

In what surely qualifies as one of the ironies of the 21st century, Barack Obama is in good measure responsible for the ascendancy of both conservatism and constitutionalism.

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A Novel Idea: Pay-as-You-Go Government

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is still acting as if he means what he says about controlling the costs of government. By canceling the long-planned construction of a second commuter tunnel under the Hudson River today, Christie has reaffirmed the principle that government should not try to do more than it can afford. A close look at the finances of the scheme showed that cost overruns were likely to send the bill on the project to as much as $14 billion, almost $6 billion more than the original estimate. That means that New Jersey — which is to say, New Jersey’s taxpayers — would have to pay at least $8 billion of that amount, the remainder being contributed by New York’s Port Authority and the federal government. But in the absence of givebacks by the state’s civil-service unions, whose contracts and pensions threaten to send the state into the red even if the tunnel were not to be paid for, Christie said no, to the utter consternation of the unions, the rest of the political class, and New York Times‘s columnist Paul Krugman.

Other politicians (like Christie’s predecessor Jon Corzine, who authorized ground breaking on the project without thinking about the costs to the taxpayers) are shocked by Christie’s chutzpah. The idea that government should only undertake those projects it can pay for without having to further bilk the taxpayers is considered a shocking concept.

Krugman, the Times editorial page, the unions, and many of the politicians who have worked for this project all think the mere fact that the tunnel is needed justifies any amount of debt to build it. They also seem to think that worrying about where the extra $6 billion will come from is just silly.

They are right in that a new tunnel is desperately needed. New Jersey Transit is currently forced to share one Hudson River tunnel that is owned by Amtrak. The result is massive congestion and delays that will only get worse in the years to come. Even worse, since Amtrak owns the tunnel, to the injury of those commuters who take NJ Transit, the worst commuter line in the region (in terms of its on-time record), is added the insult of often having to wait for long periods while Amtrak trains breeze through — Amtrak always getting priority from the dispatchers. This means that there is a large (and generally ill-tempered) constituency of commuters who would like to see the tunnel built. Among them is Krugman, who confessed on his blog that: “And yes, if anyone should mention it, I am a resident of New Jersey who often visits Manhattan, and therefore has a personal stake in this project. You got a problem with that?”

As it happens, I, too, am a daily NJ Transit commuter into New York. But as much as the prospect of a better train ride in the distant future appeals to me, I’d bet that the majority of disgruntled and delayed passengers would prefer not to have their taxes raised. Nor would they like Krugman’s suggestion that Christie radically raise gasoline taxes to pay for the cost overruns, since almost all of them drive their cars to the train stations from which they start and end their daily trek to work. Voters are sick and tired of tax-and-spend politicians who think nothing about the long-term consequences of their largesse, so long as someone else is paying for it.

Christie will probably take a lot of flak for his decision, perhaps even more than the criticism he took for his confrontation with the state’s teacher unions. But the bet here is that the majority of the people of New Jersey — including many of those unhappy souls who are forced to take NJ Transit — prefer to have a governor who doesn’t think he has a right to pick their pockets in order to play the hero by championing expensive projects. In case Krugman forgot, that’s the reason Christie was elected last year and why so many other fiscal conservatives will rout free-spending liberals in the congressional elections this fall. And whether or not Krugman has a problem with that, it’s what we Americans call democracy.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is still acting as if he means what he says about controlling the costs of government. By canceling the long-planned construction of a second commuter tunnel under the Hudson River today, Christie has reaffirmed the principle that government should not try to do more than it can afford. A close look at the finances of the scheme showed that cost overruns were likely to send the bill on the project to as much as $14 billion, almost $6 billion more than the original estimate. That means that New Jersey — which is to say, New Jersey’s taxpayers — would have to pay at least $8 billion of that amount, the remainder being contributed by New York’s Port Authority and the federal government. But in the absence of givebacks by the state’s civil-service unions, whose contracts and pensions threaten to send the state into the red even if the tunnel were not to be paid for, Christie said no, to the utter consternation of the unions, the rest of the political class, and New York Times‘s columnist Paul Krugman.

Other politicians (like Christie’s predecessor Jon Corzine, who authorized ground breaking on the project without thinking about the costs to the taxpayers) are shocked by Christie’s chutzpah. The idea that government should only undertake those projects it can pay for without having to further bilk the taxpayers is considered a shocking concept.

