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.

 

Twilight of the Public Sector Union

Politico has an interesting piece today on the growing movement among Democrats to curtail public union clout. Like today’s WSJ editorial it focuses on Republican governor Bruce Rauner’s efforts to follow Scott Walker down the public pension reform path. What’s interesting is how many Democrats in state legislatures are waking up to the sustainability problem with the public union model.

In November Democrat Gina Raimondo won the Rhode Island governor’s race after a bruising primary where she defeated two union-backed candidates who were hell-bent on keeping the union reformer out of power. Raimondo is Rhode Island’s first female governor; just as importantly though, she is clear-eyed about the problem with public sector unions and unabashed about taking them on and demanding key reforms. Like every brave blue state Democrat trying to convince her left flank that reality is the obstacle standing athwart their collectivist dreams, Raimondo faces an uphill battle and is probably going to lose in the end. Such is life when facing off against the naked self-interests of a rabid and entrenched opposition.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is nobody’s idea of a conservative, but he is fully aligned with Rauner in opposing the nasty Chicago Teachers Union, which needs corrupt legislators to rubber-stamp their collective bargaining scheme in the same way that humans need oxygen. Emanuel and Rauner are old colleagues, so the union left will say this is just more cronyism to fatten their own coffers by attacking unions. But any honest appraisal of Illinois politics will show that public unions exist first and last to expand the state bureaucracy, demanding always more money for pensions and benefits and higher taxes to pay for them. As a result, Illinois has the worst pension crisis of all the states and is considered a wasteland for business and economic growth. Neighboring Indiana and Iowa have so thoroughly outperformed Illinois this century that some Democrats in Springfield acknowledge the need for reform.

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed offered an admirable sentiment after “clash[ing] with public employee unions” in California when he said that “there’s a difference between being liberal and progressive and being a union Democrat.” Is there really, though?

The hard truth that confronts the left is that they are not a viable political coalition without the millions of dues-paying public union members contributing millions to keep Democrats in office. At the federal, state and local levels, union leadership as well as the rank and file line up behind Democrats at astonishing rates. Take a gander at candidate contributions by federal bureaucrats (especially the lawyers) in the last presidential election. And what happens if the miracle occurs and Democrats abandon their corrupt union practices and admit that they are more responsible than anyone for the epidemic of blue state pension and budget fiascoes?  Do they go full retard and devote their entire political project to identity politics and the cultural fetishes of cloistered academics? I mean, I welcome it should it transpire, given that a politics that doubles and triples down on postmodern relativism and political correctness is a political movement not long for this world.

The only practical solution for the 21st century left is a complete re-think and overhaul of their approach to the economy. I am not confident or optimistic this will happen, committed as the left is to a religious conviction that they are constantly beset by a rigged system and the culprit is capitalism. Going back to the San Jose Mayor’s comment, I’m genuinely curious to learn what a liberal or progressive not in thrall to the romantic ideal of the trade union looks like. The left’s overriding ethos is that power and wealth are unfairly concentrated at the top, where “owners” exploit “workers” with their unearned capital accumulation. Marx was adamant that capital could only be accumulated through theft, and that impulse is alive and well with today’s left. The romance of the unions is all about leveling the field, sticking it to the fat cats via labor “solidarity,” strikes and bargaining power. It’s a zero sum philosophy with a cynical message: the wealth has been unfairly allocated to the rich few, thus the only recourse is to organize and plot to take back your rightful share. This line of thinking, beyond being juvenile and simple, betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of how market economies work. It obsesses over equitable distribution and is uncomfortable with the fact that life’s natural order is not fair. And it treats as obscene high profits and earnings, imagining that prosperity is best when it is shared; the point of politics then is to guard against unfairness wherever possible. That they fail to see how a system of perceived unfairness does in reality serve to foster the most broadly shared prosperity (see: America, The Unites States of) imaginable is a frustration we will likely have to endure forever.

Unless of course the left is forced into reconsidering its economic perspective by blue state voters sick of living in stagnant economies where insane percentages of state budgets are allocated just to public employees and their lavish benefits. 25% of Illinois’ budget is swallowed up union costs. TWENTY FIVE PERCENT! And yet the Chicago progressive mob is adamant that taxes must increase along with spending, a tune that never changes regardless of the fiscal climate. This is the kind of blind, tone-deaf, oblivious political thuggery that is going to doom the left eventually. The question is do they see the writing on the wall and are willing to make adjustments to their chief economic plank, or are they going down with the ship? By all accounts, union leadership is going to fight to the death to coax every last possible dime out of taxpayers before they shuffle off into the void, but there are more encouraging signs among rank and file members as well as savvy Democrats in the states. The problem is at the federal level, where public unions are less strapped by finite state budgets and reap the rewards of an out-of-control government spending apparatus. But even the big federal players like Afscme and AFT can see that reformer governors in blue states where unions typically enjoy broad approval are finding receptive audiences among state Democrats who realize the union model is unsustainable.

I contend that California will be a red state before Texas ever turns blue. Their pension crisis is not as horrible as Illinois’ but it ain’t pretty either. Chuck Reed and other California Dems (including Jerry Brown) may intuit the problem correctly, but it remains to be seen whether they have either the will or the ability to take on CALPERS and the rest of the bloated public sector. Far be it for me to offer advice to progressives on how to avoid squandering their entire movement, but if they want to be viable post-Obama they absolutely must ditch their wretched attachment to public sector unions and the cesspool of half-baked Marxism from which it draws inspiration. The only way that is ever going to happen is if they leave the politics of envy behind. Rising tides do indeed lift all boats, but if you’re consumed with rancor and envy and are convinced that America and capitalism are evil schemes constructed by greedy monocle-wearers, then it is going to be impossible to recalibrate your perspective on economics. Let’s let Schumpeter weigh in on the subject because no one has ever been able to explain this stuff quite like the Austrian master (emphasis mine):

In part [Capitalism] appeals to, and in part it creates, a schema of motives that is unsurpassed in simplicity and force. The promises of wealth and the threats of destitution that it holds out, it redeems with ruthless promptitude. Wherever the bourgeois way of life asserts itself sufficiently to dim the beacons of other social worlds, these promises are strong enough to attract the large majority of supernormal brains and to identify success with business success. They are not proffered at random; yet there is a sufficiently enticing admixture of chance: the game is not like roulette, it is more like poker. They are addressed to ability, energy and supernormal capacity for work; but if there were a way of measuring either that ability in general or the personal achievement that goes into any particular success, the premiums actually paid out would probably not be found proportional to either. Spectacular prizes much greater than would have been necessary to call forth the particular effort are thrown to a small minority of winners, thus propelling much more efficaciously than a more equal and more “just” distribution would, the activity of that large majority of businessmen who receive in return very modest compensation or nothing or less than nothing, and yet do their utmost because they have the big prizes before their eyes and overrate their chances of doing equally well. Similarly, the threats are addressed to incompetence. But though the incompetent men and the obsolete methods are in fact eliminated, sometimes very promptly, sometimes with a lag, failure also threatens or actually overtakes many an able man, thus whipping up everyone, again much more efficaciously than a more equal and more “just” system of penalties would. Finally, both business success and business failure are ideally precise. Neither can be talked away.”

-Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy

The Party of Science?

American politics are becoming increasingly absurd. The only word that describes the ongoing project of American progressives is “unreality.” There seems to be a concerted effort on the part of leftwing media to pridefully advance arguments that have nothing to do with observable reality. Now, the great philosophical question of our age is the degree to which committed partisans of the left genuinely subscribe to the narrative versus those who do so purely as a means to an end. Regardless of their sincerity, progressives everywhere agree that a counter-narrative to the status quo forces of oppression must be passionately sustained via the pent-up anxieties of the oppressed.

The left’s Marxist flame – their one and only “big idea” – finally petered out at the end of the 20th century, at least officially. Communism and collectivism were declared dead, the “end of history” pronounced, and it was assumed that the long bickering over classes and accumulation and distribution were settled. History however, does not cleanly dispatch with the “losing side” in almost any conflict. Within a generation of losing their claim on the colonies, the United Kingdom was back to burn down the White House and lay waste to Washington and Baltimore. The American South was not exactly docile in defeat, nor were they keen on sudden and immediate implementation of the 14th amendment, leading to their utter annihilation. The failed German revolutionaries of 1848 decamped to the American Midwest intent on importing the nouveau fads of progressivism and the welfare state into the American psyche. So it was with the Marxists and the class-warriors and the otherwise ignorant elites of the 20th century who decidedly did not abandon their ideological presumptions in response to the fall of the Soviet Union.

