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.

Dictator for a Day

Today is the day! Executive Order day!

This is an amazing moment in American politics, not just because the President of the United States is poised to become Thomas Friedman’s benevolent dictator for a day, but because of what it says about the progressive left.

Via MacGruber, er, Jonathan Gruber, we have stone-cold confirmation that Obamacare was sold through a year long campaign of comprehensive deception from top to bottom, involving everyone in the Democratic orbit from the White House to Congressional leaders to media sycophants. At every turn conservatives, libertarians and anyone else inclined to balk at naked expansions of federal power were shouted down and mocked by the progressive amen chorus led by the likes of Ezra Klein and Jonathan Cohn. And Gruber was used in virtually all of the left’s petulant, smarter-than-thou harangues against opponents of the bill as unimpeachable evidence that “independent, unbiased” voices had confirmed that the magic being promised in the ACA was in fact real.

And these revelations come on the heels of one of the more historic re-balancing acts of political power the country has ever seen. No president has presided over such a demolition of his party’s fortunes as has Obama. 59 Senators down to 45. 270 House Dems down to barely 180. But the real story is in the states, where the GOP now dominates in state legislatures and governorships, and for a very simple reason: voters in all states are wary of the public sector model that delivers nothing but high taxes and higher costs of living and are thus making sure that, at the state level at least, the progressives are as far from power as possible.

All of this, and the Borg hive mind that defines the left comes up with “Obama should act like a king.”

It’s amazing, but not surprising if you know where the hard left is coming from, which is from a place where the ends forever justify the means, so long as those ends involve increasing the presence of the federal government in more and more Americans’ lives. It is the will to power and nothing else. All the gauzy platitudes you hear are simply just different forms of #Grubering. “Social justice,” “fairness,” “equal pay,” “clean environment,” “jobs”…. the left don’t believe in any of it. They believe in power and growing the bureaucracy, the instrument through which they project their power.

And so we arrive at today’s immigration executive order. My contempt for this action has little to do with the substance or with immigration overall. The issue is with the process, and the president’s and his cheerleaders’ utter disregard for constitutional propriety. Obama will not be invoking “prosecutorial discretion” today when he announces his order, but rather a pronounced end-run around the will of the legislature; said legislature having made its voice heard by expressly NOT passing the Senate version of the immigration bill that we hear so much about.

This idea that because one body of Congress has passed something while the other has not, yet because the President wishes it were passed then the onus is on the chamber standing against the measure to change its mind and pass whatever the other party wants, or else…. is really the stupidest argument I can imagine concerning the machinations of how our government is supposed to work. But it’s the principal argument being used as a cudgel by everyone on the left, and it’s a shameful disgrace to witness such wanton disregard for process and the rule of law. As Charles Cooke put it so eloquently:

The great virtue of the rule of law is that it separates means and ends, thereby preventing individuals from appealing only to the outcome of a given action and ignoring entirely how it was achieved. In the United States, it is simply not enough for a reformer to cry “it was a nice thing to do”; he also has to demonstrate that what he did was both legal and that it was in keeping with the essential tenets of ordered liberty. That way, the people can reasonably expect to predict what the state will do at any given point, and are accorded a certain recourse if it declines to follow the rules. Whatever progressives might think, “good” and “kind” and “necessary” are not self-evident, but sit firmly in the eye of the beholder. Ensuring that we have broad agreement as to which actions comport with those values and which do not is why we have a system in the first instance. We do not judge virtue on the basis of what the ostensibly virtuous can get away with.

The modern left, to borrow from The Federalist’s Ben Domenech, are now the Eric Cartman Democrats.

I do what I want!

I would add to Domenech’s penetrating insight my own pop culture analog for the American left: Cersei Lannister. Her bemused “is this meant to be your shield?” scoff at Ned Stark’s royal parchment carrying the King’s own decree is exactly in line with the Democratic Party’s opinion of the Constitution. Both are mere pieces of paper that mean nothing compared to their own ambition. Cersei shreds the document without an ounce of regret, just as progressives have shredded the Constitution in their century-long odyssey to remake a self-governing republic into a stagnant and tired welfare state.

