“In Quiet Areas, This is Something We Talk About”

pastor corey brooks

Corey Brooks is on a mission to leverage his influence as pastor of New Beginnings Church on the south side of Chicago. He wants to open a dialogue between the community and Republican politicians, an all but endangered species in the inner city. Brooks is asking questions about poverty and political representation, questions that make Democrats uncomfortable for a simple reason. According to Brooks, the Democratic Party has failed the black community.

The question seems permanently on Brooks’ mind. He asks what loyalty to the Democrats has given the south side of Chicago: “We have a large, disproportionate number of people who are impoverished. We have a disproportionate number of people who are incarcerated, we have a disproportionate number of people who are unemployed, the educational system has totally failed, and all of this primarily has been under Democratic regimes in our neighborhoods. So, the question for me becomes, how can our neighborhoods be doing so awful and so bad when we’re so loyal to this party who is in power? It’s a matter of them taking complete advantage of our vote.”

Brooks invited all Republican candidates to the south side to speak and to offer alternatives, an offer taken up so far only by Rand Paul. Brooks’ exasperation at the lack of community improvement and the failure to produce opportunity through the years eventually forced him to realize that “[Democrats] have a failing plan. A business owner wouldn’t allow the person who runs it to remain in charge for 50 years, constantly running it into the ground.” Brooks is open to a new plan, but are others so inclined?

The answer depends on who you ask. Anyone affiliated with Democratic politics is not open to any new plan, as even an acknowledgement of the need for new plans is an indictment of the old one. But if you ask struggling minority households locked into abysmal school districts where even the local McDonalds is out of business, they are more open-minded to doing things differently. Witness the thousands of inner city youth dragged from New York to Albany by their parents to brave the frigid cold in order to tell their governor to leave their charter schools alone. That is real activism, as opposed to the petty identity politics “activism” of narcissists. Single mothers in New York or Chicago (or any major city) fighting for their child’s education is urgent activism, with meaning. The same cannot be said of social media crusaders who think they’re fighting injustice by forcing Mars rover-landing scientists into tearful apologies or by waging war against geeks and gamers. If you’re a social justice warrior with a cause, you need a hashtag. The activism inherent in reforming the criminal justice system, ending the War on Drugs and civil asset forfeiture, reducing mandatory minimums, and offering enterprise freedom zones to boost employment is likewise more consequential than anything associated with “black lives matter” or “hands up don’t shoot.” What is becoming truer by the day across all strata of American life has been true for African-Americans for a long time: the disconnect between politicians and ordinary folk is deep and getting worse. That this is the obvious consequence of an overreaching and intrusive government is of course entirely lost on the left; that is, the politicians, media and elites who form leftist opinion simply refuse to believe the evidence. Among the rank and file and particularly among African-Americans however, the consequences of having big government/public employee union machine dominance in urban America are becoming obvious, and the question is to what degree this translates into political change.

Louisville pastor Kevin Cosby is concerned with the same issues as in Chicago, and like Brooks he likes what he hears from Rand Paul. Judging the senator’s outreach sincere, Cosby declared “NO ONE in this country is crafting a better message of uplift for the African American community than Rand Paul.” Is it a coincidence that black leaders motivated to effect positive change are responding favorably to Rand Paul? While “Nixon Goes to China” is perhaps a stretch, Paul’s efforts to expand the Republican tent by going where few Republicans dare are being treated mostly as genuine and earnest. Others sneer that this is all so much opportunism and besides, have you heard what he said to Maddow about the Civil Rights Act five years ago? Increasingly though, the sneers are dwindling as much of the community for whom Paul aims to chart a better course see the failure of progressive politics more pronounced each day.

Of course, if Paul’s ideas for the black community continue to gain traction or if he wins the nomination, the left will orchestrate such a mind-numbing campaign of “Paul the Racist” that it will make their treatment of Romney’s career at Bain look like they were pulling for the guy. And no one should be under any illusions that the moment for paradigm-shifting political upheavals is necessarily upon us. Electoral transformations don’t happen overnight and anyway the dream scenario for Paul probably includes something approaching a quarter of the vote. That would be up from Romney’s six percent share of African-Americans but still a minority of the black population. But anything even in the ballpark of twenty five percent for Paul would ignite a firestorm in Washington, especially among Democrats, because such a feat would not only guarantee a Paul win but would blow up the Democratic coalition and send it into total chaos. It is remarkable that imagining such a disruption occurring in 2016 is even possible, but it is. And given how the left paints conservatives as helplessly retrograde bigots, the fact that a small but growing segment of African-Americans are expressing frustration with the Democratic model by flirting with Republicans and inviting shrieks of Uncle Tom! and sellout! shows that we may soon cross the Rubicon. If the left’s racial politics begin to peter out and the black vote becomes less monolithic in the years to come, it will stand as an historic triumph of reality over rhetoric.