Krugman, the Times editorial page, the unions, and many of the politicians who have worked for this project all think the mere fact that the tunnel is needed justifies any amount of debt to build it. They also seem to think that worrying about where the extra $6 billion will come from is just silly.

They are right in that a new tunnel is desperately needed. New Jersey Transit is currently forced to share one Hudson River tunnel that is owned by Amtrak. The result is massive congestion and delays that will only get worse in the years to come. Even worse, since Amtrak owns the tunnel, to the injury of those commuters who take NJ Transit, the worst commuter line in the region (in terms of its on-time record), is added the insult of often having to wait for long periods while Amtrak trains breeze through — Amtrak always getting priority from the dispatchers. This means that there is a large (and generally ill-tempered) constituency of commuters who would like to see the tunnel built. Among them is Krugman, who confessed on his blog that: “And yes, if anyone should mention it, I am a resident of New Jersey who often visits Manhattan, and therefore has a personal stake in this project. You got a problem with that?”

As it happens, I, too, am a daily NJ Transit commuter into New York. But as much as the prospect of a better train ride in the distant future appeals to me, I’d bet that the majority of disgruntled and delayed passengers would prefer not to have their taxes raised. Nor would they like Krugman’s suggestion that Christie radically raise gasoline taxes to pay for the cost overruns, since almost all of them drive their cars to the train stations from which they start and end their daily trek to work. Voters are sick and tired of tax-and-spend politicians who think nothing about the long-term consequences of their largesse, so long as someone else is paying for it.

Christie will probably take a lot of flak for his decision, perhaps even more than the criticism he took for his confrontation with the state’s teacher unions. But the bet here is that the majority of the people of New Jersey — including many of those unhappy souls who are forced to take NJ Transit — prefer to have a governor who doesn’t think he has a right to pick their pockets in order to play the hero by championing expensive projects. In case Krugman forgot, that’s the reason Christie was elected last year and why so many other fiscal conservatives will rout free-spending liberals in the congressional elections this fall. And whether or not Krugman has a problem with that, it’s what we Americans call democracy.

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Carly Makes the Case for Throwing Out Rude Liberals

Carly Fiorina appeared on Meet the Press and gave one of her more impressive performances, in contrast with the rudeness and perpetual interruptions of the accompanying Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Fiorina, on Republican criticism of Obama’s handling of the gulf oil spill:

Well, I think there’s much in that that’s fair.  And there is a difference, obviously, between governing and leading, and running for office or campaigning.  Look, BP has huge accountability here, and they need to be held to account.  But the government has accountability as well. When we hear that there are 13 separate federal government agencies running around in confusion down there, when we hear that there is equipment that could be used to help clean up the Gulf sitting in warehouses, when we hear that there is assistance that is being pleaded for by local officials and that assistance is not coming, all of this leads to the impression that this is not yet an effort where the president is exerting as much control as is necessary to get this thing fixed.  Of course BP has responsibility, but we also need to understand, where were the government regulators?  Where was MMS, despite the fact that the leader of MMS had been brought in by Ken Salazar in a move to reform the agency, according to him?

That was followed by this exchange:

MR. GREGORY:  Well, and…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  David–right.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, hold on a minute, that’s–wait, because I wanted to go back to Carly Fiorina.  I mean, respond to that point, Carly, for one.  But for two, because there’s legitimacy to that, what, what is good government, going forward, in a crisis like this?

MS. FIORINA:  Good government needs to be efficient and effective.  I’m not talking about small or big, but I know from the real world that when things get too big and too complicated and two expensive, as our government is now, they don’t perform well.  These are vast, unaccountable bureaucracies.  They don’t coordinate with one another, and, as a result, they’re not effective. And may I just say, it was Ken Salazar who put in place the secretary or the head of MMS who just recently resigned and who came from the industry.  So I think…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  No, he didn’t.

MS. FIORINA:  …this is a question of the blame game to say this is all about Republicans…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  He came from the House.

MS. FIORINA:  …saying small government.  This is about efficient,effective government…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Birnbaum was from the House.

MS. FIORINA:  …and efficient and effective response.  And what the American people are seeing is an ineffective response.

MR. GREGORY:  Did, did that head of MMS come from–did she work on the hill or did she come from industry?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  The head of MMS was from the House of Representatives.  Liz Birnbaum came from the U.S.  House of Representatives. She was an employee for many years, and then she moved from the House of Representatives to MMS. So I don’t know what she’s talking about.  But this is a big, expensive disaster.

