Archive for the ‘Election’ Category

I thought Dick Morris and Charles Hurt had interesting things to say on last night’s election results.  Gay marriage lost in Maine, which suggests the momentum of this judge-and-elite-driven social change may be losing steam. Republicans won the governorship of Virginia, which is an Obama swing state and the home of a long stretch of DC suburbs, by a whopping 18%. The economy and a lack of confidence in Obama’s leadership I presume were important factors.

I think this just confirms what I already suspected. While Obama excited many people, much of his support was thin, driven more by personality, the projection of hopes of improved race relations, and concern for McCain’s erratic character and politics. Further, Obama has deviated from what he promised to be: a pragmatic and moderate “uniter.”

This series of interrelated outcomes should not be terribly surprising. The media did a lot to conceal Obama’s past, including playing along with his “et tu Brute” take on his long-time minister. The media basically suppressed the Bill Ayers’ controversy. And the media hardly noticed that Obama and his staff all cut their teeth in the nihilistic world of Chicago politics, where the name of the game was ethnic spoils and power more than idealism. To the extent there was idealism in this town, it was the socialist idealism so common in Hyde Park. People outside of the University of Chicago don’t realize that it’s as liberal and conventional a university town as any other and that the conservatives and Milton Friedman types all knew each other and could fit inside the Home Room of the International House, where we occasionally met. Everyone else was your basic extreme “progressive” and books about transgenderism and “Bombing the Suburbs” and support for gun control and other un-American ideas were common fare in the ‘hood.

Obama is an extreme liberal whose agenda is increasingly unpopular and who has implemented plans–such as the stimulus–that are not working. The recent elections and next years’ congressional elections are, in effect, referenda on Obamanism and its results. The best case scenario would be his and his liberalism’s thorough discreditment, though the incoherence and unwillingess to make tough choices by the American electorate will likely give it a new lease on life regardless of what happens in 2010 or 2012.  Austerity doesn’t sell for very long.  If Republicans are fighting for immigration amnesty, democratizing Iraq, overly generous Medicare, and other unsustainable subsidies, it hardly bodes well for the leave-me-alone coalition.

Democracies are inherently unstable and inimical to liberty in the long run, as William Lecky observed so well over 100 years ago.

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In much of America, if Karl Marx is known at all, he’s considered a bad person:  the intellectual grandfather of Communism and an enemy of organized religion, and thus an opponent of the traditional American way of life. 

This is not so everywhere, such as on elite college campuses or Obama’s Trinity Church (with its unique take on liberation theology), nor in the community organizing circles where Obama spent much of his young adulthood.  There’s a reason that former Weather Underground terrorists are employed as academics.  Marx is popular there, as is his disregard for “individualized justice” as a bourgeois anachronism.  Power to the people!

It’s more than a little bit amusing to see Joe Biden and others work so hard to ridicule the very suggestion that Obama’s program might have something in common with the ideas of Karl Marx.  Indeed, what else would Obama’s promised economic redistributionism be other than a Fabian-Trotskyite strategy of transforming a capitalist society?

Andrew Sullivan quite remarkably argues that Obama’s early 2000s radio interview discussing the Warren Court shows that Obama is in fact a conservative decrying judicial activism.  Even allowing some correction for Sullivan’s hero-worship of Obama, this is quite a stretch. If you admit the possibility that intelligent people might be extremely liberal–even socialists–then it’s clear that Obama wasn’t saying anything conservative.  Only the results-oriented prejudice that Obama can’t be that liberal compels Sullivan, Biden, and others to dissemble on Obama’s behalf. 

Obama was quite clearly saying that the notoriously activist Warren Court was, in fact, not activist enough.  He was making a descriptive statement.  He thinks it missed the boat by not also recognizing so-called positive rights, such as the right to a job, healthcare, a share of national wealth, etc.  University of Chicago liberal Mortimer Adler said something very similar in Six Great Ideas, which was basically a Great Books defense of democratic socialism, and this idea was very current among legal academics at this time.

Since the Courts would not go down this road, Obama thinks the civil rights movement should have shifted its focus onto the legislative and presidential branches.  Obama never says the Warren Court was right not to make such rulings . . . simply that it didn’t.  Procedural niceties are of little moment when “economic justice” is on the line.  Obama’s pursuit of the presidency is the fulfillment of Obama’s judgment about the strategic mistakes of the 1960s-era civil rights movement.