The Democratic Deluge

In today’s Washington Post, Richard Cohen writes:

“As my colleague Dan Balz has pointed out, the past two midterm elections have done to the Democratic Party what World War I did to the French political elite — decimated it. What was lost was not just individual races but the future. Republicans will now control 23 states — the governorship and the legislature — while the Democrats will have just seven. States, in the coinage of Justice Louis Brandeis, are the laboratories of democracy. They’re where both interesting ideas and personalities often come from.”

It wasn’t policy or race or ideology that sank the Democrats at state level. It was attitude. Since things started to go south with Obamacare – still the most consequential policy moving voters to throw out Democrats – the progressive left adopted an ill-advised but wholly of a piece with their worldview posture: the American people are stupid.

The left said we were stupid for not appreciating their awesome economy and all the jobs “saved” by stimulus, Dodd-Frank, and countless regulations on commerce and capital. Never mind that the labor participation rate plummeted while unemployment benefits, food stamps and other dependency programs championed by Democrats were accelerated. Never mind that the ACA rewards business for keeping employees under 40 hrs/week or that environmental zealots at EPA have crushed the coal industry and sent Appalachia into a real depression. Leftists who today insist that Democrats should have run harder on their economic record are implicitly (or explicitly, as in Jonathan Gruber’s case) saying again that Americans are stupid, because they just couldn’t register the great economic gains that would be apparent were they smarter, and therefore the message needs to be crafted to jibe with the simpletons.

But the coup de grace of the Democratic Party’s institutional decimation is indeed the Affordable Care Act, No matter how much New Republic or Vox or Slate you read, Obamacre is still a massive albatross on Democrats and progressivism writ large. And again, for all the tangible policy failure in Obamacare – community rating, IPAB, expansion of Medicaid, mandatory benefits, absence of real choice for doctors and/or coverage – it was the attitude of its proponents that animated such an electoral drubbing. For as soon as Obamacare’s disastrous rollout and corresponding revelation that millions would be losing their plans and doctors as a result confronted the left with a serious dilemma, their solution was to double down on saying “you’re doing it wrong.” That may fly as a meme or clever retort on a message board, but it is not a good course of action to go about telling people directly harmed by a coercive, expansionary new law that what they had before for health insurance was a “crap plan” or that they’re being selfish for objecting to a federal government mandate to purchase insurance.

Throughout the rollout debacle, all anyone on the left spoke about was how confused everyone was, or how they were reacting to “misinformation” or how even if they were being forced into higher premiums and deductibles with fewer choices for networks and doctors, that they should shut up and accept it anyway, as now they will enjoy “better” plans with “first world” coverage and also how can you complain when we’re giving poor people free insurance?

When this all went down I said “if the GOP doesn’t have 55 senators as a result of this single issue next year…” OK, so I was probably off by one. But make no mistake, if the Democrats don’t address their progressive wing, they are going to continue losing, as the progressives know no other way than to continue making it their life’s mission to coerce the whole country into accepting their preferred narrative for how things are. In that endeavor, only one-size-fits-all top-down answers will do, and any talk of federalism or states’ rights is to be shouted out of polite discussion. For progressives, the work of social justice is all too important to be left up to transient whims of voters or to be interfered with by a nostalgia for ancient parchment concerning inalienable rights. Rights are what government gives you as far as the left is concerned, and it follows that if government itself (and not nature as our Founders believed) is the lone arbiter of the dispensation of rights, then it will have to be somewhat authoritarian in its administration of such a huge undertaking.

The lesson of the Obama/Pelosi/Reid era for normal, middle of the road liberals is to reject the nascent authoritarianism found in the nether regions of progressive and academic othodoxy. The bullying attitude that says only progressives are “on the right side of history” suggests therefore that anyone who politically disagrees is on the wrong side of history. Besides the silliness of an argument where one side proclaims its place in something that has not yet been determined (and therefore does not yet exist), the obnoxious arrogance of a political faction claiming to be at the vanguard of good and decency is bound to get under the skin of the opposition. The election results revealed the degree of pushback political movements get when they presume to act like they know what’s best for the rest of us. And there you go. Let’s see if the left learns from this and makes any changes, or will it rationalize away the defeat and return in the New Year with the same level of conceit they’ve exhibited for the last few years?

