Thursday, June 28, 2012
If there were a Hall of Fame for political rhetoric, the phrase “social justice” would deserve a prominent place there. It has the prime virtue of political catchwords: It means many different things to many different people.In other words, if you are a politician, you can get lots of people with different concrete ideas to agree with you when you come out boldly for the vague generality of “social justice.”
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said that a good catchword can stop thought for 50 years. The phrase “social justice” has stopped many people from thinking for at least a century — and counting.
If someone told you that country A had more “social justice” than country B, and you had all the statistics in the world available to you, how would you go about determining whether country A or country B had more “social justice”? In short, what does the phrase mean in practice — if it has any concrete meaning?
In political and ideological discussions, the issue is usually whether there is some social injustice. Even if we can agree that there is some injustice, what makes it social?
Surely most of us are repelled by the thought that some people are born into dire poverty, while others are born into extravagant luxury — each through no fault or virtue of his own. If this is an injustice, does that make it social?
The baby born into dire poverty might belong to a family in Bangladesh, and the one born to extravagant luxury might belong to a family in America. Whose fault is this disparity or injustice? Is there some specific society that caused this? Or is it just one of those things in the world that we wish was very different?
If it is an injustice, it is unjust from some cosmic perspective — an unjust fate, rather than necessarily an unjust policy, institution, or society.
Making a distinction between cosmic justice and social justice is more than just a semantic fine point. Once we recognize that there are innumerable causes of innumerable disparities, we can no longer blithely assume that either the cause or the cure can be found in the government of a particular society.
Anyone who studies geography in any depth can see that different peoples and nations never had the same exposure to the progress of the rest of the human race. People living in isolated mountain valleys have for centuries lagged behind the progress of people living in busy ports, where both new products and new ideas constantly arrive from around the world.
If you study history in addition to geography, you are almost forced to acknowledge that there was never any real chance for all peoples to have the same achievements — even if they were all born with the same potential and even if there were no social injustices.
Once I asked a class of black college students what they thought would happen if a black baby, born in the middle of a ghetto, had entered the world with brain cells the same as those with which Albert Einstein was born.
There were many different opinions — but no one in that room thought that such a baby, in such a place, would grow up to become another Einstein. Some blamed discrimination but others saw the social setting as too much to overcome.
If discrimination is the main reason that such a baby has little or no chance for great intellectual achievements, then that is something caused by society — a social injustice. But if the main reason is that the surrounding cultural environment provides little incentive to develop great intellectual potential, and many distractions from that goal, that is a cosmic injustice.
Many years ago, a study of black adults with high IQs found that they described their childhoods as “extremely unhappy” more often than other black adults did. There is little that politicians can do about that — except stop pretending that all problems in black communities originate in other communities.
Similar principles apply around the world. Every group trails the long shadow of its cultural heritage — and no politician or society can change the past. But they can stop leading people into the blind alley of resentments of other people. A better future often requires internal changes that pay off better than mysticism about one’s own group or about “social justice.”
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Since this is an election year, we can expect to hear a lot of words — and the meaning of those words is not always clear. So it may be helpful to have a glossary of political terms.One of the most versatile terms in the political vocabulary is “fairness.” It has been used over a vast range of issues, from “fair trade” laws to the Fair Labor Standards Act. And recently we have heard that the rich don’t pay their “fair share” of taxes.
Some of us may want to see a definition of “fair.” But a concrete definition would destroy the versatility of the word, which is what makes it so useful politically.
If you said, for example, that 46.7 percent of their income — or any other number — is the “fair share” that the rich should have to pay in taxes, then once they paid that amount, there would be no basis for politicians to come back to them for more — and “more” is what “fair share” means in practice.
Life in general has never been even close to fair, so the pretense that the government can make it fair is a valuable and inexhaustible asset to politicians who want to expand government.
“Racism” is another term we can expect to hear a lot this election year, especially if the public-opinion polls are going against President Barack Obama.
Former big-time TV journalist Sam Donaldson and current fledgling CNN host Don Lemon have already proclaimed racism to be the reason for criticisms of Obama, and we can expect more and more talking heads to say the same thing as the election campaign goes on. The word “racism” is like ketchup. It can be put on practically anything — and demanding evidence makes you a “racist.”
A more positive term that is likely to be heard a lot, during election years especially, is “compassion.” But what does it mean concretely? More often than not, in practice it means a willingness to spend the taxpayers’ money in ways that will increase the spender’s chances of getting reelected.
If you are skeptical — or, worse yet, critical — of this practice, then you qualify for a different political label: “mean-spirited.” A related political label is “greedy.”
In the political language of today, people who want to keep what they have earned are said to be “greedy,” while those who wish to take their earnings from them and give it to others (who will vote for them in return) show “compassion.”
A political term that had me baffled for a long time was “the hungry.” Since we all get hungry, it was not obvious to me how you single out some particular segment of the population to refer to as “the hungry.”
Eventually, over the years, it dawned on me what the distinction was. People who make no provision to feed themselves, but expect others to provide food for them, are those whom politicians and the media refer to as “the hungry.”