Whether the newly homeless Marxists migrated en masse to environmentalism or divvied it up so that elements of their tribe could be present in almost every facet of public life (the bureaucracy, the academy, the media, the Hollywood) is not really the point. What matters is that there was nothing approaching accountability. There was no mea culpa from elite liberal media for being wrong about totalitarian socialism. To this day the left refuses to acknowledge that the Soviets had an active and operational spy network in the United States during the Cold War, and pretend not to know of Alger Hiss. For the left, the number one priority is making their opposition look bad. Consistency and sound logic are subordinate to demonizing and discrediting. “So and so DESTROYS [conservative politican X]!!!” is a staple of fever swamp progressive internet because to the emotional and insecure for whom politics determines identity, it is more important to feel superior to your opponent than it is to be right on a given issue.

Status-signaling has replaced thinking on the left. Standing opposed to Israel or misogyny or bigotry is the price of admission into the cool cliques of campus or coastal liberalism. After purchasing yourself some coveted status as a tolerant and enlightened non-conservative, all you have to do is stick to the script. Master the hashtag and learn how it’s about feelings over facts. Thus will you arrive on the battlefield backed by an army of groupthinkers to slay the latest exhibition of privilege.

The dust-up over vaccines brings this tendency to bare. Rather than a sober mining of the data about who, exactly, are these Americans refraining from vaccinating their children, leftist partisans jumped on the comments from Chris Christie and Rand Paul as an opportunity to impugn Republicans – yet again – as the Neanderthal party of “science deniers.” Never mind the minute detail that the anti-vaxxer craze is predominantly a feature of the left, particularly the well-heeled, coastal enclave left. Upwards of 50% of kindergarteners are not vaccinated for MMR at schools in San Diego and Marin counties. Oregon and Vermont have the highest per-capita populations of anti-vaxxers. Yes, elements of the libertarian and home-school right are wary of government assurances on vaccinations. But to pretend that this is a phenomenon only of the right whereas the left sits on the side of empiricism and reason is just too much. By itself it is nothing, a meaningless and annoying distraction of white noise coming from the left about how Republicans are such morons. With the performance of the institutional left of late, it probably helps the cause of anti-statism for leftists to continue insisting how awesome and smart they are and how stupid and hopeless we are, for the simple reason that logic has a way of prevailing in the long run and all logic would suggest that these people are just charlatans with an agenda, hell bent on lying to the masses they so disdain in order to fool them into acquiescence. At some point, the ruse will reach its sell-by date and the tempest of lies and distortions will at long last wear itself out.

Until then, we will have to endure more attacks and more distortions, likely of an increased intensity. Hell hath no fury like a smug elitist challenged. The left operates under an unspoken assumption that they will always hold the loudest public megaphone due to their permanent residence on the moral high ground. Their moral righteousness is an illusion, however, and deep down they know it. At the heart of the progressive project is hatred of capitalism. They view that system of voluntary cooperation with suspicion and contempt and cast themselves as quasi-holy warriors out to eradicate injustice through the exalted Hegelian state, where the state exists as a metaphysical entity and possesses a metaphysical conscience by which the enlightened will erect plans and designs for the greater good. It is much harder in 2015 to hold this position with a straight face, after the failures of the collectivist experiment last century. Even for the most committed socialist, it is difficult to deny this history. And yet the left shows every sign it intends only to buff the lens and retain its ridiculous perspective of the world. A left that knows in its bones that the collectivist project is dead yet nevertheless retains its hatred of capitalism is going to look ridiculous. Further, the evolution of the left since Marx has seen it place its emphatic hatred not just on capitalism but on conservatives. It’s not so much the system but the proponents of the system who need to be fought and defeated. It is not hard to see how a philosophy that focuses on personal antagonism more than the system supposedly manufacturing oppression itself will eventually lose its focus.

Today’s left is the natural progression. They are thoroughly and obsessively concerned with what conservatives are saying and doing and basically agnostic on whether or not their prescribed solutions and programs have any efficacy whatsoever. All they are interested in is claiming the moral highground and ascendance appears to be promised only when all the wrong-thinking right wingers are defeated and/or silenced. They get really mad when conservatives have the temerity to point out when they run afoul of reason, logic and reality. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in matters of science.

On medicine, climate and biology the left is on the wrong side of the science. Kevin Williamson loves pointing out the amount of pseudo-science hokum that has wide popularity in leftist enclaves, from acupuncture and homeopathy to astrology and phobias about genetically modified food. You can throw Scientology and yoga in that mix as well. All perfectly harmless activities to which I have no objections other than that they are not backed up by science.

The climate change arena is riddled with groupthink and populated by anticapitalist ideologues. The much-touted “consensus” of scientists on the subject of Earth’s dire climate is great if you value consensus opinion that is thoroughly and comprehensively wrong. None of the models from the most renowned scientists have tracked even moderately close to the reality of climate over the past 20 years. That they only go back to the late nineteenth century to cull data while projecting their biased assumptions onto the millennia that came before it in order to produce the scary “hockey stick” projection of rising temperatures should be enough at the outset to question the infallibility of their data. With the “climategate” scandal at Britain’s East Anglia University revealing how scientists scheme to manipulate data to facilitate preferred outcomes, the petty “defamation” lawsuit brought by climate charlatan Michael Mann against Mark Steyn and CEI, and the recent revelation that Earth’s temperatures have remained flat the last 15 years, the green movement is exposed. The farce that is the State Department’s six year (and ongoing) review of the plans for the Keystone XL pipeline is nothing more than a nod by the administration to their wacko environmental base, which has tried repeatedly to offer scientific objections to the pipeline but which have all failed. The few reports that State has issued on the plan have all said that there is no environmental risk, but that has not caused the green left to relent, nor was it intended to. No one in the progressive orbit of Democratic politics is willing to allow the pipeline’s construction and none of their objections have to do with science. It is purely an aesthetic and ideological stance. Coastal elites think oil is yucky, yada yada yada, therefore the pipeline is an intrinsic evil.

Finally, the left stands in stark opposition to human biology, whether on the issue of abortion, gender, or human nature. In an sense this is understandable, as the left has always believed that man is malleable and can be shaped to function in their idea of the good society. But certain things in nature are non-negotiable. Science has essentially proven that babies in the womb can feel pain at 20 weeks and are able to survive outside the womb at that point. The science even suggests that viability perhaps occurs even earlier. But tell this to a pro-choice zealot and he will shriek and squeal about what a scoundrel you are for daring to suggest that a woman’s body is not in fact her own when there is another human inside it. This is virtually beyond scientific dispute now, yet the left won’t so much as countenance a discussion on it. In fact, they are more likely to echo the infamous Barbara Boxer line: “I think when you bring your baby home, when your baby is born … the baby belongs to your family and has all the rights.”

So babies are not yet human and not yet possessing of natural rights until they arrive home from the Hospital? How very sciency of you Barb.

The left claims the mantle of science for the sole reason that it can be used as a cudgel against conservatives. But the facts on the ground in 2015, allowing for the young-Earth creationists and the anti-vaxxers of the right (even though that contingent is most present in deep blue areas), are such that it would be impossible to designate the American left as “the party of science.” If the scientific method has life anywhere in American politics, it surely does not reside on the left. You can’t be the party of science if you think truth and reality are subjective. The persistent elevation of narrative inevitably leads to perspectives that end up only sneering at the truth.

Prescience

“But we had better be careful. An apparent verification by prima facie favorable cases which are not analyzed in detail may be very deceptive. Moreover, as every lawyer and every politician knows, energetic appeal to familiar facts will go a long way toward inducing a jury or a parliament to accept also the construction he desires to put upon them. Marxists have exploited this technique to the full. In this instance it is particularly successful, because the facts in question combine the virtues of being superficially known to everyone and of being thoroughly understood by very few. In fact, though we cannot enter into detailed discussion here, even hasty reflection suffices to suggest a suspicion that “it is not so.””

-Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942)

Schumpeter was arguing against Marxian orthodoxy which insists that every event and occurrence can be explained and predicted by the inherent logic of history that points to the inevitable endpoint of capitalism.

But while Marxists eventually, grudgingly had to give up on their “arc of history” fantasies, the appeal of the technique outlined above persists, most obviously on the matter of climate change. I have my strong opinions about it and people are free to theirs, but the point Schumpeter makes is instructive and should discourage climate zealots from being so self-righteously assured of their position. The scientific method was conceived in response to the understanding that the science is almost never settled and any honest broker must acknowledge that shutting down debate with the “denier” epithet is the opposite of good scientific norms and practices. It’s the mentality that got a whole bunch of heliocentric advocates burned at the stake in yonder eras.

So much of the modern left is ignorant of the degree that Marxist tenets and arguments still reign over their thinking. Those who know from whence their ideology springs are keen to disguise the heritage of their ideas and, more importantly, their tactics. If it was conventional wisdom that modern leftwing methods are just warmed-over Marxist retreads, far fewer people would embrace them.

