Freedom Under Law

Last night the Senate failed to advance an extension of the Patriot Act’s Section 215. Rand Paul objected to Mitch McConnell’s efforts at passing any short-term extensions and suddenly it looks like the legal authority for the Patriot Act’s phone metadata collection program may actually expire June 1st.

“There comes a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer. That time is now, and I will not let the Patriot Act, the most unpatriotic of acts, go unchallenged.”

So said Rand Paul at the outset of his 11 hour pseudo filibuster on Wednesday, and it’s hard not to be moved by the language. If there is a quality I admire most about the Senator from Kentucky it is his maniacal obsession with restoring checks and balances to our government. In order to have any success at reining in executive power the public must first agree with the premise on which the reform rests. If you’ve paid attention to Paul in the Senate you know the thread that runs through his speeches and through his marathon performances on the Senate floor is the separation of powers. Drones and NSA spying were not background concerns per se, but neither were they the true focus of the filibusters. At root is a fundamental objection with the flagrant expansion of executive power under every administration since World War II, but especially since 9/11.

Why are separation of powers so important? To hear Paul tell it, the sanctity of divvied powers was best championed by French philosopher Montesquieu, who warned that tyranny would ensue whenever the executive moved to legislate. Likewise, separating the judicial branch from both executive and legislative was imperative for the security of habeus corpus and other natural liberties. Embedded in small government philosophy is a staunch suspicion of planning and expertise, a wariness born during The Enlightenment and which reflected the conflict between the regal old guards and the new class of individual-minded bourgeoisie. For eons the word of the state was the final word on society; decrees from on high carried down to the masses for them to follow. However, the individual conscience rights that began taking shape in the Middle Ages became more widely disseminated during the Renaissance and Enlightenment. With the expansion of knowledge and individual agency the feudal system gradually gave rise to market economies fueled by spontaneous order. The consequent loss of power and influence for the aristocracy was a product of capitalism providing the vehicle for political participation by ordinary folk. Schumpeter’s insight that “the princess was always able to wear silk stockings, but it took capitalism to put them within reach of the shop girl” put the lie to the Marxist conceit that free enterprise would destroy the middle class. Voluntary exchange under a legal framework that respects the individual and cherishes his right to profit from his own labor is what created the middle class.

As the Western world moved methodically toward social appreciation for the citizen’s sovereignty over the state, the question of democracy became crucial: how to organize a free society of, by and for the people when for so long power and authority were hereditary and monarchical? Fortunately the British and ultimately the Americans did not need to hunt for a guiding principle. We already got one and it’s embedded in Magna Carta. The great charter signed at Runnymede marks its 800th anniversary this year and yet remains relevant as ever. Habeus corpus, jury trials, property rights and a common law that precedes and preempts man-made law; these natural rights discovered by our English forebears provided the blueprint for the individual based free society. They also declared for the first time in history real restrictions on the power of the state or king, which would prove a launching point for our founders as they set to establishing a government that would pit ambition against ambition as a means of separating and counterbalancing the powers of the state. The best encapsulation of this radical vision for upending centuries of authoritarian rule is inscribed on the monument commemorating Magna Carta: “freedom under law.”

Freedom under law is what the entire debate over NSA and executive power overreach is all about. National security state defenders will often say there’s no evidence of abuse currently and besides, don’t you want to be safe? But that is not the point. The point of a freedom secured by law is that the law is the law, and it is supreme. John Adams said we strove to institute a “government of laws, not men.” When executive authority runs afoul of the law it is supposed to be a big deal. When successive administrations of different parties expand executive power to the degree that natural rights are abused, it is supposed to be a huge deal. But in the name of fighting terror and keeping the country safe the Bush and Obama administrations have treated the 4th amendment like so much garbage.

In attempting to take Rand Paul to task Andrew McCarthy of National Review runs the gamut of talking points before insisting that “the depiction of national-security agents who are trying to protect American lives as seventies-style rogues tearing the Constitution to bits is a smear.” But Paul is not doing that; instead he is arguing that the Patriot Act and its especially problematic provisions open the door for abuse at any time. It may not be now, or in the next administration or the next but the point of freedom under law is that we eliminate this risk altogether by forcing fallible men and women to swear oaths to uphold and defend the Constitution. The founders were explicit about making the law supreme and they further divided power to guard against the transient passions and fears that inevitably come to challenge man and his commitment to law. As challenging and daunting as it is, the jihadist threat of modern times is exactly the kind of passionate, fearful moment in time the founders knew would inevitably materialize. If they knew that only two hundred some odd years later American political discourse would include such penetrating insights as Chris Christie’s you can’t enjoy your civil rights from a coffin, they would have folded up shop and abandoned the revolutionary project full stop.

The Patriot Act is what happens when laws are passed out of fear instead of sober deliberation. Freedom under law was always meant to keep that from happening, like the abstract, intangible version of standing athwart history yelling stop. The founders knew too well the propensity of man to govern arbitrarily; thus the principle aim of the new republic was to build a system that takes arbitrary and consolidated power out of the equation and lifts the Constitution up as the final arbiter on what government can do.

The Left Has But One Principle

In a piece for The Federalist Robert Tracinski asks “Why Does the Left Kowtow to Islam?” He asserts that they operate from a lone principle informed by a broad dissatisfaction with the West, with America and with capitalism above all.

“The point is that the left doesn’t kowtow to Islam because they actually love Islam, but rather because they hate our own culture. They have been steeped in a narrative about how American and Western culture is racist and “imperialist,” and they’ve been trained to see anyone with a dark complexion and a non-Western origin as the victim of our crimes. When they see criticism of Islam, or deliberate attempts to defy Islam, they filter it through that narrative. They see it as: there go those bigoted right-wing Christians, demeaning dark-skinned foreigners again. So they reflexively oppose it.”

