Commentary Magazine


Topic: liberalism

Are Conservatives Losing the Future?

Janet Hook of the Wall Street Journal reported on a new WSJ/NBC News poll that “finds a marked increase in the share of registered voters identifying themselves as liberals, and an even bigger drop in the share saying they are conservatives.”

Read More

Janet Hook of the Wall Street Journal reported on a new WSJ/NBC News poll that “finds a marked increase in the share of registered voters identifying themselves as liberals, and an even bigger drop in the share saying they are conservatives.”

In three national polls conducted so far in 2015, Ms. Hook writes, the analysis found that 26 percent of registered voters identified themselves as liberals, up from 23 percent last year.  At the same time, the share of voters identifying as conservatives dropped to 33 percent from 37 percent in 2014.

The biggest ideological shifts came among women, young people, Latinos, and well-educated voters, as well as people in the West and in cities. Among women aged 18-49, 37 percent say they are liberal vs. 23 percent who say they are conservative, a 20-point swing since 2010. Among younger voters, those between 18-34-years old, 35 percent say they are liberal while 26 percent say they are conservative. In 2010, that age group split 28 percent liberal, 32 percent conservative.

It’s worth noting that, from 2010 through 2014, there was little overall variation in the share of people identifying themselves as conservative, moderate, and liberal, with conservatives either a plurality or tied with moderates.

But that stability seems to be ending this year. For the first time since 2010, conservatives are no longer a plurality: 38% identify as moderates, compared with the 33% who identify as conservative and 26% as liberal. Mr. McInturff said it wasn’t immediately clear what accounts for the shift.

There are several things to consider about the results of this poll, starting with whether this is an aberration or indicative of a wider trend. On cultural issues, there’s little doubt the nation has generally moved in a liberal direction, as this recent Gallup poll indicates. It’s less clear that this is happening across the board.

Let’s assume, however, that the nation is becoming more liberal. If that’s the case, there are several things conservatives need to keep in mind. The first is to maintain perspective.  One can make a reasonable case that the governing party in the United States is the Republican Party, which is the political home of the conservative movement. Republicans control the Senate, the House, 31 governorships, and 68 of 99 state legislative chambers and the most state legislative seats since the 1920s. So things are hardly hopeless.

Second, there is the distinct possibility that liberals overshoot. This happened in Great Britain, where the Labour Party went hard left — and last month, the Conservative Party under David Cameron won its first outright majority in Parliament since 1992. The Democratic Party may fall into the same trap in 2016.

Third, it may well be that at the end of eight years living under the Obama presidency, large numbers of Americans may turn against liberalism on the grounds that it has failed them. This could happen, though, according to the WSJ/NBC poll, after six years it hasn’t. (It’s admittedly more complicated than polling questions since the last two mid-term elections were in large measure repudiations of liberal policies. Of course, Barack Obama also won re-election. Like I say, it’s complicated.)

Fourth, conservatives, rather than dismissing the survey results, would be wise to take them as a warning sign. The way to view things may be to accept that the nation is changing in important respects, including demographically and culturally, and those on the right need to adjust to it. That doesn’t mean jettisoning conservatism; it means understanding that some of the old formulations aren’t working nearly as well as they once did, and some of the problems we face today are quite different than we faced in past decades.

In recent years, conservatism has done a reasonably good job at articulating a governing philosophy based on limited government; it has not done nearly as well at articulating a compelling governing agenda. “Conservative politicians have not, by and large, presented an agenda that offered tangible advantages to many people or explained how it did so,” in the words of Ramesh Ponnuru. That needs to change, and some reform-minded conservatives have offered up the outlines of an actual governing agenda.

Conservatives need to show it’s their philosophy that offers solutions to the challenges of this era; that it has the capacity to take the world as it is and move things along in the right direction. Conservatism respects the past, but it can’t be seen as stuck in it or longing to return to it. The politics of nostalgia doesn’t work. The task of conservatism is to present itself as offering ideas needed to succeed in the 21st century.  I do think this contrasts rather well with what’s been called “reactionary liberalism.”

One other thing: Conservatives have to put front and center figures who are persuaders and not just crusaders, who carry themselves in a manner that strikes people as reasonable, inviting, and forward-looking; who don’t wake up angry or despairing when they look at the day ahead and the world before them; who seek to win over converts instead of simply energizing the already converted.

The politics of resentment and agitation, that signals to people outside our circle that they aren’t particularly liked or appreciated or even wanted, is suicidal. If people on the right are allowed to define conservatism as a philosophy of grievances — if those who purport to represent conservatism speak with more passion about what’s gone wrong with America than what can go right with America — they will help lock in whatever leftward movement in America is occurring.

If we conservatives play our cards right — if people characterized by grace and gratitude carry forward our message — this could well be conservatism’s moment.

Read Less

Liberalism and Obama’s Jewish Pretensions

So it turns out that President Obama not only thinks he understands Israel better than the Israelis, he also sees himself as being “the closest thing to a Jew” that has ever served as president. That quote comes from David Axelrod, the former Obama political adviser, who told Israel’s Channel 2 the president said this in the context of complaining about how hurtful it was to him that some Israelis and American Jews consider him an opponent of the Jewish state or even an anti-Semite. That Obama has a very thin skin is something that has been apparent throughout his presidency. But the idea that he somehow considers himself at least as, if not more, Jewish than the leaders of the Jewish state and its supporters is a remarkable insight into his thinking. The question is not so much whether to accept this bizarre formulation as it is to what would lead the president to come to such a mistaken conclusion. The only answer is that he, like some of his Jewish supporters, actually thinks Jewish identity is a function of modern American political liberalism rather than a faith or a people.

Read More

So it turns out that President Obama not only thinks he understands Israel better than the Israelis, he also sees himself as being “the closest thing to a Jew” that has ever served as president. That quote comes from David Axelrod, the former Obama political adviser, who told Israel’s Channel 2 the president said this in the context of complaining about how hurtful it was to him that some Israelis and American Jews consider him an opponent of the Jewish state or even an anti-Semite. That Obama has a very thin skin is something that has been apparent throughout his presidency. But the idea that he somehow considers himself at least as, if not more, Jewish than the leaders of the Jewish state and its supporters is a remarkable insight into his thinking. The question is not so much whether to accept this bizarre formulation as it is to what would lead the president to come to such a mistaken conclusion. The only answer is that he, like some of his Jewish supporters, actually thinks Jewish identity is a function of modern American political liberalism rather than a faith or a people.

The debate over the Iran nuclear deal that the president has championed is the reason the president has embarked upon another Jewish charm offensive. But the Axelrod quote makes it clear that the president’s sense of himself as being somehow above criticism from Israel’s friends is animating his unwillingness to listen to them. These few words show that the problem here is not so much spirited disagreements over the details of the Iran deal or a policy of pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians, but a president that feels uniquely entitled to tell the Jewish state what it should be doing.

For over a century, American Jewish liberals have been building a case that their political views were not merely justified by their faith, but actually mandated by it.This was rooted in the natural predilection of a religious minority as well as one that was largely composed of immigrants to identify with the underdog and the disadvantaged. It was primarily based on a belief that expanding the power of the state to provide services and benefits was a natural extension of Jewish religious law.

Social justice is a key element of Judaism. But the notion that the only way its vision can be realized is via the creation of a massive welfare state that arrogates to itself vast power that is ultimately unaccountable to the people is a function of the political theories of 20th century America, not Jewish traditions or its religious law. As Eric Cohen wrote in his April essay in Mosaicmagazine.com and as others who have subsequently responded to it have pointed out, there is a strong case to be made for Jewish conservatism as a more authentic and ultimately more compelling approach to interpreting Judaism in contemporary society. But, as Norman Podhoretz pointed out in his book Why Are Jews Liberals, for a critical mass of secular Jews, Jewish identity has become merely a vehicle for liberal politics or it is virtually nothing at all.

Under the circumstances, it is, perhaps, understandable, if lamentable, that an African-American man who belonged to a Christian church with a radical left-wing pastor and who had a long history of making anti-Israel comments would consider himself almost a Jew or America’s most Jewish president ever just because he was a liberal.

But if even liberals are somewhat nonplussed by Obama’s profession of Jewish identity, they probably share his view that an Israel that is not always perfectly in accord with their political views cannot be as authentically Jewish as a black man who supports government health care legislation or views Palestinians as largely blameless for the war they’ve waging on Zionism for the past century.

As he noted in his speech last month at a Washington, D.C. synagogue, Obama has to a large extent bought into the myth that Israel used to a liberal country, but is now descending into nationalist barbarism from which both Americans and Jews should disassociate themselves. If those sentiments were widely applauded by liberal Jews, it is not just because they don’t understand that their views about the distinctions between Israel’s Labor Zionist governments of the country’s first decades and its current coalition are largely unfounded. It is because many of them also judge Israel’s actions through the lens of an American political prism that has little to do with the realities of the Middle East or that of a country that is faced with the task of navigating between faith and national identity while under siege. Indeed, perhaps it is possible to judge President Obama’s clueless approach to the peace process and even Iran a bit less harshly if we remember that many of his liberal Jewish supporters are just as naïve as he is about these subjects.

It is of course entirely possible to hold liberal political views while also understanding that détente with Iran is a foolish gambit that will make the Middle East far more dangerous. It is also possible to agree with the president on domestic issues while still being sensible enough to understand that pressuring Israel to make concessions to a Palestinian Authority that is both unwilling and incapable of making peace is a fool’s errand that actually lessen the chances of ending the conflict rather than achieving that goal. But for Obama and his inner circle, these bits of common sense go unacknowledged in no small measure because of their false conception of Judaism as a theological vessel for modern liberal politics. Under the circumstances, it would appear that the last thing Israel needs is a Jewish president, or at least one whose identity is defined by adherence to the catechism of American liberalism.

  1. June-2015-Promotion_animation

Read Less

The “Right Side of History” is Sometimes Wrong

A friend of mine, a minister, recently asked me about the concept of being on the “right side of history.” His concern is that being on the right side of history, as many people generally understand it, is not necessarily being on God’s side.

Read More

A friend of mine, a minister, recently asked me about the concept of being on the “right side of history.” His concern is that being on the right side of history, as many people generally understand it, is not necessarily being on God’s side.

It’s an intriguing formulation. The term, “the right side of history” is often invoked by people on the left to signal that history is moving in a progressive direction — and that it’s best that we join the “enlightened” side early rather than late. They’d cite issues like the abolition of slavery and desegregation, rights for women, and child labor laws as issues that were controversial at the time but now seem obvious.

But even more than in the past I don’t find the appeal of being on the “right side of history” to be compelling. “History” doesn’t have a conscience — and sometimes-fashionable trends (like the divorce revolution, drug use, a constitutional “right” to abortion, and communism) have tremendous human costs. I’d rather be on the “right side of justice” or the “right side of human dignity” which may be in fashion at some points but may also be out of fashion at others.

