Commentary Magazine


Topic: liberalism

Don’t Abet Academia’s Crackdown on Religious Liberty

By far the most strategically canny aspect of liberal institutions’ multifront attack on religious freedom in America has been the (alas, successful) bid to divide and conquer. From within the Jewish world, for example, it’s been sad to watch Jews insist that obvious violations of religious freedom of Catholics shouldn’t concern Jews, because the Democratic White House has not yet come for them.

The latest instance of non-Christian acquiescence in state-sponsored religious bigotry is on the issue of religious groups on public college campuses. The New York Times reports on the trend of religious groups, usually evangelicals, losing their college affiliation for refusing to sign the loyalty oath masquerading as an “anti-discrimination” agreement.

The Times centers the story on Bowdoin College, but notes that the real issue is the California State University’s public system–the largest of its kind in the country–joining the campaign, which Christian students and leaders understandably see as a possible tipping point against them. Like the Constitutional clergy of revolutionary France who took the oath of allegiance to the new secular state, the Times reports that “At most universities that have begun requiring religious groups to sign nondiscrimination policies, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and mainline Protestant groups have agreed, saying they do not discriminate and do not anticipate that the new policies will cause problems.”

Yet it’s easy to understand the evangelical groups’ concern with the extent, though not the spirit, of the oath:

The evangelical groups say they, too, welcome anyone to participate in their activities, including gay men and lesbians, as well as nonbelievers, seekers and adherents of other faiths. But they insist that, in choosing leaders, who often oversee Bible study and prayer services, it is only reasonable that they be allowed to require some basic Christian faith — in most cases, an explicit agreement that Jesus was divine and rose from the dead, and often an implicit expectation that unmarried student leaders, gay or straight, will abstain from sex.

“It would compromise our ability to be who we are as Christians if we can’t hold our leaders to some sort of doctrinal standard,” said Zackary Suhr, 23, who has just graduated from Bowdoin, where he was a leader of the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship.

No kidding! Would a Jewish group be comfortable with a non-Jew leading prayer services? In charge of the group’s Torah study? The evangelical groups do not forbid non-believers from participating in their activities. They simply want their religious practice to be led by members of their religious community. And for this, they are paying the price:

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By far the most strategically canny aspect of liberal institutions’ multifront attack on religious freedom in America has been the (alas, successful) bid to divide and conquer. From within the Jewish world, for example, it’s been sad to watch Jews insist that obvious violations of religious freedom of Catholics shouldn’t concern Jews, because the Democratic White House has not yet come for them.

The latest instance of non-Christian acquiescence in state-sponsored religious bigotry is on the issue of religious groups on public college campuses. The New York Times reports on the trend of religious groups, usually evangelicals, losing their college affiliation for refusing to sign the loyalty oath masquerading as an “anti-discrimination” agreement.

The Times centers the story on Bowdoin College, but notes that the real issue is the California State University’s public system–the largest of its kind in the country–joining the campaign, which Christian students and leaders understandably see as a possible tipping point against them. Like the Constitutional clergy of revolutionary France who took the oath of allegiance to the new secular state, the Times reports that “At most universities that have begun requiring religious groups to sign nondiscrimination policies, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and mainline Protestant groups have agreed, saying they do not discriminate and do not anticipate that the new policies will cause problems.”

Yet it’s easy to understand the evangelical groups’ concern with the extent, though not the spirit, of the oath:

The evangelical groups say they, too, welcome anyone to participate in their activities, including gay men and lesbians, as well as nonbelievers, seekers and adherents of other faiths. But they insist that, in choosing leaders, who often oversee Bible study and prayer services, it is only reasonable that they be allowed to require some basic Christian faith — in most cases, an explicit agreement that Jesus was divine and rose from the dead, and often an implicit expectation that unmarried student leaders, gay or straight, will abstain from sex.

“It would compromise our ability to be who we are as Christians if we can’t hold our leaders to some sort of doctrinal standard,” said Zackary Suhr, 23, who has just graduated from Bowdoin, where he was a leader of the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship.

No kidding! Would a Jewish group be comfortable with a non-Jew leading prayer services? In charge of the group’s Torah study? The evangelical groups do not forbid non-believers from participating in their activities. They simply want their religious practice to be led by members of their religious community. And for this, they are paying the price:

The consequences for evangelical groups that refuse to agree to the nondiscrimination policies, and therefore lose their official standing, vary by campus. The students can still meet informally on campus, but in most cases their groups lose access to student activity fee money as well as first claim to low-cost or free university spaces for meetings and worship; they also lose access to standard on-campus recruiting tools, such as activities fairs and bulletin boards, and may lose the right to use the universities’ names.

“It’s absurd,” said Alec Hill, the president of InterVarsity, a national association of evangelical student groups, including the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship. “The genius of American culture is that we allow voluntary, self-identified organizations to form, and that’s what our student groups are.”

Some institutions, including the University of Florida, the University of Houston, the University of Minnesota and the University of Texas, have opted to exempt religious groups from nondiscrimination policies, according to the Christian Legal Society. But evangelical groups have lost official status at Tufts University, the State University of New York at Buffalo and Rollins College in Florida, among others, and their advocates are worried that Cal State could be a tipping point.

The Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, mainline Protestant, and other non-evangelical groups that have signed this modern-day Civil Constitution of the Clergy probably think they are simply avoiding a fight that doesn’t pertain to them. That’s plain madness, and shameful to boot.

But it’s also counterproductive. When the left-liberal establishment seeks to infringe their own rights, they will have already acceded to this conformist fanaticism and surrendered any right to expect other religious groups to come to their aid. This is particularly careless for the Jewish community, which is such a demographic minority that in such cases they have no strength but in numbers–a lesson they bewilderingly seem intent on unlearning.

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Cuomo’s Left Flank Gets Back in Line

Over the last few weeks a minor drama broke out within New York’s political left. The Working Families Party, a mix of liberal activists and interest groups that includes labor unions, threatened to run its own candidate for governor against incumbent Democrat Andrew Cuomo and Republican challenger Rob Astorino. On May 29, the New York Times quoted the WFP’s co-chair as saying that, due to Cuomo’s apparently insufficient leftist instincts (yes really), “Unless there is a significant new development in the next 24 hours, I don’t expect the state committee to endorse the governor.”

That development did not come within 24 hours, so the WFP went into its Saturday nominating convention with the threat intact. It didn’t happen even when Cuomo made an appeal Saturday night via video to the convention and live phone call. The leaders of the WFP were clear. “Party leaders had detailed specific language for Mr. Cuomo to use in his video, according to people familiar with the matter, and on at least one topic—increasing the minimum wage—he hadn’t used it,” reported the Wall Street Journal. The Journal notes that Cuomo remembered his lines just in time:

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Over the last few weeks a minor drama broke out within New York’s political left. The Working Families Party, a mix of liberal activists and interest groups that includes labor unions, threatened to run its own candidate for governor against incumbent Democrat Andrew Cuomo and Republican challenger Rob Astorino. On May 29, the New York Times quoted the WFP’s co-chair as saying that, due to Cuomo’s apparently insufficient leftist instincts (yes really), “Unless there is a significant new development in the next 24 hours, I don’t expect the state committee to endorse the governor.”

That development did not come within 24 hours, so the WFP went into its Saturday nominating convention with the threat intact. It didn’t happen even when Cuomo made an appeal Saturday night via video to the convention and live phone call. The leaders of the WFP were clear. “Party leaders had detailed specific language for Mr. Cuomo to use in his video, according to people familiar with the matter, and on at least one topic—increasing the minimum wage—he hadn’t used it,” reported the Wall Street Journal. The Journal notes that Cuomo remembered his lines just in time:

With the clock ticking, Mr. Cuomo spoke by phone to a smaller group backstage, including a top aide to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Emma Wolfe, and WFP members Jonathan Westin, Javier Valdes and Deborah Axt. This time, Mr. Cuomo used the agreed-upon language (concerning giving local authorities the ability to adjust the minimum wage within a formula), according to people familiar with the call.

Why would Cuomo go through all that trouble just to secure his left flank? The answer is that the WFP is more influential, and can make more trouble, than people outside the New York area (most of whom haven’t heard of the party) tend to think. As the Times mentioned in its report, a recent statewide Quinnipiac poll found Cuomo at 57 percent in a one-on-one matchup with Astorino, but sliding to 37 percent with the addition of a WFP candidate on the ballot.

In reality, the high drama wasn’t all that dramatic. Cuomo doesn’t want a challenger to his left because he doesn’t want the narrative of being too conservative, not because he would actually have his reelection spoiled by the WFP. The WFP wanted something similar: they know they can’t cost Cuomo his reelection, but they don’t want the narrative of seeming to cave on principle.

So Cuomo pretended to care about their opinions, and the WFP leadership pretended to believe him.

None of this is particularly surprising, and in fact speaks to the general mood of the left nationwide. The Democrats have, almost without exception, become the party of government. Their agenda is the agenda of the state, and their power is the bureaucracy. This wasn’t always the case. Once upon a time, Democrats believed the establishment was essentially conservative–not just the government’s muscular foreign policy but the social mores of the age as well. Even as late as 1980 there was a genuine struggle within the party, leading to Ted Kennedy’s primary challenge to a sitting Democratic president–a turn of events hard to imagine taking place today.

But today’s conformist left takes it one step further. While the Republicans were struggling to free their party from next-in-linism, the Democrats became the party of get-in-linism. Forget truly challenging a sitting president; the Democrats don’t want a primary fight for an open nomination, as evidenced by the emerging Clinton juggernaut. They went from challenging an incumbent president to hesitant to challenge a presumptive nominee.

This is not, by the way, spinelessness. It’s logic. As the Democrats’ policies have become increasingly unpopular, the party’s approach to governance has adjusted accordingly. Rather than compromise on legislation, they have simply empowered unelected bureaucrats and shielded them (not always successfully) from accountability. This has become a vicious circle: if Democrats don’t have to win public approval for their actions, they become less adept at engaging actual arguments, which forces them to turn to ever more executive power grabs.

It also means left-wing activists, such as those at the WFP, have more to gain by getting in line and ensuring Democrats win elections, because the vast expansion of the bureaucracy means there are more spoils to go around. The WFP is not going to defeat Cuomo, but they do need to make an occasional point about their own relevance. Their point has now been made, and they’re back in line. And the party of government rolls on.

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Solving the GOP’s Middle Class Problem

Yesterday the YGNetwork released a new book, Room To Grow: Conservative Reforms for Limited Government and a Thriving Middle Class. It includes essays by some of the top thinkers and policy experts in the conservative world, offering reforms in the areas of health care, K-12 and higher education, energy, taxes, job creation, the social safety net, regulations and finances, and the family. Yuval Levin articulated a conservative governing vision while Ramesh Ponnuru wrote a chapter on recovering the wisdom of the Constitution.  

(The New York Times story on the release of the book can be found here, a related event held at the American Enterprise Institute can be viewed here, and the book itself and chapter summaries can be found here.) 

For my part, I contributed an opening chapter to Room To Grow, the purpose of which is to define the middle class and summarize the attitudes of those who comprise it. Here’s what I found. 