Fortunately some on the left reject multicultural dogma. Bill Maher deserves praise for hosting Ayaan Hirsi Ali last week even if he has already established his common sense bona fides on this issue. (It is too bad that Maher remains hopelessly wedded to the rest of the progressive agenda, but hey, baby steps). For all his clarity and bravery in bucking his tribe and challenging its premises though, Maher would likely not accept Tracinski’s offering as an answer to the question he posed to Ali: “why don’t liberals get this?”

Maher often says that it is the job of liberals “to stand up for liberal principles,” an undoubtedly true and worthy sentiment that applies more accurately to classical liberals than modern ones, who are progressive and not liberal. Progressives of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century came from the collectivist tradition aimed at cultivating an ordered and egalitarian society. Constant efforts to mobilize “workers” or “the masses” in solidarity against their supposed unequal conditions implied a deep dissatisfaction with the times, and because the most ardent collectivist movements emerged in sync with the rise of industrial capitalism, the status quo against which the rebels railed was the idea of market capitalism. And while it is true that the halcyon days of laissez faire in the libertarian imagination were not perfect and should not be represented as any sort of beau ideal, it bears mention that the wealth created by western capitalism was unlike anything seen before. Because the nature of this phenomenon involved rapid and profound change, not everyone was keen to consent to the uncertainty that comes with economic dynamism. The “creative destruction” that fueled economic growth was not without tradeoffs (TANSTAAFL), meaning new inventions and technologies were rapidly and broadly displacing workers from their accustomed employment, setting the stage for widespread unhappiness. Some things never change: the Luddites of 1817 England who famously raged against the machines by sabotaging looms and mills for eliminating the need for hand-woven textiles are not very different from today’s anti-free trade crowd decrying the absence of protectionist measures. “They took our jobs!” is neither new nor exclusive to an ideology, as a growing segment of the right is unfortunately in thrall to such voguish anti-free trade bromides like “race to the bottom,” a suggestion that by opening up markets with countries that offer lower wages than us, we condemn our workers at home to a competitive disadvantage that affects jobs. It’s a seductive argument that leans heavily on emotion and grievance but which neglects (or mocks when it deigns to acknowledge they exist) any mention of the wonderful benefits of trade – lower prices and more goods to choose from the most obvious among them.

“Disruption” is a positive term only in economics, and even here it is really only among free marketers that the idea has purchase. Nobody welcomes disruption. Uber has thoroughly disrupted the taxi regimes and yet no one is writing sad songs for the cabbies because they’re too busy enjoying the cheaper, better, faster service Uber provides. Same with AirBNB, Expedia, Netflix and a host of other niche service providers finding ways to out-compete legacy brands. With every disruptive innovation comes anxiety, fear and confusion over what the new landscape will look like. Successful companies and individuals focus on adapting while the vengeful concentrate on the disruption to their own lives. It is hard to fault the angry individual out of a job due to technological innovation but the simple, harsh reality is that this is inevitable in a market economy; not only inevitable but desirable. From the Weavers of 1817 to the union marchers of 2015, large factions of dissidents uncomfortable with capitalism are with us always. It is human nature to wield your fist in response to large forces seemingly arrayed against you and over which you have no control. That these factions are not exclusively but primarily located on the left is instructive.

The “narrative” Tracinsky speaks of is real. Anyone who has matriculated through our public education system will have heard at some point a diatribe from a professor or student about how “the West” and especially the United States is inherently corrupt due to our original sins of slavery and imperialism. We stole the land, we put people in bondage, we oppressed women, we are the worst. And indeed, no educated American should ignore the uncomfortable facts of our history nor should he comfort himself with fairy tales of our infallibility. But there is a fundamental problem with an attitude that disqualifies out of hand the world-historical achievement that is the American founding. Yes, there is a lot not to like about Earth in the late 1700s, not least the existence of a worldwide industry fueled by a belief that a given race of people were nothing more than property, but so too was there a lot to like, particularly in the English speaking world. The best products of the Enlightenment were given voice in the Declaration and Constitution. Even though our practices did not live up to the promises of these documents for a long time after their conception, the enduring legacy of these ideas would bear out. In a poetic denouement, a man named Martin Luther King came along to enlist the very same documents to his cause in a mission to extend the guarantees of liberty and opportunity there enshrined to all men, at last. The inspirational story of Dr. King and his appreciation for the ideas embedded in our founding has unfortunately been whitewashed or else simply forgotten.

But why? Because to affirm that the Civil Rights Era was but an overdue expansion of a transcendent set of values is to insist we are a society built on greed and graft with nothing virtuous about us, aka the lone progressive principle. When a progressive looks at the market economy and what appears to be chaos and disorder his first and only inclination is to install someone at the center of it with a bullhorn to direct and oversee everything lest there be chaos. This manifests in the progressive’s urgent desire at all times (“the fierce urgency of now“) to regulate and involve “experts” in the economy. They shrug off objections to their zealousness for planning the commercial comings and goings of so many people they don’t know by suggesting that everyone in favor of the market economy must be benefiting personally off it, another example of its inherent unfairness. Thus, the only conclusion can be that proponents of capitalism are not just wrong but greedy and perhaps evil. Therefore, anything the evil ones view with suspicion is to be reflexively supported. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. And that is the key point Tracinsky hits on regarding progressives and Islam. Higher than any other supposed principle the left espouses, the highest one centers on a desire to cultivate identity via an adversarial stance on capitalism. Their automatic impulse as relates to Islam is to see a culture of victims who only lash out in reaction to the harsh conditions they’ve been made to live under by the rapacious West. Imagine how strong must this impulse be for someone (see: Chomsky, Noam) to consistently ignore real life horrors and human rights practices of a (numerically not small) minority of Muslims while in the same breath expressing their deep moral discomfort with all the “Islamophobia” infecting the ranks of the white privileged. Tracinski:

“In fact, a running theme of the left’s arguments, repeated with a great deal of apparent sincerity, is the notion that it is irrational to fear Islam, that describing the religion as violent and dangerous is “Islamophobia.” They seem to have largely talked themselves into believing that they have nothing personally to fear from Islam. Jihadists may throw gays off of buildings in Syria, but it can’t happen here.