Those who meet this definition may have money for alcohol, drugs, or even various electronic devices. And many of them are overweight. But, if they look to voluntary donations, or money taken from the taxpayers, to provide them with something to eat, then they are “the hungry.”
I can remember a time, long ago, when I was hungry in the old-fashioned sense. I was a young fellow out of work, couldn’t find work, fell behind in my room rent — and, when I finally found a job, I had to walk miles to get there, because I couldn’t afford both subway fare and food.
But this was back in those “earlier and simpler times” we hear about. I was so naïve that I thought it was up to me to go find a job, and to save some money when I did. Even though I knew that Joe DiMaggio was making $100,000 a year — a staggering sum of money at that time — it never occurred to me that it was up to him to see that I got fed.
So, even though I was hungry, I never qualified for the political definition of “the hungry.” Moreover, I never thereafter spent all the money I made, whether that was a little or a lot, because being hungry back then was a lot worse than being one of “the hungry” today.
As a result, I was never of any use to politicians looking for dependents who would vote for them. Nor have I ever had much use for such politicians.
Monday, June 25, 2012
The Obama administration should call in Jimmy Carter to give them a briefing on what follows the end of a pro-U.S. authoritarian regime in the Middle East. The administration had better very carefully plan for all contingencies in Egypt. Thanks to brilliant political maneuvering, the “largely secular” Muslim Brotherhood — which, in early-Khomeini fashion, serially insisted that they were not interested in political power even as they grabbed it — has outsmarted both the military and the so-called secularists. For now, they control the country at the center of the Arab world, whose population exceeds 80 million and whose military is supplied by America.The Brotherhood will, once it carefully consolidates power, begin Islamicizing the country in the mold of Hamas and Turkey, as it thanks the West for supporting democratic elections that brought it into power but, of course, will never again be held so freely and openly. If trends continue, we may see an arc of Islamic “republics” from Turkey all the way through the Middle East to the Atlantic Ocean, all brought to power through the toppling of corrupt authoritarians, followed by “free elections,” followed by subversion of the revolution, Iranian-style.
At some far-off day, of course, the proverbial “people” may tire of sharia law and Islamism, as they have in Iran, but that will be long after most of us are dead. The oil-rich Gulf sheiks will hedge as they always do; on the one hand they don’t like any elections, but on the other, they can claim their sharia-based monarchies are the ideal that the Brotherhood is striving for. We haven’t seen a conventional war in the Middle East since 1973, but if Syria follows the Egypt/Libya model, the ingredients for it — a multi-front alliance against Israel — will be there again. This time the aggressors would be armed, in part, with U.S. rather than Soviet weapons.
We should assume that the Brotherhood will insist that we continue massive aid to Egypt, given their democratic rise to power, even as they call for the recapture of Jerusalem and a new holy war against Israel. And if a poll were taken in Egypt, I’d imagine that most people there would favor the soon-to-be-nuclear Iranian theocracy over the West, making the old calculus that the Arab strongmen want Iran denuclearized more than we do sort of obsolete. I think we will soon discover that the Shiite/Sunni split does not compare to the new anti-Western zeal of these infant Islamic republics, which, if it came down to it, would rather see Iran go nuclear than the West prevent it from doing so.
At this point, we have few if any options. Perhaps we could engage carefully with the Muslim Brotherhood, cutting back 10 percent in our aid for each step it takes to dismantle the democratic process that empowered it. That probably won’t take long.
Friday, June 22, 2012
Thursday, June 21, 2012
A number of excellent points are made in this morning’s NRO editorial on President Obama’s wayward assertion of executive privilege to withhold Justice Department documents from the congressional committee probing the Fast and Furious scandal. I want to highlight one of them, because it reinforces a point I tried to make in yesterday’s post about the impropriety of withholding Justice Department materials from Congress, the governmental branch on which the Justice Department’s existence depends.The editors write (my italics):
Executive privilege serves a necessary function in our constitutional order, reinforcing the separation of powers and protecting sensitive deliberations within the executive branch, and it is especially strong when the president or his closest advisers in the White House are involved in the communication. In this case, the administration has long denied that the president was directly involved. Instead, Attorney General Eric Holder wasted everyone’s time invoking a spurious form of deliberative privilege that was completely decoupled from executive privilege. Such a privilege has no force vis-à-vis Congress. By finally invoking executive privilege yesterday, the president belatedly acknowledged that his attorney general was full of it.I contended yesterday that even when plausibly invoked — meaning, invoked by the president as an actual assertion of executive privilege — the “deliberative process” theory of executive privilege is not compelling when what is at issue is the the shielding of Justice Department documents (as opposed to presidential communications) from Congress. The Constitution does not require a Justice Department; the Department is a creature of statute, would not exist without Congress, depends entirely on Congress for its jurisdiction and budget, and could be repealed by Congress tomorrow with no constitutional repercussions. But at least when the president — the only official in government capable of invoking executive privilege — asserted a privilege to withhold information based on executive branch “deliberative process,” he was invoking a privilege rooted in law (just one that, for various reasons, is unavailing in this instance).