Corey Brooks hopes to see the reality of Democratic failure prevail upon the minds of his neighbors and friends. It will come as no surprise to learn that he still faces a mountain to climb. When he bravely endorsed Republican Bruce Rauner for Illinois governor he was met with the usual denunciations and even death threats. Perhaps Rauner’s unprecedented victory in the heart of machine union politics heralds a bright future where more than a few people living in poverty – of all backgrounds – are open to the message of actual hope and change that both Corey Brooks and Rand Paul are selling. “In quiet areas,” says Brooks, “this is something we talk about.”

May the conversation continue.

Michigan and Special Interest

Everybody loves roads.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Feeling Good on a Wednesday

“Yeah yeah, feeling good on a wednesday. Sparkling thoughts, gimme the hope to go on. What I need now is a little bit of shelter.”
-Randy Marsh

Few things delight me like the sight of elite liberal handwringing turning to meltdown on CNN and MSNBC during an electoral beatdown such as the one they suffered last night. Republicans fared better than punditry predicted, particularly in governors races in the Great Lakes and Northeast regions where Democrats typically reign supreme. Turning state houses red in Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts while maintaining important governor holds in Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine, Nevada, Ohio and Florida means that whoever is the Republican nominee for 2016 will face a friendlier environment in many important states.

The big story of course is that Republicans took over control of the Senate, relegating Harry Reid to minority leader and assuring that his legacy be forever tainted with the just imprimatur of “worst Senate leader ever.” He really will live in infamy as the most god-awful majority leader our hallowed deliberative body has ever seen. The demagoguery and flaunting of Senate rules and traditions are already stuff of legend, but his real sin lies in the comprehensive undoing of regular order he presided over, where the agenda was jealously guarded in order to protect the president and his vulnerable members from any accountability whatsoever. Amendments were virtually extinct in the Reid Senate, as were debate and appropriations. In lieu of anything substantive happening, the Reid Democrats instead spent their time and energy on such pressing matters as goading a professional sports franchise into sacrificing its nickname on the altar of political correctness. That and insisting on a daily basis that a couple of rich libertarian private citizens were a pernicious threat to democracy. Koch-shaming, like the “war on women,” climate change and race-baiting, failed to motivate people to vote Democrat and, if there is any cosmic justice, will mean the end of these cheap, dishonest, painfully cynical political tactics for the foreseeable future (I know it won’t, but a man can dream).

It was just a thorough repudiation of progressivism across the board, from federal to state to local. Sure there was the vexing and annoying fact that minimum wage measures won in several red states, resulting in just an epic face-palm. But fine, if the left thinks that the minimum wage is their silver-lining in this election, let them. I hope they try to make it the chief plank in Hillary’s platform, just to watch Rand Paul or Scott Walker or whoever calmly and judiciously explain why it is economic malpractice. But what does it say when this is literally the best news the left can take from last night’s election? It means the entirety of the modern progressive governing model (expansive government, robust public unions and government employment, high taxes and regulations, etc) is being given the thumbs down. The Democratic governor-elect of Rhode Island ran on an explicitly anti public union/pension reform platform and won. Eventually, even progressives and their kin in blue states get mugged by economic reality, and while they aren’t necessarily all ready to renounce membership in the identity politics tribe, they are apparently ready to give Republicans the reins in several of the darkest blue states. I say ten years until 90% of these United States have Republican governors.

The progressives got embarrassed last night, look embarrassed today, and should go to bed embarrassed tonight. Meanwhile, I am indeed feeling good on a wednesday. Ya ya ya.

 

 

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.

The Federal Reserve and the Right

Consider me vexed by the glut of pro-Fed conservatives who seem to exist at times just to bash those of us who lament the very existence of central banking. The point of Ron and Rand Paul agitation against the Fed isn’t to convert us back to gold immediately. It’s to raise awareness on an incredibly complex and opaque institution that approximately no one understands. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Federal Reserve isn’t going to be reigned in and/or dismantled at once either.