Forgive me however, for being pessimistic about the party which has of late attempted to repeal the 1st amendment, celebrates speech codes and censorship on campus, says the phrase “trigger warning” without a trace of irony, holds religious freedom in outright contempt, either fundamentally misunderstands or else legitimately despises capitalism and the free market, and believes ultimately in the tyranny of the majority, all in the name of fairness or equality or some other mindless bromide. Based on the evidence, the safe bet is that in no time, the left will be back asserting their superiority over us rubes and telling us in so many words, “we’re smarter than you.”

That kind of attitude and posture is how you end up with a Democratic deluge of defeat on election day. Also, literally calling the American voter “stupid” shouldn’t play very well moving forward. Watch:

 

 

 

Halbig

The only way to describe the conservative state of mind vis a vis modern liberalism is exasperation. It is just plain exasperating to observe the conduct of the American left in today’s political, economic and cultural landscapes. Nary a day goes by without some segment of the left issuing grave warnings to its special-interest, identity-obsessed base about all the looming threats to things the government has granted them. Yet again, we see an example of the devious ways the left obscures the concept of liberty: instead of things the government cannot do to you (negative liberty), today it is all about what can the government do for you (positive liberty). But then this is mere semantics to your average millennial, union worker, feminist, bureaucrat or little green fascist. The “coalition of the ascendant” has been thoroughly indoctrinated – by culture, academe, default human understanding – to believe that government is the altruist amid the morass of greedy, for-profit, one-percenters. Worse, they don’t really care one iota about philosophical treatises on governing, the market, or…anything, really. All that this coalition cares about is culture and the need to wrench it away from the kulaks and wreckers, er, conservatives and libertarians on which they project their hunger for centralized power and control (who, it bears mentioning, want the opposite of concentrated power and control).

The left is a pathetic joke in today’s America, which is why anyone not affiliated can only be exasperated as witness to their folly. From climate to taxes, guns to bureaucracy, welfare to Harry Reid, the left have created a perpetual motion machine of stupid and cynical policies and attitudes that serve only to grow the size and influence of both the Democratic Party and their fourth branch allies in the administrative state.

The latest bit of theater comes courtesy of two opposing rulings (Halbig v. Burwell) in circuit courts on the technical wording of the Affordable Care Act. See, in their infinite wisdom the Democrats wrote Obamacare in haste for political reasons in 2009 (Scott Brown’s surprise win for Dead Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts sent Dems into panic mode) and, being the legal scholars and overall geniuses that they are, worded the language of the exchanges in such a way as to make void any Obamacare subsidies going out to customers in states with non-state exchanges, never in their wildest imaginations entertaining the possibility that a host of red states might not be thrilled about being coerced into setting up disruptive exchanges while also adding millions to their own medicaid roles. But that is exactly what happened, which opened a crucial window for libertarians like Michael Cannon of Cato to get to work on a lawsuit challenging the legality of federal exchanges allowed to offer subsidies, which the plain language of the law prohibits.

In spite of the Fourth Circuit’s ruling that nothing is amiss because we all know what Democrats “intended” and the further complication that the Halbig case will likely face an en banc DC Circuit hearing in front of the full 11 member panel (four of which are newly minted Democratic-appointed judges only at their posts thanks to Harry Reid’s use of the nuclear option to annul the filibuster of judicial nominees), this case is still going to the Supreme Court, where it is likely (fingers-crossed) we will win. After the en banc panel does as expected and overturns today’s DC Circuit ruling holding the law up as written (and by extension damning it) and tries to mount some lame legal rationale or precedent for doing so, SCOTUS is gonna issue cert and hear the case. And then it’s on.

