Commentary Magazine


Topic: partisanship

Should Politics Be a Proxy for Character?

In his column earlier this week, David Brooks, citing a variety of studies, wrote that “people’s essential worth is being measured by a political label: whether they should be hired, married, trusted or discriminated against.”

Read More

In his column earlier this week, David Brooks, citing a variety of studies, wrote that “people’s essential worth is being measured by a political label: whether they should be hired, married, trusted or discriminated against.”

According to Brooks, as personal life is being de-moralized, political life is being “hyper-moralized” (meaning people are judgmental about policy labels); more people are building their communal and social identities around political labels; and politics is becoming a marker for basic decency. “Those who are not members of the right party are deemed to lack basic compassion, or basic loyalty to country,” he writes. Political issues have become symbols of worth and dignity.

There are of course cases when politics does reveal a corrupted character (e.g., a person who is a member of a neo-Nazi movement). But as a general matter, the points Brooks is making are quite right and, given the state of our politics, quite important. To state the obvious: We all know there are people who hold very different political views than we do who are admirable and honorable individuals, just as there are people who share our philosophy and are disreputable. In the vast majority of cases, one’s political affiliation says nothing about one’s personal character.

Beyond that, politics should have a rather limited role in our lives. To be sure, politics is important; it can create (or destroy) the conditions that allow for human flourishing. Yet for most people, most of life is–and the most important things in life are–lived outside of the arena of politics. And we shouldn’t overinflate its significance or exaggerate what it tells us about each other. Should I think less of the character of the coach of my son’s soccer team, or my daughter’s piano teacher, or the couple in my Bible Study, or the person who volunteers at a homeless shelter because of their views on climate change or the Affordable Care Act? On whether or not they want to raise or lower corporate tax rates? On whether they think illegal immigrants should be given a path to citizenship?

The answer for some people is yes. Jonathan Chait of New York magazine argues that those who hold political views contrary to his “live in a different moral universe” than he does and he therefore believes “their political views reflect something unflattering about their character.” This attitude shapes how he and others like him approach political debate. Why should we treat those on the wrong side of, say, the minimum wage with anything except disdain and contempt? People who hold this view of politics eventually feel justified in declaring their hatred for those with whom they disagree.

It’s important to acknowledge that many of us wrestle with a less acrimonious version of this. I’ve experienced situations over the years in which political differences have caused tensions even with friends that have required repair work and resetting things. The more deeply you feel about a subject the more inclined you are to view those disagreements as rooted in differing views of justice and morality. That’s understandable. If you have strong pro-life convictions and you encounter someone who celebrates abortion as a social and moral good, it’s likely that you’ll draw conclusions about that person that reflect, at least initially and at least in part, on their character. But in terms of what we should aspire to–between trying to check the (natural) impulse to view our political opponents as enemies v. encouraging it–it’s worth considering the example of Lincoln, who governed a nation far more divided than we are today.

“This most unrelenting enemy to the project of the Confederacy was the one man who had quite purged his heart and mind from hatred or even anger towards his fellow-countrymen of the South,” Lord Charnwood wrote in his marvelous biography of Lincoln. “It was not men but slavery he hated,” is how the essayist Joseph Epstein put it. “Malice wasn’t available to Lincoln; mercy came naturally to him. His magnanimity in forgiveness was another sign of his superiority.”

One final thought. Brooks writes, “Most of the time, politics is a battle between competing interests or an attempt to balance partial truths. But in this fervent state, it turns into a Manichaean struggle of light and darkness. To compromise is to betray your very identity.”

This is among the harder things for us to come to grips with, which is that at best we see partial truths; that while we believe truth exists, our ability to fully perceive truth is limited. People who accept this tend to be relatively less dogmatic and abrasive, relatively more empirical, the ones most open to other points of view and corrections. “We need to make room for other perspectives,” a wise friend recently told me. “We need to make room for others at the table.”

That doesn’t mean that the perspectives of others are always right or even valuable. Not everyone’s opinion is worth hearing. And some personalities fit better at the table than do others. The point from the conversation, at least as I took it, is that one way to avoid “epistemic closure” is by considering, at least now and then, different angles of vision, different ways of seeing things. It means from time to time assuming the person you’re politically at odds with is a decent person and then trying to understand why he holds the views he does, even if you reject them. It requires taking into account the strongest (not the weakest) arguments against our assumptions and the self-confidence to change if needed. The goal, after all, isn’t to win a debate; it’s to more closely align our views to the truth of things.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

Why We Dehumanize Political Opponents

The Village Voice publishes a weekly blog in which the musician and entertainer Andrew Fetterly Wilkes-Krier – better known by his stage name Andrew W.K. – takes questions from readers. A recent exchange caught my attention, starting with a letter in which the correspondent complained that the author’s father is a “super right-wing conservative who has basically turned into a total assho*e intent on ruining our relationship and our planet with his politics.”

Read More

The Village Voice publishes a weekly blog in which the musician and entertainer Andrew Fetterly Wilkes-Krier – better known by his stage name Andrew W.K. – takes questions from readers. A recent exchange caught my attention, starting with a letter in which the correspondent complained that the author’s father is a “super right-wing conservative who has basically turned into a total assho*e intent on ruining our relationship and our planet with his politics.”

The reader, a self-described liberal Democrat with very progressive values, writes, “I know that people like my dad are going to destroy us all. I don’t have any good times with him anymore. All we do is argue…. I love him no matter what, but how do I explain to him that his politics are turning him into a monster, destroying the environment, and pushing away the people who care about him?”

Andrew W.K. responded this way: “Try to find a single instance where you referred to your dad as a human being, a person, or a man. There isn’t one. You’ve reduced your father — the person who created you — to a set of beliefs and political views and how it relates to you.” He adds

You’ve also reduced yourself to a set of opposing views, and reduced your relationship with him to a fight between the two. The humanity has been reduced to nothingness and all that’s left in its place is an argument that can never really be won. And even if one side did win, it probably wouldn’t satisfy the deeper desire to be in a state of inflamed passionate conflict…. The world is being hurt and damaged by one group of people believing they’re truly better people than the others who think differently.

