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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Jonah Goldberg

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Jonah Goldberg





Last Build Date: Fri, 27 Mar 2009 08:25:03 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2009
 



Big Bedfellows: Big Government, Big Business

Fri, 27 Mar 2009 08:25:03 -0600

Indeed, Obama doesn't feel compelled to merely remedy the mistakes of his predecessor; he believes it is vital that we renew the New Deal-style economic policies we strayed from when Ronald Reagan was elected. Not only must we pour vast sums of money into highways and mass transit, along with social-insurance programs, we need to "reset" the relationship between government and big business. Just this week, the administration announced that it wants new powers to control not just banks, but other financial institutions and businesses that are "too big to fail." What if they're looking at the economy through the wrong end of the telescope? For starters, Bush was hardly a laissez-faire president who ignored Obama's oft-stated domestic priorities. Sure, Bush was more laissez-faire than Obama. But that's not a very high bar. Education spending under Bush rose 58 percent faster than inflation. Medicare spending, thanks largely to Bush's prescription-drug benefit (the largest expansion in entitlements since the Great Society), went up 51 percent during the Bush years. Spending on health research and regulation rose 55 percent. Spending on highways and mass transit went up by 22 percent. Maybe that's too little in Obama's eyes, but it hardly validates Obama's fictions about the last eight years. Let us also recall that Bush's Wall Street bailout efforts were largely indistinguishable from Obama's. Indeed, Obama's Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, was the co-pilot for Bush's Treasury secretary, Hank Paulson. Now that Geithner's in the captain's chair, there haven't been many course corrections. But perhaps the bigger picture is backwards as well. First, one needs to remember that the New Deal was not the assault on big business that its fans claim. FDR may have talked a good game about going after "economic royalists," and he did love confiscatory personal income taxes. But he and his Brain Trust also loved cartels, big businesses, and other "big units" of society. The notion that big business and big government are at war with one another is one of the great enduring myths of the 20th century. The truth is that ever since Teddy Roosevelt abandoned his love of trust-busting, progressives have liked big businesses big, really big. The bigger the business, the more reliable the partner for big government. That's why any huge corporation that plays ball on health care, or "green jobs," or countless other initiatives, is hailed as a "forward-thinking" or "progressive" company. Companies such as GE, which stands to make billions from Obama's energy proposals, are vital sidekicks in the new era of public-private partnerships. Why is Obama working tirelessly to save Detroit automakers? Because GM is a wonderful poster boy for peddling nationalized health care, and UAW is an indispensable cog in the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton's health-care plan required working with large corporations and other firms. It was little guys for whom she had nothing but contempt. When warned her plan would crush smaller businesses, she shrugged, "I can't go out and save every undercapitalized entrepreneur in America." Again, this is hardly a new story. Chiefly under the auspices of the National Recovery Administration, the New Dealers sought to create huge cartels and trade associations that could work side by side with economic planners. Small and independent firms, from movie theaters to dry cleaners to poultry distributors, were hounded and harassed by a government determined to "rationalize" the economy by sweeping away all those pesky-but-innovative competitors. Would Barney Frank rather work with one giant Fannie Mae that will always take his phone calls and do his bidding, or a thousand smaller firms that would need to be herded like cats? I think we already know the answer. Everyone agrees that we are spending trillions of dollars on firms "too big to fail." Many of these firms got so big because politicians in both parties liked to have important businessmen take their phone calls, do their bidding, and fund their campaigns. And m[...]



A Free Pass for Geithner

Sat, 24 Jan 2009 07:42:55 -0600

Fast-forward to today. Timothy Geithner, President Obama's choice to be the next treasury secretary, quite clearly tried to defraud the government of tens of thousands in payroll taxes while working at the International Monetary Fund. The IMF does not withhold such taxes but does compensate American employees who must pay them out of pocket. Geithner took the compensation -- which involves considerable paperwork -- but then simply pocketed the money.

His explanations for his alleged oversight don't pass the smell test. When the IRS busted him for his mistakes in 2003 and 2004, he decided to take advantage of the statute of limitations and not pay the thousands of dollars he also failed to pay in 2001 and 2002. That is, until he was nominated to become treasury secretary.

Obama defends Geithner, saying that his was a "common mistake," that it is embarrassing but happens all the time. My National Review colleague Byron York reports that, at least according to the World Bank, Geithner's "mistakes" are actually quite rare. Indeed, it's almost impossible to believe that the man didn't know exactly what he was doing given that he would have had to sign documents, disregard warnings and all in all turn his brain off to make the same "mistake" year after year. And keep in mind, Geithner is supposed to run the IRS. So maybe sloppiness isn't that great a defense anyway.

The bulk of Senate Republicans seem willing to green-light his appointment because, in the words of many, "he's too big to fail." Wall Street likes this guy and so does Obama. So, who cares if he breaks and bends the rules? Who cares that he took a child-care tax credit to send his kids to summer camp? He's the right man for the job, no one else can do it, he's the financial industry's man of the moment.

This strikes me as both offensively hypocritical and absurd. Obama has made much of Wall Street greed. He and his vice president talk about paying taxes like it is a holy sacrament. They both belittled Wurzelbacher for daring to suggest that the Democratic Party isn't much concerned with how the little guy can get ahead.

Heck, Obama and pretty much the entire Democratic party insist that they speak for the little guy. But it appears they fight for the big guys.

You would think this is a perfect moment for Republicans to stand on principle, particularly since their votes aren't needed to confirm Geithner. What they will tell you is that Geithner is the indispensable man and, in the words of South Carolina Rep. Lindsey Graham, "These are not the times to think in small political terms."