When speaking of the middle class, there’s both a technical and a practical definition. The technical definition is households with annual incomes ranging from roughly $39,400 to $118,200. The practical definition is the broad base of Americans. Fully 85 percent of Americans consider themselves as part of an expanded definition of middle class (lower, upper, and simply middle class). It’s people who don’t consider themselves rich or poor and who can imagine their fortunes going either way. 

Any successful political movement and party need to be seen as addressing their concerns.

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Yesterday the YGNetwork released a new book, Room To Grow: Conservative Reforms for Limited Government and a Thriving Middle Class. It includes essays by some of the top thinkers and policy experts in the conservative world, offering reforms in the areas of health care, K-12 and higher education, energy, taxes, job creation, the social safety net, regulations and finances, and the family. Yuval Levin articulated a conservative governing vision while Ramesh Ponnuru wrote a chapter on recovering the wisdom of the Constitution.  

(The New York Times story on the release of the book can be found here, a related event held at the American Enterprise Institute can be viewed here, and the book itself and chapter summaries can be found here.) 

For my part, I contributed an opening chapter to Room To Grow, the purpose of which is to define the middle class and summarize the attitudes of those who comprise it. Here’s what I found. 

When speaking of the middle class, there’s both a technical and a practical definition. The technical definition is households with annual incomes ranging from roughly $39,400 to $118,200. The practical definition is the broad base of Americans. Fully 85 percent of Americans consider themselves as part of an expanded definition of middle class (lower, upper, and simply middle class). It’s people who don’t consider themselves rich or poor and who can imagine their fortunes going either way. 

Any successful political movement and party need to be seen as addressing their concerns.

As for what I discovered in my analysis of the middle class, let me start with their mood, which is anxious, insecure, and uneasy. National Journal‘s Ronald Brownstein, in analyzing the data from an April 2013 Heartland Monitor Poll, said, “The overall message is of pervasive, entrenched vulnerability–a sense that many financial milestones once assumed as cornerstones of middle-class life are now beyond reach for all but the rich.” 

These concerns are largely justified. Since the turn of the century, middle class Americans have been working harder yet losing ground. Wages are stagnant. (The typical household is making roughly the same as the typical household made a quarter of a century ago.) Meanwhile, the cost of living–especially health-care and higher education costs–has gone way up. For example, health-care spending per person, adjusted for inflation, has roughly doubled since 1988, to about $8,500. The average student debt in 2011 was $23,300. (For middle class families, the cost of one year of tuition equals about half of household income.)   

The middle class is also increasingly pessimistic, with two-thirds of Americans thinking it’s harder to reach the American Dream today than it was for their parents and three-quarters believing it will be harder for their children and grandchildren to succeed.

The middle class holds the political class largely responsible for the problems they face. Sixty-two percent place “a lot” of blame on Congress, followed by banks/financial institutions and corporations. 

If Congress in general is held in low esteem, the situation facing the GOP is particularly problematic. Middle class Americans are more likely to say that Democrats rather than the Republicans favor their interests. Polls indicate 62 percent of those in the middle class say the Republican Party favors the rich while 16 percent say the Democratic Party favors the rich; 37 percent of those in the middle class say the Democratic Party favors the middle class while only 26 percent say the GOP does. When asked which groups are helping the middle class, 17 percent had a positive response to Republican elected officials; 46 percent were negative. (For Democrats, the numbers were 28 percent positive v. 40 percent negative.) 

The challenge of the GOP, then, is to explain how a conservative vision of government can speak to today’s public concerns; and to explain how such a vision should translate into concrete policy reforms in important areas of our national life. 

“Policy is problem solving,” I wrote in the introduction:

It answers to principles and ideals, to a vision of the human good and the nature of society, to priorities and preferences; but at the end of the day it must also answer to real needs and concerns. And public policy today is clearly failing to address the problems that most trouble the American people.

Room To Grow suggests some ways forward, with special emphasis on what can be done to assist and empower those who are, and those who want to be, in the middle class.

Reactionary liberalism is intellectually exhausted and politically vulnerable. There is therefore an opening for conservatism to offer a different way of thinking about government, to move from administering large systems of service provision to empowering people to address the problems they confront on their own terms; to provide people with the resources and skills they need to address the challenges they face rather than to try to manage their decisions from on high. The task of the right isn’t simply to offer new policies, as vital as they are, but to explain the approach, the organizing principle, behind them. It is, as my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin puts it, replacing a failing liberal welfare state with a lean and responsive 21st century government worthy of a free, diverse and innovative society. It’s time we get on with it.

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Trigger Warnings

Conservatives are having a field day with the latest nonsense to come out of academia, trigger warnings. These are meant to warn people that certain subject matter that might be troubling to them will be covered in a course. Movies and television have long had rating systems to warn of violence, foul language, nudity, etc. And I see nothing wrong with that.

But do college professors have to warn students that The Merchant of Venice involves anti-Semitism or that All Quiet on the Western Front is about warfare, or that the history of Africa will refer to colonialism? Is it possible that students matriculated at respectable colleges might not already know that Shylock is a Jew or that Gatsby isn’t a card-carrying feminist? Alas, the answer to that is yes. But even so, are they so delicately constructed that encountering anti-Semitism in a play written more than four hundred years ago might cause significant distress?

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Conservatives are having a field day with the latest nonsense to come out of academia, trigger warnings. These are meant to warn people that certain subject matter that might be troubling to them will be covered in a course. Movies and television have long had rating systems to warn of violence, foul language, nudity, etc. And I see nothing wrong with that.

But do college professors have to warn students that The Merchant of Venice involves anti-Semitism or that All Quiet on the Western Front is about warfare, or that the history of Africa will refer to colonialism? Is it possible that students matriculated at respectable colleges might not already know that Shylock is a Jew or that Gatsby isn’t a card-carrying feminist? Alas, the answer to that is yes. But even so, are they so delicately constructed that encountering anti-Semitism in a play written more than four hundred years ago might cause significant distress?

Jonah Goldberg also points out a contradiction:

And what a strange madness it is. We live in a culture in which it is considered bigotry to question whether women should join combat units — but it is also apparently outrageous to subject women of the same age to realistic books and films about war without a warning? Even questioning the ubiquity of degrading porn, never mind labeling music or video games, is denounced as Comstockery, but labeling “The Iliad” makes sense?

It is a madness that will pass, I’m sure, as the academy undergoes the wrenching changes that will undoubtedly come in the next 20 years, for the 20th-century model for higher education is in terminal collapse. But meanwhile, this latest idiocy reminds me of a long-ago joke when movies were first being rated: “To some, it is the simple story of a boy and his dog. For others it is something more. Rated G for those who think it is a story of a boy and his dog. Rated X for those who think it is something more.”

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Why Bigger Government Does Not Equal More Services

The Democratic group Third Way is releasing the results of a survey on political “moderates,” which deviates from, and is more informative than, surveys on supposed “independents.” The Atlantic’s Molly Ball has piece discussing the survey as well as a memo Third Way officials gave Ball ahead of time to frame the results. It’s an interesting survey, especially with the parties gearing up for midterm elections. But the survey is undermined by a flaw that pervades such polls with regard to voters’ attitudes toward the size and scope of government.

That particular recurring survey question is rarely if ever challenged, but those who want an honest rendering of Americans’ political and policy preferences shouldn’t let it slide. Or, rather, conservatives shouldn’t let it slide, because the question is dishonestly designed to elicit a more favorable answer for supporters of expanding government. Here’s Ball:

Moderates’ perspective on the role of government has elements in common with both liberals and conservatives. Only 23 percent of moderates favor a larger government that provides more services (compared to 54 percent of liberals and 13 percent of conservatives); 37 percent favor a smaller government with fewer services (compared to 12 percent of liberals and 62 percent of conservatives).

As anyone who knows anything about the government can tell you, this is what our president might call a false choice. The simple fact is that the growth of the modern bureaucratic state is such that the larger government/more services vs. leaner government/fewer services framing is outdated and irrelevant. This type of poll question is trumpeted often by liberals who either don’t fully understand how the government works or who do understand but prefer not to clue their readers in on the con.

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The Democratic group Third Way is releasing the results of a survey on political “moderates,” which deviates from, and is more informative than, surveys on supposed “independents.” The Atlantic’s Molly Ball has piece discussing the survey as well as a memo Third Way officials gave Ball ahead of time to frame the results. It’s an interesting survey, especially with the parties gearing up for midterm elections. But the survey is undermined by a flaw that pervades such polls with regard to voters’ attitudes toward the size and scope of government.

That particular recurring survey question is rarely if ever challenged, but those who want an honest rendering of Americans’ political and policy preferences shouldn’t let it slide. Or, rather, conservatives shouldn’t let it slide, because the question is dishonestly designed to elicit a more favorable answer for supporters of expanding government. Here’s Ball:

Moderates’ perspective on the role of government has elements in common with both liberals and conservatives. Only 23 percent of moderates favor a larger government that provides more services (compared to 54 percent of liberals and 13 percent of conservatives); 37 percent favor a smaller government with fewer services (compared to 12 percent of liberals and 62 percent of conservatives).

As anyone who knows anything about the government can tell you, this is what our president might call a false choice. The simple fact is that the growth of the modern bureaucratic state is such that the larger government/more services vs. leaner government/fewer services framing is outdated and irrelevant. This type of poll question is trumpeted often by liberals who either don’t fully understand how the government works or who do understand but prefer not to clue their readers in on the con.

For example, during the controversy over Cliven Bundy, the New York Times’s Josh Barro was one of the commentators who sought to use the issue to make the point that limited-government conservatism, and especially libertarianism, can be explained by race. Here’s Barro:

A 2011 National Journal poll found that 42 percent of white respondents agreed with the statement, “Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.” Just 17 percent of blacks, 16 percent of Asians and 25 percent of Hispanics agreed. In 2011 and 2012, the Pew Research Center found that 55 percent of Asian-Americans and fully 75 percent of Hispanic-Americans say they prefer a bigger government providing more services over a smaller one providing fewer services, compared with just 41 percent of the general population.

An obvious problem is the wording of each question. The first question he uses offers two choices: government is either the problem or the solution. The lack of nuance–and, plainly, honesty–helps Barro’s argument but does a great disservice to his readers (though in fairness it’s not as though Barro himself wrote the survey question). The second question is the one that reappears in the Third Way survey.

The truth of the matter is that government has become unmanageably large in many ways, undermining the idea that a larger government necessarily results in more services.

A good resource for those who want the more accurate picture is Philip K. Howard’s The Rule of Nobody, which takes aim at the reasons government has, on important issues, ground to a halt. Howard opens with the story of the Bayonne Bridge, which spans the channel that connects New York Harbor to the port of Newark, the largest on the East Coast. The bridge, however, isn’t high enough to accommodate ships built to use the widened Panama Canal, set to be completed next year.