I should say here that I dissent from some of what Andrew W.K. says, including this statement: “No matter how bad someone may appear, they are truly no worse than us. Our beliefs and behavior don’t make us fundamentally better than others, no matter how satisfying it is to believe otherwise.”

This assertion cannot be true. Some people who appear bad actually are bad. It is precisely the beliefs and behavior of Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jon-Il, Bashar al-Assad, Idi Amin, Khaled Mashaal, Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi – of Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and Timothy McVeigh and countless others — that make them fundamentally worse than you or I. Some individuals really and truly are monsters.

But where I think he is on to something important is how many of us allow reasonable but pronounced political differences to dissolve human bonds. How politics and life are fairly complicated matters that we’re tempted to reduce to simplistic formulas. And how we often assume our vantage point is the only valid one and make very little effort to see things from the point of view of those with whom we most disagree. Andrew W.K. writes, “We cling to the hope that some day, if we really refine our world view and beliefs, we can actually find the fully correct way to think — the absolute truth and final side to stand on.”

This called to mind a recent conversation I had in which I found myself observing that there’s a crucial distinction that’s sometimes lost on me and among people whom I know, including those within my faith community.

It’s the distinction between believing in objective truth and believing we can fully apprehend and access it. As my friend put it, “I believe in objective truth, but I hold more lightly to our ability to perceive truth.” His wife added that she’s found we need to learn to live with greater humility, to live with open hands, faithfully seeking truth without constantly demanding certitude.

I’m fully aware of the danger this can introduce: relativism. The perspective I’m offering, if over-interpreted, can drain us of our convictions, making us less willing to fight for things that are worth fighting for. It can lead us into a world of existential confusion and ultimately, despair.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule that will help us find just the right setting between unwarranted assurance and unwarranted uncertainty. We can all come up with scenarios in which each one, at the wrong time, can lead to disaster. What we need depends in large part on where we stand and what our predisposition, our default position, is.

I will say that most people who inhabit the worlds in which I travel in – the worlds of politics, political philosophy and theology — lean too much in the direction of assuming we know the full truth as against leaning too much in the direction of having little confidence we can ascertain any of the truth. We therefore tend to ignore evidence that challenges our assumptions and resist honest self-examination. We spend all of our time defending what we deem to be the truth; as a result, we have almost no time to actually reflect on it and refine our views of it.

“What I want in our students,” my good and wise friend told me, “and what I admire are people who are teachable, who are open to arguments, who make room for other perspectives.”

People of a certain cast of mind will roll their eyes at such words. They are the ones who most need to hear them.

Read Less

Rick Perry and Our Dysfunctional Politics

I had two initial responses to the outrageous indictment of Texas Governor Rick Perry. One was to feel the same outrage about the criminalization of politics that John Steele Gordon discussed yesterday. The other was to assume that the prospect of this prosecution, no matter how unfair it would prove to be, would derail his hopes for another run at the presidency. However, I might have been wrong about my second reaction and the reason for that re-evaluation speaks volumes about how dysfunctional our political system has become.

Read More

I had two initial responses to the outrageous indictment of Texas Governor Rick Perry. One was to feel the same outrage about the criminalization of politics that John Steele Gordon discussed yesterday. The other was to assume that the prospect of this prosecution, no matter how unfair it would prove to be, would derail his hopes for another run at the presidency. However, I might have been wrong about my second reaction and the reason for that re-evaluation speaks volumes about how dysfunctional our political system has become.

First, let’s not mince words about the egregious nature of the indictment and what it means about how out-of-control prosecutors can derail democracy. It should be remembered that what happened here was that a Democratic prosecutor who had disgraced her office with a drunk driving violation and abusive behavior toward police refused to resign. Perry used a threat of a veto of her budget to try to force that resignation. The special prosecutor in the case alleges that using that threat — something that was obviously in the service of the public good — was an illegal abuse of power. That is absurd and you have to be a hardcore Democratic partisan to think that it is even remotely reasonable for a prosecutor to treat a public policy dispute — especially one in which the governor was clearly on the side of ethics — as a criminal matter.

But in a normal political atmosphere, any criminal indictment, no matter how ill-considered and fated to be eventually overturned, is generally enough to kill a political career. But in Perry’s case that might not be so.

We are now at a point in our political history where it is understood that trials such as the one to which Perry may be subjected are merely politics by other means rather than a third rail event that disqualifies the defendant no matter the eventual legal outcome. In the past, politicians who were victimized by prosecutorial overreach were left at the end of the process asking where they could go to get their good names back even if they had retained their freedom. The correct assumption was that any judicial process even one that led to acquittal or vindication through convictions being thrown out on appeal was ultimately disqualifying even when innocence was eventually established.

But something has changed in American politics and Perry’s decision to go on with planned appearances in New Hampshire in spite of his difficulties illustrates the altered atmosphere.

As this Politico story indicates, we’re now at the point where much of the public understands that partisanship and the criminalization of politics has gotten out of hand. With many prominent Democrats, including former Obama advisor David Axelrod, acknowledging that the indictment of Perry is something of a farce, the opprobrium that normally attaches to any object of prosecution is starting to wear off.

Just as importantly, the willingness of prosecutors to inject themselves into the political process in this manner is not only seen as illegitimate but it may also enhance Perry’s appeal among Republicans. Rather than causing him to be viewed as a leper because of the indictment, it may well make conservatives see him as a folk hero or at least a victim, which in our contemporary culture may just as good if not better for the purpose of enchancing popularity.