This is nonsense, of course, but it is revealing of the mindset. They actually talk themselves into believing that “censorship of LGBT artists” is an equal or even greater threat, far more urgent than anything having to do with Islam. For the left, the main source of evil in the world always comes from within America and from within the West, never outside of it.” (emphasis mine)

We are now better able to address Maher’s question “Why don’t liberals get this?” It is impossible for liberals who traffic in moral relativism or multiculturalism to let go of their hardened convictions about America’s truly evil nature and to examine reality objectively. Everything must first fit the preconceived narrative. Whatever the horror, be it a massacre at a Parisian magazine or an explosion at the Boston Marathon, the first instincts of a whole set of brainwashed idiots is to look to their true enemies as the culprits. Rather than grapple with insanely difficult questions like how to live in this time of growing terrorism, progressives prefer to cozy themselves with comfortable stories about how this is just more evidence of the tolerance deficit among the knuckle-draggers.

There is great value in Tracinsky’s essay because it comes at a particular time when not just conservatives and libertarians are up in arms over the left’s abandonment of free speech convictions in the face of Islam. PEN America recently recognized the survivors of Charlie Hebdo with an award for courage in protecting free expression, but over 150 Western writers boycotted the event and signed an open letter to the organizers expressing their great chagrin that a coveted award could go to those who deign to criticize Islam. Thankfully, this was met with much mockery and derision, including by many on the left who realize that it will be an irreversible error if they turn their backs on the 1st amendment and allow hecklers vetoes and soft censorship to reign in its place. But those who signed the noxious letter to PEN are not without legions of supporters in lockstep with multicultural dogma that says no culture is better than another and therefore has no grounds to criticize. Beheadings and blasphemy laws punishable by death are just like a cultural difference, man. Progressives can’t bring themselves to defend their own culture against Islamists explicitly fighting to restore a culture reminiscent of the seventh century, proving again the wisdom of Robert Frost’s line about how “a liberal is a man too broad-minded to take his own side in a quarrel.”

Perhaps another way of putting it is a progressive is so self-loathing and contemptuous of his domestic opposition that he can’t even see us as on the same side against external threats. This was true during the Cold War and it is true now. The deep, unspoken belief of many Western progressives holds that the enemy is within and can be identified by its proud defense of American tradition. The irony of this focused contempt for the American right is that a hundred years since their emergence progressives have sewed discontent and showed their cards for so long that it is the right who now believe the great existential threat to our liberty comes from within, not without. I am definitely more concerned with petty bureaucrats than the caliphate because liberty tends to be lost gradually and a step at a time.

It may not ever disappear but American progressivism has jumped the shark, especially in this modern era of safe spaces and trigger warnings. One of the many reasons the futility of their project has been laid bare is the intensity and consistency with which they take the illiberal side of arguments on everything from speech to association to thought crime. One explanation for such overwrought emotionalism is the conviction that they are always right and (more importantly) the right is always wrong. Anyone confused by the rapidly shifting goalposts or the insults and sneers that masquerade as arguments should understand that this is the inevitable outcome when your only principle for political engagement is that the other side is always wrong, and willfully so. That is how you get a bunch of otherwise decent Americans apologizing for terrorism and looking for root causes that confirm America’s ultimate culpability.

I guess the endgame is if enough people come to believe them and conclude that American and Western values really are the worst, the only course will be for the newly enlightened people to insert into permanent power the wise sages and experts who had been saying it all along.

Los Angeles Welcomes the Robots

I weep for Los Angeles. The “fight for 15” has made it to the LA City Council and is now poised to pass, setting the stage for a $15 minimum wage by 2020.

Progressives are celebrating of course, but thankfully there are some who understand that this is a bridge too far. Both Jordan Weissman and Danny Vinik of Slate and The New Republic respectively expressed reservations about such an exorbitant hike in the minimum wage, despite their favorable stances on progressive and union economics. Weissman frets that the available economic research “doesn’t really tell us anything about what happens because of an increase along the lines of what Los Angeles is now poised to pass,” while Vinik worries that “this isn’t a small hike and the employment effects could be significant.”

They are right to worry even as they celebrate the effectiveness of the “grass roots” (scare quotes for the fact that this is entirely a Big Labor driven initiative) campaign to agitate for a higher wage. Where they go astray is in their reliance on the “research” of experts and economists because as anyone paying attention knows, an economist or think tank or lobbying interest can produce the research they want to bolster support for a given policy. Data manipulation and rosy projections of a policy’s impact are the rule rather than the exception in Washington. An army of experts is just as fallible as an army of the first four hundred names in the Boston phone book, and in fact most of us would opt for the latter. Instead, progressives are never going to face reality unless they are forced to reckon with their glaring failures.

Fortunately, they seem to think that skepticism of the $15/hr minimum wage is just noise coming from conservative scolds who hate poor people. This kind of dismissive arrogance is going to be their undoing. Whereas Detroit and Baltimore and most major American cities under the thumb of one party Democratic rule took decades to succumb to the market distortions and bad incentives that go hand-in-hand with progressive economics, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles – all who have adopted $15 minimum wages – are going to crater much faster if they adhere to utopian visions of egalitarian societies brought about by coercive meddling in the most basic and essential of all economic tenets: supply and demand.

It still boggles the mind that we have to keep repeating this, but if you arbitrarily hike the cost of labor, an equal and opposite reaction is inevitable. Either the employer will reduce his suddenly higher (doubled!) labor costs by reducing the amount of labor generally (i.e. layoffs) or he is going to raise prices to account for higher costs. That means $7 Big Macs sold through electronic kiosks. In fact it means a whole lot of robots replacing a whole lot of humans as employers find it cost effective to install automation in place of low-skilled workers making $15 an hour. Progressives seem to believe that costs can be magically deferred, or else ignored altogether. This juvenile, childish, ignorant view of the market explains how so many call for companies to pay their employees double what they earn now, because they can “afford” it.