So what’s the solution? Howard notes that the government agency in charge decided the choices were either build a new bridge or dig a tunnel, each costing more than $4 billion. Then a new idea presented itself: raise the existing bridge roadway, at a cost of $1 billion, saving $3 billion. The resolution was “like a miracle.” And it went nowhere. The full story is worth reading and incredibly convoluted (which is Howard’s point), but here’s the gist:

Building anything important in America requires layers of approvals from multiple levels of government—in this project, forty-seven permits from nineteen different governmental entities. Environmental review has evolved into an academic exercise, like a game of who can find the most complications. Balkanization of authority among different agencies and levels of government creates a dynamic of buck-passing. “The process is aimed not at trying to solve problems,” Ms. Papageorgis observed, “but trying to find problems. You can’t get in trouble by saying no.” With any large project, something might go wrong. More studies are done.

The story of the Bayonne Bridge, and others like it–Howard’s book makes for sobering but important reading–is that the larger government got the more it cost while providing fewer services. Howard writes about school systems paralyzed by regulations, the culture of corruption fostered by the inability to navigate all the red tape, the resulting “involuntary noncompliance,” and the government’s erosion of civil society while then failing to provide the services whose responsibility was transferred from the private sphere to the public sector.

Larger government doesn’t just erode freedom. At a certain point, it begins providing fewer services than it did before it ballooned beyond manageability. Howard shows that often the only way around the most absurd bureaucratic extremism is public shaming. That should be applied to the survey questions designed to enable such bad governance as well.

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Democrats Concede They Can’t Run on Their Record

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, we read this:

Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster, said the key for Democrats is to frame the election as a choice between governing philosophies. “If it’s a referendum on whether you like the way Democrats have governed…that’s a harder election for us to win,” he said.

This is quite a revealing concession by Mr. Mellman. What he is basically saying is that if Democrats are judged on how they have governed, they won’t win. Democrats do not want to be judged on their results, to be held accountable, to be assessed on their governing record. And no wonder. The economy remains weak, the Affordable Care Act highly unpopular, and the mood of America sour.

Jerry Seib of the Wall Street Journal points out in his column that data from Wall Street Journal/NBC News polls show that by several measures, the current mood resembles–and in several instances is worse than–that of 2010, when Republicans made epic gains in congressional elections. 

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In an article in the Wall Street Journal, we read this:

Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster, said the key for Democrats is to frame the election as a choice between governing philosophies. “If it’s a referendum on whether you like the way Democrats have governed…that’s a harder election for us to win,” he said.

This is quite a revealing concession by Mr. Mellman. What he is basically saying is that if Democrats are judged on how they have governed, they won’t win. Democrats do not want to be judged on their results, to be held accountable, to be assessed on their governing record. And no wonder. The economy remains weak, the Affordable Care Act highly unpopular, and the mood of America sour.

Jerry Seib of the Wall Street Journal points out in his column that data from Wall Street Journal/NBC News polls show that by several measures, the current mood resembles–and in several instances is worse than–that of 2010, when Republicans made epic gains in congressional elections. 

For example, 65 percent of those surveyed believe things in the nation are headed on the wrong track (the figure was 60 percent in October 2010). Today 26 percent of Americans say the economy will get worse in the next 12 months (the figure was 20 percent in October 2010). President Obama’s approval rating is 43 percent this month; in October 2010, it was 45 percent. And today the preference for who controls Congress is split–45 percent/45 percent. In October 2010, Republicans led by two points.

Democrats, sensing this unease with their governance among the citizenry, want to divert the public’s attention away from their record of failure. My guess is that this won’t work; and even if Democrats do succeed in not making it a referendum election, a debate over governing philosophies is one Republicans should win. Because theirs actually is better.

After nearly six years of the Obama presidency, that should be a fairly easy case to make.

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WaPo’s Insanely Racist Attack on Tim Scott

If you’re an up-and-coming politician looking to raise your name recognition, a profile in a national newspaper like the Washington Post is a great way to do so. There are two primary categories of exceptions, however: if you are either a Republican candidate for president or present a threat to the left’s carefully constructed fictions about party identification and identity politics, your profile in the Post is likely to be an excessively dishonest hit job.

It is the latter category into which South Carolina Senator Tim Scott falls. Scott is one of only two black U.S. senators, and the only such Republican. (He was joined in the Senate by the Democrat Cory Booker last year.) As such, the left believes he must be destroyed, and the Post puts in quite an effort in the sadly predictable attempt by the left to delegitimize Scott as a black man. The piece begins cheerily enough, with Scott meeting constituents and doing charity work “undercover”–without telling people he’s their senator. In fact, for a while the article seems downright positive, except for this extraordinarily racist paragraph:

This year, he is poised to be the first black politician to win statewide election in South Carolina since Reconstruction. He’s young (for the Senate), affable and able to blend in where his colleagues would stand out — just try to imagine Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) talking about understanding the misguided allure of drug dealing, or being asked whether he had been assigned mandatory community service.

Get it? Because he’s black, the Post believes he can be easily mistaken for a drug dealer or an ex-con. It’s a mystery as to how such a paragraph could possibly make it to the printer unless it reflected the noxious racial beliefs of every Post editor and proofreader along the way. Unfortunately, however, it’s a sign of things to come.

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If you’re an up-and-coming politician looking to raise your name recognition, a profile in a national newspaper like the Washington Post is a great way to do so. There are two primary categories of exceptions, however: if you are either a Republican candidate for president or present a threat to the left’s carefully constructed fictions about party identification and identity politics, your profile in the Post is likely to be an excessively dishonest hit job.

It is the latter category into which South Carolina Senator Tim Scott falls. Scott is one of only two black U.S. senators, and the only such Republican. (He was joined in the Senate by the Democrat Cory Booker last year.) As such, the left believes he must be destroyed, and the Post puts in quite an effort in the sadly predictable attempt by the left to delegitimize Scott as a black man. The piece begins cheerily enough, with Scott meeting constituents and doing charity work “undercover”–without telling people he’s their senator. In fact, for a while the article seems downright positive, except for this extraordinarily racist paragraph:

This year, he is poised to be the first black politician to win statewide election in South Carolina since Reconstruction. He’s young (for the Senate), affable and able to blend in where his colleagues would stand out — just try to imagine Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) talking about understanding the misguided allure of drug dealing, or being asked whether he had been assigned mandatory community service.

Get it? Because he’s black, the Post believes he can be easily mistaken for a drug dealer or an ex-con. It’s a mystery as to how such a paragraph could possibly make it to the printer unless it reflected the noxious racial beliefs of every Post editor and proofreader along the way. Unfortunately, however, it’s a sign of things to come.

The story begins to really go off the rails when Scott tries to explain why he’s taking this approach to meeting constituents: “This is about becoming credible.” The Post calls this an “odd assertion,” and seeks to make sense of it:

Scott is a steadfast conservative, not looking to alter his opinions so much as convince others that his party has something to offer. While a cynic might call this the move of a con artist, Scott prefers the term “salesman.”

It is at this point that the reader begins to wonder if the reporter responsible for this story and his editors have completely lost their minds. And then it all comes into focus. After goading Scott into criticizing his fellow black conservatives, the Post starts asking others what they think of Scott. Here’s the pro-Scott voice:

Just a few miles away from the Goodwill, there’s the Greenville Museum and Library of Confederate History, a place where the director, Mike Couch, will tell you that slavery was in fact not racist.

“It was a matter of economics, most likely,” Couch says. He walks over to a wall covered with pictures of black Confederate soldiers. “We judge people by character, not skin color.”

Couch, who is white, is a fan of Scott’s.

So speaking for Scott we have a neoconfederate white man who defends slavery. And who do we have on the other side criticizing Scott to, you know, provide balance? See if you can guess where this is going:

“If you call progress electing a person with the pigmentation that he has, who votes against the interest and aspirations of 95 percent of the black people in South Carolina, then I guess that’s progress,” says Rep. James E. Clyburn, a black congressman who serves in the state’s Democratic leadership.

Scott got an F on the NAACP annual scorecard. He voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he voted to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt of Congress, opposed the Congressional Black Caucus’s budget proposal and voted to delay funding a settlement between the United States and black farmers who alleged that the federal government refused them loans because of their race.

Hilary Shelton, the NAACP’s Washington bureau director, says it’s great that Scott is reaching out to the community with messages of self-determination and religion, but that it’s not enough.

“He’s not running for preacher,” Shelton says. “We can tell when people are coming to sell snake oil.”

This isn’t to say that Scott can’t find common ground with the other side. He recently teamed up with Democratic Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.), the only other black U.S. senator, on a bill to help create thousands of paid apprenticeships.

“Would I vote for him in South Carolina? No,” Booker says. “But do I think he is sincere of heart on many issues? Absolutely.”

That’s the Post’s evenhanded approach: supporters of Scott are neoconfederates, and opponents are black politicians in both the House and Senate and black community leaders. Which side are you on?

The Post’s attack on Scott is really nothing new, though the overt prejudice of the piece is a bit brazen. It’s part of the left’s standard line that non-liberal black politicians are the wrong kind of African Americans, and their racial identity must then be denied or delegitimized while equating true racial identity with the political platform of the American Democratic Party, thus erasing black Americans’ history and experience because it is inconvenient to liberals’ quest for political power.

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The Fight Against BDS on the Left

Late in March, I wrote about an “open forum” at Vassar College, at which 200 Vasserites gathered for the purpose of denouncing a planned trip to Israel. The trip was organized by two professors with impeccable liberal credentials and included a visit to a Palestinian refugee camp. But its purpose was not the delegitimization of Israel, so representatives of Students for Justice in Palestine found it unacceptable. Perhaps it did not help that the organizers were named Schneiderman and Friedman. As William Jacobson has reported, members of the Vassar community, in the presence of the dean of students and acting dean of the college, heckled and laughed at Jewish students who attempted to speak.

Jill Schneiderman and Rachel Friedman have since written of the “climate of fear” that has “descended on campus” over the “past several years,” a climate that has stifled dissent. Parts of their letter are irritating. For example, they claim that they have been denounced by both the right and the left, even though their critics come almost entirely from the left. But they make one important point convincingly: the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement that ran them over wants to make people think less, not more.

That is why their trip, which had students meeting with “Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Christians, Muslims and Jews working together towards justice through nonviolent solutions” was so offensive to the BDS crowd at Vassar. The students who took part ran the risk of learning about the “complex realities of [a] conflict-ridden place.”  What’s worse, they may have learned to question the BDS story, according to which the whole problem of the Middle East will be resolved once the Israelis are bullied into agreeing that they treat the Palestinians just like the Nazis treated the Jews, and do penance by giving up on the idea of a Jewish state.

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Late in March, I wrote about an “open forum” at Vassar College, at which 200 Vasserites gathered for the purpose of denouncing a planned trip to Israel. The trip was organized by two professors with impeccable liberal credentials and included a visit to a Palestinian refugee camp. But its purpose was not the delegitimization of Israel, so representatives of Students for Justice in Palestine found it unacceptable. Perhaps it did not help that the organizers were named Schneiderman and Friedman. As William Jacobson has reported, members of the Vassar community, in the presence of the dean of students and acting dean of the college, heckled and laughed at Jewish students who attempted to speak.