Holder, by contrast, did not assert a legal privilege. He instead made up a frivolous rationale for obstructing Congress’s investigation and relied on it for months — even as he and his subordinates have repeatedly been forced to acknowledge that representations they made to the committee were false. It is one thing to posit a real legal claim that happens to be inapposite under the circumstances. It is quite another for the chief federal law-enforcement official in the country, whose post is created by and reliant on Congress, to stymie Congress based on a fabrication that he passed off as a legal theory.
I posed a question before Holder was confirmed that seems a lot more pressing now: How would Holder fare under the criteria for attorney general fitness that Democrats applied to Alberto Gonzales? Recall that Attorney General Gonzales was run out of town by Democrats and their media minions based on (a) a trumped up scandal that was not a crime (presidents do not need a reason to remove U.S. attorneys); (b) a scandal that was trumped up because what Bush did, comparatively, was child’s play (he fired eight U.S. attorneys whereas Clinton, for no cause other than patronage, fired 92 of them); and (c) the allegation that Gonzales and his subordinates had provided false information to Congress — and when it emerged that this provision of false information was probably not intentional, Senate Democrats inveighed that Gonzales still had to go because an attorney general, by their lights, is unfit to serve if lawmakers cannot trust that he is informing Congress accurately, regardless of whether this is due to mendacity or incompetence.
When I raised this in connection with Holder, it was due to an actual, outrageous scandal he already had under his belt when Obama nominated him: the Marc Rich pardon, an episode of sheer corruption in which Holder was a central figure and as to which, as I have demonstrated, he provided Congress with testimony that, to put it charitably, was grossly inaccurate. But that was nothing compared to Fast and Furious, which involves the reckless provision of over a thousand weapons to murderous foreign drug cartels, the foreseeable resultant murders of scores of people, the killing of a federal law enforcement officer, multiple instances of providing false information to the investigating congressional committee, and — we now know — the obstruction of Congress by reliance on a specious “privilege” with no basis in law . . . certainly not as a rationale for stonewalling Congress.
If Holder were a Republican — well, never mind: If Holder were a Republican, he’d never have survived the FALN pardons, never mind Marc Rich; and a would never have nominated him because he’d know the Democrats would never spinelessly roll over and confirm him.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
The next five months should be interesting — given that Barack Obama is now experiencing something entirely unique in his heretofore stellar career: widespread criticism of his performance and increasing weariness with his boilerplate and his teleprompted eloquence.Starting with his Occidental days, and going on through Columbia, Harvard, Chicago, the U.S. Senate, and the 2008 campaign, rarely has Mr. Obama faced much criticism, much less any accountability that would involve judging his rhetoric by actual achievement.
Yet what worked for so long now does no longer. Obama simply cannot run on 40 months of 8 percent–plus unemployment, a June 2009 recovery that sputtered, $5 trillion in new debt, serial $1 trillion–plus annual deficits, and dismal GDP growth. Few believe any more that what he and the Democratic Congress passed in the first two years of his administration worked — and fewer still that the Republicans are to blame in the last 17 months for stopping him from pursuing even more disastrous policies. He cannot turn instead to the advantages of Obamacare, a dynamic foreign policy, national-security sobriety, a scandal-free administration, or stellar presidential appointments. The furor over security leaks makes it harder to keep conjuring up the ghost of Osama bin Laden.
What then to expect if the race remains tight or Obama finds himself behind?
1. There will be lots more “the dog ate my homework” excuses for the dismal economy. The troubles in the EU, the Japanese tsunami, the East Coast earthquake, ATM machines, Wall Street, inclement weather, the Republican Congress, the Tea Party, and George W. Bush have pretty much been exhausted. But there is always hurricane season, a Greek exit from the euro, or a Middle East flare-up. Expect sometime before October to hear that a new “they” upset the brilliant recovery and is to blame for the chronic economic lethargy. One of the strangest aspects of Obama’s rationalizations is their utter incoherence and illogic: He brags that America pumped more oil and gas under his watch, even as he did his best to stop just that on public lands; he brags that he put in fewer regulations than did Bush, even as he boasts that he reined in business; he brags that he had to borrow $5 trillion to grow government in order to save the country, even as he claims he reduced the size of government. Why does Obama try to take credit for things on Tuesday that he damned on Monday? Is his new campaign theme: Despite (rather than because of) Obama?
2. Mitt Romney is a tough target. If Obama once loudly admitted to abuse of coke, Romney quietly confesses to avoidance even of Coca-Cola. His personal life is blameless. His family seems the subject of a Norman Rockwell painting. And Romney has more or less succeeded at most things he has attempted. No matter, he is Mormon. Expect legions of Obama surrogates to focus on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, especially its supposed endemic racism, sexism, and homophobia. Religious bigotry is not especially liberal, but the race/class/gender agenda trumps all such qualms, and in any case Obama and his team have never claimed to be especially tolerant or fair-minded in using any means necessary to achieve noble ends. Whereas the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and Trinity Church were off the table in 2008, Mormonism will be very much on it by late summer.