Lest anyone think this is a reaction confined only to the right, there are already some examples of the same thing happening on the left. Historically, African-Americans have tended to rally around one of their own when they came under attack from prosecutors. The ability of Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. to win re-election in the 1960s despite being thrown out of the House of Representatives by other Democrats illustrates this trend. More recently, the news that Philadelphia Mayor John Street was being investigated by the Bush administration Justice Department on corruption charges in 2003 turned a tight re-election race into a landslide for the incumbent as black Philadelphians treated the probe as proof of bad faith on the part of Republicans, not of Street’s questionable conduct in office. Now it appears the right seems to feel the same way about such investigations of their leaders though, to be fair, those cases were far more substantive than the tissue of insinuations lodged against Perry.

If we are now at the point where no one trusts prosecutions of politicians this is a terrible development because it shows how badly split we are becoming as a nation. With some on the left willing to countenance this kind of judicial smearing of a conservative, it’s only understandable that Republicans won’t hold it against Perry. Indeed, it may well enhance his standing and, like the massive over-reaction against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker from left-wingers who resisted his reform efforts that led to a recall election, the Travis County prosecutors may have made Perry into a right-wing folk hero. I still think Perry is unlikely to become a first tier primary candidate in 2016, let alone the GOP nominee, but this indictment may prove to be a badge of honor that will cause many Republicans to put aside their memories of his “oops” moments in 2012.

However, the long-term impact of this development may do more to harm the cause of public ethics than to help or hurt Perry’s already dubious chances of winning the presidency. Holding public officials accountable for genuine corruption and abuse of power — such as the willingness of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to quash an ethics commission probe when it hit too close to home and involved some of his supporters — is essential to the survival of democracy. By abusing the judicial process in this manner, Texas prosecutors have undermined the rule of law as well as exacerbated an already perilous political divide.

Read Less

“Their Presentation Partook Less of Argument Than of a Tribal Incantation”

James Forsyth is the marvelous senior pastor at McLean Presbyterian Church. He wisely doesn’t give sermons on politics. But he said something that I (and not necessarily he) took to have has some application to politics.

The Reverend Forsyth warned that one of the dangers within Christianity is that “every issue becomes a hill to die on.” He had in mind doctrinal differences that should, in the broad scheme of things, be relatively minor, yet which some people instantly elevate to a matter of high principle. Every issue becomes a referendum on the authority of Scripture. Which leads to unnecessary divisions. And those who disagree with us are people who are not only wrong; their views are a product of bad faith.

Something similar, I think, occurs in politics. For some political activists, both right and left, all issues are of nearly equal importance. All constitute a hill to die on. Those who see things in a different, less apocalyptic light, are deemed to be unprincipled, weak, and hopelessly compromised.

Read More

James Forsyth is the marvelous senior pastor at McLean Presbyterian Church. He wisely doesn’t give sermons on politics. But he said something that I (and not necessarily he) took to have has some application to politics.

The Reverend Forsyth warned that one of the dangers within Christianity is that “every issue becomes a hill to die on.” He had in mind doctrinal differences that should, in the broad scheme of things, be relatively minor, yet which some people instantly elevate to a matter of high principle. Every issue becomes a referendum on the authority of Scripture. Which leads to unnecessary divisions. And those who disagree with us are people who are not only wrong; their views are a product of bad faith.

Something similar, I think, occurs in politics. For some political activists, both right and left, all issues are of nearly equal importance. All constitute a hill to die on. Those who see things in a different, less apocalyptic light, are deemed to be unprincipled, weak, and hopelessly compromised.

My own sense of things is that driving all this is a kind of psychic satisfaction that is produced by engaging in relentless combat, including (and sometimes especially) with the perceived infidels on one’s own side. Those who possess this cast of mind revel in polarization. They crave separation. They are in principle opposed to comprise. Their mindset is that the other side is malevolent and needs to be destroyed, not negotiated with. The willingness to die on every hill is a moral virtue, a sign of commitment and purification.

To be sure, there are some hills that are (figuratively) worth fighting for and dying for and some lawmakers who will never take a principled stand for fear of blowback. And none of us can know with certainty how to determine whether we are compromising on a key principle or not. We all have issues that are important to us and drawn lines we will not cross. Yet increasingly I have come to believe that where we choose to fight has less to do with the issues per se than with our dispositions and emotional make-up. And unless we understand that, we won’t fully understand what is really at play. We think we’re debating the merits of an issue when we’re really at odds over temperament and certain deeply help perceptions and attitudes.

The Scottish author and politician John Buchan, in writing about the Liberal Party in Scotland in the early part of the 20th century, said, “Its dogmas were so completely taken for granted that their presentation partook less of argument than of a tribal incantation.”

He went on to say this:

While I believed in party government and in party loyalty, I never attained to the happy partisan zeal of many of my friends, being painfully aware of my own and my party’s defects, and uneasily conscious of the merits of my opponent. Like Montaigne I could forgive “neither the commendable qualities of my adversaries nor the reproachful of those I followed.”

I will be the first to acknowledge that seeing our own (and our party’s own) defects and the merits of our opponents is among the hardest things in politics to achieve. As I understand Buchan, though, it doesn’t mean that we give up on core principles or refuse to criticize those whom we think are making errors, particular grave errors. Rather, I take him to be saying that many of us ought to be a bit less dogmatic, that even our understanding of eternal truths periodically requires what he calls “spring-cleaning,” and that many of us should demonstrate something of a lighter touch as we journey through this world. And if in the process we now and then dispense a healing grace, so much the better.

Read Less

Democrats Want to Win. Does the GOP?

