Although there has been some heated digital confrontation between conservatives in the post-election blame game and adjustment period, it should be noted that much of the right’s recalibration since November has been quite sensible. The GOP by and large has had it wrong on immigration in recent years, and paid dearly for it at the ballot box. The sudden willingness to work toward comprehensive immigration reform may in some cases be cynical, but it is also, at the very least, logical.
And President Obama’s reelection victory exposed party weaknesses outside legislative issues, such as poor candidate recruitment and messaging. So it’s not all that surprising that a group like the one led by Karl Rove has formed with the purpose of enabling the nomination of better candidates for certain races. This has, naturally, whetted the appetite of liberals for ever more “moderation” on the part of Republicans. E.J. Dionne’s column today in the Washington Post is a good example of this mindset. Dionne writes:
If President Obama thought he could separate the Catholic Church from other critics of the ObamaCare mandate compelling believers to pay for services that violate their faith, he was wrong. The administration thought the compromise it announced February 1 would accomplish just that objective since it broadened the narrow exemptions from the Health and Human Services Department mandate to include religious non-profits. But while the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed this movement, it rightly noted that it fell far short of guaranteeing that persons of faith would have their religious freedom protected from the dictates of the federal government. As the organization’s statement made clear, the head of the conference, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York City, listed three major problems with the proposal:
He [Cardinal Dolan] listed three key areas of concern: the narrow understanding of a religious ministry; compelling church ministries to fund and facilitate services such as contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization that violate Catholic teaching; and disregard of the conscience rights of for-profit business owners.
In refusing to be co-opted into the mandate to pay for abortion and contraceptive services, the bishops have made it clear that the fight against the strong-arming of faith by the government will not go unchallenged. In doing so, they deserve the support of all faith groups as well as all persons of conscience who value the protections guaranteed Americans by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
On May 25, 1942, the waters off Norfolk, Virginia played host to a dramatic competition between military landing boats designed by Andrew Jackson Higgins and those used by the Navy. Army Major Howard Quinn, after observing the contest, wrote to his commanding officer that “there was no comparison”–the Higgins boat was the better craft. Quinn was on hand to watch the competition along with a member of the Truman Committee, led by then-Senator Harry S. Truman to investigate waste in the U.S. military’s war production. The contest had come at the behest of Truman, whom Higgins had convinced of the superiority of his boat.
The switch was made; the boats were mass-produced, and were integral to the success of the landing at Normandy. Had the military not had the Higgins boats, Dwight Eisenhower later said, “The whole strategy of the war would have been different.” And it wasn’t just the boats. As William Lee Miller writes in his book about the intersection of the lives of Truman and Eisenhower, Truman claimed to have saved $15 billion with his committee’s recommendations, by tackling “the prodigious waste in constructing camps, the shortage of essential commodities like rubber, magnesium, and aluminum; the protection of the consumer economy and the expansion of the labor pool. The committee also exposed corruption in war production.”
The reason the committee was considered such a success is because it enabled the military to cut wasteful spending while improving military readiness, equipment, and combat capability. Six decades later, then-Senator Hillary Clinton sought to take advantage of the negative reporting and unpopularity of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by invoking Truman’s name in a Wall Street Journalcolumn full of righteous anger at perceived corruption and incompetence in war management during the Bush administration. The following year she was serving as the public face of the foreign policy of an Obama White House proposing to make cuts to the military decried by his own secretary of defense and whose devastating effect on military readiness has already begun to encroach on the line separating theory from reality.
Last year’s Supreme Court decision declaring ObamaCare constitutional ensured that the massive expansion of government power would go forward, but it did not remove all legal challenges to the legislation. Religious organizations rightly objected to the bill’s mandate that even those who objected on religious grounds had to pay for services that violated their beliefs. Opponents of the mandate were falsely portrayed last year as taking part in a Republican “war on women” that helped whip up support for President Obama and the Democrats. Yet Church groups and others who opposed being compelled to pay for abortion drugs and contraception services rejected those slurs and challenged the mandate in court with lawsuits that were proceeding with mixed success.
But after today, some of those suits will be dropped after the White House announced a limited retreat on the issue. According to reports, the administration will no longer insist that religious non-profits observe the mandate or be in any way made to pay for services that offend their consciences. This is very good news for church institutions that were not previously exempted. But it is by no means the end of the story. Under the revised rules, individual business owners—such as those who run the Hobby Lobby store chain—who similarly object on religious grounds, are still liable to ruinous penalties amounting to millions of dollars. This amounts to a cribbed definition of religious freedom that limits its expressions only to non-profits and houses of worship, but forces all others to bend to the dictates of the federal government even at the cost of their right to practice their faith.