3. We will read and hear about race 24/7. Racism is not an easy sell today, given that without tens of millions of white voters, Barack Obama would not have been elected. Nor is it easy to condemn America as racist when the white vote in 2008 was split far more evenly than were the 96 percent of African-American voters who preferred Barack Obama. Nonetheless, racial relations are at an all-time low. Almost weekly a member of the Congressional Black Caucus levels yet another bizarre charge of racism, and a Hollywood actor or singer blurts out something that would be deemed racially offensive were he not African-American; the polarization over the Trayvon Martin case threatens to overshadow the polarization over the O. J. Simpson trial; flash mobbing in the inner cities is as much daily fare on the uncensored Internet as it is absent from the network news; and both Barack Obama (the Skip Gates affair, the Trayvon Martin quip, the “punish our enemies” call, etc.) and Eric Holder (“cowards,” congressional oversight is racially motivated, “my people,” etc.) have made it a point to make race essential, not incidental, to their governance. If in 2008 liberals celebrated the election of Barack Obama as proof of a new postracial harmony, in 2012 a tight race will be cited as greater proof of a new ascendant racism. The idea that to elect Obama wins the nation racial exemption, and to defeat him earns condemnation, is illogical. No matter: By late fall, expect a desperate Obama administration to be dredging up the charge overtly, nonstop, and in person.
4. We should look for new furor against the “system” in direct proportion to the praise heaped on it in 2008 for being redeemed. The polls, if unfavorable, will be described as innately biased. The uncivil Rush Limbaugh, talk radio generally, Fox News, and tea-party bloggers, we will be lectured, are subversive, peddle hate, foment violence, and should be silenced. Whereas David Brooks, David Frum, Peggy Noonan, and Christopher Buckley were recommended reading in 2008, given their balanced and fair-minded critiques of George W. Bush and their appreciation of Barack Obama, in 2012 we will learn that they are right-wing attack dogs for losing their enthusiasm for the first-class mind and temperament of Barack Obama. Whereas a Pat Buchanan on MSNBC railing against Bush’s war and McCain’s neocon advisers was a reminder of how the libertarian Right has positive affinities with the liberal Left, in 2012 such a paleocon “racist” must be kept off the airwaves. Voter-registration laws and voter-ID requirements, remember, are designed to exclude the oppressed and must be relaxed. Advertising has warped American politics. Super PACs are Romney conspiracies. If big Wall Street money went for Obama in 2008 and thereby won investment banking and the stock market exemption from charges of greed and corruption, in 2012 investors may swing to Romney and thereby incite calls to rein in “big money” and furious op-eds about the toxic mix of politics and cash. If Romney outraises Obama, we will hear again the calls for public campaign financing, which were ignored when a cash-flush Obama renounced public financing in 2008. In 2008, academics, foundation people, the Hollywood crowd, journalists, and liberal politicians confessed that they had fallen in love again with an America that had proved it was not hopeless after all; in 2012, America may prove unsalvageable, with thousands vowing to move to Canada.
5. Suddenly around October the world will become absolutely unsafe. In these dangerous times, Americans must forget their differences, come together, and embrace a bipartisan unity — given that it may be necessary, after all, to hit the Iranian nuclear facilities, since we’ll have learned that the bomb may be a reality by, say, mid-November. Just as we have been reminded that Barack Obama has saved us by his brave decisions to use double agents in Yemen, computer viruses in Iran, Seal Team Six in Pakistan, and philosophically guided Predator assassination hits, so too a strike against Iran may suddenly be of vital national-security interest, though keenly lamented by a Nobel laureate nose-deep in Thomas Aquinas. Cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline delighted greens; the war on the war on women pleased feminists; gays are now on board after Barack Obama decided he really did favor gay marriage; Latinos got nearly a million illegal aliens exempted from immigration law. And yet all those partisan gifts have not yet resulted in a 50 percent approval rating or a lead over Mitt Romney. Something more dramatic is needed, given that there are only so many Obama heroics that can be cobbled together and leaked from classified sources.
We do not know who is going to win the 2012 election, only that it will be closer than the 2008 one — and if Obama keeps it up at his present rate he may destroy the Democratic party for a generation. There is no longer an incumbent George Bush to blame. Romney is a feistier candidate than was John McCain. Fundraising is no longer lopsided. The novelty of the first African-American president has become passé. And “hope and change” has been replaced by a concrete record of three and a half years. Given those realities, if his being an unknown quantity was a reason to in 2008, his being all too familiar will be cause for rejecting him in 2012.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Monday, June 18, 2012
By Ben Stein on 5.24.12 @ 8:42AM
Finding a way out of the economic doldrums.
The economy is getting to be a depressing subject. This is a feeble recovery indeed, and I would not be at all surprised to see either flat growth or negative "growth" in 2012.
Basically, this recession has been going on since 2008. This is a uniquely long postwar recession. A mood of discouragement is settling in around the nation, as far as I can tell.
Just for me, I see no way around a major league default by the U.S. Treasury at some future date. I do not know when. But the debt is so large and growing so fast that we simply cannot pay it off without wrenching changes in entitlements and taxes. Is the nation ready for such changes? We had better be. Otherwise, if we get to default, it will not be pretty.
After the speech, I went up to San Mateo to visit my dear pals, Al and Sally Burton and their lovely daughter, Jenny. Al and Sally have been incredibly encouraging, supportive friends since 1975. They are more than friends. They are saints. Truly saints. Among many other kindnesses, Al invented "Win Ben Stein's Money." It was life changing. As I said, they are saints.