The trickiness comes in determining what advances justice and human dignity and what sets it back. That isn’t always easy to know. It depends in part on which side of an issue one chooses — but even then, there are often complicated matters of tactics, which require wisdom. One could have been an abolitionist in the 19th century — but that still left open the question of whether one ought to adopt the approach of John Brown or Abraham Lincoln. Some of the abolitionists were on the side of justice — but they needed to have their passions channeled in a constructive way. William Wilberforce was an example of someone who combined justice with prudence and persistence, a rare and marvelous combination.

For those of the Christian faith, it’s worth bearing in mind that on several occasions in the Scriptures we’re warned that there will be tension and conflict in being a faithful Christian in the world. That doesn’t tell us how to act in any particular circumstance; but it does serve as a warning that when the world tries to dictate to us what the “right side of history” is, we don’t necessarily have to accept it.

In thinking this through, it also strikes me that one other way to view this is that God is the author of history — there’s a beginning, a middle and an end; there are chapters that will eventually comprise a glorious book — and so in some important sense, being on the “right side of history” means being on the side of the Author of history. Which means to be on the right side of history means being on the right side of God, His will, and His ways. That isn’t what the left usually has in mind; and it’s not a bad place to be.

Read Less

Helping the Poor and Downtrodden

If you would like proof of just how intellectually bankrupt the American left is today, I recommend reading Nicholas Kristof’s column in this morning’s New York Times.  It is about “inequality” and the rising separation between the incomes of the very, very rich and the incomes of the middle class and the poor.

Read More

If you would like proof of just how intellectually bankrupt the American left is today, I recommend reading Nicholas Kristof’s column in this morning’s New York Times.  It is about “inequality” and the rising separation between the incomes of the very, very rich and the incomes of the middle class and the poor.

It starts off with a scare “statistic” that the total Wall Street bonus pool last year was roughly twice the size of “the total annual earnings of all Americans working full time at the federal minimum wage.” But as his link shows, this is a farrago of statistical assumptions and incomplete data. But it advances the agenda and so he uses it.

Then he plunges into anecdote:

I overheard one billionaire — who had gotten his start in life by inheriting a fortune — discuss with another the problem of lazy Americans who were trying to free ride on the rest,” [Joseph] Stiglitz  [a Nobel-Prize winning economist] writes. “Soon thereafter, they seamlessly transitioned into a discussion of tax shelters.

Well, I’ve heard many liberals seamlessly transition from lecturing me on my Scrooge-like indifference to the fate of the poor and downtrodden to deciding which $100-a-cover restaurant to have lunch at.

He then, inevitably, lays the blames at the feet of the country as a whole:

We as a nation have chosen to prioritize tax shelters over minimum wages, subsidies for private jets over robust services for children to break the cycle of poverty. And the political conversation is often not about free rides by corporations, but about free rides by the impoverished.

No, it was the political class, sucking up to the rich in exchange for campaign donations that chose to prioritize private jets over kids. Kids don’t make political contributions. Private jet owners get their phone calls to members of Congress returned within the hour.

Then he begs the question of the origin in the recent rise in income inequality. (To a large extent, it’s the extraordinary result of the digital revolution of the last forty years and the enormous number of capital-disintensive economic niches that have been opened by the microprocessor. When Twitter went public in November 2013, it created thousands of instant millionaires. That same year, an Australian 18-year-old sold an app he had created to Yahoo—for $30 million.) And he begs the question of inequality’s pernicious effects. (Is there really something terrible about the rich getting much richer, as long as the less rich are not getting any poorer, and indeed are seeing their standards of living rising over the long term, thanks to such things as Walmart, Amazon, iPhones, GPS, etc.?)

Finally he comes up with a list of possible ways to correct what might very well not need correcting, but would definitely put more money into the hands of the political class that Kristof represents (to be used, of course, strictly for the good of the poor and the downtrodden). Among these are: More government vigilance regarding monopolies and competition, strong trade unions, public-sector jobs at the minimum wage for such things as elderly care (has he checked with the unions for their opinion on this?), restrain pay at the highest levels (i.e. maximum-wage legislation), and a personal income tax that tops out at 65 percent.

Is there a single idea in there that post dates FDR, who died 70 years ago in a completely different economic universe? Indeed, most of them antedate the 20th century. Steeply progressive income taxes are straight out of the Communist Manifesto, published in 1848.

So here’s my list of ideas to lower the income inequality between rich and poor. They would actually help everyone except the political class:

Break up government monopolies, such as Medicare, the Veterans Administration, and, most important public school systems. Introducing competition into these areas of the economy is vital to improving them, because competition, and competition alone, produces hard work and innovation. Monopolies—private and governmental—are always fat, dumb, lazy, and devoted to maintaining the monopoly. The shortest route to prosperity for the poor and downtrodden is a good education and the inculcation of good work habits. They don’t get that today and liberals don’t give a damn. (One of the first things President Obama tried to do as president was end the school voucher program in Washington, D.C., as a thank you to the teachers unions, while sending his two daughters to a very expensive, and very good, private school: welcome to modern-day liberalism).

Introduce a flat tax, so that the private jet owners of the world can’t finagle special deals with their congressional pals.

Abolish the corporate income tax. I wrote about the extraordinary benefits of doing this in the Wall Street Journal a few months ago.  At least 90 percent of the tax fiddles and crony-capitalism government favors are hidden in the corporate income tax. Get rid of it and 60,000 lobbyists in Washington would need to go out and get wealth-creating jobs. Do you think private jet owners own their private jets personally? Of course not, their corporations own them and get a slew of deductions thereby.

Modern-day liberalism is about talking about helping the poor and downtrodden, while espousing policies that will only help the narrow and ever-more privileged elite of which liberals are the most vocal supporters.

Read Less

The Left Frets: What If the Supreme Court Recognizes the Dignity of Christians?

A nagging question I’ve had while watching local businesses sued into oblivion for the Christian thoughtcrimes of their proprietors is: What will it take for liberals to finally have second thoughts about the way in which gay marriage is being legalized? Few dispute that it will be fully legalized, and probably soon, and probably by the Supreme Court. But would liberals, once assured of total victory, have any pangs of conscience about salting the earth behind them? No, it turns out–but we have finally discovered something that makes them nervous about the recognition of a right to same-sex marriage: the possibility that conservatives, especially Christians, might somehow benefit as well.

Read More

A nagging question I’ve had while watching local businesses sued into oblivion for the Christian thoughtcrimes of their proprietors is: What will it take for liberals to finally have second thoughts about the way in which gay marriage is being legalized? Few dispute that it will be fully legalized, and probably soon, and probably by the Supreme Court. But would liberals, once assured of total victory, have any pangs of conscience about salting the earth behind them? No, it turns out–but we have finally discovered something that makes them nervous about the recognition of a right to same-sex marriage: the possibility that conservatives, especially Christians, might somehow benefit as well.

Along those lines, there is something deeply disturbing about Jeffrey Rosen’s otherwise insightful piece in the Atlantic on how the justices during oral arguments this week seemed supportive of the idea of there being a right to dignity, and that this dignity is being withheld from gay couples seeking to marry. It’s a smart essay in many ways, since Rosen picks up on something not many supporters of same-sex marriage pay attention to: the importance of the method and the reasoning by which gay marriage is ultimately recognized by the state.

Most supporters of gay marriage have held to an any-means-necessary outlook. Rather than trying to convince the rest of the public to catch up to the sudden majority in favor of gay marriage, they have been using mob McCarthyism to ruin the lives of those with whom they disagree, while also pressing the courts for a gay-marriage version of Roe v. Wade; that is, a court decision that would hand the left a victory but guarantee the issue would be polarizing and its adoption nondemocratic.

Gay marriage itself is on course for overwhelming acceptance. The only question is whether its legal establishment will be the beginning or the end of it as a contentious political issue. Liberals prefer it to be the beginning of a long fight.

That might not seem to matter all that much, but in fact it matters a great deal to the minority who oppose gay marriage. Were liberals to pursue the establishment of gay marriage in such a way as to prevent a Roe situation and thus end an acrimonious process, they would be incentivizing opponents to cooperate in their own ideological or religious defeat. But if religious Americans are made to understand that this is only the beginning of the fight, then they would be hugely mistaken to acquiesce. The message from the left is that once their premise is accepted, dissenting voices will be rooted out ruthlessly and with the full force of the state behind the witch hunt.

Which brings us to what is finally making the left nervous: any ruling that would legalize gay marriage but would also curb their ability to carry out those witch hunts. Rosen discusses potential swing justice Anthony Kennedy’s attachment to the dignity of the those before the court:

Justice Kennedy invoked the word “dignity” five times in the oral arguments; and other lawyers invoked it 16 times. It was central to the opening statements of Solicitor General Don Verrilli. “The opportunity to marry is integral to human dignity,” he began. “Excluding gay and lesbian couples from marriage demeans the dignity of these couples.” It was also one of the first words uttered by the plaintiff’s lawyer, Mary L. Bonuato. “If a legal commitment, responsibility and protection that is marriage is off limits to gay people as a class,” she said, “the stain of unworthiness that follows on individuals and families contravenes the basic constitutional commitment to equal dignity.”

Rosen gives us some jurisprudential and historical context on dignity, and concedes “the indignity and stigma that bans on same sex marriage impose on the right of LGBT citizens to define their own identities and to claim the benefits of equal citizenship.” But, he cautions, “constitutionalizing that injury with broad abstractions like dignity may lead to results in the future that liberals come to regret.”

Why might that be the case? Because of the dystopian future this could create: what if the courts decide that–gasp–conservatives also have dignity? Imagine the terrifying world in which conservatives are treated with dignity:

If dignity is defined so elastically, then conservatives (sic) judges might invoke it to strike down not only gun-control laws, but also other progressive legislation. Libertarian groups invoked the “sweet-mystery-of-life” my (sic) language in Casey to argue that the Obamacare healthcare mandate unconstitutionally violated the dignity and autonomy of Americans by forcing them to buy health insurance. In the future, cigarette smokers might argue that anti-smoking bans violate their ability to create an individual identity. And conservative Christian wedding photographers could claim that anti-discrimination laws compelling them to photograph gay weddings violate their dignity and ability to define themselves as conservative Christians.

And there it is. If the court recognizes a right to dignity, liberals will be forced to reckon with a situation in which conservative Christians are equal under the law. And that means they have dignity too.

To judge by the reaction, this might be a step too far for the left. But it’s instructive nonetheless because Rosen’s piece grapples with what happens when the winning team sets precedent: with great power comes great responsibility. Liberals may want to argue that people have a right to be treated with dignity by the state, and therefore gay couples’ right to marry should be anchored in constitutional law. But how comfortable are they with the idea that Christians are people too?

Read Less

What Jon Stewart and George Stephanopoulos Got Wrong

Last night on The Daily Show, in talking about the Baltimore riots, this exchange took place between host Jon Stewart and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:

Read More

Last night on The Daily Show, in talking about the Baltimore riots, this exchange took place between host Jon Stewart and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:

Stewart: Right now it seems the easy thing to do is to say, “There are criminals on the streets and they’re creating violence.” That’s the easiest thing in the world to do and not to address in any way…

Stephanopoulos: It’s true but it’s not enough….