Climate change demagoguery takes a page directly from the Marxist playbook and that makes sense once you appreciate how the rise of the green movement and its activist impulses directly correlates with the fall of the Soviet Union. All those Commies had to end up somewhere and in the environmental movement they found their home.

Schumpeter’s critique of the flaws of Marxian “synthesis” as a means of explaining the logic of history (an endeavor championed more by early 20th century Neo-Marxists than by Marx himself) were incredibly prescient. His analysis of mid-20th century Marxist tendencies translates quite well to those of the Western left today. Climate change is the most acute example of modern leftists channeling techniques from a time when unabashed reverence for their ideological godfather was a matter of pride and rebellion rather than a secret. But the left’s reliance on “verification by prima facie favorable cases which are not analyzed in detail” and which “may be very deceptive” extends to many other topics as well. Every lie told about Obamacare, for instance. The left’s entire economic model of redistribution is itself a barely-disguised Marxist policy founded on the ridiculous idea that there exist always and forever only two classes, owners (capitalists) and workers (labor), and that the obligation of government is to take from the owners – who only could have accumulated their capital through theft – and distribute to the workers. Their cultural agenda is rooted in the Marxist belief that tradition and social norms are the sole provenance of the bourgeoisie and must therefore be eradicated everywhere. Thus are we subjected to notions of “patriarchy,” “white privilege,” “systemic bigotry” and “us against them” populism aimed at nothing more than placating the jealousy cultivated by the Marxist idea of permanent class war. It does not end there. The family and religion are under assault everywhere you look, displayed most openly by MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry in a fine bit of #Grubering that included this nugget of Marxian wisdom:

“We’ve always had kind of a private notion of children. Your kid is yours, and your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of ‘These are our children.’ So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that ‘kids belong to their parents’ or ‘kids belong to their families,’ and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.”

Whether the nuclear family, religion, property rights, conscience rights or the Bill of Rights, the neo-Neo-Marxists that comprise much of the Democratic Party in the U.S. and many elements of Canadian, Australian and UK Labour are hell bent on burning it all down. Like all good Marxists they can never lose sight of the ultimate goal of bringing about the inevitable demise of capitalism, so for all the shiny cultural distractions into which they pour considerable energies, the animating impulse can always be traced back to the fundamental misconception that society is locked in a fateful struggle between classes, of which there can be only two. Having only two classes – like political parties – creates a situation of permanent adversaries, an alluring construct for the aggrieved and the charlatan alike, never mind that this construct has little tether to reality. Once established in the popular mind, it is exceedingly difficult for critics to persuade the converted that they are being sold false hope based on a lie. The intoxicating promise of seeing the capitalists ultimately succumb to their own evil system of theft and greed has endured to today. How else to explain Occupy Wall Street and the inchoate ramblings of faux-populist Elizabeth Warren?

The goal of the Marx-inspired left is simply to stand for the advancement of government interests over individual or traditional interests at every turn. If you adhere to a belief that social progress is fixed to a logical arc of history defined by the never-ending class war and that the “good guys” are predestined to triumph over the “bad guys” and their ill-gotten capital accumulation, you’re unlikely to be receptive to philosophical or economic arguments in favor of capitalism. Instead your concern falls to the “little guy” who can only be made whole by dint of an aggressive correction to the unjust and immoral status quo of market economics. The vehicle for the correction is the state. No matter how much academic evidence emerges to prove the fallacy of the project, no matter the real world evidence that confirms the futility of collectivism in practice, and no matter the human toll erected on the mantle of socialism, the cult of Marx persists because he offered a moral foundation to anticapitalism. The world was rigged in favor of the bourgeoisie and against the proletariat. Entreaties to trust the invisible hand or the beautiful twin phenomena of innovation and creative destruction would always be met with derision and contempt, for they purported to put the onus for solutions on the very class the workers had been indoctrinated to never trust. The same dynamic at play in 1914 is alive and well in 2014.

The left will not allow us to dissolve the broader class war narrative because it suits them to perpetuate. As Schumpeter might say about the left’s overriding world view today, “even hasty reflection suffices to suggest a suspicion that “it is not so.””

Uber Alles

There are few things I enjoy more than the idiotic leftwing backlash against Uber. Besides revealing an utter lack of comprehension of market forces, those on a moral crusade against Uber are actually engaged in a transparent effort to carry water for cartels, aka the taxi unions. Because nothing says “progress” like championing the perpetuation of inefficient, corrupt, politically protected 19th century labor practices over spontaneous order and innovation.

Customers love Uber. Political hacks on the left hate it because it threatens unions and therefore threatens their donor base.

In Sydney last night, Uber’s decision to respond to spiking demand by quadrupling rates as a way to attract more drivers caused more hubbub on twitter than the actual hostage crisis. How dare that evil, greedy, private company raise its rates in the middle of a crisis? Well, if the intent was to incentive more Uber drivers onto the road to provide their in-demand service, what the hell is the problem? The problem apparently, is that profits are inherently evil, but especially so when sought amid a crisis. Mollie Hemingway corrals some representative tweets here and lobs justified scorn at the mob.

My favorite Uber anecdote is from this past summer, when European capitals saw coordinated protests against the disruptive taxi app by having all their taxi drivers block traffic at key arteries and walk out in solidarity, causing massive traffic jams. The result? Uber subscriptions skyrocketed 850% across the continent in a single day as many who had never heard of Uber were suddenly inclined to check them out. Talk about your all time backfires. Who among us would not leap at cheaper and more efficient modes of travel, especially when those already tasked with public transport merit such disdain for their petty and annoying protests, not to mention for their general performance?  As if the intent is to conform to stereotype, Paris taxi unions are back at it again today, blocking traffic and demanding an end to Uber while determined to learn nothing from their last failed protest. Hope it goes just as well as last time.

One would think the writing would be on the wall and the taxi union would understand that their days of holding a protected monopoly are over. Alas, the unions are doubling down and their allies in media are drooling for any story that can undermine Uber’s credibility. The constant harping on unfair pricing betrays a thorough ignorance of how markets work, though even more disturbing is the lack of imagination on display by these critics. In order to not only appreciate but celebrate the free market, one has to tap the frontier explorer mentality within, which will allow for the acceptance of “creative destruction.” Every innovation we love is born from this basic concept: existing products and services are displaced by new ones that invent better and cheaper ways to satisfy customers. This process requires businesses, jobs and brands to sometimes disappear. Executives and employees alike at firms such as Research in Motion (makers of Blackberry), Blockbuster, LaserDisc and the legacy music labels would undoubtedly have preferred to see their companies remain viable, but economics is like gravity – it is futile to fight. Now think of the firms that took their place: Apple, Netflix, BluRay and Spotify. In ten years, we may or may not still have these popular companies with us. The thing to do is accept reality and applaud the lower prices, better products and services and technological wonder at hand, while the thing one should not indulge is barking at the moon or vainly wielding one’s fist at the heavens because one is uncomfortable with the metaphysical reality that things always change. (Ironic that the vapid slogan “Change” deployed by Obama in ’08 should be so utterly lost on he and his followers when it comes to the constantly changing dynamics in the marketplace, otherwise known as “capitalism”). If you are in favor of change and progress, it makes no sense to stand opposed to innovative and disruptive new technologies just because they threaten old models which you favor and wish to see preserved.

By all accounts, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is kind of a jerk and has perhaps gone out of his way to stoke the ire of his antagonists. Frankly I could care less what the man’s personality is like or whether he encourages his employees to aggressively (but legally) recruit drivers away from competitors. Competition is not always polite and ethics are important to maintain even in a ruthlessly competitive and nascent market such as the booming sharing economy. But forgive me if I perceive every “Uber is shady” story as part of a broader unease with these carefree, ambitious and cocky tech titans who are supposedly planning to take over the world and turn it into Galt’s Gulch.

While it is surely not the driving motivation behind their attempt to discredit and ultimately destroy Uber, one factor must be that these champions of the uber-state and haters of anything that can reasonably be attributed to the philosophy of Ayn Rand are petrified of the growing “libertarian moment” and feel it is their moral obligation to stop it in its tracks. The level of Ayn Rand paranoia on the left is staggering. There are at least a dozen more influential philosophers and economists on the right than Rand, though she is unquestionably among the canonized thinkers for libertarians. As Robert Tracinski lays out in a wonderful piece, the one enduring lesson the left could learn from Ayn Rand is that “there are no evil thoughts except one: the refusal to think.” Rather than do the hard work of reading Hayek or Schumpeter, or even bother much to think, critics of free market economics lazily single out Rand as our one true prophet because she is easier to demagogue and her arguments easier to caricature. But I think the fundamental explanation for the left’s passionate assault on anything to do with free market economics or deregulation has to do with the libertarian moment coming directly on the heels of what was supposed to be the great progressive resurgence of 2008.