One question: when did we cease treating fast food jobs as the entry level, foot-in-the-door opportunities that they are and instead as vocations in need of proper benefits?

I almost wish the LA measure took effect immediately, as I am eager to get this experiment underway and then over with, as it is going to be anything but pleasant for the residents of my beloved home town. $15/hr is insane. You’re going to see franchises hightailing it to Nevada and Arizona, a massive spike in unemployment, and a huge influx of robots. Remember when George H.W. Bush was raked over the coals for being in awe of an grocery store checkout automation? Prepare yourself for legions of frustrated people whose exasperation at encountering machines and kiosks in every store is compounded by the fact that everything is twice as expensive as before. Progress!

Obviously LA has some time before they implement this folly, so there is hope that someone with sense will get the ear of the city council during the next five years. And as Megan McArdle explains in her warning for Los Angeles, most noticeable impacts from minimum wage distortions tend to take a while:

When the minimum wage goes up, owners do not en masse shut down their restaurants or lay off their staff. What is more likely to happen is that prices will rise, sales will fall off somewhat, and owner profits will be somewhat reduced. People who were looking at opening a fast food or retail or low-wage manufacturing concern will run the numbers and decide that the potential profits can’t justify the risk of some operations. Some folks who have been in the business for a while will conclude that with reduced profits, it’s no longer worth putting their hours into the business, so they’ll close the business and retire or do something else. Businesses that were not very profitable with the earlier minimum wage will slip into the red, and they will miss their franchise payments or loan installments and be forced out of business. Many owners who stay in business will look to invest in labor saving technology that can reduce their headcount, like touch-screen ordering or soda stations that let you fill your own drinks.

This is right, but it is a summary of what typically occurs with small increases in the minimum wage. LA and Seattle and San Francisco are each flirting with stratospheric wage hikes, on the order of 80-100%. Thus, all of the symptoms and reactions by business McArdle outlines will still occur, just much faster. You will see major layoffs, major automation and major corporate flight from Washington and California if these states don’t wise up and walk back these wage increases. I assume this is what will happen, especially once politicians start getting browbeaten by their preferred business interests as well as by their less well off constituents suddenly faced with soaring prices for food and basic essentials. But all this does beg the question: why are they doing it?

Unions. By raising the minimum wage unions enjoy a higher corresponding wage floor from which to bargain in the future. Once a minimum wage is set, it affects contractors across the economy. Bids for public and private sector work must compete with union wage edicts to have any chance at the bid. This serves to crowd at smaller competitors and secure easy access for unions. And it similarly lifts the baselines for pension and benefit negotiations in addition to wages. In short, every single minimum wage initiative in America is about fattening the pockets of unions at the expense of the working poor, who are doubly affected by this union greed in the form of higher prices and fewer available jobs.

But we’re supposed to cheer on the “Fight for 15” and take to the streets to rail against corporate greed. But who is being greedy here? Somehow this mosaic of heroic workers in solidarity loses some romance once you realize they are just props for a larger union agenda, one that doesn’t give an actual damn about poor people or jobs. Unions by and large live by the wisdom of Michael Mulgrew, the former president of the New York United Federation of Teachers, who said

“If someone takes something from me, I’m going to grab it right back out of their cold, twisted, sick hand, and say it is mine. You don’t take what is mine. And I’m going to punch you in the face and push you in the dirt.”

Beautiful. It is also the prevailing wisdom of unions and the Democratic Party. This same sentiment animates progressive objection to reforming the welfare state or anything to do with public pensions. Same with cutting federal spending or eliminating waste. Right now the Ex-Im Bank is close to going the way of the dodo, something all of us on the free market right are cheering with heightened enthusiasm since it will be the first actual elimination of a federal anything in as long as I can remember. This worthless avatar of abject cronyism purports to serve America’s economic interest by providing taxpare loans to companies that deal heavily in exports. In practice the bank is an unfair bonanza for two large companies, Boeing and GM, who enjoy protection from smaller competitors without crony access to the bank’s largess. Conservatives and libertarians in Congress are close to declaring victory by not renewing the bank’s charter. Democrats are threatening to walk from the trade deal if Ex-Im is not renewed. What a farce of a position that is for a party purporting to stand against cronyism and speak for the little guy. Ex-Im is most definitely not about the little guy, rather it is federal bank for handing out favors to connected corporations. Not even Elizabeth Warren will allow it to expire, proving how sincere she is about reducing the incestuous and toxic relationship between big business and big government.

In the end, when it comes time to let a useless federal program sunset, the left rallies in unison to condemn it as heartless and bad for the economy. Because for the left, anything that reduces government at all is bad for the economy. The inverse of never wanting to allow government programs to disappear is always wanting to make more government appear, which is thew motivation behind the “fight for 15.” This is all about expanding union power and reducing private commercial autonomy in the market. The result will be more robots and less humans in the workplace.

While it is possible that Brett and Jermaine might welcome the robot revolution, the rest of us will be screwed. Straighten up, Los Angeles.

 

Hillaryious

katemckinnon

I will not be inclined to find any of this funny should Mrs. Clinton become President, as that is the day that laughter dies. But until then, and because I don’t think it possible for a vapid cipher of nothingness to con Americans into making her Queen, The Hillary Clinton Experience is an uproarious one.