In the classic Katherine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy film State of the Union one of the characters, a veteran Republican politician played by Adolf Menjou, defined the difference between the country’s two major parties thusly, “They’re in and we’re out.” That cynical view summed up the way party hacks viewed the electoral process. The only goal was to win; ideology, principle and policies were secondary considerations at best. American politics has come a long way since the era of bosses and smoke-filled rooms that were essential to that story, loosely based on the rise of 1940 GOP presidential candidate Wendell Willkie. Pundits routinely tell us that we now live in an era when pure partisanship disconnected from ideology is on the wane. The civil war that threatens to tear apart contemporary Republicans, as Tea Party activists seek to slay the dragon of the GOP “establishment,” is an example of just how different things are today.

But not, apparently, in the Democratic Party. As today’s Politico story about Kentucky Democrats plotting to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell illustrates, some of the most liberal groups and donors in the country are putting aside any scruples about their most closely held principles in pursuit of winning nothing more than an election. As they have in more instances than you can count in the last decade, liberals are playing by the old rules of politics while their opponents are doing something entirely different. While they are opening themselves up for criticism from their base, it appears that a party once known as the epitome of anarchy is focused on one thing and one thing only: holding onto Congress.

Read More

In the classic Katherine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy film State of the Union one of the characters, a veteran Republican politician played by Adolf Menjou, defined the difference between the country’s two major parties thusly, “They’re in and we’re out.” That cynical view summed up the way party hacks viewed the electoral process. The only goal was to win; ideology, principle and policies were secondary considerations at best. American politics has come a long way since the era of bosses and smoke-filled rooms that were essential to that story, loosely based on the rise of 1940 GOP presidential candidate Wendell Willkie. Pundits routinely tell us that we now live in an era when pure partisanship disconnected from ideology is on the wane. The civil war that threatens to tear apart contemporary Republicans, as Tea Party activists seek to slay the dragon of the GOP “establishment,” is an example of just how different things are today.

But not, apparently, in the Democratic Party. As today’s Politico story about Kentucky Democrats plotting to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell illustrates, some of the most liberal groups and donors in the country are putting aside any scruples about their most closely held principles in pursuit of winning nothing more than an election. As they have in more instances than you can count in the last decade, liberals are playing by the old rules of politics while their opponents are doing something entirely different. While they are opening themselves up for criticism from their base, it appears that a party once known as the epitome of anarchy is focused on one thing and one thing only: holding onto Congress.

As Politico notes, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is no favorite of environmentalists. The Democrat’s likely candidate against McConnell is a supporter of the coal industry and a critic of the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to regulate the fossil fuel industry out of existence. But that isn’t stopping leading “climate change activists” and Democratic donors from lining up to help her with their wallets open.

“It is far better to win the Senate than have every senator on the same page,” [Susie Tompkins] Buell said in an email after an October fundraiser she and her husband, Mark, held for Grimes at their California home. “We can’t always be idealistic. Practicality is the political reality.”

Adolf Menjou couldn’t have put it any better.

For decades, the Democratic Party was wracked by dissension as liberal ideologues sought to purge conservatives from their ranks. Their efforts were largely successful, as the last of the Scoop Jackson Democrats have now left the Senate and the ranks of the Blue Dogs in the House have been thinned to a precious few. While Republicans were eliminating their liberal wing too, the left’s ascendency on one side of the aisle helped pave the way for the GOP revival that ended a half-century of unchallenged Democratic control of Congress. But when faced with a choice between winning an election and purifying their party of any remnants of centrism, liberals seemed to have learned their lesson. As they did in Pennsylvania when they backed a pro-life, pro-gun Democrat in Bob Casey in order to unseat Rick Santorum, liberal donors have their eye on the big prize and are resisting the impulse to nominate more ideologically compatible candidates in favor of someone who can help increase the size of the Democratic caucus in the Capitol.

This wouldn’t be important except for the fact that conservatives are heading in the opposite direction. Across the nation, Tea Partiers are more focused on ending the careers of Republicans that are insufficiently conservative than they are on defeating Democrats and say, making Harry Reid the minority leader rather than the man in charge of the majority. It’s hard not to sympathize with those who are tired of politics as usual and those who waffle rather than take strong stands on the issues. The choice between principle and winning is also not always so clear-cut, as some Tea Party challengers are good candidates and some establishment favorites are duds. But the main point here is that if one of the parties is only concerned with winning and much of their opposition is more interested in something else, you don’t need to be a master prognosticator to know which side is more likely to win.

In real life, politics is not a Frank Capra film where the honest good guys always triumph in the end. Assembling a congressional majority requires compromises and living with candidates that don’t always meet ideological litmus tests but give parties a better chance to win. It may be that in 2013, the answer to the question about the difference between the parties isn’t who’s out and who’s in but which one understands that basic fact of political life.

Read Less

Subordinating Truth to Ideology

In her review of Michael Novak’s autobiography Writing from Left to Right: My Journey from Liberal to Conservative, my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Mary Eberstadt writes:

Throughout his writing, he embraces lines of argument and alternative ideas, admiringly turning them this way and that, with an intellectual openness rare to see—especially among intellectuals.

This quality of intellectual openness – in areas ranging from politics and political philosophy to religious faith — is among the more impressive qualities an individual can possess. And among the most rare as well.

I say that because most of us, to one degree or another, struggle to maintain genuine intellectual open-mindedness. By that I mean we approach a subject with a particular point of view — and once we settle on it we’re very reluctant to revisit our judgments and the empirical basis for them.

For example, choose a subject on which you have strong opinions –the Affordable Care Act, the causes of the 2008 financial crisis, same-sex marriage, Roe v. Wade, affirmative action, climate change, educational choice and teacher unions, gun control, tax rates, income inequality, and more – and think about how you react to the best arguments of those with whom you disagree and new evidence that seems to weaken your claims. (Hint: The odds are better than not that it will be negative rather than positive, hostile rather than intrigued, defensive rather than engaged.)
Read More

In her review of Michael Novak’s autobiography Writing from Left to Right: My Journey from Liberal to Conservative, my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Mary Eberstadt writes:

Throughout his writing, he embraces lines of argument and alternative ideas, admiringly turning them this way and that, with an intellectual openness rare to see—especially among intellectuals.