Well, another month, another mediocre jobs report. The economy added 157,000 jobs in January while the unemployment rate ticked up a notch to 7.9 percent.
Those who have been unemployed long-term remained at a dismal 4.8 million and were 38.1 percent of all unemployed. There were 8 million people working part-time who would rather be working full-time. That number might well go up in the future as companies adjust their workforces to avoid Obamacare mandates requiring health insurance (or a fine) if there are more than 50 full-time employees.
Democrats spent the 2012 presidential campaign successfully blaming George W. Bush for the country’s sluggish economy. But a week after President Obama’s second inaugural, they are still not taking responsibility for the country’s fiscal health. The White House responded to yesterday’s disturbing news that GDP declined for the first time since 2009 in predictable fashion: they blamed the bad numbers on Republicans. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the dip was the fault of “Congressional Republicans” who have tried to restrain the government’s out-of-control spending. Even though the president got his way in the fiscal cliff negotiations with the GOP, Carney said the threat of sequestration, which would mandate across-the-board spending cuts, is the real culprit for the downturn and that the “brinksmanship” by the House Republicans was victimizing the nation’s economy.
This was thin gruel even from a practiced spin master like Carney. The idea of sequestration, which will have a particularly devastating effect on defense, originated in the White House and not the GOP caucus before it was put into the 2011 deal on the debt ceiling. But while we must give Carney credit for his usual chutzpah, the idea that Republican efforts to face up to chronic fiscal problems via entitlement reforms is to blame is a particularly depressing example of the ideological dead end into which the administration has driven the economy. As John Steele Gordon wrote yesterday, there is no way of knowing yet whether yesterday’s GDP numbers are the harbinger of an Obama recession or merely a statistical anomaly, but the steadfast refusal of the White House to face up to the long-term threats is what could be driving the economy into the ditch.
The GDP shrank in the last quarter of 2012, declining a small 0.1 percent. While that is minimal, it is the first negative quarter since the second quarter of 2009 and a sharp slowdown from the 3.1 percent growth in the third quarter. Government spending was down sharply, while businesses cut inventories. Foreign trade was down 5.7 percent. But consumer spending was up 2.2 percent, an increase from the previous quarter. And housing continued its slow recovery.
So what’s going on? Good question. It could just be a blip or it could be the start of a new recession. (The usual definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of declining GDP, or what economists, with their usual talent for assaulting the English language, call “negative growth.”)
The D.C. Circuit’s 46-page opinion in Canning v. NLRB (ablyanalyzed by John Steele Gordon) is a master class for law students, legislators, and lawyers–an illustration of the first rule of constitutional interpretation: before you refer to legislative or judicial history, or how a “living” Constitution might read if you could re-write it, or the words in invisible ink in the “penumbras”–look at the words as written, and determine what they meant to those who adopted them.
The Recess Appointments Clause provides the “President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate.” Canning contended “the Recess” is the period between sessions of the Senate, when it is by definition unavailable to receive and act on nominations from the president. The NLRB argued the president could act during any break in the Senate’s business (and determine for himself when a sufficiently long one occurred). The court held the NLRB failed to note that the Constitution references “the Recess,” not “recesses.” Here is the key portion of the opinion:
Saul Bellow used to joke that while the unexamined life is not worth living, the examined life will make you wish you were dead. The political equivalent might be that we can’t live with taxation without representation, but taxation with representation is going to kill us.
By “us,” I mean those of us who like to find out what’s in a bill before Congress passes it; who would like our representatives to read bills before they vote on them; who want to see hearings on legislation before it is brought to a vote; and who would like to have it posted on a website for a few days before it is signed into law–just in case we have some questions after we find out what’s in it. For such people, Senator Rand Paul’s description of the Senate’s action in passing a $600 billion tax increase this week will be discouraging:
Chief Justice John Roberts’s decision to uphold the constitutionality of ObamaCare ended the discussion about the president’s signature health care legislation as far as most of the media was concerned. But for Americans whose rights have been infringed by the bill’s mandate requiring business owners to pay for services that violate their religious beliefs, the issue remains a matter of vital concern. On January 1 the penalties associated with that mandate went into effect and the battle in the courts to head off this grievous infringement of religious liberty is meeting with mixed success.