Never mind that there's nothing small about the belief that paying taxes in an honest fashion is a minimal requirement for the job of treasury secretary. What's absurd is that Geithner, who helped regulate Wall Street as head of the New York Fed, is the indispensable man now. He may indeed be qualified to be treasury secretary, but is he really the only man who can do the job? Really? Everyone said the same thing about Hank Paulson not long ago. How'd that work out?

I thought the Democrats believed the financial implosion was caused by arrogant and greedy men who thought the rules didn't apply to them because they were so important. I guess they didn't mean it.




Skeptical of Obama's Stimulus Plan

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 00:32:45 -0600

In fairness to Obama, there is a huge consensus around the notion that government must do, well, something -- something big. Conservative economists such as Harvard's Martin Feldstein support a stimulus package. Heck, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell passes for a fiscal conservative these days because he opposes any bill of more than $1 trillion. It's the consensus that scares me. Chin-stroking moderates and passionate centrists often glorify consensus to the point where they sound like it's better to be wrong in a group than to be right alone -- an example of ideological dogmatism as bad as any. Obviously, consensus can be good. But it also can lead to dangerous groupthink. Everyone knew that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Everyone at 60 Minutes knew those memos about George W. Bush and the Texas Air National Guard had to be right. Everyone knows everything is right, until everything goes wrong. If that's not one of the great lessons of the financial collapse of 2008, I don't know what is. Last fall, the smartocracy said the Treasury Department had to be given $700 billion for the Troubled Asset Relief Program because the government had to buy all that bad paper right away. Since then, Treasury has bought no toxic assets, done nothing to help with foreclosures and, a congressional report released Friday revealed, can't adequately explain what it did with the first $350 billion. The current climate reminds former Freddie Mac economist Arnold Kling of the battle of the Somme in World War I (a war everyone knew would be over in six months). "Having experienced nothing but failure using offensive tactics up to that point, the Allies decided that what they needed to try was ... a really big offensive," Kling writes. "My guess is that in 1916, anyone who doubted his own ability to direct an enormous offensive involving hundreds of thousands of soldiers would never have made it to general. Similarly, today, anyone who doubts the ability of a handful of technocrats to sensibly allocate $800 billion would never make it into government or the mainstream media." That might overstate it a bit, because some naysayers can be heard. Economist Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute notes that whatever the benefits of the proposed stimulus, they probably don't outweigh the enormous costs of the debt we would incur. As a result of the stimulus, the deficit this year would equal the total cost of the federal government in 2000. That's on top of $7.76 trillion in bailouts pledged by the government, according to Bloomberg.com. The real reason the stimulus package will be gigantic is not that the smartest people with the best ideas say it needs to be. It's that Obama's real priority is to get the bill out as quickly as possible, which means every constituency gets something, including Republicans. Indeed, Republicans are a priority because if he can bribe them into supporting the bill, that might prevent them from campaigning against it in 2010 if it proves ineffective or counterproductive. Hence Obama's proposed billions in tax breaks for corporate welfare addicts and the lobbyists who love them. Democrats are justly skeptical about a tax break for a company that decides not to lay off its workers. The GOP is right to question this "shovel-ready" infrastructure "investment." From World War II to the early 1990s, according to economist Bruce Bartlett, not a single stimulus bill succeeded at moderating the recession it was aimed at, while many bills helped invite the next recession. Bartlett supports a stimulus in theory (as do I); he merely notes that the political process tends to be just that -- a political process -- and it produces political results. The best stimulus might be to trim -- or temporarily eliminate -- the payroll tax. That would put money in the hands of the people who need it -- and know best how to spend it. But that would be "too ideological" because it rejects the assumption that government knows best, and it would reward taxpayers, [...]



The Burris Circus: Dems Bit by Own Tactics

Sat, 10 Jan 2009 00:32:22 -0600

Even after Blagojevich announced he was appointing Roland Burris, a respected but unremarkable black Illinois politician, to Obama's seat, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada stood his ground, pronouncing the move "unacceptable."

But that resolve melted like a Hershey bar in a Nevada parking lot the moment Mr. Burris came to Washington. Apparently, the Constitution wasn't on the Democrats' side (Fancy that!) and liberals lacked the stomach to stand in the doorway of the Capitol and block admittance of a black man.

Indeed, that was Blago's thinking all along. When the Democratic governor announced his decision, he assembled various black Illinois pols to support the move, including Rep. Bobby Rush, a founder of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. Rush immediately played the race card: "There are no African-Americans in the US Senate. And I don't think any US senator who's sitting in the Senate right now wants to go on record to deny one African-American from being seated in the US Senate," he said.

Rush assembled more than 60 black ministers Sunday to rally around Burris at a Chicago church. "We are just faced with a hard-headed room of people in the Senate who want to keep an African-American out of the Senate," Rush said. He condemned the Senate, where until recently Barack Obama served before becoming president of the United States, as "the last bastion of plantation politics."

And that was all she wrote for Reid, who by next week should be on all fours like Kevin Bacon in "Animal House," shouting, "Thank you, sir - may I have another?" as Burris paddles him.

Now, I certainly understand why Reid & Co. caved. But why all the fuss in the first place? Isn't this how it always works?

The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates, an impressive African-American writer, is amazed that "Reid has been outmaneuvered by the sort of overt, hamfisted identity politics deployed in the '70s."

The '70s? So this sort of thing stopped more than three decades ago? I had no idea. What planet do my newscasts come from? I thought this was simply what liberals and Democrats do.

* When Newt Gingrich introduced the Contract with America, black Democrats denounced it as racist. Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-Harlem) proclaimed, "Hitler wasn't even talking about doing these things."

* When impeachment threatened Bill Clinton, he draped himself in black ministers and staffers.

* The NAACP ran an ad narrated by the daughter of James Byrd, a black man brutally murdered in a hate crime, insinuating that then-presidential candidate George W. Bush's refusal to support hate-crime legislation in Texas was like murdering her father again.