Stewart: It’s not enough at all. And it’s a small percentage of it. And you just wonder sometimes if we’re spending a trillion dollars to rebuild Afghanistan’s schools, like, we can’t build a little taste down Baltimore way. Like is that what’s really going on.

Stephanopoulos: This is what drives me crazy …. you just got applause when you said that line. Any single politician in the country gets applause when they say that line. Yet it doesn’t happen.

Stewart: Because I think ultimately what they count on is that those applause lines will be obscured by the reality of the real power structure within Washington….

Where to begin? Let’s start with Stewart’s claim that we have spent “a trillion dollars” to rebuild Afghanistan’s schools. Not quite. In fact, not even close. Between 2002 and 2012, USAID invested $885 million in education projects in Afghanistan.

As for their broader point, which is that we have spent a huge sum of money on Afghanistan’s schools but we’re not spending enough for cities like Baltimore: Those claims are also false. Let’s focus just on education in Baltimore, so we can do an apples-to-apples comparison.

As this article points out, according to data from the Census Bureau, the Baltimore school system ranked second among the nation’s 100 largest school districts in how much it spent per pupil in fiscal year 2011. Baltimore’s $15,483 per-pupil expenditure was second to New York City’s $19,770.

As for where the United States ranks:

The United States spent more than $11,000 per elementary student in 2010 and more than $12,000 per high school student. When researchers factored in the cost for programs after high school education such as college or vocational training, the United States spent $15,171 on each young person in the system — more than any other nation covered in the [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] report.

That sum inched past some developed countries and far surpassed others. Switzerland’s total spending per student was $14,922 while Mexico averaged $2,993 in 2010. The average OECD nation spent $9,313 per young person.

As a share of its economy, the United States spent more than the average country in the survey. In 2010, the United States spent 7.3 percent of its gross domestic product on education, compared with the 6.3 percent average of other OECD countries.

The argument Stewart and Stephanopoulos were throwing out–we’re dramatically under-investing in America’s cities–is liberal claptrap. To stay with the issue of education, the problem with American education in general, and large urban school districts in particular, isn’t lack of funding. It’s lack of accountability and transparency, lack of competition and choice, lack of results and high standards. We obsess on inputs and ignore outputs. What often happens, in fact, is the worst school districts often get the most money based on the flawed premise that the reason the schools are failing is lack of funding.

We’re spending an enormous amount of money on a system that isn’t producing, and it’s liberal interest groups (e.g., education unions) and the Democratic Party that are ferocious opponents of the kind of reforms that would improve American education. What exactly are the compelling public policy and moral arguments for opposing school choice for kids in the worst schools in America? There are none. The opposition is based on wanting to maintain and increase political power. If it’s the kids who suffer, so be it. Progressivism has an agenda to achieve, after all. Sometimes you need to break eggs to make an omelet.

A confession: I think Jon Stewart is a fine comedian and George Stephanopoulos a fine journalist. I’ve had good things to say about both in the past. Yet they are both deeply liberal, and now and then their liberalism pours forth in uninformed ways. Their Daily Show interview is an example of ideology dressed up as moral concern, which can sometimes lead to moral preening.

A final point: For all their self-proclaimed compassion, liberals and liberalism are, in important respects, doing significant damage to the young people in America, and most especially to the most vulnerable in our midst. Messrs. Stewart and Stephanopoulos don’t seem to realize this, but they should. Because human lives should take priority over political ideology.

Read Less

The Real Reason Bill de Blasio Hasn’t Endorsed Hillary

Bill de Blasio got a reminder this week that neither the Clintons nor the mainstream press have changed at all on their pursuit of total loyalty to the Democratic elite. After declining to endorse Hillary Clinton before she even announced her candidacy on Sunday, the New York mayor was threatened on Twitter by a Clinton ally and has been pestered by the media on the question ever since. But the truth is, it actually makes a great deal of sense for de Blasio to play hard-to-get, a fact that’s easy to understand once you get some distance from the Hillary-centric view of so many Democrats.

Read More

Bill de Blasio got a reminder this week that neither the Clintons nor the mainstream press have changed at all on their pursuit of total loyalty to the Democratic elite. After declining to endorse Hillary Clinton before she even announced her candidacy on Sunday, the New York mayor was threatened on Twitter by a Clinton ally and has been pestered by the media on the question ever since. But the truth is, it actually makes a great deal of sense for de Blasio to play hard-to-get, a fact that’s easy to understand once you get some distance from the Hillary-centric view of so many Democrats.

To recap, here’s what de Blasio said when asked directly about endorsing Hillary on Meet the Press:

CHUCK TODD:

Well, in the last quarter century, they’ll have had a Clinton as president for eight years of that last quarter century, so that’s going to be difficult. Let me ask you this, are you for her now, unequivocally? Or do you want to wait to see if she takes your advice on moving to a more progressive agenda?

BILL DE BLASIO:

I think like a lot of people in this country, I want to see a vision. And again, that would be true of candidates on all levels. It’s time to see a clear, bold vision for progressives–

CHUCK TODD:

But you’re technically not yet endorsing her?

BILL DE BLASIO:

No, not until I see, and again, I would say this about any candidate, until I see an actual vision of where they want to go. I think she’s a tremendous public servant. I think she is one of the most qualified people to ever run for this office. And by the way, thoroughly vetted, we can say that. But we need to see the substance.

The Clintons demand loyalty above all else, and de Blasio was Hillary’s campaign manager for the Senate in 2000. So this certainly looked to some in Clintonland like a betrayal. Clinton ally Hilary Rosen responded angrily on Twitter, with a classic Clintonian threat:

The whole thing was, I thought, blown way out of proportion. But reporters spent the next couple days asking de Blasio if perhaps he had reconsidered his comments about the Central Committee chairwoman. Politico reports this morning that he’s sticking to his story:

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is standing by his remarks on “Meet the Press” that he is not yet ready to endorse Hillary Clinton for president. …

“It’s the same things I’ve said publicly: progressive taxation, raising wages and benefits, investment in infrastructure and education, the willingness to tax the wealthy so we have the resources to actually change the dynamic in this country,” the progressive Democratic mayor said.

This obstinacy has inspired some quizzical looks. Who shrugs off the horse’s head in the bed? What’s de Blasio up to?

In fact, there is a very good reason for Bill de Blasio to keep his initial distance from Hillary: self-preservation. Hillary Clinton, and the crony capitalist aristocracy she represents, is a direct threat to de Blasio’s career.

Remember, de Blasio was swept into office on the combined power of one good television ad and the tide of left-wing populism that sought to turn the animating ideas behind Occupy Wall Street into something productive. The Tea Partiers didn’t just rage against the government (they also didn’t defecate on police cars, as their liberal counterparts did); they got involved, ran candidates for office, formed a congressional caucus, and shaped legislation.

So as terrible as the policy preferences of de Blasio and Elizabeth Warren are, and as shallow as their understanding of basic economics continues to be, there was at least something healthy about their elections: it showed left-wingers re-engaging with the democratic process. Warren has secured a place for herself as a national figure. She occupies a safe Senate seat and sits on the banking committee, and even has a legion of fans who want her to run for president. She demonstrated her transformation into the Democrats’ Ted Cruz with her recent attempt to shut down the federal government over a policy dispute. Elizabeth Warren isn’t going anywhere.

The same is not necessarily true of de Blasio. That’s why he scheduled a trip to Iowa to talk about inequality, and why he continues to act as though he’s a single-issue activist instead of an influential political executive.

But far more of a danger to de Blasio is the looming success of a Hillary Clinton candidacy. As Ben Domenech wrote in the September issue of COMMENTARY, the populist base of the Democratic Party will be one casualty of Hillary’s coronation: “She is still the Hillary who spent six years on the Walmart board of directors; the Hillary at her most comfortable rubbing elbows in Aspen, the Hamptons, and Davos; the Hillary whose family foundation depends on the donations of big banks and held its annual donor briefing in the auditorium of Goldman Sachs, which reportedly paid her $400,000 for two speeches last year,” Domenech wrote, adding: “The past few years have been better for Wall Street than anybody, and when it comes to the battles over regulation, taxation, and trade policy, the progressive base seems ready to concede defeat.”

De Blasio isn’t, however. Elizabeth Warren could survive the receding tide of liberal populism because she has transitioned seamlessly into a progressive cog in the bureaucratic statist machine. Warren sold out the moment she was presented with the opportunity to wield state power to settle scores.

De Blasio, however, has no such job security and no obvious fallback plan. What de Blasio has instead is the great media megaphone of New York City. And he intends to use it.

Read Less

The Future of Jewish Conservatism

If you’re not familiar with Mosaic magazine, you should be. Devoted to Jewish issues and ideas, it’s one of the outstanding publications on the American scene today–beautifully edited and endlessly fascinating, including (and sometimes especially) for a non-Jew like myself. To prove my point, consider this month’s full-length essay by Eric Cohen (which Seth Mandel has previously written on) and a response by Yuval Levin.

Read More

If you’re not familiar with Mosaic magazine, you should be. Devoted to Jewish issues and ideas, it’s one of the outstanding publications on the American scene today–beautifully edited and endlessly fascinating, including (and sometimes especially) for a non-Jew like myself. To prove my point, consider this month’s full-length essay by Eric Cohen (which Seth Mandel has previously written on) and a response by Yuval Levin.

The essay and the response focus on Mr. Cohen’s argument that in both America and in Israel, the liberal faith of too many Jews has put at risk the Jewish future–and what is needed is a serious and thoughtful alternative grounded in Jewish conservatism. According to Cohen, liberalism has weakened Judaism in both America and Israel; for the most part, conservative critics of Jewish liberalism have not proceeded to formulate an adequate response to it; and for a Jewish conservative movement to take root and alter how Jews look at family life, nationalism, and economics, the animating principles of Jewish conservatism, which he argues are relevant to all Jews, need to be articulated. Mr. Cohen’s elegant essay provides the linkages among these core ideals, demonstrating both what Jews have to teach and what they have to learn.

Which brings me to Dr. Levin, who writes that “if Judaism is to be both student and teacher, the necessary underlying glue” need to identified. And what might that underlying glue be?

Perhaps what is needed is a Jewish case for the conservative disposition itself—the Jewish case for anti-utopianism and high-minded skepticism of worldly perfection. Such a case would reinforce the argument for the family by highlighting the practical impossibility of all alternatives; it would strengthen the case for moral realism in world affairs by emphasizing the permanence of evil in the human experience; and it would diminish the lure of radical egalitarianism by showing that no technocratic fantasy could do more for the poor than a market economy. But it would not ultimately be a case about the family, world affairs, or the economy. It would be an anthropological argument—a case about the human person.

As someone who is something of an outside observer, I want to be careful about thrusting myself into the middle of an intra-Jewish debate. Yet as a conservative who feels a deep kinship for the Jewish people and reveres the Jewish state, for reasons both tied to and apart from my own Christian faith, I do believe it’s appropriate to say that this project, as laid out by Cohen and refined by Levin, is immensely important. A very great deal rests on how these things will unfold in the years to follow. But it seems to me this is just the right way to think about shifting the trajectory of events.