Jill Schneiderman and Rachel Friedman have since written of the “climate of fear” that has “descended on campus” over the “past several years,” a climate that has stifled dissent. Parts of their letter are irritating. For example, they claim that they have been denounced by both the right and the left, even though their critics come almost entirely from the left. But they make one important point convincingly: the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement that ran them over wants to make people think less, not more.

That is why their trip, which had students meeting with “Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Christians, Muslims and Jews working together towards justice through nonviolent solutions” was so offensive to the BDS crowd at Vassar. The students who took part ran the risk of learning about the “complex realities of [a] conflict-ridden place.”  What’s worse, they may have learned to question the BDS story, according to which the whole problem of the Middle East will be resolved once the Israelis are bullied into agreeing that they treat the Palestinians just like the Nazis treated the Jews, and do penance by giving up on the idea of a Jewish state.

Because this story is delusional and vile, it is no surprise that those who wish to tell it must try to shut up anyone who objects. But the fight against them is consequently a fight for the free, truth-seeking soul of the university. If we are to win that fight in higher education, we will need people on the left to take it up. Fortunately, Schneiderman and Friedman are not the only ones who have noticed and spoken or written against a growing anti-liberalism in whose eyes, as Michelle Goldberg puts it in the Nation, “old-fashioned liberal values like free speech and robust, open debate seem like tainted adjuncts of an oppressive system.” Consider the founding statement of the new Academic Advisory Council for the Third Narrative, a left-leaning organization that favors a two-state solution and opposes BDS. These “progressive scholars and academics” reject “all attempts to undermine or diminish academic freedom and open intellectual exchange.” They single out the academic boycotts that have been a favored tool of BDS because they are “discriminatory per se and undercut the purpose of the academy: the pursuit of knowledge.”

I understand why some friends of Israel are hard on people like the members of the Academic Advisory Council who, in the name of evenhandedness, feel compelled to blame both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for “rhetoric … which demonizes and dehumanizes the other,” without acknowledging, as A.J. Adler complains, the “institutionalization of anti-Semitic rhetoric within organizations and concerns run or funded by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.” This “pox on both your houses” line, which the Council also applies to the debate in the U.S., is a little hard to take when one of the houses in question seeks to delegitimize Israel while the other merely seeks to defend it. Nonetheless, many of the scholars in question, including Cary Nelson, Sharon Ann Musher, and Kenneth Waltzer have been tireless, courageous, and effective opponents of BDS and champions of the principles that ought to animate our colleges and universities. I do not see a path to victory against BDS in higher education that does not involve an alliance with them.

Alliance does not imply agreement about everything, and we can look forward to debating such allies about how best to pursue peace. We will have plenty of time to do so, since our BDS opponents have no interest in debating. Two weeks ago, Jacobson, who will be at Vassar on Monday, issued a challenge to 39 professors there, who have signed a letter in favor of an academic boycott of Israel. Would any of them be willing to debate him publicly?

Not one of those professors, who work for a college whose mission statement speaks of “respectful debate,” took him up on it.

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Check Your Privilege

If there is anything more obnoxious than a liberal on his or her high moral horse I can’t imagine what it might be.

Lately, apparently, they have been using the phrase “check your privilege” in order to shut up any white male who dares to have an opinion not in sync with the approved thoughts of the left. It is, of course, sheer bigotry, presuming to know someone purely on the basis of his skin color and his gender.

Well a Princeton freshman named Tal Fortgang decided he had had enough of being told to shut up because he happens to be male and white. He wrote a beautiful essay for the Princeton Tory that deserves wide attention. (H/T Instapundit).

If there is anything more obnoxious than a liberal on his or her high moral horse I can’t imagine what it might be.

Lately, apparently, they have been using the phrase “check your privilege” in order to shut up any white male who dares to have an opinion not in sync with the approved thoughts of the left. It is, of course, sheer bigotry, presuming to know someone purely on the basis of his skin color and his gender.

Well a Princeton freshman named Tal Fortgang decided he had had enough of being told to shut up because he happens to be male and white. He wrote a beautiful essay for the Princeton Tory that deserves wide attention. (H/T Instapundit).

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An Impressive Stand on Behalf of Liberal Ideals by Gay Marriage Advocates

A group of prominent advocates for same-sex marriage signed a statement arguing for both the freedom to marry and the freedom to dissent.

This statement comes in the aftermath of the forced resignation of the CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich, because of a donation he made in 2008 on behalf of California’s Proposition 8, which would have upheld the traditional definition of marriage. The statement points out that there is no evidence that Mr. Eich believed in or practiced any form of discrimination against Mozilla’s LGBT employees. No matter; he was still forced out.

This action signaled “an eagerness by some supporters of same-sex marriage to punish rather than to criticize or to persuade those who disagree,” according to the statement. “We reject that deeply illiberal impulse, which is both wrong in principle and poor as politics.”

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A group of prominent advocates for same-sex marriage signed a statement arguing for both the freedom to marry and the freedom to dissent.

This statement comes in the aftermath of the forced resignation of the CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich, because of a donation he made in 2008 on behalf of California’s Proposition 8, which would have upheld the traditional definition of marriage. The statement points out that there is no evidence that Mr. Eich believed in or practiced any form of discrimination against Mozilla’s LGBT employees. No matter; he was still forced out.

This action signaled “an eagerness by some supporters of same-sex marriage to punish rather than to criticize or to persuade those who disagree,” according to the statement. “We reject that deeply illiberal impulse, which is both wrong in principle and poor as politics.”

The statement went on to point out that diversity is the natural consequence of liberty, saying:

Much of the rhetoric that emerged in the wake of the Eich incident showed a worrisome turn toward intolerance and puritanism among some supporters of gay equality—not in terms of formal legal sanction, to be sure, but in terms of abandonment of the core liberal values of debate and diversity.

Sustaining a liberal society demands a culture that welcomes robust debate, vigorous political advocacy, and a decent respect for differing opinions. People must be allowed to be wrong in order to continually test what is right. We should criticize opposing views, not punish or suppress them.

The declaration goes on to invoke the memory of Franklin Kameny, one of America’s earliest gay-rights proponents, who lost his job in 1957 because he was gay. We’re now living in a time when those who oppose gay marriage are being fired.

Neither situation–firing people because they are gay or firing people because they oppose gay marriage–is right; and the efforts by the signatories of this letter to stand up for classical liberal ideals and push back against those with whom they agree on the matter of gay marriage is admirable and important.

As I wrote about before on this matter, “When the dust finally settles, we still have to live together … Surely treating others with a certain degree of dignity and respect shouldn’t be too much to ask of those who oppose gay marriage and those who support it.”

The signatories of the statement have done their part, and I for one am grateful to them for having done so. 

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Ryan and Liberal Welfare-State Amnesia

At first it seemed like just a minor kerfuffle, the sort of thing that happens to every politician and soon fades away. Paul Ryan says something on a talk show. Liberals howl. Conservatives defend. And a couple of days later nobody even remembers what it was about. But now I’m convinced it’s about something bigger than the normal inside-baseball political fights. What’s at stake is an attempt to reinstate the old shibboleths that were the foundation of the liberal welfare state that was buried when President Bill Clinton said the era of big government was over and then signed a historic welfare reform act into law.

I’m referring, of course, to the dustup that ensued after the chair of the House Budget Committee said the following on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio show:

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

That provoked the left to blast him as a racist using “dog whistle” politics in which “inner cities” means black. But as I pointed out on Friday, the faux outrage being ginned up against Ryan flew in the face of just about everything we had learned about the role that family breakdowns and cultural problems have played in creating and perpetuating poverty. In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a recognition that one of the unintended consequences of the creation of the welfare state was the way it had produced a near-permanent underclass in our cities that no amount of government largesse seemed capable of ameliorating. As I noted last week, the backlash against Ryan seemed rooted in forgetting everything Daniel Patrick Moynihan taught us about the subject.

But rather than tailing off after a day as I anticipated, the assault on Ryan seems to be growing. In the last three days, we’ve seen a new round of attacks from even more prominent sources such as this hit piece from Politico Magazine and a 700-word-long rant from (as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto likes to call him) “former Enron advisor” Paul Krugman in the New York Times. Yet rather than this being a case of the left simply seeking to damage a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, what is going on is something much bigger. The discussion about “income inequality” was intended to change the subject from ObamaCare and to breathe some life into the lame-duck Obama presidency but it is now morphing into something far more ambitious: erasing the last half-century of debate about the problems of the welfare state.

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At first it seemed like just a minor kerfuffle, the sort of thing that happens to every politician and soon fades away. Paul Ryan says something on a talk show. Liberals howl. Conservatives defend. And a couple of days later nobody even remembers what it was about. But now I’m convinced it’s about something bigger than the normal inside-baseball political fights. What’s at stake is an attempt to reinstate the old shibboleths that were the foundation of the liberal welfare state that was buried when President Bill Clinton said the era of big government was over and then signed a historic welfare reform act into law.

I’m referring, of course, to the dustup that ensued after the chair of the House Budget Committee said the following on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio show:

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

That provoked the left to blast him as a racist using “dog whistle” politics in which “inner cities” means black. But as I pointed out on Friday, the faux outrage being ginned up against Ryan flew in the face of just about everything we had learned about the role that family breakdowns and cultural problems have played in creating and perpetuating poverty. In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a recognition that one of the unintended consequences of the creation of the welfare state was the way it had produced a near-permanent underclass in our cities that no amount of government largesse seemed capable of ameliorating. As I noted last week, the backlash against Ryan seemed rooted in forgetting everything Daniel Patrick Moynihan taught us about the subject.

But rather than tailing off after a day as I anticipated, the assault on Ryan seems to be growing. In the last three days, we’ve seen a new round of attacks from even more prominent sources such as this hit piece from Politico Magazine and a 700-word-long rant from (as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto likes to call him) “former Enron advisor” Paul Krugman in the New York Times. Yet rather than this being a case of the left simply seeking to damage a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, what is going on is something much bigger. The discussion about “income inequality” was intended to change the subject from ObamaCare and to breathe some life into the lame-duck Obama presidency but it is now morphing into something far more ambitious: erasing the last half-century of debate about the problems of the welfare state.

Ryan’s problem is not just that he tripped over the way some on the left have tried to turn the use of the phrase “inner cities” into a code word for racist incitement. The newly energized left wing of the Democratic Party wants something far bigger than to delegitimize the intellectual leader of the Republican congressional caucus. What they want is to take us back to those heady days of the 1960s before Moynihan’s report on the black family started to strip away the veneer of good intentions that defended government policies that hurt the poor far more than it helped them.

The point is, absent the buzz words about inner cities, you’d have to have spent the last 50 years trapped in some kind of time warp in order to think there was anything even vaguely controversial about the notion that cultural problems play a huge role in creating poverty. To his credit, Andrew Sullivan concedes as much when he defended Ryan from attacks by fellow liberals. Sullivan gets bogged down in a defense of Charles Murray’s seminal book Losing Ground and the question of various ethnic groups’ IQ numbers.