Then, I went to SFO to get my Virgin America flight to LAX. What a shock! The terminal for Virgin and for American has been totally redone. It is spacious, light, enticing, with bewitching restaurants and shops. The Admirals' Club is as open and bright and welcoming as any space I have ever been in. It was a miracle of design.
The terminal where the Virgin flight took off was as welcoming as most waiting areas are barren and gloomy. A charming check in agent talked to me as if I were person, not a superannuated number.
The flight itself had lush leather appointments and smoked glass and a space age purple light. The seats were roomy and firm. It was the best looking airplane I have ever been on.
What geniuses designed this terminal? What geniuses designed this airplane's interior?
What a difference actually giving a damn about one's passengers can mean.
WednesdayI am out here in this very hot desert in Rancho Mirage. The news about the economy continues to worsen. "Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago?" Not for most of us. For most of us, Mr. Obama has added about many thousands per person of national debt. The unemployment rate is still horrific. We have a crumbling stock market and a moribund real estate market. As I said above, the national mood is awful.
Naturally, I have a few ideas, which I am putting together as "A Positive Program for a Lasting Recovery." Borrowing lavishly from my father and others, I have three preliminary ideas:
1.) Taxation to produce a budget balanced over the business cycle. Taxes cut automatically when unemployment reaches uncomfortable levels. That would yield a deficit and government spending to stimulate demand. Taxes raised to create a surplus when (and if) there is ever a frothy recovery. That would take money out of the system and retard demand. And taxes unchanged in (what we used to think was) normal prosperity. This is the full employment budgeting and taxing model. My father thought it up. He willed it to me and my sister.
2.) An educational system that makes sure that every graduate, whether planning to be a physicist or a dropout, knows a useful trade -- plumbing, electrician, roofer, TV repairman, power steering specialist, landscaper, picture framer -- a trade that will yield an actual job in case the graduate needs one.
3.) Cable TV and Internet channels teaching skills needed in the workplace around the clock.
4.) A prison system where our nearly 2 million prisoners will each have a trade and a skill he can use for a job when he gets out.
5.) A matching system that hooks up young people with retirees with useful skills and connections as teachers and mentors....
More to come. This Positive Program will be a mixture of public policy and private responsibility.
We have to try something. I know we can do it.
Round about this time in the election cycle, a presidential challenger finds himself on the stump and posing a simple test to voters: “Ask yourself — are you better off now than you were four years ago?”But, in fact, you don’t need to ask yourself, because the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances has done it for you. Between 2007 and 2010, Americans’ median net worth fell 38.8 percent — or from $126,400 per family to $77,300 per family. Oh, dear. As I mentioned a few months ago, when readers asked me to recommend countries they could flee to, most of the countries worth fleeing to Americans can no longer afford to live in.
Which means we’ll just have to fix things here. How likely is Barack Obama to do this? A few days ago he came to Cleveland, a city that is a byword for economic dynamism, fiscal prudence, and sound government. He gave a 54-minute address that tried the patience even of the most doting court eunuchs. “One of the worst speeches I’ve ever heard Barack Obama make,” pronounced MSNBC’s Jonathan Alter, as loyal Democrat attendees fled the arena to volunteer for the Obamacare death-panel pilot program. In fairness to the president, I wouldn’t say it was that much worse, or duller, or more listless and inert than previous Obama speeches. In fact, much of it was exactly the same guff he was peddling when Jonathan Alter’s pals were still hailing him as the world’s greatest orator. The problem is the ever widening gulf between the speech and the slough of despond all about.
Take, for example, the attempt at soaring rhetoric: “That’s how we built this country — together. We constructed railroads and highways, the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. We did those things together,” he said, in a passage that was presumably meant to be inspirational but was delivered with the faintly petulant air of a great man resentful at having to point out the obvious, yet again. “Together, we touched the surface of the moon, unlocked the mystery of the atom, connected the world through our own science and imagination. We haven’t done these things as Democrats or Republicans. We’ve done them as Americans.”
Beyond the cheap dissembling, there was a bleak, tragic quality to this paragraph. Does anyone really believe a second-term Obama administration is going to build anything? Yes, you, madam, the gullible sap at the back in the faded hope’n’change T-shirt. You seriously think your guy is going to put up another Hoover Dam? Let me quote one Deanna Archuleta, Obama’s deputy assistant secretary of the interior, in a speech to Democrat environmentalists in Nevada:
“You will never see another federal dam.”
That seems pretty straightforward. America is out of the dam business. Just as the late Roman Empire no longer built aqueducts, so we no longer build dams. In fairness to the Romans, they left it to the barbarians to sweep in and destroy the existing aqueducts, whereas in America the government destroys the dams (some 200 this century) as an act of environmental virtue hailed by the deputy assistant secretary of the interior.