This quality of intellectual openness – in areas ranging from politics and political philosophy to religious faith — is among the more impressive qualities an individual can possess. And among the most rare as well.

I say that because most of us, to one degree or another, struggle to maintain genuine intellectual open-mindedness. By that I mean we approach a subject with a particular point of view — and once we settle on it we’re very reluctant to revisit our judgments and the empirical basis for them.

For example, choose a subject on which you have strong opinions –the Affordable Care Act, the causes of the 2008 financial crisis, same-sex marriage, Roe v. Wade, affirmative action, climate change, educational choice and teacher unions, gun control, tax rates, income inequality, and more – and think about how you react to the best arguments of those with whom you disagree and new evidence that seems to weaken your claims. (Hint: The odds are better than not that it will be negative rather than positive, hostile rather than intrigued, defensive rather than engaged.)

The flip side of this is confirmation bias, the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs and hypotheses. The instantaneous reaction most of us have when our views are challenged is to (a) go out in search of arguments and data to refute those who challenge our views and (b) selectively embrace information that restores and re-validates our pre-existing views.

Now there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, and there can be a lot right with it. The back-and-forth can create a dialectic in which truth can emerge. Nor am I arguing that people should live in a state of perennial doubt and uncertainty when it comes to basic worldviews. We all need to place an interpretive frame around a set of facts, experiences and observations. And of course none of us have the time or energy to research in detail, and on an on-going basis, our views on dozens and dozens of different matters. We often defer to experts whom we trust. What complicates matters even more is that, as the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt puts it, emotional intuition is the “elephant” and rational deliberation is the “rider” – with reason usually the servant to one’s own intuitions.

Intuition, it needs to be said, is not only powerful, it’s valuable. It can detect things that are beyond our intellect and help shape our moral sense. “The heart has its reasons which reason itself does not know,” Pascal wrote. The problem is when we hold to a view that actually does require amendment or revision. How open are we to do so; and at what point, if any, are we willing to re-examine what we thought to be true? And do we understand that even the truths we see are only partial truths, that we can see things in part but never in whole?

If we close off the possibility of change, self-reflection, and even self-criticism, then we are subordinating truth to ideology. We will disfigure reality in the service of dogmatism. And there is quite enough of that going on already. 

Read Less

Partisanship Is All Obama Has Left

What was President Obama thinking when he chose to give a harshly partisan speech yesterday afternoon in Washington while part of the city was still shut down as police sought to ascertain the whereabouts of the lone gunman who had earlier killed 12 people at the capital’s Navy Yard? Though he paid lip service to the tragedy, he quickly switched back to his prepared remarks in which he used the fifth anniversary of the start of the 2008 Wall Street meltdown to bash his Republican opponents. The confrontational tone of the speech would have been problematic on any day, especially for the man who likes to claim he’s the only adult in the room and is ready to compromise with his opponents. But in choosing to stick to his script rather than to understand that this wasn’t the moment to lash out, the president demonstrated more than just bad timing or an inability think on his feet.

In a second term that has been largely characterized by scandals, fiascos, and gridlock, yesterday was another low point. As he settles into what will be an unusually long lame-duck period, Obama is forcing even many of those who voted for him to understand just how dysfunctional this White House has become. After the spectacle of indecision and retreat that was his Syria policy in the last month, and a year in which he proved again that he hasn’t the leadership skills to broker a deal with anyone but his sycophants, all Obama has left for us is anger at his political foes and a reflexive need to blame them for all of the country’s woes and his own failures.

Read More

What was President Obama thinking when he chose to give a harshly partisan speech yesterday afternoon in Washington while part of the city was still shut down as police sought to ascertain the whereabouts of the lone gunman who had earlier killed 12 people at the capital’s Navy Yard? Though he paid lip service to the tragedy, he quickly switched back to his prepared remarks in which he used the fifth anniversary of the start of the 2008 Wall Street meltdown to bash his Republican opponents. The confrontational tone of the speech would have been problematic on any day, especially for the man who likes to claim he’s the only adult in the room and is ready to compromise with his opponents. But in choosing to stick to his script rather than to understand that this wasn’t the moment to lash out, the president demonstrated more than just bad timing or an inability think on his feet.

In a second term that has been largely characterized by scandals, fiascos, and gridlock, yesterday was another low point. As he settles into what will be an unusually long lame-duck period, Obama is forcing even many of those who voted for him to understand just how dysfunctional this White House has become. After the spectacle of indecision and retreat that was his Syria policy in the last month, and a year in which he proved again that he hasn’t the leadership skills to broker a deal with anyone but his sycophants, all Obama has left for us is anger at his political foes and a reflexive need to blame them for all of the country’s woes and his own failures.

As bad as things seem, the president should still be counting his blessings. Though even much of the liberal mainstream media has awoken to the impotence of this president, most of their main organs are still determined to minimize his shortcomings. Imagine if it was George W. Bush who had given an all-out attack on Democrats while a disaster unfolded in the vicinity, as Obama did yesterday. Compare yesterday to W’s decision not to bolt immediately from the elementary school classroom where he was reading to children when he learned of the 9/11 attacks. Bush was endlessly mocked for lingering until he had finished reading to the kids before assuming command. But Obama’s determination to ignore the circumstances of the moment and stick to his obsessive kicking of the GOP was far worse. Had Bush behaved as Obama did the anger, opprobrium, and invective thrown in his direction from the nation’s leading editorial pages and the talking heads on every network but Fox would have been the story for days. But since this is the president that liberals are still straining to rationalize if not defend, most pundits simply ignored it.