But oh, the exasperation! How does one deal with the left when today they are actually arguing that the intention of Congress is what matters, not the plain letter of the law. The law only matters when it serves the left’s interests like, say, this 2008 Child Trafficking law we hear so much about that supposedly prohibits full stop the deportation of any of the minors currently languishing in holding pens and military barracks in Texas and Arizona. Democrats have proved that they don’t really care about the law in the Obama era, whether it’s the Executive branch writing and ignoring laws on a whim, the President ignoring a Senate pro-tem session and making recess appointments anyway (SCOTUS slapped him down 9-0 on that one), Harry Reid’s shameful and unprecedented stewardship of the Senate, or Nancy “we have to pass it to find out what’s in it!” Pelosi just being Nancy. That 2008 law by the way? They only cite it ad nauseum because they desperately want these kids to stay in country. Not for any empathetic reason, mind you. Just politics.

Even worse than the desperate attempts to make chicken salad out of it are the progressives who admit that this is a blow, but then confidently and arrogantly insist that it won’t matter because Harry Reid already took care of that with the nuclear option. Now they can just sit back and relax as the full panel of the DC Circuit overturns themselves and orders all Americans to kindly STFU and stop complaining about government. That’s how many of them are acting anyway, and it’s sort of hard to know if it’s a deflection tactic or if they are really so confident that the Supreme Court won’t find just four judges needed to certify an appeal that they’re truly not worried. But they should be worried. Not just about the fate of the ACA, but of their entire mission, to say nothing of their credibility. People are waking up to the awfulness of big government. As yet this feeling is nowhere near reaching critical mass, partly because dissatisfaction with government leads to all kinds of heterodox attitudes and prescriptions (see: Tea Party vs Occupy Wall St: similar grievances against cronyism; wildly different solutions), and partly because no leader or party has been able to crystallize for the public in digestible terms the urgent need to genuinely dismantle much of the federal bureaucracy, and explain why such a subtraction would actually serve as an addition; to the economy, the budget and the dynamism of the American people. Addition-by-subtraction applies to the welfare state as well. Though we wish to see it shrunk drastically, a case is there to be made that a smaller welfare state with fewer agencies and social workers aiming to “serve” you could actually lead to a more efficient dispersal of benefits. People need to be reminded of Reagan’s famous axiom about the nine most dangerous words in the English language: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

We’re a long way from turning this ship around. Hopefully Halbig is a small victory for the team standing athwart shouting stop.

The CBO Report on Obamacare

The Congressional Budget Office issued a report today concluding that 2.5 million jobs will be lost by 2024 due to Obamacare. Predictably, the left is freaking out and doing all they can to spin the story. Over at Slate, I was struck by the headline though: “CBO Report Reignites Obamacare Fight.”

To which I offered this reply:

“Reignites”? Lol. Did you guys really think Obamacare was behind you? Just because your political heroes have pivoted to talking about inequality and the minimum wage doesn’t mean you’re done with Obamacare. This is going to haunt progressives for a loooong time.

And I just love how the lefty blogosphere is dutifully answering the call from the WH to spin this report. I’m sorry, you’re fooling no one. Reduced hours and fewer jobs are concrete and easy for any rube to comprehend. And I see some progs are claiming that it’s just awesome that people will respond to Obamacare’s incentives by voluntarily working less, not because businesses are being forced to cut their hours. What is the difference when the end result is the same and the altered incentives are the result of only one thing (the ACA)?

I do admire the efficiency with which the progressive propaganda machine fires up on call. Slate, National Journal, WaPo and Slate again… those are just the first four I went to and all had feature stories downplaying the report and saying that it really means people will be living more comfortable lives thanks to their reduced work and cushy Obamacare subsidies.

Collective delusion and denial is a fascinating thing to behold. It was riveting watching the neocons and establishment hawks in the GOP go through it from 2005-08, just promising themselves that foreign adventurism wasn’t going to crush them at the ballot box. The exact same phenomenon is playing out on the left today re: Obamacare.  Prepare yourselves now so it’s not such a shock when it comes: this november is going to make the ’10 midterms look like a great result for Democrats.”