But the argument here is far more basic than such esoteric intellectual debates. The talk about income inequality isn’t only an attempt to associate Republicans with their traditional allies in big business and reposition Democrat elites as the friend of the working class. The goal of resurgent liberalism is also to reboot discussions about poverty in such a way as to ignore decades of research and debate about the ways in which dependency on the government breeds unemployment and multi-generational families mired in poverty.

That’s why the need for pushback on the slurs aimed at Ryan is so important. For decades, fear of telling the truth about the social pathologies bred by big government was assumed to be a permanent obstacle that would prevent change. The racism canard constituted the third rail of American politics that even reform-minded Republicans feared to touch. But by the ’90s, even many liberals understood the system was unsustainable. The passage of welfare reform was an acknowledgement on the part of Democrats that New Deal and Great Society liberalism had flaws that could no longer be ignored. But the shift left under Obama has given some liberals the belief that they can recreate the politics of the past and undo everything Moynihan and Clinton had done to change the national conversation about welfare and poverty. Instead of taking into account the way government policies create havoc for society and the poor, we may go back to the old liberal shibboleths that assume that throwing more money at a problem is the only solution and that the state can do no wrong.

What is at stake here is something far bigger than Paul Ryan’s political prospects. The future of generations of poor Americans trapped by government dependency hangs in the balance if the amnesia about the welfare state that is the foundation of the attacks on Ryan spread. Fair-minded Democrats who remember the cost to the country and to the poor, including so many minority families from an unrestrained welfare state, need to join with conservatives and restore some sanity as well as historical memory to this debate.

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The “War on Women” for Dummies

Liberal activists and lobbyist groups used today’s New York Times story on identity politics to loudly declare two things: there is a “war on women,” and these groups couldn’t be happier. That may sound strange at first glance. After all, some of these groups are ostensibly “women’s groups,” and this is indeed a counterintuitive way to react to political bias.

But that’s only if they actually believe their rhetoric; keep in mind, the White House fabricated the “war on women” to win elections. If that’s the case, why would these women’s groups repeat the story, especially considering just how demeaning and dehumanizing it is to women for these liberal groups to reduce them to their gender or reproductive organs? They’re surprisingly frank about their answer:

Democrats do not just get mad when they hear those words. They cash in.

In fact, they are trying to find even more examples by tracking Republican opponents, their surrogates and conservative news media personalities, then blasting their comments out to supporters to build voter lists and drum up donations, casting aside the well-worn advice to shrug off sexist comments lest they draw attention to gender over issues.

It is proving effective. Emily’s List, the political action committee that backs female candidates who support abortion rights, has raised a record $25 million this election cycle. On Tuesday, the group put out an online petition, “Tell the G.O.P.: Pregnant Women Are Not ‘Hosts,’ ” after Steve Martin, a state senator in Virginia, referred to a pregnant woman as the child’s “host” in a Facebook message.

“Instead of fearing sexist attacks, we wait gleefully for the next one,” said Jen Bluestein, a political strategist who formerly ran communications at Emily’s List.

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Liberal activists and lobbyist groups used today’s New York Times story on identity politics to loudly declare two things: there is a “war on women,” and these groups couldn’t be happier. That may sound strange at first glance. After all, some of these groups are ostensibly “women’s groups,” and this is indeed a counterintuitive way to react to political bias.

But that’s only if they actually believe their rhetoric; keep in mind, the White House fabricated the “war on women” to win elections. If that’s the case, why would these women’s groups repeat the story, especially considering just how demeaning and dehumanizing it is to women for these liberal groups to reduce them to their gender or reproductive organs? They’re surprisingly frank about their answer:

Democrats do not just get mad when they hear those words. They cash in.

In fact, they are trying to find even more examples by tracking Republican opponents, their surrogates and conservative news media personalities, then blasting their comments out to supporters to build voter lists and drum up donations, casting aside the well-worn advice to shrug off sexist comments lest they draw attention to gender over issues.

It is proving effective. Emily’s List, the political action committee that backs female candidates who support abortion rights, has raised a record $25 million this election cycle. On Tuesday, the group put out an online petition, “Tell the G.O.P.: Pregnant Women Are Not ‘Hosts,’ ” after Steve Martin, a state senator in Virginia, referred to a pregnant woman as the child’s “host” in a Facebook message.

“Instead of fearing sexist attacks, we wait gleefully for the next one,” said Jen Bluestein, a political strategist who formerly ran communications at Emily’s List.

Essentially what the story makes clear is that liberals have realized that the extent of their dominance of mainstream media and cultural institutions has enabled them to create a new dialect of the American political lexicon, and until someone gives Republicans a Rosetta Stone to the left’s Orwellian language, they will struggle to communicate according to the approved rhetoric.

Now, it’s important to note: there are certainly instances of clear sexist language being used against Democratic women. It doesn’t quite rise to the level that the left deploys against conservative women, for example the National Organization of Women declaring that a woman with conservative political views is not a woman at all, but in fact, as far as NOW is concerned, a man. Nonetheless, not all the outrage is ginned up out of nothing; occasionally someone steps over the line, and there’s nothing wrong with pointing that out.

But actual sexist remarks are only one of three categories of comments that the Times story attempts to seamlessly blend into one, considering all of them to be overtly sexist. The other two consist of insults that are offensive but not inherently sexist, and comments that are neither offensive nor sexist. The Times explains that to Democratic lobby groups seeking to raise money, the latter two categories, when applied to women, become sexist merely because the target of the comment is a woman.

The story gives one example of the second of the three categories: Claire McCaskill’s opponent said she was like a dog playing “fetch” by going to Washington to push for taxes and regulation that then get brought back to the people of Missouri. It’s obviously offensive to liken someone to an animal, and this particular analogy is also nonsensical. But it was also clearly not meant as a comment on her physical appearance.

As an example of the third and final category, the Times explains that a GOP communications official called Kentucky candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes an “empty dress,” referring to her campaign’s lack of policy specifics. This is obviously the same insult as calling someone an “empty suit,” standard fare for political debate. The only difference was that the GOP figure acknowledged that Grimes is a woman. This is the opposite of sexist (using a male version of the insult would have brought the accusation that Grimes was being called a man).

One is tempted to suggest that all this would be easier if the Democrats’ ministry of communications would just publish a book of what words and phrases Republicans are permitted to say in America. But that would defeat the purpose, which is, liberals explain, to ensure Republicans say the wrong thing so the left can raise money, as a former Obama official made startlingly clear:

“It comes down to your ability to not just ride the wave, but create the wave,” said Marie Danzig, deputy digital director for Mr. Obama’s 2012 campaign and head of creative and delivery at Blue State Digital, which works with Emily’s List.

If a wave’s not there, they’ll “create” it. And all they need is your generous donation to do so.

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Conservatives and Culture

Patrick Ruffini, long one of the conservative movement’s brightest minds on tech strategy in politics, has been working (with some success) to shake the right out of its ossified technological stasis. Part of Ruffini’s insight stems from his bias toward creativity and against institutional inertia: an entrenched institution isn’t by definition counterproductive, but neither should its persistence be taken for granted.

This week, Ruffini took to Twitter to broaden his critique to the conservative movement’s attitude toward institutions in general, both its own and those of the left. This Storify page captures the relevant tweets. Ruffini undoubtedly makes good points, and has some worthwhile advice for the right. But I think the limitation he runs into here is not really about cultural institutions per se but the culture that leads to the formation of those institutions. Ruffini writes:

Where is our Harvard, our New York Times, our Hollywood, our Silicon Valley? Owning the commanding heights of culture, it matters.

It’s true that culture matters, and later on Ruffini seems to acknowledge that a conservative version of the New York Times is not the best way de-marginalize conservative cultural perspectives when he writes:

This is why I’m encouraged to see guys like Robert Costa go to WaPo. Hard news reporting that started on the right.

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Patrick Ruffini, long one of the conservative movement’s brightest minds on tech strategy in politics, has been working (with some success) to shake the right out of its ossified technological stasis. Part of Ruffini’s insight stems from his bias toward creativity and against institutional inertia: an entrenched institution isn’t by definition counterproductive, but neither should its persistence be taken for granted.

This week, Ruffini took to Twitter to broaden his critique to the conservative movement’s attitude toward institutions in general, both its own and those of the left. This Storify page captures the relevant tweets. Ruffini undoubtedly makes good points, and has some worthwhile advice for the right. But I think the limitation he runs into here is not really about cultural institutions per se but the culture that leads to the formation of those institutions. Ruffini writes:

Where is our Harvard, our New York Times, our Hollywood, our Silicon Valley? Owning the commanding heights of culture, it matters.

It’s true that culture matters, and later on Ruffini seems to acknowledge that a conservative version of the New York Times is not the best way de-marginalize conservative cultural perspectives when he writes:

This is why I’m encouraged to see guys like Robert Costa go to WaPo. Hard news reporting that started on the right.

Indeed, as everyone knows, the most glaring lack of diversity in liberal media and cultural institutions is lack of intellectual and ideological diversity. The right produces plenty of talent, but the left’s rigid orthodoxy and enforced groupthink too rarely take the risk of exposing their audience to a dissenting view.

But the larger obstacle to the construction of conservative cultural institutions is that conservatives are so often by nature averse to the infusion of partisan politics into every facet of private life that would be required. Take each of the institutions Ruffini mentions.

Harvard: this is a stand-in for liberal academia overall, but it’s a good example since it retains its high status even as it basically gives its students A’s just for showing up. How does a place like Harvard become what it is today, when it once had such prestige and promise? Easy: the politicization of education by liberals who don’t want their students to be challenged. Do conservatives even want their own version of that? Should they? I don’t think they should, and I don’t they really do either. I think they yearn for the influence such institutions have, but greatly—and appropriately—disapprove of what it takes to get there.

New York Times: this is a stand-in for the liberal mainstream media, especially since the Times itself is going through such a crisis of credibility right now. But Ruffini already answered this one when he spoke of National Review’s ace political reporter Robert Costa going to the Washington Post. Conservative alternatives are too easily defined as such. More importantly, the Times mostly bellows groupthink and has allowed its bias not only to seep into its news reporting, but to become its news reporting. Why would conservatives want to foist another such institution on the country?

Hollywood: Here again we recently got a good look at how this operates. Actress Maria Conchita Alonso lost work because she supported a Republican. This new Hollywood blacklist is seemingly getting government sanction by federal authorities targeting any other nonconformists.

Blacklists, propaganda, the politicization of education—this is what it took for liberals to succeed in dominating cultural institutions. Which brings me to the last example: Silicon Valley. Ruffini answers this question with a sharp observation later in his discussion, when he writes:

If there are = numbers of smart righties as smart lefties, where do they go. On the right, they go into business. On the left, into politics

And thank goodness for that! Of course we want smart conservatives going into politics, and there are plenty. But it’s the sign of a healthy outlook when Americans are driven to the private sector instead of lusting after power. We are a nation with a government, as the saying goes, not the other way around.

It may be politically marginalizing to the right that conservatives believe in the need for a society outside the suffocating bureaucracy of the federal government, while leftists don’t. But the fact that conservatives believe in a life outside of partisan politics is healthy both for the conservative movement and the country on the whole. It’s a worthy, if frustratingly disempowering, sacrifice.