MS. FIORINA:  And she was forced to resign because of her failure to reform the department as she promised to.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  In the year–excuse me, excuse me–in the year that she was, that, that she was there, there definitely was not enough reform, but she was cleaning up, in the process of cleaning up from years of a totally hands-off regulatory policy by the Bush administration…

MS. FIORINA:  Then why did she resign?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  …in which they had a scandal-ridden regulatory agency.

MR. GREGORY:  OK, but, Congresswoman, the reality is that if the president made a priority of reforming MMS, he also made the decision to curtail that reform, if it was incomplete, to move forward on more oil drilling, to…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Which I don’t…

MR. GREGORY:  …to achieve political consensus on climate change legislation.  So it’s a question of the choices the president made.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Look, as–well, in a–arguably in a year, you weren’t going to be able to clean up that regulatory mess that, that essentially was–left, left industry in charge of itself, and that’s why we ended up with this BP disaster.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  But as someone, unlike Ms. Fiorina, as someone who represents a Gulf state, who is totally opposed to expanding offshore oil drilling, unlike Ms. Fiorina, who even in the face of this BP disaster, would continue to allow offshore oil drilling as a solution, it is absolutely…

MR. GREGORY:  All right.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  …irresponsible to do that.  We need to focus…

MS. FIORINA:  If I may–if I may just say…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  No, no, no.  You keep interrupting me.

MS. FIORINA:  If I may just say, actually…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Excuse me, excuse me.

MS. FIORINA:  …you–if I may just say that…

MR. GREGORY:  Hold, hold on, hold on one second.  Congressman***(as spoken)***let’s let Carly Fiorina respond.  Go ahead.

MS. FIORINA:  If I might just say, I am not defending the performance of MMS over many years.  Debbie Wasserman Schultz is absolutely correct that MMS has failed in its duties under both Republican and Democratic presidents.  That’s a fact.  It is also true that the reason President Obama reversed his decision on shallow offshore drilling is because the people in the Gulf course–Coast were pleading for jobs and we need the energy.

And on it went in this vein. Recall that Barbara Boxer drew attention to herself both by tangling with an African-American business leader and a general, revealing herself as both rude and out-of-touch. If Fiorina can repeat this MTP performance — showing that her liberal opponent is both obnoxious and uniformed — she will do very well in her race. Voters already disgusted by the political elite may welcome a Washington outsider who has a businesslike and civil approach to issues.

Carly Fiorina appeared on Meet the Press and gave one of her more impressive performances, in contrast with the rudeness and perpetual interruptions of the accompanying Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Fiorina, on Republican criticism of Obama’s handling of the gulf oil spill:

Well, I think there’s much in that that’s fair.  And there is a difference, obviously, between governing and leading, and running for office or campaigning.  Look, BP has huge accountability here, and they need to be held to account.  But the government has accountability as well. When we hear that there are 13 separate federal government agencies running around in confusion down there, when we hear that there is equipment that could be used to help clean up the Gulf sitting in warehouses, when we hear that there is assistance that is being pleaded for by local officials and that assistance is not coming, all of this leads to the impression that this is not yet an effort where the president is exerting as much control as is necessary to get this thing fixed.  Of course BP has responsibility, but we also need to understand, where were the government regulators?  Where was MMS, despite the fact that the leader of MMS had been brought in by Ken Salazar in a move to reform the agency, according to him?

That was followed by this exchange:

MR. GREGORY:  Well, and…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  David–right.

MR. GREGORY:  Well, hold on a minute, that’s–wait, because I wanted to go back to Carly Fiorina.  I mean, respond to that point, Carly, for one.  But for two, because there’s legitimacy to that, what, what is good government, going forward, in a crisis like this?

MS. FIORINA:  Good government needs to be efficient and effective.  I’m not talking about small or big, but I know from the real world that when things get too big and too complicated and two expensive, as our government is now, they don’t perform well.  These are vast, unaccountable bureaucracies.  They don’t coordinate with one another, and, as a result, they’re not effective. And may I just say, it was Ken Salazar who put in place the secretary or the head of MMS who just recently resigned and who came from the industry.  So I think…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  No, he didn’t.

MS. FIORINA:  …this is a question of the blame game to say this is all about Republicans…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  He came from the House.

MS. FIORINA:  …saying small government.  This is about efficient,effective government…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Birnbaum was from the House.