One federal judge blocked the enforcement of the mandate in a lawsuit brought by the founder of Domino’s Pizza, saying the legislation “substantially burdens the exercise of religion.” In doing so, the court prevented the government from levying massive fines on Thomas Monaghan’s property management firm while his challenge to the constitutionality of the provision proceeds through the courts. That ruling comes in the wake of decisions from federal appeals courts in St. Louis and Chicago that stopped the Department of Health and Human Services from punishing those who are fighting the mandate to pay for contraception and abortion drugs. But in a signal defeat for the cause of freedom, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor turned down a similar request from the owners of Hobby Lobby stores and a Christian book store firm. That means these companies will be subjected to millions of dollars in fines for violating the law even though they claim it is a matter of conscience.
Right now the political landscape is grim for Republicans–and in the short term, thanks to the so-called fiscal cliff, things may get grimmer still. But moments like these can pass, often quicker than we think. And next year may turn out to be one in which the pernicious effects of the Affordable Care Act–aka ObamaCare–really begin to kick in, from higher premiums to the loss of employer-based health insurance to the start of enrollment in insurance exchanges. It will become more and more clear to the public what a nightmarish law the Affordable Care Act actually is.
“The administration is well behind schedule,” my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague James Capretta told Byron York of the Washington Examiner. “It’s going to be a train wreck in a lot of places.”
In her Wall Street Journal column, Kimberley Strassel writes about two lessons the GOP should take from the fiscal cliff negotiations. One is that President Obama is not, and will never be, a serious negotiating partner. The second is that a house divided is a losing house. Ms. Strassel goes on to counsel the GOP to internalize these recent experiences, since the political dynamic won’t change much. In the future, she writes, Republicans “can continue the folly of believing this president will compromise” — or they can “realize that [Obama] will never be reasonable on taxes — and so they can’t give anything away.”
Ms. Strassel is always intelligent and always worth reading. But in this case there are some elements to the story that may complicate her analysis. It could be House Speaker John Boehner, based on his previous negotiations with Obama, went into the talks with the president hopeful but unconvinced he would get a deal this time. Still, Boehner may have made the calculation that he had to offer a plan that was viewed by the public as reasonable and flexible. Why? Because many Americans have (unfortunately) bought into Obama’s critique of the GOP as being obstinate. That is, even if Obama was not intent on compromising with Republicans, Boehner felt like he had to offer a deal that demonstrated the GOP was not being obstructionist and unyielding. So the speaker first offered raising $800 billion in revenues and then offered a second plan raising taxes on those making a million dollars or more.
Many conservatives have a conflicted attitude toward Jon Stewart. He can be clever, and he sometimes trains his sights on Democratic foibles, but for the most part the ridicule on his show is aimed at conservatives in public life. But Stewart’s transformation over the years into a hectoring, standard-issue liberal means his monologues and interviews often demonstrate clearly and pithily what conservatives don’t like about the big-government left.
And he did so last night, in his extended interview with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Stewart, ever in search of Republican hypocrisy, tried to tag Christie with the label because Christie accepted federal disaster relief funds after Hurricane Sandy but balked at setting up a state Obamacare exchange. This is how the conversation went:
Polls have consistently shown that far more Americans still blame George W. Bush for the country’s economic difficulties than those who were prepared to place responsibility on the man who has been president for the last few years. That fact, along with an economy that wasn’t very good but still not as terrible as many thought it might be, was enough to re-elect Barack Obama earlier this month. In doing so, Obama became the first president to successfully run for a second term, while blaming his predecessor for his own failures, since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who buried Alf Landon in 1936 by running against his predecessor Herbert Hoover.
That was quite a trick, but President Obama should be wary of emulating FDR in every respect. As Amity Shlaes wrote yesterday in Bloomberg News, Roosevelt’s second term provides some ominous precedents for an Obama second term. As our colleague John Steele Gordon wrote earlier this year, it may always be 1936 for liberals who believe conservatives are doomed to perpetual defeat. But what the president and his supporters should be worrying about is whether 2013 turns out to be a repeat of 1937, when a country mired in the Great Depression suffered another economic setback that heightened the country’s misery. As Shlaes points out, signs abound that the “Great Recession” that Obama claimed to save the country from during the campaign may be about to get worse.
Will the restaurant business survive a second Obama term? Can it? Since the president’s reelection earlier this month, four large restaurant chains, Papa Johns, Applebee’s, Denny’s and Darden Restaurants (the company that owns the Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and LongHorn Steakhouse chains) have all recently released statements about their companies’ plans to respond to the increased costs of complying with Obamacare regulations. According to the healthcare law, every full-time employee must be provided with comprehensive medical coverage if the company employs more than 50 full-time workers. If a company refuses to comply, they will be faced with fines of $2,000 per year, per employee, as of January 1, 2014.