Nothing will happen overnight, and as Cohen himself admits, what he’s arguing for “run[s] against the grains of the times.” But times change, intellectual and moral fads fade away, and eventually human nature and the truths about human nature reassert themselves. And because conservatism is more aligned with human nature than liberalism, what people like Cohen and Levin are attempting to do is not only vital; there is a reasonable chance that with time, effort, and wisdom, it can succeed. The embrace of a coherent Jewish conservatism can happen. But read both pieces and decide for yourself.

Read Less

Mob McCarthyism, Zaiavleniia, and the Corrosive Culture of Denunciation

Given the lazy, ignorant, and hostile reporting on Indiana’s religious-freedom law, we are left to wonder: Is there any conceivable situation in which the press would portray conservative Americans as anything other than the aggressor? Politico today reports “Conservatives go on the attack in religious freedom debate,” as if the story of the day –a story that should bring great shame to any culture capable of it–weren’t that a small-town Indiana pizza shop’s owners were harassed, threatened, and bullied until they closed for the crime of answering an asinine reporter’s hypothetical about catering a gay wedding. But at least the campaign of hate aimed at those the left considers thought criminals tells us something important about the role of law in the culture wars: minimal.

Read More

Given the lazy, ignorant, and hostile reporting on Indiana’s religious-freedom law, we are left to wonder: Is there any conceivable situation in which the press would portray conservative Americans as anything other than the aggressor? Politico today reports “Conservatives go on the attack in religious freedom debate,” as if the story of the day –a story that should bring great shame to any culture capable of it–weren’t that a small-town Indiana pizza shop’s owners were harassed, threatened, and bullied until they closed for the crime of answering an asinine reporter’s hypothetical about catering a gay wedding. But at least the campaign of hate aimed at those the left considers thought criminals tells us something important about the role of law in the culture wars: minimal.

The campaign in favor of gay marriage has been remarkably successful, given how quickly opinions have changed. But what’s clear about the issue is that the pro-SSM side left points on the board: they should have been even more successful than they have been. That’s because winning hearts and minds is essential when trying to replace an existing set of social norms. Gay marriage was winning legislation but losing referendum after referendum, showing that while the momentum was on their side, they still had plenty of convincing to do.

That’s when liberal activists seem to have made a key choice: they decided to stop winning hearts and minds. The fact that they were winning on legislation paradoxically encouraged them to stop focusing on the rule of law as a tool in their campaign. That’s because they understood why they were winning on legislation: mob McCarthyism.

They also figured out that mob McCarthyism could be used not only on politicians who wanted the backing of business leaders and who were sensitive to being labeled a bigot. It could also be turned on their fellow private citizens. And so that’s what they did.

I would like to believe we can say we are seeing where this revolting campaign of violence-tinged demonization and hounding of heretics ends, but I fear what happened to Memories Pizza is only the beginning. In the Internet age, the zombified mob of malevolent lemmings has virtually no limits on its reach. Erick Erickson famously (and correctly) warned that “You will be made to care.” Indeed, and in 2015 you will be made to care by strangers living perhaps thousands of miles away from you. They will find you.

So why win hearts and minds when you can break a couple Christian eggs and get your omelet, all the while setting a public example pour encourager les autres? The answer, one would have hoped, is that it shouldn’t make leftists feel good to ruin people’s lives on a political whim. But apparently it does.

And it doesn’t have all that much to do with the law. It’s true that this latest bout of hysteria was touched off by Indiana passing a state version of a federal religious-protection law signed by Bill Clinton and once upon a time popular across party lines. But then reporters went looking for people to destroy because they might comply with the law, rather than focus exclusively on spooking politicians into going back on their word and throwing men and women of faith under the bus.

And it won’t stop at shutting down pizzerias because it has nothing to do with pizza. It’s about total conformity–or else. Nor will the mob long tolerate abstentions from mob action. In her book on ritual denunciation and mutual suspicion in the early Soviet Union, Inventing the Enemy, Wendy Goldman discusses the use of zaiavleniia, reports to officials on other citizens (emphasis added):

Charges made in zaiavleniia did not have to be substantiated by proof or evidence, and their authors were not even held responsible for their contents. Individual zaiavleniia might thus contain, along with party members’ supposed full revelations about themselves, a generous measure of rumor, gossip, slander, and lies about others. Moreover, whereas there were no penalties for writing a zaiavlenie without evidence, not writing one at all could invite serious consequences. Failure to report the arrest of a relative or to go on record with suspicions about a coworker who was subsequently arrested, for example, was grounds for expulsion from the Party. There was therefore a strong impetus to denounce others, if only to protect oneself against the charge of having failed to denounce them. Local party leaders, once able to exercise some discretion in their investigations, were now forced to investigate every zaiavlenie, no matter how nonsensical or malicious.

Just find someone to denounce. That’s the logical endpoint of the mob. It won’t be enough to simply do as they say. You must ensure others do so as well. Reeducate them.

This is not about passing laws approving of gay marriage or preventing the passage of laws which were uncontroversial a day ago, or an hour ago. In fact, once a degree of success before the law was reached, the law began working against The Cause. The mob thrives on enforcing standards that change on a dime and on a whim. This is emotion and instinct, not a rational program to achieve legislative balance. Rules, at this point, would only hurt The Cause.

And The Cause will change too, which is what makes some supporters of same-sex marriage nervous about a country suddenly ruled by mindless mass vengeance. Surely enough Americans understand the danger here, right?

Read Less

Bill de Blasio Is a Terrible Messenger for an Anti-Inequality Campaign

Capital New York reports that Mayor Bill de Blasio, seeking to increase his national profile, will go where such politicians always go to raise their name-ID: Iowa. The theme of de Blasio’s trip will be to “highlight inequality.” This is more appropriate than even de Blasio knows, just not for the reasons he might think. Bill de Blasio not only governs a city with high inequality; he’s also a purveyor of the kind of liberal ideology that ensures such inequality will continue, and increase. If you want to highlight inequality, you couldn’t do much better than its mascot Bill de Blasio. Which is what makes him a terrible messenger for the anti-inequality brigades.

Read More

Capital New York reports that Mayor Bill de Blasio, seeking to increase his national profile, will go where such politicians always go to raise their name-ID: Iowa. The theme of de Blasio’s trip will be to “highlight inequality.” This is more appropriate than even de Blasio knows, just not for the reasons he might think. Bill de Blasio not only governs a city with high inequality; he’s also a purveyor of the kind of liberal ideology that ensures such inequality will continue, and increase. If you want to highlight inequality, you couldn’t do much better than its mascot Bill de Blasio. Which is what makes him a terrible messenger for the anti-inequality brigades.

According to recent data, New York City is the sixth-most unequal city in the country, though Manhattan individually tops the charts. Last year’s landmark Brookings Institution study shed a great deal of light on the subject, and they updated the data two weeks ago. As I wrote at the time the study was released, from 2007-2012 inequality increased despite the fact that rich households were less rich, not because the rich were going in one direction and the poor another. Dramatic increases in inequality happened in places where lower-income Americans were hit harder by the economic downturn.

That seems to have continued, as Brookings notes: “Despite positive trends in some cities from 2012 to 2013, lower-income households in the majority (31) of the 50 largest cities had lower incomes in 2013 than they did in 2007.” What the poor needed, and continue to need, are jobs. As the study had noted last year, dynamic economies were also unequal economies. The focus on inequality can at times be more than a distraction; it can harm those at the lower end of the spectrum by focusing on regulation and redistribution at the expense of economic growth.

Additionally, New York is a good example of how liberal policy exacerbates inequality (and why liberal demagogues focus so much on income inequality instead of real inequality). Among the many effective critiques of Thomas Piketty’s treatise on inequality was that of a graduate student at MIT named Matthew Rognlie, who has now expanded his criticism into a paper. The Economist notes:

Second, Mr Rognlie finds that higher returns to wealth have not been distributed equally across all investments. The return on assets other than housing has been remarkably stable since 1970. In fact, surging house prices are almost entirely responsible for growing returns on capital.

Third, the idea that workers’ share of wealth can continue to decline rests on the assumption that it is easy to substitute capital (ie, robots) for workers. But if lots of the capital in question is tied up in houses, then this switch would be far harder than Mr Piketty suggests.

Why it matters:

For one thing, homeowners are a much bigger and more lovable group than hedge-fund managers. Moreover, if housing is the biggest source of rising inequality, then the wealth tax Mr Piketty advocates is the wrong response. Policymakers should instead try to reduce the planning restrictions which, by inhibiting new construction, allow homeowners to earn such big returns on their assets.

Good idea! In fact, let’s expand on this. The larger problem with such restrictions is not that homeowners earn such big returns per se, but that they do so because such regulation drives up prices in the first place. In 2010, viewers of the New York gubernatorial debate were captivated by Jimmy McMillan, leader of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party. His main concern was, well it’s all there in the name.

And he’s right: rent is high in New York. Why is it high? In July 2013, Josh Barro wrote a piece for Business Insider listing eight reasons rent in New York is so high. Each had an explanation, but here are the eight reasons as listed:

  1. There’s only so much space.
  2. Zoning rules inhibit supply.
  3. Rent control raises your rent if you’re not rent controlled.
  4. Property taxes are very high.
  5. High construction costs.
  6. Affordable-housing set asides.
  7. Minimum parking requirements.
  8. Tenant-friendly laws.

Most of these are self-explanatory. The effects of heavyhanded regulation are clear. But it’s worth expanding briefly on two of them. Barro adds, for example, with regard to zoning rules:

Incidentally, contra Hamilton Nolan, this is a reason non-rich New Yorkers should cheer the construction of “superluxury condos.” Wealthy people are going to buy in New York one way or another. When we limit their ability to build shiny new towers in Manhattan, they come over to Brooklyn and bid up the prices of brownstones that used to be almost affordable.

It’s counterintuitive, but another example of why the eat-the-rich attitude toward regulation and policymaking can have all sorts of unintended, and negative, effects on the less well-off. And it’s not just strict regulation, either. As Barro explains under the “construction costs” heading, in addition to the regulatory burden, “there are no non-union crane operators in New York City, meaning any construction project tall enough to require a crane must be built with union labor. That adds costs; union work rules require overstaffing, according to the Real Estate Board of New York, and some crane operators in the city make over $500,000 a year including overtime and benefits.”

Liberal policy and inequality go hand in hand. It’s what makes de Blasio such an ironic ambassador for economic policy. It’s true that he has real-world experience with inequality, but that’s because he’s the arsonist here, not the firefighter.

And then there’s the other question of what kind of national Democratic figure de Blasio thinks he might be. It’s true that he was swept into office in a wave of leftist populism. And that populism hasn’t gone away–witness the fans of Elizabeth Warren. But the intervening midterm elections have made it clear that the economic justice warriors like de Blasio tend to be an occasional passing fad. Support for the leftist from Brooklyn is, perhaps appropriately, political hipsterism.

And it’s unclear where de Blasio could go from here anyway. His rocky relationship with the NYPD ended his political honeymoon. And he’d be more likely to try for another office before going national–by, say, running for governor before running for Congress. Either way, his appeal will be limited and will grow more so over time. In that sense, maybe his Iowa trip makes sense now. He might as well accept the invitations now and not assume they’ll still be arriving in his inbox in the future.