His discussion of community organizing at the end of his earlier interview is hardly a lament for the absence of a vibrant civil society, that is, a saccharine suggestions that blacks and whites should have formed Boy Scout Troops and midnight basketball leagues and other grass-roots approaches to supporting vulnerable, impoverished families.  It’s a lament that the civil rights movement was content with, well, civil rights.  Obama recognizes that in the last 40 years, that is after Jim Crow and other ugly and un-Christian impositions on people’s lives and livelihoods were taken away, many blacks were content to get on with their lives, achieving the American dream of upward mobility. The whole point of community organizing is to stop this process and keep people mad, to get communities riled up to seek money and power through the government, and to prevent disunity. It’s designed to coalitions among the “dispossessed” across economic, racial, and other lines to prevent economic attrition of natural leaders by their movement into the more conformist and less alienated suburbs.

It is this “contentment” and movement to the suburbs–i.e. the traditional American dream–that Rev. Jeremiah Wright condemns so forcefully.  Just to give a sense of time and place, when I was in Chicago in the 90s, a popular poster said, “Bomb the Suburbs.”  To Rev. Wright, and apparently to Obama, the civil rights movement is not over until the government is yoked and directed by community organizers and their agitated constituencies.  The conservative criticism that the welfare state rewards idleness, promotes poor decision-making, and stifles economic growth is largely absent from Obama’s worldview.  Indeed, it is this system of rewards and punishments and “trickle down economics” that is the problem to him and others of his far left ideological worldview.  The traditional capitalist way is, for them, unjust, unfair, ridden with corruption, “institutionally” racist, and leads to “false consciousness” even where it seems to succeed.

The whole point of Obama and his One America rhetoric is to get everyone united over the transformational power of fleecing the rich . . . this, a group that will soon have to be defined very expansively to achieve Obama’s ambitious agenda.

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Lawrence Auster has a good piece on Obama that discusses the pros and cons of his election, which the chief positive being that he would focus conservatives and purify our beliefs, something I argued in May. I still believe this would happen, and it would happen in a particularly healthy way: his overreach, enabled by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, could revive our respect for limited government and the traditional criticisms of the welfare state, remind us of our latent wariness of foreign adventures, and hopefully degrade the health of political correctness and taboos on race and immigration. The latter is particularly important, and would depend upon his policies revealing themselves (as they have been his entire career) to be narrowly tribal and tinged with the rhetoric of class warfare rather than unifying in any normal sense of the term. Arguably, this radicalization was the effect of the Carter Administration, which functioned as a capstone of the craziness of the 1970s. Only after that long and dark decade could Reagan explicitly attack the pro-government, pro-welfare, anti-defense, and anti-American foundations of much of contemporary liberalism. In other words, the times created Reagan as much as he responded to the times; only really tough times made worse by Obama’s policies could revive a healthy conservative political voice in American life. Continuing with the faux conservatism of Bush or McCain, which is in fact populist militarism, would discredit conservatism on many fronts: this approach does not work, it is not responsible, it causes too many conservatives to compromise on their core principles, and such policies, by rejecting free markets and replacing them with managed corporate welfare, does not command the respect of the vast majority of natural conservatives among small businessmen, folks that take pride in self-sufficiency, and the “leave us alone” coalition in general.

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I think this is a useful observation by Mark Thornton over at the Mises blog:

On top of all that, people suffer psychological consequences as well. The people most involved in the bubble are confident, jubilant, and self-assured by their apparently successful decision making. When the bubble bursts they lose confidence, go into despair and lose confidence in their decision making. In fact, they lose confidence in the “system,” which means they lose confidence in capitalism and become susceptible to new political “reforms” that offer structure and security in exchange for some of their autonomy and freedoms.

In this manner, great nations of people have given away their liberties in exchange for security. The Russians submitted to Communism and the Germans submitted to National Socialism because of economic chaos. In 20th century America, economic crises–and fear more generally–provided the justification for the adoption of “reforms” such as a central bank (i.e. the Federal Reserve), the New Deal, the Cold War, and even fiat money during the economic crisis of the early 1970s. Fear of terrorism after 9/11 resulted in a massive transfer of power to government at the expense of individual liberty. Submission of liberty and individual autonomy in exchange for security and the “greater good” is now often referred to as choosing the dark side.

The reason economic crises create fear and submission of liberty is that people do not generally know what caused the bust or economic crisis and generally do not even know that there was even a bubble in the first place. In fact, as the bubble is bursting many people will deny that there is a problem and believe that the whole situation will quickly return to what they consider normal. The average citizen thinks very little about what makes the economy work, but simply accepts the system for what it is, and tries to make the most of it.

People want practical goods from government and from the economy: predictable laws, a job, safety, order, and prosperity. The government’s failure to provide those things (or the conditions for them) as a consequence of its own mistakes–subsidizing housing and lending with loose money for over a decade–does not lead most people to demand that government steps back. Instead, its apparent power is intoxicating. Our intimate familiarity with this power and an ignorance of the ways it leads economies astray leads for calls for new, radical expansions of government.