But, as with Syria, we can’t blame this on difficult circumstances, incompetent staff, or second-term blues in the West Wing. The problem in this administration is the man at the top of the pyramid. Though blessed with a still largely adulatory press, a formidable political machine, great rhetorical skills, and a historic status as our first African-American president that serves as a lifetime political get-out-of-jail free card, Barack Obama can only dictate, not persuade. When confronted with the fact that many Americans disagree with his ideological agenda, his only response is the same today as it was the day he arrived in the White House: to demonize his opponents and to attempt to beat them into submission.

All second terms are difficult, but this one is going to be worse than most because at its heart this presidency runs on vitriol rather than vision. If we are to believe spokesman Jay Carney, it never occurred to anyone to postpone the anti-Republican rant. But most of all it never crossed Obama’s mind that there was anything more important than venting his anger at Republicans and taking yet another opportunity to pass the buck onto the opposition for his own failures. If partisanship is all the president has to offer, it is because after repeatedly demonstrating his incompetence and with nothing to fall back upon but the same stale liberal patent nostrums, partisanship is all he has left in his bag of tricks.

Generous critics will put down yesterday’s speech as a moment of tone deafness. A media that is always willing to give this president the benefit of the doubt that they never extended to his predecessor will quickly move on. But the image of the president raging at his opponents should linger as an apt symbol of this presidency. Barack Obama is still the most powerful person in the world, but he is trapped by his own shortcomings into a posture in which all he can do is stumble from one crisis to another while blaming it all on others. How sad for the country. How pathetic for a man who was once thought to be a symbol of hope.

Read Less

Syria and the Perils of Partisanship

President Obama’s path to intervention in Syria has been a compendium of every possible mistake a leader can make in terms of diminishing America’s credibility and influence. His last-minute decision to turn to Congress rather than to act on his own authority as he could have and should have and his signals that U.S. strikes would not alter the military equation in Syria have undermined his authority and emboldened isolationists on both the left and the right to oppose his policy. All this has made it difficult if not impossible for many people to view the question of intervention as one of endorsing or opposing the president. For some (though not all) Democrats, who have generally opposed the use of U.S. power abroad to defend American interests or human rights, that means backing Obama on Syria simply because he is the head of their party. On the other hand, that has encouraged some on the right, who have not previously been knee-jerk isolationists, to oppose intervention in Syria simply because it is Obama who is asking for it.

The notion that politics stops at the water’s edge has been largely observed in the breach for decades, yet the openly partisan matter with which this current debate is being conducted may have struck a new low. It is time for conservatives who are saying they can’t support military action under the leadership of Barack Obama to understand the terrible cost such a stand will have not only for American interests but also for the world. Though the country deserves a better leader, he’s the only one we’ve got for the next three years. If Republicans are going to take the same attitude toward the use of force by Washington during this time period in much the same manner they would like to obstruct the implementation of ObamaCare, then it isn’t just Obama who will suffer. Such a position will be a signal to not just Bashar Assad and his use of his chemical arsenal but to the ayatollahs in Iran and their nuclear ambitions that the U.S. is paralyzed.

Read More

President Obama’s path to intervention in Syria has been a compendium of every possible mistake a leader can make in terms of diminishing America’s credibility and influence. His last-minute decision to turn to Congress rather than to act on his own authority as he could have and should have and his signals that U.S. strikes would not alter the military equation in Syria have undermined his authority and emboldened isolationists on both the left and the right to oppose his policy. All this has made it difficult if not impossible for many people to view the question of intervention as one of endorsing or opposing the president. For some (though not all) Democrats, who have generally opposed the use of U.S. power abroad to defend American interests or human rights, that means backing Obama on Syria simply because he is the head of their party. On the other hand, that has encouraged some on the right, who have not previously been knee-jerk isolationists, to oppose intervention in Syria simply because it is Obama who is asking for it.

The notion that politics stops at the water’s edge has been largely observed in the breach for decades, yet the openly partisan matter with which this current debate is being conducted may have struck a new low. It is time for conservatives who are saying they can’t support military action under the leadership of Barack Obama to understand the terrible cost such a stand will have not only for American interests but also for the world. Though the country deserves a better leader, he’s the only one we’ve got for the next three years. If Republicans are going to take the same attitude toward the use of force by Washington during this time period in much the same manner they would like to obstruct the implementation of ObamaCare, then it isn’t just Obama who will suffer. Such a position will be a signal to not just Bashar Assad and his use of his chemical arsenal but to the ayatollahs in Iran and their nuclear ambitions that the U.S. is paralyzed.

There are good reasons to worry about whether the president’s proposed intervention in Syria will be effective. The president’s desire to placate his left-wing base has led him to promise that any action will be limited and that he isn’t interested in regime change. Yet at the same time, he continues to say that Assad must go and winks at foreign-policy hawks like Senator John McCain to lead them to think that the plan will have a significant impact on the Syrian regime’s ability to continue slaughtering its people, whether with chemical or conventional weapons. The clear lack of enthusiasm for the mission that has been demonstrated by Joint Chiefs Chair General Martin Dempsey further reinforces the impression that this is a halfhearted effort that will not accomplish much.

Throw in an isolationist movement on the right that has already flexed its muscles on the question of the National Security Agency’s counter-terror activities and the use of drones and its hard to see how the president can find the votes in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives for his resolution. But as our Abe Greenwald wrote on Wednesday, just because the president has, at least so far, failed to make an argument for intervention, doesn’t mean there isn’t one to be made. We must, as Abe wrote, decide what kind of world we want to live in and what kind of America we want to be. If we are now so war-weary or too timid to act against mass murderers then those conservatives who are saying they won’t back force ordered by Obama are consigning the country and the globe to a period in which insanity will be sovereign.

To listen to conservatives now echoing the cynicism of the left during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan is disheartening. The issue in Syria really isn’t Barack Obama’s credibility since we already know he hasn’t much to start with. What is at stake in the vote on Syria is whether the United States is prepared to restrain out-of-control regional actors who transgress the norms of international behavior. If we aren’t, then while the GOP is waiting for a president they can respect, the world will become a lot more dangerous than it might otherwise be. 