We are the ones we have been waiting for” was only six years ago but it feels a generation ago now. For all the starry-eyed millennials and social justice warriors and would-be authoritarians in cloistered academia, the rapid erosion of Hope and Change is surreal and responsible for massive whiplash. Beaten and bloodied and staring the demise of their movement in the face, progressives are behaving as any cornered animal would, by lashing out. “The Liberal Hour,” as the WSJ editorial page characterized the national mood in April of 2009, is no more. All that remains is an embittered hostility to actual, observable change.

 

How to Help the Poor

Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum laments the Democrats’ worrying trend with working class white voters and traces the discontent to lingering unhappiness with the Democratic tax and spend welfare state model. Drum accurately highlights how liberal obsession with food stamps, unemployment benefits, Medicaid and Obamacare can alienate working class whites as they see more and more assistance going to their marginally less well-off neighbors while they get nothing. Personally I think race has very little to do with what is really an economic and a government problem, but since the left can’t tie their shoes without noting the latent racism involved in shoelace production, they have to identify their middle and working class voter problem as one to do with the “white working class.” Fine. Whatever gets them to any level of introspection is only good news for the debate going forward.

In getting to his conclusion that he has no conclusion for how to solve this electoral dilemma, Drum offers this precious piece of liberal self-congratulation:

“Helping the poor is one of the great causes of liberalism, and we forfeit our souls if we give up on it.”

I wonder if the left will ever understand observable reality and change its mind on what constitutes helping the poor. Everyone with a conscience, left or right, wishes to see the plight of the poor improve, the question is how to achieve improvement. I (kinda, sorta) accept Drum and liberals at their word that their aim is true when they advocate for these government programs for the poor; my problem is with their stubborn refusal to be accountable and admit that the ambitious War on Poverty was a failure, especially if viewed in terms of trajectories – American poverty was steadily declining between 1945 and 1965, only to flatten after the Great Society was introduced. The line has remained flat for a generation.

us poverty graph

It is an insult to basic intelligence to suggest these programs were successful at eradicating American poverty. Possessing noble intentions does not automatically translate into good policy, but seeking well-intended results through government is guaranteed to create bad policy because government is inherently inefficient (and likely inherently stupid too).

Whatever merits progressives assign to the Great Society are dwarfed by the incontrovertible fact that its biggest legacy is likely to be the destruction of the black family in America. And not just the black family, either. One of the more fundamental disagreements between left and right is over the matter of incentives. The left doesn’t bother with incentives because, if I may be so bold, they typically don’t care about how their policies cause people to behave; they just care that a policy they came up with is made binding on others. Or if you want to be more generous: the left doesn’t focus on behavioral incentives in law because they don’t believe such things exist. Since most leftists come from academia, they are used to theoretical models that deal in static data. The real world, however, deals in dynamic data, in that there is no way to account for the variable known as “human behavior” in academic models of society or the economy.

Laws create behavioral incentives because humans are not robots. Just because it makes sense on paper to increase government spending in order to stimulate aggregate demand does not mean such policy will work in practice. In fact, we know it does not work because rudimentary market economics informs us that government intervention into the economy only creates distortions and mis-allocation of resources. The left has never understood this basic premise when it comes to – well, everything – but especially when it comes to helping the poor.

By aggressively inserting itself into the lives of inner city and rural constituencies the federal government has wildly distorted the markets for labor, education, spouse and dignity in America’s poverty-stricken regions. Government intrusions in the form of food stamps, unemployment and Medicaid sound benign at the outset. But consider how these benefits alter incentives for the beneficiary. Is a worker in the inner city more or less likely to ardently search for work when 99 weeks of unemployment are on the table? Is a struggling shop-owner looking to hire two extra workers on the cheap (offering them an opportunity out of poverty, perhaps) going to be more or less likely to do so when the price of labor is arbitrarily raised on him via a minimum-wage increase? Most crucially, are a couple with children more or less likely to stay together when there are no consequences to family dissolution thanks to the ubiquitous welfare state that allows single mothers to collect plenty of money with none of the dignity attached.

The $64,000 question is whether the American left, facing its worst political moment in a century (the 1920’s were the last time the party had so few seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the state legislatures – they were wiped out the last two midterms), chooses to double down on welfare statism or decides to speak honestly and culpably about the failures of their grand experiment in leveraging the public sector to fix poverty. If Democrats really want to speak to the white working class again, or for that matter, the poor and underclass who they today purport to serve, they need to accept that there is one – and only one – proven tool for lifting masses of people out of dismal economic conditions: capitalism.

So that’s where we are. The left’s future as I see it depends on their developing a non-transparent and believable appreciation for what makes economies grow. The fact that the global poverty rate fell from 26.8% in 1970 to 5.4% in 2006 due primarily to the introduction of free enterprise and free trade to the rest of the world is entirely lost on the inhabitants of America’s faculty lounges. If they are even aware of this remarkable 80% decline they shrug and attribute it to government aid or something (seriously). Empowering individuals through trade and entrepreneurship is not some fashionable dream concocted by libertarians but the cold hard reality of the how wealth and prosperity are made. The middle and working classes in America aren’t eager to join the poor in the ranks of the dependent class. The poor themselves do not wish to be pandered to and showered with candy while no observable improvements are made in their communities. People are ready for something different, above all in the country’s approach to economics, employment and welfare.

The good news is that, for all the lefty hand-wringing (and really, there ought to be more than there is) over losing the white working class, there is no way they are going to suddenly become champions of capitalism and that means the right is well positioned to cast some much needed light on the plight of overlooked and left behind Americans.

world poverty since 1970

Process Matters

I agree with Jonah Goldberg’s sentiment that the Senate will function better once we “have more partisanship about ideas and less about process.” His point is that Democrats under Harry Reid’s stewardship have been so eager to protect vulnerable members from taking tough votes that they have argued entirely over process rather than ideas.

This is undeniably true, as the Wall Street Journal chronicles today in its lead editorial:

“[Democratic Senators] have also been handmaidens to Harry Reid , the Majority Leader who has devoted the last four years to protecting Mr. Obama while turning the Senate into the world’s least deliberative body. Next Tuesday’s vote is above all a referendum on whether the Senate will spend two more years in this Obama-Reid dead zone.”

[…]

“In the media’s telling, gridlock in Washington is due to tea party pressure on House Republicans to resist Mr. Obama’s agenda. There is some of that, reflecting different views of government. But at least the House debates and votes in plain sight. Mr. Reid won’t allow the normal give and take of democratic voting and accountability that is the reason to have a legislature.

The Reid shutdown runs even to the core legislative function of funding the government. The House has passed seven of 12 annual appropriations bills, most with big bipartisan majorities. Chairman Barbara Mikulski has passed eight of the 12 out of her Senate Appropriations Committee, and Republicans wanted to debate. Mr. Reid blocked a floor vote on every one.”

[…]

“Wyoming Republican John Barrasso kept a running tally of Mr. Reid’s amendment blockade through July. In the previous 12 months Senators introduced 1,952 amendments—1,105 from Republicans and 847 from Democrats. Mr. Reid blocked all but 19.

Legislation? Mr. Reid has blocked at least 10 bills sent to him by the House that passed with notable bipartisan support. Some 35 House Democrats voted with Republicans to delay ObamaCare’s employer mandate; 46 Democrats voted to expedite the approval of liquefied natural gas exports; 130 Democrats voted for patent-reform legislation; 158 Democrats voted to expand access to charter schools; and 183 Democrats voted (in a bill that passed 406-1) to exempt certain veterans from the ObamaCare employer mandate. Mr. Reid’s response: No debate, no vote.”

Progressives have largely made peace with the fact that they are now an “ends justify the means” party and as a result have formally abandoned any respect for process. And yet process is their great weapon of the moment, used to protect Democrats from an unpopular agenda by freeing them from accountability and blaming gridlock on Republicans for “obstruction” (yes, Huffington Post created its very own “Senate Obstruction” tag). It is a grand illusion of activity meant to hide the fact that substantive debate is not happening. And so I agree with Goldberg that escaping the procedural bog in order to emphasize meaningful policy debate is the way forward out of the wretched Reid Senate.

The problem is that, in our system of government, process is still extremely important. The fact that Harry Reid and Democrats (and especially the national media which has been criminally silent on this for the most part) have decided to openly ignore process and not allow debate or roll call votes is a national scandal. Or at least it should be. Instead, the progressive bubble has convinced itself that the shutdown was the great sin against good government, not Reid’s blatant destruction of Senate tradition. The shutdown was a non-event of course. Federal workers got paid throughout (because of course they did) and the government actually went out of its way to make the shutdown feel worse than it was by closing off public viewpoints to Mt. Rushmore, harassing tourists at Yellowstone and ringing the WWII memorial with barricades on the national mall.