Obama can urge us all he wants to band together because when we dream big dreams there’s no limit to what Big Government can accomplish. But these days we can’t build a new Hoover Dam, only an attractive new corner office for the assistant deputy assistant deputy assistant secretary to the secretary of deputy assistants at the Department of Bureaucratic Sclerosis, and she’ll be happy to issue a compliance order that the Hoover Dam’s mandatory fish ladders are non-wheelchair-accessible, and so the whole joint needs to close. That we can do! If only we dare to dream Big Dreams!! Together!!!
As to “touching the surface of the moon,” I touch on this in my most recent book, whose title I will forbear to plug. Imagine if we hadn’t gone to the moon in the 1960s. Can you seriously picture Obama presiding over such an event today? Instead of the Apollo 11 guys taking up a portable cassette machine to play Sinatra and the Count Basie band’s recording of “Fly Me to the Moon,” the lads of Obamo 11 would take an iPod with Lady Gaga or Ke$ha or whatever. . . . Yet, even as you try to fill in the details, doesn’t the whole thing start to swim out of focus as something that increasingly belongs not only to another time but another place? In the Sixties, American ingenuity burst the bounds of the planet. Now our debt does, and “touching the surface of the moon” half-lingers in collective consciousness as a dimming memory of lost grandeur, in the way a date farmer in 19th-century Nasiriyah might be vaguely aware that the Great Ziggurat of Ur used to be around here.
But all he can see stretching to the horizon is sand.
So today our money-no-object government spends lots of money but to no great object. What are Big Government’s priorities now? Carpeting Catholic universities with IUDs. Regulating the maximum size of milk-coffee beverages. As Obama told us: “That’s how we built this country — together. We constructed railroads and highways. . . . Together, we touched the surface of the moon, unlocked the mystery of the atom.” And as we will one day tell our grandchildren: “Together, we touched the surface of the decaf caramel macchiato and deemed it to be more than 16 ounces. Together, we unlocked the mystery of 30-year-old college students’ womanhood. One small step to the Ikea futon for a lucky Georgetown Law freshwoman, one giant leap for womankind. Who will ever forget the day when the Union Pacific Board of Health Compliance and the Central Pacific Agency of Sustainable Growth Enhancement met at Promontory Community College, Utah, to hammer in the Golden Spike condom dispenser?”
Most of us don’t want a new Hoover Dam. We would like our homes to be less underwater, but there’s no danger of that anytime soon. Most of us don’t want America to go to the moon. We would like a few less craters on the economic wasteland down here. Soaring rhetoric at a time of earthbound problems — jobs, debt — risks making the president sound ridiculous. Granted, there’s a lot of it about this time of year — commencement speakers assuring kids who can’t manage middle-school math that you can be anything you want to be as long as you dream your dreams. But Obama offers an even more absurd evolution of this grim trope: “I can be anything I want to be as long as you chumps dream your dreams.”
Self-pity is never an attractive quality, and in an elected head of state even less so. Obama whines that his opponents say it’s all his fault. One can argue about whose fault it is, but not, as my colleagues at National Review pointed out, whose responsibility it is: It’s his. He’s the only president we have. And he made things worse. He increased the national debt by some 70 percent, and what do we have to show for it? No dams, no railroads, no moon shots. Just government, and bureaucracy, and regulation, unto national bankruptcy.
“Fly me to the moon / Let me play among the stars . . . ” Who needs another moon shot? Obama’s already up there, soaring ever more unmoored from reality. Pity us mere mortals back on Planet Earth, living in the land he made.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Monday, June 11, 2012
Friday, June 8, 2012
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Monday, June 4, 2012
It looks as if Governor Scott Walker will survive Tuesday’s recall vote. The Real Clear Politics average of recent polls has him leading Milwaukee’s Democratic mayor Tom Barrett by 6.6 points. As of late Sunday, the betting site Intrade was predicting that Walker has a 94.5 percent chance of becoming the victor. Even Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is now saying the recall wasn’t smart. “Don’t get an election that’s divisive, that may have an influence on the presidential election,” he told MSNBC last week. “We made a mistake doing that.”If the recall fails, what will be the takeaways from the 17 months of pitched war that Wisconsin has endured since Governor Walker proposed his dramatic reforms of pensions and privileges in the state’s public-sector unions?
Expect the Left to Blame Obama
Maureen Dowd of the New York Times dismissed Obama on Sunday as someone who “prefers to float above, at a reserve, in grandiose mists.” When the likes of Dowd are no longer feeling the love, we shouldn’t be surprised that other Democrats are dumping on Obama for not showing up to help Barrett in Wisconsin. “Progressive Pundits Lay Groundwork to Blame Obama if Wisconsin Recall Fails” was the headline of a searing critique by Noah Rothman at Mediaite. He quoted Ed Schultz of MSNBC sarcastically noting that the president was in neighboring Iowa and Minnesota last week and that his campaign office is in nearby Chicago. “It’s all around, but is it in?” Schultz asked of the Obama campaign. “[Union members] want him on that line because he talked about being on that line with them back in 2007.” Schultz closed his plea for an Obama visit by saying it is the “job of a leader” to motivate his followers.
Liberals view Wisconsin as a state that is “leading the way in reshaping American’s view of the role of government,” Rothman emphasizes. “President Obama has abandoned that fight, noting correctly that it is not likely to be won,” he says. “But progressive pundits . . . are right — this is not just another election. . . . It is a fight with broad implications that President Obama has abandoned. The question now becomes, can they [progressives] forgive this betrayal ahead of a tough election in the fall?”