Read Less

Should Democrats Always Lead During War? Part One

Tina Brown stated the obvious when she observed on Bill Maher’s show that had George W. Bush used drone attacks in the same manner as Barack Obama has done he would have been impeached a long time ago. As Pete Wehner wrote last week in a post that both Max Boot and I agreed with, a thick stench of hypocrisy hangs over the Obama administration. The president who came into office decrying Bush’s actions against terrorists as a disgrace not only later carried out many of the same policies but also doubled down on them in many respects. The large number of drone attacks in which the United States has carried out targeted assassinations of terrorists, including at least one American citizen, as well as many of their family members and bystanders, makes the enhanced interrogations and the prison at Guantanamo that so outraged liberals look like child’s play. Yet most Democrats are not rushing to the barricades the way they did when Bush and Vice President Cheney were widely said to have subverted our constitutional liberties. To the extent that any have articulated a rationale for this turnaround, the best they seem capable of doing is to assert that while Obama can be trusted to use this power, Republicans like Bush and Cheney could not.

This has conservatives fuming and rightly so. But that has not caused most of them to play the same game. Though some of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party led by Rand Paul have attacked Obama for exceeding his power, most in the GOP are backing up the president on his right to carry out the drone attacks even while grousing about his hypocrisy. But after we acknowledge the unfairness of this situation, this is hardly the first time this double standard has raised its head. It is a pattern that has held true for the past half century. Though it is a bitter pill for conservatives to swallow, perhaps its time for them to acknowledge that during prolonged wars the country is always better off if a Democrat is in the White House.

Read More

Tina Brown stated the obvious when she observed on Bill Maher’s show that had George W. Bush used drone attacks in the same manner as Barack Obama has done he would have been impeached a long time ago. As Pete Wehner wrote last week in a post that both Max Boot and I agreed with, a thick stench of hypocrisy hangs over the Obama administration. The president who came into office decrying Bush’s actions against terrorists as a disgrace not only later carried out many of the same policies but also doubled down on them in many respects. The large number of drone attacks in which the United States has carried out targeted assassinations of terrorists, including at least one American citizen, as well as many of their family members and bystanders, makes the enhanced interrogations and the prison at Guantanamo that so outraged liberals look like child’s play. Yet most Democrats are not rushing to the barricades the way they did when Bush and Vice President Cheney were widely said to have subverted our constitutional liberties. To the extent that any have articulated a rationale for this turnaround, the best they seem capable of doing is to assert that while Obama can be trusted to use this power, Republicans like Bush and Cheney could not.

This has conservatives fuming and rightly so. But that has not caused most of them to play the same game. Though some of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party led by Rand Paul have attacked Obama for exceeding his power, most in the GOP are backing up the president on his right to carry out the drone attacks even while grousing about his hypocrisy. But after we acknowledge the unfairness of this situation, this is hardly the first time this double standard has raised its head. It is a pattern that has held true for the past half century. Though it is a bitter pill for conservatives to swallow, perhaps its time for them to acknowledge that during prolonged wars the country is always better off if a Democrat is in the White House.

The idea that partisan affiliation determines an individual’s position on war and peace issues seems to go against the grain in an era in which we have been led to believe that partisan affiliation is declining. Yet there is no way to avoid the conclusion that party labels have more to do with whether there is widespread dissension about American wars than many of us would like to think. Democrats and liberals can only be counted on to support wars that are launched by a member of their party. Yet while Republicans are no slouches when it comes to trashing Democratic presidents, they can generally be counted on to follow the flag and back any war effort no matter who is sitting in the White House.

The roots of the current phenomenon can be traced backed to the Vietnam War. Though the anti-war movement began during the Lyndon Johnson administration and led to his decision not to seek re-election, one of the myths about that conflict is the idea that partisanship had nothing to do with the protests. Throughout Johnson’s presidency and even during the fateful year of 1968 when the campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and then Robert Kennedy exploited anti-war sentiments, polls showed that Johnson’s policies and the war were still supported by comfortable majorities of the American public. Campus protests against the war shocked the nation but the idea that most Americans shared their sentiments at that time was untrue even if there was little enthusiasm for the struggle in Southeast Asia. Republicans backed the war as did a sizeable portion if not a majority of Democrats who still saw the world through the Cold War prism of the need to “bear any burden” in the struggle against Communism that John F. Kennedy had articulated.

It was only after November 1968 that most Democrats, who despised the newly elected Richard Nixon, felt free to join in the anti-war movement. After that point, anti-war demonstrations were no longer limited to college campuses but went mainstream in a way that would have been unimaginable a year earlier. What followed was the conversion of the Democrats from a party that was primarily composed of Cold Warriors to one that would cut off funds to South Vietnam even after Nixon had withdrawn U.S. combat troops.

Democrats may argue that the first Gulf War fought by President George H.W. Bush and the initial popularity of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars under his son disproves this thesis. Though many Democrats voted against the authorization of force against Saddam Hussein after his invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the country was united in support of the troops that won the swift victory in Kuwait. The carping from the left after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was minimal. There were massive anti-war demonstrations against the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 though when Saddam fell quickly and the coalition forces were initially greeted as liberators, there was silence from the anti-war crowd.

But, as was the case in Vietnam, Democratic willingness to go along with a war that could not be easily concluded in days and weeks was limited. The first President Bush avoided this problem when he shut down the conflict and allowed Saddam Hussein to massacre Iraqi Shiites and dissidents while American forces stood by in liberated Kuwait. But George W. Bush’s decision not to cut and run in either Afghanistan or Iraq led most Democrats to oppose those wars.

It’s important to remember that Bill Clinton authorized missile strikes on terror targets and made terrible mistakes about intelligence such as the milk factory in Sudan that was leveled by an American attack because it was thought to be a terror target without so much as a peep of protest from liberals. Clinton even launched an air war in the Balkans to support the cause of independence for Kosovo without fear of much criticism.