Read Less

Conservatives and the Need for an Appealing Governing Philosophy

In the most recent Gallup survey, Americans named the government (18 percent) as the most important U.S. problem, a distinction it has had for the past four months. After that comes the economy in general (11 percent), followed by unemployment/jobs (10 percent), and immigration/illegal aliens (seven percent). We also learned that Americans’ confidence in all three branches of government is at or near record lows, according to a major survey that has measured attitudes on the subject for 40 years.

Read More

In the most recent Gallup survey, Americans named the government (18 percent) as the most important U.S. problem, a distinction it has had for the past four months. After that comes the economy in general (11 percent), followed by unemployment/jobs (10 percent), and immigration/illegal aliens (seven percent). We also learned that Americans’ confidence in all three branches of government is at or near record lows, according to a major survey that has measured attitudes on the subject for 40 years.

This is hardly a surprise. In his book Political Order and Political Decay, the political scientist Francis Fukuyama writes that if “there has been a single problem facing contemporary democracies, whether aspiring or well established, it has been centered in their failure to provide the substance of what people want from government: personal security, shared economic growth, and quality of basic public services like education, health, and infrastructure that are needed to achieve individual opportunity.”

There are a host of reasons for this, including the fact that many government programs are badly outdated and were fundamentally mis-designed; that there’s very little accountability and transparency in them; and the increasing centralization of power and the inability of those serving in government to manage complex social systems. Government is being asked to do more and more things, the result being that it’s doing almost none of them particularly well.

It doesn’t surprise many of us that confidence in government is so low during the presidency of a committed progressive, Mr. Obama, whose faith in government appears boundless and whose tenure has been marked by rank incompetence and seen the size and reach of the federal government reach unprecedented levels. The temptation for conservatives will be to take advantage of and build on this widespread distrust, to dial up their anti-government rhetoric, and to continue to focus solely on what government should not be doing.

But as I have argued before (here and here), such an exclusively negative approach to the question of the role of government is not only electorally insufficient; it is unbecoming of conservatism and of the deep commitment that conservatives claim to the nation’s founding ideals.

The way to both re-limit and improve government lies with structural reforms–to our tax code; our entitlement, health-care, and anti-poverty programs; our immigration and elementary, secondary, and higher-education systems; and the energy and financial sector. The fact that government is held in contempt by so many Americans ought to trouble all of us, including conservatives; and making our government one we can once again be proud of ought to be our object and aim. Government is, after all, “the offspring of our own choice,” in the words of Washington, and should have “a just claim to [our] confidence and [our]  support.”

Republicans are quite good at explaining why it’s lost that confidence and support; they are not nearly as good at explaining what needs to be done to regain it. If they don’t get that second part right–if their governing agenda is seen to consist mainly of a fierce anti-government fervor and/or boilerplate proposals designed to meet the challenges of a distant past–they are not likely to win the presidency anytime soon.

As Republican primary voters think about the individual they want to be their presidential nominee, they might ask themselves this question: Who is the conservative best able to articulate and implement an appealing public philosophy for life in the 21st century? Answering that question should go a long way toward determining who ought to represent the Republican Party in 2016.

Read Less

There Is No Such Thing as a Secular Politics

You can learn a lot by running for vice president. Especially if you weren’t a vanquished opponent who tried to win the nomination but simply plucked from Congress and thrust into the national spotlight. Paul Ryan learned a few things while on Mitt Romney’s ticket in 2012–about policy, about partisanship, about messaging. But perhaps the most important lesson he appears to have learned is this: There is no such thing as a fully secular politics.

Read More

You can learn a lot by running for vice president. Especially if you weren’t a vanquished opponent who tried to win the nomination but simply plucked from Congress and thrust into the national spotlight. Paul Ryan learned a few things while on Mitt Romney’s ticket in 2012–about policy, about partisanship, about messaging. But perhaps the most important lesson he appears to have learned is this: There is no such thing as a fully secular politics.

Ryan has taken a keen interest in the way public policy and state power interact with those living in poverty in America. It’s a complex subject: sometimes federal policy helps, sometimes it offers a cure worse than the malady. Local communities and local governments get involved as well, and that involvement varies from place to place. So Ryan traveled around the country to try to get a sense of how different approaches play out in different cases. Ryan was keeping generally mum about the project that grew out of those efforts, but now that it’s completed, he talked to Yahoo News about it. It’s not what his critics expected:

Paul Ryan has visited low-income neighborhoods in Texas, Ohio and elsewhere over the past two years to meet with groups and individuals working to help lift people out of poverty.

It’s been a little-publicized affair. Ryan brought almost no press with him on any of the trips. One of the few reporters to accompany him, Buzzfeed’s McKay Coppins, last April detailed the Wisconsin Republican’s visit to an early-morning men’s bible study in Indianapolis.

Paul’s critics have complained that these expeditions were part of a politically calculated vanity project designed to soften the GOP’s image and set the congressman — who was the GOP’s vice presidential nominee in 2012 — up for a bid for higher office.

But on March 17, Ryan will issue a rejoinder to that accusation in the form of a documentary film on the people he met during his travels to impoverished communities. In fact, he told Yahoo News, part of the reason he chose not to run for president in 2016 was that he wanted to protect this video project from second-guessing about his motives for doing it.

It’s true that Ryan’s critics on the left thought his attempts to alleviate the suffering of others were “part of a politically calculated vanity project,” and it’s also true that Ryan’s critics are, as is clear, not very bright. And they’re pretty cynical. But they’re also, and this is important, clerical figures in the Church of Liberalism.

Eventually the Yahoo story gets around to asking Ryan a highly relevant question: What does this all mean for public policy? Ryan is, after all, an influential congressman:

In each episode in the “Comeback” series, faith or individuals make the crucial difference in the lives of people who need help, not government. …

“We need to disaggregate it, we need to decentralize it, and we need to acknowledge that government has a very important role to play but it is circumspect and limited and it needs to be in concert with, not in contention with, these good works that are happening out there in America,” Ryan said. “The best thing the government does is bring resources to the table, but sometimes the worst thing it does is it displaces and it takes over and it displaces good works.”

The problem was never that Ryan wanted to dismantle government’s necessary role, or have civil society completely replace the federal government. It’s that government sees civil society as competition, and rejects it.

Liberalism, especially in the age of Obama, is a deeply religious movement. Obama has been explicit from the beginning that he sees himself as healer and redeemer. Much of the time this administration is engaged in redemptive politics, but when it comes to health-care and poverty, the president plays the healer.

Other religions are rival faiths. The leviathan may be the god that failed and keeps failing, but it’s the only one they’ve got. And the state is a jealous god. So no, you can’t have religious exemptions to laws the healer enacted, because these are religious edicts. The left has demonized Ryan not because he’s wrong (he’s often unquestionably correct on the facts) but because their deity–the state–views him as a false prophet.

It’s Ryan, not his leftist critics, who sees the issue with proper compassion and humility: “The big takeaway is listen and learn, because people speak things differently,” Ryan told Yahoo. “They have different experiences, and they do hurt in different ways. And I think it’s really important to try and glean another person’s perspective, so that you’re better informed and you can learn from it.”

But to the glorious state there is only one truth.

A truly secular politics might or might not be theoretically possible. But it’s not what we have, and it’s not on the menu. Ryan talks about the value of faith and community in solving problems. And the left views this as a threat because he’s bearing witness to a competing spirituality, the expression of which must be driven from the public square.

Read Less

Why Liberals Want Brian Williams Fired

When the Brian Williams scandal first broke, and as it became clear the NBC host’s alleged fabrications constituted a pattern, there was some instinctive sentiment among conservatives that NBC ought to leave Williams in the anchor chair anyway. After all, what better way to demonstrate the media’s bias and unreliability? But now we’re seeing the other side of that coin: the proposal that credibility will be restored by making Williams’s suspension permanent.

Read More

When the Brian Williams scandal first broke, and as it became clear the NBC host’s alleged fabrications constituted a pattern, there was some instinctive sentiment among conservatives that NBC ought to leave Williams in the anchor chair anyway. After all, what better way to demonstrate the media’s bias and unreliability? But now we’re seeing the other side of that coin: the proposal that credibility will be restored by making Williams’s suspension permanent.

Yesterday on CNN’s Reliable Sources, host Brian Stelter brought in Deborah Norville to try to predict the future of NBC with–or without–Williams. Norville is a former co-host of NBC’s Today and even occasionally sat in for Tom Brokaw on NBC Nightly News years ago; she currently hosts Inside Edition. Brokaw reportedly sides against Williams’s return to the host chair (though he did offer a denial that should not bring Williams much comfort). Stelter asked Norville right off the bat if she thought Williams would return to NBC Nightly News. Here’s her response:

I don’t think so. I don’t think so.

First of all, I think Lester Holt is doing a very good job. And, secondly, I think if Brian were to be back on the set, there would be this thought bubble over his head that says, is it real, is it real? Did he make this one up? Is this an exaggeration?

And I just think that that’s too much for the network news division to have to work to overcome. They have a very important brand. There’s a lot of money attached to it. And to put that at risk would be a foolish business decision. At the end of the day, this is a business.

It’s a similar argument used by San Francisco Chronicle editor John Diaz a couple of weeks ago. Diaz dismissed some of the early speculation that tried to excuse Williams’s fabrications. He also criticized Williams’s “bizarre” first attempt at an apology. That apology later looked even worse once it became clear Williams was facing judgment for more than a one-time ethical lapse.

Then he made the credibility argument: “Williams’ credibility is shot, and his presence will taint NBC News as long as he remains in its anchor chair.” But Diaz followed that with an interesting, and highly defensive, aside. Punishing Williams, Diaz seemed to think, was about more than the credibility of NBC; it was about American journalism itself:

Regrettably, the damage does not end at NBC. All journalists suffer to a degree when a high-profile member of the profession transgresses, just as public perceptions of police officers are tarnished by the exposure of an ugly brutality case, or as views of politicians are shaped by the actions of a corrupt few. Those looking for a validation of their low regard for journalists see the Williams fiasco, but they never see the everyday diligence and determination of my colleagues to get a story right. Yes, we make mistakes, but each one is painful — even the smallest typo. When stories are off-base or incomplete, it’s almost always a matter of deadline pressure, limited sources or naivete — not intention, and never fabrication.

It’s easy to sympathize with Diaz. And in fact, I’m inclined to agree. But that’s the problem: fabrication should be viewed as worse than all those other sins, but it shouldn’t be seen as the only journalistic sin. Yet that’s the way the American media behaves.

“Limited sources or naïveté,” in Diaz’s example, are usually not a series of individual, unrelated errors but often the result of more structural biases in the press. As the Washington Post reported last year, self-identified Republican journalists constitute, according to the recent version of a recurring survey, about seven percent of all journalists. Self-identified Democrats made up 28 percent.