Wisconsin Is Now in Play for November
The state hasn’t voted Republican since Ronald Reagan’s reelection effort in 1984, and Obama won it easily by 14 points in 2008. But the state can be competitive. Both Al Gore and John Kerry carried it by only a handful of votes — many of which may have been fraudulent, as a 2007 Milwaukee Police Department report showed.
By this fall, Wisconsin’s new voting law will probably be in effect. It limits same-day registration abuses and requires voters to show photo ID at the polls; this should reduce the role of last-minute fraudsters such as the infamous Park Avenue heiress who pled guilty to flying to Milwaukee in 2000 and passing out cigarettes to homeless people in exchange for their promise to vote for Al Gore.
The psychological blow of losing yet another recall campaign would surely reduce enthusiasm and turnout on the left, while leaving Romney with an extensive campaign infrastructure in the state: 22 offices set up by Governor Walker, firmly in place only five months before the presidential race.
Voters Will See Walker’s Reforms as WorkingThe recall effort couldn’t get under way until Walker had been in office a year, and this time lag clearly helped the governor. Walker can claim to have wiped out a $3.6 billion deficit without raising taxes or seeing service cutbacks. Indeed, property taxes fell statewide by 0.4 percent last year, the first time they’ve fallen since 1998. The average homeowner’s property tax bill would have been about $700 higher if the previous rate of increase had continued. The state now expects to have a surplus of $150 million at the end of the current budget cycle.
Voters can see Walker’s reforms working at the grassroots level as well. Brown Deer, a suburb of Milwaukee, is saving $1 million in pension and health-care costs. More flexible work rules enabled the city to make changes in teacher schedules. “We had many teachers tell us, let’s save everybody’s job,” Brown Deer superintendent Deb Kerr told the Chicago Tribune. “We didn’t cut programs. We didn’t raise class sizes. And we maintained our level of staffing.”
At least 52 local school districts are saving an average of $220 per student because they can now shop around for health insurance for their employees. Before the reforms, unions forced the schools to do business exclusively with WEA Trust, the group run by the state’s largest teachers’ union.
The jobs picture is also improving. Last year, the state added 24,000 new jobs. Chief Executive magazine reported in 2010 that Wisconsin ranked 41st out of 50 states in terms of the ease of doing business. In its new survey, the state has jumped to 20th place, the fastest surge in the history of the magazine’s survey. Separately, the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce survey just found that 62 percent of the members it surveyed plan to create jobs in Wisconsin by year’s end. A full 95 percent of CEOs surveyed said the state is headed in the right direction. “The word is out from Main Street to Wall Street that Wisconsin is the place to create jobs and expand,” says Kurt Bauer, the president of WMC.
All these positive developments explain why Democrat Barrett is talking about almost every issue except the collective-bargaining reforms that brought thousands of union protesters to the state’s capitol last year. Voters have moved on from the union agenda: In a Marquette University poll in May, only 12 percent of Wisconsin voters agreed that “restoring collective bargaining rights” was their priority.
Unions Will Have to Take a Long Look in the MirrorA Walker victory will expose for all to see the dirty little secret of the power of public-sector unions in America: It depends on having the government collect union dues from every employee’s paycheck, and turning the dues over to the unions without the employee’s consent. No other private entity in America — no charity, no association, no company — can do that.
Walker’s reforms ended that practice. Workers can now decide if they want to pay union dues. Clearly, the answer is no in many cases.
The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees was founded in Madison in 1936, making the state the launching pad for all public-sector-union organizing in the country. But now AFSCME’s Local 24 in Madison, which represented 22,300 Wisconsin state workers last year, has seen its membership shrink by two-thirds, to 7,100. Statewide, AFSCME’s membership has dropped by more than half. Similarly, the American Federation of Teachers has lost 6,000 of its 17,000 members. Small wonder. Teachers’-union dues in Wisconsin range from a hefty $700 a year up to more than $1,000.
Labor historian Fred Siegel says Walker’s changes could provide a model for reshaping American politics. “Ending dues deductions breaks the political cycle in which government collects dues and gives them to the unions, who then use the dues to back their favorite candidates and also lobby for bigger government and more pay and benefits,” he told me.
With regard to rights and worker protections, the reduction of union power won’t affect most state workers. Governor Walker points out that the employee rights that people care about most fall under civil-service rules that his reforms don’t touch. “We have the strongest protections in the country on grievance procedures, merit hiring, and just cause for disciplining and terminating employees,” he told me. “All that stays.”
Watch How Union Members VotedUnion leaders recognize the stakes of Tuesday’s vote. People will interpret defeat “as a sign of weakness and a lack of public sympathy,” Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University, told the Wall Street Journal.
Perhaps sympathy for the union cause is waning among union members themselves. Many of the rank-and-file members resent their bosses’ large paychecks and alliances with liberal environmentalists and social activists. In 2010, 37 percent of union households supported Walker in his bid for governor, an election he won with 52 percent of the vote. So far this year, polls ranging from Marquette’s to Public Policy Polling (a Democratic firm) show Walker winning 38 percent to 39 percent of union households.