The announcements from companies grappling with the increased costs of Obamacare have, expectedly, been met with disbelief and consternation by the left, still seemingly unaware of basic economics. Appearing on Fox News Business early last week, Applebee’s CEO Zane Tankel explained the steps his business would have to take in order to stay in operation:
The Obama reelection campaign’s impressive turnout and get-out-the-vote strategy took the president’s Republican opponents by surprise. But it appears to also be teaching Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan an incomplete, if not totally wrong, lesson about their loss to President Obama. Earlier this week, Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “urban” turnout was key for the president, and dismissed the notion that the GOP ticket’s vision for the country was rejected by voters.
And then yesterday, on a conference call with donors and supporters, Romney expanded on that argument. He said the president offered “gifts” to minority voters, and named Obamacare and immigration as important parts of that. The New York Timesreports:
Nevada Democrat Shelley Berkley lost a close election for Senate last week. Although it was a Senate campaign, Berkley was coming from the House, which meant her opponent, Dean Heller, had had an easy weapon to deploy against her: Nancy Pelosi. Tying candidates like this to Pelosi has been a favorite tactic of congressional Republicans and their supporters. When Fred Barnes profiled Harry Reid in September, he asked GOP operatives why Pelosi was constantly invoked but Reid wasn’t.
Pelosi is “toxic” with voters, he found; Republican strategists described her as “the gift that keeps on giving.” Barnes continued: “In focus groups conducted by Republicans, swing voters respond negatively to any mention of Pelosi. It’s clear she’s a drag on Democrats. But when Reid is raised, the reaction is weak.” And so it is that Pelosi compounds the Democrats’ “Obama problem,” so to speak: the punishment voters have meted out to Democrats, especially in the House and in gubernatorial elections, for the array of unpopular big-government excesses of the Obama administration. House candidates are particularly susceptible to the mood swings of the electorate, so you would think Pelosi would step down as House minority leader and give the Democrats a fighting chance as they head into the often-difficult second-term midterm elections. But you would be wrong.
Yesterday, Abe wrote that “Barack Obama ushered in America’s first large-scale experiment in personality-cult politics. The experiment continues apace.” The experiment really has two parts to it, and only one of them continues. Electorally speaking, it was a success–Obama was elected and then reelected with a majority of the popular vote both times. But the other side of the experiment is how a personality-driven campaign incentivizes governing. Because President Obama ran on personality more than policy, the latter has been shaped throughout his presidency with the former in mind, producing not so much a governing philosophy as a slogan factory.
One of the more interesting aspects of the president’s health care reform legislation is how many liberals hate it. Conservatives don’t like it on constitutional grounds and on policy grounds. But liberals I meet often tell me how much they hate the bill on ideological grounds, because it took an idea that sprang forth from the perceived failure and greed of the insurance companies and then forced everyone in the country to buy their product. The left wanted universal health coverage; they got a bill that encourages the young and healthy, who currently often don’t buy health insurance, to continue not buying health insurance. But the left misunderstands Obama’s intent: he is not a detail man, nor a policy wonk. He is a man in constant search of a slogan, and saying he reformed health care was all he wanted out of the bill, even if the end result was a logical and regulatory nightmare. And health care is far from the only such issue.
Yesterday in Cleveland, Paul Ryan gave easily one of the most important and substantive speeches of this entire election cycle. The fact that it was substantive alone draws a contrast with President Obama’s reelection focus on Big Bird and binders. But it also outlined with frankness and sophistication the distinction between the worldviews of the two tickets.
Ryan spoke about poverty and education, individualism and dependency. But he also focused on the enduring necessity of civil society and the role that local communities play in the typical American life. Though Ryan credited his mentor Jack Kemp, the true unnamed force behind his speech was the late Robert Nisbet. Here is what Ryan said yesterday:
In September, after the first Senate debate between Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown and his liberal challenger Elizabeth Warren, I criticized Warren’s decision to nationalize the race. In the debate, Brown—a local Bay Stater who sounds the part and speaks with fluency about local issues–repeatedly offered answers to questions that showed his moderate, bipartisan streak and his insistence on voting as he believes Massachusetts voters would want him to. Warren, on the other hand, kept referring to what the U.S. Senate would be like if Republicans won back the majority.
But Warren seems intent on proving such criticism wrong. She has now wagered the entire campaign on this gamble. As the race nears its end Warren has given up on trying to portray Brown as a Tea Partier and instead paints a picture of what has to be a dystopian future in the minds of northeastern liberals. Here is Warren’s closing argument, per her TV ad (followed by the transcript):