The worst in a string of many abuses of process by Democrats occurred last year when the “nuclear option” suddenly became the left’s cri de coeur. Upset over the president’s cascading failures and in a panic over the looming fortunes of both Obamacare and their upper chamber majority, Senate Democrats concluded that their best course was to nuke the filibuster for judicial nominees in order to pack the D.C. Circuit Court, a move that proved prescient when the Halbig ruling was granted an en banc hearing with the full appeals court, including the hastily confirmed additional Democratic appointees. Despite warnings about setting dangerous precedents from some principled liberals, most progressives supported invoking the nuclear option, and with fervor. Whatever future headaches would emerge as a result of the radical maneuver were worth the short term satisfaction of inserting partisan judges on the D.C. Circuit. The ends justify the means. 

Republicans threatened but never actually went through with nuclear option in 2005. Every prominent Democratic senator that year (Harry Reid, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer) took to the floor to rail against the unprecedented assault on the most precious feature of our republic: the protection of minority interests.

That argument carried the day and Republicans backed off the threat.

Would that things have played out the same way last year, but alas. Reid went through with it and changed the Senate for the worse, perhaps irrevocably. McConnell should restore the 60 vote filibuster for nominees when Republicans win the Senate, even though the precedent set by Reid opening Pandora’s Box says that Republicans could use it to their advantage. I hope they don’t. Because if we don’t put the genie back in the bottle, very soon we will have legislation passing in the Senate on bare majorities, making the upper chamber unmistakable from the lower one, giving us true democracy (aka “mob rule”) which is not the system we’re supposed to have. It is the preferred system of progressives, because they imagine it is their destiny to be the permanent majority and need not worry about quaint notions like minority protections. But in such a system, 51% of the population can always dictate how the other 49% lives, and rights transform from being innate, inherent and inviolable to being merely transient and defined by the majority.

In a republic with a healthy respect for minority concerns, no majority can vote away the 1st amendment (though Reid and the Democrats even tried to do that this year!) on a whim. The Reid Senate legacy has put that at risk.

A return to regular order, appropriations bills passed out of committees, and a free and open invitation for all to introduce amendments and allow for transparent dialogue and voting on policy will signal to the American people that the “world’s greatest deliberative body” is working to restore its reputation. By returning to process, the important debates over ideas may reconvene.

A Republican Senate will seem a veritable fount of creativity and ideas compared to that which we have suffered through since 2006. Pick your issue, Republican Senators will have an idea; from healthcare to tax reform, energy to deregulation, the upper chamber will be a cacophony of conservative arguments and proposals, and it will be interesting to see progressive reaction to it all. Already, in anticipation of being routed, leftists like Michael Tomasky are crying crocodile tears and asking “How Can Dems Be Losing to These Idiots?” As he tells it, it’s not Reid and the Democrats who have forsaken ideas for a trivial and pathetic process approach designed to conceal their true motives, but Republicans who can’t muster anything new:

“I mean it is truly admirable, in its perverse way, how anti-idea this party is. It has no economic plans. Did you see this Times article last week called “Economists See Limited Gains in G.O.P. Plan”? I trust that you understand the world of newspaper euphemism enough to know that “limited gains” basically means “jack shit.” It’s all tax cuts and fracking and the wildly overhyped (in jobs terms (PDF)) Keystone pipeline.

Republicans know the truth about these proposals deep down, or I think most do (I suppose some actually are that dumb). But they keep peddling them like a costermonger selling rotten fruit. Why? At least in part because they also know deep down that things like an infrastructure bank are what will really create jobs. I mean, it’s the very definition of creating jobs. But they can’t be for that, because it would be a vote for Obama, and Party Chairman Limbaugh would call them mean names.”

I encourage Tomasky to look up the word “projection.” Progressives of his ilk are so contemptuous of “the other team” that they are incapable of self-analysis. The mind-numbing banality of his assertion that an infrastructure bank is necessary to create jobs is of a piece with Hillary Clinton’s recent rhetorical majesty, where she claimed almost matter-of-factly that “corporations and businesses don’t create jobs.” Progressive principles, such as they are, exist as reactions to actual grounded principle on the right. And it’s the left’s allergy to capitalism that leads it to make such asinine statements as “you didn’t build that” and “you built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for,” which in turn explains progressive insistence that the right lacks an economic agenda: when you’re utterly incompetent and ignorant of economics and how the market works, it makes sense that you’d view deregulatory and free market-informed proposals with suspicion and confusion. And that’s how you get Michael Tomasky calling the GOP an “anti-idea party.”

We desperately need an honest conversation about ideas, but just as Warren Harding promised a “return to normalcy” after the disastrous Wilson presidency, Republicans need to promise a return to proper process following the apocalyptic fail of the Reid Senate, which will allow the more pressing arguments over ideas to commence again.

It’s a Hoax

John Coleman, founder of the Weather Channel and inevitable pariah of the climate crazed left, has come out and flatly declared global warming to be a hoax:

“The ocean is not rising significantly. The polar ice is increasing, not melting away. Polar Bears are increasing in number. Heat waves have actually diminished, not increased. There is not an uptick in the number or strength of storms (in fact storms are diminishing). I have studied this topic seriously for years. It has become a political and environment agenda item, but the science is not valid.”

“The science is not valid.”

What about the “97% of scientists” canard which is routinely trotted out in service of the cause as a cudgel to silence critics. What rational person wants to associate with the meager three percent of the population who aren’t with the scientists? Better to go with the flow and trust that the sacred consensus is genuine.

But the consensus is not a consensus, and is far from genuine anyway. Senator David Vitter of Louisiana has done heroic work in exposing the fraud that is at the foundation of the climate industry in this scathing new report, “The Chain of Environmental Command: How a Club of Billionaires and Their Foundations Control the Environmental Movement and Obama’s EPA.”

Central to the many findings in the report is the account of how billionaire leftists align with the federal bureaucracy to quietly, discreetly, and under cover of media darkness configure the debate on their preferred terms. The myriad 501(c)(4) nonprofit “philanthropy” and “social welfare” environmental groups benefit from substantial funds from the billionaires, who make sure that their tracks are covered and no one ever really knows their level of involvement with shady and militant environmental activism.

The ease with which this cabal (Vitter’s term) hides its machinations from the public is not hard to understand. The EPA and it’s 90,000 employees does not overfloweth with small government libertarians. The federal bureaucracy as a whole can be characterized much the same way. There just aren’t a lot of federal bureaucrats who aren’t progressives. Given that the green movement wishes to see government expand, ostensibly to combat climate change but in reality because they are communists/socialists/Marxists (I don’t care what you call them, as long you appreciate that they are driven foremost and forever by anti-capitalism, not love for Gaia), it stands to reason they would find a willing partner in federal bureaucrats. Thus has the Vitter report exposed the byzantine maze of money funneling between billionaire donors and activists and their federally sanctioned 501(c)(4)s. The green lobbying industry and the EPA act as a revolving door while national progressives like Elizabeth Warren inveigh against cronyism. As national media walks in ideological lock-step with cause, they are loathe to shine light on the massive amount of lucre running the climate change circus from afar, which would be merely annoying if progressives didn’t routinely make the same charge about conservatives and dark money and the Koch Brothers. It is the left that is running shady secretive money schemes in this country. The schemes are purposefully kept from public view, as most rational Americans would balk at the idea of European gas prices, yet the left still has the hubris to project that sin on to their opponents, and with a straight face.

Needless to say, the left don’t like being called out on this issue, but it’s interesting that they usually resort to smug snark rather than persuasive argument, and as The Nation’s Lee Fang proves, they cannot let go of the narrative of dark money:

“Now, they have a second chance. As dark-money groups and Super PACs backed by millions of dollars from the fossil-fuel industry are propelling Republicans to a Senate majority, climate science–denying politicians are likely to seize control of key committee chairmanships, a coup for companies seeking to pollute the atmosphere with impunity. What’s more, Inhofe is slated to become chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, with oversight of the EPA.”

You see it’s the fossil fuel companies and conservative Super PACs who are dealing in nefarious dark money, whereas the pure as the driven snow environmentalists are just sober empiricists desperate to take drastic, planetary-saving action now, now, now! By deploying the “climate science-denying politicians” slur, Fang is not making an argument; rather he is just flashing a gang sign to signal his membership in the tribe. The use of the “denier” charge, beyond its execrable Holocaust-denier connotation, is meant to silence debate. It conveys a sense of superiority and implies, “science is on our side, get bent.” On that very science, Coleman again:

““There is no significant man-made global warming at this time, there has been none in the past and there is no reason to fear any in the future,” Coleman writes. “Efforts to prove the theory that carbon dioxide is a significant greenhouse gas and pollutant causing significant warming or weather effects have failed.