* In the recent campaign, nearly the entire liberal punditocracy insisted that opposition to Barack Obama could only be explained by racism, a story line egged on by Obama himself when convenient.

And don't tell me Blago's corruption changes the equation. Ever read about the baleful history of minority set-aside programs in cities like Chicago? Cronies and grifters are routinely given sweetheart contracts under the guise of fighting discrimination when in reality it's all a riot of kickbacks, "pay-to-play" and cronyism. People don't call Jesse Jackson a shakedown artist for nothing.

There are two reasons why this spectacle shocks some liberals. First: Blago, Burris and Rush used this tactic on fellow Democrats. And since Democrats can't be motivated by racism, any ploy like this must be cynical. When the same gambit is used on Republicans, it's called "speaking truth to power." Second: Some honestly believed that Obama represented a real change of the racial landscape. So far, alas, these folks just look naive.




Cinderella vs. the Barracuda

Fri, 19 Dec 2008 00:28:17 -0600

But, when John McCain picked her to be his running mate, the full fury of the liberal establishment -- and sizable swaths of the conservative establishment, some of whom dubbed her a "cancer" on the GOP -- came down on her with a vengeance usually reserved for Klansmen and pedophiles. Don't get me wrong: There were valid criticisms to make. But that is quite a different thing than saying all of the criticism was valid or that the intensity and volume of the criticism was warranted. Then there's Caroline Bouvier Kennedy, daughter of John F. Kennedy, brother of John Jr., niece of Senators Ted and Robert Kennedy, granddaughter of Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, and the cousin of myriad other Kennedys and Shrivers who've burrowed deep into the timber of the house of liberalism. A multimillionaire from birth, Ms. Kennedy has spent most of her life on the charity-benefit and cotillion circuit. A product of the Brearley School in New York and the Concord Academy in Massachusetts before she attended Harvard and Columbia, Kennedy has made the importance of public education her signature cause. Sweet Caroline (she was the inspiration for the Neil Diamond song) recently made it known that she would like to be appointed to Hillary Clinton's vacant Senate seat. One could say without fear of overstating things that the liberal reaction to the inexperienced Caroline has been somewhat more gracious than the reaction to the "inexperienced" Palin. Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post has devoted two columns in as many weeks to this "fairy tale" scenario in which Kennedy, our "tragic national princess," is finally rewarded -- for her years of quiet dignity, selflessly avoiding scandal and the paparazzi -- with the Senate seat that once belonged to her uncle Bobby. What's astounding about the normally sensible Marcus' case for "the Cinderella Kennedy" (New York magazine's phrase) is that she doesn't really make one, at least not on the merits. Marcus doesn't even bother. It's all schoolgirl gushing. The editors of the New York Times, in a more skeptical editorial, summarized her qualifications thusly: "Ms. Kennedy has much going for her. As a public figure, she carries the glamour and poignancy of her family ..." The editors then went on to describe what great liberals her dad and uncles were. That's it. This a perfect example of the bowel-stewing self-indulgence of elite liberalism. Here's a news flash: Not everyone truckles with doe-eyed awe at "America's royal family." Some of us don't even like the idea of American royal families. JFK and RFK had their good points, but they don't deserve the beatification they receive on a daily basis. As a man, Teddy Kennedy is hardly a role model, and as a public servant he's not much better. I, for one, don't think denying poor black kids private-school scholarships (aka vouchers) is heroic. Nor do I think his support for alternative energy, except when it might obstruct his Hyannis Port estate's views with windmills, is admirable. Simply, the Kennedy clan is no priestly caste, serving as the conscience of the nation, and its progeny do not deserve eternal deference. Now, I know the comparison between Palin and Caroline Kennedy is not perfect. Each has strengths where the other has weaknesses, and the jobs of senator and vice president aren't identical (the former actually has more responsibility, for starters). But the comparison is nonetheless revealing. Palin's selection triggered troughs of bile, vomited up from nearly every respectable liberal quarter. A Florida congressman, and Obama surrogate, insinuated that Palin was a "Nazi sympathizer" and anti-Semite (she's not, but Caroline Kennedy's grandfather was). Her by-the-bootstraps story was ridiculed by nearly every ex-debutante newsreader and avowed "feminist" in America. Meanwhile, Caroline, with a resume perfectly suited to being a Kennedy and little else, is a Cinderella who deserves a Senate seat because, well, she just does. Wh[...]



The Great Economic Freakout of '08

Wed, 17 Dec 2008 00:34:31 -0600

The freakout is understandable. Economic trust is breaking down. Investors are buying Treasury bills that pay no interest because they're scared to leave their money even in insured banks. Consumer spending has dropped off a cliff. Some analysts forecast that the GDP will fall at an annualized rate of 8 percent for the fourth quarter. Soon you'll be able to pay for a Cadillac with chickens.

But here's a point nearly everyone understands from personal experience: It is not a good idea to make big, life-altering decisions when you're freaking out.

Everyone's had moments when everything appears to be falling apart. And these are precisely the moments when we should take a walk around the block. After all, we adopt healthy habits and strong principles because we trust that they will minimize chaos and misery in our lives. The inevitable crises don't call for trading that course for eternal panic.

The same holds true with public policy. President Bush's harshest critics certainly understood this point when it came to 9/11. Their narrative holds that the Bush administration and its enablers, driven mad by 9/11, made wholesale changes to our constitutional order in the name of an elusive "security" - changes that were unwarranted, counterproductive and immoral. That story is itself a kind of freakout (for instance, I don't think the Patriot Act was overkill), but anyone who has dealt with the absurdities of air travel in recent years knows the drawbacks of policy by freakout.