The key to Walker’s surprising level of union support is that labor has broken into two camps that have competing interests. Members of public-sector unions represent 55 percent of all union workers in Wisconsin. Their leaders are focused not on economic growth but on securing bigger pay, more benefits, and greater power regardless of the impact on the overall state budget. Public-sector-union households support Barrett over Walker by 66 percent to 31 percent in a recent Marquette University poll. But among the 45 percent of union households that have a member in the private sector, Barrett leads by much less: 49 percent to 45 percent. Among non-union households, Walker has a substantial lead.
Governor Chris Christie, a strong Walker supporter, sees the split within labor as the most underreported story in American politics. “There is a divide between private and public-sector unions that Republicans can benefit from if we convince those whose livelihood depends on economic growth and job creation that we can bring that to them,” he told me. The strategy has worked for Christie in New Jersey. “All my key reforms passed with support from Democratic legislators with roots in private-sector unions, while the public-sector unions defended the status quo.”
Regardless of who wins in Wisconsin, a final lesson is clear: Voters are paying attention. The state has weathered an outpouring of political activism that few states have ever seen. In 2003, during the media-saturated recall election of Gray Davis in California (which sparked the rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger), only 36 percent of voting-age adults showed up at the polls. The estimate for turnout in Wisconsin on Tuesday is 60 to 65 percent of all adults. In comparison, the average turnout in the last 60 years for a midterm election for governor has been only 47 percent. Marquette University polls have found that this year one in five Wisconsin voters said they had given money to a candidate; more than half said they had personally tried to influence someone else’s vote; and two-thirds said they talked politics with family and friends at least once a week.
Whatever the outcome, no one can say that the Wisconsin recall results don’t represent an informed choice by an energized and interested electorate.
—John Fund is the national-affairs columnist for NRO.
June 03, 2012 -- 6:16 PM
Five-Dollar Friday is one example. Since April, I have asked my radio audience to visit HughHewitt.com and hit the ActRight banner, which opens up to a variety of races and causes, beginning with Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. ActRight makes it very easy to give small donations, 100 percent of which are then forwarded to the campaign(s) selected.
My request each Friday is that they skip the soda at the movies or the double scoop thereafter and invest $5 (or $50 or $500) in the project to repair the country that begins in January of next year with a new president and a new Congress.
Nearly a thousand people have responded, and the average donation is well above $100.
The beauty of the technology is that it makes small gifts to multiple campaigns very easy to accomplish.
The power of the process is that small donations build networks of giving volunteers who, having engaged in a political behavior one step beyond voting, are much more likely to stay engaged and involved through November.
The significance is that my appeal is just one of scores of efforts developing on the Right in support of the conservative cause.
Team Romney has greatly improved on the standard GOP approach to Web engagement and messaging. And as his team has amped up the virtual campaign, so too has Gov. Romney stepped up the heat on the specifics of President Obama's record, which in turn energizes the volunteer base itching for a showdown with the president's disastrous policies.
Romney's appearance outside Solyndra headquarters this week was a certain sign of a combative attitude in the coming contest -- a necessity when Chicago Rules are going to drive the other side. This attitude will inspire Romney's supporters to double down on their commitments.
Networks of donor-volunteers can rise overnight, and are powerful once deployed. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, R, was initially pushed to a recall because of the Left's entrenched networks among public employee unions, and online via sites like MoveOn and DailyKos.
The Center-Right organized quickly, however, and pushed back. Walker's fundraising and his get-out-the-vote effort are amazingly strong as a result.
When Walker wins Tuesday night, it will be evidence that the online digital gap between Right and Left has been closed, even as the resources gap narrows.
How energized is the Center-Right? Imagine if you had been told one year ago that by June 2012, Mitt Romney would lock up the GOP nomination and find himself already in a dead heat with Obama in Iowa, Colorado and Nevada. What would your assessment of that hypothetical have been? Honest people admit that a year ago, such a situation was impossibly optimistic for Romney and, if it did come to pass, it would be a sure sign of chaos within Team Obama, the American economy, or both.
The Manhattan-Beltway media elite is discounting the reality of this incredible run for Romney, as it overpriced the prospects of a shattered GOP and of a brokered convention.
Voters, however, don't live in the D.C. bubble and aren't captives of a closed system where the conventional wisdom of liberal media elites rallies to the president's defense whatever the data show.
The president is in big political trouble, which explains all the White House leaks on drone warfare and cyber-attacks on Iran. It also explains David Axelrod's desperate trip to Boston last week, which was first undone by Romney supporters' chants of "Solyndra" and Axelrod's own pique, and then overwhelmed by Friday's awful jobs report. The president and his senior advisers are floundering, and their desperation is increasingly obvious.
Energy and contributions are rising on Romney's side of the political ledger, while the supporters of Obama are finding it increasingly hard to put on the brave face and nod approvingly when the president declares, again, that things will turn around with only a bit more "hard work."
Who'd have thought it would be this way a year ago? Who is willing to admit it is so even now?
Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at HughHewitt.com.