“There has been no warming over 18 years.”

The narrative persists anyway.

To wit, it is difficult to imagine a more cynical political movement than the climate alarmists. Every single one of their policy prescriptions calls for more socialism, more regulation, and more government control over society. Folks like Robert Kennedy, Jr. now publicly opine about the need to incarcerate those who do not believe in their great big hoax. Understandably, article after article after article is penned on the burgeoning liberal gulag on the left. It’s hard to come up with a more illiberal movement than environmentalism today. Their science is forged, coerced, generated via groupthink. But their methods have more in common with tyranny than with healthy democratic debate. And when the debate proceeds in a manner not to their liking, they demand the “deniers” shut up or go to jail.

Do not collect $200.

 

Social Politics

Progressives view American culture the same way that Vladimir Lenin viewed politics: “Who, whom?” Who will dominate whom? The rest is just noise.

Lenin’s understanding of political struggle turned out to be fatally flawed, as the twentieth century showed how societies are actually stronger when the operative impulse is less domination and more facilitation. Because what are democracies and republics if not vessels for facilitating free association and cooperation? Allied victory over totalitarianism was above all a triumph of capitalism over socialism, yes, but it was also vindication for a way of life over that of the martial collective operating with scientific efficiency and with one communal voice, visions shared by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Mussolini and Roosevelt. The New Deal can be understood as one big effort to copy what Hitler and Mussolini were doing in the 30’s. Western elites and progressives were utterly enamored with Il Duce’s model in particular. What leftists of every stripe loved about these regimes was the way they used “science” to justify their vision and also guard them against criticism. Let the left and right argue over dogma; we disinterested observers are here with the science!Those wishing to turn politics into an empirical science are adopting a stealth approach to Lenin’s axiom. By claiming their so-called “pragmatism” will use disinterested and data-driven analysis to solve complex social problems, these wizards are promising an impartial politics of efficiency and prosperity attained through expert administration. But there is no algorithm that unlocks the secret to the free society. There is, however, that nagging question of “who, whom?” and still far too many who subscribe to the Hobbesian vision of nature that says man’s domination over man is the default condition of humanity. Those claiming the expertise have no expectation of landing on the whom side of the equation. And while we who stand athwart the collectivists know that Lenin’s question is ultimately wrong, we still must contend with the myriad forces that seek nothing less than total domination, even those who do so under the guise of disinterested civil servants.

Marx and the socialists were ostensibly defeated with the end of the Soviet Union. Communism’s ultimate discrediting was supposed to mean the end of history, when the superiority of capitalism was beyond dispute. But you don’t exist as a revolutionary movement for a century and a half and go quietly into the night, and socialism’s strictest adherents were never going to surrender their ideological commitments just because the Cold War ended. Rather, in their obscurity they re-evaluated where they had been successful and vowed to rise again against capitalism, through means other than purely economic. Thus do we see the utterly socialist aims of modern environmentalism, third-wave feminism and other movements of the anticapitalist left.* If they cannot dominate through economic doctrine, the war must be fought on the cultural plane.

Identity politics is just Marxist classism dressed up as enlightened diversity. The ultimate aim of Marxist-socialist theory was to give agency to disaffected and disadvantaged classes of people, and to encourage them to rise up and be heard in a world ostensibly dominated by rapacious capitalists. But as the economic prescriptions favored by these classes and their advocates proved utterlydisastrous, it was inevitable that the focus would shift from economics to culture. For it is just as easy to agitate on behalf of those superficially marginalized by race or gender as it is to do so on behalf of the poor. But what happens when such agitation is successful, as the cultural revolution of the 1960’s surely was in advancing equality under the law? Victory, right? Wrong. There is always be more oppression to fight, and always another injustice in need of eradicating. Thus is the great progress made on behalf of racial, gender, sexual and religious minorities deemed insufficient. It is not enough to ensure equality under the law; the new normal must be celebrated, not merely condoned. Thus does critical theory emerge and meld with postmodern instincts to treat truth as malleable. Moral relativism reigns. This is how modern academia comes to regard Israel as the enemy and Hamas as the victim. Truth is subordinate to injustice because facts are not as compelling as grievance.

Culture warriors understand a fundamental truth of human nature: we understand what we know and care about what we see. Economics escapes the average person’s understanding and concern because it is difficult for him to see it operate in tangible form. Culture, on the other hand, is ubiquitous. It is impossible to be indifferent towards culture because one is forever awash in it. And those whoinstigated the culture war in this country understandably became addicted to the psychic satisfaction that comes from expanding access to natural rights hitherto denied to certain people. (That the belief that successful movements for women’s rights and minority civil rights actually meant the initiation of new rights rather than the restoration of natural ones escaped them is another discussion altogether.) It makes sense then, that this social vanguard would continue looking for victims to unshackle, but at some point you just run out of victims, at least as far as the law is concerned. Suddenly we are concerned with a person’s “right” not to be offended, or we overcorrect to the point of seeing mysoginy everywhere. This is how suchabsurdities as #YesAllWomen and trigger warnings enter the lexicon.

And this new century of ours is particularly vulnerable to outright implosion if social politics continue to define us. Much of the advancement in tolerance, diversity and general acceptance is owed to the laudable impulses of the original culture warriors who came onto the scene in the 60’s. But just as Marxist economics failed because it lacked limiting principles, the culture wars will end badly because the agitators simply don’t know when (or don’t want) to stop. (Abraham Maslowwould agree.) In one respect, it is not hard to see why: playing identity politics and demanding new rights for an ever increasing number of victims will inevitably lead to bigger government and more bureaucracy. If it ain’t broke… That the aims of anticapitalists coincide with the culture warriors’ is also no coincidence. The desire to destroy laissez-faire through regulation does not meet pushback from those looking to invent new rights (right to healthcare, right to housing, right to food), usually because they’re the same people. And when the anticapitalists and social justiciars congregate – in academia, in federal bureaucracies, in Hollywood – the only thing that stands out is the utter lack of any actual diversity, that is, diversity of thought.

The cult of diversity has become so strong and pervasive that among young people in the 21st century it is now obviously safer to tow the line of superficial tolerance (i.e. to conform) than it is to express a heterodox opinion about something,especially something involving the hollow vapidity of our hallowed “diversity.” The word has literally come to mean the opposite of its literal meaning, as Daniel Hannan says. And yet, our future leaders are overwhelmingly consumed by the cult of physical (shallow) diversity. Millennials define themselves politically by social issues, not economics. It is a positional good, a way of signaling one’s status as a member of the tolerant, progressive, enlightened crowd, the group that shuns religion and tradition in favor of “science.” They are happy to tell you that they are better than you, owing not to any particular achievement or education, but simply to the fact that they are not the “other.” Despite marching in lockstep conformity of thought, they impugn their perceived enemies as hopeless and ignorant neanderthals, secure in the knowledge that their identity and worth are defined by what they are not.

It’s morality on the cheap; wholly unearned, but bolstered all the same by a profound sense of “being on the right side of history,” a Marxist trope if ever there was one. Culture matters, and caring about injustice is basic human nature. Much of the social progress that has been made in America and around the globe owes a debt to our friends of leftwing persuasion, even the virulent anticapitalists among them. But you must have a limiting principle, and leftists simply do not. The American Revolution was about restoring limiting principles to society, whereas the French Revolution had the Terror, the guillotine and ended in Napoleanic despotism precisely because there was no philosophical appreciation for such principles. The Jacobins believed they could remake the world entirely anew, that the past was irrelevant, tradition useless. The same phenomenon is again taking place today, only it is confined blessedly (for now) to the culture wars. Increasingly, these battles are bleeding into our politics, and that is a problem. Even worse, future generations are coming to view politics as merely an extension of cultural arguments, rather than of debate and deliberation on eternal matters like the composition of the state, the laws of economics, and the propensity for man to abuse power even when he doesn’t intend to.

If millennials continue to define themselves politically over the social issues they care about, this republic will be lost. The basic truth that 20th century tyrants understood about this country is even more profound today: America can never be destroyed by conquest, but only from within. The next few generations bear a heavy responsibility to not succumb to the cheap satisfactions and faux-morality of “social justice,” which is just a rebranding of class warfare in the most destructive sense. The kids need to get over themselves and their identity politics and understand that there is so much more to the relationship between citizen and state than a fleeting promise of more free stuff, like contraception. Whatever the government today grants you as your “right,” it can tomorrow take it away from you. Only our natural rights are sovereign and unassailable, and it is only the government that can infringe on those.