The Washington Post saw fit to run a countdown clock on its website to mark the time since Hillary last took questions from the press (40,150 minutes between Q&A’s for those keeping score). Kate McKinnon has committed her considerable talent to what could perhaps become the best Saturday Night Live political caricature ever. But what makes this all such a riot is how the media is coping with it all, which is to say they don’t know how to deal with it. Should they cover her more aggressively and demand that she get involved in the daily give-and-take, if only to better prepare her for the general? Or should they adopt a satisfied detachment and remark on how savvy Clinton is to go this route considering her 100% name I.D. Right now they fall somewhere in the middle, with the more professional journalists angry at the situation and hungry to do their jobs versus the sycophants and hacks of cable news who will offer the same critique no matter what she does: “Bravo.”

It wouldn’t be this way if the Democratic Party were not so bereft of political talent and not married to a single candidate whose only virtues are her last name and gender. If Hillary had real competition the liberal press would be hounding her and demanding that she speak with the implicit message that there are other options and “we’ll spurn you in a second if you can’t convince us you’re the genuine article. We’ve done it before.”

Hubris and arrogance are not typically mined for their comedy, but man alive is Hillary funny in her entitlement. When Alex Seitz-Wald refers to your entourage as a “palace guard” on MSNBC, you might want to reexamine your methods. If I was a handler for a candidate whose sense of entitlement dwarfed her actual accomplishments, I would probably caution against her acting arrogant and above it all, especially when scandal threatens to follow you throughout. And of all the transparently self-serving no-no’s, the one that would sit at the top of my list would be Citizens United. I would say, “don’t talk about Citizens United.” All progressives loathe Citizens United v FEC but you know who really truly despises it? Hillary Clinton. That’s because the whole case was about her. Citizens United wanted to produce and air a critical documentary on Hillary Clinton in 2008, a fairly standard practice (Michael Moore, anyone?) and well within the law and of course protected under the First Amendment. But that is not how the left views speech these days. They wish to control the flow of money to campaigns by granting the FEC the power to regulate which political speech is kosher and which is not. Calling this a slippery slope is like calling the Grand Canyon a hole in the ground. They screech in terror about billionaires and disclosure and “dark money” when in reality they are saying that bureaucrats at the FEC should set the landscape for political giving. If a federal agency has the power to declare movies and books critical of politicians invalid then it is game over for the First Amendment. And I get that progressives move closer everyday to making repeal part of the DNC platform, but Hillary? Citizens United went to the Supreme Court because Hillary Clinton was unhappy about a movie made about Hillary Clinton. The Supreme Court said the First Amendment still stands and therefore it is well within the freedom of a corporation to make whatever damn political movie it pleases. Naturally, this does not sit well with Hillary and the left, but if anyone should be recused from criticizing Citizens United it is Hillary Clinton. That she went right ahead decrying big money in politics anyway (she who made $30 million in 2014 by giving speeches) shows the level of hubris and entitlement at play. Matt Welch looks at this and sees a “wonderfully clarifying campaign slogan for you: Elect me, and I’ll try to put my critics in jail!”

On CNN Jeff Zeleny offered that “this criticism was threatening to overtake her message” as he reported on the earth-shattering news that Hillary did in fact take questions from the press on Tuesday (five questions). The pros who want to do their jobs are beginning to chafe at Her Highness’ indifference to them. Jonah Goldberg suspects it may be time for the press to start punishing her.

Normally, when a politician tries to break the media’s food bowl, the media defends itself. Instead, I keep watching broadcasts that treat her gingerly. Sure, they mention how she isn’t taking questions. But they also say things like “Clinton took questions from voters” and “Clinton met with small businessmen to talk about the economy” and then they let her get her soundbites in. I can see the case, as a matter of journalistic ethics, for letting her get her message out. Though such ethics are often selectively applied to Republicans the press hates.

But why peddle the fiction that she is having authentic conversations with Iowans? When President Bush was selective about who he took questions from, the press ate him alive for it.

And Bush was far more open to the press than Hillary’s being (and he was the president). And Hillary is running unopposed which makes the press’s role much more important. Why not err on the side of the truth, particularly when the truth hurts? Every meeting with pre-selected human props should be described that way. Every “event” should be reported in hostile — and more accurate! — terms. “Mrs. Clinton held another scripted and staged event today where volunteers asked pre-arranged safe questions the scandal-plagued candidate was prepared to answer . . .”

I understand the press is liberal, but they also have a very high opinion of themselves. The Clinton campaign is making fools of them. It’s time for some payback.

One can dream.

Solid as Iraq

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”
– Proverbs 11:2

In politics, disgrace does not follow pride and there are no such things as humility or wisdom. Partly this is because politics attracts the type of people who “think that it is not the system which we need fear, but the danger that it might be run by bad men,” as Friedrich Hayek wrote in The Road to Serfdom. The belief that there is nothing wrong with a bloated, oppressive, administrative bureaucracy actively engaged in managing the economy should be woefully outdated and subject to mockery. Alas, this idea retains decent heft in America and the broader West. Worse is the belief among federal bureaucrats that they are called to do important work on behalf of “society.” Worse still is they believe they are “public servants” arbitrating what’s fair and proper in civic life. But the absolute worst aspect of it all is how proud they are to play petty authoritarian. Whether it’s an IRS middle manager, an EPA busybody or an EEOC scold, American life is now regulated to the point of oppression by a class of elite social justice warriors who are all too happy for the opportunity. This is the subject of Charles Murray’s new bookBy the People, which calls for a form of conservative civil disobedience by way of noncompliance with the regulatory state. But the left is exceedingly proud of their regulatory state – they did build that, and over a long period and a “long march.” They are never going to part with it willingly or lightly; their identity depends on its preservation.

If only this was confined to the left. The reality though is that the faction of conservatives who base their identity more or less on American global power are similarly in thrall to pride. The spectacle that was Jeb Bush fumbling soft ball questions on the Iraq War last week was both instructive and foreboding. We got crystal clear confirmation that Jeb is surrounded by the same elite cadre of foreign policy hawks as was his brother George. We got warning that proponents of the war had undergone a level of soul-searching akin to that of Sauron after his first defeat. I would bet everything I own that without the advice of his team, Jeb would have answered Megyn Kelly’s “knowing what we know now” Iraq hypothetical with an unequivocal “no.” But Jeb is not without that advice, because that advice comes from a donor class and an establishment GOP mostly wedded to the idea that the Iraq War was basically the right call.