But now that we have the equivalent of an economic 9/11, much of the same crowd sees its chance to lock in ideas that would be unthinkable during saner times, this time in the name of "economic security." As Rahm Emanuel, President-elect Barack Obama's incoming chief of staff, said last month, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste; it's an opportunity to do important things that you would otherwise avoid."

So much for "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Contrary as it might seem these days, economic knowledge is cumulative. We know things today that we didn't know 50 or 100 years ago. For example, we know that tightening the money supply at a moment like this is among the worst things you can do: America tightened money at the dawn of the Great Depression, and that's one of the reasons it was "Great." Today, based on that knowledge, we're doing the opposite. That know-how is more valuable than the all the cash in the Treasury.

And the more we know, the richer we get. If you plotted a trend line of Western prosperity since the dawn of capitalism, you'd see a line moving reliably upward over centuries. Zoom in close on any given period and the more jagged the line appears, zigging up and zagging down like a stock that's volatile on a given day, but trending steadily upward over the year.

Look at that line from, say, 1929 to 1939, and sure, there was a lot more zagging down than zigging up. But in part that's because policymakers thought the crisis was proof that capitalism itself had been discredited.

Today you can hear similar talk from a chorus of progressives, convinced that laissez-faire is dead and we must now rethink everything, reinvent our economic order or return to what New York Times columnist Paul Krugman calls "New Deal economics."

By all means, let the nation do what it must to keep the downward dip as short and shallow as possible. But let's not, in a quest for security, abandon good habits and forget the hard-learned lessons that have given us so much.




A Little Blago for Everyone

Fri, 12 Dec 2008 12:41:25 -0600

Newspaper people love that sort of thing. For the more historically minded, it's a time for nostalgia. The past comes alive as Chicago's grand tradition of corruption is sustained for another generation. As the Chicago Tribune once wrote, "corruption has been as much a part of the landscape as corn, soybeans and skyscrapers." According to the Chicago Sun-Times, as of 2006 -- when Blago's predecessor, George Ryan, was sent to prison for racketeering -- 79 elected officials had been convicted of corruption in the past 30 years. Among the perps: 27 aldermen, 19 judges, 15 state legislators, three governors, two congressmen, one mayor, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a stolen pear tree. Especially in this holiday season, it's so very important to keep traditions alive for the kids. In a sense, Blago did it for the children. For partisans, there's the schadenfreude that comes with watching the Democrats -- self-proclaimed anti-corruption zealots in recent years -- explain why Blagojevich shouldn't be lumped in with Congressmen Charlie Rangel (cut himself sweetheart deals), William Jefferson ($90,000 in his freezer) and Tim Mahoney (tried to bribe an aide he was sleeping with not to sue him -- and you thought romance was dead) as part of a new Democratic "culture of corruption" storyline. There's the enormous I-should-have-had-a-V8! moment as the mainstream press collectively thwacks itself in the forehead, realizing it blew it again. The New York Times -- which, according to Wall Street analysts, is weeks from holding editorial-board meetings in a refrigerator box -- created the journalistic equivalent of CSI-Wasilla to study every follicle and fiber in Sarah Palin's background, all the while treating Obama's Chicago like one of those fairy-tale lands depicted in posters that adorn little girls' bedroom walls. See there, Suzie? That's a Pegasus. That's a pink unicorn. And that's a beautiful sunflower giving birth to a fully grown Barack Obama, the greatest president ever and the only man in history to be able to pick up manure from the clean end. Obviously the list doesn't end there. Blago's hair not only appears bulletproof but seems to confirm reports that he is the human model for Playmobil action figures. And you can't leave out the supporting cast. Mrs. Blago curses like the inmate working the cafeteria at a women's prison who replies with an f-bomb to anyone objecting to a leaden ladle-thwack of unidentifiable green mush on their lunch tray. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. -- himself the son of a shakedown artist -- is alleged to have offered (through a minion) a half-million bucks for Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat. Jackson replaced former Rep. Mel Reynolds, who went to jail for getting jiggy with a 16-year-old campaign staffer and stayed in jail because of various fraud convictions. Reynolds, in turn, was the "reformer" who had replaced Rep. Gus Savage, the thug-congressman who groped a Peace Corps volunteer in Zaire while on a "fact-finding" trip. Savage held off Reynolds' attempts to replace him for several years by claiming Reynolds was financed by "racist Jews." Man, what isn't there to love about Chicago politics? It would be premature, not to mention un-festive, to discard any of these delicious immoral morsels from this cornucopia of corrupt crapulence. Fortunately, there's no need to single out just one fragrance from this miasma of malfeasance or one dish from this smorgasbord of smut. But, there is a nice moral to the story here. For the last several years, we've heard a lot about "new politics." We are going to start fresh and put aside the old politics and the old ways. So far, it looks like Obama did nothing wrong, and I hope that remains the case. But it's worth remembering that there really isn't any such thing as a "new politics." Politics is eternal because human nature is unchanging. Even Barack Obama, hero-saint light-worker J[...]



Goodbye, O.J. -- Hello, Progress

Wed, 10 Dec 2008 00:30:00 -0600

White liberals played along. "I think the general black attitude might be that white people place a huge emphasis on innocent or guilty because that way they can discard large social questions," Norman Mailer condescendingly explained in New York magazine. "A focus on individual innocence or guilt works to the white establishment's advantage."

Uh huh. So, in a truly color-blind society, questions of guilt or innocence would be totally absent from murder trials?

Of course, some complaints about the criminal-justice system had merit. But Simpson's defenders didn't want to discuss guilt or innocence at all; they only wanted to discuss the establishment, to "put the system on trial." To Wilbert Tatum, editor of the black weekly Amsterdam News, Simpson "became every black male who's ever been involved in the criminal-justice system."

"Now we recognize that in a fundamental sense, we really do live in different worlds," Cornel West pronounced in the New Yorker shortly after the not-guilty verdict. He added, as if to illustrate the point, "I think he's innocent, I really do."