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The GOP’s Opening

I’m slightly less hopeful than John that the new Congressional Budget Report has dealt a death blow to the Affordable Care Act–but I certainly agree with him that the CBO report is “devastating” when it comes to the “inefficiencies, ineffectualities and problematic social costs of ObamaCare.” And John’s crisp analysis of just how far short the ACA has fallen from the claims made by the president–including CBO’s projection that in 10 years about the same number of people will lack insurance as before–underscores what an epic failure Mr. Obama’s signature achievement is turning out to be.

The CBO report affords another chance, then, to point out that the ACA isn’t just an indictment of the Obama presidency; it is an indictment against reactionary liberalism. ObamaCare was the capstone of a half-century effort by progressives to remake the American health-care system. Now they have, and the results range from awful to catastrophic.

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I’m slightly less hopeful than John that the new Congressional Budget Report has dealt a death blow to the Affordable Care Act–but I certainly agree with him that the CBO report is “devastating” when it comes to the “inefficiencies, ineffectualities and problematic social costs of ObamaCare.” And John’s crisp analysis of just how far short the ACA has fallen from the claims made by the president–including CBO’s projection that in 10 years about the same number of people will lack insurance as before–underscores what an epic failure Mr. Obama’s signature achievement is turning out to be.

The CBO report affords another chance, then, to point out that the ACA isn’t just an indictment of the Obama presidency; it is an indictment against reactionary liberalism. ObamaCare was the capstone of a half-century effort by progressives to remake the American health-care system. Now they have, and the results range from awful to catastrophic.

This doesn’t ensure Republicans a sail on a summer sea. There are still significant problems facing the GOP, demographic and otherwise, when it comes to presidential elections–problems I’ll focus on in a later post. For now, though, it’s enough to say that thanks to the combination of Mr. Obama’s staggering incompetence and flawed ideology, and the resultant harm to the America people, voters will give the Republican Party another look. It’s an open question as to whether the party will take the necessary steps–in tone, countenance, and substance–to take advantage of it. We’ll know more during the next year–and a lot more once the GOP has a nominee.

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Cuomo’s Version of Liberal Tolerance

There’s no sign that Hillary Clinton will forgo a run for a Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 that appears to be hers for the asking. But should she pass, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will likely be one of the main contenders. As such, he has spent the last year shoring up his left flank by departing from the moderate policies that he ran on in 2010 and that characterized his first two years in office. But Cuomo’s pivot left has now escalated to the point where he not only wishes to impose liberal ideas on a blue state apparently all too eager to accept such dictates but to make it clear that those who oppose him are no longer welcome to stay.

That was the upshot of a remarkable rant by Cuomo on a public radio station in Albany. As the Albany Times Union reported, in the course of an angry critique of the national Republican Party and as well as New Yorkers who oppose his SAFE Act—a draconian gun-control bill railroaded through the New York legislature not long after the Newtown massacre—Cuomo said the following:

You’re seeing that play out in New York. … The Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act — it was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate! Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.

Cuomo’s astonishing statement may please a suddenly ascendant left wing of the Democratic Party that is now feeling its strength after the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City and thinking about how it could influence the 2016 Democratic race. But it also demonstrates a disturbing degree of intolerance that illustrates the general rule of thumb, that conservatives believe liberals to be wrong and liberals think conservatives are evil. While this will endear Cuomo with his party’s base, it may come back to haunt him if he ever gets the chance to campaign on the national stage.

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There’s no sign that Hillary Clinton will forgo a run for a Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 that appears to be hers for the asking. But should she pass, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will likely be one of the main contenders. As such, he has spent the last year shoring up his left flank by departing from the moderate policies that he ran on in 2010 and that characterized his first two years in office. But Cuomo’s pivot left has now escalated to the point where he not only wishes to impose liberal ideas on a blue state apparently all too eager to accept such dictates but to make it clear that those who oppose him are no longer welcome to stay.

That was the upshot of a remarkable rant by Cuomo on a public radio station in Albany. As the Albany Times Union reported, in the course of an angry critique of the national Republican Party and as well as New Yorkers who oppose his SAFE Act—a draconian gun-control bill railroaded through the New York legislature not long after the Newtown massacre—Cuomo said the following:

You’re seeing that play out in New York. … The Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act — it was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate! Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.

Cuomo’s astonishing statement may please a suddenly ascendant left wing of the Democratic Party that is now feeling its strength after the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City and thinking about how it could influence the 2016 Democratic race. But it also demonstrates a disturbing degree of intolerance that illustrates the general rule of thumb, that conservatives believe liberals to be wrong and liberals think conservatives are evil. While this will endear Cuomo with his party’s base, it may come back to haunt him if he ever gets the chance to campaign on the national stage.

Cuomo’s reference to abortion opponents is especially interesting in the way it seeks to declare them not only out of the political mainstream in New York (which is undoubtedly true) but also worthy of being driven out of the Empire State. As Kathryn Jean Lopez noted in National Review on Friday, the governor’s rant demonstrates the distance both the Democratic Party and the Cuomo family have traveled in the last 30 years. As Lopez writes, in 1984, one of Cuomo’s predecessors as governor of New York—his father Mario—famously articulated a nuanced position in which he restated his personal opposition to abortion while defending its legality and public funding.

This same intolerance is made manifest in the federal ObamaCare mandate that seeks to force Catholic charity groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor pay for abortion drugs and contraception for its employees. That is a far cry from Mario Cuomo’s attempt to build a wall between private opposition to abortion and a public right to it. The Democrats of Barack Obama and Andrew Cuomo will now brook no opposition to their dictates or, in Cuomo’s case, even allow opponents to reside in “his” state.

However, the spark for Cuomo’s anger—opposition to the gun bill he promulgated in his State of the State last year and then rammed through the legislature inside of a day as a sop to public anguish about Newtown—also demonstrates the incoherence of this new extreme liberalism. The SAFE act imposed new bans on assault weapons, gun magazines, and imposed even broader rules for background checks for legal gun purchases. But in the year since it was passed, it has gone largely unenforced since it has sown almost universal confusion among law-enforcement personnel and gun venders and owners who are unsure what is and what is not rendered illegal by the vague language in the sloppily-drafted legislation Cuomo championed.

One needn’t be an opponent of legalized abortion or a member of the National Rifle Association to understand the dangers of this sort of rhetoric and a legislative agenda driven by such sentiments. Liberals have spent the past few years posing as the champions of tolerance while denouncing the Tea Party and conservative Republicans as extremists. But now that the left wing of the Democratic Party has taken back the reins of the party from more centrist forces—or in Cuomo’s case, a former moderate has put his finger in the wind and changed his direction accordingly—the same dynamic could undermine their attempts to win national elections. Just as the GOP must worry about letting its most extreme elements dictate policy and candidates, Democrats should think twice about the spectacle of one of their leading lights going so far as to tell opponents of abortion and gun control to leave New York. If Clinton passes on the presidency and Cuomo makes a run for the White House, that intolerant line won’t be forgotten.

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Rubio’s Poverty Pitch What the GOP Needs

Marco Rubio’s 2013 was as bad as Chris Christie’s was good. The Florida senator’s annus horribillis began with his goofy water bottle problem as he delivered the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union message. It continued when a month later he appeared equally ridiculous rushing to the floor of the Senate to support Rand Paul’s drone filibuster in order to avoid letting a rival hog all the attention, even though he actually disagreed with the libertarian. But Rubio, who began the year at the top of everyone’s list of Republican presidential hopefuls, didn’t hit bottom until he became the target of widespread conservative animus for his high-minded decision to back a bipartisan immigration reform bill. By the summer, many of his erstwhile fans on the right had buried him as a RINO and talk about his candidacy in 2016 seemed to be on hold. Even the senator began backing away from his own bill.

But if Christie has gone from GOP frontrunner to possible has-been in the wake of his Bridgegate scandal, Rubio has a chance to start over in 2014. Though it’s unlikely that many anti-immigration die-hards will forgive him for speaking common sense about the issue, Rubio’s address at the Capitol last week on the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” gave his year a promising beginning. As James Pethokoukis rightly noted at the AEI Ideas blog, his “new anti-poverty plan offers a dramatic, even radical revamp of the American welfare state” that attempts to raise the incomes of the poor without falling into the trap of big government.

It’s not clear whether his fine speech and Christie’s downfall will boost his presidential stock, but Rubio may have done more than advance a personal agenda. By calling on Republicans to address how to help Americans mired in poverty, Rubio may have started an important conversation on the right that could help make the GOP the party of ideas again.

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Marco Rubio’s 2013 was as bad as Chris Christie’s was good. The Florida senator’s annus horribillis began with his goofy water bottle problem as he delivered the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union message. It continued when a month later he appeared equally ridiculous rushing to the floor of the Senate to support Rand Paul’s drone filibuster in order to avoid letting a rival hog all the attention, even though he actually disagreed with the libertarian. But Rubio, who began the year at the top of everyone’s list of Republican presidential hopefuls, didn’t hit bottom until he became the target of widespread conservative animus for his high-minded decision to back a bipartisan immigration reform bill. By the summer, many of his erstwhile fans on the right had buried him as a RINO and talk about his candidacy in 2016 seemed to be on hold. Even the senator began backing away from his own bill.

But if Christie has gone from GOP frontrunner to possible has-been in the wake of his Bridgegate scandal, Rubio has a chance to start over in 2014. Though it’s unlikely that many anti-immigration die-hards will forgive him for speaking common sense about the issue, Rubio’s address at the Capitol last week on the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” gave his year a promising beginning. As James Pethokoukis rightly noted at the AEI Ideas blog, his “new anti-poverty plan offers a dramatic, even radical revamp of the American welfare state” that attempts to raise the incomes of the poor without falling into the trap of big government.

It’s not clear whether his fine speech and Christie’s downfall will boost his presidential stock, but Rubio may have done more than advance a personal agenda. By calling on Republicans to address how to help Americans mired in poverty, Rubio may have started an important conversation on the right that could help make the GOP the party of ideas again.

Rubio’s approach is based on two accurate assumptions. One is that Republicans cannot hope to win national elections by playing the role of the mean party that likes the rich and considers the poor to be an incorrigible “47 percent” of takers, to quote Mitt Romney’s unfortunate gaffe. Conservatives must demonstrate that they care about people who aren’t rich or well off lest they be written off as the party of ruthless plutocrats who want to take away benefits from the poor. Though the Tea Party movement has raised important points about the dangers of uncontrolled tax and spend policies, the results of the 2012 election should have reminded Republicans that they must do more than say “no” to Democratic ideas; they must offer voters their own plans for helping the disadvantaged.

But there is more at stake here than merely a rhetorical pivot. As Rubio also makes clear, the GOP must offer an alternative to the failed liberal policies that are associated with the War on Poverty. The senator states what generations of liberals have worked hard to ignore when he says the problem with the big-government liberalism that Johnson helped unleash was not its desire to help the poor. The problem was that rather than freeing the poor from poverty, these policies, albeit unintentionally, created a new permanent underclass trapped in misery with little hope of escape. Dismantling it, or at least stripping the federal government of much of its role in anti-poverty efforts and devolving power to the states, as Rubio advocates, offers the country an opportunity to reform a failed system.