MS. FIORINA:  …and efficient and effective response.  And what the American people are seeing is an ineffective response.

MR. GREGORY:  Did, did that head of MMS come from–did she work on the hill or did she come from industry?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  The head of MMS was from the House of Representatives.  Liz Birnbaum came from the U.S.  House of Representatives. She was an employee for many years, and then she moved from the House of Representatives to MMS. So I don’t know what she’s talking about.  But this is a big, expensive disaster.

MS. FIORINA:  And she was forced to resign because of her failure to reform the department as she promised to.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  In the year–excuse me, excuse me–in the year that she was, that, that she was there, there definitely was not enough reform, but she was cleaning up, in the process of cleaning up from years of a totally hands-off regulatory policy by the Bush administration…

MS. FIORINA:  Then why did she resign?

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  …in which they had a scandal-ridden regulatory agency.

MR. GREGORY:  OK, but, Congresswoman, the reality is that if the president made a priority of reforming MMS, he also made the decision to curtail that reform, if it was incomplete, to move forward on more oil drilling, to…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Which I don’t…

MR. GREGORY:  …to achieve political consensus on climate change legislation.  So it’s a question of the choices the president made.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Look, as–well, in a–arguably in a year, you weren’t going to be able to clean up that regulatory mess that, that essentially was–left, left industry in charge of itself, and that’s why we ended up with this BP disaster.

MR. GREGORY:  All right.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  But as someone, unlike Ms. Fiorina, as someone who represents a Gulf state, who is totally opposed to expanding offshore oil drilling, unlike Ms. Fiorina, who even in the face of this BP disaster, would continue to allow offshore oil drilling as a solution, it is absolutely…

MR. GREGORY:  All right.

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  …irresponsible to do that.  We need to focus…

MS. FIORINA:  If I may–if I may just say…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  No, no, no.  You keep interrupting me.

MS. FIORINA:  If I may just say, actually…

REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ:  Excuse me, excuse me.

MS. FIORINA:  …you–if I may just say that…

MR. GREGORY:  Hold, hold on, hold on one second.  Congressman***(as spoken)***let’s let Carly Fiorina respond.  Go ahead.

MS. FIORINA:  If I might just say, I am not defending the performance of MMS over many years.  Debbie Wasserman Schultz is absolutely correct that MMS has failed in its duties under both Republican and Democratic presidents.  That’s a fact.  It is also true that the reason President Obama reversed his decision on shallow offshore drilling is because the people in the Gulf course–Coast were pleading for jobs and we need the energy.

And on it went in this vein. Recall that Barbara Boxer drew attention to herself both by tangling with an African-American business leader and a general, revealing herself as both rude and out-of-touch. If Fiorina can repeat this MTP performance — showing that her liberal opponent is both obnoxious and uniformed — she will do very well in her race. Voters already disgusted by the political elite may welcome a Washington outsider who has a businesslike and civil approach to issues.

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Couldn’t Happen to a More Deserving Guy

The latest Quinnipiac Poll shows that Joe Sestak is closing in fast on Arlen Specter for the Democratic nomination for Senate in Pennsylvania.

A month ago, Specter was ahead by 53-32. In the latest poll his lead has shrunk to only 47-39, with two weeks to go. This, of course, is the sort of momentum that Scott Brown showed in the closing days of the Massachusetts senate race four months ago.  Specter is the veritable poster child of all that is wrong with Washington. He is a long-time incumbent (first elected to the Senate in 1980) and seems devoid of any political principle beyond getting elected and reelected.

He has switched parties twice for precisely that reason. (To be sure, Winston Churchill switched parties twice also, but he crossed the aisle the first time because he agreed with the Liberal agenda more than with that of the Conservatives and he switched back 20 years later when the Liberals were heading, quickly, toward political oblivion).

If Sestak knocks off Specter, there won’t be a tear shed outside of Specter’s own bedroom, and it will be one more indication that November could be a lot of fun.

The latest Quinnipiac Poll shows that Joe Sestak is closing in fast on Arlen Specter for the Democratic nomination for Senate in Pennsylvania.

A month ago, Specter was ahead by 53-32. In the latest poll his lead has shrunk to only 47-39, with two weeks to go. This, of course, is the sort of momentum that Scott Brown showed in the closing days of the Massachusetts senate race four months ago.  Specter is the veritable poster child of all that is wrong with Washington. He is a long-time incumbent (first elected to the Senate in 1980) and seems devoid of any political principle beyond getting elected and reelected.