So this curmudgeonly millennial will end with a plea to his fellow generation: please stop with the identity and social politics. If Reason continues polling young people and continues hearing that they care less about economics and role of government than social issues, we as a nation are sunk. And as the carpenter said to Lord Business at the end of the Lego Movie, “you don’t have to be the bad guy,” so do I say “you don’t have to be the who, and we don’t have to be the whom.” Nobody has to dominate the other, culturally, politically, economically or otherwise. We are all equal under the law and free to live cordially in a pluralistic society that allows for wildly disparate opinions and perspectives. We are all “the special.”

Marxist Millennials?

There’s nothing more embarrassing than the left’s periodic flirtation with Marxism. Anytime a skeptical critique of capitalism is given a quasi credible veneer, the left goes nuts and forgets that their most successful (and cynical) tactic of the past hundred years has been to hide their very real and very confused hostility towards capitalism and markets.

So enter Thomas Piketty, who claims that inequality can only get worse with capitalism in his new book Capital in the 21st Century and leftist morons screech “See!!! Inequality is the only thing that matters!!! We don’t know anything about economics but we’re still certain that income inequality is a scourge because, well, because the proposed measures for addressing it involve expanding the reach of the federal government.”

Leftists hate the free market because a) the extent to which they comprehend it is roughly analagous to the depth of Hodor’s vocabulary and b) because free markets and a premium on individualism undermine the left’s sacred fantasy that society can be planned and managed and shaped to fit the majority’s will. The statist mind chooses not to accept the obvious superiority of free market capitalism over all the others because the statist believes, like a child, that perfection is possible in this life and utopia is attainable.

Utopia is impossible. Greed and avarice are innate characteristics of human beings. The least bad method for harnessing humanity’s fallible nature is to allow for maximum individual freedom. The absolute worst method for harnessing productive instincts in society is to concentrate power centrally; to trust other fallible human beings with “expertly” administering a just and equal state is to completely ignore all of human history. Leftists refuse to learn the most important lesson: that power corrupts absolutely, that there are no angels among men, and that central planners don’t fail because they have the wrong plan, but because planning (scientific, Marxist, Keynesian, etc) itself cannot work. Ever.

Are the progressives right to be so in thrall to Piketty’s work? Is their assumption that millennials and minorities will forever stay wedded to the tribe of identity politics and cultural conformity? Progressives used to genuinely champion freedom of thought and expression, but those days are over. In their pursuit to establish an unassailable culture of “tolerance,” the left has so convinced itself of possessing the moral high ground that it takes for granted that it has become indifferent to its own cynicism. This is how you get scores of bright young intellectuals at places like Mozilla and Brandeis acting like intolerant clowns by reviving timeless leftist traditions like censorship and the thought police. When you carry as an article of faith the smug certainty of your own right-thinking benevolence, you are more likely to turn a blind eye on obnoxious conduct so long as the culprits are on the right “team.” It’s all a long way of saying that I have no idea what the fate of millennial politics is. However, I suspect that Marx is the furthest thing from their minds in 2014, especially when Democrats and their Marxist-sympathizing base have had the run of the capitol for the past six years, and their ideas continue to get worse. As technology makes us more individualistic and libertarian every day, millennial lusting for a return of Marx strikes me as the left’s latest iteration of adorable wishful thinking. More likely, when the economy ultimately improves (a development sure to be delayed until our current regime steps down) and jobs are being created and filled by the chronically unemployed youth, millennials will begin to awaken from their stretched-thin hypnotism and absorb the wisdom that comes to all men with age: that government is incapable of delivering on its promises. Every effort to fulfill its promise serves to crowd out the productive private sector, which slows the economy and prolongs stagnation.

Maybe they won’t arrive at this revelation en masse, and maybe it will take longer than I hope for my generation to finally open their eyes to the awful truth of collectivism, but I will be more than a little surprised (and profoundly dismayed) should the millennial generation sustain its dalliance with the identity politics left that demands total fidelity to every aspect of the cause, with heretics put on permanent notice.

Two Cheers for Bob Scheer

Among the many problems with critiques of libertarianism from both right and left is the degree to which they confuse principle and pragmatism within the disparate and diffuse arena of libertarian thought. Virtually every hit piece on Rand Paul or libertarianism coming from the likes of Jen Rubin, Commentary, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Free Beacon or other such neoconservative bastions takes the most extreme characterization of non-interventionism and posits that radical isolationism is the norm because libertarian allegiance to the non-aggression principle leads inexorably to a principled and committed stance to never, under any circumstances, use force. Never mind that Rand Paul believes fervently in free trade and global diplomacy and cooperation, qualities that should automatically inoculate one from the “isolationist” slur. He frequently cites how national defense is explicitly framed as the primary duty of the federal government, thus he would not hesitate to use force in a constitutional manner (where Congress regains primacy in the decision).

Paul’s foreign policy sounds more realist and pragmatic than non-interventionist, and it is far from “isolationist.” It’s difficult to imagine a Rand Paul presidency converting us to the Swiss or Icelandic model of foreign engagement, postures which would indeed be isolationist. The even-keel Paul suddenly abandoning his George Kennan infused realism for an erratic, withdrawal-at-all-costs, “leave us alone” retrenchment seems as likely as his giving us the final installment in an Iraq War trilogy. Still, the isolationist pejorative persists because the forces arrayed against Paul on the right stand in rabid opposition to him, simply because he dares to criticize their worldview. It is much easier to slander libertarians as isolationist and equate them with leftists than to actually engage with the criticisms and perhaps be forced into some painful soul-searching. In this regard, neocons mirror progressives, in that their reticence to acknowledge real failures in their foreign policy mirrors the left’s reluctance to acknowledge failures in their war on poverty, the welfare state, economics or healthcare. People hate credible challenges to their ideological dogma, which is why elements of left and right are lashing out at Rand Paul, the bearer of bad news.

Right now the attacks from the right are more noxious and unhinged than the average panicked screed from the left. But the left is no less in error in its critique of libertarianism when it states emphatically that a philosophical hypothetical about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Paul’s position on abortion (as if he’s going to be eager to federally ban the practice as POTUS; much more likely he would adopt a state’s rights/federalism stance) will, ipso facto, automatically disqualify him with 100% of the Obama coalition. But can the left really be that confident that the whole bloc of Obama millennials is going to catch the fever for Hillary the same way they did for Obama? Listen to Robert Scheer’s hour long paean to libertarian consistency in fighting crony capitalism in which he declares proudly that Rand Paul would have to be his choice against Hillary Clinton. So we’ve got a principled democratic socialist sounding off on the consistent, principled, laudable positions of Rand Paul and libertarians, and doing so in the context of Paul’s raucous reception from millennials at Berkeley. But we’re supposed to accept the smug liberal wisdom that insists Paul’s attraction to young people is all just a a mirage, because abortion. Please.

In the process of assuring the Bay Area radio audience that he was not a libertarian but a committed liberal who believes in “throwing money at the problem” and “leveling the playing field,” Scheer regaled his skeptical host and listeners with as robust a defense of libertarianism that you are likely to ever hear from someone on the left. He celebrates their consistent contempt for corporatist privilege, applauds the consistent belief in avoiding imperial temptations such as “nation building,” and even pushes back on the naive leftist assertion that libertarians are in bed with the “1 percent” and favor accelerating inequality by pointing out that it was in fact Bill Clinton’s affinity for crony capitalism, the notorious Wall St-Washington D.C. revolving door and the left’s coziness with the Federal Reserve that are chiefly responsible for growing inequality. I don’t necessarily agree with Scheer’s diagnosis, particularly regarding his claim that the repeal of Glass-Steagall was the high crime of the century, but he is surely correct to highlight that nowhere are libertarian policy prescriptions to blame for the economic turmoil of the past decade. I most certainly would not agree with Scheer’s antidote to the so-called inequality “crisis” either, as only stable economic growth in the private economy can enhance prosperity for all (though of course not uniformly; thus even with growth, you will always have “income inequality,” which shouldn’t even be “a thing” in our modern lexicon), but it is beyond refreshing to hear someone on the left instructing fellow travelers to train their ire at the bipartisan duopoly of cronies responsible for the rigged (and ongoing) Big Business-Big Government tryst, not at the libertarians who, Scheer recognizes, are not to be lamented but lauded for adhering to principle in earnest and with consistency.

Scheer also makes a crucial point in this interview about the need for the modern left to come to terms with totalitarian socialism. Though I would argue with him that there really isn’t that much of a difference between democratic and totalitarian socialism, as any system oriented around central planning and expert maintenance of an economy is ultimately going to end in tyranny, whether it begins with democratic elections or not. Managed economies are confused societies, and confused societies are chaotic and prone to corruption, abuse and authoritarianism. Still, how encouraging to actually hear a socialist suggesting that not enough socialists have come to grips with the most abhorrent socialist outcomes? I get the feeling that Mr. Scheer is uncomfortably aware of his own ideology’s shortcomings when it comes to the actual administration of government; that it is impossible to ignore that socialist regimes inevitably abuse the power they seek to consolidate.