But that wasn’t the most important part of the survey. In 1971, a quarter considered themselves Republicans. The survey, then, didn’t show a field implicitly hostile to conservatives. Rather, the media’s partisan gap has been increasing, as has that hostility:

Over the last several decades, three things have happened: 1) The number of Democratic-identifying reporters increased steadily prior to a significant drop in the latest survey 2) The number of Republicans has steadily shrunk with that number dipping into single digits for the first time ever in the new survey c) more and more reporters are identifying as independents.  What seems to be happening — at least in the last decade – -is that journalists are leaving both parties, finding themselves more comfortable as unaffiliateds.

So what’s easier: reforming the liberal bubble that the national press has become, or firing Brian Williams? It’s true that bringing Williams back will probably lead many to question his stories. But what’s clear from the Brian Williams saga thus far is that the mainstream media has no idea how often its accuracy is called into question by the general public.

That “thought bubble” to which Norville referred, in which viewers will wonder if Williams is making up whatever story he’s reporting, already exists. Gallup’s poll last year found trust in media falling back to its historic low of 40 percent. That trust, Gallup explained, tends to fall during election years. In other words, when there is something tangible on the line, trusting the media is a leap of faith most Americans can’t quite make.

So the left can go on believing that firing Williams will go a long way toward restoring the credibility they believe he cost the media during this fiasco. The problem for them, however, is that you can’t lose something you never had to begin with.

Read Less

God, Our Rights, and the Modern Liberal Mind

In a recent interview, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore told CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, “Our rights, contained in the Bill of Rights, do not come from the Constitution, they come from God.”

Read More

In a recent interview, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore told CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, “Our rights, contained in the Bill of Rights, do not come from the Constitution, they come from God.”

“Our rights do not come from God,” Cuomo replied. “That’s your faith. That’s my faith. But that’s not our country.” (For this portion of the exchange, see starting around the 13:00 minute mark.)

In fact, Mr. Cuomo is wrong and Judge Moore is right, at least in the context of America and its history. To understand why, it’s important to point out that the Constitution is America’s governing charter, one that sets up a structure of government. To be sure, the Bill of Rights lay out certain rights the people are entitled to against every government on earth. But to understand where those rights come from, what their source is, one needs to turn to the Declaration of Independence. And here is what the Declaration states:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men…

It could hardly be clearer, then: Governments are instituted in order to secure rights that are God-given. And faith in divinely given rights is a consistent theme not only of the founders but of nearly every president. John F. Kennedy, in his inaugural address, crystalized the point this way: “Yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe–the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.”

But the person who most often tied the story and meaning of America to the self-evident truths of the Declaration was our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln. Time and again he asked Americans to return to what he called the “sacred principles” embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Here is but one noteworthy 1858 passage from Lincoln that bears on this matter:

Now, if slavery had been a good thing, would the Fathers of the Republic have taken a step calculated to diminish its beneficent influences among themselves, and snatch the boon wholly from their posterity? These communities, by their representatives in old Independence Hall, said to the whole world of men: “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures.

Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not only the whole race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity. They erected a beacon to guide their children and their children’s children, and the countless myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages. Wise statesmen as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity to breed tyrants, and so they established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which their fathers began—so that truth, and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues might not be extinguished from the land; so that no man would hereafter dare to limit and circumscribe the great principles on which the temple of liberty was being built. [Emphasis added.]

It is one thing to argue that our rights are not God-given and that the Declaration, the founders, Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and so many other great documents and figures in American history were wrong to claim they were. Those who hold this view, of course, need to explain the basis for believing in and protecting unalienable rights and human dignity if they are not grounded in “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Absent a Creator, what is the argument against capriciousness, injustice, and tyranny? How does one create a system of justice and make the case against, say, slavery, if you begin with two propositions: one, the universe was created by chance; and two, it will end in nothing? How do you derive a belief in a moral law that is binding on you and others apart from theism? How do you get from the “is” to the “ought”? But that is another argument for another day.

Where Mr. Cuomo goes off the rails is in asserting that “it is not our country” to say our rights come from God. This actually is a philosophical thread that runs throughout the history of our country with astonishing consistency and, at least until now, a proposition very few people disputed. So Mr. Cuomo’s statement is not only wrong; it is historically illiterate.

Illiterate, but revealing, too. There is something about the modern liberal mind that makes it so fearful about linking our rights to God that those (like Chris Cuomo) who hold this view disfigure our history in order to make their case.  Those who commit this error also seem clueless that the greatest strides toward justice in our history have occurred precisely because people like Lincoln and King articulated a human anthropology that was grounded in a belief in God. In his great debates with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln countered the argument of “popular sovereignty” by explaining that human beings were endowed by their Creator with fundamental rights that were inviolate regardless of what the popular will said. Thankfully it was Lincoln’s view, not Douglas’s, that prevailed.

Mr. Cuomo has a (God-given) right to believe what he wants. But in stating his case, he really should get his facts straight. Otherwise he risks looking foolish, as he did in his exchange with Judge Moore.

Read Less

Liberals to Exit the ‘Daily Show’ Biodome

The real challenge in writing about Jon Stewart’s announcement that he’s leaving the Daily Show is the fact that every time you think you’ve seen the perfect hysterical reaction from the left, someone else tops it. I was sure that when the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty tweeted yesterday that “For people under 30, Jon Stewart leaving the Daily Show is the equivalent of the Beatles breaking up,” the silliness had already reached its apex. But of course, I was the silly one for thinking that.

Read More

The real challenge in writing about Jon Stewart’s announcement that he’s leaving the Daily Show is the fact that every time you think you’ve seen the perfect hysterical reaction from the left, someone else tops it. I was sure that when the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty tweeted yesterday that “For people under 30, Jon Stewart leaving the Daily Show is the equivalent of the Beatles breaking up,” the silliness had already reached its apex. But of course, I was the silly one for thinking that.

Because then I was directed toward the New York Times front page, where the Stewart news and the news about NBC’s Brian Williams being suspended (for apparently fabricating war stories) shared a headline: “Williams Suspended, at Low Point in His Career; Stewart to Depart at High Point.” But that absurdity, too, could be improved upon. You might think it’s unfair to Williams–who was an actual news anchor, on a network news program–to be lumped in with the comedian who hosts a clip show of actual news reports to make fun of them. But that’s not how the news media themselves saw it. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour highlighted the shared headline and tweeted:

Screen shot 2015-02-11 at 5.24.12 PM

There really was something amazing about that comment. Stewart became enormously successful by showing clips of people like Amanpour and then making faces at the camera. Yet Amanpour readily suggests that it’s the comedian, and not the network news anchor, who has “authority” to speak on the issues of the day. It tells you something not just about Stewart, but about the media in general.

In that sense, the Williams suspension really does belong in the same breath as the Stewart departure, at least as far as the press is concerned. If reports are true, they’re both satirizing, in their own way, the news. One of them is just being open about it. And it is the fake newsman who is truly admired, because his fake news confirms the left’s ideological predispositions. It does not seem to dawn on liberals what follows from this: the fact that to bring their worldview in line with the news, it has to be fabricated.

Stewart is a form of escapism, then, for the left. But he’s been around so long, and become such an “authority” (at least according to CNN; keep that in mind for future reference), that they stopped escaping into his reality for a half hour a night and instead simply moved there. At some point during the Bush administration, the left simply decamped and took up permanent residence in StewartWorld–a world that Stewart himself, repeatedly, stressed was fake.

But you could also see how they could be fooled. Stewart put real effort into creating this false reality. For example, one of the most controversial interviews Stewart conducted was with Jonah Goldberg. It was not controversial because Goldberg is conservative; it was controversial because the interview ran long and Stewart handed the tape over to Edward Scissorhands to edit. The resulting mashup was choppy and disconcerting, and it turned out that that was because Stewart had to stack the deck. “Largely left on the cutting-room floor,” Goldberg explained later, “were some important points that might have made my book seem a bit more nuanced.”

If you’ve watched the Daily Show over the years you’ll understand why Stewart did that. A fair fight is one that leaves Stewart at a deep disadvantage. John Yoo, Cliff May, and other conservatives ran circles around Stewart when he brought them on the show. (May famously left Stewart so punch drunk the staggering host called Harry Truman a war criminal, for which he apologized soon after.)

Now compare what Stewart did to Goldberg with how he treated Elizabeth Warren on her first appearance on the Daily Show. Warren was nervous and unprepared, as this Vox piece explains:

And her nervousness shows — she hesitates before she answers, and she even forgets the name of a TARP program she herself was trying to explain to him. In her memoir, Warren herself characterizes the first part of the interview as “terrible.”

So what did Stewart do? He “rearranged his show to give her more time,” and coached her on her messaging. Of course he did.

It became a well-known accepted fact, at least among non-leftists brave enough to be interviewed for sketches on the show, that the Daily Show producers simply re-cut interviews dishonestly in order to make it look like their marks said ridiculous or offensive things. (Here’s a column on it from Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle titled “Don’t Ever Appear on ‘The Daily Show’.”)

So what do liberals do now that, about a decade after running out of jokes, Stewart’s throwing in the towel? There will be a period of mourning, sure. But in the long run, it has to be helpful for them to be forced out of the StewartWorld and back into reality. (Comedy Central may try replacing him, but as the reactions to Stewart’s departure show–“the Beatles,” etc.–StewartWorld requires Stewart to possess its full force and “authority.”) My hope is that we’ll see a transformation similar to what happened to the Truman Show’s lead when he realizes it’s all fake and there’s a whole (real) world out there. Perhaps they’ll challenge the limits of the biodome they’ve called home and venture out in search of the truth.

Or maybe it’ll be too much for them. But I think even if they struggle at first, they’ll adjust. The real world can be exhausting for a follower of Jon Stewart, but it’s worth the effort.

Read Less

Bad Santa Can’t Fix Higher Education

When I was a student at Rutgers University, two friends of mine had recently come to the banks of the old Raritan from two different community colleges–one to enroll at Rutgers, and one to find off-campus housing for the technical school he enrolled at nearby. The friend who joined Rutgers had been unprepared by his community college. The other had found no direction or educational momentum at community college, and left to learn a trade. So I was a bit surprised to see that President Obama’s latest in a string of terrible ideas was to try to improve the accessibility of higher education by making two years of community college “free.”

Read More

When I was a student at Rutgers University, two friends of mine had recently come to the banks of the old Raritan from two different community colleges–one to enroll at Rutgers, and one to find off-campus housing for the technical school he enrolled at nearby. The friend who joined Rutgers had been unprepared by his community college. The other had found no direction or educational momentum at community college, and left to learn a trade. So I was a bit surprised to see that President Obama’s latest in a string of terrible ideas was to try to improve the accessibility of higher education by making two years of community college “free.”

Of course, “free” is a preposterous term for it, because it’s not free. You–the taxpayer–will likely be financing this. The financing is a bit unclear, since the president will fully unveil the plan in a speech today. But there have been no real suggestions as to how it will be financed. Essentially what the president is doing is this: further driving up the cost of four-year colleges by continuing to inflate the student-loan bubble and now asking taxpayers to fund both the increase in their own kids’ tuition thanks to the federal government and also to fund others’ community college education so it can be partially “free.” Don’t worry, though: the mugging you are experiencing at the hands of the government is for a good cause.