As Pethokoukis notes, the basic principles that form the foundation of this approach are irrefutable: the need to create more of the social mobility that the welfare state discourages; to increase the gap between the income of those who work and those who don’t; and to build a more efficient safety net that isn’t run by a federal bureaucracy from Washington, D.C.

These are the key talking points that every Republican should be discussing, especially as Democrats attempt to change the national political conversation from the ObamaCare disaster to a new one about income inequality. The difference between the two parties is that Rubio is proposing a genuine alternative to the status quo while all Democrats are offering is more of the same failed ideas that have done so much damage to the poor in the last half-century.

In the 1980s, Republicans assumed the mantle of the “thinking party,” as they sought to reform the welfare state under the leadership of Ronald Reagan. It’s time they started thinking again. It’s not clear whether Rubio will run in 2016 but no matter what his plans, if he can help promote this sea change away from knee-jerk opposition to all government action to a new era of GOP reform of government, he will do his party—and the country—an inestimable service.

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Bill de Blasio’s Mandate

While it’s tempting for politicians to interpret an election victory as a mandate that aligns with their personal priorities over those of the electorate, the disconnect is especially glaring in the case of Bill de Blasio. The new mayor of New York City was sworn in yesterday in a downright bizarre spectacle. During a procession of speeches, the New York City of 2013-14 was notably absent to make room for the New York City of the progressives’ fevered imaginations, completely at odds with how New Yorkers generally view their home.

A majority of black and Hispanic New Yorkers believe race relations in their city are “generally good.” Yet the chaplain who gave yesterday’s invocation claimed the city was a “plantation.” New York has seen a steady drop in the murder rate–to historic lows, in fact–for over a decade at the same time as its incarceration rate has plummeted. Yet de Blasio’s inauguration featured a speech by Harry Belafonte in which the crowd was treated to his false depiction of the city: “While it is encouraging to know that the statistics have indicated a recent drop in our city’s murder rate, New York alarmingly plays a tragic role in the fact that our nation has the largest prison population in the world.”

But demonstrably false progressive propaganda on race and crime are just the opening acts. The main event, of course, is income inequality. This is a Progressive Moment, we are told, thanks to the victory of de Blasio and others, such as the election of an avowed socialist to Seattle’s city council advocating policies she acknowledged will cost jobs–but hey, revolutions are messy. And this Progressive Moment was made possible, as the New York Times explains, by frustration with “the city’s current gilded era” which “propelled” de Blasio to power. Except, of course, that this is a fantasy.

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While it’s tempting for politicians to interpret an election victory as a mandate that aligns with their personal priorities over those of the electorate, the disconnect is especially glaring in the case of Bill de Blasio. The new mayor of New York City was sworn in yesterday in a downright bizarre spectacle. During a procession of speeches, the New York City of 2013-14 was notably absent to make room for the New York City of the progressives’ fevered imaginations, completely at odds with how New Yorkers generally view their home.

A majority of black and Hispanic New Yorkers believe race relations in their city are “generally good.” Yet the chaplain who gave yesterday’s invocation claimed the city was a “plantation.” New York has seen a steady drop in the murder rate–to historic lows, in fact–for over a decade at the same time as its incarceration rate has plummeted. Yet de Blasio’s inauguration featured a speech by Harry Belafonte in which the crowd was treated to his false depiction of the city: “While it is encouraging to know that the statistics have indicated a recent drop in our city’s murder rate, New York alarmingly plays a tragic role in the fact that our nation has the largest prison population in the world.”

But demonstrably false progressive propaganda on race and crime are just the opening acts. The main event, of course, is income inequality. This is a Progressive Moment, we are told, thanks to the victory of de Blasio and others, such as the election of an avowed socialist to Seattle’s city council advocating policies she acknowledged will cost jobs–but hey, revolutions are messy. And this Progressive Moment was made possible, as the New York Times explains, by frustration with “the city’s current gilded era” which “propelled” de Blasio to power. Except, of course, that this is a fantasy.

Back to the polling on New Yorkers’ attitudes toward their city: a majority say the economic condition of the city is good, and closing the income gap between rich and poor rated the lowest of four voter priorities even at the height of the de Blasio campaign. How do these numbers square with de Blasio’s landslide victory? Perfectly, as a matter of fact.

De Blasio was practically handed the mayoralty after winning the Democratic nomination and never looking back. But the primaries garnered 20 percent turnout. As the New York Times explained, this means de Blasio’s initial victory was bestowed on him by “about 3 percent of all New Yorkers.” The Times also reported that turnout in the general election was a record low of 24 percent–noticeably lower, even, than the turnout for Michael Bloomberg’s election to a third term.

This also casts some light on the question of what kind of national momentum this Progressive Moment has. New York is a liberal city. Seattle is a liberal city. It’s certainly notable that de Blasio is the first registered Democrat elected to lead New York in two decades, but it’s not as though statist excesses were rare in the Bloomberg administration–and, let us not forget, Bloomberg was a former registered Democrat who changed his registration in order to avoid a Democratic primary and then dropped his Republican registration while in office.

Some, such as reporters at Politico, suggest the local progressives may elevate the conversation to the national level. The outlet has a story about the crucial relationships de Blasio will have to manage, and President Obama is at the top of the list:

De Blasio’s going to want attention from the federal government that Obama probably won’t be able to give, and Obama’s going to be pressured to respond more fully to the kind of progressive politics that de Blasio represents.

Will he, though? Will the leftwing mayor of New York put pressure on a second-term president to follow his lead? Anything more than lip service is highly doubtful, and class warfare rhetoric was part of the president’s speeches before most people outside New York knew much about de Blasio. You could argue, in fact, the opposite: Americans on the whole seem more concerned about inequality than New Yorkers. But then you’d have to contend with the fact that for five years Obama has been pushing inequality as a stain on the national conscience and his approval ratings have been in a nosedive.

In that way and in others, the president offers de Blasio a cautionary tale. Obama was elected in the midst of an economic crisis, and he chose to push for an unpopular health-care reform bill despite the fact that health care was not a top priority for voters in 2008 and at the time Americans favored keeping the current health-care system. The lesson for de Blasio is how easily an administration can be knocked off-course if public opinion is discarded as soon as the sun sets on Election Day.

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Unemployment: Who’s the Real Scrooge?

As part of their attempt to pivot away from the ObamaCare rollout fiasco and broken promises as well as a year of scandals and legislative failure, Democrats are following the president’s lead and attempting to highlight income inequality as an issue with which they can hammer Republicans. So it was little surprise that Senator Rand Paul’s statement on Fox News Sunday that extending unemployment benefits actually worsens the problem they are intended to solve had the mouths of liberal pundits watering. Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus jumped on the statement during an appearance on MSNBC during which she gave Paul her “Scrooge of the Year Award.” At Salon, Brian Beutler seemed to do the same thing when he wrote that House Speaker John Boehner and Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan were being equally heartless by opposing any Democratic attempt to push for another extension of unemployment benefits even as the two parties attempt to negotiate a budget deal.

Both writers cast the issue in simplistic moral terms: Liberals want to give the poor money during the holiday season. Conservatives are playing Scrooge and asking those who want them to pony up a pittance for the needy if they are not better off in workhouses or prisons. Beutler would even like the Democrats to turn the tables on the GOP and threaten a government shutdown over the issue, though he concedes any such conduct is a political loser, even if it allows the left to do a D.C. version of A Christmas Carol.

But though Marcus and the rest of the chattering classes seem to think this illustrates again how hard-hearted Republicans have become, they are wrong. Far from demonstrating loyalty to Mitt Romney’s infamous line about the 47 percent of the country being takers whose votes are bought by liberals, Paul was actually right about the impact of unending unemployment benefits.

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As part of their attempt to pivot away from the ObamaCare rollout fiasco and broken promises as well as a year of scandals and legislative failure, Democrats are following the president’s lead and attempting to highlight income inequality as an issue with which they can hammer Republicans. So it was little surprise that Senator Rand Paul’s statement on Fox News Sunday that extending unemployment benefits actually worsens the problem they are intended to solve had the mouths of liberal pundits watering. Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus jumped on the statement during an appearance on MSNBC during which she gave Paul her “Scrooge of the Year Award.” At Salon, Brian Beutler seemed to do the same thing when he wrote that House Speaker John Boehner and Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan were being equally heartless by opposing any Democratic attempt to push for another extension of unemployment benefits even as the two parties attempt to negotiate a budget deal.

Both writers cast the issue in simplistic moral terms: Liberals want to give the poor money during the holiday season. Conservatives are playing Scrooge and asking those who want them to pony up a pittance for the needy if they are not better off in workhouses or prisons. Beutler would even like the Democrats to turn the tables on the GOP and threaten a government shutdown over the issue, though he concedes any such conduct is a political loser, even if it allows the left to do a D.C. version of A Christmas Carol.

But though Marcus and the rest of the chattering classes seem to think this illustrates again how hard-hearted Republicans have become, they are wrong. Far from demonstrating loyalty to Mitt Romney’s infamous line about the 47 percent of the country being takers whose votes are bought by liberals, Paul was actually right about the impact of unending unemployment benefits.

As a 2011 COMMENTARY article by Cheryl Strauss Einhorn pointed out, by opposing such measures, Republicans are acting on sound economic and moral principles. As Einhorn writes, by transforming unemployment from a “short-term salve” into an entitlement that operates as a semi-permanent form of welfare, the government is doing more harm than good. Though Marcus assumes that all those on unemployment would take any job rather than stay on the program, the evidence of economic studies has always pointed in the other direction:

No less important than cost is the matter of results. All 10 of the economists interviewed for this article agreed that longer availability of benefits would, in fact, lead to a more leisurely job search. The Heritage study showed that “a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits results in the average worker remaining unemployed for an additional two weeks,” wrote Campbell, Sherk, and Ligon.

A recent study by Denmark’s Economic Council showed that many of those who do not find work right away wait until just before their benefits expire to take anything available. The study argues against lengthy payments, showing that recipients tend not to seek the jobs they could get but rather those they would like to have. The results encouraged the Danes to halve the country’s four-year benefit system, which, like those of other European countries, is more generous than the American one.

This flies in the face of the sort of popular sentiment that Marcus reflected. But as Einhorn discussed, the key to understanding this question is no different than that of other economic issues: incentives.

Indeed, the greatest conceptual lapse in our current unemployment policies results from forgetting the cardinal behavioral rule: incentives matter. As the unemployed conduct a more leisurely search, they lapse into government dependence and strain their connection to the workforce. This has the potential to create a crisis, whose reach goes far beyond the political, or even economic, domain and deep into Americans’ sense of worth.

Arguing against giving the unemployed more money seems harsh. Indeed, as far as liberals are concerned, it is the epitome of Dickensian maltreatment of the poor in which a refusal to spend more in this fashion is the moral equivalent of condemning Tiny Tim to death or the long-suffering clerk Bob Cratchit to a debtor’s prison rather than the goose dinner the reformed Scrooge sends him in the book. But it is of a piece with the same instinct that built a welfare system that served to create a permanent underclass in this country rather than giving the poor the helping hand they needed.