The National Enquirer covered the trial fearlessly. You couldn't say the same thing about many other media outlets. "Fear of being called racist transcended everything in the newsroom," wrote the New Yorker's legal correspondent, Jeffrey Toobin - only after he deemed it was safe. "Our caution and fear, however, misled. The case against Simpson was simply overwhelming. When we said otherwise, we lied to the audience that trusted us."

While liberals parroted the Simpson line that the system was the criminal, conservatives denounced the acquittal as proof that the system was broken from the other end.

Now Simpson is finally going to prison for (among other things) armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon and kidnapping. This time, everyone appears pleased.

No one sees him as a victim or symbol.

Given that Barack Obama's every utterance seems to spur the minting of a new commemorative plate to the cause of racial progress, you'd think more would be made of this moment.

The only sustained controversy of Obama's campaign arose over his former pastor Jeremiah Wright's bilious rhetoric, which Obama largely defused with his "A More Perfect Union" speech on race. The best part was his explanation of his objection to Wright's ravings.

"The profound mistake of Rev. Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country . . . is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know - what we have seen - is that America can change. That is the true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow."

Obama's hopes for this country and mine differ, to be sure. But on this point, he was absolutely right. America's racial story begins horribly with slavery but has become one of unfolding success.

Those who saw Simpson as a symbol of permanent division and the impossibility of progress were wrong. What better proof of that is there than that Obama, the nation's first black president, will be figuring out the floor plan at the White House at almost exactly the same moment Simpson will be figuring out how the toilet works in his cell?




Do We Want Another Abe Right Now?

Fri, 21 Nov 2008 00:33:51 -0600

Newsweek, Time, the Washington Post, 60 Minutes and, of course, The O Network (formerly known as MSNBC) have all run wild with this stuff. Depicting Obama as FDR or Lincoln has become a staple of the self-proclaimed "objective" media. I was on Fox News the other night to throw some cold water on this Obama-as-Lincoln stuff. Alan Colmes of Hannity & Colmes chastised me, asking if we shouldn't give Obama "a chance to actually spread his wings and fly a little bit" before disparaging him. Fine. I actually agree with that. Conservatives should not denounce Obama's performance before he's had a chance to, you know, perform. But, shouldn't we also hold off on comparing the guy to FDR and Lincoln before he's done anything? Obama hasn't even taken the oath of office yet, and it's already an unfair right-wing attack to say that Obama isn't on par with Lincoln and FDR. What's next? Will it be slander to say Obama's a carbon-based life form? Will the Secret Service investigate you if you're overheard saying you think Obama's merely "OK"? While such sycophancy from the national press is lamentable, at this point it's hardly news. What I find fascinating, however, is not so much the Obama hagiography, but the burning desire for another FDR or Lincoln that underlies it. According to the various Obama-as-Lincoln narratives, including those from the president-elect himself, Obama is a new Lincoln because he is a "uniter." In several of his most famous speeches, Obama insinuates that he wants to bring the country together the way Honest Abe did. Newsweek and others tout his fondness for Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals, in which Goodwin argues that Lincoln displayed his political genius by inviting adversaries into his Cabinet. There are real problems with this model; it didn't work too well for Lincoln. Moreover, who looks at how Lincoln staffed his Cabinet as the defining feature of his presidency? Saying Obama is the next Lincoln because the two men share staffing styles is like saying George Bush is Thomas Jefferson because they both liked chicken soup. If I wear a pointy hat, can I call myself John Paul II? Lincoln was Lincoln because he fought and won the Civil War and freed the slaves. News flash: That ain't what America is like today -- and thank God for it. I think Lincoln was just about the greatest president in American history, but I sure don't want to need another Lincoln. Six hundred thousand Americans died at the hands of other Americans during Lincoln's presidency. Lincoln unified the country at gunpoint and curtailed civil liberties in a way that makes President Bush look like an ACLU zealot. The partisan success of the GOP in the aftermath of the war Obama thinks so highly of was forged in blood. Likewise with FDR. Listening to liberals gush over a "new New Deal" and Obama's call for us to emulate the "Greatest Generation," you'd think they want another Great Depression and World War. Indeed, liberals have long idolized the 1930s as a decade of great unity. It wasn't. The 1930s was a miserable decade of poverty, domestic unrest, labor strife, violations of civil liberties and widespread fear. If liberals really loved peace, prosperity and national cohesion, they'd remember the 1920s or 1950s more fondly. And yet they don't. Why? Because liberals didn't get to impose their schemes and dreams on the country in those decades. Behind all the talk of unity and bipartisanship and shared sacrifice lies an uglier ambition: power. The audacity of hope behind all this Lincoln-FDR-Obama blather is the dream of riding roughshod over the opposition, of having their way, of total victory. The Chinese curse and cliche "may you live in interesting times" is on point. Liberals (and a few conservatives as well, alas) seem desperate to live in interesting times. Not me. You know what I hope? I hope O[...]



'Experimental' Governing? No Thanks

Thu, 20 Nov 2008 00:17:06 -0600

Before you answer that, please ask yourself what your point of view on this question was during the eight years of the Bush administration.

FDR took office promising "bold, persistent experimentation" - and delivered. Raymond Moley, an early member of FDR's "brain trust," saw the New Deal for what it was. "To look upon these programs as the result of a unified plan was to believe that the accumulation of stuffed snakes, baseball pictures, school flags, old tennis shoes, carpenter's tools, geometry books and chemistry sets in a boy's bedroom could have been put there by an interior decorator," Moley wrote later.

Yet Americans thought it was all part of a plan - even though experimentation and planning are in fact near opposites. Why? Because FDR always projected such confidence, even as he made things worse.