Politicians (including the politicians at the Fed and the Treasury) willingly oblige, and the voices of restraint are labeled as special interests, reactionaries, or worse. People are becoming desperate, particularly as we have become less self-reliant and more dependent on cheap credit than in the past. Combined with ignorance of the business cycle and a misplaced trust in government, we’ve seen the Federal Reserve and treasury step into uncharted waters like unsecured short-term commercial credit, ownership stakes in banks, and huge bailouts of the least necessary players in the investment world, i.e., Bear Stearns.

Isn’t it comforting to know that in this fertile soil we will soon make a choice between a pompous socialist with a cult of personality on one side of the ballot and a guy with little respect for the private sector who yearns to unify the people through soul-purifying historical change on the other?

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Barack Obama, like so many demagogues with a surrounding cult of personality, is now taking things surprisingly far, particularly as he has not yet won this election. He has enlisted law enforcement in Missouri to create a Barack Obama truth squad who will prosecute anyone who “lies” about Obama. The civil law of defamation and slander is apparently not enough for him, nor is it enough apparently for the Missouri law enforcement folks to at least give themselves a neutral label.

Obama is already in a bit of hot water for having his associates inundate news and radio outlets that host critics of Obama on the air, as if news is obligated not to criticize him.

This guy’s arrogance nearly cost him the primary. Middle of the road, working class, and elderly voters seem less impressed than young people and educated white liberals by his smooth talking schtick, seeing instead a guy with few accomplishments and a very exaggerrated sense of entitlement. (By way of example, in his debates with McCain, he said “As President” several times, rather than “if I’m given the privilege to be President . . .”)

This is actually scary stuff. Liberals have spent the last four years making both reasonable and unreasonable criticisms of the expansion of presidential power through items such as the Patriot Act and the Total Information Awareness project. Coupled with McCain-Feingold, Presidential power can easily be abused to alter an election. It’s something Bush has not done, to his credit. But can the Chicago machine politician wrapped up in the labeling of an ethical reformer promise the same? It’s hard to imagine this cynical guy who attached himself to some of the most unsavory people around–Tony Rezko, Jeremiath Wright, Bill Ayers–in a city famous for its corruption would not abuse presidential power in the form of various degrees of censorship for the narrow purpose of helping himself and his associates.

Political speech is at the core of First Amendment protections. It has long been safe from “prior restraint” and surrounded with broad protections, particularly in debatable questions of opinion and mixed questions of opinion and fact. It appears some overzelaous law enforcement perssonnel are going to shield Obama from the most anodyne criticisms under the rubric of combatting lies. Historically, the good sense of the American people, the news media, and the campaigns themselves performed this function.

What now will happen when people say Obama has associated with terrorists (he has) or visited Pakistan as a young man (he did) or went to a church that spewed anti-American hatred for twenty years (he did that too). Will these facts be labeled lies? Will the zealousness of his enthralled supporters undermine one of the most important American rights in the name of combatting hate and rumors? Obama’s rhetoric is the language of censorship nearly everywhere: it’s always cited as necessary to stop corruption and agitation. It’s the language of Huge Chavez and Valdimir Lenin alike.

Bush’s exercises of power are subject to a great deal of skepticism and media criticism, as well as resistance from his own party. This is overall a good thing. Who, however, will resist Obama when his favorite charge–racism–will be levied so promiscuously at those frail creatures of the media and the cultural elite, and elite which is easily stopped in its tracks by the very suggestion?

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I have to say, it didn’t inspire confidence.  She has the George W style of “gut” decision-making that disdains process, self-doubt, and inquiry, and I think this is coupled with a long tradition of how she tackled relatively straightforward business-style problems as governor and the evangelical tradition of anti-intellectualism. 

Further, she was as I suspected likely an empty vessel on many issues before a week long series of cram sessions with the likes of Joe Lieberman, Biegun, Mccain, and other uber-hawks.  They have filled her head with neocon talking points on Russia and Israel and Iraq. She didn’t even know Georgia attacked first and presented no coherent reason why Ukraine and Georgia should be set up as NATO tripwires.  Unfortunately, there’s no daylight between her and McCain.  I’m sure he considers foreign policy his strong suit, and she’ll naturally defer. (Of course, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if a limited government-oriented VP became his tsarina of economic policy.) She did say something frightful right out of the AIPAC play book:  that we could not and should not question Israel’s decisions in it’s own security. I don’t see why we can’t reign them in or at least protest in appropriate circumstances.  For example, if they attacked Iran by overflying Saudi or Iraqi airspace, that would be a major problem since our failure to shoot down those planes would amount to dragging us into supporting a perhaps unnecessary or unwise attack on Iranian facilities.