I should say, however, that I’m not indicting the whole community college system. It serves a role, and a helpful one at that. It’s just that the role it plays is too limited to make it the right place for a massive investment at the additional cost of distracting the government from making necessary reforms to American education. Put simply, if you think the solution to the systemic problems in American academia is to shovel a tremendous amount of money at community colleges, you’re miles away from understanding the basics of the need for education reform.

What Obama is showing with this plan is a good demonstration of the crisis of anti-intellectualism currently engulfing American liberalism. There is no creativity here, and no willingness to learn from previous failures–or successes. There is just Santa Claus governance, except Santa’s goodies weren’t produced by elf slave labor but by outright confiscation. Bad Santa, if you will.

Back to the two examples I cited earlier. The friend who transferred to a four-year university was not given the requisite educational background and resources to transition smoothly to Rutgers. He was also not provided the guidance to choose courses based on their ability to transfer credits to Rutgers along with him. That meant much of his two years had been wasted. It didn’t necessarily have to be that way, but just throwing more money at the community college wouldn’t have helped him: He already had access to the community college.

The other friend, who left community college to attend a tech school, earned a degree there in less than a year and obtained gainful employment right away. He was far and away the best financially prepared of the group, because he used post-high school education to learn a useful skill and then practice it. For some reason, this is a novel concept to the liberal technocrats who want all Americans to be shoveled through the reeducation camps of the American university, where they can learn all about microaggressions and privilege and trigger warnings and other completely useless nonsense.

The Obama administration’s focus on accessibility is understandable, but it tends to come at the expense of quality. For example, the president finally began to push forward his administration’s new plan to rate colleges. It would revolve heavily around accessibility. This is measured, in part, by availability of loans. In other words, colleges that nudge students toward the government’s loan racket will receive higher marks. As the Wall Street Journal reported in December:

The framework that the administration is considering focuses on access, affordability and outcomes, but not academic quality, said Carol Geary Schneider, head of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, which represents more than 1,300 liberal-arts schools. She was among a group of education leaders briefed on the plan Thursday.

“The public will assume a college-ratings system is telling them something about quality, and in fact, by design, the metrics will tell you something about affordability; something about low-income students attending this institution; and something about employment prospects afterwards. Period,” she said. “It is fundamentally misleading.”

To be sure, post-graduation employment is a good metric, but it is not nearly as easy to predict or measure as the government makes it sound. In addition, along the way the government will continue saddling students with debt.

Why the focus on cash handouts and bubble inflation instead of educational quality? Because it’s easy. Fixing what ails American education would be a complex process, and it requires serious examination of the classroom environment. It’s much easier for Bad Santa to show up with wads of cash held together by red tape and with ever more strings attached.

Read Less

Europe Is Losing Its Soul

Last week the Wall Street Journal carried a fascinating piece about the uses European countries are finding for all their empty churches. Naftali Bendavid’s account of how historic church buildings are being transformed into skate parks, boutiques, and even a Frankenstein-themed bar may sound like an obscure and marginal story, but it actually points to a far more significant phenomenon of European secularization. This loss of religious belief is being accompanied by—and is intrinsically linked to—a similar loss of belief in national identity and even the liberal values that were once a core part of what Europe stood for. And as Europe descends into the quagmire of a post-identity relativism, its actions on the world stage will become increasingly problematic.

Read More

Last week the Wall Street Journal carried a fascinating piece about the uses European countries are finding for all their empty churches. Naftali Bendavid’s account of how historic church buildings are being transformed into skate parks, boutiques, and even a Frankenstein-themed bar may sound like an obscure and marginal story, but it actually points to a far more significant phenomenon of European secularization. This loss of religious belief is being accompanied by—and is intrinsically linked to—a similar loss of belief in national identity and even the liberal values that were once a core part of what Europe stood for. And as Europe descends into the quagmire of a post-identity relativism, its actions on the world stage will become increasingly problematic.

As the Wall Street Journal piece explains, the growing number of unused churches are the fallout of a collapse in the number if Europeans affiliating with Christianity. So for instance in Holland, where 1,600 Roman Catholic churches are expected to be out of use within a decade, as will be 700 protestant churches within four years, 42 percent of the population is unaffiliated with any religion. Of those who are Christian, just 30 percent regularly attend church. In Germany, where some 515 Catholic churches have closed in the past ten years, almost 25 percent of the population is unaffiliated, and just over 10 percent of Christians regularly attend church. In Scandinavian countries religion is even more peripheral. A 2008 Gallup poll found that for 83 percent of Swedes, religion does not occupy an important place in their lives. And in Denmark, where 200 churches have been deemed nonviable, only around 6 percent of Christians attend church regularly.

This lack of religious belief may well also be related to why Europeans are choosing to have so few children. According to the CIA world factbook EU countries have an average birth rate of just 1.55 children per woman, and in countries such as Italy, Germany, Greece, and Austria that goes down to about 1.42 births per woman. And these are figures which are undoubtedly inflated by the higher birth rate of immigrant groups; among native Europeans the numbers are still lower.

For Europeans, it seems the absence of belief extends beyond religion into the realms of other traditional identities. As Annika Hernroth-Rothstein explains in a recent piece for Israel Hayom, Europeans have been increasingly choosing against national identities in general. Rothstein writes of how in Europe in the wake of the Holocaust: “nation-states and national identity have been deemed the culprit and the key to the dark European history that brought on such unparalleled suffering. The old was replaced with the new; a cultural relativism where no tradition, belief or state should stake a claim on any moral high ground. All ideas and cultures became equally unimportant compared to the globalist, multicultural ideal.”

As Rothstein alludes, the loss of belief in national identity, like the loss of belief in religious truth, has gone hand in hand with a relativism that no longer allows Europeans to champion the superiority of their own liberal values. Natan Sharansky observed as much in a piece for Mosaic in which he argued that Europe is now in the process of becoming post-liberal. Indeed, Sharansky quipped that once at the entrance to Europe were inscribed the words of Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Now instead are found the glib lyrics of John Lennon: “Imagine there’s no countries. . . . Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too.”

In this Europe where there is nothing worth believing in, nothing worth dying for—and perhaps nothing worth living for, given the birth rate—it is little wonder that Europeans now take the view on foreign policy that they do. Yes, that means Europeans favor soft power diplomacy and UN resolutions over military intervention, but they have also become utterly relativist when determining who to side with. It was this relativism that allowed the EU’s foreign office to welcome a Palestinian unity government with the Islamist terrorists of Hamas. Similarly, this same relativism has seen Europeans back Palestinian unilateral statehood efforts, with numerous European parliaments voting in favor and a French-led effort to compose a more moderate statehood bid at the Security Council. And when the Palestinians abandoned the watered-down French resolution for their own more hardline text, France and Luxembourg went ahead and backed it at the Security Council anyway.

As Europeans struggle to find uses for their empty churches, perhaps they should be left just as they are, as monuments and mausoleums for Europe’s declining civilization.

Read Less

Liberalism’s Setbacks Aren’t Fatal

Last week was not a good week for the institutions of American liberalism. Which is not shocking, because last month was a terrible month for American liberalism. And that was mainly the result of the fact that the last year has not been a good one for American liberalism. But conservatives ought to remember the greatly exaggerated rumors of their own demise pushed by gleeful and historically ignorant liberals after the American right’s last such slump. Certainly liberalism is experiencing a crisis of sorts, but as Miracle Max could tell them, there’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.

Read More

Last week was not a good week for the institutions of American liberalism. Which is not shocking, because last month was a terrible month for American liberalism. And that was mainly the result of the fact that the last year has not been a good one for American liberalism. But conservatives ought to remember the greatly exaggerated rumors of their own demise pushed by gleeful and historically ignorant liberals after the American right’s last such slump. Certainly liberalism is experiencing a crisis of sorts, but as Miracle Max could tell them, there’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.

The continuing ObamaCare disaster, the IRS corruption revelations, and the manifold foreign-policy failures of the Obama-led Democrats over the last year led to a cratering of the public’s faith in the left and produced a trouncing at the polls for Democrats in the midterms. With Saturday’s runoff defeat of Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu coupled with the GOP gains in states Obama won, it is the Democrats who appear at risk of being considered a regional party–an epithet they tossed at Republicans in 2012. How are the Democrats handling being washed out of the South almost entirely? Not well, if Michael Tomasky’s public breakdown is any indication:

Practically the whole region has rejected nearly everything that’s good about this country and has become just one big nuclear waste site of choleric, and extremely racialized, resentment. A fact made even sadder because on the whole they’re such nice people! (I truly mean that.)

With Landrieu’s departure, the Democrats will have no more senators from the Deep South, and I say good. Forget about it. Forget about the whole fetid place. Write it off. Let the GOP have it and run it and turn it into Free-Market Jesus Paradise. The Democrats don’t need it anyway.

The funniest part is the headline: “Dems, It’s Time to Dump Dixie.” In fact, Dixie has clearly already dumped the Dems. If it were only the South, Tomasky’s neo-secessionism would at least be somewhat viable. But the Democrats have lost, at least for the time being, too much of the country to run away from.

The drubbing the Democrats have taken, sealed with Landrieu’s loss, has been so bad that you kind of want to put an arm around Tomasky, buy him a double bourbon (Kentucky isn’t technically part of the Deep South, right? He can still have bourbon?) and tell him it gets better. Because it always does.

Many obituaries were written for American conservatism by the concern-trolling left in the wake of President Obama’s two victories (the first supposedly heralding the death of conservatism, the second confirming it). They were all, without exception, deeply ahistoric and scandalously stupid items of triumphalist rubbish.

But for sheer symbolism, the crowning jewel of the group is without a doubt the essay, later expanded into a book, published in February 2009: “Conservatism Is Dead,” by Sam Tanenhaus. It ran in the New Republic.

Less than six years later, conservatism is alive and the New Republic is dead.

Not really dead, mind you. But to its writers and devotees, it is. I should say ex-writers and ex-devotees, because when last week news broke that Chris Hughes, the accidental Facebook billionaire (or almost-billionaire) and owner of TNR, shoved Frank Foer out the door and with him went Leon Wieseltier, a mass exodus ensued. That’s not only because Foer is beloved by his peers and Wieseltier is an institution. It’s also because Hughes has announced he doesn’t think magazines with lots of big words are worth keeping around anymore, bro, and the literary tradition should be replaced with whatever passing fad can be monetized at this very moment. Carpe diem, and all that jazz. (Well not jazz, I guess, which is a bit nuanced and old and has absolutely no cat gifs in it whatsoever; but you get the point.)

Critics of American liberalism have pointed out, however, that the Altneurepublic being mourned was not the Altneurepublic of popular imagination. There seems to be a general consensus, in fact, that the decline and fall of that TNR became undeniable with its infamous anti-intellectual anthem which began “I hate President George W. Bush,” published about a decade ago.