Hovering in the ether ever since the Democrats’ 2006 midterm romp is an obvious political truth, one which precious few on the right want to accept. The truth is this: the war in Iraq was devastating to conservatism and the Republican party. This devastation had layers. The first layer was the practical impact on the party, which suffered from both honest and dishonest partisan attacks by the Democrats and therefore limped into the post-Bush era discredited and with all the confidence and swagger of a beaten dog. The second layer has to do with how principled conservatism itself was discarded by the Bush administration. Despite pursuing a brave and fortuitous tax cut agenda, George W. Bush governed as a progressive Republican, aka a “compassionate conservative.” Federal spending skyrocketed, add-ons to entitlements were enthusiastically adopted and that once proud disciple of the Reagan-Laffer school of fiscal conservatism, Dick Cheney, opined that “deficits don’t matter.” That champions of the Bush legacy and adherents to the neoconservative worldview are one and the same today is not surprising. What is surprising is they lack any self-awareness or humility and instead prefer to look at their foreign policy record and bask in pride.

There was very little reason for conservatives to rally around Bush in 2004 beyond pride in the tribe. Compassionate conservatism was a disaster that ushered in Medicare D and No Child Left Behind. The “ownership society” Bush wished to cultivate was corrupted by the Fed and congressional loan edicts to mortgage lenders, setting the scene for the 2008 crash. The only reason Bush won in 2004 was because the war led Republican voters to dutifully vote to keep their tribe in power for fear of what the other would do. Now eleven years on, the other tribe is gearing up to rally around someone they don’t particularly like but to whom they owe loyalty and deference because again, pride and tribe, and again, those other bastards would be worse.

Because ultimately, depressingly, inevitably…. we’re all tribal animals and it will always be so, to a degree. What is the point though of living in a tribal democracy, where the mob reigns? Despite the fact that it is the natural condition of democracies to have competing tribes looking to get to 51% so that they may force their preferences and mandates on the other 49%, the American model is supposed to be something quite different. We are a republic because the founding generation looked askance at democracy. Pure, majoritarian democracy is indistinguishable from mob rule, whereas a republic would be healthier than a democracy because a combination of representative democracy with an ingrained respect for natural rights and common law would cement the centuries long social transition from “status to contract,” meaning a society where prospects and opportunities are contingent on an individual’s freedom to enter into contract instead of on social status or class. Democracy only works if certain first principles and inalienable rights are enshrined forever into the nation’s DNA so that no transient majority can ever deny those natural rights which inform the Declaration of Independence.

The parallel rise of the Tea Party along with a rowdy libertarian-minded youth are about far more than tribalism. They are about first principles and the attempt to revive them in the public conscience. The movements are essentially inchoate, schizophrenic attempts by frustrated conservatives and libertarians to reclaim the agenda from the big spending, saber-rattling, deep pocketed GOP elites who not only wish to see their influence preserved, but who insist in all their pride that their righteous motives yielded righteous gains, and anyway, who are you to suggest otherwise, some kind of isolationist?  This is the takeaway from l’affaire Jeb Bush: the GOP foreign policy establishment is simply too proud to admit they committed a fatal error, politically, strategically, morally. “Most of the Republican presidential candidates would have invaded Iraq. Despite protestations to the contrary, few of them have truly learned the lessons of the war,” says James Antle at The Week. There is nothing in the founding and nothing in conservatism that says nation building abroad  or preemptive war is desirable, and yet “even today, the true conventional wisdom in the GOP seems to be that the only mistakes that were made in Iraq were invading with too few troops and withdrawing too soon.”

When the party which is supposed to stand for limited constitutional government that maximizes individual freedom eventually abandons its fixation with mimicking the domestic progressive project on the global stage and returns to its notional commitment to free markets and federalism, then that will be party worthy of my pride. Until then, all the elites in both parties should take a moment to consider why exactly growing government and expanding arbitrary power (whether with OSHA or the DHS) at the expense of ordinary taxpayers is anything to be proud of.

Or maybe the GOP is actually G.O.B.?

Iraq? Solid as a rock!

solid as a rock

 

Michigan and Special Interest

Everybody loves roads.

Elizabeth Warren likes to lecture about roads and President Obama loves speaking about investment in crumbling infrastructure. Get past the talking points and into the weeds and the MSNBC set will offer something about “rebuilding America” as their pet panacea for, well, everything. Even Rand Paul has teamed up with Barbara Boxer on a bill that would fill the coffers of the federal highway fund via revenue brought in by a lower corporate tax rate. Libertarians can hardly go five minutes without being condescendingly informed that our free market paradise could never happen because who would build the roads?!?!?!?!?

In Michigan this week, Republican governor Rick Snyder saw Proposal 1 – a ballot measure to hike sales taxes to finance road and highway improvement – go down by an 80-20 margin. The governor and his party supported this bill which would have increased the average household’s annual tax burden by as much as $545 a year. The key support for the measure came from a lobbying consortium representing several concrete, asphalt, paving and excavation interests in the state. They outspent the opponents of the tax hike by 30 to 40-1.

Proposal 1’s “sound defeat undermined the media assumption that Big Business and Big Government working together represents a public consensus,” says Tim Carney in a piece for The Washington Examiner. Carney ends his column urging conservatives to build on this and sees it as an effective way to make the case against cronyism more broadly: “This points towards the way to sell limited government: When government has more power, it empowers those with connections to government.”