So two cheers for Robert Scheer, who deserves the maximum number of cheers this libertarian is capable of bestowing on a self-described democratic socialist. Perhaps one day he might even discard the socialist label and come all the way over to the libertarian reservation, where liberty is exalted, where government and collectivism are scorned, and where the mutton is nice and lean

Here is an interesting interview Scheer did with Reason a while back:

Politics of Vilification

“The left is exhausted.”
-Paul Ryan, CPAC 2014

Wouldn’t you be? Delivering revolutionary change while pretending that nothing is up and there is nothing to see here is bound to drain the energy from even the most enthusiastic political operation. What the Obama progressives have been doing the past five years is a thoroughly postmodern attempt to effectuate dramatic changes to the United States government, but in the process to be seen as unaffiliated with said change. It’s basically a vindication of the Limbaugh Theorem, which asserts in the grandiose timbre of the world’s preeminent blowhard that President Obama’s chief accomplishment has been to present himself as perpetually removed from the nuts and bolts of governing, thereby exempting himself from prolonged or intense scrutiny from the national media. According to Jonathan Tobin at Commentary, the media has been more than happy to play the role of Obama Protection Society rather than serve as combative investigative journalists. Here’s Tobin:

While most journalists have been reliably liberal in their politics for decades, the culture of the profession has always valued an “agin’ the government” mentality in which all politicians are viewed with cynicism. So long as even liberal journalists regard it as their duty to ferret out stories about corruption, mismanagement and failure within the government, we can feel safe that no administration, even one that is favored by the left, will escape the scrutiny necessary to provide accountability.

But there is little doubt that this has begun to change since Obama came to office. After the media hammered both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush throughout their presidencies, Obama has had it relatively easy. Part of it is due to the special hold that this historic president has over liberals… The culture at CBS and like-minded outlets is to see any aggressive reporting about the president and his policies as evidence of wrong thinking rather than part of their obligation to ask uncomfortable questions and speak truth to power.

Is there any doubt that a vast majority of American media fall into this category? Is it any wonder that most of these Ivy-educated, Beltway-bred, coastal elitists who were so keen to speak truth to power (when power had an (R) next to it) are now willing participants in state-sanctioned ideological propaganda? Of course there are scores of principled leftists like Kevin Gosztola, William Saletan and (perhaps) David Sirota, but the bulk of progressives in media today are more likely to be animated by hostile caricatures of the right and to seek out “evidence of wrong thinking” than by actual truth. As I’ve recounted before, the left is complicit in government propaganda because exaltation of big, activist government is the only direction their ideology leads. It remains their Big Idea despite the fact that the intellectual and practical justifications for it were eviscerated by… well, the twentieth century.

Kevin Williamson of National Review perfectly captures the aimless cynicism of a progressive movement unmoored from meaningful ideas:

I do not much blame the Left for hesitating to talk about Big Ideas. The Left has been losing the Big Idea debate for a generation or more, in no small part because its last Big Idea killed 100 million people, give or take, and not in Mr. Klein’s projecting-abstractly-from-a-CBO-study way but in the concentration-camps-and-hunger-terror way. Marxism was the Left’s Big Idea for the better part of a century, and its collapse — which was moral, economic, political, and complete — left a howling void in the Left’s intellectual universe. Nothing has quite managed to fill it: In the immediate wake of the collapse of Communism, the anticapitalists sought shelter in a variety of movements, few of which grew to be of any real consequence, with the exception of the environmentalist movement. But the lenten self-mortification implied by a consistent environmentalist ethic has limited that movement’s appeal as a governing philosophy and an individual ethic both, hence its fragmentation into a motley sprawl of mini-crusades. It is easy to be anti-fracking when that does not require you to give up anything, easy to oppose the expansion of the Keystone pipeline network when you can be confident that the gas pumps in your hometown will always be full, easy for well-off Whole Foods shoppers to abominate varieties of grain that are possessed by evil spirits or cooties or whatever it is this week.

The intellectual decline of the Left has been something to see. I am reminded of a joke that P. J. O’Rourke once made about my hometown: “There’s also a whiff of highbrow in Siberia. For a hick town, Irkutsk had too many opera houses, theaters, museums, and academic institutes. This is because, for hundreds of years, the smarty-pants reformers, annoying idealists, and know-it-all do-gooders were sent here for life. It’s as though everyone who voted for George McGovern was packed off to Lubbock, Texas.” You could not make the same joke about Obama voters or Occupiers — or, especially, about Jon Stewart’s audience — because nobody expects any of them to start an opera house or an academic institute. They are busy watching an ersatz Beavis and Butt-Head for psychology majors who enjoy having their modest intellects flattered and their perceived enemies “destroyed.”

Williamson earns my Hero of the Moment award (and not for the first time) for astutely calling out Jon Stewart as “the leading voice of the half-bright Left because he is a master practitioner of the art of half-bright vitriolic denunciation,” which can just as easily be used to describe the left-at-large. Robbed of their Big Ideas (don’t get any), the left plays a politics of vilification. Without much of an intellectual or philosophical foundation to rely on, the left operates almost entirely out of pragmatic rather than principled concern. Sure, vague paeans to “equality” and “social justice” can be mistaken for principled stances, but do not be fooled; the left’s drive for egalitarianism is always premised on the notion that society is unjust and only government (with the right experts – themselves – at the helm) can eradicate the injustice. Thus the welfare state and redistribution programs that sound like principled desires for a “fair” society are really just the pragmatic means for producing the ultimate end: power.

As to the question of what progressives want with power, the ends are up for debate, but the means never are. People like myself who look askance at progressives assume (not without justification) that a not-insignificant cadre wishes to use government solely to grab power. This group knows that the left’s “coalition” of voters who are susceptible to promises of government-as-panacea must be consistently pandered to, whereas other progressives indeed wish to bring about positive change with their power but unfortunately lack the wherewithal to deliver. The disparate factions of progressivism envision different ends, yet they embrace the same means, the means of vilification.

Which brings us to Paul Ryan.

In a radio interview last week, Ryan had this to say on the culture of work in American inner cities:

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

As we all know, there is only one appropriate response here: RAAAAAACIST!!!!! Never mind that Ryan is stating what should be an uncontroversial and obvious truth, and never mind that nowhere does he mention race. If you are a conservative and you offer a critique of any kind (implicit, explicit, oblique) of the welfare state’s failure to curtail poverty, you are a racist as far as the left is concerned, plain and simple. Instead of engaging on this crucially important topic and trading ideas on how to address pervasive poverty in urban areas, the left vilifies any would-be reformer as heartless and racist. As Pete Wehner notes, the true motive behind this incessant vilification of their opposition is the left’s insecurity about their own record:

Liberals who have complicity in the problems plaguing America’s inner cities are attempting to make an honest conversation about poverty impossible. They are signaling that they intend to try to take out Republicans who want to address some of the root causes, the behavioral causes, of poverty.

As a posterchild for the left’s psychotic narrative that says Republicans hate the elderly, the poor, the middle class, women, the gays, minorities, puppies, ice cream and orgasms, Ryan knows how the left operate when they have someone in their crosshairs. As the primary budget scion among House conservatives, Ryan is persona non grata for progressives because he represents a sober, green eye-shade accounting of their fiscal failures, and they will do whatever they can to forestall the reckoning. This is how Ryan is cast as He Who Throws Granny Off Cliff or as factually challenged or even as equivalent to the evil British purveyors of the Irish Potato Famine. The left trashes Ryan and “fact-checks” him into oblivion because they are terrified of his policies ever seeing the light of day since a Ryan fiscal reform would mean the beginning of the end of the progressive project. If Ryan is successful in restoring a baseline of sanity to Washington-as-usual (and “baseline budgeting” is a great place to start), the left’s budget gimmicks and procedural theatrics will no longer matter once actual accounting is again the standard. They know this, so they react accordingly, with wave after wave of dishonest attack, in the same vein as they went after Romney. I’ve learned not to underestimate the capacity of the modern left to defame genuinely good and decent men like Ryan and Romney, who because of the threat they posed to the immoral and unsustainable government gravy train, had to have their characters assassinated. Nothing is more important than the ultimate agenda, and if a little shameless vilification of decent people is needed to keep the progressive train on the tracks, so be it. And yet there was Paul Ryan at CPAC, proudly proclaiming that the left is exhausted because they are out of ideas. The left hasn’t really had any ideas since the official failure of their Big Idea almost twenty-five years ago. They are resigned to playing identity politics and pandering for votes until such time as free-thinking citizens wise up and hand them a decisive defeat, or else until they run out of other people’s money.