It should be specified that there was much to criticize about the administration’s conduct of the Iraq War but the idea that America was swindled into backing the conflict was always more about partisanship than Bush’s alleged deceptions. Most Democrats had believed in the threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Many also understood that removing Saddam was in America’s interests for other strategic reasons. But it was only when the war proved costly and messy that they bailed on it as neo-liberals who supported the war on terror soon became its critics. Not even the U.S. victory won by the Iraq surge that liberals opposed, was enough to change the minds of most Democrats about Bush’s war. Though many, including Barack Obama, said at the time that Afghanistan was the “good war” America should be fighting rather than Iraq, the enthusiasm on the left for that war disappeared when it was no longer a useful cudgel to be employed against Bush and Cheney. But the main conclusion to be drawn from the transition from a Republican-led war to one led by a Democrat was that the latter had the latitude to carry out his policies without fear of much criticism from the mainstream media or the left that had taken to the streets to defame his predecessor.

In part two of this post, I will further explore the implications of this partisan divide about war and discuss whether it will impact America’s efforts to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat.

Read Less

Democracy Only Works If You Use It

In his column today, Charles Krauthammer offers cautious praise for the health-care wars:

for all the hand-wringing about broken government, partisanship, divisiveness and gridlock, it’s hard to recall a more informed, more detailed, more serious, more prolonged national debate than on health care reform. . . So, in the middle of the current food fight, as the plates and the tarts and the sharper cutlery fly, step back for a moment. Hail the untidiness. Hail democracy. Hail the rotation of power. Yes, even when Democrats gain office.

All of the fighting, even the polarization, would be easier to hail if the Democrats were not sidestepping it. Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid are seeking to change the fundamental nature of the country, not by triumphing in rigorous debate, but rather by exploiting a procedural loophole that would allow them to act against the will of the people.

The citizens of this country have historically enjoyed a unique level of influence on their government. But we are now spectators before whom a cadre of floundering ideologues seeks to sever the trusts that make consensual governance consensual. The Democrats lost the public debate. Ask them if they care.

When Barack Obama’s approval ratings plunged months back, Fouad Ajami wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “The curtain has come down on what can best be described as a brief un-American moment in our history.” If only that were so. In truth, the curtain came down on the public’s compliance with our un-American moment. For our current leaders, the mission goes forward. Plan B, it turns out, is as alien to the American experience as Plan A. Having failed to reshape our democracy through demagoguery, Obama is attempting to subvert it by decree. If he needs to dispense with the “we” in “yes we can,” so be it. The “our” in “our time is now”? Gone.

As the President and Nancy Pelosi have explained, they’re down to yes and now. Here’s how Pelosi recently described her health-care battle stance:

We will go through the gate. If the gate is closed, we will go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we will pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we will parachute in. But we are going to get health care reform passed for the American people for their own personal health and economic security and for the important role that it will play in reducing the deficit.

The barriers she cites are none other than the checks and balances, the procedural roadblocks, put in place centuries ago so that no lawmaker or executive could force policy upon the American people “for their own personal health and economic security.” Speaker Pelosi’s statement is not merely colorful evidence of tenacity and cunning. It is a contemptuous dismissal of democracy. Just as the plan for socialist annexation of one sixth of the economy is a dismissal of free-market capitalism.

If the fundamentals of our democratic republic remain intact, it will be because of the genius of the system of governance itself. Then, we can hail until the cows come home.

In his column today, Charles Krauthammer offers cautious praise for the health-care wars:

for all the hand-wringing about broken government, partisanship, divisiveness and gridlock, it’s hard to recall a more informed, more detailed, more serious, more prolonged national debate than on health care reform. . . So, in the middle of the current food fight, as the plates and the tarts and the sharper cutlery fly, step back for a moment. Hail the untidiness. Hail democracy. Hail the rotation of power. Yes, even when Democrats gain office.

All of the fighting, even the polarization, would be easier to hail if the Democrats were not sidestepping it. Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid are seeking to change the fundamental nature of the country, not by triumphing in rigorous debate, but rather by exploiting a procedural loophole that would allow them to act against the will of the people.

The citizens of this country have historically enjoyed a unique level of influence on their government. But we are now spectators before whom a cadre of floundering ideologues seeks to sever the trusts that make consensual governance consensual. The Democrats lost the public debate. Ask them if they care.

When Barack Obama’s approval ratings plunged months back, Fouad Ajami wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “The curtain has come down on what can best be described as a brief un-American moment in our history.” If only that were so. In truth, the curtain came down on the public’s compliance with our un-American moment. For our current leaders, the mission goes forward. Plan B, it turns out, is as alien to the American experience as Plan A. Having failed to reshape our democracy through demagoguery, Obama is attempting to subvert it by decree. If he needs to dispense with the “we” in “yes we can,” so be it. The “our” in “our time is now”? Gone.

As the President and Nancy Pelosi have explained, they’re down to yes and now. Here’s how Pelosi recently described her health-care battle stance:

We will go through the gate. If the gate is closed, we will go over the fence. If the fence is too high, we will pole vault in. If that doesn’t work, we will parachute in. But we are going to get health care reform passed for the American people for their own personal health and economic security and for the important role that it will play in reducing the deficit.

The barriers she cites are none other than the checks and balances, the procedural roadblocks, put in place centuries ago so that no lawmaker or executive could force policy upon the American people “for their own personal health and economic security.” Speaker Pelosi’s statement is not merely colorful evidence of tenacity and cunning. It is a contemptuous dismissal of democracy. Just as the plan for socialist annexation of one sixth of the economy is a dismissal of free-market capitalism.

If the fundamentals of our democratic republic remain intact, it will be because of the genius of the system of governance itself. Then, we can hail until the cows come home.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.