It is naive to think special interest lobbies will ever be eliminated. As long as we put the people’s representatives forward, interest groups will be there to gain their favor. The only way to limit lobbyist influence is to limit the number of laws coming from Washington. Bastiat feared an overabundance of legislation would lead to “legal plunder” which would give incentive to special interests to use the legal system for its own advantage. Illegal plunder earns universal scorn whereas legal plunder is considered “democracy.” But because we are never going to convince self-interested politicians who think they are divas to curb their enthusiasm for passing laws, we might as well abandon the dream of a lobby-free zone in Washington.

Instead, we should focus our attention on the small instances where Big Government-Big Business collusion is exposed, as just happened in Michigan. And we should heed Carney’s advice to highlight how ballot measures such as Proposal 1 “undermine the common liberal trope that the push for lower taxes is the agenda of Big Money, and that higher taxes is the populist agenda.” This is a crucial point.

President Obama, that fierce populist champion and avatar of the working man, showed in his first major act in office just how comfortable Big Business is with the progressive agenda. The stimulus was nothing more than a massive special interest kickback to blue state governments, public unions and friends of the progressive left. The most infamous example is Solyndra, a solar panel firm granted half a billion dollars by the Obama administration for no other reason than the CEO was a huge Obama bundler. The federal bureaucracy is notorious for how it awards contracts to connected firms over more qualified bidders, a fact that became known to most Americans during the Obamacare website’s China Syndrome moment. CGI Federal, a subsidiary of a Canadian firm infamous for completely botching a Canadian gun registry, was given the insanely lucrative contract in part because a Princeton classmate of Michelle Obama’s was the Senior VP. Even Rick Perry was not immune to the special interest lure when he was governor of Texas. Despite presiding over the best economic record of all states since 2007, Perry routinely offered state subsidies to chic tech companies such as Tesla, Google and Apple to entice them to open plants in Texas. That many companies express interest in locating in Texas speaks to the favorable tax and regulatory climate, sure, but the subsidies certainly play a role too.

Conservatives are generally fans of federalism and celebrate the idea of states experimenting with distinct economic models. By foregoing uniform economic policies drawn up in Washington to be applied nationally, we encourage competition between states as they experiment in various ways. Illinois is probably going to have to walk back its progressive obsession with high taxes and oppressive regulations because they are bleeding jobs and capital to neighboring Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan, all of whom have lowered taxes and cultivated friendlier business climates in the last several years. Unfortunately, state competition for business goes too far when it devolves into a circus of competing subsidies and special treatment, also known as the “Redevelopment Racket.” Cynics say this is the way the game is played, but Michigan offers hope for a brighter alternative.

As Rick Perry and other conservative governors prove, conservatives can also be guilty of catering to special interest lobbies. However, a conservative politician engaging in crony capitalism is straying from established principle whereas a progressive doing the same is adhering to the only principle he knows: grow government. And despite the myth progressives maintain about high tax policy equaling populism, Michigan reveals the truth of the matter. Special interests representing road construction lobby the Michigan government for more spending and more taxes to pay for it, all so they themselves can get rich off the exclusive bid grant. The government – in this case a nominally conservative one – agrees that improved roads are desirable and does the bidding of the special interest by insisting that the voters agree to a pretty stiff tax hike. Perhaps voters would be more open to the measure if they thought the deal wasn’t riddled with corruption and back-scratching to begin with? At the end of the day, governments rarely look for ways to get what they want on the cheap. Why bother being frugal when powerful lobbies are there to suggest a simple tax increase?

Corruption and cronyism know no ideology, but government itself is the engine that drives them. Therefore, the party of government needs to come to terms with this reality and perhaps reconsider their dogma surrounding the benevolent Leviathan. Until then, let us hope for more Michigan-style tax proposals being met with boisterous thumbs down and that they serve to show the public exactly how deals are made in politics and what always lies beneath calls for more “populist” tax increases.

VE Day

Seventy years ago today an avowedly leftist nationalist project surrendered to Allied forces in Europe, bringing to end the horrors of the Second World War in Europe.

“Fundamentally, these new means of political struggle can be traced back to the Marxists,” said one Adolph Hitler to Hermann Raushning in 1935. “I only needed to adopt and further develop them, and I essentially had what we needed. I just had to continue, with greater resolve, where the Social Democrats had failed ten times over because they insisted on trying to achieve their revolution within the framework of democracy. National Socialism is what Marxism could have been if it had freed itself from its absurd, artificial connection with the democratic system.”

If the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist, then I submit that the second greatest trick is the idea that 20th century fascism derived from right wing political or philosophical precepts. What makes the lie especially galling is that elite opinion even in the “decadent” West – the object of contempt for all collectivist ideologies of the time – expressed great affinity for the planned economies which announced themselves as the solution to the perceived failures of democratic capitalism.

The roots of British and American collectivism are found in Germany. Ironically, one can make the argument that much of the foundations for individualism, common law, and parliamentary democracy also trace back to Germany, albeit of a much earlier vintage (c. 8th or 9th century Saxon tribalism), but with respect to post-industrial modernity, Germany is the fount from which bad politics sprout. During the late-nineteenth century American elites considered it a rite of passage to spend time in Prussia observing and absorbing the wonders of the world’s first welfare state, designed and presided over by Bismarck. Though he looked askance at the Marxist socialists in his midst, Bismarck was nevertheless guided by the same general ethos that exalted the state as the ultimate engine for equality and happiness. Not only was the idea of the individual’s natural subordination to the general will already deeply embedded across the continent (and to a lesser degree in the broader Anglosphere), so too was the idea of the organic state as the ultimate arbiter of History as a proper noun. Despite being a largely dull and unoriginal philosopher who culled his ideas from Plato, Hegel was a brilliant polemicist who knew how to advance an agenda for his masters. Such was his task when he was commissioned by the Prussian state to proselytize on behalf of the mystical, metaphysical state. Hegel preached (and Marx greatly expanded on) that the state existed foremost to interpret the hidden, internal logic of History. That wars were always just for the victors since History’s logic willed it. That states rise and fall according only to a fixed arc of pre-determined events. Ah, but how to obtain this mysterious logic that explains all of History? Hegel and Marx have the answer and it’s one that understandably pleases anyone predisposed to power and control. To know the Arc of History, you see, is to trust in an enlightened clerisy who cloister in academia or administrative agencies waiting for the truth to reveal itself and relay to the masses like Moses with tablets the wisdom and reason behind the mystical forces driving the universe.