He has switched parties twice for precisely that reason. (To be sure, Winston Churchill switched parties twice also, but he crossed the aisle the first time because he agreed with the Liberal agenda more than with that of the Conservatives and he switched back 20 years later when the Liberals were heading, quickly, toward political oblivion).

If Sestak knocks off Specter, there won’t be a tear shed outside of Specter’s own bedroom, and it will be one more indication that November could be a lot of fun.

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After Scott Brown, Liberals May Have Nowhere to Hide

Yes, Martha Coakley was a bad candidate. Except that she wasn’t a bad candidate when she won a huge majority running for attorney general of Massachusetts three years ago. Yes, Creigh Deeds was a bad candidate in Virginia’s governor’s race last year — except that he seemed like a very good candidate when the Washington Post championed him in the primary. And yes, Coakley’s rival Scott Brown is a good candidate, and so was Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, except both of them could easily have seemed like bad candidates under different circumstances.

One of the things that makes a candidate good is when what he says sounds sensible, calm, and reasonable by comparison to the other guy. What the (apparent) success of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, following McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey, tells us in part is that the policy criticism at the heart of their campaigns is connecting to ordinary people, to worried voters. And this is the great threat to the Democrats going forward this year and in November.

Democrats will be forced to defend and argue on behalf of policies that disturb more people than they comfort. And that is where the great danger lies. It’s one thing to speak in generalized pieties about children and health care and the needy and education, especially when the country is being governed by a president with a very different sense of what is best for America. It’s another thing to have to stand up for very specific pieces of legislation that advance very specific policies on these matters — left-liberal policies to be precise, in a country that is only one-fifth consciously and knowingly left-liberal.

Republicans learned this to their dismay when they were called to account in 2006 for the very specific policy choices made by George Bush in Iraq that were not working, and in 2008 for the policy choices that helped lead to the financial meltdown. There’s nowhere to run from a congressional vote; there’s nowhere to hide from a policy being advocated by a president from your party; there’s nowhere to turn for understanding that you’re only trying to do what’s best for America. The 40 percent who will always vote against you are going to have company among the 20 percent that bounce between the two parties when it comes to assigning responsibility for the choices you make and the party you’re a part of.

Last week I argued that the Scott Brown surge might indicate global trouble for incumbents rather than an ideological surge on the Right. I still think that’s true, but the thing is, the incumbents who can argue that they attempted to derail the policies the general public doesn’t like won’t necessarily seem like incumbents. (Coakley wasn’t an incumbent but is being treated as though she is.) If, indeed, Scott Brown prevails tonight and the repudiation of ObamaCare and other aspects of the president’s agenda deep inside Blue State territory are what is behind that victory, the political question remaining for the balance of the year as far as Democrats are concerned can only be whether things will improve dramatically enough in the economy to neutralize an unmistakable national sentiment among voters to take back what they did in 2008.

Yes, Martha Coakley was a bad candidate. Except that she wasn’t a bad candidate when she won a huge majority running for attorney general of Massachusetts three years ago. Yes, Creigh Deeds was a bad candidate in Virginia’s governor’s race last year — except that he seemed like a very good candidate when the Washington Post championed him in the primary. And yes, Coakley’s rival Scott Brown is a good candidate, and so was Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, except both of them could easily have seemed like bad candidates under different circumstances.

One of the things that makes a candidate good is when what he says sounds sensible, calm, and reasonable by comparison to the other guy. What the (apparent) success of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, following McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey, tells us in part is that the policy criticism at the heart of their campaigns is connecting to ordinary people, to worried voters. And this is the great threat to the Democrats going forward this year and in November.

Democrats will be forced to defend and argue on behalf of policies that disturb more people than they comfort. And that is where the great danger lies. It’s one thing to speak in generalized pieties about children and health care and the needy and education, especially when the country is being governed by a president with a very different sense of what is best for America. It’s another thing to have to stand up for very specific pieces of legislation that advance very specific policies on these matters — left-liberal policies to be precise, in a country that is only one-fifth consciously and knowingly left-liberal.

Republicans learned this to their dismay when they were called to account in 2006 for the very specific policy choices made by George Bush in Iraq that were not working, and in 2008 for the policy choices that helped lead to the financial meltdown. There’s nowhere to run from a congressional vote; there’s nowhere to hide from a policy being advocated by a president from your party; there’s nowhere to turn for understanding that you’re only trying to do what’s best for America. The 40 percent who will always vote against you are going to have company among the 20 percent that bounce between the two parties when it comes to assigning responsibility for the choices you make and the party you’re a part of.