I hope not to make a habit of quoting myself in my own blog from things I write in message boards around the political net, but this was just too good

.

On Delusion

In examining progressivism today, it is impossible not to marvel at a fascinating phenomenon: the pronounced delusion of the collective leftwing media. This is not a phenomenon isolated to the left. Neoconservatives and mainstream Republicans were similarly delusional about the reality of their political fortunes amid the drawn-out Iraq war quasi-quagmire. Resorting to cheap nationalism and cynical “with us or against us” rhetoric by the time the “Mission Accomplished” banner had faded from memory, the Bush administration demonstrated an unseemly instinct to wield “patriotism” as a cudgel against anyone not displaying the requisite enthusiasm for foreign nation-building.Substitute “Iraq” with “Obamacare” and you see the same delusions infecting the progressives as happened to the neocons almost a decade ago. While substantively different (obvi), Iraq and Obamacare are similar political issues because they are both immense crosses to bear for the party who brought them forth. Each stands today as a symbol of political overreach and as a bleating warning to its respective partisans of which road not to hoe. And today’s Democrats are following gloriously in the deluded footsteps of yesterday’s Republicans by studiously emulating the latter’s stubborn denial about what the Iraq war was doing to its credibility and pretending that Obamacare is not likewise shepherding their party into a single-issue ditch.

The left is essentially undergoing a psychological pep rally and its most committed media denizens are trying to convince themselves that Obamacare is fine. This is no small feat, as progressives from the New Republic to the Daily Kos are wringing their hands over the potential political cataclysm that awaits them in November. Debacle, thy name is Obamacare. Still, there are already signs that some of the loudest progressive cheerleaders are turning the page and moving on. Breathless reporting of “nothing to see here” has predictably flowed from Ezra Klein, Alec MacGillis, Kevin Drum, Michael Tomasky and, of course, the cadre of statist enthusiasts at MSNBC. I share Jonah Goldberg’s delight in discovering the word fremdschämenwhich describes the feeling one gets from watching people embarrass themselves while oblivious to the fact that they are embarrassing.

Delusional people acting delusionally are usually going to be embarrassing, and by the very act of deluding themselves into believing an alternate reality, they lose all capacity for self-awareness or psychoanalysis. I defy any sane person to eschew fremdschämen when listening to someone like Debbie Wasserman Schultz say something like this. It is easy to assume that much of the inanities spewing from the mouths of the delusional do not in fact reflect a confused mind but rather an intentionally malicious and deceptive one. But that underestimates the powerful effect of collective delusion. With so much at stake in a country divided into separate factions over a fundamental disagreement about the nature of the liberal society, it does not require a genius to understand the urgency of partisan politics (particularly in a de facto two-party system such as ours). However, it should be equally obvious that institutional parties might succumb to self-deception on occasions when their political mission loses its mandate with the voters. Nothing sparks a bout of collective delusion like a threat to power. Like Republicans in 2006 seeing the writing on the wall but refusing to read it, the Democrats today know that Obamacare is crippling their hold on power, they just refuse to admit it.

Political inertia is a powerful thing; stagnation lingers longer than it should because things at rest tend to stay at rest. Once motion of the sort that Obamacare is creating gets started, there is little to slow it down, let alone stop it. Things in motion tend to stay in motion. The pandora’s box that Democrats were too cocky and hubristic to care that they were opening has unleashed a powerful torrent of voter animosity and hostility directed at President Obama and the Democrats. Lying tends to arouse passions in people, who knew? Mass delusion is the inevitable byproduct of a party’s massive screw-up. Whether it’s the launching of a silly hegemonic foreign adventure or the arrogant attempt to remake 17% of the national economy by placing government at the center of healthcare, colossal errors that point to guaranteed defeat cause people in both parties to behave like children and to deny the obvious consequences looming in a cold November not too far on the horizon.

Here’s to the next apocalyptic mistake resulting in mass confession and apology, rather than denial and delusion.