I did think Gibson was a bit unfair on his quotes from her earlier speeches and in his use of the ambiguous phrase “Bush Doctrine.”  I thought the doctrine meant nothing about preventative war, but rather the idea that terrorist-supporting-states will be treated no differently than terrorists.

That all said, politically I’m not sure it will matter. She appeared competent, and that will be the take-away of 70% of people who even bothered to follow it.  Further, her hawkishness is in line with the American exceptionalist view popular among at least a plurality of Republicans, including evangelicals.  Finally, there will soon be a mini-controversy on the unfairness of the “exact words” and “Bush Doctrine” questions.

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McCain often identifies America’s problems in moral terms as opposed to ideological differences on policy. Is this really the root of political friction? Liberals of good will justify most of their proposed impositions on the market economy with the same language of community, sacrifice, and public spiritedness. For them and McCain too, America is a cause and a project, not just a place, a people, and an extended family. McCain’s defenses of free markets and limited government stand uneasily alongside rhetoric like this:

We have to catch up to history, and we have to change the way we do business in Washington.

The — the constant partisan rancor that stops us from solving these problems isn’t a cause. It’s a symptom. It’s what happens when people go to Washington to work for themselves and not for you. . . .

Our country will be the better, and you will be the happier, because nothing brings greater happiness in life than to serve a cause greater than yourself.

This rhetoric is reminiscent of Ross Perot’s. He was a similarly self-confident figure and an old-fashioned patriot who thought our policy differences could be easily resolved if only people of would abandon their blinders of self-interest. This is a natural enough instinct about personal vocation from McCain, whose entire life has involved government service, including honorable service in the military. But as a diagnosis of what’s wrong with our politics and how to solve them, this formulation seems wrong.

Bush, Clinton, and McCain’s triangulation obscures that there are deep disagreements since the 1960s about core values on issues ranging from free trade and abortion to immigration and the Iraq War. People’s disagreements on these issues, as often as not, do not flow from narrow self-interest so much as disagreements about policy, history, identity, and priorities. After all, self-interest is not why white males like Bill Clinton and Joe Biden support affirmative action or massive destruction of our economy to combat the alleged crisis of global warming.

McCain’s rhetoric, in spite of its superficially unifying character, invites greater conflict and acrimony. His confidence in his own pure motives and the call of history invites crude put-downs of his opponents, which he has indulged in repeatedly, as if folks what want to keep America’s population and demographics stable for cultural reasons are merely a selfish faction.

It’s true, the Democratic Party’s rhetoric often invites narrow self interest: join us and take money from the rich people! But Republican rhetoric does in some respects too: you should keep your money and do what you want with it. It’s better kept with you than the government. While pork barrel spending offends McCain’s sense of national interest, large and expensive government projects, such as “transforming the Middle East” or “defending democracy in Georgia,” do not. He seems a bit blind to the ways even well-meaning government programs can harm our collective interest in being able to pursue our individual goals, plans, and concerns. He also seems not to realize that one man’s pork barrel interest is another’s necessary local project to benefit “his community.” In other words, McCain’s lack of principled conservatism leads to a kind of dissonance in policy and does not equip him to resist calls for grand historical government projects that are exceedingly expensive. Prosaic, but necessary, big cuts in spending on entitlement programs do not appeal to his sense of grandeur and historical mission. For example, nothing in McCain’s view of the world would find anything wrong with the New Deal or the Great Society.

An authentic conservative political vision must acknowledge a few things about our times. While government is not the only problem, it is an impediment. The government has become too big, and its goals are often hostile to civil society’s institutions like private enterprise, religion, and the traditional family. Government is out of control only partly for reasons of narrow self-interest. Indeed, grand altruistic projects based in the “selfless” goal of equality like social security and Medicare cannot be easily reigned in through rooting out corruption. Their problems are structural; we need to make tough choices about priorities and spending and the purpose of government, and those tough choices will require shrinking government rather than expanding its commitments in the name of concern for the public good. McCain’s shown little appreciation for these difficulties the redistributionist agenda imposes on the private sector, partly, no doubt, because he is completely insulated from economic worries and the suffocating impact of taxes and regulation. Finally, in our ethnic politics, everyone is playing by the rules of power and self-interest except for whites.  What, after all, is the meaning of groups like the National Council of La Raza or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  McCain, however, to show his own bona fides is silent on affirmative action and repeatedly supports massive amnesty as a grand historical gesture.  Unfortunately, amnesty and continued mass immigration will an opening for greater disunity and stress our over-generous welfare state and public health resources.  The diminution of America’s traditional majority and leadership class will ultimately lead to a cruder, more Balkanized ethnic politics that we see in corruption-ridden places like Los Angeles and Chicago.  If McCain truly cared about America and could somehow connect the dots, he’d realize that keeping this country populated with native-born Americans is part of the formula for having the kind of national political culture he desires.

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