Last week I argued that the Scott Brown surge might indicate global trouble for incumbents rather than an ideological surge on the Right. I still think that’s true, but the thing is, the incumbents who can argue that they attempted to derail the policies the general public doesn’t like won’t necessarily seem like incumbents. (Coakley wasn’t an incumbent but is being treated as though she is.) If, indeed, Scott Brown prevails tonight and the repudiation of ObamaCare and other aspects of the president’s agenda deep inside Blue State territory are what is behind that victory, the political question remaining for the balance of the year as far as Democrats are concerned can only be whether things will improve dramatically enough in the economy to neutralize an unmistakable national sentiment among voters to take back what they did in 2008.

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Dionne, Confused

The Washington Post‘s E.J. Dionne, Jr. wrote a deeply confused column today. I had several thoughts on it.

1. Dionne’s column quotes Martin Luther King, Jr.’s remarks in 1968, referring to Vietnam as a “senseless, unjust war” and saying, “We are criminals in that war.” Dionne then writes that he doesn’t cite King in order to justify “Wright’s damnation of America.” But of course he implicitly does. Dionne’s whole point in saying that “Right-wing commentators would use the material to argue that King was anti-American and to discredit his call for racial and class justice” and “King certainly angered a lot of people at the time” was to imply that Wright and King are comparable. Hence the title of Dionne’s column: “Another Angry Black Preacher.”

2. Does Dionne think “right-wing commentators” are wrong to use Wright’s comments to discredit him? Dionne seems to think they are-even as Dionne himself lacerates Wright for his “lunatic and pernicious theories.” Perhaps Dionne thinks it’s only appropriate for liberals to criticize Wright.

3. Martin Luther King, Jr. did have harsh things to say about America-and one can disagree profoundly with his words. But one key difference between King and Wright is that King, while he was a harsh critic of certain policies (like Vietnam and segregation), believed in the promise of America and its capacity for redemption and improvement. He tried to call it to its better self. Wright, from everything we can tell, presents a fundamental indictment of America. As I pointed out in a previous post, the thrust of King’s teachings was that America was falling short of its promise — but that America, perhaps alone in the world, was the place where the promissory note could be fulfilled.

And of course King did not believe in crazy conspiracy theories (for example, that America is responsible for AIDS and wants to use it to promote genocide). Nor did King ever ask God to “damn” America. Nor did he seem to delight in the injuries we suffered. In addition, King urged us not to drink from “the cup of bitterness and hatred.” Does Dionne believe the same can be said of that “other angry black preacher”?

4. Dionne insists he didn’t cite King “to justify Wright’s damnation of America or his lunatic and pernicious theories but to suggest that Obama’s pastor and his church are not as far outside the African American mainstream as many would suggest.” Dionne later writes that he “loathes the anti-American things Wright said.” What Dionne is arguing, then, is that lunatic and pernicious theories and loathsome anti-Americanism is near the African-American mainstream. Pace Dionne, I desperately hope that is not the case. But if it is, and if black liberation theology as embodied by Wright is as prevalent as Dionne suggests, then I hope Dionne, a leading liberal voice, will give up the argument that Wright is “operating within a long tradition of African American outrage.” The difference is that most of the tradition of African American outrage was justified and noble; Wright’s outrage is (to use Dionne’s words) “lunatic,” “pernicious,” and something we should “loathe.”

5. Dionne writes, “I would ask my conservative friends who praise King so lavishly to search their conscience and wonder if they would have stood up for him in 1968.” I would in turn ask my liberal friends who praise King so lavishly to search their conscience and wonder if they would have stood up for King in, say, 1963, when King argued for a color-blind society in law as well as attitudes (many contemporary liberals obsess on race and support racial quotas and preferences). I would also ask my liberal friends who praise King so lavishly if they would have stood up for King when he made explicit appeals to God’s law and natural law and tied morality to the Scriptures (many contemporary liberals are deeply secular and have utter contempt for those who link morality to religion). And I would ask my liberal friends who praise King so lavishly today if they would have stood up for King when he anchored his case for the American dream in an appeal to America’s common culture and common values and in King’s appeal to our founding principles and the Declaration of Independence (many contemporary liberals have embraced multiculturalism and have deep animus for “dead white men”).