But this isn't another column about how FDR prolonged the Depression. In fact, I want to be experimental, too. So here's my idea: Just stop. Stop talking about bailouts and stimuli. Stop pondering ever more drastic action. Give it a rest. Let it be.

A main reason there's all of this "money on the sidelines" out there among private investors is that Wall Street doesn't know what the government will do next. Will it bail out the auto industry? The insurance companies? Which taxes will go up? How far will interest rates go down?

Interventionists, bailout czars and "bold experimenters" in all parties claim to be like firefighters; they can't stop what they're doing until the fire is out. But this analogy only works if you understand the nature of the fire. If it's a credit crisis, that's one thing. If it's uncertainty, it's quite another. And if the problem right now is uncertainty, then these aren't firefighters, they're arsonists.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told Congress he'd spend his kitty of tax dollars on bad mortgage-backed securities. Instead, in the spirit of bold experimentation, he's spent much of it buying banks.

Obama insisted he had a specific plan for the economy - but his plan seems to be to "project confidence."

The problem with this approach is that it makes private-sector decision-making very difficult. If your boss says he will lay off half his employees next month, but he doesn't know who yet, will you buy a new house this month?

In a time of uncertainty, the last thing we need is more uncertainty. Obama's confident pragmatism, like FDR's, is a threat to confidence where it matters - among consumers, credit markets and investors.

Yes, letting GM go into bankruptcy would be scary. But a GM bailout merely kicks GM's problems down the road while spreading the fear about where Uncle Sam's big feet will land next.

Besides, bankruptcy isn't the end of the world. It's the means by which bad companies restructure to fix themselves. Bailouts are the means by which governments subsidize bad companies.

The engine company in Washington has pumped more than a trillion dollars through the fire hose. It's time to turn off the spigot, not only to see where we are but also to let the normal people start fixing things.

By all means, let's hope President Obama will project confidence. But maybe he should express less confidence in the government's ability to get people working again, and more in the ability of regular Americans to rise from the ashes of any hardship.

In short, don't just do something, President Obama - stand there.




GOP Can't Afford to Lose the Base

Sat, 15 Nov 2008 07:39:57 -0600

To listen to many pundits, it means Republicans must become Democrats. The GOP has become too socially conservative, and if it wants to win the support of mainstream voters, it will need to become more socially liberal. If only the party could be more like former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, these voices have been saying for years, the GOP would truly become the majority party. Remember the Alan Alda character on NBC's blessedly defunct "West Wing"? We were told that his pro-choice stance on abortion would make the Republican Party vastly more competitive in places like California and New York. The problem is that Alda's TV character is only marginally more fictional than Christine Todd Whitman. Economically conservative social liberals are the "jackalopes of American politics," in the words of National Review's Kate O'Beirne. The press keeps telling us they exist out there in huge numbers, but when you go looking for them, they refuse to emerge from the bushes. In fairness, many people do describe themselves this way. Most of the time we simply call them "Democrats." Those who call themselves Republicans should more properly be called "confused." This isn't to say that one can't be a moderate on this issue or that and be a Republican. But the idea that social liberalism and economic conservatism can coexist easily is not well supported by the evidence. For example, in Congress and in state legislatures, the more pro-life you are, the more likely you are to be a free-market, low-tax conservative. The more pro-choice you are, the more likely it is that you'll be remarkably generous with other people's money. Former Sen. Phil Gramm, the best deregulator of the last 20 years, was adamantly pro-life. Sen. John Sununu, who just lost a brutal campaign in New Hampshire, is a champion of economic liberty and social conservatism. Even Ron Paul, the archlibertarian congressman from Texas, almost surely would lose his seat if he weren't ardently pro-life. One objection is that "economic conservatism" and "fiscal conservatism" are different things. One can be socially liberal and fiscally conservative, in the sense that you're only willing to constrain your statist do-goodery to the extent you're able to pay for it. This is certainly an intellectually defensible position. But politically, this is hard ground to defend. It turns out that people who buy into the logic of social liberalism usually find themselves ill-equipped ideologically to say no to spending on causes they care about. They even find it difficult to stay Republicans, as we can see from recent example Colin Powell, who endorsed Barack Obama for president for largely ethereal reasons. It should be noted that it's also difficult to be fiscally conservative and socially conservative if you've jettisoned the conservative dogma of limited government. We saw this in spades as President Bush embraced "activist government" and ended up wildly increasing government spending over the last eight years. That should serve as a warning to those, on the right and left, who'd like to see the GOP defenestrate millions of actual party members - e.g., social conservatives - in order to woo millions of largely nonexistent jackalopes. The GOP would simply cease to exist as a viable party without the support of social and religious conservatives. But not so the other way around. We've seen what happens in this country when the passionately religious abandon love of limited government and instead embrace social liberalism and government activism. The results have been good, as in the abolition movement. And the results have been more mixed, like during the Progressive Movement. The religious right is much more likely to stop being "right" than stop being religious. Secular conservatives and libert[...]