In light of the discussion surrounding Yuval Levin’s new book The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine and the Birth of Right and Left, it’s fine for some conservatives to champion monetarism and cite Milton Friedman and advocate a more tempered attitude towards the Fed. That would be considered a Burkean approach because it takes the world as is and tries to build on what works (“its best self). And for all its flaws and infringements on good principle and sound economics, the central bank does work to a degree, and there are arguments that can be mounted in defense of it. Many respected writers on the right, including Ramesh Ponnuru and James Pethokoukis, defend monetary policy on the grounds that it has largely generated stability while preventing deflationary cycles that end with catastrophic runs on banks. But it’s more important in my view to adopt the Paineian approach and take a principled stand on the very idea of central banks. Thomas Paine believed fervently that every generation enjoyed its own autonomy and that no generation was really bound to its past. Contra Burke, who viewed the past as predicate and emphasized the preservation of institutions and of all the things that are “good” in a society as the true means to achieving progress, Paine saw every custom or cultural institution as a shackle. I’ll have a lot more to say on the fascinating debate between Burke and Paine, as I still am not sure if I agree with Levin’s ultimate siding with the Burkean disposition, especially as it relates to politics in 2014. The Paineian impulse to rely on reason and principle over tradition and custom in a quest to remake society anew according to each successive generation’s own desires explains why Levin asserts that Paine was an important precursor to the idea of the left. That he went on to fully endorse the French Revolution and its obsession with eradicating all remnants of French history supports this claim. When aimed at corrupt institutions though, Paine’s radicalism certainly has its merits, and principled opposition to the institution of the Federal Reserve would certainly have earned plaudits from Paine. The free market and the prosperity that flows from it is an organic process that is only corrupted by arbitrary third parties, and Paine loathed anything with arbitrary power to infringe on individual rights. Powerful and untrammeled as it is, the Fed cannot ever possess enough knowledge to know what optimal rates, yields or prices should be. It can get lucky guessing on occasion, but it can never know as much as the invisible hand.

My question for pro-Fed conservatives who tout their Burkean incrementalism in addressing problems with the central bank and who urge prudence and caution among those flying the End The Fed flag is simple: why is Burke’s method of building upon status quo institutions rather than abolishing them and starting over applicable to the Federal Reserve but not to the welfare state generally? Few if any modern conservatives are proponents of the welfare state – in principle and practice – and most of us are rabid Paine acolytes when it comes to our wishes to curtail both the welfare state and the permanent federal bureaucracy, and “curtail” is probably putting it lightly. Most conservatives and libertarians in 2014 want to see a comprehensive abolition of executive agencies, bureaucratic departments, and welfare state programs. That is not exactly a Burkean outlook. So why do most establishment conservatives insist on Burkean politics regarding the Fed while emulating Paine in their desire to see our government reclaim its first principles?

I understand there are cogent arguments for Fed-provided stability, particularly in the realm of inflation and deflation. Neither is desirable, but inflation is usually preferable to deflation, and the Fed has done a decent job at times of keeping inflation in check while effectively neutralizing the threat of deflation entirely. The problem is that central bank currency printing and bond purchasing alike create illusions of stability and growth while concealing the fact that markets and industries are just receiving distorted price signals which result in a mis-allocation of resources. The very instruments the Fed deploys to facilitate a stable business cycle contribute paradoxically to its volatility. Central planners can’t eliminate the boom-bust cycle in part because they themselves are responsible for it. It’s true that there were panics and crashes prior to the establishment of the Federal Reserve. But the introduction of the Fed did nothing to ease the trend; we’ve had as many or more wild rides with the economy in the Fed era than not. Bubbles form when credit is recklessly expanded, and you don’t need a central bank to recklessly expand credit. Whether you’re looking at the Panic of 1819 or a liquidity crisis of the late 1890’s, volatility and boom-bust cycles are always a risk, central bank or no.

The Fed creates false incentives (i.e. bubbles) that always lead to crashes. Bubbles are vile because lots of wealth and resources get woefully misallocated, but few are aware of the mal-investment due to the Fed’s instruments (like QE) that cloak and conceal the distortion. I understand Milton Friedman’s Burkean insight that central banking is probably here to stay so conservatives might as well figure out how to deal with it and make it least harmful to the market economy as possible, and to a large extent conservatives have succeeded in this arena. Ronald Reagan and Paul Voelcker’s partnership in the early 80’s showed how conservatives can work with the Fed Chairman to combat the rampant inflation carried over from the 70’s. But economic imperatives like inflation, energy prices and stagnation are very different today than they were at the dawn of the Reagan Revolution. Because Reagan succeeded so thoroughly in launching a three decade plus paradigm shift in American economic optimism and output, circumstances have changed (for the better) and the pressing demands of today’s stagnant economy have changed as well. As the progressives continue to cement chronic unemployment as a “new normal” and behave with utter hostility towards the private economy, conservatives need to point out that the income inequality progressives are going on about has only been made worse by their policies and the Fed’s ability to hide the true nature of a pathetic economy through money printing. Oh, and all that quantitative easing and debt monetization did was enhance the balance sheets of some very big and very wealthy banks.