Call me cynical, but that sounds suspiciously like a religion.

Because all variants of leftism are essentially faith exercises in collective delusion designed to keep the truth hidden, it should not be news that the left lies about where fascism falls on the left-right spectrum. The lie that JFK was killed by rightwing ragers instead of by a loony Castro-inspired commie is small potatoes compared to the seventy year myth that Hitler and Mussolini carried the banner for the political right. Hitler didn’t just lead a revolutionary party called the “National Socialists,” he outright bragged that he was “a socialist, and a very different kind of socialist from your rich friend, Count Reventlow.” Mussolini left the Communist Party not out of disillusionment with the philosophy but because he saw in Italian Fascism and its alliance with the Nazis a more efficient and assured path to power.* At least Mussolini resisted the Jewish pogroms until the Nazis forced his hand well into the 1940s, making Benito the tallest midget in the room when it comes to dictators, I suppose. Leftists love to diagnose fascism as what happens when the state doesn’t control the means of production, the implication being that if you don’t go the Full Marx then you’re clearly just a wrecker and closet laissez-faire enthusiast. But while both Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy each allowed private business nominal ownership of its plant and equipment, this was merely a facade, for both Berlin and Rome were centers of top-down central planning where private enterprise was deemed merely a cog in the collective wheel. A company’s profits in Germany or Italy were not its own because those fruits belonged to “the people,” meaning the government.

Because the Nazis and Fascists did not subscribe as fully to the tenets of revolutionary socialism as Lenin, their socialist movements did not mirror Bolshevism’s zeal to burn down everything that came before as the way towards the classless society. Instead, Germany and Italy accepted the existence of the bourgeoisie but resolved to bring them under their strict yoke. But Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin were all lockstep in their agreement that bourgeois Anglo-Saxon capitalism’s characteristic exploitation was a thing of the past and, moreover, that the very concept of individualism was a quaint and outmoded relic of the “decadent” West. Why the consensus? World War I was so devastating to Europe and its collective conscience that naturally the prevailing wisdom about what caused it – an exuberant and toxic wave of “nationalism” brought about again by that decadent capitalist system – was entirely wrong and blamed it all on insufficient planning. Because science and Darwin were thick in the air, elites were giddy to deploy all kinds of newfangled approaches to social engineering and economics. Leveraging the prior hundred years of elite discomfort with the very idea of capitalism, collectivists of all stripes – progressives, socialists, pragmatists, communists – used the chaos of the first World War to ascend to intellectual fame by promising the masses that the unjust inequities of bourgeois capitalism could finally and forever be eradicated by implementing the scientific, empirical, pragmatic programs of the central planners.

The idea that Hitler or Mussolini stood against this tide is ridiculous. The social prize for being a rogue individualist in Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy was nonexistent. Cultures that send their children to indoctrination camps and jail dissenters for insufficient deference to der Furher or Il Duce are not havens of capitalist opportunity that venerate the rugged entrepreneur in the popular imagination. No, these are cultures of conformity, of rigorous military ritual made mandatory in the social sphere. They stood on opposite sides of the Bolsheviks the same way a football team’s offense and defense can be said to play for different teams.

Seventy years on and still scores of useful idiots in the West have been raised to believe that the evil Nazis and Fascists were examples of what happens when rightwing extremism reaches its logical terminus. Communism, which could never be made to look rightwing no matter the effort, is offered by Western elites as the wary example of going too far to the left. And yet, throughout the Cold War and even today, it’s clear that the Left never really bought the idea that communism was anything to apologize for. It just never got implemented properly was the standard refrain up until the fall of the Berlin Wall, the event that drove the final nail into Marxist/Leninism as a plausible system and sent the more enthusiastic communists largely underground (or into the waiting arms of the environmental left).

Today, paeans to communism are far less common, though one need not look too hard to find some moron at The Nation or Salon extolling the virtues of the Venezuelan model. Still, sometimes reality is so real that even the liars can’t change it. So there are scant few brave leftists today willing to go to bat for Bolshevism (Jacobins on the other hand?), but in practice that has meant a quiet doubling down on their conviction that fascism is of the right. It’s a neat and tidy construct that History and English professors can cope with if discussion surrounding WWII concerns the leftwing communists against the rightwing fascists, with noble and unaffiliated America and Great Britain riding to the rescue. It is a lot harder to explain how the socialist Nazis and socialist fascists came to fight such a bloody campaign against the socialist Russians. The American Civil War saw brother fight against brother while the Eastern front pitted socialist against socialist, but the latter is not something commonly taught in America.

George Orwell wrote in Politics and the English Language that “one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” In their campaign to make the word fascism meaningless, intellectuals and elites have spent seven decades turning it into a catch-all for “thing I don’t like.” Partly motivated by a desire to impugn their opponents and partly out of self-preservation, the “fascist!” epithet is deployed against conservatives to a staggering degree.

The political right is and has always been full of problems and inconsistencies, but nothing really comes close to approaching the rank dishonesty and intentional deception that defines the left and which goes into making two of the 20th century’s most toxic manifestations of collectivism/socialism conventionally accepted as intellectual products of the right. If misrepresenting the political lineage of past totalitarian regimes is done to paint modern adherents to a certain politics as hopelessly wedded to a patrimony of extremism is what it means to “stand on the right side of History,” then who wants to be right? And why do sanctimonious lectures about being on the right side sound so familiar?

Happy VE Day.