The GOP Looking Glass

Wed, 12 Nov 2008 00:37:00 -0600

The view on the right is very different, and the debate about the Bush years will largely determine the future of the Republican Party and the conservative movement. Bush's brand of conservatism was always a controversial innovation on the right. Recall that in 2000 he promised to be a "different kind of Republican," and he kept his word. His partner in passing the No Child Left Behind Act was liberal Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. Bush's prescription drug benefit -- the largest expansion of entitlements since the Great Society -- was hugely controversial on the right. He signed the McCain-Feingold bill to the dismay of many Republicans who'd spent years denouncing campaign-finance "reform" as an assault on freedom of speech. The fight over his immigration plan nearly tore the conservative movement apart. This is not to suggest that Bush was in fact a liberal president. Politics is not binary like that. There were conservative triumphs -- and failures -- to the Bush presidency. He appointed two solid conservatives to the Supreme Court. He tried to privatize Social Security, though that failed for sundry reasons. His much-touted "compassionate conservatism" was rejected by many of us on the right as a slap to traditional conservatives and an intellectual betrayal of Reaganite principles. It was a rhetorical capitulation to Bill Clinton's feel-your-pain political posturing and an embrace of the assumptions that have been the undergirding of liberalism since the New Deal. That is, the measure of one's compassion is directly proportionate to one's support for large and costly government programs. And Bush admitted as much. In an interview with the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes, Bush explained that he rejected William F. Buckley's brand of anti-government conservatism. Conservatives had to "lead" and to be "activist," he said. In 2003, Bush proclaimed that when "somebody hurts" government has to "move." This wasn't a philosophy of government as much as gooey marketing posing as principle. Ronald Reagan would have spontaneously burst into flames if he'd uttered such sentiments. Dissent from Bush was muted for years, in large part because of 9/11 and the Iraq war. Conservatives, right or wrong, rallied to support their president, particularly in the face of shrill partisan attacks from Democrats who seemed more interested in tearing down the commander in chief than winning a war. But the Bush chapter is closing, and the fight to write the next one has begun. In one corner, there are a large number of bright, mostly younger, self-styled reformers with a diverse -- and often contradictory -- set of proposals to win back middle-class voters and restore the GOP's status as "the party of ideas" (as the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it). In another corner are self-proclaimed traditional conservatives and Reaganites, led most notably by Rush Limbaugh, who believe that the party desperately needs to get back to the basics: limited government, low taxes and strong defense. What is fascinating is that both camps seem implicitly to agree that the real challenge lurks in how to account for the Bush years. For the young Turks and their older allies -- my National Review colleagues Ramesh Ponnuru, Yuval Levin and David Frum, the Atlantic's Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, New York Times columnist David Brooks et al -- the problem is that Bush botched the GOP's shot at real reform. For the Limbaugh crowd, the issue seems to be that we've already tried this reform stuff -- from both Bush and McCain -- and look where it's gotten us. Neither camp has adequately explained where Bush figures in their vision for the future of the party. Is reform going to be a debugged compassionate conservatism 2.0 or a Reaganesque revival of conservative pr[...]



Progressivism's Achilles Heel

Fri, 07 Nov 2008 00:39:56 -0600

The ban in California was particularly intriguing. Proposition 8 would have failed in the Golden State if it were up to white voters, who opposed it by a 51-49 ratio. What carried it over the top was enormous support from black voters, with about 70 percent of them backing it. Hispanics also supported the ban by significant, though smaller, margins. In Florida, where a similar ban required a 60 percent margin, Amendment 2 just barely passed, getting 60 percent of the white vote. The cushion came from blacks, who voted 71 percent in favor, and Latinos, who voted 64 percent in favor. In other words, Obama had some major un-progressive coattails. The tidal wave of black and Hispanic voters who came out to support Obama voted in enormous numbers against what most white liberals consider to be the foremost civil rights issue of the day. Put aside the substance of the gay marriage debate; what's fascinating is how these returns expose the underlying weakness, or at least vulnerability, of progressivism. As a matter of practical politics, contemporary liberalism amounts to a coalitional ideology, while conservatism remains an ideological coalition. The Democratic Party is the party of various groups promising to scratch each other's backs. Gay rights activists and longshoreman coexist in the same party because they promise support on each other's issues. The Republican Party is different. It says to voters, if you believe seven, eight or even 10 out of the 10 things we believe, you should be a Republican. Obviously, there are coalitions on the right and ideologues on the left, but I think the generalization remains valid. But sometimes a tactical orientation can be confused for an ideological principle. That's why the left places such high value on unity, solidarity, and a no-enemies-on-the-left mentality. That's why Obama preached endlessly about unity and the evils of being "divisive" or "distracted" from what really matters. Another example of a tactic masquerading as a principle is contemporary liberalism's fixation with the idea that the working and middle class should "vote their interests," by which they mean vote for the most government goodies. This was the point of Obama's "bitter" and "clinging" comments last summer. Those poor deluded souls in western Pennsylvania don't understand that their real interests lie with Obama's economic agenda. For all the liberal protests claiming that Obama's "bitter" comments were misunderstood, his remarks were, in fact, mainstream on the left. For instance, Thomas Frank, something of a guru to angry liberals, wrote in his book What's the Matter with Kansas? that, "People getting their fundamental interests wrong is what American political life is all about. This species of derangement is the bedrock of our civic order; it is the foundation on which all else rests." And, he added at great length, it is the reason so many deluded working- and middle-class Americans vote Republican (or at least why so many did when Frank wrote his book). This has always struck me as hypocritical, pernicious lunacy. Legitimate election issues are those issues voters decide are legitimate. Americans who cling to religion and guns don't do so out of bitterness, but because they consider such things central to their understanding of the good life and resent what they perceive as hostility to their lifestyle from their own government. And no liberal opposes voting on values issues -- including gay rights -- when they think they're right or if they believe it helps get liberals elected. Liberals denounce rich people who vote their interests as "greedy" and celebrate limousine liberals who vote against their own interests as heroes. And at least some of the folks who voted for [...]