Not that there weren’t warning signs along the way. The best of these in recent years might be this 2013 Reason magazine piece by Matt Welch mourning “the death” not of liberalism, but “of contrarianism.” With the new New Republic, Welch lamented, the magazine’s modern incarnation as a constructive questioner of liberal received wisdom was gone:

An entire valuable if flawed era in American journalism and liberalism has indeed come to a close. The reformist urge to cross-examine Democratic policy ideas has fizzled out precisely at the time when those ideas are both ascendant and as questionable as ever. Progressivism has reverted to a form that would have been recognizable to Herbert Croly and Walter Lippmann when they founded The New Republic a century ago: an intellectual collaborator in the “responsible” exercise of state power.

Liberalism is in crisis for many reasons, but surely one of them is this: it has ceased to look at itself in the mirror. If it did, would it be horrified by what it saw? One hopes.

Whatever the answer, conservatives must also understand the difference between crisis and death. Liberals are still here. The president is a liberal, and the next one might be a liberal too. Democrats have less than half the Senate but not much less than half the Senate. And it was not all that long ago that the country found itself in the bizarre situation of having to pay attention to Nancy Pelosi.

It’s true that a genuinely intellectual liberalism is nowhere to be found at the moment. But it’ll wander back. Crises are good times for political movements to take stock and cease pretending everything is just fine. It is not a matter of if, but when the pendulum will swing back in the other direction. And conservatives should be aware and humble enough to see it coming.

Read Less

The Midterms, the Jewish Vote, and Liberalism’s Price of Admission

In the wake of the Republican victory in the 2014 midterms, the left aimed some of its most spiteful rhetoric at the women and minorities elevated into office in the GOP wave. Perhaps the most cringe-inducing display of delegitimization belonged to the author Darron T. Smith, who wrote in the Huffington Post that Utah Republican Mia Love “might look black, but her politics are red.” Yet strangely enough, the best way to understand liberal anger at Republican African-Americans and women is through this Atlantic piece analyzing the Jewish vote in the midterm elections.

Read More

In the wake of the Republican victory in the 2014 midterms, the left aimed some of its most spiteful rhetoric at the women and minorities elevated into office in the GOP wave. Perhaps the most cringe-inducing display of delegitimization belonged to the author Darron T. Smith, who wrote in the Huffington Post that Utah Republican Mia Love “might look black, but her politics are red.” Yet strangely enough, the best way to understand liberal anger at Republican African-Americans and women is through this Atlantic piece analyzing the Jewish vote in the midterm elections.

In “Are Democrats Losing the Jews?” Emma Green attempts to understand why Democrats’ share of the Jewish vote decreased and what that means both for American Jews and the Democratic Party going forward. The unfortunate aspect to Green’s story is that she has the facts in front of her, so her conclusion is the result of ignoring, not utilizing, the information at her disposal. Though at various points in the article she seems to begin to understand the issue, in the end she concludes with a statement that sets a new standard for being wrong about the Jewish vote.

Green notes that although Democrats usually enjoy an overwhelming majority of the Jewish vote, at times truly terrible presidents cost their party a notable swath of those votes. Jimmy Carter, for example, only received 45 percent of the Jewish vote in 1980. Seen in that light, it’s not terribly surprising that although President Obama’s name wasn’t on the ballot in the midterms, his relentless attacks on Israel’s government and his downgrading of the U.S.-Israel military alliance while Israel was at war were bound to cost Democrats some of the Jewish vote.

Green then digs into last year’s Pew report on Jewish identity and assimilation. She attempts to draw some conclusions:

But these statistics do provide some context for what’s happening among Jewish voters. In 2006, 87 percent of Jews voted for Democratic candidates for the House, as did 50 percent of white Catholics and 37 percent of white Protestants—a 37- and 50-percentage point difference, respectively. In 2014, those gaps narrowed: There was only a 12-point difference between Jews and white Catholics, and a 40-point difference between Jews and white Protestants. Those are still big differences, obviously, but the conclusion is there: Jews are voting more like white people.

Put aside the “Jews are voting more like white people” remark: it’s clumsy and obviously silly, but we know what Green was trying to say. She then says that Republicans aren’t necessarily going to start winning the Jewish vote. “But,” she concludes, “it may be that, as a people as much as a voting bloc, Jews are becoming less influenced by their Jewishness.”

And here we have the liberal mindset perfectly distilled. Just like Darron Smith thinks blacks who don’t vote for Democrats are in some way voting against their “blackness,” and Ann Friedman can write that Republican women aren’t “truly pro-woman,” the idea undergirding Green’s conclusion is that liberalism is political Judaism. Of course that’s insulting to those who take their Jewish faith seriously, and it’s certainly a creepy parallel to the “price of admission” ideology of leftism going back to the French Revolution. But it’s also, crucially, wrong.

There has been no major swing of the Jewish vote away from Democrats, and there likely won’t be. But incremental gains by the GOP are not evidence of Jews being less Jewish; they’re exactly the opposite. Although the Orthodox are far from being anywhere close to a majority of American Jews–and will remain far from it for quite some time, even if current trends hold–they are still increasing their share of American Jews. As the numbers have increased, so has their political activism. And they are much more likely to care not only about Israel but about issues like school choice and economic liberty, to say nothing of religious liberty. (Pew found that “57% of Orthodox Jews describe themselves as Republicans or say they lean toward the Republican Party.”)

The Orthodox Union took some heat from other corners of the Jewish world for supporting the Catholic-driven attempts to allow religious exemptions from the Obama administration’s contraception mandate. The OU’s Nathan Diament explained that the organization did so not because it opposes birth control but because “we, particularly as a religious minority in the United States, must stand in solidarity with people of all faiths in demanding the broadest protections for rights of conscience in the face of government (and socio-cultural) coercion to the contrary.”

It’s no surprise that as the share of observant Jews increases, those Jews will be less likely to support a Democratic Party that is increasingly hostile to religious freedom and faith more generally, and instead support a Republican Party that seeks to protect religious practice from the authoritarian instincts of statist liberalism. Green could not be more wrong, in other words, about Jewish identity and voting trends. But her analysis was just one more example that modern liberalism requires its adherents to sacrifice all other aspects of their identity for The Cause. If minorities must choose between their community and leftist doctrine, it’s encouraging that many of them choose the former.

Read Less

For Dems, All Roads Lead to Hillary

The conventional wisdom on whether the shellacking experienced by the Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections was good for Hillary Clinton’s prospects is shifting slightly. It began even before the elections, when the writing was on the wall. “If Democrats lose the Senate, the 2016 Democratic nominee can run against Congress and Senate Democrats would be poised to recapture it in two years,” a senior Capitol Hill Democrat told TIME magazine’s Zeke Miller for an October 15 story.

Read More

The conventional wisdom on whether the shellacking experienced by the Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections was good for Hillary Clinton’s prospects is shifting slightly. It began even before the elections, when the writing was on the wall. “If Democrats lose the Senate, the 2016 Democratic nominee can run against Congress and Senate Democrats would be poised to recapture it in two years,” a senior Capitol Hill Democrat told TIME magazine’s Zeke Miller for an October 15 story.

Miller continued: “In Democrats’ telling, likely-candidate Hillary Clinton could run on a narrative of Republican obstruction to passing legislation on issues like income inequality, raising the minimum wage, and equal pay for women.” Indeed, President Obama’s attempts to run against a “do-nothing Congress” were always ridiculous, since the Democrats controlled the Senate, shut the GOP out of the process, and everything had to go through Harry Reid (and thus, Obama) to make it to the Senate floor. But once the Republicans actually won the Senate and controlled both houses of Congress, the thinking went, the fiction of a do-nothing Congress controlled by the other side becomes plausible.

After the election turned out even worse for Democrats than expected, this spin held steady. It was argued that when Democrats lost the race to succeed Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, it weakened an already shaky prospective challenger to Clinton. And as one Democratic operative told the Washington Post, Republicans would likely spend the next two years trying to undo some of the Obama administration’s handiwork, enabling Hillary to “both make the case against the Republicans while currying favor with the Obama base.”

As time went on, however, the Democrats’ attempts to spin the loss caused a clash of two self-soothing narratives. The idea that a Republican majority could help Hillary be the savior in 2016 ran up against the White House’s preferred narrative: that the low turnout of the midterms compared to presidential elections meant the Democrats really didn’t have a crisis on their hands. They didn’t need a savior because, they argued, demographics still favored them in presidential years. That meant that not only were they in good shape for 2016, but that a good turnout could give them back the Senate only two years after losing it.

Such consolation was temporary, however, when Democrats realized the implications of their spin: gridlock, not liberal triumph. After all, if they would struggle in midterm congressional elections, it meant they could kiss their emerging Democratic majority goodbye. All of a sudden it didn’t matter quite so much if 2014 was good for Hillary’s 2016 hopes: they already held a built-in advantage in presidential elections. And yet, here’s the situation in which they found themselves the morning after, as the Washington Post reported:

While the GOP is likely to control 54 percent of all Senate seats and 56 percent (or so) of the House come January, it also will now control more than two-thirds of state legislative chambers across the country — as in nearly seven in 10. And given Republicans also won at least 31 governorships, they are basically in control of the state government in 24 states. That could soon hit 25 if they win the still-undetermined governor’s race in Alaska.

That meant, according to the WaPo, “47.8 percent of Americans will now be led by GOP-controlled governments with little/no ability for Democrats to thwart them. …Democrats, meanwhile, will govern unilaterally in states with just 15.6 percent of Americans — less than one-sixth of the country. And that’s with the nation’s biggest state, California, firmly in their back pocket. Without that, they would govern over just 3.5 percent (less than one-25th) of the nation’s residents.”

The new spin was that Democrats had to find some way to animate their base so they could chip away at local Republican dominance. One way to do that would be to draft a challenger to Hillary Clinton from the left. There are not many to choose from after Elizabeth Warren, who almost certainly isn’t running. Jim Webb isn’t a threat to Hillary, and neither is the self-described socialist Bernie Sanders. What to do?

A better idea, as Noam Scheiber points out in a smart piece for the New Republic, is to expand the coalition. That’s what Republicans did to win these midterms so resoundingly. Democrats need to win back some–not all, nor even most, just some–white working-class voters, Scheiber writes. Democrats’ ability to do so has deteriorated because the populism that appeals to some of their voters repels other voters, and the same goes for social issues.

What can Democrats do to solve this puzzle? Scheiber has good news: once again, it’s a problem that is in the process of solving itself. Thus:

there’s a coalition available to Democrats that knits together working class minorities and college-educated voters and slices heavily into the GOP’s margins among the white working class. … The basis of the coalition isn’t a retreat from social progressivism, but making economic populism the party’s centerpiece, as opposed to the mix of mildly progressive economic policies (marginally higher taxes on the wealthy, marginally tougher regulation of Wall Street) and staunchly progressive social policies that define the party today.

Scheiber raises one glaring weakness in this strategy: Hillary’s not a great fit for the role. And that, in the end, tells us why Democrats will end up with Hillary anyway, and that even if she doesn’t give them their permanent majority she’s still their best choice. The Democrats don’t have anyone on their bench who is both a populist firebrand and can win. So we’re back to square one: Democrats can run a populist from Hillary’s left. Hillary will mimic whatever populism she needs to, even though she doesn’t mean it, to win the nomination. And the Occupy Democrats will recede back into irrelevance.

Read Less




Pin It on Pinterest

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.