As Einhorn concluded:

According to the Congressional Research Service, workers who have been unemployed the longest are often the last to be hired after a recession. But we do not need research to back up the larger truth of what we have already witnessed. In a free market, nothing compounds a crisis like a well-meaning government, and nothing saps the individual spirit like dependence—under any name.

A sober examination of the question shows that rather than being a modern Scrooge, Paul was right. Democrats want to play Santa Claus and hand out more goodies to the unemployed. Doing so may even be good politics, at least in the short term. But by playing this game, they are doing neither the intended objects of their largesse nor the country any favors.

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Elizabeth Warren Sells Out

The raft of stories over the last week, the latest being today’s piece in Business Insider, about Democratic Party infighting has nicely illustrated something conservatives have known for a while. Complaints over the last few years about the GOP being pulled to the right by conservatives were not about liberals’ desire to meet in the middle and compromise, no matter how much they might decry the supposed extremist drift of the right. What they wanted was their very own Tea Party.

It was the same with Occupy Wall Street: the pseudoanarchist gatherings were far more violent than Tea Party protests (that is to say, containing any violence at all), and Democrats’ support for them contrasted quite sharply with those same Democrats’ condemnation of anti-ObamaCare protesters as “un-American.” What bothered them was not the existence of ideological crusaders on the right but the marginalization of same on the left.

That is not to say that the Democratic Party doesn’t espouse modern American left-liberalism. It’s that modern American liberalism is soulless–it is the ideology of power. That’s why the rumors of a possible Elizabeth Warren run for president stoked such passions on the left. It rejuvenated talk of a liberalism that stood for something besides accruing power to the state and letting bureaucrats run the show: the dilution of self-government to a ludicrous, and intellectually impoverished, degree.

But as I’ve tried to explain, Elizabeth Warren the politician is not Elizabeth Warren the writer and activist and educator. So the question remained: would Warren be a dynamic force for a liberalism of ideas, or would she use her new station in the Senate to practice the ideology of power? Warren has answered that question: it’s about power. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week:

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The raft of stories over the last week, the latest being today’s piece in Business Insider, about Democratic Party infighting has nicely illustrated something conservatives have known for a while. Complaints over the last few years about the GOP being pulled to the right by conservatives were not about liberals’ desire to meet in the middle and compromise, no matter how much they might decry the supposed extremist drift of the right. What they wanted was their very own Tea Party.

It was the same with Occupy Wall Street: the pseudoanarchist gatherings were far more violent than Tea Party protests (that is to say, containing any violence at all), and Democrats’ support for them contrasted quite sharply with those same Democrats’ condemnation of anti-ObamaCare protesters as “un-American.” What bothered them was not the existence of ideological crusaders on the right but the marginalization of same on the left.

That is not to say that the Democratic Party doesn’t espouse modern American left-liberalism. It’s that modern American liberalism is soulless–it is the ideology of power. That’s why the rumors of a possible Elizabeth Warren run for president stoked such passions on the left. It rejuvenated talk of a liberalism that stood for something besides accruing power to the state and letting bureaucrats run the show: the dilution of self-government to a ludicrous, and intellectually impoverished, degree.

But as I’ve tried to explain, Elizabeth Warren the politician is not Elizabeth Warren the writer and activist and educator. So the question remained: would Warren be a dynamic force for a liberalism of ideas, or would she use her new station in the Senate to practice the ideology of power? Warren has answered that question: it’s about power. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) asked big Wall Street banks to disclose financial contributions to think tanks, a request that came several days after a centrist Democratic think tank blasted Ms. Warren’s “economic populism” on issues including Social Security.

Tim Carney had the appropriate reaction: “Warren sits on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. She’s basically telling the entities whose livelihood her committee controls to stop criticizing her. This is bullying — and it’s the best argument for allowing companies and individuals to anonymously criticize politicians.”

Indeed it is bullying. And it’s worth remembering that this sort of thing began, in one form or another, almost as soon as Warren made the transition to politics as a candidate. When she ran against Scott Brown, she would out-fundraise him while the Democrats would accuse Brown of taking Wall Street cash. So Warren wasn’t taking Wall Street cash? Well, she was–but not that kind of Wall Street cash. Jim Antle responded with the headline: “Elizabeth Warren Wants Good Wall Street Cash.” Antle noted Warren’s reaction to the charge of hypocrisy:

“There are people on Wall Street who actually believe we need better rules, fairer rules,” Warren is quoted as saying. Obviously, the Wall Street people who help fund her campaign “want reform.” She has also attacked Karl Rove, who she says is acting as “Scott Brown’s wing man.” Rove is an adviser to American Crossroads, a conservative group that has run ads in Massachusetts critical of Warren’s support for bank bailouts.

So Warren wasn’t averse to picking winners and losers in the financial sector. And oh by the way, feel free to donate to her campaign if you work on Wall Street and are one of the good guys. Go ahead and put that donation receipt on your doorpost; who knows, your house may just get passed over. If you’re lucky.

In any event, the bullying charge is on-point, and it’s part of a pattern. But it’s also something more. I think Pejman Yousefzadeh gets it right:

I guess that I must be something of an old fogey, but I have serious objections to Elizabeth Warren’s decision to go on witch-hunts against those who have the temerity to suggest that she might be anything less than saintly and wonderful. Further proof of what might be my old-fogeyness might be found in my belief that what ultimately matters is not who is making a particular argument, but what the nature of that argument might be; whether it is weak or strong, deep or shallow, sophisticated or knuckle-dragging, informed or uninformed. Perhaps the public would be better served if Warren took the time to respond to her critics instead of trying to use senatorial power in order to bully them.

It has been difficult for liberals to accept–and some conservatives as well, who were at least looking forward to a spirited public debate–but Warren entered electoral politics and immediately became what she would otherwise claim to loathe. She is now both rich and powerful, and she is using that to stifle the debate and curtail the ability of her opponents to challenge her.

This is not populism, however much it comforts Democrats to use that term. And I doubt it’s what voters thought they were getting when they elected Warren. At least I hope not.

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Other People’s Money: The Minimum Wage

Steve Coll has a comment in this week’s New Yorker calling for a higher federal minimum wage. He points out that it’s awfully hard for a family of four to live on the current minimum wage, which would produce a family income of about $15,000 a year. That is certainly true, but Mr. Coll leaves out a few things. A family of four with an annual income of $15,000 would be eligible for food stamps amounting to $7,584 and an earned income tax credit of $5,372. That raises the family income to $27,911, which is quite an improvement. The family would also be eligible for Medicaid, school lunch and breakfast programs, perhaps housing assistance and other forms of help. He also leaves out the fact that very, very few people earning the minimum wage are the sole breadwinners of a family of four. Most are entry-level employees, often teenagers, with no developed skills.  Most people who take a job at the minimum wage are earning above that level within a year, having learned marketable skills.

To be polite, Mr. Coll is being tendentious. To be less polite he is being grossly intellectually dishonest.

The minimum wage is a favorite liberal hobbyhorse, heavily promoted by labor unions. It is typical progressivism: a liberal politician (or journalist) says, in effect, “See that man over there? He needs help.” Then he points to an employer and says, “You, help him.” Finally, he points to himself and, addressing the man needing help, says, “Don’t forget where the help came from.”

But is the minimum wage a good idea?

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Steve Coll has a comment in this week’s New Yorker calling for a higher federal minimum wage. He points out that it’s awfully hard for a family of four to live on the current minimum wage, which would produce a family income of about $15,000 a year. That is certainly true, but Mr. Coll leaves out a few things. A family of four with an annual income of $15,000 would be eligible for food stamps amounting to $7,584 and an earned income tax credit of $5,372. That raises the family income to $27,911, which is quite an improvement. The family would also be eligible for Medicaid, school lunch and breakfast programs, perhaps housing assistance and other forms of help. He also leaves out the fact that very, very few people earning the minimum wage are the sole breadwinners of a family of four. Most are entry-level employees, often teenagers, with no developed skills.  Most people who take a job at the minimum wage are earning above that level within a year, having learned marketable skills.

To be polite, Mr. Coll is being tendentious. To be less polite he is being grossly intellectually dishonest.

The minimum wage is a favorite liberal hobbyhorse, heavily promoted by labor unions. It is typical progressivism: a liberal politician (or journalist) says, in effect, “See that man over there? He needs help.” Then he points to an employer and says, “You, help him.” Finally, he points to himself and, addressing the man needing help, says, “Don’t forget where the help came from.”

But is the minimum wage a good idea?

Labor unions love it for a very simple reason, even though few unionized workers earn the minimum wage: labor contracts are often predicated on the minimum wage, with the bottom tier of workers earning 1.5 or 2 or 3 times the minimum wage. So if the minimum wage goes up, so do the wages of all the workers covered by such a contract. Labor leaders may shed crocodile tears for the poor and downtrodden, but what they care about—because that’s what they’re paid to care about—are their often well-paid workers.

Steve Coll points out that a higher minimum wage polls well, even among Republicans. But this sort of polling is junk polling, good only for producing rhetorical ammunition for the chattering classes, not judging real public opinion. The overwhelming majority of people don’t think deeply about matters of public policy, so asking the right question will always produce the desired answer. Even if the poll is honest it will elicit, at best, an algorithmic response not a considered judgment.

But marshaling the opinions of the self-interested and the ill informed is not much of a test for public policy. Does the minimum wage make economic sense? The answer is no. It’s price fixing (fixing the minimum price of labor) and price fixing is always economically pernicious. Set the price too low, and instant scarcity results, such as affordable housing in cities with rent controls. Set it too high and instant glut happens, such as with, well, the minimum wage. In economics, a transaction is, by definition, “an exchange of commodities between two parties, to the economic benefit of both parties.” If an employer has to pay $8 an hour in wages, he must get $8 an hour in work from the employee or he won’t hire him. Could that be a reason teenage unemployment right now is 22.7 percent and unemployment among black teenagers is 36 percent?

Is there a better solution for the few people who are working full-time, trying to support a family, on the minimum wage? Yes, and it’s been in place for the last forty years, the earned income tax credit mentioned above. It is a refundable tax credit for people earning less than a “living wage.” (A refundable tax credit is one that is paid to the tax filer even if his tax liability is zero.) If the wages produced by a free market are not sufficient to produce a living wage, the EITC supplements those wages until, as skill levels improve and wages thus increase, the wages paid produce a living wage. It incentivizes the unskilled to develop the skills needed to make a living on their own without distorting the free market and producing untoward results, such as horrendous teenage unemployment.

Of course, from the politician’s viewpoint, the EITC would have to come out of tax revenue, requiring either skimping on other types of spending, raising taxes or worsening the deficit. Any of those choices might imperil the politician’s reelection. Or, of course, the politician could find ways to operate the government more efficiently, freeing up the needed revenue.

But that last option would take hard political work. It’s a lot easier to be generous with someone else’s money, secure in the certainty that liberal journalists will carry the necessary water.

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