Obama's Getting Off Easy

Wed, 15 Oct 2008 00:48:00 -0600

There are differences between then and now, to be sure. For starters, there was still a great deal of work left to be done on civil rights in 1964 (and John McCain is no libertarian). But even then, the attempt to paint Goldwater as a hate-monger was idiotic and dishonorable. It was almost as dishonorable as Harry Truman's attempt 16 years earlier to cast his opponent, businessman Thomas Dewey, as an American Hitler. Liberal Democrats have a long tradition of tarring opponents as the monolithic forces of hatred and prejudice while casting themselves as the enlightened proponents of peace, love and decency. And this election shows that tradition is alive and well. Over the weekend, civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis of Georgia sold off another chunk of his reputation by coughing up some absurd partisan talking point about how the McCain-Palin campaign reminds him of that of Dixiecrat segregationist George Wallace. And, for the last week, a host of reporters -- not just liberal pundits -- have ominously fretted that the McCain campaign's use of former domestic terrorist Bill Ayers as an issue is a racist ploy. The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut, for instance, wrote that Sarah Palin's comment that Barack Obama was "palling around with terrorists" is "a turn of phrase that critics said was racially loaded." The most laughable evidence that McCain is sowing hatred stems from the shouts of "terrorist!" and "kill him!" from a few hothead buffoons at McCain rallies. Of course, rather than foment this sort of thing, McCain went out of his way to chastise his own supporters personally and publicly. McCain has done nothing to fuel racism. Or, put another way, the McCain campaign has done as much to promote prejudice as the Obama campaign has to inflame the vile passions behind the "Abort Sarah Palin" bumper sticker, Madonna's stage video lumping McCain in with Hitler, the eugenic snobbery aimed at Palin's son with Down syndrome or the column in the Philadelphia Daily News that predicted a "race war" if McCain wins. Wait a second, shout Obama supporters. What about the attempts to paint Obama as "the other," as "different"? Peter Beinart writes in Time that the Republican campaign is trying to cast Obama as not "American enough." Obama is cosmopolitan and represents a changing world. To cast that in a negative light, insists Beinart (a friend and frequent debate opponent), amounts to "shocking" racism. Beinart recounts how Palin said at one rally, "I am just so fearful that this is not a man who sees America the way that you and I see America." Beinart makes it sound as if she said this through a Klan hood. Please. Every single presidential campaign boils down to an argument about how the candidates "see America." Suddenly that question is out of bounds because Obama is black? According to the liberal history books, in 1988 the GOP cast Michael Dukakis as too elitist, cosmopolitan and not American enough. In 1992, it ran a similar attack against Bill Clinton -- remember the hullabaloo about draft dodging and that trip to Russia? In 2000, ditto with Al Gore, though the emphasis was less on foreignness and more on extraterrestrialness. And in 2004, there was John Kerry's "global test" for U.S. national security. Lack of originality notwithstanding, why is it suddenly racist to treat Obama just like the four white guys who preceded him? Talk about racial double standards. Obama holds mega-campaign rallies in Berlin, touts his global appeal and says a top foreign policy goal is to get other countries to like us. But it's racist to call him cosmopolitan? He has nontrivial ties to an unrepentant (and white) former leader of the Weather Underground, a radical leftist organization th[...]



The Media Play the Race Card on Obama

Wed, 24 Sep 2008 00:24:10 -0600

Many journalists are so convinced that racism is the only possible explanation for an Obama loss that they are beginning to see any effective anti-Obama ad as an attempt by John McCain to "viciously exacerbate" America's "race-fueled angst," in the words of one New York magazine writer. For example, a McCain ad (citing the Washington Post) noted that Franklin Raines, the Clinton-appointed former head of Fannie Mae who helped bring about the current Wall Street meltdown, advised the Obama campaign. Time's Karen Tumulty proclaims that because Raines is black, McCain is "playing the race card." Why, she wants to know, didn't McCain attack Obama's even stronger ties to the even more culpable former Fannie Mae Chairman Jim Johnson, who had to resign from Obama's vice presidential search team because of his sketchy dealings with mortgage giant Countrywide Financial? "One reason might be that Johnson is white; Raines is black," suggests Tumulty. Or another reason might be that the McCain campaign was saving that attack for its very next ad, which is what happened. According to numerous critics, McCain's "celebrity" ads featuring Paris Hilton and Britney Spears were nothing but tawdry race-baiting because they subliminally played on white America's fear of black men violating the delicate flowers of white American womanhood. You'd think a cognitive warning bell would have gone off the moment anyone started suggesting that Paris Hilton and Britney Spears are icons of chastity. This spectacle is grotesque. It reveals how little the supposedly objective press corps thinks of the American people -- and how highly they think of themselves ... and Obama. Obama's lack of experience, his doctrinaire liberalism, his record, his known associations with Weatherman radical William Ayers and the hate-mongering Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.: These cannot possibly be legitimate motivations to vote against Obama, in this view. Similarly, McCain's experience, his record of bipartisanship, his heroism: These too count for nothing. Racism is all there is. Obama wins, and America sheds its racial past. Obama loses, and we're a nation of "Bull" Connors. Much of the argument for the centrality of race in this election hinges on the so-called Bradley effect. In 1982, Tom Bradley, Los Angeles' African American mayor, was polling well among white voters in the race for California governor. Bradley lost, suggesting that large numbers of whites had lied to pollsters about their intention to vote for him. I have no doubt that the Bradley effect is real. But what often gets confused is that the Bradley effect does not reflect racism; it captures voters' fear of appearing racist. There's no reason to assume those who lie to pollsters are the racists. (Actual racists might lie about why they aren't voting for the black candidate, but it's unlikely they would lie about voting for him.) But for Obama supporters and the media, poll results are some kind of sacred, binding covenant. And if voters don't keep their promise, the media have no problem seeing racism at work. The media's obsession with race in this election is, in fact, probably fueling the Bradley effect. Repeating over and over that voting against Obama is racist only encourages non-racist people to be embarrassed to admit that they plan to vote for McCain. Another rich irony is that the only racists who matter in this election are the ones in the Democratic Party. News flash: Republicans aren't voting for the Democratic nominee because they're Republicans. A new AP-Yahoo News poll confirms this. It claims that racial prejudice is a significant factor among the independents and Democrats Obama needs to win, specific[...]