In a desperate attempt to defend Barack Obama, intelligent liberals like E.J. Dionne, Jr. have to deal with the matter of Jeremiah Wright. It’s not an easy task — and in his attempt to both castigate Wright and tie him to Martin Luther King, Jr., Dionne demonstrates just how difficult their undertaking is. Wright and Obama have badly hurt themselves in this whole episode — and those who are attempting to come to their aid are as well.

The Washington Post‘s E.J. Dionne, Jr. wrote a deeply confused column today. I had several thoughts on it.

1. Dionne’s column quotes Martin Luther King, Jr.’s remarks in 1968, referring to Vietnam as a “senseless, unjust war” and saying, “We are criminals in that war.” Dionne then writes that he doesn’t cite King in order to justify “Wright’s damnation of America.” But of course he implicitly does. Dionne’s whole point in saying that “Right-wing commentators would use the material to argue that King was anti-American and to discredit his call for racial and class justice” and “King certainly angered a lot of people at the time” was to imply that Wright and King are comparable. Hence the title of Dionne’s column: “Another Angry Black Preacher.”

2. Does Dionne think “right-wing commentators” are wrong to use Wright’s comments to discredit him? Dionne seems to think they are-even as Dionne himself lacerates Wright for his “lunatic and pernicious theories.” Perhaps Dionne thinks it’s only appropriate for liberals to criticize Wright.

3. Martin Luther King, Jr. did have harsh things to say about America-and one can disagree profoundly with his words. But one key difference between King and Wright is that King, while he was a harsh critic of certain policies (like Vietnam and segregation), believed in the promise of America and its capacity for redemption and improvement. He tried to call it to its better self. Wright, from everything we can tell, presents a fundamental indictment of America. As I pointed out in a previous post, the thrust of King’s teachings was that America was falling short of its promise — but that America, perhaps alone in the world, was the place where the promissory note could be fulfilled.

And of course King did not believe in crazy conspiracy theories (for example, that America is responsible for AIDS and wants to use it to promote genocide). Nor did King ever ask God to “damn” America. Nor did he seem to delight in the injuries we suffered. In addition, King urged us not to drink from “the cup of bitterness and hatred.” Does Dionne believe the same can be said of that “other angry black preacher”?

4. Dionne insists he didn’t cite King “to justify Wright’s damnation of America or his lunatic and pernicious theories but to suggest that Obama’s pastor and his church are not as far outside the African American mainstream as many would suggest.” Dionne later writes that he “loathes the anti-American things Wright said.” What Dionne is arguing, then, is that lunatic and pernicious theories and loathsome anti-Americanism is near the African-American mainstream. Pace Dionne, I desperately hope that is not the case. But if it is, and if black liberation theology as embodied by Wright is as prevalent as Dionne suggests, then I hope Dionne, a leading liberal voice, will give up the argument that Wright is “operating within a long tradition of African American outrage.” The difference is that most of the tradition of African American outrage was justified and noble; Wright’s outrage is (to use Dionne’s words) “lunatic,” “pernicious,” and something we should “loathe.”

5. Dionne writes, “I would ask my conservative friends who praise King so lavishly to search their conscience and wonder if they would have stood up for him in 1968.” I would in turn ask my liberal friends who praise King so lavishly to search their conscience and wonder if they would have stood up for King in, say, 1963, when King argued for a color-blind society in law as well as attitudes (many contemporary liberals obsess on race and support racial quotas and preferences). I would also ask my liberal friends who praise King so lavishly if they would have stood up for King when he made explicit appeals to God’s law and natural law and tied morality to the Scriptures (many contemporary liberals are deeply secular and have utter contempt for those who link morality to religion). And I would ask my liberal friends who praise King so lavishly today if they would have stood up for King when he anchored his case for the American dream in an appeal to America’s common culture and common values and in King’s appeal to our founding principles and the Declaration of Independence (many contemporary liberals have embraced multiculturalism and have deep animus for “dead white men”).

In a desperate attempt to defend Barack Obama, intelligent liberals like E.J. Dionne, Jr. have to deal with the matter of Jeremiah Wright. It’s not an easy task — and in his attempt to both castigate Wright and tie him to Martin Luther King, Jr., Dionne demonstrates just how difficult their undertaking is. Wright and Obama have badly hurt themselves in this whole episode — and those who are attempting to come to their aid are as well.

Read Less




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